There is broad disagreement over the amounts and effects of radiation exposure due to the triple reactor meltdowns after the 2011 Great East-Japan Earthquake and tsunami. The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) joined the controversy June 4, with a 27-page “Critical Analysis of the UNSCEAR Report ‘Levels and effects of radiation exposures due to the nuclear accident after the 2011 Great East-Japan Earthquake and tsunami.’”
IPPNW is the Nobel Peace Prize winning global federation of doctors working for “a healthier, safer and more peaceful world.” The group has adopted a highly critical view of nuclear power because as it says, “A world without nuclear weapons will only be possible if we also phase out nuclear energy.”
UNSCEAR, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, published its deeply flawed report April 2. Its accompanying press release summed up its findings this way: “No discernible changes in future cancer rates and hereditary diseases are expected due to exposure to radiation as a result of the Fukushima nuclear accident.” The word “discernable” is a crucial disclaimer here.
Cancer, and the inexorable increase in cancer cases in Japan and around the world, is mostly caused by toxic pollution, including radiation exposure according to the National Cancer Institute. But distinguishing a particular cancer case as having been caused by Fukushima rather than by other toxins, or combination of them, may be impossible leading to UNSCEAR’s deceptive summation. As the IPPNW report says, “A cancer does not carry a label of origin…”
UNSCEAR’s use of the phrase “are expected” is also heavily nuanced. The increase in childhood leukemia cases near Germany’s operating nuclear reactors, compared to elsewhere, was not “expected,” but was proved in 1997. The findings, along with Chernobyl’s lingering consequences, led to the country’s federally mandated reactor phase-out. The plummeting of official childhood mortality rates around five US nuclear reactors after they were shut down was also “unexpected,” but shown by Joe Mangano and the Project on Radiation and Human Health.
The International Physicians’ analysis is severely critical of UNSCEAR’s current report which echoes its 2013 Fukushima review and press release that said, “It is unlikely to be able to attribute any health effects in the future among the general public and the vast majority of workers.”
“No justification for optimistic presumptions”
The IPPNW’s report says flatly, “Publications and current research give no justification for such apparently optimistic presumptions.” UNSCEAR, the physicians complain, “draws mainly on data from the nuclear industry’s publications rather than from independent sources and omits or misinterprets crucial aspects of radiation exposure”, and “does not reveal the true extent of the consequences” of the disaster. As a result, the doctors say the UN report is “over-optimistic and misleading.” The UN’s “systematic underestimations and questionable interpretations,” the physicians warn, “will be used by the nuclear industry to downplay the expected health effects of the catastrophe” and will likely but mistakenly be considered by public authorities as reliable and scientifically sound. Dozens of independent experts report that radiation attributable health effects are highly likely.
Points of agreement: Fukushima is worse than reported and worsening still
Before detailing the multiple inaccuracies in the UNSCEAR report, the doctors list four major points of agreement. First, UNSCEAR improved on the World Health Organization’s health assessment of the disaster’s on-going radioactive contamination. UNSCEAR also professionally “rejects the use of a threshold for radiation effects of 100 mSv [millisieverts], used by the International Atomic Energy Agency in the past.” Like most health physicists, both groups agree that there is no radiation dose so small that it can’t cause negative health effects. There are exposures allowed by governments, but none of them are safe.
Second, the UN and the physicians agree that areas of Japan that were not evacuated were seriously contaminated with iodine-132, iodine-131 and tellurium-132, the worst reported instance being Iwaki City which had 52 times the annual absorbed dose to infants’ thyroid than from natural background radiation. UNSCEAR also admitted that “people all over Japan” were affected by radioactive fallout (not just in Fukushima Prefecture) through contact with airborne or ingested radioactive materials. And while the UNSCEAR acknowledged that “contaminated rice, beef, seafood, milk, milk powder, green tea, vegetables, fruits and tap water were found all over mainland Japan”, it neglected “estimating doses for Tokyo … which also received a significant fallout both on March 15 and 21, 2011.”
Third, UNSCEAR agrees that the nuclear industry’s and the government’s estimates of the total radioactive contamination of the Pacific Ocean are “far too low.” Still, the IPPNW reports shows, UNSCEAR’s use of totally unreliable assumptions results in a grossly understated final estimate. For example, the UN report ignores all radioactive discharges to the ocean after April 30, 2011, even though roughly 300 tons of highly contaminated water has been pouring into the Pacific every day for 3-and-1/2 years, about 346,500 tons in the first 38 months.
Fourth, the Fukushima catastrophe is understood by both groups as an ongoing disaster, not the singular event portrayed by industry and commercial media. UNSCEAR even warns that ongoing radioactive pollution of the Pacific “may warrant further follow-up of exposures in the coming years,” and “further releases could not be excluded in the future,” from forests and fields during rainy and typhoon seasons when winds spread long-lived radioactive particles and from waste management plans that now include incineration.
As the global doctors say, in their unhappy agreement with UNSCAR, “In the long run, this may lead to an increase in internal exposure in the general population through radioactive isotopes from ground water supplies and the food chain.”
Physicians find ten grave failures in UN report
The majority of the IPPNW’s report details 10 major errors, flaws or discrepancies in the UNSCEAR paper and explains study’s omissions, underestimates, inept comparisons, misinterpretations and unwarranted conclusions.
1. The total amount of radioactivity released by the disaster was underestimated by UNSCEAR and its estimate was based on disreputable sources of information. UNSCEAR ignored 3.5 years of nonstop emissions of radioactive materials “that continue unabated,” and only dealt with releases during the first weeks of the disaster. UNSCEAR relied on a study by the Japanese Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) which, the IPPNW points out, “was severely criticized by the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission … for its collusion with the nuclear industry.” The independent Norwegian Institute for Air Research’s estimate of cesium-137 released (available to UNSCEAR) was four times higher than the JAEA/UNSCEAR figure (37 PBq instead of 9 PBq). Even Tokyo Electric Power Co. itself estimated that iodine-131 releases were over four times higher than what JAEA/UNSCEAR) reported (500 PBq vs. 120 BPq). The UNSCEAR inexplicably chose to ignore large releases of strontium isotopes and 24 other radionuclides when estimating radiation doses to the public. (A PBq or petabecquerel is a quadrillion or 1015 Becquerels. Put another way, a PBq equals 27,000 curies, and one curie makes 37 billion atomic disintegrations per second.)
2. Internal radiation taken up with food and drink “significantly influences the total radiation dose an individual is exposed to,” the doctors note, and their critique warns pointedly, “UNSCEAR uses as its one and only source, the still unpublished database of the International Atomic Energy Association and the Food and Agriculture Organization. The IAEA was founded … to ‘accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world.’ It therefore has a profound conflict of interest.” Food sample data from the IAEA should not be relied on, “as it discredits the assessment of internal radiation doses and makes the findings vulnerable to claims of manipulation.” As with its radiation release estimates, IAEA/UNSCEAR ignored the presence of strontium in food and water. Internal radiation dose estimates made by the Japanese Ministry for Science and Technology were 20, 40 and even 60 times higher than the highest numbers used in the IAEA/UNSCEAR reports.
3. To gauge radiation doses endured by over 24,000 workers on site at Fukushima, UNSCEAR relied solely on figures from Tokyo Electric Power Co., the severely compromised owners of the destroyed reactors. The IPPNW report dismisses all the conclusions drawn from Tepco, saying, “There is no meaningful control or oversight of the nuclear industry in Japan and data from Tepco has in the past frequently been found to be tampered with and falsified.”
4. The UNSCEAR report disregards current scientific fieldwork on actual radiation effects on plant and animal populations. Peer reviewed ecological and genetic studies from Chernobyl and Fukushima find evidence that low dose radiation exposures cause, the doctors point out, “genetic damage such as increased mutation rates, as well as developmental abnormalities, cataracts, tumors, smaller brain sizes in birds and mammals and further injuries to populations, biological communities and ecosystems.” Ignoring these studies, IPPNW says “gives [UNSCEAR] the appearance of bias or lack of rigor.”
5. The special vulnerability of the embryo and fetus to radiation was completely discounted by the UNSCEAR, the physicians note. UNSCEAR shockingly said that doses to the fetus or breast-fed infants “would have been similar to those of other age groups,” a claim that, the IPPNW says, “goes against basic principles of neonatal physiology and radiobiology.” By dismissing the differences between an unborn and an infant, the UNSCEAR “underestimates the health risks of this particularly vulnerable population.” The doctors quote a 2010 report from American Family Physician that, “in utero exposure can be teratogenic, carcinogenic or mutagenic.”
6. Non-cancerous diseases associated with radiation doses — such as cardiovascular diseases, endocrinological and gastrointestinal disorders, infertility, genetic mutations in offspring and miscarriages — have been documented in medical journals, but are totally dismissed by the UNSCEAR. The physicians remind us that large epidemiological studies have shown undeniable associations of low dose ionizing radiation to non-cancer health effects and “have not been scientifically challenged.”
7. The UNSCEAR report downplays the health impact of low-doses of radiation by misleadingly comparing radioactive fallout to “annual background exposure.” The IPPNW scolds the UNSCEAR saying it is, “not scientific to argue that natural background radiation is safe or that excess radiation from nuclear fallout that stays within the dose range of natural background radiation is harmless.” In particular, ingested or inhaled radioactive materials, “deliver their radioactive dose directly and continuously to the surrounding tissue” — in the thyroid, bone or muscles, etc. — “and therefore pose a much larger danger to internal organs than external background radiation.”
8. Although UNSCEAR’s April 2 Press Release and Executive Summary give the direct and mistaken impression that there will be no radiation health effects from Fukushima, the report itself states that the Committee “does not rule out the possibility of future excess cases or disregard the suffering associated…” Indeed, UNSCEAR admits to “incomplete knowledge about the release rates of radionuclides over time and the weather conditions during the releases.” UNSCEAR concedes that “there were insufficient measurements of gamma dose rate…” and that, “relatively few measurements of foodstuff were made in the first months.” IPPNW warns that these glaring uncertainties completely negate the level of certainty implied in UNSCEAR’s Exec. Summary.
9. UNSCEAR often praises the protective measures taken by Japanese authorities, but the IPPNW finds it “odd that a scientific body like UNSCEAR would turn a blind eye to the many grave mistakes of the Japanese disaster management…” The central government was slow to inform local governments and “failed to convey the severity of the accident,” according to the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission. “Crisis management ‘did not function correctly,’ the Commission said, and its failure to distribute stable iodine, “caused thousands of children to become irradiated with iodine-131,” IPPNW reports.
10. The UNSCEAR report lists “collective” radiation doses “but does not explain the expected cancer cases that would result from these doses.” This long chapter of IPPNW’s report can’t be summarized easily. The doctors offer conservative estimates, “keeping in mind that these most probably represent underestimations for the reasons listed above.” The IPPNW estimates that 4,300 to 16,800 excess cases of cancer due to the Fukushima catastrophe in Japan in the coming decades. Cancer deaths will range between 2,400 and 9,100. UNSCEAR may call these numbers insignificant, the doctors archly point out, but individual cancers are debilitating and terrifying and they “represent preventable and man-made diseases” and fatalities.
IPPNW concludes that Fukushima’s radiation disaster is “far from over”: the destroyed reactors are still unstable; radioactive liquids and gases continuously leak from the complex wreckage; melted fuel and used fuel in quake-damaged cooling pools hold enormous quantities of radioactivity “and are highly vulnerable to further earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons and human error.” Catastrophic releases of radioactivity “could occur at any time and eliminating this risk will take many decades.”
IPPNW finally recommends urgent actions that governments should take, because the UNSCEAR report, “does not adhere to scientific standards of neutrality,” “represents a systematic underestimation,” “conjures up an illusion of scientific certainty that obscures the true impact of the nuclear catastrophe on health and the environment,” and its conclusion is phrased “in such a way that would most likely be misunderstood by most people…”
John LaForge works for Nukewatch, a nuclear watchdog and anti-war group in Wisconsin, and edits its Quarterly.
 Nancy Wilson, National Cancer Institute, “The Majority of Cancers Are Linked to the Environment, NCI Benchmarks, Vol. 4, Issue 3, June 17, 2004
In-service dates for two nuclear units under construction at Plant Vogtle in Georgia have been moved out to December 2017 and December 2018, and the total project cost is now estimated at $6.76 billion—$650 million more than the certified cost—staff from Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) reported this week.
Steven Roetger and GDS Associates consultant William Jacobs, who testified on behalf of the PSC’s public interest advocacy staff on June 20 cited the 9th/10th Vogtle Construction Monitoring Report—which is yet to be made public—when they reported that companies building the project are behind on scheduled milestones.
The consortium building the project had originally projected the first of the two new reactors would be operational in April 2016.
Developers continue to be in litigation with the contractors Westinghouse and Chicago Bridge and Iron per an engineering, procurement, and construction agreement to determine which party is responsible for certain delays in the project schedule. Delays posed several risks, including mounting capital and financing costs, and replacement fuel costs, Roetger and Jacobs told the regulatory commission.
Much progress had been accomplished on the Unit 3 and Unit 4 nuclear islands last year, the staff members noted. But, “The engineering completion schedule identified that hundreds of activities were pushed out past the construction need date due to late engineering which delayed necessary procurement,” they said. “This in turn pushed out the start and end dates of some construction activities.”
Further delays are likely because some components for the AP1000 units have never been built before. The shield building, for example, is a first-of-a-kind design, fabricate, and assemble activity, and the design of the fully digital control system is also a first-of-a-kind activity, staff said. Schedule risks include technical difficulties with development of other key pieces of equipment as well, including the canned rotor coolant pumps, and the squib valves. Meanwhile, startup testing and resolution of problems identified during startup “will take longer than presently planned,” Roetger and Jacobs projected.
Southern Co. this week told the commission in its own monthly report that its “uncompromising focus continues to be on quality and safety of the project as decisions are made concerning schedule and cost.”
Construction of the two AP1000 reactors, each about 1.1 GW, was approved by the Georgia PSC in 2009. Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power, which owns 45.7% of the project with three other entities, received a combined construction and operating license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in February 2012. The Department of Energy finalized a $6.5 billion loan guarantee in February 2014 for two of Vogtle’s owners: Georgia Power and Oglethorpe Power Corp. The DOE is working on the remaining $1.8 billion for the expansion project’s third owner, Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia. … Full article
The historiography of the atomic bomb can be roughly categorized into three camps: traditionalists, revisionists, and middle-ground “consensus” historians.  Traditionalists, also referred to as orthodox historians and post-revisionists, studying the atomic bomb generally accept the view posited by the Truman administration and articulated most clearly in Henry Stimson’s 1947 Harper’s Magazine article. In short, this argument assumes that the use of the atomic bombs against Japan was justifiable on military grounds in order to prevent a costly invasion of the Japanese home islands. Often attached to such analysis is the notion that insofar as the atomic bombs ended the war prior to an invasion and saved hundreds of thousands or millions of lives, the use of the atomic bombs was also a morally sound decision. There tends to be a remarkable level of homogeneity amongst the traditionalist arguments. Whereas they may emphasize certain facts or aspects of the debate, they tend to present strikingly similar arguments, with a few exceptions.
The revisionists, in contrast, tend to be far more heterogeneous. Revisionist historians are unconvinced by the official narrative, and tend to emphasize the alternatives to the atomic bomb not pursued by the Truman administration. Furthermore, most revisionists accept, on some level, the “atomic diplomacy” thesis articulated first by Gar Alperovitz in 1965. To one degree or another revisionists argue that the Truman administration purposefully chose not to pursue alternatives to ending the war and that post-war diplomatic concerns vis-à-vis the Soviet Union were germane to, and in some historian’s view dictated, the use of the atomic bombs.
