Fukushima five years on: The disaster continues

Tomorrow marks the fifth anniversary of the Tōhoku earthquake, the magnitude 9.0 shock and subsequent tsunami that killed nearly 20,000 people in Japan and destroyed 400,000 structures.

But the earthquake’s longest lasting legacy for the world may have been the destructions of equipment and buildings at the Fukushima Daiichi reactor complex resulting in the meltdowns of three nuclear reactors and the subsequent shutdowns of all of Japan’s other nuclear complexes for seismic safety reviews.

Three executives of the plant’s owner, Tokyo Electric Power Co. [TEPCO] were indicted last month, charged with criminal negligence resulting in death, and site cleanup continues to be hampered by a multitude of problems, with no end to radiation leaks in sight.

We’ve devoted extensive coverage to the disaster, and today’s review will bring us up to date.

We begin with a report from The Real News Network, with an interview by producer Sharmini Peries:

Radioactive Waste Still Leaking Five Years After Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

Program notes:

Arjun Makhijani, President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, says decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi reactors could take decades and cost billions of dollars.

Next, a report from Reuters on problems with the cleanup caused by continuing radiation leaks:

The robots sent in to find highly radioactive fuel at Fukushima’s nuclear reactors have “died”; a subterranean “ice wall” around the crippled plant meant to stop groundwater from becoming contaminated has yet to be finished. And authorities still don’t know how to dispose of highly radioactive water stored in an ever mounting number of tanks around the site.

Five years ago, one of the worst earthquakes in history triggered a 10-metre high tsunami that crashed into the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station causing multiple meltdowns. Nearly 19,000 people were killed or left missing and 160,000 lost their homes and livelihoods.

Today, the radiation at the Fukushima plant is still so powerful it has proven impossible to get into its bowels to find and remove the extremely dangerous blobs of melted fuel rods.

The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) , has made some progress, such as removing hundreds of spent fuel roads in one damaged building. But the technology needed to establish the location of the melted fuel rods in the other three reactors at the plant has not been developed.

And, from International Business Times, a blow to the inevitable disaster tourism that we humans seem to relish — and, yes, journalists [like, say, esnl] can be considered professional disaster tourists]:

Opposition surrounding Fukushima have put an end to plans by a group of individuals in Japan who were hoping to turn the Daiichi nuclear power plant into a tourist destination.

The plan had been for ordinary people to visit Daiichi nuclear site without wearing radioactive protective suits by 2036 and had been in an early stage of planning. Members of the group promoting what some have called “dark tourism” come from various backgrounds including business, journalism, architecture and sociology.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which experienced a triple meltdown triggered by a large tsunami following a magnitude nine-earthquake in March 2011, continues to be the site of a massive clean-up project involving thousands of workers protected by anti-radioactive suits. The group started the project in 2012 inspired by the Chernobyl plant tours, and had planned to show tourists Fukushima Daiichi’s decommissioning process. The head of the group, Hiroki Azuma, says showing the process to the world is important.

“I believe the Fukushima nuclear disaster is a problem not only for Japan but for all humanity. It is quite important for people all over the world to know how big the Fukushima nuclear disaster was and what kind of harm it has caused,” he said.

Finally, from the Yomiuri Shimbun, a court orders a shutdown of two other reactors, issuing a stinging rebuke to the Japanese government’s nuclear regulators:

The Otsu District Court has criticized Kansai Electric Power Co. for having insufficient proof of the safety of the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors at its Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, and essentially questioned the new safety standards of the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

The criticism came in a provisional injunction issued Wednesday that orders KEPCO to suspend the operations of the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors. Following the latest court decision, which accepted the claims of residents in a prefecture where there is no nuclear power plant, the tug-of-war will likely intensify between the government, which is promoting the restart of the nation’s nuclear power plants, and residents opposing the resumption.

“I don’t know the content, so I have nothing to say at this point,” NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said repeatedly at a regular press conference about one hour after the court issued the provisional injunction, choosing his statements carefully.

However, when asked about the court’s statement in its decision that the new safety standards were lax, Tanaka stressed, “I don’t know what the court said in the decision, but we do not need to change our understanding that the new safety standards now approach the highest in the world.”


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