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Fukushima 32...5/7/12-5/25/12

 May 25

Tokyo shoots itself in the foot again!

Although it seems almost too bizarre to be true, the Tokyo government “angrily” says the WHO report on Fukushima public exposures is an unreal overestimation (Asahi Shimbun). Some of the WHO estimates are greater than the government has published, and Tokyo doesn’t like it one bit! “The WHO estimates deviate considerably from reality,” says one source, “If those figures are taken at face value, that may spread disquiet and confusion among the Japanese public”. What makes Tokyo’s response so strange is, first, researchers from Japan’s Radiological Sciences and the National Institute of Public health served on the WHO panel. Further, the data used for the WHO report came from the Japanese government last September! Why is Tokyo be so upset? Another official said something that seems to shed revealing light, “If they [the WHO estimates] are released, that will not only arouse unnecessary anxiety among the Japanese public but also serve as negative publicity (emphasis added).” In other words, the WHO report might give Tokyo another political black eye. But, the hit may well be self-inflicted.

The WHO report on Fukushima health impacts is based on highest-possible exposure estimates. The estimates are high because WHO assumed all people stayed in their homes for 4 months after the accident, when in-fact most quickly evacuated. Plus, the effect of sales bans on contaminated food was not included in the prognosis, which suggests over-estimation of internal exposure. Such conservative approaches are common, and Tokyo has previously used the same techniques themselves. Should the government blast WHO because they came out with a somewhat different assumption?

The public in Japan has literally lost faith in their government because of Tokyo’s penchant for naïve bungling during the F. Daiichi accident. Naoto Kan’s inept handling of the F. Daiichi crisis, combined with his censorship of information released to the public, created a chasm of suspicion that the present government has been shackled with. Instead of possibly easing the distrust situation, Tokyo adds more fuel to the fire by attacking the findings of one of the most prestigious scientific organizations in the world, and concurrently denigrates their own official data. What are they thinking? Tokyo had been offered the opportunity to recover a modicum of confidence by praising rather than criticizing the WHO report. But in an utterly confounding move, they have decided to amplify rather than mitigate voter non-confidence. Naoto Kan shot himself in the foot several times after 3/11/12. Now, the Yoshihiko Noda government may have followed suit.

  • As part of UNSCEAR’s preliminary summary findings on Fukushima accident health effects, the greatest risk to the public from Fukushima might be psychological stress. According to Evelyn Bromet, a psychiatric epidemiologist at the State University of New York, after Chernobyl evacuees were more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than the population as a whole. The risk may be even greater at Fukushima. “I’ve never seen PTSD questionnaires like this,” she says of a survey being conducted by Fukushima Medical University. People are “utterly fearful and deeply angry. There’s nobody that they trust any more for information.” While the mandated evacuations kept public exposures below the threshold for biological health effects, it has not been enough to rebuild trust between the government and local residents. Mental harm has taken its toll. Tatsuhiko Kodama, University of Tokyo and an outspoken critic of the government, questions the report’s value. “I think international organizations should stop making hasty reports based on very short visits to Japan that don’t allow them to see what is happening locally.” (Nature)
  • The UNSCEAR summary report also says the six deaths of F. Daiichi workers since 3/11/12 had nothing to do with radiation exposure. The deaths are attributable to cardiovascular disease or other reasons, but not radiation. One death was due to acute leukemia, but radiation exposure was ruled out because exposure was low the time period was too short for anything to have happened. (Japan Times)
  • Higher-than-normal summer temperatures have been forecast for western Japan, including Osaka. The Japan Meteorological Agency made the forecast for the region where electricity shortages are feared due nuke shutdowns. However, the agency predicts the national average temperature will be near-normal. (Kyodo News)
  • Tepco has released new estimates of the volume of radioisotopes released from the Fukushima accident. Total activity is now estimated to have been nearly a million-million-million Becquerels, or 900,000 Tera-becquerels. This is ~50% greater than previous estimates made by the Tokyo government. However, it is still less than 20% of the release estimates for Chernobyl in 1986. Release estimates for April, 2011, and beyond, are ten times less than for March. Tepco added that most of the radio-isotopic releases were from units #1&3 where the fuel rods melted. They did not mention unit #2 as a significant source. (NHK World)

May 23

  • The World health Organization says all Japanese Fukushima exposures to the public will not cause cancer. WHO adds that international exposures are so close to natural background that increases in cancers or other health effects are unlikely. WHO used the most conservative (cautious, sensible) analytic methods possible to reach their conclusion. The lowest conservative threshold for cancer induction is 100 millisieverts, but the highest public exposures near F. Daiichi were in the 10-50 mSv range – well-below the threshold. The majority of the public exposures in the Tohoku region were in the 1-10 mSv range, at least 10 times less than the threshold. The early evacuation of those within 3km of the accident kept exposures below the cancer threshold for everyone. (Reuters)
  • Japanese scientists estimate that the water level in the room immediately below the Reactor Vessel (pedestal) of F. Daiichi unit #1 is 40 centimeters. Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organization researchers have used more than a year of temperature and pressure data to make their pronosticationt. Unlike the previous pedestal water level measurement for unit #2, no actual visual inspection is possible for unit #1 because of extreme radiation levels immediately outside the primary containment. Regardless, the water level suggested for unit #1 is well below the previous estimate of a 2 meter depth reported by Tepco last year. JNESO says that despite the less-than-expected depth of the water, the solidified corium from the meltdown of March 11-12, 2011, is being sufficiently cooled. The assessment further indicates there might be a leak from inside the pedestal and into the pressure suppression tank (torus) room surrounding the pedestal. (NHK World)
  • The Tokyo government seems to have no interest in Osaka mayor Hashimoto’s recent Oi restart suggestion. Hashimoto said the Oi nukes should only be run when actually needed to avoid power shortages in the region, if restarts are approved by Tokyo. If they are not needed, he wants the reactors to remain shuttered. The government is set to reject Hashimoto's suggestion, according to government sources. Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura made a statement which did not deny the possibility, "Tight electricity supply and demand is not the only factor we are considering in regard to resuming reactor operations." Meanwhile, Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada questioned Fujimura's remarks, "Wasn't the government supposed to make a decision about reactivation based on safety, not economic efficiency? It's inconsistent." (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • Can Japan thrive without nuclear power? That’s the question asked by an editorial in MIT’s Technology Review. The underlying issue is the level of reliance Japan now faces with respect to foreign oil imports, 85% of which is Middle Eastern. In 2011, Japan increased its oil import costs $50 billion, $30 billion of which was for thermal plants to off-set shuttered nukes. Unless idled nukes are restarted, Japan will spend an additional $60 billion on oil in 2012. With the nation’s economy teetering, the possibility of fiscal failure increases every day.
  • A Japanese Industry Ministry panel is preparing a report on future energy mixes. Sources say it will present four-possibilities… 1) the ratio of nuclear power in relation to the nation's total power generation in 2030 should be reduced to zero at an early date from 26 percent in fiscal 2010; 2) the ratio should gradually be reduced to 15 percent; 3) the ratio should remain at certain levels between 20 and 25 percent; and 4) no numerical targets should be set. A “35% nuclear” proposal was dropped for fear that the public would not stand for it. Also, independent economists have turned away from the METI forecast because they feel any such estimate will necessarily be wrong, especially when it is projected nearly two decades into the future. There are simply too many unforeseeable variables. Regardless, it will be interesting to see how options 2-4 (if any are accepted) will be juxtaposed with the pending 40 year limit on nuclear plant operations. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • A quasi-formal tribunal concerning the Fukushima accident has found Tepco and the government guilty of negligence. The ruling states, “They shirked their responsibility by intentionally ruling out a situation they should have been prepared for.” The court also said that charges of crimes against humanity ought to be formally pursued.  The “defense” lawyers countered, “The accident was beyond their ability to foresee and avoid its consequences.” Organizing head Professor Narihiko Ito of Chuo University said, “The past tribunals tried war crimes. This is the first time to hold a tribunal on nuclear power.” He added that because people died due to the forced evacuations and a scarcity of adequate medical facilities, the formation of a tribunal was warranted. The results of the tribunal are not legally binding, but the organizers seem to have gone to great lengths to simulate what might be the case if the hearing were in-fact lawful. The group intends to promote pursuit of criminal charges against Tepco and the government under Naoto Kan. (Asahi Shimbun)

May 21

  • (Saturday) During his testimony before the Diet’s Fukushima investigative panel, former minister Banri Kaieda said, "It took time to get the understanding of the prime minister," (over an hour) of his responsibilities during a nuclear emergency. On the evening of March 11, Kaieda was told by Tepco officials of the extreme situation at F. Daiichi, so he immediately told Kan they needed to declare an emergency and establish the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters under the prime minister. Kan responded, "On what grounds?" Kan assigned Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano to study the regulation putting Kan in charge – the Law on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency Preparedness. Kan then left to attend a routine meeting of Diet party leaders! In an attempt to protect his former boss, Kaieda said that communications between the Prime Minister's, Tepco, and Fukushima Daiichi were poor and chaotic. When asked whether or not Tepco was actually planning to abandon F. Daiichi on March 15, Kaieda said, "I clearly recall three words President Shimizu said when he telephoned me. 'No. 1 power plant,' 'No. 2 power plant' and 'evacuation.' There was never any mention of leaving some workers at the plant." Kan subsequently assumed the worst, resulting in his ordering Tepco to not abandon the facility. TEPCO board chairman Tsuneshisa Katsumata told the panel last Monday that "there is no truth" in the claim that the utility asked the government for permission to pull all its workers from the nuclear plant. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • (Saturday) The issue of whether or not to restart the Oi nukes has become international. The Wall Street Journal says they expect the Tokyo government to say “yes”. However, they believe the Oi nukes will not be restarted before peak summer electricity demand hits because of the obscure, politically charged process common to Japan. Before restarting, the government has said it will consult local communities and then make a final Cabinet-level decision. However, it is unclear as to what communities ought to be included in the process. Communities hosting the nukes, to be sure. But how far beyond that? While the Oi town officials have given their consent, officials of neighboring Kyoto and Shiga prefectures are loudly opposing the restart. Perhaps the loudest is Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto, whose city is more than 100 kilometers distant. Should all of them be in the approval process? That has yet to be decided. Mr. Noda and the three Cabinet members assigned to make decision are likely to press ahead with restart, regardless. “If nuclear plants are not restarted, they will turn become liabilities, instead of assets,” Yoshito Sengoku, a senior member Democratic Party of Japan said recently, “Even for accounting reasons, it’s difficult to exit from nuclear power.” But, the political risks run high.  “There could be an accident the day after the restart. Any politician who authorized the restart would be forced into resignation,” said Tomoko Murakami, nuclear expert at the pro-business Institute of Energy Economics. “There may not be a restart — not just for months, but for years,” she added. (WSJ - Asia)
  • (Saturday) Meanwhile, the government is considering local rolling blackouts this summer, if voluntary reduction in consumption fails. And it might. The government says if a blackout is unavoidable, it will last for around 2 hours and that it will only be imposed once a day.  A metal processing company in Osaka says if rolling blackouts take place, they will seriously affect production. The company says it has already reduced the number of air conditioners in the factory and made workers weld in the morning and evening when it is cooler. The company says it has done everything to save electricity, and is considering shifting some of its production to Thailand. (NHK World)
  • (Sunday) Businesses in Western Japan are confused about the government’s recent waffling relative to this summer’s impending power crunch. At first Tokyo said voluntary reduction in consumption and electricity supplied from other regions would be enough. Now, the government has extended its request for voluntary reduction to neighboring regions so that there will be sufficient power from other utility companies to compensate. This means Chubu Electric customers will also have to cut back. To reduce consumption, Toyota (a Chubu customer) will bring in eight natural gas generators and install further cogeneration systems at 12 other sites. This will reduce their power intake by nearly 13%. But small-to-medium businesses can’t afford such costly measures. Many Chuba customers wonder why they have to make sacrifices? President Yoshiomi Yamada of Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) said: "Why was Chubu Electric chosen to provide [replacement] power? I also don't understand how the decision was made." Meanwhile, businesses in the Kansai region have their problems, too. "We are really confused [over conservation measures] as [we have no idea] whether the Oi plant will be restarted," said Akihiro Nikkaku, president of Toray Industries, Inc. Other companies that moved to western Japan after last year’s tsunami are now considering returning to the east.  For example, Lion Corp. is going to move part of its detergent production from Osaka Prefecture (Kepco's service area) to a factory in Chiba Prefecture, which is in Tepco's service area. "As few politicians have experience in business, they don't understand our sense of crisis and urgency," said Yasuchika Hasegawa, chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto continues to keep himself in the spotlight. Nuclear disaster management minister Goshi Hosono met with Kansai area officials on Saturday to explain the government’s reasons for wanting to restart Oi units #3&4. Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tsuyoshi Saito joined him and said, "The economy and people's lives cannot be sustained if all the country's nuclear reactors stop operating.” Hosono then explained why Tokyo is confident in the safety of the Oi nukes. Hashimoto responded, "I expect the new nuclear regulatory agency will put together comprehensive safety standards. Until then, the reactors should not be allowed to resume full operations." Hashimoto also suggested that if the Oi reactors are restarted, they should only be used to avoid power shortages and blackouts. He wants them shuttered if neither happens. In support of Hashimoto, Governor Yoshinobu Nisaka of Wakayama Prefecture, much further from Oi than Osaka, accused Tokyo of being too hasty in pushing for restarts, "Politicians should wait for the green light from experts, but they are taking the initiative.” Osaka and Wakayama are not on Japan’s west coast, but are in-fact located on the eastern coast. (Yomiuri Shimbun)

May 18

Yesterday, Banri Kaieda and Kazuo Matsunaga became the first political officials from the Kan regime to be grilled by the parliamentary Fukushima investigative panel. The testimony is important and has received major coverage by the Japanese Press. Here’s a couple summaries…

  • Kaieda admits that he incorrectly doubted Tepco during the nuclear crisis at F. Daiichi. He said he thought the utility was trying to make the crisis appear ''less serious'' than it actually was when the venting of #1 containment was delayed. He added, ''I felt Tokyo Electric was somewhat hesitant, although actually that was not true.” (Kyodo News)
  • Kaieda believes communication problems were the cause of many poor Tokyo decisions during the early days of the accident. One of the communication-based mistakes was Kan being slow to declare a nuclear emergency because Kan’s staff had to clarify the legal basis of his duties, and then they had to convince the Prime Minister. This un-necessarily slowed the government’s nuclear accident declaration. Kaieda added that there was little or no communication between officials, which he compared to a game of “Chinese Whispers” occurring in the Prime Minister’s office. He admitted no-one was aware of the potential danger of hydrogen build-ups, and all were surprised when F. Daiichi unit #1’s reactor building experienced a catastrophic explosion. “The words ‘hydrogen explosion’ were not in my ears.” (JAIF)
  • Kaieda attacked the actions of Prime Minister Naoto Kan for being meddlesome and heavy-handed during the crisis. He displayed “nothing but displeasure” when speaking of Kan. When asked why the government took more than three hours to declare the nuclear emergency, Kaieda immediately said, “It took time to gain the understanding of the prime minister.” Concerning Kan’s questionable ordering Tepco to not abandon the plant, Kaieda reminded the panel that  TEPCO employees told the Diet investigation panel they had a “feeling of strangeness” when they were rebuked by the prime minister. Kaieda chided the Prime Minister’s language, “Slightly different expressions could have been used.” He added that he did not understand why Kan did it, and he remains dumbfounded. When asked what he remembers Tepco saying about evacuationg the site, Kaieda replied, “I do not remember whether the words ‘all (employees)’ were used.” Kaieda also told the panel he was surprised by Kan frequently giving direct instructions to Masao Yoshida, then-manager of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, implying Kan was literally out of control, “Broad authority must be exercised in a restrained manner.” (Asahi Shimbun)
  • Panel chairman Kiyoshi Kurukawa says the Industry Ministry “lacked a sense of crisis” during the accident. He added that during testimony being given by former industry minister Kazuo Matsunaga, the official often declined to explain his responsibility for taking public protective measures and emergency response actions during and after the early days of the crisis. When asked what his responsibilities were, Matsunaga said they had always left that sort of thing to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency officials.  Kurukawa finally said it seems clear that the ministries responsible for nuclear emergency response were not competent enough to handle the situation. A full report on the panel’s findings is due for release in June. (NHK World)
  • Ex-PM Kan will be questioned by the panel on March 28. (Kyodo News)

Now, for some other updates…

  • The Tokyo government says they will not issue a power-saving order to Kansai Electric Company’s customers. They say it is possible that excess power production will be available from other Companies in Japan sufficient to prevent blackouts in the Kansai Region, even if no nukes are restarted. To reduce the possibility of shortages, Tokyo says they will ask Kansai customers to reduce consumption voluntarily. With all nukes shuttered, 30% of Japan’s power supplies will not be available. (Kyodo News) Comment - It is improbable that any major nation can hastily supplant 30% of its energy supply with old, unreliable fossil plants and requests for voluntary reductions in consumption. Tokyo is clearly caving-in to critics of their summer power shortage forecasts, which is a move that threatens to paralyze Japanese business and industry during the country’s worst economic downturn since World War II.
  • The Oi town mayor praises PM Noda for his saying the government will soon decide on the Oi restarts issue. Noda said, ''In order to avoid any negative effects, the government has to make a grave decision,'' and that ''I think the timing of the decision is near.'' Mayor Shinobu Tokioka told reporters ''The government has shown its leadership for the first time.'' (Kyodo News)
  • More than 5 years before the F. Daichi accidents, The Nuclear Safety Commission tried to have quake/tsunami regulations upgraded. However, the Industry Ministry’s lap-dog, NISA, refused to cooperate because it would result in expensive upgrades and potentially give rise to public criticism of older nukes. NISA feared the public might think nuclear power plants built under the old guideline were dangerous, resulting in opposition to and lawsuits against the nuke operations.  The NSC formally instructed back checks be conducted based on the revised guidelines to ensure each plants' quake-resistance capabilities. NISA retorted that 3 serious complications would ensue if the rules were stiffened, which were, (1) concerned groups would be increasingly critical which might result in the stopping of nuke operations, (2) NSC and NISA experts might be summoned to court if legal action was taken against the plants' operations, and, (3) losing such court battles would be unavoidable unless back checks or other activities examining nuclear plants were carried out. This ended all hope of the NSC desire for stiffer quake/tsunami standards occurring. Takao Tsuruzono of NISA's legal office said, “We regret that there was insufficient consideration for this matter." (Yomiuri Shimbun)

May 16

  • The story of the Oi town assembly approving nuke restarts continues. This marks the first local approval of restarting nuclear operations since the Fukushima accident. The decision was not made overnight. Oi officials have been meeting since May 7 to discuss the issue, so this cannot be called a hasty decision. After due deliberation, 11 of the 12 assembly members voted to approve the restarts. "The safety of the nuclear reactors has been confirmed using the safety standards presented by the central government based on the lessons learned from the Fukushima crisis," one member said Monday's. Another said, "The reactors' prolonged suspension will reduce the town's tax revenues from nuclear-related sectors, adversely affecting the local economy.” Mayor Shinobu Tokioka says he will await the prefecture’s independent nuclear safety committee decision before making recommendations to the Fukui governor. Sources indicate that the expert committee feels the new safety standards are appropriate and that it leans toward approving Oi unit #3&4 restarts. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • In another new source’s article, we get further information related to the Oi town’s decision. A weekend survey in and around Fukui Prefecture showed that 45% of respondents backed restarting reactors that are found to be safe, and an equal number were opposed. It is possible that the evenly-divided nature of public opinion combined with Oi town’s restart approval might give the Tokyo government confidence to allow Kansai Electric Co. to resume operations at Oi. Greenpeace says the government’s “reckless push” to get reactors back in service “has left many communities thinking they have to choose between risks to their health and safety, and risks to their jobs and prosperity.” (Japan Today)
  • Despite local approval of the Oi nukes, Fukui governor Issei Nishikawa remains critical of the Tokyo government with respect to the nuclear safety issue. ''We want (the government) to clearly show its stance and system (toward the nation's nuclear policy) to citizens,'' Nishikawa said. (Kyodo News)
  • One newspaper in Japan (Japan Times) says the current nuke restart issue might be no more than a political tug-of-war between Prime Minister Noda and Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto. The editorial itself is groundless. In the first place, the debate was spawned by former PM (and avowed anti-nuke) Naoto Kan with his de-facto moratorium on nuclear plant operations after the Fukushima accident. Secondly, Prime Minister Noda is trying to keep the lights burning and industries churning come the long, hot summer. Nuke restarts can avoid summer power shortages, and he knows it. On the other hand, mayor Hashimoto is clearly using the current nation-wide level of distrust in the Tokyo government to spring-board himself into national political prominence. Hashimoto has everything to gain and nothing to lose by his effort. If Japan’s energy infrastructure fails this summer, Noda will be the scapegoat...not Hashimoto. If the Oi nukes restart and a national energy crisis is avoided, Noda will be attacked by Hashimoto for arbitrarily forcing the nation into un-necessary levels of nuclear risk. The Japan Times article fails to mention any of this. Their editorial isn’t worth the fonts it’s written with.
  • A group of Japanese municipal officials continues to fight to scrap all nuclear plants. 66 municipal heads (out of ~770 across Japan) have submitted a petition to Mitsuyoshi Yanagisawa, Senior Vice Minister for Industry, demanding all nuclear plants should be permanently shuttered as soon as possible. They also demand a full national commitment to an energy policy that does not include anything nuclear. The petition was submitted by Tokai mayor Tatsuya Murakami, who said the Fukushima accident needs to be taken seriously as a clear incentive to adopt a non-nuclear energy plan. However, Vice Minister Yanagisawa said nuke restart decisions must consider oil prices and seasonal electricity demand. (JAIF)
  • A new, prestigious study out of America concludes that low level radiation exposure over long periods of time may not be hazardous! One of the authors, Jacqueline Yanch, a senior lecturer in MIT's Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, reports "This paper shows that you could go 400 times higher than average background levels and you're still not detecting genetic damage.” In other words, using the 1.5 mSv/yr estimate of Japan’s average natural background levels, one could be exposed to as much as 600 mSv/yr and not suffer genetic damage in excess of that which would occur without any additional exposure at all. I could go on, but I suggest reading the following, non-vested summary…
  • More than 80% of the waste sludge in Fukushima Prefecture is not being disposed of for one reason…fear of radiation. About 18% of the sludge exceeds government standards for open disposal and must be handled as low level nuclear waste. The rest is well below the 8000 Becquerel/kg limit and can be buried or recycled in cement or fertilizer products without restriction. However, because there are detectable isotopes from the nuke accident in their make-up, more than 32,000 tons of sludge from waste processing is being stored in make-shift fashion across the prefecture. Why? Because local residents believe that any detectably level is too dangerous to consider. Don’t bury it or even think about shipping it off to be recycled because it’s…radioactive! (NHK World)
  • My friend and fellow blogger Will Davis has written a stern rebuff of the recent unconscionable speculations concerning the possibility of world-wide catastrophe from F. Daiichi spent fuel pool #4. I suggest everyone check it out and share it with anyone who cares…

May 15

Urgent : Latest Report on Fukushima Radiation out of Japan

A new study on Fukushima radiation exposures and their risks has been released by the Health Physics Society of Japan. Health Physics studies the biological effects of ionizing radiation and methods of its mitigation. Hps are arguably the most radiation-informed segment of the scientific community because their experise covers all seven types of radioactive phenomena, where-as most medical radiology focusses on X-ray, Alpha and Gamma. FYI, I was an HP for more than 20 years. Here's the link for the HPSJ report on Fukushima...

May 14

  • The residents of Minamisoma are finding they have little support in their tsunami clean-up effort. There are precious few volunteers helping the residents remove rubble left by the giant tidal wave. It seems many potential volunteers decline to help because they fear the possibility of radiation exposure. Kazui Nagayama, 79, says, "My house is far from being cleaned up. It's exhausting, both emotionally and physically. I want people to understand that not all disaster areas are the same; those that have been affected by the nuclear crisis are different." But, not all people are afraid to help. Tokyo's Misae Komatsu, 42, helped carry mud-caked furniture out of homes and scraped out gutters. "I was shocked to see that over a year after the quake and tsunami, everything was still the way it was [after the tsunami hit]," Komatsu said of the untouched rubble. Minamisoma's Council of Social Welfare is the only organization accepting volunteers to remove rubble in the area. The center says there were about 700 volunteers during the "Golden Week" holiday, with over 100 volunteers on one day. Since then, the numbers have dropped to about a dozen per day. The center says they have requests from residents that would require over 400 volunteers per day. On the other hand, the number of volunteers outside the 20km radius around Fukushima Daiichi is much larger. For example, nearly 35,000 helped with rubble removal in the rest of Fukushima Prefecture in May, 2011. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • The political log-jam over creation of a new government nuclear watchdog group may be breaking up. The majority Democratic Party of Japan and its main opposition, the Liberal Democratic Party, have agreed-in-principle on a drastic revision of the pending nuclear safety bill. Sources say the regulatory agency will be subordinate to an oversight group, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The NRC would have a “highly independent status” similar to the existent Fair Trade Commission, and be comprised of “collegial” experts. The NRC would consist of 5 commissioners, similar to America’s NRC. Below them, the watchdog group would consist of about 500 carefully selected individuals appointed by the NRC. If the Diet passes this new structure, nuclear safety regulation would no longer be part of the Industry or Environment ministries. Environment/Disaster minister Goshi Hosono has expressed his concern over this new direction in regulation because he feels a collegial group would have difficulty handling a nuclear crisis like Fukushima. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • A petition for a nuclear plebiscite in Tokyo has been submitted to Governor Shintaro Ishihara. The proposed referendum would call for total abolition of nuclear power. The petition was signed by more than 323,000 residents of Tokyo, considerably more than the required minimum of 214,000. The Tokyo metro assembly is scheduled to consider the petition next month. If a majority backs the petition, the plebiscite will be held. The proposed ordinance would ask whether or not Tokyo Electric Company (Tepco) should be allowed to operate any of their nuclear plants. The chances of it actually happening are not good because of Ishihara’s open opposition to the idea, "As I have said before, I believe nuclear power plants are something that should not be discussed as a black or white issue. I think this kind of way to decide things is risky. Why do we need to hold a plebiscite only on this kind of issue? The metropolitan assembly exists (for deciding such matters). So why don't we have a calm discussion about it at the assembly?" Eiko Nakamura, head of the petition drive, admits the chances of plebiscite approval are not good, "Considering Ishihara's past remarks, we know it will be difficult to gain approval.” She also said, "As residents of Tokyo, the nation's No. 1 consumer of electricity, we must think about whether we want to retain nuclear power.” (Japan Times)
  • The Oi town assembly has approved the restart of Oi units #3&4. The majority favored restarts because of economic factors and keeping nuclear jobs in the community. Dissenters said they opposed restart because the Fukushima accident investigation has not been completed and the new nuclear regulatory system is not yet in place. The formal paperwork for the assembly’s decision was given to town mayor Shinobu Tokioka. The mayor said his personal decision on restarts will be determined by the assembly conclusion plus the findings of the prefecture’s expert panel on nuclear safety. After he decides, the mayor will then brief the prefecture’s governor, possibly later this month. (NHK World)
  • A Tokyo government panel has speculated that a nuclear phase out could cause electricity bills in Japan to double over the next 20 years. Even without the nuke phase-out, bills will increase 30-40%. The forecast was compiled by the Fundemental Issues Subcommittee of the Industry Ministry. (Nuclear Street)
  • Unabashed political opportunist Tori Hashimoto is once again in the national news. The Osaka mayor’s support group, One Osaka, is politicking to become an official political party by the next national election. Some members of Tokyo’s Lower and Upper houses have said they are interested in Hashimoto’s largely anti-nuclear ticket because it promises to change Japan’s political landscape. "If lawmakers of other parties decide to quit their parties and support the political activities of [One Osaka], that means they are lawmakers of our group," Hashimoto told reporters in Osaka. A group must have at least five lawmakers as members to be recognized as a political party eligible for subsidies and capable of fielding candidates. Hashimoto hopes to field 300 candidates and win 200 Lower House seats in the next general election. One Osaka plans to wage a battle against the ruling Democratic Party of Japan. A senior One Osaka official said, "If sitting lawmakers apply during open solicitation, we'll be able to see whether they are serious about leaving their parties." (Japan Times)
  • The Tokyo government is creating a new regional council on nuclear safety. It is intended to consist of members from Fukui, Shiga, and Kyoto prefectures. Through the group’s effort, it is hoped the three prefecture’s residents will support the restart of Oi units #3&4 in time to avoid the probable power shortage forecast for this coming summer. Lawmakers from Osaka will be excluded from membership. There’s little doubt this will set off a tsunami of negative responses from Osaka mayor Tori Hashimoto and his One Osaka supporters. (Kyodo News)
  • The residents of Fukushima Daiichi’s host town, Okuma, have been briefed on the government’s plan to create a temporary low level waste storage facility. Environment minister Goshi Hosono said storage facilities are necessary to contain the vast amount of radioactive contaminated soil from the area, and Okuma is the most logical location for one. A question was raised on the necessity of the storage facilities in Osaka due to fear of an increase in radiation levels. But before Hosono could answer, other residents shifted the topic to financial compensation, which dominated the remainder of the meeting. Residents want equal compensation to all Okuma residents, regardless of the contamination levels of properties. Hosono said Tokyo will indeed seek to resolve the compensation issue before going further with storage facility plans. (NHK World)
  • Governors within 150 kilometers of the Hamaoka nuclear station have various views on whether or not the reactors should be restarted. Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu said, "We are planning to independently run tests to determine the engineering safety of the plant and the economic rationality of power generation costs, and for the time being, will not approve reactivation of the plant. The government has not informed us of the process leading up to the plant's reactivation, and has not taken any appropriate action toward the local economy that's been affected by the plant's halted operations." Kanagawa Gov. Yuji Kurosawa says, "Unless there is a guarantee of sufficient safety, consent will not be easily given." Mie Gov. Eikei Suzuki said, "There has been too little explanation from the national government about the need (to reactivate the plant) based on the plant's safety and power demand." Gifu Gov. Hajime Furuta says, "A major prerequisite for consent is a watertight plan, including research on tsunamis' possible effects, and an explanation to the public." One governor, however, is concerned about possible power shortages and seems to favor a Hamaoka restart. Yamanashi Gov. Shomei Yokouchi says, "After talks with local communities, I would like to see nuclear plants that can be restarted to be reactivated as soon as possible." (Mainichi Shimbun)

