Japan Political Chaos Hinders Nuclear Disaster Relief

Japanese government’s compensation assistance plan for tens of thousands of evacuees who left their homes after the March 11 nuclear disaster in Fukushima seems stalled with lawmakers demanding resignation of Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who they say has not handled the crisis well.

Japan’s media Thursday said Kan had agreed to resign after his government completes its response to the magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami and the ensuing nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Lawmakers are also fighting over whether taxpayers’ money could be used to help the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which maintains the nuclear plants, in paying compensation.

“The government is seeking a passage of the bill during the current parliamentary session due to finish on June 22, but some lawmakers, including those in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, are opposed to the proposal, calling it a taxpayer-funded bailout,” Dow Jones Newswires reported.

However, TEPCO Tuesday started paying partial compensation money to victims of the damage caused by the nuclear disaster, mainly farmers, fishermen and evacuees. TEPCO also announced Tuesday recovery of a cooling system at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant – the first full, stable recovery since the March 11 nuclear accident, which is consider to be the second largest nuclear accident after the April 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine.

There is still cause for worry. Radioactive water accumulating in Fukushima No. 2 plant may start overflowing from service trenches in five days, potentially increasing the contamination, warned Bloomberg Wednesday. TEPCO has been manually pumping water into overheating reactors after cooling systems broke down and much of that has overflowed into basements and trenches, it said. There could be serious consequences if contaminated water gets in to the soil.

A preliminary report released Wednesday by an investigation team comprising International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts and Japanese government officials praised as well as criticized the authorities and TEPCO.

“Our entire team was humbled by the enormous damage inflicted by the tsunami on Japan. We are also profoundly impressed by the dedication of Japanese workers working to resolve this unprecedented nuclear accident,” it said. However, it also said the government and TEPCO had underestimated the risks a tsunami could cause to the nuclear plants.

Earlier, WikiLeaks had shown that the Japanese authorities had been alerted about the inability of the power plants to survive strong earthquakes in 2008. While the nuclear facility was designed to survive tremors of up to magnitude 7, the one in March 2011 was 8.9, the biggest to hit Japan.

“Nuclear regulatory systems should address extreme external events adequately, including their periodic review, and should ensure that regulatory independence and clarity of roles are preserved in all circumstances in line with IAEA safety standards,” the nuclear watchdog’s team added.

According to WHO, radiation-related health consequences out of the Japan’s disaster will depend on exposure, which in turn depends on the amount and type of radiation released from the reactor, weather conditions, a person’s proximity to the plant, and the amount of time spent in irradiated areas among other factors. But, in general, people living farther away are at lower risk and thus far there are no health risks to people living in other countries.

However, there is a risk of exposure as a result of contamination in food as the presence of radioactivity in some vegetables and milk has been confirmed and some of the initial food monitoring results show radioactive iodine detected in concentrations above Japanese regulatory limits, WHO website says. Radioactive cesium has also been detected. “However, contaminated food would have to be consumed over prolonged periods to represent a risk to human health.”

But, according to a Pew Research Center poll, around 60 percent of Japanese adults suspect they may have been contaminated. And at least 80 percent of the population is dissatisfied with the response from TEPCO and Prime Minister Kan.

Apart from the radiation risk and related evacuations and damage, 15,247 people have been killed as a result of the earthquake, 8,593 are missing and 106,699 buildings have collapsed as of May 27, according to Japan’s National Police Agency.

Last Monday, Japan’s Christian Council decided to establish an office to coordinate relief operations in Japan and from abroad, reported ENI. Executives from the National Christian Council in Japan met in Tokyo and announced the plan to “participate in the work of restoring the affected areas from the East Japan Earthquake in solidarity with Christian churches and Christian organizations in Japan and abroad.”

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