Since the wave of surprise, the impulses of compassions and ethnocentrism linked to the nuclear threat in France, Japanese natural and nuclear disasters have gone out of fashion.
Yet it seems that disaster is more a process than an event and that Japan remains in a state of emergency. The toll is very heavy, with 14,949 dead and 9,880 missing, more than 25 million tons of debris to be managed and still more than 100,000 people to be rehoused.
Japan’s policy in the face of enormous needs
The government has pledged to deliver 60,000 emergency housing units by the end of August. Around 15,000 families in the south of the country are hosting refugees, combining public power and solidarity.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced in May that he was giving up his salary but would not resign until a larger budget was voted on in the assembly. He is still strongly criticised for his lack of leadership during the crisis and anti-nuclear activists believe that an energy alternative would be impossible without his departure.
The first part of the reconstruction budget was voted at the end of May and amounts to 4 000 billion yen – about 36 billion euros, while the total cost of reconstruction is estimated at 116 to 128 billion euros. In mid-June, Naoto Kan created two new ministries, the Ministry of Reconstruction Management in the Northeast, which was entrusted to the former Minister of the Environment, and the Ministry for the Management of the Nuclear Crisis in Fukushima, which was entrusted to the former Minister of the Economy. The creation of these two new ministries shows how urgent, but also how structural, the situation is.
And in Fukushima… the risk remains maximum…
Is it the end of nuclear power in Japan? Not really, no. Nuclear power accounts for 30% of the archipelago’s electricity, dwarfed by indigenous energies. If the Japanese government as well as the managers of Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) – the state-owned company that owns the Fukushima power plant, where 51% of the annual electricity production is nuclear, have announced massive investments in renewable energies, it doesn’t mean that nuclear power is disappearing.
On the contrary, the number 2 of Tepco Yasuo Hamada has announced that he wants to increase nuclear production in the short and medium term, in order to avoid power cuts at a time when the demand for reconstruction is going to be enormous .
As regards the Fukushima site in the Sendai region, Tepco has officially established early 2012 as the cold shutdown date for the 4 damaged reactors. Until then, it is essential to find a solution for managing the water required for cooling – 6 to 10 min 3 s per hour -, still brought in by tanker truck and pumped after use, even though it is highly radioactive. Thanks to our national hero, Areva, it would appear that part of the water is managed by a closed-cycle cooling system so that the already contaminated water can be re-injected and cooled while remaining in the plant.
Another issue is the disposal of the 2,500 tonnes of uranium and plutonium stored to feed the 4 damaged reactors. And according to estimates, this task will take about… 20 years! The employees of the site have not finished being irradiated.