The third camp, the consensus historians, are those who J. Samuel Walker refers to as having “reached a broad, though hardly unanimous, consensus on some key issues surrounding the use of the bomb.” These include the fact that Truman and his advisers were aware of alternatives that seemed likely to end the war, that invasion would likely not have been necessary, and that the atomic bomb did not save hundreds of thousands or millions of lives. What distinguishes them from the traditionalists is the argument that the atomic bombs were not a military necessity. On the other hand, their rejection or hesitancy to incorporate atomic diplomacy into their analysis differentiates them from the revisionists.
Given the nature of the three camps, the organizational framework I have utilized includes three sections. The first section will deal with the debate between traditionalists and revisionists. It will focus on questions of atomic diplomacy, the Potsdam Conference, unconditional surrender, Soviet entry into the war, projected casualty figures, and certain key figures in the Truman administration, the Soviet Union, and Japan. The second section will examine the points of disagreement within the revisionist camp. Although revisionists all challenge the orthodox position, they are significantly less homogenous than the latter. The third section of the essay will explore the consensus historians and their disagreements with both the traditionalists and the revisionists. Given the level of unanimity amongst the traditionalist historians, it is unnecessary to dedicate a section exploring differences between them because with rare exceptions, which will be noted when appropriate, there is remarkably little disagreement. The essay will conclude with a brief analysis of the authors, such as Robert Newman and Paul Boyer, who have extended their chronological framework significantly beyond the actual use of the atomic bombs.
The Traditionalists vs. the Revisionists
The five monographs within the traditionalist camp that will be analyzed here are Robert James Maddox’sWeapons for Victory: The Hiroshima Decision (2004), Robert P. Newman’sTruman and the Hiroshima Cult (1995), Richard B. Frank’s Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire (1999), Paul D. Walker’sTruman’s Dilemma: Invasion or the Bomb (2003), and Wilson D. Miscamble’s The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs, and the Defeat of Japan (2011). On the other side of the debate are four revisionist historians, including Gar Alperovitz’s The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth (1995), Martin J. Sherwin’s A World Destroyed: Hiroshima and Its Legacies (2003), Ronald Takaki’s Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb (1995), and Tsuyoshi Hasegawa’s Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan (2005). The positions of the traditionalists and the revisionists regarding atomic diplomacy, the Potsdam Conference, Japanese surrender, the unconditional surrender policy, Soviet entry into the war, projected casualty figures, and key individuals involved in the decision to use the bomb and Japanese surrender are fundamentally at odds.
The question of atomic diplomacy is what creates the fundamental divide between the two camps. Although there is great variation between revisionist and traditionalist positions on unconditional surrender, the role and race and racism, and other factors, most questions tend to be subsumed within and intricately bound up with atomic diplomacy. Since the revisionists first posited this thesis, it is appropriate to adumbrate their arguments. Objecting to the official narrative that “Truman simply had no choice except to use the atomic bomb,” Alperovitz argues that Truman, significantly influenced by James Byrnes, used the bomb as a form of “atomic diplomacy” to pursue post-war U.S. interests in both Europe and Asia. In essence, Alperovitz argues that the U.S. government “generally understood” that “Japan was defeated and preparing to surrender before the bomb was used.”  According to Alperovitz there was a “quite general” notion amongst U.S. officials at Potsdam that the bomb would strengthen U.S. diplomacy vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. It was during this time that “a conscious decision not to encourage Soviet participation in the war” was undertaken. Attempts “to delay the Red Army’s attack to the extent feasible” were meant to “limit Soviet political influence in Asia.” For Alperovitz atomic diplomacy is the crucial element in explaining the use of the bomb.
Martin Sherwin supplements Alperovitz’s atomic diplomacy thesis by extending the importance of such diplomatic concerns backwards into the Roosevelt administration. Sherwin posits that the policies of the Roosevelt administration suggest “that the diplomatic value of the bomb began to shape his atomic energy policies as early as 1943.” Although Sherwin cites Roosevelt’s elusive decision making process and sudden death as inhibitors to fully understanding his policy, he posits that Roosevelt “consistently opposed international control and acted in accordance with Churchill’s monopolistic, anti-Soviet views.” Ronald Takaki, despite emphasizing the role of race and racism in the decision, also concedes that atomic diplomacy was indeed a factor. He notes the “incredible pressure” on Manhattan project scientists to complete the bombs prior to the Potsdam conference. Similarly, he explains how Truman purposefully postponed the conference to coincide with the bomb tests. Takaki maintains that two “schools of thought” dominated the thinking of U.S. officials, including the “quid-pro-quo” strategy, articulated by people like Henry Stimson, and the “monopoly” strategy a la James Byrnes.  In Tsuyoshi Hasegawa’s view, the Potsdam Proclamation was not a warning to Japan, but an attempt to justify the use of the bomb.
Hasegawa’s argument aligns with Alperovitz’s as well. He maintains that a “race” began at Potsdam between the United States and the Soviet Union when the Soviets set August 15 as their projected state of entry into the war. This “gave American policymakers a definite deadline to work for.”  Thus, the timing of the Potsdam Proclamation was “integrally connected with the schedule for deployment of the atomic bombs.” The Truman administration desired to end the war via the atomic bombs in order to avoid Soviet entry and maintain hegemony in the Pacific in the post-war world. Therefore, the Truman-Byrnes commitment to unconditional surrender and the Potsdam declaration was simply a prelude to the use of the atomic bombs. Byrnes position was essentially: “if we insisted on unconditional surrender, we could justify dropping of the atomic bomb.” Concerned about the post-war political consequences of Soviet participation in the war, U.S. planners sought to bring about Japan’s surrender before the Soviets could join. At best, Soviet participation in the war was an “insurance policy” in case the atomic tests failed.
Thus, the revisionist position is quite clear. Officials in the United States were deeply concerned about post-war hegemony, particularly in the Pacific but in Europe as well, and saw the use of the atomic bomb against Japan as a way to contain the Soviet Union. Subsequently, any and all alternatives that could have ended the war, albeit not in time to prevent Soviet entry, were disregarded and not pursued. This conclusion is often premised on the fact that Japan was already defeated and near surrender. Alperovitz argues that “Japan was defeated and preparing to surrender before the atomic bomb was used. Though the question of timing was in dispute, it is also certain that this was generally understood in the U.S. government at the time.”  Hasegawa contends that the “Soviet entry into the war played a greater role than the atomic bombs in inducing Japan to surrender” and, as such, the Japanese would have quickly surrendered upon Soviet entry even without the use of the atomic bombs.
It is on these grounds that the traditionalists most vehemently challenge the revisionists. Robert James Maddox challenged what he saw as “blatant revisionist distortions” in order to construct his argument that the single-most decisive factor in forcing the Japanese to surrender and preventing a costly land invasion of Japan was the use of the atomic bombs. Whereas Alperovitz maintained that the casualty figures for a land invasion were inflated as post-war justifications by the Truman administration, Maddox suggests that the half-a-million figure “cited by Truman, and even higher ones, were circulated within the upper echelons of government.” For Maddox bombs were utilized out of military necessity because the Japanese would not have surrendered without the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Indeed, according to Maddox the “very idea of surrender was alien to the Japanese samurai tradition.” Furthermore, ULTRA intercepts suggest surrender prior to an invasion was not even a serious option, let alone inevitable. Richard Frank goes even further, arguing that the conclusions the revisionist reach regarding the MAGIC are erroneous because they ignore the fact that Japanese peace feelers were completely “want of official sanction.”  Thus, the “thesis that Japan was actively seeking to surrender in 1945, and that American policy makers knew this primarily from code breaking,” is rejected by the traditionalists.
Robert Newman concurs with this analysis, adding that most “Hiroshima cultists,” including Gar Alperovitz, P. M. S. Blackett, Paul Boyer, the Smithsonian exhibit authors, and others who “swallow this conclusion of the [United States Strategic Bombing Survey] whole” are incorrect because the study itself was extremely flawed.  Information in the survey was purposefully distorted to support conclusions already arrived at a priori by Paul Nitze, and the testimony of most high-ranking Japanese officials “overwhelmingly indicated that Japan was not about to surrender before the bomb.” Thus, the “Truman bashers” are incorrect to argue that the bomb changed no minds. In fact, according to Newman it “created a situation in which the peace party and the emperor could prevail.”  Wilson Miscamble also views himself as “exploding permanently the myth of a Japan ready to surrender,” a “myth” perpetuated by the United States Strategic Bombing Survey of 1946. 
Richard Frank furthers this argument by explaining that Japan’s “fundamental policy,” based on the Ketsu-Go defense plan, was a national resistance program intended to bloody the invading enemy enough to force political negotiations and ipso facto avoid unconditional surrender. Frank relies heavily upon the document produced by the Big Six entitled “The Fundamental Policy to Be Followed Henceforth in the Conduct of the War,” which argued Japan “must fight to the finish and choose extinction before surrender.” In essence, Japan was “effectively locked on course for a fight to the last man, woman, and child.” Furthermore, Frank continues this theme, arguing that the goal was to “severely bloody the invaders” to the point of achieving political goals. Ultra documents, according to Frank, did much to “unmask their carefully wrought plans.” The forces on Kyushu far exceeded the 350,000 number given to Truman. Indeed, by November 1 Japanese strength would be 680,000, much closer to the 1:1 ration of American to Japanese soldiers that U.S. leaders desperately wanted to avoid. Paul Walker takes this argument to its logical extreme. He argues that due the 35 percent casualty rate of the Iwo Jima and Okinawa battles, as well as the “fanaticism of the Japanese military and their updated code of Bushido,” casualties would have ranged from around 250,000 in the invasion of Kyushu alone, to over one million with the invasion of both Kyushu and Honshu. Miscamble maintains that “retrospective castigations” like William D. Leahy’s memoirs in 1950, which denounced the atomic bomb as a “modern type of barbarism not worthy of Christian man,” can be dismissed since “no military officials counseled the president against using the weapons prior to Hiroshima.” Maddox concurs, explaining that despite the retroactive denunciations of the atomic bomb by top-ranking military officials, no military officials seriously attempted to guide Truman away from using the bomb prior to its deployment. The fact that the bomb was utilized out of military necessity dismisses the “gravest charge against Truman,” namely that the atomic bomb was deployed “primary as a diplomatic weapon to intimidate the Soviet Union.”
The question of Soviet entry into the war preoccupies an important space in the discourse as well. Tsuyoshi Hasegawa maintains that “Soviet entry into the war played a greater role than the atomic bombs in inducing Japan to surrender.” Interestingly, Maddox claims the Soviets invaded Manchuria not to be “a good ally” but rather “to get in on the kill,” an analysis Hasegawa would largely share. However, where the revisionists and the traditionalists differ, is that most traditionalists seriously downplay the role of Soviet entry into the war. In Frank’s narrative, “Soviet intervention was a significant but not decisive reason for Japan’s surrender… reinforcing but not fundamental.” Miscamble maintains that revisionist historians who emphasize Soviet entry in the war “distort history by overemphasizing” its importance. According to Miscamble, Hasegawa’s claim that Truman was disappointed at the Soviet entry into the war “are not substantiated by the historical evidence.”  Paul Walker points out that when the emperor finally surrendered on August 15, 1945, the Russian invasion was not mentioned as a cause of surrender. Hasegawa counters this point by citing “another historic document” written by Sakomizu’s  assistant and sanctioned by the emperor that was not issued until August 17. This re-script explained that if Japan continued fighting after the entrance of the Soviet Union into the war it would endanger “the very foundation of the empire’s existence,”  reinforcing Hasegawa’s claim that Soviet intervention was key.
Perhaps the most creative defense of the use of the atomic bomb from the traditionalist camp is the moral one. One of the primary objectives of Wilson Miscamble is to “confront the question regarding the morality of the atomic bomb.” Miscamble suggests that for Byrnes and Truman “moral complexity or future diplomatic implications failed to complicate their straight forward thinking.” If the atomic bomb “might save American lives” then it must be used, and this “remained, throughout, the essential motivation that guided the decision.”  Whereas revisionists argue that Japan was defeated, he makes a stark distinction between defeat and surrender, explaining that the U.S. would have eventually won the war by “continued obliteration bombing of Japanese cities and infrastructure, a choking blockade, the terrible invasions… [and these] would have meant significantly greater Allied casualties and much higher Japanese civilian and military casualties.” Likewise, the abrupt end to the war also brought an end to Japanese brutality in other parts of Asia. Furthermore, “indiscriminate bombing had become the norm for the Anglo-American forces well before 1945,” indicating that any “moral Rubicon” had already been crossed prior to Hiroshima. Thus, the bomb was the “lesser of the evils available,” and subsequently Miscamble pleas that in “future anniversaries of the dropping of the atomic bomb… one might hope for less moralizing condemnation of Truman’s decision… Perhaps there might even be some empathy for the man who felt required to make the decision and who carried the burden of it.”
Robert Newman makes a slightly less sophisticated moral defense, proclaiming that neither “Hiroshima cultists nor professional moralists had even considered the possibility that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were legitimate retribution for the millions of deaths caused by Japan’s fourteen-year rampage through China and the Pacific,” an idea he apparently entertains. Newman suggests that the atomic bombs were moral actions taken in order to prevent greater evil. According to him the general arguments against Truman’s choice to use the bomb come in four general varieties: first, atomic bombs are intrinsically evil and should not be used; second, their use violated the principle of noncombatant immunity; third, the bombs were used on invalid motives, including retribution, revenge, and reprisal; and fourth, no specific warning was given. To the first, Newman responds that “the case for immorality of today’s overkill arsenals and war fighting doctrines is strong,” but “to apply the same case retrospectively to 1945, however, is senseless.” To the second, Newman quotes Bamba Nobuya to suggest that the “Marxist interpretation of imperialistic war,” namely that “the ‘people’ should have been innocent,” is incorrect. The Japanese population did not just passively support imperialism, “on the contrary, most people competed to get front seats on the fascist bandwagon.”  Thus, they were not noncombatants and to attack them was legitimate. To the third point Newman maintains that because the Japanese were involved in developing atomic weapons as well, even though U.S. leaders were not aware of this at the time, it retroactively justifies the decision. Since “upwards of 250,000 people… would have died each month the Japanese Empire struggled in its death throes beyond July 1945,” and since the bomb had the ability to end the war early, it could not have been used for the wrong reasons. To the last point, he responds that the shock value of the bomb was decisive in ending the war, and thus it would have been ineffective and prolonged the war to issue the warning.
Finally, the issue of culture and its relationship to policies of surrender are intricately bound up in the traditionalist narrative. For Paul Walker, a key element of the war was the “barbarism, savageness, and race hatred” of “an oriental enemy with a brutal heritage.”  According to Walker, the Japanese in World War II “believed they were fighting in the proud traditions of their samurai ancestors.” This ideological reliance upon “a version of Bushido” meant that military schools taught “a perverted cult of death” which made “young Japanese men expendable numbers for the military’s reckless and costly adventures.”  Tracing Japanese history from the Forty Seven Ronin to the Meiji Restoration and beyond, Walker paints a picture of uniform brutality and aggression. This culminates in the period from 1894 to 1945, where “Japan was involved in almost constant warfare with her neighbors.” Since being a prisoner of war was “completely unacceptable, considered dishonorable or shameful, and contrary to the samurai code,” the Japanese were essentially automatons that fought to the death. In contrast with U.S. imperialism, where “Filipinos had a positive image of America” and U.S. intervention in Vietnam “sorted itself out,” Japanese imperialism was infinitely more brutal, according to Walker. This notion that the Japanese were imbued with fanaticism and the ideology of Bushido, which permeated their consciousness for centuries, is an important part of Walker’s thesis because it attempts to reinforce the notion that the toll of casualties would be great in a U.S. invasion of Japan. Miscamble suggests a similar theme, explaining that the “the twisted neo-samurai … geared up with true banzai spirit to engage the whole population in a kind of national kamikaze campaign.”  Maddox is slightly less crude, suggesting that that the “very idea of surrender was alien to the Japanese samurai tradition.”
