By Guest Author 10/03/2016

By Dr Rebecca Priestley, Science in Society group, Victoria University of Wellington

I spent the morning of March 12, 2011 glued to the television set, watching the incredible footage of the tsunami wave breaching sea walls alternating with scenes from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The Fukushima nuclear disaster impacted on attitudes to nuclear power around the world – but in different ways in different countries. The disaster led to a freeze on Japan’s nuclear industry and major setbacks to that country’s planned future of nuclear energy development. Germany, Switzerland and Belgium made decisions to phase out nuclear power. Taiwan – which, like Japan, is in a region of high seismic hazard – shut down construction of its fourth nuclear power plant. In contrast, nearby Korea, China and India continued to expand their nuclear fleets. While France planned to reduce its nuclear commitments by 25%, and decommissioned some of its older reactors, other countries, including the US, UK, Finland, and the countries of the former Soviet Union, showed a minimal Fukushima effect.

New Zealand, as a non-nuclear nation, is different. Green Party Politician Keith Locke probably expressed the immediate sentiment of many New Zealanders with his statement, in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, that he was “so glad our country is nuclear-free.” But the Fukushima disaster did little, if anything, to change pre-existing narratives about nuclear power in New Zealand. As recounted in my chapter about New Zealand in The Fukushima Effect, there is still a significant minority – around 30% – who think nuclear power would be a good idea for New Zealand, and preferable to alternatives such as wind farms.

Cold on nuclear

While majority public opinion, political opinion and economic realities are all against the introduction of nuclear power to New Zealand anytime in the foreseeable future, it’s worth remembering that nuclear power was once expected to be part of New Zealand’s future. Pro-nuclear rhetoric emerged in the 1950s and in the 1960s and 1970s there were plans for a nuclear power plant on the Kaipara Harbour, to supply energy to meet Auckland’s growing demand for power. But the Royal Commission on Nuclear Power Generation in New Zealand reported in 1978 that – because of the recent Maui gas development and new coal reserves discovered at Huntly – a nuclear power station was not needed.

The World Nuclear Association now says that “Nuclear power remains an option for New Zealand, using relatively small units of 250–300 MWe each, in power stations located on the coast near the main load centres. … New Zealand will find it increasingly difficult to avoid considering nuclear power. Nuclear is a sustainable option, able to enhance the country’s desired image. With minimal aesthetic impact, it would provide the power for Auckland’s continued growth, including energy-intensive industry.”

Informed debate needed

When the Fukushima disaster happened five years ago, New Zealand media – me included – found it hard to find scientists who were informed and available to be interviewed. If at some time in the future, in response to a massively growing population or changing economics of nuclear power, a New Zealand government proposes to introduce nuclear power to New Zealand we will need scientists who are permitted to speak out on the issue. Some might offer evidence why nuclear power is a safe, economical and rational option for New Zealand. Others might provide evidence to show that nuclear power is not suitable for New Zealand—a tectonically active country with abundant sources of renewable energy and extensive scope for improving efficiency of energy transmission and use.

Public scientists today are increasingly restricted in what they can say to the media. To enable public participation in any future decision-making about nuclear power we will need public scientists willing to answer questions from the media and the public and take part in an informed dialogue on the topic. Nuclear power attracts controversy everywhere, but is likely to do so more in “nuclear-free” New Zealand than elsewhere.

If and when New Zealand does have a debate on nuclear power, the “expert” opinions cannot be left to politicians, environmentalists, and business people. At a time when researcher guidelines for public engagement are being developed by the Royal Society of New Zealand, it’s worth noting that, if the public is to make an informed choice on nuclear issues – or on any other controversial issues – scientists must be allowed to engage with the public and contribute to the discussion and debate.

Rebecca Priestley is author of Mad on Radium: New Zealand in the Atomic Age and co-editor, with Richard Hindmarsh, of The Fukushima Effect: a new geopolitical terrain. She writers a regular science column, and occasional feature article, for the New Zealand Listener.

0 Responses to “Reflection on Fukushima 5 years out”

  • Another finely scripted article by someone whom should know better!

    Perhaps it would be better to talk about the massive radiological contamination at Victoria University? And the dead students and professors? A soccer pitch full of secretly buried waste?

    How about extreme plutonium contamination at Otago University?

    As for Fukushima – fallout and significant radiation ‘waves’ were recorded by many people across NZ. Google the ‘Dunedin Radiation Cloud’ for one example. There were massive increases in background levels in Westport, and the local milk supply EXCEEDED the EPA safe limit for C134/137 for human consumption!

    Fukushima is an extinction level event – and it is still on going. There have been dangerously radioactive Japanese cars, and their parts in NZ. Japanese food with unsafe levels of most fission fragments – already detected – and consumed by the unlucky few.
    And lets not forget all that Fukushima rice from Thailand?

    And as for the Sooty Shearwater, those from Japan are radioactive, and dangerously so. Every investigative study from Te Papa onwards has been quietly shut down.
    As for the slight increase of thyroid incidences, that can be attributed to increased levels of I-129.
    From both Fukushima – and from release from India. NZ is on that fallout circuit also.

    I’m afraid, when you do a PhD on a very selective history of nuclear issues in NZ, you miss out a vast amount of real knowledge, by those that covered things up, and had to get others in to clean up the mess.
    It doesn’t make you an expert – it actually makes you part of the disinformation problem. If you popped overseas at got a PhD in nuclear physics, we might take you a little more seriously.

    It makes a nice read, has some nice images – but it clearly demonstrates that the author has little regard for the knowledge of the biological aspects of dose, ingesta isotopes nor the actual physics of nuclear processes – little alone nuclear power engineering.

    Without those … that thesis is merely propaganda.

    • some references to back up those inflammatory claims would be good…

      • You are kidding — aren’t you? Seriously? Inflammatory?
        References? LMAO An open invitation to drop more information on here? Oh where to start!

        Well, my first port of call, would be to NRL for a Official Information Act request for all correspondence, travel logs and clean up reports for those in question. You can do that on the phone Ashton – just give them a ring? Let them fill in the blanks for you perhaps? I bet you don’t!

        Radioactive cars? I believe that there was a serious case involving NZs leading automotive insurer in Auckland. A quick phone call will reveal all sorts of things. Check the air filters, and air con as well. Some Japanese imports are or were – hot. Radioactive CD’s imported Japanese Sushi kits (the sea weed rocks!), bears et al., Fukushima (2011) .. food in general. Some good, some bad.

        And then we have reactors that have been operating on NZ territories … Such as the infamous Inky Poo. Lots of dead US service personnel are now popping up years later. You will be pleased to know that Scott Base gathers its water from just over the hill.

        There is the case of the leaking American Pu238 powered RTG that was brought back to Christchurch from Antarctica, then after sitting in a hangar for ages – it was loaded into an aircraft and pushed out over Pegasus Bay.
        We could talk about a plutonium trace over the central North Island that has a cancer cluster associated with it.
        Or a lady tramping in Fiordland in the 1960’s who presented with radiation poisoning and beta burns at a hospital?

        Or even the reported detection of a neutron fluence of thermal neutrons from a place near Wellington?

        But here is something for you from the USS Reagan off youtube. You will notice that those with Braid on their sleeves is not present. And rightly so. They are not expendable 🙂

        The only pearl of wisdom I can give you Ashton, is to learn from the mistakes of others. Learn fast.