Five years ago this month a massive earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. It wiped out a town and a nuclear power station. Which of the two disasters will kill the most people is up for debate. The radiation from the wrecked atomic station continues to spill into the atmosphere and ocean, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their homes and livelihoods due to ongoing radioactive contamination and the end of it is not yet in site.
Best estimates for a fully cleaned up site set at date sometime in 2061. Once the site has been fully contained there will still remain the problem of what to do with millions of tonnes of radioactive waste. Currently solid waste – soil, solid garbage, uranium fuel – is stored in plastic bags exposed to the elements. Plastic exposed to the sun’s rays soon loses its integrity. Has a new type suddenly been invented that will last for 50 years in the sun, rain and wind?
Liquid waste continues to pollute the Pacific Ocean. Water is being used five years later to cool the melted reactor cores. It is then a radioactive waste. An estimated 400 metric tonnes per day are being produced. These are stored in tanks that have leaked. Ground water is also mixing with the contaminated water and leaking into the Pacific.
Yet in spite of the disaster shared by all people of the world, Japan is forging ahead re-opening its nuclear power stations. Two reactors have been restarted. Sendai power plant is now generating electricity. It is located within 50 km of an erupting volcano.
Many of Japan’s electrical power plants are located close to the ocean so that there is ample water to cool the reactors. Like Fukushima, they are vulnerable to very large tsunami. Japan must also contend with earthquakes, some of them quite large.
A reactor site run by the Hokuriku Electric Power Co. – Shika – is awaiting the green light to restart. It is sited above three geological fault lines. The safety panel reviewing all power plants has made a preliminary finding that these lines may be active. The company rejects the findings calling them assumptions and adding that their in-house studies show them to be inactive.
The ongoing cleanup efforts of Fukushima have spawned an industry of its own. Each day about 7 000 workers are on the site. There is even a manga artist who depicts the day to day efforts of the workers.
Japan is not alone in claiming that they need nuclear power generation to provide the energy for their population. Nuclear power does not generate carbon waste if we ignore the vast amount generated in the production of cement needed for the projects. But a years long disaster like Fukushima quietly claims many lives.
Some TEPCO executives have been indicted on various charges for their actions or lack of actions regarding this disaster. Whatever may happen to them is cold comfort to those who will have their lives shortened because of them.
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Unfortunately the larger surround has not been and dust and radiation can move through the air and water to previously cleared areas.
One of the cleared villages has a large storage area just off its borders that contains hundreds of large plastic bags filled with radioactive soil. Other radioactive materials have been removed to burners throughout Japan to be incinerated. Critics of that move point out that this simply dilutes the concentration of radioactive waste and spreads it further, contaminating even more areas.
While the world is being told that progress in the cleanup of the plant is being made, just this week a fox was caught on surveillance camera within the highly radioactive containment building. The fox later disappeared and its whereabouts is currently unknown. Tepco officials are not sure how it got into the building.
In four years the Summer Olympics are scheduled to be held in Tokyo. A former ambassador to Switzerland for Japan, Mitshei Murata has pleaded with the Olympic Committee to move the Olympics as they cannot be sure that a further nuclear catastrophe will not happen.
Personally I believe, that the IOC cannot and should not take on the responsibility to plan for the Olympic games in a region where daily 7000 workers are attempting to clean up a contaminated nuclear reactor. The meltdown of three of the four reactor cores in Fukushima, where the contamination is clearly not under control and where a natural disaster as an earthquake quickly could increase the danger, in my opinion should strongly advocate restraint. Mitshei Murata
The Japanese Times
Years after the massive earthquake and tsunami devastated the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, it is still radioactive and dangerous. In spite of the 30 year or more timeline to clean up the mess, Japan has moved ahead to re-start other nuclear reactors.
While the Japanese have a reputation for bravery, the reopening of the Sendai nuclear plant in the shadow of Sakurajima volcano may be considered a touch foolhardy. Sakurajima volcano is that nation’s most active and currently increasing in activity. Local residents were advised in August that they may have to evacuate quickly.
The Sendai One reactor is 50 km from the active volcano and in the vicinity of five caldera, indicating massive eruptions in the past. Japanese authorities have stated that any danger is negligible. To reinforce that confidence, Sendai Two was restarted on October 15.
Other restarts are in the pipeline. Shikoku Electric has their Ikata 3 reactor approved for restart and Kansai Electric’s Takahama 3 and 4 reactors are likely to get the go-ahead to resume power generation early in 2016.
While the ruined Fukushima complex is still festering, the Japanese government has engaged a UK company, Ame Foster Wheeler to conduct a study to help develop a strategy to deal with the massive amount of radioactive waste collected in the efforts to clean up the plant. Some of the radioactive water is being stored in leaky tanks that periodically leak highly radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean. Many tonnes of contaminated soil have simply been black bagged and stacked in open air outside areas.
Japan has tightened safety regulations for restarting their nuclear reactors, but many are on the coastline and vulnerable to tsunamis which is what finished off the Fukushima complex. Japan is also active seismically which means frequent earthquakes and active volcanoes. In addition, the country is often hit with destructive typhoons.
The Fukushima accident and meltdown displaced about 150 000 people and left whole towns empty and unusable.
ABC Net News
Nuclear Energy Institute
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