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Japan's nuclear reactor crisis: TEPCO responsibility and impacts - Mar 2011

On 11 Mar 2011 a massive earthquake of 8.9 magnitude occurred just off the coast of Northeast Japan near Miyagi Prefecture.  The earthquake and the massive tsunami that followed triggered failures at four reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, causing explosions and serious radioactive leaks.  The following items report on the responsibility of the owner of the power plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), and the human rights impacts of the leaks.  (For statements from TEPCO regarding the crisis, see the company website.)

 

Reports on TEPCO's responsibility:

"Will we learn lessons from Japan?", Auret van Heerden, Presiden and CEO Fair Labor Association, Insitute for Human Rights and Business [blog], 24 Mar 2011

"The reasons for Japan’s reliance on nuclear energy are well known. So were the risks…The Tokyo Electric Power Company...has a history of false reporting to the Government and a lack of transparency towards the public...Social responsibility…demands that the Government of Japan address these issues rigorously, unflinchingly and transparently…[It] means accountability and the brave men and women fighting to contain the situation…deserves no less…[T]he fall-out could affect people in many jurisdictions and so the responsibility of the company, and the access of victims to adequate remedies, will become a supra-national issue...Governments have a duty to protect human rights and this must be pursued more rigorously just as companies’ responsibility to respect those rights requires more due diligence, more independent monitoring and more transparency to assure the public of the integrity of their operations…[T]he public has a right to effective remedies, either through the courts of alternative forms of dispute resolution, wherever the harm takes place…"

First food ban issued in nuke crisis: 'Kakina,' spinach, milk slightly hot

"Crisis Revives Doubts on Regulation", Norihiko Shirouzu and Alison Tudor, Wall Street Journal, 15 Mar 2011
“Japan's nuclear-power crisis is reviving long-held doubts about the strength of the nation's nuclear regulatory system and its independence from government efforts to sell nuclear technology abroad…[T]he woes there put a spotlight on Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency…It also highlights past problems with falsified safety records at the Fukushima Daiichi plant and with its parent company, Tokyo Electric Power Co., or Tepco, though there is no evidence those prior problems are adding to the current problem…Tepco couldn't be reached to comment..."

"Nuclear Giants, Ethical Infants: CSR In The Post-Atomic Age", Reynard Loki, Justmeans, 12 Mar 2011
"...'Japan is the best-prepared country in the world for the twin disasters of earthquake and tsunami -- practices that undoubtedly saved lives,'said...The New York Times.  But Yoichi Shimatsu, an investigative journalist...disagrees. 'Most people assume that the meticulous Japanese are among the world's most responsible citizens,' Shimatsu writes in New American Media. 'I beg to differ. Japan is better than elsewhere in organizing official cover-ups.." In 2002, Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency 'found 29 alleged false records relating to cracks detected at Tokyo Electric Power Company's nuclear plants from the late 1980s to the early 1990s...' according to The Daily Yomiuri. 'The company falsified reports regarding voluntary inspections at 13 nuclear reactors at three power plants -- the No. 1 and No. 2 Fukushima nuclear power plants in Fukushima Prefecture and the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture. The false records include some that fail to mention cracks discovered in the core structures of the nuclear reactors.' In her 2009 book In Mortal Hands: A Cautionary History of the Nuclear Age...Stephanie Cooke noted that TEPCO 'eventually admitted to two hundred occasions over more than two decades between 1977 and 2002, involving the submission of false technical data to authorities'..."

"Japan's Tsunami & Nuclear Plants: Humans, Not Nature, Made This Crisis", Yoichi Shimatsu, New America Media, 11 Mar 2011
"...Over the decades, the Japanese public has been reassured by the Tokyo Electric Power Company that its nuclear reactors are prepared for any eventuality. Yet the mystery in Fukushima is not the first unreported problem with nuclear power, only the most recent. Back in 1996, amid a reactor accident in Ibaraki province, the government never admitted that radioactive fallout had drifted over the northeastern suburbs of Tokyo. Reporters obtained confirmation from monitoring stations, but the press was under a blanket order not to run any alarming news, facts be damned. For a nation that has lived under the atomic cloud of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, total denial becomes possible because the finger on the button is our own..."

Reports on the human rights impacts of reactor failure:

"Thousands protest N-power amid Fukushima plant crisis", Carl Stimson, Daily Yomuri [Japan], 11 Apr 2011

Thousands of people marched in Tokyo against nuclear power Sunday afternoon...[S]aid Jun Watanabe, who came with his wife and two friends: "I've been seeing notices about this demonstration on Twitter for a couple of weeks...They say we can't do without nuclear power but I don't agree"... The crowd was overwhelmingly made up of younger people...Homemade placards called nuclear power "dangerous" or "deadly." Others expressed anger at Tokyo Electric Power Co. or the government and many decried the environmental damage caused by the nuclear crisis.

