Fukushima 47...1/28/13-2/15/13

February 15, 2013

  • The Japanese government has approved the Nuclear Regulatory Authority Commissioners. The Lower House endorsed them on Thursday and the upper House of Councilors on Friday. This ends behind-the-scenes criticism that the NRA commissioners lacked official status. On Feb. 4, a junior bureaucrat who used to work for the Industry Ministry demanded the commissioners be replaced because they were appointed by the former PM Noda and the Democratic Party of Japan. The head of the meeting ruled him out of order since the now-in-power Liberal Democratic Party of Japan pushed the appointments through last September as a compromise with the former PM. One official said, "No matter how we replace the commissioners, we would be criticized for being arbitrary.” The confirmations should also stop on-going rumors that Chairman Tanaka’s past connection to the nuclear community might compromise his objectivity. He was past Chair of Japan Atomic Energy Commission. Since his appointment, opposition parties have praised Tanaka for his stance toward nuclear power. The other four NRA members are Kenzo Oshima, former ambassador to the United Nations, Kunihiko Shimazaki, former head of the Coordinating Committee for Earthquake Prediction, Kayoko Nakamura from the Japan Radioisotope Association, and Toyoshi Fuketa from the Japan Atomic Energy Agency. (Kyodo News Service; Mainichi Shimbun)
  • Now that the NRA has been formally approved, controversy over who makes the final decision on nuke restarts has re-surfaced. Prime Minister Abe’s decision to reopen mid-to-long-term national energy policy is seen as being possibly in conflict with the NRA’s independence. Cabinet Secretary Yoshide Suga says there is no controversy as far as he is concerned, "The NRA commissioners should draw up safety standards with confidence. The government will decide whether to reactivate nuclear reactors at its own discretion." After the congressional approval, Cabinet Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said, "I think we can start full-fledged discussion [about national energy policy] from around March." The current lame-duck policy calls for an end to nuclear power by 2040, but no formal strategy was developed for doing it. Prime Minister Abe called it “irresponsible” and has vowed to concoct a policy that is practical. (Mainichi Shimbun; Kyodo News Service)
  • The structural stability of Fukushima Daiichi unit #4 has been verified by an outside expert. All previous analyses have been done by Tepco consultants. This most recent inspection used a non-company-vested expert for the first time. Due to on-going concerns about the building’s ability to survive another severe earthquake, the structure is inspected every three months. The expert says the fuel pool is level and the supporting primary containment is not distorted. The slight bulge in the west wall of the outer building that has caused all the concerns seems to be lessening with time. When first measured more than 18 months ago, it was said to have an eight inch bulge. The expert says his calculations now show a 2 inch distortion. (NHK World) It should be noted that one NHK TV reporter doubts the objectivity of the expert’s assessment because his name has not been released and also because only one expert was used.
  • Fukushima Prefecture says they have found 3 child thyroid cancer cases, but they cannot be due to the nuclear accident. All three have successfully undergone surgery to remove the cancerous material and are doing well. Shinichi Suzuki, Fukushima Medical University professor, said that since it takes 4-5 years for low-level-radiation-caused thyroid cancers to develop it is unlikely that these are accident-related. Of the estimated 360,000 children that might have ingested detectible levels of radioactive Iodine, about 38,000 have been checked. Ten have been discovered to have cancer in some form, but only 3 of the thyroid variety. Some media reports find the non-Fukushima conclusion hard to believe since F. Daiichi has been compared to the 1986 Chernobyl accident in the Ukraine. The japan daily Press says calling the three cases “coincidence” makes no sense. (Mainichi Shimbun; Japan Daily Press)
  • Tohoku Electric Company has applied to the Tokyo government to raise their household electric rates. Tohoku Electric supplies much of Honshu Island’s northeastern population, including Miyagi Prefecture, which suffered the greatest damage and loss of life due to the 3/11/11 tsunami. The company says the increase will be about 11.5%. Corporate and industrial users will see a ~18% rate-hike in July, but needs no government approval for it. Tohoku Electric says they have avoided rate hikes for the region until now, but the combination of the government moratorium on nuke operations plus the high cost of non-nuclear fuels for replacement power has given them no other choice. Tohoku President, Hiroaki Takahashi, says they regret having to raise costs to the disaster-hit region, but economics absolutely dictate it. He added that restarting the Higashidori nuclear station could cause them to reduce rates in the future. (Kyodo News; Sankei Shimbun)
  • The NRA says they will inspect F. Daiichi unit #1’s controversial isolation condensers. Chairman Shunichi Tanaka made the announcement on Wednesday. The NRA wants to see if speculation on earthquake damage prior to the tsunami, made by the Diet’s accident investigation panel (NAIIC), has merit or not. The NAIIC said some of plant workers reported water leaks on the fourth floor, which houses the condensers, prior to the tsunami hitting. Since the allegations could not be verified or refuted without visual inspection, the NAIIC said the issue must remain open. The four investigations made by other official groups made no mention of such worker allegations. The NAIIC said if the rumors were true, then the unit#1 accident may have been caused by the quake and not by the tsunami. Chair Tanaka said, "We need to conduct an inspection while looking at a decline in the radiation levels inside the reactor building [in the] not-too-distant future.” He stressed that the radiation levels on the fourth floor of unit #1 remain too high for the NRA inspection at this time. The radiation levels there are in the “dozens of millisieverts” range which is, by Japanese health standards, too great for a civil inspection. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • Fukushima Brewers say their Sake is safe because their radiation limits are lower than the national standard for drinking water. They have detected absolutely no radioactive Cesium in their products since they began testing after the 2011 accident. Not only do they screen all rice shipments before beginning the brewing process, but they continue testing through shipping bottles off to market. 25 Fukushima breweries unveiled their latest stock in Tokyo’s Ginza Shopping District on Tuesday. They say their sales have been hurt by people fearing radiation as well as those who don’t trust anything produced in the Prefecture due to the possibility of contamination. (NHK World)
  • Toshiba announced they have developed a robotic “dry ice vacuum” for removal of radioactive contamination. The dry ice is vaporized and blasted at walls and floor. It rapidly evaporates and makes the surface material airborne. It is immediately sucked into a high-volume vacuum nozzle. The rapid nature of the evaporation dislodges any contamination that has adhered to surfaces. The machine is rated at 22 square feet per hour, but can hold only a half-hour’s volume of dry ice. The goal is to complete testing in 2-3 weeks so the robot can be used at Fukushima Daiichi. Another robotic device was sent to F. Daiini for testing in December, but had difficulty climbing stairs plus the robot froze in place when the dry ice vacuum was started. Toshiba feels their design modifications will avoid these problems in the future. (Japan Daily Press)

February 12, 2013

  • On Saturday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited earthquake/tsunami-devastated Iwate Prefecture. He inspected reconstruction progress and did his best to reassure residents that they are not his administration’s forgotten people. He first went to a rebuilt Sake brewery and a temporary housing unit in Ofanuto. He then moved to Rikuzentakata and visited a memorial for victims of the catastrophe and later inspected work on a project to rebuild badly affected coastal communities to upland areas. Rikuzentakata Mayor Futoshi Toba told Abe that it took 13 months for the city to start the land work under Tokyo’s old regime. “I want the government to help our communities achieve reconstruction as early as possible,” he said.The prime minister noted, “I have realized [after visiting the three prefectures] that reconstruction needs differ region by region,” and said his government will redouble efforts to create new jobs in the region. Abe also visited the city of Kesennuma in Miyagi and inspected an ice factory that has been rebuilt since the March 11, 2011, quake-tsunami calamities.At the end of his trip, Abe vowed to speed up reconstruction in Iwate because many wished to spend the rest of their lives in their homes. The PM also reiterated his belief that Tohoku recovery is the key to Japan’s economic recovery. (Japan Today, Japan Times)
  • The Diet has decided to submit a bill to extend compensation for many Fukushima accident refugees beyond the three legal year time frame. Many Fukushima refugees fear that their current compensation payments will end when the statute runs out in 2014. Also, the bill applies to cases in which the Nuclear Damage Compensation Dispute Resolution Center’s mediation between TEPCO and disaster victims fails. The code provides compensation to victims of industrial accidents. If the statute of limitations runs out before a settlement is reached, the special law is will allow victims to file lawsuits during the extension period. As of the end of January this year, there were 5,063 requests for mediation services. Of them, 1,204 had reached settlements and 3,201 were still in progress. About 300 new requests are filed each month. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • The town of Namie, half of which is inside the 20km “no-go” zone around F. Daiichi, will soon be re-zoned. The new zoning will be in three parts: one where residents can return permanently, another where visitations will be restricted, and a third where visitation will be prohibited for the time being. The reclassification will take effect on April 1. In order for the unrestricted and restricted zones to be established, a medical facility must be in operation. Thus, a clinic will be opened, inside to 20km radius, in a senior health center located near the center of the town.The government decided to establish the clinic in order to prepare basic services for residents who are expected to return following the relaxation of the no-entry rule. This will be the first local medical facility to be opened inside the 20 km no-entry zone. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • In an effort to ease the possible long-term loss of operating nukes, government agencies are debating whether or not to build new coal-fired plants. The Industry Ministry leads the pro-coal side saying that it would be cheaper than natural gas, wind, solar or hydroelectric generation. The Environment Ministry holds the negative view because coal is the worst emitter of greenhouse gasses and has a huge amount of ash that will need disposal. Tepco, which will experience the greatest nuke losses, has already said it will purchase electricity from thermal (fossil-fueled) wholesalers beginning in 2019. Industry minister Toshimitsu Motegi supports new coal plants, saying, "Coal-fired power generation has a vital role in maintaining a stable electricity supply and economic efficiency." However, it may be difficult to obtain approval to construct new thermal plants after undergoing an environmental impact assessment by the Environment Ministry. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • The Asahi Shimbun accuses Tepco lying last week for telling Toshimitsu Motegi of the NAIIC that the inside of F. Daiichi unit #1 was too dark for a visual inspection in 2012. Tepco posted an apology to Motegi for showing him a picture of the condition of the unit #1 enclosure and saying it was taken before the roof covers were fully installed. Actually, the picture was taken after installation was complete. The Tepco release on Monday said nothing about the cover to let in light or if lamps were installed inside the cover. It should be noted that Tepco reiterated that at the time the NAIIC wanted to investigate in 2012, the interior of the building was in total darkness. How the Tepco posting on Monday is yet “another lie” is a mystery. (For the Tepco posting, go to… http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/news/topics/1224624_2266.html)
  • This morning, Tepco President Naomi Hirose apologized to the Diet’s Lower House for what was a somewhat false explanation given to the NAIIC in February, 2012. The roof over the unit #1 enclosure does let in a small amount of light and has lamps installed in the ceiling. This could have illuminated the IC condensers on the fourth floor, but the stairs and passages the NAIIC would have had to traverse were in blackness, plus the radiation levels were extreme. Tepco says they will take the panel members through if they still want to see the interior of the structure. (Kyodo News: Mainichi Shimbun)
  • 900,000 pages of notes and other documents created by the Tokyo government about the Fukushima accident will be digitalized and available on-line in about 2 years. According to the NRA, many of the papers from the first weeks of the crisis are hand-written and must be deciphered before digitalization. Materials include information from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, the Industry Ministry, the Environmental Ministry’s Emergency Response Center, and the countermeasures headquarters in Fukushima City. The documents will show what information was exchanged between the local countermeasures headquarters in Fukushima and the Emergency Response Center, and what orders the center issued and when. The job of collating it all will be considerable. "The volume of documents is so huge that many have been left wherever they were put," said an NRA official. "We'll first digitize as many documents as we can. Later, we'll try to expand the range of documents by asking TEPCO and various government organizations for cooperation." (Yomiuri Shimbun)

February 8, 2013

  • The former governor of Iwate Prefecture, Hitoya Masuda, says Tokyo’s Reconstruction Agency should play a critical role in local government budget planning. He feels this is critical to speeding up reconstruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami of 3/11/11. Masuda said the Agency was given insufficient funding power to affect the rebuilding and/or relocation of devastated shoreline communities. He adds that the efforts to find upland locations for new communities “are taking too much time and are exhausting the people involved. I can see hardly any influence of the Reconstruction Agency [in Iwate’s 2013 budget].” Masuda points out that much of the original money designated for reconstruction was used for projects distantly related to it. He stressed, “The agency would have more carefully examined projects outside the disaster-affected regions” if the local government had been given a greater role in budgeting. Masuda says that the needs of Miyagi and Iwate prefectures are different from Fukushima’s because they were not affected by the nuclear accident, and Tokyo needs to take this into consideration when appropriating funds. Local governments in Iwate and Miyagi need more money to get the land needed for rebuilding lost communities. If the local governments are given enough money, Masuda believes better decisions would be made on behalf of tsunami refugees. (Japan Times)
  • Another lawsuit will be filed by Fukushima evacuees on March 11, the second anniversary of the accident’s onset. The class-action suit claims both Tepco and the Tokyo government are culpable parties. Some 350 persons from 20 families who fled to Tokyo and Chiba Prefectures from Miyagi, Ibaraki, Fukushima and “other” prefectures are signatories in the suit. The plaintiff’s counsel team says the suit will demand that all radiation levels be reduced to those that existed before the accident. They also want $550 per month for each person in compensation for health concerns, radiation fears and damage to their reputations, until they can safely return home. This is the first class-action suit concerning Fukushima that calls for restoring the plaintiff’s living conditions to a pre-accident state. Motomitsu Nakagawa, co-leader of one of the groups said, "We hope to pave the way for necessary future measures by clarifying the responsibility of the state for causing the damage." Lawyer Izutaro Managi said that the government knew there was a danger of losing power due to a tsunami and yet it failed to perform its duty to prevent such an event from happening He added, “The government promoted nuclear power as a national policy and has been closely involved with it. This is a suit to recover a Fukushima with neither radiation nor nuclear power.” The suit maintains that TEPCO admitted it downplayed known tsunami risks due to politics, cost-savings and protection of the company’s reputation. (NHK World; Kyodo News Service; Japan Daily Press)
  • There will be a new Tokyo government panel created to oversee the decommissioning of Fukushima Daiichi. The panel will be comprised of Ministry officials, Tepco representatives and officials from Japan’s nuclear power plant manufacturers. The intent is to speed up the dismantling of the four damaged units and develop domestic technology for the removal of corium (melted fuel). Until now, Tepco has held sporadic meetings on the issue, but the new panel will hold regular meetings toward decommissioning and publicly confirm its progress. (Kyodo news Service)
  • Fukui Prefecture will investigate into using Liquid Natural Gas-fired units to replace their 14 nuke units. The Prefecture’s government is concerned that restarts will be greatly delayed due to new regulations to be handed down in July. They are also concerned that geologic seams under some of the Prefecture’s nukes might keep them from ever restarting. Fukui Governor Issei Nishikawa says the Prefecture wants nuclear plants to continue as an important part of the energy mix, but they cannot be sure what the future will hold. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • Nuclear Energy Insider’s Feb. 6 editorial says Japan’s nuclear restarts and new nuclear construction must be based on safety standards that are independent of politics. Tomoko Murakami of Japan’s Institute for Energy Economics says, “Political opinions, whether nuclear should be used or not be used, might be different party by party, but the safety standard is completely independent from political opinions.” However, the degree of influence the Nuclear Regulatory Authority will have on national policy decisions remains unclear. For example, the NRA has decided the geologic seam under the Tsuruga unit #2 has been judged to be possibly seismic, but it is not known if the government will order the plant to be scrapped. Murakami adds that public opinion has softened on the nuclear question over the last year, which shows that public opinion wavers with time. Thus, it should not impact nuclear safety decisions either. While the new government is less critical of nuclear energy, they must not return to the past’s open promotion of atomic power. One thing is for sure – Japan’s nuclear decisions will be watched closely by the rest of the world.
  • Author William Tucker has posted an excellent op-ed piece on the low level radiation controversy. I highly recommend reading it… http://www.nucleartownhall.com/blog/william-tucker-will-the-dangers-of-radiation-exposure-ever-make-sense/

February 6

  • Tokyo’s Reconstruction Agency is being reorganized in the hope of speeding up recovery from 3/11/11. Created about one year ago, the Agency was supposed to guide all efforts in recovery from the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident. However, housing reconstruction for tsunami refugees has made little headway, although it was intended to be a major concern of the government’s efforts. Only 30 of the 23,000 promised housing units have been completed, and fewer than 2,000 are in a partial state of construction with most of them delayed due to local government issues. The main work of the agency has been with decontamination of the evacuated zones around Fukushima Daiichi, while the plight of the tsunami victims has been secondary. The new Tokyo government wants the Agency to address tsunami recovery with greater intensity. Prime Minister Abe says the Agency is being revamped with the former administrative barriers to tsunami recovery eliminated. An office in Fukushima City will oversee the decontamination effort and an office in Tokyo will cover tsunami recovery for the entire Tohoku region’s devastated coastline. Reconstruction Minister Takumi Nemoto says the Fukushima office will “implement reconstruction measures promptly, with a hands-on approach.” The Tokyo office will take assistance requests from the tsunami-hit municipalities to identify the most critical reconstruction zones for preferential tax treatment, distribute subsidies according to need and offer deregulation measures to bring companies back to the Tohoku coast. Soon after the Agency was started last year, local governments along the coast criticized it for its attitude relative to comprehensive reconstruction. Many local officials outside Fukushima prefecture said their requests for assistance were largely ignored. Since the new regime has come to Tokyo, things have changed for the better. Sendai Mayor Emiko Okuyama said, “The agency has come to aim for common goals with us.” Still, some officials fear the Agency will continue to move slowly and the redistribution of reconstruction subsidies will not be coordinated with local state and municipal budgets. Also, the region faces a critical shortage of civil engineers, architects and city planners, which makes the reconstruction effort move too slowly. Approximately 250,000 tsunami refugees from outside of Fukushima remain in limbo. (Japan Times)
  • Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority wants to set the world’s toughest nuclear safety rules while providing the greatest possible level of transparency. NRA Chair Shunichi Tanaka said the old rules were not as strict as global standards, so the watchdog will send officials around the world to get opinions on the proposed regulations issued last month. He added that recent resistance to the new rules will have no impact unless the opponents can provide valid scientific proof that their criticisms are worthy. Kyodo News mentioned that Tanaka was appointed by former Prime Minister Noda and he has yet to be formally approved by both houses of the Diet (congress). Approval proceedings will not begin until after this summer’s upper house election. In a related action, the NRA decided to prohibit staff from all unofficial contact with industry groups being regulated, including courtesy calls. This new guideline is due to the recent dismissal of an NRA officer because of the sharing of yet-undisclosed documents with a nuclear power company. (NHK World; Kyodo News Service)
  • The connection to an emergency battery was briefly shut off at the currently-operating Oi unit #3. The incident was due to operator error. During a training exercise, one of the trainees mistakenly switched off the power circuit to the battery. The circuit was restored in about one minute. During routine operation, the emergency batteries do not provide power to the plant’s circuitry, but the electrical connection is kept energized in case there is a loss of routine power sources. In such a case, the battery immediately becomes a necessary emergency power supply. The switching-off did not affect the operation of the plant and no nuclear system integrity was compromised. In accordance with existing procedure, the incident was reported to Tokyo and the local municipalities. The NRA inspector for the Oi station confirmed the incident and reported no adverse effects had been caused. (Kyodo News Service; NHK World)
  • Tepco has announced it will begin buying a large amount of shale gas from American companies in 2017. Tepco says it will import 800,000 tons of the fossil fuel annually. The company is also negotiating an additional purchase of between one and two million tons a year. The move away from conventional natural gas is due to cost. The current nuclear moratorium has forced Japanese utilities to reopen old gas-burning units to avoid power outages during the peak summer and winter seasons. Tepco believes the new deal will safe them over $500 million a year. Tepco estimates that their natural gas import costs could exceed $30 billion for 2013. (NHK World)

February 4

  • Now that Japan’s proposed nuclear safety rules are public, opposition voices are being heard. Nuclear Regulatory Authority expert panel member, Nagoya University professor Akio Yamamoto, said he questions some of the mandates because, “The requirements are too high.” One industry official added that the costs could be more than $100 million per plant. Since most nuclear stations in Japan have several units, the price of making all the changes could be many hundreds of millions per station. Some utilities would be hard-pressed to justify that much of a financial outlay. One of the toughest requirement concerns the installation of filtered depressurization exhausts on existing units. These will be a “must” for all 28 boiling water reactor units, but only two are currently being built at Tepco’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa station in Niigata Prefecture. It seems all other plant owners are waiting to see what the final law will say in July. While the “vents” are not immediately mandated for pressurized water reactors, the creation of external critical-response facilities is being delayed at most of the eight PWR stations. Only the Ikata (Ehime Prefecture) and the Tsuruga (Fukui Prefecture) complexes have the critical-response facilities under construction. Many officials believe the Ikata station’s PWRs will be the first to restart after the new rules become law in July. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • The NRA has fired one of their senior officials for leaking information about seismic seam findings to one nuclear company before it was released. On Jan. 22, Tetsuo Nayukigave Japan Atomic Power Co. a draft assessment concerning the geology under the Tsuruga nuclear station, a week before its official release. NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said, “It is extremely regrettable that a senior official did such a thing. It was a thoughtless act, because we should be especially careful when having contact with parties subject to regulations and should be transparent in the exchanges.” The disclosed information was not proprietary, but the action violates the NRA’s protocols for communicating regulated companies. As it turns out, Nayuki reported the incident himself on January 23. A Japco official admitted they must take part of the blame, “We told (Nayuki) on Dec. 21 that if we are given a chance to express our opinions about the draft report during the panel meeting, we want to learn the content in advance so we can instantly make an accurate counterargument.” The NRA’s investigation found no evidence of Japco providing any financial reward or gift for Nayuki’s indiscretion. Nayuki has been returned to his former position with the Industry Ministry. (Kyodo News Service)
  • Prosecutors have questioned the head of the now-defunct Nuclear Safety Commission concerning possible criminal negligence after 3/11/11. Haruki Madarame appeared voluntarily before a team of lawyers trying to decide whether or not a criminal complaint filed by ~50 Fukushima residents can be tried in a court of law. The lawsuit alleges Madarame’s negligence resulted in deaths and injuries due to a two week delay in announcement of radiological release predictions following 3/11/11. Madarame responded that the use of SPEEDI contamination projections were not possible because the radiological release data from F. Daiichi was not immediately available. Madarame told NHK TV, “It's incorrect to say that if the estimates had been released earlier, many people could have been evacuated safely." The suit also faults him for failing to take necessary anti-tsunami measures at F. Daiichi. At the Diet’s Fukushima investigation last year, Madarame testified,"It was an apparent mistake as the safety review guidelines for nuclear power plants did not fully cover the impact of a tsunami." The suit says deaths and injuries resulted due to radiation exposure because of Madarme’s two areas of negligence. Madarame was responsible for providing Naoto Kan’s staff with technical advice on the situation at F. Daiichi. Tokyo Electric Power Company’s former chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata has previously been questioned. Prosecutors continue to emphasize that it will be difficult to bring actual charges against any of the alleged perpetrators. They add that questioning all 40 individuals named in the complaint will take a lot of time. One of the alleged perpetrators is former PM Naoto Kan, and it is unknown if or when he might be available for questioning. The lawyers do not expect to make a final decision on possible criminal charges before March. (Japan Today; Kyodo News Service; Japan Times; Yomiuri Shimbun; NHK World)
  • A new poll by the Mainichi Shimbun reveals that 56% of the respondents favor Prime Minister Abe’s reconsideration of the prior regime’s no-nukes-by-2040 policy. 37% said they did not support Abe’s position. In addition, 73% of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and 67% of the PM’s Cabinet staff also support the reexamination.
  • Popular Lake Inawashiro, Fukushima Prefecture, will have its bottom surveyed for Cesium contamination. The three municipalities on the lake say they have experienced a 40% decrease in tourism since 3/11/11. The drop in visitors is attributed to fears that the lake might contain radiation from the nuclear accident. The lake, north of Fukushima City, had its waters tested in June and September of 2012, and no Cesium radioactivity was detected. However, the rumors persist because of fear that F. Daiichi radiation has been absorbed into the lake’s bottom mud. A robot developed by Fukushima University will take the bottom samples and check radiation levels at the bottom’s surface. Researcher Takoya Omuro said, "The worst situation is not knowing the truth. If we know the level of contamination, we can respond to that." Lake Inawashiro is popular with tourists in the summer, but last year the number of visitors stood at 60 percent of pre-accident levels. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • Two American decontamination experts will advise the clean-up efforts in the evacuated zones around F. Daiichi. Robert Sindelar has experience in waste processing and Mark Triplett has worked with decontaminating US nuclear weapon’s production sites. They will stay in Japan until the end of March. Their expenses will be covered by the United States government. They will visit F. Daiichi, the surrounding evacuation zones, and involved research institutes to see what they might add to the on-going efforts. (Kyodo News Service)

