Fukushima nuclear disaster

Japan may yet need outside help to deal with Fukushima disaster

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 November, 2013, 4:32am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 June, 2015, 3:58pm

Nations take pride from emerging stronger from dire adversity. That need not include refusing expert outside help. In the case of the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, it is debatable whether some aspects of the clean up are any less dangerous than the events on March 11, 2011, when an earthquake and tsunami caused a meltdown of three of the six reactor cores. But Japan is going it alone with the work.

The most difficult and risky task since the tsunami is under way - the removal of spent uranium and plutonium fuel rods from an unstable storage pool in a reactor building. What would normally be a routine operation will be dangerous because of conditions created by the disaster. Should the rods touch each other or be exposed to air, highly radioactive gases will be released or, worse, there could be a catastrophic explosion. The first stage of removing them was expected to take a few days, but the whole task could take more than a year.

Given that the threat is nuclear and some of the challenges it poses unprecedented, it warrants a global response. But a call to the UN by 16 nuclear experts for an international response has gone unheeded by Japan, which claims the crisis is under control. Dangerous though it is, the current work does not compare with the task of removing the misshapen cores of three other reactors that went into meltdown.

Sadly, negligence, errors, opaqueness and deception uncovered by official inquiries have raised serious questions about the ability of the government and Fukushima's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co, to deal with the challenges. Grave deficiencies in disaster response from officials, regulators and executives have been characterised by a lack of co-ordination and collusion. Given that the full decommissioning of Fukushima is likely to take decades, including tasks never before attempted, the government and the company need to do what it takes to regain the confidence of the Japanese public and regional neighbours, including being receptive to offers of help if they need it.