Japan is expected to issue its gravest warning about the state of the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Wednesday — gravest since the facility on the Pacific Coast suffered a triple meltdown in 2011. Even if the warning does not come for some reasons — the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), has been accused of covering up the extent of the problems at the plant — things look pretty grim. The "worsening situation" at Fukushima has prompted a former Japanese ambassador to Switzerland to call for the withdrawal of Tokyo's Olympic bid. South Korea's Asiana Airlines Inc. said it would cancel charter flights between Seoul and Fukushima city in October due to public concerns over the radioactive water leaks. Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority, likens the stricken nuclear plant to a house of horrors at an amusement park.
One hopes the world will not be called upon to witness horrors unrelieved by any kind of amusement or fun. But three hundred tons of highly contaminated water that a storage tank at the ravaged plant has leaked is raising new fears of an environmental calamity. Nuclear experts believe the current water leaks at Fukushima are much worse than the authorities are prepared to admit.
As the plant is in an active earthquake zone, there is a danger that further tremors could spill much of the stored water. Water in the latest leak is so contaminated that a person standing close to it for an hour would receive five times the annual recommended limit for nuclear workers.
The tainted water could eventually reach the ocean, adding to the tons of radioactive fluids that have already leaked into the sea.
The leak is the single most dangerous failure at the plant since the meltdown, placing it on the same level as the Chernobyl disaster 25 years earlier.
The new leak raises disturbing questions not merely about the durability of the nearly 1,000 huge tanks Tepco has installed about 500 yards from the site’s shoreline, but about the safety and costs, financial and environmental, of nuclear plants the world over. The 2011disaster has profoundly shaken confidence in the future of nuclear power from Taiwan to Berlin, with rising costs exacerbating the situation.
In Taiwan, MPs resorted to fisticuffs as they debated a referendum on a new nuclear power station. Only days after Fukushima, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reversed her long-held support for nuclear power and, a year after announcing a 10-year extension, she promised to phase it out by 2022.
As Fukushima sends shock waves round the world, experts are asking whether developing nations can safely develop nuclear power facilities of their own. Japan is a highly developed nation, so well prepared for disasters. If it can end up in such a mess, what hope do poorer, less well-organized countries have of preventing disasters at nuclear facilities?
This issue is currently exercising countries along the Pacific “ring of fire”, as well as those in Asia and Africa. In India where sustained protests - hunger strikes, rallies, fishing strike – against a nuclear power plant in Kudankulam in the southern state of Tamil Nadu have been going on for sometime now, the public debate is intense. After all, the Bhopal gas tragedy has shown how ill-equipped Third World countries are to cope with disasters involving First World technology.
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