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Fukushima and rational thinking versus populist panic

It is important to note that the recent 9.0 earthquake off the north-east coast of Honshu, Japan was not responsible for the unfolding catastrophe at the Fukushima nuclear power generation plant. The structures were designed to withstand the impact of a geological movement of this order. They did so admirably, like nearly all the swaying skyscrapers, housing complexes, railways, bridges, and multistorey freeways across much of Tokyo.

The steadfastness of these structures is clear evidence that a sensible regulatory regime, rigorously enforced, results in reliable construction outcomes and protects life, limb and property.

The Japanese architects and engineers, and the government agencies responsible for supervising them since the Great Hanshin earthquake that hit Kobe in 1995, deserve international acclaim for their outstanding efforts.

It was, of course, the massive tsunami that is the devil in the nuclear pile in this instance. The huge wave knocked out the cooling systems and their back-ups at the Fukushima plant and this led inevitably — and predictably — to the current crisis.

So what critical lessons may be learnt from this “disaster in slow motion” at Fukushima?

First, locating the plant right on the coast, in a geologically unstable zone, was nothing short of stupid.  Experts had warned about this for more than a decade. The placing of the plant right on the coast was mainly about maximising profits for a privately owned and operated corporation, with little regard for public safety and community well-being. To put this kind of operation where it is vulnerable to a post-quake tsunami is evidence of appalling negligence.

Obviously the levels of supervision in regard to planning and operating the plant at Fukushima also demand urgent criminal investigation. They are in stark contrast to the much more scrupulous regulating of building practices in Japan since the Kobe earthquake .

A second lesson that needs highlighting relates to the entrenched culture of “money politics” that has been at the heart of the Japanese political system for decades, resulting in widespread corruption and a scandalous disregard of the public good.

Private corporations offer politicians bribes in return for political favours, such as setting up plants in regions that may be profitable in the medium term but which can have catastrophic consequences for people and whole communities.

So this lesson needs spelling out. Deregulated private enterprise, which thinks it has an unfettered right to pursue its own interests at the expense of people’s lives and livelihoods, is a terrible danger to the public good. This is exactly the same lesson we should have learnt following the 2008-09 global financial crisis. It is a lesson that is still resisted by entrenched CEOs and their cronies who assert that their massive salaries and bonuses are in the public interest. Poppycock!

This lesson is further highlighted by the fact that for years experts have warned that the Fukushima plant had reached its use-by date 10 years ago. Its technology was outmoded and increasingly unsafe. The recommendations of inspectors were mostly overlooked.

Those managers and officials should face prosecution for their failure to act in this instance. Their slothfulness renders them criminally culpable in the nuclear catastrophe that is now occurring on Tokyo’s doorstep.

Another lesson has to do with weak governance. In this respect, Japan is very like contemporary Australia. Politicians prefer populism to sound public policy. Political leaders think that opinion polls rather than ideas and ideals are what gives them legitimacy. Political debates have become puerile slanging matches and grudge competitions. All this when the times require, as never before, inspired and inspiring leadership.

Moreover, Japan’s governance system is grotesquely bureaucratised, in-bred, and in many areas shockingly incompetent. Much the same can be said of contemporary Australia — especially at state government levels. Meanwhile, the people suffer and the public good as measured by good schools and universities, good hospitals and health care systems, good public transport, and well-maintained infrastructure is in serious decline.

Prime Minister Kan is  under immense pressure to address the current crisis with all the urgency and sophistication it demands. But what we have already seen is reminiscent of the government response to the Kobe earthquake. Confusion, dissembling, contorted explanations, outright lies, and excruciatingly slow response times all point to governance ineptitude on a horrifying scale.

Meanwhile, in Australia it appears that the opponents of nuclear energy are almost beside themselves with delight at the tragedy that is happening in Fukushima. They appear oblivious to the human culpability — mental laziness, moral turpitude, and n-ked greed — that has brought this catastrophe upon the heads of so many innocent Japanese.

Yes, the first thing we must do is think very carefully about nuclear energy. But to use the current crisis in Japan to shut-down a sober, rational debate about all the issues reflects a level of populist ignorance that is frankly very frightening .

We must also address the deep-rooted problems of governance weakness that is bedeviling all the advanced democracies today. These have to do with shockingly low levels of public debate, where the loudest shouting wins, rather than a thoughtful weighing of all the relevant issues.

Japan needs all the help and compassion that a good ally that has benefited from the Japanese economy for more than half a century can offer. It’s time for Australia to step up.

Allan Patience has been a professor at Sophia University, Tokyo, since 2008. Next month he will join the Asia Institute in the University of Melbourne.

  • 1
    David Dowell
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    Professor Patience has a point but it may not be the one he meant to make. The very politicians and business leaders he cries out against are the ones that would be responsible for building and regulating nuclear plants built in Australia. I would love to name but won’t for Crikey’s sake, the troop of bottom feeders that would assemble to create an Australian nuclear industry. Or maybe we can.

    Anyone like to start to assemble a possible team to create this industry?

    Oh and by the way can we be spared stuff like this. “Meanwhile, in Australia it appears that the opponents of nuclear energy are almost beside themselves with delight at the tragedy that is happening in Fukushima.”

  • 2
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Rationality is all well and good, but the problem with the rationalist exercise is that it presumes a perfect world. Or, to be more precise, blames human failing when things don’t work out the way they’re supposed to. Cutting corners, the powerful trying to maintain and hold on to power, greed, laziness, short-sightedness, not seeing the foreseeable - these are all part of the human condition, and have been with us and always will be with us. I think we’d be better off just being honest with ourselves and saying that nuclear power is too dangerous for us. We’re only human, and that ain’t too bad.

  • 3
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    >Oh and by the way can we be spared stuff like this. “Meanwhile, in Australia it appears that the >opponents of nuclear energy are almost beside themselves with delight at the tragedy that is >happening in Fukushima.”

    Yar, bit of a low blow, that one.

  • 4
    Bill Parker
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    And last night’s dramatic “4 Corners” reflects that same corner cutting I am thinking. No the world isn’t perfect, but no aircrew or passenger should have ever been put in that position. Nor should they in Japan with Fukushima.

    We seem to be too concerned over getting traffic management cones correctly placed.

  • 5
    wayne robinson
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Professor Patience is absolutely correct in what he says. Putting the reactors on the coast, with inadequate tsunami protection, and then putting the emergency generators at the lowest point was a recipe for disaster.

    I agree nuclear should be on the agenda, once the problems of waste disposal are sorted out. Fourth generation nuclear reactors? Thorium reactors?

    It’s an unfortunate fact that nuclear reactors (and also coal powered plants) require a lot of water for cooling. In Australia, nuclear power plants would have to be placed on the coast, since we don’t have any reliable rivers. Excessive heating of European rivers has caused the down powering of reactors just when they’re most needed.

  • 6
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    So the moral of the story, don’t develop nuclear energy within, or sell uranium to, a country where “money politics” or widespread corruption exists or may develop within the lifetime of radioactive material.

  • 7
    Jolyon Wagg
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Meanwhile, in Australia it appears that the opponents of nuclear energy are almost beside themselves with delight at the tragedy that is happening in Fukushima.

    Could the good professor (or anyone else who believes the above) provide some kind of reference for this assertion. I have followed the issue reasonably closely and have not seen any signs of delight at the tragedy in Fukushima.

    On the other hand, I have seem plenty of evidence that proponents of nuclear energy are more concerned about the impact of Fukushima on the nuclear industry than about the well-being of the affected communities.

  • 8
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    @ CAM: Precisely. Let that nation that is without sin build the next reactor.

  • 9
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    … beside themselves with delight at the tragedy …

    No proof required for that point. And no, Syzygium, it’s not below the belt. To me and probably to many others, it’s been self evident in a lot of the media coverage, and nowhere more so than these Crikey blogs.

    The nastiest bit of grave dancing I saw was when someone commented in these forums that the nuclear industry “has been well and truly Fukishima’d.”

    For Patience to point this out is not a “low blow”; it had to be said and I’m grateful someone finally said it in print. I’m not often accused of low blows; I think I have a pretty strong sense of fair play. I say shame on the most radical elements of the anti-nuclear lobby for dancing on the mass graves in such a cheap, sordid way.

  • 10
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    As a person who’s been passionately against the whole nuclear industry, I am not delighted over the tragedy in Japan. On the contrary, I feel for all those people who’s lives and health has been put at risk - once again! I’ve listened to many interviews from a variety of people since this horror began, and it seems to be common knowlege in Japan and by observers, that those in charge have a history of lying and falsifying leakages and other problems. This has been one of my concerns all along. Too many people have too much to protect, from those who mine, mill and enrich uranium to those who own, build and operate the reactors - all have a vested interest to lie to the public - and too many of them have done so.

    Today on the World Today, I heard a reporter repeat something a person from this authority in Japan said about the plutonium leaks - that there not enough to be a risk to health???What????
    This is the very nonsense that has been repeated over the 35+ years that I’ve been involved in learning about this subject. There’s no safe level of plutonium - in fact, you don’t need much to make a bomb! It’s the most lethal substance made by humans. Unbelievable!

    What concerns me, is the fact that when they’re “alarmed” I’m terrified! Who knows what the ramifications will be, even for this country. There’s no 3 metre concrete ‘wall’ in the environment that will protect us from pollution via wind etc. I recall the red dust all over my yard from the dust storms - that dust came from the desert in South Australia - Maralinga - I live in the Illawarra???
    I’d like to think that this country’s focus would now be on renewables, which employs people on a permanent basis, improves the air(even for asthmatics etc) and doesn’t pose a threat to the planet, either via polution or terrorism or ‘acts of god’ or incidents and accidents.

    I again pose this question. Why am I the only one who wonders at the alarming increase in the incidence of cancer. The Cancer Council estimates, that one in 2 or 3 people will be diagnosed with cancer. That is a horrific statistic, but nobody seems to give a damn except me - and a few others? Doesn’t anyone wonder if this stat is related to the increasing nuclear industry? I do! I recall 30-40 yrs ago, I hardly even heard of a person with cancer, but these days, I can’t remember the last funeral I went to, where the person died from another cause. And in the last 20 yrs, I could tell you who died from OTHER causes including my sister via a car accident!
    It’s not due to ageing, because kids get cancer in high numbers - even babies? Why is this so?If cancers were found with little ‘tags’ on them, I believe that much of what we manufacture and how we do it would cease! Aren’t those who get filthy rich via filth lucky?

