NEIS Comments on PBS Frontline’s “Nuclear Aftershocks” program

NEIS submitted the following Comment to Frontline concerning the show they aired on Tuesday, January 17th – “Nuclear Aftershocks.” This show examined the aftermath of
the Fukushima nuclear disaster of March 11, 2011 in Japan, and also its effects on the
nuclear industry worldwide.

If you missed seeing the show, fret not. You can watch it and then comment on it at:
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/nuclear-aftershocks/


We would like to complement Myles O’Brien and Frontline for taking on this extremely complex and urgent issue of both the ramifications of the Fukushima disaster, and also the future of nuclear power.  While we are sympathetic to the limitations that a 54 minute program must endure, there were 3 major topics that could have fit into the show that would challenge a good deal of what was presented:

1.)    At 18:22 O’Brien asks the crucial question point blank, “What did TEPCO know, and when did they know it?”  One answer not covered in this segment were reports that, according to onsite workers, and even one TEPCO report itself, radiation alarms were going off BEFORE the tsunami hit.

The significance of this bit of data is that is suggests that the earthquake itself did some as yet unknown damage to the plant, resulting in radiation releases.  If true, this has two major implications: 1.) this severely damages the current popular explanation for the Fukushima nuclear disaster – loss of offsite power – as the only reason for the Fukushima reactor failures, and 2.) means that all the efforts worldwide to beef up back-up power supplies to GE Mark-I type containment BWRs are necessary but not sufficient to insure the integrity of these reactors. While this will not be ascertained for some time due to the intense radiation still persistent at Fukushima, it suggests that nuclear safety planners may be going down a self-deluding false path.  Of the 104 US reactors in operation, 24 are GE Mark-Is and IIs.  This was not mentioned in the program.

2.)    At 25.21 in the program, O’Brien cites the newly proposed Japanese standard for evacuee areas of 20 milli-Sieverts per year.  He does NOT mention the intense public outcry this created when this standard was proposed for school children, who are at 5-6 times more risk per unit of radiation dose than an adult male (women are also more susceptible); and that this standard is used by many countries as the annual dose standard for nuclear plant workers.  Nor was there really time to get into the huge radiation debate concerning the differences between internal and external radiation dose effects.  Kids, unlike nuclear plant workers, play in the dirt, put their hands in their mouths and ingest radiation contamination internally, and may in some cases be getting contaminated food.  This standard has launched an international petition drive aimed at the Japanese Government to rescind this dose level for children.

O’Brien’s attempt to compare this dose to that from CAT scans was of questionable value.  Correct values for CAT scans can be found on Wikipedia, and here:

http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/safety/index.cfm?pg=sfty_xray#part7

He could have said that the dose corresponded to a 6-1/2 times increase in the annual average background radiation most of us receive, but didn’t.

3.)    O’brien’s onscreen sources for both his nuclear analysis and that of replacing nuclear power were in large part from MIT, an institution with a built in bias favoring nuclear and downplaying renewables.  One of the sources admitted as much.  Yet, numerous equally credible sources have written articles appearing in Scientific American over the past 4 years contradicting the MIT mantra.  The IPCC released a report in 2011 indicating that the world HAS the capacity to get the largest proportion of electricity needs from renewables by 2050, without nuclear.  Clearly, the MIT opinions are biased, and contradicted by sources of equal credential.

Again these criticisms are meant to merely supplement what was extremely difficult to edit into a 54 minute program.  We again praise both O’Brien and Frontline for undertaking this difficult task, and look forward to follow-ups.

David A Kraft, Nuclear Energy Information Service, Chicago