Fukushima’s underground ice wall keeps nuclear radiation at bay — CNET

” The intricate network of small metal pipes, capped off by six-foot-high metal scaffolding, shouldn’t stand out amid the numerous pieces of industrial equipment littered throughout the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. After all, it’s a power plant.

I take a closer look, and notice spheres of ice perched upon the smaller pipes, which line the center of the structure. The facility sits at the water’s edge, and there’s a brisk breeze blowing through.

But not that brisk.

It turns out, coolant is running through the pipes, freezing the soil below and creating an impermeable ice wall that’s nearly 100 feet deep and a mile long, encircling the reactors.

It’s like a smaller-scale subterranean version of the Wall in Game of Thrones, but instead of keeping out White Walkers and wights, this line of defense keeps in a far more realistic danger: radioactive contaminants from melted-down reactors that threaten to spill into the water by Fukushima Daiichi.

Daiichi is the site of the worst nuclear disaster, which happened after an earthquake hit on March 11, 2011, triggering a tsunami that devastated the facility. Two 50-foot-high waves knocked out the power generators that were keeping three of the six reactors’ fuel rods cool, triggering explosions and meltdowns that forced more than 160,000 people to flee their homes. Many of them still haven’t returned.

I came to Fukushima to check out the robots tasked with the near-impossible task of cleaning up Fukushima Daiichi. While here, I encountered this underground wall of ice.

The structure, which cost roughly $300 million, paid for by public funds, serves as critical protection, defending the Fukushima area from one of the most radioactive hotspots in the world. While Tokyo Electric Power Co., also known as Tepco, struggles to find a way to remove radioactive material from the facility – a process the government estimates could take more than four decades – the more immediate concern is what to do with the contaminated water leaking out from the facility.

One of the solutions has been to put up (down?) this underground ice wall, which prevents much of the surrounding groundwater from getting in. And while the practice of freezing soil to create a barrier has been around for more than 150 years, the magnitude of the application that stands before me is quite literally groundbreaking.

“Nobody has taken on a project of this scale,” Hideki Yagi, general manager of Tepco’s Nuclear Power Communications Unit, tells me through an interpreter.

Ice cold

While the term “ice wall” has a colorful ring to it, engineers use the more academic-sounding term Artificial Ground Freezing. The technique came out of France in 1862 as a way to help with the construction of mine shafts before German engineer F.H. Poetsch patented it. Since then, it’s been used to aid in building underwater tunnels or vertical shafts, as well as to cut off groundwater or redirect contaminated materials.

At Fukushima, my eyes follow the path of the pipes, which stretch around the reactor building. A Tepco employee tells me that a calcium chloride solution is pumped down through a smaller inner pipe, and circulated back up a large outer pipe.

The coolant brings down the temperature of each pipe to -30 degrees Celsius, or -22 degrees Fahrenheit, and the pipes are spaced about three feet apart. The cold emanating from each one hardens the soil around it.

The point of the ice wall is to keep the groundwater that runs down from the mountains to the west from entering Fukushima Daiichi and mixing with the toxic water leaking out of the Unit 1, 2 and 3 reactors. That is,  keep the clean water on the outside of the wall, while the contaminated water stays inside.

Tepco and manufacturing partners, such as Toshiba and Mitsubishi, are working on robots to identify and determine how to clear out the radioactive materials in each of the reactors’ primary containment vessels, essentially the heart of each facility.

Until then, they need a way to slow or stop the flow of water into the facility. At least initially, Tepco wasn’t even sure if the project was feasible.

“One of the challenges was how they would inject the pipes into the earth at such a deep level without impacting the other operations around it, and whether it would work,” Yagi says.

With the wall in place, Tepco says it has been able to reduce the level of contaminated water generated from Daiichi. But a Reuters report in March 2018 found that the wall still let a fair amount of clean water in, adding to the volume of toxic water the company needs to deal with. Tepco, however, says it’s been effective in reducing the volume.

“We know this is not the end of our effort,” says a company spokesman. “We will be continuously working hard to reduce the amount of  generation of contaminated water.”

The leaky bucket

Imagine a leaky bucket that constantly needs to be filled with water. At the same time, the water from the leak needs to be collected and stored. And there’s no end in sight to this cycle.

That essentially is the problem that Tepco faces at Daiichi. The fuel rods stored in the three radioactive units constantly have to be cooled with fresh water, but leaks mean the company needs to be vigilant about keeping the tainted liquid from getting out of the facility’s grounds.

Since the accident nearly eight years ago, Tepco has collected 1.1 million tons of contaminated water in 900 tanks stored on the grounds at Daiichi. The company estimates it has enough space in the 37.7-million-square-foot facility to house an additional 270,000 tons of water, which means it would run out sometime in 2020.

“We’re conscious of the fact that we can’t keep storing more and more water,” Kenji Abe, a spokesman for Tepco’s decommissioning and decontamination unit, says through an interpreter.

Tepco has worked on several solutions to decrease the level of contaminated water generated by the facility. The company has switched from tanks sealed with bolts to welded tanks, which offer greater storage capacity and less risk of leaks. There’s a steel wall by the water to keep the contaminants from flowing into the ocean. Tepco has also covered 96 percent of the surface of most of the facility with concrete, preventing rainwater from seeping in.

Then there’s the ice wall, which has done its share of lowering the amount of contaminated water generated from the facility by keeping out most of the groundwater.

Over the past three and a half years, Tepco has seen the amount of polluted water generated fall by a quarter to just under 3,900 cubic feet of water per day, with occasional spikes during periods of rainfall.

The final element

I’m in full protective gear, including a Tyvek coverall, hardhat and full-face respirator mask, walking through one of three water treatment facilities at Daiichi. I move hastily, trying to keep up with my Tepco guides, when my suit gets snagged on an exposed bolt.

Did the suit rip? My eyes shoot back at my photographer and widen with fear. This is usually the part in an outbreak movie that dooms a key character. I look down and see the suit is still intact, and breathe a sigh of relief.

It turns out, I didn’t need to panic. The facility, called the Advanced Liquid Processing System, isn’t radioactive, although it’s designed to remove radioactive elements from the collected water. There are three such facilities, which can process a total of 70,630 cubic feet of water a day.

So far, treatment technology from partner companies like Kurion and Sarry have enabled Tepco to remove 62 of the 63 radioactive elements from the water, but one, tritium, remains.

It’s this one element, which is bonded to the water at an atomic level, that means Tepco needs to keep collecting and storing the water.

Lake Barrett, a senior adviser to Tepco who previously served as acting director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management at the US Department of Energy, notes that reactors in China and Canada already discharge water with tritium.

“It’s fundamentally safe,” Barrett says.

But organizations such as Greenpeace have called for Tepco to keep storing the water, noting that much of the early batches of treated water far exceed safety limits for radioactive elements.

Given the sensitivities around Fukushima, Tepco must continue to store the water. A spokesman said the company isn’t planning to disperse the water. But it is one option being considered by the Japanese government, which ultimately makes the decision.

“Resolving the issue of the contaminated water is something we haven’t yet reached a final solution on,” Yagi says.

Analyzing the data

Underneath the building housing the restaurant and employee rest area is a water treatment analysis center, a super-clean area that requires us to go through numerous radiation tests and four sets of boot changes.

There are glass beakers containing sea water, groundwater and water from the ALPS facilities. Scientists walk around in silence, moving beakers from one machine to another. A dozen machines in a second room measure the gamma ray levels.

The facility was originally built underground in 2014 because it needed to be on the Daiichi site, but couldn’t be exposed to radiation because of the nature of the tests. The walls are 8 inches thick, with the more sensitive labs hardened with an additional 20 inches. The facility has grown by 16 times over the past four years as it expanded the number of workers and machines.

“No other facility in Japan can handle the amount of data and work we do here,” says a Tepco scientist working at the facility who preferred not to identify himself.

He adds that all of the data is released publicly. “That’s because society demands work with a high level of trust,” he says.

The scientist explains that Japan has set a legal radioactivity limit of 60,000 becquerel per liter of tritium. But the treated water is still at 1.7 million Bq per liter, or roughly 30 times what’s deemed safe.

So, for now, Tepco must continue collecting the water. And the ice wall continues to stand, invisible to onlookers, as one of the most important lines of defense. ”

by Roger Cheng, CNET

source with photos and a video showing how robots have been used to view melted fuel

Advertisements

Local Fury and Health Concerns as Japan plans to dump a million tons of radioactive Fukushima water into ocean — Common Dreams

” In a move that has sparked outrage from local residents and dire health warnings from environmentalists, the Japanese government is reportedly planning to release 1.09 million tons of water from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean despite evidence that it contains “radioactive material well above legally permitted levels.”

While both the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco)—the company that runs the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant—have claimed that radioactive material in the water has been reduced to undetectable amounts and that only “safe levels of tritium” remain, documents obtained by the London-based Telegraph suggest that the cleaning system being used to decontaminate the water “has consistently failed to eliminate a cocktail of other radioactive elements, including iodine, ruthenium, rhodium, antimony, tellurium, cobalt, and strontium.”

“The government is running out of space to store contaminated water that has come into contact with fuel that escaped from three nuclear reactors after the plant was destroyed in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck northeast Japan,” the Telegraph reported. “Its plan to release the approximately 1.09 million tons of water currently stored in 900 tanks into the Pacific has triggered a fierce backlash from local residents and environmental organizations, as well as groups in South Korea and Taiwan fearful that radioactivity from the second-worst nuclear disaster in history might wash up on their shores.”

One document the Telegraph obtained from the government body charged with responding to the 2011 Fukushima disaster reportedly indicates that the Japanese government is perfectly aware that the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) is failing to eliminate radioactive materials from the water stored at the Fukushima site, despite its claims to the contrary.

Last September, the Telegraph notes, “Tepco was forced to admit that around 80 percent of the water stored at the Fukushima site still contains radioactive substances above legal levels after the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry held public hearings in Tokyo and Fukushima at which local residents and fishermen protested against the plans.”

Shaun Burnie, a nuclear specialist with Greenpeace, argued that even so-called “safe” levels of tritium are harmful to humans and marine life.

“Its beta particles inside the human body are more harmful than most X-rays and gamma rays,” Burnie told the Telegraph, adding that there “are major uncertainties over the long-term effects posed by radioactive tritium that is absorbed by marine life and, through the food chain, humans.”

The Japanese government’s reported plans to release the water into the Pacific despite these warnings “cannot be considered an action without risk to the marine environment and human health,” Burnie concluded. ”

by Jake Johnson, Common Dreams

source

*Fukushima mothers at UN tell their story — Beyond Nuclear International

” When Kazumi Kusano stood in the CRIIRAD radiological laboratory in Valence, France listening to lab director, Bruno Chareyron, describe just how radioactive the soil sample taken from a school playground back home in Japan really was, she could not fight back the tears.

“This qualifies as radioactive waste,” Chareyron told them. “The children are playing in a school playground that is very contaminated. The lowest reading is 300,000 bequerels per square meter. That is an extremely high level.” (CRIIRAD is the Commission for Independent Research and Information about Radiation, an independent research laboratory and NGO).

Kazumi, a Japanese mother and Fukushima evacuee who prefers not to use her real name, was in France with two other mothers, Mami Kurumada and Akiko Morimatsu — all of whom also brought their children — as part of an educational speaking tour. Morimatsu was also invited to testify before the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, to launch an appeal for the rights of nuclear refugees.

In Japan, seven years since the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster began to unfold, the government is requiring some refugees to return to the region. Says Chareyron, whose lab has worked extensively in the Fukushima zone, “the Japanese government is doing everything to force citizens to return to lands where the radiation doses that citizens and children should be subjected to are largely over the typically acceptable norms.”

“People in Japan still don’t believe that the effects they are feeling are due to radiation,” said Kusano during one of the tour stops in France. Indeed, when they took samples in their neighborhoods to be analyzed for radioactive contamination, they were mocked not only by their neighbors but by government officials.

“We don’t take this seriously in Japan,” said Kurumada, who expressed relief to be among those who understand the true dangers, like Chareyron and the French anti-nuclear activists with whom they met. “In our country, it’s taboo to talk about radiation and contamination.”

Both Kusano and Kurumada are among those who have brought lawsuits against Tepco and the Japanese government, seeking compensation for Fukushima evacuees. Several of these have already ruled in favor of the evacuees and have assigned responsibility for the accident to Tepco and the government while providing financial awards to the plaintiffs. (Kusano’s son’s testimony helped win one of those cases — see our earlier coverage.)

The Japanese government pressured evacuees to return to areas contaminated by the Fukushima disaster by withdrawing their government financial assistance. However, many in areas that were not obligatory evacuation zones also left the region, given the high levels of radioactive contamination.

In addition to the visit to CRIIRAD, the mothers also spoke at public meetings in Lyon, Grenoble and Valence where CRIIRAD is located. The short news video below, in French, captures their visit to the lab.

At the UN in Geneva, Morimatsu’s testimony was postponed several days by a workforce strike. But eventually, Morimatsu (pictured with her son above the headline) was able to deliver her speech. She said:

“My name is Akiko Morimatsu. I am here with other evacuees and mothers, together with Greenpeace. I evacuated from the Fukushima disaster with my two children in May 2011. Shortly after the nuclear accident, radiation contamination spread. We were repeatedly and unnecessarily exposed to unannounced radiation.

“The air, water and soil became severely contaminated. I had no choice but to drink the contaminated water, to breast-feed my baby. To enjoy health, free from radiation exposure, is a fundamental principle. The Japanese Constitution states, ‘We recognize that all peoples of the world have the right to live in peace, free from fear and want.’

“However, the Japanese government has implemented almost no policies to protect its citizens. Furthermore, the government is focusing on a policy to force people to return to highly contaminated areas.

“I call on the Japanese government to immediately, fully adopt and implement the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Council. I thank UN member states for defending the rights of residents in Japan. Please help us protect people in Fukushima, and in East Japan, especially vulnerable children, from further radiation exposure.”

Earlier that month, the Japanese government had responded to its Universal Periodic Review, by stating that it “supports” 145 recommendations and “notes” 72. One of those recommendations from the UN Human Rights Council, and which Japan “accepted”, was the paragraph that states: “Respect the rights of persons living in the area of Fukushima, in particular of pregnant women and children, to the highest level of physical and mental health, notably by restoring the allowable dose of radiation to the 1 mSv/year limit, and by a continuing support to the evacuees and residents (Germany);”

According to Hajime Matsukubo of Citizens Nuclear Information Center in Tokyo, while the Upper House of the Japanese Diet has indicated its willingness to decrease annual radiation exposures from 20 mSv, the Japanese government has only said it would “follow up” on the specific UN recommendation and report back later. There is no timeframe for such a change, hardly surprising since it would presumably mean once more evacuating people the government has already pressured to return to contaminated areas. The practical implications of this happening leave it very much in doubt.

However, Matsukubo believes that even the commitment to follow up “is a strong tool for us to push the government forward.” Aileen Mioko Smith of Kyoto-based Green Action agrees. “Now we have terrific leverage,” she said. Her group, along with Greenpeace Japan will be looking to “keep the Japanese government’s feet to the fire on this.”

by Linda Pentz Gunter, with contributions from Kurumi Sugita and Akiko Morimatsu, Beyond Nuclear International

source with internal links, photos and video

Fukushima residents fight state plan to build roads with radiation-tainted soil — The Japan Times

” The Environment Ministry plans to use radiation-tainted soil to build roads in Fukushima Prefecture, starting with trials in the city of Nihonmatsu next month.

But in the face of fierce protests from safety-minded residents, the ministry is struggling to advance the plan.

“Don’t scatter contaminated soil on roads,” one resident yelled during a Thursday briefing by Environment Ministry officials in Nihonmatsu.

The officials repeatedly tried to soothe them with safety assurances, but to no avail.

“Ensuring safety is different from having the public feeling at ease,” said Bunsaku Takamiya, a 62-year-old farmer who lives near a road targeted for the plan. He claims the project will produce groundless rumors that nearby farm produce is unsafe.

Seven years after the March 2011 core meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, Takamiya has finally been able to ship his produce in Fukushima without worry. Then the ministry’s soil plan surfaced.

A woman in the neighborhood agrees.

“The nature and air here are assets for the residents. I don’t want them to take it away from us,” she said.

Under the plan, tainted soil will be buried under a 200-meter stretch of road in the city. The soil, packed in black plastic bags, has been sitting in temporary storage.

The plan is to take about 500 cu. meters of the soil, bury it under the road at a depth of 50 cm or more, cover it with clean soil to block radiation, and pave over it with asphalt. The ministry intends to take measurements for the project in May.

Fukushima is estimated to have collected about 22 million cu. meters of tainted soil at most. The ministry plans to put it in temporary storage before transporting it to a final disposal site outside the prefecture.

The idea is to reduce the amount. The ministry thus intends to use soil with cesium emitting a maximum of 8,000 becquerels per kg in public works projects nationwide.

The average radiation level for soil used for road construction is estimated at about 1,000 becquerels per kg, the ministry says.

The ministry has already conducted experiments to raise ground levels in Minamisoma with the tainted soil, saying “a certain level” of safety was confirmed.

Similar plans are on the horizon regarding landfill to be used for gardening in the village of Iitate. But it is first time it will be used in a place where evacuations weren’t issued after the March 2011 meltdowns.

Given the protests, an official linked to the ministry said, “It’s difficult to proceed as is.” ”

by Kyodo via The Japan Times

source

Fukushima’a other big problem: A Million tons of radioactive water — Wired

” The tsunami-driven seawater that engulfed Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has long since receded. But plant officials are still struggling to cope with another dangerous flood: the enormous amounts of radioactive water the crippled facility generates each day. More than 1 million tons of radiation-laced water is already being kept on-site in an ever-expanding forest of hundreds of hulking steel tanks—and so far, there’s no plan to deal with them.

The earthquake and tsunami that hammered Fukushima on March 11, 2011 triggered meltdowns in three of its six reactors. That left messes of intensely radioactive fuel somewhere loose in the reactor buildings—though no one knows exactly where. What is known, however, is that every day, as much as much as 150 tons of groundwater percolates into the reactors through cracks in their foundations, becoming contaminated with radioactive isotopes in the process.

To keep that water from leaking into the ground or the Pacific, Tepco, the giant utility that owns the plant, pumps it out and runs it through a massive filtering system housed in a building the size of a small aircraft hangar. Inside are arrays of seven-foot tall stainless steel tubes, filled with sand grain-like particles that perform a process called ion exchange. The particles grab on to ions of cesium, strontium, and other dangerous isotopes in the water, making room for them by spitting out sodium. The highly toxic sludge created as a byproduct is stored elsewhere on the site in thousands of sealed canisters.

This technology has improved since the catastrophe. The first filtering systems, installed just weeks after the disaster by California-based Kurion Inc. (which has since been bought by Veolia, a French resource management company), only caught cesium, a strong gamma radiation emitter that makes it the most dangerous of the isotopes in the water. The tubes in those arrays were filled with highly modified grains of naturally occurring volcanic minerals called zeolites. By 2013, the company developed entirely artificial particles—a form of titano silicate—that also grab strontium.

The filters, however, don’t catch tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. That’s a much trickier task. Cesium and strontium atoms go into solution with the water, like sugar in tea; but tritium can bond with oxygen just like regular hydrogen, rendering the water molecules themselves radioactive. “It’s one thing to separate cesium from water, but how do you separate water from water?” asks John Raymont, Kurion’s founder and now president of Veolia’s nuclear solutions group. The company claims to have developed a system that can do the job, but Tepco has so far balked at the multi-billion dollar cost.

So for now, the tritiated water is pumped into a steadily growing collection of tanks. There are already hundreds of them, and Tepco has to start building a new one every four days.

Tepco has at least reduced the water’s inflow. As much as 400 tons per day was gushing in just a couple of years ago. In an effort to keep the groundwater from getting in, Tepco has built a network of pumps, and in 2016 installed an underground “ice wall”—a $300 million subterranean fence of 30-yard-long rods through which tons of sub-zero brine is pumped, freezing the surrounding earth. All of which helps, but hasn’t solved the problem.

Tritium is far less dangerous than cesium—it emits a weaker, lower-energy form of radiation. Still, all that tritiated water can’t just be stored indefinitely. “Some of those tanks and pipes will eventually fail. It’s inevitable,” says Dale Klein, a former head of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission who has been consulting with Tepco since the early days following the disaster. (In fact, hundreds of tons of water leaked out of the tanks in 2013 and 2014, sparking an international outcry. Tepco has since improved their design.)

Klein, among others, believes that the concentrations of tritium are low enough that the water can safely be released into the sea. “They should dilute and dispose of it,” he says. “It would be better to have a controlled release than an accidental one.”

But the notion of dumping tons of radioactive water into the ocean is understandably a tough sell. Whatever faith the Japanese public had left in Tepco took a further beating in the first couple of years after the meltdowns, when several investigations forced the company to acknowledge they had underreported the amount of radiation released during and after the disaster. Japan’s fishing industry raises a ruckus whenever the idea of dumping the tritiated water is broached; they already have to contend with import restrictions imposed by neighboring countries worried about eating contaminated fish. Japan’s neighbors including China, Korea, and Taiwan have also objected.

For now, all Tepco can do is keep building tanks, and hope that someone comes up with a solution before they run out of room—or the next earthquake hits. “

by Vince Beiser, Wired

source with internal links and photo

How Fukushima turned a nuclear advocate into an antinuclear champion — The Christian Science Monitor

” Trading “le nucléaire” for renewables is a tough sell in the planet’s most nuclear-dependent nation.

Naoto Kan came to France anyway. The once pro-nuclear former prime minister who led Japan through the Fukushima nuclear disaster recently made a swing through one of France’s most nuclearized areas – the tip of Normandy – giving struggling environmentalists a rare boost.

An improbable activist in his conservative dark suit and tie, Mr. Kan came to explain his 180-degree switch from pro-nuclear to antinuclear crusader, and urge people to go for renewables instead.

“I came here because I am fiercely opposed to nuclear power, and I want to show my solidarity with people fighting it here,” Kan politely told a small crowd of activists near Flamanville’s controversial EPR nuclear reactor. “Before Fukushima I was pronuclear,” he said, laying flowers on a homemade memorial to unknown radiation victims whose slogan, “aux irradiés inconnus,” mimics monuments to unknown soldiers dotting France. “But with Fukushima, we almost had to evacuate millions of people, and I realized we had to stop nuclear power – in France, Japan, the world – and turn to renewables as fast as possible.”

Kan’s unusual visit buoyed “écolos” in rural Normandy, where the nuclear industry employs thousands and its critics feel marginalized. “We’re used to criticism, but his message is universal, so he gives the opposition credibility,” said retired schoolteacher and veteran activist Paulette Anger, secretary of Crilan, one of two small anti-nuclear groups hosting Kan.

How to produce electricity safely is a quandary many countries have grappled with since the Fukushima Daiichi disaster – the planet’s second major nuclear accident after the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe. It’s a question Kan never thought he’d face when he became prime minister of Japan on June 8, 2010.

Nine months later, Japan’s worst nuclear accident confronted him with its greatest crisis since World War II.

Kan was a science buff who thought nuclear power was needed in a plugged-in world. After majoring in applied physics at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, he was drawn to ’60s activism, and then entered politics.

But on March 11, 2011, a massive category-9 earthquake and tsunami hit Japan’s east coast, killing thousands. Huge waves swamped the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, knocking out electric power to its six reactors and seven spent fuel pools.

Kan followed with dread as the power loss halted cooling to the nuclear fuel rods in the reactors and spent fuel pools. The failure of all backup fixes inexorably led to three meltdowns and several hydrogen explosions, spewing long-lived radioactive poisons across the countryside.

“Human error is inevitable,” Kan told a rapt crowd of 400, packed into a community center near Flamanville’s village church. Because a nuclear accident robs people of their lives and ancestral lands, the risk is too high, Kan said in guttural Japanese, pausing for his translator to catch up. “So I’m trying to use this terrible experience to convince as many people as I can to get out of nuclear power.”

For his antinuclear hosts, Kan was the biggest guest star since oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau came to fight the Flamanville reactors decades ago.

“It’s remarkable to have the former prime minister here,” said retired schoolteacher and antinuclear veteran Didier Anger, president of Crilan and a spokesman for Can-Ouest, the two antinuclear groups co-hosting Kan. “When someone changes their mind as Mr. Naoto Kan has, bravo!” he said to resounding applause.

A fictionalized film of the disaster’s first days accompanied Kan. “Le Couvercle du Soleil” (“The Seal of the Sun”), produced by Tomiyoshi Tachibana, shows the besieged prime minister struggling to understand the problem so he can react without causing panic. The secretive fictional power company lies and stalls. A chain of errors leads to disaster. In a key turning point, radiation levels in the doomed plants get so high the power company wants to leave. In what investigators conclude “saves Japan,” Kan orders them to stay.

An earthquake and tsunami are catastrophes that end, Kan explains in his book, “My Nuclear Nightmare.” But leaving an unmanageable nuclear reactor alone only lets things get worse.

The disaster released massive amounts of radiation, created 160,000 refugees, drove farmers to suicide, and rendered a beautiful part of Japan uninhabitable for years. After a no-confidence vote, Kan resigned, but not before insisting on legislation easing Japan’s path to renewables.

Chernobyl got explained away as an accident in an old reactor in an undeveloped nation. For Kan, Fukushima underscored the false assumption that nuclear disaster can’t happen in a high-tech country. By luck, he didn’t have to order Tokyo and 50 million people evacuated for 30 to 50 years, he said.

Now, Kan travels the world as a guest of antinuclear groups, warning about the powerful collection of special interests promoting nuclear power.

“Those who benefit from nuclear power are not the ones who will pay,” he warned, noting that the half-life of plutonium is 24,000 years. Fukushima, he stressed, is not over.

After speaking to the National Assembly in Paris and the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Kan toured Normandy’s “nuclear peninsula.” Activists took Kan along the rugged coast to view Flamanville’s controversial EPR reactor from a cliff. They drove him past France’s oldest nuclear waste dump to the huge La Hague nuclear waste reprocessing plant, home of Europe’s largest store of nuclear materials, tons of plutonium, and thousands of tons of nuclear waste. A citizen scientist from the independent radiation lab ACRO showed Kan two contaminated streams amid bucolic cow pastures behind the nuclear waste plant, including one where authorities last year confirmed plutonium in sediments. Kan admired the grand view at the peninsula’s jagged tip, where the waste plant’s discharge pipe routinely pours thousands of gallons of radioactive wastewater out to sea with government permission.

After the disaster, Japan shut down its 54 nuclear reactors, 12 of them permanently. Five restarted, but efforts to restart more are stalled by public opposition. Kan wants them all shut down.

Fukushima had a profound effect on global nuclear programs, said Mycle Schneider, a Paris-based independent energy and nuclear policy analyst and lead author of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report. “It accelerated its decline in Europe, the US, globally – and significantly slowed down expansion in China.”

Still, France’s 58 reactors produce almost three-quarters of its electricity.

Flamanville’s Mayor Patrick Fauchon echoed the French industry view that its plants are safe. “I think it’s important that he share his experience,” he said of Kan. “But it’s his fight.” As for a nuclear accident here: “I’m not particularly worried.”

Meanwhile, Kan’s visit left veteran critics of le nucléaire feeling buoyed.

“It probably won’t change opinions on the pronuclear side,” Ms. Anger said. “But because he lived through certain things and was once pronuclear, it made them think. His visit enormously enhanced our credibility. It was a big event.” ”

by contributor Clare Kittredge, The Christian Science Monitor

source with internal links