Published in 'The Ecologist', 12th March 2014, under the title, "Fukushima meltdown continues around the world"
The Fukushima Daiichi disaster clean-up
Three years ago today we first learned of the on-going meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. TV screens showed long lens shots of concrete buildings exploding in showers of dust, yet worsening the burdens of one of Japan's worst natural disasters in recent times.
The timing was unfortunate for some – such as the environmental activists who had recently gone 'pro-nuclear'. At the time that led me in to a media debate on the issue of nuclear power, although in reality we never got further than the issue of "how scary" the technology was. And ultimately that discussion never really focussed on the real energy issues.
Three years on though, and the Fukushima meltdown continues apace – far outside of Japan.
At Fukushima Daiichi itself, it emerged this week that ongoing problems managing the site (and the large costs involved in that process) are leading towards the nuclear industry's tried and tested methods of clean-up – deliberately polluting the environment. Echoing the call from Tepco last year, former chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Dale Klein, said that the liquid wastes form the site should be dumped via "controlled releases" into the Pacific Ocean. Which, during the "accidental" leaks over the last two years, appears to have been the policy all along.
The involvement of former US nuclear safety officials in the disaster is a testament to the problems Fukushima presents to the nuclear industry as a whole. As in Britain, this is a live political debate in the USA. President Obama is seeking to give Government-backed loans to encourage the development of new nuclear plants. And rejuvenating the Fukushima issue, NBC News just broadcast their investigation, based on freedom of information requests, detailing how the US safety regulators deliberately played-down the risks to the public. "While we know more than these say," NRC Public Affairs Director Eliot Brenner wrote in emails in 2011, "we're sticking to this story for now."
Meanwhile, in Canada the plume of radioactive water from Fukushima, brought across the Pacific by ocean currents, is just arriving on the shores of British Columbia. Environmental sampling has shown the first 'Fukushima footprint' on the shorelines of the rivers around Vancouver. In fact that's just the tip of a large 'liquid' iceberg that's been studied by scientists for the last year or so. And already, in advance of the arrival of the plume on US shores, the media is being cranked up with fear, uncertainty and doubt to bury the facts of story.
One thing is certain; the issue has not moved on one millimetre towards any resolution. The political support for nuclear power remains because politics does not know how to deal with the issues raised by our current energy crisis. The public is still unsupportive because, irrespective of official reassurances, negative nuclear stories refuse to go away. And in Japan, the Fukushima nuclear crisis continues today; hidden behind concrete and plastic contamination screens, where politics is still looking for the most expedient rather than the right solution to the problem.