By Peter Galuszka
(Fourth of a series)
FUKUSHIMA, Japan — About an hour and a half north of Tokyo by bullet train, the city of Fukushima is enjoying a fall festival. A brass band (see photo) belts out tunes while two young policewomen in sky blue uniforms have their pictures taken with children sitting atop their white Honda motorcycles. Jack-o-lanterns, Japanese-style, dot posters. Doting grandparents shoot pictures of their grandchildren riding a miniature steam train.
There’s little evidence that one of the worst nuclear disasters ever occurred last March 11 not 36 miles away on a rocky stretch of Pacific coastline. The meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the Daiichi power plant was the worst accident since Chernobyl and caused the deaths of more than 45 people, the evacuations of 130,000 and may cause untold future cancer illnesses and fatalities.
The only new information, as a friendly Fukushima resident shows me, is a newspaper article showing the radiation zones in a newspaper article. The most intense zone runs about 20 kilometers from the power station, including parts out to sea.
It is the worst zone. Gamma rays, that can penetrate anything except lead, are prevalent. The zone includes all or part of eight local jurisdictions. Extending another 10 kilometers out in another zone, land and buildings are somewhat less irradiated but still cannot be occupied. There are roadblocks on all roads leading into these zones.
The newspaper articles purports to outline just how many houses and other properties there are in these restricted zones and how much people can expect to be compensated for them. I haven’t done an exact count but they appear to be between 5,000 and 10,000. People from the houses are living in temporary shelters with with families or friends elsewhere.
One would never know it from the pleasantries in the downtown of Fukushima city, but the nuclear disaster has serious implications on a global, as well as local, basis. Concerns about global warming had been pushing sentiment in favor of nuclear power as opposed to coal, but that’s shifted back again. The United Bank of Switzerland says that the Japanese mess may result in the closing of 30 other nuclear reactors around the world. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Markel said her country would shut down its reactors. German engineering conglomerate Siemens announced it was getting out of the nuclear business. China, on the other hand, intends to expand its nuclear generation capacity to offset its 70 perent reliance on coal.
Back in Virginia, the region got a taste of Fukushima on Aug. 23 when a 5.8 Richter scale earthquake, much smaller than the tsunami that touched off Fukushima’s nuke disaster but still unexpectedly strong, jarred the North Anna nuclear plant operated by Dominion Virginia Power. It forced a shutdown of two reactors while heavy casks of spent nuclear where shaken loose. A review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission shows that perhaps 25 other nuclear reactors may need new earthquake safety upgrades.
If you get a map of Virginia and plot the same evacuations zones as at Fukushima, you likely would see the evacuations for weeks, months or years of all or parts of Fredericksburg, Culpeper, Charlottesville and the far western Virginia suburbs of Richmond near Manakin Sabot. These would be roughly a 30 kilometer zone — not the very worst, but still requiring evacuation.
Fukushima and North Anna also raise serious questions about another Old Dominion project realted to nuclear power. A small group of investors and Canadians called Virginia Uranium plans on mining reserves near Chatham. But if the mood is so against nuclear power, one wonders just how demanding the market for yellowcake is.
It is anyone’s guess who would pay for the irradiated property in Japan although Munich Re, the reinsurer in the case of Fukushima, says that covering the disaster can be done successfully.
Costs such as these, whoever, must be kept in mind should nuclear power still proceed. Financial discipline, naturally is the flavor of the times given the current backlash against government spending. Yet that also dooms nukes. Dominion, for instance, requires federal loan guarantees if it wants to proceed with a third unit at North Anna which is likely to cost more than $10 billion. Fat chance of getting it, at least now.
Meanwhile, on Oct. 15, the New York Times reported that about 20 “hot spots” of radioactivity, some with Chernobyl-level amounts, had been found in Tokyo, 160 miles to the south of Fukushima. Government officials had stubbornly claimed that the contamination was limited to the zone near the stricken plant, but now it seems that the situation is much worse than thought.There are currently no comments highlighted.