Interview with Akira Tokuhiro, Nuclear Engineer: Fukushima and the Mass Media


Akira Tokuhiro

“Only the mass media can put the kind of pressure on TEPCO and the Japanese government to bring about major change. This will cost at least 10 billion dollars if not 20-30 billion to clean up. It will take at least 10 years if not 20 and roughly 10,000 people working on the cleanup. The nuclear business is global. This needs an international effort to clean up Fukushima.”
— Nuclear Engineer Akira Tokuhiro

In an email today, Japanese born, U.S.-educated nuclear engineering professor Tokuhiro wrote the following:


I want to bring up a sensitive point to many who are (may be) identified below.

There is a difference amongst the following: nuclear physicist, nuclear engineer, nuclear reactor operator, nuclear non-proliferation specialist.

During the current crisis, all these ‘experts’ have been in the media.

The ranking of ‘experts’ who REALLY know how the reactor accident took place is as follows.

1) Nuclear reactor operator (he/she is really the forensic surgeon, the auto mechanic who can build and drive the car)
2) Nuclear engineer (he/she is the forensic and internal/external medicine practitioner; the automobile design and analysis engineer)

As for the other two, they only understand the principles. It is as if they know the principles of driving a car but have never driven the car nor designed a car nor repaired a car.

Would you ask a podiatrist about a medical heart condition? Would you ask a medical ethicist? I think you get my point.

It takes all kinds of people to run the global nuclear industry. However, who do you trust in terms of knowledge?


There are only a handful of Japanese nuclear engineers working and teaching in the U.S. What Professor Tokuhiro was able to add also included a strong dose of a deep understanding of the Japanese culture. “There is a cultural element in this. The Japanese do not want to be embarrassed”. He added that TEPCO is a large entity which only has to answer to the Prime Minister. He added that it is a bit of the “… Only small people pay taxes mentality”. The mass media in Japan is only given the information TEPCO and the government want to give them. Labor practices in Japan, he says, are quite brutal and when you get to the bottom of the labor force, those at the top of society do not really care about them.”

The numbers are disturbingly higher than we have been lead to believe, the number of homes in the villages which are contaminated, the rice paddies, the fact that the “official” six to nine month cleanup is virtually impossible, no matter how much they do accomplish… all of this is what has being kept off the front pages of the mass media.

The first conversation I had had with Akira Tokuhiro the previous week included the contracts for the clean-up, the bidding process for which was being kept highly secret and is the main reason France’s President Sarkozy headed to Japan so soon after the earthquake and tsunami leading to the accident. It will take a very long time for the surveys to be carried out to determine exactly what needs to be decontaminated, and only so much water for example can be processed per day. TEPCO speaks of 500 to 1,000 people involved with the cleanup, but Tokuhiro claims it will take ten times that amount.

“They need to tell people it will take at least 10, maybe 20 years, at least 10 if not 20, or even $30 billion and at least 10,000 people working on this, ” he repeated, “This is the most important thing they must tell people. They must be honest with the evacuees.”

“It has now been over 60 days that this has been going on and people need information.” He added that a mildly anti-nuclear group, CNIC, the Citizen’s Nuclear Information Center, had pretty reliable information here.

An anonymous colleague in Japan told Tokuhiro this past week that there is no initiative taking place in terms of the health and measuring of those who have been exposed. The IAEA is supposedly sending around 20 experts to help with this, but even they do not have the kind of manpower to deal with such a human catastrophe (yet, Tokuhiro adds, they can find people to go to Iran and Iraq as weapons inspectors).

Virtually any nuclear engineer connected with the industry he or she supports cannot be fully trusted right now to give us the full truth about Fukushima because the truth is simply too damaging to the nuclear industry and they know it. The attitude the industry has as well as the ugly reality that this same energy is tied to the economy which supports full on capitalism must be scaled back Tokuhiro advised. He tells me it is difficult to speak of this in the U.S., but adds that we need to go back to a time when shops were closed on Sundays and we spent time with our families, not using up more energy but actually staying home. I added that we still do this on Sunday and it is often very difficult to find shops open here in France on Sunday except for the local outdoor markets.

