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Cold shutdown

December 16, 2011

The Japanese government has claimed to have reached a cold shutdown in Fukushima. But experts are skeptical and believe it could take another 40 years to get the situation under control.


Headlines from Japan surely sound good: Fukushima is under control, the dilapidated nuclear power plant is stable. But these headlines are nothing more than a euphemism. The situation at Fukushima is nowhere near under control.

The Daiichi power plant operator Tepco and the Japanese government had announced at the end of summer to have the situation under control - or a cold shutdown - by the end of this year. For a "cold shutdown," temperatures inside the reactor buildings need to be below 100 degrees Celsius. But it is just the beginning - the start of a point from which the plant can be disassembled.

Or so it goes in theory. But experts are saying it could take another 30 years before the plant can be levelled. Experts believe parts of the fuel rods burned through the floor of the reactor pressure vessel and are now lying on the ground and that they are far from "cold," but that they are still around at a temperature of 3,000 degrees Celsius.

Alexander Freund
Alexander Freund works for Deutsche Welle's Asia DeskImage: DW

Referring to the current situation at Fukushima as a cold shutdown is thus irresponsible. But what else are the government and Tepco to do? They are hoping to pacify the population by talking about a cold shutdown, but it won’t work. The Japanese people are infuriated - nine months after the earthquake and tsunami which led to the meltdown in the Daiichi plant - Tepco was speaking of nuclear fission in reactor 2 just a couple of weeks ago.

Nuclear radiation is still extremely high in the Fukushima prefecture and contaminated water continues to flow into the sea. High levels of radiation continue to be found in rice, meat, vegetables, seafood, milk and tea in the region. And thousands of people have been displaced by the nuclear disaster and continue to live in evacuation shelters. They will receive a small amount in compensation - but it will be payed out of the pockets of Japanese tax payers and not out of Tepco's.

Nothing is under control - an unavoidable fact known to many Japanese people. Their skepticism and distrust have got to a point reached that many take their own measurements using Geiger counters and dosimeters. A number of people have started posting their findings on the Internet. There, on a map of Japan, anyone can see the radiation measurements taken throughout the country.

This is important because it is not only those from the Fukushima prefecture who are affected, as measurements have shown. This has shaken a population that traditionally places great importance on respecting authortiy. And no positive headlines at the year’s end are going to make it better.

Beacause there is no real progress to report. The new Japanese government under Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who has been in office since September, 2011, has not passed the "stress test," either. The last prime minister, Naoto Kan, had to resign, as his government, which failed in the hour of need, broke under the pressure of crossing swords with the country's powerful lobbyists for nuclear power and instead made a move towards renewable energy. The nuclear power lobbyists are the ones who can claim credit for stabilizing their own situation and getting the government under control.

Author: Alexander Freund / sb

Editor: Arun Chowdhury