Fukushima Five Years Later
It has been five years since the Fukushima nuclear disaster caused by an earthquake and the subsequent tsunami that struck the coastally located electrical generating plant. Very little is known about the causes and effects of this disaster. Many proponents for restarting currently idle nuclear power stations believe that the gigantic barriers erected near other plants will be sufficient to protect them from another enormous tsunami.
- The reasons for the breakdowns and the sequence in which they occurred are still unknown. New control standards have been developed but testing of these standards is unreliable because the causes and consequences of the disaster have not been clarified. Without this data it is impossible to make plans and to proceed with clean up and repair at the site. The site is still too highly contaminated with radioactivity, making evaluations and direct investigations unthinkable. The underground areas of the turbine buildings and nearby facilities are submerged under highly contaminated radioactive water and can not be investigated.1
- The M9.0 Great Eastern Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, and the subsequent tsunami, caused severe damage especially in the Fukushima area. The death rate has been higher in this area than in other nearby regions. The numbers are much higher than those reported following the disaster and are believed to have increased due to a high suicide rate of the survivors attributed to despair. There is still a question of safety should evacuees return to their properties. The national government aims to withdraw the evacuation orders by March 2017, provided the exposure rate is no greater than 20 mSv/y. This exposure rate is extremely high as data has emerged of a healthy, young man exposed to about 5.1 mSv/y who died of chronic myelogenous leukemia at the age of 29. He had worked at another nuclear electric plant. Citizens of the area have filed suit against the government protesting the withdrawal. Only time will provide the answers to the health issues. There is considerable concern about the increase in the incidence of thyroid cancer in children in the Fukushima area.2
- There has been some clean up and packaging of contaminated radioactive waste into flexible container bags. These were to be stored at an intermediate storage site. Several sites have been identified but when these storage site will be ready to receive waste is unknown.
- But wait, there’s more. At the meltdown site, there has been lots of ground water from the nearby mountains flowing through the site and into the ocean. Wells have been drilled, and walls have been built to control the direction of the water. This bypass system sends the water through a water processing facility to separate contaminants before releasing it into the sea, although tritium still remains in the treated water. Preparations for inspecting the inside of the reactor by robots is underway.2
- But there are other problems. The ground beneath the plant’s Unit 4 is gradually sinking and there is concern that the entire structure will collapse. This unit contains a collective 37 million curies of deadly radiation, that if released could make much of the world uninhabitable.3
Note, there are 31 similar nuclear units in the U.S. Should the right disaster conditions arise, will we have another Fukushima disaster in America?
Billie Nicholson, Editor