A Japanese colleague of his inside of Japan, a radiation oncologist actually originally from Fukushima prefecture says there must be long term health monitoring at least 100,000 people will need to be monitored and they have this expertise in Japan because of the horrific experiences of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Professor Tokuhiro teaches in Idaho and as an academic he is still free to tell what he believes and believes almost all nuclear engineers following this disaster know, and have known since almost the beginning, that the reactors have melted through the core and that this has not been admitted until just these past few days when access to the computer data from the control rooms was obtained

Why is TEPCO not telling anyone the truth? That these 3 units have partially melted and that they have known this for 3-4 weeks at least. They release only small amounts of information every day. Many nuclear engineering professionals have known, were able to figure out almost from the beginning, in fact perhaps from March 15, sixteen hours or so after the accident, that the core had melted. Was there any operator error involved? He understood that TEPCO workers retreated on March 12 because the radiation readings were simply too high. He believes that within 16 hours after this they already knew the core had melted. And even though no one wants to waste precious time pointing fingers and blaming, this information is much needed in order to learn about how the events surrounding Fukushima and these numerous criticalities can be avoided in the future. We have many many of these plants operating, in the U.S. and around the world.

“This must be an international effort,” Tokuhiro emphasized again and again. He has come up with 20 Lessons Learned and states that an International Nuclear Cleanup Project must be undertaken in such a way the data and this experience help humanity to learn how to move forward. He asks where the leadership has been, where is the IAEA?

“We have an international effort to clean up Chernobyl. They just raised another 600 million or so”. (25 years later and this is still needed).

I asked him about his own family in Tokyo and about Japanese culture in general regarding the lack of information. Akira replied that Japan is very centralized, Tokyo-centric and that these things seemed to be taking place very far away and that the people in Tokyo were not in shelters, evacuated perhaps forever from their homes. He told me about the diary he was reading online of one evacuee who had been a nuclear engineer working at Fukushima, who had been evacuated with his family. (It can be found in the original on the Japan Nuclear Industrial Forum here: This man is an expert and he can be trusted to know what is going on and analyze the information.

He ended with the assertion that, “This is forcing the issue of what our energy portfolios for the next 15-20 years and longer will look like and what to do with all the nuclear waste. Politicians in an election year just want this to all go away”.

The he asked, “If in the U.S. 20% of the energy is generated by nuclear, then can the U.S. economy right now afford a 20% slowdown?”

Fukushima differs from other nuclear reactors in that it uses a dirty fuel or MOX which is banned in many of the countries where nuclear power is a major energy source. My Swedish-Russian nuclear physicist friend is sending me links for reliable radioactivity readings and weather/wind patterns. We must remember some of what is posted on the internet are simulations, not actual readings. But he did add this:

The most terrifying fact is that the Japanese power plants are using ‘dirty’ fuel, which most countries have rejected and banned. Needless to say that the Americans built them. Since the Earth is moving Counterclockwise most of the fall-out will drop on U.S., unless very strong winds take it somewhere else.

In Sweden we have so far not measured increased levels of radiation. My only concern is what happened to the plutonium stored in the water tanks next to the reactor.

There are 23 reactors in the U.S. like the one in Fukushima. It takes a lot of money to build a reactor but then it becomes a money-maker once it is paid off and is run for as long as possible making as much profit as possible. This MUST become about our common future, and it does require an international effort. This is NOT a Wall Street bailout, this is much more serious and needs immediate attention and action. We MUST put the future of humanity and our planet before constant profits and crazy out of control capitalism.

A great deal of information has finally been coming out these past few days and if you need more information on the technical aspects of the core meltdowns and explanations which are updated fairly often, please follow Arnie Gunderson at

I will update as I receive and am able to process all of this information and also include more links for very practical information with interpretations for laypeople outside this area to be able to use to make good choices.

Until then, take care, stay informed and be proactive with your information gathering. If there is one thing we have learned form this, it is that it is not going to be the mainstream media which will be taking the lead on getting this information out there. We must ask ourselves, “Why?”


Vivian Norris






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