There was a script we were supposed to be following in Japan after 3/11/11. It went something like this.
There would be a parliamentary study of what went wrong and Fukushima. The nuclear regulator which was very cozy with the nuclear utility would be blamed, it would be disassembled and new “tougher” regulator would take it’s place. The government at the time would be blamed for it’s poor handling of the disaster, and it would lose control of the nation in the upcoming elections. The utility responsible for the accident TEPCO would lose so much money it would be nationalized. All the reactors in the country would be closed (because local government are involved in these decisions in ways they are not permitted to be in the US). There would be huge demonstrations against nuclear power by the normally complacent Japanese people.
Then good things (from the industry perspective) would start happening. Two of the safest reactors would be re-opened to show Japan was not anti-nuclear and to prove that the country could not run without at least some of them being online (47 others remained idle). Fearing China militarily and a weak economy, the Japanese would elect a pro-nuclear government. Less than one year after the Fukushima triple meltdowns the utility would announce that they had attained the status of “Cold Shutdown” and that clean up efforts were moving forward apace. It would often be reported that “No one died at Fukushima” There would be expert reports on blackouts if Japan did not return to nuclear power. More reactors would be approved for restart under new stricter rules. Some small number of renewable projects would be built. Japan would continue to export reactor technology. Tokyo would win the hosting privileges for the 2020 Olympics and everything would be back to normal.
But this script has gotten a bit derailed. It turns out that not only is Fukushima not under control and getting cleaned up. It is getting worse. One problem is water. The quantities of radioactive water which the utility is trying to store are huge – over 200K tons is currently in onsite tanks and the quantity is growing. Increasingly these tanks are leaking. But dont be fooled by the idea of tanks holding this poisoned water. It has always been TEPCOs plan to dump radioactive contaminants in the ocean. It has done this repeatedly since the meltdowns and has been lobbying for permission to continue. While TEPCO currently permits about 600 tons of radioactive water per day to go into the ocean. Fishing in the area has been suspended indefinitely.
The new tougher nuclear regulator has requested the government take over from TEPCOs failed effort to address the accident, which is likely a good thing, because TEPCO is looking at the problem from a “how do we spend as little as possible on this” perspective.
But the Abe governments real problem is that reality is not following the script. The mainstream media is picking up that the situation is getting worse (and the government efforts will likely have little more efficacy than the utilities). Not only is the situation not well contained, if sea water is not endlessly pumped into the areas where the reactor fuel has burned thru the bottom of the plants we are looking at another series of explosions and releases at Fukushima. There are still about 100K people who are displaced because of the meltdowns alone. And the efforts to dismiss health effects are being countered. And while Japanese PM Abe is heading off to try to secure Tokyo’s Olympic bid, back home critics are demanding he declare a state of emergency.
Declared or not, there is a worsening emergency at Fukushima and it is knocking some of the worlds best paid PR people off their clever script.
The US mainstream news is not covering the many developments around these year old triple melted down reactors.
The first thing which caught my eye in the most recent Greenpeace update on the on-going crisis is that workers attempting to get into reactors 2 and 3 had to abandon their efforts because a year after the accident, radiation levels were at 160 milliseverts and hour. At this level even with full protective gear, it is too dangerous for humans inside these reactor buildings. This is the first time they have even tried to get to these reactors since the meltdowns on March 11, 2011. TEPCO says robots will be needed to go where the humans can not.
Already work at reactor 1 is being attempted by undersea robots which are seeking to remove highly radioactive cores from this melted down reactor. The robots need visibility of 7 m to function. Visibility is dramatically reduced from a year ago and is now only 1 m. Robots cant tackle Fukushima problems either.
And while it is proving harder than anticipated to get at the most highly concentrated sources within these reactor buildings, heavy rains have been driving contamination into the soil in the large surrounding area. Radioactive Cesium has been found 5 cm underground because of the recent rains and is believed to be between 10 and 30 cm underground dramatically complicating decontamination efforts.
And to add to the worries of this land a 6.8 magnitude quake landed a 20 cm high tsunami in the northeastern part of Japan last Wednesday.