February 1

  • Nuclear regulations in Japan will be made legally binding for the first time. The Nuclear Regulatory Authority says new countermeasures for nuke safety will be “legally mandated”. Until now, recommended safety measures and upgrades were left up to the utility companies that owned the power plants. Compliance was voluntary. The drafts of the new measures were released yesterday for public input the final rules will be legislated into law in July. The draft gives the rationale for making the new rules legally binding, "Although the frequency of occurrence (of a severe accident like the Fukushima nuclear disaster) is extremely low, once it happens it may significantly damage nuclear reactors and cause them to spew radioactive materials." This implies that public fear of radiation must be considered in the legal process. The draft also states that no nukes located directly above a seismic fault will be allowed to operate and must be scrapped. In addition, since the older nukes will have to make the most upgrades, it is possible some of them will be decommissioned due to the high cost of regulatory compliance. Plus, new tsunami and earthquake criteria will be site-specific - each nuclear station’s requirements for protection will be due to worst-case quake and tsunami scenarios for the location. The NRA says power companies may be given grace periods before specific measures become obligatory. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • For a detailed report on the NRA’s draft regulations, with explanatory graphic, please read the Asahi Shimbun article Agency drafts new safeguards for reactors that may delay restartshttp://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/recovery/AJ201302010085 Although some of the report takes the antinuclear slant common to the Asahi and most Japanese news outlets, the coverage of the proposed regulations is probably the most comprehensive yet posted by the Press.
  • Tsunami debris removal and disposal has finally begun inside the 20km no-go evacuation zone around Fukushima Daiichi. The Environment Ministry started work today in a few districts of Minamisoma Town where the repopulation bans have been lifted. The districts of Odaka, Tsukabara and Oi have been thoroughly monitored and the radiation levels do not prohibit tsunami debris disposal. The three locations have an estimated 22,000 tons of material to be handled. The total coastal debris volume for all of Minamisoma is estimated at 183,000 tons. The main volume will be left untended, at least for now, due to resident’s radiation fears. This is the first time tsunami debris removal has happened inside the 20km radius of F. Daiichi. The material will be separated between combustible and non-combustible. The combustibles will be burned in a temporary incinerator and the rest either recycled or buried at the site. The temporary storage site in Tsukahara district is about 50% completed and can begin accepting the materials. The Ministry Plans to have five such sites for tsunami debris by 2014, but vocal radiophobic residents do all they can to block the work. The new concern is the durability of plastic sheets lining the disposal trenches and whether or not they can prevent radioactive leakage if the material has radioisotopes in it. It’s not only the fear of radiation itself, but the fear of the possibility of radiation that persists. It took ten months to assuage the locals in Odaka, Tsukabara and Oi districts before the long-overdue disposal could begin. There is no telling how long it will take to overcome remaining radiophobia before the other 160,000 tons of tsunami trash can be removed. Tsukabara Administrator Yoshiki Konno said, "The recovery and reconstruction have just begun. Not every resident supports the construction of the storage sites, but we are working with the hope of making a faster recovery." (Japan Times; Mainichi Shimbun; NHK World)
  • Although none of Japan’s major news outlets are reporting it, the Cesium contamination levels in the turbine building basement waters of F. Daiichi units #1-#4 continue to drop. In December, the Cs-134/137 concentrations were 59,000 Becquerels per milliliter. As of January 24, the level has dropped to 53,000 Bq/ml. This is more than a 5% decrease. Also, the Cs-134/137 concentration at the inlet to the Cesium absorbers was 5.400 Bq/ml in December, but is currently at 4,500 Bq/ml. This is nearly a 17% reduction in about a month. Unquestionably, slow but steady progress is being made in reducing the Cesium levels in the 77,000 tons of water that occupy the turbine building basements. Unfortunately, the in-seepage of groundwater keeps the basements from being drained. Tepco is currently building systems outside the turbine basements to eventually carry the groundwater away and stop the in-leakage. (Tepco Press Website)
  • Seawater-caused corrosion has been discovered inside one of the reactor vessels at the Hamaoka nuclear station in Central Japan. Hamaoka has five total units, but it seems only one has the corrosion problem. The entire facility was ordered to be shut down by then-PM Naoto Kan in May, 2011, over his fears of a nuclear accident at Hamaoka forcing the evacuation of Tokyo. During the shutdown, a seawater-cooled condenser developed a leak and water flow into the reactor became contaminated before the condenser was isolated. There are three locations on the reactor’s inner steel liner that show the corrosion, and 2 are too deep for routine “polishing”. The steel will have to be cleansed completely or the entire liner will have to be replaced before any restart can happen. (NHK World)
  • Robots that will be used at F. Daiichi to accelerate decommissioning are being tested at Fukushima Daiini station, 10 kilometers to the south. Rather than literally throw the new automatons into the fray, the robotics team wants to test their abilities at the undamaged F. Daiini complex where everything can be visually monitored. In addition, any adjustments can be made literally on-the-spot. Further, if a robot loses power, it can be recovered. At F. Daiichi, high radiation fields make it impossible for such efforts. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • Prime Minister Abe repeatedly reiterates that the former regime’s no-nukes-by-2040 goal is being “reviewed “ and a Westinghouse/Toshiba executive indicates most of Japan’s nuke fleet will be restarted. Today, Abe said, "We'll make a decision [on restarting nuclear power plant operations] based on scientific safety criteria. In about three years, we'll see how current nuclear power plants should be in the future, and in 10 years, we'll shift to a new stable energy mix." Meanwhile, Westinghouse Chief Danny Roderick said, "I'm pretty optimistic that the Japanese nuclear fleet is going to restart, not maybe all the units, but I think a large portion. If you look... across Japan, you will find they are ready. They have installed numerous safety modification enhancements. They have installed tsunami protection. It is still going to take a period of time, but I can tell you the sentiment has changed pretty significantly because the facts about Fukushima are now out." (Yomiuri Shimbun; Reuters)

