ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Hidekatsu Yoshii: "Séisme, tsunami, nucléaire .. un triple choc pour le Japon"
by Interview by Rosa Moussaoui, translated by Kenzo Fukuma
Translated Friday 18 March 2011, by Henry Crapoand reviewed by
Communist deputy in charge of the nuclear dossier for the Japanese Communist Party, Hidekatsu Yoshii considers that the arrogance of the private group Tepco has aggravated the lack of preparation in face of this natural catastrophe.
Huma: What is the outcome, up to now, of the earthquake and tsunami?
Hidekatsu Yoshii: Geographically, 20% of the national territory has suffered the effects of the catastrophe. About 520,000 persons have been evacuated. The number of dead and missing has been estimated, recently, at more than 11,500.
Huma: Has the Japanese government reacted rapidly enough and in an appropriate manner?
Hidekatsu Yoshii: Mobilization by the authorities has not at all met the expectations of the population. Neither Tepco, the electric company that exploits the generating plants in Fukushima, nor the government had imagined such a catastrophic scenario. They were not at all prepared for such a situation. Tepco kept saying they were convinced that the nuclear facilities were 100% safe. This multi-national company lived with a myth of absolute security. This arrogance aggravated the lack of preparation for this natural catastrophe.
Huma: How do evaluate the seriousness of this natural catastrophe? Is the comparison with Tchernobyl appropriate?
Hidekatsu Yoshii: After this earthquake of magnitude 9, all the nuclear facilities ceased to function. The reactors are shut down automatically. But that’s when the problems began, especially at the Fukushima Dai-ichi site, which is causing the problems today. Only reactors 1,2, and 3 were in service when the earthquake hit. Reactors 4,5,6 were in maintenance. But even when stopped, the nuclear fuel rods continue to give off heat. In this situation, if you do nothing, the temperature rises, with the danger of fusion in core of the reactor.
You can’t manage without the cooling system. But the earthquake damaged the pump that feeds cooling water to the generating plant. As for the emergency relief system, it was put out of operation by the tsunami. The relief motor stopped, halting the secondary system for injection of cooling water. As a result, the fuel rods, out of the water, heated up, increasing the pressure. The technology used at Fukushima is very different from that at Tchernobyl. But left this way, the fuel bars in fusion in the core of the reactor can trigger incalculable consequences.
Huma: Can the earthquake and tsunami, alone, account for this nuclear catastrophe? Is the responsibility of the operating company also in question?
Hidekatsu Yoshii: From a geographic and geological point of view, we have experience with earthquakes. On this basis, we can pose questions as to the pertinence of construction of nuclear power plants in Japan. Tepco, and also the government of Japan, claimed to be convinced of the superiority of the technologies used. Together they maintained the myth of Japanese nuclear safety. The Japanese Commuist Party (PCJ), on the contrary, has always warned of the danger of earthquakes, and of the possible consequences in terms of nuclear safety. In the face of this argument, Tepco and the Japanese government have always placed their faith in existing rescue systems. But under the pressure of the tsunami, all the bolts came loose. It’s a long chain of failures that has led to this nuclear accident.
Huma: Tepco has a long history if concealing nuclear incidents. Has this multi-national company placed profit-making ahead of safety?
Hidekatsu Yoshii: Tepco reacted only after considerable delay in the accident that took place in 1999 in a ractor in Tokai-Mura, clearly in order to protect certain secrets. This culture of secrecy surrounds the electro-nuclear industry, and the opacity has become worse since 11 September 2001, in the name of the "War against Terrorism". Tepco was slow in giving us information.
When pressure rose in the interior or the reactor, which made necessary the release of radioactive steam, they said and did nothing at first, fearful that an abnormal level of radioactivity would be detected. This is the reason for which they let the steam build up in the reactor to its upper limit. That’s what provoked the explosions. From the beginning Tepco has tried to conceal the malfunction of the cooling systems. Second problem, the company at first hesitated to inject sea water to cool the fuel rods, for fear of rendering them unusable. All these excesses and silences on the part of Tepco can be explained by their obsession with profitability. At every incident, every incident, they have lied to the population. But this time, there’s no escape. The responsibility of the enterprise is directly involved.
Huma: At this stage, what are the likely consequences for the population and for the environment?
Hidekatsu Yoshii: Earthquake, tsunami, nuclear catastrophe ... the human communities are today confronted by a triple shock. We have the experience of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We know the dramatic impact of radiation on human beings, on nature, on agriculture. For all these reasons, the JCP calls for a progressive withdrawal from nuclear power generation, with a massive reinvestment in renewable energies.
Huma: How can Japan pick itself up after such a catastrophe? What sort of international solidarity is necessary?
Hidekatsu Yoshii: We have to aid hundreds of thousands of persons, who have lost everything, to reconstruct their lives. Already, the international community has shown great solidarity by sending teams of rescue workers and medical teams. We are very thankful to them. Then we will have to reconstruct the Japanese economy on new bases, with new energy policies, placing under control these multi-national companies, which act in an arbitrary fashion in search of maximum profits.