The world’s worst nuclear accident, at Chernobyl on April 26, 1986, marked its 25th anniversary Tuesday amid Japanese anxiety and wavering self-confidence over the March 11 earthquake-tsunami and the resultant nuclear crisis. Power industry people, government leaders, nuclear regulators and nuclear power academics should take a serious view of the severity of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant crisis, now rated at the maximum 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale – the same as for the Chernobyl accident.
Following Chernobyl, Japan’s power industry at the time maintained that a similar accident could not happen in Japan because its reactors in use were of a different type than the Soviet-era reactors at the doomed plant in Ukraine.
But what has happened at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has completely undermined the power industry’s attempt to convince people that nuclear power generation is risk-free.
When the Nuclear and Industry Safety Agency (NISA) raised the severity level at Fukushima from level 5 to level 7 on April 12, it said that the amount of radioactive materials released from the plant was about 10 percent of the quantity discharged at Chernobyl. But if that was an attempt to make the Fukushima crisis look less serious, it is misleading, because the NISA announcement does not take into account the release of contaminated water into the sea. Tens of thousands of people who reside near the Fukushima plant are suffering severe hardships after the government ordered them to leave their homes. More important, Tepco has not yet settled on a way to resolve the nuclear crisis.
In the meantime, radioactive substances continue to leak from the plant. Apart from Tepco’s haphazard approach in its attempt to end the crisis, the behavior of the company and that of the government have given rise to suspicions among the Japanese people and the international community that both are hiding vital information.
To keep reliable records of the crisis, a body should be set up with the authority to find out what Tepco, NISA, the Nuclear Safety Commission and the prime minister’s headquarters did and did not do. Disclosing any errors committed should be the least of Japan’s international obligation.