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Fukushima 40...9/12/12-10/1/12


October 1

  • This week’s Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers (#124) is being hosted by Atomic Power Review. Topics include comparing nuclear energy costs to other energy sources, advice for pro-nuclear activists, the benefits of nuclear power expansion world-wide, the new American NRC chairman’s meeting with antinuclear leaders, and a new nuclear plant that was built under-budget in Russia. http://atomicpowerreview.blogspot.com/2012/09/carnival-of-nuclear-bloggers-no-124.html
  • On Saturday, Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) released the first footage from inside the Drywell at Fukushima Daiichi unit #1. The reactor vessel (RPV) itself cannot be seen, but the space between the thick concrete drywell wall and the inner pedestal that supports the RPV is visible. The video is cloudy and about half of the 40 minutes of footage shows only the inside of the piping penetration used to insert the remote camera. The interior of the Drywell shows considerable debris, probably from the shock of the severe pressure transients experienced the first two days of the accident and the outer building’s explosion on March 12, 2011. A thick metal plate that was expected to be visible near the opening is nowhere to be seen. The melting point of the plate is about 327oC, and the region inside the drywell was estimated to have risen as high as 700oC during the accident, so the plate may have melted away. The debris which has piled up on the inner catwalk (a thick metal grating) seems to be a combination of concrete and metal pieces. This first look inside the drywell was not expected until Tuesday, but the punching of a hole took much less time than had been estimated. The first look was not enough to establish a water level inside the structure. (Tepco Video Library; Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • Radiation levels near F. Daiichi have dropped more than had been previously anticipated. When the survey began, experts estimated there should be a 14% decrease by this past June, but they actually dropped by 23% between November, 2011, and June, 2012. Radiation levels were measured at 140,000 locations within 80 kilometers of F. Daiichi. Most of the measurements were taken on the ground at one meter above the earth. Others were taken by helicopter. Japan’s Science and Technology Ministry, which supervised the survey, believes the amount of contamination washed away by rainfall has been greater than had been expected. The Ministry will continue to carry out the study to see if the locations selected are representative of the entire region. NHK World)
  • “The spread of (radioactive) contamination (in food) is receding,” a health ministry official concluded. Even with Japan’s overly-restrictive standards for radioactive material in food, only about 1% has been found to exceed permissible limits. The current limits are 100 Becquerels per kilogram (100 radioactive disintegrations per second) for food and 10 Bq/liter for water. Since these new standards were invoked in April, 114,000 samples have been tested and 1,394 failed to pass the test. All baby food and milk samples have passed. If the new standards had been in place only a month earlier (March, 2012), more than 2% would have failed by now. The initial foods tested after the Fukushima accident, such as bottom-feeding fish and mushrooms, were selected because they were already known to retain and concentrate radioactive Cesium. But, this year the tests were extended to all foods. It should be noted that if only one sample of each food or fish is found to exceed the limits, the entire stock of the item is banned from distribution. Food inspections are run on food stocks before they are shipped. After shipment, the government randomly selects samples for study to see if anything has slipped through. Of the roughly 100 post-shipment samples tested per month since April, none have been above the limits. Public anxieties that spread after 3/11/11 have begun to subside, as well. Kiyokazu Ujiie, professor of food consumption at the University of Tsukuba’s, said, “Thanks to the introduction of the stricter standards, consumers’ evaluations of agricultural products produced in Fukushima Prefecture have apparently improved.” (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • Construction has restarted at the 40% complete Ohma nuclear plant in Aomori Prefecture. President Masayoshi Kitamura of plant owner J-Power announced the resumption at a special session for the Ohma town assembly. Kitamura said the government’s new energy policy allows already-started nuke construction to be completed. "Government policy has provided clear stipulations on power plants under construction," he said. The town assembly welcomed the J-Power decision and Ohma mayor Kanazawa said he was “very relieved”. The company also sent officials to dissenting Hakodate City to explain the resumption of work at Ohma. The city is more than 20 kilometers from Ohma and has opposed the restart. Hakodate Mayor Toshiki Kudo says they will never agree to the J-Power decision because the plans for the nuke were made before the Fukushima accident, thus it cannot be considered safe. The city plans on taking legal action to indefinitely stop work at Ohma. (NHK World; Mainichi Shimbun)
  • More on Industry Minister Edano’s new antinuclear book. In it, he says, “Now I want to eliminate nuclear power plants as soon as possible,” because he feels yet another nuclear accident will happen somewhere in Japan. He said that Japan can no longer “risk nuclear power plants”. He admits a nuclear-free country will not happen overnight because of business community “counteraction” and existing “debts”. He feels the most compelling reason for a non-nuclear Japan is the disposal of used nuclear fuel. He acknowledges that closing the Rokkasho fuel recycling facility would be a problem because the operating company would send all of its spent fuel bundles back to where they came from, immediately filling all of the spent fuel pools at the 17 nuclear power stations in the island nation. Finally, he argues that the electric power industry has a monopoly on energy production, with the exception of renewables. He feels that promotion of renewables can break their stranglehold on electricity. (Japan Today)
  • Several criminal probes have been planned concerning the Fukushima accident. Prosecutors from several district offices will meet this month to begin a coordinated full-scale investigation. This will be in addition to criminal complaints that have already been submitted voluntarily by. Complaints from Kanazawa and Nagota districts will be referred to the Tokyo prosecutors, and those from the Fukushima area will be handled by its prefectural prosecutors. The group will interview Tepco and government officials accused of professional negligence. The complaints say that Tepco and Tokyo failed to take needed precautionary steps against earthquakes and tsunamis, and failed to make adequate public protection responses once the accident began. (Japan Times)
  • Less than 10% of the evacuees of Hirono town have returned home. Most of the town’s basic infrastructure has been resumed and 80% of the homes and buildings have been decontaminated. The reason why they are staying away is fear. The town has become a “home base” for about 5,000 workers at F. Daiichi. This sends a message that the accident is still occurring. "Many residents feel uneasy and think the crisis hasn't been resolved yet, as many workers from the nuclear plant come and go from the town," Deputy Mayor Koki Kuroda said. In addition, there’s the continuing fear of low level radiation exposure. On a positive note, the town seems to be experiencing considerable business. Of the ~150 local businesses operating before 3/11/11, more than 100 have reopened their doors – mainly construction-related companies, accommodation facilities for F. Daiichi workers and restaurants. Regardless of the former resident’s reluctance, the town hopes to bring everyone home by the end of the year through holding regular briefings on the status of the community. (Yomiuri Shimbun)

September 28

  • The Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) is planning on “punching” a hole through the Fukushima Daiichi unit #1 containment (PCV) wall for inspection purposes. There is a piping penetration on the thick concrete wall that has metal plates covering the inner end. The “punching machine” will be attached to an external chamber mounted to the outer pipe cover. The chamber will have an internal “ball valve” to close off the opening once the punching machine has made a hole in the metal pipe covers. After the ball valve is closed, the punching machine will be removed. The three pipe covers are a total of three inches thick. The operation should be finished by October 2. An inspection of the inner PCV drywell that surrounds the reactor pressure vessel is planned for between October 9th and 11th, using a remote camera and radiation monitoring probe. Tepco also plans to take a sample of the water expected to be found covering the floor of the drywell. On October 13th, permanent monitoring equipment will be installed on the penetration. Tepco adds that the schedule is subject to change depending on the work’s progress. (Tepco Photo and Video Library)
  • A Japanese power company is ready to resume construction at a partially-completed nuke. The Electric Power Development Company, known popularly as J-Power, has decided to resume building its nuclear plant in Ohma town, Aomori Prefecture. When Industry Minister Yukio Edano visited Governor Shingo Mimura on Spetember 15th, he said that the new government no-nukes policy would not apply to Ohma. J-Power plans to inform local municipalities of its decision next week. NRA chair Shunichi Tanaka says the company would be better off resuming construction after the new regulatory standards have been created, but he will not ask J-Power to wait. The company began construction in 2008 with plans to commence operations in 2014. However, they stopped construction when then-PM Naoto Kan invoked his de-facto nuclear moratorium a few months after 3/11/11. After they restart construction, the company will be able to estimate a new operational date. While Ohma town supports the J-Power decision, Hokkaido’s Hakodate City, 20 kilometers from Ohma, wants the project to be suspended indefinitely. Hakodate mayor Toshiki Kudo says the city will never approve the resumption of construction. He added that the city is considering legal action if building of the Ohma plant resumes. (NHK World)
  • Industry Minister Yukio Edano is having a book published today arguing that all of Japan’s nukes should be run by the government. He says this will be the only way to insure that japan will have a nuclear-free society in the foreseeable future. Edano implies that Japan’s electric companies cannot be trusted to keep the government’s commitment to their no-nukes policy. He adds that nuclear business cannot be left up to private firms because of the huge compensation they may face when an accident occurs. The book, What I must say even if I were to be criticized, says "Practically speaking, I see no alternative but to have nuclear plants run by the state,” because the government would "have the unilateral power to decide on the operation of reactors and the timing of decommissioning them." (Kyodo News)
  • Japan continues to run into local opposition roadblocks with finding sites for the disposal of sewage sludge and incinerator ash contaminated with radioactive Cesium. Tokyo has taken full responsibility for establishing such sites, but is constantly confronted by strong local opposition fueled by radiation fears. Currently, some 42,000 tons of the material are stored at sewage plants and on waste incinerator properties. The wastes are all between 8,000 and 100,000 Becquerels per kilogram. The materials below 8,000 Bq/kg are already being buried in existing waste disposal landfills in and around the prefectures where they are generated. The latest outcry comes from Takahagi mayor Yoshio Kusama. Tokyo has suggested the national forest in Takahagi City might be the best location for the disposal site and the ministry will insure its utmost safety. However, Mayor Kusama says he’s opposed because Tokyo made an abrupt decision without consulting the city first. Because of this sudden local outcry, Tokyo says that they will no longer reveal candidate sites to avoid possible public confusion in the local communities. Regardless, the government continues to promise they will build the first such repository next summer. (NHK World) Ibaraki Governor Masaru Hashimoto says he will defer his decision on whether or not to oppose the proposed disposal site after conferring with residents. One issue may be the question of government subsidies as an incentive to the prefecture. Presently, Tokyo has no such plans, but Environment Minister Katsuhiko Yokomitsu says subsidies are possible if the prefecture makes the proper request. (Yomiuri Shimbun)

