Japan: Crews Start Process of Removing Fukushima Fuel Rods
FukushimaThe 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami rocked Japan, causing catastrophic damage to the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant. The outcome was a meltdown of the plant's number four reactor, causing an environmental disaster not seen since Chernobyl. Now, after two years of careful planning, crews are ready to start the delicate process of removing the reactor's roughly 1500 fuel rods. Once again, here's NHK.

Reporter:
The media entered the Fukushima-Daiichi plant on Wednesday to see the number four reactor building. The building contains more than 1500 fuel units. Most of them have been used. They're extremely hot, highly radioactive, and experts say they need to be kept cool for 30-40 years. The rods are stored in a pool about 20 meters above ground, the water traps radiation and keeps the rods cool. But a hydrogen explosion in 2011 weakened the building's structure. Experts say the rods must be moved to a safer place. Managers of Tokyo Electric Power Company have been preparing to start the job for the last two-and-a-half years. They planned to lift the rods out with a crane, but the building was too weak to support it. So workers built a steel frame. They will transfer the rods to containers that can seal in radiation. They will then move these to a storage facility within the compound and put them back into water. The job is far from straightforward. The workers have to maneuver the rods underwater to prevent any radiation from escaping. And they will have to cope with the high levels of radiation, up to 200 Microsieverts per hour.

Akira Ono:
The working environment here is more difficult and stressful than usual. Therefore, I want to devote every effort to safely transfer all the fuel rods.

Reporter:
TEPCO officials say it will take more than a year to remove all the rods from reactor number four. Then they will have to do it all over again at the three other reactors. They haven't said when they expect to finish. The operation will start this month. It's the latest hurdle in the long process of decommissioning the plant, a project that's expected to take up to 40 years.
 
 

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Japan to Fukushima Residents: You Can't Go Home Again
Nuclear RadiationJapan paused on Wednesday to mark the earthquake and tsunami that struck 30 months ago. The disaster killed at least 1,600 people. About 300,000 people are still displaced, their homes in shambles. On September 11th, Japan's public broadcaster, NHK, took a look at where the rebuilding efforts stand two and a half years later.

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Reporter:
People in the City of Natori gathered in front of a monument to those who died. The tsunami washed away many houses in their community. Construction workers in the city of Iwanuma also offered prayer. They're preparing land on higher ground for about 350 new homes. The first batch of land will be ready for construction by the end of the year.

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At least 160,000 people still can't go home because of radiation. It spewed over the region around the Fukushima nuclear plant. The plant was seriously damaged by the quake and tsunami. Three reactors melted down and the owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company, has been unable to make much progress on decommissioning the facility. In this second report, NHK looks at the status of these internally displaced persons.

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Reporter:
Nine months after the accident the Japanese government said the situation at the reactor was under control. Government leaders and TEPCO executives unveiled together a roadmap for decommissioning the reactors within three to four decades. But progress has been hampered by several serious problems. One of the most challenging so far has been the leakage of contaminated water. TEPCO officials admitted lin July that some of the toxic water is leaking into the Pacific Ocean.

Masayuki Ono, TEPCO official:
We sincerely apologize for causing concern to so many people, particularly those who live in Fukushima.

Reporter:
TEPCO officials estimate that every day 800 tons of water coming from nearby mountains runs under the nuclear complex. Some of it becomes contaminated and reaches the sea. A portion of the water flows into the basement of the damaged buildings. There, it mixes with water used to cool the reactor cores. Workers have to pump out 400 tons of highly toxic liquid every day and store it on-site. TEPCO workers have so far built 1,000 tanks to store the excess water. But some of these containers have been leaking. In August 300 tons of highly contaminated water escaped from a tank. Workers have identified several other leaks since then. The scale of the problem led Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to decide on government intervention.

Shinzo Abe:
The government will work in a coordinated way as the world is closely watching whether Japan can successfully solve the problems at the plant and decommission the reactors.

Reporter: The government plans to isolate the plant behind an underground wall of ice. The first step will be to bury a network of pipes around the buildings. Coolant at a temperature of minus 40 degrees Celsius will be passed through the pipes. This will freeze the soil, preventing water from seeping into and out of the complex. But experts say it's unclear whether this method will succeed. It has yet to be tested for this specific purpose, and it's never been used on such a large scale. The governments of China and South Korea have expressed serious concerns about the impact of the leakage on the ocean. And now, government officials in Japan feat this problem could delay the entire decommissioning process.
 
 

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Disasters Strike Asia: Bangladesh Building Collapse and Sichuan Earthquake

Sichuan quake

Japan's NHK World NEWSLINE program reported on the two disasters to hit Asia this past week. The first report aired April 24, and covered the latest garment factory collapse in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka. The second report LinkAsia covered this week aired April 23, and focused on the response to the earthquake in China's Sichuan province.

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Reporter:
The upper part of the commercial building suddenly collapsed during the busy morning period. The structure housed a clothing factory, bank and a shopping center. Many people are feared trapped inside. Workers at the factory were starting their shifts and some shops were already open. More than 100 people are reportedly hurt. Soldiers and citizens are helping with the rescue operation. Local media say a crack was detected in the wall of the building on Tuesday, but people were still allowed to go inside.

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Thuy Vu:
The response to the Sichuan earthquake is an important test for China's new president Xi Jinping. Five years ago, the former government was widely criticized for its poor response to an earthquake, which also occurred in Sichuan Province. That quake killed nearly 70,000 people. For more on the Chinese government's response to this latest earthquake, here's NHK.

Reporter:
The quake is the first large natural disaster since President Xi took office last month. He swears that his government will do everything possible to help survivors. Officials are also making sure the public knows about the government's efforts.

Premier Li Keqiang traveled by helicopter to the stricken areas on the day of the quake. He instructed rescuers to do all they could to save lives. His visit was reminiscent of the one by his predecessor Wen Jiabao. The former premier visited Sichuan years ago just hours after another huge quake hit the region. He tried to show the government's readiness to support survivors.

Authorities are highlighting other aspects of the government's response to the latest earthquake. Chinese media have been reporting in detail on the rescue effort. State run tv has broadcast repeated footage of the military's operations along with images of people receiving relief goods. Officials seem to want to show the public that the government's response is going well. An expert in risk management with a government affiliated think tank says China's leaders are paying more attention than ever to disaster response.

The disaster is not the only matter at home that China must address, the country's also struggling with a widening wealth gap and the recent outbreak of a new strain of bird flu. Compared to when the 2008 quake struck, people in China can now share information more quickly. Over 500 million Chinese are said to have internet access. Public discontent can spread in an instant.

A posting on China's version of Twitter is critical of the government's earthquake response. It says officials have failed to make use of lessons from the disaster 5 years ago. Wang says authorities need to quickly share information with the public. He says that's crucial for social stability.

China's leaders were harshly criticized for the slow response to the last earthquake in 2008. People were also angered by regional disparities in reconstruction efforts. Members of President Xi's government are keen to avoid making the same mistakes.

 
 

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New Japanese Prime Minister Looks to Revive Nuclear Industry
(LinkAsia: February 1, 2013)
Thuy Vu:
After a major meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi two years ago, Japan shut down the country's nuclear power plants. The government of the day promised to make the country nuke free. But the newly elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made it a top priority to reverse that policy saying Japan needs energy. In preparation for getting Japan's nuclear reactors up and running again, new safety measures have been announced. For more on the story, here's Japan's public broadcaster NHK.

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NHK World NEWSLINE
Airdate: January 29, 2012

Reporter:
An expert panel within the authority finalized the guidelines to be passed into law by July. The new regulations will define active faults as formations that have moved in the past 120,000 to 130,000 years. But that could be extended to 400,000 years ago if faults are hard to identify. The guidelines will force plant operators to prepare for the highest possible tsunami for all of the reactors. The operators will have to implement safety measures like sea walls to protect the plant from tsunamis and minimize flooding.

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Thuy Vu:
There's still a lot of work to be done to safeguard the country's nuclear reactors from another disaster. And researchers have just discovered that one reactor in central Japan may be resting directly over an active fault. Once again, here's NHK.

