Nuclear security ? “Don’t worry : it’s all good…”

(post rewritten 03/29/11)

So, the miracle answer has been found : nuclear power plants that were deemed safe and secure before the Fukushima blast could be dangerous after all, in light of what happened in Japan. That’s right : as were European banks after the first phase of the financial crisis, they’ll all be submitted to stress tests. End of story ?

Not quite : while the risk of a comparable tragedy in Europe is currently being examined by the powers that be, perhaps it should be reminded a radioactive air mass was on its way to Europe last week, as we’ve known for about three weeks now…

Was this cloud potentially harmful for European populations ?

In 1986, right after the Chernobyl explosion, French Professor Pellerin went from TV station to TV station to intoxicate the public even more : the “cloud” was never to cross the French border, there was nothing to worry about : France was safe ! After all, the nearly 2000 km. separating the “frogs” from the Ukraine was a supplementary guarantee that the particles would disperse and the “cloud” lose its intensity, weren’t they ?

The same argument resurfaced last week. Wherever you looked, you heard so-called experts and meteorologists tell you the distance between Japan and the old continent was insurance enough.

Yet, as days pass, it appears more and more evident that the information provided by the Japanese government and /or the nuclear power plant operator are incomplete, and even contradictory, to say the least : at this point, it is safe to say nobody can really, scientifically, assess how many particles have been sent (are being sent ?) into the atmosphere : the situation is totally out of control !

Most of the locals didn’t even know whether the various reactors were in a state of fusion yet. That’s probably why thousands of Japanese people keep on demonstrating in the streets of Tokyo, demanding to be properly informed !

Apparently, not a single quarantine zone has been established (neither for people, nor for products, it seems, the latter still being shipped abroad…) and the decisions that are being taken seem inspired by panic : one day, it’s the water that appears contaminated by iodine 131 in certain areas, the next, it’s the vegetables on which traces of cesium are found, then it’s the soil, contaminated by enriched plutonium (some varieties of which remain active for 240,000 years… Yesir !) And what do we do about it ? Well, we fuken pray and hope we’ll be able to resolve this international catastrophe all by ourselves

In other words, it’s increasing chaos in Japan, and how could it be otherwise, considering what the country just went through ? Yet, in order to take all necessary protective measures towards the civilians (both on a national and an international level), isn’t it vital to know the facts ? And, when not knowing, shouldn’t we go for the worst case scenario and adapt our response accordingly ?…

What have we learnt from the 1986 disaster ?

According to several MD’s, the amount of operations involving the removal of the thyroid gland has grown exponentially over the past ten years in Western Europe. Even if there’s no irrefutable evidence indicating the Chernobyl “cloud” is directly responsible for this, more and more people, including prominent health specialists, are now establishing a clear link between both occurrences.

Yet, last week, while reminders were issued regarding the 20 km radius (very scientific indeed…), in a sorry attempt to reassure civilians, literally NO ONE in Belgium had any clue as to the proper response to the radioactive air masses coming from Japan.

This is a stress test you can do on your own : call your doctor (I called two !), your pharmacist (two here as well !), and even the crisis centre of the Ministry of Interior, and ask them a few easy questions, like :

–          What does the 20 km radius everyone is talking about have to do with a radioactive “cloud” from abroad ?

–          Since, according to information at my disposal, the US didn’t examine any “sample” of the air masses to determine the actual radioactivity grade, and Europe therefore had to wait for said “cloud” to fly over its territory to measure the exact degree of risk, what efficient response could the authorities have thought of, had there been a high risk, and could it still have been implemented ?

–          Why is there, in a “liberal” democratic ensemble of countries, a EU guideline forbidding the sale of natural iodine, EVEN ON PRESCRIPTION ?

Whereas, as of the outbreak of the bird flu, impressive stocks of vaccines had been piled up, there seems to be no plan at all in this case. Worse : as was the case under the Soviet regime (and God knows I’m not a Farage fan…), authorities are telling people they don’t have the right to protect themselves, and doctors they aren’t able to determine the potential secondary effects of natural iodine on their patients’ health, this while withdrawing the product from the shelves, as if it were the gold of the new century !…

Needless to say what the results of this alternative amateur stress test point out : even the official points of contact aren’t aware of some of the decisions taken and, when they are, they can’t explain the underlying reasons motivating those decisions.

IF THIS IS THE EFFICIENCY WE ARE ENTITLED TO EXPECT FROM THE GOVERNMENT, IF THIS TRANSLATES THE READINESS OF THE EMERGENCY SERVICES AND THE EFFICIENCY OF THE EMERGENCY RESPONSE, SHOULD A FUKUSHIMA-LIKE DISASTER TAKE PLACE IN BELGIUM, WE MIGHT AS WELL CONSIDER OURSELVES DOOMED ALREADY !!!… which brings us to the part about accountability…

Who is responsible in case of radioactive leakage ?

A few years ago, major lawsuits were filed against big tobacco companies, which had to pay considerable fines to plaintives claiming they hadn’t been properly informed about the risks inherent to smoking. A similar tendency appeared as far as asbestos was concerned. But when it comes to nuclear energy, responsibility and accountability tend to become very fluid and “fissile” concepts !…

Who’s really responsible for the nuclear omerta ? Did the Belgian government in place in 1986 fail to sufficiently protect its citizens before and during the Chernobyl drama ? Is TEPCO, the operator of the Fukushima power plant, really divulging all intel in its possession to the Japanese authorities or is it playing a little game of “duck and cover” itself ? Are the “experts” the only ones with reliable information ? And, if so, what is the exact technical knowledge of those taking the final decisions ? Let me rephrase that : how democratic is nuclear energy ?!

Whatsoever, several European citizens who had to have their thyroid gland removed are now suing, too, supported by various MD’s. But who to sue ?

If almost everyone in Belgium nowadays seems to agree upon the necessity to exit nuclear energy (though the timetables for such a phase out vary consistently depending which party you ask…), everyone should also agree upon a clear increase of the security level (including mobilization of all emergency services, and maybe even large scale drills) in the meantime. Thereby, responsibilities for potential disasters should be clearly determined beforehand, so that the victims are allowed some dignity and aren’t forced to fight windmills. Determining those responsibilities should also encourage all parties involved to double check every last piece of information before making any statement or taking any decision, and, of course, this ought to be organized on an international level by an independent and efficient task force unsubdued to any political pressure and / or commercial strategy !!! To reach that goal, a worldwide generalization of citizens’ initiatives comparable to CRIIRAD in France could be a first step.

Should we give in to panik ?

Curiously, what was perceived as a scandal in 1986, namely consciously hiding crucial information, and even distorting the truth, now totally seems accepted by a lot of people outside the immediate blast zone : we could call it a regression of political consciousness !

There are psychological reasons for that : when facing a major panic or feeling powerless, some people tend to bury their heads in the sand : “what can we do anyway”, right ?… Their irrational attitude is quite similar to the apparent certainty displayed by those who claim Fukushima couldn’t happen in Europe : they know it could, but they choose not to embarrass themselves with that thought, so they repress it, hoping everything will be just fine. That is not policy, that is not rationality !

Once again, not knowing and not being informed is far more stress inducing than openly talking about risk management! For instance, if Fukushima isn’t harmful to Europeans at this moment, as repeatedly stated last week, how many such disasters would be ?

Last year only, 1000 significant incidents were reported in some of the 58 French nuclear reactors. Why weren’t we informed before Fukushima ? What is to be considered “significant” (an adjective used by the scientists themselves) ? Were there any nuclear particles released into the atmosphere ? If so, how many ? Does anyone even know ?

The document that follows, actually the conclusions of a scientific survey from 2007, sums up all critical situations that have occurred in nuclear power plants all over the world over the past 25 years. Everyone should read this, especially the Japanese : they’ll discover or be reminded that TEPCO has a decades’ long history of “malpractice” and “inspection falsification”, to use the words in the report.

But, whatever the angle in which you analyze what has slowly but surely become an energy policy based on Russian roulette (“As long as we can all consume more and more while minimizing any risk of black-out, the rest is secondary…”), there are a few principles that should NEVER be left aside, particularly by public authorities, for instance :

–          every citizen’s right to be properly informed;

–          every citizen’s right to express his / her concern and to see that concern addressed;

–          every citizen’s right of being protected by those (s)he elected, in any democratic society;

–          every citizen’s right of protecting his/herself.

Now, either we all agree upon these ground principles, that have been ridiculed last week as much as in 1986, or we decide anything is alright in order to avoid mass hysteria and populism (There’s a difference between rationally debating a justified fear in order to come up with the most satisfying answers, and creating as well as exploiting fear, as Doubleya did regarding the false threat of WMD’s in Iraq), in which case these fundamental principles, these basic rights, become secondary, and democracy with them !

You be the judge !…

____________________

Previous posts related to this subject :

– “The Arkansas Body Count : fishes and birds tell us the end is near, people… (LOL)” > 01/06/11

– “All we are saying is give peace a chance” > 12/10/10

– “Circulez, y’a rien à voir…” > 12/09/10

– “Melken, die koe” > 11/20/10

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