Fukushima 28...3/9/12-3/23/12

March 23

  • Two international experts conclude that the radiological impact of Fukushima will be much less than Chernobyl. They spoke at a day-long symposium at Univ. of California/San Francisco marking the anniversary of the accident in Japan and said even those who lived inside the Fukushima evacuation zones were not exposed to harmful levels of radiation. James Seward, MD, medical director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, referred to research findings that have emerged about potential health outcomes that may result from the Fukushima accident based on Chernobyl data. Most radiation concerns focus on gauging risk to the broader public. These worries are based on risks from internal doses to children and adults outside the power plants. Seward said that compared to the Chernobyl response, residents were evacuated more rapidly and food products were taken off the market more quickly following the Fukushima Daiichi. He stressed that 60 percent less radiation was released. Mitsuyoshi Urashima of Jikei University School of Medicine in Tokyo, has taken a role as government advisor and educating the public about the health effects of Fukushima’s radiation. He has also written a book on the subject. He said confusion and mistrust generated by government communications about radiation releases, contamination and hazards caused local officials and citizens to act more decisively than central government agencies in organizing clean-up or monitoring efforts. Urashima said about 30 percent of more than 3,000 children tested to date have had thyroid nodules, but it is unclear whether this represents an abnormally high percentage. No thyroid cancers have been detected thus far. He added that recent monitoring near Fukushima City indicates that there has been less exposure to radioactivity from the meltdowns than to radiation from normal background sources. (UCSF News)
  • TEPCO has reduced the nitrogen injection inside the unit #2 containment area. They are preparing to make a second inspection of the structure and its equipment. They need to reduce the nitrogen feed to make the atmosphere safe for people to work. (TEPCO Press Releases)
  • The mayor of Tsuruga is pressuring the Tokyo government to speed up creation of new nuclear safety regulations. The city requests the central government to outline a provisional safety standard for nuclear power generation based on lessons learned from the accident at Fukushima. Mayor Kazuharu Kawase also requested that the government offer financial support to the city to offset the "large effects" on the region's economy and employment due to the prolonged suspension of idled nukes and delayed construction of new reactors. Within the city limits are the two-unit Tsuruga power station and Monju Fast Breeder prototype. In a petition to Minister Yukio Edano, the mayor says, "We have had nuclear power as a local industry for about 50 years. So we have concerns about various economic and employment issues." In addition, the petition urges, "Procedures for resuming operation (of reactors) should be advanced steadily while implementing safety measures based on the (new safety standard) and under a local agreement." (Japan Times) [comment – This is the first inkling that local governments will want to be compensated by Tokyo for income lost due to the moratorium on nuclear plant operation.]
  • The NSC has formally approved the stress tests for Oi units #3 & 4. Their findings have been forwarded to the Prime Minister and his cabinet. The NSC also called for additional tests to be run covering the ability of reactor buildings (containments) to keep radiological releases to a safe minimum even in the most severe accident conditions. However, the NSC says these added tests should not keep currently idled nukes from restarting. The stress tests alone should be the restart determinant. The commission's decision to approve the test results angered nuclear opponents during the brief public announcement, which lasted about five minutes. Opponents shouted "Stop this meeting!" and "This is a crime!" As soon as the meeting ended. some people climbed over tables placed between the commission members and observers and demanded that the meeting not end. They asserted that the safety commission's approval was unacceptable and were upset that the meeting did not have any public input. They argued that the causes of the Fukushima crisis have not been fully investigated. NSC chair Haruki Madarame made the brief speech and immediately left after he said he will step down as NSC chief when the new nuclear safety agency takes over. One of the nuclear opponents used this as a criticism of the commission’s decision, "How can a person who is leaving soon be responsible for restarting the Oi reactors?" (Japan Times)
  • The NSC earlier approved the draft nuclear safety guidelines which sets the stage for the new watchdog agency. The new guidelines focus on upgraded earthquake/tsunami protection and improved electrical reliability to mitigate another blackout situation. It also calls for expanding the emergency preparedness radius to 30 kilometers instead of the current 10 kilometers. But, given stalled deliberations in the Diet on a bill for the new agency's formation, its planned inauguration on April 1 is expected to be delayed. Thus, when the new guidelines will take effect is uncertain. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • As it turns out, Tokyo wasn’t the only government group to ignore SPEEDI projections during the first week of the Fukushima accident. Fukushima Prefecture not only snubbed SPEEDI projections, but the data was deleted from all computers between March 11 and March 15. SPEEDI (System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information) was making accurate predictions on “plume” direction and dispersal from its meteorological programming, but because of the blackout there was no radiological release data coming into the system. Because of this, Fukushima officials felt the projections were useless and erased all information from their computer memory to maintain server capacity. "At the time, everything was in a state of confusion. We can't confirm who deleted the e-mails," a prefecture disaster management headquarters official said. (Yomiuri Shimbun) [comment – at least Fukushima officials only ignored SPEEDI for 5 days. Then-P.M. Kan’s emergency team ignored it for more than two weeks!]
  • Fukushima shows that the realities of nuclear energy take a back seat while fear of nukes dominates the debate. Malcolm Grimston, associate fellow at Great Britain’s Chatham House's energy, environment and development program, fears that the nuclear debate will continue to be driven by fear, and not by anything else, "There is this cultural fear of radioactivity. But public opinion recovered after Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. And what's different today with the nuclear debate is the recognition that the availability of fossil fuels is an issue." However, opponent Tony Juniper, former director of Friends of the Earth, insists that people's fears about nuclear power are entirely rational. For Juniper, fear itself remains and should be central to the world’s judgment, "The very fact that we have this huge news story reminds everybody that nuclear power involves having to contain these high levels of radiation.” He further points to uncertainty as another foundation of fear, "It's far too early to say what's going to happen in Japan." He doesn’t care about the psychological impact of a campaign based on fear, uncertainty, and doubt. (BBC Magazine)

