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Fukushima 17...9/21/11-10/5/11

October 5

  • Oxford University Physicist (and friend) Wade Allison spoke about Japan's radiation standards at Tokyo's Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan, this past Monday. Dr. Allison stunned the gathering by saying Japan's radioactivity limits are far too restrictive and ought to be relaxed by at least 250%. For example, the 500 becquerel limit on Cesium in food should be raised to 1,250 Bq. As it turns out, the 500 Bq limit was selected by Japan because it is the most conservative national standard found elsewhere in the world. Allison suggests Japan should use America's 1,250 Bq limit, at the very least. But, he says even that limit would be too restrictive. Limits could be raised many times higher than the American standard and be safe. Further, Allison proposes Japan's 20 millisievert/yr exposure standard be raised to 100 msv/yr. The suggested change would still be many times below exposure levels that have actually hurt anyone. The Physicist also states the evacuated areas around Fukushima are far greater in size than need be, and the psychological damage caused by making people unnecessarily leave their homes is far worse than any biological damage which would have been caused by staying. Allison uses CT and PET scan data on human health effects to support his position. (Japan Times)

  • The Japanese government has decided to arbitrarily expand the zones designated for decontamination cleansings beyond the regions previously identified. This is not because the detectable levels of Cesium in the expansion areas are health threatening, but rather because a flood of criticism has come from the Prefectural governments of Fukushima, Toshigi and Gunma. The governors all maintain their residents do not trust the government criteria of 5 msv/yr to determine decontamination needs. The Prefectures demanded the criteria be dropped to 1 msv/yr, so Tokyo caved to the pressure. (Asahi Shimbun)

  • The Japan Chernobyl Foundation and Shinshu University Hospital have reported their preliminary results of testing Fukushima children for thyroid and/or hormonal abnormalities. Ten of the 130 children tested in August were found to have hormonal abnormalities. One child has a below-normal thyroid hormone level and seven had levels higher than the norm. The remaining two were diagnosed with slightly-above-average blood concentrations of a protein called thyroglobulin. Three of the 10 children were from the 20km no-go zone, one from the northwest evacuation corridor, and the rest from outside both zones. The researchers point out the detected abnormalities are not health-threatening and the children remain under scrutiny as a precaution. "At present, we cannot say the children are ill, but they require long-term observation," said Minoru Kamata, chief of the foundation. Kamata further says no link has been established between the children's conditions and contamination from Fukushima Daiichi. (Mainichi Shimbun)

  • On Monday, a group of Fukushima residents who voluntarily left their homes more than a month after March 11, demand the Japanese government in Tokyo extend them financial compensation. Tokyo's Dispute Reconciliation Committee for Nuclear Damage Compensation decided on Sept. 21 to divide voluntary evacuation into those who left in the "initial days after the accident" and "after a certain period", as criteria for compensation. Those who had evacuated in the "initial days" following the outbreak of the crisis would be eligible for compensation because it was deemed "reasonable to evacuate due to fear about radiation.” The citizens who did not leave within the “initial days” do not qualify. Many of the people who implored the panel on Monday said they found radiation levels inside their homes were up to 20 times higher than what the government said was “normal” before the Fukushima emergency, and much higher than the levels outside their homes. The residents maintain they washed everything down indoors, but the levels did not drop. They feared for the health of themselves and their children and left, in some cases four months after March 11. Thus, the residents believe they deserve compensatory funds. (Mainichi Shimbun)

    If the higher readings inside the homes remained after decontamination, this indicates that the levels are not due to Fukushima. Rather, the higher levels are due to a situation that existed prior to Fukushima which they were not aware of. The higher readings could be due to construction materials such as brick or metamorphic stone, or high radon concentrations. We hope the Tokyo government looks into this scientifically before making a decision that could result in needless wide-spread repercussions.

  • TEPCO has agreed to give unexpurgated copies of their 4 nuclear emergancy manuals to NISA, in accordance with last weeks demands by the government caused by TEPCO previously submitting mostly blacked-out copies. However, TEPCO demands that only about 50% of the content be made public because the manuals contain information covered by intellectual property rights, and some of the information could be used by terrorists. (NHK World)

    We feel the “intellectual property rights” tactic is vacuous and should be rejected. On the other hand, the terrorism argument doesn't disturb us.

  • TEPCO's latest posting of airborne Cesium activity levels surrounding the Fukushima power complex shows all but one of the locations are below detectable concentrations. The one detectable level is 10,000 times below Japan's national standards. (not a typo) This makes all news reports that radiation continues to leak from Fukushima patently false. Actually, the emergency staff at Fukushima effectively ended the above-standard radioactive releases from the site several weeks ago. The “detectable-is-dangerous” concept seems to be the current news media tactic to keep the public on edge. As a friend said yesterday, “Good news is no news”.

  • The Horuriku Power Company has begun construction of a robust sea wall around its Shika Nuclear Power Station. The nuclear plant already sits 11 meters above sea level, so the 4 meter-high wall will barricade it from a Fukushima-level tsunami (~14 meters). In addition, new drainage systems will be built to allow any water which might surge over the wall to rapidly return to the sea. Further, additional emergency pumping systems and a dedicated valve-operating power source for venting the primary containment are being installed. (NHK World)

    While the above are certainly commendable efforts, we continue to feel the waterproofing of the emergency diesel enclosures, or their being moved to dedicated anti-seismic buildings external to the reactor buildings, are the best options available. If Horuriku Electric is investing huge sums to build a sea wall, why not spend a bit more and upgrade electrical reliability to an international state-of-the-art condition? (NHK World)

October 3

The popular Press has a new buzz-word with which to prolong the public's angst related to nuclear energy in general, and Fukushima in specific. It's “recriticality”. Actually, the term is being used out of context. Recriticality is a term intended for use with respect to fuel bundles stored in spent fuel pools (SPF). Numerous measures are in place (including a insertion of neutron-scavenging control rods and boric acid) inside SPFs to prevent the exceedingly low probability of a self-sustaining fission chain reaction from happening. With respect to Fukushima, the term is being used to denote the possibility of the solidified corium in the bottoms of RPVs 1, 2 &3 re-liquifying with a subsequent uncontrollable re-start of the chain reaction. Actually, the concept should be described as “impossible”.

Here's why. First, before the corium could re-liquify, it would have to be uncooled and dry for at least 38 hours (at this point in decay heat generation) to achieve temperatures in excess of 2500 oC. Second, the concentration of fissile isotopes in the corium is so low that water is needed to slow down free neutrons so that a “criticality accident” could occur. No water equals no acceleration of the sub-critical chain reaction. Third, even if it were possible to simultaneously dry out the corium and impregnate it with enough water for an escalation of the chain-reaction (which is patently contradictory), the Boron-based control rod material dissolved in the corium prevents the nuclear excursion. The corium in all three Fukushima RPVs could re-liquify from now until the next millennium and “recriticality” could not happen.

If it's impossible with respect to three melted fuel cells at Fukushima, then why is recriticality being broadcast at all? Only a vastly tiny fraction of the world's public knows what recriticality means. The term sounds scary. Anxiety naturally diminishes with the passage of time. “Recriticality” is used to perpetuate the public's nuclear anxiety level since there's very little scary news currently coming out of Japan. The Press doesn't care a bit as to whether or not the foundation of a story it true. If the Press can find someone to quote (including other news media), the story will be broadcast because it is good for business. Besides, most media reporters wouldn't know a neutron from a ping-pong ball, so reporter ignorance only serves to exacerbate the misconception. Regardless, if something is “newsworthy”, what you don't know will be used against you. Adding to the problem are Japanese “experts” saying corium recriticality is “highly unlikely” and/or “not impossible”. Tell it like it is! It's a unicorn...mentally conceivable but not ever going to happen.

For a more detailed explanation of “criticality” and “recriticality”, go to...


Now...back to Fukushima...

  • TEPCO has announced that it's company's manual for nuclear emergencies was essentially useless during the accident phase at Fukushima. They say that a complete loss of AC power for an extended period of time was considered too unlikely to be worth mentioning, so procedures were never devised to mitigate accident conditions like those which occurred at Fukushima Daiichi. TEPCO, and it seems the governmental regulatory agencies who approved the procedures, worked on the assumption that the installed emergency diesel generators would operate “no matter what”. (Kyodo News Services)

  • TEPCO also announced something that should come as no surprise to readers of this update page...there was no hydrogen explosion inside the reactor building of unit #2 on March 15. TEPCO says they "erroneously recognized" something akin to an explosion had occurred at No. 2 unit at the same time unit #4's refueling deck exploded. (Kyodo News Services) It seems the TEPCO home office staff also failed to recognize their plant control room records. The unit #2 entry at 6am on March 15, is “large impulsive sound around suppression chamber”, whereas the refueling deck demolition events of units 1, 3 & 4 are entered into the operator records as explosions. Why has it taken so long for the TEPCO home office to get it right?

  • The TEPCO announcement also contains a re-statement of their belief that unit #2 sustained the most extreme meltdown of the three RPV's of concern. They continue this questionable speculation because it has taken longer than units 1 and 3 to bring the #2 RPV temperature below the desired 100 oC criteria. Further, TEPCO points to the “blowout” panel on the west wall of the unit #2 refueling deck being open to the atmosphere, which may have been caused by the hydrogen explosion of unit #1.

    Some of the hydrogen that reached the refueling deck may have wafted out to the external atmosphere and kept the internal mixture below the explosive point. TEPCO says this is why the unit #2 reactor building remains intact. (Kyodo News Services)

    But, there's also another reasonable possibility. The #2 fuel cell was uncovered and without any cooling water injection for about 2.5 hours on March 14. Because the depressurization of the Reactor Vessel was successful (not the containment structure), fire truck pumps began injecting cooling water into the RPV at the end of the 2.5-hour period and never stopped, thereafter. (From control room records, again) Plus, the decay heat production rate for unit #2's core was unquestionably the lowest of the three units. These two facts strongly suggest the level of fuel damage within the unit #2 fuel cell was the least of the three units of concern, and by a wide margin. In fact, it is not unlikely there was actually very little melting in unit #2, if any at all! Was there fuel overheating and significant hydrogen production? Unquestionably. Was there a massive meltdown in excess of units # 1 and 3? Questionable, if not utterly doubtful.