September 26

Fukushima updates resume today after our posting of the 123rd Carnival of Nuclear Bloggers, earlier this week. Although the Japanese Press has been focusing on the off-shore island dispute with China, there have been some very interesting developments on the Fukushima-related issues.

  • Whether or not Japan’s future energy policy will be “no-nukes” continues to be debated. Last week, Prime Minister Noda and his cabinet’s decision on the Diet’s proposed no-nuke energy policy seemed inconsistent with the proposal itself. Now, Noda says it wasn’t inconsistent at all. “Don’t get me wrong,” Noda said Friday. “We did make a cabinet decision” on the nuclear phase-out policy on Sept 14. “Japan will seek a no-nuclear society in the 2030s and will realize it. With an unwavering attitude, we will implement various policies based on this principle. This is a huge policy change that we have made with a genuine determination.” Policy minister Motohisa Furukawa echoed his bosses words when he said, “We will mobilize all possible measures to achieve zero nuclear in the 2030s.” However, at the same time Tokyo said they will complete the three nukes already under construction and continue supporting Japan’s nuclear fuel recycling facility. This has caused the traditionally conservative Yomiuri Shimbun to say the government “tried to be friendly with both anti-nuclear bloc and pro-nuclear bloc, and that resulted in revealing it is incoherent.” The Yomiuri added, “The biggest reason for the faulty new energy strategy is that the government and the (ruling) Democratic Party of Japan announced the popular ‘zero-nuclear’ policy too quickly without much deliberation. Therefore, they ended up running about in confusion in the face of strong opposition.” In parallel, the traditionally liberal Mainichi Shimbun said the cabinet’s “Ad-hoc policy-making and trying to appease everyone has resulted in a vague position.” In other words, it seems that confusion over Japan’s actual energy future is widespread, and remains subject to sudden change. (Japan Today)
  • On Saturday, a steel beam was accidently dropped into the spent fuel pool of unit #3. While removing debris from the decimated refueling deck of unit #3 with a large crane, a hydraulic grasping device which was attempting to clutch the beam was not completely engaged with the beam itself. Upon trying to lift it, the beam slipped and fell into the pool. Pool monitoring devices showed no changes or irregularities after the incident. In addition, the radionuclide levels in the pool’s water have not changed in the four days since. Thus, Tepco says there was no damage to any of the stored fuel bundles the beam fell on top of. In addition, Tepco videos from an underwater camera seem to show no damage. (NHK World; Tepco Press Releases) Video footage of the debris removal, showing the beam being struck and sliding into the pool near the end of the clip, can be seen here... http://nuclearstreet.com/nuclear_power_industry_news/b/nuclear_power_news/archive/2012/09/26/remote_2d00_controlled-equipment-removes-wreckage-from-around-fukushima-spent-fuel-pool-in-new-tepco-video-092602.aspx
  • The Yomiuri Shimbun has posted an impressive overview of the radioactive waste disposal situation in Japan. The Yomiuri adds the rhetorical comment that “Methods and locations for the disposal of nuclear fuel remain unclear as the government maintains a directionless course over its nuclear policy.” Regardless, the article provides a rather rational understanding of Japan’s spent fuel disposal situation over the past decade. Here’s the link… http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T120924003848.htm
  • Nuclear Regulation Authority chief Shunichi Tanaka says the previous “stress tests” on Japan’s nukes will no longer be used. "We will not use 'stress tests' as our judgment criteria,” Tanaka insisted. Instead, the NRA will establish new criteria for determining a nuke’s ability to withstand earthquakes and other natural calamities. Tanaka added he has "no intention" to decide whether or not the submitted stress test results are proper. In other words, all utilities with nukes must literally start anew to show whether or not their facilities are sufficiently quake-proof. (Japan Times)
