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Japan's Nuclear Crisis: Resolution Demanded in a Time of Urgency

by Seth Cropsey & Jun Isomura

April 25, 2011

The major and multiple disasters that began in Japan with the Mw9.0 earthquake of March 11 are a unique experience. They have brought Japan into unknown territory. The death toll currently is more than 13,400 people. Nearly 15,000 people are still missing as of April 14. There may be more unreported missing since entire families were swept away. It is estimated that the tsunami covered nearly 150,000 acres. 150,000 victims are living today in more than 2,300 shelters.

Japan remains in a state of shock and anxiety as a result of hundreds of aftershock quakes, including more than 400 aftershocks over Mw5 since March 11 as well as radioactive contamination. The fate and future of our Japanese friends depend on continued strong moral support and advice.

Yomiuri online, the largest newspaper in Japan, reported on April 14 that several research organizations in Japan are warning that the possibility exists of an aftershock and/or earthquake with that could measure 8 on the Richter scale and which could cause a tsunami again in the same area as early as a month from now. Using GPS observations, associate professor Shinji Endo of Kyoto University has calculated the possibility of a more than 30 feet high tsunami with an earthquake with the same magnitude of the 1933 Sanriku earthquake which measured Mw8.4. Professor Kazuki Kouketsu, Tokyo University, said in Sankei News on April 12 that after aftershock over Mw5 may continue for at least a few months and possibly for years.

Our Japanese friends still face difficulties with the huge disaster and the nuclear crisis of Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station. The nuclear crisis is not restricted to Japan but is in fact a crisis that extends beyond Japan's borders as atmospheric dispersion and marine diffusion spread radioactive releases from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. We hope that we have seen the end of the natural events that have produced a human catastrophe, but there is no way of knowing.

On April 15, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency announced preparations for backup facilities that would allow water cooling to continue at Fukushima Dai-ichi in the event of a major aftershock. This is a positive step. So are the developments reported by Yomiuri online in another article on April 15. The article noted that Hitachi Corporation has coordinated the assistance of 1,500 experts including employees of the American corporations, Bechtel, and Exelon at the Fukushima Daiichi site. Their primary mission is to inject nitrogen into Units 1 to 3 to prevent a hydrogen explosion, and to restore the water cooling system for spent nuclear fuel in Units 1 to 4. Toshiba Corporation has also sent 1,400 people. Areva, the world's largest nuclear energy corporation, located in France, provides equipment and technology for eliminating water that has been heavily contaminated by radiation. Areva's assistance is an example of positive steps that the international community has taken in response to the crisis.

Private enterprise is not alone in its response. U.S. military forces and the U.S. nuclear emergency team, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Department of Energy, have been working with Japanese team quite effectively. But the scale of the disaster and the possibility of another large earthquake raise even more difficult and dangerous problems. In the area, Tohoku - northern part of Japan, there are five Nuclear Power Stations, Fukushima Dai-ichi, Fukushima Dai-ni, Tokai Dai-ni, Onagawa, and Higashidori Dai-ichi, and one nuclear fuel cycle facility, Rokkasho.

This is why we are concerned not only Fukushima Daiichi, but other Nuclear Power Stations. At Onagawa, Hidashidori, and Rokkasho AC electrical power was cut following the April 7 aftershock that measured Mw7.4. The cooling system stopped operating briefly at the Onagawa and Higashidori Nuclear Power Stations. Water injection - which is critical to cooling the reactors - was interrupted at Units 1 to 3 for 50 minutes with the blackout of AC power that followed the April 11 aftershock.

The crisis is far from over, and could worsen. To lessen the possibility of a greater disaster we strongly suggest the following measures;

1. Increased international cooperation.

* Japan's government needs to communicate its needs and problems more clearly and effectively with other states and private organizations so that they can offer more focused timely assistance.
* Effective action requires more that sending experts to Japan. Their work must be effectively coordinated. Only Japan can do this. The Japanese authorities would greatly assist current relief and technical efforts by providing stronger leadership to coordinate international offers of assistance and advice.
* Such coordination must take place not only at the technical level, but diplomatically and politically.

2. Provide strong effective political leadership in Japan. Japanese political leadership has been seriously challenged by the natural disaster, its human consequences, and the nuclear crisis. Any state would find just one of these severe problems a great challenge. More effective crisis management would speed recovery, relief, and assuring the safety of nuclear facilities.

* A coalition Cabinet should be established for the state of emergency. This would help assure the national unity that is needed in the face of the disasters that have already occurred as well as possible future challenges.
* Extraordinary measures should be prepared that allow the government to take swift, effective action in case the nuclear crisis worsens seriously.

The Japanese are a resourceful and resilient people. They will emerge from this emergency stronger and better prepared for future crises. But the recovery still needs the help of the international community and strong, effective political leadership at home.

Seth Cropsey and Jun Isomura are Senior Fellows at the Hudson Institute.

[The opinions expressed in JINSA Global Briefings are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA).]

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