Fukushima Fallout

Weekly updates by
Keito Hirabayashi

 

Concerns about the spent fuel pool at Fukushima Daiichi’s Reactor No. 4 spread to the US, with Senator Ron Wyden urging more international cooperation to bring a potentially highly dangerous situation, with large quantities of radioactive material exposed to the environment and immediately adjacent to the ocean, under control. Wyden wrote in his letter to the Japanese Ambassador in Washington: “The precarious status of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear units and the risk presented by the enormous inventory of radioactive materials and spent fuel in the event of further earthquake threats should be of concern to all and a focus of greater international support and assistance.”

Reactor No. 4 at the ravaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex in Japan, in November 2011. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)

Unit 4’s roof was destroyed by the hydrogen explosion, which occurred in the early days of the crisis, and its spent fuel pool, now exposed to the environment, contains even more spent fuel than other pools on site. Even if clearing the huge amount of debris away from the area goes according to plan, TEPCO doesn’t anticipate being able to remove the fuel rods until later in 2013.

… Meanwhile, every time a large earthquake rocks eastern Japan (quite frequently) people even as far away as Tokyo wonder if No. 4 will hold up this time, or they will be plunged back into a full-scale emergency.

  The other major story has been whether or not 2 units of the Oi Reactor in Fukui Prefecture will be given safety clearances to start up again before the sole reactor still operating in Tomari, Hokkaido closes down on May 5th for routine maintenance. It now looks likely that Oi will not reopen in time, so May 6th will be the first day for over 40 years that Japan has a nuclear-free electricity supply. This from a country that generated 30% of its electricity from nuclear just over one year ago. Kansai Electric (KEPCO) has of course threatened there will be power blackouts over the peak-use summer period if they are not allowed to restart their nuclear plants, and the government has unquestioningly accepted their data, with Yoshito Sengoku, the deputy policy chief saying that it would be “mass suicide” for Japan to allow the plants to remain idle.  But this is what has been said ever since 3.11— in the most recent colder and longer than average winter, and indeed last summer too, yet there have been no major problems, at least with household electricity supply and many people see this as just another Government/Industry lie that they are being fed. How terrifying it would be for the government and industry if Japan did indeed make it through the summer with zero nuclear power. This is what they most want to avoid, proof that nuclear is not necessary, so starting up at least some of those idled 50 plants is a priority.

Even though the World Economic Forum, that bastion of corporate interests, has urged Japan to restart its nuclear reactors,  surprisingly, it seems Japanese businesses are in no hurry to restart the nuclear plants. In a poll carried out by Reuters, 65% of firms think that the loss of all nuclear power would hurt their businesses. Despite this, nearly three-quarters of firms think that safety should be given priority over early restarts.

When both the public and businesses are not prepared to accept the risks of nuclear power, one wonders exactly who the Japanese government thinks it’s serving.

 

Reporters and municipal staff in white protective suits walk along the "flower tunnel" in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, inside the nuclear disaster exclusion zone on April 19.