Thus, within the traditionalist camp one finds a remarkable degree of unanimity. While some authors, such as Miscamble and Newman, focus on the moral argument, others, such as Maddox, implore the military aspect. Others still emphasize the “savage” culture of the “Oriental enemy” a la Paul Walker. Yet, all of the traditionalists tend to converge in their main analysis. There is little disagreement among them on any vital issues. In one way this greatly distinguishes them from the revisionist camp, which presents a quite heterogeneous and diverse array of analyses.
The Revisionist Camp
The traditionalists and revisionists part ways on the fundamental divide of atomic diplomacy. Within the traditionalist camp arguments are largely convergent, whereas within the revisionists camp the nuances are far more pronounced. All tend to agree that some level of atomic diplomacy was in play. Most, however, disagree on a variety of other issues. Gar Alperovitz and Martin Sherwin heavily emphasize the role of atomic diplomacy. In contrast, Takaki suggests race and racism as primary variables. Hasegawa maintains that an “international” perspective is vital, and criticizes past revisionists for heavily focusing on leaders in Washington. As Gar Alperovitz is the first and quintessential revisionist, much of the internal discussion amongst revisionists is characterized by correcting, expanding, or challenging certain assumptions Alperovitz has made.
The first distinction of analysis can be seen in the characterization of the Roosevelt and the Truman administration. Alperovitz imbues individual political actors, particularly Harry Truman and his adviser James Byrnes, with immense agency over the use of the bomb. He warns against “analyses which assert that a combination of factors-political, military, racial, and financial-produced the decision.” He also makes the case against “momentum theories,” which may have “an odd feeling of seeming plausibility about them,” but which go against the evidence that top U.S. military officials were against the bombing. Throughout his work it is stressed that individual political actors were absolutely fundamental in the decision, and that no sort of “momentum theory” is capable of capturing the dynamics of the top-level discussions that led to the final decision. Alperovitz emphasizes the importance of the Truman-Byrnes relationship, implicitly suggesting that the outcome may have been different with Roosevelt in office.
Martin Sherwin articulates a somewhat distinct argument that draws a strong line of continuity between the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. For Sherwin, an “analysis of the policies [Roosevelt] chose… suggests that the diplomatic value of the bomb began to shape his atomic energy policies as early as 1943.” Although Sherwin cites Roosevelt’s elusive decision making process and sudden death as inhibitors to fully understanding his policy, he posits that Roosevelt “consistently opposed international control and acted in accordance with Churchill’s monopolistic, anti-Soviet views.” He concludes that Roosevelt’s commitment to amicable postwar relations with the Soviets has “often been exaggerated,” and that “his prescriptions for the diplomatic role of the atomic bomb… reveal a carefully guarded skepticism regarding the Grand Alliance’s prospects for surviving the war intact.” Thus, Sherwin argues that Truman did not “inherit the question” of whether to employ the bomb as a means of atomic diplomacy, but he “inherited the answer” since by 1943 the diplomatic value of the bomb had already begun to shape atomic energy policies. The decision to use the bomb, and its diplomatic implications, were prescribed by Roosevelt. Truman’s decisions were more or less technical, revolving around how specifically to use the bomb. Where Alperovitz has attempted to present a break or disconnect between what he perceives as Roosevelt’s uncertain and wavering atomic policies, Sherwin presents a forceful analysis suggesting strong continuity between the two administrations.
A second point of contention amongst revisionists is the role of race and racism in the decision to use the bomb. Here Alperovitz argues that while “it is certainly possible” that racism amongst U.S. officials played a role in the decision to drop the bomb, “it is all but impossible to find specific evidence that racism was an important factor.” In contrast, while Takaki adopts Alperovitz’s notion of atomic diplomacy, he drastically parts with him on the issue of race. Takaki’s primary focus is understanding the decision within the trajectory of US racism.  In this regard, it seems his argument is best encapsulated when he declares, borrowing from John Dower, that “in this ‘war without mercy,’ Truman made the deadly mushroom cloud of ‘Manhattan’ appear over Japan in order to destroy an enemy he regarded as ‘a beast’.” Takaki explicates upon the “racialization of the Pacific War,” positioning it within the historic context of racism and US expansionism. After briefly addressing Japanese notions of racial superiority, Takaki attempts to place Truman’s decision to use the atomic bombs within the “sociological imagination” of anti-Japanese racism in US society. In doing so, he links the war in the Pacific to earlier periods of conquest. His analysis focuses on the complex processes by which the US idea of democracy was intricately bound up with westward expansion and slavery, all institutions saturated with racialized notions of superiority. Citing the Chinese Exclusion Act, “Yellow Peril” hysteria, the American Federation of Labor anti-Japanese agitation, and the Asiatic Exclusion League, Takaki draws a long line of continuity culminating in the internment of Japanese Americans and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For Takaki, notions of racial superiority and anti-Asian racism were key variables in the “sociological imagination” which facilitated the bombing of hundreds of thousands of civilians. It is in this context of a society deeply permeated with both institutional and individual racism that Truman’s actions must be analyzed. Takaki analyzes Truman’s biography, emphasizing the implicit notions of racial superiority deeply embedded in him and his family of ex-slave owners. Takaki outlines Truman’s broadly anti-Asian sentiments, such as in 1911 when he explained that he “does hate Chinese and Japs” and that the “yellow men [ought to be] in Asia.”  By 1945, Truman referred to the “Japs” as “savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic.” Thus, the “sociological imagination” was a highly racialized one that helped rationalize the slaughter of innocent Japanese civilians in the minds of men like Truman.
Tsuyoshi Hasegawa also takes Alperovitz to task on more than one occasion. Throughout Racing the Enemy he points out that he views his work as a corrective to the mistakes of revisionist historians. As he explains, the “sharp division between revisionist and orthodox historians in the Unites States” has failed to address the crucial international dimension because “the main point of contention is over American perceptions of Soviet intentions” that “depict Soviet actions as a sideshow and assign to Moscow a secondary role at best.” Furthermore, although Hasegawa is certainly not an orthodox historian, he is mildly critical of the revisionists who have preceded him: “Although much of what revisionist historians argue is faulty and based on tendentious use of sources, they nonetheless deserve credit for raising an important moral issue that challenges the standard American narrative of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” Thus, Hasegawa strengthens the revisionist narrative by correcting some of the errors and increasing the attention to the international dynamic at work.
Alperovitz in large part bases his argument on the conclusions of the 1946 United States Strategic Bombing Survey which argued that Japan “would likely have surrender in 1945 without atomic bombing, without a Soviet declaration of war, and without an American invasion.”  In contrast with Alperovitz and most other revisionist historians who uncritically accept the United States Strategic Bombing Survey’s conclusion, Hasegawa maintains that “defeat and surrender are not synonymous,” and Paul Nitze’s “conclusion was repeatedly contradicted by the evidence in the Survey itself.” He largely accepts the critique of the USSBS findings put forward by Barton Bernstein. Instead, he argues that “even without the atomic bombs, the war most likely would have ended shortly after Soviet entry into the war-before November 1.” Strangely, Hasegawa tends to overemphasize his departure from Alperovitz on this point, or he must have simply overlooked Alperovitz contention that, even had the atomic bomb not been used, it is “almost a certainty that the Japanese would have capitulated upon the entry of Russia into the war.”
On a number of other points Hasegawa and Alperovitz certainly do disagree, however. Whereas Alperovitz characterizes the Sino-Soviet negotiations between Stalin and the Nationalists as a U.S. ploy to prolong Russian entry in the war, Hasegawa responds that in the Sino-Soviet negotiations, the “interests of Truman, Stalin, and Chiang Kai-shek all converged: the successful conclusion of a Sino-Soviet treaty could make everyone happy.”  Hasegawa does not view the difficult negotiating by the Chinese as a concocted plot by the U.S. to keep the Soviets out of the war. “Revisionist historians are wrong,” Hasegawa explains, “in asserting that Harriman’s actions were meant to pressure Soong to resist Stalin’s demand in order to prevent Soviet entry into the war against Japan.” Likewise, throughout his work Hasegawa repeatedly attempts to re-characterize Byrnes as someone not nearly as bent on geopolitical conflict with the Soviet Union as other revisionist historians have made him out to be. For instance, in response to the Soviet Kurils Operation as part of August Storm, Hasegawa argues that Byrnes, “though often regarded by revisionist historians as an ardent advocate for a tough stance against the Soviet Union… favored a conciliatory position on this issue.” Thus, the internecine differences amongst the revisionists exist. They are not nearly as pronounced or as heated as the differences between the traditionalists and the revisionists, but significantly more obvious than any real disagreement amongst traditionalist scholars.
Consensus Historians vs. The Traditionalists and the Revisionists
Between the traditionalist and revisionist historians lay a murky “middle ground” that encompasses a group of scholars who posit quite different arguments regarding the atomic bomb but tend to share in common a notion that alternatives existed. These “consensus” historians, as J. Samuel Walker refers to them,  in some way suggest that Truman and his advisers were aware of alternatives that seemed likely to end the war. The “consensus” historians reject the traditionalist argument that the atomic bombs were a military necessity and at the same time greatly distance themselves from the atomic diplomacy thesis. Samuel Walker’sPrompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of the Atomic Bombs Against Japan (1997), Dennis Wainstock’sThe Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb: Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1996), and Sean L. Malloy’s Atomic Tragedy: Henry L. Stimson and the Decision to Use the Bomb Against Japan (2008) form the core of this “consensus” or middle ground camp.
Dennis Wainstock argues that the policy of unconditional surrender was a “policy of revenge, and it hurt America’s national self-interest.”  He continues, suggesting that had the United States given Japan conditional surrender terms, including retention of the emperor, Japan would have surrendered significantly earlier than it did. This means that neither the atomic bombs nor Soviet intervention would have been required. By prolonging the war in Europe and East Asia the policy of unconditional surrender expanded Soviet power in both areas, thereby harming U.S. interests. The dropping of the atomic bomb only “hastened the surrender of an already defeated enemy.”  Wainstock does not neatly align with either the traditionalist or revisionist camp. First, he aligns his critique of unconditional surrender within “U.S. national interests.” His emphasis is that unconditional surrender unnecessarily prolonged the war, and Truman’s commitment to it subsequently harmed U.S. interests since the prolonged war eventually allowed the Soviet Union to enter the arena and exercise increased influence in East Asia. This “policy of revenge [unconditional surrender]… hurt America’s national self-interest” because it “prolonged the war… and helped to expand Soviet power.”
It is in this way that Wainstock differs sharply from all of the traditionalists who, in one way or another defend the policy of unconditional surrender. Whereas Paul Walker, Richard Frank, and Wilson Miscamble tend to be generally supportive of the unconditional surrender policy, James Maddox, in a rather reserved way, argues that “there is no way of telling whether the doctrine prolonged the war in any way.”  Robert Newman is Wainstock’s primary adversary in this regard, however. Newman argues two main points: first, Truman “had no good reason” to believe that permitting retention of the emperor would have led to early capitulation and, second, the “Potsdam Declaration defined surrender in a fashion acceptable to the Japanese peace forces.” To “those who insist that unconditional surrender was a purely punitive stance,” he proclaims that the “leaders of the Japanese peace party… saw in the Potsdam terms an acceptable alternative to the destruction Japan would otherwise sustain.” The reason that Truman eventually accepted the condition that the emperor be retained was, according to Newman, because “peace was too tantalizing to resist.”  In the end, however, Newman is sure that retaining the emperor, “what Hiroshima cultists insist was a viable alternative for Truman to end the war early… was really no alternative at all.” Furthermore, the conditions outlined at Potsdam were not unconditional surrender, and the Japanese knew it. Thus, for Newman the entire thesis constructed by Wainstock rests on dubious grounds.
Regarding his differences with the revisionists, Wainstock concedes that “perhaps Truman’s decision to drop the bombs was an attempt to both impress the Soviets… and to end the war before the Soviets entered and seize the Far Eastern territories.” Even if this were true, however, it was totally counterproductive since in the end it prolonged the war and allowed Soviet entry, something that could have been prevented by altering the policy. This brief commentary is all the space that Wainstock provides for the atomic diplomacy thesis. In other words, despite accepting that atomic diplomacy may have played some minor role, Wainstock contends that a blind policy of unconditional surrender was of prime importance in the decision. This is where his greatest disagreement comes to the fore with the revisionists, and in particular Hasegawa. Hasegawa contends that even if Truman had “accepted a provision in the Potsdam declaration allowing the Japanese to retain a constitutional monarchy,” it would “not have immediately led to Japan’s surrender.” It is doubtful, Hasegawa maintains, “that Japan would have capitulated before the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and the Soviet Union entered the war.” Thus, whereas the policy of unconditional surrender is the fundamental variable for Wainstock, it is significantly less so for Hasegawa. Wainstock significantly minimizes the significance of atomic diplomacy and inflates the importance of the unconditional surrender policy.
Sean Malloy, like Takaki, attempts to analyze the decision to use the atomic bomb through the “lens of biography.”  Malloy attempts to approach “the use of the bomb through a conceptual framework he calls the “context of use,” positioning the use of the bomb as a “compound product of a series of choices” rather than “the result of single decision.”  Malloy makes the argument that Stimson, as secretary of war, unintentionally “presided over a set of policies that accelerated the budding nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union,” despite his “deep concern with limiting the effects of war on civilians and fostering trust between nations as the foundation of the peace that followed.”  In essence, realpolitik dominated Stimson’s approach to the atomic bomb and undermined his moral commitments.
One example of this is Stimson’s oversight of the 1945 Stassfurt operation intended to secure Anglo-American hegemony over uranium supplies. By the time of Strassfurt, when the U.S. moved in to seize the largest known stock of uranium in Europe, they “did as so as part of a one-sided nuclear arms race” in which, “by 1945, the Soviet Union was already America’s primary nuclear rival.” Thus, while Stimson is the tragic hero with a fatal flaw, James Byrnes is his foil, presented as the bad apple in the administration who desires conflict with the Soviet Union. Malloy’s key argument, then, is that “by his own actions during World War II, the secretary of war had helped to set in motion exactly the kind of destructive international competition in armaments that he had spent much of his long public career attempting to avoid.”  The almost capricious nature of his rapidly changing positions, and the tenuous justifications which frequently accompanied them, indicates that Stimson’s moral convictions were more often than not drown out for the sake of political expediency. Malloy’s conception of the atomic bomb as a “tragedy” is the principle departure from the traditionalists who tend to glorify the use of the bomb and celebrate it for ending the war and saving lives.
Malloy’s differences with the revisionist camp are rather nuanced, but significant. Once again, his conception of the bombs as a “tragedy,” rather than a calculated diplomatic initiative, separates him from the revisionists. Second, he makes the argument that the secretary of war “was in a unique position to shape many of the decisions about the use of the bomb.” This is in direct contradistinction to other historians, such as Alperovitz, who emphasize the agency of actors such as James Byrnes at Stimson’s expense. Second, Malloy attempts to put forward a sort of “momentum theory” that Alperovitz considers “seemingly plausible” but in reality historically bankrupt. During the various decisions that led to the atomic bombing, the morals and convictions of officials were often sublimated for political expediency. For Malloy, this was particularly true of Stimson. In this way, a sort of “momentum theory” is employed by Malloy to mitigate the pernicious intent of certain actors and explain away the “failures” of their decisions. Thus, the atomic bombs were not intentionally used as diplomatic tools by most of the Truman administration, but policy “failures” as individuals were swept up in events. Further modifying the arguments of Alperovitz and Hasegawa, Malloy argues that “American domestic politics” were a primary reason that Truman “failed at Potsdam” to use the “two potentially useful, if imperfect, diplomatic levers… in an effort to end the war.”  Furthermore, whereas Hasegawa presents Soviet entry as vital, Mallow suggests that “neither the public threat of Soviet entry nor the lure of allowing the Japanese to retain the emperor after the war were diplomatic panaceas.”  Thus, Malloy’s differences with the revisionists are perceptible.
