Intelligent Energy

What the NRC really knew about Fukushima

Posting in Energy

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's internal communiques from the Japanese nuclear crisis have been revealed from a Freedom of Information Act request.

In June, Japanese map publisher Zenrin plotted radioactive contamination data from independent scientists and local governments.

Airline disasters, nuclear meltdowns, and war have something in common: information about what really occurred trickles out over the ensuing months and years. Blogger Lucas W. Hixson has published a trove of Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) internal e-mails from a successful Freedom of Information Act request, which reveal what the government knew and when.

The e-mails are from the period between March 11 through March 15, when the reactors are actively melting down. Another blogger from the politically progressive Web site Daily Kos provided detailed summaries of the correspondence.

Among the key findings were that the NRC was crafting its public relations strategy to address any domestic concerns, aided German utilities to keep reactors online, as well as a realization of the gravity of the incident, punctuated with remarks such as, "I feel like crying," and "I will be no closer than 140 miles to the plant."

It also includes the Tokyo Electric Power Company's (TEPCO) blasé response to the NRC's urgent requests to help. "For the time being, we feel we grasp well the situation," A TEPCO official wrote in an e-mail. The NRC fully grasped the gravity of the situation despite what TEPCO was saying.

Other U.S. government agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency, FEMA, and the Department of Homeland Security were actively assessing the threat of radiation exposure in the mainland United States. The NRC publicly downplayed the threat.

Hixson has also reported Japan's Environment Ministry's recent finding that 28 million cubic meters of radiation contaminated soil may have to be removed from the Fukushima prefecture, affecting a zone over 13 percent of the prefecture’s area - even as the government is allowing some people to return to their homes.

Knowing this, the Japanese government has taken steps to comprehensively monitor rice crops (some has tested positive) for radiative contaminates, and suspended beef shipments from the Fukushima region during July. Rice straw cows absorbed unsafe levels of cesium through their feed stocks.

Crops such as rice and grains quickly absorb radiation, potentially making dairy products and produce for human consumption.

At least 18 of the prefectural governments most acutely affected by radioactive fallout from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster last spring are running tests to gauge the safety of local food supplies. The areas produce nearly half of the nation’s rice crops, Reuters reported.

In August, Children living in communities adjacent to the meltdowns have registered low-levels of radioactive exposure.

Related on SmartPlanet:

David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure