by Caroline Lucas, Rebecca Harms, and Dany Cohn-Bendit / The Guardian / February 17, 2012 /

Rebecca Harms and Dany Cohn-Bendit are co-presidents of the Greens/EFA group in the European parliament

On 11 March last year, Japan was hit by massive earthquake and tsunami, resulting in thousands of tragic deaths, as well as a nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima.

While global attention has long since shifted elsewhere, the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima is far from over. This is the nature of nuclear accidents: they leave a long-lasting radioactive legacy.

One year on, the situation is not under control. The announcement by the Japanese government that the damaged reactors were in a state of “cold shutdown” was met with scepticism and anger from a concerned public – and with disbelief among nuclear experts.

As the recent rise in temperature in Reactor 2 has shown, the Fukushima facility remains unstable and highly vulnerable to a new earthquake. Meanwhile, it has been estimated that “cleaning up” the disaster will take a hundreds-strong workforce decades to complete.

Beyond the reactors themselves, and the arbitrary 20km exclusion zone, the surrounding area in Fukushima province and beyond will suffer from radioactive contamination for generations to come.

To give a concrete example: the amount of radioactive caesium 137 (which has a half life of around 30 years) released during the Fukushima disaster was 168 times that released by the Hiroshima bomb.

It has been estimated that excess deaths, due to radiation exposure in the region, could run into the thousands.

Fukushima, like Chernobyl 25 years before it, has shown us that while the likelihood of a nuclear disaster occurring may be low, the potential impact is enormous.

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