Fukushima Nuclear disaster update

The disaster at Fukushima in early 2011 is the second largest nuclear accident since Chernobyl, and is estimated to release up to 30% of the radiation.

Whilst there is no doubt the disaster was fuelled by unpreventable natural events, a report commissioned by the Japanese National Diet and released on 5th July 2012, has stated that the direct causes of the accident were all foreseeable and that in fact the plant had failed to develop even the most basic safety features to protect and prepare itself for such an event.

Following the initial earthquake in March 2011, the operating reactors were shut down and emergency generators forced to come online to power the cooling systems, critical in controlling the fuel rods and preventing their melting. It was the subsequent Tsunami however, resulting in the flooding of critical power supplies that lead to several explosions and subsequent contaminations. The 10 meter high seawall that surrounded the plant was dwarfed by the tsunami, kick-starting a catalogue of failures within the plant.

Whilst there were no direct fatalities linked with exposure to the radiation, there are predictions that future cancer incidents of those living within the plant vicinity will increase.

A considerable evacuation programme displaced around 300,000 people from the area, a significant number of whom suffered considerably from poor conditions within temporary housing and hospitals.

Global monitoring systems detected a dispersal of radioactivity firstly at monitoring stations in Takasaki, Japan, and following in eastern Russia, the western coast of US and within a month, particles were also picked up in the southern hemisphere including locations in Australia, Fiji, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. In March 2011, the Japanese announced the presence of radioactive material in a range of products including spinach, tea, fish and beef up to 200 miles away from the plant. Crops from 2012 have since however been passed as safe for customer consumption.

The 2012 report has prompted a reaction from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the company who maintained the plant. They have since admitted that stronger measures should have been taken to prevent such a disaster and they were in fact fearful of highlighting any potential dangers that may have lead to the prevention of this and future plant construction. Indeed a Tsunami study conducted in 2008 highlighted the necessity for an improvement in protection methods at the plant from seawater flooding. However, no subsequent action was taken.

Furthermore, their denial that further contamination had been contained has since been proven incorrect with a revelation that the plant had been leaking radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean- around 300 metric tons of heavily contaminated water.

On August 26th 2013, due to a lack of confidence in TEPCO, the Japanese government took over the task of monitoring the future shutdown of Fukushima and also admitted shared responsibility for the poor response since the event. A false belief in the ‘technological infallibility’ of the country as well as a sense of denial that anything could or would ever go wrong has come to light.

In the last week, Japan’s ruling party has released a draft proposal that ultimately strips TEPCO of all further responsibility of the plant shutdown. Citing poor planning, lack of disclosure and missteps, the Prime Minister’s Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party has expressed a desire that future steps to handle the plant’s decommissioning job must be tackled by a more structured and decisive manner. Indeed, in the next few days, operators are due to begin the most dangerous phase so far, with the attempted removal of 1,331 highly radioactive fuel assemblies from a deep pool. The slightest slip-up could trigger a catastrophic reaction, with one pool containing 10 times the amount of radioactive caesium than that present in the Chernobyl disaster. Meanwhile, sure of their preparation procedures, TEPCO’s chief has assured that no accident will occur.