Japan Nuclear Disaster Update March 22

This blog was written by Sara Barczak, former Regional Advocacy Director with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | March 22, 2011 | Energy Policy, Nuclear

As the death toll and list of missing from the earthquake and tsunami increases to nearly 22,000 people, Japanese emergency workers continued their struggle to bring the multi-faceted nuclear crises at the Fukushima Daiichi complex under control over the weekend and into this week. Tracking the situation continues to be very difficult. While it appears that the pressure in reactor Unit 3 has stabilized, there are varied reports as to the stability of reactor Unit 4. The New York Times reported that spent (used) fuel pools at reactor Units 3 and 4 continue to require emergency cooling efforts and currently pose the greatest risk of releasing radiation. As power was being restored on Tuesday to the six reactors on site, the temperature of the spent fuel pool of reactor Unit 2 began to rise, creating new concerns. Three earthquakes greater than 6.4 magnitude hit the area on Tuesday. Even as progress is made, it appears that setbacks are, unfortunately, not far behind. CNN reported that the damage to reactor Units 1 and 2 from seawater are much greater than experts had originally thought.

This ongoing saga has taken an emotional toll. As reported in the Global Post, anger and frustration with Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) are becoming more apparent: “Governor Yuhei Sato of Fukushima Prefecture, of which the city of Fukushima is the capital, made a point of refusing to meet the Tepco president. ‘There is just no way for me to accept their apology,’ said Sato in a nationally televised interview in which he cited ‘the anxiety, anger and exasperation being felt by the people.'”

To further complicate matters, radioactive contamination has so far been found in spinach, milk, and drinking water, including radioactive iodine and cesium isotopes which are known carcinogens. Despite reports that the situation is stabilizing, high levels of radiation also persist near the reactors, as well as downwind. Radiation monitoring has now begun by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). IAEA reported radiation levels at 1,600 times the norm on the edge of the evacuation zone (12 miles/20 km from the site) and seawater samples reportedly showed levels of radiation to be 126.7 times higher than the legal limit.

Here are additional resources to help you stay informed:

  • The Union of Concerned Scientists is hosting daily media briefings on the status of the nuclear disaster in Japan with audio recordings and transcripts available;
  • The New York Times released an interactive map that shows Japan’s current assessment of the radiation contamination;
  • Here is a chart comparing background doses of radiation with levels received from x-rays and those related to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster;
  • The Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, Inc. is issuing daily updates in English on the status of the Fukushima nuclear complex;
  • New polling results from the Civil Society Institute on American’s concerns with nuclear power in light of the Japanese disaster.

Concerns over the nuclear crisis in Japan and how it may affect nuclear power here in the U.S. continue to increase. Physicians for Social Responsibility issued a strong statement calling for a moratorium on new nuclear reactor licensing and a suspension of operation for reactors that are of similar design to the troubled Fukushima Daiichi reactors or for reactors that are located on fault lines. A recent USA Today/Gallup Poll showed that the American public has become less supportive of nuclear power, with 70% of those surveyed stating they have grown more concerned about the industry’s safety based on the crisis unfolding at reactors in Japan. On Tuesday, the non-profit, non-partisan Civil Society Institute released an in-depth poll on various issues related to nuclear power. Their survey found that:

“The nuclear disaster in Japan has triggered a much stronger response among Americans, a majority of whom would freeze new nuclear power construction, stop additional federal loan guarantees for reactors, shift away from nuclear power to wind and solar power, and eliminate the indemnification of the nuclear power industry from most post-disaster clean up costs.”

However, in spite of this shift in public sentiment, the nuclear industry and its apologists continue to downplay the significance of Japan’s struggle to control the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex. U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) intends to visit Duke Energy’s Oconee nuclear plant in South Carolina on Tuesday to help allay concerns about the safety of nuclear power. And Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers recently said the utility remains committed to the $11 billion project to build two new reactors in Cherokee Co., South Carolina despite the Japanese nuclear crisis.

If you are motivated to take action, we urge you to send a letter of concern to President Obama, your members of Congress and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by clicking here.

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