A slightly different approach is apparent in J. Samuel Walker’s book. He sets out to answer two interrelated questions: was the bomb “necessary at all” and, “if so, what exactly did it accomplish?” By the conclusion of the book, Walker asserts that the answer to the first question “seems to be yes and no. Yes, it was necessary to end the war as quickly as possible. No, it was not necessary to prevent an invasion of Japan.” Addressing the second question, he maintains that the bomb “shortened the war and saved the lives of a relatively small but far from inconsequential number of Americans.” By situating his thesis within these parameters, S. Walker avoids having to take a position regarding the morality of the atomic bombings and instead focuses on rather narrow notions of “military necessity.” He presents a variegated list of reasons Truman dropped the bomb: “(1) the commitment to ending the war successfully at the earliest possible moment; (2) the need to justify the effort and expense of building the atomic bombs; (3) the hope of achieving diplomatic gains in the growing rivalry with the Soviet Union; (4) the lack of incentives not to use atomic weapons; and (5) hatred of the Japanese and a desire for vengeance.”
Walker’s differences with the traditionalists are quite clear: Walker suggests three rectifications to the popular narrative, a narrative the traditionalists largely accept: first, “there were other options available for ending the war… without the bomb and without an invasion”; second, due to Japan’s enervated capacity for war, Truman and his advisers did not regard invasion as inevitable; last, even if invasion was necessary to end the war, military planners “projected the number of American lives lost at far fewer than the hundreds of thousands that Truman and his advisers claimed after the war.” Furthermore, Walker relies on the USSBS, a point of divergence between himself and both the traditionalists and Hasegawa, to conclude “the war would probably have ended before an American invasion of Kyushu became necessary.”  Walker essentially dismisses the entire traditionalist approach, with the caveat that Truman was indeed concerned with saving as many American lives as possible.
It is important to note that he is rather critical of the revisionist approach as well. First and foremost, Walker specifically outlines what Alperovitz disparages as an analysis asserting “that a combination of factors-political, military, racial, financial-produced the decision.” Alperovitz’s criticism of such an approach is that it “is easy to assemble fragments of evidence” that suggest such an analysis, but jumping from these “fragments to an explanatory conclusion about decision-making at the very top of the U.S. government is suspect.” Thus, Walker’s “five fundamental considerations” are a significant departure from Alperovitz. More significantly, Walker actually considers the entire atomic diplomacy thesis as a sideshow. For instance, he maintains that “Truman did not drop the bomb primarily to intimidate the Soviets.” It was at best an ancillary consideration, a “bonus.”
Thus, the “consensus” historians, largely agree that potential alternatives existed, that invasion may not have been necessary, and that the atomic bombs were probably not responsible for saving hundreds of thousands of lives. In other words, they were not a military necessity. At the same time, the atomic bombs were not deployed primarily as diplomatic mechanisms. Even if they eventually came to fulfill this role, it was either the unintentional result of “momentum” or a tertiary variable barely perceptible vis-à-vis other considerations.
Conclusion: The Myth, the Cult, Nuclearism, and Nuclear Consciousness
In the post-war era, the debate and discussion over the bomb has been of tremendous importance. Both the traditionalist and revisionist camps have plotted the trajectory of the discourse surrounding Hiroshima and Nagasaki in different ways. Gar Alperovitz has suggested that officials promulgated propaganda in a top-down manner in order to manufacture an “American myth” surrounding the use of the atomic bombs. Robert J. Lifton’s preface to Martin Sherwin’s A World Destroyed laments the emergence of “nuclearism,” the ideology that the atomic bomb is a “deity” capable of both “destroying the world” and “capable of ruling and protecting the world, even of keeping the world going.” In contrast, Robert Newman denounces Alperovitz and other revisionists as “Hiroshima cultists,” “Truman bashers,” and a host of other pejoratives for creating a “cult” that worships at the altar of Hiroshima. Lastly, Paul Boyer, in his book By the Bomb’s Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age (1994), suggests that a sort of “nuclear consciousness” has infused itself in the perceptions and ideology of Americans in the post-war era. In fact, “nuclear reality” so deeply pervades our “consciousness that it is hard to imagine what existence would have been like without it.”  In these various ways authors have interpreted the post-war world after the atomic bomb.
In the second part of his book, Alperovitz explores the creation of the mythology surrounding the ostensibly “inevitable” use of the bomb. He maintains that three decisions, including the rejection to provide enough time for Japan to surrender, the choice to not offer the Japanese emperor assurances, and the explicit decision not to test a Russian entry into the war, “set the terms of reference for the bomb’s subsequent seemingly ‘inevitable’ use… [and] so tightly framed the remaining issues as to make it all but impossible thereafter to oppose the bombings.”  This “framing of the bomb,” alongside the top-down campaign of disinformation immediately after the war, were key factors that facilitated the permeation of American consciousness with the “inevitability” narrative.
Stimson, Truman, Byrnes, and Groves were key figures in this top-down propaganda campaign. Despite what Alperovitz argues was an ancillary role in the actual decision to drop the bomb, Stimson did play a vital role in propagating the official discourse, citing Stimson’s 1947 Harper’s article which was presented as “a mere recital of the facts.” Stimson posited a rigid dichotomy later picked up by traditionalist historians: either a costly invasion or use of the bomb was required to end the war. As Alperovitz explains, the article was an “extraordinary success,” with the New York Times, the Washington Post, Reader’s Digest, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, and an indeterminate number of other media outlets “decidedly uncritical and, indeed, often effusive in praise.” Truman’s argument that “the dropping of the bombs stopped the war” and “saved millions of lives” was the main line of thought he propagated continuously after the war. He maintains that the “over a million” figure” became the essential source for a myth which has been repeated with only occasional challenge for much of the last half century” despite modern scholarship demonstrating “the estimate to be without any serious foundation in the documents of that period.”  Byrnes systematically distorted and revised the past by shrouding himself in secrecy and meticulously managing his personal writings. Groves’ role as “an expert public relations artist and news ‘spin’ master” also comes to light when he devised a strategy whereby U.S. officials would “saturate” the “huge market hungry for information with officially approved material from the only authoritative source available.” In Japan itself a Civil Censorship Division of the Occupation had some 8,700 staffers engaged in examining thousands of newspapers, magazines, textbooks, motion pictures, and even private mail to ensure they did not stray too far from the official discourse. The most pernicious form of censorship was also the most ubiquitous; namely, government classification. Thus, as Alperovitz argues, “the ‘normal’ functioning of government… is even more effective than the occasional excesses which make the headlines.” In these ways the historical narrative from beginning to end was “managed” by U.S. officials.
Part of Martin Sherwin’s work is intended to combat the legacy of nuclearism. In a world where humans have “infused [the atomic bomb] with a constellation of awe and mystery. That constellation has included tendencies to embrace the bomb, to become fiercely dependent upon it, indeed, to render it something close to a deity.” The “willful embrace of the cruelest weapon ever created is the essence” of nuclearism. Suggesting a line of continuity with Paul Boyer, A World Destroyed suggests that an “idealistic aura of peacemaking was inseparable from the bomb’s lure of ultimate technology and ultimate power-all of which became part of the transcendent technology of nuclearism.” Hence, “the bizarre emphasis on the bomb’s ostensible function of ‘saving lives’ rather than destroying them, of rendering the world peaceful rather than bringing to it a specter of annihilation.”  This “bizarre emphasis” has been the plaything of traditionalist scholars for decades.
In sharp contrast with Alperovitz and Sherwin, Robert P. Newman’s thesis in Truman and the Hiroshima Cult is the paradigmatic post-revisionist account of the atomic bomb and its aftermath. In it he argues that a “cult,” with attendant cultists, has arisen around Truman and the Hiroshima decision. These “Hiroshima cultists” argue, in a variety of forms, that Japan was on the verge of surrender, that the “unconditional surrender” formula unnecessarily prolonged the war, and that Truman’s decision to drop the bomb was driven either by racism towards the Japanese or diplomatic concerns vis-à-vis the Soviets, or some combination thereof. Newman vehemently rejects what he refers to as the “Japanese-as-victim cult,” suggesting that any and all of the above suggestions are fundamentally incorrect. Newman proclaims that neither “Hiroshima cultists nor professional moralists had even considered the possibility that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were legitimate retribution for the millions of deaths caused by Japan’s fourteen-year rampage through China and the Pacific.”
Newman traces the development and growth of what he maliciously and interchangeably refers to as the “Japan-as-Victim myth” or “Hiroshima cult.” He begins by explaining how in the immediate aftermath of the war “the whole world viewed Japan as villainous.”  After 1948, however, things began to change, in both Japan and the United States. In 1949 John Hersey’s Hiroshima was published, which Newman credits with having the opposite but equally powerful impact that Anne Frank’s diary had on Germany. Where Anne Frank’s diary forced Germany to come to terms with its atrocities, Hiroshima shielded Japan from having to do so, and helped begin the “Japan-as-Victim” myth. Furthermore, in 1951 P. M. S. Blackett published Fear, War, and the Bomb, which argued that the bomb was not the last act of the Second World War but the first act of the Cold War. Finally, in 1954 when the U.S. tested the new H-bomb and the crew of a tuna trawler were affected by radioactive fallout, the “five most important Japanese newspapers took a common position: this was the third atomic bombing.” 
Despite all this, however, in 1964 a public opinion poll suggested that 49 percent of the Japanese public viewed the United States as their “favorite foreign country.” By 1973, after the U.S. atrocities in Vietnam and use of Japan to accomplish them, this “popularity” had dropped to 18 percent.  By the late sixties people were questioning earlier U.S. military endeavors, notably the dropping of the atomic bombs, as a reflection of the changing political tide and anti-Vietnam war sentiment. By 1989, the “majority opinion even among Japanese scholars” was accepting of both the Blackett thesis and racism as primary factors in the dropping of the atomic bomb. In the United States, the gradual buildup of anti-nuclear activism, starting with The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in the late 1940s to the “Scientists’ Declaration on Nuclear Power” in 1975, had a major impact on retroactive views of the bombings. Thus, “accurate charges” of postwar “overkill… seemed to legitimate chargers of overkill levied at the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.” Furthermore, many “who became disillusioned with the American terror bombing in Vietnam became converts to the Hiroshima guilt trip.” Newman also cites Ian Buruma’s The Wages of Guilt, which explores the myriad of factors for why a “Japan-as-Victim” cult developed but no comparably “cult” developed around Germany. The key factor as Newman sees it, however, was Vietnam. Without it, “the Japanese-as-victims cult in the United States would still be puny.” Newman’s work is a vicious attack on the legacy of revisionists like Gar Alperovitz and Martin Sherwin.
Paul Boyer’s study, By the Bomb’s Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age, addresses the “unsettling new cultural factor” of the atomic bomb that had been introduced in immediate post-war period from 1945 to 1950.  His contention is that the bomb “had transformed not only military strategy and international relations, but the fundamental ground of culture and consciousness” in the United States. These five formative years shaped how Americans first “confronted the bomb, struggled against it, and absorbed it into the fabric of the culture.”  In short, Boyer maintains that the 1945 to 1946 period was a time of “obsessive post-Hiroshima awareness of the horror of the atomic bomb,” while in the period from 1947 to 1950 and after there was a “diminished cultural attention and uneasy acquiescence” as the “dread destroyer of 1945 had become the shield of the Republic by 1950.” In essence, Sherwin’s “transcendent technology of nuclearism” permeated what Boyer calls America’s “nuclear consciousness.” This “nuclear consciousness” was infused into the very core of American ideology in the post-war era and so deeply pervades American “consciousness that it is hard to imagine what existence would have been like without it.” Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Boyer argues, “stand as signposts marking both a gash in the living flesh of our historical consciousness and a turning point in our ethical history.” 
From 1945 to 1946 an “intense discourse” had surrounded the atomic bomb, where after 1947 this “diminished to scattered murmurs and faint echoes” and by 1950 “America’s nuclear culture… would appear as a gray and largely deserted landscape.” Around this time the Atomic Energy Commission began a full throttle propaganda campaign to associate atomic energy with health, happiness, and prosperity. This campaign drew in scientists, educators, radio personalities, health workers, and others, directly reaching some four million Americans and indirectly affecting many more. A “policy of deep secrecy about atomic-bomb research and stockpiling,” alongside the “pervasive official practice… of playing down the bomb’s dangers” continued to condition the American public. In this context, and with the ensuing Cold War schism that dominated international relations, the “civil defense” paradigm displaced the “international control” slogan dominant during 1945-6. This multifaceted propaganda campaign was so successful that by 1950 Americans had overwhelmingly, if not unanimously, embraced the atomic bomb. The mid-1950s saw a resurgence of debate over the atomic bomb and then a re-decline after 1963. He argues that the illusion of diminished risk, the loss of immediacy, the promise of a world transformed by atomic energy, the complexity and comfort of deterrence theory, and the importance of the Vietnam War led to the decline of atomic prominence. Interestingly, whereas Newman positions the Vietnam War as the central feature in establishing the “Hiroshima cult,” Boyer contends that the Vietnam War actually lessened discussion and debate over the atomic bomb.
Although Boyer aligns neatly with revisionist historians, he does refocus the chronological lens. Where other historians have drawn a line of continuity between the development of the bomb and its use, or between the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, Boyer furthers that line of continuity by exploring the state’s role in managing post-Hiroshima public discourse. In this way Boyer’s work partially overlaps and agrees with but significantly transcends Alperovitz’ “architecture of an American myth.” By focusing on the state’s institution of a broad, far-reaching propaganda campaign that helped shape popular opinion, Boyer repositions the role of the state not just as user of the atomic bomb, but also as manager of the dominant discourse after its use. In this way, Boyer provides a unique historiographical contribution by arguing that atomic policies “transformed not only military strategy and international relations, but the fundamental ground of culture and consciousness” in the United States.
Thus, not only is the discourse surrounding the actual use of the atomic bomb split into competing camps, the post-war discourse itself is a topic of debate. In this regard, Paul Boyer’s work is the most thorough, sophisticated, and systematic cultural analysis of the post-war discourse. For those of us interested in challenging not only the excesses of war, but the inter-imperial rivalries that ultimately lead to the use of the bomb, understanding the nuances of the historiographical debate is vital. More importantly, in the wake of the 1995 Smithsonian controversy and the ever-expanding list of countries with access to nuclear armaments, those of us on the left must continue to wage war on the post-war discourse justifying and rationalizing the atomic bomb.
Alperovitz, Gar. The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.
Boyer, Paul. By the Bomb’s Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1994.
Frank, Richard B. Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire. New York: Penguin Books, 1999.
Hasegawa, Tsuyoshi. Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005.
Maddox, Robert James. Weapons for Victory: The Hiroshima Decision. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2004.
Malloy, Sean L. Atomic Tragedy: Henry L. Stimson and the Decision to Use the Bomb Against Japan. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008.
Miscamble, Wilson D. The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs, and the Defeat of Japan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
Newman, Robert P. Truman and the Hiroshima Cult. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1995.
Walker, J. Samuel. Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of the Atomic Bombs Against Japan. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004.
Walker, Paul D. Truman’s Dilemma: Invasion or the Bomb. Gretna: Pelican Publishing Company, 2003.
Stimson, Henry L. “The Decisions to Use the Atomic Bomb.” Harper’s Magazine (1947).
Sherwin, Martin J. A World Destroyed: Hiroshima and Its Legacies. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003.
Takaki, Ronald. Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1995.
