2013年8月8日 星期四

Japanese Government to Help Stabilize Nuclear Plant After Leaks


Pool photo by Toshifumi Kitamura

東京——先是一隻老鼠啃斷了暴露在外的線路,導致福島第一 核電站(Fukushima Daiichi)至關重要的冷卻系統再一次停止工作,經過手忙腳亂的搶修才恢復正常。然後是為了存儲大量污染水而匆忙建起的水池開始泄漏。現在為了阻止泄 漏而建起的防護屏障又被新一波放射性水衝破了,大量嚴重污染的水每天都在流入太平洋。
隨着新一輪危機的事態在周四變得明朗起來,深得民意的日本首相安倍晉三(Shinzo Abe)下令政府對電廠清理工作進行干預——自電廠反應堆融毀以來,還沒有哪屆政府採取過如此直接的行動。在2011年,那場導致三個反應堆融毀的事故給福島帶來了世界第二大核災難。
安倍晉三是日本核項目的堅定支持者,他似乎已經作出判斷, 自己需要予以干預,來重建公眾信心,拯救他的經濟復蘇計劃的部分核心內容:重啟許多處於閑置狀態的核電廠。侵蝕信心的不只是最初的災難,還有電廠運營商東 京電力公司(Tokyo Electric Power Company,簡稱東電)在這兩年半里時不時犯下的一些危險的錯誤。在很多日本人看來,這家公司一直在試圖誤導公眾,以掩蓋電廠狀況日趨惡化的事實。
許多分析人士說,安倍的舉動是在承認前任政府犯了錯,將耗 時40年、耗資110億美元的清理行動交給東電,而許多人指責稱,當初之所以發生如此的浩劫,本身就跟這家公司犯的錯有關。批評人士說,東電領導層一直都 令人擔憂,因為他們仍然深陷政府和核電產業界的共謀泥潭之中,很多人認為這也令電廠格外脆弱。
「這是政府在承認,東電的清理行動管理不善,誤導公眾,」京都同志社大學科技政策教授山口榮一(Eiji Yamaguchi)說。「政府別無選擇,只能出手阻止兩年來一直在掩蓋電廠真實狀況的東電。」
地下水問題是在地震發生後不久出現的,當時東京電力公司發 現,從山上流向海洋的水成噸地湧入被污染的反應堆廠房,積在地下室里,這些水必須被抽出來。但是東電公司遲遲拿不出長遠一些的解決方案,比如挖一些溝槽, 在水流入廠房之前就把它們引走。然後到了5月,東電公司又發現了一個新問題:事故反應堆附近有一些迷宮一樣的管道,明顯是從那裡泄漏出來的污染物導致了核 電廠其他地方的地下水輻射水平驟然升高。
雖然東電公司否認海洋遭受威脅,它還是開始把化學硬化劑注入土壤里,試圖建造一堵地下「牆」。 但這個屏障形成了一道大壩, 壩里的水越積越多,終於溢了出來。本周三,政府官員說,他們相信每天有300噸(7.5萬加侖)受污染的水流入海洋。 
一些專家本周三表示,要讓公眾接受「越來越不可避免」的事 情,政府進行干預可能是第一步。他們所說的就是,把一部分受污染較少的水傾倒入海洋,目前有大量受污染的水存儲在大水罐里,其數量讓核電廠日益難以承受。 在上周的新聞發佈會上,日本原子能管制委員會(Nuclear Regulation Authority)的主席田中俊一(Shunichi Tanaka)似乎就此打下鋪墊,他說,最終「有必要把水排出」,這個方案是可能的,但它也可能會引起不僅是日本國內,還有其他環太平洋國家的擔憂。
山口榮一和其他人表示,政府干預是否能解決地下水問題很難 說。這件事可能會由日本經濟產業省(Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry)來牽頭,自從日本的第一個商業核反應堆在20世紀60年代併網運行以來,經濟產業省就跟東電公司以及它扶持的其他核產業公司關係密切, 而且也因此遭到了詬病。涉及拆除福島核電站的其他事務,也一直被日本的「原子力村」(nuclear village)里互相勾結的其他成員把持着。人們將這一稱謂賦予成員關係緊密的核產業,其中包括反應堆製造商和跟政界走得很近的大型建築公司。
很長一段時間以來,專家們一直擔心政府在早期階段犯了一個錯誤,即拒絕讓其他日本企業和外國公司擔任領導角色,包括擁有三里島(Three-Miles Island)核污染清理經驗的美國公司 。
像山口這樣的專家說,只有讓真正的外部人士進入核電廠才能提高它的透明度,無論這些外部參與者是來自其他行業(比如可能有助於清理污染的廢物管理行業)的日本公司,還是專長於讓核反應堆退出運行的美國和其他外國公司 。
Hiroko Tabuchi對本文有報道貢獻。

Japanese Government to Help Stabilize Nuclear Plant After Leaks

TOKYO — First, a rat gnawed through exposed wiring, setting off a scramble to end yet another blackout of vital cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Then, hastily built pits for a flood of contaminated water sprang leaks themselves. Now, a new rush of radioactive water has breached a barrier built to stop it, allowing heavily contaminated water to spill daily into the Pacific.
As the scope of the latest crisis became clearer on Wednesday, Japan’s popular prime minister, Shinzo Abe, ordered his government to intervene in the cleanup of the plant — taking a more direct role than any government since the triple meltdowns in 2011 qualified Fukushima as the world’s second worst nuclear disaster.

Mr. Abe, a staunch defender of the country’s nuclear program, appears to have calculated that he needed to intervene to rebuild public trust and salvage a pillar of his economic revival plan: the restarting of many idled nuclear plants. That trust has been eroded not only by the original catastrophe, but also by two and a half years of sometimes dangerous missteps by the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, and what many Japanese see as the company’s continuing attempts to mislead the public and cover up deteriorating conditions at the plant.
“This is not an issue we can let Tepco take complete responsibility of,” Mr. Abe told a group of cabinet ministers gathered to discuss the water problem that has swiftly emerged as the biggest challenge at the plant and that appears to be spiraling out of control. “We must deal with this at the national level.”
But taking a bigger role in a vast and unprecedented cleanup may also be a political gamble for Mr. Abe, especially if the government proves as unable as Tepco to contain the unending leaks of radioactive materials from the devastated plant.
Many analysts said Mr. Abe’s move was an admission that previous governments had erred by entrusting the 40-year, $11 billion cleanup to the same company that many blame for allowing the catastrophe to happen in the first place. Tepco’s leadership has been particularly worrisome, critics say, since it remains enmeshed in the collusive ties between the government and the industry that many say made the plant vulnerable.
“This is an admission by the government that Tepco has mismanaged the cleanup and misinformed the public,” said Eiji Yamaguchi, a professor of science and technology policy at Doshisha University in Kyoto. “The government has no choice but to end two years of Tepco obfuscating the actual condition of the plant.”
The groundwater problems at the plant started soon after the disaster, when Tepco realized that tons of water flowing from the mountains and toward the sea were pouring into the contaminated reactor buildings, filling their basements with water that had to be pumped out. But the company was slow to come up with longer-term solutions, like digging wells to draw out the water before it reached the buildings. Then, in May, Tepco realized it had a new problem, with contaminants apparently leaking from a maze of conduits near the wrecked reactors causing a spike in radiation levels in groundwater elsewhere in the plant.
It began to build an underground “wall” created by injected hardening chemicals into the soil — even as it denied there was a threat to the ocean — but the barrier created a dam and water pooled behind it eventually began to flow over. On Wednesday, government officials said they believed 300 tons, or 75,000 gallons, of the tainted water was entering the ocean daily.
The amounts of some radioactive materials, like cancer-causing strontium, flowing into the ocean are above safety limits, but experts say that given the size of the plant’s previous releases, the new ones are relatively minor.
Some experts suggested Wednesday that the government’s intervention may be the first step in attempts to win public acceptance for what they say is an increasing inevitability: the dumping into the ocean of some of the less contaminated of the huge amount of water being stored in hulking tanks that are overwhelming the plant. At a news conference last week, Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, seemed to lay the groundwork, saying that eventually “it will be necessary to discharge water,” a possible solution likely to raise concerns not only in Japan but in other Pacific Rim countries.
Whether the government intervention will help remedy the groundwater issue is an open question, Mr. Yamaguchi and others said. The government’s expanded role will probably be led by the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry, or METI, which has been criticized as having close ties to Tepco and the rest of the nuclear industry which it nurtured since before Japan’s first commercial reactor went online in the 1960s. Other aspects of the Fukushima plant’s decommissioning have also been dominated by other members of Japan’s collusive “nuclear village,” as the close-knit industry is called, including reactor makers and politically connected large construction companies.
Experts have long worried that the government erred early on by refusing to bring in Japanese and foreign companies in leading roles, including American companies with experience in nuclear cleanups from Three Mile Island.
Experts like Yamaguchi said the only way to increase transparency at the plant is to bring in true outsiders, either Japanese companies from other industries like waste management that could contribute to the cleanup, or U.S. and other foreign companies with expertise in decommissioning reactors.
“Without involving outsiders, there will be no way to know for sure what is really happening at Fukushima Daiichi,” Yamaguchi said.
Hiroko Tabuchi contributed reporting.