The Socialist 5 April 2017 |
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Fukushima nuclear disaster - a terrifying legacy
Six years on, the ruins of the Fukushima power plant are still highly radioactive and hold huge amounts of toxic water, photo by Mike Weightman/IAEA (Creative Commons) (Click to enlarge)
David Hundorf, chinaworker.info
It is six years since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. On 11 March 2011 - '3/11' - a devastating earthquake and series of tsunamis destroyed the cooling systems at the Fukushima power plant, one of 50 nuclear plants in the earthquake prone country.
Three of the plant's reactors were sent into meltdown and the result was the world's second worst nuclear disaster (after Chernobyl). The clean-up process will take decades and in December 2016 the Japanese trade ministry put the total cost of the Fukushima disaster at 21.5 trillion yen ($187 billion).
The clean-up at Fukushima has been marred by bureaucratic bungling and scientific miscalculation on a gigantic scale.
Six years on, the crippled plant is still highly radioactive and holds vast amounts of toxic water and debris. The amount of radiation released into the Pacific is more than from all US nuclear weapons tests in Pacific Ocean islands.
Robots sent into one of Fukushima's three disabled reactors in February measured radiation levels that would kill a human in two minutes.
People, not machines, do most of the decontamination work with over 45,000 low-paid contract workers involved. Mostly, these workers are recruited by organised crime syndicates, as this was the only 'solution' the government and Fukushima's owner Tepco could turn to.
Over 160,000 people were evacuated from the area around Fukushima after the disaster, leaving ghost towns, an apocalyptic landscape, toxic farmland and a local economic crisis.
Now, the right-wing government of Shinzo Abe, who is pro-nuclear, is using financial pressure to try to get the 'nuclear refugees' to return by cancelling the subsidies they receive for housing and relocation costs.
Environmental campaign group Greenpeace says the level of radiation for those sent back into the evacuation zone is equivalent to having a chest X-ray every week.
Three of Japan's 50 nuclear plants, which were all shut down after 3/11, have been restarted. Abe's nuclear policies fly in the face of public opinion and a wave of anti-nuclear protests. A poll in Asahi Shimbun newspaper last October showed 57% against and only 29% in favour of resuming nuclear power.
From the very start the government has underestimated the crisis, dragged its feet, and engaged in a cover-up over safety concerns. Abe's new secrecy law and a media crackdown point to even less transparency in future.
Japan's terrifying experience holds vital lessons for building a fighting alternative to the pro-nuke capitalist establishment in Japan and globally.