Get it right, for crying out loud!
The Mainichi Shimbun has posted an editorial on the dangers of shut-down reactors. (#1, below) It is written in a Q and A format. I am not going to nit-pick the many exaggerations contained in the article because nuclear-related hyperbole is typical of the Mainichi. However, the Mainichi’s assessment of the current level of heat being generated from the damaged fuel of Fukushima Daiichi’s units #1 through 3, is false… fictitious… just plain WRONG! And, not by just a little bit, either. They should prominently post a correction.
First, what we are dealing with is called “decay heat”. When the U-235 and Pu-239 (near the end of core life) atoms split (fission), the two pieces of the original nuclei instantly become two other elements. These “new” elements are not unique to the universe, and can be found on the Periodic Chart (from Zinc to Dysprosium). These freshly-made elements are quite unstable and produce radiation. As the radiation is absorbed and/or dissipated inside the reactor core, heat is produced. Immediately after a rapid, full-core shutdown (SCRAM), decay heat can be op to 7% of full reactor power (after a power run of approx. 1 year). Fortunately, the vast majority of the “new” elements is highly radioactive and burn themselves out at a prodigious pace. Within an hour after SCRAM the decay heat rate is ~1.5%, and after a day is below 1%. The drop-off continues for a few centuries until it becomes less radioactive than natural Uranium itself.
Now, here’s the intolerable problem with the Mainichi editorial. It says, “Over a year has passed since the No. 1 through 3 reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 plant were stopped, and the heat has dropped to around 0.4 percent of what it was immediately after the shutdown.” This is way, way off. Actually, decay heat is well below 0.1%...in fact more like 0.05%. (#2, below) In other words, the Mainichi’s posted decay heat levels in the F. Daiichi cores are off by as much as a factor of 20! Instead of 5,000 liters of water possibly boiled off in an hour, it’s more like 250 liters. The fuel in the Spent Fuel Pools is even older and generates much less heat. This makes the speculations of apocalyptic consequences from SPFs going dry, little more than a scary fairy-tale.
We should demand the Mainichi to get their technical numbers right. Anything less would be worse than a mere oversight…it would be disrespectful to their readers!
This past weekend, the last nuclear plant in Japan was shut down. Tomari unit #3 was taken off line Saturday and is presently in cold shutdown for routine maintenance and refueling. The Japanese news media has used the moment to try and bring the issue of nuke restarts to a fever pitch. Most articles seriously overlap each other. Those listed below have some interesting and unique points that should be identified…
- Perhaps the best overview of the situation comes from Japan Today… http://www.japantoday.com/category/national/view/japan-braces-for-severe-power-shortages
- There are sharply-divided opinions being voiced across Japan… http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20120506p2g00m0dm061000c.html
- Anti-nuclear rallies have been held in Tokyo and Sapporo to celebrate Japan’s first nuclear-free period in more than 42 years… http://www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/20120505_18.html
- The International Monetary Fund says Japan is inviting economic suicide by continuing in its current direction… http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/eo20120502a1.html
- Kenji Yamaji, director of the Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth, says Japan should continue using nuclear power because there isn't another energy source that can replace it, and the use of renewable energy sources is necessary but not economically efficient… http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20120506a8.html
- On the other hand, Tetsunari Lida, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, says the government is “scrambling” to restart nukes and it would make more sense to establish the use of renewables… http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20120506a6.html
Now, for some other (at times related) updates…
- The starting of a new nuclear regulatory agency continues to be delayed. Parliamentary deliberations on launching the new watchdog group have yet to begin because of considerable differences of opinion between political parties. The Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito party submitted a bill in April that proposes putting a new agency under the control of what they call a "nuclear regulatory commission" with a legally guaranteed independence. Creation of the new commission would require Diet approval so it can have the right to decide on the agency's personnel and budget matters. The LDP feels that one of the important lessons from the Fukushima crisis is to reduce the risks created by political interference. This conflicts with the now-ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s desire to create a new nuke watchdog group under the Environment Ministry, proposed in January. "What the government is trying to do is just create a second NISA under the Environment Ministry," LDP member and former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said in January. Meanwhile, the DPJ doubts whether the opposition-proposed group would be capable of swift decision-making during a nuclear emergency. The delay in launching a new regulatory body has be instrumental in the complete cessation of nuclear plant operations. Satoshi Arai, chair of a DPJ taskforce on nuclear accident-related issues, says leaving safety decisions under the Industry Ministry is unacceptable because it both promotes and regulates the system, "Industry minister Yukio Edano is in charge of NISA and at the same time of energy policy ... These two functions were what the International Atomic Energy Agency advised Japan in 2007 to separate, but what was not implemented.” He feels moving NISA to the non-vested Environment Ministry makes the most sense. (Mainichi Shimbun)
- Osaka mayor Tori Hashimoto says the portrayal of him as anti-nuclear is false. He says he is against the opaque, top-down authority that has characterized Japan’s postwar rise which causes many Japanese to blame the government for failure to prevent last year’s accident and fully inform the public of the radiation risks it posed. He says the same political failings are the reason for widespread distrust of Tokyo’s reasons for wanting to restart nukes. “The restart issue reveals the flaws of Japan’s current system, and how it is beholden to special interests,” Hashimoto asserted this past weekend. He believes that all nuclear decisions are made “behind closed doors” and that no-one could possibly find that acceptable. Hashimoto is gaining considerable political support from across Japan. “The Japanese public is fed up with business as usual, and Mr. Hashimoto has been able to seize on that anger,” said Wataru Kitamura of Osaka University. “Japan is deeply frustrated by its own political paralysis, and many see him as the answer.” (New York Times – Asia Pacific)
The end of an era, or, the onset of Japan’s economic and energy collapse
On Saturday May 5, Tomari unit #3 will be shuttered for routine maintenance and inspection. When it is disconnected from the nation’s electric transmission system, there will no longer be any operating nukes in Japan. It will mark the first time in 42 years that fission power will not be contributing to Japan’s energy infrastructure. (News on Japan) It will also mark the low-point of former Prime Minister Kan’s de-facto moratorium on nuclear energy which began soon after the tsunami/quake catastrophe of March 11, 2012. The complete cessation of nuclear-based electric generation has received mixed reactions from all over the country. Slightly more than half the people polled by two of Japan’s largest newspapers, the Mainichi and Asahi Shimbuns, do not want nuclear plants restarted until the new nuclear safety commission is in place and stronger regulations are enforced. The majority also wants to make Japan “nuclear free” as soon as possible. On the other hand, residents of the communities hosting the nukes want the currently-ready nukes restarted to avoid an energy short-fall this coming summer, as well as re-establish the local economic benefits of nuclear operation. The divergent debate is amplifying as time passes. With all nukes shuttered and the restart of perfectly safe, completely functional nukes like Oi units #3 & 4 hanging on a political trend that Tokyo seems too timid to quash, the angst-ridden majority will breathe a collective sigh of relief. Because clean, non-polluting nukes have been replaced by old, unreliable and pollution-spewing fossil fueled plants, they will also be breathing particulates and gasses that have been confirmed to shorten lives, induce cancer, and choke the systems of the most sensitive of the population. The proven, un-questioned negative health effects of burning fossil fuels should be seriously juxtaposed by the essentially assumed health effects of nuclear plants, including Fukushima Daiichi’s three meltdowns.
But, such rational understanding is uncommon in Japan, at this point in time. Misconceptions about nuclear energy and radiation exposure are considered reality by most Japanese due to more than a 30-year dearth of public information and a complete lack of both subjects in the nation’s education system. Radiophobia has gripped the nation to such a degree that recovery from last year’s real disaster, the tsunami of March 11, has been moving at a virtual snail’s pace out of fear that the moldering debris might be radioactive. To make matters worse, the government has been more concerned about soothing fears than doing the right thing and restarting the nukes so badly needed. In fact, the situation may well become the world’s most significant example of political fear pacification resulting in national economic and energy collapse.
Undaunted, several aggressive governmental opportunists like Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto and Osaka governor Ichiro Matsui have exploited the national restart debate to the maximum to bolster their higher political ambitions. Both also want the emergency planning zones around nukes expanded more than 300% in order to include their fiefdoms, as well as bring extra money into their governments. Their arguments are predicated on the exploitation of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD). They understand that national ignorance of nuclear power plants and the biological effects of extremely low level radiation exposure have generated fear that infects the core of Japan’s population. They understand that it is very, very rare for nuclear experts and academics to say anything is impossible (even if it is), which allows them to evoke uncertainty sufficient to keep Japan’s nuclear-paranoic majority in a constant state of anxiety. They understand that the government’s arbitrary behaviors and less-than-transparent information sharing in March, 2011, have placed a severe state of doubt in the minds of more than 75% of the voting public. Exploitation of nuclear FUD is being tested by these opportunists, and if they are successful we might see a tsunamic wave of similar political actions sweep the island nation.
As long as the exploitation of FUD supersedes doing what is rational and realistic, Japan’s economy and energy infrastructure will continue to circle the drain.
Now, here's the weekend updates...
- Here is some new data on the above-limits Cesium found in food during April. Out of 13,867 food samples, 337 (2.4%) exceeded the 100 Becquerel/kg standard. By prefecture…Fukushima - 142, Tochigi - 69, Ibaraki – 41, Iwate – 35, Miyagi – 32, Chiba – 13, Yamagata and Gunma have 2 each, and one in Kanagawa. Mushrooms and other agricultural products in excess of the tougher limit were involved in 178 cases, while 156 concerned fish products. (Japan Times)
- The Egyptian government plans to lift food restrictions on Japanese products at the end of May. It is anticipated the Japanese fish business will receive the most benefit because Egypt has historically been the largest importer of Japan’s mackerel. Japan exported about $38 million worth of mackerel to Egypt in 2010. Fish from 36 prefectures will be accepted if they have private-sector certificates showing they do not have harmful Cesium levels. In addition, all foods from the 36 prefectures will be able to be exported without any such certificates, while exports of foods from the other 11 prefectures would be accepted if additional conditions are met. Egypt has banned all imports of Japanese foods since the Fukushima accident because of radiation fears. (Japan Times)
- Over the past five years, nuclear-operating companies have provided more than $375 million to local governments through donations, above and beyond required pay-outs like taxes. Such donations are not required to be made public, so this marks the first time that this practice has been revealed. The donations were given to 60 prefectural governments, prefectural capitals and municipalities that host nuclear power plants or are located near-by. The donations have been used to fund projects like the building and maintaining of Yume no Mori park in Niigata prefecture and a railway spur in Fukui prefecture linking Tsuruga with Kyoto, Kobe, and Osaka. Without these donations, such projects might not have occurred. (Japan Times)
- A seismic fault has been discovered 9 kilometers from the Shiga nuclear power station. If it goes active, it could possibly cause an earthquake greater than the nuclear design criteria for the region. Although the fault has not caused an earthquake in more than 120,000 years, the Tokyo government advises The Horuriku Electric Company to review the Shiga station to see if it would survive this rare-but-not-impossible event. (Kyodo News) Comment - Historically, nuclear plants are built to greatly exceed the regional earthquake design criteria.
- Recruitment for the Fukushima police force has taken a new, Fukushima-related turn. Their recruitment poster shows a policeman in anti-contamination clothing, standing in a tsunami-swept location with Fukushima unit #1 in the background. The attached text says, “There is work here only I can do.” The tactic has attracted some media interest because of its relative darkness. A police spokesperson confirmed they are seeking people with the “mettle” to handle working in the region around Fukushima Daiichi. In other words, the prefecture doesn’t want just anyone. They want officers who won’t shy away, but also won’t take the situation casually. (Japan Today)
Before today’s updates, I would like to recommend an excellent report on the robots of Fukushima posted by America’s Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). There have been numerous reports out of Japan over the past year concerning the use of robots for debris removal, measuring radiation levels in hazardous areas, and providing video plus other information back to operators who remain safe from excessive radiation exposure. Perhaps the most important robot use has been the internal inspection of the Primary Containment (PCV) for unit #2. For the complete story, go to…
Now, for today’s updates…
- Kyoto Prefecture believes the Tokyo government’s explanations of the safety of Oi units #3 & 4 are insufficient for restarts. A Kyoto official (un-named) spoke to Tetsuya Yamamoto, NISA senior representative, on Tuesday at the Prefectural hall. The official said it is unclear to what extent the Nuclear Safety Commission has been involved in devising the new safety standards drafted last month. Further, he said Tokyo’s belief in Oi’s safety is inconsistent with those of the local residents. Yamamoto responded that the government is dedicated to putting the new nuclear safety standards in place as soon as possible. He added that without the two Oi units, the region faces the real possibility of power shortages this summer that could hurt everyone in Kyoto Prefecture. (NHK World)
- Tepco reports that extensive testing proves that unit #4 Spent Fuel Pool will not collapse, even if an earthquake as powerful as March 11, 2011 happens again. Although post-quake/tsunami simulations revealed the SPF would probably not collapse, the margin of safety was less than before March 11. Because of this, Tepco decided to reinforce the bottom of the pool with steel girders, which brought the seismic safety margin to 1.43 (43% margin of safety). Concrete was subsequently added to the reinforcement bringing the safety margin to 1.79. In addition, precise measurements of the 5th floor show that the building has not tilted, which strongly suggests the reactor building has remained firmly attached to the underlying bedrock. Comment – While the Tepco report ought to quell rumors about unit #4 SPF collapsing with apocalyptic consequences for the world, it is unlikely that these outlandish rumors will stop. Prophets of nuclear energy doom around the world have literally “hung their hats” on these rumors. Based on their past actions, these prophets will probably accuse Tepco of falsifying data.
- Japan and Kazakhstan have agreed to collaborate on the clean-up of Fukushima contamination. Japanese industry minister Yukio Edano met his Kazakh counterpart Asset Issekeshev in Kazakhstan on Tuesday. Representatives of Japanese electronics maker Toshiba and Kazakhstan's national nuclear center also signed a memorandum on sharing decontamination expertise. The center began decontaminating the Soviet Semipalatinsk nuclear site in 1991. Toshiba intends to use Kazakhstan's experience to develop new decontamination methods. (NHK World)
- 2.4% of food items in nine prefectures exceeded the new limits on radioactive Cesium in April. The new limit of 100 Becquerels per kilogram went into effect on April 1. Out of 13,867 food samples tested, 337 exceed the limit. The 337 excessive samples came from 51 specific food items. 97.6% of all samples were below the new standard. (News on Japan)
- There are four major investigative committees, each giving their opinion on what caused the Fukushima accident. Three published reports have some interesting agreements and a few areas of disagreement. One report (by the Diet’s expert panel) will not be available until June. The Asahi Shimbun, however, says none of the reports “paint a clear and definitive account of what actually transpired in the critical hours and days after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami”, which is misleading. All three are quite clear versions on what happened. Apparently, The Asahi doesn’t want to believe the cause of the accident was the tsunami itself, which swamped the power complex and made emergency power inoperable. However, the three published reports all agree that the tsunami was the cause, but leave the door open for the earthquake contributing to the accident. This seems to be what The Asahi is focusing on…The Asahi seems to believe the earthquake was the culprit and the tsunami merely made matters worse in order to perpetuate fear, uncertainty and doubt.
- The existent reports seem to agree on three points - (a) the Tokyo government and Tepco not protecting against the rare-but-not-impossible tsunami, and allowing economic considerations to compromise safety, which made the accident possible. (b) The Prime Minister’s failure to use SPEEDI projections for the spread of radioactive contamination and his decision to evacuate based on distance rather than scientific data, causing confusion which resulted in many evacuees being exposed to higher radiation levels than ought to have occurred. (c) The tsunami itself, greatly exceeding the design-basis protective measures, was the cause of the accident.
