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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