Fukushima 24...1/4/12-1/20/12

January 20

Has Unit #2 had a “phantom melt-through”?

TEPCO has made a brief endoscopic (visual) inspection inside the primary containment structure surrounding the unit two Reactor Pressure Vessel (RPV). What seems surprising to TEPCO and the Japanese Press, is no indication of melted fuel outside the RPV. TEPCO spokesperson Junichi Matsumoto told Japan Times, “We could not spot any signs of fuel, unfortunately.” He added that the endoscopic device used for the inspection only looked at a small portion of the interior, so a better inspection technology and longer visual examinations should find evidence of melted fuel having leaked from the RPV. Or will they?

I suspect the problem is neither technological nor temporal. I have maintained since the Fukushima Daiichi control room records were released in July that unit #2 probably did not experience a full, core-relocating meltdown. Severe fuel damage inside the fuel cell is a given. From the operator records, it seems the fuel cell was completely uncovered and had no cooling water flow whatsoever for up to 5 hours. With unit #2 generating the lowest decay heat rate and after four days of continual decay heat reduction, that isn’t enough time for a total catastrophic meltdown! Some melting is probable in the upper, central portions of the core. Perhaps even the severe degree of melting found at TMI in 1984. But not the core-relocating event postulated by TEPCO. In other words, TEPCO can look all they want, and express as much disappointment as they wish for not finding evidence of RPV melt-through, but I believe they are chasing a phantom. A few corium drips solidified on the vessel-penetrating control rod mechanisms? Maybe. But a melt-through just doesn’t seem likely to me, and the preliminary endoscopic images taken yesterday only add fuel to my fire.

This blog is probably the singular place on the internet you will find this speculation….I’ve been looking diligently for months and have found this assumption nowhere else. If I’m wrong, I’ll be the first to admit it and ask that my crow be served medium rare with fries and plenty of ketchup. But, that’s one meal I don’t think I’ll have to eat.

  • TEPCO is using a high-tech endoscope for inspection inside the unit #2 containment structure. The containment penetration is located 2.5 meters (~8 feet) above the floor of the outer reactor building. The endoscope is 8 millimeters in diameter, tipped with a 360o camera and temperature detector. (Mainichi Shimbun) Photos taken with the camera show the interior walls and piping within the massive structure. The photos were slightly blurred, probably due to the high humidity and severe radiation level in the drywell area. The pictures were not clear enough to show how high the water is above the floor. However, the high-tech thermometer showed internal temperature to be about 43oC, which conforms very well to the 45oC reading generated from the bottom head of the RPV. (NHK World) The images released by TEPCO show rusted metal surfaced caused by nearly 10 months of being subjected to an atmosphere saturated with moisture. The high-tech thermometer confirmed what TEPCO and the government have said since December; the temperature of unit #2 RPV has stabilized. Further, there is no apparent structural damage or other evidence of earthquake damage on March 11. (Japan Today) TEPCO expected to find water inside the containment to a depth of about 4.5 meters, but found no water level they could see. A metal “foothold” located at 4 meters above the floor is clearly not under water, so the actual surface of the water must be lower than that. Where the water level might be is not possible to guess, at this point. However, the extremely high humidity and a constant light rain of condensation inside the structure indicate there must be a lot of hot water inside the containment. (Japan Today)
  • TEPCO has found yet another volume of contaminated water which was previously unknown, this time in a pit near unit #2 reactor building. The pit houses a seawater pump. It is estimated that there is 500 tons of water in the pit. Analysis of the water shows a radioactive level of over 16,000 Becquerels per cubic centimeter. This is the highest radioactive Cesium concentration discovered in the last two months. It is unlikely any of the water in the pit has found its way into the ocean because contamination levels that high would have shown up in daily sea-side samples. (JAIF)
  • NISA has announced their preliminary opinion on the Oi power plant’s stress test results. The Agency says they find the results to be acceptable for possible restart. The meeting to announce the initial findings was delayed due to the number of protestors who demanded attendance. In order to avoid needless and rude protestor disruptions, as has been the case with NISA meetings in the past, the meeting was held in one room with the audience watched closed circuit TV in another. (Japan Times)
  • NISA’s Oi stress test announcement has meet with an avalanche of protestor criticisms. In fact, when NISA officials left the meeting, protestors surged from their seats and literally accosted the men with shouts and threats. One protestor shouted, “How can you assess the safety of a nuclear plant?” Another asserted, “You should allow us to listen to discussions in the meeting room instead of setting up seats for the audience in a separate room." In a more dignified manner, University of Tokyo professor emeritus Hiromitsu Ino showed his anger by saying, "It's wrong to draw a conclusion on the safety assessment of nuclear reactors even without setting clear standards for safety. Priority should be placed on reassessing all reactors' safety while taking into consideration lessons learned from the Fukushima crisis. From the beginning, NISA had intended to give the green light to reactivation." (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • The Oi stress test announcement in no way means the two power plants will be restarted. First, the International Atomic Energy Agency must critique the results of the test, which is scheduled to begin January 23. Second, there will be no restarts as long as local officials from the region near the Oi facility agree to power resumption. That will probably be the most difficult barrier to surmount. Governor Issei Nishikawa of Fukui Prefecture, home to the Oi Nuclear Power Station, said that stress tests are insufficient to determine whether the reactors can be restarted, "It's nothing but a simulation. No clear standards have been set for how the results of such tests can be used to determine whether operations at the reactors can be resumed." (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • The level of detectable Cesium in the foods consumed by most people in Fukushima Prefecture is 11 times higher than the typical person in Tokyo. This applies only to individuals who eat higher-than-normal volumes of fruits and mushrooms grown inside the prefecture. Those who eat lower volumes of the foodstuffs consume up to ten times less Cesium. (Asahi Shimbun) Regardless, no-one is exceeding Japan’s ridiculously restrictive national standards. The Asahi article merely demonstrates that no newspaper in Japan cares a bit about the mental anguish they are fomenting through their reports concerning any radiation level that is detectable.


