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Japan and the big nuclear lie

23 Jun, 2016 - 00:06 0 Views
Japan and the big nuclear lie

The Herald

Fukushima-Daiichi-Nuclear-PlantLovemore Chikova in Beijing, China
Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster might have happened five years ago, but it is still raising tension and debate among its neighbours.

There is a feeling among Japan’s neighbours that the nuclear incident could have been handled in a more efficient manner.

This explains why issues surrounding safety procedures on nuclear plants following the incident are now causing trepidation in East Asia.

From what has been happening in the last few weeks, it has become apparent that Japan is taking a flak from its neighbours who are calling for more action to ensure the safety of the region from the effects of the disaster.

It seems that what has triggered more concern is the recent admission by the Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) officials that its staff failed to follow damage assessment guidelines when dealing with the disaster.

The officials acknowledged that the guidelines were clear and included that the staffers should report the meltdowns of the nuclear power stations immediately.

According to reports in this part of the world, Tepco officials knew the company’s disaster management manual required that a reactor be declared in meltdown if 5 percent or more of its fuel rods were deemed to be damaged.

What has caused more problems is that Tepco officials knew the extent of the damage, according to a report in a recent issue of The Japan Times, and decided to conceal it.

It is estimated that 55 percent of the fuel rod assemblies of the reactor No. 1 and 25 percent of those at reactor No. 3 were damaged based on the levels of radiation detected.

There would not have been such an outcry if the officials had used the word meltdown as soon as this was discovered to enable more robust action to be taken.

Questions are now being asked why the officials only used the word meltdown two months after the disaster when it was obvious that the damage would be more difficult to control.

The incident has embarrassed Japan and hugely dented its foreign policy as many in the sub-continent now view this as a cover-up of the damage despite the debilitating consequences.

Japan’s neighbours are also furious that a day after the tsunami which knocked out power and the cooling facilities, a senior official at the now defunct Nuclear and Industry Safety Agency issued a warning on the extent of the damage, but not much seemed to have been done about it.

The official said at a Press conference that a meltdown of a reactor’s core could be taking place at the Fukushima plant given the radiation levels detected.

Those who are complaining about Japan’s handling of the incident seem to be justified considering the large quantities of radioactivity released into the environment.

Already, more than 300 000 residents have been evacuated from the vicinity of the plant.

What has heightened concern in the region is the admission by officials that they hid the truth about the whole saga.

Now, some recent Japanese scholars’ papers indicate that the rate of children suffering from thyroid cancer in Fukushima Prefecture is 20 to 50 times higher than national average due to radiation exposure from the disaster.

According to the American Thyroid Association, the thyroid gland cannot distinguish between stable (regular) iodine and radioactive iodine and will absorb whatever it can.

When the thyroid cells absorb too much radioactive iodine, it can cause thyroid cancer to develop several years after the exposure.

Some American experts even say 80 percent of the nuclear-contaminated substance at Fukushima Daiichi was discharged into the ocean.

What has baffled many is why Japan seemed to be downplaying the impact of the disaster given the above frightening scenarios.

It is rightly feared that such an attitude could lead to little action from the authorities, resulting in the radioactivity growing to affect the whole region.

China is one of the countries which have shown uneasiness with Japan’s rather sluggish approach to the nuclear disaster.

The country’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Ms Hua Chunying, said at a Press conference recently that China was deeply concerned about the possible pollution of the oceanic environment after the nuclear incident.

To quote her: “China has been paying close attention to the impact of the Fukushima nuclear leakage incident and has repeatedly asked the Japanese government to timely control the situation and properly deal with the aftermath.

“Meanwhile, we have asked the International Atomic Energy Agency to step up their monitoring and evaluation on the leakage of nuclear-contaminated water.

“It is hoped that fully aware of its responsibility to its people, people of neighbouring countries and the international community, Japan can take effective measures and step up its efforts to timely, fully and accurately inform the international community of the real situation and protect the marine environment.

“We would like to have communication and contact with relevant parties, including the Republic of Korea.”

To show the extent of its concern, China issued a safety alert immediately after Japan was hit by the tsunami in 2011 advising Chinese citizens and groups to avoid major quake-hit zones like Fukushima as much as possible.

And to demonstrate China’s growing uneasiness with the whole incident, the advisory still stands.

“We hope that Chinese citizens will follow closely the safety and alert issued on China’s consular service website by the Foreign Affairs Ministry, arrange well-thought trips and ensure their personal safety,” she said.

“Any responsible government will pay close attention to the Fukushima nuclear leakage and the hazards it poses to the marine environment and people’s health.”

Japan should at least look back into history and learn lessons from two nuclear plant disasters – the Chernobyl accident in Ukraine in 1986 and the Three Mile Island incident in the United States in 1979.

History records that the Chernobyl accident was mainly a result of a flawed reactor design that was being operated by inadequately trained personnel.

But the accident’s consequences were devastating.

At least two workers from the plant died on the night of the accident and 28 others died within a few weeks as a result of acute radiation poisoning.

Although the Three Mile Island incident did not cause any fatalities, the fact that it occurred raised concerns on public health.

What is important for Japan to note is that nuclear disasters can result in an unbearable burden on other nations.

This explains why its neighbours are not taking lightly that Japanese nuclear company officials are revealing only five years later that the whole incident was not handled properly.

This raises concern that Japan should do more to ensure public safety for its population and those of its neighbours.

And the pending trial of three former Tepco officials on charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury is of major interest to the whole of East Asia.

Some are even doubting if before the tsunami struck there were sufficient safety measures against such a calamity at Fukushima Daiichi.

Perhaps there was no such protection and this explains why the plant was easily knocked off by a tsunami.

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Yet, there must be so much stress on the importance of good practices for nuclear safety, at least according to the International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group in its 1991 report titled “Safety Culture”.

The report emphasises on safety to be carried out “correctly, with alertness, due thought and full knowledge, sound judgment and a proper sense of accountability”.

The major lesson to be drawn from the Fukushima Daiichi incident is that there must be no complacency when dealing with nuclear power.

The report published on the incident last year indicts Japan by pointing out that the Asian country was living a lie on the assumption that its nuclear facilities were safe.

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