News / Asia

Japanese Nuclear Crisis Renews International Safety Concerns

The badly damaged Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) Number 1 Daiichi nuclear power plant at Okuma town in Fukushima prefecture, March 31, 2011
The badly damaged Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) Number 1 Daiichi nuclear power plant at Okuma town in Fukushima prefecture, March 31, 2011

Multimedia

Many countries are embracing nuclear power as a source of electricity.  But just weeks ago, A massive earthquake in Japan caused significant damage to one of that country's nuclear power plants. While the international nuclear power industry says it is strongly focused on safety, the events at Japan's Fukushima facility raise concerns that no matter how carefully designed these nuclear facilities may be, accidents can happen.

It happened on March 11.  First, Japan shook violently from an earthquake - now called the most powerful ever to hit that country.  Then, immediately after, a tsunami smashed what the earthquake had not destroyed.  And, in the path of both was the Fukushima nuclear power plant on the Pacific coast, north of Tokyo.

The dual disasters knocked out power needed to maintain safe cooling levels for the plant's multiple nuclear reactors.  Despite emergency efforts, temperatures in the reactor cores rose to dangerous levels.

And then, the worst happened. A day after the earthquake and tsunami, the building housing one of Fukushima's reactors exploded.  Two days later, another reactor building was shattered by a blast.  And, a day after that, yet another explosion tore apart a third reactor building.  The end result was the release of dangerous nuclear radiation, which continues at varying levels today.

Japanese officials evacuated a 20-kilometer zone around Fukushima. Nearly 500,000 people had to leave their homes.  At numerous sites near the plant, people were - and still are - screened for radiation, which was also detected in places far from the scene.

And, the radiation levels at Fukushima forced officials to evacuate most plant workers for days.  

Officials monitoring the Fukushima disaster are carefully monitoring the concrete and steel structures called "containment vessels" that encase the nuclear reactors.  These containment vessels are designed to prevent radiation from escaping. There are concerns that at least one of the vessels at Fukushima may have been breached.

Former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Safety Director Phillipe Jamet said these structures are vitally important.

"The containment vessels are one of the barriers," said Jamet.  "We have to protect the environment and people against radioactivity in case of an accident."

Roughly 25 years ago, the worst nuclear disaster in history took place at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine.  The Soviet-built plant did not have containment vessels surrounding its obsolete style of reactors.

Early on April 26, 1986, reactor Unit Four at Chernobyl overheated and exploded, tearing off the roof of the building housing it.  

Nuclear radiation spewed into the night sky. And, as people slept, it spread throughout the city of Pripyat, just north of Chernobyl.

At reactor four, the nuclear fuel and the graphite surrounding it were on fire.  Authorities sent helicopters to fly over the reactor to dump sand and other extinguishing materials, but it burned for days.

The wind carried radioactive particles from the fire over a wide area. Ukraine, Belarus, Russia. Then, Scandanavia, Britain, and other parts of Europe.  

Radioactivity forced officials to create a 30-kilometer-wide no-habitation zone around Chernobyl, sealing off Pripyat.

Thousands of people were sent to Chernobyl to clean up debris from the blast. They also built a structure, called a sarcophagus, to cover the shattered reactor and its radioactive fuel.

Pripyat is now a dead city.  Homes, schoolrooms, playgrounds, and other places are crumbling as wild nature reclaims the land. Pripyat once had some 50,000 residents. Now they are gone, perhaps forever. Only the artifacts of their lives remain behind, rotting to dust.

The Soviet government said at least 31 fatalities at the Chernobyl plant were directly linked to the reactor explosion. The World Health Organization (WHO) says another 2,200 deaths can be expected among those who took part in the cleanup. The WHO report added that, in all, Chernobyl could result in 4,000 fatalities from cancer and other radiation-linked causes.

Seven years before Chernobyl, on March 28, 1979, the critical need for reactor containment vessels was proven at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in the Eastern U.S. State of Pennsylvania.

A loss of reactor cooling water caused a partial meltdown of the nuclear fuel in the plant's Unit Two.  But, the containment vessel remained intact and shielded the environment from the damaged core.

The Three Mile Island incident compelled the U.S. nuclear power industry to significantly toughen safety and operating standards.

"It just caused a re-examination and a need for continuous improvement in our operations - to not get complacent, to have better training, to improve our off-site response capabilities in terms of emergency planning," noted Tony Pietrangelo, Vice President at The Nuclear Energy Institute trade group.

Nuclear power operators worldwide say safety tops their priority list, and is constantly reinforced through training and monitoring of plant operations.

The same is being said by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, which has completed that country's first commercial power plant at Bushehr, alongside the Persian Gulf.  

In coming segments of this series on nuclear safety, we will examine Bushehr in more detail.  Click here for part 2 and part 3.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
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 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 TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
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 Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
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.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs