Archives for : July2012

Nicola Furlong

Nicola Furlong's father Andrew, sister, Andrea and mother Angela leave the Tokyo Family Court in Tokyo, Japan on 27 July, 2012. Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Today was the second day  in the hearing of the Nicola Furlong case. The preliminary hearings were held to decide whether the 19-year-old American man accused of murdering Ms Furlong should stand trial as a juvenile or an adult.

Rob Gilhooly


The father of Nicola Furlong left the Tokyo Family Court Thursday “delighted” by the ruling that   the man accused of killing his daughter in a Tokyo hotel in May will be tried as an adult.

Although advised not to reveal details of the case, Andrew Furlong said after the hearings: “We are very happy with the outcome and the handling of the case so far,” said Mr. Furlong, who was accompanied by Nicola’s sister Andrea and her mother Angela.

We have the utmost respect for the judicial system in Japan, so do not want to risk doing anything counter to that, but if you read between the lines you can probably figure it out. We’re delighted.”

The reaction suggests that the accused man, allegedly 19-year-old Richard Hinds from Memphis, who is a minor under Japanese law, will be tried as an adult in the criminal courts rather than face milder charges – up to a maximum of 5 years in jail — as a juvenile.

Today’s proceedings followed on from yesterday’s hearing, when details of the crime and a statement from the family were heard in order to determine whether or not  the case would be returned to the prosecutor’s office – a move that experts say was paying lip service to a process that all but seals a criminal trial.

Once again the Furlongs were placed in the same room as the accused and once again the American’s face was turned away from the family to prevent any eye contact.

Lawyer Kaoru Haraguchi said that the court would have weighed up whether or not a 19-year-old in a si,ilar case would be considered by society to be “equal to an adult” in light of the criminal act he or she performed.

According to another legal specialist, who is also unconnected to the case, but requested he not be named, almost all such murder cases ended up in the criminal courts, especially when the accused was approaching adulthood.

Ultimately this means that the accused can face the same punishments that an adult would face, including the death penalty, he said. “That would be unusual, but not unthinkable.”

Juveniles in Japan have been known to be sentenced to death here. In February  this year the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty for a man convicted of strangling and then raping a young mother and murdering her 11-month-old daughter in 1999 in Yamaguchi Prefecture when he was 18.

It is likely that the Furlongs will be waiting some time to discover the outcome of the case here, as fastidious procedures can mean court cases drag on for some time.

Yesterday, Mr Furlong admitted the experience of being in the same room as the accused killer – who is thought to have strangled Nicola with a towel or rope — had left him and his family in a state of emotional turmoil.

All I can say is that all three of us are extremely emotional at this time. It was far, far worse than anything we ever imagined. I sincerely hope that no other parent ever has to go through anything like this.”

Today, however the weariness had largely disappeared from Mr Furlong’s face as he admitted that he and his family will raise a glass in the evening to salute today’s outcome and “acknowledge the 21 years of a lovely girl.”

Mr Furlong added that the family was also looking forward to flying back home to Ireland on Saturday, the very day that Nicola was due to return home from Japan after a one-year study exchange from Dublin City University.

She’ll be with us on that plane. We’ll be taking her spirit home with us,” he said.

Fukushima Fuel Extracted

Workers undertaking fuel extraction operations at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant

Rob Gilhooly


Operations commenced July 18 to remove nuclear fuel assembiles from the storage pool of one of the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, some 16 months after the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl struck northeastern Japan.

Despite plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) requesting media outlets to refrain from filming the delicate and highly dangerous operations, aerial images aired on TV and online showed cranes lifting two of the 1,535 fuel units, each of which holds 60 fuel rods, from the No. 4 reactor building.

The procedure marked the first stage of a program that could go on for years to remove both unused and used fuel from the reactor in order to counter the risk of further radiation leakage.

Experts, including nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen of Fairwinds Energy Education, have long argued that structural weaknesses in the reactor building, which was severely damaged by an explosion last March that exposed spent fuel to the atmosphere, could cause a large-scale catastrophe should another large quake strike the area.

Hiroaki Koide of Kyoto University’s Department of Reactor Safety Management, says that the biggest concern remains the sheer volume of fuel in the pools, which if exposed to the air would cause massive radioactive releases.

The amount of cesium 137 in the fuel in the pools is equivalent to 5,000 times the amount that was spread by the Hiroshima atomic bomb,” says Koide. “The government has said that the amount of radioactivity released by the three affected reactors following 3.11 was 168 times that of Hiroshima, so it is clear that we would be looking at a considerably worse outcome should the (rector 4) structure be compromised.”

The government used exactly such an outcome in its worse-case scenario analysis following the disasters, concluding that residents in Greater Tokyo – home to around 35 million people — would need to be evacuated in such an eventuality.

TEPCO has announced that repair work has sufficiently stabilized the structure, and while Koide is doubtful such operations could have been properly executed under the still high levels of radiation at the plant, others are less skeptical.

My understanding is that now they do have some redundancy in the cooling systems and have buttressed the fuel ponds themselves,” said Malcolm Grimston, a nuclear expert at Imperial College London. “So things are reasonably stable even against another earthquake, though obviously it depends upon where and how strong.”

The first fuel to be removed are among some 204 units that had yet to be used, meaning it posed little danger because unused fuel emits low levels of radiation, Tepco was reported as saying. Operations to remove the 1,331 more dangerous used fuel units will not be manageable until a much larger crane has first been installed. This will be used to haul out mammoth 100-ton metal casks that will be required to house the fuel units to ensure they not exposed to the air, says Kyoto University’s Koide.

TEPCO, which declined to comment on the latest maneuvers due to their “sensitive” nature, estimates that such operations will commence in December 2013, though Koide believes that is ambitious. “It’s a process that carries with it an immense amount of danger,” he says.

Some experts decry Wednesday’s maneuvers as further proof that the utility has no concern for public safety. University of Tokyo professor Ayumu Yasutomi says the removal of the unused fuel was merely a “demonstration” to give the impression it is working in the public’s best interests.

The aim of this is not to protect the people but to protect Nuclear Power Plants in Japan,” says Yasutomi. “This latest procedure is horrifying – just one small mistake and we could be subjected to  something unimaginable. I personally doubt TEPCO has the technical knowhow to carry out these procedures and we should leave it to a capable team of international experts.”

Meanwhile on the same day, a second reactor went back online at the Oi Nuclear power Plant in Fukui Prefecture, just two months after another reactor reached criticality at the same plant in May. The government justified the move in the name of supplying sufficient energy in the steamy summer months, bringing public sentiment to simmering point in Tokyo on July 16, when an estimated 170,000 people took to the streets to voice their disapproval.

Version of above story published in New Scientist magazine here

Photo courtesy of TEPCO


error: Content is protected !!