Friday, March 18, 2011

Safety lapses on Japan nuclear crisis uncovered



Amid public fears over the release of radioactive materials in the Fukushima nuclear power plant after the great earthquake struck and a series of aftershocks and tsunami waves that followed last Friday, is the fact that several people in the affected areas are living with limited food, water and heating supplies. These, I think, are the more basic issues that must be dealt with as a priority during calamities like this.
In a blog entry, it has been reported that electricity, gas, medicines, milk and rice—things that we take for granted during normal times—are in short supply.
After almost a week, the death toll has reached 4,314 while 8,606 are missing according to the National Police Agency of Japan, in a report by Russia Today.
A day after the 9-magnitude temblor hit the northeast of mainland Japan, a succession of explosions happened in the Fukushima Dai-Ichi that sent waves of fear abroad. Despite government's efforts to contain the accident by spraying the plant with sea water and boric acid, fears of contamination by radiation particles carried by air and clouds start to worry the people from overseas.
A couple of days ago, the Tokyo government assured the people that the released particles were well within the normal limits the body can be exposed to. No less than Emperor Akihito made a historic public address to console the nation.
However, the people in the areas near the nuclear plant were advised to stay indoors and a ban within the 30-kilometer radius was imposed yesterday.
In a report by the AP, it seems that Japan found itself in the middle of escalating nuclear battle not only in preventing further leakage of the harmful materials but also scandals between government regulators who may not have been strict in imposing the guidelines to the energy industry.
An example of safety lapse was that workers were reportedly mixing uranium in stainless steel containers using their hands instead of a machine. The procedure exposed hundreds of workers leaving two dead.
For many years, workers were contaminated from leaks of radioactive steam, which were not immediately made public, if they ever made news.
"Everything is a secret. There's not enough transparency in the industry," said Kei Sugaoka, former nuclear power plant engineer in Japan.
Now a resident of California, Sugaoka worked at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi.
He recalled an order way back in 1989 that terrified him: "Edit out footage showing cracks in plant steam pipes in video being submitted to regulators."
Nothing had happened when he alerted his superiors at the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco).
In 2000, he went public over the issue and the result? Three Tepco executives were fired.
In a related development, the US assessment of the nuclear dilemma was grimmer than the threat the Japanese government had acknowledged, the New York Times said.
The chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission said American officials believe that the damage to at least one reactor unit was more serious than what was reported.
Washington advised its citizens to stay farther away from the Fukushima plant than the circumference established by Japanese authorities.
According to the congressional testimony of Gregory Jaczko, the chairman of the commission, who used data independently collected, "there was now little or no water in the pool storing spent nuclear fuel at the No. 4 reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi NuclearPower Station, leaving fuel rods stored there exposed and bleeding radiation into the atmosphere."
"We believe that radiation levels are extremely high, which could possibly impact the ability to take corrective measures," Jaczko said.
Yesterday, Yukiya Amano, Director General of the IAEA, verified that Fukushima 1's three functional units are damaged to the core.
Amano said, "The situation at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant is very serious. The damage to the core of the three units, unit 1, 2 and 3, has been confirmed.
"The cores remain uncovered by one or two meters. We do not know the exact situation inside the reactor vessels, but the pressure inside remains above atmospheric pressure. This suggests that they remain likely intact."
It is paramount that transparency with regard this important issue be upheld. The Japanese people and the whole world is concerned of the potential effects of a nuclear meltdown. As such, disclosure of information by the responsible authorities is needed.
Details of this report here.
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