Japan fails to stop radioactive discharge into ocean
Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s Democratic Party was likely to be
punished at Sunday’s local polls for his handling of the massive
earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Japan’s northeastern coast
on March 11, killing 13,000 and triggering the world’s worst
nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
China and South Korea have also criticised Japan’s handling
of the nuclear crisis, with Seoul calling it incompetent,
reflecting growing international unease over the month-long
atomic disaster and the spread of radiation.
Japan is struggling to regain control of the Fukushima
Daiichi nuclear plant that was damaged by the magnitude 9 quake
and 15 metre tsunami.
The nuclear plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co
(TEPCO) , has been pumping sea water into the reactors
to cool the nuclear core, and then discharging the water, after
it has become contaminated, back into the Pacific Ocean.
TEPCO had planned to stop the discharge on Saturday, but
work was interrupted by a powerful aftershock late on Thursday.
The firm then pushed the target back to Sunday, a goal it failed
“We are making checks on remaining water, and the final
check is scheduled for tomorrow,” a company spokesman told a
press briefing late on Sunday.
TEPCO was forced to start pumping sea water into the power
plant after failing to restart the reactors’ cooling systems
after the quake. It has been pumping in nitrogen to cool the
core, but officials say they are unsure of what to do next.
“We cannot say what the outlook is for the next stage,”
Hidehiko Nishiyama, a deputy director-general of the Nuclear and
Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) said on Sunday. “As soon as
possible we would like to achieve stable cooling and set a
course towards controlling radiation.”
It is also grappling with a major humanitarian and economic
crisis and facing a damages bill as high as $300 billion — the
world’s biggest for any natural disaster.
Japanese who voted in local elections on Sunday were
expected to shun Kan’s ruling party, further weakening him and
bolstering opponents who will try to force his resignation once
the crisis ends. Results of the vote are expected on Monday.
Unpopular prime minister Kan was already under pressure to
step down before the disaster, but analysts say he is unlikely
to be dumped during the nuclear crisis, which is set to drag on
In Tokyo, around 5,000 people took to the streets
in two separate anti-nuclear protests on Sunday. Some carried
placards reading ‘No More Fukushima’ and ‘No Nukes’; others
danced and played musical instruments.
One group of demonstrators marched to the offices of the
operator of the stricken plant, which has apologised to Japan,
and neighbouring countries, for the crisis.
Radiation from Japan spread around the entire northern
hemisphere in the first two weeks of the nuclear crisis,
according to the Vienna-based Preparatory Commission for the
Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation.
Japan’s economy, the world’s third largest, is reeling from
the triple disaster and several countries have banned or
restricted food imports after detecting radiation.
More critically, the nuclear crisis and power shortages have
disrupted Japan’s manufacturing and electronics global supply
chains, hitting computer and automakers in particular.
Power blackouts and restrictions, factory shutdowns, and a
sharp drop in tourists have hit the world’s most indebted
Efforts to regain control of six reactors hit by the
tsunami, which caused partial meltdowns to some reactor cores
after fuel rods were overheated, has been hindered by 60,000
tonnes of radioactive water.
NISA said efforts to restore cooling systems were not making
TEPCO wants to start moving some of the highly
contaminated water out of the reactors and into a condenser, a
key step towards restoring the critical cooling system.
“We may be able to use (electric) systems that are currently
functioning for cooling, and that may speed up the cooling
restoration. But there is no concrete and clear option,” said