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

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

Physically and culturally close to Western Europe, Lviv feels solidarity with compatriots in country’s east but says they need to decide own future More

West African Women Disproportionately Affected by Ebola

Women's roles in families and the community put them at greater risk for contracting the disease, officials say More

Video NASA's MAVEN Spacecraft Arrives at Mars

Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution craft will measure rates at which gases escape Martian atmosphere into space 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.
NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbiti
X
September 22, 2014 9:20 PM
NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbit

NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
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