Posted by: daniellesabai | 2011/04/02

Fukushima: Danger Continues, Pollution Expanding. The Worst Is Not Over Yet

Saito Koji

Danger Continues, Pollution Expanding

The Worst Is Not Over Yet

Face the Reality and Move Forward for Our Future without Nuclear Power!

Raw milk and vegetables contaminated with radioactivity

On March 17, Ministry of Health announced the interim reference values for the allowable levels of radioactivity in drinking water, agricultural products, livestock and fish, and directed local governments to stop the shipment and distribution of food which contains more radioactive elements than these values. As the result of sampling by local governments which began on the next day, some products, including raw milk from Fukushima Prefecture, spinach from Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma Prefectures and garland chrysanthemum from Chiba Prefecture, were found to contain radioactive iodine beyond the allowable levels.

According to the data on the environmental radioactivity level in each prefecture, which is available on the web site of the Ministry of Education, the radioactivity levels in several cities in Kanto region (Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures) on March 15 were about 40 times higher than usual. Considering rainfall and the direction of winds on that day, the “radiation clouds” seemed to have swirled in the atmosphere of the metropolitan area and spread to the wider area. Irrespective of whether the worst scenario would occur or not, it is already clear that serious contamination has affected large areas and it is still extending.

Danger of the loss of cooling water

As the emergency electric power systems at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant were washed away by the tsunami, the cooling of the reactors depend on power-supply cars and fire pumps which were brought in to keep sending sea water into the reactors. Meanwhile, efforts have been made to restore normal power-supply system by utilizing a high-voltage line which was used during the construction of the plant. However, due to the damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami, no one knows how many pumps and other equipments can work.

Further “unexpected” situation was revealed on March 14 at Unit 4 of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which had been considered stabilized because it had been out of operation at the time of the earthquake for the regular maintenance operation and the fuel had been extracted from the reactor. The temperature within the used fuel pool on the top floor of the reactor building rose to 84 degrees, increasing the possibility of decrease and loss of cooling water by evaporation. This, in turn, might lead to melting of the fuel and, in the worst case, trigger a nuclear chain reaction.

In order to fill the used fuel pool, special water cannon of riot police, SDF’s helicopters, high pressure water cannons offered by U.S. military forces have been mobilized. As the result of the hydrogen explosion at the top of the building of Unit 3, debris containing radioactive elements are scattered around the unit, thus restricting the available space for the operation of the water cannons. Ground SDF seems to be in control of the water-flashing operation. On the night of March 20, two SDF tanks equipped with steel plate for the protection from radioactivity left a SDF base in Shizuoka Prefecture, which are supposed to arrive at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in the next morning and to help clearing of the debris.

It is worried that the large amount of radioactive material contained in the rubble and debris might be washed by rainfall and flow into the Pacific Ocean. Measures have to be taken to prevent the spread of contamination, including solidification of the rubble and debris by concrete shields.

Escalation to “Level 5”

On March 18, Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) raised the preliminary evaluation of the danger to “Level 5” (accidents with far-reaching impact) of the International Nuclear Event Scale for the No. 1 through 3 Units. This is the same level as Three Mile Island accident. Whether it would escalate to “Level 7”, the level of Chernobyl, or not is not known at this moment. Judging from the development of the situation and the current status of the recovery efforts, what kind of “the worst” situation shall be prepared for?

The Fukushima No 1 nuclear power plant came to its standstill automatically, with the control rods inserted into the reactor core immediately after the earthquake. The loss of the emergency cooling power due to the tsunami happened about an hour later. The “first wall” of fuel pellets, the melting point of which is about 2800 degree Celsius, swelled due to the decay heat. The pellets’ swelling led to the collapse of the “second wall” of zirconium sheaths, the melting point of which is about 1850 degree Celsius, and the release of radioactive fallout in the form of gas. As for the “third wall” of the pressure vessel and the “fourth wall” of the containment vessel, there were danger of the destruction of the vessels due to overheating, and the vapor was released to the outside in order to reduce the vapor pressure inside. Finally, the “fifth wall” of the building were ripped by the hydrogen explosion and it can not contain radioactive anymore.

What would happen, if the on-going recovery efforts should fail? If the continuous injection of water should be disturbed and the cooling water should continue to evaporate at both the reactor core and the cooling pool, the temperature of the reactor core might rise to the melting point of zirconium and the fuel pellets might tumble down on the bottom of the pressure vessel or the fuel pool, causing a nuclear chain reaction or a steam explosion.

