The Japanese government is expected to announce this week that they’ve regained full control of the three damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that was hit earlier this year by a massive earthquake and ensuing tsunami. As word of the announcement seeped into the media, experts began to voice their doubts about the validity of the forthcoming government statements. Experts say that the reactors are still not safely contained, and risks to the surrounding communities remain. It is rumored that the government is looking to declare the situation solved as a way to deflect growing resentment from the Japanese public that the crisis isn’t yet over.
Tomorrow a disaster response task force — with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda at the head — is going to vote on whether to declare that the damaged Fukushima reactors are in a state of “cold shutdown”. That term is generally used for reactors with spent fuel rods that are safely shut down after use and contained in a secure location at a stable temperature. After the tsunami and earthquake in Japan the cooling systems at the Fukushima reactors were badly damaged and hastily fixed. Experts say that the spent fuel rods at Fukushima are still in a precarious position as they’ve melted through their protective barriers and have not yet been moved to a safer cooling facility.
If the government of Japan declares the three damaged reactors and their precariously positioned spent fuel rods to be in a state of “cold shutdown”, they will be signaling to the world that everything is safely maintained – even though it is obvious they still have not gained complete control of the situation. “Cold shutdown” is a term used for healthy, stable facilities which have been voluntarily closed. Experts say that even though the company that operates the Fukushima nuclear power plant has made strides attempting to cool the reactors cores and a structure built around the most damaged reactor — reactor 1 — has contained radiation leaks, these solutions are only temporary and could be jolted out-of-place if another earthquake were to occur. “All it would take is one more earthquake or tsunami to set Fukushima Daiichi back to square one,” Kazuhiko Kudo a professor of nuclear engineering in Japan told the New York Times. “Can we really call this precarious situation a cold shutdown?”