News / Asia

Radioactive Cleanup in Japan Could Last Decades

Guards read a whiteboard near the Fukushima-1 nuclear plant's main gate
Guards read a whiteboard near the Fukushima-1 nuclear plant's main gate
Diaa Bekheet

Japan is breathing a slight sigh of relief after official word the crippled reactors at the Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant are now in a "cold shutdown" state. That means the water used to cool the damaged nuclear fuel rods is remaining below the boiling point, preventing the highly radioactive fuel from re-heating. But with a massive radioactive cleanup job unfinished - and possibly lasting decades - few have much reason to celebrate as 2011 comes to an end.

The March 11 earthquake and tsunami killed 20,000 people in northeastern Japan.  Not only did the disaster trigger the meltdown of three reactors at the coastal Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant, it also reignited debate about the risks of atomic energy.

Although no one died of radiation exposure from the Fukushima accident, communities were evacuated. Even those hundreds of kilometers away from the nuclear plant are worried about long-term effects of the higher than normal radiation levels, especially on the health of children.

That anxiety is compounded by the detection of radiation levels above the legal limit in Japanese crops, fish and even milk.

Public confidence has been shaken since the first days of the crisis when the Fukushima plant operator and the government appeared to understate the severity of the disaster.

UK Atomic Energy Authority Chairman Roger Cashmore, Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 12, 2011.
UK Atomic Energy Authority Chairman Roger Cashmore, Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 12, 2011.

Roger Cashmore is chairman of Britain's Atomic Energy Authority. The nuclear physicist says the slow flow of information from Tokyo and the apparent withholding of important data during the height of the crisis undermined trust.

"Transparency is the word. One has got to be completely open about all of this and make sure that shortcuts and things like this can't be taken," said Cashmore. "People, I think, in retrospect have become very concerned about the regulatory system that existed in Japan."

The concern has led to scrutiny of what is dubbed the Japanese "nuclear village" - a cozy community of industry and government regulators as well as a complacent domestic media and powerful politicians.

Nobuyasu Abe, Japan Institute of International Affairs, Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 12, 2011.
Nobuyasu Abe, Japan Institute of International Affairs, Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 12, 2011.

Former U.N. Undersecretary Secretary General for Disarmament Affairs, Nobuyasu Abe (a director at the Japan Institute of International Affairs), says nuclear industry supporters have hampered oversight.

"In Japan, a great number of Japanese politicians receive political contributions from power companies," said Abe. "They may be influenced or they may be hesitant to be critical."

A former foreign minister and environment minister of Japan is criticizing the official response to the crisis over the past nine months. But Yoriko Kawaguchi, of the opposition conservatives, says the government must not let Tokyo Electric Power Company, known as TEPCO, go under at a time of crisis.

Former Japan Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, speaking in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 12, 2011.
Former Japan Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, speaking in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 12, 2011.

"There is no question, ultimately, that we will survive. We will manage the situation," Kawaguchi said. "TEPCO is almost bankrupt and the government is helping, financial institutions are helping. We have no other choice but to let TEPCO survive and do the work, no matter how long it's going to take."

About 80 percent of Japan's nuclear reactors are now offline, mainly for safety inspections.

That, along with increasing generation costs and a slowing demand for electricity (with China being the notable exception), has led to nuclear power production globally falling this year, according to the Worldwatch Institute.

But Kawaguchi says Japan, an island nation with scant natural resources, cannot follow Germany, which has decided to shut down all of its nuclear power plants.

"Without nuclear power generation, it will be difficult for us to keep our economy growing, probably for some years - 10, 20, 30 years to come. Japan is isolated," Kawaguchi said. "We are not like Germany where you can import energy from France where electricity is produced using nuclear power."

To maintain economic growth, she says the Japanese government must restore public confidence, which vaporized after the reactor meltdowns. That could turn out to be a task that takes decades to accomplish.

You May Like

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

update President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' 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.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs