Another piece attracting attention in the nuclear/Japan debate today comes from Greg Palast at the progressive website Truthout, who describes himself as a lead investigator in government nuclear plant fraud and racketeering. Palast picks apart the implications of president Obama’s decision to ask congress for $4 billion for two new nuclear reactors to be built on the Gulf Coast in Texas. The reactors would be built by the Tokyo Electric Power Co and local partners. Palast, in a direct attack on the pro-nuclear op-eds we’ve been seeing, says we’re not getting the full story on nuclear in the mainstream news, and brings the story close to home.

Last night, I heard CNN reporters repeat the official line that the tsunami disabled the pumps needed to cool the reactors, implying that water unexpectedly got into the diesel generators that run the pumps.

These safety backup systems are the “EDGs” in nuke-speak: Emergency Diesel Generators. That they didn’t work in an emergency is like a fire department telling us they couldn’t save a building because “it was on fire.”

What dim bulbs designed this system? One of the reactors dancing with death at Fukushima Station 1 was built by Toshiba. Toshiba was also an architect of the emergency diesel system.

Now be afraid. Obama’s $4 billion bailout in the making is called the South Texas Project. It’s been sold as a red-white-and-blue way to make power domestically with a reactor from Westinghouse, a great American brand. However, the reactor will be made substantially in Japan by the company that bought the US brand name, Westinghouse—Toshiba.

It’s an interesting investigation. But again, it’s hard to say the same mistakes would be repeated simply because the same companies are involved.

My own take is to caution people against having their own takes too quickly. Marsall’s words are possibly the wisest: “There’s so much we don’t know yet about the situation in Japan.” And what we want before any rigorous political debate is just that: information to fill in what we don’t yet know. Most of us have been spending our days just trying to figure out how nuclear power plants work (and fail), simply trying to understand the reports coming out of Japan—see here, here, and here for English major-friendly explanations. And with each new report, explosion, leak, drying pool etc, the story becomes more complex—and, at least to my untrained eye and ear, more frightening. We really don’t know what will happen here. And we thus don’t really know what it means.

Until the outcome is known, it might be best to “put the brakes” on the punditry.


Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.