  • The TEPCO announcement further adds that the hydrogen build-ups on the unit #1 and 3 refueling decks may have resulted from the silicon-based seals around the containment vessel's upper heads (lids), separating the primary containment from the refueling deck, may have over-heated and “not functioned properly”. (Kyodo News Services) We find this to perhaps be another overly-simplistic rationale by TEPCO. Possible? Well, not impossible. Likely? Not unlikely, without a doubt. Actual or likely? Probably not.

  • The TEPCO statement goes on to say that Prime Minister Naoto Kan's visit to Fukushima Daiichi the morning of March 12 did not cause any delays in venting (depressurizing) the unit #1 primary containment. (Kyodo News) This changes nothing. Kan's insistence on a complete 3km evacuation and national press conference before venting could start, was the most significant reason for the delay in venting on March 12. His visit to the site later that morning never had anything to do with it.

  • The Tokyo government (i.e. NISA) has reported that TEPCO had found a 10 meter tsunami to be possible for Fukushima Daiichi in 2008, but didn't report it to anyone until a few weeks before March 11. (NHK World) Again, this should come as no surprise to regular readers of this update. IAEA's preliminary findings relative to the Fukushima accident included the above back in June.

  • The European Union has announced that the stress tests run on the continent's 143 reactors found “no major problems”. (NHK World) Already, some of the more notorious prophets of nuclear energy doom have called this a whitewashing of truth, and another example of their “international nuclear conspiracy” superstition.

September 30

  • TEPCO has sampled the gas content of many pipes passing through the containment walls of unit #1, using hydrogen detectors with a greater sensing capacity than those used when the hydrogen was first discovered earlier this week. It turns out the concentrations are in the 61-63% range. TEPCO also analyzed for oxygen, since some oxygen must be present for an ignition or explosion. They found none. Thus, there is no danger of another hydrogen explosion. The extremely high concentration virtually confirms that the hydrogen is residual from the fuel damage period of March 12, and trapped in the piping since then. NISA has ordered TEPCO to also check the containment-penetrating pipes on units 2 and 3, which TEPCO already said they were planning this past Monday. (NHK World)

    The sampling of the piping in units 2 and 3 could produce some interesting results. If all three fuel cells experienced a full, core-relocating meltdown, then the residual hydrogen concentrations trapped in the three unit's pipes should be similar. Significant differences could indicate differences in the relative severity of fuel meltage. We suspect the pipes of unit #3 will have hydrogen concentrations similar to unit #1, but unit #2's pipes will be significantly lower.

  • It seems JAIF has decided to post plant conditions at Fukushima Daiichi on a weekly schedule, rather than daily. Thursday's posting shows a dramatic drop in temperatures for all three RPVs. Unit #1 is at 76oC, with an injection rate of 3.8 tons per hour. Unit #2 is down to 99oC, with a total injection rate of 10 tons per hour. Unit #3 is at 79oC with a total injection rate of 11 tons per hour. (JAIF)

    The following diagram of the injection pathways is from Yomiuri Shimbun...

    It seems the cooling water injections are doing a more efficient job on unit #1 than the other two. It also seems the use of the internal feedwater spray flow-paths on units 2 and 3 have been a success, but the higher relative flows indicate a less efficient cooling effect than unit #1. This indicates there are blockages to cooling flow inside units #2 and #3 that are not the case in unit #1. While it is true that units #2 and #3 have ~50% larger fuel cells than unit #1, this does not account for the differences in flows. The decay heat level for unit #1 is greater than with both other units because it was near the end of its fuel cycle.

  • Spent Fuel Pool temperatures on all four units are constant. Units 1-3 are in the 25oC range, and unit #4 SPF (with the largest number of stored fuel bundles) at 35oC. (JAIF)

  • According to NISA, the principle governmental regulatory group, there was a complete failure of all electrical power at the Fukushima off-site emergency response center, 5km from the power complex, an hour after the earthquake. When the earthquake-caused regional blackout happened, the response center's emergency diesel generator started automatically. It ran for about 45 minutes, then stopped. Since the response center was a gathering point for TEPCO administrators, local officials, and Tokyo government representatives to meet and decide on public protective actions, it was imperative that the facility be re-powered. The facility blackout made it impossible for anyone at the response center to follow what was happening to the power complex and monitor the emergency systems that were (or were not) operating. At midnight, more than 8 hours into the facility blackout, a diesel generator technician discovered a faulty electrical switch on the control panel. The switch's failure had stopped the fuel oil pump feeding the diesel. The switch was replaced and the response center was re-powered by about 3am on March 12. (Yomiuri Shimbun)

    According to control room records, communications between the power plant itself and outside local/federal officials was by a single land line to Fukushima City and Tokyo during the emergency response center blackout. This indicates that public protective action orders came from Fukushima City and/or Tokyo during the first 12 hours at Fukushima, and not from “local officials” nearest the power complex who were necessarily the most familiar with nuclear systems due to their physical proximity.

  • All Japanese news media outlets report that the “evacuation advisory” for 5 municipalities between 20 and 30km from Fukushima Daiichi has been formally lifted.

  • A coalition of minority parties in the Japanese Diet (2 houses of congress) have created a new, independent group to investigate into who may have been responsible for the accident at Fukushima Daiichi. The current government “panel” is trying to decide what caused the accident. The new “council” will go a step further and “clarify responsibility of key individuals” that were involved in the decisions concerning plant emergency operations and public protective actions. The council will be comprised of 10 “private sector experts”. Testimony from witnesses will be presented directly to Diet. Those expected to be called before the Diet include former Prime Minister Naoto Kan and executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. This will be the first government organ of non-politician, private sector experts to be officially created under the Constitution, in Japan's history. It seems that the initial wave of those giving testimony will not be sworn in. However, the council will be able to identify key individuals who will be sworn in, which means they can be punished if they commit perjury. (Asahi Shimbun)

  • Tokyo has set the official standards for decontaminating the land areas within the “no-go” and northwest corridor evacuation zones. Those locations known to have radiation fields equal to or greater than 5 millisieverts/yr will be decontaminated. This reduces the total land area which will be deconned from 2,500 km2 down to a bit less than 1,800 km2. As mentioned in previous updates, 70% of the area of concern is forest and some 50% of that is mountainous. The mountainous forest will not need to be deconned because no-one goes there, further reducing the total area to less than 900 km2. In addition, the forested area to be cleansed will not need any soil removed because the leaves and decaying material on the forest floor contains ~90% of the deposited cesium. This means there will be about 650 km2 which will need topsoil stripped down to 5cm depth. Thus, about 400,000 cubic meters of topsoil will be removed. The total material to be handled will be well-below 2 million cubic meters. That's still a lot of waste to deal with, but not the 28 million cubic meters broadcast a few days ago. (Asahi Shimbun)

    The central government also says all radioactive materials amassed by decontamination procedures will be stored and or disposed of by the Prefectures within which the material is produced. (NHK World)

  • The Tokyo government has finally decided on how to dispose of the enormous amount of rubble and debris caused by the earthquake and tsunami. Some of the northeast prefectures have already begun disposal themselves, but many have done little rubble removal while waiting for Tokyo to do it for them. One of the on-going issues has been where to put this virtual mountain of debris...and they're not talking about the cesium-laced stuff near around Fukushima Daiichi. The non-Cesium-laced debris is 10 times greater than the cesium-laced material. Regardless, Tokyo has designated 42 sites across Japan for disposal locations, and Tokyo will foot the bill. At the end of the announcement article, the government says they have found that the Cesium-laced debris within Tokyo itself is 15 times below the national standard for disposal. Thus, handling and disposal of the city's wastes will proceed as it has for years. (Yomiuri Shimbun)

    We say, it's about time! The nation's quake/tsunami recovery is secondary to soothing unrequitable fears of radiation for way, way too long.

September 28

  • The Japanese panel investigating the causes(s) of the Fukushima accident held it's third meeting yesterday (Sept. 27). Because it seems people being interviewed are intimidated by the news media, the Tuesday meeting was the first one held behind closed doors. However, the panel did make a summary statement following the meeting. At this point, it appears the Fukushima Nuclear Power Station was unprepared for the tsunami that initiated the accident, which should come as no surprise to anyone. The panel also said it now seems that TEPCO did not take some actions which might have minimized damage to the fuel cells, containments, and surrounding buildings. (We have suggested this for more than 2 months) Panel leader Yotaro Hatamura told reporters TEPCO “could have taken more effective steps after the March 11th tsunami.” Hatamura added the panel will issue its preliminary findings by the end of the year. (NHK World)

  • TEPCO's latest posting of radiological conditions in and around Fukushima Daiichi continues to show decreases in Cesium in all cases. They currently run seawater analyses at 28 locations out to 30 kilometers from their “shallow draft quay” (barricaded docking area). All continue to show no detectable Cesium 134 or 137. Inside the quay breakwalls, cesium levels continue to drop, with all but one location showing concentrations which are detectable, but below national standards. The other location shows a concentration less than twice the standard. Airborne monitors at the property boundary continue to show no detectable Cesium in the air leaving the site. Waste water levels of Cesium in most of the turbine basement sub-drains are now down to 2-3 times national standards, with four locations showing below-standard readings. Please keep in mind...detectable doesn't mean dangerous.

  • As of this morning, the bottom head temperatures of units 1, 2 & 3 RPVs are below 100 oC. If all three stay at or below this temperature, the first criteria for the desired cold shutdown condition will have been met. (NHK World)

  • TEPCO will be seeking a 15% increase in customer electric rates to pay for the added costs of fuels for the thermal (fossil-fueled) power plants being used to replace idled nuclear capacity. TEPCO points out this is not Fukushima Daiichi-related, but rather the undamaged power stations idled by former P.M. Kan's de-facto moratorium. (Asahi Shimbun)

  • Tokyo's evacuation advisories for the five municipalities outside the mandatory northwest evacuation corridor, between 20 and 30km from Fukushima, are scheduled to be lifted on Friday, September 30. Senior Vice Minister of Economy Trade and Industry, Tadahiro Matsushita, met with Mayor Yuko Endo of Kawauchi Village on Monday and assured the Mayor the government will not abandon them. (NHK World)

  • Many Japanese news sources report Fukushima City has announced a two year plan to decontaminate all buildings, private residences, streets and sidewalks....whether they need decontamination or not. It seems a vocal minority of residents believe any detectable level of Cesium is life-threatening, so the City has decided to decontaminate everything that has detectable Cesium. Since most buildings and residences have detectable Cesium on them, the cost of cleaning all structures would be no more than cleaning just those with Cesium. Professional cleaners hired by the city will scrub radioactive substances from roofs, walls and ditches of houses, plus remove concrete which tends to retain radioactive material in its microscopic imperfections. They will give “extra-thorough cleaning” to schools, as well as homes with children. In total, more than 110,000 structures will be cleansed. The City feels this should quell on-going fears.

    The city fails to realize people with a phobic fear of radiation cannot be satisfied. The number and frequency of complaints might diminish, but articles about radiation fears will continue through the Press none-the-less.

  • Yuichi Moriguchi, a professor of environmental systems engineering at the University of Tokyo, says the volumes of Cesium-laced materials which might be generated by decontaminations in Fukushima Prefecture might be less than currently estimated. Much of the 2,500 square kilometer region facing debris collection and soil-stripping is mountainous, which my not actually need to be cleaned up. “I don’t think that the whole (2,500-square-kilometer) area will have to be decontaminated,” Moriguchi said. He estimates this could reduce the total estimates by more than 10 million cubic feet. (Japan Today)

  • Radiation-in-food fears have reached the Japanese fish market. Waters off Fukushima Prefecture are not being fished due to a government ban. Regardless, fish sales across the country are dropping because of radiation fears. Fear of fresh fish having Cesium, whether its is detectable or not, have driven prices at the dock down by more than two-thirds. Boats that fish the waters as far as 300km away from Fukushima cannot off-load their catch in any Fukushima or Miyagi ports because they run the risk of their stock not being sold in Tokyo markets. An owner of a commercial fishing boat said, "I fully realized that fish won't sell in Tokyo (at appropriate prices) if they were landed (on ports) in Fukushima Prefecture. People's anxieties over products (from Fukushima) is strong." (Asahi Shimbun)

  • Today, Mainichi Shimbun posts a reports yet another possible nuclear scandal in the government...or is it? The headline reads “Industry ministry under-reported opponents to reactivation of nuclear plant in Kyushu”, but the body of the article shows the headline to be questionable and possible misleading. During an internet broadcast on June 26, viewers were asked to Email their opinions on restarting the Genkai nuke plant during the show. 586 Emails were received during the show, with 286 in favor, 163 against, and the rest undecided. The polled results were restricted to only those received during the show. Emails coming in before and/or after the broadcast would not be included in the poll. The Mainichi says more than 100 Emails were received after the broadcast and not included in the poll results, therefore the Kyushu Electric Company intentionally “under-reported”. The paper says if messages sent to the broadcaster after the deadline were included, the ratio of those opposed to reactivation becomes larger.

    Mathematically, a reduction in ratio would result even if the number of uncounted favorable Emails were greater than the unfavorable. Let's speculate that 51 were pro and 49 were anti. This makes the new numbers 337 in favor and 212 against. The original ratio is 1.75 favorable. The speculated ratio would be 1.59 favorable. Or in converse, the original poll has a ratio of 0.57 against, and the speculated ratio would be 0.63 against. Further number-play shows the uncounted E-mails could have been as high 60 in favor and 40 against, and still reduce the original ratio down to 1.71 favorable and raise the unfavorable ratio to 0.58. Mathematical manipulations are not uncommon with respect to nuclear issues, especially when a news media outlet is having a “slow news day”.

September 26

  • TEPCO has found a higher-than-expected concentration of hydrogen in some of the pipes passing through unit #1's containment walls. The levels are above the maximum detectable reading on TEPCO's monitoring equipment, which is 1%. TEPCO believes the hydrogen is likely a residual from the unit #1 meltdown on March 12. This is the first time they have tested the contents of these specific pipes since the emergency developed. While it is possible that a tiny amount of hydrogen continues to be generated by radiolysis (separation of hydrogen and oxygen in a neutron field), it is unlikely that this nuclear process is the cause of the hydrogen discovered. TEPCO will look into the contents of pipes which pass through the containment walls of units 2 & 3, as well.

    All Japanese news media, with the exception of NHK World, have presented TEPCO's announcement in the most frightening context possible, using incorrect data to support their spins. Perhaps the most alarming error is reporting 4% hydrogen can explode, and further implying that radiolysis could drive levels up to that point. The first problem with the reports is the very weak rate of radiolysis that might exist...if it exists at all. It's just as possible that radiolysis stopped when the corium resolidified after melting. The greatest problem, however, is that 4% hydrogen in dry air is the minimum level for ignition, not explosion. Hydrogen at 4% will burn if there is an ignition source, like an electrical spark. The minimum level for an ignition-initiated explosion, in an oxygen-rich atmosphere, is ~8%. But, an ignition-initiated explosive level is 13% hydrogen when mixed with oxygen at its atmospheric level of 20%. The mixture becomes auto-explosive at about 15% hydrogen, in an atmospheric level of oxygen. With low oxygen of ~5%, hydrogen becomes auto-explosive at a 59% concentration. Below 5% oxygen, the possibility of explosion is nil, although a burn is still possible down to 1% oxygen. (Data from NASA's hydrogen safety manual, and several college chemistry websites)

    It seems most of the the Japanese news media is bending over backwards to keep the specter of the three hydrogen explosions of mid-March fresh in the public mind. And TEPCO is adding to the public's nuclear angst by saying there is no threat of another hydrogen explosion “in the immediate future” (Mainichi Shimbun), leaving the door open for negative media spins.

  • Slowly but surely, new P.M. Yoshihiko Noda is moving the Japanese government away from the “shut-all-nukes-down” politics of Naoto Kan. Yomiuri Shimbun says Kan told the United Nations he not only wants the idled nukes in Japan to be restarted as soon as it is politically possible, but he also supports the possibility of completing all nuclear construction projects that were suspended by the Kan regime. The Yomiuri reports a government source said this was because Noda wanted "to clearly show other countries that his policies were different from those of the Kan administration." Noda believes the best way to revitalize Japan's economy is to use a mix of all electrical sources, including existing and near-future nuclear capacity.

  • Kyodo News reports that the heads of the five municipalities which will soon have their evacuation advisories lifted, are balking at the government's decision. In general, the town heads want to know what Tokyo is going to do about decontamination efforts and radioactive waste disposal. In addition, three of the towns have some residential areas inside the 20km no-go zone, so their heads want the government to clarify what should happen there. Plus, all five say residents who have left are wary about returning home until all concerns are resolved by the government.

    However, not all communities are twiddling their thumbs. Mainichi Shimbun reports the resident's who remain in the city of Minamisoma (less than half have left) are actively decontaminating buildings and streets, in the hope of bringing their evacuated neighbors home. In August, the people created the “Ota Area Reconstruction Council” to investigate getting the job done themselves, rather than wait for Tokyo to do it for them. "We can't keep on relying only on the government," Kisao Watanabe, chairman of the Council, said. "We decided to do what we could by ourselves, hoping we can return to normal life as soon as possible." Watanabe also said it seems Tokyo has no plans for helping the towns recover their lost populations, so his group has taken matters into their own hands. The group has been trained in the use of detection technologies and has produced a detailed map of contamination levels in their district (Ota). They have found most of the district is actually below the 1 microsievert per hour national standard. The locations with higher readings, up to 4.62 msv/hr, are in forests and parks.

  • Burial of cesium-laced incinerator wastes continues to be a problem, not only in Fukusima Prefecture, but also in Tokyo. NHK World says more than 400 waste incineration plants in Japan have found their burned remains have detectable cesium levels below the national standard of 8,000 becquerels per kilogram of ash. The main areas of local citizen opposition to burial of the below-standard ashes concerns many of the incineration plants in and around Tokyo. It appears a vocal minority of radiation-phobes have kept these Tokyo companies from safe burial because of the bad Press they have generated in the metropolitan area. The same is true for a few Fukushima-area companies. In total, 22 of the 410 incineration companies have not been burying below-standard ash due to vocal locals. NHK points out that ash above the 8,000 becquerel standard has not been buried by anyone. The 42 Fukushima-region companies that have produced the above-standard ash are storing it all at their facilities until the Tokyo government issues guidelines for safe disposal. It is mentioned by NHK that the higher-level ash could be solidified in concrete and buried in the same fashion as toxic chemical and heavy metal wastes.

Yomiuri Shimbun reports that as much as 28 million cubic meters of cesium-laced material could be generated in a decontamination of the Fukushima locations showing exposure levels above 5 millisieverts per year (msv/yr). The estimates include 1.02 million cubic meters of soil removed from houses and gardens, 560,000 cubic meters from schools and child care centers and 17.42 million cubic meters from farmland. The remainder would come from Fukushima's forests. If the standard for decontamination were raised to 20 msv/yr, the volume would drop to 7.4 million cubic meters.

  • We advocate using the 50 msv/yr exposure level safely experienced by millions of people in the world due to natural background sources. Establishing a standard at that level would be politically and socially difficult given the “unsafe-at-any-dose” myth which dictates the current radiation issue. But, it would not hurt anyone. If the 50 msv/yr level were adopted, the volume of material to be removed would drop another several million cubic feet, at least. Wishful thinking? Yes...reality is taking a back seat to political expediency in Japan


September 23

We have been waiting several months to find the space for the explanation of what the term “sievert” means, with respect to radiation exposure, and relate it to a more-commonly understood parameter...the BTU.

Sievert - The amount of penetrating radiation which produces the equivalent biological effect of 10,000 ergs of pure energy deposited per gram of body tissue. Since 10 billion ergs equals 1 BTU, a sievert of exposure deposits one-millionth of a BTU per gram. For the average 80 kilogram person, this would be a total of 0.08 BTUs. The defining parameter for all units of radiation exposure is energy deposition, and says nothing about its effect on genetics.

- The above is a combination of the overlapping definitions of REM and Gray, since the definition universally used for “sievert” merely state its equivalence to 100 REM and/or one Gray.

- Technically, the above is specific to the three penetrating forms of radiation (x-ray, gamma, neutron) which can pass through the skin and deposit energy to the underlying living tissue as it migrates through. 90% of the energy gets deposited, and the rest exits the body as weakened radiation.

- The other two types of radiation concerning nuclear power plant releases, beta and alpha, cannot penetrate the skin, and are not external sources of whole body exposure. They can be internal sources of exposure through ingestion of beta or alpha emitters. Cesium 134 and 137 each release both beta and gamma. Internally, beta radiation has the similar energy deposition properties as gamma. Externally, beta is harmless.

- The effects of internal exposure to radiation is no different than external (penetrating) exposure.


Now, back to Fukushima...

  • As of today, the combined operation of the two waste water decontamination systems at Fukushima Daiichi have processed 100,000 tons of waste water. This would be a cause for celebration if it were not for the discovery that water is now leaking into the plant's building basements at a rate equal to the volume of water being cleaned up. Regardless, the 100,000 tons of processed water is a milestone that ought to be noted.

  • NHK World headlines “Typhoon Roke Spares Fukushima Plant”. The article states “Typhoon Roke has inflicted no major damage to the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant,” which is an exaggeration in itself. The level of impact to the plant complex was so trivial that no other news service even mentioned it! TEPCO reports there have been minor increases in the waste water levels of the building basements due to rainwater seepage, and a few site cameras experienced electronic glitches.

    JAIF stopped writing their own updates some two months ago, and have been copying NHK reports into their daily posting ever since. Two months ago, NHK would not have posted something with a negative rhetorical connotation. It has become rather frequent recently. Maybe JAIF should reconsider its update decision?

  • Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told an international audience at the United Nations, in New York, that he is committed to making Japan's nuclear power plants the safest in the world. However, his comments on Japan's energy shortage have slight but significant differences between news sources. For example, Japan Times says Noda wants restarts of currently-idled nukes to begin by this spring, whereas Asahi Shimbun says he wants the restarts to begin by next summer. On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal reports Noda saying, "From spring through next summer, we must bring (Japan's idle nuclear reactors) back up as best we can." If “by next summer”, then all currently operating nukes will have been idled, in addition to those now biding their time. More severe energy shortages will surely happen. But, if “by this spring”, there will be an overlap between restarts and shutdowns which might ease the expected shortfalls. Regardless, Noda also told the WSJ, “If we have a power shortage, it will drag down Japan's overall economy", which Japan Times interprets to mean “a bid to avert a massive power shortage that could deal a potentially fatal blow to the economy.”

  • Chubu Electric, operators of the Hamaoka nuclear power station ordered shut down by then-PM Kan out of earthquake fears spawned by Fukushima, has begun construction of a nearly 60 feet high, one mile long tsunami protection barrier around the Hamaoka complex. If the numbers are correct, it will be one of the largest contiguous man-made structures ever built. When completed, Chubu Electric feels it will close the book on Hamaoka concerns and the six-unit complex can be placed back into operation.

  • Today, Japan Times has a lengthy article about the current nuclear vs. solar/wind debate in Japan. Two problems immediately jump out at us. First, the cost of each form of electric generation using government numbers, shows nuclear to be half the cost of wind and 8 times less than solar. Nuclear critics say these numbers are bogus because they don't include the costs of nuclear waste disposal or nuclear accident insurance. Both objections are themselves bogus, with respect to Japan. The Japanese have their spent fuel recycled in France and the refurbished fuel is returned to Japan for re-use. The “waste” atoms (fission fragments) are encased in high density glass (sintered) for future deep burial...when there's enough of it to make burial worthwhile. Regardless, the Japanese government's numbers do, in-fact, include these costs.

    Second, TEPCO's having to pay out compensation to all government-mandated evacuees, as well as footing the entire bill for accident recovery at Fukushima Daiichi power complex, makes the accident liability (insurance) issue moot. In fact, it literally destroys the nuclear liability issue world-wide, since we now have an example of what really happens (outside of the old Soviet Union) with respect to accident liability. The operating company pays the bill! Accdient insurance is rapidly becoming a non-issue.

    There is also a glaring omission from the Japan Times article...there is no mention of the huge areas of Japan's land that must be covered with solar cells and/or giant windmills in order to replace their existing nuclear capacity.

Hiroshima syndrome update...

  • Much of the western Press has covered yesterday's presentation in New York City by a Japanese woman, Sashito Sako, who said she was forced to evacuate from her farm due to the nuclear accident. The presentation, announced weeks ago on line and located in downtown New York, attracted about 70 people. The problem with Sato's presentation is that her farm, near the town of Kawamata, is not in an evacuation zone, and more than a dozen kilometers from the nearest contaminated area boundary. She wasn't “forced” to evacuate at all. It's another phobic fear of radiation story.

September 21

  • TEPCO has announced they suspect groundwater is leaking into the reactor and turbine basements, contrary to the fears voiced by many critics. The reason behind the notion is water levels in the buildings are not changing. With a water clean-up rate of more than 1,300 tons per day, and a total water injection into the three RPVs of ~400 tons per day, the water levels in the basements should be continuing to drop. However, quantities in the basements have been steady for more than a week. TEPCO says they are planning to seal up the walls and piping penetrations to stop the influx, but have not decided on how it will be done.

  • The Tokyo government reports they will soon be lifting the evacuation restrictions on 5 municipalities between 20 and 30km from Fukushima Daiichi. All five are outside the evacuation corridor stretching northwest of the plant.  Mainichi Shimbun reports Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura saying, “We believe requirements have been met to lift the designation of the emergency evacuation preparation zones.” Each municipality has submitted a plan for decontamination, which is the main requirement for Tokyo to lift the bans. Some 58,000 residents remain in the municipalities and 25,000 have actually left the area. Those who remain will assist in the clean-up. After decontamination is completed, those who left will be asked to return home. The plans do not include decontamination of the forested areas, which comprise about 70% of the land area.

  • Chairman of Japan's primary nuclear watchdog group, NISA's Hiroyuki Fukano, says TEPCO's submittal of mostly blacked-out (redacted) nuclear emergency plans is unacceptable. The documents include a procedural manual for responding to nuclear accidents. Mainichi Shimbun quotes Fukano, "NISA has still not received the manual (in full)." He added, "It is our job to investigate problems....and the operation manual serves as a base for such investigations." He further stated, "Why don't they release all the information? There are problems with TEPCO's attitude toward providing information."

    We have all the respect in the world for the plant operators and emergency staff laboring to mitigate the emergency at Fukushima Daiichi. However, the disgraceful informational situation with TEPCO's home office besmirches the efforts of the workers at Fukushima. Not that NISA's history of transparency is exemplary. It isn't. But, it seems the new P.M.'s staff is trying to fix the mess left by former PM Kan. When will TEPCO get the message? Will they ever get the message??

  • TEPCO has said the time-table for achieving “cold shutdown” conditions inside RPVs 1, 2 &3 has been moved up. Because of numerous cooling system and water decontamination successes, they feel confident that cold shutdowns will be achieved by the end of this year. The previous estimate was for January, 2012.

    In response to this announcement, a few Japanese news sources have posted articles critical of TEPCO's statement in order to keep stirring the public pot of anxiety. A Mainichi Shimbun editorial says the declaration is hollow because the government has not sufficiently defined what the term “cold shutdown” means. The Mainichi maintains the historical definition is for “unbroken” reactors, but the “broken” Fukushima reactors need their own, special definition. The Mainichi article is fraught with technical errors and negative spins. For example, concerning the water decontamination and cooling systems at Fukushima, “Currently, water contaminated with radioactive materials is purified and reused to cool down reactor cores as a last-ditch measure.” Last-ditch measure? Nothing could be further from the truth. During the routine operation of boiling water reactors, radioactive waters from the system are constantly being decontaminated and re-used. It's the standard recycling operation for the waters used in the plant. The current set-up at Fukushima is based on usual and customary system processing. Calling this parallel process a “last-ditch measure” is misleading, at best.

    In another so-called “balancing” report, NHK World interviewed Masanori Naitoh, director in charge of nuclear safety analysis at the Institute of Applied Energy. He said the new time-table has problems because the temperatures being monitored are on the surface of RPV's. Ha feels the determining location for temperatures should be from inside the vessels. Naitoh adds that the possibility of a recurrence of fissioning must be zero before cold shutdown can be attained. He asserts that while the chance of melted fuel re-fissioning is unlikely, it is not zero. Both of Naitoh's points are surprisingly naive, especially for someone in his prominent position. First, temperature instruments are not on the surface of the reactor vessels. They are imbedded deeply into the thick steel walls. Second, the possibility of melted-core (corium) re-fissioning is already zero, not merely unlikely. In this case, Naitoh is basing a judgment on a rhetorical fallacy. Regardless, what he wants would stretch the cold-shutdown time-table by many years before anyone could measure internal temperatures, and delay re-populating the surrounding communities for an unreasonable, ludicrously long period.

  • A massive Typhoon is slowly making its way up the southeast coast of Japan, and will be impacting Tokyo today. More than a million citizens have been ordered to evacuate the coastal regions. It's a bad one. While all news reports mention that the typhoon will probably strike Fukushima Daiichi, the remarks are at the end of nearly all posted articles because it's a non-issue. Loose equipment has been strapped down and openings in the buildings are being covered with tarps to keep the rainwater out. Technically, a typhoon alert has been issued for Fukushima (by law), but it is not a lead story.except for Japan Times, which headlines, “Workers Race to Protect Nuclear Plant from Typhoon”. The Times says the plant operators are “racing against time to ready the crippled plant against a powerful typhoon heading straight for it.” We dislike the term “scare-mongering”, but in this case it seems appropriate.

  • Nearly all Japanese news media outlets have reported on the largest anti-nuclear demonstration in the history of Japan, which took place in Tokyo on Monday. After several months of planning, a consortium of Japanese anti-nuke groups staged a rally. Most organizers were surprised at the sheer numbers in attendance, as were some in the crowd. Japan Times interviewed Kayo Nimura, a Tokyo resident, who said she had attended an antinuclear demonstration before but was shocked by Monday's massive turnout, admitting she had never really had an interest in nuclear issues until March 11.The numbers attending vary with the source. Japan Times says the rally organizers estimate the crowd at 60,000. Most other news sources post the same organizer's estimate, but add police estimates of the crowd at more like 20,000. Regardless, it was a large turn-out.


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