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Overview of and Recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake (Part 9) [ 2011.05.30 ]

[NewsJapan.net] Overview
Developments over the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Accident
On May 12, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) acknowledged that so-called “meltdown (melting of the core of a nuclear reactor)” occurred in Unit 1 of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and that melted nuclear fuel piled up at the bottom of the pressure vessel. TEPCO announced on May 14 that a large amount of water contaminated by radioactivity was in the basement of the reactor building. It is believed that the water injected to cool the reactor down had leaked from the broken containment vessel.

On May 15, TEPCO announced the condition of Unit 1 after the arrival of the tsunami based on the analysis results compiled from the data recorded in the central control room, which revealed how the accident developed. According to this announcement, at about 7:30 p.m. on March 11, about four hours after the tsunami reached the power plant, the water level had become so low that all the fuel was exposed over the water and started to melt down into the bottom of the pressure vessel, the start of “meltdown.” By the early morning of the next day, March 12, most of the fuel had melted and dropped down into the bottom of the vessel.

Taking account of the Unit 1 situation, TEPCO announced on May 17 a revised version of the roadmap for controlling the accident originally announced on April 17. The revised roadmap lays out a plan to give priority to a method by which contaminated water leaking into the basement of the containment building will be purified and recycled to cool the reactor because TEPCO judged that flooding the reactor with water to cool it down was not feasible. As to the timing of a cold shutdown, the roadmap maintained its original target of “in six-nine months.”

In his press conference on May 18, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said that at a meeting of a committee to be set up soon to investigate the nuclear accident, the present form of atomic energy administration should be reviewed as the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, the watchdog of the nuclear stations, belongs to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which promotes nuclear power generation. Mr. Kan also referred to the business structure of the power companies and expressed his idea that the separation of the generation and distribution of power should be discussed while reviewing basic energy policy.

Road to Recovery
Framework to Help TEPCO’s Compensation Officially Announced
On May 13, the government held a meeting of relevant Cabinet ministers on the matter of compensation for the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and officially decided on a framework to help TEPCO pay compensation through an “Organization for Nuclear Plant Compensation (tentative name)” which will be newly established with funds from the government and the private sector, while putting TEPCO under official control. In order to really help the victims, the government will neither set an upper limit on TEPCO’s compensations nor make the utility insolvent before compensation has been completed. The framework obligated nine nuclear power companies besides TEPCO to pay funds to the institution and decided to inject public funds by issuing a delivery bond that is cashable when needed. The framework will be under Diet deliberation.

Government Roadmap for Immediate Actions for the Assistance of Nuclear Sufferers
On May 17, the day TEPCO announced its revised roadmap to put the reactors under control, the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters of the government (chief: Prime Minister) announced an immediate action plan to deal with the sufferers from the nuclear accident and a roadmap for assisting them. The action plan clearly says that the sufferers from the nuclear accident are “victims of the state’s policy (of promoting nuclear power),” demonstrating that the government will take responsibility for their assistance to the end. The action plan and the roadmap comprise Step 1 that lasts till mid July, Step 2 that lasts for six-nine months after Step 1, and Step 3 from then on. These steps include action plans for the evacuation area and the planned evacuation area including completion of about 15,200 temporary houses by the first half of August, ensuring the safety of the sufferers and reassuring them, and securing employment and providing support for farms and industries, and compensation to sufferers.

Planned Evacuations Start
On May 15, planned evacuations started in the local governments of Iitate village and Kawamata town, of the five municipalities the whole or part of which are designated as the planned evacuation area, an area which, though outside the 20-km radius of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, is at risk of being exposed to more than 20 milli-sieverts of accumulated yearly radiation.
In the planned evacuation area, about 10,000 residents (half of them have already evacuated voluntarily) are now requested to leave the area by the end of May at the latest. This time 113 people of 18 households were evacuated. The municipalities are planning to evacuate families with pregnant women or small children first.

Summer Electricity-saving Plan Decided
On May 13, the government’s Review Meeting on Power Supply and Demand decided on an official measure to avoid blackouts this summer that might be triggered by electricity shortages within the areas covered by TEPCO and the Tohoku Electric Power Co., Inc. It will call on Japanese companies and households to uniformly reduce their peak consumption of electricity by 15% compared with last summer, which was extremely hot. It will also prepare to put a limit on big power users in accordance with the Electricity Business Act.

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