Fukushima 45...12/19/12-1/4/13

January 7

  • A new poll of mayors near nuclear stations in Japan shows a slight majority in favor of nuke restarts if and when the Nuclear Regulatory Authority confirms their safety. The survey was run in December by the Yomiuri Shimbun covering the mayors of the 135 communities either wholly or partially within 30 kilometers of Japan’s 18 nuclear plant locations. 133 responded. 54% said they would support restarts once the NRA says the plants are safe based on the forthcoming new nuclear regulations. 27% said they chose to not make a decision at this point, and 18% said they would not approve restarts even if the nukes are approved by the NRA. Some positive responses seem to follow economic rationales. The mayor of Suttsu in Hokkaido Prefecture said his favorable position was “for the sake of a stable power supply”. The mayor of Mutsu in Aomori Prefecture said, "Operations of nuclear reactors should be resumed from the viewpoint of rejuvenating industry, among other reasons." Many want both NRA approval and detailed explanations given to their constituents as to why there would be no safety problems. The mayor of Sasebo in Nagasaki Prefecture said, "It's necessary for the central government to provide local residents with detailed explanations about why the nuclear reactors [that would be reactivated] have no safety problems." Most of the negative responses came from mayors of large populations who feel evacuation plans for their people would be difficult, if not impossible. Nearly a million people live inside the 30 kilometer zone around the Tokai Daini station, and Tokai Mayor Tatsuya Murakami said, "As this area is densely populated, the location [of the nuclear plant] itself is very odd." (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • The suspected illegal dumping of decontamination wastes continues in the headlines; however it might be caused by Japanese municipalities dragging their feet on the creation of temporary storage sites combined with defining barely-detectible levels of radiation worthy of handling as low level waste. One worker, asking anonymity, said it is a typical exercise. He also tells us why, "There's no temporary storage space anymore, so branches and leaves are often just left there. It's common practice. In other words, we arrive at the conclusion that since there's no space to put it, there's nothing else we can do." He says water with detectible levels of radio-isotopes causes something diferent, "It's only in model zones directly under the jurisdiction of the Environment Ministry where the ministry conducts inspections that water is collected properly. Otherwise, it's not done. (Tainted water) is left as is. My colleagues and I are always saying, 'If the mass media were to come and see what's going on now, all hell would break loose.' When a high-ranking state figure came for an inspection, we did everything right. But everything is usually done really shoddily. Sometimes, grass on the side of the road that's been cut is just left there. In reality, (decontamination) hasn't been very effective. From our point of view, it's a waste of tax funds. But the government can't very well say they're going to stop decontamination efforts because there's no budget for it." Fukushima Gov. Yuhei Sato said, "It is very regrettable if that is true"A special law made due to the nuclear disaster bans illegal dumping of contaminated substances into the environment and makes it punishable by up to five years in prison or a fine of up to 10 million yen. (Mainichi Shimbun; Japan Times)
  • Two Japanese energy companies plan on building a prototype power plant with coal as its fuel. J-Power Company and Chugoku Electric will begin construction in March. The plant will be powered by gas extracted from low grade coal and eventually add fuel cells to harness hydrogen generated during gas extraction as an additional fuel. The use of low grade coal will be cheaper than importing liquid natural gas, and produce fewer greenhouse gasses than coal-burning itself. GHG emissions will be about the same as with burning LNG and oil. The two companies say they are doing this because of Japan’s current moratorium on nukes, and the fact that it doesn’t seem restarts will happen soon. (NHK World)
  • Physics professor Wade Allison of Oxford University has posted a paper on low level radiation exposures. He maintains that our species has evolved in a constant environment of low level natural background radiation and have adapted to it so well that low doses are harmless to us. Use the following link for the free PDF download... www.radiationandreason.com/download/ipiiqq

January 4

(For today's Commentary - Should Japanese Nukes Be Scrapped Because of NRA Seismic Judgments? - please click on "Fukushima Commentary" in the menu found in the left-hand column)

