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

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment 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.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid