28 Juillet 2016
July 23, 2016
Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of The Asahi Shimbun.
A massive concrete structure encases the wrecked No. 4 reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, site of the catastrophic 1986 accident.
Dubbed the "sarcophagus," it was erected to contain the fuel that could not be extracted from the crippled reactor.
I never expected this word ("sekkan" in Japanese) to crop up in connection with the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis.
Local governments raised objections to the use of this word in a report compiled by a government organ that supports the decommissioning of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
While the report discusses the extraction of melted fuel as a requirement, it is written in such a way as to suggest that the construction of a sarcophagus is an option that should not be dismissed out of hand.
This outraged the governor of Fukushima, Masao Uchibori, who lashed out, "Containing (the melted fuel) in a sarcophagus spells giving up hope for post-disaster reconstruction and for returning home."
The government organ has since deleted the word from the report, admitting that it was misleading and that constructing a sarcophagus is not under consideration.
The report lacked any consideration for the feelings of local citizens. But more to the point, just deleting the word does not settle this case.
Even though five years have passed since the disaster, nothing has been decided yet on how to extract the melted fuel. How, then, can anyone guarantee that the fuel will never be "entombed"?
I am reminded anew of the sheer difficulty of decommissioning nuclear reactors. The Fukushima edition of The Asahi Shimbun runs a weekly report on the work being done at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
The report portrays the harsh realities at the site, such as leaks of contaminated water and accidents involving workers. Efforts to decommission the crippled reactors continue day after day, but the task is expected to take several decades.
Elsewhere in Japan, the rule that requires nuclear reactors to be decommissioned after 40 years is becoming toothless, and preparations are proceeding steadily for restarting reactors that have remained offline.
"Normalcy" appears to be returning, but there is a huge gap between that and the unending hardships in the disaster-affected areas.
--The Asahi Shimbun, July 23