Senator: Situation at Fukushima Worse Than Reported

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WASHINGTON — After an on-site tour of what remains of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facilities decimated by last year’s earthquake and subsequent tsunami, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a senior member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, sent a letter to Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Ichiro Fujisaki looking for ways to advance and support clean-up and recovery efforts.

Sen. Ron Wyden

Wyden’s principal concern is the relocation of spent fuel rods currently being stored in unsound structures immediately adjacent to the ocean. He strongly urged the ambassador on April 16 to accept international help to prevent dangerous nuclear material from being released into the environment.

“The scope of damage to the plants and to the surrounding area was far beyond what I expected and the scope of the challenges to the utility owner, the government of Japan, and to the people of the region are daunting,” Wyden wrote. “The precarious status of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear units and the risk presented by the enormous inventory of radioactive materials and spent fuel in the event of further earthquake threats should be of concern to all and a focus of greater international support and assistance.”

Wyden visited Fukushima on April 6 while on a congressional delegation trip to the region. He and a staff member wore radiation suits as they toured the facility and met with workers and managers from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which is responsible for the clean-up.

Wyden found that the facilities designed to house spent nuclear fuel and the reactors themselves were still in a state of disrepair and located in areas that would make them susceptible to further damage from future seismic events. The reactor buildings still contain large amounts of spent fuel, making them a huge safety risk, and the only protection from another tsunami, Wyden observed, is a small, makeshift sea wall erected out of bags of rock.

The senator also sent letters to U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Greg Jaczko, asking them to identify additional resources and assistance that their agencies could provide to Japan to address these risks.

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