- However, they disagree on three other key points – (a) did Tepco actually plan on abandoning Fukushima Daiichi on March 15? Tepco's in-house report says, "The gist of what we asked the prime minister's office is 'Because the situation at the plant is difficult, we want consideration to be given to temporarily evacuating workers who are not directly involved in the work when that need arises.' We never thought about (total withdrawal) nor asked that all workers be allowed to leave." The government panel says Tepco’s statement was confusing and led the Prime Minister to take action. On the other hand, the private-sector panel took the position that that Tepco actually made the request to pull out all workers, based on testimony made by Yukio Edano, the then-chief Cabinet secretary. (b) Did Tepco operators err in stopping critical cooling flows on units #1 & 3? Tepco’s report says there is no evidence of human error. The government panel says possible delays in restoring cooling flows as soon as possible might have made the situation worse than it should have been. The panel said that such delays during an extreme emergency are “extremely inappropriate for an operator of a nuclear power plant." The private sector panel believes that Tepco’s use of the High Pressure Coolant Injection system for cooling of unit #1 was little more than a stopgap measure, and that Tepco should have had alternative cooling measures in place when HPCI was lost. (c) The level of disagreement on what happened in unit #2 is enormous. Was there a hydrogen explosion inside the pressure suppression chamber on March 15th? Tepco says it never happened and the “sound” inside the unit #2 PCV was caused by the unit #4 hydrogen blast being transmitted through the underlying bedrock. The government report says the Plant manager assumed there was an explosion on March 15, so there’s no reason to think it did not happen. The government and private-sector panels say since there was fuel in unit #4 when it exploded on March 15, the large radiation release had to come from unit #2. Tepco says the March 15 releases came from unit #4, the atmosphere of which was contaminated by leakage from severely damaged unit #3. (Asahi Shimbun)
- The Tokyo government has set new tsunami protection standards for nukes. Formerly, the standards were based on wave height that could reasonably be anticipated. Now, the wave heights include those that would be considered rare, but not impossible. The “reasonable” wave height for Fukushima Daiichi was set at ~5.7 meters. But, it was a rare, but not impossible 9 meters high wave hit Fukushima Daiichi. The new standards also incorporate dynamics such as greater water volume, pressure and added impacts from debris carried by the wave(s) due to a worst-case tsunami. (NHK World)
- Late Friday, another leak was discovered in the F. Daiichi waste water clean-up system. The leak came from a desalination device (reverse osmosis unit). A total of ~35 liters escaped the system. However, all leakage was totally contained with plastic bags and absorbent material. None of the leaked waters left the building housing the equipment. Samples taken of the leaked water showed no detectable Iodine (of course), total cesium at 3.6 Becquerels per cubic centimeter, total gamma decay rate at 49 Bq/cc, and total beta activity at 5.4X104 Bq/cc. (Tepco) comment – This marks the first time Tepco has reported the radiological content of a leak along with the announcement of the leak itself. Good job, Tepco!
- Some essential staff at F. Daiichi that exceeded their annual radiation exposure limit, continue to work at the power complex. The sixteen employees were found to be above 100 millisieverts for the year, but below the 250 mSv emergency exposure limits. The 100 mSv limit begins the first of May, replacing the pre-existent 250 mSv standard. The employees will be assigned to work in the anti-seismic Technical Support Center near the four damaged units. Adding lead shielding to ceilings and floors in the TSC has dropped the exposure level from 1.6 down to 0.7 microsieverts per hour. The lower exposure rate will total a maximum of 7mSv per year to their existing exposure levels, but will be much less than half that total since they will not be working around the clock, every day. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
- Officials from Tokyo’s Industry Ministry feel they made progress with Oi Town residents relative to the safety and need of restarting Oi units #3 & 4. The ~550 residents who attended Thursday’s meeting was about 10% of the town’s registered voters, but was considered representative. "My personal opinion is that while some people who asked questions were opposed to restarting the two units, the general atmosphere was not one of strong opposition,” said Mitsuyoshi Yanagisawa, senior vice minister at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, immediately after the meeting. Yanagisawa also met with Oi town officials before the meeting. They gave him a list of compensation demands for lost jobs and business earnings due to the current moratorium on nukes. Many meeting attendees said they hope for early resumption of Oi operations due to economic factors. Akihiko Isomura, who was one of the youngest at the meeting, said, "If the reactors are really safe, I'm in favor of having them restarted." Local anti-nukes held a door-to-door poll of residents during the meeting. The poll showed 41% fear a nuclear accident if the reactors are restarted, while only 31% pointed to local economy as their no.1 concern. "We in Oi have lived with nuclear power for 40 years. We want people to understand the difficult position we're in," said Kinya Shintani, who heads the Oi Municipal Assembly. (Japan Times)
