About This Interview
Fairewinds Chief Engineer Arnie Gundersen is interviewed by The Real News Network. Arnie says that Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe claims Fukushima is safe but the nuclear disaster is underfunded and lacks transparency, causing the public to remain in the dark.
Jessica Desvarieux, TRNN Producer: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
On the heels of Tokyo winning the bid for the 2020 Olympic Games, Japan's prime minister visited the Fukushima site for the first time since the nuclear disaster in March 2011.
Shinzö Abe, Japanese Prime Minister (Voiceover Transl.): I have visited Fukushima because I also told the world earlier in Buenos Aires that there will be no health concerns and that there is nothing to worry about.
Desvarieux: Now joining us to discuss the unfolding of the events at Fukushima is Arnie Gunderson. He has over 40 years of nuclear power engineering experience. And Arnie holds a nuclear safety patent. He was a licensed reactor operator and is a former nuclear industry senior vice president.
Arnie, thanks for joining us.
Arnie Gundersen, Chief Engineer, Fairewinds: Hi. Thanks for having me.
Desvarieux: Let's first start off with Japan's prime minister's visit. He's saying there is no reason to be worried. Meanwhile, TEPCO seems to be scrambling to contain the leaking radioactive material, and there are reports of fish being radioactive and possible birth defects from the disaster. What do you think is happening here? Should we be worried?
Gundersen: Well, first off, Prime Minister Abe didn't tell the truth. There's no doubt about it. The plant is leaking into the Pacific Ocean extensively. And, yeah, we are seeing deformed fish, we are seeing deformed animals, and we are seeing thyroid cancers already. So his comment was a public relations stint designed to win the Olympics, but in fact it has no bases in reality. He really didn't appreciate how hard the people on that site are working against incredible odds. You know, show up for half a day and then leave and wish them all well--that's not what a true leader really does.
Desvarieux: Okay. Why has it taken so long for them to actually contain the leaking radioactive material? Is it because we've seen this nuclear--we haven't seen something on this scale? Or is TEPCO in some ways inept?
Gundersen: Well, I was on CNN during the first week of the accident, and I said this is going to be a long slog. It's never happened where three nuclear reactors have blown up in three days. So this is a brand-new event.
But that's not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is that Tokyo Electric has been allowed to continue to operate this plant and try to clean up the site. They're an operator, they're not an engineering firm, so that you've really got the wrong skill set. So you've got the wrong people trying to do the cleanup.
There's one other piece, though, and that piece is the cost. Tokyo Electric doesn't have enough money to do this. I made some recommendations two years ago to prevent this water from going into the Pacific, and I was told Tokyo Electric didn't have enough money to do it. Well, if they had done my recommendations years ago, they wouldn't be in the mess they're in now.
The money's got to come from the nation of Japan. And the Japanese government doesn't want to admit that they're on the hook for half a trillion--that's with a T--half a trillion dollars. And they would rather not tell the Japanese people that, because the Japanese government wants to get 50 nuclear plants up and running, and if the people ever realized the liability that they face, I don't think that would happen.
Desvarieux: And you, along with 17 international experts, are signatories of a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to intercede and remove Tokyo Electric Power Company from control of the Fukushima site. The letter goes on to cite how inadequate and what you were just saying. It's basically they just don't have the budget to really remove this radiation. What is wrong with the guidelines that they are using right now? And who is really at risk?
Gundersen: Well, everybody in Fukushima Prefecture is still at risk.
And a prefecture is like a state. Fukushima Prefecture is about the size of the state of Connecticut.
So the points that we made--and by the way, the letter is on the Fairewinds website in full detail.
But the points we made were, one, you've got to get rid of Tokyo Electric and you've got to replace them with an international engineer. Now, there's maybe half a dozen companies that could do this right.
The other part of it, though, is money. You can't rely on Tokyo Electric to have enough money to solve this problem. And the Japanese people need to know that they're on the hook.
Then the last major piece was citizen oversight. I don't believe that the Japanese government wants the people of Japan to know what the heck is going on. And so what the letter recommends is that the contractor that does the cleanup be overseen by a group of citizens--you know, people like me or people with nuclear skills, but they're not connected to the contractor.
And the problem right now is that Japanese researchers are afraid to tell the truth. We've got doctors calling us at Fairewinds saying, you know, we know our patients have radiation illness and the hospital isn't allowing us to tell the patients that. We've got researchers talking about defects in animals, and they're not allowed to publish their data. So the last piece of this is transparency. And, frankly, if you leave it to the Japanese government, we're never going to get transparency. We've got to get the people involved with an oversight panel made up of civilians who have nothing to gain or nothing to lose from telling the truth.
Desvarieux: Just really quickly, Arnie, just a final question: why do you think there hasn't been more worldwide reaction to the disaster in Japan? I mean, in terms of nuclear power, we've seen Germany has decided to phase out its nuclear power by 2022, but we really haven't heard about this elsewhere.
Gundersen: You know, we're addicted. America's got 100 nukes and 20 percent of our power. The French have 60 nukes and 80 percent of their power comes from it. So, you know, it's like you need another fix tomorrow.
And the addiction is ours. And the pain is occurring in Japan. We have to realize that the pain of the Japanese is our pain as well and join with them to solve this problem.
Desvarieux: Okay. Really well said. Thank you for joining us, Arnie.
Gundersen: Okay. Thanks. I hope you get a zillion people watching it.
Desvarieux: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.