March 8, 2012 – JAPAN – The crippled Fukushima nuclear plant remains critically vulnerable to a new quake or tsunami two years after the tragedy, and clean-up operations have been marred by corruption and gross workplace safety violations, insiders say. Senior workers at the plant, including members of the so-called Fukushima 50, have pointed to dangerous vulnerabilities in a series of exclusive, in-depth interviews with The Weekend Australian in Japan.
Several of the workers also said the plant’s No 1 reactor was critically damaged by the quake even before the tsunami hit – a revelation that, if proven, would torpedo Japan’s attempts to swiftly restart its 50 stalled nuclear reactors. These nuclear workers, who battled to resolve the initial crisis at the plant and have remained largely silent until now, said they had received massive undocumented exposures to radiation, and the danger money supposed to flow to employees for working at Fukushima Daiichi was being creamed off by unscrupulous companies. While the world has largely quit worrying about the nuclear plant, nuclear engineer Daisuke Sakamoto (not his real name) is among a group of workers saying another tragedy of global proportions could be just around the corner, should a new quake or tsunami strike. “What remained intact after the disaster is completely fragile and when the next one comes it’s going to collapse,” he told The Weekend Australian. “It (the plant) remains very vulnerable. I’m sorry, but if it happened again, I would evacuate.” Operator TEPCO’s failure to place back-up generators above the high watermark of the 14m March 11, 2011, tsunami despite warnings from its own engineers that such a wave was possible meant the reactors immediately lost cooling, sowing the seeds for the world’s second-worst nuclear accident after Chernobyl in 1986. Through painstaking and dangerous work from workers such as those who spoke to The Weekend Australian, a temporary cooling and recycling system has been established for reactors No 1, 2 and 3. But Mr. Sakamoto, who battled the disaster from its initial stages and remains at the plant today, said it was far from robust. “Even if you say we have a cooling system, it is only a makeshift one, after all. There is no doubt that it will fracture when the next big earthquake comes,” he said. He said he also had doubts about the back-up power supplies that were keeping the plant’s six reactors cool. “There is a variety of temporary gear to provide power, but that’s not proper equipment either. So if the same size quake occurs, you can see why I would want to run away,” he said. Another worker, Ichiro Takahashi, said: “When the next tsunami comes, it’s gone. They are making seawalls, but can these stop a tsunami? I don’t think so.” Along with failing to guard against tsunamis, TEPCO also had ignored recommendations made before the disaster to boost earthquake protection, The Weekend Australian was told. –The Australian