May 11

Apocalyptic fantasy gets headlines in Japan

This past week, Doomsday prophecies have spread around the world concerning Spent Fuel Pool #4 at Fukushima Daiichi. Tepco has issued statements contradicting the apocalyptic rumors, but it seems no news media source is listening to them. On Thursday, Asahi Shimbun wrote, “But these days, even politicians may seem more reliable than TEPCO about information concerning nuclear safety.” The Asahi supports their Tepco aversion by referencing international news outlets like the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Huffington Post, all of which are an ocean away and a world apart. They also cite a lone Japanese source, Mitsuhei Murata, 74, professor emeritus at Tokaigakuen University who served as Japan's ambassador to Switzerland. He said, "The trust in the central government and TEPCO which allowed the accident to happen has fallen around the world. There is no nation that wholeheartedly believes those releases." This strongly implies that the professor is willing to believe international scaremongering over hard data! But, he doesn’t stop there. "Since TEPCO is, after all, a for-profit company, it cannot be said to be making every possible effort.”

Where has this suddenly-popular science-fiction fantasy come from? The scenario comes primarily (but not solely) from America’s notorious prophet of nuclear energy doom, Arnie Gundersen.  Gundersen asserts the SPFs at Fukushima have the “power to split the Japanese Archipelago.” He adds that the fuel in SPF # 4 contains radiation equal to the amount released in the atmosphere by all past nuclear weapon experiments. Gundersen also says that the No. 4 reactor building's structure was critically weakened by the 3/11/11 earthquake, the building is tilted, and he advises friends in Tokyo to immediately evacuate if and when the No. 4 reactor building collapses. None of Gundersen’s assertions fly in the face of Tepco’s analytical data. It seems his statements are based on personal assumption. In other words, “Apocalyptic Arnie” is making it up! Tepco has flatly denied all of his assertions, as well as those by Robert Alvarez which parallel Gundersen. Undaunted, Mr. Murata chimes in, "Since TEPCO is, after all, a for-profit company, it cannot be said to be making every possible effort. There is no time to waste. Knowledge from around the world should be gathered as soon as possible to begin the work of removing the nuclear fuel from the storage pool."  This shows that the professor is more willing to believe Gundersen’s fiction than serious analytical fact!

As regular readers will attest, I have closely followed the post-accident events in Japan every day since March 11, 2011. I have found that since Naoto Kan stepped down and Tepco was no longer compelled to clear all public information through Kan’s staff before release, Tepco’s communications have stood the test of time. Their level of transparency and honesty has been commendable since Kan’s resignation. Due to many months of Kan’s censuring, Tepco’s reputation for transparency and honesty went down the drain. It is understandable that trust was lost with the public, causing the Press to seek out other sources to counter Tepco claims. But enough is enough. I firmly believe Tepco has long-since turned the informational corner. The era of distrust in Tepco’s information should end, although there presently seems to be no light at the end of trust’s tunnel. Regardless, when the second-largest newspaper in Japan gives serious billing to phantasmagorical offal of unprecedented magnitude, we are taken from the ridiculous to the sublime.

For additional information on the absurd speculations of a possible apocalypse caused by unit #4 SPF, please go to esteemed colleague Rod Adam’s blog of May 11, 2012…


