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DISASTER MANAGEMENT
Japan marks 3rd anniversary of quake-tsunami disasterw
by Staff Writers
Namie, Japan (AFP) March 11, 2014


Fukushima nuclear plant still fragile three years after accident
Tokyo (AFP) March 11, 2014 - Japan on Tuesday marks the third anniversary of the massive quake-tsunami disaster that sparked the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

Here are some key facts about the still-unresolved situation three years after the worst nuclear disaster in a generation. Cleaning up the shattered site is expected to take decades.

The state of the six reactors

-- Reactors 1, 2 and 3 went into meltdown after their cooling systems were knocked out as giant waves thundered into the plant. The temperature of the cores and spent fuel pools at all units is now stable and water is being used to keep them cool.

-- Reactor 4 has an empty core but around 1,500 spent fuel rods had been in its storage pool. The outer building was damaged by fires and an explosion. About one third of the rods have been removed since operations began in November, a risky and complicated task. Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) plans to remove all the fuel rods by the end of this year.

-- TEPCO has decided to decommission reactors 5 and 6, which had been in a state of "cold shutdown" since the accident.

Contaminated cooling water

Much of the work done to stabilise the plant has been temporary and there is no permanent solution for the water used to cool overheating reactors.

-- Some 436,000 cubic metres of toxic water is being stored at the site, with some 70,000 cubic metres of highly contaminated water separately filling the basements of the reactors.

-- The water is mostly stored in some 1,200 tanks at the site, and TEPCO has faced occasional leaks.

-- Many experts say that at some point this cooling water will have to be released into the sea after being scoured of the most harmful contaminants. They say it will pose negligible risk to marine life or people, but local fishermen and neighbouring countries are fiercely opposed.

Groundwater

-- Workers face a constant battle against incoming groundwater that mixes with contaminated cooling water, putting pressure on storage and resulting in seepage into the nearby Pacific Ocean, at a rate of about 400 cubic metres a day.

What's next?

--The next major step towards decommissioning is to start removing fuel rods from Reactors 1, 2, 3 which went into meltdown. The work requires cutting-edge technologies to block dangerous levels of radiation and to repair damaged parts of reactor containers. That is expected to start in 2020 at the earliest.

-- The government has agreed to fund a plan to freeze the ground underneath the reactors to divert groundwater. This is part of a nearly $500 million plan that will take two years.

Japan on Tuesday marks the third anniversary of the quake-tsunami disaster which swept away 18,000 victims, destroyed coastal communities, and sparked a nuclear emergency that forced a re-think on atomic power.

Remembrance ceremonies will be held in towns and cities around the disaster zone and in the capital Tokyo, where Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko are to lead tributes to those who lost their lives in Japan's worst peace-time disaster.

Many local governments will switch on a tsunami alarm siren at 2:46 pm (0546 GMT), marking the exact moment a 9.0-magnitude undersea quake hit.

Its raw force unleashed a towering tsunami that travelled at the speed of a jet plane to the coast. Within minutes, communities were turned to matchwood, and whole families drowned.

Waves also crashed into the Fukushima nuclear plant, sparking reactor meltdowns and explosions, and setting off the worst atomic crisis in a generation.

The crippled plant remains volatile and experts say the complicated decommissioning process will take decades, as fears persist over the long-term health effects of leaked radiation. The accident forced tens of thousands to flee from areas around the shattered site.

Although no one died as a direct result of Fukushima, about 1,650 area residents died from complications related to stress and other problems following the accident.

A total of 15,884 people are confirmed to have died in the tsunami with another 2,633 still listed as missing. Searchers still find human remains.

Despite the government pledging billions of dollars in reconstruction aid, progress in disaster-hit regions has been slow, and thousands of disaster refugees struggle to cope.

Among almost 270,000 evacuees from the tsunami and Fukushima, about 100,000 are in temporary housing while others found shelter in new cities or with relatives.

Japan has so far built only 3.5 percent of the new homes promised to disaster refugees in heavily affected Iwate and Miyagi prefectures.

That has sowed doubt among many people, with some 77 percent of Japanese saying the pace of reconstruction has fallen short, according to a poll conducted by Kyodo News and other media organisations this month.

-- 'Halfway done' -

On Monday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who swept to power in late 2012, said Tokyo was only "halfway" done.

"I'm determined to accelerate the recovery and not let this disaster fade from memory," he told parliament.

"Japan's revival won't come without the restoration of devastated areas."

Fierce anti-nuclear sentiment may have subsided, but it still poses a challenge to Abe's bid to breathe life into Japan's long-tepid economy.

On Sunday, tens of thousands of citizens staged an anti-nuclear rally in Tokyo ahead of the anniversary, voicing anger at the premier's plan to switch on shuttered nuclear reactors, which once supplied more than a quarter of the resource-poor nation's power.

Business wants to return to nuclear, but the public remains wary.

"Prime Minister Abe and the nuclear industry are hoping the Japanese people and the world will forget the victims and the terrible lessons of Fukushima, hoping that they will allow the restart of old, risky reactors," said Junichi Sato, executive director of Greenpeace Japan.

"What we should instead forget is an energy system that is dependent on old, dirty, and dangerous technologies like nuclear and fossil fuels."

Abe repeated his view Monday that reactors deemed safe would be turned back on. All of Japan's reactors were switched off after the accident, forcing the country to turn to pricey fossil-fuel alternatives to plug the energy gap.

The premier, who said he regularly eats rice grown in the Fukushima region, added in a press briefing Monday that "having experienced the accident, it's only natural for people to be concerned about the safety of nuclear plants".

Despite Tokyo's push to boost alternative energy, power sourced from wind farms and solar energy remains a fraction of Japan's needs.

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Related Links
Bringing Order To A World Of Disasters
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DISASTER MANAGEMENT
Japan to lift part of Fukushima evacuation order: official
Tokyo (AFP) Feb 24, 2014
Japan will lift an exclusion order on an area around the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, allowing some residents to return to live for the first time since the disaster, officials said Monday. "The formal lifting of the evacuation order will come on April 1, affecting around 300 people" whose homes are in part of Tamura city, around 20 kilometres (12 miles) west of the wreaked plant, a Cab ... read more


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