Atomic Tests in the Pacific Caused more Fallout than Fukushima: NRA Japan

Monday, September 2, 2013

By Mayako Shibata

Tokyo - (PanOrient News) The situation at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is unprecedented and Japan has experienced an enormous challenge, so I ask for understanding from the international community, but it is far less polluting than the Atomic Tests carried out in the Pacific, the Nuclear Regulation Association Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said today.

During the Cold War, the US and France conducted nuclear testing a number of times between 1946 and 1968 on islands of the Pacific Ocean. The tests caused a great scale of nuclear contamination in the atmosphere.

"The leakage of the contaminated water into the environment is a serious issue, but not unparalleled in history recalling what was done in the Pacific Ocean. Back then, the amount of radioactive materials in the atmosphere was several tens of thousand times the amount we have been dealing with today. In this regard, we have hoped for more understanding from the international community about the disaster at Fukushima," said Shunichi Tanaka at a news conference held on September 2nd at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo.

In July, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) admitted that contaminated groundwater was flowing from the nuclear complex into the area within breakwaters. It also found later that 300 tons of highly toxic water had escaped from a storage tank into the Pacific Ocean.

Around 400 tons of groundwater seeps into the basement of reactor buildings every day and becomes contaminated as it mixes with highly toxic water that is used to cool the crippled reactors. The company pumps out the water from reactor buildings and stores it in tanks.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was caused by a series of equipment failures, nuclear meltdowns and consequently a release of radioactive materials at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant, following the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami on 11 March 2011. It is the largest nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 and the second disaster (along with Chernobyl) to measure Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale.

Tanaka, trying to ease rising concerns from the international community triggered by contaminated water leakage into the sea, admitted that the cleanup operation has been unstable due to shortcomings of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), but said the NRA has been fully engaged to deal with the situation.

"Dealing with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is far different from the other nuclear power plants. For example, moving one piece of debris incurs risks that are unimaginable compared to the risks at other nuclear power plants," he said.

The water leakage has clearly demonstrated that TEPCO did not monitor the tanks or measure the level of water on a daily basis. This means management was not carried out effectively. Therefore, we have taken very strict measures and instructed TEPCO to correct its system," Mr. Tanaka said emphasizing how the NRA has been empowered with more legal clout after the new safety measurement was implemented on July 8th.

The Japanese government gave the NRA rights to enforce regulations to be followed at TEPCO. "Until now, different measures have been undertaken to deal with the situation in Fukushima, but they have been 'stopgap' or emergency measures. Development of the new law on nuclear regulations and the establishment of our authority has provided us with a legal framework for issuing orders."

Questions raised at the news conference focused on the remaining contaminated water in the tanks, and Mr. Tanaka acknowledged that the contaminated water will have to be eventually disposed of into the ocean but not until its contamination level is brought down by using technical methods to remove radioactive components from the water to meet global measurement standards.

Mr. Tanaka said the work to dismantle the Fukushima plant will take from 30 to 40 years, and the water leakage problem is part of the comprehensive measures being addressed by Japan who will provide timely and accurate data for the global community.

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