Fukushima nuclear emergency, Japan
18 December 2011: You will find the Updates archive, info links, video clips and pictures on the Japan emergency page.
More than nine months have passed since the 11 March earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan and triggered a still-unresolved disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. This set of news reports, news features and editorial in the Mainichi Daily News reveals the chronic deception and criminal corporate irresponsibility that continue to hinder all meaningful effort to mitigate the meltdown, and to obstruct at all costs the truth.
Mainichi Daily News has said that the government has declared a stable “cold shutdown” at the plant, representing a major milestone in its handling of the disaster. The public has keenly waited for the nuclear reactors to be brought under stable control, but Japan is still standing on thin ice and is miles away from a situation where it can really declare that the crisis is under control.
In the meantime, rebuilding the lives of residents near the crippled plants has been an urgent critical challenge. On the occasion of its latest political declaration, the government needs to renew its resolve to settle the crisis and achieve regional recovery. The disaster-hit reactors are certainly now in a more stable condition. However, the phrase “cold shutdown” usually refers to suspension of a sound reactor. The fact that the government is attempting to apply this term in a severe accident in which three reactors have suffered core meltdowns should be called into question. The government should rather explain in detail the possibility of any additional explosions and whether a recriticality accident has been ruled out.
Simulations suggest that nuclear fuel has melted inside the reactor containment vessels, eroding their concrete floors. Although Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the stricken nuclear plant, has indicated that melted fuel has also been cooled down by water, this is nothing but speculation. We urge the utility and the government to find a way to ascertain the precise condition of the fuel.
Mainichi Daily News has reported that conditions at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant are far worse than its operator or the government has admitted, according to freelance journalist Tomohiko Suzuki, who spent more than a month working undercover at the power station. “Absolutely no progress is being made” towards the final resolution of the crisis, Suzuki told reporters at a Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan news conference on Dec. 15. Suzuki, 55, worked for a Toshiba Corp. subsidiary as a general laborer there from July 13 to Aug. 22, documenting sloppy repair work, companies including plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) playing fast and loose with their workers’ radiation doses, and a marked concern for appearances over the safety of employees or the public.
For example, the no-entry zones around the plant – the 20-kilometer radius exclusion zone and the extension covering most of the village of Iitate and other municipalities – have more to do with convenience that actual safety, Suzuki says. The situation at the plant itself is no better, where he says much of the work is simply “for show,” fraught with corporate jealousies and secretiveness and “completely different” from the “all-Japan” cooperative effort being presented by the government.
“Reactor makers Toshiba and Hitachi (brought in to help resolve the crisis) each have their own technology, and they don’t talk to each other. Toshiba doesn’t tell Hitachi what it’s doing, and Hitachi doesn’t tell Toshiba what it’s doing.” Meanwhile, despite there being no concrete data on the state of the reactor cores, claims by the government and TEPCO that the disaster is under control and that the reactors are on-schedule for a cold shutdown by the year’s end have promoted a breakneck work schedule, leading to shoddy repairs and habitual disregard for worker safety, he said. “Working at Fukushima is equivalent to being given an order to die,” Suzuki quoted one nuclear-related company source as saying.
Kenichi Oshima is currently a professor at Ritsumeikan University. After long years of nuclear power research, he had learned that the actual cost of maintaining nuclear power in Japan was twice as high as what government and electric power companies had publicly announced, the Mainichi Daily News has reported. In March 2010, published his findings in a book, but found himself under fire at a time when pro-nuclear energy was becoming even stronger. In September the same year, during a meeting of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, his comments were rejected and even mocked. “Do you call this research?” he was told and few even cared to look at his findings.
Following the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Oshima’s situation drastically changed. He was selected as a member of two expert governmental committees to serve as a critical analyst of Japan’s current nuclear power stance. The group will openly release all internal debates and documents, Oshima says. He is now more optimistic than ever that the time to destroy the “cheap and safe” nuclear power myth will eventually come.
A sober and critical editorial in the Mainichi Daily News has said that Britain has already abandoned developing fast-breeder nuclear reactors, and is set to give up nuclear fuel reprocessing as well. Moreover, its planned construction of a facility to dispose of radioactive waste including plutonium is likely to materialize even though it is still at a planning phase.
In contrast, there are no prospects that Japan can build a disposal facility. However, for Japan to call for operations at the Monju prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor in Fukui Prefecture and the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in the Aomori Prefecture village of Rokkasho to be carried out as planned, would be like putting the cart before the horse as it appears the country is incapable of building a disposal facility.
Plutonium is directly related to security issues. The U.K. possesses nuclear weapons but Japan does not. One may wonder whether Japan’s independence will be threatened if it abandons nuclear fuel recycling and loses its ability to produce plutonium. Even though it is an important point of contention the issue should not be used as a reason to underestimate the harm of plutonium.
Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano who is in charge of energy policy, Goshi Hosono, state minister for handling the nuclear crisis, and Yoshito Sengoku, second-in-command in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s Policy Research Committee, have been hearing the views of experts on the issue. It is not enough for the government to talk only about the dream of “prosperity” built on dependence on nuclear power. Japan’s ability to overcome the mess that follows such prosperity is now being tested.