March 21

  • The Environment Ministry finds that most of the soils and open water in Fukushima have no Cesium concentrations. The Ministry conducted the most recent survey from January 5 through Jan. 27. One water sample from the Hirose River near Date had detectable Cesium at 8 Becquerels per liter. All others showed little or no detectable Cesium. One very high Cesium soil contamination level has been discovered in a hot spot near Iitate village. A concentration of 154,000 Becquerels per kilogram was found with an undisclosed river bank. For disposal, the material will have to be contained in a ferroconcrete-lined pit, just like incinerator ash reading above 100,000 Becquerels. Most of the other soil samples revealed little or no Cesium. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • Another prefecture says they will consider assisting in tsunami debris disposal. Mie Gov. Eikei Suzuki made the announcement today, identifying an incinerator at a cement plant in the city of Inabe as the disposal site. He has approached Taiheiyo Cement Corp., a Tokyo-based firm that has been incinerating tsunami debris at its Ofunato plant in Iwate Prefecture, for data on the technical feasibility of doing the same in Inabe. Taiheiyo Cement said it hasn't received an official request from the prefecture, but it will cooperate if the government can gain approval of local residents and ensure that safety standards can be met. (Japan Times)
  • A third nuke has passed its accident-resistance stress test. NISA has issued a draft report on the stress test evaluation for Ikata unit #3 in Ehime Prefecture. The Oi units #3 & 4 in Fukui Prefecture have already passed their tests. Shikoku Electric, which owns the Ikata nuclear plants, says the test shows unit #3 could survive an earthquake 1.5 times stronger than the most powerful quake for the region. The formal approval of the test results from NISA is forthcoming. The next step is a review of the results by Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC). 15 other stress test results remain under consideration. It is also noted that the last two operating nukes in Japan will be shuttered by the end of April, exacerbating the current power shortage, unless the two OI units can be restarted before then. (Japan Times)
  • An American nuclear advocacy group says the NSC has approved the stress test results for Oi units #3 & 4. The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) reports that the NSC found the stress test results to be satisfactory. The findings have been forwarded to Prime Minister Noda and three of his cabinet ministers to be used in making their final decision on whether or not to allow the two units to restart. (nei.org)
  • Osaka city government is trying to get nuclear energy abolished. They are the principle shareholders in Kansai Electric Company (KEPCO) which owns and operates 11 nukes, or roughly one-fifth of all nuclear plants in Japan. Osaka has ~9% of the KEPCO stock and will take its declaration to the next shareholder’s meeting to try and sway enough votes to force the company to comply. On March 18, the Osaka Municipal Government's energy strategy council demanded "an end to all nuclear power plants as soon as possible" -- seeking complete abolition of nuclear power. At present KEPCO appears unlikely to comply with requests to eliminate nuclear power. Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, who was behind getting the council to address the issue, says he doesn’t support immediate abolition, but rather wants a rational strategy of phase-out leading to nuclear abolishment as soon as possible. He says he will try to get Kyoto and Kobe city councils to join in the demand since they own a combined 4% of KEPCO’s stock. With a united front, Hashimoto feels enough other shareholders might support the declaration to get it passed at the meeting. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry research committee is investigating nuclear energy’s potential role with Japan’s electricity by 2030. One member says it should be 30%, roughly the nuclear contribution to Japan’s electricity supply before the current de-facto moratorium on nuke operation. Nine members feel it should be 20-25%. Seven say it should be zero! They will file a formal proposal in the near future which is anticipated to call for the 20-25% goal. (Yomiuri Shimbun)

March 19

  • TEPCO has made underwater videos of the unit #4 Spent Fuel Pool (SPF) giving further proof there was never any fire during the accident. Debris which fell into the pool from the building’s hydrogen explosion is seen in one video, and another shows the tops of the spent fuel bundles with little or no explosion debris. There is no evidence of heat deformity or fire. (TEPCO)
  • Disaster Minister Goshi Hosono has literally taken to the streets for support of tsunami recovery. On Saturday, Hosono handed out flyers near a train station in Shizuoka City, asking for the public’s understanding and help in disposing of tsunami debris. He also attended a public briefing in Nakanojo, Gunma Prefecture, which has agreed to accept tsunami rubble. Hosono thanked the gathering of 250 citizens and said that by accepting 1,000 tons they were setting an example for the rest of the nation. He thinks that the effort to gain support is finally gaining momentum. (Japan Today)
  • The Tokyo government promises all-out support for tsunami debris disposal. A pledge was formally presented Sunday to Kanagawa Governor Yuji Kuroiwa by Disaster minister Hosono during a street campaign for citizen support. The governor said he was encouraged by Tokyo’s pledge and would do all he could to assist in debris disposal. The government promises they take full financial responsibility for the disposal effort. (JAIF)
  • One prefecture is asking a power company to assist in tsunami debris disposal. Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura said he is making arrangements with Chubu Electric Power Co. to build an incinerator and waste disposal site for tsunami remains at a local thermal (fossil-fueled) power plant near the city of Hekinan. The prefecture will set its own safety standards, then release results of a test run, along with other data, to help win local acceptance. The prefecture has taken this step because none of its 54 municipalities have agreed to help with tsunami debris disposal. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • The Kasama city council of Ibaraki Prefecture wants the city to help in tsunami debris disposal. A formal resolution was passed unanimously. The city council says there should be no restrictions on processing the waste so long as the radiation levels are safe. The city has a disposal site capable of burying nearly 2.5 million tons of material. Ibaraki Prefecture’s assembly is expected to adopt a similar resolution soon. ((JAIF)
  • Four more municipalities favor restarting idled nukes. The four are Tomari (Hokkaido), Higashidori (Aomori Prefecture), Kariwa (Niigata Prefecture) and the town of Genkai, Saga Prefecture. Their mayors have said they will respect the central government’s judgment on restarts. Seven others said they would support restarts under “certain conditions”, which were not specified. A questionnaire was sent to 34 municipalities and 17 responded. Only one, Mayor Tatsuya Murakami of Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, said he would not support restarts under any condition. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • There is no radioactive Cesium on the pollen in the air of Fukushima and Tokyo. Shogo Higaki of the University of Tokyo's Radioisotope Center had 20 residents wear face masks for six days in February, and then analyzed the filtering material Cesium. While the pollen collected on the masks had no Cesium, the dust was found to have a barely detectable level. The dus’st Cesium was a maximum of 4.3 Becquerels (4.3 radioactive disintegrations per second) in Fukushima and 0.6 Becquerels in Tokyo. However, in keeping with the severe nation-wide case of radiophobia which is now the case, Higaki said "By ingesting dust, though it is a small amount, there is a possibility of internal radiation exposure, but it can be lessened by wearing a mask. Currently, radioactive material (on pollen) has not been detected, but it is necessary to continue monitoring changes. People who are worried should wear masks." Higaki estimates that the total internal exposure in Fukushima for six days is about 0.082 microsieverts. (Mainichi Shimbun) [comment – This can be juxtaposed with the average natural radon gas activity in the air of Japan which is constantly ~21 Becquerels and equates to ~0.7 microsieverts per hour.]
  • The Fukushima federations of fisheries are opposed to off-shore wind farms. The government-sponsored project to build a huge, floating wind-power installation in waters off Fukushima Prefecture has sparked a fierce backlash from local fishermen. While fish caught close to the Fukushima shoreline contain more than the current 500 Becquerel Cesium limit, the concentrations are dropping and will eventually be safe for consumption. In order to make the equivalent electricity of one nuclear plant, more than 100 floating windmills would have to be installed, each more than 200 meters tall. Tokyo says the farm would be located 20-40 kilometers off of Iwaki Town in about 150 meters of water. If the wind farm is built, it will be located in prime fishing waters and could negatively impact the sea’s bounty indefinitely. Akira Egawa, deputy chief of the Iwaki Fisheries Cooperative Association, said, "If the fishing ground is destroyed, we will not be able to make a living. It is a life-or-death issue." Yoshihiro Niizuma, executive director of the Fukushima fishing body, said, "We fear that we may not be able to do trawl fishing anymore. That's the main line of our business. We can't cooperate with the plan easily also because the safety of the floating windmills is uncertain." (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • A new poll finds 42% of Fukushima children say they do not understand radiation. Whether or not they know anything about it, 46% say they fear it. The high percentage of children who learned about radiation after the disaster struck suggests they started fearing it after the evacuation, said Mitsuo Yamakawa, professor at Fukushima University. The poll covered about 300 fifth grade and junior high students. Less than 8% said they knew something about radiation before the Fukushima accident. More than 50% say they are not paying attention to the issue. 25% said they do not know what others are concerned about. (Kyodo News)
  • TEPCO is now letting women work at Fukushima Daiichi because radiation levels are very low. They may work in the “anti-seismic” building, site “rest station”, and the service buildings for units #5 & 6. Decontamination efforts have dropped radiation fields below 1 microsievert per hour at these locations. Also, airborne Cesium activity is no longer detectable. TEPCO’s exposure limit for women is 4 millisieverts over a three month period. All allowed areas for women are well below that limit. For example, the anti-seismic building shows just a 1.69 mSv exposure for three months of work. The total restriction on pregnant women is being maintained. (JAIF)

March 16

  • TEPCO workers have entered the unit #2 pressure suppression chamber for the first time. This is where it has been rumored a hydrogen explosion took place on March 15. The quick inspection revealed no evidence of an explosion. Pictures taken by the workers allowed TEPCO to report, “Apparently, there were no cracks in the suppression chamber and there were no changes in the shape." Workers entered the basement mezzanine on March 14 and found the doors to the "torus" could be opened. The maximum level of radiation inside the "torus" was 160 millisieverts per hour. Contaminated water was about two feet below the grating where the workers walked. The highest worker exposure was measured at 2.9 millisieverts, which is well below their anticipated 10 millisievert dose. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • An attempt to inspect unit #3’s “torus” failed. The doorway to the “torus” room was severely deformed and could not be opened, indicating there was either a severe over-pressurization or an internal hydrogen explosion on March 14 when the upper refueling deck detonated. The radiation level outside the warped door was at ~75 mSv/ - a level similar to what was found inside the unit #2 suppression pool room after its door was opened. (JAIF)
  • Naoto Kan may have been a megalomaniacal meddler during the first weeks of the Fukushima crisis. The February 28 Investigative Report on Fukushima released by a Prime Minister-appointed panel criticized Kan’s short-tempered micromanagement during the early days of the crisis. The question was also raised as to whether or not Kan was a hero and saved Tokyo by demanding TEPCO not abandon the power complex. TEPCO has maintained for a year that they never contemplated such a thing. Whether the hot-tempered leader's intrusion actually saved eastern Japan remains an open question. The issue of Kan trying to control emergency actions at the stricken power plants was also raised. Was he doing the right thing, or meddling into an area outside his area of understanding? Kan and his staff maintain they tried to take control because no-one in Tokyo was doing it - specifically TEPCO and NISA. He argued that a lack of preparedness on the part of these two organizations demanded that he take charge. However, many of his actions displayed naivety and ill-logic. In addition, Kan is given particular criticism for incessantly losing his temper during the crisis. The Feb. 28 report concluded that intervention by the prime minister's office provided little help to mitigate the three meltdowns that occurred, and may have made matters worse. (Japan Times)
  • In addition, the separate Diet-appointed investigative panel has unearthed additional evidence that Kan believed many anti-nuclear theories of nuclear apocalypse and was driven by these visions of doom. Kan has admitted he said, "Japan could go to ruin if the situation stays as it is. If Tepco abandons the Fukushima plant, reactors and spent nuclear fuels could collapse and radioactive substances could be released. It will be twice or three times worse than (the amount of radioactive fallout from) Chernobyl and you know what that means.” Perhaps the most bizarre of these recent disclosures is Kan arbitrarily minimizing the number of members in his emergency task force during the crisis, when one would think he would have wanted all the informed support he could get his hands on. Kan told those in attendance, "Why are so many people in here? The important decisions should be made by five or six people. Don't be silly!" The Diet’s panel is supposed to issue a report in June. It is independent of the Prime Minister-appointed group. (Japan Times)
  • To date, 19 of Japan’s 54 nuclear plants have submitted their stress test results to NISA for evaluation. Two (Oi units 3 & 4) have been reviewed by NISA and found acceptable, but are awaiting further review by the Nuclear Safety Commission. Some local officials are eagerly awaiting the test results so the plants can resume operation. "My true feeling is that I want their safety to be confirmed and for them to get restarted," said a member of the Oi town assembly in Fukui Prefecture. However, other local officials are concerned they will be criticized for placing economic benefits over safety concerns if they become the first to call for the plant's reopening. In July, then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan overruled Hideo Kishimoto, the town head of Genkai, Saga Prefecture, who had approved the resumption of operations of Kyushu Electric Power Co.'s Genkai nuclear power plant. Because of this, Oi Mayor Shinobu Tokioka has waited for the central government to clarify the state's responsibility. If Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and three ministers concerned decide that nuclear power is necessary, Tokioka wants them to explain the need of nuclear power to his local government and residents before he decides. Local officials across Japan are eagerly awaiting the resolution of the Oi nuclear plant restart issue, which they will probably use as the model for their decisions. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • Twenty-three local authorities visited Miyagi Prefecture to witness the tsunami debris situation themselves. Their visit was the result of Prime Minister Noda’s recent plea for rubble disposal assistance. They inspected ~450,000 tons of debris piled up in Onagawa Town and observed the process of sorting, crushing, and loading of the material before shipping. Radiation monitoring occurred every step of the way showing virtually no cesium isotopic contamination. Since Monday’s plea by Noda, 13 more prefectures and 51 municipalities have said they will consider a similar move. (NHK World)
  • The municipal assembly of Nahara, Fukushima Prefecture, is unanimously opposed to a temporary waste storage facility. They believe that such a facility would concentrate the contamination in their town to such a point that elevated radiation levels would endanger the town’s existence. Mayor Takashi Kusano expressed personal remorse with the decision, "Currently we are at the stage of waiting for an explanation from the national government, so it is unfortunate that the motion was passed." (Mainichi Shimbun)

