Fukushioma 44...12/3/2012-12/17/2012

December 17

  • As anticipated, the nuclear-neutral Liberal Democratic Party of Japan won yesterday’s election in a virtual landslide, taking 294 seats in the Diet’s lower house. This led Prime Minister Noda to announce he will resign and be replaced by LDP party-chief Shinzo Abe. While the LDP’s victory promises to weaken the political drive to abolish nukes in Japan, Abe said the stunning victory was largely due to public dissatisfaction with Noda’s party, ''It is the people's 'No' to the confusion. People will be carefully watching to see if the LDP can live up to expectations.” Also, the LDP may re-open the door for building new nuclear plants, causing one Industry Ministry official to say the LDP "probably won't move on the new reactors issue until after the House of Councilors (upper house) election next summer." Also as expected, the LDP has formed a political coalition with the New Komeito Party, which won 31 seats. Together, the coalition holds more than the two-thirds majority needed to enact bills rejected by the Diet’s upper house. This is of critical importance because the antinuclear Democratic Party of Japan continues to hold the majority in the upper house. For the record, the DPJ won 57 seats which is roughly a third of what they had before the election, and the media-darling antinuclear Tomorrow Party won only nine seats. Tomorrow Party head, Shiga governor Yukiko Kada was disappointed but vowed to continue the antinuclear cause. She pointed out that only 60% of Japan’s registered voters participated in the election, suggesting that pre-election news media coverage predicting the LDP landslide discouraged much of the antinuclear demographic from voting. Voter turnout yesterday was the lowest recorded since the end of World War II. Other critics of the election said this was not an LDP victory so much as a win-by-default. Regardless, Japan’s leading daily newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, said, “Voters handed down a harsh verdict on the government of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).” The Mainichi Shimbun blamed the DPJ’s defeat on its slow and confused post-disaster management after last year’s quake-tsunami and subsequent nuclear crisis at Fukushima. (NHK World; Mainichi Shimbun; Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • Many people forced to evacuate the Fukushima no-go zones voted for the LDP. Evacuee Eri Kusano voted LDP because "Things might get better than they were with the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). More important than getting rid of nuclear power plants is recovery of disaster areas. I also want them to work on the unemployment problem." Kazumi Hayakawa, an evacuee from Nahara, said, “There was no other party worth voting for. We were betrayed by the DPJ, whose policies were only words." Many evacuees felt the DPJ didn’t really work hard enough to repopulate no-go zones and failed to make headway in the restoration of tsunami-devastated communities. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • An exit poll run by the Asahi Shimbun showed that despite the LDP landslide, most Japanese voters still want a zero-nuclear future. About 15% of those who voted want nukes abolished immediately and 63% want it phased out gradually. These results compare favorably with polls run by the news media before the election. This indicates that while nuclear energy continues to be unpopular, it was not a determining factor in the election’s outcome.
  • The victory of the LDP will likely result in a significant change to the prior regime’s nuclear phase-out policy. It is believed that the LDP will not make rapid, sweeping changes. They will probably exercise caution, taking as long as ten years to make a final decision of Japan’s nuclear energy future. One Tokyo energy official speculates, "The new government may prefer to take plenty of time to work out a new energy policy, saying something like 'We will think whether it is appropriate or not to choose a nuclear-zero path.'" It is possible the current zero-nuclear-energy goal could be completely abolished and that the new regime could speed up the nuke restarts across the country to eliminate the increased costs of importing fossil fuels, which could significantly ease the country’s tumbling economy. However, the LDP will probably wait and watch the progression of new nuclear safety regulations to be created by the Nuclear Regulatory Authority before making any type of push for nuke restarts. The above-mentioned official said, "I expect the new government will focus on raising the credibility of the regulator for the meantime by avoiding interfering in its activities, because a trusted regulator may help allay public concern over the safety of nuclear power generation." (Kyodo News Service; Mainichi Shimbun)
  • Fearing a major setback, Japanese antinuclear forces held a desperate rally in Tokyo on election-day. About 1,000 people attended. Hosei University professor Yuko Tanaka told the crowd, "Japan will face a crossroads tomorrow. Depending on the result of the election, I feel that Japan could wind up in hell." She added that the election would not reflect the feelings of those in Japan who despise nuclear power. Another protestor, Satoshi Kamata, said that public demonstrations should continue for as long as nuclear plants exist, "No matter which party takes power, we must not lower our voices for the abolition of nuclear power." In parallel with the protest, an international conference of antinuclear activists began in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture: the Fukushima Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety. Tatsuya Yoshioka, a conference organizer, said, "It seems that the goal of scrapping nuclear power is not being taken seriously (in the election). . . . So the significance of the conference is really big and I think we will be able to send a strong message to the electorate." (Japan Times)
  • Tepco has released photographs and a detailed handout on their inspection of a “vent pipe” on Fukushima Daiichi unit #2, revealing further evidence that there was no explosion inside the Primary Containment Vessel (PCV). The pictured pipe is one of eight that connect the PCV to the 600,000 gallon suppression chamber (torus). At about 65 pounds per square inch internal pressure, a valve inside the pipe opens and allows steam and other internal gasses to be released under the surface of the water in the torus. If there were an explosion inside the PCV or torus on March 15, 2011, some indication of the event should be apparent on or around the huge pipe. But, there isn’t. In fact, Tepco’s press handout says no leakage of any kind was discovered. Western experts caution that this is but one of the eight vent pipes coming out of the PCV and a conclusive judgment on PCV integrity should not be made until all have been investigated. It should be noted that Tepco also measured the radiation level at the bottom of the pipe and found it to be about half of what they had hypothesized. This should be considered with Tepco’s investigation of the torus room, several months ago, which also showed no apparent damage. This further puts Tepco and the Tokyo government’s insistence on a leakage pathway from the unit#2 Reactor Vessel into the PCV, and from there to the outer reactor building basement, into question. To read the handout, follow this link… Results of Investigation on the Lower Part of Unit 2 Vent Pipe at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station (PDF 91.5KB)
  • The NRA has released their new, corrected estimations of radioactive material deposition in the hypothetical worst-case nuclear accident situation. The simulations released In October were riddled with at least 75 critical mistakes affecting all 17 nuke locations. One of the new projections is much less extensive than previously thought, and two others are literally “upside down” from the original projections. The smaller projection is for the Tomari nuke station because the original data included rainfall 10 times greater than average for the location, which would result in a much slower contamination “rain-out”. As a result, the projected mandatory evacuation distance for Tomari has been reduced to 15 kilometers instead of the original maximum distance of 20 kilometers. The Genkai and Sendai stations now have dispersal projections the exact reverse of the previous estimates because the wind direction data supplied to the NRA was 180 degrees opposite of what it should have been. The new furthest projected distance for Genkai is 27.4 kilometers (versus 29) and for Sendai it is 21 kilometers (the same as before). The mistakes for the remaining 14 stations were minor, in comparison, and made little impact on the previously-projected deposition areas. The NRA has blamed the Japan Nuclear Energy Society for supplying the faulty data, and JNES blames the utility companies who own the nukes. The issue may have damaged what level of trust existed between the new NRA and the local officials inside the 30km radii from the nuclear station. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • Tepco has formally accepted culpability for the F. Daiichi accident. The company says a combination of bad habits and over-confidence were the roots of the problem. Takefumi Anegawa, the head of Tepco’s reform task force, said the Diet’s report on the accident contained many descriptions of the company’s bad habits and lack of a safety culture and “We admit, we completely admit, that part of the parliamentary report.” While formally admitting accident responsibility for the first time, Tepco says they continue to take issue with the Diet report’s speculation that earthquake damage may have begun the accident before the tsunami hit. Tepco remains firm that there was no safety or safety-related system damage caused by the quake, just the same as the F. Daiini station’s four units and F. Daiichi’s units #5&6. If it were not for the huge sea-waves that inundated the lower four units at F. Daiichi and flooded all emergency power sources, there would have been no nuclear accident. (Japan Today; Mainichi Shimbun)
  • A German physician has charged the World Health Organization with a cover-up of its findings on the health impact of the Fukushima accident. In a research paper, Alex Rosen said WHO used radiation exposure data compiled by what he calls the world’s greatest nuclear promoter: The International Atomic Energy Agency. WHO says the radiation doses to the public, even those living closest to F. Daiichi, will produce too-few health problems to ever be statistically observed, and that there might be no health impacts whatsoever. Rosen countered that an independent assessment based on “solid scientific evidence” would produce results showing significant negative health effects, citing some research groups outside of Japan which have estimated much higher rates of biological damage. Rosen says WHO’s report "seems to suggest a certain safety while omitting the important information that the risk of developing cancer and other radiation-induced diseases increases proportionally to the amount of radioactive exposure.” He also suggests that there is something conspiratorial going on between the Japanese government, IAEA, and WHO, "It is unclear why a report written mainly by the IAEA and collaborating nuclear institutions would need to be published in the name of the WHO, if not to provide an unsuspicious cover" for the true radiation levels Fukushima residents were exposed to. A WHO official said the organization is currently unable to respond to Rosen's research paper because they are still examining it. Rosen is a member of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which openly admits it believes there is no difference between nuclear weapon’s fallout and the releases from nuclear power plants. (Japan Times)

The 135th carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers is posted at ANS Nuclear Café. Topics include; how nuclear power is a “red herring” for terrorists, why nuclear fuel is cheaper than coal, a plea to promote nukes as a solution to climate change, competition between the US and Russia in the field of nuclear construction, the problems contained in the latest Chernobyl cancer study, how spent nuclear fuel disposal is not subsidized by the government, and the current situation with the Vermont nuclear energy political battle. For the links and summaries, go to… http://ansnuclearcafe.org/2012/12/16/135th-nuclear-carnival/

December 14

(For today's commentary - Latest Chernobyl Cancer Study Contains Numerous Problems - click on the Fukushima Commentary listing in the left-hand column's menu)

  • A Nuclear Regulatory Authority panel has agreed that the nuclear watchdog should set the radiation level for evacuations well-below international standards. The International Atomic Energy Agency recommends 1,000 microsieverts per hour as the “trigger” level for mandatory, ”swift” public evacuation. The NRA panel recommends Japan set theirs at 500 mSv/hr. With any Japanese nuclear emergency where radiological releases are expected, all persons living within 5 kilometers will be evacuated prior to the release itself regardless of anticipated exposure levels. Now, the population between 5 and 30 kilometers will be evacuated if releases are expected to exceed the 500 microsievert per hour threshold. Further, “swift” food restrictions will be enforced if airborne radioactivity reaches 0.5 mSv/hr, which is also half of the IAEA recommendation of 1 mSv/hr. In addition, the threshold for temporary resident relocation will be 20 mSv/hr, one-fifth of the international standard of 100 mSv/hr. The proposed standards will be reviewed by an internal NRA panel of radiological experts to insure that the new limits will not be overly strict and place un-necessary burdens on the affected population. The issue is expected to be resolved and the standards set by the end of the year. (Kyodo News Service; Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • Prime Minister Noda said nuclear reactors should be decommissioned if the NRA decides it is a safety risk due to proximity with a seismic fault. Last night he told TV broadcaster TBS (Japan), “The government must respect a judgment by the NRA.”  This could end the debate over where the legal responsibility lies for making a safety-challenged restart decision. Until now, the NRA and the government have been reticent to take a firm stand on nuke restarts. On Wednesday, NRA chairman Shunichi Tanaka said that, "We will not be making a judgment on decommissioning the reactor [Japco’s Tsuruga station] but would like to swiftly request any necessary safety measures be taken, if any." While referring to the seismic-possible fault running parallel-to and under Tsuruga, Noda took a thinly-veiled jab at the LDP by saying, “I wonder which government under what party permitted the establishment by leaving (geological) survey work solely in the hands of the (plant) operator," which points to the LDP being in power at the time Japco was allowed to build the nukes. Noda also said that the DPJ seeks to abolish nukes by 2040 and “the LDP is for continuing nuclear power generation”. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • A new technology has been developed that promises to recover 100 square kilometers of agricultural property which were inundated by the 3/11/11 tsunami. About 150 km2 of agricultural lands along the Tohoku coast were destroyed by the tsunami, and a third of it has been recovered. The remainder has not because of the high concentrations of sand, salt, and plastic debris mixed into the soils. The Hitachi Zosen technology has been used to remove hazardous chemicals from farmland for a number of years. Now, a modified version can be applied to recover the lands devastated by the tsunami. For more than a year, the company has been testing it on 0.45 km2 of rice paddies in the Miyagi Prefecture’s town of Watari. The test showed the new system is five times faster than previously-used methods. They processed more than 200 tons of tsunami-contaminated soils and separated 60% sand, 35 % agricultural soil, and 5% salt and other wastes from the good soil. The sand was sold to construction companies and the other wastes were conventionally disposed. This year’s crop from the Watari test site was 80% of what was typical before 3/11/11. One official said, "There is no problem with the quality and taste of the product, and we can expect bigger harvests in the future." (Mainichi Shimbun)

December 12

  • A new poll about voter preferences for the upcoming election reveals that the largest percentage of non-aligned voters is voting for the Liberal Democratic Party candidates. About half of the nation’s 42% non-affiliated voters have made up their minds - 30% say they will vote LDP, 24% favor the Japan Restoration Party, and 12% are voting DPJ. The new Tomorrow Party is favored by only 4% of the non-aligned voters. Combined with last week’s nation-wide polls of aligned voters, it seems even more likely that the LDP could win a clear Diet majority and make party leader Abe the Prime Minister. The only hope for the other parties is that ~38% of the polled voters have yet to make up their minds, so they will be the focus of this week’s campaigning leading up to Sunday’s national election. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • The earthquake issue concerning the Tsuruga nuclear power station has heated up. Nuclear Regulatory Authority Chair Shunichi Tanaka has stated it seems the nuke may be located above an active fault, which might stop the power plants from being restarted. However, plant owner Japan Atomic Power Company says they disagree with Tanaka’s judgment. Japco intends to use on-going studies to show the error in the NRA’s analysis. In fact, a formal 10-point letter has been submitted to the NRA by Japco asking for the scientific basis behind the new watchdog’s decision. Kunihiko Shimazaki, the Nuclear Regulation Authority commissioner who led the team, said at a news conference they had "reached a decision based on the data we have now" and there is no need for the company to carry out further studies. Tanaka says the Urasoko seismic fault which runs parallel to the power station seems connected to the “D-1” crush zone seam that passes under the power complex’ reactors. It further seems the Urasoko fault has moved in the past 125,000 years, qualifying it as “seismic”. Japco wants a scientific explanation as to Tanaka’s statement. In response, the NRA chair said, "I want a detailed report to be compiled swiftly on the process of the discussion (by the panel) and then the Nuclear Regulation Authority will consider its decision." So far, the NRA commissioners agree on three points – the Urasoko fault was recently discovered to have moved seismically in the past 125,000 years, the D-1 crush zone appears connected to the Urasoko fault, and if Urasoko moves again it could trigger simultaneous movement in the crush zone. The NRA’s final report will be issued next Monday. To additionally complicate things, existing Japanese regulations are not designed to keep a power station from operating once it has been constructed. If the Tsuruga nuke station actually sits on an active seismic fault, serious legal questions would have to be answered before it could be barred from operation. Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Law says measures to prevent nuclear disasters can be taken if there is “imminent danger”. What determines “imminent danger” is essentially a matter of opinion. Tanaka says he feels the designation of an underlying fault as being seismic is enough to meet the “imminent danger” definition. However, other officials in the NRA are not so sure. One said, “That was Mr. Tanaka’s personal view” and decommissioning would be legally up to a power station’s owner. The NRA staff explains that existing law "points to cases in which danger cannot be clearly predicted such as missile attacks, satellites falling to earth and volcanic eruptions, but active faults are said to move about every 1,000 years, and therefore it is deemed difficult to recognize active faults as an "imminent" danger.” A seismic fault that moves once every 125,000 years is much more difficult to designate as “imminent”. Forthcoming nuclear regulations created by the NRA might close the loop on this issue, but it would take a major change to national law. There is no precedent for a regulatory agency changing a law without government consent. (Mainichi Shimbun; Yomiuri Shimbun; Japan Times)
  • The Municipal government of Misato, Saitama Prefecture, has quietly built a temporary storage site for low level radioactive decontamination wastes. The city began planning in June with briefings of nearby residents and the city council. The site has been under construction since August. The facility will be completed in a few weeks and should begin actual storage in about a month. The location is on the grounds of a municipal athletic facility in the city’s Kobo district. City official Susumu Akimoto says, "We decided to build a temporary storage site until the national government decided on a final disposal site. We explained the plans to five households nearby, and let the city council know in June." However, a local civic group concerned with radiation exposure is not happy with the city’s action. A representative said, “We wish we would have been notified about this, too.” (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • Minamisoma Town, 25 kilometers north of F. Daiichi, continues to slowly progress towards repopulation. The town’s Odaka district was included in the 20-kilometer evacuation zone until the government relaxed the eviction order in April. However, following more than a year of neglect, the recovery effort was slow and tedious. Residents are now allowed unrestricted access to their homes and businesses, but the government says they cannot stay overnight. Most businesses and public facilities remain closed. Some closures are due to the population only being “part-time”, while others stay closed because necessary infrastructure has yet to be restored. Many municipal services like sewage treatment and water supply systems were swamped by the Tsunami and the town doesn’t have the money or manpower to clean up the remaining tsunami debris and get all the services restored. In addition, the earthquake and tsunami totally destroyed about 1,000 buildings, including many homes, all of which need to be cleared away and rebuilt. Since April, only 30 have been razed. To many, it seems the government is more concerned about cleaning up the low levels of Fukushima contamination than they are about rebuilding the town itself. “We used to have a small but close-knit community, but now we seem to have different thoughts in our minds,” lamented Sunao Kato, a local barber. "There are people whose houses were completely washed away by tsunami… I doubt we can get people back even if this town manages to return into an inhabitable place.” Kato says he doesn’t get involved with the politics “I think someone who is barely getting by each day without any vision for tomorrow cannot discuss national politics. It feels like a very, very remote thing.” Then there is the lingering fear of radiation which has caused some 2,000 former residents of the town’s pre-3/11/11 population of 14,000 to find permanent residence somewhere else. Takako Kuroki’s residence is located in the Kawabusa area near the mountainside of Odaka, which is part of the current “unlivable” zone. She says that even if her home is completely decontaminated she will always worry about radioactive material being blow back from the mountainside. Kuroki’s fears have spurred her to attend Tokyo’s antinuclear rallies at least once each month. “Unless people who lost their homes to the nuclear accident raise our voices, the government and TEPCO will not feel regret,” Kuroki said. She is totally frustrated because it seems very few antinuclear candidates will win the upcoming election. (Asahi Shimbun)
  • Meanwhile, Minamisoma’s town government is trying its best to confront radiation fears. On December 2nd the town held its 25th annual distance races, ranging from 1.5km to a half-marathon. The races were cancelled last year because the town was part of the Tokyo government’s “no-go” designation. Mayor Katsunobi Sakurai was enthusiastic before he ran in the half-marathon, "People who participated in this event are all forward-looking. I hope they will demonstrate our will to fully rebuild this city." He main goal is to dispel irrational radiation fears. Decontamination efforts brought the race-course’s radiation level down to below 0.3 microsieverts per hour. Thousands participated in the races, including 430 elementary students. Regardless, some residents protested the event saying it would harm children and pregnant women. An internet campaign touting "it is abnormal to allow 2,000 people to run through a radiation-contaminated area" had no impact on the event. (Asahi Shimbun)
  • The town of Okuma, adjacent to Fukushima Daiichi, is being re-zoned by the government. The eastern side of the town, where about 90% of the population called home, is re-zoned as an area that cannot be repopulated for at least five years. The town’s central area is designated for repopulation in less than 5 years. The western rural area has radiation levels low enough to allow people home “in the near future”. The Okuma town government says they will allow no one to go home for at least five years, regardless of what Tokyo says. (Yomiuri Shimbun)

December 10

(For today's commentary - A Phantom Conflict of Interest in Japan - click on Fukushima Commentary in the menu in the left-hand column) 

This week’s Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers is being hosted by Things Worse Than Nuclear Power website, run by two MIT engineers. This week’s topics include; the “awkward” debate in Vermont on renewable energy sources, a re-cap of this past-year’s developments in nuclear power, CNN’s misleading story of natural gas being safer than nuclear energy, next year’s anticipated start-up of a nuke in Argentina, and Saudi Arabia’s plans for more than a dozen nukes by 2032. For the full run-down, follow this link… http://www.thingsworsethannuclearpower.com/2012/12/carnival-of-nuclear-bloggers-134.html

Here are some Fukushima updates…

  • Many political parties vying for seats in the Japanese Diet want to replace nuclear energy with of renewables, but they are ignoring the down-side of the change-over. One party slogan says “We will push through an energy revolution," and another says, "We will develop local industries through renewable energy and expand employment." There is no doubt that the energy shift will raise electric bills significantly and the antinuclear parties do not want to make that known. A feed-in-tariff, passed in July, requires utilities to buy all power produced by renewables and pass the costs on to their customers. Currently, renewable-generated electricity costs three times more than that produced by burning fossil fuels, and the massive increase in fossil-fuel imports due to the nuclear moratorium is already draining the national economy. The Japan Iron and Steel Federation estimates the shift to renewables will cost them more than a billion dollars per year in added energy costs beyond that which they now pay. "It could deliver a third blow to the industry, on top of the yen's appreciation and deflation," said a Federation representative. Energy experts point to what has happened in Germany since they began their shift from nuclear to renewables in 2009 – monthly electric bills have tripled. Tokyo plans on injecting about 1.5 trillion yen into renewable development to ease the customer’s financial burden, but it will not come close to eliminating it. “There are concerns that promotion of renewable energy would only push up electricity bills and wouldn't lead to economic revitalization," said Hideaki Matsui, senior energy researcher at the Japan Research Institute. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • Japan’s estimated trade deficit for next year will be over 82 billion dollars, up 1.3% from 2012. This will be the largest shortfall Japan has experienced since World War II. While the huge impact of importing liquid natural gas to compensate for the nuclear moratorium hurts the deficit the most, reduction in overseas sales of Japanese vehicles and machine tools for more than two years had also hurt. In addition, the import and sales of foreign vehicles is increasing across Japan. The gloomy projection was made by Japan’s Foreign Trade Council. (NHK World)
  • With the numerous parties currently contending for Diet seats, it is possible than a number of “single-seats” will not be filled because of Japanese regulations. By law, a candidate must garner at least one-sixth of the votes cast in order to win the election. If candidates do not meet this minimum, the elections for the unfilled seats will have to be re-held. "It is theoretically possible that no candidate will earn one-sixth of the vote" if there are more than seven candidates in a single-seat constituency, an official of the internal affairs ministry said. (Kyodo News Service)
  • A new government panel has been created to monitor the progress of the Nuclear Regulatory Authority. The panel will be led by Koichi Kitazawa, who headed the Fukushima investigation by the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation. Others include Yotaro Hatamura, who headed the Prime Minister’s Fukushima panel, Kiyoshi Kurokawa, who led the Diet's version, and Fukushima Gov. Yuhei Sato. The group will be a formal watchdog of the NRA to see how well the recommendations of the three investigations are being implemented. Primarily, the panel will focus on how independent the NRA is from government and the so-called “nuclear village”, how well the country has improved in handling nuclear accidents, and the degree of transparency demonstrated by the NRA. (Japan Times)
  • A geologic anomaly found running under the Tsugura nuclear station’s grounds has been judged to be potentially seismic. The NRA has studied the geology and found that a “crush zone” running under the power complex property might be seismically active. NRA Chair Shunichi Tanaka says the investigative team’s findings give him the “impression” that the NRA "cannot implement safety assessments for the resumption (of the plant) under the current situation." The crush zone connects to the near-by Urazoko fault which has moved within the past 125,000 years. It appears that the crush zone moved with it. Tsuruga station’s owner, Japan Atomic Power Company, calls the NRA’s findings “totally unacceptable” and says it will continue its on-going investigation at the plant site. The outcome of the NRA findings is sure to cause political issues in Tokyo. If the geology under the plant is truly seismic, will the Tsuruga nukes be barred from restarts next summer? Who has the legal right to make and enforce that kind of decision? The NRA says decisions on restarts must come from the government, but the government says they must come from the NRA. (Mainichi Shimbun; Kyodo news Service; NHK World)
  • Of the 522 Fukushima workers who had thyroid exposure, 163 have exceeded more than 200 millisieverts to the gland. The World health Organization will soon release a report detailing the complete study, but a preliminary copy was acquired by the Asahi Shimbun. Two workers had thyroid doses in excess of 10 sieverts, with one getting an 11.8 sievert dose to the gland. Neither man has reported any negative health effects since their exposures. High thyroid exposure is not as hazardous as whole body exposure, so the numbers should not be confused with whole body. A 10 sievert thyroid exposure is the equivalent of 575 millisievert whole body dose. Regardless, the 163 higher-exposure individuals are believed to have an elevated risk of developing future thyroid cancer. (Asahi Shimbun; Nuclear Street)

December 7

(For today's commentary - Japan’s Press fails to make nuclear energy the top election issue - click on Fukushima Commentary in the left-hand column.) 

  • The politicians not in the LDP expressed shock at the Kyodo and Yomiuri poll results. PM Noda vowed to make new inroads to turn the tide before Dec. 16th and admitted the DPJ now faces a “difficult situation”. Noda said, "Political reform…will not be possible if the DPJ loses seats. I feel a sense of crisis." One of Noda’s aides said, “To be honest, I am at a loss for words.” Some DPJ officials believe that dissolving the Diet at the end of November may have been poorly timed. Some Diet incumbents in the DPJ even blamed the poll results on Noda by saying his lack of popularity has devastated the party. One from the Chubu region said, “It is all Noda’s fault.”On another front, the Japan Restoration Party has harshly attacked the front-running LDP. Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto said he was beside himself with anger after seeing the poll results, "Three years of DPJ rule were terrible. However, if we returned the government to the LDP because of that, it would only mean a return to the politics of disappointment of three years ago." Shiga governor Kada, head of the Tomorrow Party, was also frustrated with the poll results, "I was shocked after reading the newspapers. We have not been able to expand our support." On the other hand Shinzo Abe, leader of the front-running LDP, sent a message of caution to his party’s candidates, "We will not be able to gain victory if we reach election-day without having solidified support because we had our heads in the clouds over reports that we were in front.Although there are reports that the LDP will gain a large number of seats… We are at a stage of just barely reaching a majority.” He added that LDP party leaders should be careful about what they say between now and December 16th because one “gaffe” could cost the LDP a clear majority. (Asahi Shimbun)
  • A major earthquake struck the Tohoku region of Northeastern Japan today, measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale. The epicenter was some 240 kilometers off-shore, about 10 kilometers deep in the earth, and was probably a long-delayed after-shock of the March 11, 2011 earthquake. More than 10,000 people were evacuated from the Tohoku coastline in anticipation of a possible tsunami. The worst seems to have been a one-meter tsunamic wave experienced about an hour after the temblor near the city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture. The jolt of the quake injured a handful of residents, but the evacuation kept the tsunami from hurting anyone. Ishinomaki was one of the most devastated of the Tohoku coastal municipalities on 3/11/11. The remains of countless ruined homes and businesses, plus the rusting carcasses of cars and trucks swept up by the 3/11/11 tsunami continue to lie undisposed along the Ishinomaki coastline. Today’s tsunami added little to the remaining debris volume. Many people were seen picking through the 21-month-old carnage for auto parts. Meanwhile, non-essential personnel at the Fukushima Daiichi and Daiini nuclear power stations moved to high ground in accord with their training, just as they did during the numerous strong aftershocks following 3/11/11. The earthquake had no impact on any of the ten nuclear plants located at the two stations, and radiation levels at F. Daiichi did not change. Utilities report that none of the nuclear stations on the Northeastern coast of Japan experienced damage, including the three units at Onagawa. (NHK World, Reuters; Mainichi Shimbun)

December 5

  • Wide-spread election campaigning has come to Japan. There are nearly 1,300 candidates from eleven parties vying for 300 “single-seats” in the lower house of the Japanese Diet (congress). The Communist Party has the highest number of contenders at 299, followed by Liberal Democratic Party with 288, PM Noda’s DPJ with 264, 151 in Shintaro Ishihara’s Restoration Party and 111 from the brand-new Tomorrow Party (formerly the Japan Future Party). There are 49 independent candidates and 25 hopefuls from local groups. There are also 180 “proportional” Diet seats being contested which have 1,000 candidates. Because many hopefuls are running in both the single-seat and proportional elections, the total is just under 1,500. The two partyheads most likely to become Prime Minister, LDP’s Shinzo Abe and DPJ’s incumbent Yoshihiko Noda, began their campaigns in Fukushima Prefecture to show concern for Japan’s future energy policy. In Fukushima City, Abe told the crowd, “Our mission is to protect the safety of our children and the public, to protect our territory and beautiful waters. We are determined to win a majority [in the Diet]. We'll implement an evolved economic policy to bail the economy out of deflation.” During Abe’s speech, antinuclear protestors demonstrated, holding signs that said, “It’s the LDP that built the nuclear plant in Fukushima.” Meanwhile, Noda kicked-off his campaign in Iwake, south of Fukushima Daiichi. Noda promised “We will make a start for Japan’s revival by affirming anew that there will be no revival of Japan without revival of Fukushima.” He implied that the Abe-led LDP is pro-nuclear when he said, “The point in question is whether we will move ahead with tasks we must tackle or will go back to old politics.” The DPJ pledges to phase out nuclear power by 2040 while the LDP says it will decide whether or not to restart nukes over the coming three years. The LDP has a substantial lead over the DPJ in news media opinion polls, but it is unlikely either will garner a majority in the lower house. (NHK World; Japan Today; Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • “Third Parties” also kicked off their campaigns in other parts of Japan. The Restoration Party head, Shintaro Ishihara, was in Kita Ward, Osaka. "The nation's politics are dominated by bureaucrats who spend all their time doing useless things," Ishihara said. "Japan will face ruin unless all of us restore the nation." He supports restarting currently-shuttered nukes if they meet the regulations to be created by the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA). The Tomorrow Party’s creator Yukiko Kada chose Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, to start the campaign. Kada said, "We would revitalize local economies by shifting from nuclear power to natural energy. An economy that produces locally and consumes locally has stability if a disaster occurs.” Ishihara wants nukes phased out by 2040 while Kada wants them abolished in ten years. However, the two third-parties are at odds over the consumption tax issue and the Trans-Pacific Trade agreement. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • Many evacuees from the Fukushima no-go zone feel the election is only window-dressing and the politicians really don’t care about them. "This is no time for an election," said Iwake evacuee Ryohei Endo, "Compensation and decontamination work have not progressed [since the disaster started last year]. I wonder how concerned [the candidates] are about people leading miserable lives like us." Endo added that PM Noda and LDP-leader Abe’s decisions to start their campaigns in Fukshima Prefecture are merely election ploys, "I assume they want to be Diet members for their own sake in the end." Kazuyuki Raiju said he may cast his vote for a party that promises to end nuclear power because, “The Fukushima nuclear plant shows that when something like this happens, we have no means to contain it." Tomoe Unuma, who runs a coffee shop in a Saitama evacuation center, said, "This place seems like a symbol of abandonment. I am mad that people talk about [things related to] Fukushima only when there's an election.” (Japan Times)
  • The Mainichi Shimbun has revisited the events central to Prime Minister Noda’s nuclear policy decision in mid-September. The DPJ had pushed a policy proposal through the Diet designed to abolish nuclear energy by 2040. Five days after the resolution was passed, Noda put that policy aside in an apparent contradiction of his party’s position. Why did he do this? Earlier, Noda met with his Cabinet at his Tokyo residence and presented them with an array of documents detailing the economic challenges and technological obstacles that would hinder the no-nukes option. One person said, "So the public mood has pushed the issue this far. Well, now we have all the facts in front of us, and at least we know how difficult this really is." Another added, "Our projections were too optimistic. If someone called us too slow to understand what's involved here, they wouldn't be wrong." The documents revealed how a “no-nukes” decision would damage Japan’s international status and threaten the country’s economic future. The behind-closed-doors meeting was probably central to the DPJ’s campaign pledge on nuclear, which says, "We will re-evaluate the status of nuclear power from the point of view of necessity. On direct nuclear waste disposal [underground in Japan], we will take responsibility for the issue and express our direction." (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • It seems there is a small light at the end of the decontamination waste-disposal issue. Environment Ministry officials have met with Okuma Town Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe to firm up plans for as many as nine temporary repositories in the municipality. Environment Ministry officials told the mayor that they removed 3 sites from the list of candidates for geological and environmental reasons. The mayor says he understands much of what the ministry is telling him and he will transmit the information to his constituents, all of whom are evacuees and are not yet allowed to return home. The ministry is also talking to two other municipalities in the hope that Okuma will not be the only repository host. (NHK World)
  • The NRA has decided to have three foreign experts as consultants. They are; Richard Meserve, former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Andre-Claude Lacoste, former chairman of the French nuclear safety authority, and Mike Weightman, the head of Britain's nuclear regulation office. The NRA wants to use them for independent insight into the new regulations being created for Japanese nukes. (Kyodo News Service)
  • In an attempt to stem the tide of increasing liquid natural gas (LNG) costs, Japan is negotiating with the United States about shale gas imports. America says it will look into the possibility and give Japan an answer by the end of the year. The proposed move was revealed at the Japan-U.S. Clean Energy Policy Dialogue meeting, attended by the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the U.S. Department of Energy. Japanese imports of LNG have sky-rocketed due to the nuclear moratorium invoked by former Prime Minister Naoto Kan. Nearly all of the LNG imports come from the Middle East, thus Japan is forced to pay the price for the fuel that the supply nations demand. A deal with the USA might lessen the financial burden Japan currently labors under. (Kyodo News Service)
  • Forty residents from near the F. Daiichi nuke have filed a new lawsuit against Tepco asking for nearly $23 million in damages. The plaintiffs all come from the 30km no-go zone. Tokuo Hayakawa, 73, who heads the group, says, "We won't be able to put our lives back in order with the amount of compensation decided by TEPCO, the victimizer. If things remain as they are, we [evacuees] will become abandoned citizens. I want to convey our appeal through the lawsuit for the sake of our friends who cannot raise their angry voice at TEPCO and for the sake of the evacuees who were compelled to silently accept the situation." The lawyers representing the group say this is the first large class-action suit of its kind. Each plaintiff is demanding $235,000 for mental suffering, along with other claims. (Mainichi Shimbun)

December 3

Yesterday marked the 70th anniversary of the world’s first man-made controlled nuclear chain reaction in Chicago, December 2, 1942. To mark the occasion, I took part in a podcast hosted by noted nuclear pundit Rod Adams which included several other prominent bloggers from the nuclear education, research and industry communities. It was an upbeat, sometimes humorous discussion between many of the most prominent nuclear bloggers on the internet. Here’s the link… http://atomicinsights.com/2012/12/atomic-show-191-70th-anniversary-of-cp-1-the-first-controlled-chain-reaction.html

Now for today’s updates….

  • A Fukui University researcher has discovered that human cells have “immunity to radiation under certain conditions”. Fukui Associate Professor in Radiobiology Hideki Matsumoto has learned that low-to-moderate radiation exposures used in emergency medical treatments cause a “radiation adaptive response” similar to what happens when vaccines are used to treat diseases. This cellular phenomenon was first noticed in the 1980s, but researchers could not pinpoint what caused the counter-intuitive effect. It turns out that when cells are irradiated, they produce a “nitric oxide” compound that repairs damage as fast as it occurs. Matsumoto also found there is a “bystander response” with nearby cells which are not irradiated, making them increase their radiation-immune capability in concert with the irradiated cells. The first observation of the bystander response in human cells occurred in 2001, but Matsumoto’s is the first research that has established why it happens. It seems the adaptive response is very high at exposures below 100 millisieverts. This suggests that low level radiation exposure is much, much less risky than existing estimates make it seem. Surprisingly, at 10 sievert exposure, which theoretically should kill all cells, Hideki found that 1% survived! As the dose increases, the beneficial effect also amplifies but with less and less effectiveness as exposure intensifies. At “lethal” exposure levels, the beneficial effect gets overwhelmed to the point that 99% of the cells die. In a related discovery, Matsumoto observed that mice injected with nitric oxide and then exposed to high radiation levels showed a doubling of survival rate. (Fukui News)
  • While it is unlikely that it will end the wild speculations about Fukushima Daiichi unit #4’s reactor building integrity, Tepco’s latest data on the structure should end it. Tepco’s lengthy press handout was released on Saturday. Here’s the link… http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/nu/fukushima-np/images/handouts_121129_01-e.pdf
  • New hypothetical exposure-reduction simulations for nuclear accidents have been posted by Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority. A flawed model released last month was riddled with technical problems. The new estimates now include factors not previously used; for example, the effects of meteorology, topography and the protective effects of pre-exposure Iodine tablet ingestion. The NRA says that all people within 5 kilometers of a nuke should be evacuated before any radioactive releases happen. People within 5-10 kilometers should take shelter in concrete buildings until the radiological cloud passes, then evacuate to beyond 30 kilometers if necessary. Adults and children between 10 and 30 kilometers should take Iodine tablets before the release begins and stay indoors until the radiation cloud passes. The NRA stresses the simulation assumes a worst-case accident and the worst-possible weather conditions that would cause the highest unprotected exposures. The NRA and Japan’s Atomic Energy Agency say this should be invaluable to local governments drawing up emergency evacuation plans. The model is based on a 1,100 MWe nuke and radioactive releases that start 24-27 hours after the accident initiates. (NHK World; Mainichi Shimbun)
  • Two new antinuclear lawsuits have been filed relative to the Oi nuclear station. The first suit comes from a group of 1,100 people want the two currently-operating plants at Oi to be shut down immediately because they will cause “irrevocable damage” if an accident occurs. They believe the faults under the sea-water intakes at Oi are seismically active would cause a nuclear disaster if they move. The plaintiffs include many Fukui Prefecture residents, but also persons living in 17 other prefectures. In addition to demanding immediate shutdown, the plaintiffs each seek 10,000 yen in damages from Kansai Electric and the government because operating the two units at Oi threatens their legal right to live safely. The second suit includes 154 Fukui Prefecture residents who say Tokyo and Kansai Electric illegally started the two units at Oi before their safety had yet to be guaranteed. The group wants the operating units at Oi shuttered immediately. The suit states that last year’s Fukushima accident proves “the totally unacceptable risks of nuclear power plants”. (Kyodo News Service)
  • Tepco’s recent release of more Fukushima accident video footage continues to reveal disturbing news. In one case, Plant Manager Yoshida pleads with then-PM Kan’s office to let him use fire engine pumps to spray water into the slowly-evaporating unit #4 spent fuel pool. A member of the PM’s staff at Tepco/Tokyo rejected Yoshida’s request. Yoshida continued his plea, so Kan Aide Goshi Hosono told him, "We'll continue efforts to reduce such risks as much as possible.” Hosono said the government would spray water from Self-Defense Force helicopters. "We made the decision after consulting with Prime Minister Naoto Kan and others in an emergency meeting," Hosono told Yoshida. On March 17, the helicopters showed up and dropped water from huge suspended buckets. At first, F. Daiichi staff is heard to say they were relieved that the #4 SFP was getting water, but this was soon replaced with woe, "The water hasn't reached the target," one suddenly-irritated employee says, "It's just like a mist." Frustrated, Yoshida told the PM-staffer at Tepco/Tokyo that their plan was flawed and, “We’ll die if it explodes.” In another section of the video, Yoshida tells Tepco/Tokyo on March 18th that his staff at F. Daiichi needs to be immediately relieved by new people because they were worn out from working long hours and many were reaching their 200 millisievert exposure limit. Yoshida says, “…they’ve been going to the site a number of times. They pour water, make checks and add oil periodically. I cannot make them be exposed to even more radiation.” Completely frustrated with Tepco’s lack of progress on his demands for staff relief, Yoshida barked, “If we do the work under a plan with no feasibility, it will end in failure. We cannot do it unless we have thorough help.” Tepco/Tokyo responded that they were doing all they could to get Yoshida more people. (Mainichi Shimbun; Asahi Shimbun)
  • A new news media poll shows that incumbent Prime Minister Noda’s approval rate is at an all-time low and the nuclear energy issue ranks third among the Japanese public. When asked what matters most in the December 16th election, 31% cited the state of Japan’s economy, 22% said it was social security reform and 13% replied it was energy policies including nuclear power generation. Within the issue of energy policy, 11% want nuclear energy abolished immediately, 26% want it ended in 10 years, and another 12% want “no-nukes” by 2040. However, 35% said more time should be spent before making a firm decision on nuclear power’s future in Japan. With respect to Noda’s popularity, his cabinet received but a 21% approval rating – the lowest since he took office in the summer of 2011. Only 20% say he should be the next Prime Minister, while 25% favored LDP head Shinzo Abe, and 49% favored neither candidate. (NHK World)
  • Japan Future Party leader Yukiko Kada says her party will not allow any currently idled nukes to restart. Kada stated, "It's impossible under the current circumstances." Then, in apparent contradiction to herself, she had said she would accept reactivation of idled nuclear reactors if the Nuclear Regulation Authority guarantees their safety and the government deems it necessary. Kada also described her party's policy of "departure from nuclear power" in 10 years as its "goal." "We'd like to achieve that as early as possible, but electric power system reform and other measures are needed before then. Considering these matters, we set a realistic goal of achieving an end to nuclear power in 10 years from now."


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