As many BNC readers already know, I was invited to write an opinion essay for ABC Environment and The Drum: Unleashed on the Fukushima situation as we approach the end of 2011. On the latter site, the essay was entitled “Fukushima, nuclear and the rational approach to energy” and drew >300 comments (many rather heated) before the post was closed after 24 hours. Anyway, here’s a chance for you to continue to conversation, and perhaps to provide a correction to some of the more… unenlightened… comments that appeared over on the ABC stream.
It’s been quite a year for nuclear power. The dramatic events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in north-east Japan March and April 2011, following the Great Tōhoku Earthquake and tsunami, made headlines around the world. It constituted the most significant nuclear emergency in 25 years.
Nine months on, engineers continue to work to secure the plant and transition to a state termed ‘cold shutdown’, whereby the radioactively decaying reactor fuel is consistently cooled to below 100°C. The mangled reactor buildings now have new protective shells to keep out the weather, and an elaborate water purification system on site is working steady to decontaminate the large amount of contaminated cooling water that accumulated in holding tanks during the months following the accident.
The evacuation zone of 20 km around the plant remains in place, with more than 100,000 people displaced. There are medium-term plans to scrape away the topsoil in those ‘hotspots’ where radioactive cesium-137 was deposited (somewhat randomly) by the winds, following steam venting and the hydrogen explosions that occurred in the first week of the crisis. Once this is done, it is probable that residents will be allowed to return to the tsunami- and earthquake-ravaged area, to rebuild their lives.