  • It appears that any return to a nuclear “revival” in Japan must proceed with socio-political caution. While many pundits outside of Japan hailed the Liberal Democratic Party landslide victory as something decidedly pronuclear, the view from within is different. Takuya Hattori, president of the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum says the government and the nuclear community will lose even more public trust if it becomes business as usual, "The LDP won (the Dec. 16 general election), so will nuclear power be pursued? I don't think things are as simple as that. The point is whether the nuclear industry can show how deeply it regrets the Fukushima accident and how far it will change itself.” Public opinion continues to lean in the antinuclear direction, plus it appears that the Nuclear Regulatory Authority is taking a strict, independent watchdog role. Meiji University professor Tadahiro Katsuka, a member of the NRA regulation-setting group, said that “high bars” will be created for the nuclear utilities. He believes the nuke operators will meet the new requirements at all costs, but there are no guarantees in Japan’s socio-political climate, "You don't know in what form pressure could be (exerted) on the NRA commissioners. Public opinion (skeptical about nuclear power) could also be a factor that is affecting them now, so if people start to become mum on the issue, the NRA's stance could change." Political science professor Koichi Nakano of Sophia University stresses that restraint on the part of the LDP will be critical, “They could still take a cautious approach until they win the Upper House election, opting to do what they really want to after that.” (Japan Times)
  • The NRA says their screenings of nukes for restarts will not begin until July, at the earliest. Their timetable for finishing the new nuclear plant regulations is July, so they cannot initiate site-specific assessments before then. NRA chairman Shunichi Tanaka stresses that the authority will not begin answering the restart question until the new regulations are confirmed. He added, however, the lack of political reaction to the watchdog’s conclusions of possible seismic anomalies under and/or near two Japanese nuclear stations has caused much less hesitation about making rules based on scientific objectivity. Tanaka said that until now various other factors had to be considered, but not any longer. (NHK World)
  • The Fukushima Office for Environmental Restoration is concerned that decontamination contractors may have illegally dumped some of the waste material. The Environment Ministry will summon senior officials from the contractors in question to find out how contaminated materials are being managed. The allegations include open dumping of contaminated soil, vegetation and waters into rivers and “other places”. The concerns have come from three Fukushima Prefecture communities: Tamura City, Nahara Town, and Iitate Village. (Mainichi Shimbun; Kyodo News)
  • The Potassium Iodide (KI) tablet controversy has come to Japan. KI is used in most of the world for overactive thyroid gland treatment (hyperthyroidism), as well as asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema. It is also considered to be protective against radioactive Iodine (I-131) up-take in the event of a large nuclear power plant atmospheric release…but not in Japan. No Japanese pharmaceutical company has ever applied for approval to dispense the medication for prevention of radiological exposure, so victims of side effects of the drug have no legal right to receive compensatory damages. In Japan, this means it will not be distributed by local governments - at least not yet. The Nuclear Regulatory Authority has recommended distribution to all residents living within 8 kilometers of a nuclear station, but to be taken only if a radiological release is imminent. Until Japanese law allows for the public’s legal protection against side effects, the NRA’s suggestion will not happen. Possible side effects are (medicine.net) nausea, vomiting, stomach ache, diarrhea, metallic taste, fever, headache, and acne, plus a number of more severe rare-but-not-impossible effects including irregular heartbeat, granular vomiting and a number of allergic reactions. Most of the time, side effects occur briefly then dissipate. Some of the time, the effects can be long-term. KI reduces radiation exposure to the Thyroid in two parallel processes: it saturates the Thyroid with Iodine so that it cannot absorb I-131 and it concurrently shrinks the size of the gland which further inhibits I-131 uptake. It is to be taken once every 24 hours. Taking larger, more frequent doses adds no additional protection against I-131 uptake, but it will increase the risks of exhibiting side effects. The NRA will seek legal approval from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry so that local governments can distribute tablets within an 8km radius. The NRA says they will consider expanding the radius in the future. The KI medical issue adds to the delay in restarting of the idle nuclear plants, since one condition for the approval of the restarting is more than adequate protection for residents living in the area. (Japan Daily Press)
  • Tepco says they will begin the tedious process of removing the fuel bundles from Fukushima Daiichi Spent Fuel Pool #4 this year. There are 1,533 bundles currently in the pool, although about 200 of them have not been used in the reactor. Tepco plans to start removal in November. Critics say they worry about the utility’s plans for the job because of concerns about the building’s stability and its ability to withstand another quake like the one experienced on 3/11/11. Tepco dismisses these fears and says the building’s stability is at least as good as it was before the hydrogen explosion of March 15, 2011. (NHK World)
  • Blogging colleague Rod Adams, of Atomic Insights, says that the current exclusion zones around F. Daiichi should be removed, allowing for repopulation. He made this statement in response to an article posted by Wired.co.uk. He points to the abundance of healthy animals that remain inside the F. Daiichi exclusion zone, the robust health of “stubborn babushkas” that refused to evacuate from around Chernobyl and the higher-than-Fukushima backgrounds found around the world. Adams concludes, “There is no reason to maintain the exclusion area outside of the gates of the Fukushima nuclear station. Radiation dose rates there are already lower than those found in many places where humans have been living healthy lives for many centuries.” Here’s the link to the full blog… http://atomicinsights.com/2013/01/wired-uk-seems-surprised-that-japans-abe-is-considering-new-nuclear.html

January 1, 2013

  • The debate over the geologic anomalies under the Oi nuclear station continues. The outcome of the issue is under the spotlight because the government approved the restart of units 3&4 earlier this year. A second investigation by the Nuclear Regulatory Authority’s expert panel was held this past weekend and they remain deadlocked on the site’s seismic status. Four of the group, including team leader Kunihiko Shimazaki, say it is not unlikely that the anomalies, called “crush zones”, are seismic and they might move during a severe-enough earthquake. However one group expert, Ritsumeikan University professor Atsumasa Okada, disagrees. He said, "The possibility (that it was from a landslide) is fairly high" and “can be explained as a landslide.” NRA team-leader Shimazaki said Okada's view did not necessarily provide a basis for denying the existence of an active fault. He adds that a consensus conclusion “won’t be easy to obtain.” Shimazaki added that a final decision could take months. After the early December inspection, Kansai Electric was instructed by the NRA to double the length of the trench they had excavated to see if the anomaly persisted and extended under the emergency cooling intake structure for the two currently-operating Oi units. Kepco says the longer trench further demonstrates the crush zone is not active. The NRA has told Kepco to deepen and lengthen the trench even further so that the team can re-inspect at some future date. Reporters asked if the continuing work wasn’t a waste of time and money, causing Shimazaki to respond, “We do not see anything wasteful.” If the geologic anomalies are found to be seismic, the NRA could order Oi unit’s 3&4 to be immediately shut down. (Mainichi Shimbun; NHK World; Kyodo News Service; Japan Times; Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Fukushima Daiichi and said, “The massive work toward decommissioning is an unprecedented challenge in human history.Decommissioning work is hard work, but it is progressing. We owe it all to you. We, the government, will give full support.” Dressed in coveralls and a face mask, Abe inspected units 3 and 4 from a vehicle. Most Japanese pundits expect Abe to push for restarts of the now-shuttered reactors in Japan, which is said to be in opposition to the news media polls taken concerning the issue. But poll-indicated antinuclear sentiment did not lead to success at the ballot box earlier this month for parties championing an end to nuclear power. At Kawauchi City, Abe said he and the LDP want to establish a “responsible energy policy” while promising to support energy alternatives and renewables. He added that he would like to see all nukes which pass the new NRA safety regulations operating in the next three years. NRA chief Shunichi Tanaka says that is a deadline the NRA finds impossible to meet. Abe also said he will reconsider his predecessor’s policy of nuclear abolition by 2040. He said former-PM Noda’s policy was essentially a political wish, "A hope does not immediately become a policy.We will promote a responsible energy policy." Abe told reporters he will strengthen the power of the Reconstruction Agency and resolve the former government’s bureaucratic structure that kept relevant government ministries and agencies from doing their job. Before visiting F. Daiichi, the new PM went to the “J-village” in Nahara which serves as the home base for the workers laboring at the damaged power complex. He told the staff, "Thanks to your efforts, work has made progress toward the goal of decommissioning the reactors," Abe said. "I know your families are also under strain as you have to work around the turn of the year. Please ensure safety while you work." (Japan Today; News on Japan; NHK World; Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi says any reactor restarts will be entirely up to the NRA. "We will entrust the safety of reactors to the NRA, which is independent. There will be no restarts if safety is not confirmed," Motegi told a press conference on Friday. He stressed that safety would come first before "any other factors," including the potential economic damage from not restarting reactors. He also pointed out that his party, the LDP, was instrumental in creating the NRA and fully supports its decision-making. (Japan Times)
  • In a Monday television interview on TBS, PM Abe reinforced his desire to build modern, safety-enhanced nukes in Japan. He pointed to advanced boiling and pressurized water reactor systems now being built elsewhere in the world, "New nuclear plants would be completely different from the old ones from 40 years ago like the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, which caused an accident. We'll approve the construction of new plants while getting the people's understanding on these differences." When asked why he favored new nukes when news media polls showed more than 70% of the public want nuclear energy abolished, Abe said there is a silent majority open to building new nukes as evidenced by his party’s landslide victory in December. Abe stated, "The people are uneasy about how we will deal with our current power demands, and that's why those who carelessly touted an end to nuclear power plants failed to receive the people's trust…voters did not trust (candidates) who played word games, like pushing for ‘ending’ nuclear power or ‘graduating’ from nuclear power." He added that continuing protests in Tokyo are attended by an active minority and do not reflect the public’s will. (Japan Daily Press, Mainichi Shimbun; Japan Today)
  • A majority of evacuees from Okuma and Futaba towns are willing to accept temporary decontamination waste storage in their neighborhoods. 788 evacuees were polled and 305 agreed to respond, with 76% of them answering they would “understand” or “be inclined to understand” the need for low level waste storage. 24% responded in the negative to both queries. As for the conditions of acceptance, 70% of the positive responders want “continual assistance to help end the evacuation and rebuild lives” while 67% wanted “acceptable land purchase prices”. 63% desired “safety of the facility”. Two-thirds of those opposed said they would not accept such a facility under the proposed conditions, and one-fifth say they will not accept any conditions whatsoever. Nine of the 11 locations the government wants to run environmental studies on are inside the Okuma municipality within 3 kilometers of the coast. Five Okuma locations are within three kilometers of Fukushima Daiichi. Two proposed sites are in the Futaba municipality, immediately adjacent to the F. Daiichi station. One facility is proposed to be adjacent to the undamaged F. Daini nuke in Nahara town. (Asahi Shimbun)
  • Another nuclear safety issue is emerging which can be traced back to the first five days of the Fukushima accident. Nukes approved for construction prior to 1975 have been required to use flame-resistant cabling with their safety equipment, but those before that date were not. Thus, concerns about fire prevention now exist with 13 of the fifty nukes in Japan. Companies owning the pre-1975 nukes say they have flame-retardant coatings on all cabling, but the NRA and the new Industry Ministry doubt these claims. "Even if the fire-resistant agents do not burn, the flammable cables inside would burn. Those cables may also be aging and deteriorating. We can't recognize them as being equivalent (to non-flammable cables)," one source said. Critics point to the smoke seen coming from F. Daiichi units #1 and #3 following their respective hydrogen explosions as the source of their concerns. Equipment controlling the reactor "safety system" which includes control rods, the core cooling systems, and associated instrumentation could be compromised during an F. Daiichi-type accident without flame-retarding cable coatings. It is expected that the new safety rules being created by the NRA will require the post-1975 guidelines. This could further delay possible restarts for the 13 affected plants if all safety cabling has to be replaced before resumption is allowed. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • American expert Dr. John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says that PM Abe seems to be following the best policy path for Japan’s energy future. He says, “I do think that he has heard the voters’ negative feelings on nuclear power, and I understand that.” However, he questions the public’s understanding of the difficulties inherent with a whole-sale switch-over to renewables, “I suspect that while people are angry about nuclear power, though, they haven’t been entirely realistic about alternative energy sources. There’s a view that somehow solar or wind power is an easy alternative—that all we have to do is pick it. I haven’t seen very good discussion about alternatives to nuclear power anywhere in Japan—nor, for that matter, about nuclear power itself. I would fault both political parties for not conducting an information campaign. Because alternative energy sources like solar and wind aren’t realistic in the near term, the only option is to import large quantities of fuel oil or natural gas.” He added that political chaos led to Japan’s currently-teetering electrical infrastructure and caused a form of nation-wide post-traumatic stress, “The March 11 disaster had a drastic impact on Japan. What was even more traumatic was that the corporate and political leaders failed to lead effectively during the crisis. There was no effective response, and the citizens felt even more vulnerable because they weren’t hearing [in the Press] that their leaders knew what was going on or had a plan.” Dr. Hamre feels the Japan’s people want strong leadership, but the past few regimes have been just the opposite, “If you have ineffective political leadership, everybody loses confidence.” (Nippon.com)
  • More than 300,000 people displaced by the 3/11/11 quake and tsunami continue to live in temporary housing, largely due to government inaction on a 2011 promise to build more than 23,000 emergency public housing units. Only 40 have been completed, about 1,600 are incomplete and paperwork for another 7,300 is awaiting approval. Some officials blame it on a lack of available land along the hilly and mountainous Tohoku coast. The best housing locations were those inundated by the tsunami. They add that some local officials are hindering the necessary paperwork needed to speed up the process. (NHK World; Japan Today)
  • America sent a special nuclear accident response team to Japan five days after the outbreak of the Fukushima accident, and the Tokyo government literally ignored the team’s radiation monitoring data. One local official from the F. Daiichi no-go zone says, "It is outrageous that the government did not inform us about the radioactive data at that time." Here’s the link to the report… http://english.kyodonews.jp/news/2012/12/202165.html

December 30

137th Carnival of Nuclear Bloggers – New Year’s Edition

For the full reports, please click on the individual links…and have a very happy New Year.

From The Hiroshima Syndrome (2) –

Suggested Japanese Nuclear New Year’s Resolutions  http://www.hiroshimasyndrome.com/fukushima-accident-updates.html (Dec. 28)...and,

A “Mindset” That May Have Killed Thousands http://www.hiroshimasyndrome.com/fukushima-accident-updates.html (Dec. 24)

From Nuke Power Talk

The Election and Nuclear Power: A Cautiously Positive Outlook http://nukepowertalk.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-election-and-nuclear-power.html?m=0

From ANS Nuclear Café

The Other Side of the Cookie: Anti-Nuclear People in Our Lives http://ansnuclearcafe.org/2012/12/24/the-other-side-of-the-cookie/

From Yes Vermont Yankee

A Safe Plant and the Same Few Protestors: Guest Post by Steve Moriarty http://yesvy.blogspot.com/2012/12/a-safe-plant-and-same-few-protestors.html

From Next Big Future

Accelerator driven sub-critical reactor could burn nuclear waste and create diesel at less than $2 per gallon http://nextbigfuture.com/2012/12/accelerator-driven-sub-critical-reactor.html

From This Week in Nuclear (2) –

Only the US Government Would Call a Tax a Subsidy http://thisweekinnuclear.com/?p=1594 (and)

Irrational Pro-Renewable Policies, Nuclear Energy Tax Hikes Harm Spain’s Economic Recovery http://thisweekinnuclear.com/?p=1524

December 28

Suggested Japanese Nuclear New Year’s Resolutions, click on "Fukushima Commentary" in the listing found on the left-hand column of this page)

