by Eric Johnston, Staff Writer
OSAKA – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, just back from a trip to the Middle East and Africa, where he promoted Japanese nuclear technology, faces mounting international criticism that his administration is not taking the Fukushima crisis seriously and growing calls both at home and abroad for long-term global assistance.
Since Tokyo Electric Power Co. admitted on July 22, the day after Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party won a landslide Upper House victory, that radioactive groundwater was reaching the Pacific from the Fukushima No. 1 plant, international media attention has been intense.
Reporters, commentators and a wide range of experts have speculated on worst-case scenarios and warned that the leaks demonstrated the massive problems still to be resolved in dismantling the crippled plant.
For many abroad, the latest revelations only demonstrate yet again that the crisis is too big for either Tepco or the government to handle, and that consulting international experts has to mean going outside Japan’s “nuclear power village” or the International Atomic Energy Agency, which, they note, also has a mandate to promote nuclear power.
“Expertise in the areas of hydrology, reactors and civil engineering is needed. But the issue is not whether it’s domestic or international. What is needed is nonvested-interest expertise, not the IAEA, Areva (the French nuclear conglomerate) or (companies like) Bechtel. Contractors should come later after deciding what needs to be done,” said nuclear opponent Aileen Mioko Smith of the Kyoto-based group Green Action.
Japan recently announced it would seek Russian assistance and advice regarding the recent leaks. Mycle Schneider, a Paris-based energy and nuclear policy consultant who opposes nuclear power, said he welcomes the decision but added that it carries its own problems.
“First, there are too many political and economic biases involved. Second, the complexity of the challenges are such that Japan should make sure it reaches out to the most competent individuals in water management, spent-fuel handling and storage, waste disposal, building integrity and radiation protection,” he said.
Last year, Schneider offered a detailed proposal for an international task force for Fukushima. While noting three basic challenges, including site stabilization, protection from radiation and ensuring food safety, his proposal focused only on assistance for stabilizing the reactors.
His proposed task force would be led by two people, one Japanese and the other non-Japanese. There would be a core group of a dozen experts working full time on the project for a minimum of two years. At least half would have no links to the nuclear industry.