On 11 March 2001 Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) six reactor Fukushima Daiichi complex was effectively destroyed by an earthquake, which produced a tsunami that swamped the facility.
Fifteen months later, it seems that Tokyo has learned little from the experience.
On 16 June the Japanese government of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda approved the restart of Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Nos. 3 and 4 reactors at its Oi nuclear power plant (NPP), with the Prime Minister saying, "Having won local consent, reactivating the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors of the Oi nuclear power plant is now the government's final decision. We are determined to make further efforts to restore people's trust in nuclear policy and safety regulations."
Noda announced the decision after Fukui Governor Issei Nishikawa informed him that the prefecture would accept the restart of the Oi NPP 3 and 4 reactors.
Because Japan remains heavily reliant upon nuclear energy for its electricity, which before the Fukushima crisis, used to supply about 30 percent of Japan's electricity, and the government has dragged its heels developing alternatives.
Noda cast his decision as a “quality of life issue,” guaranteeing the Japanese access to uninterrupted electricity, Noda told reporters, "As the individual responsible for national politics, I cannot abandon the responsibility to protect the daily lives of the people."
But the ad hoc measures at Fukushima Daiichi remain largely palliative and improvised, and two recent natural occurrences should serve as banner events about Japan’s nuclear indstury’s vulnerability to forces beyond its control.
On 18 June, Japan’s Meteorological Agency reported an earthquake measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale off Japan’s northern coastal Iwate Prefecture, one of the prefectures heavily damaged by the magnitude 9.0 on the Richter scale that destroyed Fukushima Daiichi. The quake is the third measuring in the 5 to 6 magnitude range to hit Japan in recent weeks.
In a sign that Mother Nature is not yet finished with Japan, the Japan Meteorological Agency reported that Typhoon Guchol, first typhoon since 2004 to make a direct strike on Japan's main island of Honshu during June, made landfall on 18 June in southern Wakayama Prefecture in western Japan, with evacuation orders issued for more than 150,000 people in central, eastern and northeastern Japan.
According to Japan's Meteorological Agency, Typhoon Guchol will gain strength as it travels northeast across the country. Besides local governments in some areas in western and eastern parts of the country have issued evacuation advisories, airlines have canceled more than 430 domestic flights and more than 42 international flights have also been grounded.
And oh, the Japan Meteorological Agency also reported that Typhoon Talim, the fifth typhoon of the season, is currently forming in the South China Sea and also expected to approach the Japanese archipelago following Typhoon Guchol.
So, what does this mean for Fukushima Daiichi?
A Japanese website reported on 20 June, “12:43am, Wed, June 20, 2012 (JST). “[NHK 12:29a] The landslides warnings have been issued to the park of Fukushima Pref. and Miyagi Pref. … [NHK 12:03a] Fukushima: Heavy rain and strong wind may continue in Fukushima (but it's not as bad as Tokyo / Kanagawa yet).”
Strong winds being what they are, an interesting piece of news has in fact recently appeared about Fukushima and weather patterns. On 19 June Japanese Industry Minister Yukio Edano apologized for the government ignoring a U.S. map showing dangerous radiation spreading from Fukushima after the reactor complex was damaged, which meant that evacuees were not directed away from areas where radiation from the leaking nuclear plant was soaring, telling journalists, "It is extremely regrettable that (the information) was not used by the government. I apologize to the people who were affected." The map was compiled from data collected by U.S. military aircraft surveying radiation levels during 17-19 March in areas around the Fukushima Daiichi NPP for the US Department of Energy and showed that radioactive fallout was concentrated in areas northwest of the plant.
In light of the above, one can only marvel at the Japanese people’s restraint as their government and TEPCO have repeatedly dissembled and downplayed the reality of the actual situation at Fukushima Daiichi.
But the fact remains that the site remains a leaking radioactive sore on Japan’s eastern coast, which Typhoon Guchol’s current gusts, with Tokyo recording sustained winds of 56 mph gusting to 76 mph, at 10:47pm local time on Tuesday, will hardly leave undisturbed.
However, it would seem that Typhoon Guchol is weakening as it churns up Japan’s eastern coast, allowing government officials to breathe a sigh of relief.
For now – until Typhoon Talim or another earthquake arrives. And in the meantime, switch those reactors back on.
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com