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Wyden calls on Japan to accept nuclear clean-up help

Oregon U.S. Senator shocked at damage during tour of power plant

After personally touring the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facilities in Japan, Oregon U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden has written a letter to Japanese Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki strongly urging his company to accept international help to prevent more radioactive materials from being released into the environment.

'The scope of damage to the plants and to the surrounding area was far beyond what I expected and the scope of the challenges to the utility owner, the government of Japan, and to the people of the region are daunting,' Wyden wrote in an April 16 letter. 'The precarious status of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear units and the risk presented by the enormous inventory of radioactive materials and spent fuel in the event of further earthquake threats should be of concern to all and a focus of greater international support and assistance.'

The facilities were heavily damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, causing safety equipment to fail and releasing radioactivity into the air and ocean. Wyden, a senior member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, toured the facilities on April 6 while on a Congressional delegation trip to the region. He and a staff member wore radiation suits during the tour and met with workers and managers from the Tokyo Electric Power Company, TEPCO, which is responsible for the clean-up.

According to the letter, Wyden found that the facilities designed to house spent nuclear fuel and the reactors themselves were still in a state of disrepair and located in areas that would make them susceptible to further damage from future seismic events. The reactor buildings still contain large amounts of spent fuel, the letter said, making them a huge safety risk. The only protection from a future tsunami, Wyden observed, is a small, makeshift sea wall erected out of bags of rock.

Wyden also sent letters to U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Greg Jaczko asking them to identify additional resources and assistance that their agencies could provide to Japan to address these risks.

'In times of great tragedy, it is important for members of the international community to help one another and the March 11 earthquake and tsunami caused a level of damage and devastation that was of extraordinary proportions,' the letter said. 'Many nations possess expertise in nuclear energy technology, including the United States, and the full breadth of international expertise should be made available to Japan in dealing with this crisis.'