  • In an exclusive interview with the Yomiuri Shimbun, NRA chief Tanaka said no currently-idled nukes will be restarted before the summer of 2013. Between now and then, the NRA will create new nuclear safety rules which will be used to determine restart criteria. Tanaka added that the rules development process will begin with about two months of public hearings across Japan. According to the law which formed the NRA, the new safety regulations must be in place within 10 months after launching the group, giving it a deadline of July, 2013. Tanaka went on to say the NRA will take a radical view when making the new guidelines, "Such tasks as drawing up countermeasures against severe nuclear accidents and [deciding] how to deal with possible active faults beneath nuclear facilities will take a lot of time. I think the time frame is very tight." He also stressed the NRA will dedicate itself exclusively to scientific evaluations, excluding the prior “stress tests”. The NRA will make no specific efforts to obtain the public's acceptance of restarting reactors, which Tanaka said was a government responsibility. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • Technologies developed to facilitate radionuclide decontamination are becoming big business in Japan. An exhibit showcasing these technologies opened in Tokyo on Monday. The three-day event has attracted representatives from more than 100 organizations now involved with the Fukushima decontamination efforts. For example, one construction company has a road decontamination device that has already been used and shown to reduce highway radiation levels by 70%. Also, a chemical company is demonstrating a filter that removes Cesium from water. And, an electronics company is exhibiting a camera that gives a visual display of gamma radiation levels which can be used to find radioactive “hot spots” in parks and other natural settings. (NHK World)
  • Industry Minister Yukio Edano says Tokyo will strongly urge utilities to scrap all plans to build any more nukes. "The government's Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment has a certain binding force on nuclear power and the energy industry," Edano stressed during the interview on Sept. 25, "We will examine whether the government will have power companies take voluntary responses in light of the government strategy or if any legislative measures are necessary." The government's policy states that "no new or additional nuclear reactors will be constructed" in compliance with the no-nukes energy rule. When the Fukushima accident happened, there were plans on the table to build six more nukes, in addition to the three that were already under construction. Plans for the six proposed units in question are the ones to be dropped. While there is currently no law-backed regulation to forbid new nuclear construction, it is felt Tokyo’s threat of creating such a law should be enough to deter any future nukes from being built. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • About two-thirds of America favors nuclear energy as an essential part of its present and future energy mix. This was discovered in a recent random telephone survey of 1000 people run by Bisconti Research Inc., for the Nuclear Energy Institute. Those strongly in favor of nukes were 29% while those strongly opposed was 14%. In addition, just over three-fourths said they believe America’s nuclear facilities to be “safe and secure”, while only 19% believed they were not. 81% said they favor the renewal of operating licenses for nukes that meet federal safety standards. In addition, 74% believe companies should be ready to build new nukes in the next decade if needed. Further, 80% agreed that “…we should learn the lessons from the Japanese accident and continue to develop advanced nuclear energy plants to meet America’s growing electricity demand.” (Nuclear Engineering International)
  • Blog colleague Rod Adams at Atomic Insights has posted an article by a Yokohama City University lecturer who says Fukushima changed his mind about nuclear energy. Michael Radcliffe wrote the article entitled “How I learned to stop worrying and embrace the atom”. I recommend it to everyone… http://atomicinsights.com/2012/09/how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-embrace-the-atom.html#more-13047

September 23

123rd CARNIVAL of NUCLEAR ENERGY BLOGGERS

 From - Yes Vermont Yankee

Win-Win for the Governor: Win the Election and Lose the Lawsuit.

http://yesvy.blogspot.com/2012/09/win-win-for-governor-win-election-and.html

 From - ANS Nuclear café…we have two posts…

Japan's non-nuclear decision

http://ansnuclearcafe.org/2012/09/20/japans-non-nuclear-decision/

And…

The party platforms on energy – and nuclear

http://ansnuclearcafe.org/2012/09/18/the-party-platforms-on-energy-and-nuclear/

 From – Nuke Power Talk

Japan's Decision on Nuclear Power: A Good Sign?

http://nukepowertalk.blogspot.com/2012/09/japans-decision-on-nuclear-power.html

 From The Hiroshima Syndrome

September 20 - Tokyo comes to its senses…sort of…

http://www.hiroshimasyndrome.com/fukushima-accident-updates.html

From Next Big Future

Canada Bruce A1 reactor working again, but the Gentilly 2 reactor will be shut

http://nextbigfuture.com/2012/09/canada-bruce-a1-reactor-working-again.html

 From Deregulate the Atom

Fear of Losing Only Happens In Close Contests…Rod Adams Explains Low Risk Campaigning

http://deregulatetheatom.com/2012/09/fear-of-losing-only-happens-in-close-contests-rod-adams-explains-the-low-risk-campaigning/

 From Atomic Power Review

SYLCOR Western Office 5

http://atomicpowerreview.blogspot.com/2012/09/sylcor-western-office-5.html

 From Atomic Insights

Nuclear Fission Energy – Best of the Above

http://atomicinsights.com/2012/09/nuclear-fission-energy-best-of-the-above.html

September 21

  • The chairman of the newly launched Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) said no idled nukes will be restarted until firm nuclear standards are set. NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka stressed "It is impossible to give the green light until we finish reviewing the current provisional standards (for reactivating reactors)." The timetable for the new standards could stretch well into the spring of 2013, meaning Japan will possibly face another winter of energy short-falls and mandated customer conservation. When asked about the restarts of the two Oi nukes this past spring, Tanaka essentially attacked the Prime Minister’s decision to restart them, "The Oi nuclear plant was restarted based on political judgment, out of consideration for energy supply and demand during the summer. The provisional standards are incomplete, allowing the plant to be restarted with no disaster-prevention measures in place." Regarding whether the 40-year cap on the operation of reactors might be extended by 20 years, Tanaka said, "It will be considerably difficult." In addition, he left the door open for restarting the three units already past the operational age of 40. When asked by the Press if the three nukes were going to be decommissioned, Tanaka answered, "I can't make any prejudgment." He also said the three unfinished nukes would be judged whether or not they are acceptable for completion and operation based on what he called a “backfit system”. Any nukes that meet the forthcoming standards will be allowed to operate. Those that don’t will have their licenses suspended. Tanaka pointed out, "The most important thing is to recover confidence in the nuclear safety administration, which has reached rock-bottom." (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • The NRA is already being attacked as being nothing more than a “cosmetic change”. Critics say nothing substantive has been done to dismantle the old bureaucratic culture which has been judged as the main reason for the Fukushima accident. They feel the situation demands outside assistance to monitor the new system, and government-backed programs such as providing overseas training for staffing. "The most important point is that the secretariat that supports the highly independent five-member commission must have independence and expertise," said Shuya Nomura, a member of the Diet’s Fukushima investigative panel. Nomura wants the NRA to be structured with America’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission as a model. It is also argued that the new “secretariat” is essentially the same staff the supported the now-defunct NISA regulators, meaning it could be a regulatory atmosphere of business as usual. "The secretariat under the commission that handles actual work is still pretty much the same as NISA, which means we can't really expect the culture to be changed," said Hiroshi Tanaka, who was a special adviser to former Prime Minister Naoto Kan. The critics also say the public’s apparent confidence in the new NRA is “misguided” because Chairman Tanaka was once part of Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission. They want the NRA populated with people that have no former nuclear ties whatsoever. They add that separating the agency from the ministry of the economy will be of little consequence. (Japan Times)
  • The NRA has announced that one of their first efforts will be to conduct an on-site inspection of the Oi nuclear power station for earthquake safety. The Oi units were restarted this summer to prevent power shortages. The NRA knows that their predecessor, NISA, has already made the inspection and found the geologic anomalies underneath and near the Oi complex to be a highly unlikely source of an earthquake. The new commission wants to re-analyze the prior work of NISA to either confirm or reject their findings. If the NRA rejects the NISA conclusion, Oi units#3&4 may have to be shuttered. (Kyodo News)
  • The Yomiuri Shimbun says the government must retract its zero nuclear targets for the good of Japan’s economy. Instead, Tokyo should come up with a feasible energy strategy. The Yomiuri identifies several gaping holes in the Tokyo proposal. First, the new energy strategy has drawn angry reactions from the business community and local governments that host nuclear power plants. Without easing the resentment of the business community it will be difficult for the government to implement its energy strategy. Next, the United States has also expressed strong concerns over the plan. In addition, the plan itself fails to identify how to implement viable alternatives to the operation of nukes. Without this, the “no-nukes” policy would threaten the stability of Japan’s future energy supply. The Yomiuri thus says “it was entirely appropriate for the Cabinet to refrain from quickly approving the new energy strategy.” In a strong final statement, Japan’s largest newspaper says future energy policy should not be set to garner short-term votes in impending elections. Although most polls show a strong desire to abolish nukes, the Yomiuri says, “We doubt whether there is a sufficient number of people who understand the risks of a zero nuclear policy--such as unemployment and poverty--and would be willing to undergo the hardships involved.”
  • A Mainichi Shimbun poll shows that there was already a strong national antinuclear sentiment before the Fukushima accident happened. Of course, national nuclear “insecurity” has risen since the crisis began. Nearly 50% of the Mainichi’s polled readers said they felt insecure before 3/11/11, and that has now risen to 79%. Also, where 80% the polled experts said nuclear energy was a valuable asset before the accident, it has now dropped to 50%. "Nuclear energy experts are upset after experiencing a nuclear disaster. They are apparently trying to rethink the safety and value of nuclear power generation," said Kansai University professor Shoji Tsuchida. On a related note, the desire to prioritize renewables for future energy production was 59% prior to the F. Daiichi crisis, and has since risen to nearly 80%. Thus we find that Japan was already leaning toward a less-nuclear, more-renewable future before Fukushima ever happened. The poll results were released at the Atomic Energy Society of Japan meeting in Hiroshima on Thursday, Sept. 20th.
  • Above-standard levels of radioactive Cesium have been found in nine species of fish caught near Fukushima Daiichi. All nine exceed Japan’s limit of 100 Becquerels per kilogram. Only one, however, exceeds the international standard of 1000 Bq/kg – the greenling. Most of the eight species of fish below the international limit were between 390 and 540 Bq/kg. The fish samples analyzed were caught within 20 km of F. Daiichi between August 20th and September 5th. (Kyodo News)
  • Shizuoka governor Heita Kawakatsu has submitted a draft proposal for a nuclear referendum to the prefectural assembly. The proposal asks whether or not citizens want Chubu Electric’s Hamaoka power station restarted. The referendum will be held only if the assembly votes in favor of it. Most members of the group have not stated their position on the proposal. There are some problems in the draft ordinance that must be corrected before the assembly can legally address it, most of which are political requirements. Kawkatsu has said he supports the petition-driven referendum. The Hamaoka power station was closed in May of 2011 by then-PM Naoto Kan based on fears that a possible major earthquake and tsunami could cause another nuclear crisis. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • F. Daiichi’s host town, Okuma, has adopted a five-year no-return policy. Since so little of the town has been deemed to be suitable for immediate decontamination, it makes no sense to allow anyone home in the near term. Tokyo’s reconstruction plan says 95% of Okuma is unsuitable for people to live for a long time, and even if the remainder were decontaminated it would be difficult for repopulation. Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe told reporters that his goal has been to quickly recover the town’s population, but he was forced to make this painful decision. (NHK World)

September 19

Maybe Japan is not turning away from nuclear energy after all. In what must be seen as an unexpected turn of events, Prime Minister Noda and his Cabinet have approved the Diet’s new energy policy, but fell short of supporting full nuclear abandonment in the 2030s. Today’s updates will focus on this stunning political reversal and cover some of the influences that may have brought it about.

  • The Japanese government has officially backtracked on going nuclear-free by refusing to give cabinet approval of a nuclear energy phase-out by 2040. Japan's economy minister Motohisa Furukawa said the Cabinet has decided to take the nuclear-free plan "into consideration" when formulating the country's long-term energy policy, rather than giving the entire plan formal Cabinet approval, "In the past, the Cabinet approved a policy in a similar way. We've never changed the direction of the new strategy." He also said it is too early to judge whether a nuclear phase-out is even possible. The Cabinet’s written statement includes that Japan will "put the strategy into practice in a flexible manner while constantly verifying and reviewing it" and "hold responsible discussions on the strategy with local governments hosting nuclear plants as well as the international community to win understanding from the public." Trade Minister Yukio Edano added his opinion to the mix, “…whether we can become nuclear free by the 2030s is not something to be achieved only with a decision by policy makers. It also depends on the will of (electricity) users, technological innovation and the environment for energy internationally in the next decade or two.” It seems that Noda’s cabinet has responded to severe international pressures to back off the Diet’s firm no-nukes-by-2040 policy proposal. Some Japanese business leaders were so upset that they threatened to resign. The cabinet decision also resolves the appearance of contradiction between recent Tokyo announcements. First, there was the report that the Diet had proposed a firm no-nukes policy that would end all nuclear power generation by 2040, disallow the building of new nukes and not allow a nuke to operate more than 40 years. Next, Tokyo announced they were not considering closure of the nation’s nuclear fuel recycling program, which was widely touted to be in conflict with the Diet’s proposal. If there would be no nukes running in Japan, there would be no demand for recycled fuels. In addition, Monday’s announcement that the completion of three partially-built nukes would be allowed, each of which will operate well into the 2050s. This seemed to contradict the Diet view that no new nukes would be built. It now seems that Noda’s cabinet never planned on following the Diet’s proposal carte blanche, keeping alive the option of flexibility with respect to Japan’s energy future. Finance Minister Jun Azumi told a separate news conference that there needed to be flexibility in the policy to avoid putting an undue burden on the public. The reversal of the Diet’s policy proposal is likely to invite charges that Noda is bowing to pressure from a pro-nuclear business lobby. (News on Japan; Mainichi Shimbun; Japan Today)
  • Japan’s primary business leaders harshly criticized Tokyo’s no-nukes policy in a joint press conference, which surely contributed to today’s cabinet-level retraction. It is rare for leaders of the three business groups, including the Japan Business Federation, to mutually oppose a specific government policy. They warned that such a move will seriously damage Japan’s economic condition. They fear it will be difficult to keep Japanese companies from moving overseas since the nuke phase-out will lead to higher electricity prices, estimated to double over the next two decades. They also say they feel the target was set without thorough study of it’s possible impact on Japan and the international business community. (Kyodo News)
  • Many international critics doubted that Tokyo’s no-nukes policy was actually going to happen. They pointed to the possibility that the announcement to turn away from nuclear energy might have been made less out of conviction and more toward garnering votes in upcoming national elections. Although this summer’s voluntary energy conservation program’s was a success, it would have been be difficult to maintain and keep Japan competitive in the world market. Many critics said there are not enough financial resources to make the transition from nuclear to renewable energy sources by the 2030s. The German newspaper "Suddeutsche Zeitung" writes, "The Japanese nuclear lobby is just buying time until the uproar caused by the nuclear meltdown has subsided before it convinces the government to revise its decision." (News on Japan)
  • One of the Diet’s no-nukes proposals seems to have been confirmed – there will be a firm 40 year limit on nuclear power plant operation. Tokyo has decided to decommission three nuclear reactors at Japan Atomic Power Co.'s Tsuruga power plant and Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Mihama power plant. All three are already over the age of 40. "On the principle [of the 40-year rule], we're going to decommission [the reactors]," Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Tuesday. There seems to be no contingencies for restarting the three specified nukes, regardless of their present state of soundness and safety. Fujimura also indicated the government would approve resuming construction of the three new nukes in Fukui Prefecture. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • The new Nuclear Regulatory Authority of Japan has finally become a reality. Prime Minister Noda approved the appointment of five experts to the Agency, headed by former Japan Atomic Energy Commission Chair Shunichi Tanaka. The creation of the NRA ends the multiple-agency regulatory system of Japan, with NISA formerly under the umbrella of the Economy Ministry and the NSC under the Prime Minister’s cabinet. It also effectively terminates what has been alleged to be a too-close relationship between the regulators and the regulated. The government says the independence of the NRA is guaranteed by giving it a status similar to the country’s antimonopoly watchdog, the Japan Fair Trade Commission. However, antinuclear voices across Japan say the NRA cannot be trusted to enforce nuclear safety as long as it is populated by people who have a professional background in nuclear power. Dissenting Diet lawmakers say installation of a nuclear insider to head the organization is a case of business as usual. The new NRA’s first order of business is getting Japan’s nukes restarted, possibly by the end of 2012. (Japan Today)
  • Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) held its Final meeting on Tuesday, ahead of the initiation of the new Nuclear Regulatory Authority. The NSC was established in 1978 after a radiation release from Japan’s first nuclear powered ship, Mutsu, in 1974. NSC Chair Haruki Madrame said he regrets the commission was unprepared for the Fukushima accident and did little to enforce increased tsunami protection for nukes prior to 3/11/11. However, he stresses he and his staff have worked almost non-stop to establish why Fukushima happened. He added that the new regulatory body should not be swayed by previous safety routines. They should establish a program of constant examination and review of nuclear safety. (NHK World) At the same time as the NSC’s last meeting, Tepco released pictures of a visit to F. Daiichi by the five experts named to the new Nuclear Regulatory Commission. All pictures are taken during their tour and briefing inside the Technical Support Center where emergency decision-making teams have met and coordinated recovery efforts for the past 18 months. Here’s the link for the photos… http://photo.tepco.co.jp/en/date/2012/201209-e/120915-01e.html

September 17

  • Criticisms of Japan’s no-nukes policy continue to proliferate. The policy goal has come under fire from a wide range of experts, antinuclear activists and lobbying groups. Some policy experts say the move is a political ploy designed to keep the Democratic Party of Japan in control of the Diet following the next general election. "I think the DPJ and the government just wanted to set a 'zero' goal because a general election is coming up," said Takeo Kikkawa, an energy policy expert at Hitotsubashi University, He also said, "The decision to approve this new energy strategy is premature." Kikkawa added that if the government really wants to end nuclear energy, it needs to be specific about the expected challenges, including how to get host communities to give up atomic facilities that have been lucrative cash sources. Lastly, he says it is unclear how the government will address possible negative effects from the drastic reduction of nuclear power, such as electricity rate hikes. Antinuclear spokespersons attack the new policy because it advocates keeping the fuel reprocessing program of Japan in place. Antinuclear activist Aileen Mioko Smith of Green Action argued that keeping the recycling program "is proof that the current government is not serious about phasing out nuclear power." On another front, Hiromasa Yonekura, chairman of the powerful Keidanren business lobby, said, "The ruling parties should not be swayed by elections. They should think about the future of this country." Finally, many local Japanese officials have severe reservations about Tokyo’s decision. Issei Nishikawa, the governor of Fukui Prefecture, says "The prime minister should go back to his original stance and promote nuclear power policy by ensuring safety." Saga Prefecture’s governor Yasushi Furukawa says the move hurts Japan’s commitment to halting global warming, "If we increase thermal energy as an alternative, how are we going to reduce carbon dioxide emissions?" (Japan Times) Contradictions are evident in the strategy, as the government tries to gain popularity prior to the impending House of Representatives election. A senior official of an economy-related ministry said, "[The strategy] is full of contradictions and can't be explained in a logical manner." The strategy vows to reduce the number of nuclear power plants in operation to zero by the 2030s, but at the same time it supports continued fuel recycling. If the Aomori recycling plant continues long-term operations and there are no domestic customers for the fuel, it would cause a huge build-up in Japan’s Plutonium inventory. This could raise international suspicions about Japan’s nuclear weapon’s stance. Further, an aide to PM Noda said, "The prime minister has not changed his opinion that nuclear power plants are important," which contradicts his party’s proposal. (Yomiuri Shimbun) On a totally different vein, an Asahi Shimbun editorial says the Tokyo no-nukes decision is “realistic” because “nuclear power plants face enormous risks and electric power companies have totally lost the nation’s trust.” The Asahi is clearly out of touch with the realities of Japan’s impending energy future if the national “no-nukes” policy becomes permanent.
  • The sincerity of the DPJ’s no-nukes proposal has been put into question with a decision to complete construction of three nukes that were being built when the 3/11/11 tsunami hit the Tohoku coast. “We don’t intend to withdraw the permission that has already been given by the ministry,” Yukio Edano, the minister of economy, trade and industry, said. Edano added, however, that the start-up of the reactors would be subject to approval by a newly created government commission to regulate nuclear power. (Japan Today)
  • While the proposed energy shift to a reliance on renewables generates hope for some, it creates anxiety with many. Japan’s proposed “no-nukes” policy provides exciting opportunities for renewable energy-producing and energy-saving technologies. However, serious economic and infrastructural challenges make this an iffy proposition. Keigo Akimoto of Tokyo University says, "I think we should increase the use of renewable energy, but it is just too risky to place too much hope on it."He adds thatthe government's plan to triple electricity output from renewable energy sources to 300 billion kilowatt-hours by 2030 is "too optimistic." On the other hand, Hiroshi Takahashi, research fellow at Fujitsu Research Institute, says that the policy goals are “not impossible” and the opportunity to transform Japan’s energy infrastructure has to be considered. He adds that energy efficiency should be included in the mix, "Shouldn't we shift to creating more value-added products that require less electricity?" National policy minister Motohisa Furukawa echoed Takahashi by saying, "I'm confident that the realization of the green energy revolution can lead to a series of innovations, like the IT (information and technology) revolution did.” (Japan Times)
  • Kiyoshi Kurokawa, head of the Diet’s Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission continues to blame the Fukushima accident on Japan’s culture. He says his committee stopped short of laying blame on individuals because “No one takes responsibility in Japan, even those in positions of responsibility. This is unique to Japan, a culture that stresses conformity, where people don’t complain.” The preface of the English version of the NAIIC findings said, “What must be admitted - very painfully - is that this was a disaster ‘Made in Japan.’ Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program;’ our groupism and our insularity,” This statement was omitted from the Japanese version, resulting in severe criticism from critics inside and outside Japan. Regardless, Kurokawa maintains that the report may not contain names, but the dates and circumstances are there so all other investigators have to do is check. (Japan Today)
  • Last year’s cancellation of Fukushima-made fireworks displays due to radiation fears is not the case this year. In fact, many of the dazzling fireworks “balls” made in Kawamata town were actually left over from last year. They were closely checked for contamination and were found free of F. Daiichi isotopes last year, but the city of Nisshin in Aichi Prefecture said no because, "There is no solid data indicating their safety." Over the following weeks, more than 3,000 complaints of protest besieged the city’s organizing committee, compelling them to relax their initial, knee-jerk decision. The fireworks were safely stored until their use on Sunday. Kawamata Mayor Michio Furukawa addressed the Nisshin crown saying, “Thank you for your support.” (Mainichi Shimbun)

  

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