January 18

  • The Tokyo government says that the new 40 year licensing limit on nuclear operations can be extended another 20 years if certain criteria are met. The Cabinet Secretariat’s taskforce says the extensions would be granted on a one-time-only basis. Nuclear engineering professor Kazuhiko Kudo of Kyushu University says it makes him wonder why the 40 year limit was invoked in the first place. Kudo adds the government should clarify the scientific basis of their decision by studying the aging reactor issue completely before making their decision. The Tokyo taskforce justifies their decision by pointing out the extension plan is consistent with other regulatory standards around the world. (JAIF) But, local officials outside of Tokyo question the announcement. Mayor Tatsuya Murakami of Tokai Village in Ibaraki Prefecture says the extension “…is a compromise measure that guts the substance of the original plan.” Governors Hirohiko Izumida of Niigata Prefecture and Yukiko Kada of Shiga Prefecture say this new change will only cause more concerns among the public and further deteriorate confidence in their government.
    Izumida added that life-span decisions should not have been made before the full technical evaluation of the Fukushima Daiichi accident has been completed, allowing everyone to know whether or not the age of the plant had anything to do with the calamity. (NHK World)
  • Today, workers at Fukushima Daiichi unit #2 drilled a hole through the primary containment in preparation for visual inspection inside the massive structure. TEPCO plans to insert a radiation-resistant endoscope through the bored hole on Thursday in order to look at the condition inside the containment and see the situation around the outside of the reactor pressure vessel itself. The hole was drilled through the several feet thick steel and concrete wall using 10 teams of four workers each. The team system was used so that no-one would be in the high radiation field long enough to gain an exposure anywhere near the regulatory limit. The highest monitored exposures were 3 millisieverts. Before the work was started, the teams rehearsed extensively at undamaged and shut down unit #5 in order to insure the work would be done as quickly as possible. (JAIF)
  • The detectably radioactive gravel and concrete issue has gone from the ridiculous to the sublime, and the reason is radiophobia. For three days the Japanese Press has been inundated with stories about public fear and anger because the materials have had widespread use in new buildings, school repairs, and roads since April. In most cases, radiation readings made in contact with the cement and/or gravel are slightly above those found elsewhere in the vicinity. At a typical distance from the materials, radiation readings show little or no appreciable increase over what would otherwise be the case. Clearly, the Press is supporting the ridiculous notion that any detectable level of exposure is “highly radioactive”, amplifying radiophobic angst to the extreme. One prime example is a new road along a school route made of the suspect cement, but shows the same level of exposure as the surrounding area. Regardless, the school is pushing to have the road ripped up and replaced. (Mainichi Shimbun) Why? Because radiophobic parents have demanded it. In perhaps the most bizarre instance, a new pool in a town near Nihonmatsu which is made of the concrete shows a radiation level lower than the surrounding area, but town officials are considering having it torn apart and replaced, none-the-less. (Yomiuri Shimbun) Radiophobia has long been known to cause psychological damage, which in some cases can be clinical. Serious, debilitating radiophobia in Japan is not unusual or sporadic…it is common across the nation! The collective psychological damage is enormous. What makes the matter worse; political attempts to soothe these irrational fears are costing money that need never be wasted in such a way. That money would be better spent on tsunami recovery efforts.
  • Residents of Fukushima Prefecture are dissatisfied with the existing financial nuclear psychological damages compensation plan. Currently, 23 municipalities around Fukushima Daiichi are receiving compensation for mental suffering due to the radiation releases. Residents of 26 other municipalities in the Prefecture have set up a task force to protest what they feel is discriminatory treatment by the government. It adopted a resolution urging that reparations cover all residents in the regions, or about 450,000 people. This would literally cover all residents living in the Prefecture. (NHK World) Financial compensation for fear of the radiation bogey man…absurd without a doubt, but it will probably bear monetary fruit.
  • Does low level exposure to radiation really cause cancer? That question is posed to Dr. Jerry Cutler, formerly of Argonne National Laboratory who has studied the biological effects of radiation for some 15 years. Cutler tells us that current evidence literally proves the “cancer at any dose” notion is wrong. The discussion can be found in Rod Adam’s Atomic Insights blog… http://atomicinsights.com/2012/01/does-radiation-really-cause-cancer-conversation-among-professionals.html

