Overcoming ‘Fukushima Syndrome’

Overcoming ‘Fukushima syndrome’ (Voice Of Russia, Mar 11, 2012):

On Sunday, Japan observed a moment of silence to mark the exact time a devastating earthquake and a subsequent tsunami hit the country’s northeastern areas one year ago, killing 16,000 people and leaving another 3,000 missing.

About 330,000 houses were destroyed in the magnitude-9.0 quake which set off the 10-meter-high tsunami on March 11, 2011. Prefectures of Ivate, Miyagi and Fukushima were hardest hit by the quake-tsunami disaster which took place at 2:26 p.m. local time. Coastal areas are yet to be cleared of the debris, officials said.

The quake triggered a serious accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant which prompted the evacuation of about 160,000 people. Radiation leaked from the plant after a series of fires and explosions damaged the facility’s reactors. In an interview with the Voice of Russia aired on Sunday, Moscow-based expert Igor Ostretsov said that the Fukushima plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), should have shown initiative in tackling the breakdown. TEPCO’s initial reaction to the accident really raises eyebrows, he added.

“They had at least 24 hours to restore everything, Ostretsov says, expressing surprise about TEPCO’s initially playing down the accident. The moment was missed, and the situation seriously deteriorated, he adds, referring to the Fukushima NPP reactor’s meltdown and a subsequent leak of radioactive water into the ocean.”

As a result, radioactive cesium was then found in the water, soil and food in Japan. Earlier in the week, medics said that plutonium-241 was detected in the 30-km evacuation zone around the Fukushima NPP. Plutonium-241 has a half-life of 14 years, and it then decays into highly toxic americium-241 which is easily absorbed by bean plants, including soya which is widely used by the Japanese. Medics also said that more than 60 people from areas adjacent to the Fukushima NPP sustained thyroid radiation exposure that was caused by radioactive iodine, emitted by the crippled Fukushima plant.

Moscow-based environmentalist Alexei Yablokov likened the Fukushima disaster to an accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986 – something that he said had global repercussions at the time.

As far as the Fukushima breakdown is concerned, the bulk of radionuclides went into the ocean which will be fraught with serious consequences, Yablokov says, referring to fish that is contaminated with Fukushima radionuclides and is on sale in eastern Japan. Plutonium emissions from the Fukushima NPP affected America and Europe, the expert says, mentioning Lithuania, the Kamchatka Peninsula and the Chukotka Region.

Japanese medics, for their part, specifically warned of hazardous cesium-137 that was also emitted by the Fukushima NPP and may lead to oncologic diseases.

Apart from environmental and humanitarian repercussions, the March 11 quake-tsunami disaster cost 500 billion dollars in damage to Japan. As for the Fukushima tragedy, it prodded the developed countries to review their programs on developing a “peaceful atom.” Germany, for example, recently declared its desire to give up the use of nuclear power.

A year on, the international community managed to overcome the so-called Fukushima syndrome, experts say, referring to France which decided to extend the life of its nuclear reactors beyond 40 years – something that was followed suit by the United States. On February 9, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the construction of new nuclear reactors in the country. Russia is almost certain to benefit from the situation, analysts say, adding that Moscow has repeatedly signaled its readiness to build more nuclear power plants in Russia in the future. In any case, the main focus should be placed on maintaining security during the construction and the operation of these NPPs, experts conclude.

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