The Fukushima Daiichi disaster: Ongoing lessons for California
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Former Japanese Prime Minister Naota Kan warned today that restarting the damaged San Onofre nuclear reactor is driven by the same industrial and regulatory forces in the United States that are seeking the restart of Japanese nuclear reactors. He told a nuclear safety seminar that the worst-case nuclear accident at Fukushima-daiichi would have required evacuating a 190-mile radius from from the disaster, an area in which 50 million people live, threatening the entire future of his nation.
The major safety risks of restarting the San Onofre nuclear reactor located between Los Angeles and San Diego was put in the context of the devastating accident at Fukushima during an international seminar held at the San Diego County Government offices today.
Guest of Honour, former Prime Minister of Japan, Naoto Kan, described in detail the March 2011 accident at Fukushima-daiichi, the consequences of the earthquake and tsunami that led to the meltdown of three reactors, the threat from the hundreds of tons of high level nuclear waste spent fuel at the site, and the ongoing challenge to control the hazards at the site today.
Also speaking at the seminar is former Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chair, Gregory Jaczko; Friends of the Earth consulting nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen; former NRC Commissioner Peter Bradford, and Friends of the Earth nuclear campaigner Kendra Ulrich.
Gundersen presented evidence (see his presentation here) that operating the San Onofre nuclear reactor’s could devastate a wide area across Southern California comparable to the impact of the Fukushima accident on Japan, threatening contamination of Los Angeles and San Diego. Within 50 miles radius of the San Onofre site live 8.7 million people, with many millions more living within an area that would be contaminated if there were to be a major nuclear accident.
Naoto Kan described how the operator of the Fukushima-daiichi nuclear reactors, Tokyo Electric Power Company, wanted to abandon the site. Kan refused to accept this given Fukushima’s six reactors and the hundreds of tons of spent fuel pools that would devastate central Japan.
Naoto Kan told the seminar that it would have been be such a terrible disaster, many times greater than Chernobyl, that it would be definitely necessary to evacuate Tokyo and wider region. Naoto Kan explained that he was confronted with having to consider a worst case scenario that would have required a radius of 190 miles from Fukushima to be evacuated affecting 50 million people.
Kan told of the 160,000 people that remain displaced from Fukushima, with families scattered across Japan.
“Until March 2011 I thought about how to safely operate nuclear power. After Fukushima, my whole mindset has changed … and that we must now not operate nuclear reactors,” said Naoto Kan.
Friends of the Earth consulting engineer Arnie Gundersen warned that poor regulation in Japan is replicated in the United States and that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has failed in its job of protecting the public from dangerous nuclear reactors and is currently planning to approve restart of the San Onofre reactor unit 2.
The operator of the nuclear site, Southern California Edison, as with Fukushima owner Tokyo Electric, has utter disregard for nuclear safety and is pushing to restart San Onofre. These plans ignore the multiple unresolved safety issues at the reactor site — with the root causes for the failure of the steam generators still not explained by reactor operator or the NRC.
The severely damaged steam generators at San Onofre perform a major safety function and operating them would risk multiple tube failure – loss of cooling of the reactor core and release of large amounts of radioactivity. San Onofre, as with Fukushima, is located in a high seismic zone with the risk that a major earthquake could cause failure of the already damaged reactors.
The seminar has been organized by the Coalition of Concerned Citizens of Southern California, Friends of the Earth in cooperation with Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Samuel Lawrence Foundation.
Below: Friends of the Earth nuclear campaigner Kendra Ulrich speaks at the symposium
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons