'Fukushima might make 2020 Tokyo Olympics impossible'
Last August Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) for the first time requested international help in its increasingly desperate fight to contain the leaks at the crippled nuclear plant. Historian of social and cultural aspects of nuclear technology and Associate Professor at Hiroshima Peace University, Robert Jacobs believes this means the problem is catastrophically large.
RT:What does this SOS call tell us about the scale of the leaks at the plant?
Robert Jacobs: The main thing it tells us is that they are so significant and so large that the Japanese government and Japanese nuclear industry is at a loss at how to deal with them. Now remember Japan has over 50 nuclear power plants, so there's a lot of expertise and a lot of experience in Japan. If these leaks are so significant that the Japanese nuclear industry and government are at a loss of how to deal with them then they are catastrophically large. So this is a very, very big problem and it's not an easy problem to solve.
RT:Japan's Prime Minister says his country, and I quote, 'needs your knowledge and expertise' - which countries do you think could be most useful in this situation?
RJ: Clearly the countries that would be the most useful
are the countries with the largest and oldest groups of
power-plants, so this would be the United States, Russia and also
the United Kingdom or rather France. These are the countries with
the largest amount of nuclear power plants in the world and the
longest amount of experience, so these are countries that have
both expertise and experience. However, given that nobody really
knows how to solve the problems at Fukushima, there is nobody who
has solutions to this. The problems of Fukushima are
unprecedented, so even bringing in outside expertise all that
they can do is to try to problem solve, there is no solution that
other countries have that they can come in and fix the reactors
or rather shut down the contamination, shut down the leaks. Even
other countries coming in and bringing their expertise will
hopefully bring more professionalism than TEPCO has shown in the
last two and a half years, but even those experts would be at a
loss at how to solve the immense problems that we'll be facing
for decades in Fukushima.
RT:What about Russia’s experience in cleaning up such problems?
RJ: Russia's experience is instructive, but as many people
I'm sure know the nuclear fuel at Chernobyl is still melting, and
it's still needing to be contained, and there's new containment
being built at Chernobyl even this long after the event. So part
of the expertise that Russia has shown in dealing with Chernobyl
is to evacuate a much larger area and move people further away
from the contamination. This is not being done in Japan. But this
won't solve the problems of the leaks and this won't solve the
problems of the contamination.
RT:What is it going to take to get the situation at the plant under control?
RJ: Nobody knows that. And this is the terrifying part is
that the situation when there's a large nuclear disaster like
this the situation is so unprecedented that there is no solution.
Right now there are so many problems at the Fukushima plant. You
have over a thousand tanks of water with highly contaminated
radioactive water inside these tanks, because of the ground water
that is also flowing though there and the water that's being
poured on every day in order to keep the melting cores cool, in
order to keep them from heating up the level of water saturating
that ground is incredibly high. And then you have over 1000 tanks
and more tanks being built every few days to store thousands of
tons of water - this is all on ground saturated with water. So
how they are going to be able keep that water in place without
these tanks all leaking is anybody's guess. How they are going to
be able to find where underneath these reactors the nuclear fuel
is and limit and contain them so that they stop leaching
radiation into the environment is likely to take decades even
with all expertise in the world.
RT:How could all this affect the 2020 Tokyo Olympics?
RJ: It could be very devastating for the Tokyo Olympics. Right now there is still all throughout northern Japan caesium being found in the urine of children there which means that the exposure and contamination is ongoing, they have not gone down for children in these areas, they are still being exposed to radiation. So two and a half years later it has yet to be contained. There is no reason to believe that it will be contained even by 2020. What's more, there's likelihood of a potentially more catastrophic happening in Fukushima. If there was another large earthquake, if there was a large typhoon there could easily be more destruction there. As we know there is a spent fuel pool in the number 4 reactor that holds an immense amount of spent nuclear fuel rods and the building has been damaged and is leaning. This spent fuel pool is several floors up, so if this building were to collapse which could happen it would spill these spent nuclear fuel rods all over the ground which would make the 2020 Tokyo Olympics impossible and could threaten all kinds of health problems throughout northern Japan and Tokyo itself. So it's a wish that Tokyo Olympics will not be affected by this, but there's no doubt that the radioactive leakage will be continuing at that time.
RT:The Fukushima tragedy has got a massive anti-nuclear movement rolling - is the world ready to abandon this energy source for good?
RJ: It has to for the well-being of the population of the
world and the eco-system. The benefits from nuclear power last
one or two generations but the burden of taking care of the spent
fuel from those two generations of power last over a thousand
generations. That's an incredible burden to ask thousand
generations to take care of our garbage so that we could have
energy for one or two generations. When you are creating toxins
that are the most dangerous toxins in the world and some of them
will remain dangerous toxins for 20 thousand or a 100 thousand
years. Once those toxins are manufactured, plutonium is
manufactured, it doesn't exist in nature, once these manufactured
elements enter into the ecosystem they will be something that has
to be dealt with by human beings by tens of thousands or hundreds
of thousands years. So to continue to create more of these
poisons for the purpose of having easier electricity is
unsustainable that's putting a burden on our future, that's too
much to bear. The world cannot continue with nuclear power. The
way forward are not with limited fuels or contaminating fuels,
the way forward over the course of hundreds maybe thousands of
years if we are able to sustain human civilization is through
renewable and sustainable energy sources that do not pollute or
contaminate our ecosystem. What's happening in Fukushima is a
catastrophic problem that is not finished, will not be finished
any time soon, and remains a dire threat to the people of Japan
as well as for people all around the world as long as it
continues to spill radiation into the ocean and into the