Here’s the remaining updates…

  • Kansai Electric (Kepco) says that 13 of its 28 fossil-fueled (thermal) plants will have scheduled maintenance shutdowns postponed due to the nuclear moratorium. They plan to keep all thermal’s operating at full power through the summer. Fossil-fueled plants are usually shuttered for maintenance, cleaning of the boilers (you have no idea how awful that usually is), and repairs every 2 to 4 years. NISA has already approved seven postponements of legally-required shut-downs as well as voluntary inspections of six other thermals. In order to try and avoid unexpected plant failures, Kepco says they are increasing daily equipment checks. Kepco is also stoking their warehouses with replacement equipment to insure relatively rapid restarts should equipment failures cause some of the plants to suddenly drop off the grid. Why are they doing this? Because last year a motor failure caused a unit in Kyoto Prefecture to suddenly be lost, and another in Osaka Prefecture to shut off due to a gas turbine failure. Unless Oi units #3 & 4 are restarted, no thermal plant failures will be tolerable come the long, hot summer. (Japan Times)
  • On May 6, the Sinchi Thermal Power Station had to be shut down due to excessive steam leakage inside the plant’s boiler. This removed 1,000 megawatts from the national electrical grid. The cause of the Sinchi accident is currently being investigated. Kyodo Electric says they will repair the ruptured boiler tubing and return the plant to service as soon as possible. (Tepco Press Release)
  • A government expert panel predicts power shortages this summer in major cities including Osaka, Fukuoka and Sapporo. Unless, of course, Oi units #3 & 4 are restarted. Without the nukes, electricity supply in the Kepco system will be especially tight and could fall as much as 16% short of demand. Two other companies in danger of shortfalls are Kyushu Electric and Hokkaido Electric. (Kyodo News)
  • Tokyo says unless Oi units #3 & 4 are restarted, areas served by Kepco will possibly face mandated power restrictions this summer. The restrictions include setting firm power-saving targets and penalizing companies that fall short of them. However, if the nuke restarts happen and proposed power saving measures are taken by businesses and residential customers, Kepco patrons might not face the restrictions. This is the first time the government has said that the two Oi restarts could be enough to avert power shortages in Fukui, Kyoto, and Shiga prefectures. An official with the National Policy Unit said, "We presented preliminary calculations envisaging the restarting of the Oi reactors this time because committee members asked us to do so at the last meeting (on May 7)." Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura commented that the explanations to local bodies with a view to restart the Oi reactors were "ripening," hinting that the government hoped the reactors would be restarted. Nonetheless, the government’s announcement implies that restarting the two Oi plants could reduce the impetus to restart other idled nukes in the region, potentially pacifying local demands to delay restarts until the new nuclear regulatory program and stronger safety rules are in place. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • A group of small-to-medium businesses want the nation’s nukes restarted as soon as possible. The National Federation of Small Business Associations’ chairman, Kinya Tsuruta, has submitted a formal request to the industry ministry. It says that electricity shortfalls are a major concern, but they also fear the increased financial burden that goes with the massive rise in burning fossil fuels. Tsuruta fears that electric rate increases could “hollow out” Japanese industry. Industry Minister Edano pledged to make the power supply issue a priority. (JAIF)
  • Tepco discovered water squirting out of a pipe in the waste water filtrate system at Fukushima Daiichi. It took 15 minutes to remotely shut down the system and isolate the leaking section of pipe. The surface radiation level of the leaked water was indistinguishable from the site’s environmental readings near the system leak. None of the leaked water made it to any drainage ditch or gutter, so none of the liquid left the power complex and into the sea. (Tepco Press Release)

May 9

  • Fukushima held an un-announced nuclear emergency drill on Monday. The scenario was very similar to what happened on March 11, 2011…a serious earthquake followed by huge tsunami hitting Fukushima Daiichi. The drill was for all municipalities in the prefecture and to assess how fast their human response would be and test communication systems reliability. When the calamity actually happened, most local officials in the prefecture found out about the F. Daiichi accident from television news, which was clearly unacceptable and a violation of national nuclear emergency law. Once all emergency facilities were fully staffed and communications verified, the drill ended. (NHK World)
  • A Mainichi Shimbun poll shows that 63% of its readers do not what Oi units #3 & 4 restarted. This should be compared to a similar poll a month ago which revealed nearly 70% of the newspaper’s readers were against restart. (The Mainichi failed to point this out) The poll also showed that 77% do not trust the government’s new safety standards. In addition, 74% said they “can endure” any power restrictions this summer caused by not restarting nukes. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • The Gifu Prefectural assembly has unanimously rejected any support for nuke restarts. The prefecture is entirely land-locked and has no nuclear plants within its border. Nonetheless, the assembly has adopted a position that resident support must be won before any nuclear plants can begin operations. Their formal statement says that the new restart standards created by Tokyo were made by politicians, and not by nuclear experts. Thus, the new canons of restart cannot be trusted. The statement also asserts that new, expert-driven standards cannot be created until all investigations into the Fukushima accident are complete. When reminded that Gifu has no nuclear plants, one official said that a nuclear accident has no borders and everyone is affected. (NHK World)
  • On Monday, a worker at Fukushima Daiichi was found to have a small amount of contamination around his mouth. No contamination was found inside the nasal passages or inside the mouth. The worker washed his face and no further contamination remained. A whole body count for internal contamination proved negative. (TEPCO)
  • One of the nuclear power stations in Japan, Onagawa NPS, has built a new sea wall to protect against the rare-but-not-impossible tsunami. The wall raises the barrier between the reactors and the sea to a height of 17 meters. The original sea wall was 14 meters high, thus the new addition added another 3 meters. (Kyodo News)



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