Fukushima 50... 3/19/13-4/8/13

April 8, 2013

  • Tepco has discovered that one of its underground water reservoirs has leaked. It has triggered a news-frenzy in Japan. The water in the cistern comes from the waste water decontamination system and has been stripped of its radioactive Cesium. Some 60 other radioactive isotopes also remain in the water in various concentrations. The cistern holds about 3.2 million gallons, is 185 feet long, 160 feet wide and about 20 feet deep. The pool’s walls are made of a triple layer of waterproof sheeting. Tepco estimates about 30,000 gallons have been lost. Most of the leaked water has been contained in between the layers of the waterproof sheeting, but a small amount may have seeped through and into the surrounding earth around other giant underground pit. A soil sample taken adjacent to the reservoir contains 0.05 Becquerels per cubic centimeter. This abnormal reading caused Tepco to suspect the leak and investigation ensued. It took two days to sample the waters between the waterproof sheets. When the water between the 1st and 2nd layers was found to hold 2,200 Bq/cm3, the leak was confirmed. There is quite unlikely any of the leakage has reached the sea. Tepco’s Masayuki Ono said, "As the height of the water storage facility is relatively low, we think it's unlikely that the polluted water mixed into underground water and reached the sea 800 meters away." He added, “It is the largest amount of radioactive substances that has been leaked” since cold shutdown was declared in December 2011. Tepco is transferring the 3.25 million gallons remaining in the cistern to another one nearby. During the transfer, Tepco estimates as much as an additional 12,000 gallons might leak out. On Sunday, an adjacent underground reservoir was suspected of leaking. A slightly increased level of radioactivity in the soil near the second cistern indicated a possible leak, but the water level in the pool has not changed and Tepco says the leak must be very small. Regardless, Tepco plans on transferring water out of the second reservoir once the first transfer is completed. (The Japan News; Tepco News Release; Nikkei.com; Mainichi Shimbun; Japan Times; NHK World; Jiji Press)
  • The Japan News says Tepco has underestimated the first leak’s radiological release. Tepco’s report of the total radioactivity lost from the reservoir and now located between the layers of pool sheeting is 0.7 trillion Becquerels. The paper says Tepco used the 6,000 Bq/ml numbers that their initial analysis of the between-layers water indicated, not the 2,200 Bq/ml now being posted. The newspaper says they should use the concentration found inside the pool itself to make the estimate – 290,000 Becquerels/ml. This would inflate the total for a potential release to 35 trillion Becquerels, which increases the estimate by a factor of fifty.  Japan News (formerly Yomiuri Shimbun) says, “The impact of the leak could also be much bigger than Tepco’s estimate.” Prof. Hideo Yamazaki of Kinki University said: "I cannot understand why TEPCO used a lower figure as the basis for this calculation. Such calculations should be conducted strictly from the viewpoint of ensuring safety." While neither calculation method is mathematically incorrect, Japan News seems to overlook their report made the previous day (Saturday). In it, a diagram clearly shows the three waterproof plastic sheets are not the only barriers between the pool’s water and the environment. There is a thick layer of “special soil” surrounding the entire reservoir “to help prevent contaminated water from seeping through.” It also shows where Tepco has sampled the water in the ground, outside the “special soil” layer. Tepco’s analysis for that sample is 0.05 Becquerels per milliliter (cubic centimeter). Using this soil-water concentration, it seems the total release estimate (if all 120 tons seeped out) could be reduced to about 9.5 million Becquerels…which would also be mathematically correct. Which number should Tepco and Japan News be using in the interest of “insuring safety”, considering the psychological damage being done? That’s for you to decide.
  • There was a brief power loss to one SFP cooling system at Fukushima Daiichi on Friday. The temporary switchboard to spent fuel pool #3’s cooling system tripped off-line on Friday. Power to the system was resumed in three hours. The SFP temperature was 15oC and raised a mere 0.2oC during the power loss. At that rate, the pool would have reached the upper technical threshold of 65oC in two weeks. Regardless, the Press treated it like it was a meltdown precursor. Here’s what happened. Wire mesh was being installed below the switchgear to keep small animals from accessing the wiring and possibly chewing through it. An invading rat was the cause of last week’s multi-SFP system power loss that had the Japanese Press in an uproar. During the mesh installation, a technician inadvertently touched at least two energized contacts with the mesh at the same time, causing a short-circuit. (Jiji Press; Kyodo News) The pool contains 514 fuel bundles, 52 of which are new and unused. Radiation levels in and around unit #3 did not change. (NHK World) Meanwhile, the bulk of Japan’s new media outlets have been less than reasonable in their reporting. The reports reiterated the speculations and exaggerations that followed last month’s “rat” event, posting that if the pool had run dry another massive radiation release would have happened, if not worse. Nowhere was it said that for a pool to dry out, the staff at F. Daiichi would have to ignore everything for two weeks. The Press also used the occasion to remind everyone of the triple meltdown accident of March, 2011, the subsequent government-mandated evacuation of about 70,000 people out to 30 kilometers from the nuclear station, plus the 90,000 outside the exclusion zone who fled because they feared radiation. Then there’s the ubiquitous use of the misleading term “makeshift” relative to the temporary power supplies, reactor cooling water supplies and waste water cleanup systems, used as “evidence” of an alleged never-ending hazard posed by F. Daiichi. Because of the brief, limited power loss, The Press says the people in Fukushima Prefecture are more afraid now than ever before. For example, the Asahi Shimbun…“Fears are growing about the safety of nuclear plants, and people have periodically staged street protests.” The Mainichi Shimbun told their readers, “If the water runs dry, the fuel rods, even spent ones, will spew enormous levels of radiation.” Japan Today proclaimed, “The breakdown served as a reminder of the precarious state of the Fukushima plant. The plant…is kept stable only with makeshift systems to supply power, cool reactors and clean radioactive materials from water used as coolant.” (Japan Daily Press; Asahi Shimbun; Mainichi Shimbun; Japan Today)
  • A Japanese official says F. Daiichi is still not under control. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, former chairman of the parliamentary committee to investigate the Fukushima accident (NAIIC), said this to the Diet Today. He gave the following reason, "We are unable to see what is going on with melted nuclear fuel, the concrete of reactor containers and injected cooling water." The NAIIC has kept open the speculation of the earthquake caused the accident when they posted their report last summer because we can’t look into key areas of the plant, the worst possible suppositions cannot be dismissed and can thus be assumed. But he didn’t stop there. "There are also problems including contaminated water and a power blackout caused by a rat. Moreover, a response to victims of the crisis has not been progressing," Kurokawa said. "The world is paying close attention to how the government will respond to problems pointed out in a report compiled by the panel.” NAIIC member Shuya Nomura, a lawyer, added that political oversight is the only way to end the on-going crisis, "Is it all right to leave the response to contaminated water and other problems to the discretion of Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the executive branch of the government? Monitoring by parliament as representatives of the public is necessary to stabilize the plant.” Another NAIIC panelist, Mitsuhiko Tanaka, a journalist, says the only way to insure full transparency is for with full government control, "I hope parliament will take initiative to open up the site of the accident." (Jiji Press; Mainichi Shimbun)
  • Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority has posted safety goals for Japanese nukes. The new aims are designed to keep core damage accidents to once per 10,000 years for each reactor. In addition, the goal for serious, Fukushima-type accidents will be once per 1 million years per nuclear station. The NRA says these are essentially the same standards recommended by the U.N’s International Atomic Energy Agency, and reflect the goals used by the United States’ Nuclear Regulatory Commission. As for radiological releases, the venting of steam from inner containment structures will be once per 100,000 years, and a release of less than 100 terabecquerels per venting. This would be about 1% of what was released by the Fukushima accident. Combined, the new rules should limit the serious contamination of the environment to once every million years. Beginning in December, the NRA will obligate all plants to run detailed accident probabilities. Any plant not meeting these goals will not be allowed to operate. (The Japan News…formerly the Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • The NRA has also said that new anti-terrorist safety facilities need not be completed for 5 years. Anti-terrorist measures will include building a back-up control room for each plant, in the event that the regular one is not functional or otherwise comes under terrorist control. The back-up control room will be located in a separate building at least 100 meters from the reactor plant’s operations buildings. The distance is intended to prevent a single accident event from preventing both locations from functioning. Control functions will include remote operations of all emergency cooling systems. During the 5-year interim, plant operators must install “mobile facilities” to handle the emergency functions before any restarts can be allowed. (Mainichi Shimbun)

April 4, 2013

  • Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority has posted draft requirements for relicensing nukes. The current operational limit is 40 years. In order to qualify for a 20 year extension, plants must meet all new regulations to be issued this coming summer, run ultrasonic structural checks on reactor systems and “closely examine” strength of the primary containment walls. While not included in the draft, it is expected that all power cabling will have to be non-flammable and backup water supply pathways to the reactor vessels will have to be installed. Currently, 3 of Japan’s 50 nukes, other than units 1-4 at Fukushima Daiichi, are more than 40 years old. (NHK World) In another announcement, the nuclear watchdog is changing the term “safety standards” to “guidelines” for their new regulatory system. The NRA believes the term safety standards may lead the public to believe that the regulations will make nuclear plants immune to accidents. NRA chairman Shunichi Tanaka said, “Following the guidelines does not ensure safety. Rather, adhering to the guidelines is a sign that the operator is attempting to mitigate potential dangers.” (Japan Today)
  • The community of Minamisoma continues to recover. The percentage of students in the district has rebounded to 60% of the pre-Fukushima accident condition. Of the 5,476 students that would constitute full enrollment, 3,279 will be attending elementary and junior high schools this coming academic year. Those who will not return to the district schools are due to two reasons. An election board official explained one of the reasons, "I think this is because schoolchildren have got used to their life at schools in areas where they are taking shelter. However, we're determined to continue our efforts to create an environment in which children can study in the city without concern." Other students are being kept from attending Minamisoma schools because of their parent’s fear of radiation exposure. Regardless, retention rates have increased over the past two years. In 2011, 30% of elementary students and 43% of junior high children attended the community’s municipal schools. Thus, the increased enrollment for the upcoming year is seen as a positive. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • Tokyo Electric Company says they need to cut $1 billion from their budget in order to remain viable. The costs of decommissioning Fukushima Daiichi and the compensation payments to evacuees by Tokyo are taking their toll. Adding to this are numerous lawsuits by groups of Japanese residents and one filed by a few US Navy personnel. Tepco is expected to post a $1.3 billion loss for fiscal year 2012, which ended March 31. The company said they will make all necessary reductions to ensure they will stay afloat. This includes overhauling the organizational structure and reviewing procurement procedures due to the rising cost of non-nuclear fuels caused by the nuclear moratorium. (Japan Daily Press)
  • Tokyo has approved a reform package for power distribution in Japan. Until now, customers could only get electricity from the most local of 10 regional companies. Since 3/11/11, critics have argued that the utilities monopolize electric generation, distribution and sales. The Prime Minister’s cabinet has issued a scheme that will redefine power distribution along a variety of business lines, opening free competition. Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said, “These reforms concern the whole industry, ranging from upstream procurement and power generation to downstream retail and consumption. The demand side will have more options, which will lead to lower electricity prices.” (Japan Today)

April 1, 2013

  • Japan’s Environment Ministry reports that the child thyroid anomalies in Fukushima Prefecture are common to the whole country. The study, conducted over the past five months, covered 4,365 children in Aomori, Yamanashi and Nagasaki Prefectures – all outside the limits of detectible Fukushima Contamination. The statistics show that when compared to the three control prefectures, the child thyroid lumps and other anomalies are “almost equal to or slightly lower in Fukushima.” Some 350,000 Fukushima children have been tested and 41% were found to have the anomalies. Aomori has a rate of 57%, 69% in Yamanashi and 43% in Nagasaki. Shunichi Yamashita, vice president of Fukushima Medical University, said the latest survey demonstrated that "small cysts and lumps naturally exist in children when they are examined with the same precision level as in Fukushima." (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • The Fukushima village of Namie has had the “no-go” restriction lifted for the whole community. Instead, it is being re-zoned according to estimated annual radiation exposures for the population. The coastal area, where 80% of the town lived before 3/11/11, will be split into two zones: one with radiation levels below 20 millisieverts per year, and the other between 20 and 50 mSv/yr. While residents may return home, they will not be allowed unrestricted residence or be able to stay overnight. The rezoning allows residents to apply for new Tepco compensation to pay for property recovery. However, residents whose property was damaged or destroyed by the quake and tsunami will not qualify for Tepco property compensation and must seek relief from the Tokyo government. One Namie resident who lost his home to the tsunami complained, "The government says it will enable residents to return home after rezoning, but my family has no home to go back to." On the other hand, another resident, Michio Tanaka, was happy to be able to visit his home in order to start work toward making his family’s property meet the repopulation criteria. Locations below 50 mSv/yr are expected to be open to full repopulation, without restriction, by 2016. The area above 50 mSv/yr, which is mountainous, will not have its restriction lifted before 2017. Whether or not these target dates can be met is open to question because there is a deficit in the number of decontamination workers and the locations for waste disposal have not been decided upon. Regardless, this change is significant because of the need to clean up the tsunami debris that has been untouched since 3/11/11. Namie is the ninth of the eleven exclusion-zone communities to have restrictions eased. Futaba and Kawamata towns remain to be rezoned. (Jiji Press; Mainichi Shimbun; NHK World)
  • Prime Minister Abe says it will be difficult for him to approve restarts for any undamaged nukes in Fukushima Prefecture. On Friday, Abe said resumption of operations at the Nos. 5 and 6 reactors at F. Daiichi and the four units at F. Daiini is unlikely, even if they meet new safety standards being drawn up by the Nuclear Regulation Authority. Because of political uncertainty, Tokyo Electric Company has not made plans for restarts of any of the undamaged Fukushima units. Abe said that even if the reactors' safety is confirmed, the understanding of local governments and residents would be necessary to resume operations. Considering the anxieties of Fukushima Prefecture residents and officials, such restarts would probably cause great local opposition which would block resumtions. Nonetheless, sources in Tokyo say the government is hoping to begin restarts this coming Fall for plants outside Fukushima Prefecture. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • Tokyo Electric Company has taken greater responsibility for the Fukushima accident. Tepco now says they were not adequately prepared for the accident-causing tsunami of 3/11/11. Tepco president Naomi Hirose said, “Our safety culture, skills and ability were all insufficient. We must humbly accept our failure to prevent the accident, which we should have avoided by using our wisdom and human resources to be better prepared.” The report of an independent safety panel, chaired by former American NRC Commissioner Dale Klein, says that with adequate protection the accident would have been averted. Klein said the nuclear industry has to “expect the unexpected and have margins of safety. We are unable to turn the clock back in time and stop the accident. What is important for the reform committee and Tepco is to move forward, learn from mistakes and make sure that never happens again.” However, critics feel Tepco is not really serious or else last week’s spent fuel pool power outage would not have happened. Iwake Meisei University Professor Yukihiro Higashi said, “We learned that it only takes one rat, not even an earthquake or tsunami, to paralyze the plant. People in Fukushima are under constant fear of another serious incident that requires evacuation.” (Japan Today)
  • The NRA’s Radiation Council is now vacant. The terms of former members have expired. They are not being renewed. The current Tokyo regime under Shinzo Abe is interviewing experts to repopulate the Council. Abe wants Japan’s standards to better-reflect international limits based on scientific evidence, rather than setting standards to soothe public fears. In order to do this, the requirements for panel membership have been stiffened. One firm requirement is that no executives or officials who have worked for nuclear utilities can apply. This restriction includes people who have worked for research institutions under donations and/or grants funded by nuke companies. One pressing issue the panel will address is whether or not to allow Fukushima refugees to return home if they are in locations with radiation levels below 20 millisieverts per year. The current guideline restricts visits to homes if the radiation exposures are above 1 mSv/yr. The government wants the panel in place as soon as possible in order to make the repopulation decision by the end of the year. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • A government panel on regulatory reform is set to de-regulate coal power plants. They are doing this because of the current nuclear moratorium and the resulting increases in expensive fossil fuel imports. The panel feels the cost of building and operating coal plants will be less than with natural gas. Large increases in natural gas imports from the Middle East have made Japan’s trade deficit an all-time high. The panel feels current environmental protection regulations place an unfair burden on coal plant operators to meet GHG emission limits. The panel feels it is more important to build coal-powered plants than to meet the nation’s Kyoto Accords commitments. The panel’s recommendations will be submitted to the Environment Ministry today. (NHK World)

March 29, 2013

  • Fear of radiation harms Fukushima vegetable market. Fukushima Prefecture has long provided much of Japan's fresh produce. Historically, 20% of its annual crop is sold in Tokyo. However, fear of radiation has caused Fukushima's wholesale market sales to drop nearly 19% since 2009. Radiation rumors erupted almost immediately after 3/11/11. The public outcry against Tokyo's initial 500 Becquerel per kilogram limit was considerable, saying that it was too high and many were afraid of eating fallout. The international standard was/is 1,000 Bq/kg, but that did not dissuade the politically-active antinuclear demographic calling for a lower national standard. The populist regime of Yoshihiko Noda caved to the pressure and lowered the standard to 100 Bq/kg, the most restrictive in the world, in April 2012. Since then, more than 2,000 instances of over-limit Cesium concentrations have been registered - almost double the previous year of the 500 Bq/kg limit. Noda said the new limit should put an end to unfounded radiation rumors. But, it has not. If anything, it has made the situation worse for farmers who try to sell their produce in Tokyo. A vegetable dealer in Tokyo says, "There are no takers [for Fukushima produce] even now. Some supermarkets won't accept them at all and there are no deals." He says buyers complain that the government's limits are arbitrary and no-one really knows the effects of contamination. His buyers have no faith in government regulations. University of Tsukuba Agricultural Professor Kiyokazu Ujiie says the price collapse is also because many consumers believe that radiation is unsafe in any quantity, no matter how small. He suggests the government should fully explain that screenings on a massive scale show nothing detectible with most Fukushima produce. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • The Nuclear Regulatory Authority says their investigation of the Fukushima accident could take decades to complete. They explain that the three hydrogen explosions caused so much damage it will take that long to examine every detail needed to close the open issues. The speculation that the 3/11/11 earthquake was the actual cause of the accident is the main issue to be studied. "Nobody has inspected the site very closely and we still have to sort out a lot of technical questions that remain unresolved," said Tetsuo Omura, one of the NRA's investigators. "We have conflicting views, particularly about how the earthquake had impacted key safeguard equipment, a key question that needs to be addressed." Another important issue concerns how much radioactive material was released. (Japan Today; Japan Daily Press)
  • Japan's National Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES) has found a common mollusk has disappeared from the coastline north of F. Daiichi. The aquatic anomaly stretches about 30 kilometers from Futaba Town. NIES says they are drawing no conclusions, as yet, because they have only begun looking at all possible causes. Among the possibilities is the impact of the 3/11/11 tsunami which devastated the near-shore rock and reef habitat and (of course) the aquatic radiological releases from the nuclear accident. NIES researcher Toshihiro Horiguchi said that with the possibilities to be investigated, "It will be necessary to conduct culture experiments to study how radioactive materials affect the habitat of rock shells." He feels it is unlikely that the tsunami-alone has caused the disappearance. Horiguchi added that eight other sites impacted by the tsunami show the same anomaly, including Minamisoma and Soma. The survey will also include experts from the National Institute of Radiological Sciences.  (Asahi Shimbun)
  • As expected, Tohoku Electric Co. has officially scrapped plans to build a new nuke station 10km north of Fukushima Daiichi. Tohoku Co. had purchased ocean-front land straddling Minamisoma and Namie, but says it makes no sense to build a new plant located inside the government's exclusion zone. Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato received Tohoku's formal announcement on Thursday. Sato said the decision is understandable, given the current situation. The Governor added that Tohoku Electric should make maximum use of the property in the interest of regional recovery. (Kyodo News; NHK World)
  • This weekend marked the first anniversary of the weekly antinuclear demonstrations in Tokyo. While protest organizers boast that attendance is on the upswing due to social media use, the numbers actually appear to be dwindling. The latest rally, on Friday, had the usual chants of "Get rid of Nuclear Power Plants" and "Don't restart them". It seems the news media has lost most of its interest because only Kyodo News mentioned anything about the 1st anniversary rally.

March 27, 2013

  • Another independent Japanese group has filed an interim report on the accident at Fukushima Daiichi. The Atomic Energy Society of Japan (AESJ) began its investigation last August with the goal of drawing conclusions from the perspective of true nuclear experts. 40 nuclear professionals from Universities and Research Institutions have participated. The interim report says the large releases of radioactive material could have been avoided, but no details are yet available. Many panel members say a primary reason the accident was possible was overconfidence within the government and utilities. Some panelists said they experienced technical arrogance. Those who had reservations about nuclear safety before 3/11/11 said they remained silent because they did not want to oppose the power companies. Panel Chairman Saturo Tanaka said the final report, to be issued by the end of the year, should be used as a basis for drawing conclusions about the accident from a technological perspective. The interim report is not yet in English. (NHK World)
  • Japan's Nuclear Regulatory Authority says the AESJ report has spurred them to look closely at the Fukushima accident issues that remain open. The NRA is setting up their own investigative panel headed by Commissioner Toyoshi Fuketa. The first meeting will be in April. The main issue before the NRA panel will be whether or not the Fukushima accident began with the earthquake, before the tsunami caused the full station blackout. (Kyodo News)
  • The death rate of senior citizen refugees from Minamisoma City has tripled since their evacuation. Out of 328 senior evacuees, 75 died within one year after they were moved. This is 2.7 times higher than the national average for senior deaths. The increased mortality is said to be due to changes in nursing care and their living environment, such as disrupted eating and sleeping schedules. The rate of death is not related to distance from F. Daiichi or level of radiation exposure. Tokyo University Professor Kanji Shibuya said evacuation shelters should be better equipped and have better trained staff to handle future situations, so this doesn't happen again. He feels his recommendations should be included in all nuclear emergency evacuation plans. (NHK World)
  • Un-named "experts" say Japan may be facing a "cancer time bomb" due to the Fukushima accident. They maintain that there are signs the outbreak has already begun. While officially there have been no radiation-related deaths since 3/11/11, the dissenting experts say 40% of Fukushima's children are showing early signs of thyroid cancer and a full-fledged eruption could peak in ten years. These nay-sayers point to government complacency and intentional cover-ups as the roots of the issue. They point to the numerous news media reports of food contamination, radioactive fish, and Cesium detected as far away as 200 kilometers, as the basis for their alarmist speculations. In addition, they guarantee that radiation continues to escape the damaged power station and that there is a continual risk of the situation getting worse. Further, although the official estimate is that Fukushima released 10% of the material expunged by Chernobyl, the "experts" point to other estimates of the releases being 40% of Chernobyl. Finally, they believe that any detectible level of contamination will cause cancers at some point in the future, and they completely reject the notion that there is a 100 millisievert threshold of harm. Dr. Rianne Teule of Greenpeace says, "The potential effects of radiation from Fukushima have been shamelessly downplayed. It could be many years before we discover the real impact and some of the risks are being ignored." (Japan Daily Press)
  • The debate over Japan's energy future intensifies.  Professor Takao Kashiwage of Tokyo Institute of Technology says, "The tug-of-war between the government and opponents of nuclear power has become an excruciatingly difficult issue in Japan. The emotional [turbulence] following the devastating consequences of the Fukushima accident is masking a real and objective debate. Japan's energy security is heavily dependent on nuclear power. To halt this source completely is too drastic a step for the country." However, Japan's antinuclear demographic has countered the government's apparent direction on the issue. They say nuclear plants actually cost more than is publically admitted, contingency plans for nuclear evacuations do not exist, and the plight of Fukushima refugees has been downplayed in order to get the country's nukes restarted. In addition, the storage of spent nuclear fuel bundles poses the continual risk of poisoning the environment. One refugee, Yasuo Fujita, says, "I lost everything I had in a second because of the Fukushima accident. Despite government plans to rebuild Fukushima within three to four decades, nobody believes they can return. With young people now moving away, there is no point in returning even if the government does make the area safe again, a prospect we do not believe in anyway." He added that after all the anxiety the public has experienced, it would be madness to restart Japan's nukes. A recent opinion poll run by the Asahi Shimbun shows that, after two years, the public's dislike of nukes has shifted - 46% now favor nuclear energy while 41% oppose it. Aileen Smith of Green Action says the change only makes Japan's antinukes more determined. They will continue to file lawsuits and hold demonstrations until nuclear energy is abolished. (Inter Press News Agency)

March 25, 2013

  • PM Shinzo Abe visited Namie and Tomioka towns inside the government-mandated "no-go zone". It was his second visit to Fukushima, but the first to bear witness to the conditions with evacuated communities. His first visit was to the F. Daiichi power station. During his visit, Abe said that a limited access to Namie will begin April 1 to allow refugees to make short visits to their homes and/or businesses. Tomioka town restrictions were eased on today. At both visits, Abe emphasized the decommissioning of F. Daiichi and decontamination of the exclusion areas is unlike anything Japan has ever done. He added that his government will do more to make recovery happen than his predecessors. Portions of both towns lie inside the 20km mandatory evacuation zone, and parts outside in the voluntary evacuation zone. The voluntary zone is where people were asked to leave due to radiation fears and given full mandatory-evacuation privileges. During his visit, Abe responded to nuke restart questions, saying, "Reconstruction will be hard without an inexpensive and stable source of power," while vowing to dispel "harmful rumors" concerning the condition of the Fukushima Daiichi station. (Japan Today; Jiji Press; Kyodo News)
  • The restrictions on Tomioka Town refugees were relaxed today. 70% of the town's radiation levels have dropped below 50 millisieverts per year, the mandatory evacuation standard. The portion of the area over 50 mSv will continue to exclude all visitations, affecting about 4,500 people, is now designated "Return Forbidden". The central part of the town, with about 10,000 evacuees, is between 20 and 50 mSv, low enough to allow periodic public visitation, is now called "Residence forbidden". The rest is below 20 mSv, now entitled "Preparation for Evacuation Cancellation", and could allow the 1,500 residents to go home, but the local government will restrict full repopulation until 2016. It is hoped that all residents will be home by the end of 2017. Tomioka is the southernmost of the 11 exclusion zone communities and is host to the undamaged, currently-idled Fukushima Daiini power station. It is the eighth community to have the exclusion restrictions eased. Tomioka Mayor Katsuya Endo said, "Finally, we can start rebuilding the city's infrastructure." (Japan Times; Mainichi Shimbun, Japan Today)
  • On Sunday the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's second largest newspaper, said the F. Daiichi accident has not ended. They believe last week's brief spent fuel pool power outage proves the accident in on-going, "The incident drove home the reality that even two years after the March 2011 disaster, the accident is still not over. Anxiety will continue until all fuel is removed. This is to be expected in a nuclear disaster." Further, everyone was lucky Tepco re-energized SFP cooling systems before there were more meltdowns and hydrogen explosions, even though both are actually impossible for SFPs. In addition, contrary to all other news outlets and the photos posted by Tepco, the Asahi says "Although the cause of the blackout has yet to be established, the possibility has arisen that a small animal, such as a rat, short-circuited a switchboard." Then, the Asahi takes a contradictory linguistic turn by saying, "We must learn lessons from the incident so that we can deal calmly with future emergencies." First the Asahi creates a fearsome fantasy scenario, and then tells everyone we should learn from this in order to remain calm. That's a contradiction. How long will it take for their readers to realize they are being misled by the newspaper?
  • The disposal of tsunami debris outside of Fukushima Prefecture has reached the half-way point. The 3/11/11 tsunami left behind 16 million tons of debris and 10 million tons of sand and sediment in Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures. At the end of February, 8.35 million tons of the debris had been disposed of, mostly through land burial. A little over 600,000 tons of the rubble is combustible, but less than 20% has been incinerated. In addition, 2.3 million tons of the washed-ashore sediments have been removed, but that accounts for only 22% of the total. While it took nearly two years of activity to handle 45% of the debris, 5% was disposed of in February alone. Thus, it seems the new Tokyo government has significantly improved the tsunami clean-up effort in Iwate and Miyagi. However, less than a million tons of debris has been removed from the Fukushima Prefecture coastline, which is only 20% of the total estimate of ~5 million tons. Fear of radioactive contamination has ham-strung the effort in Fukushima. The Environment Ministry says they no longer feel debris disposal will be complete by the target date of March 2014. (NHK World; Jiji Press)
  • An antinuke rally was held in Fukushima City on Saturday. Organizers say that about 7,000 attended, many from outside the prefecture. The speakers called for total abolition of nuclear energy in Fukushima Prefecture. The presenters were all prefectural residents who are now refugees. They feel the rest of Japan is forgetting their plight and vow to keep memory of the nuclear accident in the public mind. One 18-year-old student told the crowd that the sight of radiation monitors all over the prefecture is a constant reminder of their pain and suffering. (Mainichi Shimbun)

March 22,2013

  • Hindsight nay-sayers concerning the spent fuel pool cooling system outage are now dominating the Press coverage in Japan. To begin, while it seems obvious that the outage culprit was a rat, Tepco says they really aren't sure and threw the door wide open for speculations in the news media. A Tepco spokesman said, "We suspect a small animal may have caused a short circuit in a switchboard. We cannot be sure exactly what it was, but can say what we saw at the scene was the body of a dead animal below the switchboard."The truck holding the failed equipment is the last left from the temporary fleet they began using several weeks after 3/11/11. All other truck-based switchboards have been moved indoors at the station. But, many critics say Tepco's efforts in this area have been poor. Muneo Morokuzu, a Tokyo University professor, told AFP, "Despite the fact it is now two years since the crisis began, TEPCO is still doing a very poor job. A short circuit caused by a small animal is not an unforeseeable event," adding that it is something construction sites have to deal with. He continued, "At the very least, the switchboard that provides power to the cooling system for the pool on reactor 4 should have been more reliable" because that pool contains more than 1,100 nuclear fuel rods. TEPCO official Masayuki Ono poured fuel on the fire by saying,"We can't deny criticism that our decision-making and handling (of the decommission work) has not been perfect." Ono added that Tepco has been working on installing backup power supplies, but the job has not been completed. Prof. Masanori Aritomi of Tokyo Institute of Technology voiced yet another assumption when he said, "Due to the recent strong wind, seawater and sand from the nearby beach might have been blown into the power panel. Salt in the sand and seawater could have caused the power panel to short out," rather than the electrocuted rat. Tepco's Ono tried to put everything in perspective when he told the Press, "It takes time for temperatures to rise in spent fuel pools even if their cooling systems are down. There is no need to take the same emergency countermeasures as those for nuclear reactors." As proof, Tepco showed that in the 39 hours of the SFP cooling system outage, the unit #4 pool's temperature increased 6.3oC, and the other pools only 1 degree Celsius. In response, Tokyo University professor Muneo Morokuzu said, "Overseas experts and others have been giving considerable attention to [Japan's] management of spent nuclear fuel. It was understandable that soon after the March 2011 crisis, TEPCO had to deal with the situation using emergency measures. But now, even more than two years since the accident, their handling of the latest case is dismal."  (Japan Today; Yomiuri Shimbun; Mainichi Shimbun; Japan Times)
  • Not to let the political opportunity pass, Tokyo ordered Tepco to install multiple power supplies to the SFP cooling systems. Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Tepco has been instructed to have multiple power supplies as quickly as possible. He said the reason is to restore the public confidence that has been lost since Monday. Suga added that the three hours it took Tepco to alert the Press of the problem was too long, thus their risk management systems need to be improved as well. (NHK World) [comment – Why doesn't the government order the scare-mongering Japanese Press to clean up its act?]
  • The Nuclear Regulatory Authority will extend a "grace" period on nukes in order to meet some of the new regulations. It seems the NRA has divided the proposed regulations into those to be implemented before restarts, and those that can wait for up to five years. The latter deal with possible airplane crashes and extraordinary terrorist acts. Those that must be met before restarts include increased tsunami protection, improved earthquake resilience for those plants near possibly-seismic geologic faults and back-up water-flow pathways for keeping reactor fuel cores and SFPs cooled. The upgrades that will be given the grace period include auxiliary control rooms and ancillary cooling systems in the event of terrorist attacks. (NHK World)
  • Tokyo says Tepco owes them ~$110 million in decontamination costs, but the company isn't so sure. Given the government's past record of loose spending with funds earmarked for disaster recovery, Tepco wants to make sure they are paying for actual decontamination expenses. The company declines to comment on the specifics. Tokyo submitted a bill to Tepco in February for more than $150 million, of which the company has repaid about $40 million. The law forcing Tepco to repay the government for decontamination was enacted by the Naoto Kan regime soon after 3/11/11. All Tepco will say is they "cannot judge whether it [the unpaid part of the bill] is a demand based on the special law." The majority of the unpaid monies were spent on subsidizing local governments and publicity-related expenses. The special law leaves indirect costs related to decontamination in a gray area. (Jiji Press; Japan Times; Kyodo News)
  • While property values are dropping across Japan, they are going up significantly in the tsunami-disaster hit areas of Tohoku. The major increases are in Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures where a demand for property has jumped because of tsunami refugees wanting to rebuild on higher ground or relocate in communities near their former homes. Wakao Izumisawa of Yamada, Iwate, thought reconstruction would have been lively, at this point; but the opposite is happening. She sees no signs of the disaster-hit area being rebuilt. She cannot understand why land prices are rising at a time when they should be falling like the rest of Japan. The main price increases are in the upland locations nearest where the tsunami hit. A builder in Otsuchi Town says, ''If land prices rise further, more and more residents will leave here to settle elsewhere.'' In Miyagi Prefecture, the rate of appreciation has risen 1.4%, the highest in Japan. Miyagi builders said that many refugees wanted to rebuild on higher ground, but are resigned to locations on tsunami-swept land which is less expensive. On the other hand, real property values in Fukushima Prefecture have dropped about 1.9%, which is typical of the rest of the country. (Mainichi Shimbun)

