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Fukushima Commentary (blog)
These postings mainly address four questions. What Japanese decisions border on the irrational? Is the Fukushima accident ongoing? Does Fukushima have the potential for world-wide apocalyptic disaster? Are the Fukushima radiation levels health-threatening?
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August 29, 2015
Japan’s Press Remains Infected by the Hiroshima Syndrome
On August 26th, Japan’s Kyodo News reported on the Nuclear Regulation Authority revising its guidelines on medical preparedness during a nuclear accident. Based on this reporter’s professional experience in Health Physics, the report appears terribly confused. If it is objectively reporting what is being posted by the NRA (it’s in Japanese only), then the NRA is also confused. For our purposes, let’s assume that the NRA’s new guidelines are correct, but being incorrectly reported. Regardless, we have yet another example of the pervasive infection of the Hiroshima Syndrome in the Japanese Press.
To begin, it should be noted that I’m not alone in taking professional umbrage with this misreporting. Scientists for Accurate Radiation Information colleague Jaffrey Mahn, retired from Sandia National Laboratories, cites three statements in the Kyodo report; "Japan's nuclear regulator has designated 5 medical institutions as treatment centers for people exposed to heavy doses of radiation in the event of an accident at a nuclear plant." And "...5 institutions were chosen to take charge of serious radiation exposure cases..." followed by, "Many evacuees potentially exposed to radiation in the Fukushima Daiichi disaster did not receive adequate medical attention through the system." Mahn correctly states that no Fukushima evacuees received any significant radiation exposure from the accident. But, it seems the Press wants people to believe quite the opposite occurred. He adds his opinion - with the Press “uninformed fear always overwhelms truth”.
Now for my view…I was a nuclear operations engineer, specializing in Health Physics, for more than two decades. For eight of those years, I worked with local communities that fell within the Emergency Planning Zone around the Perry Plant, in Northeast Ohio, including hospitals within a 10 mile (~15 kilometer) radius. I gained a familiarity with the modifications made to hospital emergency facilities to safely handle patients contaminated by a nuclear accident.
The operative term here is “contaminated”. If a patient comes to a hospital with a physical trauma in need of medical attention, the trauma will have been caused by something other than radiation exposure. The serious concern is whether or not the individual is contaminated, especially the physical injury. Thorough cleansing – e.g. given a shower – and washing of clothes removes the contamination, keeping it from being spread or ingested. If the trauma is life-threatening, medical staff can wear full-body suits, masks, and gloves to save the life to keep from getting contaminated themselves. If a contaminated individual is in critical condition due to injury, the saving of the life takes precedence over donning of protective gear.
Here in the United States, local hospitals have modified emergency facilities so medical staff can attend to contaminated patients. This is what I firmly believe the NRA guidelines in Japan are focusing on; injuries that are contaminated (worst case) and/or decontaminating individuals who come in for other emergency reasons…but, not “serious radiation exposures” to the public.
Injuries to the public caused by radiation exposure are not possible due to contamination from power plant accidents. Actual radiation injuries, requiring immediate medical attention, are almost entirely internal; neurological dysfunctions and/or critical organ failures. Such medical/physical insults, requiring immediate medical treatment, can only occur through enormous exposures inflicted over a relatively short period of time; such as with a nuclear detonation. These exposures are literally unthinkable with respect to nuclear power plant accidents, including Chernobyl in 1986 where no member of the public was exposed to the huge levels of radiation needed to cause radiation injury. The only realistic way for such enormous, physically injurious exposures to occur is with a nuclear weapon’s detonation. In the case of Japan, there were the detonations at Hiroshima/Nagasaki.
I firmly believe that the NRA guidelines refer to contamination, its removal from otherwise sick or injured patients, and prevention of the medical staff from becoming contaminated while treating these individuals. It makes no sense for the NRA to be creating guidelines for “emergency treatment for radiation exposure”. The Japanese Press is confusing contamination with injurious levels of exposure itself, which is terribly incorrect. The Press seems to be assuming bomb-caused injury, and that’s the Hiroshima Syndrome at work.
It is estimated that the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (H/N) killed 170,000 due to the explosions themselves. Another 25,000 died within days and (in some cases) weeks after the bombings due to massive heat burns and terrible physical traumas caused by flying debris and/or falling objects. As it turns out, most of the after-detonation fatalities were similar to those experienced due to the fire-bombing of Tokyo in March, 1945, which killed at least 100,000. Nonetheless, with H/N another ~5,000 died within five years of the bombings as a result of high radiation exposures. It is widely believed across Japan that everyone who died from the H/N bombings was due to radiation exposure. (Aside - This is also a not-uncommon misconception outside Japan. – end aside) Further, it is assumed every one of the Hibakusha (H/N survivors) who died of cancer since 1950 has been due to their bomb exposures. Belief that a reactor is a bomb-waiting-to-happen, combined with the morbid misconceptions concerning H/N’s death toll and decades of secrecy relative to the truth, is certainly more than enough for us to understand the rationale behind the huge impact of the Hiroshima Syndrome on Japan.
The Hiroshima Syndrome is a mortal aversion to nuclear energy due to confusion between reactors and bombs – literally believing reactors are merely bombs that have not-yet detonated. This is an entirely fictitious assumption. Reactors use the wrong type of uranium for a detonation of any kind. (see… http://www.hiroshimasyndrome.com/the-uranium-explosive-myth.html) However, decades of literally no public education explaining the differences, and the ever-lasting national trauma caused by the memory of Hiroshima/Nagasaki and its attendant rumors, makes Japan the singular place in the world where the Hiroshima Syndrome has its greatest impact.
Japan’s Press is not immune. In fact, four-and-a-half years of Japanese Press reports concerning F. Daiichi literally drip with Hiroshima Syndrome infection. While we can understand the error, and even feel at least a modicum of sympathy, we should not say “Oh well. It’s something we just have to live with.” It imperative that Japan’s government, as well as the entire Japanese nuclear community, educate the people of Japan… especially Japan’s Press! Yes, it will cost an enormous amount of money to overcome the false paradigms that have emerged and proliferated since 1945. However, this should be weighed against the trillions upon trillions of Japanese yen which has already been spent to assuage the damage that has been done by not educating the people…and Press…of Japan.
While this blog seems to continually lambaste Japan’s Press for their antinuclear-skewed reporting, I must make one thing clear – I do not blame the Press for the problem! The time for educating Japan’s Press and public may seem to be long-past, but it is never too late to start all over again. Japan’s government and nuclear community must take these realities to heart, get back on the horse, effect a determined effort to educate, and try to stop needlessly throwing away trillions in the future to satisfy false paradigms. The Hiroshima Syndrome is real! The Hiroshima Syndrome is costing unnecessarily huge outlays of money. Ignoring it and hoping it will eventually get better, is not the answer. Education is!
August 7, 2015
PBS Fukushima Documentary was based on False Premises
On July 29, PBS’s NOVA aired the documentary “Nuclear Meltdown Disaster”, concerning the Fukushima accident of mid-March, 2011. Early on, the narrator asked, “What will it take to save the country (Japan) from radiation?” The narration said that while the accident itself was bad, it could have been much, much worse – so bad, in fact, that the Tokyo metropolis would have had to be evacuated.
What could be worse than three meltdowns and three hydrogen explosions releasing enough radioactive material to force evacuations for more than 75,000 people? The answer came in the first spot with former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan. Kan said that during the first days of the crisis he had been told that if the worst possible scenario developed, he would have to consider evacuation of Japan’s capital city. The thought of such a monumental evacuation became Kan’s nightmare.
The documentary neglected to explain the reason behind Kan’s fear. On March 12th, the day of the first hydrogen explosion at F. Daiichi, Kan and his cronies concocted an utterly fantastic scenario. In a Japan Times interview posted on 8/31/13, Kan said, “Fukushima had six reactors at the No. 1 site, and four at the second [Daini] site. It [both sites] had 11 pools for storing used nuclear fuel. If all those had become uncontrollable, then there could have been many times more nuclear fallout than from Chernobyl. Radiation would have fallen over a very large area, including Tokyo — possibly requiring the evacuation of 50 million people. That would have dealt a massive blow to the country.”
The NOVA video literally bent over backwards to make it seem that Kan’s nightmare was justified. Unfortunately, it was not.
Of the six units at Fukushima Daiichi, only three were operating at the time of the earthquake. The first shaking by the massive temblor caused automatic “trips” with all three units, sending the control rods into the cores, stopping the chain-reaction. In nuclear jargon, there were three immediate SCRAMs. Although the quake caused the northern half of Honshu to experience an electrical black out within minutes, all emergency systems and power supplies kicked in, placing all three units at F. Daiichi in a safe condition.
The other three units were already shut down. Unit #4 was in the middle of a refueling outage, and there was no fuel in the reactor. Units five and six were near the end of extended refueling and maintenance periods, and their cores had been recently reloaded. When the subsequent tsunami caused the full station blackout for units #1 through #4, one of the emergency diesels for units 5 & 6 survived, powering their emergency systems. Thus, F. Daiichi units 4, 5, and 6 were in no danger of meltdowns.
Ten kilometers to the south, the four units at Fukushima Daini were at full power when the quake hit, and all four instantly SCRAMed. The quake’s blackout caused all emergency systems and power supplies to kick in, and all four reactors were in a safe condition. After the tsunami hit, there happened to be barely enough power coming into the F. Daini to keep a full station blackout from happening through a 500kv connection. While F. Daiichi had a very limited supply of fresh water to cool the three overheated cores, F. Daini had a fresh water stream nearby that kept them from running out. For these and other reasons, F. Daini was in no immediate danger of any meltdowns.
So, where did Kan get the idea that it was possible for all ten Fukushima units to become “uncontrollable”? He said he could not trust the information he was getting from Tepco and the government’s nuclear watchdog NISA. Further, he believed that Tepco was planning on abandoning F. Daiichi and just let the accident run its course…all by itself. Moreover, he believed that the abandonment would eventually result in all six spent fuel pools drying out, causing cataclysmic fires that would spew many times more radioactive material in the air than had come out of Chernobyl. The hypothetical toxic cloud would spread and soon engulf F. Daini, forcing its complete abandonment. Eventually, the radioactivity would engulf the Tokai station 150km to the south of F. Daiichi, forcing its abandonment. Without operator control, all five units at F. Daini and Tokai would melt down and their fuel pools would inevitably burst into flames, greatly exacerbating what was coming from already-evacuated F. Daiichi. The combined radioactive releases would descend on the Tokyo megalopolis and force Kan to have every man, woman, and child evacuated.
Kan’s nightmare would make a great apocalyptic science fiction movie, but nothing of th sort was even remotely possible.
Kan’s nightmare was based on…well…no-one’s sure where he and his underlings came up with the notion. Kan admitted it was a hunch on his part. The Times report said, “…a hunch [Kan] says was given scientific backing on March 25 when Japan Atomic Energy Commission chairman Shunsuke Kondo presented him with a similar scenario.” Kan said his hunch “informed” him that he should invade Tepco’s Tokyo headquarters on March 15th in response to reports the company intended to pull all their staff out of the Fukushima facility.
However, Tepco never considered abandonment of F. Daiichi. The post-accident record compiled by the government’s in-depth accident investigation (NAIIC) showed that Tepco never had any idea of the sort! After the unit #4 hydrogen explosion at daybreak on March 15th, F. Daiichi plant Manager Masao Yoshida realized that the situation with the four damaged units had peaked. The worst that could happen, had already happened. Low pressure fire pumps were injecting water into the damaged reactors. A kilometer-long cable was being planned to connect station with a functional transmission line inland. Until that connection was made, there was no reason to keep the majority of workers at the station. They sorely needed rest and recovery time after five days of frantic activity. Plus, any radiation exposure over the next few days would be unwarranted since most of the on-site staff literally had nothing to do. Yoshida told Tepco in Tokyo they he wanted to have them go to low-radiation exposure locations. A total of seventy qualified operators would remain in control of all six units. Unfortunately, the retreat of the majority of the staff was called an evacuation by Tepco and understood as abandonment by one of Kan’s officers.
Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told Kan of F. Daiichi’s alleged abandonment, and said it would initiate a “demonic chain reaction” of plant meltdowns that could result in the evacuation of Tokyo, 250 kilometers to the south. He explained, “We would lose Fukushima Daini, then we would lose Tokai. If that happened, it was only logical to conclude that we would also lose Tokyo itself.” Edano told the NAIIC that he got his information from a Tepco official in Tokyo. If he did, he misunderstood what he had heard. As a result, Kan stormed into the Tepco offices later that day and ordered them to not do something they did not plan on doing. Kan’s fear of F. Daiichi being evacuated, causing a domino-like sequence of abandonments at F. Daini and Tokai, was entirely unfounded.
But, what about the spent fuel pools and the possibility of them bursting into flames? 10,000 spent fuel bundles were stored in relatively unprotected pools near the damaged reactors. On March 15th, Japan’s Self Defense Force helicopters tried to drop large volumes of water into the pools. It was essentially a failure because the released waters quickly spread into ineffective sprays as they fell. However, the pilots reported that none of the pools were boiling and there were no uncovered fuel bundles.
This ought to been the point at which the soothing words of relief “Tokyo is saved” should have been in the narration…but it wasn’t. The documentary continued the gripping scenario of a Tokyo evacuation possibility using some questionable reporting.
On March 16th an irresponsible report came out of the American Nuclear Regulatory Commission saying the exposed pools were boiling and one actually had spent fuel bundles partially uncovered. It seems they didn’t believe the SDF helicopter pilots. It was not until March 17th, and the influx of water from mobile high-pressure concrete pumper trucks began, that the documentary sounded the “all clear”. The documentary purports that then, and only then, was the possibility of spent fuel fires eliminated. Tokyo was saved! The fatal flaw is that there is absolutely no way that dried-out spent fuel bundles could heat up enough to burst into flames.
The fictional notion of spent fuel fires was first postulated in WASH-1400, published by the NRC in 1975. Within its voluminous pages we find risk estimates caused by the hypothetical over-filling of SPFs with used fuel bundles, the pool being somehow drained, the stored fuel bundles dried out for a period of many days, resulting in the dried fuel bursting into flames that spawn a toxic cloud of massive proportions. But, there was no realistic explanation in WASH-1400 as to how temperatures in a dried-out pool would get high enough for the spent fuel inside to burn. It was assumed the decay heat from the stored bundles could cause the support grid for the bundles to fail, causing the fuel bundles to fall into a pile, and get hot enough to burn deep within the disarray, spread to the whole mass, and release huge volumes of contained fission products into the atmosphere.
It is critical to note that WASH-1400 was categorized as “obsolete” and replaced with NUREG-1150 in 1991. The NRC literally realized it was wrong. Since WASH-1400 was created with government funds it could not be expunged from the system. It technically remains on the books and its erroneous contents are often used to support many frightening reports conjured up by professional antinuclear pundits, although it is no longer worth the paper it was printed on.
In theory, Zircalloy tubes might ignite if they reach 900o Celsius. However, this theory has been tested by expert researchers. A chunk of the metal was heated up to 1,200o C, and it did not burst into flames. With this in mind, how hot could a large number of spent fuel bundles get if they are all dried out and were allowed to heat up for an extended period of time? A few hundred degrees C, in isolated locations, at most. What is never taken into account by believers in the SFP fire scenario is that natural convection of the heat to the surrounding atmosphere would be so great that reaching the theoretical ignition point of 900oC, even in the most severely compacted locations, is virtually impossible!
At this point, we might ask where Kan’s “hunch” concerning SFP fires came from? We find a possible answer in his Japan Times interview. After graduating from college in 1970, Kan cut his political eye teeth as a social activist. In 1980, he was elected to Japan’s lower house in the Diet (congress), which is equivalent to the US House of Representatives. He was, at the time, a member of Japan’s Socialist Democratic Party which staunchly refrained from support of Japan’s nuclear energy program. He remained in the SDP until 1996, when he and Prime Minister Hatoyama, also of the SDP, both left the party and created the Democratic Party of Japan. Kan told the Times, “When I first stood for election I was quite critical of nuclear power.” In other words, he was an anti-nuke when first elected, and was a member of the tacitly antinuclear SDP for more than 15 years. It is not unlikely that he became familiar with many antinuclear dogma’s during that period of his life, one of which was (and still is) a belief that an SFP fire is a real, nigh-apocalyptic possibility. To the contrary, it is a decades-old fiction perpetrated by steadfast antinuclear organizations.
Yes…Tokyo was saved, but not from a toxic cloud of radioactive material. It was saved from the specter of a chaotic, life-threatening, completely unnecessary evacuation. Records show that dozens of people died in the frenzied evacuation of 75,000 Fukushima residents in 2011. How many needless deaths would there have been if Tokyo’s multi-millions had been told by their government to flee?
NOVA’s documentary seems to be little more than a determined attempt to vindicate Naoto Kan’s paranoiac, antinuclear Fukushima nightmare. The documentary’s “Tokyo-at-risk” scenario is based on vacuous premises; Tokyo was never in danger of a toxic radioactive cloud, and SFP fires are nothing more than a false, antiquated assumption.
1. Naoto Kan Speaks Out; Japan Times, August 31, 2013. http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/2015/1256987_6844.html
2. Japan Considered Evacuating Tokyo in Nuclear Crisis; NY Times Asia-Pacific; February 27, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/28/world/asia/japan-considered-tokyo-evacuation-during-the-nuclear-crisis-report-says.html?_r=1
August 2, 2015
271st/272nd Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers
The Hiroshima Syndrome’s Fukushima Commentary is proudly hosting this week’s edition of the Carnival of Nuclear Bloggers. Actually, it covers the past two weeks of blogs. This time, we have postings by Dr. Gail Marcus, John Dobken, Meredith Angwin, Rod Adams, and Brian Wang.
Here’s the Fact or Fiction (?) quiz for this week… United States’ nuclear power fleet set a capacity factor record in 2014.
Now…for this week’s Blogs. To read the full articles, please click on the individual links. Blog topics for this edition include… July’s nuclear energy anniversaries, Arnie Gundersen’s lack of fact with Washington’s Columbia nuke station, why Vermont’s renewable goals will only work if everyone moves to the city, the DOE advocates fossil fuels by trying to close Diablo Canyon, and Asia has plans for several new nukes.
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From Dr. Gail Marcus’ Nuke Power Talk –
Nuclear Anniversaries – July: A Busy Month
Gail continues her monthly reports on anniversaries of nuclear milestones. This month was a particularly busy one in the annals of nuclear history, with the startup of a number facilities and institutions in several countries. Included were the first power delivered to the grid in Arco, Idaho, the inauguration of the IAEA in Vienna, Austria, and over a dozen other historical events. http://nukepowertalk.blogspot.com/2015/07/nuclear-anniversaries-july.html
From Northwest Clean Energy Blog with John Dobken –
The Errorists are at it again
Arnie Gundersen was interviewed on a radio show in Portland Oregon, and made many claims about Columbia Generating Station. However, he apparently didn't read any of the information the plant gave to the press. He made his assertions (such as that Columbia wasn't back on line, when it was actually was) without knowing anything about the plant's condition. The blog also includes a partial listing of Gundersen's false claims and predictions about Fukushima and Vermont Yankee. https://northwestcleanenergy.wordpress.com/2015/07/28/the-errorists-are-at-it-again/
From Meredith Angwin’s Yes Vermont Yankee –
The green Vision for Vermont: We Can’t Be Rural
Meredith looks at the vision behind Vermont’s unworkable "90% renewables" energy plan. A local renewable energy developer described the proposed future vision, as follows…….”In Vermont, people like to live 10, 20, 30 miles from work. That’s going to disappear. The 10-acre lot way out in the middle of nowhere on a dirt road is not going to be working anymore." Meredith opines that to meet this draconian vision, everyone living in rural Vermont will have to move. http://yesvy.blogspot.com/2015/07/the-green-vision-for-vermont-we-cant-be.html#.VboDNetmTR8
From Rod Adam’s Atomic Insights –
FOE continues promoting fossil fuel by trying to force Diablo Canyon closure
David Brower founded Friends of the Earth (FOE) in 1969 because he thought the Sierra Club wasn’t doing enough to halt construction of nuclear power plants. Robert Anderson, the CEO of Atlantic Richfield, an establishment petroleum corporation, was so enthusiastic about FOE’s stated mission that he provided at least $200,000 in initial funding. Brower’s spin was that atomic energy wasn’t good for the environment; Anderson apparently knew its commercial success would threaten the profitability of his company. http://atomicinsights.com/foe-continues-promoting-fossil-fuel-by-trying-to-force-diablo-canyon-closure/
From Brian Wang’s Next Big Future –
More Nuclear Reactors completed and planned for South Korea, China and Iran
Two new nukes are planned for Korea, government approval is sought for a Korean start-up, China plans to build two new nukes in Iran, China’s Fuging unit #2 reaches a sustained chain reaction, and construction of Hongyaghe unit #6 begins in China. http://nextbigfuture.com/2015/07/more-nuclear-reactors-completed-and.html
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Fact or Fiction (?) quiz answer – Fact.
In 2014, US nuclear power plants had an average capacity factor of 91.8%, the highest level ever recorded. Capacity factor is the ratio of its actual output over a period of time, compared to its potential output if it operated continuously at 100% of its design over the same period of time. Typically, the most reliable calculations are over a one year period. The 2014 record was higher than the 90.9% figure in 2013 and well above the 2012 capacity factor of 87%, which was the lowest in a decade. The most probable reason for the 2014 figure is a shortening of average time of shutdown for refueling. It was 46 days in 2012, but lowered to 37 days in 2014. It should be mentioned that nukes always have the highest capacity factor of all power generating sources; geothermal is #2 at ~70%, followed by coal, natural gas, hydroelectric. Wind and solar bring up the rear at less than 30% each. http://www.platts.com/latest-news/electric-power/washington/us-nuclear-plants-set-capacity-factor-record-21884126
July 15, 2015
Tokyo owes Naraha Town a huge apology
On September 5th, the town of Nahara, Japan, will be re-opened for full repopulation. On March 12, 2011, the Tokyo government, under now-deposed Prime Minister Naoto Kan, ordered an evacuation of all people within a 20km radius of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station. About 90% of Naraha is within the 20km radius, so the entire community was emptied and remained a virtual no-man’s land until this year. The Sept. 5th lifting of all restrictions on the residents will mark the first full repopulation of an entire municipality within the Tokyo-mandated exclusion zone.
It is expected that only about 20-25% of the estranged residents will actually go home, based on the repopulation levels of re-opened residential areas outside the exclusion zone. Some people say they will stay away because not all social and medical infrastructures will be in full operation. Others say they fear the low levels of radiation that remain detectible. There those who are concerned that the huge government-mandated subsidies given to the evacuees end, forcing many to find jobs that may not yet exist. But, the most commonly-voiced reason for staying away is a lack of trust in the central government.
To be blunt, Naraha should have been unconditionally re-opened more than four years ago. The population has suffered reprehensible and absolutely avoidable angst for far, far too long. There is only one entity responsible for this, and it is not the owner of Fukushima Daiichi….Tepco is the willing pawn of this travesty. The burden of guilt totally falls on Tokyo, and its well-past time they owned up to it!
The initial evacuation order in 2011 made some sense, if only as a precaution against the weather patterns changing and carrying concentrated amounts of F. Daiichi airborne contamination to the community. Naraha stretches between 10km and 20km directly south of F. Daiichi. The prevailing winds blow east, west, and occasionally to the north. Winds blowing in a southerly direction are quite unusual, thus the potential for it was unlikely. Due to brief meteorological shifts, some contamination actually made it to Nahara over the first two months following the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. But, the drastic reduction in releases from F. Daiichi after April, 2011, made it unlikely that anyone would have been at risk even if the winds constantly blew directly over Naraha for an extended period.
By late summer of 2011, estimated exposure levels across Naraha Town were projected. The average was in the one microsievert per hour range. That equated to a bit less than 9 millisieverts per year for anyone remaining outdoors 24 hours per day, every day. Anyone with an iota of radiological understanding knows that the roofs and walls of homes, no matter how thin, reduce radiation levels. It’s called shielding. People spend most of their lives inside their homes. Thus, if the estimated outdoor exposure levels (largely taken by monitoring devices hanging below helicopters) were correct, the typical resident of Nahara would have experienced an exposure of about 6 mSv/yr. This is the naturally-occurring exposure level of millions of Americans living on the Colorado Plateau, where life expectancies are a bit greater than the rest of the US, and cancer rates are statistically lower. In other words, Tokyo could have safely lifted the evacuation order for Naraha within six months of forcing the population of about 7,700 to leave.
But, it didn’t happen.
As time passed, the exposures measured at ground level in 2012 indicated that actual exposures were much lower than those conservatively estimated. It turned out that the outdoor exposure levels were (on the average) about 0.5 µSv/hr, a bit more than half of the initial estimates. This equated to 4.4 mSv/yr, which is considerably less than natural background levels on the Colorado Plateau. It was unequivocally… unquestionably… absolutely safe for everyone in Naraha to go home in the summer of 2012.
But, again, it did not happen.
Expensive and arguably unnecessary decontamination efforts in the town, rainfall flushing, and natural radioactive decay have lowered the current average levels to about 3 µSv/hr, or roughly 2.5 mSv/yr…which is actually equal to the average natural radiation exposure routinely experienced by every man, woman, and child around the world! There is absolutely no risk to anyone from Naraha, if they go home. But, again, polls run by national newspapers and Tokyo government groups indicate that the overwhelming majority have no intention of returning.
Most say it is because they don’t trust the government. The former political regime under Naoto Kan and the Democratic Party of Japan was roundly voted out of office more than three years ago. The old administration proved itself financially and socio-politically inept before the quake and tsunami of 2011. The recovery efforts promised to the 250,000 homeless refugees from the 400 kilometer coastline never materialized. Then, the frustrated and outraged Japanese public gave them the old heave-ho. The subsequent regime under current PM Shinzo Abe was shackled with many lame-duck policies from the DPJ, including the continued enforcement of the ridiculously-low goal of lowering exclusion zone radiation levels to one mSv/yr or less.
The one mSv goal was invoked by the DPJ because using the international guideline for repopulation of 20 mSv/yr was vehemently attacked by Japan’s politically-active antinuclear demographic and the nation’s largely-antinuclear Press. The DPJ, under Kan and his predecessor Yoshihiko Noda, kept lowering the decontamination goal until the antinukes and the Press backed off. Clearly, political expediency for the doomed regime was more important than scientific truth. The current government has been shackled with trying to right the radiological ship, swing back to the 20 mSv/yr guideline, and allow people to safely go home. It has taken more than 3 years, but it seems they have finally arrived at a semblance of reality.
So, how can they persuade the majority from Naraha to overcome their distrust of Tokyo, and their paranoiac fear of medically-innocuous low level radiation, and go home?
Tokyo must make a full, unequivocally apology to the people of Naraha Town. The government needs to admit that repopulation was not only safe and possible four years ago, but the extended duration of mandated exclusion over that period was (for all intents and purposes) entirely political. The one mSv/r goal for decontamination was entirely the result of the old regime making a last-ditch effort to politically survive. The prolonged evacuation of Naraha was entirely the fault of Tokyo. The prolonged estrangement of Naraha was entirely due to a government too afraid of the Press to tell it like it actually was.
The protracted evacuation of Naraha Town is one of the most severe socio-political blunders of the 21st century. It is time for the current government to proffer the most copious volume of mea culpa apologies possible. Will a full, formal apology change the minds of the people of Nahara so they will go home? That’s a matter of speculation. But, it would certainly do more good than harm.
July 1, 2015
What If There had been No Fukushima Accident?
On March 11, 2011, the entire coastline of the Tohoku Region of Japan was devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. Tohoku is comprised of several prefectures, including Ibaraki, Fukushima Miyagi, and Iwate on the Pacific Ocean. The earthquake of 9 Richter-scale caused no nuclear emergency at any of the four stations along the shore, including Fukushima Daiichi. It was the subsequent tsunami which triggered the Fukushima nuclear accident. While the impact of Fukushima has been a regular issue with the Japanese Press, little attention has been given to the severe plight rendered by the tsunami along the 400 kilometer coastline.
Recently, Nippon.com posted two reports on the situation with the town of Onagawa (1,2), which was the community closest to the earthquake’s off-shore epicenter. Onagawa nuclear station was the closest land-site to the epicenter at about 72 kilometers. (2) The typical wave depth measured along the 400 kilometer Tohoku coastline was between 5 and 7 meters. But, Onagawa town itself was literally demolished by the violent tsunamic surge, which reached the mind-boggling height of about 20 meters. It suffered the most massive water-rise of any community along the Tohoku coast. This was because the town is surrounded by a continuous ridgeline, causing the tsunami’s in-surge to literally pile up and raise its peak depth considerably. Further, the shoreline forms a virtual funnel into the Onagawa port area, further amplifying the wave’s intensity. All town residents were rendered homeless and 827 of the towns nearly 10,000 residents died.
On the other hand, the tsunami’s depth at the Onagawa nuclear station reached a peak of about 15 meters because there was no natural topography to swell the wave’s intensity. The nuke is roughly 10 kilometers southeast of Onagawa Town, and is actually located inside the border of Ishinomaki City. It is on a peninsula jutting some ten kilometers into the sea. Onagawa station had a 14 meter-high seawall surrounding it. While some of the tsunamic surge spilled over the barrier, it was sufficient to prevent severe flooding. All safety systems functioned perfectly and no nuclear accident occurred.
Onagawa station and Fukushima Daiichi both use Boiling Water Reactor technology. F.Daiichi was built more than a decade before the first unit at Onagawa and the GE design had been plainly copied by Toshiba, which built the Onagawa units. Thus, the technological similarities between the two nukes are considerable. In addition, both stations were hit by the same level of tsunami - ~15 meters. If is safe to say that it was Onagawa’s much more robust tsunami protective barrier kept it from having an accident similar to F. Daiichi.
With this all in mind, the Nippon.com article gives us what is essentially the first opportunity to ask a question; what if there had been no nuclear accident at F. Daiichi? What if Tepco had built a seawall of the same robustness as the barrier at Onagawa? The current situation with respect to Onagawa might provide at least part of an answer.
It is critical to be reminded that with Onagawa on 3/11/11, hundreds of local residents fled to the nuke station seeking shelter. They were given relief, allowed to stay in the station’s gymnasium, provided free bedding, and were given free food and water to sustain them for as long as they needed. Nearly all of these residents lost everything to the black water surge. Their homes and all belongings were swept away. Many too advantage of the station’s generosity for more than two weeks.
It is likely something similar could have happened at F. Daiichi, if their tsunamic protection had paralleled Onagawa. The Fukushima Prefecture coastline was pummeled by the tsunami, with many thousands of homes and businesses destroyed or swept away. There can be no doubt that F. Daiichi would have taken in all local residents seeking refuge, providing them with the same support as the refugees who fled to Onagawa.
What would the situation with Fukushima be like today, more than four years later, if there were no nuke accident? There is no reason to think it would be much different from what we find in Onagawa Town. At Onagawa, it took two years to cart away the mountains of debris left behind by the giant waves. Rebuilding of the town and the seaport could not begin until the tsunamic residuals were removed. The town’s main transportation artery, the JR Ishinomaki Railroad, was destroyed. It took four years to repair it and rebuild the Onagawa station on a massive artificial mound as high as other natural bluffs where buildings were flooded, but not swept away. The town’s fishing business has made a strong comeback, with 2014 being as lucrative as before the disaster. Perhaps the greatest boost to the fishing business was a $20 million cash influx from Qatar.
On the other hand, most other Onagawa infrastructure remains in the recovery condition. Few homes have been rebuilt and the main shopping plaza has only begun construction recently. Many lots that had held homes and other buildings remain empty. Only 7,000 of the town’s residents have stayed in temporary living conditions in the hope of going back. Government-funded temporary homes have been built for only 2,100 people. Mayor Suda Yoshiaki says permanent public housing projects could take more than four years to complete. Much of the delay has been due to landowners being reluctant to sell their property. For all intents and purposes, the town’s rebuilding has only just begun, spurred by the railroad’s reopening in March of this year.
Asu e no Kibō, a nonprofit organization whose name means “hope for tomorrow,” has been coordinating the restart of businesses and running employment training for two years. Its leader, Komatrsu Yosuke, says “Onagawa has strong community ties and a culture where veterans boost the younger generation. This has been very heartening.” This has much to do with why Onagawa is one of the foremost communities in the tsunamic recovery along the Tohoku coast. Most other communities lag far behind.
The recovery of Onagawa Town has been slow and agonizing. Mayor Suda Yoshiaki was asked if his town’s path to recovery was coming into focus. He said,” No, that’s still to come,” largely due to delays in building public housing and lack of money.” Suda explained that the town’s annual budget during recovery is about $300 million; six times what it was before 3/11/11. He said the tax money from the Onagawa nuclear station would be a big help if it were operating. If Tokyo shifts the financial burden for reconstruction to local communities, which is being considered, restarting Onagawa’s nuke will be even more important.
Many of Onagawa’s on-going issues virtually mirror those regularly reported in Japan’s Press concerning Fukushima. One positive difference is the recovery of the Onagawa fishing business. However, there are many difference that are stark and disturbing. While it is true that the homes of several thousand Fukushima residents were swept away by the tsunami, most of the residences of Fukushima’s more than 70,000 mandated evacuees are still there. Some are in disrepair, but the majority are ready to welcome their people home. The only exceptions are with the F. Daiichi host towns of Okuma and Futaba – a combined population of 17,000 – which remain under the no-return restriction ordered by Tokyo, and the hundreds (thousands?) of homes swept away by the tsunami within the 20 kilometer-radius exclusion zone.
In addition, temporary living quarters are provided free for all mandated evacuees, at government expense. More importantly, more than $45 billion has been paid to these people in individual and property compensation, not to mention the $1,000 per month mental anguish rewards paid to every man, woman, and child. Free rent subsidies continue to be given to the ~25,000 voluntary Fukushima evacuees scattered all over Japan. These compensations will run through March, 2017.
However, the typical Onagawa refugee receives less than five hundred dollars a month in government-funded subsistence, and this is due to run out next March. Across the vast expanse of the tsunami-flooded Tohoku coastline, more than 18,000 were killed and roughly 250,000 refugees made instantly homeless by the giant waves. 230,000 remain estranged to this day. In Fukushima Prefecture, more than 1,500 were killed by the massive sea-surge, and there is no doubt that the thousands made homeless by the tsunami would still be dispossessed if the nuclear accident had never happened. The exact number of tsunami-spawned homeless in Fukushima has not been posted by Tokyo or Fukushima Prefecture.
While there are many similarities between Fukushima-today and Onagawa-now, there are also important differences. A major difference is that Fukushima evacuees are being treated far better by Tokyo than those in Onagawa Town or almost everyone else in the Tohoku region displaced by the tsunami.
In addition, the road to repopulation for the majority of mandated Fukushima evacuees is shorter than the one facing Onagawa refugees, because the restrictions will be lifted for some 50,000 by March, 2017.
The bottom line is this - if there had been no nuclear accident, the future faced by Fukushima’s tsunami refugees would probably be little different than those still displaced from Onagawa. This fact should always be kept in mind.
1. – A Tohoku Town Returns to Life; Nippon.com; June 19, 2015. http://www.nippon.com/en/in-depth/a04302/
2. – Rebuilding Onagawa; Nippon.com; June 29, 2015. http://www.nippon.com/en/in-depth/a04305/
3. - Japan Earthquake & Tsunami of 2011: Facts and Information; Live Science.com; May 7, 2015. http://www.livescience.com/39110-japan-2011-earthquake-tsunami-facts.html