Fukushima Overview: six years after the 4 explosions and 3 meltdowns at General Electric reactors in Japan

Fukushima Reactor Rubble – Unit 3

Over 80,000 people remain displaced. Having lost their homes, their land, their livlihoods and neighborhood support networks, they live with the fear of cancer and the stigma of being identified as hibukashi. Some have been getting government assistance, but many of those will lose it this Spring, pressuring them to return to contaminated areas. “Clean-up” has reduced the contamination in some areas – but certainly not in forested areas – while creating massive mounds of plastic bags filled with contaminated soil with no place to go. One of the most prevalent and hazardous is cesium 137, which has a 30-year half-life. So after 6 years, 87% of the cesium which hasn’t been physically removed is still present. The federal government wants to restart the nuclear fleet, despite opposition by 87% of the public.

Clean-up is expected to take 30 to 40 years
Two hours into a planned 10-hour mission, the latest robot to explore a melted reactor has been abandoned to an extremely lethal environment in Unit 2. Clean-up is expected to take 30 to 40 years, at a cost of $189 billion (nearly double the estimate from three years ago).

The manager of the Fukushima Daiichi plant said, “we’re not thinking of another approach at this moment.” Exploration work in the two other reactors, has barely begun, and nearly 1 million tons of radioactive water is stored onsite, with no place to put it. And despite an expensive ice dam, 150 tons of ground water flows through reactor basements every day on it’s way to the Pacific Ocean. The goal is to stop that flow by 2020, the year that Tokyo is due to host the Olympics, since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe assured the International Olympic Committee that Fukushima was “under control”.

Women and children bear the greatest burden
According to reporting by Greenpeace, more than 80,000 Fukushima evacuees are still living in temporary accommodation, and thousands of mothers have sued the authorities who plan to lift evacuation orders at the end of March and resettle residents to “heavily contaminated areas”. It is predominantely womens’ and childrens’ rights that are violated as a direct result of the current government’s plans to “allow” evacuated residents to return to areas close to the Fukushima power plant. Financially, they have little choice.

Fukushima victims are still suffering
Japanese people who have survived radioactive exposure – whether from the atomic bombings or from Fukushima – bear a burden of discrimination and shame. Such survivors are known as hibakusha, and they face continuing difficulties in Japanese society. A 2017 survey found that 62 percent of 348 Fukushima evacuees interviewed have experienced or witnessed bullying and discrimination for having been exposed.

Fukushima survivors who meet a list of conditions can obtain the hibakusha certification and eligibility for government health support, but many never applied for such status for fear of lifelong discrimination. Also, the accident has destabilized the lifestyle of the inhabitants of the areadue to anxiety over information, fear of discrimination, the expenses of buying bottled water and imported vegetables as well as spending to take their children away from contaminated areas when possible.

A majority in Japan have lost faith in nuclear power
Only about 13 percent of evacuees have returned home, despite a government announcement that it is safe to return to some evacuation zones.

In late 2016 the government doubled its previous estimate of total costs from the nuclear accident – to about US $188 billion.

Electricity demand has fallen since 2011, and there has been no power shortage even without nuclear power plants. The price of electricity rose by more than 20 percent in 2012 and 2013, but then declined.

A majority of the Japanese public has lost faith in nuclear safety regulation, and favors phasing out nuclear power, yet a plan is being developed for consumers and citizens to bear some of those costs through higher electric rates, taxes or both. In a 2016 survey, Fifty-seven percent of the public opposed restarting existing nuclear power plants even if they satisfied new regulatory standards, and 73 percent supported a phaseout of nuclear power, with 14 percent advocating an immediate shutdown of all nuclear plants.

Japan had 14,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel stored at nuclear power plants. Government policy calls for reprocessing spent fuel to recover its plutonium and uranium content, but Japan’s only reprocessing plant is nearly full. Japan also has nearly 48 tons of separated plutonium, most of which 10.8 is in France and the United Kingdom. One ton of separated plutonium is enough material to make more than 1,200 crude nuclear weapons.

With only two operating reactors and an uncertain future nuclear capacity, maintaining a policy to continue separating plutonium could increase security concerns and regional tensions, and even spur a “plutonium race” in the region.

…and what has the nuclear industry been doing to help those displaced by Japan’s triple-meltdown?

They have not:

  • acknowledged the vulnerability of the GE Boiling Water Reactor design (‘tho it was known to regulators in 1972)
  • voluntarily closed any reactor with a known-inferior safety margin
  • stopped producing the radwaste for which there is no known solution
  • sheltered spent fuel dry casks behind earthen berms to protect them from a terrorist attack
  • provided more than ludicrously trivial insurance for the threat they pose

But they are:

  • lobbying government agencies to give even more subsidies to nuclear; in the U.S. obtaining “clean energy credits” which they can sell to fossil-fuel electrical generators, thus ensuring continued greenhouse gases, disincentives for renewable technologies, and higher costs for ratepayers.
  • providing a steady stream of propaganda about just-around-the-corner ‘Generation 4’ reactors with promises that they will be ‘cheap, safe and clean’. Such ‘advanced’ reactors do not exist on this planet, ‘tho a few are under construction with ever-increasing cost-overruns.

– David Agnew

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