Japan is still struggling to grapple with the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Yesterday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to end the country’s ‘ad hoc’ response to the Fukushima disaster as the government announced plans to spend $473m to stop leaks of radioactive water. Abe’s statement is significant, because as he himself stated, the world is closely watching to see whether the decommissioning of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, including the contaminated water problem, can be achieved. The new plan involves creating a wall of ice underneath the stricken plant. And scientists will freeze the soil around the stricken reactors to form an impenetrable wall they hope will direct groundwater away from the plant.
The March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused meltdowns at the Fukushima power station had sent shivers across the world, not only in Japan. The disaster made the world rethink the safety of nuclear power production and demonstrations were held all over the world demanding the closure of nuclear plants and use of alternative methods for energy production. Japan too had reacted with fear. All but one of Japan’s 50 functioning nuclear reactors were shut for safety checks.
The government needs to fix the problems of Fukushima fast, as any delay is causing both fear and confusion. A continuation of the problems will increase global opposition to nuclear power, because the perceived failure of a technologically advanced country like Japan to fix the problems will be seen as justification for the unsustainability of the nuclear power. The Fukushima site now has more than 338,000 metric tons of water stored in more than 1,000 tanks, with additional water remaining untreated in reactor basements and service tunnels. Levels of toxic water are rising at a rate of 400 tons a day as groundwater seeping into basements mixes with cooling water that has been in contact with highly radioactive melted reactor cores.
The government has been forced to intervene after repeated leaks in the last month indicated the operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. is losing control of the site. The company, known as TEPCO, said in one incident about 300 tons of highly radioactive water had escaped from a storage tank. “Instead of the ad hoc approaches that have been taken in the past, we put together a basic policy today that will offer a fundamental solution to the problem of contaminated water,” Abe said.
Abe’s intervention comes just days before a decision in Argentina by the International Olympic Committee on who should host the 2020 Games. Observers have warned the situation at Fukushima could prove the undoing of Tokyo’s bid•