January 16

America's nuclear power industry is making a major pro-active effort to increase severe accident safety factors, independent of government regulators. A proposal has been submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) by the industry's Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) outlining physical and procedural augmentations to the safety upgrades suggested by the NRC after Fukushima. Regulatory changes due to 9/11 took many years to occur. The nuclear industry feels the Fukushima accident makes it imperative that Fukushima-based safety-factor enhancements can occur much sooner by doing it themselves.

Three Mile Island's accident in 1979 began a three-decade period of relative meekness with respect to upgrading safety equipment by the industry. It would not make any effort to enhance safety until the NRC created new regulations and mandated changes. Nuclear plant owners held back because they would not know if any self-generated improvements would comply with future regulatory changes. If they didn't meet the new standards, the money and effort that went into independent change would be wasted. Regulatory changes after TMI took between three and five years to become law, with similar periods of delay after Chernobyl and 9/11. Today's American nuke industry feels they cannot wait for the government after Fukushima. They can do it themselves and save considerable time in the process. This is a relatively radical departure from the past 30 years of regulatory and industry interaction. It is a positive step towards appropriate self-regulation.

NEI says the industry will propose twin sets of emergency equipment to be located at opposite sides of the plant, and steps like installing new plumbing connections so that emergency pumps could introduce water into existing pipes quickly and efficiently. The industry also suggests forming regional support centers where even more equipment would be available to serve plants at different locations. The industry’s proposal is essentially an emergency tool kit for an unknown emergency. (NY Times) These additions to the already considerable safety factors built into all nukes fall in line with the “Lessons Learned” reports that have emerged from the NRC and IAEA after Fukushima. NEI says all that is needed is NRC assurance that any immediate efforts be given credit with respect to future Fukushima-based regulatory changes.

In what seems to be as positive development, Martin Virgilio, the NRC’s deputy executive director for reactor preparedness programs says the agency finds the proposal to be an “acceptable methodology”. The NRC needs to give support for the potential program to get it moving now, and not tomorrow. Washington needs to virtually ignore the “it must be perfect” and “we can't rust the industry” rhetoric inflicted by prophets of nuclear energy doom like David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who decries the industry proposal by saying it is “overly optimistic” and “falsely assumes that its measures will be 100% successful”. (Bloomberg) These are empty criticisms that have no basis in reality. NEI has neither said nor implied anything of the sort. This is not time for politically-predicated compromise with hardened nuclear critics. It's time to move ahead with confidence.

This weekend's updates...

  • Government sources say the NISA is on the verge of approving nuclear stress test results for the first time. The approval would be for two nuclear plants at the Oi nuclear station in Fukui Prefecture. The data submitted by management for both plants show they could withstand earthquakes 1.8 times greater than the region’s potential for a worst case temblor. In addition, the plants can tolerate tsunami 4 times greater than the worst case projections for the region. This does not mean the units will be immediately restarted as IAEA review and local government politics remain as hurdles to be surmounted. (Japan Times)
  • The Independent Investigation Commission of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident has heard former P.M. Naoto Kan’s explanation of his actions concerning Fukushima during the accident in March, 2011. This marks the first time Kan has been brought before a formal investigative committee. Unfortunately, the session was behind closed doors and there is no formal report on what Kan told the civic panel, but sources say he defended his actions saying it was the best he could do given the situation. He added that before March 11 he was like everyone else, believing the possibility of a nuclear accident was zero. (NHK World)
  • Concrete containing crushed stone that may have detectable levels of Cesium has been sold to over 200 Japanese construction firms. Radioactive Cesium was detected under a new apartment building in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, where some of  the concrete was used. Radiation exposures inside the building are slightly higher than outside, so it is assumed the concrete is “tainted”. The crushed stone has been shipped from a Namie quarry since April and used in buildings and roads throughout Japan. The quarry operator says they did not use surface stone to make the aggregate, but rather rock from beneath the surface. They felt there would be no Cesium in the material. (NHK World)
  • As morbid fear of radiation swept across Japan last spring, one community (Nagareyama) quickly developed a decontamination plan. Many residents were shocked when the plan included citizens in the clean-up work, fearing their health would be put at risk. In addition, Tokyo took political umbrage with Nagareyama creating on a plan independent of the government. "We unfortunately rushed the decision on the plan, thinking we could get support from the central government," said Keiji Tanaka, head of the Nagareyama's radiation response office. Due to the laborious slowness of Tokyo's decontamination planning, the local government decided to reinitiate their own plan. Functioning together, community officials and residents have been reducing contamination levels in some schools and playgrounds. To get citizen support, revisions have been made to the earlier official plans saying work can only proceed as long as residents join in the effort. The revisions conclude, “The city cannot do it alone”. About 30 parents in the city have formed the “Dig Here Wanwan Brigade”, a volunteer decontamination group. Its
    leader, Teruo Kawada, 36, father of an 11-month-old son, wrote on the group's blog, "This is our chance to make our opinions heard." Seiichi Someya, head of Kashiwa's radiation response office, said he didn't expect such a response from citizens of all ages, "No matter who you are, everyone wants to 'reduce radiation levels." (Asahi Shimbun)
  • An international anti-nuclear conference and rally has been held in Yokohama. 30 countries are represented, including Germany and the United States, along with 200 Japanese groups. "Nuclear power plants are all over the world. In order to deal with this issue, we must create a global network," said Tatsuya Yoshioka, director of the nongovernmental organization Peace Boat. Germany's Rebecca Harms, a member of the European Parliament, said the Fukushima crisis had a strong impact on Europe, pointing to Germany's recent decision to close eight reactors, "Please, people of Japan, learn from the German experience." (Japan Times) On Sunday, the conference made a formal declaration for protection of rights with Fukushima victims including, "The right to evacuation, health care, decontamination, compensation and the right to enjoy the same standard of living as before March 11, 2011." Mainichi Shimbun)
  • A pilot decontamination site in Minamisoma has been shown to the Press. Decontamination wastes have been buried in a plastic-lined pit on city property and covered with clay. Radiation levels at the decontaminated area dropped by 98%. Based on this success, the city plans of a full decontamination of their areas outside the 20km no-go zone in February…if they can find someplace to put the material generated by the work. Nobody wants it in their back yard. (Yomiuri Shimbun)