  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is ready to review his predecessor’s plans to end nuclear power in Japan by 2040. Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said at a press conference, "We need to reconsider the previous administration’s policy that aimed to make zero nuclear power operation possible during the 2030s. The government will decide to reactivate nuclear plants under its own responsibility if they are confirmed safe." Motegi also indicated the new administration will scrap the DPJ government's decision to abolish construction of any new nuclear reactors, stating, "We'd like to make a political decision after we accumulate sufficient specialized expertise." In addition, the minister ruled out the possibility of abandoning nuclear fuel recycling, in which spent nuclear fuel is to be reprocessed and reused for nuclear reactors. Motegi said abandoning Japan’s only reprocessing plant for spent nuclear fuel at Rokkasho in the far north “is not an option.”(Mainichi Shimbun; Japan Today; Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • Reactor restart issues have impacted PM Abe’s new cabinet in Tokyo. It seems that two key appointments, Minister of Economic Policy Akira Amari and Industry Minister Motegi, have been selected because they are supportive in getting Japan’s nukes back on the grid. However, actual restarts will be delayed until the Nuclear Regulatory Authority has new, more stringent safety regulations in place and the utilities have met them. This is beyond the stiffer earthquake and tsunami standards now being utilized with three nuclear stations at Tsuruga, Higashidorii, and Oi. One senior government official says the restarts are essential to “providing a stable supply of electricity that is indispensable.” Meanwhile, the NRA is doing and saying all it can to establish confidence in its goal of full independence. "The basis of our judgment is scientific," NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka told a Dec. 26 news conference. "Whatever politicians have to say on the issue, it matters to us not at all." (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • The NRA has postponed the decision on making Japan’s standards for evacuations from nuclear plant releases the most restrictive in the world. The nuke watchdog commissioned a panel of experts to debate the efficacy of new evacuation standard reductions, but the group suspects the proposed limits are not based on scientific evidence. Many panel experts feel the NRA selected the proposed exposure levels by simply cutting the international standards without any scientific support. The proposed regulations call for immediate evacuation out to 30 kilometers if radiation levels exceed 500 microsieverts per hour, which is one-half of the limits recommended by the International Atomic Energy Agency. It also calls for “temporary evacuations” at 100 mSv/hr, which is one-fifth of the IAEA standard. The panel agreed to keep the current international standards in place, but start “fresh” discussions on the issue at a later date. (NHK World; Kyodo News Service)
  • Eight United States sailors have filed a $210 million lawsuit against Tepco for withholding radiation information during the weeks following 3/11/11. In a San Diego court, the plaintiffs claim they were exposed to more radiation than Tepco or the Tokyo government reported. The sailors were among the 5,500 person crew of the USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier positioned about 100 miles off the Tohoku coast to provide whatever assistance the Japanese government would allow. Six plaintiffs worked in the deck crew and two were part of the “air ventilation” group. Media reports in March, 2011, said the crew was exposed to less radiation than they were receiving from natural background. However, the internet has been flooded by unfounded speculations that the radioactive releases were many times worse than officials in Japan said, and were actually greater than what had occurred with the Chernobyl accident in 1986. Based largely on the internet-based evidence, the claimants say, “According to then-existing data uniquely known to the defendant at the time, the plaintiffs’ consequent exposure to radiation within their zone of operation, then indicated that radiation levels had already reached levels exceeding the levels of exposure to which those living the same distance from Chernobyl experienced who subsequently developed cancer.Consequently, the potential for the development of cancer in the plaintiffs has also been enhanced due to the levels of exposure experienced by them during ‘Operation Tomadachi.’” The suit adds that the plaintiffs “face additional and irreparable harm to their life expectancy, which has been shortened and cannot be restored to its prior condition.” Further, the plaintiffs claim that, “Solely a result of the defendant's negligence, carelessness and recklessness, the plaintiffs were caused to suffer severe and serious personal injuries to mind and body.” The filing does not specify what doses the crew may have received or the added risks due to the alleged additional exposure. The plaintiffs, headed by Boatswain’s Mate Lindsay R. Cooper, are demanding $10 million each, plus $30 million punitive, and a $100 million fund to pay for the crew’s future medical expenses. A Tepco official said, "We would like to withhold any comments since we have not received the lawsuit documents." This is the first lawsuit against Tepco or the government to be tried outside of Japan. (Kyodo News Service; Japan Probe; Courthouse news Service; NHK World, Mainichi Shimbun; Japan Times; Japan Today)
  • Futaba mayor Katsutaka Idogawa has dissolved the Futaba town assembly, rather than resign in accordance with the group’s unanimous no-confidence vote. The Assembly passed the motion on December 20 because Idogawa refused to meet with government representatives concerning the siting of temporary low level decontamination waste facilities. Idogawa had 10 days to decide to resign or affect assembly dissolution. This means a new election for assembly members must be held within 40 days. If the new assembly also passes a no confidence motion after the election, Idogawa will be required to immediately step down by Japanese law. (Japan Times)
  • Toshiba announced it has placed 36% of its stake in Westinghouse Electric Corporation up for sale. Toshiba says they already have three prospective buyers. Toshiba says a 20% block has at least two interested American buyers, and the remaining 16% parcel includes the Americans and at least one international concern. The company says they have an “overabundance” of Westinghouse shares and wish to divest themselves of some, so long as they remain the majority owners. (Japan Daily Press)