As proponents of a world without nuclear power, we sincerely hope the success of the recovery efforts. While the cooling efforts are still continuing with the workers’ risk of exposure to radiation and there is a possibility of the availability of high-voltage electricity, we don’t want to believe that the deterioration of the situation to the level of Chernobyl is unavoidable. However, we have to understand that it would take several weeks or several months before the decay heat decreases below a certain level and the risk of melting of fuel or a nuclear chain reaction decreases. It would also take considerable time to determine the method and procedure to decommission the reactors. Meanwhile, nuclear contamination is getting serious day by day and extending to wider area.

No more “Heroes” should be sacrificed

Overseas media are talking about the “Fukushima 50” Heroes, the TEPCO employees and subcontractors who are forced to sacrifice themselves at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. SDF soldiers and Tokyo Fire Department personnel are also treated as heroes.

The first cases of industrial accident that was recognized as “death from exposure to radioactivity” in 1991 was that of a worker at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The obsolete design and heavy dependence on dangerous subcontract works, as well as the delay of decommissioning are the direct cause of the Fukushima disaster.

As a news item in the Japanese edition of the web-version “Wall Street Journal” pointed out, TEPCO was reluctant to inject seawater at the initial stage, prioritizing the protection of their assets. The item referred to a comment of a government official who criticized the irrationality and irresponsibility of TEPCO’s initial response to the accident.

On March 20, Prime Minister Kan Naoto attended the graduation ceremony of the National Defense Academy, and he said, “we are proud of SDFs soldiers who are ready to sacrifice themselves”. He didn’t mention who are responsible for the sacrifice he demanded. Those who ignored the concerns of the residents and decided to extend the duration of service of the aged reactors caused this disaster, and they are forcing SDFs soldiers to sacrifice themselves.

The intention of treating soldiers and firefighters as heroes is to conceal the fact that they are deprived of freedom and the rights to organize. We should demand the rights for soldiers and firefighters to organize themselves as well as to get contact freely with the outside world.

For a fundamental change in the nuclear policy

The ongoing nuclear disaster has been bringing about some changes in the circumstances of new nuclear power plants which are now under construction or in the process of planning. Governor of Yamaguchi Prefecture, in the western part of the mainland of the country, asked Chugoku Electric Power Company to suspend the reclamation work for the new Kaminoseki nuclear power plant, and the latter has obliged to accept the demand. [However, Chugoku Electric Power Company restarted the work after only short break.] Accordig TEPCO, it will suspend the construction of Unit 1 of Higashidoori nuclear power plant in Aomori Prefecture, in the northernmost part of the mainland of the country. In Fukushima Prefecture, the demand for decommissioning of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant are increasing and the mayor of Kooriyama City and others are demanding the decommissioning as a precondition for any deliberation. Edano, Chief Cabinet Secretary, categorically denied the possibility of resuming the operation of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant at a press conference, although he made it clear that this was not the decision of the government. The Liberal Democratic Party is also said to have responded negatively about the possibility of continuing the present policy. Do these changes indicate the possibility to go forward for a fundamental change in the nuclear policy?

In the U.S., after the Three Mile Island accident, building of new nuclear power plants stopped, and the nuclear power industry shifted to the maintenance in order to increase the utilization and extend the duration. On the contrary, in the countries of former Soviet Union, after the Chernobyl disaster and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the government of Ukraine built new nuclear reactors in order to mitigate power shortages, and Russia is now aggressively exporting nuclear reactors and competing with Japan, Korea, and France.

We cannot exclude the possibility of Japan to take the “reverse course” like Ukraine and Russia. The government has been actively promoting export of nuclear power plants. They still insists on the necessity and safety of nuclear power plants.

The Japanese anti-nuclear-power-plant movement has lost its momentum since 1988, about two years after the Chernobyl disaster, and the number of participants of campaigns has been decreasing. Except for local organizations which have been resisting against the construction or operation of the nuclear facilities in their respective regions, many people left the movement because of disagreements among groups or other reasons. This situation led to a kind of formation of specialized activist groups with some expert knowledge.

In the wake of the disaster in Fukushima, people began to listen to what these small number of groups have been saying. Activists who have been taking up different sets of issues are also focusing on this issue now. It is time to re-energize the movement with renewed demands and objectives, reaching out to wider range of people. In order to force a fundamental change of the nuclear policy and to move forward for a future without nuclear power, we need to widen and strengthen our network.

* Translated from the March 28 issue of JRCL-NCIW joint Weekly “Kakehashi”.

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