    NO, keep the nuclear industry out of Australia - we don’t need it, and I believe that health wise, we can’t afford to have it. Also, nuclear reactors require lots of water, so the reactors would need to be built along the coast - where most of the population live. How dumb is that? So, we build desalination plants to provide water for reactors - how would they function? Via coal powered electricity? Dumber and dumber!

  • 11
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    @Free Country: “Fukashima’d” was an unfortunate comment - I do remember that one. But to paint all those who oppose nuclear power with the same brush is a tad offensive. Maybe more than a tad to some. And why pick on just those who oppose nuclear? The nuclear advocate Barry Brook posted a picture of Godzilla on his bravenewclimate blog - suggesting that fearing nuclear disaster in Japan made as much sense as fearing an attack by Godzilla (and missing the point that Godzilla is a cultural manifestation of nuclear fear). We’re all making hay out the incident, but that’s fair enough because we’re trying to draw lessons from it, and what it means for our lives. That doesn’t mean we rejoice in the tragedy.

    I think the “delight at the tragedy” comment detracted from what was otherwise a good article - but the point I take is that if the requirement for safe nuclear is vigorous oversight, no corner cutting, and no one trying to make a fast buck- for the natural life of the radioactive materials - that indicates that nuclear power is too dangerous for us.

  • 12
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Ooops! WHOSE not “people who’s lives and health!

  • 13
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    The nuclear tragedy and debate aside, Professor Patience sums up our governance problems in a nutshell; weak, with blinkers directed at polls and their own power bases rather than the people they serve. Only at election time are we noticed, and then as voters, not communities ensnared in traffic, crammed into emergency and reduced to cheap and poor nutritional choices to fund our education debts.

  • 14
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Private corporations offer politicians bribes in return for political favours. How are you going to stop that? Media controlled interest are going to push for deregulation, how are you going to stop that? And shite happens, you just cannot stop that!

    I agree, nuclear energy is fine with one single proviso, and that is that no human being has anything whatsoever to do with installing, regulating or maintaining it.

  • 15
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Proponents of nuclear power always claim (or insinuate) that opposition to nuclear power is irrational or uneducated. You do yourself no honour, Professor Patience, in making this mistake.

    Our opposition is based on a sound assessment of the costs, benefits and risks. All things measured, we do not accept that the cost is worth it or that the risks are justified. It is not a case of us “shouting” the loudest.

    With cost, long term waste management is the real killer. And by long term, I mean inter-generational. Granted, not everyone cares about how their actions impact future generations, but those of us who do find the cost of nuclear waste management to be too great by far.

    With risk, accidents and mistakes happen, even in facilities run by theoretical scientists untainted by the distractions of capitalism (exhibit A is the Large Hadron Collider). When nuclear accidents happen, we can leave scars on the earth that will remain for generations. Kyshtym, Chernobyl, Fukushima… how long do we want that list to get?

    I hate to break it to you Professor, but we live in a capitalist society. We outsource everything from security for diplomats to teaching our kids ethics. With billions to be made selling electricity, corporate interests would be involved with nuclear power in Australia. We know they would cut corners, underinvest in safety and try to cover up mistakes, because they always do.

    That isn’t shouting Professor Patience. It’s just a cold hard calculation of risk, cost and benefit.

  • 16
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 3:39 pm | Permalink


    The nuclear tragedy and debate aside, Professor Patience sums up our governance problems in a nutshell; weak, with blinkers directed at polls and their own power bases rather than the people they serve.

    I agree. Using the example of the Fukushima emergency, Patience gives a very succinct description of a deep underlying problem in our political structure, which is far too intent on rescuing both businesses and individuals from the consequences of their failures — training them to fail, instead of holding them responsible. The same point has been made recently about the entire western capital markets.

    Some people have a religious zealotry about democracy and people power. What we have to appreciate is that if the people with the least knowledge are the loudest talkers, then democracy becomes the sanctification of ignorance. The blind leading the vapid. When the commentators we listen to are qualified chiefly by the fact that we’ve heard them before … when teachers forget to teach our children that the most important thing to know is the limits of your knowledge … we have a society based on garbage in, garbage out.

  • 17
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 3:50 pm | Permalink


    I am not a fan of your posts as you are most likely all to aware, however, I do believe in credence when deserved and your last post is the best that I have ever read from you. Well said

  • 18
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    to use the current crisis in Japan to shut-down a sober, rational debate about all the issues reflects a level of populist ignorance that is frankly very frightening”

    Would the author care to let us all know when it’s OK with him to discuss closing down the nuclear power industry - the most dangerous way yet devised by human minds to boil water?

    In notice Andrew Bolt, Great Hero of the (hoodwinked) People, has fallen strangely silent on the issue of Fukushima - silent that is since his absurd rantings in the days following Japan’s tsunami, when he went out of his way to recommend nuclear power as the safest energy source on earth and laugh like a schoolboy at safety concerns.

    But not everyone has fallen silent, This is what the Union of Concerned Scientists had to say a few days ago: Japan: Squandering the Chance for Orderly Evacuation:

    The six Fukushima reactors, according to the article below by Mike Whitney, contain ~10x the total amount of nuclear fuel compared with Chernobyl.

    However, what is not widely understood is that Chernobyl never really ‘blew’ as per the worst scenario. That was prevented by a military-style operation, coordinated ultimately by Gorbachev, that involved no less than 100,000 troops and 400,000 civilian workers!

    Had that heroic collective effort and eventual containment of the damaged reactors in a vast concrete sarcophagus not happened, there was talk of Europe becoming uninhabitable. Think that’s an exaggeration? Watch this documentary about Chernobyl - a doco that ‘Your’ ABC or SBS might bother to show if they weren’t too busy pumping out war hype.

    So… we can’t afford to price carbon and bring on solar/wind/tidal/geothermal energy?

    Sorry, we can’t afford NOT to develop a safe and sustainable energy system by any sane assessment of costs and risks ASAP. Nuclear energy is obviously not even on the list of options from now on.

    What we truly can’t afford is to waste yet more of our collective ingenuity and resources in yet more wars sold to us by essentially the same bunch of con-artists who sold us the trillion dollar debacles of Afghanistan and Iraq.

  • 19
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    A couple more important references published recently in Counterpunch:

    What They’re Covering Up at Fukushima
    By Hirose Takashi with introduction by Douglas Lummis (March 22nd)

    Deconstructing Nuclear Experts
    By Chris Busby (March 28th)

    Speaking of the disaster thus far, Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Maryland said:

    “The mechanisms of the accident would be very different than Chernobyl, where there was also a fire, and the mix of radionuclides would be very different. While the quantity of short-lived radionuclides, notably iodine-131, would be much smaller, the consequences for the long term could be more dire due to long-lived radionuclides such as cesium- 137, strontium-90, iodine-129, and plutonium-239. These radionuclides are generally present in much larger quantities in spent fuel pools than in the reactor itself. In light of that, it is remarkable how little has been said by the Japanese authorities about this problem.”

    While we’re talking nuclear, does anyone know if Australia’s chumand and allies are dropping ordinance containing depleted uranium on Libya “to protect civilians”?

    I’ve asked this question of a few supporters of the US/UK/French aerial attacks - folk such as Kevin Rudd and Bob Brown. No answer yet.

    It would make a good question on Q & A next Monday, with Rudd and the American Ambassador both on the panel. After all, I gather DU has been used in cruise missiles in the past. The USA fired 140 at Libya on the first night of the bombardment.

    Sadly, any response one could only be treated with extreme scepticism, as the “US has consistently lied about not using DU” - see http://www.presstv.ir/usdetail/171797.html

  • 20
    michael crook
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    Hope everyone has seen “When the dust settles” about the cancer levels among Australian uranium miners.
    It was commissioned by the ETU to explain to union members why the union had banned them from working on uranium mines. The industry is so dangerous at the start of the process and gets more so as it goes along.

  • 21
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    On what basis do you make the claims that the earthquake was inconsequential, and the culprit was the tsunami?

  • 22
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    Well, if the earthquake wasn’t responsible for the tsunami that swamped Dai-ichi what the hell was? You really can’t dismiss anxiety about nuclear accidents with pap about how the reactor withstood the 9.0 quake because it didn’t. It was built on the sea shore like all Japan’s other nuclear plants are and therefore prone to being swamped by huge waves generated by tsunami. That’s the reality. There can be no theory or speculation about what could or didn’t happen. The Japanese are having to deal with what is happening in real time because of where they built the effing things. So, if you want to have a ‘rational’ debate you have to start from a rational standpoint, which you haven’t. Must try harder. Fail.

  • 23
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    Syd Walker - And what would the Union of Concerned Scientists know about the comparative risks of evacuating or not evacuating a capital city? What a pity the Japanese don’t have the Union of Concerned Scientists as their ministerial cabinet. No doubt they would know how to evacuate all of Tokyo, and at the same time keep what’s left of the critical infrastructure running for those people, keep the hospitals running, just write off the 17,000 people still missing, on top of finding homes for the half million who are already homeless, as the autumn snow sets in.

  • 24
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    An important lesson from the Fukushima accident is that spent fuel rods should be stored in a safer place. The ‘NIMBY’ attitude have to change for the greater good.

    The ‘anti-nuclear’ camp is exploiting the situation, however the “pro-nuclear” camp is even worse. It started off with denial that a problem even exist. That is followed by attempts to re-directing the focus to Japan’s humanitarian disaster, claims that ‘only 50 people died from Chernobyl’, and Foxs News even claims that ‘radiation is good for you’.

    For a more balanced perspective, you can follow the daily update from IAEA


    The two workers who suffered from 2000mSv to 3000mSv are not likely to live for long.

    Wall Street Journal published this email exchange between TEPCO workers.


    Why are there so few support for the staff?


    The TEPCO executives delayed injecting sea water to cool the reactor cores because they may want to reuse the reactors. W.T.F.???

    And the CEO of TEPCO simply went AWOL in the middle of the crisis..


    It’s not the ‘supervision’, but the crisis control. The higher management at TEPCO obviously have no idea what they’re doing..

  • 25
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    Late-winter/spring snow, that is, for the half of the world that is upside down.

  • 26
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    Spot on Baal.

    I have enormous sympathy for the Japanese. I love the Japanese people I’ve met. I think it has a remarkable culture. I hold nothing but good wishes for the Japanese. ‘The Japanese’ are not resposnible for this appalling situation. The responsibility ultimately lies with the nuclear industry.

    A few hours after the tsunami hit I happened to be watching CNN when a cheerful presenter explained that Japan’s nuclear reactors were built to the highest of safety standards, and were well able to cope with category 8 earthquakes! I saw him flinch as he read the pre-prepared spiel…

    Sure, this was a horrific natural disaster of rare ferocity. But to claim, as some nuclear apologists do, that it represented the worst bad luck imaginable is simply fluff. The earthquake’s epi-centre could have been situated even closer to reactors. Reactors could have been attacked deliberately. There are all sorts of possible scenarios for catastrophic disaster - not excluding nasty tricks like the computer virus rumoured to have been created by Israeli spooks with the goal of messing up Iranian reactors.

    To say this is the ‘worst’ that could possibly happen, as some kind of defense for the extreme danger of nuclear energy, is simply misleading PR spin.

    We don’t need to take such grave risks to boil water. As for Freecountry, whom I seem to recall being a nuclear power advocatefor some time on Crikey, please don’t shoot the messenger. Look at the message for once. Of course the Japanese authorities are in a terrible dilemma. Ultimately, of course it should and will be their call re evacuations - not a far-away scientific critic. But no government should ever be put in this situation. It got there thanks to bullshit artists who claimed to have semi-divine wisdom and sold them a “nuclear energy solution”. It’s time they stopped getting that message.

    Nuclear power is FINISHED as part of our energy mix for this century. Once we get clarity about that we can ‘move forward’ as the saying goes. It’s time for some people to let go of their pre-Fukushima false ‘expertise’ and for us all to get behind an intelligent, rapid and very ambitious expansion of the renewable energy sector, ASAP.

  • 27
    Matthew Wilson
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    What an offfensive post. I, and most people I know against nuclear power in Australia have come to this position based on economics. If you can’t attempt to make your case without resorting to straw-man arguments don’t bother, you’re wasting my time as well as yours.

  • 28
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    This is real non sense from a nuclear fan-boy. Some people have been predicting these kind of accidents for years , yet we were told to shut up. Well guys, the shoe is on the other foot and they don’t like it one bit.

  • 29
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    There’s no safe level of plutonium - in fact, you don’t need much to make a bomb! It’s the most lethal substance made by humans. Unbelievable!

    You see nicwalmsley, this is why we call people opposed to nuclear energy nicwalmsley irrational and uneducated. Plutonium is less lethal than caffeine. Admitedly caffeine is not “made by humans”, but far more lethal substances are - nerve gases, dioxins, etc.

    I also love how Professor Patience criticises the decision to build the Fukushima reactors on the coast because experts have been warning against it for a decade even though they were built over three decades ago. Is PP suggesting the reactors should have been moved?

  • 30
    Bill Parker
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    I find it alarming ( and stupidly misleading BUTFLI ) to compare 238Pu oxide to caffeine. Plutonium oxide is IS toxic and does cause cancers. It must be remembered that we are talking about inhalation. The inhalation of caffeine does NOT cause cancer but it IS harmful if swallowed as a pure crystalline substance. It is in fact used in the treatment of shock and heart disease.

    Plutonium releases three types of radiation -alpha, beta, and gamma - all such ionization radiation is regarded as highly toxic.

  • 31
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    It’s difficult to get the Fukushima reactor leakage in perspective when there’s so much misinformation and FUD floating around, (which is possibly more toxic than the actual radiation released).

    In today’s NY Times, a radiation specialist David J. Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research says he does not foresee a public health disaster resulting from the crisis at Fukushima Daiichi. But of course all the world’s “experts” in the media would have us believe that it’s a catastrophe of epic proportions.

    Try putting the data for other energy systems against nuclear and then talking about risk. Or should we all just go with our emotional response to hyperbolic descriptions from the press?

    It seems ironic to me that the green left is always bemoaning the right’s denial of the science of climate change in one breath, and then being hysterically unscientific with the next one if the subject of radiation is mentioned.

  • 32
    Posted Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    The ‘experts’ you trust splace their trust i in theoretical explanations. What could and might (or not) happen rather than what is. One of the worst aspects of the Fukushima ‘debate’ is not the so called panic and hysteria but the belief by these ‘experts’ that because thousands of people haven’t died it must be OK and that those who are expressing alarm are saying they have. I think it would be wiser to assume that people are worried about what might happen and are not reassured by optimistic theorists who claim to know about nuclear science. Indeed, perhaps these are the ‘experts’ who should be ignored.

