As Japan horror unfolds, safety fears cloud up nuclear sunrise
Posted by Xeno on March 14, 2011
…Governments of nuclear powers across the world went into damage control mode as thousands took to streets in Europe in protest against nuclear power plants. …
Workldwide, there are 443 nuclear reactors supplying electricity to 30 countries. In recent years, there has been a nuclear renaissance of sorts with an additional 17 countries wanting to join the nuclear energy bandwagon. In all, 62 new reactors are under construction, 158 have been ordered and as many as 342 more are proposed. This would push up nuclear energy production by an additional 545 gigawatts in the coming decades.
But the grim story from Japan has put paid to these breathless calculations. Japan has 55 nuclear reactors supplying almost 30% of the island nation’s energy needs. Most were built in the ’70s. All of them are on the coast, and had been built to very stringent quake proof standards as Japan is one of the most earthquake-prone places on the earth.
Yet two reactors have failed and several others are spluttering. Details coming out now show that Fukushima was built to withstand 7.9 magnitude earthquakes and 6.5 meter high tidal waves. The monster quake on March 11 has now been officially upgraded to 9 magnitude and the tidal wave was over 7 meters by the time it reached Fukushima’s reactors.
Even more worrying are reports that Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) that runs this facility was caught forging repair and maintenance reports on 29 counts in 2002, and again in 2006, it was found to be using falsified reports from 1985 in inspections till 2005. The Japanese government too is under pressure because Ishibashi Katsuhiko, a well known seismologist, had said in 2007 that Fukushima was highly vulnerable.
Nuclear power had gained traction because of another fear haunting humanity — global warming. It was suggested that nuclear power could replace massive carbon-emitting thermal plants. But as huge demonstrations in Germany and France show, people are equally worried about the nuclear option. …
The situation is bad in Japan even without counting the nuclear plant meltdowns.
… Japanese authorities continued to struggle to respond to the aftermath of Friday’s earthquake and tsunami as thousands remained missing and nearly half a million survivors huddled in temporary shelters.
Official figures put the death toll at 1,834 on Monday, although reports of bodies lying unclaimed, due to the difficulty of approaching large parts of the worst-hit areas in northern Japan, suggest this will rise considerably.
The human toll and infrastructure damage wreaked by the disaster is likely to be the worst in Japan’s postwar history; far exceeding the 1995 Kobe earthquake, which devastated the city and much of the surrounding area.
The cost of rebuilding after the Kobe disaster has been estimated at up to $118bn, or 2 per cent of gross domestic product in 1995 terms. Initial estimates from Credit Suisse and Barclays on Monday put the cost at $180bn while Mitsubishi UFJ Securities said the cost could run as high as 5 per cent of GDP.
The rescue effort has included Japan’s largest military mobilisation since the war, with 100,000 from the Self-Defence Force dispatched to the country’s stricken north-east. More than 2,400 shelters have been set up in schools, community centres and other public buildings in the region, taking in an estimated 450,000 evacuees as of Monday.
But in the worst affected areas survivors were spending a fourth night without water, food or heating in near-freezing temperatures, as tens of thousands of rescue workers struggled to reach them.
“People are exhausted both physically and mentally,” Yasunobu Sasaki, principal of a school converted into a shelter in Rikuzentakata, a nearly flattened village of 24,500 in the far north Iwate prefecture, told Reuters. There was not enough food for three meals a day and no heating, he said. Sanitation was also a problem…