‘Fukushima lessons: Any notion that nuclear power is clean is obsolete’

The unit No.1 (L) and No. 2 reactor building of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (Reuters / Itsuo Inouye)
The world must phase out nuclear power because it is absolutely not clean from the mining processing of uranium to the generation of high-level radioactive waste, Kevin Kamps for the radioactive waste watchdog Beyond Nuclear, told RT.

It's been four years since the most powerful earthquake in Japan's history struck the Fukushima nuclear power plant. All of Japan's 43 operable reactors have been shut down since 2013, because of safety checks required after the accident. The operator of the nuclear plant has sent a second robot inside the Fukushima reactor to collect data from it. The first robot became immovable after recording some footage from inside the reactor.

RT:Since the disaster, Japan has allocated more than $15 billion to an unprecedented project to lower radiation in towns near the power plant. However few locals believe Tokyo's assurances that the site will eventually be cleaned up. Do you think their fears are reasonable?

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Kevin Kamps: Yes, it is an unprecedented catastrophe. Of course there was Chernobyl, but in this area of Japan - it is so densely populated all over. So when they are trying to clear the landscape down to a certain depth, it is going to be more and more expensive. When you add all of the projects from decommissioning of the nuclear power plant to trying to clean up the landscape to loss of economic activity - we’re talking hundreds of billions of dollars all together. It is going to be very difficult for anything like normal life ever to return there.

RT:In addition to massive radioactive remains, Japan's greenhouse gas emissions are on the rise following the increase in coal-fired power. Should environmentalists sound the alarm here?

KK: Just in recent days there have been the admissions by high-ranking Tokyo Electric officials that the decommissioning of the nuclear power plant could take more like 200 years because of the lack of technology to do the job. They are going to have to invent all of these robotic systems and engineering processes to try to remove the melted cores at Fukushima Daiichi because that is their current plan unlike Chernobyl with the sarcophagus. The current plan in Japan is to remove those melted cores to somewhere else - perhaps to geologic disposal, they haven’t said. But it is going to be very challenging.

RT:How has the country been handling the shortage of nuclear energy so far?

KK: It is high time for Japan, but I should also say the US and many other countries, to do what Germany is doing – which is to make the transition in its energy sector to efficiency and renewables. Germany will phase out the nuclear power by 2022. This is a direct response to Fukushima. And it will also largely phase out fossil fuel by the middle of the century, by 2050. Germany is the fourth largest economy in the world. So if Germany can do it, so can other developed countries in the world. It is high time that we do this so that dangerous nuclear power plants can be shot down, and we don’t have to turn to polluting fossil fuels.

RT:What is the main importance of nuclear power phase-out in your opinion?

KK: I think it’s very important that world turned from the nuclear power. It is absolutely not clean from the mining and processing of uranium to the generation of high-level radioactive waste. Then the routine radiation releases is even from normally operating nuclear power plants. But then certainly you have the disasters like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. Any notion that nuclear power is clean is obsolete at this point.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Reuters / Kyodo)

RT:On Tuesday, a Japanese court halted the restart of two reactors at the Takahama plant in Fukui prefecture citing safety concerns. Why did the judges issue such a ruling?

KK: They are having a very difficult time. Just in recent days again a judge in Fukui prefecture ruled for the second time against the restart of atomic reactors in their prefecture, this time at Takahama. Two reactor units were blocked by this judge’s ruling from restarting. And last year he ruled against two reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant. So the local population, the local governors of prefectures, and local elected officials like mayors have put a stop to these plants restarting reactors in Japan.

RT:Do you think this latest move by the court is a major blow to the Prime Minister's attempts to return to atomic energy?

KK: Yes, and in this particular case in the last couple days the judge in Fukui prefecture ruled that the new regulations - supposedly based on lessons learned from Fukushima by the Japanese Nuclear Regulation Authority - are irrational and do not guarantee protection of public health and safety and the environment. So it is a big blow to Prime minister, [Shinzo] Abe’s plans to restart reactors.

RT:All 40 reactors in Japan are shot down at the moment, aren’t they?

KK: That’s right; all 40 reactors in Japan are currently shot down. And this has been the case largely since the Fukushima catastrophe began. There have been a few exceptions but for very short periods of time.

RT:If the court comes up with further restrictions that would eventually extend the countrywide shutdown of the reactors. What are the consequences likely to be for Japan's economy?

KK: It has made it. There have been challenges and difficulties; there has been a crash course in energy efficiency and also in energy conservation... And ... there have been imports of fossil fuels, natural gas and coal. That is why I said [that] it is important for Japan to as quickly as possible transition to a renewable energy economy. In fact, that prime minister who served during the beginning of the catastrophe, Naoto Kan, implemented laws that would make that renewable transition happen more efficiently.

RT:Are there any achievement that have been made by the Japanese government trying to tackle the problem? Any good news?

KK: The good news is that renewables, especially efficiency, are very quickly deployable. You can establish a large scale solar photovoltaic facility in a matter of months, the same with wind turbines and efficiency is even faster than that. You have companies in Japan that are poised to do this kind of work…So there is a real promise in renewables; Japan has tremendous resourcesboth domestically, but also for the export and the installation of renewables around the world. And you have to always remember that the devastation caused by Fukushima Daiichi is a very negative thing for the Japanese economy. So you could have 40 good years at a nuclear power plant like Fukushima Daiichi, and you can have one bad day that is now tuned into four bad years, and there is no end and sight- this will go on for very long time.

RT:Everyone in Japan and all over the world understands that it is very dangerous industry and something should be done to prevent future catastrophes. So why are Japanese authorities slowing down all these processes?

KK: It is a form of addiction; it is a form of political power that is very deeply ingrained. The Japanese nuclear power industry dates back to the 1950’s. The Liberal Democratic Party of Prime Minister Abe, one of its founding planks and its platform was pro-nuclear power. Apparently, it is very difficult for these powerful elites to learn lessons and to change their ways. But I think the Japanese people are showing that they have had enough of these risks to their country: first suffering the atomic bombings of 1945 and now also suffering the worst that nuclear power can deliver as well.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.