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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 July 2018

Japanese need to be ‘more transparent’ on nuclear clean-up

Japan remains in a “crisis” nearly three years on from the Fukushima disaster, said the head of the country’s independent review panel of the triple meltdown.
Kiyoshi Kurokawa, the chairman of Japan’s first parliament-appointed investigative commision, said there has been a lack of transparency regarding the Fukushima nuclear reactor’s situation. Sammy Dallal / The National
Kiyoshi Kurokawa, the chairman of Japan’s first parliament-appointed investigative commision, said there has been a lack of transparency regarding the Fukushima nuclear reactor’s situation. Sammy Dallal / The National

Japan remains in a “crisis” nearly three years on from the Fukushima disaster, said the head of the country’s independent review panel.

Kiyoshi Kurokawa, the chairman of Japan’s first parliament-appointed investigative commision that deemed the accident “Made in Japan,” said the state utility in charge of the plants needed to open up more to foreign expertise and be more transparent with the public as it embarks on a clean-up effort.

“This is really a national emergency,” said Mr Kurokawa, who was in Abu Dhabi for the World Economic Forum’s summit on the global agenda. “After two years and nine months, I think the world is really wondering what is happening in that site.”

Yesterday the embattled operator Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) started the delicate task of removing damaged fuel rods from Fukushima Dai-Ichi reactor number 4, a task that has been likened in difficulty to pulling cigarettes out of a bent pack.

Over the coming year, engineers must extract in total 400 tonnes of spent fuel without breaking or exposing them to the air, and without further upsetting the unstable reactor building. That will only be the first of the reactors to be cleared of the highly radioactive fuel, and proposals for dealing with contaminated water are still to be evaluated.

The urgency to the clean-up is underscored by shutdown of all of the country’s 50 operational reactors, forcing the world’s third-largest economy to rely more on increased fuel imports from producers like Abu Dhabi. That has hurt its balance of trade and contributed to a slowing economy. GDP growth in the three months that ended September 30 slowed to 1.9 per cent from 3.8 per cent in the previous quarter.

“It has become very clear over the past two years or so the handling of this nuclear plant’s current situation by Tepco is not quite appropriate or perhaps not sufficient through their incompetence and lack of transparency in the process,” said Mr Kurokawa.

“I think Tepco has been doing their best, but nobody’s sure what the best may be. So that has to go through an independent, transparent and also international advice and experts. And through this process Tepco and the Japanese government can regain trust from the international community.”

Mr Kurokawa also serves on the board of Khalifa University, which is marketing itself as an education hub for the next generation of nuclear engineers needed to power the Arab World’s first civil atomic power plant.

The first of four reactors in the US$20 billion Abu Dhabi plant is scheduled to come online in May 2017; by 2020, the country is due to generate a quarter of its power from atomic energy.

Elsewhere in the region, Turkey and Jordan are due to come next with recently awarded contracts, and next year Saudi Arabia is expected to launch the world’s biggest new nuclear programme since China’s outlay.

ayee@thenational.ae