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NHK World NEWSLINE
Airdate: January 28, 2012

Reporter:
The experts drafted a report on the newly found fault under Tsuruga plant site in Fukui prefecture at a meeting on Monday. They said it might have moved after 120,000 to 130,000 years ago. The draft says that fractures direction and other  factors suggest that another fault could be directly under the plant's number 2 reactor. And could be active. Authority official Kunihiko Shimazaki expressed readiness to hear opinions on the matter from other experts and the plant's operator. Japan autonomic power company. He said learning from others would be helpful in compiling a thorough report. Government guidelines prohibit building key nuclear facilities directly above active faults.
 
 

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Fukushima Rebuilding Effort Stalls Despite Promises
(LinkAsia: July 20, 2012)
Yul Kwon:
In Fukushima, the Noda administration is making all sorts of promises to revitalize the area after last year's nuclear accident. But as NHK report shows, progress is hard to see.

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NHK World NEWSLINE
Airdate: July 13, 2012

Mayuko Ambe, Reporter, NHK World:
Fukushima is a shadow of its once vibrant self. Towns and villages surrounding the nuclear plant appear deserted. The ghostly figures of decontamination crews dot the landscape. Tens of thousands of residents have been forced to live in temporary housing.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda says fixing the problems in Fukushima is his number one national policy. His cabinet approved a plan to revitalize the prefecture. It says his government will continue to be active in decontamination work. The plan sets a goal of reducing residents’ exposure levels to 1 millisievert per year or lower in the long term. That’s in line with international standards. The plan addresses the mounds of toxic top soil that are piling up because of the clean-up effort. It says government officials will consider temporarily storing the contaminated dirt on state-owned property.

The impact of radioactive material on public health is one of the major concerns in Fukushima. Noda is promising to subsidize thyroid tests for children to check for signs of symptoms of exposure.

The plan doesn’t mention raising subsidies for businesses operating in the prefecture even though Fukushima authorities strongly requested the addition. However, it does reflect the prefecture’s goal of creating communities that don’t depend on nuclear power. The prime minister wants to promote the introduction of renewable resources. His goal is for green energy projects to create jobs.

The problems in Fukushima seem to pile up with each passing month. 160,000 people still can’t go home. A significant number of residents don’t have work. Some people in the prefecture say the new plan lacks concrete details. They want the government to work harder and work faster, so they can restart the lives they were leading before the disaster changed everything.

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Yul Kwon:
Japan’s environment ministry estimates that the total cost of cleaning up the soil could exceed 14 billion dollars.
 
 

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Tokyo Skytree Becomes City's Iconic Symbol
(LinkAsia: May 25, 2012)
Yul Kwon:
Over in Japan, a new building called the Tokyo Skytree has now claimed the title of the world's tallest tower. Now just to give you some perspective, it's twice the height of the Eiffel Tower. And just as the Eiffel Tower has come to symbolize Paris, the Skytree may one day become synonymous with Tokyo. Here's NHK with the story.

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NHK World NEWSLINE
Airdate: May 22, 2012

Reporter:
Many of the features of this broadcasting tower can be seen in this country's shrines and temples. For example, if you look at it from certain angles, the tower appears to have both concave and convex curves. But the cylindrical concrete pillar at the center of the Skytree is most noticeable. The column is structurally isolated from the surrounding steel frame. Designers borrowed this idea from traditional five-story pagodas.

When an earthquake happens, there will be a lag so the column and the frame sway at different speeds. Engineers have also installed tremor-absorbing oil dampers between the column and the steel frame. And there's more. The structure's steel beams are twice as strong as those normally used in high-rise buildings. Operators say these measures will reduce the Skytree's swaying by half.
 
 

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Japan Lifts Restrictions on Returning to Damaged Cities
(LinkAsia: April 20, 2012)
Yul Kwon:
Now we all know that Asia is prone to earthquakes, and two decades ago, the Philippines faced its own 7.8-magnitude quake in Luzon that killed more than 1,600 people. And now, a year after Japan's deadly 9.0 earthquake, some evacuees are being allowed to return to the No Go Zone for the first time. Here's the story from NHK.

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NHK World NEWSLINE
Airdate: April 18, 2012

Reporter:
Japan's central government lifted entry restrictions for the 20-kilometer evacuation zone covering Kawauchi village and Tamura city this month. The government added Minamisoma city to the list.

Residents can visit most of the city, but not the high-radiation areas deemed unsafe for extended periods of time. Overnight stays are not yet allowed.

Resident Yoshikazu Takeuchi went to his home with his wife and mother. After the evacuation, Takeuchi ran his construction materials store at a different location in the city. He says he hopes to reopen the store at its original location now that the entry ban has been lifted.

Yoshikazu Takeuchi, Minamisoma Resident:
"Reconstruction has finally started. I hope we can work together so that people can return to the city and live there again."

Reporter:
Much more work has to be done around the damaged nuclear power plant before residents can return to the city to live. Full-fledged efforts to clean up debris, decontaminate and restore infrastructure have yet to begin.

Katsunobu Sakurai, Minamisoma Mayor:
"We will tell the central government that it's responsible for the lack of infrastructure and for providing compensation for damages from the nuclear accident."

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Yul Kwon:
The city's network of hospitals and clinics is one important part of Minamisoma's infrastructure recovery. At one point after the nuclear crisis, the number of doctors in the Minami-Soma Municipal General Hospital fell from twelve to just four.
 
 

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Japan Speaks: A Look at How Japan Marked March 11

 
 

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Swept Away on March 11: A Father Seeks Closure
(LinkAsia: March 9, 2012)
Yul Kwon:
Last March, a terrible earthquake registering 9.0 on the Richter scale hit Japan, triggering a massive tsunami and leading to a disaster at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant. More than 15,000 people died, and about 3,300 other people are still missing. As part of our series on the fallout from the Fukushima disaster, we bring you this story from Miyagi prefecture, where more than 300 people are still unaccounted for. NHK follows the story of one man who struggled with a difficult decision after the disappearance of his son.

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NHK World NEWSLINE
Airdate: March 5, 2012

Reporter:
On a cold day in February, Shun Makino shows us where he once lived.

Shun Makino, Noritaka's Father:
There was a bathroom here. And my son's house was over there.

Reporter:
A house that sheltered generations of his family. Now, just a foundation. But, Makino lost much more on that day. His son, Noritaka, who was a town official in Minamisanriku. The March 11th tsunami swept Minamisanriku. Noritaka was a man with the officials at the local government disaster control center, helping with rescue operations. The water started to flood the three-story building. The officials ran to the roof, but the tsunami swallowed the structure whole. It swept away Noritaka and about 30 others.

Masami Chiba, Neighbor:
Noritaka was honest, sincere and modest.

Reporter:
He could be called courageous as well. Noritaka wasn't even supposed to be at the disaster center. He'd been in the hills around Minamisanriku conducting a forest survey when the quake hit. He descended immediately and went straight to the disaster control center. He wanted to help any way he could.

Shun Makino:
He probably felt responsible as a town official. But I believe he shouldn't have run toward the tsunami.

Reporter:
Makino, along with other families, searched daily for any information on the whereabouts of the missing after March 11th.

Shun Makino:
I read the inquiries of about 5,000 people. Soon I was overwhelmed. I felt helpless and finally gave up.

Reporter:
He gave up, but he still hoped that authorities would find his son's body. However, days and months passed without any news. So in February, Makino made the difficult decision to hold a funeral. He wanted to honor his son ahead of the first anniversary of his disappearance. Noritaka's wife put songs and letters written to him by his children into an urn in place of his ashes.

Shun Makino:
How depressing, to honor my son, I have to hold a funeral without his ashes. But if I don't, I feel my son cannot rest in peace.

Reporter:
And so, reluctantly, Makino said goodbye to his son, but he's still waiting for closure.

Shun Makino:
I am hoping DNA tests identify my son soon. I'm expecting that will happen. I cannot bear to think my son's body is lying somewhere unattended.

Reporter:
Makino, like many others in the northeast, will continue to do what they've done for months now. Wait. And perhaps reflect on all that they lost one year ago. Daisuke Azuma, NHK World, Minamisanriku.
 
 

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Dispatch from Japan: Rebuilding the Northeast

 
 

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