- Dozens of local officials from across Japan have banded together to end all nuclear energy production. Sixty-four municipal heads from 35 prefectures attended a meeting on Saturday to begin creating a time-table for forming a “nuclear free Japan”. The group passed a resolution demanding the Oi nukes not be restarted until more in-depth studies on the Fukushima accident are completed. The resolution also demands that Japan eventually have “zero nuclear power plants”. Tatsuya Murakami, mayor of Tokai Village, said, “It is difficult to maintain nuclear plants in Japan. We should switch [to other sources of electricity]”. His statement is important because he is the only group member from a community hosting a nuke power station. Katsunobu Sakurai, mayor of Minamisoma in the 20km evacuation zone, said, “The head of a local government will be pushed into a tough situation to protect its residents [once a nuclear disaster occurs]. I want to convey a need to switch to a new energy policy.” It should be noted that the 64 group members represent less than 10% of the more than 770 municipal heads holding office in Japan. (Asahi Shimbun)
- Prime Minister Noda’s cabinet’s popularity has plummeted due to a staggering economy and the nuke restart issue. A Kyodo news poll showed Noda’s public support factor was 31% in March, but now stands at 26%. The Poll indicated a strong correlation between Noda’s poor rating and nuke restarts because 27% said they supported restarting Oi units #3 & 4. Kyodo News says the restart issue and the economic downturn associated with de-facto moratorium on operating nuclear plants is destroying Noda’s credibility with Japanese voters. (Japan Times)
- It seems touring of the Tohoku region’s tsunami disaster areas are becoming popular tourist attractions. This past weekend marked the beginning of the national spring holiday week, called “Golden Week”. Many tourists are heading toward the Tohoku region to bolster local economies and try to help in tsunami recovery. (News on Japan) Last year at this time, tourism to the region plummeted by 90% due to misinformation and rumors. However, major tourism companies say this year’s reservations are 7% higher than two years ago and 10 times more than last year. Newly launched tours focusing specifically on sites in Fukushima Prefecture (not the evacuated zones) have sold very well. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
Thursday was the 26th anniversary of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in the Ukraine. Last year, the Japanese press was loaded with Chernobyl articles on this date, but this year there has been very little coverage. In fact, only NHK World has run anything about it, and merely to acknowledge the date’s passing. What this means or implies remains to be seen, but it might signal that Japan’s Press has come to realize that making comparisons between Fukushima and Chernobyl could be more misleading than informative.
Now, for some updates…
- The fishing business on the Tone River, just north of Tokyo, has been negatively affected by the new Cesium standards. The new standards issued the first of April place a limit of 100 Becquerels per kilogram for fish. Recently, a single silver crucian carp was caught in the river and tested at 110 Bq/kg. As a result, the prefecture has asked 10 municipalities along the river and 6 fishery cooperatives not to ship fish from the river to market. Officials say they will step up testing and include other species of fish in the sampling plan. The Tone River has the largest drainage area in Japan. The town where the contaminated fish was caught is located about 180 kilometers from the disabled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. (NHK World)
- The residents of the host town for Oi units #3 & 4 have been briefed on the government’s decision to restart the two nukes. Senior Vice Minister Mitsuyoshi Yanagisawa explained how the 2 reactors have met the government's safety standards for resuming operations, and why they need to be restarted. Some residents expressed understanding of the nation’s need to restart the two nukes. But some said they were concerned about not having a quake-proof emergency operations center in the community. Others said they doubted the government’s belief that restarts are necessary to avoid power shortages. Town officials will decide whether to approve restarting the reactors now that they have heard what the residents have to say. The meeting was open to town residents alone and about 550 attended. Barred from the meeting itself, anti-nuclear activists from other parts of Japan held a protest outside the meeting hall. (NHK World)
