Japanese PM Declares ‘Cold Shutdown’ At Fukushima, Some Remain Skeptical
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced Friday that Fukushima’s nuclear reactors have finally been stabilized after a catastrophic earthquake-tsunami combination in March led to dangerous radiation leaks and mass evacuations.
While Japanese authorities say that it will likely take decades to completely clean-up and dismantle the reactors, Noda’s announcement of a “cold shutdown” at least signaled that the immediate threat of nuclear meltdown has receded, allowing the over 125 million inhabitants of the small island nation to breathe a collective sigh of relief.
“The nuclear reactors have reached a state of cold shutdown and therefore we can now confirm that we have come to the end of the accident phase of the actual reactors,” Mr Noda told reporters.
When the twin natural disasters struck on March 11 of this year, cooling systems for four of the six-reactors at Fukushima’s Daiichi nuclear plant were knocked out, leading to dangerous explosions and Chernobyl-like radiation emissions.
Though now officially stabilized, officials say that they will maintain a 12-mile ‘exclusion zone’ around the perimeter of the defunct plant for the foreseeable future.
Tens of thousands of residents were evacuated from the area when it began leaking dangerous nuclear isotopes in the days and weeks following the incident. And because much of the area remains badly polluted, many experts say that some cities in the region might be uninhabitable for three to four decades.
Takashi Sawada, vice chairman of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, emphasized that the term “cold shutdown” does not mean that the four damaged reactors were now completely normal but rather that they had reached “a stable condition of cooling.” He added that the reactors are now emitting only a tiny amount of radiation compared with the days immediately following the blast.
Some, however, have not found cause for jubilation in the prime minister’s declaration.
One outspoken critic of the government’s response to the disaster has been Yuhei Sato, the governor of Fukushima prefecture. He insists that the announcement doesn’t really change the reality on the ground.
“I wish this was a new step toward helping evacuated residents go home. But there is no change in that. There is a long and rocky road ahead toward the resolution of the accident,” he told reporters.
The international environmental group Greenpeace has been even harsher in its critique, calling Noda’s announcement a “smokescreen” that was intended to deceive the masses about the real state of the reactors and the surrounding area.
“By triumphantly declaring a cold shutdown, the Japanese authorities are clearly anxious to give the impression that the crisis has come to an end, which is clearly not the case,” commented Greenpeace Japan’s executive director Junichi Sato.
“The ongoing radiological threat posed by the Fukushima nuclear disaster remains enormous.”
Sato added that instead of trying to save face, the government should try to secure permanent public safety by shutting down all of Japan’s nuclear reactors.
But as the island nation acquires roughly a third of its energy from nuclear power plants like the one at Fukushima, energy experts say that simply taking Japan off nuclear power isn’t really feasible for the immediate future. Moving forward, they will likely have to strike a balance between safety and necessity.