One story that I’ve tried to stay on top of for the last four years has been the horrific nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan, and its aftermath. It has been, without a doubt, the worst radioactive incident since I started working on this issue as an environmental lawyer at the end of the 1980s. For one thing, it shows the folly of humans and our shortsighted energy policies — building four nuclear reactors so close to both a major fault line and to the Pacific Ocean, which is so susceptible to tsunamis in that region of Japan.
When the inevitable happened in April of 2011, it was soon clear to anyone who knew anything about radioactivity that this was the worst accident since the Chernobyl meltdown in the former Soviet Union in 1986. Today, four years later, the Fukushima region remains largely uninhabitable, the cancer rate is elevated, and no one has a good guess on when or how the reactor site will be cleaned up. One of the many ramifications of the accident — and a story that I’ve tracked closely — involved the radioactive poisoning of American Navy crew members aboard the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, many of whom are now suing over their compromised health.
Despite these damning facts, the Fukushima story has never really gotten the publicity that it deserves. I’ve always felt that if more people knew the facts about the nuclear accident in Japan, there would be a considerable drop in public support for the industry. It seems I wasn’t alone in thinking this:
British government officials approached nuclear companies to draw up a co-ordinated public relations strategy to play down the Fukushima nuclear accident just two days after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and before the extent of the radiation leak was known.
Internal emails seen by the Guardian show how the business and energy departments worked closely behind the scenes with the multinational companiesEDF Energy, Areva and Westinghouse to try to ensure the accident did not derail their plans for a new generation of nuclear stations in the UK.
“This has the potential to set the nuclear industry back globally,” wrote one official at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), whose name has been redacted. “We need to ensure the anti-nuclear chaps and chapesses do not gain ground on this. We need to occupy the territory and hold it. We really need to show the safety of nuclear.”
Officials stressed the importance of preventing the incident from undermining public support for nuclear power.
The Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, who sits on the Commons environmental audit committee, condemned the extent of co-ordination between the government and nuclear companies that the emails appear to reveal.
“The government has no business doing PR for the industry and it would be appalling if its departments have played down the impact of Fukushima,” he said.
I can’t begin to stress the importance of this revelation by the Guardian. Here’s why: The catastrophe in Fukushima should have triggered a global debate about the future of nuclear power going forward — both the construction of any new plants as well as the urgency of decommissioning older plants that are either outdated or, like the Japanese facility, located in poor locations. Here in the United States, we have ancient nuclear plants from the heady post-World War II days that have not been decommissioned, and we have power plants in California that — all too much like Fukushima — are located near major earthquake faults.
But the debate didn’t happen, and it’s no accident. Very high players — in government, in Big Energy, and even in the corporate media — have too much invested in nuclear power to tell the truth to regular citizens. That’s why I, and many others in the environmental community, believe it’s so important not to give up on the story of Fukushima. The public needs real information about the all-too-real risks, because there are important decisions to me made about whether we can afford to live in a nuclear world.
Read the explosive Guardian report about the Fukushima cover-up: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/jun/30/british-government-plan-play-down-fukushima
Learn the story about how I fought Big Oil on its radioactive pollution in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America: http://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice
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