Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fukushima Daiichi..worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl

By Hiroku Tabuchi, David E. Sanger and Keith Bradsher, New York Times, March 15, 2011
TOKYO — Japan’s nuclear crisis verged toward catastrophe on Tuesday after an explosion damaged the vessel containing the nuclear core at one reactor and a fire at another spewed large amounts of radioactive material into the air, according to statements from Japanese government and industry officials.
In a brief address to the nation at 11 a.m. Tokyo time, Prime Minister Naoto Kan pleaded for calm, but warned that radiation had already spread from the crippled reactors and there was “a very high risk” of further leakage. Fortunately, the prevailing winds were sweeping most of the plume of radioactivity out into the Pacific Ocean, rather than over populated areas.
The sudden turn of events, after an explosion Monday at one reactor and then an early-morning explosion Tuesday at yet another — the third in four days at the plant — already made the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station the worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl reactor disaster a quarter century ago.
It would seem that the Prime Minister's primary goal, throughout the last four or five days, has been to maintain calm, even at the expense of full disclosure. Now, however, he has no choice...and the facts are so horrendous as to be even more overwhelming than everything we have heard so far.
Already, even before this latest information, various countries had either mothballed or cancelled nuclear reactor projects and others were re-considering their commitment to nuclear power.
However, before we get ahead of ourselves, there is a human tragedy in Japan, for which the world may not be fully prepared. On PBS' New Hour with Jim Lehrer, a UN spokewoman indicated that Japan had accepted aid workers and rescue teams from 15 countries, with another 17 waiting to move in. In her words, another 40-plus countries have offered, and the UN's job is to co-ordinate these offers and to deploy them, according to the needs of the Japanese people and government.
What is still a little shocking, to this observer, is that the world does not have a cadre of forces, humanitarian forces, like military forces, from many countries, that could be deployed to such catastrophes. The military component, while disciplined and trained, is not the same as humanitarian "troops" trained in a far different discipline, with different equipment and different persepctives. Lester Pearson, then Foreign Affairs Minister proposed, and the world accepted a Peace-keeping Mission under the UN in the Suez Crisis of 1957.
Now, a half-century later, the world's needs are calling out for an internationally funded and staffed "crisis response" cadre of trained personnel who would be capable of serving in English and many other languages, who would not be an NGO, but rather a sanctioned, approved and monitored agency, perhaps under the UN aegis, whose personnel would eliminate the various nuanced agendas of the various countries, for which there is really no time or latitude in such situations.
Individual countries, with specific expertise, will attempt to serve admirably, without a command structure, without a co-ordinating structure and without a mandate that can be monitored and deployed as the needs evolve.
In the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. designated a single person, to take charge of the BP oil deluge, since it was their territory and their disaster. That team accessed experts from many countries, companies and universities around the world. However, advance planning would indicate the need to bring emergency humanitarian forces together from around the world, train them in the various kinds of humanitarian emergencies that develop, fund them, and perhaps keep them on stand-by, as if in a reserve force, for such occasions as these.
This would not eliminate the need for the NGO's, but it would remove the various agendas that attend to the NGO's as their primary motivation and funding base.
And this from the Editorial, New York Times, March 15, 2011
The unfolding Japanese tragedy also should prompt Americans to closely study our own plans for coping with natural disasters and with potential nuclear plant accidents to make sure they are, indeed, strong enough. We’ve already seen how poor defenses left New Orleans vulnerable to Hurricane Katrina and how industrial folly and hubris led to a devastating blowout and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

But it is not only the U.S. that needs to re-think both its preparedness and its oversight, it is also the world community that needs to be ready, both to sacrifice a little sovereignty and to engage more fully in prevention monitoring and in disaster management.

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