We sent a team to help Greenpeace Japan check the safety of the area around the (world's largest) nuke plant. The good news is that they didn't turn up anything new and alarming. The bad news is that the Kashiwazaki plant is still sitting on a fault line, and the government is probably thinking about starting it back up at some point.

The team's just made it home, and sent me this account of their work at the scene.

Update: The BBC's run a story about how the plant's extended closure is going to cost the company billions and impacts Japan's electricity supply. Dangerous, expensive, dirty and unreliable - that's the nuclear option for you.

Update 2, August 9th: The Times published a story today after they were allowed a rare look inside the plant. Excerpt:

The Times, armed with a small gamma-radiation detector, was allowed a rare tour of the reactor buildings yesterday — and the picture was grim. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, who were also touring the reactors, were confronted by a dot-matrix screen at the site entrance that reads: “Consecutive days since last disaster - 4.”

The roads within the plant are puckered and twisted like rumpled carpets - many were patched-up hastily to allow heavy industrial vehicles to reach the worst-affected parts of the plant. Flights of stairs no longer meet their intended floors at either end, and steel lamp-posts lie strewn on the ground.

Some corridors within the reactor buildings themselves, are split by 12-inch cracks along the floor. Near one of the reactors the surrounding area has subsided by more than a yard.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) that runs the site insists that the facility is now safe but in the immediate aftermath of the 6.8 magnitude tremor, it was forced to make a series of startling admissions. The plant was not designed to withstand such a strong a earthquake, radioactive material leaked into the sea and air and dozens of drums containing toxic waste broke apart.

The admission that most stunned Japan, however, was that the site, which Tepco had insisted in the High Court was nowhere near an active faultline, was in fact built directly above one. The long, straight ridge and crevice that now runs alarmingly through the middle of the Kashiwazaki plant, said one of Japan’s most respected seismologists, clearly proves that.

The Times also reported, on July 20th, that the nuclear power station had pumped radioactive particles into the air for nearly three days following the quake. From the article:

The company was unable to explain why it took engineers until Wednesday afternoon to locate and staunch the leak, but said that the radioactive particles had been blown into the atmosphere from the turbine, which continued running after the reactor automatically shut-down, against the recommendation of the official safety manual.

The blunder, which is currently not thought to pose a risk to human life, joins a catalogue more than 50 other safety failings discovered at the plant since the earthquake. Tepco has been heavily criticised for its sloppy management of the quake aftermath and for initially under-reporting the extent of the radiation leaks that occurred.