Wainstock, Dennis. The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb. New York: Enigma Books, 2011.
 I borrow the term “consensus” from J. Samuel Walker.
 Tsuyoshi Hasegawa utilizes “orthodox” to describe this position.
 Henry L. Stimson, “The Decisions to Use the Atomic Bomb,” Harper’s Magazine (1947). See full article: http://classrooms.tacoma.k12.wa.us/stadium/mberggren-2/us-history/download/Stimson%2B-%2BHarper%2BFeb%2B1947%2B-%2BDecision%2Bto%2BUse%2Bthe%2BAtomic%2BBomb.pdf?id=230795
 J. Samuel Walker, Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of the Atomic Bombs Against Japan (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 105.
 Originally published in 1995.
 A reiteration and strengthening of his 1965 work Atomic Diplomacy.
 Originally published in 1973.
 Truman, Stimson, Byrnes, Stalin, Hirohito, and the Big Six in Japan are examples where disagreement is most pronounced.
 Gar Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995), 19.
 Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, 225.
 Martin J. Sherwin, A World Destroyed: Hiroshima and Its Legacies (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 6.
 Sherwin, A World Destroyed, 7.
 This argument maintained that the US should share atomic technology with the Soviet Union in exchange for political cooperation.
 This position stated that the US should maintain a monopoly over atomic technology as long as possible and advance its diplomatic aims through harsh bargaining from its position of atomic power.
 Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005), 140.
 Hasegawa, Racing the Enemy, 154.
 Ibid., 135.
 Ibid., 139.
 Alperovitz, 19.
 Robert James Maddox, Weapons for Victory: The Hiroshima Decision (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2004), xv.
 Maddox, Weapons for Victory, 146.
 Ibid., 113.
 Richard B. Frank, Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire (New York: Penguin Books, 1999), 104.
 This is Newman’s term for revisionist historians.
 The USSBS maintained that in all likelihood Japan would surrender prior to November 1, 1945 without the atomic bombing or the entrance of the Soviet Union into the war. It further states that had Japan not surrendered by November 1, it would definitely have surrendered prior to the end of 1945.
 Robert P. Newman, Truman and the Hiroshima Cult (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1995), 36.
 Newman, Truman and the Hiroshima Cult, 47.
 This is one of Newman’s other terms for revisionists.
 Ibid., 49.
 Wilson D Miscamble, The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs, and the Defeat of Japan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 91.
 Frank, 95.
 Ibid., 96.
 Ibid., 197.
 Paul D. Walker, Truman’s Dilemma: Invasion or the Bomb (Gretna: Pelican Publishing Company, 2003), 171.
 Miscamble, 115. Original emphasis.
 Maddox, 153.
 Hasegawa, 5.
 Maddox, 131.
 Frank, 348.
 Miscamble, 89.
 Ibid., 91.
 Sakomizu was chief secretary to the cabinet of Japan during World War II.
 Hasegawa, 250.
 Miscamble, 3.
 Ibid., 44.
 Ibid., 113.
 Ibid., 119.
 Ibid., 124.
 Newman, xiii. Emphasis added.
 Ibid., 120.
 Ibid., 130.
 Ibid., 138. Emphasis original.
 Paul Walker, 15.
 Ibid., 17.
 Ibid., 18-19.
 Ibid., 27.
 Ibid., 43-44.
 Miscamble, 120-1.
 Maddox, xv.
 Alperovitz, 656.
 Ibid., 657.
 Sherwin, 6.
 Ibid., 7.
 Ibid., 8.
 Alperovitz, 655.
 Ronald Takaki, Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1995), 8.
 Takaki, Hiroshima, 100.
 Ibid., 94.
 Hasegawa, 2.
 Hasegawa, 300.
 Alperovitz, 4
 Hasegawa, 295.
 Ibid., 296.
 Alperovitz, 85.
 Hasegawa., 129.
 Ibid., 188
 Ibid., 275
 Samuel Walker cites Barton Bernstein as one of the pioneering “consensus” historians of Hiroshima.
 Dennis Wainstock, The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb (New York: Enigma Books, 2011), 178.
 Wainstock, The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb, 178.
 Ibid., 178.
 Maddox, 8.
 Newman, 57.
 Ibid., 71.
 Ibid., 73.
 Ibid., 77.
 Wainstock, 171
 Hasegawa, 290
 Ibid., 291
 Sean L. Malloy, Atomic Tragedy: Henry L. Stimson and the Decision to Use the Bomb Against Japan (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008), 7.
 Malloy, Atomic Tragedy, 8.
 Ibid., 81.
 Ibid., 11.
 Ibid., 67.
 Ibid., 70.
 Ibid., 9.
 Ibid., 129. Here he is referring to retention of the emperor (modifying unconditional surrender) and the public threat of Soviet entry into the war.
 Malloy, 129
 Samuel Walker, 6.
 Ibid., 109.
 Ibid., 109.
 Ibid., 92.
 Ibid., 5-6.
 Ibid., 89.
 Alperovitz, 656.
 Walker, 95.
 Sherwin, xi.
 Paul Boyer, By the Bomb’s Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1994), xix.
 Boyer, By the Bomb’s Early Light, xx.
 Alperovitz, 631.
 Ibid., 455.
 Ibid., 466.
 Ibid., 598.
 Ibid., 610.
 Ibid., 613.
 Sherwin, xi.
 Ibid., xi.
 Ibid., xii.
 Ibid., xi.
 Newman, xiii.
 Ibid., 153.
 Ibid., 161.
 Ibid., 164.
 Ibid., 177.
 Ibid., 183.
 Ibid., 184.
 Boyer, xxi.
 Ibid., xxi.
 Ibid., xx.
 Ibid., 352 and 349.
 Boyer, xx
 Ibid., 182.
 Ibid., 291.
 Ibid., 303.
US papers don’t often report on the radiation disaster continuing at Fukushima-Daiichi in Northeast Japan.
But on June 17 the New York Times noted: “Inside the complex, there are three wrecked reactor cores, twisted masses of hundreds of tons of highly radioactive uranium, plutonium, cesium and strontium. After the meltdown[s], which followed a tsunami and earthquake in 2011, most of the material in the reactors re-solidified, in difficult shapes and in confined spaces, wrapped around and through the structural parts of the reactors and the buildings. Or at least, that is what the engineers think. Nobody really knows, because nobody has yet examined many of the most important parts of the wreckage. Though three and a half years have passed, it is still too dangerous to climb inside for a look, and sending in a camera would risk more leaks.”
The Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and tsunami caused a Station Black Out at Fukushima the total loss of power used to run cooling mechanisms and the consequent melting of fuel rods dispersed massive amounts of radiation to the air and to the Pacific.
The Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), owners of the Fukushima wreckage, has said it would take 40 years to clean up the disaster. Tepco’s number was probably pulled out of the thin air, because owners of the undamaged Kewaunee reactor in Wisconsin, which shut down last April, said decommissioning of Kewaunee would take 40 years.
Radiation Tripled in Pacific Albacore Tuna since Triple Meltdowns
Radioactive cesium-137 levels in Pacific albacore tuna have tripled since the triple meltdowns at Fukushima-Daiichi in Japan, according to a study published in Environmental Science and Technology.
Delvan Neville, lead author of the study and a graduate research assistant in the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics at Oregon State University, told the Statesman Journal Apr. 28, “You can’t say there is absolutely zero risk because any radiation is assumed to carry at least some small risk.”
Jason Phillips, a co-author of the report, said 26 of the large Pacific fish were analyzed from 2008 to 2012. “If we were going to see it [cesium-137] in something, we would see it in albacore or other high-level predators.”
Dr. Steve Starr, Director of Clinical Laboratory Science Program, University of Missouri-Columbia, noted in a recent lecture, “Cesium 137 tends to bio-accumulate in plants and animals, which means it cannot be excreted faster than it is being ingested. Thus, as it accumulates, it increases in its concentration in the plants or animals that are routinely ingesting it. Cesium-137 also tends to bio-magnify as it moves up the food chain. This means it becomes progressively more concentrated in predator species.”
As US Agency Hushed-up Dangers to US Reactors, Reactors’ Owner Tepco Under-reported Radiation Exposures
NBC News reported Mar. 10 that internal emails by staff at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission prove the agency deliberately down-played known earthquake and tsunami vulnerabilities at aging US reactors in the early days of the Fukushima catastrophe. NBC said the emails, “show that the campaign to reassure the public about America’s nuclear industry came as the agency’s [NRC’s] own experts were questioning US safety standards and scrambling to determine whether new rules were needed to ensure that the meltdown[s] occurring at the Japanese [site] could not occur here.”
NBC said the emails reveal the NRC’s “efforts to protect the industry it is supposed to regulate.” The news network went as far as to say, “Dating back to the Three Mile Island nuclear crisis in 1979, many nuclear watchdogs and critics have said that the NRC acts first to protect the industry, and its own reputation.”
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was helped in misleading the public by Tepco, which repeatedly underestimated internal radiation exposures of its workers involved in immediate emergency response, according to Japan’s Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, Asahi Shimbun reported.
Last July, the Ministry reviewed exposure data on around workers and revealed that reported exposure levels for 452 out of 1,300 workers surveyed were too low. After that announcement, the Ministry looked at records of the remaining 6,200 workers, and in late March it announced 142 additional cases of under-reporting.
TEPCO did not have whole-body radiation counters when the radiation disaster began, so true contamination measurements were not possible.
Contaminated Soil and Cemeteries May be Moved from Fukushima
Japan’s federal government announced in late May that it will move thousands of tons of radioactively contaminated soil scraped from school yards and elsewhere during decontamination efforts outside Fukushima Prefecture “within 30 years” after first keeping it in storage in the heavily-contaminated prefecture.
New federal law will be needed to allow Japan’s Environmental Safety Corporation to operate the “temporary” dumps.
In a macabre aspect of compensating for areas made radioactively uninhabitable by fallout from the meltdowns, Japan is considering paying for new cemeteries and reburying the remains of people now buried in radioactive exclusion zones.
Food Not Monitored for Radiation Causing Internal Contamination
The Japan Times reported June 17, that “eating unchecked homegrown vegetables and wild game from radiation-tainted areas on a regular basis can lead to high levels of internal radiation exposure.”
According to a study published in the US online science journal PLOS ONE, “Levels of radioactive cesium detected in the bodies of the study’s participants declined once they stopped eating highly contaminated food.” The study’s authors called for increasing public awareness of radiation-risky foods especially “at a time when public interest appears to be dwindling.”
Soil from the seafloor collected about 6 kilometers from the wrecked reactors contains as much 2,700 Becquerels of cesium-137 per kilogram, according to Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority June 14.
In Aug. 2012, Tepco reported an all-time record 25,800 Becquerel’s-per-kilogram in two fish known as greenling caught in 20 kilometers of the stricken reactors. “There may be radiation hot spots on the seabed,” a TEPCO official said then.
The wrecked reactors spewed enormous, unprecedented volumes of radioactive materials into the Pacific Ocean where cesium levels near Fukushima ballooned to an astonishing 50 million times pre-disaster levels (and continue to do so, 3.5 years after it began).
The agency said that it is difficult to assess the figure because there is no standard against which evaluations can be made, but that its research would continue.
Note to Japan’s NRA: for a baseline standard, check seabed levels of cesium off any area free of nuclear reactor effluent.
John LaForge is a co-director of Nukewatch in Wisconsin and edits its Quarterly.
Bulgaria’s prime minister, Plamen Oresharski, has ordered a halt to work on Russia’s South Stream pipeline, on the recommendation of the EU. The decision was announced after his talks with US senators.
“At this time there is a request from the European Commission, after which we’ve suspended the current works, I ordered it,” Oresharski told journalists after meeting with John McCain, Chris Murphy and Ron Johnson during their visit to Bulgaria on Sunday. “Further proceedings will be decided after additional consultations with Brussels.”
McCain, commenting on the situation, said that “Bulgaria should solve the South Stream problems in collaboration with European colleagues,” adding that in the current situation they would want “less Russian involvement” in the project.
Russia’s Energy Ministry said it had not yet received any official notification from Bulgaria on work on the project being suspended.
Earlier this week, EU authorities ordered Bulgaria to suspend construction on its link of the pipeline, which is planned to transport Russian natural gas through the Black Sea to Bulgaria and onward to western Europe. Brussels wants the project frozen, pending a decision on whether it violates the EU competition regulations on a single energy market. It believes South Stream does not comply with the rules prohibiting energy producers from also controlling pipeline access.
The EU is also asking for an investigation into how contracts were awarded for work on the pipeline in Bulgaria. Brussels sent the Bulgarian government a letter of formal notice asking for information, to which Sofia had one month to reply.
Russia’s energy giant Gazprom’s South Stream pipeline requires European approvals as its route would pass through the territory of several EU countries.
In Bulgaria, the ruling Socialists support the South Stream project, while Movement for Rights and Freedom leader Lyutvi Mestan told parliament on June 5 that Bulgaria should defend its strategic interests “in cooperation, not in confrontation” with Europe.
Earlier Serbia has said it has no plans to delay the start of construction of its leg of the South Stream pipeline, scheduled for July. Serbian Energy Minister Aleksandar Antic said that the position was not decisive: “I believe the European Commission and member states will find a solution because this is a European project in the best interests of energy security.”
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban also said June 5 that the pipeline should be built, as there was no alternative to the project.
The corporate media silence on Fukushima has been deafening even though the melted-down nuclear power plant’s seaborne radiation is now washing up on American beaches.
Ever more radioactive water continues to pour into the Pacific.
At least three extremely volatile fuel assemblies are stuck high in the air at Unit 4. Three years after the March 11, 2011, disaster, nobody knows exactly where the melted cores from Units 1, 2 and 3 might be.
Amid a dicey cleanup infiltrated by organized crime, still more massive radiation releases are a real possibility at any time.
Radioactive groundwater washing through the complex is enough of a problem that Fukushima Daiichi owner Tepco has just won approval for a highly controversial ice wall to be constructed around the crippled reactor site. No wall of this scale and type has ever been built, and this one might not be ready for two years. Widespread skepticism has erupted surrounding its potential impact on the stability of the site and on the huge amounts of energy necessary to sustain it. Critics also doubt it would effectively guard the site from flooding and worry it could cause even more damage should power fail.
Meanwhile, children nearby are dying. The rate of thyroid cancers among some 250,000 area young people is more than 40 times normal. According to health expert Joe Mangano, more than 46 percent have precancerous nodules and cysts on their thyroids. This is “just the beginning” of a tragic epidemic, he warns.
There is, however, some good news—exactly the kind the nuclear power industry does not want broadcast.
When the earthquake and consequent tsunami struck Fukushima, there were 54 commercial reactors licensed to operate in Japan, more than 12 percent of the global total.
As of today, not one has reopened. The six at Fukushima Daiichi will never operate again. Some 30 older reactors around Japan can’t meet current safety standards (a reality that could apply to 60 or more reactors that continue to operate here in the U.S.).
As part of his desperate push to reopen these reactors, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has shuffled the country’s regulatory agencies, and removed at least one major industry critic, replacing him with a key industry supporter.
But last month a Japanese court denied a corporate demand to restart two newer reactors at the Ooi power plant in Fukui prefecture. The judges decided that uncertainty about when, where and how hard the inevitable next earthquake will hit makes it impossible to guarantee the safety of any reactor in Japan.
In other words, no reactor can reopen in Japan without endangering the nation, which the court could not condone.
Such legal defeats are extremely rare for Japan’s nuclear industry, and this one is likely to be overturned. But it dealt a stunning blow to Abe’s pro-nuke agenda.
In Fukushima’s wake, the Japanese public has become far more anti-nuclear. Deep-seated anger has spread over shoddy treatment and small compensation packages given downwind victims. In particular, concern has spread about small children being forced to move back into heavily contaminated areas around the plant.
