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Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Station. Wikimedia Commons

A decade ago, a massive tsunami crashed into the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Three of its reactors melted down, leaving it looking like a bombed-out factory. Emergency workers risked their lives trying to keep one of history’s worst nuclear crises from spiraling out of control. Proper equipment has now replaced ragged plastic hoses held together with tape and an outdoor power switchboard infested by rats, which caused blackouts.

Radiation levels have declined, allowing workers and visitors to wear regular clothes and surgical masks in most areas. But deep inside the plant, danger still lurks. Officials don’t know exactly how long the cleanup will take, whether it will be successful and what might become of the land where the plant sits. Journalists from The Associated Press recently visited the plant to document progress in its cleanup on the 10th anniversary of the meltdowns and the challenges that lie ahead.


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What happened 10 years ago?

After a magnitude 9.0 earthquake on March 11, 2011, a tsunami 17 meters (56 feet) high slammed into the coastal plant, destroying its power supply and cooling systems and causing meltdowns at reactors No. 1, 2, and 3. The plant’s three other reactors were offline and survived, though a fourth building, along with two of the three melted reactors, had hydrogen explosions, spewing massive radiation and causing long-term contamination in the area.


Temporary storage facilities for radioactive decontamination waste in Iitate village, in the Fukushima Prefecture, north-west from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Wikimedia Commons

The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., says the tsunami couldn’t have been anticipated, but reports from government and independent investigations and recent court decisions described the disaster at the plant as human-made and a result of safety negligence, lax oversight by regulators, and collusion.

What’s inside the melted reactors?

About 900 tons of melted nuclear fuel remain inside the three damaged reactors, and its removal is a daunting task that officials say will take 30-40 years. Critics say that’s overly optimistic.

Separate efforts to remove spent fuel from cooling pools inside the reactor buildings were hampered by high radiation and debris and have been delayed for up to five years. If the plant’s pools lose their cooling water in another major quake, exposed fuel rods could quickly overheat and cause an even worse meltdown.


Injecting water into Unit 3 of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, Japan. Wikimedia Commons

The melted cores in Units 1, 2, and 3 mostly fell to the bottom of their primary containment vessels, some penetrating and mixing with the concrete foundation, making removal extremely difficult. Remote-controlled robots with cameras have provided only a limited view of the melted fuel in areas still too dangerous for humans to go. Plant chief Akira Ono says the inability to see what’s happening inside the reactors means that details about the melted fuel are still largely unknown.

Are there underground leaks?

Since the disaster, contaminated cooling water has constantly escaped from the damaged primary containment vessels into the reactor building basements, where it mixes with groundwater that seeps in. The water is pumped up and treated. Part is recycled as cooling water, with the remainder stored in 1,000 huge tanks crowding the plant.

Early in the crisis, highly contaminated water that leaked from damaged basements and maintenance ditches escaped into the ocean, but the main leakage points have been closed, TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) says. Tons of contaminated sandbags used to block the leaks early in the disaster remain in two basements.


Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant. Wikimedia Commons

Tiny amounts of radiation have continued leaking into the sea and elsewhere through underground passages, though the amount today is small and fish caught off the coast are safe to eat, scientists say.

What will happen to the stored radioactive water?

The 1,000 tanks filled with treated but still radioactive water tower over workers and visitors at the plant.

TEPCO says the tanks’ 1.37-million-ton storage capacity will be full in 2022. A government panel’s recommendation that the water is released into the sea is facing fierce opposition from residents, especially fishermen concerned about further damage to the area’s reputation. A decision on that recommendation is pending.

TEPCO and government officials say tritium, which is not harmful in small amounts, cannot be removed from the water, but all other isotopes selected for treatment can be reduced to safe levels for release. TEPCO has managed to cut the amount of contaminated water to one-third of what it used to be through a series of measures.


Workers at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station work among underground water storage pools on 17 April 2013. Wikimedia Commons

What’s it like to visit the plant?

The first thing visitors see is a stylish office building that holds the TEPCO decommissioning unit. In another building, plant workers — about 4,000 per day now — go through automated security checkpoints and radiation measurements. Because radiation levels have fallen significantly following decontamination, full protective gear is only needed in a few places in the plant, including in and around the melted reactor buildings.

On a recent visit, AP journalists donned partial protective gear to tour a low-radiation area: a helmet, double socks, cotton gloves, surgical masks, goggles, and a vest with a personal dosimeter. Full protection gear, which means hazmat coveralls, a full-face mask, a headcover, triple socks, and double rubber gloves, was required at a shared storage pool where fuel relocation from the No. 3 reactor pool was recently completed.

ALSO READ: The Chernobyl Disaster: World’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Explained

What’s the endgame?

A decade after the accident, Japan doesn’t yet have a plan to dispose of the highly radioactive melted fuel, debris, and waste at the plant. Technology also isn’t advanced enough yet to manage waste by reducing its toxicity. TEPCO says it needs to get rid of the water storage tanks to free up space at the plant so workers can build facilities that will be used to study and store melted fuel and other debris.


IAEA Experts at Fukushima. Wikimedia Commons

There are about 500,000 tons of solid radioactive waste, including contaminated debris and soil, sludge from water treatment, scrapped tanks, and other waste. It’s unclear what the plant will look like when the work there is done. Local officials and residents say they expect the complex to one day be an open space where they can walk freely. But there’s no clear idea if or when that might happen. (VOA/KB)

(nuclear power plant, Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Fukushima accident, Japan’s nuclear power plant, nuclear bomb, nuclear energy)


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Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Char Dham Yatra resumed on Friday with more than 16,000 devotees resuming the pilgrimage from the Rishikesh camp.

As weather cleared up in Uttarakhand, Char Dham Yatra restored on Friday with more than 16,000 devotees resuming the pilgrimage from the Rishikesh camp.

According to sources, road leading to Badrinath has been repaired and helicopter service has also resumed.

Meanwhile, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami visited Dungi village and met families of people who were missing after the landslip incident, and consoled them.

Dhami assured them of all possible assistance. Two people from the village are still reported to be missing.

Pilgrims were seen leaving from Rishikesh Char Dham Bus terminal and Haridwar bus station for the pilgrimage since morning.

As per the state government, various departments -- Devasthanam Board, police are assisting the pilgrims.

Police Chowki Yatra Bus Terminal, Rishikesh, was announcing passenger-information via loudspeaker.

Free RT-PCR tests of pilgrims were being conducted at Rishikesh bus terminal.

Uttarakhand Char Dham Devasthanam Management Board's media in-charge Dr Harish Gaur said pilgrimage was on in Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri, while for Kedarnath, helicopter service was also available.

Though the weather was cold in all dhams, thankfully there was no rain, he added.

Portals of the temple in Badrinath will close on November 20, Gangotri on November 5, while that of Kedarnath and Yamunotri on November 6.

Uttarakhand floods, triggered by a major downpour from October 17 to 19, have claimed 65 lives so far, 3,500 people have been rescued while 16,000 evacuated to safety.

Seventeen teams of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), seven teams of State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), 15 companies of Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) and 5,000 police personnel have been engaged in rescue and relief operations.

The state has already been provided with Rs 250 crore Disaster Fund which is being used for relief works.

To prevent spread of the diseases, the Central and state governments have decided to send medical teams to the affected areas.

Snapped power lines will be restored at the earliest, the government assured.

The state government said that as soon as alert for heavy rainfall was issued, the Incident Response System was activated at state and district levels, and pilgrims were halted at safer places. (IANS/JB)

Keywords: Uttarakhand, India, Char Dham Yatra, PushkarDhami, Rishikesh.


Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Naga leaders are adamant in their main demands for a separate Constitution and flag.

The Centre has continued the Naga peace talks with the Isak-Muivah faction of National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM) leaders, but negotiations face roadblocks as the Naga leaders are adamant in their main demands for a separate Constitution and flag.

The sources aware of these developments said that the Centre was hopeful that a successful solution of the six decades-long peace talks would arrive at a logical conclusion, but in the recent statements, Naga leaders have accused the Centre of offering post-solution options.

Sources quoting the stand of Naga leaders said that NSCN's stand was loud and clear that it would not follow the forbidden route to the Naga solution that was linked to foregoing the Naga national flag and Constitution, which is the face of the Naga political struggle and identity.

The Naga leaders have also said that the Centre has been using divisive policy and flattery in the name of finding the Naga political solution when the matters heated up.

When the Centre resumed the peace process in September this year and sent the former special director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) A.K. Mishra as the Ministry of Home Affairs' emissary to the rebel outfit's chief negotiator and general secretary T. Muivah, he assured him (Muivah) that the peace talks would be initiated under the original framework signed in 2015, a source in the Naga rebel group said.

"Here we are talking about the Naga national flag and Yehzabo (Constitution), the two issues that are holding up the Naga solution under the ongoing Indo-Naga political talks in Delhi.

"The chequered history of the Indo-Naga political issue is clear enough before us, with accords and agreements that were never meant to be implemented in letter and spirit", an important office-bearer of the rebel outfit said while criticizing the governments' stand.

Accusing the Centre, he further accused the Centre of persuading the Naga people again to accept whatever is being offered to hurry up the Naga talks.

On the invitation of the Centre, the senior leaders of the NSCN-IM including T. Muivah arrived in the national capital on October 6 this year to hold another round of talks with the Centre.

Both, the Centre and the Naga leaders had indicated their keenness on resolving this long pending issue by the end of this year in an amicable manner.

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma, who is also chairman of North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), and Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio had been actively involved in the resumption of the peace talks and taking it forward to a logical conclusion.

Soon after the transfer of Nagaland Governor R.N. Ravi, who was appointed as the Centre's interlocutor for the Naga peace talks on August 29, 2014, to Tamil Nadu, the peace talks resumed on September 20 in Kohima when the Centre representative met the Naga leaders and invited them to visit Delhi for further rounds of peace talks.

The NSCN-IM and the other outfits entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Government of India in 1997 and over 80 rounds of negotiations with the Centre have been held in the past in successive governments. (IANS/JB)

Keywords: Nagaland, India, Constitution, Politics, Flag.


Photo by Wikimedia Commons

India-England test series will now be played next year from July 1 at Edgbaston Stadium

The series decider for the Test series between England and India will now be played at Edgbaston from July 1 next year, said the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on Friday. India is currently leading the series 2-1 before the fifth Test at Old Trafford was cancelled hours before the start due to concerns over COVID-19 outbreak in the tourists' camp.

"The fifth match of the LV= Insurance Test Series between England Men and India Men has been rescheduled and will now take place in July 2022. The match, which was due to take place last month at Emirates Old Trafford, was called off when India were unable to field a team due to fears of a further increase in the number of Covid-19 cases inside the camp," said an ECB statement.

"With India leading the series 2-1, the concluding fifth match will now take place from July 1, 2022, at Edgbaston, following an agreement between the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)," added the statement.

ECB also said that due to the rescheduled Test, the white-ball series between England and India will now start six days later than originally planned. The T20I series will begin on July 7 at Ageas Bowl with Edgbaston and Trent Bridge hosting the second and third matches respectively on July 9 and 10. It will be followed by the ODI series starting on July 12 at The Oval followed by Lord's and Old Trafford hosting the second and third ODI on July 14 and 17 respectively.

"Ticket holders do not have to take any action as all tickets will remain valid for the equivalent rearranged matchday at their host venue. Host venues will communicate the new fixture details to ticket purchasers and the options available to them, including the timeframe for requesting a refund if they are not able to attend the new match day," further said the statement.

"We are very pleased that we have reached an agreement with BCCI to creating a fitting end to what has been a brilliant series so far. I'm very grateful to all the venues involved for the cooperation they've shown in allowing us to reschedule this match. I'd also like to thank Cricket South Africa for their support and understanding to allow these changes to be possible," said Tom Harrison, the CEO of the ECB.

"We would like to apologise again to fans for the disruption and disappointment of September events. We know it was a day that so many had planned long in advance. We recognise that accommodating this extra match means a tighter schedule for the white ball series. We will continue to manage our players' welfare and workloads through next year while we also continue to seek the optimum schedule for fans, players and our partners across the game."

"I am delighted that the England-India Test series will now have its rightful conclusion. The four Test matches were riveting, and we needed a fitting finale. The BCCI recognizes and respects the traditional form of the game and is also mindful of its role and obligations towards fellow Board Members. In the last two months, both BCCI and the ECB have been engaged in discussions and our efforts were aimed at finding a suitable window. I thank the ECB for their understanding and patience in finding an amicable solution," said BCCI Secretary Jay Shah. (IANS/JB)

Keywords: India, Britain, BCCI, Test Match, Cricket.