Eight months after the earthquake and tsunami caused the worst nuclear incident since Chernobyl, Japan’s environment minister leads a visit around the site
The Observer, Sunday 13 November 2011
Journalists yesterday visited the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan, eight months after it was wrecked by the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
Amid crumbled concrete walls and buckled steel framework, reporters in radiation suits were given a tour of the facility for the first time since a tsunami swamped the plant on 11 March, causing reactor explosions and meltdowns, and turning hundreds of square miles of the surrounding area into a no man’s land.
But yesterday, Japanese officials were talking of progress. “I think it’s remarkable that we’ve come this far,” Goshi Hosono, the environment minister, said. “The situation at the beginning was extremely severe. At least we can say we have overcome the worst.”
Some 20,000 people died in the disaster: “During the first week of the accident, I thought several times that we were all going to die,” plant chief Masao Yoshida said.
At the height of the crisis, all but a few dozen volunteer workers, dubbed the “Fukushima 50″, were evacuated. Now 3,000 people are involved in the clean-up and have restored the plant’s supply of electricity, set up elaborate cooling and drainage systems, rebuilt walls and erected a huge tent to cover one of the worst-hit reactors, cutting the amount of radioactivity leakage.
Tepco, the plant’s owner, says it will achieve a “cold shutdown” by the end of the year, the first step toward creating a safe environment for work to begin to remove the reactors’ nuclear fuel.
A government report released this month predicted it will take 30 years or more to decommission Fukushima Daiichi.