Under Japanese law, local governments must approve any restart. Anti-nuclear candidates have been dividing the vote in recent elections, but the movement may be unifying and could eventually overwhelm the Abe administration.
A new comic book satirizing the Fukushima cleanup has become a nationwide best-seller. The country has also been rocked by revelations that some 700 workers fled the Fukushima Daiichi site at the peak of the accident. Just a handful of personnel were left to deal with the crisis, including the plant manager, who soon thereafter died of cancer.
In the meantime, Abe’s infamous, intensely repressive state secrets act has seriously constrained the flow of technical information. At least one nuclear opponent is being prosecuted for sending a critical tweet to an industry supporter. A professor jailed for criticizing the government’s handling of nuclear waste has come to the U.S. to speak.
The American corporate media have been dead silent or, alternatively, dismissive about the radiation now washing up on our shores, and about the extremely dangerous job of bringing intensely radioactive fuel rods down from their damaged pools.
Fukushima’s General Electric reactors feature spent fuel pools perched roughly 100 feet in the air. When the tsunami hit, thousands of rods were suspended over Units 1, 2, 3 and 4.
According to nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen, the bring-down of the assemblies in Unit 4 may have hit a serious snag. Gundersen says that beginning in November 2013, Tokyo Electric Power removed about half of the suspended rods there. But at least three assemblies may be stuck. The more difficult half of the pile remains. And the pools at three other units remain problematic. An accident at any one of them could result in significant radiation releases, which have already far exceeded those from Chernobyl and from the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
At least 300 tons of heavily contaminated Fukushima water still pour daily into the Pacific. Hundreds more tons are backed up on site, with Tepco apologists advocating they be dumped directly into the ocean without decontamination.
Despite billions of dollars in public aid, Tepco is still the principal owner of Fukushima. The “cleanup” has become a major profit center. Tepco boasted a strong return in 2013. Its fellow utilities are desperate to reopen other reactors that netted them huge annual cash flow.
Little of this has made its way into the American corporate media.
New studies from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have underscored significant seismic threats to American commercial nuclear sites. Among those of particular concern are two reactors at Indian Point just north of New York City, which sit near the highly volatile Ramapo Fault, and two at Diablo Canyon, between Los Angeles and San Francisco, directly upwind of California’s Central Valley.
The U.S. industry has also suffered a huge blow at New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Project. Primarily a military dump, this showcase radioactive waste facility was meant to prove that the industry could handle its trash. No expense was spared in setting it up in the salt caverns of the desert southwest, officially deemed the perfect spot to dump the 70,000 tons of high-level fuel rods now backed up at American reactor sites.
But an explosion and highly significant radiation release at the pilot project last month has contaminated local residents and cast a deep cloud over any future plans to dispose of American reactor waste. The constant industry complaint that the barriers are “political” is absurd.
While the American reactor industry continues to suck billions of dollars from the public treasury, its allies in the corporate media seem increasingly hesitant to cover the news of post-Fukushima Japan.
In reality, those gutted reactors are still extremely dangerous. An angry public, whose children are suffering, has thus far managed to keep all other nukes shut in Japan. If they keep them down permanently, it will be a huge blow to the global nuke industry—one you almost certainly won’t see reported in the American corporate media.
The Obama administration today threw a potential — and limited — lifeline to the country’s ailing nuclear industry, highlighting the ability of existing reactors to help states curb emissions.
U.S. EPA unveiled a proposal for curbing emissions from existing power plants that pointed to the United States’ fleet of about 100 reactors as playing a critical role — alongside ramping up efficiency and shifting to natural gas and other low-carbon alternatives — in cutting the utility sector’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent compared with 2005 levels by 2030.
At issue is EPA’s finding in the proposal that preventing the closure of “at-risk” existing reactors could avoid up to 300 million metric tons of carbon dioxide during the initial compliance phase of 10 years.
“Policies that encourage development of renewable energy capacity and discourage premature retirement of nuclear capacity could be useful elements of CO2 reduction strategies and are consistent with current industry behavior,” the agency said. “Costs of CO2 reductions achievable through these policies have been estimated in a range from $10 to $40 per metric ton.”
The U.S. nuclear industry is facing a host of challenges, including stiff competition from cheap natural gas, low wholesale energy prices, increasing fixed operation and maintenance costs, and high upfront capital costs for building new units.
EPA noted that units have recently closed in California, Florida and Wisconsin, and additional closures have been announced in Vermont and New Jersey. EPA also noted that the U.S. Energy Information Administration in its most recent annual energy outlook projected that an additional 5.7 gigawatts of capacity — about 6 percent of the country’s current capacity — is at risk of retiring.
EPA pointed to a February 2013 Credit Suisse report that found nuclear plant operators may be experiencing a $6-per-megawatt-hour shortfall in covering operating costs with electricity sales.
“Assuming that such a revenue shortfall is representative of the incentive to retire at-risk nuclear capacity, one can estimate the value of offsetting the revenue loss at these at-risk nuclear units to be approximately $12 to $17 per metric ton of CO2,” the agency wrote. “EPA views this cost as reasonable.”
The agency went on to propose that emission reductions from retaining 6 percent of each state’s historical nuclear capacity should be factored into each state’s goals. EPA also asked for comments on whether the cost of completing new reactors in Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee should be considered in the states’ compliance plans.
Steve Clemmer, the Union of Concerned Scientists’ director of energy research and analysis, said it’s reasonable for EPA to include existing nuclear generation in the baseline and to credit states for new reactors, adding that the agency’s modeling of the rule doesn’t project the construction of new reactors beyond the five currently being built. But Clemmer questioned EPA’s methodology and finding that 6 percent of the nation’s existing fleet is at-risk economically and applying that percentage equally across the states, noting that factors playing into each plant’s closure varies.
“In states where existing plants aren’t economically vulnerable, they could get a windfall profit by getting extra credit,” he said, noting that the industry already receives generous subsidies.
The EPA proposal is already emboldening the industry’s focus on state compliance plans.
Marv Fertel, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s president and CEO, said in an interview that the U.S. nuclear industry in coming months and years will be pushing states with merchant nuclear plants to value those units for avoiding emissions. States must submit compliance plans by June 30, 2016, or ask for an extension by April 1, 2016. The rule is slated to be finalized next June.
“We have a bunch of states that have renewable portfolio standards; we think you ought to be basically looking at in the state maybe a clean energy standard … and you should be including nuclear as a part of that,” Fertel said.
Fertel said state policies could bolster nuclear units — just as they currently boost wind and solar.
“It would work the same way it’s working for renewables right now. You have to meet the renewable standard, so you’re driving renewables into certain portfolios in the state; this would say that you ought to be looking not only to drive nuclear by either updates or whatever, but value the existing nuclear for the attribute of no emissions, as well as all it does for reliability,” Fertel said.
The current fleet of reactors avoids 600 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, equivalent to removing 113 million cars from the road, Fertel added.
The Obama administration in recent months has highlighted the link between climate mitigation and nuclear power. Pete Lyons, the Energy Department’s assistant secretary for nuclear energy, said earlier this year that a rash of premature U.S. reactor closures could threaten the country’s climate goals.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in prepared remarks for an event in Washington, D.C., today placed nuclear power on par with solar and wind, saying states have the opportunity to “shift to ‘no’ carbon sources like nuclear, wind, and solar.” McCarthy went on to say that the nation’s nuclear reactors continue to “supply zero carbon baseload power. Homegrown clean energy is posting record revenues and creating jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.”
The administration earlier this year finalized $6.5 billion worth of loan guarantees for the country’s first U.S. reactors in decades without requiring developers to pay a “credit subsidy fee” — money that protects taxpayers should the developers default (Greenwire, April 21).
The nuclear industry has stepped up its campaign efforts in recent months, with Exelon Corp. taking the lead, partially funding a new front group called Nuclear Matters. The group’s members include former White House climate adviser and former EPA Administrator Carol Browner, former Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), former Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, and former Commerce Secretary and Obama Chief of Staff Bill Daley.
Doug Vine, a senior fellow at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), said EPA is setting base lines over the country’s total generation mix, and a state’s job becomes more difficult if a reactor retires. Vine said C2ES has seen two approaches that could benefit nuclear plants, including the clean energy standard that Fertel mentioned and carbon pricing.
Kyle Aarons, a senior fellow at C2ES, said the rule could act to incentivize states to keep current reactors running.
“It’s certainly going to change states’ thinking,” Vine said. “It’s going to put a more long-term focus on nuclear.”
Fallout from Fukushima? A re-make of Godzilla! That’s the good news
There’s not much new to say about Fukushima. It remains an out of control disaster with as yet unmeasurable dimensions that continue to expand. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that everything new about Fukushima is just the same-old same-old getting worse at an uneven and unpredictable rate. Either way, it’s not good and, while it’s worse in degree, it’s not yet apparently worse in kind, so that’s one reason you don’t hear that much about it in the news these days.
Whatever the full truth is about Fukushima, it’s probably unknowable at present. And it might remain unknowable even if there was total transparency, even if there were no corporate, institutional, governmental, and other layers of secrecy protecting such enemies of the common good as profit, capital investment, and weapons development.
Secrecy and false reassurance have always been an integral part of the nuclear industry in all its manifestations. In January 2014, Tokyo Shimbun reported yet another example of nuclear opposition to honesty: the Fukushima prefecture government and the government-run Fukushima Medical University signed a secrecy agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a United Nations agency that “is committed to applying the highest ethical standards in carrying out its mandate,” or so it claims. The IAEA’s press release about the agreement is bland and inoffensive. According to Shimbun, each party to the agreement has the right to designate any information as confidential, specifically mentioning data about thyroid cancer in children or other facts that might “stir up anxiety of residents.”
Here are some other elements of SNAFUkushima that might stir up anxieties of residents and non-residents alike:
Radioactive Water is Beyond Control and Unmeasured
Clean groundwater has been flowing into the Fukushima nuclear plant complex since before the earthquake/tsunami of March 11, 2011, led to the meltdown of three of the four reactors at Fukushima Daiichi and the cold shutdown of the two reactors at Fukushima Daini at the same site. Once clean groundwater enters the site, some portion (or perhaps all) of it is contaminated by radioactivity, primarily from the three melted down reactors.
Additional clean water is pumped into the site to keep the melted down reactors from further melting down, as well as to keep the nuclear fuel stored in fuel pools from starting to melt down. All of this water is radioactively contaminated.
The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and the Japanese government, essentially co-owners of the Fukushima complex, together with their subcontractors, have been collecting some of the radioactive water in steel tanks on site. Some, perhaps hundreds, of the 1,000-plus tanks have leaked.
Radioactive water has flowed from the Fukushima complex into the Pacific Ocean continuously since March 11, 2011. The flow rate varies, most likely, but no one knows what the rate is and there is no reliable system in place to measure the flow. There is also no reliable system in place to measure the intensity of the radiation, which also most likely varies.
TEPCO’s plan since 2013 has been to use an Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) to treat the water in the holding tanks before releasing it into the Pacific. The processing system reduces the water’s radioactivity, but does not remove it all. After treatment, 62 nuclides, including Strontium and Plutonium, are supposed to be removed, but the water retains high levels of Tritium. As of May 2014, the ALPS treatment plan has not been implemented, has suffered several breakdowns, and is now more than six months behind schedule.
Radioactive Water Dumping Began at Fukushima on May 21
TEPCO, in a press release, said “we have commenced operation of the groundwater bypass.” TEPCO said it was releasing 560 tons (more than 150,000 gallons) of groundwater that is within “safe” radiation levels directly into the Pacific. TEPCO hopes to divert and release 100 tons (26,900 gallons) of groundwater every day. The Shanghai Daily reported that:
TEPCO said the levels of radioactivity of the groundwater being released were within legal radiation safety limits and will follow the World Health Organizations guidelines that groundwater for such releases should contain less than 1 becquerel per liter of cesium-134 and cesium-137, 5 becquerels of beta ray-emitting radioactive material.
Groundwater flowing into the disabled reactor buildings is estimated at 400 tons (over 107,000 gallons) per day.
TEPCO and Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) consider this bypass release process less dangerous than collecting contaminated water in tanks that leak. Despite approving the start of TEPCO’s plan, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, Sunichi Tanaka, has reportedly slammed TEPCO for incorrectly measuring levels of radioactive materials in groundwater at its Daiichi facility. Tanaka has said that even though three years has passed since the reactor meltdowns at the plant, TEPCO is still “utterly inept” when it comes to taking accurate readings of radioactivity at and around its facilities and “lacks a basic understanding of measuring and handling radiation.”
The Unit 4 Spent Fuel Pool Still has Disaster Potential
In March 2011, the unit 4 reactor didn’t melt down because all its nuclear fuel rod assemblies had been removed for re-fueling, so they were stored in the unit’s spent fuel pool. But the fuel pool was about 100 feet above the ground and the earthquake/tsunami and subsequent explosions at the Fukushima left the fuel pool’s 1535 fuel assemblies in a precarious situation in an unstable building. An accident as bad as a meltdown, or worse, hasn’t happened yet, but remains possible as long as the fuel pool holds a substantial number of fuel assemblies.
TEPCO started to remove fuel assemblies in late 2013, moving them to safer fuel pools on the ground. Removal is scheduled to be complete before the end of 2014. But TEPCO said it had removed only 9 percent of the spent fuel so far and the delicate, dangerous process continues.
[On May 20-21, the internet was rife with reports of an explosion and fire at unit 4 on May 20, a claim that was based on a less than persuasive video. As of this writing, there seems to be no credible confirmation of an explosion or fire at unit 4.]
Radioactive Contamination Spreads, But Threat Level Uncertain
Reports of radioactively contaminated fish have increased during the past two years, but there is as yet no systematic testing by any government or corporate or even non-profit program that comprehensively measures the threat in any reliable manner (hardly an easy task since the fish and the water in the Pacific are in motion all the time). Anecdotal reports of Fukushima fish and other anomalies include:
• ALBECORE TUNA caught off Oregon and Washington state from 2008 to 2012 suggested a tripling of tuna-borne radiation in post-Fukushima fish, according to an April 30, 2014, report. But one researcher said that even the elevated level was only one-tenth of one per cent of the level for concern set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
• CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION issued a report April 30 that both minimized the current threat of radiation from Fukushima and also called for further research into the effects of low level radiation on humans and for reliable radiation monitoring supported by government. The report noted that the release of radiation from Fukushima continues with no end in sight. The report also said, without apparent irony, that people on the west coast were still in less danger from Fukushima radiation than from the residual radiation from nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific 50 years and more ago.
• MUTATION AND PREMATURE DEATH in butterflies caused by Fukushima levels of residual radiation was demonstrated by Japanese researchers, in a report published by Nature, as reported May 15 by Smithsonian.com. The researchers wrote: “We conclude that the risk of ingesting a polluted diet is realistic, at least for this butterfly, and likely for certain other organisms living in the polluted area.” A field study around Fukushima has shown a decrease in the population of these butterflies and other insects.
• THYROID CANCER in children from Fukushima has reached a higher than normal level. A May 19 story reported that 50 newly documented thyroid cancer cases represented about a 50% increase since February.
* DENIAL IN JAPAN surfaced in the form criticism of “Gourmets,” a food-oriented comic that included a storyline in which characters, who are culinary writers, visited the Fukushima complex and then fell ill and developed nosebleeds. According to Art Review on May 19, the food comic editor said the story “was a well-meaning attempt to highlight the fact that parts of Fukushima were dangerous, and that people were reluctant to complain themselves.” Criticism of the story was based on the fear that it would damage the Fukushima region’s people and products, food products especially. The corporate publisher, Shogakukan Inc., has suspended the comic series indefinitely. Japan Times reports on a nuclear researcher:
Hiroaki Koide, an assistant professor at the Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute, says that from a medical point of view the connection between nosebleeds and radiation exposure can’t be entirely ruled out…. He adds: “The government is not only indifferent to taking responsibility for the accident, but determined to erase it from people’s memory.” Such irresponsibility, he insists, is “almost criminal.”
Meanwhile, municipalities including Osaka and Fukushima prefectures and the town of Futaba have lodged complaints with the publisher.
• HONESTY IN JAPAN appeared in The Asahi Shimbun May 20, with a previously suppressed, 400-page report that some 650 workers at Fukushima Daiichi fled the complex in the midst of the crisis. These 650 workers represent about 90 per cent of the workforce. Prior to this revelation, the official story, promulgated by media worldwide, had created the impression that workers at Fukushima remained on site, showing great personal courage during the crisis. Even after the official story was exposed as 90% false, TEPCO refused to criticize any of its workers.
Commenting on this story May 21, a Shimbun columnist noted that: “If the facts are hidden and treated as if they never happened, the Fukushima crisis will never be understood in its entirety, and no real lessons can be learned from the disaster.” The same day, a Japanese court ruled against re-starting two nuclear reactors at Fukui in western Japan. The court ruled that the two reactors represented a serious risk to the public in the event of an earthquake. The power company said it would appeal the ruling. The prime minister said the ruling would not change his plans to re-start all of Japan’s nuclear reactors.
Who actually wants to learn any “real lessons” from Fukushima?
The struggle between lying and telling the truth about SNAFUkushima seems likely to continue for a long time, especially with the Japanese government pressing to re-start its nuclear reactors and with few countries or world organizations willing to close the curtain on the nuclear age. But truth still has a constituency. In April, Katsutagka Idogawa, former mayor of Futaba in Fukushima prefecture, spoke out against the government’s efforts to force former residents to return home despite radiation contamination:
Fukushima Prefecture has launched the Come Home campaign. … Air contamination decreased a little, but soil contamination remains the same. And there are still about two million people living in the prefecture, who have all sorts of medical issues. The authorities claim this has nothing to do with the fallout….
I remember feeling so deeply for the victims of the Chernobyl tragedy that I could barely hold back the tears whenever I heard any reports on it. And now that a similar tragedy happened in Fukushima, the biggest problem is that there is no one to help us. They say it’s safe to go back… while in reality the radiation is still there. This is killing children. They die of heart conditions, asthma, leukemia, thyroiditis… Lots of kids are extremely exhausted after school; others are simply unable to attend PE classes. But the authorities still hide the truth from us, and I don’t know why. Don’t they have children of their own?
Idogawa described his own symptoms, consistent with radiation poisoning, symptoms that persist even though he’s moved to another prefecture. He says he’s not getting treatment now and there’s no place to go for help: “The nearest hospital refused to treat me. So I’m trying to restore my health through nutrition.”
The Japanese government allowed Fukushima residents to start returning to their homes as of April 1, saying that it was safe. It was not safe. The government lied. On April 16, Asahi Shimbun reported some of the government’s lies that put people at risk.
“The same thing happened with Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Idogawa said: “The authorities lied to everyone. They said it was safe. They hid the truth…. Japan has some dark history.” And so does the rest of the world.
DOE won’t meet deadline for removal of radioactive containers held above-ground at northern New Mexico nuclear weapons lab
At least 3,706 cubic meters of radioactive waste are being stored at the Los Alamos National Laboratory complex after the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, an underground nuclear waste dump in southeastern New Mexico, was shut down indefinitely in February due to an airborne radiation leak.
Officials in New Mexico have warned that the waste at Los Alamos could be within the reach of wildfires and must be transferred elsewhere by the end of June. According to the Associated Press, “The agreement for removal of the waste by June 30 was reached after a massive wildfire lapped at the edge of lab property three years ago, raising concerns about the thousands of barrels of waste that were being stored outside.”
“The waste at Los Alamos is trapped with no place to go,” Arnie Gundersen, chief engineer and nuclear safety advocate at Fairewinds Associates, told Common Dreams.
The stranded waste is “transuranic” described by the DOE as “clothing, tools, rags, debris, soil and other items contaminated with radioactive material generated during decades of nuclear research and weapons development.”
Concerns have been raised about the safety of these barrels after it was discovered that changes in methods of packaging at Los Alamos, using organic cat litter to absorb moisture, may have been responsible for chemical reactions that set off the “heat event” behind the WIPP leak. According to New Mexico state regulators, more than 500 nuclear waste containers originating from Los Alamos were packed with this cat litter.
The DOE had been sending some Los Alamos radioactive waste to a Texas facility for temporary storage until WIPP is functional. Upon discovering that Los Alamos shipments may be dangerous, the DOE halted all shipments, citing public safety.
But Gundersen warns that these barrels of waste now pose a threat in Texas and Los Alamos, where they are being stored above-ground. “It is worse in the summer, because it is hotter in the summer, and the reactions become less stable,” he said.
In a statement (pdf) released Friday, the New Mexico Environment Department said it is “disappointed, but not surprised” that the DOE will not meet its deadline to remove the waste.
Meanwhile, it is still not clear when WIPP will reopen. The facility, which was never supposed to leak, is the bedrock of the U.S. government’s current approach to dispose of military-generated plutonium-contaminated transuranic waste from decades of nuclear bomb production and testing.
Critics have warned that WIPP’s failure raises serious questions about the overall federal strategy for disposing of nuclear waste.
MOSCOW – The public comment period for Japan’s new draft energy policy resulted in more than 90 percent of respondents saying they oppose the nuclear portion of the plan, Japan’s second largest newspaper, Asahi Shimbun, reported.
The newspaper reviewed the public comments to the draft of the first post-Fukushima basic energy policy, released by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in early December. The respective comments, gathered throughout a month, were disclosed in February and counted by Asahi Shimbun with the goal of identifying the proportion of negative and positive public reactions.
The 2,109 emails counted by Asahi Shimbun revealed that 95.2 percent opposed nuclear power generation, with as few as 33 responses arguing in favor of government energy policy including nuclear power.
Though shocking in terms of disregard to the public will, the results of the survey are consistent with the determination of the Abe administration to stick to the pro-nuclear policy. Even a recent ruling by the Fukui District Court against a restart of a nuclear reactor currently offline was identified as a “minor setback” to the energy policy draft by the Japanese government.
A Canadian proposal that calls for a nuclear waste storage facility less than a mile away from the Great Lakes is coming under heavy fire from Michigan lawmakers and environmental groups, who are now attempting to stop the project.
Under a plan crafted by energy supplier Ontario Power Generation (OPG), the company would construct a “deep geologic repository” (DGR), which would feature waste storage sites more than 2,200 feet underground to store nearly 53 million gallons of both low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste. The location of the proposed site, however – in Kincardine, Ontario, just three-quarters of a mile away from Lake Huron – has drawn criticism from numerous groups who fear potential contamination.
The fact that Lake Huron is connected to all the other Great Lakes via waterways has also drawn concern, since the five bodies of water make up the largest collection of freshwater lakes on the Earth and provide drinking supplies to tens of millions of Americans and Canadians.
According to the Detroit News, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have continued criticizing the plan, and are now proposing legislation that calls on the federal government to get involved. In addition to requesting that President Obama stake out a position on the issue, state Senate and House members are asking Secretary of State John Kerry to officially ask the International Joint Commission – established to mediate disputes over the Great Lakes – to rule on the matter.
The legislation would also “stop the importation of radioactive waste into Michigan from Canada.”
“Building a nuclear waste dump less than a mile from one of the largest freshwater sources in the world is a reckless act that should be universally opposed,” Michigan Rep. Dan Lauwers (R-Brockway Township) said in a statement Monday, as quoted by the Huffington Post.
While lawmakers continue to get involved in the situation – Michigan’s Senators in Washington have also urged the State Department to bring the IJC into the debate – environmental groups have come out against the plan.
“Burying nuclear waste a quarter-mile from the Great Lakes is a shockingly bad idea — it poses a serious threat to people, fish, wildlife, and the lakes themselves,” said Andy Buchsbaum, regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center, in a statement to the Detroit News.
Notably, the proposed plan has garnered the support of most Kincardine residents and other neighboring communities, many of whom have jobs within the nuclear industry.
For its part, OPG has maintained that its facility would be a safe place to store radioactive material such as rags, mop heads, paper towels, clothing, and more. According to the Associated Press, the low-level material the company plans to bury beneath the earth would decay in 300 years, while the intermediate-level material – described as “resins, filters, and used reactor components” – would take more than 100,000 years to decay.
Despite the company’s confidence, however, one former OPG scientist recently looked at the plan and came away unconvinced, saying the radioactivity of the materials that would be buried has been “seriously underestimated.” Dr. Frank Greening wrote to the Canadian panel charged with reviewing the proposal, arguing the material is sometimes 100 times more radioactive than estimated. In some cases, the material is 600 times more radioactive.
“My first feeling was, look, you messed up the most basic first step in establishing the safety of this facility, namely, how much radioactive waste they’re going to be putting in the ground, you admit you got that wrong, but now you’re telling me that everything else is okay,” Greening told Michigan Radio, according to Huffington Post. “You can’t just fluff off this error as one error. It raises too many questions about all your other numbers. And I’m sorry, I now have lost faith in what you’re doing.”
Asked about Greening’s findings, OPG spokesman Neal Kelly told the Toronto Star the facility would still be safe even if the evidence bears out.
“Some of his points are valid, and were already under review within OPG for future revisions to the waste inventory,” he said, adding the DGR’s design is “very, very conservative… The safety case would still be strong, even if these factors were to bear out.”
It was Valentine’s Day when the nation’s only radioactive nuclear waste facility first released radioactive particles including Plutonium and Americium into the atmosphere of New Mexico and beyond, including Texas, Oklahoma, and Mexico. Earlier that same day, the New Mexico Environment Department opened the public comment period on an application to modify and expand that nuclear waste facility, which the department said it planned to allow.
The first thing the U.S. government and the government contractor running the supposedly secure radioactive waste project did immediately when faced with the first-time-ever release of radioactivity from the underground site was – not tell anyone, anything. They told no one the truth for four days, even though the truth didn’t seem all that bad, as such things go. Unless contradictory data emerged, this would seem to be a brief release of a relatively small amount of very dangerous isotopes from nuclear weapons waste stored half a mile underground in a salt deposit. While the full scope of the release remains unknown weeks later, it seems clear that this was no Fukushima, except for the operators’ default to instant deceit.
The next day, February 15, 2014, the U.S. Dept. of Energy, which is responsible for the project issued “Event News Release No. 1,” a reassuring press release about “a radiological event” (not further defined), misleadingly stating that “a continuous air monitor detected airborne radiation in the underground” (NOT a release into the air). [emphasis added]
The press release expanded on its false reassurance by saying: “Multiple perimeter monitors at the [facility’s] boundary have confirmed there is no danger to human health or the environment. No contamination has been found on any equipment, personnel, or facilities.” No one was exposed, the press release implied, and added further details to reinforce the “no danger to human health or the environment” claim that is so often the first thing the nuclear industry says about any “event,” regardless of what people may or may not know to be true. Other press releases maintained this official story for several days.
Nuclear industry lies are rational in terms of protecting interests
According to that story, “there were no employees working underground at the time,” and the 139 employees at the surface had to be “cleared by radiological control technicians” and test negative for contamination before they were allowed to leave the site, something of an odd precaution for radiation that was reported only underground. The official story did not mention that the underground part of the facility had been closed down for the previous nine days, since February 5, when a 29-year-old salt truck had caught fire, forcing the evacuation of all 86 employees then working underground.
To be fair to the folks running the underground nuclear repository, which bears the anodyne name Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), when the continuous air monitoring system first detected radioactivity being released on February 14, 2014, the system automatically shut down air exchange with the outside, at least according to the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE), which describes the facility this way:
“WIPP, a cornerstone of DOE’s [nuclear waste] cleanup effort, is the nation’s first repository for the permanent disposal of defense-generated transuranic radioactive waste left from research and production of nuclear weapons. Located in southeastern New Mexico, 26 miles east of Carlsbad, WIPP’s facilities include disposal rooms excavated in an ancient, stable salt formation, 2,150 feet (almost one-half mile) underground. Waste disposal began at WIPP on March 26, 1999.”
The waste isolation mine was designed to last 10,000 years without leaking. As of 2014, WIPP had more than 1,000 employees and a $202 million annual budget.
Among the details that remain unclear about this WIPP accident are how long it took the system to detect the release and how much Plutonium and Americium were released. The government’s initial position was none. That wouldn’t last long.
On February 17, the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center (CERMC) posted on its Facebook page that it “is currently processing and analyzing ambient air filters from our air samplers located near the WIPP facility. We should have results by the end of the week which will give some indication as to whether any radiation was released into the environment. Hopefully CEMRC will get its filters from the exhaust air shaft at the WIPP site soon so we can analyze those for radionuclides as well. Lastly, remember that adults living within a 100-mile radius of the WIPP site can receive a free whole body count to see what types and levels of radiation are in their lungs and/or whole body…”
Government admits radioactive release, says: don’t worry, be happy
It wasn’t until February 19 that the Energy Dept. issued a press release acknowledging the reality of the airborne release of radioactivity. And this was only after that day’s edition of the local newspaper, the Current-Argus in Carlsbad, had already reported on the Carlsbad Environmental Center’s news release about higher than normal levels of radioactivity including Plutonium and Americium. The government belatedly confirmed the report, without apology, instead putting a positive spin on it, even though officials had been denying it (or perhaps had not known about it) for days. Under the headline “Radiological Monitoring Continues at WIPP” – even though the radiation was detected a half mile away – the new DOE release said:
“Recent laboratory analyses by Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center (CEMRC) found some trace amounts of americium and plutonium from a sampling station located on the WIPP access road. This is consistent with the fact that HEPA [high-efficiency particulate absorption] filters remove at least 99.97% of contaminants from the air, meaning a minute amount still can pass through the filters. As noted by the CEMRC, an independent environmental monitoring organization, the levels found from the sample are below the levels established by the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure public health is protected.”
The Carlsbad Environmental Center, a division of the College of Engineering at New Mexico State University, is a quasi-governmental agency. Besides monitoring the waste project, the center has been a contractor for government labs – the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Sandia National Laboratory – as well as the Nuclear Waste Partnership, a private contractor. The center also works with the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security on issues relating to conventional explosives used to spread radioactive materials (or, in the words of the website: “issues involving Homeland Security particularly those involving radiation dispersal devices (RDDs or dirty bombs).”
Radiation reached Carlsbad by February 24, but officials did not say this publicly until March 10. A week later they denied the report, saying the Carlsbad radiation came from somewhere other than the waste plant. They didn’t say where.
Dirty bomb or accident – different intent, same effects
Anyone making a dirty bomb would be delighted to use Plutonium as a terror weapon, because Plutonium is very deadly, and remains deadly for a long time (Plutonium 239 has a half-life of 24,000 years). A lot of Plutonium will kill you very quickly at close range, especially if it’s been made into a bomb, which the U.S. proved pretty definitively at Nagasaki in 1945. But even a tiny amount of Plutonium, inhaled and lodged in your lungs, can kill you slowly. In that sense, what happened at the nuclear waste isolation facility was that its operators managed to set off a small dirty bomb. No wonder they claimed no one was exposed.
Talking about dirty bombs or even RDDs is not a preferred public relations approach for most of the nuclear industry, even when their facilities actually become radiation dispersal devices (RDDs). The spin is always about how safe everyone is and how trivial the level of radiation exposure is. The public relations pattern with the New Mexico waste project release is standard – and fundamentally dishonest, as it has been always. On February 24, the Energy Dept. produced another press release with the benign headline, “WIPP Reports New Environmental Monitoring Date” with text that included:
“Dose assessment modeling, which calculates potential radioactivity exposure to people, from the release data showed a potential dose of less than one millirem at each of the environmental sampling locations. A person receives about 10 millirems from a single chest x-ray procedure. The average person living in the United States receives an annual dose of about 620 millirem from exposure to naturally occurring and other sources of radiation.”