March 14

  • 474,000 tons of earthquake/tsunami debris remains piled up in the Fukushima no-go zone. The Environment Ministry says the debris has contamination levels as high as 59,000,000 Becquerels per kilogram. The Ministry also reports that much of the rubble has much lower Cesium levels, such as 1,300 Becquerels for burnable rubble in the town of Namie and 200 Becquerels for non-burnable material in Namie and Minamisoma. Nearly all of the debris remains where it was deposited by the March 11 tsunami. (Mainichi Shimbun) [comment - We should keep in mind that about 20 million tons of debris remains to be processed outside the no-go zone.]
  • A new national poll finds that only 7% of the population says they do not approve of assisting in tsunami debris disposal. The poll was run by NHK by advertising for volunteers over the age of 20. More than 1000 responded. 57% say local municipalities ought to accept and process the tsunami debris, and 32% are undecided. (NHK World) [comment - Compare this to the fact that only 2.5% of Japan’s local governments are actually in favor of helping. What we have here is proof that Japan’s local governments cater to the phobic whim of a vocal minority at the expense of the rational majority.]
  • Prime Minister Noda and seven of his Ministers are making a formal request for 44 prefectures to assist in tsunamis debris disposal. The proposal was not extended to the three hardest-hit prefectures – Fukushima, Miyagi, and Iwate. The government wants the 44 prefectures to dispose of 4 million tons of debris already identified as “safe” by experts. There is more than 20 million tons yet needed to be handled. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • The Science Ministry reveals that the contamination dispersal from Fukushima is about one-tenth that of Chernobyl. The ministry compared data from the Fukushima accident collected between March and November 2011, with data from Chernobyl disaster collected for three years and eight months after April, 1986. Cesium contamination levels found out to 33 kilometers from Fukushima compare favorably with those out to 250 kilometers from Chernobyl. (Kyodo News)
  • The April food contamination guidelines for Cesium contamination in food have been clarified. Foods with less than 50 Becquerels per kilogram of cesium will unconditionally pass. Any food with between 50 and 100 Becquerels per kilogram will also pass, but the source must be tested three times a week if produced in Fukushima, Miyagi, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and/or Chiba Prefectures. Similar follow-up tests will be required at least once a week in Aomori, Iwate, Akita, Yamagata, Saitama, Tokyo, Kanagawa, Niigata, Yamanashi, Nagano and Shizuoka prefectures. The remaining 30 prefectures will not be subject to the guidelines. Foods above 100 Becquerels will be discarded and the sources of the foods will be subjected to testing more than 3 times per week. Also, the ceiling for milk will be lowered from the current 200 Becquerels per kilogram to 50 Becquerels, and for water from the present 200 Becquerels to 10. (Japan Times)
  • It seems the formal creation of Japan’s new nuclear regulatory body is being delayed. Opposition parties in the Diet say they will oppose the bills that would make the new agency official by the first week of April. The root issue is how the body will be organizationally situated. Will it be an adjunct of a non-vested ministry (e.g. Ministry of the Environment) or a more independent group reporting to the Cabinet itself? If it was a ministry adjunct, would it be able to make independent, objective regulatory judgments? As an independent body the new group would have an easier time dealing with crisis management. The opposition parties want these points to be debated in the next ordinary session of the Diet rather than outside the formal process, which now is happening. Not only will the delay set back decision-making timetables, but it will also postpone the decision on idled nuke restarts. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • The Fukushima Investigative Committee created by former P.M. Naoto Kan says they will not make hearings with politicians public. "I don't think showing all the exchanges of words would fulfill transparency and openness," Committee chairman Yotaro Hatamura said. "At the beginning, I thought we should make various things open as much as possible, but I have started to notice that there are more important things," he added, suggesting that participants would be more frank in expressing their views in closed hearings. Naoto Kan has yet to be questioned and will only be subjected to the panel’s scrutiny if he approves of it. To date, a total of 10 politicians have been questioned, including then-industry minister Banri Kaieda and then-science minister Yoshiaki Takaki. All future politician hearings will be closed to the Press, however the final report will be released in July. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • Japan’s oldest nuke is nearing its 42 anniversary and is the focus of the “aging” controversy. The Tsuruga unit #1 has been idled since late January of last year for a regular 14-month-long “check-up”. It’s now ready to restart, pending the stress test results. Unlike many other idled nuclear facility sites, Tsuruga Mayor Kazuharu Kawase supports the restart if it passes all safety examinations. He says the 40 year limit on an operating license is “logically invalid” and nuclear plants should not be shuttered based on merely a number. Antinuclear activist Tetsuen Nakajima of Fukui says, "It remains unclear how the aging affected the troubled reactors at the Fukushima complex. Degraded reactors should be decommissioned in succession before they cause catastrophic situations." (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • TEPCO reports that they have begun the paving of the sea bottom of their quay “in earnest”. They describe the material being used as “solidified mud” (“armouring material”) to “prevent diffusion of marine soils”. (TEPCO Press Statement)