  • 33
    Bill Parker
    Posted Wednesday, 30 March 2011 at 12:42 am | Permalink

    Baal, have a look at Wikipedia on Plutonium. Its a comprehensive review and from my knowledge ( having been associated with people who did the early work on Plutonium effects on living tissues at Harwell UK) its not a bad resume. Its really about inhalation at the core.

    What is happening on the ground and in the air above those nuclear power plants is quite another matter.

  • 34
    Harvey Tarvydas
    Posted Wednesday, 30 March 2011 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    Dr Harvey M Tarvydas

    Allan Patience has made a thoughtful and courageous statement about an inevitably complex and paradoxical subject and in the space available for him to demonstrate his wisdom I would like to assume there is a lot more wise and valuable counsel unstated.
    Profit is definitely delicious as is most sin that serves us with pleasure of whatever kind inspiring evil well and truly over good.
    In our market society we have granted it (profit) the honourable status of being a necessity for the operation of society and accepted that it can be neutral between good and evil.
    The rest is up to profit itself.
    I am in a battle with my medical profession (profession bureaucracy) and its governance system where, just as the Professor points out, excellence lives and breaths alongside its opposite. My profession conducts the traffic between life and death so my war with it is just as important as the Professors efforts here and they have murdered my professional reputation already.

    “…….. governance system is grotesquely bureaucratised, in-bred, and in many areas shockingly incompetent. Much the same can be said of contemporary……….” exactly what I have said about my profession but its arrogance and power makes it far more evil when in the self-righteous mode.

    @ SYD WALKER — we also need you, thanks for the input, and @LIZ45
    Cancer research is my cup of tea at the moment and I am getting it right for my poor little old profession. You’re right about causation contribution but it is way more complex than it seems and there is a huge hope shining out of my work.

  • 35
    Posted Wednesday, 30 March 2011 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Ronin8317, Thank you for the excellent links. Well worth reading for everyone here. Especially the emails from the workers.

    As you know, most of the workers at 1F and 2F are local residents and victims of the quake. There are many workers whose houses were washed away. I myself have had to stay in the disaster measurement headquarters the entire time ever since the earthquake occurred, and have been fighting alongside my colleagues without any sleep or rest. Personally, my entire hometown, Namie-machi, which is located along the coast, was washed away by the tsunami. My parents were washed away by the tsunami and I still don’t know where they are.”

    Just one question: where did you get the following from?

    The two workers who suffered from 2000mSv to 3000mSv are not likely to live for long.”

    We know about the two workers without safety boots being treated for leg burns from radioactive water, an extremely distressing situation. But the details you add on the exposure dose and the prognosis are not mentioned in any of those links, or anywhere else I can find. Where did you get that information from?

  • 36
    Posted Wednesday, 30 March 2011 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    I think people also have to realise that there is no such thing as poisons, only poisonous doses. Yes, radiation can cause cancers via large amounts of exposure, but all three types of radiation are used in a variety of ways in the health industry; in X rays, lasers, even in cancer surgery itself. Some radiation can be protected against easily..alpha radiation (being basically an unstable Helium atom) can be stopped via a piece of paper (it doesn’t penetrate the skin). Beta radiation consists of penetrating electrons, but even clothing provides some protection. Gamma radiation is the real danger, yet we still get exposed to this every day through natural means (the universe is full of gamma radiation), and x-rays (a low power gamma ray) are pretty much a standard diagnostic tool.
    Lets not freak out about the nuclear boogy man. Cancer rates are going up, true, yet over the last 20 years, life expectancies have been increasing and mortality rates declining. If you weigh up the lives saved by nuclear medicine vs lives lost through radiation, I think you will find we are still in positive territory.

  • 37
    Posted Wednesday, 30 March 2011 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    I wish it’s simply worded wrongly, but I read the IAEA report as the workers being exposed to 2000mSv to 3000mSv in total, rather than in water containing 2000mSv to 3000mSv per hour. Now 1000mSv is the threshold for radiation sickness. Anything above 2000mSv and it becomes life threatening. Even if you survive in the short term, you’re very likely to get cancer later on.




  • 38
    Posted Wednesday, 30 March 2011 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Ronin8317 - So you’re a doctor, you’ve made a prognosis on your own about their survival prospects, is that right? Because there’s nothing remotely like that prognosis in any of the IAEA reports or anwhere else.

    Instead, according to this report:

    Radiated Exposed Workers Discharged from Hospital
    Three workers who were exposed to radiation inside the Fukushima nuclear power plant were discharged today from the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Chiba Prefecture facility in Chiba east of Tokyo, officials said.
    The men stepped in radioactive water while working to restore power at reactor No. 3 of the plant.
    Two of them were wearing short rubber boots and received an estimated dose of 2,000 to 6,000 millisieverts of radiation below the ankles. Luckily, the exposure was localized and the two men did not develop radiation burns on their feet and required no special treatment, according to officials.
    “Tests have shown evidence of internal radiation,” the official said. “But the readings are not high enough to affect human health.” He added that their conditions were not expected to deteriorate.
    The third man wore long boots and did not have direct contact with the radioactive water.

    Please see also this review of the health effects of past nuclear incidents, and this interview with Mark Lynas.

