Tomorrow marks the two-year anniversary of the earthquake and resulting tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan, wiping out whole towns and thousands of lives in just minutes. The Japanese resolutely began rebuilding immediately after this natural tragedy of biblical proportions, and although the personal losses will never be forgotten, the material damage has largely been repaired. The exception, of course, is the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and surrounding vicinity.
The totally unexpected magnitude of the radiation leaks from the Fukushima nuclear accident, the largest since Chernobyl, has dealt a strong blow to an industry that was poised for resurgence as the best alternative to the fossil-fuel derived energy that is changing the weather of the planet. But unless there is a serious global commitment to developing truly clean alternatives, how long will it be before governments begin jumping back on the nuclear bandwagon?
As reported in several articles ahead of the fateful anniversary, including a report in today's Spectrum, progress in the clean-up, decontamination and decommissioning of the reactors knocked out by the tsunami has been taking baby steps. The process will continue for 40 years at a minimum and cost trillions of baht, and it is anyone's guess when, if ever, the surrounding area will be habitable again. And the risks from contamination are not confined to the general area. The biggest concern is that radioactive substances are leaching into the sea, where they will be dispersed around the world and be concentrated in the food chain. Back in December 2011 the Fukushima Daiichi operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) said it was running out of space to store contaminated water and was considering dumping it into the sea. This brought howls of protest from local fishermen and environmental groups worldwide and the plan was apparently shelved. Yet levels of contaminated water continue to rise and the problem of storing it will only get worse. Now, Fukushima Daiichi's operator is building a wall going down instead of up to keep contaminated groundwater from entering the ocean.