News / USA

Former US VP: Japan Crisis Might Reshape Views on Nuclear Power

Walter Mondale (file photo)
Walter Mondale (file photo)
Kane Farabaugh

The 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake in Japan, also called the Kobe earthquake, killed nearly 6,500 people and caused more than $100 billion in damage.  Former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale was the American Ambassador to Japan during the crisis.  He talked with VOA’s Kane Farabaugh about how the United States and Japan worked together during the recovery, and how the current crisis in Japan might reshape world views on nuclear power.

Walter Mondale vividly remembers visiting Japan's Sendai region while he was U.S. ambassador during the mid-1990s.  The region is now reeling from the destruction caused by a devastating 9.0 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami.

Mondale recalls visiting the now crippled nuclear reactors at the Fukushima-Daiichi power station, which is at the center of Japan's current crisis.

"One of the things I remember from that is being astounded at how clean and quiet it was, without tension, almost a perfect environment in how they were producing power for a nation that had none of their own energy locally without polluting the environment," said Walter Mondale. "And here it was, working.  And yet now, 15 years later, we look at the same plants that are creating problems that are biblical in nature."

The crisis continues to unfold at the Fukushima plant, where workers are trying to cool the reactors to prevent the release of more radiation.

Mondale says he knows the fear and uncertainty that comes with such a crisis.  He was U.S. vice president in 1979, when the most serious nuclear accident in American history occurred at the Three Mile Island power plant in Pennsylvania.

"For a couple of hours there, we were close to a meltdown at Three Mile Island, with consequences that are just horrible to contemplate and a reactor that was within easy reach of a couple of million Americans," said Mondale. "And how do you warn them without creating a mass and cataclysmic exodus of some kind?"

Although the United States avoided a worst-case scenario at Three Mile Island, an exodus has already occurred in Japan.  Some 350,000 people are now housed in shelters outside the 20 kilometer evacuation zone near the Fukushima facility.

U.S. officials are calling for an even larger evacuation zone.  Mondale says is important for the United States to evaluate the risks independently.

"We need to cooperate with the Japanese in every way we can," he said. "And we need to coordinate on public statements to the fullest extent possible.  But if we think that American lives and the health of Americans are at risk, our first responsibility, while we do all these other steps and sustain working relationships, is to protect Americans."

Mondale says the current crisis reminds him of what he saw when he visited the 1995 Kobe earthquake disaster zone.

"As far as you could see, there were plastic tents situated over what was left of homes to provide the alternative to the roofs that had all disappeared in seconds," said Mondale. "There had been enormous fires throughout Kobe from an apparent leak in the gas system.  And some people lost their lives by lighting a light in the dark and blowing up from gas fumes."

The devastation in Sendai is expected to eclipse the Kobe earthquake.  But Mondale says both disasters have showcased the spirit and resilience of Japanese people.

"There were long lines for water, for food, many people needed health care - long lines," he said. "People were patient, quiet, stoic, I would say, but considerate of others."

As rescue workers search through the rubble along Japan's northeastern coast, the death toll has climbed into the tens of thousands.  The World Bank say it might take five years for Japan to recover with costs running as high as $235 billion.

But the full impact of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami is still unknown.  Walter Mondale points out the disaster already has raised global concerns about the safety of nuclear power.

"We’ve got a big question mark over nuclear power and whether it is safe," he said. "And whether there are things that we learn from this tragedy in the Sendai area that call for immediate correction - not just in Japan, but also around the world.  Do we have plants that are astride earthquake zones?  This is going to be a much discussed issue, and we face it together."

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it plans to launch a comprehensive safety review of nuclear facilities in the United States.  There are 104 nuclear power plants across the country.  

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid