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Published on January 9th, 2014 | by Sandy Dechert

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Return To Fukushima

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January 9th, 2014 by  

Originally published on Planetsave

TEPCO-unit-4-operationIt’s not too late to catch America Tonight‘s exclusive four-part series, Return to Fukushima.

The television special delves into real-world impacts of the nuclear disaster, industry and government efforts to mitigate the damage done, and how any ongoing fallout could affect the safety of Americans.

Last night’s installment dealt with the ghost towns the Japanese meltdowns have created after the displacement of 150,000 people, half of whom have still not returned to their homes:

“It has been three years since a major earthquake and tsunami led to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, killing nearly 20,000 people and devastating the coastal and inland areas of Fukushima, Japan. Since then, questions remain unanswered about the health of thousands of people exposed to the radiation, the risks associated with the radiation leak and what’s being done to stop radioactive water from reaching the Pacific Ocean.”

Would You Stay?“–a related photo essay by Michael Forster Rothbart–appears in last week’s issue of Mother Jones. On January 2, the New York Times featured an article on Kikujiro Fukushima, a photographer of Hiroshima, and Sugimatsu Nakamura, a 43-year-old fisherman gravely sickened by the atomic bomb of 1945 who is now observing the power plant disaster.

Tonight’s episode of the television series describes the people who are cleaning up the four damaged reactors.

“Leading the charge are ‘nuclear gypsies,’ people who labor inside the dangerous disaster zone with the promise of hazard pay. But the Yakuza, one of the world’s largest criminal organizations, has been deeply involved in the subcontracted work, skimming off funds from the $150 billion cleanup effort.”

Interviews with two workers who have never before spoken to media give a rare glimpse into the conditions of workers in Japan’s decontamination industry.

Is Fukushima at risk for another nuclear disaster? That’s the subject of Part Three, airing on Wednesday night. The 1,400 spent nuclear fuel rods–400 tons of uranium stored in a possibly tipsy pool above damaged Reactor Unit 4–are the most pressing concern. Dangerous amounts of radioactive water are reaching the groundwater and also leaking into the Pacific Ocean.

The events on the ruined coastline have raised strenuous protest in Japan and the rest of the world. The Pacific island nation is now at an energy crossroads.

Does Japan return to nuclear to save its own economy, or go greener in the interests of world health for generations to come?

“After the disaster, Japan decided to shut down its nuclear power industry. Today, the shock of surging electricity prices has some pushing to reverse the policy. Greenhouse gas emissions have spiked, and massive imports of fossil fuels have tipped Japan into a trade deficit for the first time in decades.”

The final installment of the series features an in-depth interview with former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, once a proponent of nuclear power, but now one of its loudest critics. Exclusive interviews and Al Jazeera’s coverage investigation air on America Tonight all week at 9 p.m. ET/6 PT.

The take, from Bloomberg‘s The Ticker this morning:

All nuclear accidents are global. It’s time [Japan Prime Minister] Abe realized that the world is watching as he fiddles in Tokyo.

The transfer of nuclear fuel from the storage pool atop the crippled Reactor Unit 4 continues. TEPCO’s website reveals no new details, except for a note stating that the leakages at Unit 3 continue. In other most recent news reports concerning Fukushima, even Japan’s constitution seems to be at stake. The government has reportedly promoted a bill that would veil news transparency and keep further events at the TEPCO plant hidden from world scrutiny. CBS discusses an investigation into an online video of Geiger counter readings five times higher than normal at a beach in San Mateo County, California. Other media outlets vacillate between reassurance and fear.

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About the Author

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She's worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm, writes two top-level blogs on Examiner.com, ranked #2 on ONPP's 2011 Top 50 blogs on Women's Health, and attributes her modest success to an "indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity."



  • Matt

    Yea things “worked” at good old F. But Japans back is to the wall maybe they do need to allow the “safer” of their nuc plants back on line for a short time (5-10 years). Similar to the Germany approach. Going complete cold turkey can be hard, but you do need a forced plan to get off drugs. Add a surcharge to coal plants of say X and to nucs of Y for any kWh they produce and use that money to build green power. You could even just start ramp Y toward the end of the process to give a strong market signal. I still don’t get how the Nuc-fanboys can say the F was not big deal that the safety systems all work. 75k people still can Not return to their homes 3 years later, 40 years to clean up if all goes well. Shaking head, telling me thing could have been (or still might be) much worse; does not make me feel better.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Proponents of nuclear energy would probably get further with their argument were they to acknowledge the danger and not try to wave aside the problems.
      Then we could have a more reasoned discussion about the value nuclear might add to our energy mix while asking if the value is high enough to justify accepting the risk.

      • Matt

        I agree Bob, in fact I agree the the man who ran the Navy nuclear program. I work in the military, because he could order you shot if you decided to cut corners. But not so well in public. I was a supported of nuclear in college, but watching Zimmer being build in Cincinnati, changed my mind. With faked weld x-rays and two inspectors that got “lost” on the way to work. In the end they switch the plant to coal and made the most expensive coal plant ever built. I don’t think the current approach or designs are safe. But having said that, Japan does need a short term plan to switch over. And that might need to include a couple of the safer located plants for a short time.

        • Bob_Wallace

          What happens in Japan with nuclear is going to be interesting. They’ve made it through two summers now without nuclear. I think they’re doing OK with supply but they are having to depend on a lot of expensive and dirty fossil fuel generation while they get more renewables on line.

          And I’m sure there’s tremendous pressure from the people who have money invested in nuclear plants to let them fire up again. And we know that money tends to work under the covers in the Japanese government.

          • david

            Money tends to work under the covers in all governments. Money and political power corrupts, and will always corrupt in any form of government. Anyone who thinks otherwise is foolish. We can not stop corruption, but we can identify it and remove those responsible.

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