Saturday, May 21, 2011

19/05 VOX POPULI: 'Meltdown' is not a word to be used lightly

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of the vernacular Asahi Shimbun.


According to dictionaries, the word "tokeru" (melt) is defined as the process of solids turning into liquids. The word "torokeru" has a similar meaning with added connotations of being enraptured and mentally loosening up. The addition of the syllable "ro" makes the meaning much more mellow.

But if we inadvertently insert the kanji "ro" for reactor into "tokeru," the word suddenly bares its fangs.

"Meltdown" is not a word to be used lightly. It describes the nightmare of fuel rods in a nuclear reactor melting down from their own heat. The expression "damage to fuel" does not sound very serious, either, but if reporters honestly describe what is happening with the phrase "fuel core meltdown," readers suddenly realize that a very alarming situation is developing.

In the accident at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, it has finally been revealed that the meltdown at the No. 1 reactor started within hours of the March 11 tsunami, much earlier than initial estimates by Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the plant.

It would be unforgivable if TEPCO intentionally hid that fact. Yet it is even scarier to think the power company officials were unaware of what happened.

Apparently, the fuel in the No. 2 and 3 reactors, which were operating when the earthquake and tsunami hit, is also melting and generating heat.

After running wild, as if in competition with each other, reactors No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 have all spit poison and continue to be delirious with fever as they lie next to each other.

Water sprayed to cool down the fever produced more contaminated water, and now strong radiation stands in the way of workers who are desperately trying to make the spraying unnecessary. If nothing is done to tame this crisis, total destruction will result. Even as attempts are made to bring the situation under control, workers face new problems. Either way, the path is thorny.

How can we lay these four brothers, who worked so hard for us for such a long time, to peaceful rest? The revised timetable released by TEPCO to stabilize the crippled plant does not show a clear path. Since they remain in critical condition, we don't know what will happen before they are put to rest early next year.

The government and TEPCO are acting like parents who are trying to blame each other for misdeeds their "devoted son" has committed. They have no choice but to make frantic efforts while trying to refrain from raising taxes and electricity charges. The government and the private sector must come together to help Japan get back on its feet at a time when the nation itself seems ready to melt down.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 18

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.

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