27 August 2011

Fukushima—radiation damage that just won't quit

I admit to a love-hate relationship with nuclear power. One day I am all for it because of the large amounts of relatively green power it can provide. I wonder if we can seriously reduce our dependence on fossil fuels without it. And then an incident like the disaster at the Fukushima plant in Japan reminds me of what a nasty little friend nuclear power can be.

Fukushima has now claimed another casualty. On Friday, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced his resignation, thought to be largely due to his handling of the tsunami and Fukushima disasters. Kan's resignation follows by days the announcement that residents who lived close to the damaged plant are to be told their homes may be uninhabitable for decades, even if the operation to stabilize the reactors by January succeeds.

The government had planned to allow the 80,000 people evacuated from the 12-mile exclusion zone back into their homes once the reactors had been brought under control. However, the science ministry now estimates that radiation accumulated over one year at 22 of 50 tested sites inside the exclusion zone would easily exceed 100 millisieverts, five times higher than the safe level advised by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. "We can't rule out the possibility that there will be some areas where it will be hard for residents to return to their homes for a long time," said Yukio Edano, chief cabinet secretary, "We are very sorry." Entire towns may remain unfit for habitation for decades.

As for nuclear power, the prime minister had won widespread public support for his plan to phase it out, but most of his potential successors oppose the plan. Naoto Kan may be far from the last casualty.

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