December 26

  • Shinzo Abe, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, is the new Prime Minister. The lower house of the Diet elected him by a bigger landslide than the LDP had in the recent national election. Abe swamped DPJ candidate and former Naoto Kan side-kick, Banri Kaieda, by a plurality of 328 to 57. This is the second time Abe has been elected Prime Minister and Japan’s seventh PM in the last six years. “I want to learn from the experience of my previous administration, including the setbacks, and aim for a stable government. The LDP is still under the critical eyes of the public. We need to earn their trust by get things done one by one,” he told reporters. Abe’s first statement as Prime Minister included a promise to stimulate national economic recovery by weakening the Yen and stimulating the export of Japanese goods. He emphasized economic revitalization as his primary concern, “First on the agenda is economic recovery, beating deflation and correcting a firm yen and getting the economy back on the growth path.” Abe made no comment on nuclear energy upon his election. (Japan Today)
  • Reports of a swift resumption of reactor restarts in Japan appear premature. While the LDP’s recent landslide victory engenders hope for rapid resumptions, it will probably be a long, slow process. Andrew DeWit, Tokyo professor and energy policy researcher, says optimism among the nuclear utilities should be restrained, “Their hopes might be a little premature, to the extent that they assume their travails are over and income streams ready to go right back into the black.” He feels consumers will continue having high electricity costs due to the heavy imports of more-expensive fossil fuels to compensate for the nukes forced to remain inactive by the government. It seems everything hinges on the new safety rules created by the Nuclear Regulatory Authority which will be subject to stringent scientific and public scrutiny. It was the LDP that pushed for a strong, independent nuclear watchdog group while the NRA was being formed, and it is doubtful they will pressure the NRA to speed up the rule-making process. Tokyo energy consultant Tom O’Sullivan says, “It is unlikely the LDP-led government will want to interfere at an early stage with the operation of the recently established independent NRA, the creation of which they supported.” Thus, the LDP says they will gradually restart only those nukes that meet the new rules over a period of the next three years and devise the nation’s best energy mix over the next decade. However, O’ Sullivan points out that pressure from the Keidanren, Japan’s major business lobby, could alter the LDP’s current vision, “They [Keidanren] have opposed the policy of phasing out nuclear power which they claim is significantly increasing electricity charges for industrial and domestic customers, jeopardizing the international competitiveness of Japanese industry” largely due to massive increases in Liquid Natural Gas imports over the past 10 months. Japan now imports one third of the entire global trade in LNG, driving the nation’s trade deficit down to its worst level in a half-century. Politics further dims the restart potential because of the Diet’s upper house election this coming summer. The LDP will surely do nothing to harm their current position with respect to voter popularity before then. Further impacting the situation is the public perception that Japan doesn’t need their nukes restarted because the nation did not experience electrical blackouts this past summer. Whether or not the same thing will happen this winter remains to be seen. One thing is for sure – electricity will continue to grow more costly as long as the nukes remain shuttered. (Japan Today)
  • The LDP’s recent election landslide seems to have added new incentive to the weekly antinuclear protests in Tokyo. On the December 21st winter solstice, about 1,000 people took part in the demonstration, the largest attendance in months. Organizers with the Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes were encouraged by the mild up-swell in numbers. They were hoping for a much larger turn-out and feel their efforts to-date may have been poorly focused. One central organizer said, "We should have presented the implications of nuclear power from a logical point of view, rather than merely appeal to people's emotions." They are asking themselves if the emotional focus might not have helped the LDP win the election because such approaches can offend the historically-reserved population-at-large. But, the Coalition Against Nukes will continue the crusade undeterred by the crushing antinuclear defeat at the polls. An Osaka protest organizer said, "Casting a ballot is not the only right we have. Coming here and having our voices heard is meaningful, too." Antinuclear protestors feel they remain a voice that needs to be heard. An elderly woman who fled from Futaba and now lives near Tokyo said, "The LDP promoted nuclear power generation," while holding a placard that read: "Return Futaba to us." She pleaded with a reporter, "Who can we turn to? We need to carry on our protest rallies to prevent the LDP from becoming big-headed." The winter solstice rally was the 36th consecutive weekly demonstration in Tokyo. (Asahi Shimbun)
  • At least one Japanese-American news source has extended the spent fuel pool issue from Fukushima Daiichi to the nukes under attack for possible earthquake faults. The SFP at Tsuruga station if Fukui Prefecture has nearly 600 tons of fuel bundles in storage, with at least two “crush zones” beneath the facility located 250 meters from an apparently active fault. The pool at Higashidori station in Aomori Prefecture holds 131 tons in a building 200 meters from one crush zone and 400 meters from another. The currently operating Oi station has 1,329 tons of fuel stored, near a geologic anomaly that most NRA specialists feel might not be seismic, but the issue associated with Oi cannot be fully dismissed because one of the NRA’s experts disagrees. New studies underneath the Oi facility begin Friday. Fears of SFP-caused disasters are emerging because some politically-respected voices say earthquakes could cause the pool’s cooling systems to fail and spawn another Fukushima catastrophe. (Japan Times)
  • Fear of radiation continues to plague the schools in Fukushima Prefecture. By June of 2011, 449 out of the prefecture’s 802 schools had restricted outside activities due to radiation concerns spawned by the F. Daiichi accident. These restrictions are still the case for 71 of Fukushima’s elementary and junior high schools due to parental fears of the potential for their children’s exposure to radiation and a distrust of government safety standards. The Ministry of Education says the continuing constraints are causing an increased percentage of students weighing at least 20% more than they should. “The amount of exercise has declined in Fukushima, mainly among elementary school pupils, as outdoor activities in some locations have been restricted after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant accident,” a ministry official told a news conference. The Ministry notes that the trend toward overweight schoolchildren is nation-wide, with Fukushima Prefecture registering the worst increases with seven of the 13 age groups surveyed. (Kyodo News Service; Japan Times; Japan Today)

December 24

  • Although the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan ran a nuclear-neutral campaign, they are beginning to show some pronuclear colors. The draft of the coalition between the LDP and the largely-Buddhist New Komeito Party includes the allowance of reactor restarts, given one very important qualification – the Nuclear Regulatory Authority must approve the resumption of operation first. The draft coalition manifesto states, "restarting will be based on the expert judgment of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, which pursues the safety-first principle in line with international standards." The LDP has said they will try and get as many nukes restarted as the NRA allows over the next three years. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • LDP party chief Shinzo Abe said the new government will thoroughly review the cause of the Fukushima accident. During a Fiji television program appearance Abe said, "The root cause of the (nuclear) accident was not fully uncovered so there is a need to make clear whether this was a man-made disaster or not. As a government, we want to once again analyze why Fukushima Daiichi failed. Could it have been avoided? Was it a man-made disaster? As a government, we must study that.” No time-frame for the new probe was disclosed. This could mean yet another lengthy, formal investigation in addition to the five that already exist. Abe also said he will push the Diet to formalize the appointments to the NRA and begin the procedures as soon as the new congress meets. (Kyodo News Service; Japan Today; Mainichi Shimbun)
  • Shinzo Abe also said the government must review the current policy of not allowing new nukes to be built. He explained the decision on new nuke builds will be determined by the country’s future energy mix as it develops over the next 10 years. The current policy of not starting any new nuclear construction was created by the Democratic Party of Japan under Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. Currently, three nukes are under construction and nine more are in the planning stage. On Sunday, LDP chief Shinzo Abe visited Tabuse Town, and responded to local queries about the proposed nuclear plant to be built in the nearby town of Kaminoseki. He said he respects the Prefecture’s decision to freeze extension of the construction permit pending the new NRA safety regulations. The initial permit expired in October. Prefectural governor Nii said there is no reason to extend the construction permit until new safety standards are in place. (Kyodo News Service; Mainichi Shimbun; NHK World)
  • The Mainichi Shimbun is calling for a re-evaluation of the possibility of seismic faults for all nuclear power stations in the country. The demand is based on the NRA’s recent conclusion of active faults running near and/or under the Tsuruga and Higashidori stations. The Mainichi says this proves the electric utility companies in Japan did not sufficiently examine the Earth’s crust before building their nukes, and the old government regulators (NISA) failed as well. Thus, none of the nuclear plants in Japan can be currently judged as safe relative to potential worst-case earthquakes. Tohoku Electric, owner of the Higashidori station, claims the geologic anomaly under the power station was created by underground water swelling the formation and causing it to severely crack. Thus, it cannot be seismic. The NRA totally disagrees. The Mainichi openly distrusts what any nuclear utility says. The paper adds that all members of the NRA’s quake assessment team come from academic societies and are necessarily neutral on the issue. The Mainichi also says another allegedly-active fault runs near the currently under-construction Oma plant, so all work there should be stopped until the NRA finishes its investigation. Further, the spent fuel reprocessing plant on the Shimokita Peninsula should be shuttered until the NRA can examine all geologic cracks in the region. The Mainichi says, “Now that the past safety assessment of the Higashidori plant has been called into question, the NRA should re-examine all faults and the crustal structure of the Shimokita Peninsula as a whole.” (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • Tokyo’s suburban city of Higashimurayama will provide free testing of foods for radioactive Cesium in January. The City won a lottery-type draw for a radiation analyzer from the Consumer Affairs Agency and will put it in operation as soon as possible. The testing will be done jointly with a citizen’s group called Geiger Higashimurayama. The items to be tested will be limited to home-grown crops as well as meats and produce bought from local retailers. The food must be finely-chopped or processed in a blender before it will be analyzed. The technology has a minimum detectability of 10 Becquerels per kilogram. Liquids cannot be tested. The city says they do not expect any items to exceed national standards, but hopes the testing will abate resident’s anxieties concerning their foods. This is the second Tokyo suburb to offer such food testing, the first being Kunitachi earlier this year. (Mainichi Shimbun)

