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

On Everest, Helicopters Rescue Stranded Climbers

Choppers transport some of more than 100 mountaineers trapped after deadly quake, avalanches More

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

In 2005, a Paris suburb exploded into violence after two teenagers were electrocuted as they hid from police; since then, somethings have changed, others not More

US, Japan Announce Historic Revision of Defense Cooperation Guidelines

Nations say new guidelines will be 'cornerstone for peace and security' in Asia-Pacific region while also serving as 'platform for a more stable international security environment' 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.
‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europei
X
Henry Ridgwell
April 26, 2015 10:36 PM
Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video ‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europe

Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

January’s terrorist attacks and fears of more to come are casting a spotlight on France’s neglected suburbs. Home to many immigrants, and sometimes hubs of crime, they were rocked by rioting a decade ago. Lisa Bryant visited the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 violence first broke out, and has this report about what has changed and what has not.
Video

Video Gay Marriage Goes Before US Supreme Court

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether gay people have a constitutional right to marriage. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the case could lead to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, or a continuation of the status quo in which individual states decide whether to recognize gay unions.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

VOA Blogs