Page 998 - Week 03 - Tuesday, 29 March 2011

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The Japanese Prime Minister has stated that the risk that radiation will leak from now on has risen, and Japanese officials have designated the magnitude of the danger at the reactors at level five on the seven-point international nuclear event scale. All residents have been warned to remain indoors and to shut windows and doors to avoid radiation poisoning. Japanese nationals have been told to evacuate to 20 kilometres, while most other nations instructed their nationals to evacuate to 60 or even 80 kilometres.

Worldwide measurements of radioactive fallout released from the reactors were reported to be nearing Chernobyl levels. The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation measured levels of iodine-131 at 73 per cent and caesium 137 at 60 per cent of the levels released from the Chernobyl disaster.

Food grown in the area is banned for human consumption. Tokyo officials have declared its tap water unsafe for infants for a short time. Plutonium has been detected in the soil around the plant in five locations. The plant will be closed once the crisis is over.

As well as the local impacts, there are fears about nuclear fallout drifting across the Pacific Ocean and its island states as well as to the south-eastern states of the United States. France was reportedly shipping iodide tablets to French Polynesia as a preventative measure.

This disaster has international ramifications including: Julia Gillard stated that nuclear power is off the cards for Australia and noted that we have plenty of solar and wind energy options we can develop here, which are of course far safer; the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, announced an urgent and temporary shut-down of the oldest seven nuclear reactors while a safety review is conducted, as well as a moratorium on the commencement of another 17 reactors. The elections throughout the German states are being seen as the people’s referendum on nuclear power and I am pleased to say the German Green vote doubled and the Socialist Democratic Party is now also talking about a nuclear phase-out by 2020. The Israeli Prime Minister has stated that it is now unlikely that Israel will pursue civil nuclear energy.

One major concern I have is the proposal for a new nuclear reactor plant in Indonesia by the end of the decade. The site chosen is part of the ring of fire and a tectonically highly active part of the world. It is a controversial proposal which we should keep a close eye on. It is certainly time for some international laws about where nuclear plants could be considered safe to build, regardless of whether you think nuclear power itself is safe.

I really feel for those people struggling in the wake of Japan’s biggest ever earthquake and tsunami. Some of them have little shelter and food, despite it being very cold. They all lack clear information, and I expect they are fearful and stressed as they live in the shadow of the Fukushima nuclear power plants.

Our thoughts remain with the people of Japan and we hope for their future and a nuclear-free future.

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