March 12

Comment : The real disaster in Japan

Sunday, March 11, 2012, marked the first anniversary of the Great Tohoku Earthquake/Tsunami. While most media pundits focus on radiation fears and apocalyptic “what-if” scenarios relative to the Fukushima accident, I choose to mark this date by charging much of Japan with pseudo-criminal negligence. Public enemy no.1 is governmental. Since the day after the tsunami hit, official focus has centered on a nuclear crisis that has killed no-one and will likely never cause one radiation-related death. Meanwhile, recovery from a disaster that killed 20,000 and left 22 million tons of disease-spawning rubble and debris, has taken a back seat to radiation-based reactions of fear, uncertainty and doubt. Only 17 out of nearly 700 municipalities in Japan have the human decency to assist in the massive tsunami clean-up. In addition, the affected governments fleetingly mention recovery for the sick and homeless spawned by the tsunami, while trumpeting loud and long on the smaller number relative to the Fukushima accident.

What’s more, anti-nuclear protesters and the news media should be held as accomplice’s after-the-fact. Tens of thousands of demonstrators deflect attention from the horrid effects of the tsunami saying it was merely a natural disaster, and scream loud and long about Fukushima Daiichi because it resulted from failed human technology. The news media passively aids and abets this travesty because it’s good for business. Actually, calling the Fukushima accident a disaster is a misnomer…where’s the devastation? Where’s the destruction? Was anyone killed? Will anyone ever capitulate to the long-term effects? The authentic disaster is twofold. The first was the incredible earthquake and unprecedented tsunami it spawned. The second disaster, entirely predicated on government, news media, and anti-nuclear malfeasance, is national radiophobic fixation at the expense of all Tohoku disaster victims.

While there have been no protests about Japan’s plodding slowness with tsunami recovery, here’s updates on this past weekend’s Japanese and international anti-nuclear protests…

  • About 16,000 anti-nuclear protesters gathered in Fukushima Prefecture to protest against nuclear energy.“Our town has turned out to be another Chernobyl,” Masami Yoshizawa, who ran a cattle farm in Namie, 10 kilometers from the plant. Activists carried banners reading: “We will never forgive the nuclear accident.” Yumiko Ono, a 34-year-old graphic designer from Tokyo said, “Fukushima is being forgotten day by day. If we don’t raise our voices right now, another accident could happen. We want to tell the world that the crisis and the hardship is still going on.” (Japan Times)
  • Thousands of protesters gathered in Tokyo and formed a human chain around the Diet (Japanese Parliament). They demanded that nuclear power generation be abandoned. In Shizuoka Prefecture, an estimated 1,100 people gathered to call for the permanent shutdown of Chubu Electric’s Hamaoka Power Station. Some 1,200 people marched in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, to protest the Monju prototype fast breeder reactor and all of Kansai Electric’s now-idled nuclear plants. At Tsuruga, protest group leader Fujio Yamamoto said, "What we need to do, after witnessing how tragic Tokyo Electric's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant accident is, is to build a society which does not rely on nuclear plants.” Smaller protests were held in Saga and Aomori Prefectures, and poorly-attended rallies were held in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • Thousands of people formed chains of protest of 24,000 in Germany and 30,000 France. Why the protests were held in Germany is a mystery because the government has passed laws to end nuclear energy in the country. Many protesters in France were from other European countries. In the United States, about 200 people attended an anti-nuke rally in California and about 100 protested in New York. In California, the main speaker was a woman from Sendai, Japan, which was devastated by the tsunami. She said nothing about the horrors her community suffered from the tidal waves, but instead focused entirely on the Fukushima accident. "The Japanese government has not disclosed everything about the nuclear accident," said Kyoko Sugasawa, the 39-year-old housewife from Sendai, "We mothers are very worried that our children are treated like guinea pigs. We feel as if our children are being experimented on." (Japan Times)

