Monday, 14 March 2011

Another blast at nuclear plant in tsunami-devastated Japan

As a teenager I spent many hours over a number of years listening to a wise man, Warrington Taylor. A lawyer by profession who had read everything available in English on Hiroshima, Nagasaki and on nuclear fuel, nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

He said simply one day when sitting overlooking the river that flows into the small fishing port at Karitane,  Otago, New Zealand, " if we don't continue to fight nuclear disarmament and the use of nuclear power, it will be the death of us." First there was Chernobyl, and now what is happening in Japan.

On 22 February he lost his son Brian in the tragic Christchurch earthquake and now his nightmare of a nuclear holocaust is a possiblity. (Photo: right) Brian used to play the guitar well, and we used to sing the Joan Baez song 'The Times they are a changing' often and Warrington loved the words.

So to Warrington and Brian, I believe you are together now and you will be looking down on your nuclear prediction, A world destroying itself.

LATEST: The Japanese government says 11 people were injured, one seriously, in the latest explosion at a quake-stricken nuclear power plant.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano says four army personnel and seven nuclear power plant workers were hurt when Unit 3 at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear plant exploded Monday.

A third reactor at the power plant has lost all its cooling capability, raising the risks of another blast, Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency says.

Radiation levels four times a person's recommended annual exposure have been detected at a stricken nuclear plant in Japan following a third explosion.

Edano said that one of the workers was seriously injured but still conscious and the four military staff were only slightly hurt and had already returned to their unit.

The blast was felt 40km away, but the plant's operator said radiation levels at the reactor were still within legal limits. The explosion at the plant's Unit 3, which authorities have been frantically trying to cool after a system failure in the wake of Friday's massive earthquake and tsunami, triggered an order for hundreds of people to stay indoors, said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano. The two disasters left at least 10,000 people dead.

Operators knew an explosion was a possibility as they struggled to reduce pressure inside the reactor containment vessel, but apparently felt they had no choice if they wanted to avoid a complete meltdown. In the end, the hydrogen in the released steam mixed with oxygen in the atmosphere and set off the blast.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said radiation levels at Unit 3 were well under the levels where a nuclear operator must file a report to the government.

On Saturday, a similar explosion took place at the plant's Unit 1, injuring four workers and causing mass evacuations.

The reactor's inner containment vessel holding nuclear rods was intact, Edano said, allaying some fears of the risk to the environment and public. TV footage of the building housing the reactor appeared to show damage similar to Monday's blast, with outer walls shorn off, leaving only a skeletal frame.

Reuters reported that Japan's nuclear power industry was now starting to face criticism from its loyal army of nuclear-power workers and their families.

"My distrust just increased," said Mikiko Amano, a 55-year-old woman who had been recently evacuated from her home close to the quake-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex.

She was talking to Reuters at a town outside the 20-km evacuation zone around the complex, owned by the Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), which continued to urge calm despite broadcasters showing a plume of smoke rising from the plant.

"I was at home at the time of the first explosion. It was a huge sound. After that, I evacuated. I went for a radiation check at the hospital today and breathed a sigh of relief that I was OK," Amano told Reuters.

"The company has been saying such a thing would not happen and the plant was fine even after 40 years in operation...It only raised my distrust of TEPCO."

Amano's family and tens of thousands of others evacuated from their homes around the complex depend on the company for their livelihoods, and many were remarkably stoic at first in the face of what appeared to the rest of the world as imminent nuclear catastrophe.

Even as authorities waived Geiger counters over evacuees clothes and gave them doses of iodine as a precaution against radiation poisoning, local communities at first spoke confidently about their employer's ability to avert a crisis.

Hideki Kato, a 41-year-old worker at the Fukushima Daiichi complex, just wanted to get back to work.

"I think nuclear power plants are necessary. I am worried about the job," Kato said at a school gym serving as an evacuation center in Kawamata town, outside the evacuation zone in Fukushima prefecture.

"Can I ever go back to work at the plant?" he asked as his two children lay on the floor beside him, wrapped in blankets. His son played with a cell phone while Kato's parents looked on."Can we make a living?

Kato's question is one echoed around the world, with serious doubts emerging over public support for the global nuclear power industry if Japan fails to avert disaster.

With nuclear energy accounting for 26 per cent of power consumption in Japan, and more than half in countries like France, public trust in the industry is vital in the face of constant criticism from a committed anti-nuclear lobby.

Fukushima prefecture is the land of the nuclear faithful: outside its nuclear power plants, the region north of Tokyo is mostly characterised by rural and fishing communities with some light industry. Here, nuclear power pays most of the bills.

Shinichi Watanabe, 63, from Futaba worked for two decades at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. On Sunday, before the second explosion at the plant, he was still keeping the faith.

"Thanks to the nuclear power plants, young people do not have to leave to find work," he said.

His friend, 73-year-old carpenter Masao Takahashi, agreed, saying: "Without the plants, our town is just a deserted place."

But, with yellow-suited health officials hosing down dozens of evacuees in tented treatment centers, Takahashi suddenly did not sound so sure:

"We had been told by the nuclear power plant people that it's 100 percent safe no matter what typhoon or tsunami, but I am worried about radiation exposure."


Broadcaster NHK, quoting a police official, said more than 10,000 people may have been killed as the wall of water triggered by Friday's quake surged across the coastline, reducing whole towns to rubble. It was the biggest to have hit the quake-prone country since it started keeping records 140 years ago.

"I would like to believe that there still are survivors," said Masaru Kudo, a soldier dispatched to Rikuzentakata, a nearly flattened town of 24,500 people in far-northern Iwate prefecture.

Kyodo said 80,000 people had been evacuated from a 20-km radius around the stricken nuclear plant, joining more than 450,000 other evacuees from quake and tsunami-hit areas in the northeast of the main island Honshu.

Almost 2 million households were without power in the freezing north, the government said. There were about 1.4 million without running water.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the situation at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant remained worrisome and that the authorities were doing their utmost to stop damage from spreading.

"The earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear incident have been the biggest crisis Japan has encountered in the 65 years since the end of World War Two," a grim-faced Kan had told a news conference on Sunday.

1 comment:

  1. The last email I had from Brian - on the Friday before he died - he asked me to contribute my memories of his father on your blog. I knew Brian and his sister Sue very well - my brother went to school with Brian, Sue with me, and I believe my aunt actually was courted by Warrington Taylor! More to come. And memories of Brian as well. Moira Rayner (nee Stockwell)