March 19, 2013

  • Domesticated animals abandoned inside the Fukushima exclusion zone are strong and thriving. Even though the majority of the animals have gone untended for two years, they have adapted very well. Naoto Matsumura, 53, has stayed in Tomioka Town in Fukushima Prefecture to care for animals whose owners and caretakers evacuated. He says, "Two years after the accident, what remain today are the strong. Though they were pets or livestock, they have adapted themselves to this environment." (Kyodo News)
  • Japan's trade deficit since 3/11/11 continues to get worse. In February, the shortfall increased by more than $9 billion, driving the total for the last two years in excess of $120 billion. The earthquake itself disrupted supply chain infrastructure throughout northern Japan, some of which is still under repair. The tsunami destroyed even more infrastructure along the eastern Tohoku coastline. While these two problems have added to the deficit, the $25 billion per year increase in fossil fuel imports due to the nuclear moratorium is the biggest single reason because fossil fuels made up a third of all Japanese imports last year. The deficit has been worsened by PM Shinzo Abe's devaluation of the Yen which raises the real cost of all imports. When the nuclear moratorium ends the country can begin its economic recovery. "It's a problem for Abe because his economic policies depend partly on an export-led recovery to really deliver growth and he needs to get the trade balance back to positive," said Tom O'Sullivan, a Tokyo-based energy consultant. Others see Abe using the deficit as a reason to speed up nuke restarts. Abe will surely use high import costs after the summer to argue that Japan needs to get restarts simply because the cost for doing business in Japan is prohibitive," said Martin Schulz, a senior research fellow at Fujitsu Research Institute. Tokyo-based consultant Gerhard Fasol says, "Nothing has been decided yet about the restart of nuclear reactors, but my guess is that the current government is supportive of restarts, although in a low-key manner, since the resistance among the population is substantial." Government sources say Abe wants at least 10 of Japan's 50 shuttered nukes operating by next March. (Jiji Press; Japan Today)
  • Hamaoka nuclear station, the first shuttered by former PM Naoto Kan, will increase the size of its anti-tsunami sea wall. Currently, the barrier stands 18 meters high. It will be extended to 22 meters. Although Chubu Electric Company says they feel the wall is already high enough, In August 2012, then-PM Noda's Cabinet Office said the coastal area could suffer a 19 meter-high wave. The potential source of the tsunami would be the Nankai Trough, which runs for several hundred kilometers parallel to the coastline from Kyushu Island and southern-to-mid Honshu Island. A new government projection estimates that a worst-case quake and tsunami from the Trough would force the evacuation of more than 10 million people and as many as 323,000 casualties. Nearly 9 million people would be unable to return home a month after the wave receded. Power outages would hit more than 27 million households, so the Hamaoka station could recover much-needed electric generation after the catastrophe hit. (Jiji Press; Japan Today)
  • Tokyo's new energy policy panel has upset Japanese antinukes. The former regime's panel of 25 persons has been reduced to 15 by new PM Shinzo Abe. 10 of the original members were kept, five new people were appointed and the rest dismissed. Six of those removed are staunchly antinuclear and voted for nuclear abolition. The banned antinukes are angry. Hideyuki Ban of the Citizen's Nuclear Information Center was axed and said it "made me furious". Professor Hiroshi Takahashi of Fujitsu Research Institute was also upset by being dismissed, "The LDP [Abe's political party] wants to avoid the zero nuclear scenario at all costs and is looking for a point of compromise between 15 and 20 percent atomic energy." Also dismissed was Tetsunari Iida of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policy said it is wrong to let those who formerly supported nuclear energy have control of Japan's energy future. One reason for the outrage is the appointment of Akio Mimura of Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. as panel chair. He is the former head of the government's energy advisory board during Shinzo Abe's prior stint as PM. This makes him unacceptable to the antinukes. Mr Iida said, "Mimura may have a wonderful personality and good policy ideas, but it's wrong to let the same man who led discussions on pre-Fukushima energy policy be in charge." Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi responded, "We took into account specialties in their fields, not whether they agree or disagree on individual issues. The basic energy plan must clearly show the way toward obtaining a stable supply and lower costs." Also added to the panel are Fukui Governor Issei Nishikawa, Kyoto University nuclear engineering professor Hajimu Yamana, and two avowed antinukes...Kazuhiro Ueta of Kyoto University and Nippon Association of Consumer Specialists adviser Kikuko Tatsami. Two antinuke holdovers are environmental counselor Yuko Sakita and Hitotsubashi University Professor Takeo Kikkawa. Kikkawa said, "Nuclear power generation should be decreased as much as possible." (Japan Times; Japan Daily Press; Asahi Shimbun)



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