Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster
By David Lochbaum, Edwin Lyman, Susan Stranahan and the Union of Concerned Scientists. The New Press, 2013. ISBN: 978-1595589088

In its press release, this book is touted as "the first definitive account of the disaster". However, there is precious little content actually addressing what happened at Fukushima Daiichi during the crucial first week of the crisis when the significant events occurred. And it is unclear why it took the authors two years to publish an account of events that was clearly explained in the Japanese government’s Independent Fukushima Accident report (NAIIC) in summer 2012 (available via www. tinyurl.com/pabveqt).

Rather, the book uses the accident as an excuse to fulfil a wide range of antinuclear agendas. The main schema eventually becomes clear – this book is intended as an unabashed, intensely dramatic, propaganda- generating exercise in the indictment of the world’s nuclear energy community and the American Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"The narrative often makes wild speculations seem undeniably factual."

The narrative often makes wild speculations seem undeniably factual. For example, early on there is the statement, "If cooling is lost for about 30 minutes, the water level in the reactor vessel drops about 15 feet and falls below the top of the fuel rods." This is a complete confabulation. The water level immediately drops at automatic shutdown due to what is called ‘shrink’, when the steam in the reactor rapidly condenses back into water. Steam is 20 times less dense than water itself, effecting the rapid shrinking of the water level. Saying it will drop 15 feet is an exaggeration. Saying that this alone will uncover the fuel core is a fabrication. However, the wild assumption is used as ‘proof’ that the unit #1 meltdown started no later than three hours after the tsunami caused the full station blackout. There is no reference given to verify the claim. In fact, it flies in the face of the unit #1 control room records that show there was about 22 inches of water covering the core at 10 pm, some six hours after the tsunami hit. This is a clear case of ‘selection bias’ — using only that information that fulfils the author’s desired results. Selection bias is a common tactic used throughout the book.

Two other unmistakable agendas are included in the book that deserve mention. First, the authors try to absolve then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan of wrongdoing. All in- depth investigations, both inside and outside Japan, show that Kan clearly meddled in the affairs taking place at F. Daiichi with disastrous consequence. But, all the authors can say is that Kan has been portrayed by his critics as a meddler. They make it seem that Kan was a victim of circumstance and doing what any concerned leader would do. In another case of selection bias, the authors neglect to mention Kan’s unilateral expansion of the evacuation zone (from a radius of 2km to 3km), ordering the necessary depressurization of unit #1 to be delayed until he could hold a press conference in Tokyo, and his insistence that the entire 3 km radius must be cleared of all members of the public before depressurization occurred (even though the wind was steadily blowing out to sea). Instead, the nigh-fatal delays are blamed on plant management complacency, staff incompetency, and a lack of efficacious evacuation orders. To my knowledgeable view, Kan’s interference was the single-most significant cause of the hydrogen explosions of March 12 through 15, 2011.

The second agenda is to excuse then-NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko of transgression when he incorrectly told the American Congress to evacuate all Americans within an 80 km radius of Fukushima Daiichi. It was believed by Jaczko and others in the NRC that two spent fuel pools were dry and possibly burning, threatening an unprecedented release of radioactive material. His evacuation order is portrayed as the result of his following staff advice. (Although the NRC later revised its views in June 2011, Jaczko has never publicly admitted that his suggestion was in any way incorrect).

No less than nine of the book’s 13 chapters focus on what was going on in Washington’s NRC headquarters as a result of the Fukushima accident, and not on the accident itself. A recurring emphasis is on spent fuel pools inside American reactor plants and how they are allegedly future major nuclear accidents waiting to happen.

The unabashed attack on the NRC and (as it turns out) the world’s entire nuclear energy community culminates with the following provocative statement, "It should be clear that the entire nuclear establishment is responsible [for the accident], rather than just TEPCO and its regulators." In other words, it wasn’t Japan’s refusal to upgrade emergency power system integrity that caused the accident. It wasn’t Japan’s refusal to embrace protection against beyond-design-basis accident scenarios. It wasn’t even Japan’s fault! The accident at Fukushima Daiichi is blamed on a world-wide nuclear community mindset of "it can’t happen here", and failure on the part of the American NRC to make regulations that will fully protect the public.

This isn’t a book about the Fukushima accident. Rather, it uses the accident as a convenient excuse to indict the world’s nuclear community and its regulators.

About the author

Leslie Corrice spent 20 years in various roles in the nuclear industry including plant operations, health physics and public relations. After the Navy, he spent 15 years on the staff at Perry Nuclear Power Plant in Ohio, a Boiling Water Reactor system with large, domed containment. After retiring from his second career as a high school math and science teacher, he now writes an influential blog about nuclear issues at the Hiroshima Syndrome website including twice-weekly updates of events at Fukushima Daiichi. His e-book, Fukushima: The First Five Days, was one of the first accounts of the accident.