Disaster in Japan日本灾难,钚与米奇鼠
Plutonium and Mickey Mouse钚与米奇鼠
Japan’s nuclear crisis drags on, exposing profound failures both at the company and in national energy policy
IT IS daylight, but the darkness inside the headquarters of the world’s biggest privately owned electricity company is sepulchral. Officials, heads bowed, apologise in whispers for the trouble Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) has caused. Their 66-year-old boss, Masataka Shimizu, went into hospital on March 30th, suffering from hypertension; he has been absent for much of the past three weeks. In the gloom TEPCO’s logo on the walls of the building resembles a mutant Mickey Mouse.
About 250km away, at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear-power plant, hundreds of TEPCO employees and some subcontractors are trying to prevent further leaks of radioactive material from three damaged nuclear reactors and various sources of spent fuel. Their conditions are close to intolerable. At times, they have been exposed to more radiation in a few hours than they are supposed to endure in a year. Their rations are biscuits and canned food. They have a blanket each, and sleep on the floor. Some have lost homes and families to the tsunami that left 27,690 dead or missing. TEPCO sees them as soldiers. “We don’t think they are heroes. They are doing what they should,” an official says.
TEPCO is getting most of the blame for Japan’s nuclear disaster. For much of the past three weeks, the authorities have held out hopes that they could regain control by reconnecting cooling systems damaged by the tsunami. These are supposed to prevent fuel from melting and rupturing the protective steel case of the reactor vessels.
This week the discovery of large pools of highly radioactive water and raised levels of radiation in seawater near the plant has shown how far the authorities really are from regaining control. Previous releases of radioactive iodine and caesium had shown that material from the core of at least one reactor has been released. The new findings suggest that the systems designed to contain such releases may have been badly compromised. The tanks into which contaminated water is being pumped will eventually fill up. And conditions for workers are getting more dangerous, which means that fixing up the cooling systems and hooking up vital measuring instruments takes longer.