The Fourth Reactor and the Destiny of Japan
- NOTE: This article by former UN diplomat Akio Matsumura was published in September, 2011, but since Reactor Number Four at Fukushima has--fortunately!--not collapsed as yet, it still remains relevant.
The Fourth Reactor and the Destiny of Japan
September 29, 2011
By Akio Matsumura
This article is available in Japanese.
Since the accident at the Fukuhsima Daichi nuclear power plants, I
have presented the opinions of several eminent scientists on the
Fukushima disaster and we have received many insightful responses. I as a layman am learning new terminologies and of potential problems that
could continue to affect the area for hundreds of years.
The Fourth Reactor at Fukushima
From population to democracy, the issues I have studied in four
decades of international work seem rather shortsighted when compared to a potential nuclear disaster that would affect our descendants for perhaps twenty thousand years.
As you are well aware, in January 2011 I began a campaign for the
global survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to win the Nobel Peace Prize. The strong supporting articles several experts have contributed have
encouraged me, and many political friends assure me that the message
will not go unheard. They concur that my proposal is timely and would
help increase the public awareness of risks associated with nuclear
However, the Fukushima nuclear disaster has convinced me that this
campaign does not fully address the nuclear issue. I am now worried that nuclear power plants present a comparable risk to that of nuclear
weapons—leaked radiation can make large areas uninhabitable for
centuries. The area around Fukushima may come to be one. Thinking of the possible magnitude of such a disaster has led me to consider the
balance between world energy needs and safety for human civilization.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon convened a high-level meeting on
Nuclear Safety and Security on September 22, 2011, during the 66th UN General Assembly. The meeting built upon action by the international community to enhance nuclear safety and the international emergency
preparedness and response framework in the wake of the accident at the
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Ban said “The effects of nuclear accidents respect no borders. To
adequately safeguard our people, we must have strong international
consensus and action. We must have strong international safety
standards, The message has been clear and unified: we cannot accept
business as usual — and we all have a stake in getting it right,
Clearly, there is a compelling need for greater transparency and open
accountability. We must rebuild public trust.”
The Japanese government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)
were widely criticized as hardly reliable adjudicators in the
controversy of the actual timing of the meltdown of the reactors and
other information relating to the crisis. These transparency and
accountability are tightly linked to nuclear energy and are cause for
Although inexcusable and in need of repair, these deficiencies are
partially due to the complexity of the nuclear issue and its place at
the top of the national security agenda.
1. Nuclear related terrorist issues (proliferation) present the largest existential threat to a country. The nuclear issue may lead to vast and varied consequences, but always begins with the construction of a
nuclear power plant.
2. A nuclear accident would require a large, immediate evacuation of a huge area.
3. Decision makers fear a large accident could trigger societal and thus political backlash.
4. Government and the nuclear power industry are both responsible for
and have a large stake in finding plausible solutions to nuclear crises.
Any loss incurred from nuclear war or a dirty bomb would be
incalculable, but even a single mistake at any one of the 440 nuclear
power plants worldwide would cause a tremendous human and environmental
loss for many years. We have to remember that our technology is powerless before the power of nature.
Government and industry transparency is vital, especially after a
nuclear accident has occurred. In order to ease the public’s tension,
politicians should always prepare for the worst case scenario. With a
well prepared response, people will be more likely to react practically
and adapt to a dangerous situation. Unfortunately, Japan has not done
In the last weeks, I have been speaking constantly with Japanese
government and party leaders on this urgent issue. Surprisingly, most of them were not aware of the dangerous situation. I, along with many
eminent scientists, are emphasizing the precarious situation of the
fourth reactor that contains 1,535 nuclear fuel rods in the pool and is
balanced on the second floor, outside of the reactor containment vessel. If the fuel rods spill onto the ground, disaster will ensue and force
Tokyo and Yokohama to close, creating a gigantic evacuation zone. All
scientists I have talked with say that if the structure collapses we
will be in a situation well beyond where science has ever gone. The
destiny of Japan will be changed and the disaster will certainly
compromise the security of neighboring countries and the rest of the
world in terms of health, migration and geopolitics. The Japanese
government should immediately create an independent assessment team to
determine the structural integrity of the spent fuel pool and its
supporting structure. This is of the highest importance: the structure’s security is critical to the country’s future.
Before March 11, I had never imagined that the destiny of Japan or any country could be altered so quickly, so drastically.
Nuclear power plants present many new challenges with consequences we have never faced. We need to reconsider, in a practical and moral lens, their worth in regard to possible negative consequences for future
Sir Brian Flowers, a prominent British nuclear physicist pointed out
that if nuclear power plants had been built and deployed in Europe
before WWII, then large parts of Europe would be uninhabitable today
because of conventional warfare and conventional sabotage directed
against those nuclear plants. An insufficient power supply to the plant
would deliver the same end.
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]