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

For Lebanon-based Refugees, Desperation Fuels Perilous Passage

In a war that has caused an estimated three million people to flee Syria, efforts to make perilous sea journey in search of asylum expected to increase More

South African Brewer Tackles Climate Change

Mega-brewer SAB Miller sent delegates to climate summit in Peru, says it is one of many private companies taking their own steps to fight climate change More

Indonesia Reports Increase in Citizens Joining Islamic State

Officials say more than 350 of its citizens are now in Syria or Iraq to fight with Islamic State - 50 more than last month 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.
Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?i
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
December 17, 2014 11:54 AM
The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US-China Year in Review: Hong Kong to Climate Change

The United States is pushing for a code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it works to improve commercial ties with Beijing. VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a year of U.S. policy toward China from Hong Kong to climate change.
Video

Video Japanese Leader’s Election Win Raises Potential for Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in parliament Sunday, even though the country has slipped into recession under his conservative policies. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul, that the prime minister’s victory will empower him to continue economic reforms but also pursue a nationalist agenda that will likely increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
Video

Video Nuba Mountain Families Hide in Caves to Escape Aerial Bombings

Despite ongoing peace talks between Sudan's government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, daily aerial attacks continue in South Kordofan province’s Nuba Mountains. Adam Bailes was there and reports for VOA that government forces are targeting civilian areas, rather than military positions, with their daily bombardments.

All About America

AppleAndroid