"Seawater radiation shoots far past limit: Experts fear pollution may affect seafood abroad", Kanako Takahara, Japan Times, 6 Apr 2011

"Radioactive iodine-131 readings taken from seawater near the water intake of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant's No. 2 reactor reached 7.5 million times the legal limit, Tokyo Electric Power Co. admitted Tuesday. The sample that yielded the high reading was taken…before Tepco announced Monday it would start releasing radioactive water into the sea, and experts fear the contamination may spread well beyond Japan's shores to affect seafood overseas…Masayoshi Yamamoto, a professor of radiology at Kanazawa University, said… such radioactive materials are likely to be detected in fish and other marine products in Japan and other nations in the short and long run…"

"Japan nuclear crisis still a serious concern; radiation in Tokyo tap water", Shinichi Saoshiro & Yoko Kubota, Reuters, 23 Mar 2011

"Tokyo residents were warned not to give babies tap water because of radiation leaking from a nuclear plant crippled in the earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeast Japan in the world's costliest natural disaster. The U.N. atomic agency said there had been some positive developments at the Fukushima nuclear plant [owned by Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO)]...but the overall situation remained serious...Tokyo authorities said on Wednesday that water at a purification plant for the capital...had 210 becquerels of radioactive iodine -- more than twice the safety level for infants. Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara said that level posed no immediate risk. "But, for infants under age one, I would like them to refrain from using tap water to dilute baby formula."...Physicians for Social Responsibility, a U.S. anti-nuclear group, disputed the food safety assurances and called for a more strict ban on sales of exposed food."

"First food ban issued in nuke crisis: 'Kakina,' spinach, milk slightly hot", Kanako Takahara, Japan Times, 22 Mar 2011
"Prime Minister Naoto Kan placed an indefinite ban on spinach and another local vegetable produced by Fukushima and neighboring prefectures Monday after samples were found to be abnormally radioactive. He also suspended Fukushima milk. The food ban, the first since the nuclear crisis began, is certain to alarm a public already anxious about radioactive fallout...The top government spokesman said farmers will be compensated for their losses and that Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the stricken utility, would be the entity held primarily accountable…" 

"Trauma fears for Japan’s young disaster victims", Euronews, 22 Mar 2011

"Japan’s disasters have robbed many children of everything – their homes, family and friends. And while young survivors’ immediate needs are a priority, the fear is they could face long-term psychological trauma...."

"Japan Nuclear Crisis: Radioactivity Could Enter Food Chain", Reuters, 15 Mar 2011

"Radioactive materials spewed into the air by Japan's earthquake-crippled nuclear plant may contaminate food and water resources, with children and unborn babies most at risk of possibly developing cancer. Experts said exposure to radioactive materials has the potential to cause various kinds of cancers and abnormalities to fetuses, with higher levels of radiation seen as more dangerous…Radioactive material is carried by minute moisture droplets in the air. It can then be directly inhaled into the lungs, get washed down by rain into the sea and onto soil, and eventually contaminate crops, marine life and drinking water. Cow's milk was also especially vulnerable, experts said, if cows graze on grass exposed to radiation..."

"Radioactive Releases in Japan Could Last Months, Experts Say", David E. Sanger and Matt Wald, New York Times, 13 Mar 2011

"As the scale of Japan’s nuclear crisis begins to come to light, experts in Japan and the United States say the country is now facing a cascade of accumulating problems that suggest that radioactive releases of steam from the crippled plants could go on for weeks or even months. ..Pentagon officials reported Sunday that helicopters flying 60 miles from the plant picked up small amounts of radioactive particulates …suggesting widening environmental contamination…"

"Radiation and Pregnancy", David Leonhardt, New York Times, 13 Mar 2011
"Douglas Almond, a Columbia University economist who has studied the effects of the Chernobyl disaster, is concerned that the Japanese government may not be doing enough to warn pregnant women to leave any areas at risk of radiation exposure. Those areas can be much farther from the nuclear plants than many people realize..."

 

Report on concerns over the reactor design by General Electric:

"Experts Had Long Criticized Potential Weakness in Design of Stricken Reactor",  Tom Zeller, Jr. New York Times, 15 Mar 2011
"The warnings were stark and issued repeatedly as far back as 1972: If the cooling systems ever failed at a 'Mark 1" nuclear reactor, the primary containment vessel surrounding the reactor would probably burst as the fuel rods inside overheated. Dangerous radiation would spew into the environment. Now, with one Mark 1 containment vessel damaged at the embattled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and other vessels there under severe strain, the weaknesses of the design — developed in the 1960s by General Electric — could be contributing to the unfolding catastrophe…G.E. began making the Mark 1…in part because they used a comparatively smaller and less expensive containment structure. American regulators began identifying weaknesses very early on…Michael Tetuan, a spokesman for G.E.’s water and power division, staunchly defended the technology this week, calling it ‘the industry’s workhorse with a proven track record of safety and reliability for more than 40 years’…”