“Fukushima is everywhere – We will get in the way,” says the yellow part, “Switch off all atomic installations worldwide,” says the red and white part. From a demo in Gorleben, a German nuclear waste dump.
The unfolding disaster of earthquakes, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan has stirred up debate about the future of the nuclear industry while the Japanese government and pro nuclear advocates continue to minimise the situation. The nuclear situation is further intensifying the country's woes as thousands of bodies of tsunami and earthquake victims are being recovered.
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All 56 Japanese nuclear plants nationwide shut down during the quake. Reactors 1, 2 and 3 at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant near Sendai, were close to the epicentre of the earthquake that struck Japan on March 11. Two other nuclear plants in the region, Tokai and Osagama were also damaged, and all three have been reported to be releasing radiation into the environment. A 20km radius around the Fukushima Daiichi plant has been evacuated of about 180,000 residents, while approximately 500 appear to have not left the area or have not heard the warnings as contact with the outside world to the disaster zone remains limited with roads blocked by debris, power and infrastructure obliterated in many areas.
Fukushima Daiichi reactors 1, 2 and 3 are now thought to be in meltdown. Trouble started on Saturdy 12 March when Reactor 1 cooling system and backup failed, then there was an explosion in reactor one, blowing off the top of the building. Reactor 3 began meltdown on Monday 14 March, and had a similar explosion on Monday morning. An explosion in reactor 2 was reported on Monday night [here] By Tuesday 15 reactor 2 was found to have exposed reactor core rods, suspected also to be in meltdown as a fire broke out in reactor 4 increasing the public health risk. [here] . Staff have been evacuated. The Japanese Prime Minister is calling for "calm" [here]
As many as 90 people are suspected to have been contaminated by radiation so far, including 15 Daiichi workers, some of whom were injured in the explosions. The Japanese administration is downplaying contamination fears, but AFP report that the US aircraft carrier Ronald Regan, that was nearby at the time of the second explosion, recorded elevated radiation levels. [here]
Clean energy advocates worldwide are renewing calls to halt the expansion of the nuclear industry in all it's forms. In Germany [here] 60,000 people protested the continued operation of the Neckarwestheim plant, which is a similar age and design as that failing in Fukushima [ 1, 2] German Chancellor Angela Merkel ordered inspections of Germany's 17 nuclear power plants on the weekend. ''If a country like Japan with its high safety norms and safety standards can apparently not prevent the nuclear consequences of an earthquake and a tsunami, then the whole world ... can't just go back to business as usual,'' she told The London Telegraph. German protestors have been blocakding nuclear waste shipments in recent months. [here]
United Kingdom activists point out that the Fukushima accident could happen there, as Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government plans to build more nuclear power plants. Greenpeace UK [here] point out that the Japanese government and pro nuclear lobby appear to be covering up the gravity of the risk: “what we do know is that contamination from the release of Cesium-137 poses a significant health risk to anyone exposed. Cesium-137 has been one if the isotopes causing the greatest health impacts following the Chernobyl disaster, because it can remain in the environment and food chain for 300 years.” They call for the phasing out of all reactors.
In the United States commentators are saying that the Japanese nuclear crisis is triggering a shift in the debate there [here]. The U.S. has 132 nuclear power plants, many of them nearing 40 years old.
France has about 70 nuclear reactors. The French Greens called for an end to nuclear energy on Saturday as events began to worsen in Japan [here]. Spokesperson Cecile Duflot told Reuters that “The nuclear risk is not a risk that can really be controlled."
Australian clean energy advocates point out that Australia is supplying the uranium that threatens to contaminate Japan [here]. Friends of the Earth Australia Clean Energy spokesperson, Dr Jim Green says, "There's every likelihood that radioactive by-products of Australian uranium have been spewing into the atmosphere from the nuclear reactor plant at Fukushima in Japan. Despite being a major uranium supplier to Japan, Australia has turned a blind eye to serious, protracted problems with Japan's nuclear industry and it's time for a more responsible approach.' [here] Friends of the Earth Brisbane has issued this statement on the issue [here].
The Australian Prime Minister told the ABC that nuclear power is not an option
[here] Commentators are already declaring the nuclear debate over in Australia.
Uranium and nuclear investments have dropped significantly since the meltdowns began.