Now for some other Fukushima updates…

  • A team of radiation experts say Tokyo’s risk due to Fukushima contamination is very limited. The team, led by Tokyo University professor Michio Murakami, says exposure for infants has been 0.048 millisieverts for infants, 0.042 mSv for preschoolers, and 0.018 mSv for adults. These levels are more than 20 times below the most limiting standards. These figures conservatively relate to no more than 3 cancers per 100,000 people, and it may well be as low as zero. (NHK World)
  • Shizuoka Prefecture’s Shimada City will accept tsunami rubble for disposal. All test incinerations have shown that there is zero radioactive gas released during the burning and the resulting ash is more than 10 times below the national standard for cesium. (Kyodo News)
  • The total amount of Fukushima releases to the world’s oceans is relatively small compared to nuclear weapons. Fukushima’s radioactive impact on the world’s oceans is 50 to 100 times less than the impact caused by atmospheric nuclear bomb tests in the 1950s. Ken Buessler of Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institute says, “Levels of cesium-137 and cesium-134 in the ocean, two primary products of nuclear fission, were elevated, but still below those considered of concern for exposure to humans. They were also well below biological thresholds of concern to the small fish and plankton we sampled, even if these were consumed by humans.” (CNN)
  • An American anti-nuclear activist admits the Fukushima accident has been exaggerated and the facts distorted. A letter sent to fellow nuclear blogger Rod Adams exposes the rhetorical underbelly of the anti-nuclear movement in America, which extends directly to their brethren in Japan. The facts about nuclear energy, its safety and even its positive economic effects were not relevant. The fomenting of fear and the use of misinformation are seen as the appropriate moral strategy of anti-nuclear groups. But, don’t take my word for it… http://atomicinsights.com/2012/03/conversation-with-an-anti-society-antinuclear-activist.html
  • Suddenly, a “fourth disaster” of March 11 has been created by the Press outside Japan. Many people in Japan are increasingly disillusioned about the political establishment's ability to tell the truth and rise to the occasion. Politicians and bureaucrats have drawn fire for the chaotic response to the Fukushima disaster and many are disappointed.Slow progress in planning for the tsunami-damaged region is deepening the misery of survivors, about 326,000 of whom are still homeless, in deference to the 80,000 evacuated from the vicinity of the Fukushima plant. Before March 11, most Japanese trusted their government to do the right thing. Now, that trust is literally circling the drain. Lost trust in elected officials is posed as the fourth disaster of March 11. (Reuters)
  • Some local Japanese governments have decided to unite in order to promote tsunami debris disposal. The prefectural governors and mayors of 17 municipalities met in Tokyo to start a project to handle tsunami debris disposal for localities outside the Fukushima evacuation zones. They made it clear they intend to accept and dispose of the rubble from the tsunami-hit areas, and call on all other capable municipalities to follow suit. Minister Hosono told them he will provide as much assistance as possible to get reluctant municipalities to join in the effort. (JAIF)
  • Minister Hosono also met with officials from the county around the Fukushima power complex. He proposed a plan to build three temporary contaminated waste facilities in Futaba, Okuma, and Nahara. He added a disposal site would be built in Tomioka for the ash coming from incineration. The eight municipal officials were generally supportive of the proposal, except Futaba Mayor Katsutaka Idogawa who expressed considerable reluctance. He said he needs absolute assurance that the facility will be temporary and not become permanent. In addition, he felt the reasons why his town has been selected are less than clear. All attendees want a firm law guaranteeing that a final disposal site be located outside Fukushima Prefecture itself. This was the first meeting for the eight municipalities to be addressed by Mr. Hosono as a group. The original meeting scheduled for February 26 was cancelled when three of the mayors refused to attend. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • Some of the residents of Fukushima Prefecture live in a constant state of fear of radiation. One prime example is Yoshiko Ota who keeps her windows shut, never hangs her laundry outdoors. She is so fearful of birth defects that she tells her daughters they can never have children. “The government spokesman keeps saying there are no IMMEDIATE health effects,” the 48-year-old nursery school worker says. “He’s not talking about 10 years or 20 years later. He must think the people of Fukushima are fools.” Not everyone goes to these extremes, but morbid fear of radiation is not uncommon. The fearful generally say they are unsure of what the government or anyone tells them about radiation exposure, and the uncertainty raises their fear. “People are scared to death,” says Wolfgang Weiss, chairman of the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, “They are thinking, ‘Tell me. Is it good or bad?’ We can’t tell them. Life is risky.” Experts say that cancer risks rise with an exposure of 100 millsieverts, but aren’t statistically detectable at lower levels. Below 100 mSv, experts can’t say for sure whether it’s safe, only that a link to cancer can’t be proven. Experts also believe that the risk is cumulative; i.e. the radioactivity in one’s body builds up through various activities. Because of this, entrepreneur Kouta Miyazaki says, “Government officials should all come live in Fukushima for several years and bring their families. They’re all staying in places where it’s safe. We’re being told to get radiated and drop dead.” Mayor Shouji Nishida of Date says his community is preparing for the future by relying less on the central government and by adjusting expectations. He believes 5 millisieverts of radiation a year - five times the typical amount of background radiation in Japan - is a realistic goal. “We are defining policies to live and coexist with radiation,” he says. Kunihiko Takeda, a nuclear and ecology expert has been outspoken about the dangers and says people become less afraid after he explains the risks. “They are freed from the state of not knowing. They now know what to do and can make decisions on their own,” he says. (Japan Times)