The 136th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers has been posted at the Atomic Power Review website. This week’s topics include: nuclear cyber-security, the moderating effect nuclear plants have on New England, countering the arguments of climate-change skeptics within the nuclear community, a listing of free on-line sites for nuclear energy information, why nuclear energy is chosen as the culprit in end-of-the-world scenarios, and celebrating the 70th anniversary of the first nuclear reactor in the world. The full listing and links to all the blogs posted can be found here… http://atomicpowerreview.blogspot.com/

December 21

  • The current focus of the Nuclear Regulatory Authority is earthquake possibilities concerning nuclear plants, and the issue has become foggy. This week, the NRA concluded that the geology near the Higashidori station in Aomori Prefecture has a seismically active fault. The new issue is a fault line near the Higashidori reactor buildings, with cracks radiating to as close as 200 meters. There are no existing guidelines on nuclear stations that are near, but not atop geologic seams that might be seismic. Assessing potential impacts of a seismic seam near a nuclear facility must be examined by the NRA and regulations proposed accordingly. "There are no established methods to adequately evaluate (the effect of) active faults (running near nuclear plants)," said NRA Commissioner Kunihiko Shimazaki. Hiroyuki Fujiwara, a chief researcher at the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention (NIED), said, "The method to evaluate active faults only 1 to 2 kilometers away (from nuclear facilities) has not been established. It would be difficult to improve evaluation methods in a short period of time." In other words, no methods exist for making impact projections of this sort and it could be a long time before it happens. Shimazaki responded that while no methods presently exist, it doesn’t mean nothing can be done. If the Higashidori seams are proven to be seismic and methods of projecting impacts are created, it may mean the nuclear station will have to upgrade existing quake mitigation before any of the units would be allowed to restart. This is the third time the NRA has found that geologic seams under or near existing nuclear facilities might be seismic. The seam running under the Tsuruga station has been judged as possibly seismic and the one under the Oi facility has resulted in a disagreement among the investigators. (Mainichi Shimbun; Japan Times; Japan Today)
  • The mayor of Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, has been hit with a no-confidence vote by the town assembly over his refusal to take part in discussions over a temporary low level decontamination waste storage facility. Back in November, the Fukushima governor held a meeting for all town and village mayors in Futaba County concerning environmental studies for low-level waste facilities, and all in attendance agreed to siting surveys. Only Futaba Mayor Katsutaka Idogawa refused to take part in it because he felt the government was less than convincing about the issue. The town assembly was angered and tried to get Idogawa to reconsider. Idogawa remained firm, so on December 12th the assembly filed a formal request for the mayor’s resignation. But the mayor refused by saying, "I can't resign while I'm tasked with such serious missions as the rezoning of evacuation zones and handling the temporary storage facility." A full assembly meeting was held on Thursday and the group unanimously passed the no-confidence vote. This means the mayor must either resign or dissolve the assembly within ten days under the Local Autonomy Law. If he dissolves the assembly, a new election must be held within 40 days to replace it. If the new assembly agrees with the no-confidence vote, the mayor is legally required to step down. At this point, Idogawa is hedging on what he will do, "I will make a decision early next week." He added, "I have worked hard to relay the requests of the townspeople to the central and prefectural governments. Those who criticize me are also responsible." Futaba assembly member Hisato Iwamoto who proposed the no-confidence motion earlier this month, said, "The mayor has caused confusion among town residents. The issue [of temporary storage facilities] concerns the whole prefecture, not just Futaba. I hope the mayor will take the unanimous vote seriously." All Tokyo wants to do is run preliminary siting surveys at two locations in Futaba, but Idogawa has gone on record as being totally distrustful of anything Tokyo says. He fears a temporary facility will eventually be designated as permanent, and he feels a permanent repository would keep people from repopulating Futaba. The town assembly wants to hear what Tokyo is formally proposing, but they are handcuffed by their mayor’s stubborn refusal to participate. The town assembly has repeatedly criticized the mayor over his response to the Great East Japan Earthquake of 3/11/11 for about a year and a half. (Mainichi Shimbun; Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • The Environment ministry has announced they will delay environmental surveys for temporary storage facilities in Futaba County. Previously, it was hoped that work could begin in March, but it seems this was overly optimistic. The ministry says they will begin to accept applications from contractors as of today, but the selection process could take until February. When the actual construction of the site (or sites) will begin is literally anybody’s guess. Fukushima Prefecture and the affected municipal governments have agreed to the siting surveys, but some local political and public opposition continues which could add even more delays to the process. (NHK World)
  • The Hamaoka nuclear station, which was the first nuke ordered shuttered by Tokyo after 3/11/11, will have a 67 ft. high anti-tsunami seawall built. The new height was chosen to exceed the new worst-case tsunami estimate of a 58-foot wave. The existing seawall is 55 feet high. "We've decided to increase the height of the seawall to prepare for largest-class tsunami," company President Akihisa Mizuno said. He estimated the cost of increasing the wall height would be billions of yen. However, plant owner Chubu Electric Co. says it will not change their existing plans for completing all tsunami-protection upgrades by next December. (Mainichi Shimbun)