January 13

  • The municipal governments near Fukushima Daiichi are meeting to discuss the Tokyo plans for a waste storage facility in Futaba. The first rounds of talks were on Thursday. The only government not in attendance was Futaba, which expressed displeasure with Tokyo's proposal in December. After the meeting, a few representatives said they need Tokyo to explain the full picture of waste disposal before they make a decision. It seems all representatives agree that future meetings need Futaba's presence because total community cooperation is essential. (JAIF)
  • The latest parametric posting for Fukushima Daiichi shows all temperatures and pressures are holding or continuing to lessen very slowly. It should be noted that before this weekend is over the total volume of waste water that has been decontaminated will surpass 100, 000 tons. The volume of contaminated water in the turbine building basements remains at ~80,000 tons. (JAIF) The slowly decreasing RPV temperatures and pressures seem to be following the slowly decreasing decay heat production in the remaining fuel and/or corium.
  • Another Japanese nuke will be idled today, Shikoku Electric Power Company’s Ikata #2. This will bring the number of nukes not operating in Japan to 49, leaving 5 currently producing power. At least ten of the idled nukes are ready to restart and ease Japan’s ever-growing power shortage, but the nation’s de-facto moratorium on nuclear operations will not allow what obviously needs to be done. By early spring, all nukes will be idled. Local officials near the Ikata #2 nuclear plant say they are undecided on the restart issue, but implied that they might be more amenable once new nuclear safety regulations reflecting the Fukushima accident are in effect. (JAIF)
  • TEPCO says they have considered Tokyo’s suggestion to nationalize the company and will take the proposal seriously. TEPCO’s initial reaction was negative, but after looking at their financial situation more closely they feel the possibility must be seriously addressed. What they seek at this point is more details on what the possible takeover includes, I'd also like to discuss a capital increase (by the government) in a comprehensive special project plan (to be drawn up by TEPCO in March)," said TEPCO Vice President Takashi Fujimoto. The utility has begun soliciting financial institutions that can serve as advisors in receiving public money. Some officials in the utility say they "want to retain management rights even after accepting public assistance." (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • Japan’s Consumer’s Cooperative Union is checking household meals for cesium isotopes. The investigation began quietly on December 15th and will run through April. Initially, 250 households in 18 prefectures took part in the study looking at as many as 2,500 food items. No results have been released, at this point. (Japan Times)
  • Fukushima Prefecture will provide free breast milk tests for radioactive Cesium. It is anticipated that the program will be available to as many as 10,000 women per year, which is the average number of breast-feeding mothers in the prefecture annually. The details have yet to be worked out, including how and when each test will be administered. The prefecture expects to secure ~560 million yen per year to pay for the program. (Japan Times)
  • The American nuclear industry is trying to go pro-active on making post-Fukushima safety improvements. It appears that the industry is tiring of Washington’s laboriously slow process of regulatory change and wants to take matters into their own hands. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Robert Jaczko says it might take until 2016 for post-Fukushima regulations to be in place. The industry feels this is way too long to wait and can make the improvements on their own by 2015. The industry’s Nuclear Energy Institute says America’s 104 operating nukes are prepared to invest in additional safety equipment, including portable pumps and electrical generators, to prevent a Fukushima-type power outage from happening here. Before the industry rolls up its sleeves and gets to work, it wants assurance from the NRC that their pro-active efforts will be given credit with respect to future regulations. "This is just something that we believe we should be doing," said Adrian Heymer, who is in charge of the Institute's Fukushima regulatory response team, "But we want to get some credit for it." NEI will formally present the industry proposal to Washington today. (NASDAQ)

January 10

  • The nuclear energy debate petition drive in Tokyo is failing to get enough signatures. The civic group called "Minnade Kimeyo (Let all of us decide)" started collecting signatures on Dec. 10. They need one-fiftieth of the population to sign, which would place formal pressure on city government to hold an open nuclear debate potentially leading to a voter referendum. There is a time limit of two calendar months for the group to collect the required number of signatures. As of January 9, only 78,000 of the necessary 210,000 signatures have been solicited. Group members believe the petition’s potential failure is due to P.M. Noda declaring cold shutdown at Fukushima and a general belief that nuclear energy poses no real problems. On the other hand, the group’s parallel drive in Osaka appears to have surpassed its one month goal of 43,000 signatures with more than 50,000. Even with the inevitability of some signatures being ruled invalid by city government, it seems the debate in Osaka is going to happen. Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto will receive the petition and a formal request to introduce a motion in the municipal assembly for the plebiscite. The assembly can approve or reject the motion by a simple majority vote. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • The recently announced Japanese policy of a 40 year life-span on nukes may be “too abrupt”. Only those countries abandoning nuke energy (e.g. Germany and Switzerland) have set a firm date for the rejection. An editorial in the Yomiuri Shimbun says “It seems too abrupt for the government to come up with such a policy now.” Regardless of the current de-facto moratorium on restarting idled nukes, 2 of them are already over 40 and fifteen will reach that age in the next decade. In ten years, more than 30% of Japan’s nuclear capacity will be permanently shut down based on the 40 year limit. This will not only hurt the national energy supply, but send a negative message to the world concerning Japan’s nuclear export business. The Yomiuri calls for a new policy that will not delay the restarting of the idled nukes and will not cause a severe, prolonged power shortage.
  • Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba wants to secure Arab oil supplies from United Arab Emirates (UAE). He met with UAE Minister Abdullah bin Zayad Al Nahyan inn Abu Dhabi yesterday. One reason for the meeting is increased oil usage by Japan due to the nuclear moratorium, as well as international tension of the nuclear issues with Japan’s no. 1 oil supplier, Iran. Abdullah said the potential closure of the Straits of Hormuz by Iran will inflate oil prices, and Gemba said Iran should end provocative rhetoric. (JAIF) Gemba has already made stops in Saudi Arabia
    and Qatar where he raised the same concerns. Saudi Arabia is the only Arab country with sufficient reserves to boost exports, but UAE might yet be able to help. Sheikh Abdullah said his country was willing to help meet Tokyo’s needs in the event of energy shortfalls. “As the UAE has the ability to provide more energy resources, it has taken the request positively. Japan will have the priority,” he said. (Japan Times) More oil burning for electricity also means more greenhouse gasses out of Japan, not to mention a further strain on the nation’s already-stressed economy.
  • Japan’s Nuclear Energy Safety Organization (JNES) has been Xeroxing inspection procedures from vendors since 2003, the JNES third-party investigation panel reports. This will surely bring suspicious scrutiny to Japan’s only inspection body with legal authority. Since 2003, JNES has taken vendor manuals, copied them, and attached their own covers to make it look like the organization had created them. The third-party panel says in its report, "Inspections are part of the system to ensure safety. Inspections must not be entrusted to business operators." The report further says, "It is unavoidable for people to think that the JNES gave rubber-stamp approval of inspections by the business operator." (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • A sad news report in Mainichi Shimbun concerns a Fukushima worker that fell into a coma. It is sad that he was stricken with cardiac and respiratory arrest. After the above, the report immediately states that he had received 52 millisieverts of radiation exposure at Fukushima, and that an investigation was being undertaken to find out what his accumulated dose might be from prior work at other nuclear facilities. This sends the clear implication that his malady is somehow due to low level radiation exposure. It’s what is known as guilt by association, which is a subtle but effective logical fallacy. It is infuriating that The Mainichi has used an affliction virtually unrelated to low level exposure in an obvious scheme to engender nuclear anxiety in their readers, simply because the man was working at Fukushima when he fell into the coma. This morning, TEPCO announced that the contractor employee had died. (RIP)
  • Two European speakers in Japan seem to believe that nuclear power “stress tests” are a charade. Rebecca Harms, president of the Green Group in the European Parliament, and Gueorgui Kastchiev, a senior nuclear physicist at the Vienna-based University of Natural Resources, said a warning is needed in Japan where nuclear facilities are undergoing stress tests. Kastchiev said stress tests were originally designed for European banks and modified for nuclear plants, which he says proves that they are a political ploy to make the public think reactors are safe. He added that the tests are only being applied to extreme natural calamities, but should actually cover all aspects of nuclear energy. Further,Kastchiev went on to say there is no international law allowing punishments for those who fail, so the whole thing is a sham. (Japan Times)

January 9

  • The top nuclear news stories across Japan this past weekend superficially concern the topic of P.M. Noda wanting the build a waste storage facility in Futaba. However, the issue of displeasure with the recent “cold shutdown” declaration dominated the numerous news reports. P.M. Noda visited Fukushima Governor Sato in order to ask about the storage facility, but Sato instead focused on the cold shutdown declaration. He challenged the notion that the accident is contained saying the announcement was "far from the feeling of the residents in Fukushima Prefecture and those who had to evacuate. We can call it under control only when evacuated people can come home." (Mainichi Shimbun) Sato also added that the accident should not be declared “contained” until all evacuees have returned to their homes. He further stated damage caused by the accident had seriously undermined confidence in Tokyo’s nuclear policies. (JAIF)
  • The Mainichi also ran an editorial calling plans to restart idled nukes “half-baked” because less than half of the households in mandatory evacuation zones have yet to apply for financial compensation. They also charge that “…a safe method of operating nuclear reactors has yet to be established.” why have disaster victims been slow to apply for payments? "Because the crisis hasn't ended yet," a man from Fukushima who's evacuated to Yamagata Prefecture says, "We're still in the midst of it." The editorial further asserts that damage claims from voluntary evacuees must be taken seriously, as many as 1.5 million should be eligible for compensation, and reparation claims from beyond Fukushima Prefecture in Japan and overseas cannot be ignored. (Mainichi Shimbun) How restarting nukes and repopulation of the Fukushima evacuation zones correlate has us stumped.
  • The government says the homes of 25,000 evacuees inside the 20km no-go zone might remain empty for at least five years. This will apply to locations having at least fifty millisievert annual exposures. These areas include all or part of Minamisoma City, the towns of Futaba and Okuma which lie adjacent to Fukushima Daiichi, and Iitate Village. Tokyo says 60% of these residents want to return home. In addition, the government proposes that several communities merge in order to streamline recovery efforts. For example, Mayor Tamotsu Baba of the town of Namie, which neighbors Okuma and Futaba, said he was asked to consider a merger of the three towns and Katsurao Village into a single municipality. When
    asked, “Why don't you merge [with other municipalities] to improve your infrastructure?" the mayor replied, "I must hear the opinions of the town's residents. I can't just make a snap decision.” (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • TEPCO has increased the nitrogen injection rate inside the primary containment Vessel (PCV) of unit #2. The company says they are doing this “in preparation for inner inspection of the PCV”. By admitting more Nitrogen, the possibility of steam in the inner atmosphere will be greatly reduced. (TEPCO News)
  • A “tunnel” related to the Fukushima Waste Treatment Facility has been found to contain 142 tons of radioactive water in it. This is the second such tunnel discovery since the one found on December 18. Tunnel water contains Cesium concentration of ~100 becquerels/liter. It does not seem the water came from the damaged power plants or the nearby waste water facility. TEPCO suspects the liquid is rainwater that has accumulated for quite some time, and the Cesium came in with the rainwater which picked up deposited isotopes as it drained from areas in and around the plant site. (Mainichi Shimbun) Although conspicuously missing from the article, it should be noted that the Japanese limit for fresh water is 200 becquerels/liter. Thus, the national standard is double the radioactivity found in the tunnel's water volume.
  • Of the 108 communities earmarked for decontamination funding, six have refused the offer. This is because they dread the negative publicity they will receive if they are officially declared to be contaminated. Local officials fear outsiders may misunderstand that the whole areas of the municipalities have high radiation levels.  “Radiation levels are high in forestlands in mountainous areas, and they do not affect the lives of citizens,” Chichibu Mayor Kuniyasu Kuki said, “If we're designated, it would give the impression that the entire city has been contaminated.” Most towns that refused have considerable tourist trade and don’t want to lose it. (Asahi Shimbun)
  • The Japanese government is considering a full takeover of all nuclear plant management in Japan. This would mark a drastic change from past official nuclear policy. Tokyo feels that by doing this, responsibility for accident compensation will be clarified and generate support from currently-disgruntled local governments. The government feels it might lessen local official opposition to restart currently-idled nukes. But, the idea goes even further. Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano said, "Nuclear plants are owned by private utilities but the state is responsible for compensation and decontamination work [in the aftermath of a nuclear plant accident]. It can no longer be permitted [for the private sector] to enjoy only the benefits [of the system]. The course of action by private utility firms should be determined: either they'll continue to manage nuclear plants while paying huge insurance premiums or they'll relinquish the benefits they currently enjoy and ask the state to bear the cost of compensation [in the event of an accident].” (Yomiuri Shimbun) But...isn't distrust of central government at the core of local government issues? Private companies owning nukes are also distrusted, so which level of distrust is better? Is this potential move by Tokyo going to worsen rather than improve the situation? Stay tuned...
  • The latest example of radiophobia concerns the burning of trash produced by last week's New Year's celebrations. The traditional burning of New Year's decorations called “Dondoyaki”, has been canceled at a number of shrines in Fukushima Prefecture due to concerns about radioactive contamination. "It is regrettable that we cannot return these objects to the gods after burning them," said Tadashi Yoshida, the 80-year-old head priest at Kasuga Shrine in Fukushima Prefecture. The decorations include ropes, charms, good luck ornaments and household altars brought to the shrine by parishioners. The shrine is located outside the Fukushima evacuation zones. Yoshida said they, and local officials of the Kawamata municipal government, are concerned for the health of children commuting to school during the burning who might be exposed to radioactive smoke fumes. Some of the materials brought by parishioners were made from local pines and straws, so it is possible the substances might contain some Cesium. Since they cannot prove the materials do not have radioactive Cesium in them, they feel they cannot take the chance on burning. (Mainichi Shimbun)

January 6

The latest JAIF posting of pressures and temperatures inside the three damaged RPVs at Fukushima continues to suggest that only unit #1 experienced a complete core-relocating meltdown. Units #2 and #3 RPV temperatures indicate severe melting of core materials, but not a full meltdown in either case. Here’s why. The faster water flows through any heat producing system, the lesser the amount of heat the water removes as it passes through. The slower the flow, the greater the amount of heat absorbed as it passes through. With the entire fuel cell of unit #1 completely melted and relocated, there is literally nothing to obstruct the flow of water through the core barrel where the fuel used to be. It’s not there anymore. The water flows through rather rapidly and picks up minimal heat from the corium (solidified mixture of uranium and other core metals). Please keep in mind that unit #1 has 60% less fuel in its core than units #2 and #3, and decay heat has dropped to perhaps one MWth. Unit #1 RPV temperature is at 26oC. On the other hand, unit #2 temperature is at 52oC and unit #3 temperatures are between 47-55oC. The higher temperatures strongly indicate there are some pretty severe flow restrictions in and around the core barrel. This demonstrates that for units #2 and #3 some or most of the damaged fuel has not relocated and remains in its original position! The unmelted portion in each RPV is unquestionably deformed, blocking possible water flow pathways. This slows the flow and allows the water itself to pick up more heat than would otherwise be the case. Thus, government, TEPCO, and news media reports of full, core-relocating meltdowns for all three reactors are probably incorrect. With unit #1…without a doubt! With units #2 and #3…possibly not.

There are relatively few updates to follow because of a very heavy focus on our first entry by all Japanese news services…

  • Soon after the explosions at Fukushima Daiichi, Prime Minister Kan requested the chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission to draft a worst case scenario for potential evacuations. At the end of the first week of the accident, Kan told the Press he particularly feared he might have to evacuate Tokyo but never said why he felt that way. Behind the scenes, he wanted something to use as evidence and asked the JAEC for assistance. The report was given to Kan on March 25 which postulated mandatory evacuations out to 170km and voluntary evacuations out to 250km. Chairman Shunsuke Kondo based his assumptions on a second hydrogen explosion at unit #1 forcing a complete abandonment of the power complex. He felt abandonment would result in full meltdowns in units #2 and #3, along with full melting of stored fuel cells in the unit #4 SPF. The SPF meltdown would cause complete collapse of its supporting structure. The entire scenario would release high volumes of volatile fission products from all four buildings. During and after the on-site destruction occurred, winds were assumed to carry airborne contamination at a constant velocity towards the locations with greatest population density. Local topography was not included in the contamination prediction. Kondo pointed out that his full worst case worst case calculations were not realistic. As a result of these improbable conjectures, Kondo wrote that the numbers were very rough and should not be used to assume how large the contaminated areas would actually be. The computer system for such predictions, SPEEDI, was not used by Kondo, probably because of P.M. Kan's staff's decision to ignore SPEEDI beginning March 16. In conclusion, Kondo re-emphasized his postulations were not intended to be detailed and taken with a high degree of confidence. (Japan Times) We have used the Times as a reference because it first reported this story on Thursday. All other news media posted today. (Friday) First come…first serve.
  • Nuclear disaster Minister Goshi Hosono has announced the Tokyo government wants to enact a law limiting nuclear power plant life-span to forty years. This is the first such limit on the duration of a Japanese nuclear plant’s operating period, ever. The regulatory limit can be extended after 40 years if certain conditions are met. The two conditions for extension reported by Hosono are (1) relative obsolescence of the facility and (2) the degree of appropriate maintenance taken over the 40 year period. (NHK World) The United States has a similar limit, but extensions in America are commonplace. Hosono says actual lifetime extensions in Japan will be “very rare” under the suggested rules of the proposed law. The new bill will also require nuclear plant operators to take measures to prepare for severe accidents that could result in damage to the reactor core. Current regulations place no licensing limit on the duration of nuclear plant operation and leave severe nuclear accident mitigation to the discretion of the companies owning the nukes. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • The municipal government of Kashiwa has once again stopped all waste incineration because of ash constipation. The problem is not the incineration itself, but rather storage space for the ash containing more than 8,000 becquerels/kg of radioactivity. Existing storage space for 200 tons of ash is satiated and 30 tons of ash remains in the high-efficiency incinerators. Kashiwa has tried to get the cities of Abiko and Inzai to allow temporary storage, but local opposition keeps it from happening. Until the waste disposal issues based on public radiation fears are resolved, there is no place where the stored materials can be moved. Some older, less efficient incineration facilities will be re-started to handle garbage produced by city residents. (Mainichi Shimbun) NIMBY strikes again!
  • By the end of 2011, the Great Tohoku Earthquake of March 11 had produced nearly 7,000 aftershocks which were felt by people. Across Japan, 9,723 earthquakes and aftershocks were felt last year. This number is seven times more than in 2010, mostly because of the March 11 quake aftershocks. (NHK World)

