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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs