Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Environment, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Nuclear Energy - Nuclear Weapons, Peace, Population

JAPAN: Food and Gasoline Shortages Plague Nuclear Exclusion Zone

Suvendrini Kakuchi

TOKYO, Mar 17 2011 (IPS) - For the past three days Hiroko Oogusa, 62 – following orders from the local authorities – has remained in her tightly shuttered home located 40 kilometres from the badly damaged Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima.

Four reactors of Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Credit: Japan Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport

Four reactors of Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Credit: Japan Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport

“The local town council officials who drove past my house announced through loudspeakers that we must not go outside and not let air in to protect ourselves from radiation,” Oogusa told IPS over an intermittent phone line. “I am trying hard not to lose hope for I am running out of food and wonder what is going to happen next.”

Oogusa, who lives in Iwachiku village, weathered the massive quake that hit Fukushima on Mar. 11. It shook her house badly, cutting off the water supply and heat, but never did she expect to be faced with what she describes as a kind of “imprisonment.”

“I am angry and sad at the same time over the horror we are facing. I have always been unhappy over the nuclear power plants in our area but I could do nothing about it,” she said.

One week after the quake and gigantic tsunami that pounded the northern Tohoku region and coastline, Japan, an earthquake prone country boasting the most advanced disaster management technology, is grappling with huge problems.

More than 350,000 people are in evacuation centres, thousands are still reported missing, and hydrogen explosions have left one of the largest nuclear power plants in the country vulnerable to serious meltdown.

Japan Self-Defence Forces are now spraying water from a helicopter over the Unit 3 reactor of Fukushima Daiichi power plant to cool the smouldering spent fuel in the reactor core that is producing dangerous levels of radioactive energy.

The emergency cooling systems including diesel generators and large water containers are not available because the tsunami, which produced waves as high as 10 metres, hit the facilities.

The government ordered a 30-kilometre exclusion zone around the plant to prevent radiation poisoning, and the zone was extended, says Oogusa, to her village as a precaution by the local authorities two days ago.

She describes the cordoned-off area as an “eerie ghost town made worse in the night because of the lack of electricity.”

Others who have taken refuge in evacuation centres also express similar sentiments. Hundreds of people are still waiting for food and blankets – with many centres reporting that one or two stoves had to be shared making life miserable and stressful for the very young and aged in the freezing weather.

Due to broken roads making access difficult, the affected areas have no gasoline, which is hampering rescue operations. The death toll has climbed to 5,500, with more than 10,000 still missing.

For Professor Yasuo Kawawaki, head of the International Recovery Platform, that is well-known for its work on global disaster reduction, the current tragic pictures illustrates not only the enormity of the crisis that has hit the country but also an important lesson-learning experience.

“The crisis is multiple and we were not prepared sufficiently,” Kawawaki explained. “It is not only the quake that has hit the area but also an unprecedented high tsunami and also the worst nuclear power accident.”

Commentators say the current situation vividly exposes the vulnerability of the country – a sobering evaluation for the public that had gotten used to being a world economic power, boasting state-of-the-art infrastructure and almost fool-proof efficiency.

Kawawaki notes that the recovery process will be daunting given the hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their loved ones, homes, and jobs in the area. Tokyo, the capital, is also affected by power shortages that are forcing shorter workdays and the closure of offices and shops.

“Research on disaster planning and emergencies is advanced in Japan but we now realise that what we have is still not sufficient,” said Kawawaki.

Still, points out Koichi Ishiyama, who works in international finance, Japan is a rich economy with an affluent population, large trade surplus, technical expertise and liquidity that provides a stable platform as the country enters the recovery phase. “The process will take several decades given the huge setback. But at least I believe we have a solid foundation,” he said.

For the moment, though, Japan is engulfed in the huge emergency stage of the crisis. As Masaru Shigemoto got on the bus this afternoon to leave for Tochigi – 100 kilometres out of Fukushima – he told television crews he is leaving with a heavy heart. “I was born and reared in this city which is now devastated by the nuclear explosion. I want to return but I am not sure whether it will be during my lifetime.”

Republish | | Print |

the grim reapers lawyer