Nearly two weeks ago, on the 16th of December, the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Company announced that cold shutdown had been achieved for all three troubled reactors at the troubled Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Cold shutdown is a technical term referring to a situation where the core temperature of the reactor is less than 100 degrees Celsius, below the boiling point of water; there is no possibility of recriticality; and radiation being emitted from the plant is less than 1 millisievert a year. These conditions have been achieved at Fukushima. The plant is now officially in a stable condition.
Predictably enough, the achievement of cold shutdown at Fukushima has not inspired much celebration by the public and by the media. Nor have reports on 'the crisis in Fukushima' dried up. On the contrary, there continue to be many dramatic reports of decontamination problems, lingering hotspots, and the difficulties of 'unfortunate families' who cannot let their children out to play in the snow in Fukushima. And the anti-nuclear press, in Japan and overseas, seems to have taken the cold shutdown as a personal affront, seemingly offended at the assertion that any progress can be made on such a 'disaster'.
Consider the editorial of the Mainichi Daily News this week. It is titled Gov't starring in its own show to bring nuclear crisis 'under control.' While it is grudgingly admitted that the conditions for cold shutdown have been fulfilled, the editorial claims that TEPCO has changed these conditions according to whim. Yet this cannot be the case, because the concept of 'cold shutdown' is a technical one that predates the Fukushima accident. For example, see the definition as provided by Wikipedia. The article also desperately asserts that the announcement is inappropriate because the temperature gauges in the reactor vessels have an error margin of up to 20 degrees; yet according to the Japan Times the temperatures in the three reactors are 38.9, 67.5, and 57.4 degrees, well below 100 degrees. The truth is that the announcement is in fact very conservative; all three reactors have almost certainly been stable, with declining temperatures, for weeks or even months.
One paragraph of the editorial is worth quoting:
The latest announcement that the goals of the road map have been achieved is merely the result of officials lowering their own hurdles. It reminds me of the time during World War II when the Imperial Japanese Army headquarters called the Japanese army's retreat a "shift in position."
One might be tempted to suggest that the hyperbole of such an assertion might 'live in infamy'. That the editorial of a major Japanese newspaper is so desperate to keep alive an imagined nuclear crisis that they compare it to Japan's hopeless fight in the Second World War is very informative. It tells us how threatened some people are by its resolution.
As more evidence of public unwillingness to accept the inevitable, a public poll by Nikkei.com found that 78% of their readers did not agree with the government's decision to declare cold shutdown at Fukushima. According to Michio Furukawa, the mayor of Kawamata in Fukushima prefecture, "The crops in Fukushima are still contaminated. No progress has been in reducing the uncertainty felt by the residents."
Yes crops in Fukushima are contaminated. By microsopic traces of radiation that, according to empircal scientific research, cannot possibly affect human health. I wonder, however, if Mr Furukawa would care to speculate on pesticide levels in Fukushima crops, and on crops all over Japan.
As for the uncertainty faced by residents, it is not the job of TEPCO's engineers to address people's feelings. If the public is determined to continue to believe in phantom dangers, well, unfortunately, there is no cold shutdown for that.