March 9

  • At the one year anniversary of March 11, most American experts say the health effects of radiation from Fukushima have been overblown. The 20 millisievert emergency exposure limit will have little health effect, if any. When compared to America’s average background level of 6.5 millisieverts, the additional exposure levels in Japan over their 1.5 millisievert average is essentially negligible. The theoretical worst-case increase in cancer risk at 20 millisieverts is a few thousandths of a percent, which might not happen at all because the exposure level is so very low. Richard Garfield of Columbia University says, "In terms of the health impact, the radiation is negligible." Also, in retrospect, the power plant's malfunction was relatively well contained. The reactors shut down automatically at the time of the earthquake. "It was nowhere near as complex of a release as Chernobyl, which was everything from the core of the reactor," says Peter Caracappa of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. In addition, concerns about contaminated food have likely been exaggerated. "It's not like some chemical contaminants—it's not invisible [to our screening methods],” Caracappa says. The the experts conclude that the real concerns should be directed at other physical and mental impacts. Fukushima residents will likely face mental health challenges and the physical ailments that come with stress, such as heart disease. U.C. Berkeley's Thomas McKone says, "Much of the damage was really psychological—the stress of not knowing, of being relocated." Seiji Yasumura of Fukushima Medical University's Department of Public Health says, "Mental health is the most significant issue." (Scientific American) For the complete article, go to…  http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=japans-post-fukushima-earthquake-health-woes-beyond-radiation
  • Preliminary results of last spring’s thyroid screenings for Fukushima have been released. 80% of those living near the Fukushima power complex had detectable radioactive Iodine in their thyroids. Five persons had exposures of more than 50 millisieverts, with the level being 87 millisieverts. Team leader, Hirosaki University professor Shinji Tokonami, said the levels were relatively low considering the scale of the airborne radioactivity releases. (JAIF)
  • Despite what the experts say, over half of Fukushima Prefecture's residents worry greatly about their health due to the ongoing nuclear crisis. 54% of Fukushima Prefecture residents were "greatly worried" about the potential health effects of radiation from the nuclear plant -- twice the national average of 27%. Combining the percentages of those who were either "greatly worried" or "somewhat worried" about their health, the figure for Fukushima Prefecture reached 83 percent -- 10 points above the national average of 73%. 70 percent of the respondents in the three disaster-hit prefectures said they believed the government was "hiding" information -- roughly on par with the national average of 71%. Even among those in favor of nuclear energy, 66 percent of the national respondents believe the government is hiding critical information. 85% of those who are "greatly concerned" with their health said the government is keeping information on the disaster secret from the public. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • Decontamination work has begun on key roads inside the Fukushima no-go zones. Efforts on a road by the Nahara Town Hall were watched by news media on Thursday. Water jets were used by workers in protective clothing to blast the pavement, and the results were encouraging. Radiation fields above the road were reduced by about 80%. In Tomioka Town, the media saw the monitoring of radiation levels every 10 meters on the Joban Expressway, in preparation for its cleansing. The expressway’s radiation field at one meter above the pavement is between 4 and 5 microsieverts per hour. If water jets can reduce the fields by 80%, they will be at or below the goal of 1 microsievert/hour. The government plans starting work on six other main thoroughfares in the no-go zone which will be critical for repopulation of the towns with already-low radiation levels. (NHK World)
  • Another new poll shows that nearly 60% of the mayors along the Tohoku coast want nuclear power abolished. The mayors of 42 municipalities in Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima prefectures were polled by Mainichi Shimbun. Six months ago, a similar poll revealed that less than 50% wanted nuclear abolition. The nearly 20% increase is attributed to the proliferation of groundless rumors that have hurt local businesses and the tourism industry. One abolitionist, Norio Kanno, mayor of Iitate, said, "If Japan declares it will seek economic growth through nuclear power stations, the international community will turn its back on us." Another, Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai of Minamisoma, seeks the total closure of nuclear plants in the long run because "it has become clear that the safety of residents and the environment is not guaranteed." On the other hand, Mayor Toshiami Watanabe of Okuma, said "It's difficult to secure substitute energy sources if all the nuclear power stations in Japan are stopped. The minimum necessary plants should be retained while safety regulations are stiffened." (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • Widespread public doubt exists over the stability of the Fukushima Daiichi facility despite many independent Japanese experts believing the government assessment of cold shutdown is probably accurate. Hisashi Ninokata Tokyo Institute of Technology explained that although the melted fuel is continuing to produce a certain amount of decay heat, the levels have steadily declined over the past year. Heat emanating from each reactor has fallen to about 0.05 percent of their pre-disaster power levels which suggests temperatures have been brought under control. "I can hardly imagine that the melted fuel will suffer further damage" through a surge in temperature, he said. Akira Wada, professor emeritus at Tokyo Institute of Technology, said that even though some of the reactor buildings were damaged by hydrogen explosions, considering how strongly they were built in the first place it remains unlikely they would collapse during another big quake. While a considerable amount of work is to be done over the next ~30 years, the experts believe the time to worry about another worst-case scenario unfolding has passed. (Japan Times)
  • A few mothers who fled Fukushima after March 11 have spoken about their fears of radiation in New York City. An un-named non-government organization (NGO) brought them to New York and reserved a room at the United Nations for a Press conference. About 80 people attended. All women now live in Tokyo, but their fears of radiation have only amplified since leaving Fukushima Prefecture. Chiaki Tomitsuka says she fears another accident at Fukushima Daiichi because the area is prone to earthquakes. She says she fears for her children’s lives. Yoshiko Fukagawa says she and her children live every day in fear of radiation. Those attending the meeting said they now better understand the difficulty in raising children in an environment of radiation fears. (JAIF)



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