Japan's Nuclear Apocalypse
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 18, 2011
A powerful earthquake measuring 9 on the Richter Scale triggered an explosion and radiation leakage at a Japanese nuclear power plant. Nations the world over are in a panic. The European Union described the huge nuclear disaster in Japan as an "apocalypse." It said Tokyo authorities have already lost control. Foreign reports call the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident one of the three worst nuclear power plant accidents in history. It is already considered more serious than the U.S. nuclear accident at Three Mile Island. If the situation deteriorates even further, it may be considered even more serious than the Russian nuclear accident at Chernobyl.
Officials are attempting to allay public fears. Over the past several days, officials from the Executive Yuan Atomic Energy Council have repeatedly assured the public that the impact of the Fukushima nuclear power plant incident on Taiwan will be limited. But this is not the reaction of governments the world over. On the 16th, during a U.S. Congressional hearing, Gregory B. Jaczko, Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said that the pool of water for storing spent fuel rods at the Number Four Reactor in the Fukushima nuclear power plant had already dried up, He said the situation was more serious than Japanese officials are willing to say. The U.S. has proposed the withdrawal of its citizens from a wider area around the Fukushima nuclear power plant than Japan has suggested.
Yukiya Amano is the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a watchdog agency for the United Nations. Amano said he is prepared to go to Japan and obtain first-hand information. Amano considers developments at the Fukushima nuclear power plant "very serious." But he says it is too early to characterize the situation as "out of control."
The European Union uses nuclear power generation more than any other region of the world. It is concerned about the fallout from this incident. One-third of the electricity used by the EU comes from nuclear power generation. It accounts for 15% of its total energy use. According to European Nuclear Society (ENS) statistics, Europe has a total of 195 nuclear reactors in operation. Of these, 143 are in EU countries. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have agreed to include nuclear safety on the agenda at the G20 Summit, to be held in France at the end of March.
Despite intense reactions from these advanced nations, the Executive Yuan Atomic Energy Council remains firm. It has made a number of calculations based on certain assumptions. It assumed that 10 units at the Fukushima plant leaked high dosages of radioactive material. It assumed the worst, that winds blew toward Taiwan. It assumed that the radioactive material was 13 times as serious as Chernobyl. It assumed that Taiwan was located downwind from Fukushima. It assumed that the radioactive material would take 120 hours to reach Taiwan and spread through the atmosphere. Based on these assumptions, it said that over two days, the cumulative dose of radiation per hour for the public on Taiwan would be 7.3 mSv, less than the baseline measurement of 10 mSv. Over seven days the accumulated radiation dose would be 25.5 mSv, less than the 50 to 100 mSv standard mandating evacuation. It would even be less than the 100 mSv standard mandating iodine tablets.
The Atomic Energy Council concluded its remarks. But yesterday, Japan's three largest airports tested returning travelers for radiation exposure. They tested over 4000 visitors. Among them, 26 were slightly exposed. They were treated and retested. None had any problems. Nevertheless, the results show that concerns about radioactivity are not groundless.
Reactions from nations the world over show that the Fukushima nuclear power plant radiation leak has become the world's most significant nuclear power plant disaster. Even the Japanese Ministry of Education admitted that approximately 20 km northwest of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, it detected 330 mSv of radiation per hour. That is 6600 times the norm. Japan's technological standards and management capabilities are higher than those on Taiwan. When even nuclear power plants on Japan are subject to such accidents, how can nuclear power plants on Taiwan remain immune? The council's reassurances are clearly contrary to common sense. This is why the more the Atomic Energy Council urges everyone not to panic, the more the public considers the council's reassurances meaningless.
Radiative contamination is a risk management issue. Nature includes background radiation. We are exposed to radiation every time we are X-rayed. The public does not expect zero exposure to radiation. The problem is the manner in which the government has chosen to address the public. The result is inevitable. The speaker drones on, but the listener dismisses everything he has heard. Therefore, the most pressing issue in disaster prevention education is how to establish a society able to cope, through risk analysis and risk management.
Japan is a country which places a high value on risk management. A natural disaster struck, and led to a nuclear power plant radiation leak that shocked the world. The ROC government considers nuclear power a strategy to reduce carbon emissions and prevent global warming, Japan's earthquake experience tells us we must address the issues of nuclear power plant safety and radiation leakage. We must reexamine energy generation policy from the perspective of disaster management and security. We must adopt a professional perspective, weighing advantages against disadvantages. Disaster prevention and mitigation must include risk management measures. Information must be open and transparent. We must seek a public consensus. Only then can we allay public fears about the safety of nuclear power generation.