The Fukushima nuclear disaster has fallen out of the headlines in recent months, however, problems persist. Now, the Japanese government is reporting that radiation levels are 18 times higher than previously thought, due to leaks from radioactive water storage tanks. While the Fukushima plant is in the process of being decommissioned, this could take 40 years or longer to actually achieve. In the meantime, the site will remain a serious problem.
Fukushima disaster is the only nuclear disaster event to hit “7”
The Fukushima nuclear disaster was a direct result of the 2011 Tsunami which laid waste to much of north east Japan. In the wake of the tsunami, cooling systems failed, which caused some of the nuclear reactors in the plant to go into meltdown. This released radiation exposure, effecting workers and nearby citizens. The event was the first major nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl incident in 1986. Along with Chernobyl, the Fukushima disaster is the only nuclear disaster event to hit “7”, representing a major accident, on the International Nuclear Event Scale,.
Some 18,000 people died in the wake of the Tsunami, though reportedly none from radiation exposure. Still, nearby citizens and workers who worked to bring the crisis under control may suffer from increased cancer rates and other diseases in the future. Thyroid cancer, a relatively rare form of cancer, has been reported in greater incident rates among affected people, and especially small children. So far, the total effects of the disaster remain unknown.
Rather shockingly, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) had previously stated that radiation levels were only 100 millisieverts per hour. Now, the company has retracted, after admitting that the equipment they used could only measure up to 100 millisieverts per hour. New equipment has shown that the actual radiation levels may be as high as 1800 millisieverts per hour. Millisieverts are a form of measurement, based off the metric scale to measure radiation exposure. To put numbers into perspective, a CT scan will expose someone to 1.4 millisieverts of radiation.
TEPCO has already admitted that in the past it did not take as strong of measures, or been as open with the public in sharing information, due to risks of lawsuits and other backlash. The continued failure of TEPCO will only stoke further resentment among Japanese citizens and the international community. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has promised his nation that he will address the nuclear disaster, but this latest development will damage his reputation.
Nuclear energy has a rather mixed environmental record. While nuclear energy does not produce green house gases, or rely on fossil fuels, disposing of nuclear waste and preventing disasters has proven to be a challenge. Proponents believe that nuclear energy represents the world's best source of a clean energy, at least once the waste problem is solved. The Fukushima disaster has fueled critics of nuclear energy and has forced many countries to call into question their policies of relying on nuclear energy.
Japan was forced to idle its nuclear power plants
Some 50,000 people have already been displaced due to the accident, and Japan was forced to idle its nuclear power plants. On August 7th, Abe announced plans for a government-wide effort to contain Fukushima and reevaluate Japan's nuclear industry. While the Fukushima incident preceded Abe's time in office, the on-going events are calling into question his ability to effectively manage the situation. Prime Minister Abe had actually been looking to restart some of the nuclear plants and was aiming to restore credibility in the industry. Now, however, these efforts and the Prime Minister's own credibility are being called into question.