- In another newspaper’s report, Minister Yanagisawa was quoted to have said, “Since the Tohoku earthquake, we have bolstered safety at the plants. Experts have given them their seal of approval.” However, one resident replied, “We were given similar assurances about the Fukushima plant, but we are all aware of the current situation there.” While many residents seemed satisfied, others said they were not given enough information to make a firm judgment. Opinion on the issue is divided because the town’s economy depends on nuclear plant operation. One commentator on NHK said that if pro-nuclear residents get their way and another disaster happens they feel they would be blamed, while anti-nuclear residents feel they would be blamed if the local economy suffers. The commentator said these reasons are why so few people spoke up at the meeting. (Japan Today)
- Confusion seems to exist over the government’s new Cesium limits for beef, and for good reason. The new 100 Bq/kg limit has been imposed for nearly all meats and fish, but beef has been exempted until the end of September. Until then, the former 500 Bq/kg limit applies. The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry says the moratorium on the new beef limit “is in consideration of beef producers” because the new limit is the strictest in the world. Plus, much of Japan’s beef is frozen for future sales, so some of that which is now frozen might exceed the 100 Bq/kg limit, even though it has been tested to be below the old 500 Bq/kg standard. It is unknown how much, if any, of the frozen beef might exceed the new limit so the Ministry is making a conservative assumption which might not hurt the nation’s beef industry through the summer. "Beef is usually frozen for an extended period of time," one Ministry official said. "[The instruction] is meant to reduce the amount of beef that is processed and frozen before stricter standards are applied in autumn," which is itself a confusing statement. The situation has also confused many cattle farmers. Tokyo says it’s OK to use the 500 Bq/kg limit until September, but some prefectures have requested the immediate voluntary disposal of any beef exceeding the 100 Bq/kg limit. Hideaki Karaki, president of Kurashiki University of Science and the Arts, criticized the ministry's handling of the revised criteria, "If the government changes rules soon after they are established, it will lose the trust of the public. The ministry has been misled by a tendency to demand zero risk in food." (Yomiuri Shimbun)
Reporting issue – Japan’s Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF) has announced that they will only post new updates once or twice a week because there is relatively little day-to-day Press coverage. JAIF is making a mistake if they believe this indicates the Japanese public and people around the world have lost interest. The amount of activity and level of interest in Fukushima and related nuclear topics remains high across Japan. This site’s activity has slowly increased for months, with ~150 “unique” visitors and more than 400 total visitors now accessing Fukushima updates each day. Each month of this year, the site has experienced over 12,500 readers from roughly 90 countries around the world. It is the top-rated source of Fukushima-related information on the internet. From this blogger’s perspective, it seems the world is still watching…no matter what JAIF and the Japanese Press thinks.
Whether or not to restart idled nukes is a major news story. Here’s what’s going on…
- Seishu Makino, senior vice minister of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, visited Shiga Gov. Yukiko Kada on Monday. He is trying to gain her support for restarting Oi units #3 & 4. However, the governor is firm in her distrust of the Tokyo government, no matter what Makino says. "We'd like to ask for your understanding on the reactivation, as it is crucial considering electricity demand estimates for the coming summer," Makino said. But Kada responded, "We can understand the local economy will be negatively affected [if the reactors remain offline], but we have doubts regarding the transparency of information [for making the government's decision, such as the electricity supply estimates]. [Makino's briefings] were too abstract for us to move toward supporting [the restart]." (Yomiuri Shimbun)
- Osaka governor Ichiro Matsui and Osaka city mayor Toru Hashimoto held a meeting with Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura on Tuesday. The governor and mayor are at the fore-front of trying to stop the restarts of the Oi nukes. Together, they handed an 8-point proposal to Fujimura calling for no restarts of any nukes until a complete overhaul of Japan’s nuclear safety program is completed. However, the key element in the demand is expansion of the 30 km emergency planning zone around the Oi power complex, out to 100km. Without the expansion of the EPZ, Hashimoto will literally have no say in what happens at Oi because his city lies 80km from the site. Hashimoto said that it would be wrong for the government and politicians to declare a nuclear power plant safe while scientists and the Nuclear Safety Commission have still not expressed an opinion. Fujimura replied that the government will consider the 8-point plan in the future but that it intends to go ahead using the current procedures. (NHK World)
- After the meeting with Secretary Fujimura, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said: "It's absolutely unreasonable that the plant was declared safe by politicians alone without having scientists scrutinize its safety. This represents a serious crisis for the management of the central government." The mayor reiterated his insistence on Tokyo including all local governments within 100km of a nuke in operating decisions. Regarding the reactivation of the Oi reactors, Fujimura was subsequently said, "The procedure [for restarting the reactors] is under way." (Yomiuri Shimbun)
