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Fukushima 14...7/29/11-8/15/11

August 15

  • Construction of the enclosure around unit #1 reactor building continues. World Nuclear News has given us some technical details of interest, “The sections of the steel frame will be fitted together remotely without the use of screws and bolts. All the wall panels will have a flameproof coating, and the structure will have a filtered ventilation system capable of handling 10,000 cubic metres per hour through six lines, including two backup lines. The cover structure will also be fitted with internal monitoring cameras, radiation and hydrogen detectors, thermometers and a pipe for water injection. It will be able to handle accumulated snow loads of 30 centimetres and wind speeds of up to 90 kilometres per hour.”

  • TEPCO's latest report on radioactivity in the seawater within the Fukushima Daiichi quay shows a continued decrease in Cesium levels, and compares them to concentrations found in April. JAIF summarizes the data, “Seawater collected near the water intake of the No.2 reactor on Saturday was found to contain 0.058 becquerels of cesium-134, or 0.97 times the government-set safety limit. It also contained 0.056 becquerels of cesium-137, or 0.62 times the limit. Both figures were around one tenth of the level found on the previous day. In April, the level of cesium-137 in seawater near the water intake of the No.2 reactor was found to be 1.1 million times the safety limit. Since then, the density of the radioactive element has been declining, and recently it has fallen below the limit sometimes.” Could the Cesium be precipitating out of the water and concentrating in the sediment found at the quay's bottom?

  • Japan Times reports 900 residents of the City of Minamisoma, Japan, just outside the 20km no-go zone around Fukushima Daiichi, have received their internal radioactivity reports. All were significantly below government standards and at least two orders of magnitude below the theoretical threshold for negative health effects. The whole body tests were run by the city government on 569 people aged between 15 and 91, and 330 elementary and junior high school students. The highest single exposure has been found at just above 1 msv/yr, and most residents were below 0.1 msv/yr. The article also says none of the evacuees from Fukushima who now live in Chiba Prefecture have tested above 1 msv/yr.

  • The Japan Food Safety Commission (FSC) has been researching the health effects of ionizing radiation exposure for more than a month. They intend to set a lifetime internal exposure standard for the population. To date, they have found no evidence for negative human health effects below 100 msv lifetime exposure, combining the internal and external. However, they want to address concerns about the possibility of internal exposure being more hazardous than exposure from outside the body. They have also found little data on the health effects of radioactive materials ingested through foods. The FSC says they will probably adopt the 100msv lifetime dose as an upper limit, then base radioactivity-in-food standards accordingly. The FSC is trying to focus on internal exposures and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology on external exposure. Asahi Shimbun seems correct in criticizing this bureaucratic “compartmentalization”. The two efforts should be combined into one “overaching” agency which would streamline the decision-making process while eliminating cross-departmental delays and conflicts.

  • In order to try and avert a “rice scare” similar to the recent beef phobia across Japan, the governments of 30 Prefectures will be testing this year's crop. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries will newly harvested rice in 17 prefectures, but distrust of Prime Minister Kan's government has spurred the Prefectures to do the job themselves. Rice is the biggest food source in Japan, and no one wants another consumer panic similar to the beef scare. Mainichi Shimbun reports the preliminary testing of more than 3,500 batches of rice will begin in early September.

  • Meanwhile, Asahi Shimbun reports that international negative publicity from the Fukushima nuclear accident has severely hurt nearly all of Japan's food exports. As of August 12, 17 nations (mostly in Asia) still have bans on foods imported from Japan. Most of the remaining bans are reportedly due to fears spawned by the international Press. Asahi points out, “Japanese food exports have plummeted across the board, and government efforts to publicize the safety of the products have been largely ignored or dismissed in markets overseas.” In Taiwan, one homemaker shopping with a child said, "I stopped buying Japanese fruits after a TV show said they were dangerous," which is not an uncommon type of Fukushima news coverage in Asia. An official at Fukuoka Dydo Seika Co., a japanese agricultural exporter, said, "Even if we publicize the fact that there is no radiation contamination, foreign companies will not even look at agricultural products from eastern Japan."

    Yes, this is another demonstration of the Hiroshima Syndrome at work, but it also shows the severe additional damage caused by the fractured Japanese government's handling of the Fukushima accident. Distrust is not only among the Japanese citizenry, but has spread across Asia and around the world. We expect the government to try and shift blame to Fukushima Daiichi, TEPCO, and the nuclear energy option itself, but they need only look in their mirrors to find the true culprits.

  • Tomorrow's “Ancestor's bonfire” in Kyoto has administratively boom-a-ranged due to fear of radiation concerning the wood to be burned. But, the most recent public outcry has taken a most interesting turn. Friday, the final decision was made to not burn the tsunami pine-wood from Iwate, even though the suppliers removed all bark from the tsunami wood because it is the only part which could possibly have any Fukushima radioactive contamination. But, this made no difference to the hyper-phobic-about-radiation Japanese demographic who once again made their fears known. In contrast, Kyoto’s city office said it has received about 2,000 telephone calls and e-mails criticizing the bonfire organizers for their action and accusing them of helping spread “harmful rumors” about radiation from the Fukushima plant. The committee says it will not change its mind again. Even though there is absolutely no chance of the bonfire's ash containing Fukushima isotopes, the organizers have decided that caving to the phobic fears and not burning the tsunami wood is the easier path.

August 12

Massachusetts Institute of Technology has posted a report suggesting possible nuclear safety improvements out of the lessons learned from Fukushima. Unlike the recent NRC recommendations for safety improvements, all of MIT's suggestions are specific to what happened at Fukushima. Interestingly, many of MIT's conclusions serve to validate what we have been saying for months. Keep in mind the MIT report is a listing of suggestions for safety improvements. This is because, “Not all the information needed for a detailed reconstruction and analysis of the accident is yet available. The need for and merit of the corrective actions described in this document should be re-assessed as more accurate and complete information about the accident becomes available.” Here's the link...

There are two important “suggestions” we feel carry the most merit. First, “overly-conservative” evacuation zones of greater than 20 miles (~30 kilometers) should not be implemented when the accident is caused by a severe, over-riding natural disaster. Overly-conservative precautions serve to divert resources away from the immediate natural disaster emergency efforts and unduly amplify the fear already inflicted on the surrounding population by the natural catastrophe. From our perspective, it seems the Japanese government has been more concerned about management of hypothetical nuclear risk than they are about recovering from the devastating effects of the earthquake and tsunami.

Second, the methods used to transmit radioactive contamination and whole-body exposure levels are not well-understood by the public-at-large and tend to be counter-intuitive. A more intuitive, easier-to-grasp method of relaying radioactivity information needs to be implemented. MIT suggests using the average international natural background level of 2.4 msv/year (0.27 micro-sieverts/hour) as a foundation, and then report accident-related levels relative to background. At first, the change will be challenged by critics, but over time it should provide the public with a more objective basis for judging whether or not an exposure level is safe. Saying a radiation level is “10 times background” is much easier to understand than stating an exposure level is 2400 micro-sv/yr. What does the term "sievert" mean to the general public? In addition, the public need not be versed in numerical prefixes (e.g. milli vs. micro). The concept that “natural and normal is safe” will tend to drive public opinion, rather than no-safe-level misconceptions, because a background referent does not imply a magnitude of risk. We agree with MIT in essence, but would rather the defining, predicating background level more reflect the higher annual exposures in the world that have not hurt anyone. Not the single highest level (Ramsar, Iran = 250 msv/yr), but perhaps the more common 50 msv/yr (5.6 microsieverts/hr) found with Brazil beaches, the Kerala Region of India, and etc.

Another MIT suggestion concerns using a ceramic, such as Silicon-Carbide, instead of Zirconium as the cladding material in the fuel cells. While a ceramic might be less transparent to neutrons than Zirconium, it would not produce hydrogen if severely over-heated. Sounds like a good idea, doesn't it?

Finally, MIT suggests that regulatory changes not be made as a result of over-reactive and emotionally-based response to Fukushima. We wholly agree. The real human disaster in Japan is the earthquake and tsunami, whereas the risks from Fukushima are hypothetical. Regulatory changes due to Fukushima should be data-based, rational, and not driven by short-term political expediency.

Now, back to Japan and Fukushima...

  • TEPCO says they have successfully started a spent fuel pool cooling system for unit #1. This is the last of the SPFs to have a stable cooling system operating. All SPF temperatures are between 33 oC (unit #3) and 42 oC (unit #1).

  • Mainichi Shimbun reports the on-again, off-again waste water treatment system has had it's first week-long, non-stop period of operation. It had a 77.5% system efficiency for the period, almost it's upper design-level. The week ending August 9 witnessed decontamination of 6,500 tons of liquid, which is considerably higher than the recently revised TEPCO goal of 5,040 tons per week. The probable reason for the significant improvement is the removal of a metal pipe that repeatedly clogged with sludge, and replacement with a heavy-duty plastic pipe that is less prone to clogging.

  • TEPCO analyses of water-borne Cesium contamination from two key locations at Fukushima Daiichi continue to show a peculiar downward trend. The waste waters in all four sets of turbine building sub-drains have not only dropped close to the government limit, but at this rate will be undetectable by September. In addition, the sea waters contained inside the “quay” next to the plant continue to diminish in cesium levels and are approaching government standards. The Cesium isn't magically going away. It must be going somewhere, and it isn't the open ocean because samples there continue to be totally clean. Study of this phenomena could produce new evidence concerning the environmental properties of Cesium. Is anyone looking into this?

  • Japan Today reports construction of the giant, nearly 12,500 m2, heavy plastic enclosure around unit #1 reactor building is finally underway. The essentially modular construction has been delayed because of debris removal around the base of the building, and detailed radiation level scans around the base of the building where workers will spend the most time. Japan Times calls the enclosure a “tent”, which suggests something amateur or “backyard”. Study of what is being built gives a very different perspective.

  • Japan Times reports that the first tested samples of rice grown in Chiba Prefecture are totally free of Cesium contamination. The Prefecture is adjacent to, and south of Fukushima Prefecture. This seems to come as a surprise, but it shouldn't. First, the wind directions during the major releases of airborne activity from Fukushima were away from Chiba, with winds varying between westerly, northerly, and easterly. The most-often direction, if you will, was easterly and blowing out to sea. The next most-often was north-westerly, blowing the contaminated plume over the area now known to have the highest surface contamination levels. With winds blowing toward Chiba only on brief occasion during the first ten days of the accident, it would be surprising if any of Chiba's rice has detectable Cesium, let alone exceed government standards.

  • Japan's Nuclear Safety Commission has deleted all their on-line records of the thyroid-Iodine levels found in Fukushima children. They have been studying 1,000 children below the age of 15 since March, and posted the results for March exposures. Suddenly, they are all gone! NHK World says the information was deleted after the posting of a single child's thyroid-Iodine exposure of 35 millisieverts. This is greater than the 20 millisievert exposure limit for children that has been under heavy fire for two months. One critic, a Tokyo college professor, says the deletion so soon after posting of the child's reading is suspicious and smells of an attempt to avoid negative Press. The NSC countered by saying they deleted the data since it contained the addresses of the child, which they felt was possibly illegal. Regardless, it gives the public yet another reason to distrust their government.

August 8

This past weekend marked the 66th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Our hearts go out to the survivors of both bombings, which we believe to be the greatest possible misuse of Einstein’s idea. The two disasters have been the greatest detriment to the benign uses of Einstein’s brainchild because they are the determinant source of nearly all nuclear energy misconceptions and anxieties. Unfortunately, the memorial services marking this solemn anniversary have been used by opportunists to reinforce the two greatest misconceptions correctly anticipated by Einstein; (1) confusing reactors with bombs and (2) confusion between fallout and radiation itself. Several revealing instances from this past weekend include...

  • Since 2005, the anti-nuclear weapons groups in Hiroshima and Nagasaki have moved away from the false notion of making a firm connection between reactors and bombs. This year, however, the Fukushima accident has caused them to re-invigorate the false notion. Many speeches treated the radioactive releases from Fukushima and bomb fallout as being one-and-same, which they are not.

  • Although Hiroshima's residents probably understand the differences between reactors and bombs better than any demographic in the world, the organizers of the memorial demonstration found one Hiroshima survivor who believes there are no differences. Akira Yamada, chairman of the Hiroshima A-Bomb Survivor's Association, said in his speech, "Who would think we would be threatened by radiation twice in our lives? Nuclear bombs and nuclear plants are the same in that they both use nuclear fission, and this disaster has shown that humankind does not have complete control over nuclear power. We have to stop running the plants until we have safer technology." Mainichi Shimbun says that the areas of Fukushima Prefecture left deserted by evacuations remind Yamada of the burnt remains of Hiroshima. Next, Yamada evokes the no-safe-level of radiation theory, "The effects of radiation come gradually. The people I'm worried about are the young."

    Asahi Shimbun adds something interesting to the story. There are now 219,410 “hibakusha” (atomic bomb survivors) still alive after 66 years. The average age is 77. This means most of the living survivors were children when the bombs were dropped. Their exposures were far greater than anything Fukushima children will have to face. Is this a statistical demonstration of inordinate lethal risk? What do you think?

  • Prime Minister Kan spoke at the memorial and briefly condemned the use of nuclear weapons. But he quickly shifted to his personal view of a nuclear-energy-free Japan. As usual, he presented his personal opinion as if it is the official Tokyo government's position. Some of Japan's news media have picked up on this and negatively reported on his rhetorical mischief. Yomiuri Shimbun has taken an apparent lead by finding out that Kan's own staff advised him to not use the memorial to try and make a connection between bombs and reactors. One aide was quoted as saying, "The ceremony's purpose is to console the spirits of the people killed during World War II. It's inappropriate to make remarks that treat the [Fukushima] nuclear accident the same way as the atomic bombings." The newspaper then says Kan hoped the policy would “help prolong his ailing administration by winning public support for denuclearization.”

    In the Japan Times we find something we suspected but had not been able to prove; Kan began his political career as an environmental activist promoting only solar and wind as the best alternatives to fossil fuel burning. He never stated his personal position on nukes until now. Since March 11, he has repeatedly said he is sorry for believing what he calls the myth of nuclear safety, but his political background shows his words are vacuous. He never supported nuclear energy. Now, he's using Fukushima to promote his personal anti-nuclear agenda in a last-ditch effort to make it national policy before he resigns.

Now for some Fukushima updates...

  • TEPCO has quietly constructed a desalination system to remove the salts from the contaminated sea-waters in the basements of the turbine buildings. It is an evaporation method where the seawater is boiled, the steam in condensed back into liquid (to be used for RPV injections), and the remaining concentrated waters stored for clean-up in the two decontamination systems. For every 80 tons pumped into the system, 30 tons of relatively pure water will be generated.

  • U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has visited Fukushima, which has made national Press headlines because of his sadness over the deserted towns inside the 20km no-go zone. Near the end of each article, it is mentioned he also visited the tsunami-ravaged city of Soma, 40 km from Fukushima Daiichi. He was horrified at the destruction, and all the demolished buildings, destroyed cars, and fishing-industry materials that remain in the devastated area. While Fukushima Daiichi is getting all the government attention in the Press, much of the tsunami wastes have been downplayed. Prime Minister Kan would rather proliferate hypothetical nuclear fears than focus on cleaning up the immediate disaster.

  • JAIF reports some of the evacuated residents from Kawamata Town, Northwest of Fukushima Daiichi, have been allowed to return home to weed their properties and the grave sites of ancestors. Next week is the Bon festival of ancestor celebration. One significant thing about Kawamata is its location. It is in the middle of the zone thought to have the highest concentration of radioactive contamination. We hope local officials sent in monitoring teams to sample the soils and surfaces of buildings in order to find out what the actual levels are, both in contamination and radiation exposures.

  • Our last submittal (Aug. 5) reported on the NSC's approval of NISA's estimates of additional meltdown and hydrogen explosions being “slim”. Some of the Japanese Press asked why there wasn't more detail on the lengthy discussions between NSC and NISA that led to their joint conclusion? The government response is that the discussions were “too technical for the public to understand”.

    Too technical? We have two words for that...cop out! There is nothing too technical that it cannot be “translated” into everyday language. It seems NISA and NSC don't want to take the time to “translate”, or there's things they don't wish to reveal...or both. Is this an example of full, transparent disclosure? Of course not.

  • Asahi Shimbun and a few other newspapers report that Minister Kaieda's appointments for replacing the three NISA officials dismissed this past week, are in fact three more supporters of nuclear energy. Prime Minister Kan doesn't like it one bit, further widening the gap between him and the Ministry of Economy. However, in the reports we find something perhaps more revealing. All three appointees are Ministry officials, and have been for a number of years. All NISA senior appointments are filled from METI ranks, and have been for the decade since the creation of NISA. Why has NISA been severely compromised by METI's economic considerations since its inception? The answer seems obvious; in-house promotions sprinkled lightly with some nebulous sort of nuclear seasoning. Regulators should be nuclear experts, not political brown-nosers.

  • Mainichi Shimbun reports a large number of people across Japan are growing sunflowers to “absorb widespread radiation” from the soil. The seeds will be sent to Fukushima Prefecture for planting next season. Organically, the radiation itself cannot be taken into the plants. That is a misconception, of course. Actually, what is drawn into the sunflowers is the radioactive Cesium, which has chemical properties similar to Potassium. While the soils will have their Cesium concentrations lowered, the resulting sunflowers will have relatively high concentrations of the element, and handling of them will potentially be a problem. Not that the sunflowers will be radiologically health-threatening, but the elevated radiation levels will probably cause yet another source of radiation fears.

August 5

  • Continued monitoring near the unit #1 high radiation hot spots discovered earlier this week have confirmed a radiation field more extensive than previously thought. TEPCO has found the high levels of at least 10 sieverts/hr all along the venting pipe leading out of unit #1. The utility company believes the source is water inside the pipe that accumulated after the venting operations of March 12 ended. TEPCO thinks the water has an extremely high concentration of radioactive Cesium generating the radiation field. TEPCO adds that two grams of Cs-134 and Cs-137 would produce a 10 sievert/hr field. The field's intensity could be lethal if someone stayed in it for an hour or more. TEPCO says they plan to have employees avoid the area.

    TEPCO also believes that small amounts of airborne Cesium is being released from the contaminated water as it slowly evaporates. It is possible that the humidity-borne material is getting into the outside atmosphere, but TEPCO points out that the plastic enclosure being built around the unit #1 reactor building will stop further airborne releases after construction is complete.

  • Japan Times says TEPCO is making “little headway” in the waste water decontamination effort. They point out what has become the usual; the system has not worked as efficiently as the utility had predicted. They add that of the ~122,000 tons of contaminated water facing the effort at the start of the system's operation, ~120,000 tons remain to be processed. 28,000 tons have been cleansed to date and is now the sole source of RPV injections. At the very end of the article was find the “good news”. (1) The new system designed by Toshiba should be operating at some point next week. The explanation of the acronym SARRY is included...Simplified Active water Retrieval and Recovery system. (2) The carbon steel piping which has occasionally clogged and forced shutdowns for cleaning, is being replaced with heavy-duty PVC because it's properties are less susceptible to materials adhering to it. (3) New bypass piping is being installed around the problem area so that it can be worked on without having to shut down the whole system. (4) This week, system improvements and upgrades have raised over-all efficiency to 74% and the week's volume of water cleansed was close to 8,500 tons. (5) Torrential rains over the past month have added to the volume of water to be decontaminated, but the total amount remaining is still ~2,000 tons less than when this all started.

  • Mainichi Shimbun reports the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) has approved NISA's current estimate of additional nuclear accidents with units 1, 2 & 3. Mainichi says the report claims the possibility of another meltdown and hydrogen explosion at any of the three units is “slim”. Further, the report concludes that radiation levels are unlikely to increase outside the 20 km no-go zone from spent fuel pools, even if their cooling waters were lost for a long time. Of course, Mainichi negatively challenges all these conclusions, which is to be expected. We challenge two of them ourselves, but with a different approach.

    First, we want to know how fuel cells that are considered to be fully melted down could possibly melt down again? The decay heat production is now probably less than a MW-thermal with unit #1 (which has the greatest inventory of fission products in the corium) and in the hundreds of kilowatts range for units 2 & 3. Temperatures for re-liquification would be in excess of 2,500 oC. A complete loss of water injections would have to occur for 24 hours or more to reach that point in unit #1 and much longer for #2 & 3. Even if that happened, it would not be another meltdown. A more correct term is re-liquification.

    In addition, the idea of another hydrogen explosion at any of the three units is an even greater stretch. Fully melted fuel cells have already produced just about all the hydrogen possible. How could they generate enough hydrogen for another explosion? Where would the hydrogen come from? We can't find any credible source that can can answer any of these questions.

  • Another nuke will be shut down this weekend for routine refueling and inspection. It is the No.1 unit at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power station. Another unit is also scheduled for routine shutdown near the end of August. The power shortage in Japan continues to literally spiral out of control.

  • The Tokyo government says it will succumb to radiation fears and lower their upper limit of children's exposure. The present limit (which no child has actually received) is 20 msv/yr. What the new limit will be has yet to be announced. The Education Ministry says it will be setting the new limit after a tour of the zones around Fukushima Daiichi and a complete study of the radiation levels they find. They hope to be ready to set the new standard before the start of the next semester, after the current late-summer recess is over. Their target date is late August.

  • The Tokyo government also says they are planning to allow residents to return home in the zones outside the 20km “no-go” radius, at some point later in August. They say they will wait no longer than early September. Tokyo believes TEPCO has done a good job of controlling the situation at Fukushima Daiichi, radioactive releases are relatively innocuous, and once the plastic enclosure around unit #1 is completed, its assumed releases should stop.

  • Ministry of the Economy (METI) Minister Banri Kaieda has “sacked” three NISA officials to “end cozy ties over nuclear power policy”. Revelations of NISA officials having attempted to “stage questions in symposiums” since 2007 has caused a national scandal. METI has been taking harsh, albeit justified criticism for its nuclear regulatory policies (per their sub-group NISA) since March. The latest scandal has reduced METI's reputation and they are trying to recover some credibility.

    Prime Minister Kan has exploited the opportunity to add his view on the dismissal of the three officials. He implies the “sackings” don't fix anything, adding that METI is trying to cover up data disadvantageous to itself concerning “in-house and underground” power generation. Kan further said he literally doesn't trust anything METI is doing. If he doesn't trust a wing of he cabinet Ministry he should clean house administratively. But, such an overhaul might make him look bad so he probably won't do it.

  • Meanwhile, more information has been released on the future re-organization of nuclear regulatory responsibilities within the government. The new nuclear regulatory body will report to the Ministry of the Environment, but it seems that will be on paper more than in reality. The new Nuclear Safety Agency (NSA) will be an “extra-ministerial” group with independence concerning its operation. The NSA will be advised by the recently-created Nuclear Safety Council, which includes many academic and technical members from outside the Japanese nuclear community. The goal is to completely separate nuclear regulation from nuclear promotion within the government. In addition, nuclear responsibilities presently in the Ministry of Education will be transferred to the NSA. Nuclear Disaster Minister Hosono says the bill to create the new agency will be presented to the Diet for approval this autumn, for full implementation in April, 2012. It sounds good, but let's see what actually happens.

    Some members of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan are critical the government's attempt at nuclear reorganization under Prime Minister Kan, who says he will soon be resigning. "Creation of the nuclear safety agency involves the reorganization of government ministries," said Azuma Koshiishi, chairman of the DPJ caucus in the upper House of Councillors, "It is not what the government should be doing now. Instead, it should pass pending bills and move into a new administration." It seems Koshiishi wants to keep Kan's penchant for political posturing out of the new system, to which we wholly agree.

August 3

  • JAIF reports the Japanese government plans to begin wide-spread decontamination of the “no-entry” evacuation zone next month. Nuclear Crisis Minister Goshi Hosono says the goal is to eventually decontaminate the entire zone so that everyone can safely return to their homes at some point early next year. He did not comment on whether or not re-population will happen gradually as each segment of the area is decontaminated.

  • Hosono has also announced that Prime Minister Kan's cabinet is considering moving NISA and NSC, the the two most important nuclear regulatory bodies, from their present ministry locations to the Environmental Ministry. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters officials share the view that the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency should be separated from the industry ministry around April next year. No timetable has been reported for an NSC relocation.

    The moves would make considerable sense, but merely “considering” the move is unacceptable. April next year is an unacceptable timetable. Do it. Do it now. Plus, NISA and NSC are but two of a half-dozen nuclear regulatory agencies currently found in various cabinet Ministries. Move them all. Bring them together into one agency independent of all cabinet offices other than the Environmental Ministry.

  • TEPCO has reported the highest localized radiation level at Fukushima Daiichi to date. Monday, radiation monitoring employees found a “hot spot” measuring about 10 sieverts (10,000 millisieverts) as they approached some pipes inside a venting duct connecting units 1 & 2. The workers who took the reading quickly moved away from the area because 10 sieverts is a whopping-big exposure level. Their dosimeters recorded an exposure of 4 millisieverts for each worker, which is well below the emergency worker limit. However, if someone stayed in the area for an hour or more, it is likely that person would contract Acute Radiation Syndrome and probably die.

  • TEPCO also reports the discovery of the highest exposure “hot spot” inside a reactor building. It is on the demolished spent fuel handling floor of reactor building #1. TEPCO said it is at least 5 sieverts per hour, but that was the upper limit of the detection device so it is possible the actual value is higher. The hot spot is a pipe which is part of the “vent” system which was used to try and depressurize the RPV and Containment on March 12, before the hydrogen explosion. TEPCO speculates the unusually high radiation level may be due to some meltdown material which may have been carried into the piping during the depressurization attempts.

  • Hiroshima University is running a detailed investigation into the possible negative health effects of low level radiation exposure. Some 40 researchers are taking part in the study. The investigation has 3 main themes: analysis of the impact of low-level radioactive exposure on human genes, medical response to internal exposure and exposure during an emergency. A preliminary finding is that a 100 millisievert acute (experienced over a short period of time) exposure could increase the probability of cancer by 0.5%. The group says they have yet to find sufficient data from anywhere in the world to show negative health effects below that level, but data compiled from the citizens of Fukushima should help resolve the low level exposure issue.

    At what point will the team conclude that they will find no negative health effects of any kind below 100 millisieverts? Radiation hormesis studies show that exposures of between 1 and 100 millisieverts produce health benefits and no negative effects. Let's hope Hiroshima University takes the bull by the horns and eventually joins with the ever-growing number of research groups around the world that understand radiation hormesis to be a universal reality.

  • Two additional Prefecture's beef is being banned from sale. Iwate Prefecture has detected higher-than-health-standard Cesium levels in two cattle, so they have banned all shipments because of public radiation fears. Iwate Prefecture ships out some 36,000 cattle per year. In addition, the ban has been extended to Tochigi Prefecture because 4 cattle have been found to contain Cesium levels above the government standard. Tochigi ships 55,000 head of cattle annually. The government says the ban will be lifted when the Prefecture's all have a viable system in place to check all cattle before shipment. The cattle with below-standard Cesium levels will be allowed for shipment.

  • Mainichi Shimbun reports they have discovered that the two worker's bodies found in turbine building #4 three weeks after the tsunami were TEPCO employees sent there by the shift supervisor to check for earthquake damage. There was about forty-five minutes between the earthquake and tsunami. The inspection was due to a tank in the basement showing a lower water level than before the quake hit. The two workers were sent into the turbine room basement to check for any leaks that might explain the lower water level reading in the control room. However, there was a full tsunami warning all along Japan's Northeast coastline at the time, so the decision to send the men out on inspection during the tsunami warning was improper, to say the least. The shift supervisor may have felt government assurances that the plant was totally protected from any tsunami, may have influenced his decision. A false sense of security, if you will. The basement is physically below sea level, thus the tsunami completely flooded it and drowned the two workers.

  • Mainichi also tells us of a legal request filed by a local resident's group designed to get an injunction against the restart of the seven nukes in Fukui Prefecture. The former Judge filing for the group, Kenichi Ido, says existing government standards for nuke safety are inadequate and no nukes should be operated as long as these current standards establish the operating prerequisites. He further says, “If, for example, there was even a one percent risk of an accident, nuclear power plants would have to be shut down." Perhaps most troubling is the filing's statement that “there is no need to consider” long term loss of power in the decision to restart reactors. The group has about 170 members living in Fukui and three other adjoining prefectures.

  • An Asahi Shimbun editorial calls for a national energy debate, but cautions that the debate should center on objective data rather than political expediency, rumors and fear-mongering. Whether or not the ultimate decision eliminates or continues nuclear electricity production in Japan is not as important as making it an objectively-informed decision. Politically, the editorial points to Prime Minister Kan's naïve and knee-jerk anti-nuclear politics. Asahi says, “It is important to flesh out the nuclear-free vision presented by Prime Minister Naoto Kan as his 'personal view' into a more specific and realistic Cabinet policy.” The article continues, “We are eager to see healthy, thorough debate of the new energy policy. This important initiative should not be watered down through haphazard policy changes or maneuverings driven by short-term political expediency. There is a variety of opinion on renewable energy and phasing out nuclear power, and it is vital that the government gives reliable and objective data to inform debate on these issues.”

    Beyond the government itself, Asahi continues, “Outside government, people are making arguments using data shaped to support their cases. The shortage of reliable and objective data is muddling the debate.” In other words, the debate should not be skewed by opinions that first create agenda-fulfilling conclusions and then seeks only that evidence which supports the pre-concieved concepts. The editorial concludes with a practical caution we fully support, “We urge the government to make sure that the formulas, raw data and other information used to make the estimates are disclosed. If that information is not revealed, there will be considerable public distrust of the figures, and that will make constructive, cool-headed debate impossible.”

August 1

  • NHK World says TEPCO has completed the fuel pool cooling system for unit #4. Initially, water is being pumped into the pool and not run through the installed water cooling component in order to bring the pool’s water level to full. Once the pool is completely filled, the cooling component will be used to drop temperature. The current temperature is 84 oC. We will see what happens to temperature early this week. Unit #4 SPF has twice the number of fuel bundles in it and they produce considerably more heat than with units 1, 2 and 3.

NHK, however, continues to call everything at the plant “the reactor”, which is grossly misleading. When NHK writes, “The company plans to lower the water temperature to around 55 degrees within a month to cool the reactor in a stable manner,” it makes them sound ridiculous. The SPF is not the reactor and the new SPF cooling system will not cool the actual reactor in any way. NHK has been a paradigm of news reporting up to this point. It’s time to fix this ongoing ptroblem. The reactor is a plant component, but not the whole plant. It’s like calling a car’s air conditioner the car-itself.

  • Japan Today reports western news media articles allege the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry(METI) is trying to censor what they believe to be erroneous rumors about Fukushima Daiichi by monitoring world-wide news reports and Twitter entries. METI says they have hired a firm to keep track of all internet articles, blogs, and other web accounts about Fukushima that might be harmful to Fukushima residents. The Ministry says they have reports of Fukushima Prefecture citizens experiencing discrimination through rumors that they spread radiation when they travel outside the Prefecture. METI has hired a firm to indeed monitor internet reports, but they intend to try and correct false rumors by creating a rumor control page on their website, using a Q&A format. Many news media sources report that the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), a sub-group of METI, has attempted to sway public opinion toward nuclear energy as far back as 2007. It seems NIOSA’s already damaged credibility has been further damaged. Mainichi Shimbun says , “It's like the thief you caught red-handed turned out to be a police officer.” METI says they will set up a third-party fact-finding group to investigate what seems to be a conflict of interest. We feel that having NISA within the domain of the Ministry of Economy is an unacceptable conflict of interest in itself. This new issue can only hurt the chances of restarting idled nukes after the now-infamous stress tests.
  • The recent revelations of NISA openly trying to manipulate public opinion relative to nuclear energy between 2001 and 2007 has created yet another Prime Minister Kan whipping-boy. He says it’s all the fault of former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto,who was in office when NISA was created in 2001. It seems Kan wants us to forget that until March 11, he seemed totally comfortable with NISA and the nuclear utilities working closely together. Now he wants to blame the regulatory conflict of interest on a distant predecessor rather than take at least some of the blame for himself.
  • IAEA chief Yukiya Amano has chided TEPCO and NISA for less then transparent information flow during the early phase of the accident. "Sufficient information failed to reach the IAEA in the initial phase of the accident," he said. We feel this is an understatement.
  • NHK World reports US president Obama has established “blue ribbon” commission on finding a temporary disposition for spent fuel rod storage and handling. The initial recommendation includes creating a central storage facility to hold spent fuel cells for 100 years. The report also urges the government to find a way to safely manage the dangerous materials to avoid passing on the burden of nuclear waste to future generations.
  • Mainichi Shimbun reports a 6.5 Richter Scale earthquake hit Fukushima Prefecture yesterday, and possible after-shocks of greater magnitude are possible. Though earthquakes of this magnitude are not uncommon in Japan, the proximity to Fukushima Daiichi makes it a major headline. By the way, the quake had no damaging effect on the  power complex.
  • The Hiroshima Syndrome invades a Fukushima classroom. Japan Times tells us of a Fukushima English teacher who has quit because he was told to stop alarming students about radiation exposure. The Principal at Fukushima Nisi High School said the teacher was spending considerable time in the classroom talking about radiation risks, rather than the teacher’s subject matter of literature. Some parents were complaining the teacher was spending too much time on radiation subjects and not enough time on curriculum subject matter. The Principal said the teacher was asked to stop advising students to contiue wearing face masks and long sleeve shirts, even though the government announced it was no longer necessary. The teacher was not told to stop all discussion on the issue, but rather to tone it down. The teacher took this as an unreasonable attempt to censor him, so he quit. He believed no level of radiation exposure is safe for children, and he continually reinforced his belief because he felt Fukushima children were not being sufficiently protected by school administration. So, when is a literature teacher suddenly an expert on the biological effects of ionizing radiation?
  • Apparently some of Japan’s lawyers have run out of ambulances to chase. JAIF reports the Japan Federation of Bar Associations will assign around 100 lawyers to mediate settlements generated out of the Fukushima nuclear emergency. In April, the government formed a panel to work on who is eligible for compensation. The federation is also preparing to appoint 30 lawyers as screening officers to look into compensation claims. The organization expects the claims of “unprecedented size” to be addressed first and handled quickly, which should be of no surprise to anyone.

July 29

  • JAIF reports TEPCO is sending workers into reactor building #3 to visually inspect piping for damage. The robot sent into the building earlier this week showed images of “limited damage” to pipes and valves. The workers will be able to make assessments that are more comprehensive than the robot. The goal is to find if possible flow paths for cooling water to #3 reactor exist other than the path currently being used. TEPCO feels one reason why unit #3 water injection is twice the flow of either unit #1 or #2 is leaks in the present flow-path piping which reduces the amount of water actually getting to the RPV. If they find an alternative flow path which is relatively undamaged, they will switch to it and see what happens. If a new path cools the RPV more efficiently than the existing path, they will be able to reduce the amount of water used to cool unit #3 and use less decontaminated water each day.

    One limiting factor in the worker's visual inspection is “stay time”. Stay time is the amount of time a person can stay in a building or area before approaching an exposure limit. The robot sent into unit #3 measured relatively high exposure rates, which should come as no surprise to anyone. However, the robot's measurements covered all floors, up to the demolished refueling deck, giving the Health Physics staff a better idea of the intensity of radiation fields and how they vary from floor-to-floor and location-to-location. With this data, calculations of “stay time” can be made with confidence. The radiation levels in reactor building #3 show that each person entering the structure will be limited in how much actual inspection can be done. Once a “stay time” is approached, that person leaves and is replaced by someone else to resume the inspection where the first person left off. To insure against inadvertent over-exposure, each worker wears personal dosimetry intended to allow them to keep an eye on the exposure they are receiving while it happens.

  • Yomiuri Shimbun reports that the volume of water decontaminated at Fukushima has been 29,000 tons. Yet, in the same article the newspaper judges the water cleanup system a failure. Very curious. Further in the article it is said the typhoon last week raised the waste water level 3,000 tons and the total now stands at 120,000 tons of contaminated water. Did they forget to subtract the 29,000 tons that have been decontaminated?

  • The beef-phobia in Japan continues to spiral out of control. Last week, all beef shipments from Fukushima Prefecture were banned indefinitely by the Tokyo government because about 1% of the cattle were tested to have Cesium-134 levels in their meat above health standards. None of them, however, had levels more than twice the standard. Now, neighboring Miyagi Prefecture has had their beef shipments banned because 6 out of the more than 1100 cattle tested have above-standard Cesium levels in their meat. As in Fukushima, all six have levels less than twice the standard. The all-beef-ban from the two prefectures is because of “fears of radioactive contamination” (NHK World). In other words, if Cesium levels are detectable, most people won't want to buy the beef. Whether or not the Cesium-detectable beef is actually safe to eat makes no difference.

  • The Japanese government and the majority Democratic Party want all debris caused by the tsunami, but contaminated by Fukushima isotopes, disposed of by the government. All tsunami debris more radioactive than government standards will be handled as radioactive waste, very little of which should qualify as high level waste. Debris below government radioactive standards will be turned over to Prefectural governments to dispose of as regular waste. In the bill to be presented to the Diet, TEPCO will be forced to pay for the disposal of radioactive debris above the existing standard.

  • The United Nations opened its 23rd Conference on Disarmament in Matsumoto City, Japan, Wednesday morning. In his keynote speech, IAEA chairman Yukiwa Amano said Fukushima Daiichi is one of the most serious and complicated crises ever faced by the human race, thus the conference will focus both on nuclear disarmament and nuclear safety. We are very disappointed that the U.N. and IAEA are reinforcing, if not promoting, pre-existing world-wide public confusion between reactors and bombs. Combining the issues makes it seem like there is a real connection between the two, when none actually exists. For more on this, see “The Uranium Explosive Myth” and “Confusion About Fallout” pages in the menu (left).

  • The radioactive contamination levels in the turbine building drainage trenches at Fukushima have been dropping for months. Up until mid-June, the decreases had been due to the radioactive die-off of Iodine-131. Since then, the levels have continued to drop with respect to Cs-173 and Cs-134. While the I-131 die-off was due to its relatively short half-life of 8 days, the Cesium isotopes both have half-lives measured in years. They will not burn out at a detectable rate. There must be some reason that their concentrations are more than a thousand times less than in March. Levels are currently in the 1-3 Bq/ml range (between one and three radioactive disintegrations per second). If this trend continues, Cesium levels in the trenches will be non-detectable in no more than 60 days (maybe as short as 30 days). Research into this phenomena could be a boon to everyone in Japan concerned about Cesium-contaminated soils and waters. Is anyone in Japan looking at this?

    In addition, we have found a possible comparison between the Cesium levels reported with Fukushima and a common household item. A typical home “ionizing” smoke detector contains a radioactive source which has ~37,000 becquerels of activity (37,000 radioactive disintegrations per second). While the source is Americium-241, not Cesium, it at least gives everyone an idea of how small the Cesium levels in the Fukushima trenches actually are.

  • Japan's Chemical Analysis Center has been regularly analyzing the soil from three locations near the Fukushima plant site, each about 500 meters from unit #2 which is the physical center of the three fuel-damaged reactors. All are outside TEPCO property. The radioactive concentrations are high (>1,000 Bq/cm3).But, something interesting is to be found in their analysis. Out of more than 40 possible fission-created elements produced in the reactors at Fukushima, only 4 seem to have found their way into the soil and but three remain. Iodine was one of them, but its short half life (T1/2) has caused it to decay into oblivion by the end of June. What presently remains is Cesium (CS-134 and Cs-137), Tellurium (Te-129 with a 34 day T1/2), and Silver (Ag-110 with a T1/2 of ~250 days).

    SILVER? Yes...that and the entire spectrum of rare earths are part of the fission product inventory. All of the rare earths have half lives short enough to be a valuable resource 50 years after the spent fuel cells are removed from the reactor. Now, is that really a waste material? (see “Nuclear Waste : Is It?” in the menu - left)

  • TEPCO has pumped more water into the Steam Dryer and Moisture Separator pool in the floor of the decimated unit #4 refueling deck of its reactor building. The more water that covers the neutron-activated internal reactor components, the lower the radiation levels will be on the deck itself. Water is a great radiation exposure reducer. For every additional foot of water, the radiation level will drop by a factor of ten. A filled pool could greatly increase the stay times of workers removing debris from the March 15 hydrogen explosion.

  • The governor of Niigata Prefecture, home of three currently-idled nukes, has said he will not allow restarts even if all three pass the government's “stress tests”. He finds it impossible to allow resumption of operations under what he calls “fabricated safety” associated with stress tests he judges to be “almost useless”. Governor Hirohiko Izumida adds that the stress tests do not address the causes of the accident at Fukushima, and he will not extend restart approval until the causes are adequately addressed.

    While we feel he is naively denying needed power to the already stressed energy situation in Japan, we agree with his reasons...sort of agree, anyway. It seems Izumida wants tsunami protection beefed up and emergency power reliability upgraded at all nukes, neither of which is assumed to be part of stress testing itself. We agree. However, the true causes of the situation at Fukushima are almost entirely bureaucratic, and one instance of it needs fixing immediately. Specifically, procedural bureaucratic delays with respect to implementing emergency actions which would protect the integrity of the fuel cell, must be eliminated. The Fukushima plant manager decided full depressurization and venting of unit #1 was essential just after midnight of March 12. If he could have vented immediately, radioactive releases to the environment would have been in the innocuous Three Mile Island range and the fuel cell would not have had a complete, core-relocating meltdown. The Hydrogen explosion would probably not have happened. Control room records from the first five days at Fukushima show that the unit #1 hydrogen explosion started an unbreakable chain of events that doomed reactors #2 and #3, and possibly made the hydrogen explosions at units 3 & 4 inevitable. The Plant Manager could not begin necessary venting of unit #1 until he got approval from TEPCO in Tokyo, and they would not approve without the consent of the Prime Minister. All-in-all, these bureaucratic road-blocks caused a delay of more than nine hours before venting could begin. At that point, unit #1 had passed the point of no return. Insufficient tsunami barriers and inadequate emergency power reliability were not the ultimate problem. We say, fix the politics before it happens again!


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