Sato, the governor of Japan's tsunami-stricken Fukushima province, vowed this
week that the damaged
Fukushima Daiichi (Fukushima I) nuclear power plant would not be
allowed to restart. Meanwhile the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) (9501) is
facing serious questions and financial liability, for its role in only the
second major nuclear power mishap in history.
I. How Did We Get Here?
Few energy sources have as high a power density as nuclear plants. Yet
the public is very fearful of new, safer nuclear
designs, while the U.S., Japan, and other nations have fought to slow new
reactor deployments. The net result is that legacy plants' lifespans are
being extended well past their original timelines.
To make matters worse, utilities operating Japan's 30+ year old Fukushima
nuclear plants failed
to water-proof backup generators despite the plants being in a region
prone to tsunami and monsoon flooding.
The combination of the lengthened deployment plus negligent engineering and/or management decisions proved a
While most modern nuclear designs are incapable of melting down, the Fukushima
plants were ancient designs very capable of doing so. They escaped
the earthquake itself unscathed, but were unable to cool the rods after the
reactions were stopped.
As a result, some of the reactor cores are suspected of at least partially
having melted, releasing radioactive caesium and iodine into the local air,
soil, and water.
II. Harsh Words for TEPCO
Fukushima's governor is not responding kindly to TEPCO's blatant negligence.
He held a 15-minute meeting with TEPCO president Masataka Shimizu, stating,
"A resumption of plant operations must be impossible."
Mr. Shimizu profusely apologized for his company mistakes and promised to
resign from his position when the time was appropriate. It is traditional
in Japanese culture to abdicate a leadership position or engage in even more
extreme gestures of repentance, when you are dishonored.
The TEPCO chief had tried to meet with Gov. Sato twice before, but was
rebuffed. At the time the governor commented, "The anger and fear of
people in this prefecture have reached the limit."
Gov. Sato accepted the apologize, conditionally, demanding that Mr. Shimizu fully
compensate local farmers and fishermen whose crops and catches were forced
to be destroyed due to radioactivity contamination.
He also demanded that TEPCO repay manufacturers who lost money due to the
evacuation of the 20-mile radius surrounding the plant and to tourism
businesses who have seen a massive drop in foreign visitors since the accident
hit international news outlets.
The Governor said that while TEPCO's performance was disappointing, its
employees performed admirably in trying to shut down the damaged plant and
prevent further radiation release. He called TEPCO's workers the
"rising stars for Fukushima" and complained that Mr. Shimizu needed
to provide them with better medical coverage.
III. The Fate of the Fukushima Plants
Fukushima I's reactor 1 had been operation since 1970. Prior to the
disaster it was scheduled to be decommissioned in April. Reactors 2-4,
built in the 1970s were expected to soon follow.
Following the disaster, TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata had told
reporters that four of the six reactors had been decommissioned. But he
failed to make clear what the fate of the newer reactors 5 and 6 would be.
It now appears those will undergo a mandatory shuttering, as well.
The decision by the government to force the complete closure of the Fukushima I
power plant likely kills plans to build two advanced boiling water reactors
on-site. Ironically, these ABWRs would have been meltdown-proof, due to
their design, which includes passive emergency cooling.
While the fate of the damaged northern plant appears to be sealed, the fate of
the southern Fukushima II power plant, which also sustained damage, is unclear.
The second plant featured more modern second-generation designs, built in
the 1980s. It is thought that containment at these plants largely held
due to the design improvements, despite a similar loss of backup power.
It is possible that Fukushima II will resume operations.
Hopefully, the plans for the meltdown-proof ABWR reactors will be shifted to
the second site, which currently only houses four reactors. There are no
guarantees, though, as the people of Japan, like many in the U.S. have largely
entered in an under-informed state of nuclear panic and hysteria.
Some at least seem to be getting the underlying message of several small
negligence-induced problems leading to bigger issues. Jalopnik recently quoted Saab's
Chairman Victor Muller referring to his plant shutdown as a
"small Fukushima" -- to which a commenter quipped,
"Coincidentally for those very same reasons, Michael Lohan calls his daughter a