- Industry Minister Yukio Edano says not restarting Japan’s nukes is a radical reform. While he doesn’t deny that his goal is a nuclear-free Japan, he feels the best approach is gradual. He says, “I'm fundamentally in favor of abandoning nuclear power generation, but if all nuclear power plants remain out of operation, it will force unreasonable power restrictions and electricity charge price increases, small- and medium-sized companies will collapse, and employment will become unstable in a chain of events that will cause confusion in society. And if that happens, then the momentum that has built up toward breaking away from nuclear power will die out, reliance (on nuclear plants) will return in force, and we'll be helpless to do anything about it. For me, that's the scariest scenario.” Edano denies a clash between himself and Democratic Party of Japan Policy Research Council Acting Chairman Yoshito Sengoku, “We share the opinion that if we suddenly stopped using nuclear power plants, then circumstances would become quite difficult. I think this would eventually result in a return to dependence on nuclear power plants, and I think Mr. Sengoku probably feels the same way.” Sengoku seemed to agree, “The media likes the scenario of a conspiracy, with somebody pulling the strings behind the scenes. I don't really care (if such things are written about me), but if the formation of mid- to long-term policies become distorted as a result of that, then it becomes serious. (Mainichi Shimbun)
- Suddenly, the desire to restart Ikata unit #3 in Ehime Prefecture is added to the mix. Procedures to reactivate the Ikata reactor will start after the Nuclear Safety Commission completes its screening of the Ikata stress test results. The industry ministry's nuclear safety agency (NISA) has already approved the Ikata test results. But the commission has been refusing to carry out its own screening amid uncertainty about setting up the new regulatory agency. Earlier this month, the Commission endorsed the restart of Oi units #3&4, but severe political criticism from officials in Shiga and Kyoto Prefectures has made the NSC reluctant to make any further restart statements. Industry sources say it is possible that Ikata #3 will restart before Oi #3&4 because opposition in Ehime prefecture is considerably less than in Fukui, Shiga, and Kyoto prefectures. (Japan Times)
Now, for other important updates…
- The chief of a government-appointed panel probing the Fukushima accident said Monday it has questioned former Prime Minister Naoto Kan. Panel Chairman Yotaro Hatamura said it is "not appropriate" to elaborate on what was said at the hearing, but added he felt the nation's determined former leader spoke "frankly about his thoughts at that time." (Japan Times)
- Tepco plans to drill about a dozen groundwater diversion wells around the Fukushima Daiichi power complex. They believe this will turn about half of the in-seeping ground water away from the basements of units #1 through #4. For nearly six months, Tepco’s new water decontamination system has been merely maintaining water level in the buildings. Hopefully, the diversion tactic will allow Tepco to lower all the water levels enough to identify where the groundwater is getting in and take actions to stop it. Tepco says they will check groundwater contamination levels in the earth outside the plant before they drill the wells to ensure that no radioactive releases to the sea will happen. Tepco plans to have the diversion system in place and operating no later than October of this year. (Kyodo News)
- Tokyo says some of the areas inside the 20km no-go zone may not be capable of being decontaminated enough for repopulation in ten years. Some officials feel these may be spots where decontamination work would be difficult, at best, in order to bring radiation exposures below 20 millisieverts per year. Other officials say the cost of decontamination in these “difficult” areas would be better used to provide evacuees with new housing somewhere else. Others say it is not up to the government to decide whether or not people should try to return to their homes, but rather the decision should rest with the evacuees themselves. (JAIF)
- Three of the nine major electric companies in Japan say they will experience power shortages this summer if nukes are not restarted. All projections are based on the summer of 2010. Kansai Electric says they will have a minimum 16% shortfall, Kyushu Electric predicts a 4% deficit, and Hokkaido Electric says they will have a 3% shortage. Shikoku Electric says they have a less than 0.5% surplus predicted, but a summer hotter than 2010 could drive their system into a shortage. All other companies say they will have surplus of anywhere between 3% and 5%. The combined data, weighted for the number of customers each company serves, show a national 0.5% electricity shortfall for all of Japan. If the 2012 summer is as unusually hot as 2011, the situation will be even worse. The companies that are using old, polluting fossil-fueled plants to replace the currently idled nukes to sufficiently meet demand say electricity rates will increase because of the high cost of oil, LNG and coal. (Yomiuri Shimbun)