Fukushima-disaster experts’ visit underscores Kazakhstan and Japan’s shared nuclear legacy16 march 2012, 12:48
In recent years Kazakhstan and Japan have developed the kind of soulmate-like kinship that could only have been forged from shared tragedy.
That tragedy, of course, is nuclear.
Japan is the only country to have suffered atomic-bomb attacks, and last year it became one of a handful of nations to experience a nuclear-energy disaster: the near-meltdown at the Fukushima power plant.
Kazakhstan has suffered nearly 500 nuclear tests on its soil, and many Kazakhs were dispatched to help contain or clean up the nuclear-power-plant disaster at Chernobyl in Ukraine.
It’s no surprise, then, that Kazakhstan invited a group of Japanese nuclear experts to speak about the lessons learned from Fukushima on the one-year anniversary of the disaster.
The five-person group spoke to a packed house of students, professors and others at Nazarbayev University yesterday.
University President Shigeo Katsu invoked the shared Kazakhstan-Japan nuclear experience when he noted in his opening remarks how the government and people of Kazakhstan “stood up and supported Japan” at the time of the Fukushima tragedy.
Kazakhstan sent 33 tons of canned meat to Japan and gave $1 million to the Japanese Red Cross. In addition, thousands of individual Kazakhs donated to the Fukushima relief effort.
The donors included students, staff and professors from Nazarbayev University, said Katsu, who himself is Japanese.
Then Katsu turned the floor over to the visiting nuclear experts.
Akira Kaneuji, former secretary general of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan’s senior leadership corps, said the key lesson learned from Fukushima was the need for a multilayered system to ensure that a reactor can continue to be cooled during a disaster.
The earthquake-generated tsunami that hit the northeastern coast of Japan’s main island of Honshu on March 11, 2011, knocked out the power to four of the six Fukushima reactors, including the backup generator. Lack of power meant there was no way to pump sea water into the reactors to cool them.
Kaneuji’s address centered on the safety improvements that the Japanese nuclear industry is taking to prevent another Fukushima.
Japanese nuclear expert Akira Kaneuji, far right, pauses to allow an interpreter to translate his speech to students, professors and others at Nazarbayev University. Photo courtesy of Nazarbayev University
He said in his speech and in an interview with Tengrinews that these steps include:
-- Building high walls around nuclear plants to ensure that tsunamis are unable to breach them.
-- Having more than one kind of backup generator available at a nuclear plant. The backup generator that failed at Fukushima was a sea-water-cooled diesel engine. Other options include a fresh-water-cooled diesel engine, an air-cooled diesel engine or a gas turbine.
-- Having portable backup generators available that can be moved into a nuclear plant if stationary generators fail.
-- Having truck-borne mobile pumping stations available to ensure that, during a disaster, water can still be pumped into a reactor to cool it.
-- Building a pond or a water tank near a nuclear plant as a backup source of coolant during a disaster. The storage source should contain “several thousand tons of water,” said Keneuji, who is wrapping up a decades-long career at the nuclear-plant builder Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
-- Putting a reactor’s coolant in a different chamber from the reactor itself.
-- Adding a radiation filtration system to a nuclear plant. The system would greatly reduce the amount of radiation entering the atmosphere when an emergency necessitates venting the pressure in a reactor.
Other speakers besides Kaneuji, whose group covered the full sweep of the Fukushima problem, were:
-- Takehiko Mukaiyama, project advisor to the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum’s International Cooperation Center. He discussed the social impact of the disaster and the effect that public opinion has had on Japanese nuclear policy.
-- Osamu Saito, former managing director of Japan’s Radiation Effects Association. He spoke about the risks of low-dose radiation contamination.
-- Toshihiko Okazaki, a manager at the Japan Atomic Power Company. He described how the Fukushima disaster unfolded and what lessons the nuclear industry has learned from it.
-- Yasuhiko Fujii, an emeritus professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. He discussed the clean-up of the contamination at Fukushima and prospects for the return of those evacuated.
The Japanese experts began their weeklong Kazakhstan speaking tour on Tuesday at the National Nuclear Center in Kurchatov, where they spoke to about 150 scientists, researchers and technicians, Kaneuji said.
They met Wednesday in Astana with members of the Atomic Energy Committee of the Ministry of Industry and New Technologies. The leader of the Kazakhstan contingent was Dr. Alexander Kim, deputy chairman of the committee, which is the main sponsor of the visitors’ tour.
Today the Japanese experts are speaking at Kazakh National University and the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Almaty.
Before leaving Nazarbayev University, Kaneuji experienced firsthand the affection that many Kazakhs feel toward Japan.
He was introduced after his speech to second-year robotics student Zhansaya Zhapar, who has long been fascinated with Japanese culture.
“You should visit Japan some day,” Kaneuji encouraged her.
“It’s my dream,” she beamed.