January 4

  • The nuclear energy debate in Japan continues to have an “us vs. them” atmosphere. However, Banri Kaieda, former head of the Ministry of Economy, has offered a suggestion that makes all the sense in the world. He said both sides of the debate should end to their long-standing, all-or-nothing ideological tactics and engage in constructive dialogue, "We really should avoid an ideological struggle between the pro and anti sides." (Japan Times) We at Hiroshima Syndrome heartily concur. In fact, Kaieda's words should be taken to heart around the world.
  • TEPCO reports a water tank inside Fukushima unit #4 has experienced a continual “abnormal drop” in level since the earthquake of Sunday. The tank is part of the Spent Fuel Pool cooling system. The abnormality has not affected SPF water level or temperature. (TEPCO) One newspaper, Mainichi Shimbun, posted an article on the situation. No other major news sources seemed to find the development worthy of coverage.
  • It appears that one of the “holdups” in local decontamination efforts is the appearance of diverse radiological standards. The Environment Ministry says a one millisievert per year (0.23 millisieverts/hour) exposure due to contamination warrants future decontamination efforts, but not immediate measures. In parallel, the Education Ministry says a “hot spot” producing a field of 1 millisievert per hour requires immediate decontamination. To residents and many local officials across Japan, it seems these two standards conflict with each other. In response, some municipalities have posted their own decontamination criteria that run the gamut of levels between the two Ministry standards. In addition, some local governments have been changing standards as time passes. For example, Shinjuku Ward posted a 0.25 microsievert/hr standard for decontamination in June, later reduced it to 0.23 microsieverts, and then raised it to 1 microsievert/hr in October. All of this causes confusion which delays decontamination efforts. (Asahi Shimbun)
  • Toshiba has announced the creation of a mobile soil and sludge decontamination unit. The system is said to have a capacity of treating almost two tons of waste per day at a 97% removal rate. This should not be confused with Toshiba’s existent waste water clean-up unit now operating at Fukushima Daiichi, although it does look similar. The soil and sludge system works in a different fashion using a ferric liquid to break down the material and a filtering media to remove dissolved Cesium. Some factories in Japan and at least two local governments have already expressed interest in the new mobile unit. (JAIF)
  • The Environment Ministry has formally opened their new decontamination office in Fukushima City. The staff will direct and coordinate decontamination efforts to clean buildings, strip soil, and dispose of other wastes. This follows Sunday’s full scope enactment of the new decontamination law which was announced in August. The Office’s staff of 70 will act as liaison between Tokyo and local governments for municipalities where clean-up is warranted. (Kyodo News)
  • The mayor of Futuba, which borders Fukushima Daiichi, is firmly opposed to government plans to build a waste storage facility in his town. Mayor Katsutaka Idogawa said he cannot accept the facility because he’s convinced townspeople who evacuated would never be able to return once it is built. (NHK World)
  • Nuclear Crisis Minister Goshi Hosono announced the government wants to make Fukushima an international center for nuclear safety. He said the institute would have specialists trained in nuclear safety as well as advanced radiological medicine. Hosono added lessons learned from the nuclear crisis, including use of medicine for people exposed to radiation, must be made available to the world. The institute will also focus on new technologies developed to deal with the decommissioning of Fukushima Daiichi. (JAIF)
  • A 4 year-old Tokyo boy is being subjected to his parent’s extreme fear of radiation. He must wear two face-masks and a raincoat to kindergarten every day. As soon as he gets home, he is showered and rinsed with bottled water. These extreme measures are due to his parent’s fears of airborne radioactivity and of Tokyo city water possibly having contamination. (Asahi Shimbun)
  • The recent preliminary report of the Prime Minister's Fukushima Investigative Panel addresses what the members feel is necessary for future nuclear regulation in Japan. They include (1) regulatory independence and transparency, (2) organizational competence in emergency response, (3) timely important information flow, (4) competence in staffing, and (5) collection and accumulation of scientific knowledge. (Executive Summary of the Interim Report)


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