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

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches 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.
Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debatei
X
Shelley Schlender
July 24, 2014 6:43 PM
In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Death Toll From Israel-Gaza Conflict Surpasses 700

Gaza officials say a shelling hit a compound housing a United Nations-run school in the Gaza Strip, killing more than a dozen people, during an Israeli offensive in the area. Heavy fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas militants continued on Thursday, pushing up the death toll. So far, more than 730 Palestinians and 35 Israelis have been killed in the conflict. VOA's Scott Bobb has the latest from Jerusalem.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Researchers Target Low-Cost Avatar Technology

Scientists at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies say 3-dimensional representations could revolutionize social media. Elizabeth Lee has more from Los Angeles.
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 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.

AppleAndroid