OSAKA - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, just back from a trip to the Middle East and Africa, where he promoted Japanese nuclear technology, faces mounting international criticism that his administration is not taking the Fukushima crisis seriously and growing calls both at home and abroad for long-term global assistance.
Since Tokyo Electric Power Co. admitted on July 22, the day after Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party won a landslide Upper House victory, that radioactive groundwater was reaching the Pacific from the Fukushima No. 1 plant, international media attention has been intense.
Reporters, commentators and a wide range of experts have speculated on worst-case scenarios and warned that the leaks demonstrated the massive problems still to be resolved in dismantling the crippled plant.
For many abroad, the latest revelations only demonstrate yet again that the crisis is too big for either Tepco or the government to handle, and that consulting international experts has to mean going outside Japan’s “nuclear power village” or the International Atomic Energy Agency, which, they note, also has a mandate to promote nuclear power.
“Expertise in the areas of hydrology, reactors and civil engineering is needed. But the issue is not whether it’s domestic or international. What is needed is nonvested-interest expertise, not the IAEA, Areva (the French nuclear conglomerate) or (companies like) Bechtel. Contractors should come later after deciding what needs to be done,” said nuclear opponent Aileen Mioko Smith of the Kyoto-based group Green Action.
Japan recently announced it would seek Russian assistance and advice regarding the recent leaks. Mycle Schneider, a Paris-based energy and nuclear policy consultant who opposes nuclear power, said he welcomes the decision but added that it carries its own problems.
“First, there are too many political and economic biases involved. Second, the complexity of the challenges are such that Japan should make sure it reaches out to the most competent individuals in water management, spent-fuel handling and storage, waste disposal, building integrity and radiation protection,” he said.
Last year, Schneider offered a detailed proposal for an international task force for Fukushima. While noting three basic challenges, including site stabilization, protection from radiation and ensuring food safety, his proposal focused only on assistance for stabilizing the reactors.
His proposed task force would be led by two people, one Japanese and the other non-Japanese. There would be a core group of a dozen experts working full time on the project for a minimum of two years. At least half would have no links to the nuclear industry.
Charles Ferguson, president of the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists, agrees Japan should include more experts from other countries. He added that while there is a need to be concerned about the water leaks, it was also important to keep matters in perspective.
“We need to recognize that although 300 tons of contaminated water sounds very serious, it’s only about 80,000 gallons, which is much less than the 660,250 gallons used in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Once this contaminated water has gotten past the plant, there’s a substantial dilution of the contamination,” Ferguson said.
“Nonetheless, there are concerns fish caught near the stricken nuclear reactor plant could ingest strontium-90 or cesium-137. Monitoring of fish in the surrounding waters needs to be continued. There are many scientific experts in countries like Russia and Norway who have experience in examining marine life in radioactive-contaminated waters.”
Ferguson said the role of his organization has been to collaborate with the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation in forming the U.S.-Japan Nuclear Working Group, which published its recommendations about Fukushima earlier this year.
“The U.S. has a special role to play in supplementing Japanese decommissioning and decontamination expertise, given the long American experience in radiological remediation and the unique level of trust and interoperability between the American and Japanese governments and nuclear industries,” the report says.
Japan’s reluctance to engage the international community more broadly on Fukushima is the subject of much conjecture. Numerous critics say it is because Tepco and the pro-nuclear LDP are concerned that admitting the problem will make restarting other reactors more difficult.
And many who oppose the Tokyo Olympic bid charge that nobody in the government or the media wants to draw international attention to Fukushima and risk giving the International Olympic Committee an excuse to reject the Japanese bid.
Former Ambassador to Switzerland Mitsuhei Murata, who has written to Abe and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling for more international involvement in Fukushima and protesting the Olympic bid, sees these reasons as valid.
“The nuclear dictatorship in Japan persists. There’s an international strategy to consider that Fukushima did not happen. Japan’s media seems to be fulfilling its duty in a way that does not indispose the strong nuclear dictatorship, and has succeeded in creating a ‘business as usual’ atmosphere,” Murata said.