Then came a series of blown deadlines as the project hit technical snags and struggled with a Sisyphean list of government-mandated safety upgrades.
Seventeen prime ministers came and went, the Japanese economy slipped into a funk and the initial $6.8 billion budget ballooned into $27 billion of spending.
Now, Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd., the private consortium building the recycling plant, says it really is almost done. But there is a problem: Japan does not use much nuclear power anymore. The country turned away from nuclear energy after the 2011 Fukushima disaster, and only nine of its 35 reactors are operational.
It is a predicament with global ramifications. While waiting for the plant to be built, Japan has amassed a stockpile of 47 metric tons of plutonium, raising concerns about nuclear proliferation and Tokyo’s commitment to refrain from building nuclear arms even as it joins the United States in pressing North Korea to give up its arsenal.
In August, North Korea’s state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper accused Japan of accumulating plutonium “for its nuclear armament.”
Japan pledged for the first time this past summer to reduce the stockpile, saying the recycling plant would convert the plutonium into fuel for use in Japanese reactors. But if the plant opens as scheduled in four years, the nation’s hoard of plutonium could grow rather than shrink.
That is because only four of Japan’s working reactors are technically capable of using the new fuel, and at least a dozen more would need to be upgraded and operating to consume the plutonium that the recycling plant would extract each year from nuclear waste.
“At the end of the day, Japan is really in a vice of its own making,” said James M. Acton, a researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “There is no easy way forward, and all those ways forward have significant costs associated with it.”
A handful of countries reprocess nuclear fuel, including France, India, Russia and the United Kingdom. But the Japanese plan faces a daunting set of practical and political challenges, and if it does not work, the nation will be left with another problem: about 18,000 metric tons of nuclear waste in the form of spent fuel rods that it has accumulated and stored all these years.
Japan’s neighbors, most notably China, have long objected to the stockpile of plutonium, which was extracted from the waste during tests of the recycling plant and at a government research facility, as well as by commercial recycling plants abroad. Most of this plutonium is now stored overseas, in France and Britain, but 10 metric tons remain in Japan, more than a third of it in Rokkasho, the northeastern fishing town where the recycling plant is being built.
Japan says it stores its plutonium in a form that would be difficult to convert into weapons, and that it takes measures to ensure it never falls into the wrong hands. But experts are worried the sheer size of the stockpile — the largest of any country without nuclear weapons, and in theory enough to make 6,000 bombs — could be used to justify a nuclear buildup by North Korea and others in the region.
Any recycling plan that adds to the stockpile looks like “a route to weaponize down the road,” said Alicia Dressman, a nuclear policy specialist. “This is what really concerns Japan’s neighbors and allies.”
Japan maintains that its plutonium is for peaceful energy purposes and that it will produce only as much as it needs for its reactors. “We are committed to nonproliferation,” said Hideo Kawabuchi, an official at the Japan Atomic Energy Commission.
But the launch of the Rokkasho plant has been delayed so long — and popular opposition to restarting additional nuclear reactors remains so strong — that skepticism abounds over the plan to recycle the stockpile. Critics say Japan should concede the plant will not solve the problem and start looking for a place to bury its nuclear waste.
“You kind of look at it and say, ‘My God, it’s 30 years later, and that future didn’t happen,’” said Sharon Squassoni, a nonproliferation specialist at George Washington University. “It’s just wishful thinking about how this is going to solve their myriad problems.”
Engineers have repeatedly revised the design of the plant to address water leaks and earthquake safety, and it took years to develop a safe way to dispose of hazardous byproducts. After the Fukushima disaster, government regulators demanded even more safety measures.
Giving up on the recycling plant, though, would be politically difficult, not least because Aomori Prefecture, where it is, has threatened to send the 3,000 metric tons of nuclear waste stored here back to communities around the country with nuclear plants.
Pulling the plug would also deprive one of Japan’s poorest regions of an economic lifeline. Over the years, the central government has awarded nearly $3 billion in incentives to the prefecture, where political leaders reliably support Japan’s governing party. Even inoperative, the plant employs more than 1 in 10 residents in Rokkasho and accounts for more than half the town’s tax revenues.
“It is now indispensable for Rokkasho,” said Kenji Kudo, the fourth generation to run his family’s clothing distribution company, which sells uniforms and protective gear to the plant. As demand from local squid fishermen disappeared, he added, the plant “rescued our business.”
The town has also received more than $555 million in government subsidies for hosting the facility, including funding for a 680-seat concert hall, an international school with just eight students and a new pool and gym complex that opened last year.
There are small reminders that the munificence comes with some risk. A screen in the lobby of the concert hall reports the radiation level at 32 places around the prefecture, and a sign at a local nursing home warns residents not to use the baths “in case of nuclear disaster.”
Kaoru Sasaki, director of the nursing home, said she doubts the plant will ever operate given concerns about nuclear power around the country. “But we don’t talk about that among friends here,” she said. “It is so important to the community.”
The plant itself is sprawled across nearly 1,000 acres of farmland, surrounded by fields of solar panels and wind turbines. Some 6,000 workers are installing steel nets to protect it against tornadoes and digging ditches for pipes to carry water from a swamp into its cooling towers. Inside a large control room, workers in turquoise jumpsuits mill about computer consoles, monitoring dormant machinery.
The final piece of the plant to come online will be a facility, now under construction, that will take a mix of plutonium and uranium and turn that into fuel. But no one knows what would happen if the government could not persuade communities to reopen and upgrade more reactors to use this type of fuel.
“Our only plan right now is that we want to start reprocessing in 2021,” said Koji Kosugi, general manager for international cooperation and nonproliferation at Japan Nuclear Fuel. “But we do not yet know how it will be consumed. This is something that has to be worked out with the utilities and the Japanese government.”
One of the reasons Japan is so wedded to recycling may be that it does not want to confront the politically toxic question of what to do with its nuclear waste, much of which is being stored temporarily in cooling pools on the sites of its nuclear power plants.
Thomas M. Countryman, an Obama administration official who is now chairman of the nonpartisan Arms Control Association in Washington, said the Rokkasho plant is “in a sense a delaying tactic in order to put off the most difficult decision that any country has to face.”
One option, said Tatsujiro Suzuki, a nuclear scientist at Nagasaki University, is to turn Rokkasho itself into a nuclear waste storage facility.
Nuclear plants across Japan have sent waste that cannot be recycled to Rokkasho — steel drums full of ash, contaminated filters, steel pipes and protective clothing. Huge concrete boxes holding the drums are lined up in vast dugouts on the grounds of the plant, and canisters holding highly radioactive waste are stacked nine deep in a cavernous underground room where only their bright orange lids poke out of the floor.
The government promised that the waste would only be stored here temporarily but never came up with a permanent plan. In Rokkasho, residents are still waiting for the recycling plant.
“If the government had asked the village to only accept waste in the first place,” said the mayor, Mamoru Toda, “I don’t think the village would have accepted it.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
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Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow
Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.