December 19

  • It seems that both sides of the nuclear issue are touting Sunday’s election as a pro-nuclear victory, but these speculations seem to be premature. The victorious Liberal Democratic Party of Japan has not clarified its stance on nuclear energy policy, taking a wait-and-see posture counter to the knee-jerk antinuclear policy advocated by the lame-duck Democratic Party of Japan. Before they were deposed in 2010, the LDP was decidedly pro-nuclear. However, post-Fukushima, the LDP has taken a neutral position on the nuclear issue. When will we find out on which side of the atomic fence they stand? A subcommittee of the Industry Ministry's Advisory Committee for Energy and Natural Resources, which has been discussing the country's energy policy, will have all of its members replaced and make a fresh start early next year.The Industry Ministry’s Expert Panel on Future Energy Policy is scheduled to compile measures for energy system reform next month. After these bodies have made their proposals, we will find out what the LDP’s opinion on nukes actually is. However, pressure is already being placed on the LDP to remove the policy of nuclear abolition from the table. Makoto Yagi, chairman of the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, said he wants the incoming government to work out a "realistic" national energy policy, adding there are too many insurmountable challenges to be overcome with the DPJ’s existing policy of no-nukes by 2040. There is little doubt, however, that the LDP will support the restart of the idled nukes that comply with the new regulations being created by the Nuclear Regulatory Authority, in order to ease the financial burden caused by Japan’s large increase in fossil-fuel imports resulting from the DPJ’s moratorium on nuclear operations. The LDP victory has been taken as a mandate to revive Japan’s crumbling economy and the curbing of fossil-fuel imports is high on the list. With next summer’s upper house election looming on the horizon, it is doubtful that the LDP will do anything that might drive voters away from their party. (Yomiuri Shimbun; Japan Times)
  • The “third force” antinuclear parties of Japan suffered a humiliating defeat at the polls, this past Sunday. They now turn their focus on next summer’s upper house (House of Councilors) election. The Diet’s upper house is similar in function to America’s Senate or Britain’s House of Lords. Terms of office last for six years, with half of the 242 seats being contested every three years. Currently, the DPJ has the most seats in the upper house with 90, closely followed by the LDP (the new lower house majority party) with 87. None of the new “third parties” hold any upper house seats because they have all formed since the last election in 2010. The most successful of the new “third parties” in the lower house is the Japan Restoration Party, headed by popular antinuclear mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto. The Restoration Party won 54 lower house seats, making it the front-runner of the new parties by a wide margin. The Restoration Party has enough lower house members to legally submit budget-related bills and no-confidence motions against the Prime Minister’s Cabinet. With respect to the upper house election, however, the Restoration Party might not be able to post candidates because current law prohibits local government-based parties from running. Hashimoto wants to change the rule, saying, "If the rules governing Upper House candidates are changed to allow local government heads to run for an Upper House seat, we'll take up the challenge." The situation for the media-darling Tomorrow Party is much gloomier. Tomorrow Party bell-weather, Shiga Governor Yukiko Kada, hoped to garner at least fifty lower house seats when they posted 121 candidates. However, they only won nine. After the election results were in, Ms. Kada said, "It was a huge shock to see no movement of votes toward our efforts to get out of nuclear power. We didn't have time to get our new party going and our message didn't resonate." What she will do next on the national level is unknown, though she did say she will continue to work as governor. It seems the Tomorrow Party has no plans for the summer’s upper house election. (Japan Times)
  • Tepco’s reform task force says the Fukushima accident was caused by insufficient technological capacity and failure to make on-going safety improvements over the years prior to 3/11/11. The technological shortcomings were due to not considering the rare-but-not-impossible earthquake and tsunami impacts with respect to the F. Daiichi plant’s design. This was exacerbated by the false belief that existing safety measures were more than sufficient to protect the plant systems. The task force added that Tepco should have revised its policies of nuclear management following problems and scandals existing over the years prior to the accident. Management and plant operators should have been held accountable for establishing a safety culture, but this did not happen. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • The municipal assembly of Hakodate, Hokkaido Prefecture, approved funds to file a lawsuit to stop construction of a nuke on the northern tip of Honshu Island. They say they will definitely file the suit if construction continues past this coming spring on the partially-completed unit at Oma, 30km across the Tsugaru Straits from Hakodate. The assembly believes the safety of the Oma plant cannot be guaranteed in light of the Fukushima accident. If the plant is completed and has a Fukushima-level accident, Hakodate could suffer severe damage, officials stated. The assembly first plans on taking their appeal to Tokyo once the new administration is in place. If the government refuses to freeze construction at Oma, the municipality says they will probably sue both J-Power (the plant’s owner) and the government. The Hakodate assembly has set aside more than $270,000 to pursue the legal action. (Kyodo News Service; Japan Times)


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