  • 39
    Posted Wednesday, 30 March 2011 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Down here in Adelaide, courtesy of radio 5aa and Leon Byner, they started the non stop spin that the disaster in Fukushima was still nothing to be concerned about the day after the catastrophy and whilst it was clearly still unfolding. Byner especially has been lobbying for nuclear energy for some time now, whilst rubbishing the “loony left” in the process.

    Then again, that is the radio station that scaremongers about flouride in the water and that smoking a joint is the road to ruin

  • 40
    Posted Wednesday, 30 March 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    We like to think that we can design these plants to accommodate all possible mishaps. Generally we do pretty well at it. However, we cannot anticipate all occurances. Ok it may be possible to predict a tsunami, but we couldn’t predict a torrent of floodwater in Tawoomba, or the ferocity of the black saturday bush fires. There will always be things that we can’t predict. While the core reactors in these facilities are well housed, they are reliant on power for cooling and knowledgable people to run them. These cannot be guarenteed.
    The difference between nuclear and other facilities is that the legacy of a nuclear accident can last for a very long time. Large areas of land can be contaminated almost permanently.
    I believe technology can improve our lives, relieve poverty and clean up the environment, but I don’t think nuclear is the answer to these.

  • 41
    Mark Duffett
    Posted Wednesday, 30 March 2011 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Large areas of land can be contaminated almost permanently? How much? Putting the obsolete Chernobyl, Fukushima and whatever else together, less than has been drowned by hydro impoundments. Less than has been removed by coal mining. Less than will go under concrete, steel and glass if solar and wind proponents have their way.


  • 42
    Posted Wednesday, 30 March 2011 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Under concrete != contaminated by radioactive elements with half lives of hundreds of thousands of years


  • 43
    Captain Planet
    Posted Wednesday, 30 March 2011 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    @ Syd Walker, Tuesday 29th March at 4:02 pm,

    Thanks for the excellent link to the Chernobyl documentary, Syd. I watched it last night and got to bed at 01:00 am because I simply couldn’t tear myself away. Astonishingly compelling and tells a very, very different story to the “only 50 people died from Chernobyl” nonsense repeatedly trotted out by nuclear apologists.

    Amongst other things which really stood out was the compassionate and thoughtful Mikhael Gorbachev pointing out that after Chernobyl, the USSR “stopped building nuclear reactors” and stating that we simply must find new sources of energy “which are truly safe”.

    I would suggest that anyone still advocating for nuclear power and carping on about how safe it is should watch that video. The original footage, of Russian army reservists in their thousands, running onto the roof of the plant with shovels for their allotted 45 seconds maximum exposure, wearing incomplete home made lead suits, is chilling.

  • 44
    Posted Wednesday, 30 March 2011 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Ronin8317 - It seems moderators aren’t going to release my last post. The upshot is, on what basis do you make a prognosis about the mortality of the two workers who got radiation exposure on their legs? News reports on Monday quoted Japanese medical authorities saying the men had not received any radiation burns, and that the internal radiation they were registering was “not high enough to affect human health.”

  • 45
    Captain Planet
    Posted Wednesday, 30 March 2011 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    @ BUTFLI,

    Errrr…. I can only assume you are taking the mickey?

    Plutonium is less toxic than caffeine????

    1 microgram of plutonium, ingested, is a lethal dose for a human being. (Reference: Vassily Nestrekno, Nuclear Physicist)

    I consume approximately 4 cups of very strong coffee per day.

    With each containing more than 100 milligrams of caffeine, I estimate my daily caffeine ingestion at 500 milligrams, or 0.5 grams.

    Considering caffeine is “more lethal than plutonium”, either:-

    1. I have actually died of caffeine ingestion more than 500,000 times every day, for the past 20 years, making me dead more than 3,650,000,000 times (and It didn’t even hurt!) or,

    2. You would be happy to eat 500,000 micrograms of plutonium a day, because it’s harmless.

  • 46
    Mark Duffett
    Posted Wednesday, 30 March 2011 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    @Rubiginosa, wild critters demonstrably prefer the latter, and nary a mutant monster in sight.

    @Capt Planet, as one targeted by your suggestion, I can tell you that no matter how ghastly the Chernobyl remediation effort may have been, it doesn’t shift my position one iota, because no one is proposing to build Chernobyl-type reactors. As I believe I may have written before, condemning nuclear power because of Chernobyl is like writing off all aviation because of the Hindenburg.

  • 47
    Mark Duffett
    Posted Wednesday, 30 March 2011 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Capt Planet, I don’t know about caffeine (though 4 cups of very strong coffee per day might be the reason you were up until 1 am!), but your plutonium toxicity reference looks way off base. A quick google didn’t turn up any evidence for it, but rather phrases like
    “the danger is inhaling it and if ingested, is about as toxic as lead and other heavy metals”
    “1.4 micrograms for 50 mSv committed effective dose (over 50 years after intake)” (N.B. 50 mSv is way below lethal)
    “Ingestion is not a significant hazard, because plutonium passing through the gastro-intestinal tract is poorly absorbed and is expelled from the body before it can do harm”

    The comparison with caffeine may have originated here: (fortfreedom.org/p22.htm)

  • 48
    Posted Wednesday, 30 March 2011 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    @ Mark Duffett

    No-one disputes your point - but it’s entirely beside the point. The notion that Chernobyl was the last ‘bad’ reactor to go wrong - and that it’s all good from now on - was gaining currency in the debate over energy futures, as the shock of Chernobyl receded into the past and the pro-nuclear spin doctors wove their web of deceit about that incident and its long-term impacts.

