A little more than two years ago, only nuclear energy specialists had ever heard of Tokyo Electric Company’s six-reactor Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant complex.
Then, on 11 March 2001, a subsea earthquake, which measured 9.0 on the Richter scale was followed by a tsunami, effectively destroyed TEPCO’s Daiichi Fukushima NPP. The catastrophe left nearly 19,000 people dead or missing and displaced more than 300,000, as the government
Before the disaster, about 30 percent of Japan’s electricity was generated by nuclear power, and Tokyo had ambitious plans to raise its market share to 50 percent over the next two decades, according to then Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan.
In the wake of the debacle, the Japanese idled the country’s 54 NPPs, hardly an insignificant gesture, as the NPPs collectively generated more than 47,000 megawatts.
Two NPPs have since been stealthily switched back on.
The Japanese people have had a uniquely ambivalent attitude towards nuclear power ever since August 1945, when during the closing days of World War Two Hiroshima and Nagasaki achieved the dolorous distinction of being the first cities to be attacked with atomic weapons.
Consequences of Fukushima?
Depends upon whom you talk to.
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According to a report released last month by TEPCO, fish and mollusks being monitored within 12 miles of Fukushima Daiichi NPP have surpassed baseline measures of radioactivity, with one specimen tested near the NPP’s port entrance being found to be 4,300-times more radioactive than what Japanese officials consider standard. In June 2011, radioactive cesium was found in the breast milk of one-third of the 27 women tested near Fukushima Prefecture.
Oh, and TEPCO is currently storing roughly 280,000 tons of highly radioactive water at Fukushima Daiichi NPP, according to TEPCO’s latest data, enough to fill about 112 Olympic-sized swimming pools, according to Bloomberg News.
Human exposure to radiation at moderate to high levels can lead to cancers, such as leukemia, according to United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), which later this month is expected to publish a study of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear “incident.”
What is TEPCO going to do with those 280,000 tons of radioactive water?
Which makes the news from Japan all the more puzzling.
On 11 May police officers and the Japan Coast Guard took part in Fukushima Daiichi’s first joint terrorist training exercise, based on a scenario that the crippled Fukushima Daiichi NPP was targeted by terrorists. The exercise was held at the nearby Fukushima No. 2 NPP in Naraha, located about 7 ½ miles south of the Fukushima Daiichi NPP proper. About 150 personnel were involved in the drill, with many wearing radioactive protective gear, operating under the auspices of high-level Defense Ministry and Self-Defense Forces officials.
Fukushima Prefecture hosts a total of 10 nuclear reactors.
What stands out about this report is that Fukushima Daiichi is now surround by a 12 ½ mile “exclusion zone” established by the Japanese government in the immediate aftermath of the meltdown, so the anti-terrorism exercise was held on land that technically would already be under surveillance by authorities because of the prohibited area.
After the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S. Japanese police began taking serious measures to protect the nation’s nuclear reactors, with police officers being permanently stationed at all the country’s nuclear facilities. Beginning in May 2002, armed units equipped with submachine guns and sniper rifles were also deployed to the country’s nuclear power infrastructure.
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That said, Japan has been subjected to violent terrorism in the past, though not in the past decade, most notably from the Red Army, active 1971-2001 and the Aum Shinrikyo cult, which in March 1995 unleashed sarin nerve gas in a coordinated attack on five trains in the Tokyo subway system, killing 13 commuters, seriously injuring 54 and affecting 980 more.
So, how to evaluate the Fukushima anti-terrorist drill?
Preparing for a genuine “worst case” scenario, or largely a feel good PR exercise? A dispassionate look at the scene would seem to indicate that the genuine long-term terrorist threat to the health and well-being of the Japanese people is 280,000 tons of highly radioactive water currently stored at Fukushima Daiichi NPP, not to mention that each of Fukushima Daiichi’s six reactors have 60-83 tons of spent nuclear fuel rods stored next to them.
Until next time Mother Nature goes on a tear. In the meantime, track those hypothetical terrorists through the exclusion zone.
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com