The March 11th disaster at Fukushima nuclear power plant - operated by TEPCO - and arguably the world’s worst nuclear disaster in history is now in the sixth month since the crisis began. Progress has been slow but steady and the Japanese government has been reactive to each problem it has encountered. While under the mass scrutiny of the developed world, nuclear energy and power via uranium fission remains a dominant and needed source of energy for the global future.
Fukushima has put the industry on the defensive for the past half year and the first victory is on the horizon with the restarting of the first plant in Hokkaido. Prefectural governor Takahasi Harumi announced at a press conference that the green light go-ahead was given at the local level to restart the plant. “I put safety above all else and would like to work towards easing the concerns of the people of Hokkaido,” the governor was quoted in a personal statement. “With the Fukushima accident in mind, I urge the government to do all it can to ensure safety and make sure that trust is not lost between the people and the government.” One more approval must be given however, by the Ministry of the Economy, Trade and Industry. Trade Minister Kaieda Banri was explicit in his urge towards the restart of the reactors in order to ease the current energy crisis in the country. The Hokkaido reactor in Tomari has received no negative response from locals according to Takahasi Tetsuro, a village official. The spokesman of Hokkaido Electric, Kanno, announced that if the reactors are not restarted by the onset of winter, they will be unable to supply sufficient power to the population.
Utilities such as Tohoku Electric Power Company are at the absolute limit to provide power to the people of Japan and announced it was having difficulty maintaining their extremely high 97% operating capacity. Despite receiving emergency power supply from TEPCO, the utility is still running at 96.6% due to the elevated use of air conditioning in the dead of the Japanese summer. It is clear that the power deficit created by the nuclear shutdowns needs to be filled. Due to the emergency Tohoku is pleading with citizens to conserve as much power as possible.
During this period of nuclear restarts, TEPCO is still struggling to both contain the reactors in Fukushima as well as their own profitability. The company posted a staggering 571 billion yen loss last week – most of which comes from the 400 billion employed for the Fukushima reactor disaster. This combined with the previous fiscal years loss of 1.25 trillion yen has produced the largest net loss ever incurred by a Japanese utility.
Workers from inside the Fukushima reactor have reported levels within the reactor building are still fatal when they vented hydrogen gasses out of the building. TEPCO cites difficulties with basement water levels prohibiting proper circulation and trapping highly radioactive cooling waters as the cause. Due to the water levels in the basements fluctuating on a daily basis, the cooling systems are reported to be operating between 60 and 80 percent – much lower than the goal of 90 percent operating capacity. TEPCO seemed proud to announce that these water levels have decreased to 3.55 metres from 3.80 metres 90 days prior. Today the utility is implementing the SARRY radiation absorption facility which is expected to vastly improve the operation and on the 20th a second evaporative system will come online. The struggling AREVA system will work in tandem with the Toshiba made SARRY to remove cesium based radiation which has been out of control since the March disaster began. Controlling the radioactive output of the reactor has been labeled as “Step 2” in a multi-step process and is scheduled to be completed sometime during the winter.
The Japanese government has pushed through a bill with the aid of the newly formed Nuclear Regulation Agency, a part of the Ministry of the Environment. The “special measures” bill will put legislation in place for the central government to deal with the extreme pollution produced by contamination from a nuclear source; it also has provisions for the clean-up of nuclear contaminated rubble.
While currently there are no laws in place for the removal of contaminated materials, this bill will become the first to deal with the issue. The objective is to reduce the health risks posed by radiation contamination. The Minister of the Environment will have the ability to designate special areas which require strict decontamination measures and protocols to be enacted.
The bill also calls on those responsible for the contamination to finance the clean-up. In this case, Tokyo Electric will be responsible. This puts the groundwork in place to responsibly and quickly deal with any future accidents.
The economic effects of the nuclear disaster are indeed far reaching, affecting even the apple market. The demand for Japan’s agricultural exports has fallen over 40% with some export items such as apples falling as much as 86%.
In order to combat the public tensions in relation to the radiation, the Japanese government has begun dissemination of materials through the public education system to teach children through teenagers about radiation and the lack of true danger. Books on the subject have been given to every school and are paired with courses for the educators in how to teach the material. Online, pamphlets are also available for download.