The approach of the second anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011 finds nuclear energy in Japan at a crossroads. After the quake and resulting tsunami, the nuclear plants in Japan that did not shut down immediately eventually all had to shut down for their required, scheduled outages. Political pressures, for the most part, prevented any near-term chance of any of them restarting, it seemed at the time. When Tomari Unit 3 shut down in May 2012, Japan found itself with not one single operating nuclear power plant for the first time in decades. Since that time, only two nuclear units have restarted—Ohi Units 3 and 4 in July 2012. Other plants, rumored to be “next” to start up, have still not started up, although they may soon. The question that springs to mind is naturally, “When will the majority of the plants be allowed to restart?” The more insightful question, though, is, “What will have to be done in order to allow any plant to restart?” And how can we tell which will start first—is there any clue present now? Yes, there is.
Continued debate rages about the possibility of active faults being located beneath a number of plants—perhaps the most widely discussed being Tsuruga. For the plants experiencing this problem, restart is highly problematic—and highly politically charged. For the informed, it’s also no safe bet.
Other nuclear plants, however, are emerging as the “sure bets” of owner-operators who are pushing massive amounts of time, money, and material into them, preparing for restart whenever the Japanese government and the new Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) allows it. The sheer amount of work being put into two of these is our focus today as we look forward to the time when Japan will return to generating a fair portion of its electric power from nuclear energy.
Yet, just reading the two kinds of media reports about the health effects of radiation exposure in the population areas near Fukushima Dai-Ichi augurs a rough restart for any public acceptance of nuclear energy. From the Los Angeles Times:
The 9.0-magnitude Tohoku-Oki earthquake and resulting tsunami that triggered a meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station has resulted in only a small increase in lifetime cancer risks for people living nearby, and an even smaller risk for populations outside of Japan, according to a new report from the World Health Organization.
Now, same report, from The Guardian:
People in the area worst affected by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident two years ago have a higher risk of developing certain cancers, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday.
A 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, killed nearly 19,000 people and devastated the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, triggering meltdowns, spewing radiation and forcing about 160,000 people to flee their homes.
“A breakdown of data, based on age, gender and proximity to the plant, does show a higher cancer risk for those located in the most contaminated parts,” Dr Maria Neira, WHO director for public health and environment, said in a statement.
In the most contaminated area, the WHO estimated that there was a 70% higher risk – up from a baseline risk of 0.77% to 1.29% – of females exposed as infants developing thyroid cancer over their lifetime. The thyroid is the most exposed organ as radioactive iodine concentrates there and children are deemed especially vulnerable.
The report estimated that in the most contaminated area there was a 7% higher risk of leukaemia in males exposed as infants, and a 6% higher risk of breast cancer in females exposed as infants.
The report concluded that for the general population inside Japan, the predicted health risks were low, but that one-third of emergency workers were estimated to have increased risk.
(Science Insider has the least sensational summary.)
“Only” is doing a lot of work in that LAT version, but The Guardian makes “70%” sound almost apocalyptic. There’s even a war of pictures.