Following an earthquake on March 11th 2011 a nuclear disaster took place in the Japanese nuclear plant at Fukushima. All over the world credibility has been given to the myth that the tsunami following the earthquake was the sole cause of this nuclear catastrophe. Why? Because Tepco and the Japanese government publicly portrayed the tsunami as being more to blame than the earthquake. This attempt at historical revisionism – obviously motivated by self-interest – has little to do with reality. This can be seen if one carefully analyses the events that actually took place.
The disaster occured because important high pressure coolant injection systems failed, quite separately from the alleged damage caused by the tsunami.
The tsunami was reported to be 14 metres high, probably much higher that it really was. There is no evidence to show that the alleged flooding actually reached the level given, nor that it was responsible for damage to safety-related facilities. On top of this, the basics of reactor safety were criminally neglected through inadequate physical distance, redundancy and diversity of systems.
This accident analysis by IPPNW Germany relies above all on official documents published by the Japanese government and recognised expert organisations used by the nuclear authorities. In turn, most of these used information from the operating company Tepco as their almost exclusive source of information. Apart from attempts at cover-up and repression of vital information, e.g. about the cause of component and system failure, the offical reports do contain volatile information that enable a plausible reconstruction of the course of the accident. However, for this reconstruction we are working on the supposition that the information and data supplied by Tepco does indeed correspond to the actual events that took place.
IPPNW’s analysis shows that the earthquake was the “trigger factor”, in combination with deficient safety-related equipment, for the nuclear disaster. For instance, there was not enough redundance of safety-related systems and those that were there were not placed far enough away from one another.
On the other hand, equipment in the Fukushima plant with safety systems that were run passively or by steam and battery power turned out to be of an advantage, in contrast to, for example, presently-operating nuclear power plants in Germany. The decommissioned older boiling water reactors or Biblis A, a decommissioned German pressurised water reactor, still had steam-run injection systems at their disposal. The nuclear power plants now in operation in Germany do not.
There are numerous nuclear power plants around the world in regions that are prone to earthquakes. Frequently, they suffer from a lack of sufficient on-site reactor coolant, necessary electricity power systems, and are neither spread over a physical distance nor able to be used flexibly in an emergency.
Another lesson to be learnt from Fukushima is that nuclear power plants continue to produce inconceivably huge amounts of heat, even after they have been “shut down”, that inevitably lead to an overheating of the reactor core as soon as cooling is interrupted. The consequence is a massive release of extremely dangerous radioactive particles into the environment that are ingested by people via air, drinking water and food. This, in turn, has health consequences for generations to come.
Henrik Paulitz, expert on nuclear energy, IPPNW Germany
Reinhold Thiel, member of the board of directors, IPPNW Germany