Even though the basic assertions here may be factually true in a narrow sense, the implied argument – that there’s nothing to be concerned about – is a lie. First note the use of “potential” – twice – which makes clear that the “dose of less than one millirem” – which could potentially be much more – has little meaning for understanding reality. The statement is careful NOT to use “maximum” or any other limiting word. The first sentence implies a full body dose, the next sentence executes a bait and switch, referring to a chest X-ray which delivers a targeted dose. The last sentence pretends to put it all in perspective by trivializing the earlier doses in the context of an average annual dose of 620 millirem.
Plutonium: one millionth of a gram, officially “safe,” can be lethal
In this press release and thousands like it, the government lies with an apparently reasonable tone, good enough to persuade the New York Times and others. But it’s a big lie, because governments know that no radiation exposure is good for anyone, that any exposure is a risk. The honest discussion would be over how much radiation a person can tolerate and remain healthy for a reasonable time. There are many correct answers to that depending on the particular conditions of exposure. It is dishonest to conflate “naturally occurring and other sources of radiation” because “other sources” are mostly from nuclear medicine, power plants and warheads – all sources created by deliberate human choice.
The deeper lie is in the suggestion that, since a person gets 620 millirem a year, what harm can come from a little bit (or a lot) more? The answer is that great harm can come from very limited exposure, although that’s not necessarily likely. The official “acceptable” body dose of Plutonium is less than one millionth of a gram, and even this amount can eventually be lethal, because Plutonium that gets into the human body doesn’t all come out. It tends to concentrate in the blood, muscle and bone. Americium behaves similarly in the human body. Another official lie embedded in government language is the suggestion that 620 millirem is somehow “safe.” It’s not. It’s already too great an exposure, and the effects of radiation are cumulative.
A particularly articulate internet post, Bobby1’s Blog of Februray 22 (and later revisions), challenged the official story as to both the amount of radioactive material released, how far it had spread, and the danger it posed.
But the official spin works. Matthew Wald of the Times has been writing about nuclear issues for years, yet on February 25 he still managed to start his piece with error-filled credulity: “Almost two weeks after an unexplained puff of radioactive materials forced the closing of a salt mine in New Mexico that is used to bury nuclear bomb wastes, managers of the mine are planning to send workers back in and are telling nearby residents that their health is safe.” The mine was already closed when the so-called “puff” of Plutonium and Americium created conditions that no one can honestly call “safe.” The rest of his piece reads like Wald is also on the DOE payroll.
Energy Dept. said no one was contaminated – that was false
On February 26, in a letter to residents of the Carlsbad area, DOE field manager Jose Franco made what appears to be the first official admission that workers at the waste pilot plant had suffered internal radioactive contamination. Franco wrote that “13 Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) employees that were on site the evening of February 14 were notified that they have tested positive for radiological contamination.” Previously the agency had said there were 139 employees on site at the time of the release, and no external radiation was detected on any of them.
“It is premature to speculate on the health effects of these preliminary results, or any treatment that may be needed,” Franco wrote, adding that the contamination was “likely at very low levels” and “predominantly americium-241, material which is consistent with the waste disposed of at the WIPP. This is a radionuclide used in consumer smoke detectors and a contaminant in nuclear weapons manufacturing.”
Franco said it would probably take weeks to establish a credible estimate of the contamination dose these 13 employees received. The Times of February 27 carried the story on page A16 and online with Matthew Wald downplaying its importance. Local media gave the development more scrutiny, since the implications were clear: among other things, officials had no idea why there was a Plutonium release, they had no idea how much Plutonium was released, they had no idea how far the Plutonium had traveled, and they had no idea how many people had been contaminated (the number of contaminated employees later rose to 17, and then to 21).
Actually the detected level of Plutonium was millions of times higher than officials first acknowledged
On March 2, another articulate online post, Pissin’ On The Roses, presented a cogent argument that the Plutonium release had been much greater than the official story allowed. Basing the conclusion on public and leaked documents, the blog argues that the numbers are inconsistent and make sense only by assuming that the radioactive release lasted about 33 minutes: “When we ‘followed the math’, the story didn’t square with what the public was told, ie ‘the release was less than EPA reportable requirements’ (supposedly 37bq/m^3 for Plutonium). In fact, the math showed levels thousands of times greater than EPA reportable requirements for Plutonium.” But there was no report to the EPA.
Almost a month later, Southwest Research and Information Center, an independent organization that focuses on health, environmental, and nuclear issues, used Energy Dept. data to reach a similar, but more extreme conclusion: that the release actually lasted more than 15 hours.
Asking questions is a problem: we might find the wrong answers
Actually, the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) was stalling, apparently reluctant to get involved with protecting the environment around the government’s only underground nuclear weapons waste storage site, now that it had begun releasing radiation for the first time. On February 27, New Mexico’s two U.S. Senators wrote directly to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, asking for the EPA’s independent assessment of the “event,” as well as deployment of EPA assets to New Mexico to assess the situation independently. Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, both Democrats, noted that since “the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the primary regulatory authority in regard to any releases of radioactive materials to the environment from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant,” the EPA should do more than merely monitor the Energy Dept. and other agencies involved.
The EPA stonewalled. In effect, the Democratic administration in Washington had this answer for two Democratic senators: Drop dead. The EPA said it at greater length, but not until March 5, and then in a letter from the regional administrator, not the administrator in Washington. “We are still evaluating the situation,” wrote Ron Curry, without ever saying why the primary regulatory authority was refusing to “conduct independent studies.”
“As you know, the EPA’s primary regulatory responsibility is to ensure that any releases of radioactive material from the WIPP facility are below the EPA exposure limits for members of the public,” the regional bureaucrat began, launching a paragraph of denial and irresponsibility. Curry said that the EPA would “inspect” the work of others and, so far, “it is very unlikely that any exposures would approach these regulatory limits or represent a public health
concern.” EPA doesn’t know this, EPA has no independent way of knowing this, and as of March 5, EPA had no interest in knowing this independently, even as the primarily responsible regulator.
Besides, Curry added, “we note that the available information supports the conclusion that nearly all of the radioactive material was retained within the filtration system… [and] that radiation levels have declined significantly….”
Translation: that’s what we’ve been told officially and that’s good enough for us.
Also on March 5, the Energy Dept. issued a press release asserting more apparently good news: “Follow-up testing of employees who were exposed… shows exposure levels were extremely low and the employees are unlikely to experience any health effects as a result…. [tests] came back negative for plutonium and americium, the two radioactive isotopes that were detected in preliminary bioassays.” The release does not offer an explanation for this reported atypical behavior of ingested Plutonium and Americium.
Area residents received a letter from DOE dated March 5 containing an identical reassurance. It also expressed hope that workers might be able to re-enter the mine the following week, for the first time since the February 5 salt truck fire.
Fear of more Plutonium? Expert says: Don’t lick your iPhone charger!
During February, in response to continued rising public concern, the Energy Dept. started holding regular public meetings. On March 6, five nuclear waste officials appeared at a sparsely attended public forum billed by the Energy Dept. as a “WIPP Recovery Town Hall Meeting” at the Civic Center in Carlsbad. The almost 90-minute session (recorded by DOE with low quality audio) featured David Klaus from the Department of Energy (DOE), David Huizenga from DOE’s Office of Environmental Management, Joe Franco from the DOE Carlsbad Field Office, Farok Sharif from Nuclear Waste Partnerships [he was later removed from the job and replaced] and Fran Williams from Energy Dept. contractor UCOR, who told the audience flatly: “There are no health impacts to you, to your family, the members of your community from the event.”
Williams, Director of Environmental, Safety, Health and Quality for Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s contractor UCOR has 35 years of experience in her field, health physics and occupational medicine. Although the “Town Hall” received little coverage, Williams made the most news with her comments 57 minutes into the meeting, about radiation levels in the region: “They’re down at the levels of licking your iPhone charger. I’m not trying to be funny; I’m trying to equate radiation exposure to something that you can understand…. I hope that helps. ”
“Many left Thursday night’s meeting [March 6] with the Department of Energy uneasy,” reported Albuquerque TV station KRQE. “They pleaded for more information about the underground radiation leak last month that seeped radiation outside, but many remain frustrated and concerned for their safety.
The DOE tried to reassure people they are safe even though the underground storage areas remained sealed off.”
The next night (March 7) the local Republican Congressman, Rep. Steve Pearce, held his own town hall meeting. The long time backer of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (whose private contractors contributed to his campaigns) promised to ask tough questions. Pearce said, “I will hold their feet to the fire.”
Other than his meeting with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and New Mexico’s two senators the day before, Pearce’s involvement in events at WIPP appears largely limited to cheerleading, as in his February 5 press release saying everything was fine after the fire and his February 15 press release saying everything was fine after the release of radioactivity.
Radioactive waste isolated for 10,000 years – until it’s not
More than three weeks after the detection of airborne Plutonium, no one had been able to re-enter the salt mine to assess conditions underground or to determine the cause of the accident. WIPP was built without underground surveillance cameras. Officials at the Energy Dept. and other agencies have refused to speak publicly about the issues or to answer reporters’ questions on the record. Even their public bromides began to diverge, with DOE suggesting that WIPP would be operational in the near future, while the NM Environmental Dept. issued a legal notice saying WIPP would “be unable to resume normal activities for a protracted period of time.”
On March 8, the Albuquerque Journal News published a story that said, “No one knows yet how or why a waste drum leaked at southeast New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant on Valentine’s Day, triggering alarms, exposing workers and setting off a cascade of events that could cripple the nation’s radioactive waste disposal system.”
Reviewing Dept. of Energy records, the Journal concluded that there were only two likely scenarios for the February 14 accident:
(1) If a waste drum’s contents overheated, that might cause a spontaneous explosion that spread radioactive debris. Planners in 1997 contemplated this possibility before WIPP opened, and gave odds of it happening as 10,000 to 1.
(2) If the roof in one of the salt cavern rooms fell, that might rupture one or more waste drums and lead to the spread of radioactive debris. Planners gave the odds of that happening as one in a million.
The most likely cause of an accident, planners thought, would be mishandling of waste drums by workers, but there were no workers underground on February 14.
The next day, March 9, DOE announced that remote testing of areas not in the path of the radiation release showed “no detectable radioactive contamination
in the air or on the equipment lowered and returned to the surface. Air quality results were also normal. These results were expected….” DOE suggested that workers might be sent down the mine before the end of the week.
The Energy Dept also announced that four more workers had been contaminated by ingesting Plutonium or Americium at “extremely low levels,” bringing the total to 17 workers contaminated. [On March 27, DOE would announce four more being tested for contamination, raising the total to 21.] The DOE also announced that there would be no workforce layoffs during “recovery efforts” for which there is no estimated end point.
A fire suppression system is useful when there’s a fire
One of the problems for the workers underground on February 5, when the 29-year-old salt truck caught fire, was that the truck’s onboard automatic fire suppression system had been deactivated. Emergency teams put out the fire and evacuated the tunnels without any injuries other than six workers needing treatment for smoke inhalation. Rep. Pearce promptly issued a press release calling it a “minor fire” that posed no threat to public health or safety, which appeared true at the time.
But the deactivated fire protection on the truck turned out to be just the first of a host of shortcomings and failures relating to the waste plant, problems that are still being uncovered.
“This accident was preventable” was the understated conclusion of the Accident Investigation Board in the Dept. of Energy in its 187-page report released March 13. The Board’s four-week investigation included at least two pre-accident visits to the mine, which has been inactive since February 5. The Board praised the workers and their supervisors for responding quickly, knowledgeably, and cooperatively to minimize the emergency. The Board found extensive fault with management’s performance over a longer period of time, finding that maintenance programs were ineffective, fire protection was inadequate, preparedness was inadequate, emergency management was ineffective – and that these criticisms had been made before, some more than once. According to one news report:
“At a community meeting in Carlsbad on Thursday to preview the report, the lead investigator, Ted Wyka, praised the 86 workers who were half-mile underground in the mine when the fire started, saying they ‘did everything they could’ to tell others to evacuate.
“But a number of safety systems and processes failed, Mr Wyka said. Emergency strobe lights were not activated for five minutes and not all workers heard the evacuation announcement. One worker also switched the air system from normal to filtration mode, which sent smoke billowing through the tunnels.”
New Mexico’s senators, in a joint statement, found the Board’s report “deeply concerning” and urged DOE management to take the critique seriously and fix the shortcomings. For his part, Rep. Pearce “applauded” the DOE for “a candid, transparent report” that demonstrated how poorly they had been doing their job for many years.
Senators Heinrich and Udall have written to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, asking why his agency has failed to carry out its responsibility under federal mine safety law, which requires the Mine Safety and Health Administration “to inspect WIPP no less than four times a year.” Records show that WIPP was inspected twice – instead of 12 times – in the past three years
With WIPP closed, Los Alamos waste has to be trucked to Texas
The Los Alamos National Laboratory has been a disaster waiting to happen for years, a disaster that almost happened in 2011 as wildfires approached the facility where radioactive waste was stored in roughly 20,000 steel drums above ground. The fires were held back, but the waste is still there, scheduled for “permanent” storage at the underground waste plant before the next fire season in the summer. Now that can’t happen because WIPP is leaking, and closed.
On March 20, the Energy Dept and its contractor, Nuclear Waste Partnership, announced plans to truck the Los Alamos waste to West Texas for temporary storage at Waste Control Specialists, another government contractor. DOE “has committed to the state of New Mexico to removing several thousand cubic meters of TRU waste from LANL by June 30, 2014. The waste will be moved to WIPP for final disposal once the site reopens. “
According to DOE, it has already moved most of the Los Alamos waste, which “consists of clothing, tools, rags, debris, soil, and other items contaminated with small amounts of radioactive elements, mostly plutonium.”
On March 21, the New Mexico Environment Department withdrew its temporary permit that would have allowed the waste plant to expand. That’s the same permit that the department said on February 14 that it would approve at the end of the 60-day public comment period. The permit would have allowed WIPP to build two new disposal vaults in the salt mine. According to the news release:
“NMED [NM Environment Dept.] cannot move forward on the WIPP’s request to open additional underground storage panels and for the other requested permit modifications until more information is known about the recent events at the WIPP,” said Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn. “Just as NMED needs more information to make informed decisions on permit modifications, the public also needs more information about the radiation release in order to provide informed input during the public comment period. Once NMED has all of our questions answered, we will proceed with consideration of a revised draft Permit.”
With so many other questions to be answered, the question of whether WIPP will ever re-open gets harder to answer with any certainty. There have been numerous reports, by DOE and others, of further radioactive leaks from the site – none of them known to be large and all considered officially “safe.” As Arnie Gundersen at Fairewinds notes, DOE says that when the WIPP ventilation system is set on filtration mode, its air filters collect 99.97% of all the radioactive particles headed for the atmosphere. Accepting that capture rate as correct, Gunderson points out that, mathematically, if the filters are 99.9% effective (which he doubts), that means that out of every 1,000 minutes there is one unfiltered minute. In other words, the radioactive leak continues, albeit slowly, even when the filters work at peak capacity (which is not a constant). Just since February 14, Gundersen calculates, perfectly functioning filters would still have allowed another half hour of contamination into the environment.
Nuclear supporters continue to minimize any danger. Plutonium and Americium are heavy elements, the argument goes, so they fall to the ground quickly. And they stay there unless there’s a lot of wind. No one knows now just how much Plutonium or Americium the waste plant has already emitted, or how much it will emit. But anyone who cares to know knows that this is spring in the southwest, when the winds pick up and dust storms have already happened this year.