Here’s the latest of our news bulletins from the ongoing crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
State of the Fukushima Reactors
The Mainichi Daily News has published a new exposé showing that significant amounts of radiation leaked from the crippled Fukushima reactors as they were melting down in March 2011, even before workers vented the vessel at reactor #1. The meltdowns damaged the vessels in which the reactors were housed, allowing dangerous radioactivity to leak into the environment. As a result, nearby residents were exposed to as much as 700 times the legal limit of radiation before evacuations were ordered. Although Fukushima Prefecture had installed 25 radiation monitoring posts around the plant before the disaster, five were swept out to sea as a result of the tsunami, and power loss prevented the remaining 20, although still able to measure radiation, from transmitting data. Confusion about evacuations was rampant as the meltdowns began to occur. Officials ordered those within 2 km to evacuate at 8:50 pm on March 11; those within 3 km to evacuate at 9:23 pm on March 11; and those within 10 km to evacuate at 5:33 am on March 12. However, most of the 50,000 residents affected did not even begin to flee until 8 am on the 12th. Officials did not start the venting process until 10 am on March 12, and by the time a hydrogen explosion occurred mid-afternoon, radiation levels had reached 1,591 microsieverts per hour.
Even after the disaster, as both the Diet and Government prepared investigative reports, information about the radiation release was not revealed, and was not used to determine how resident health examinations should be performed. The delay in analyzing radiation data has prompted ire among local residents. Reiko Hachusika, who represented Fukushima Prefecture on the Diet-appointed commission, noted, “If the prefectural government was thinking first about the health of its residents, then it would have considered the data vital information that needed to be analyzed quickly. As a prefectural resident, I find the Fukushima Prefectural Government’s response shameful.” Another member of the Diet-appointed commission, Mitsuhiko Tanaka, warned, “We haven’t yet been able to identify the location within the reactor containment vessel from which radioactive materials leaked. There’s a mountain of issues that should be examined before we start talking about restarting nuclear reactors.”
Yukio Amano, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), proposed week that an international team of experts, including some from Russia and the US, where nuclear disasters have occurred, should participate in the decommissioning of crippled reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant—a process expected to take at least 40 years. “The safe decommissioning should be undertaken not just by Japan but should draw on wisdom and the most advanced technologies from around the world,” Amano said. An IAEA team will submit a proposal for the plan in April, and experts will visit the prefecture as early as next week to begin working with local government officials. Ostensibly, Amano believes that Japan needs additional expertise in an incredibly complicated technical task, and has promised assistance with decontamination, monitoring of residents’ health, and emergency response training in addition to decontamination.
But, analysts also surmise that the move to involve other countries is an effort to prevent Japan from developing sole expertise in what will eventually become a lucrative business, as almost 400 aging reactors worldwide will require decommissioning in the coming years and decades. A government official in Tokyo acknowledged, “There is suspicion in the international community that Japan may be aiming to secure interests in decommissioning work that will be needed in various parts of the world, by monopolizing technology attained in [decommissioning] the Fukushima Daiichi plant.”

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