Three months on from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the situation is still worsening. But growing anti-nuclear sentiment worldwide has seen both Germany and Italy forced to announce they are getting out of the nuclear industry.
Government officials in Japan are warning of more evacuations after the discovery of “hot spots” of deposited radiation further away from the Fukushima plant.
Just last month Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency confirmed that three reactors had experienced full nuclear meltdowns. The agency more than doubled its figures for the amount of radiation leaked in week one of the disaster.
Nuclear energy expert Arnold Gundersen told Al Jazeera that the reactors are still spewing radiation: “It will be at least a year before it stops boiling, and until it stops boiling, it’s going to be cranking out radioactive steam and liquids.”
The immense heat generated by the meltdowns is leaving Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) no other option but to pour water over the reactors in an attempt to cool them and prevent further meltdown. But this has produced huge amounts of water contaminated with plutonium and uranium.
Gundersen explained that, “We have 20 nuclear cores exposed, [as] the fuel pools have several cores each, that is 20 times the potential to be released than Chernobyl.”
Already radioactive contamination is spreading into the ocean. TEPCO is planning to dump more contaminated water containing cesium-137. With a half-life of 30 years, cesium-137 accumulates in the food chain and reaches humans at magnified levels.
Leakage from the stricken reactors is also penetrating the water table. The extent of land contamination has rendered 966 square kilometres uninhabitable.
Authorities have deceived the Japanese population on the extent of the catastrophe. Dr. Shunichi Yamashita, who is heading a study on the health effects of the crisis, dismissed any concern about the radiation levels at Fukushima. He claimed that pregnant women could be safely exposed to 100 millisieverts a year of radiation. In Chernobyl residents were evacuated at five millisieverts. Scientists have concluded that there is no safe threshold for exposure to nuclear radiation.
Not surprisingly nuclear power is now deeply unpopular in Japan, with a poll released on June 19 showing that over four out of five Japanese want it brought to an end.
Thousands marched in Tokyo in early June against nuclear power, carrying banners reading, “Immediately stop all use of nuclear power and shut down the plants”.
The political fallout of the Fukushima disaster has rapidly jumped borders. On the eve of state elections in Germany in March upwards of 200,000 protesters took to the streets to call for the closure of all 17 of its nuclear power plants.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, a former proponent of nuclear, announced that nuclear power would be phased out by 2022.
But with just under a quarter of Germany’s energy coming from nuclear, politicians are indicating that coal-fired power stations will fill the gap.
Meanwhile Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s plans to start up a nuclear industry in the country received a resounding rebuff when a massive 95 per cent of voters rejected the move in a referendum.
Aboriginal traditional owners of Muckaty station in the NT are continuing to fight plans for a nuclear waste dump on their land. They have received support for the Electrical Trades Union, which has pledged to ban any work on the waste dump. A union delegation is set to visit the area in August.
But nuclear power still has its boosters. Angel Gurria, head of the OECD club of nations said that nuclear was integral to meeting rising energy demands, while the relentless Ziggy Switkowski continues to push nuclear in Australia as a “safe” option.
Fukushima shows the need to fight to end the nuclear industry, and to demand genuine renewable energy like wind power and solar thermal plants to replace it.
By Lachlan Marshall