    Now that notion has been dispelled as pure myth.

    If nuclear accidents on this scale aren’t really possible, they shouldn’t be happening. As they continue to happen, the technology clearly isn’t safe. When it goes wrong, it has immediate and long-lasting disastrous potential that far exceeds dangers associated with any other method of energy generation technology (the dangers associated with excessive use of fossil fuels are long-term only).

    To be really blunt, only fools will waste time debating nuclear energy in countries such as Australia that currently don’t use it. It’s a no-brainer.

    Your comparison with the Hindenberg disaster, BTW, is spurious. That spectacular disaster WAS a key factor in the demise of the AIRSHIP industry (more’s the pity IMO - it’s potentially a more benign method of air travel than fuel-guzzling jet airplanes and could well be part of a sustainable global travel system).

    And yes, I do believe you really should watch the Chernobyl documentary. Utter catastrophe was ultimately averted by the outstanding leadership of Gorbachev and the heroism of hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens. It’s an open question how bad the crisis at Fukushima may yet get - and whether US-occupied Japan in our generation is equally capable of rising to the challenge.

  • 49
    Posted Wednesday, 30 March 2011 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Professor Patience - It is highly regrettable that you trashed an otherwise informative article with the following:

    “Meanwhile, in Australia it appears that the opponents of nuclear energy are almost beside themselves with delight at the tragedy that is happening in Fukushima. They appear oblivious to the human culpability — mental laziness, moral turpitude, and n-ked greed — that has brought this catastrophe upon the heads of so many innocent Japanese.”

    The above good Sir is a thoroughly scurrilous attack on well-informed nuclear opponents who were no less dismayed at the tragedies afflicting the Japanese people than anyone else and certainly more dismayed than the nuclear industry who scurried off immediately after the Fukushima disaster to spread its evil propaganda. And nuclear opponents are opposed for the very reasons to which you alluded.

    Nuclear and fossil fuel advocates dismiss renewables with equal vehemence. These are established dirty-tech industries, with strong lobbies, and both receive massive subsidies from “cradle to grave,” from mining and drilling to waste storage and a failure to capture externalities, the massive cost of remediation (if possible) left to taxpayers or a planet in crisis.

    Among scores of revelations, a damning document, written by the UK government’s chief nuclear inspector, Mike Weightman, and released under the Freedom of Information Act in 2009, raised serious questions about the dangers of expanding the industry with a new generation of atomic plants.

    “The report discloses that between 2001-08 there were 1,767 safety incidents across Britain’s nuclear plants. About half were subsequently judged by inspectors as serious enough “to have had the potential to challenge a nuclear safety system”. They were “across all areas of existing nuclear plant”, including Sellafield in Cumbria and Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire.”

    It is an indictment on our education system that academics continue to promote an industry that destroys the environment rather than cures it. This has caused the continuous hazardous behaviours of the climate and an environment beyond our control. In fact we should be limiting the use of technologies that destroy man´s habitat on this planet.

    The grim reality is that man cannot control the atom. Indeed man can’t even control mercury, lead, man-made organochlorines, fossil fuel chemicals or the resulting CO2. It is time for man to live more simply and benefit from the ‘technologies’ that Momma Nature provided – sun, wind and water instead of plundering her hazardous waste repositories.

    The spin that renewables can’t mitigate CO2 emissions is crap. Fifty years of nuclear energy has resulted in a seriously contaminated planet and reactors with an intended life of 30-40 years have been granted an extension of >60 years. And a whole fleet of Gen IV designs remain unproven, often wildly impractical with an ETA 2030-2040. The nuclear industry dupes people into believing that this technology is commercially imminent. Useless crap.

    Meanwhile the nuclear industry continues on rampage contaminating air, soil, water, terrestrial animals, marine life and humans, the facts obscured while the planet cooks and nuclear “incidents” continue with impunity. And a moment’s silence please for the >1 million victims now deceased from the Chernobyl disaster.

  • 50
    Posted Wednesday, 30 March 2011 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Patience’s piece is a typical example of the culture of ‘scolding’ in this case people who have reacted strongly to possible contamination by the Fukushima nuclear emergency. It seems quite common for the finger waggers, especially those with academic qualifications, to emerge when they detect ‘irrational’ behaviour on the part of poorly informed, lesser educated or ideologically biased people. Patience is an opinionated social scientist (although he is also known as a political scientist which can mean anyone with an opinion and a humanities degree) who often springs into print. he has told Bishops how they should behave (see Catholica http://www.catholica.com.au/gc2/occ/049_occ_010810.php) and has expounded on the nature of federalism, neo-liberalism, Love and ‘leadership’ using the lofty tones of a moral philosopher and the manner of an entrenched opinionator. His knowledge of the nuclear power industry is no deeper than any of those commenting in this thread.