The Fukushima meltdown has apparently not stopped Japan’s interest in nuclear power. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has started talks on the reopening of some the nuclear facilities shut down after the March 11 tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster. In the accident three of the six reactors at the site melted down, initially releasing at least a third of the radiation released when the Chernobyl plant in the Ukraine exploded in 1986.
Because the Japanese energy economy is highly dependent on nuclear power, with almost 30 percent of all energy come from nuclear plants, the comprehensive shut down of all nuclear facilities hit the country hard. However, now that the 50 or so nuclear facilities in the country have been certified safe, their return to use is being expedited despite the Fukushima accident.
Indeed, nuclear power world-wide is coming on-line in ever greater amounts. The only exception to this being Germany, where a strong anti-nuclear movement is seeing them apparently phased out entirely. Japan on the other hand is actively eyeing the construction of new plants, even as scientist nervously watch the sea-borne wave of radioactive material from Fukushima come ashore in western North America. The next two months are seen as critical for measuring and estimating the effects of the Fukushima meltdown. However, the radiation levels, although clearly higher than normal, are still significantly below what is scientifically considered a threat to public health. Indeed, it is possible to buy mineral water with higher concentrations of radioactive material than the concentrations in the pacific at the moment. I may be news like this that has not stopped stopped Japan’s interest in nuclear power despite Fukushima.
However, scientist monitoring the biosphere around the nuclear accident sight have found that insects, that are always highly sensitive to radiation, have shown huge numbers of birth defects, mutations and abnormalities as a result of the leaks. What is even more alarming is that these abnormalities are being inherited and are continuing down generations of animals.
Traces of Fukushima’s fallout have even been found in blue fin tuna that have apparently crossed the pacific, and back again, in their search for food. Although again, the contamination level has been measured as so low that the fish are still considered entirely safe to eat.
As things currently stand, a huge amount of the radioactive material released in the accident has been contained in the water used in the plant. However, at least 100 tonnes of that water has leaked into the ground around the plant. It is not believed to have reached the ocean, but considering Fukushima’s proximity to the pacific it cannot be ruled out that significant amounts of it will one day leak out. Although Japanese authorities have built chemical dams and other safeguards since the accident.
Indeed, while Japan looks at building new plants the US is already adding 6 new reactors to the 100 nuclear power plants already operating. Despite a thirty year period where no new plants were built nuclear power is certainly being re-embraced.
The 30,000 Japanese residents of the 20km exclusion zone around Fukushima will be allowed to return to their homes in the coming months, and so with things returning to normal it appears Fukushima has not stopped Japan’s interest in nuclear power.
By Andrew Willig