January 30

  • Namie Town, which stretches between 5 and 30 kilometers from Fukushima Daiichi, will do its own child radiation exposure study. Although new Fukushima exposure reports show no thyroid gland overexposure to children, residents of Namie want their own children’s exposure history analyzed. Those under 18 can be examined at a temporary housing complex in Nihonmatsu City. 30 children were brought in to begin the survey on Tuesday. A research team from Hirosaki University is collecting blood samples to search for chromosomal changes in lymphocytes (white blood cells). Any changes from what is considered normal will be compared to those found in records of the same unirradiated age group. About 850 children, roughly 23% of the Town’s under-18 population, are scheduled to be examined. The research team says the study will probably take months to complete, but any abnormalities that might be outside the natural occurrence level will be immediately notified to the parents. (NHK World)
  • Japan’s scientific community is skeptical of the Nuclear Regulatory Authority’s proposed 400,000 year seismic criterion. At a seismic symposium in Tokyo, physicist Akito Arima said that determining whether or not a seam has moved in the past 130,000 years is hard to determine and inherently uncertain, given the current state of scientific investigation. 400,000 year determinations will be even more erratic. Arima added it is difficult to conclude that the existence of a geologic seam is actually a threat to a nuclear power plant. He pointed out that the Onagawa and Fukushima Daiini stations, respectively north and south of F. Daiichi, experienced no damage to the reactors or their safety systems on 3/11/11. Both were obviously built to survive earthquakes far beyond the ones predicted for their location. He says he cannot criticize existing safety precautions given the evidence at Onagawa and F. Daiini. Arima feels that structures should be judged on how they “coexist” with earthquakes, not merely on whether or not a fault exists under or near a structure. He added that the standards being considered for nukes should also apply to train lines and highways, many of which were severely damaged by the 3/11/11 quake. Haruo Yamazaki of Tokyo Metropolitan University said the discovery of a geologic seam immediately sparks rumors that nukes are not safe. Since no structures at Onagawa and F. Daiini collapsed on 3/11/11, we should not assume that others will fail if another severe earthquake might strike. However, the symposium’s main concern was the NRA proposal of the 400,000 year criterion itself. Yasuhiru Suzuki of Nagoya University said the expanded criterion goes far beyond that recommended by the International Atomic Energy Agency. While definition of seismic movement is important, Suzuki cautions that making Japan’s criteria even more limiting makes no sense since it is based speculation that does not consider the uncertainties involved. The degree of ambiguity over 400 thousand year time frame is many times greater than with 100,000 years. Senshu University professor Y. Kumaki said that 130,000 year old geology occurred in a relatively warm climate, but further back in time the world was colder and there’s no way to determine whether or not a geologic seam is seismic or was caused by thermal cracking when it was formed. Kumaki added, “To tell the truth, I don’t know.” Hidekazu Takuyama of Kochi University made a crucial point when he said, “I don’t know what 400,000 years means.” (Sankei Shimbun)
  • The Tokyo government has earmarked another $1.75 billion for the Industry Ministry to speed up F. Daiichi decommissioning. This will increase the decommissioning budget by 12.4%. Prime Minister Abe says the scrapping of the destroyed units at F. Daiichi cannot be left up to Tepco alone and the state should be “at the forefront” of the effort. (Kyodo News Service)
  • Fukushima prefecture is having difficulty filling available decontamination jobs because of (here we go again) radiation fears. There are about 1,800 jobs available, but less than 200 have been taken. One contractor says if this continues, his company cannot remain doing the job. The problem could seriously hamper the timetable for repopulation of evacuated communities. The basic labor cost for decontamination work is the same as that for general civil engineering work, said Shinji Kato, president of Fukushima construction company Sato Kogyo Ltd. Shunichi Hirotani, a job placement official, says, “Many people expect high wages for work because of radiation fears. In reality, the wages are about the same as those for regular construction work.” (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • Assumptions that Switzerland has closed the door on nuclear power may be wrong. In July 2011, four months after Fukushima, the Swiss government announced they would abolish nuclear energy by 2034 when the country’s newest nuke would be 50 years old. Now, they are not so sure. It seems that building wind and solar farms to replace nukes will be difficult, expensive, and provide only about 25% of the power needed to keep the nation’s grid running around the clock. Solar plants only work during the day and at 100% power with clear skies. The wind must be blowing at more than 8 mile per hour before windmills can make electricity, plus the output fluctuates as wind speed typically changes. Nuclear plants currently make about 40% of Switzerland’s electricity, so replacing the nukes would require an enormous construction cost. Another reason to possibly keep the nukes is global warming, because the intermittent nature of renewable electric generators requires large “base load” units to keep the lights on. If it won’t be nukes, it will be have to be new gas-powered plants that exhaust greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Thirdly, there is no scientific evidence to show that a 50 year old nuke must be scrapped due to aging. Unlike fossil fuel plants, there is very little corrosion inside nukes and no erosion to speak of. Many 40-year-old nukes look brand new. Lastly, polls show the Swiss public’s initial aversion immediately following Fukushima is lessening. Many people deeply concerned about the accident soon after 3/11/11 have reconsidered in light of reports showing no human casualties in Japan from radiation exposure. (Swiss Broadcasting Corporation)

January 28

  • As part of the proposed anti-terrorism regulations, the Nuclear Regulatory Authority wants stringent nuclear plant worker background checks similar to the United States. This will include a criminal record investigation, debt history, and the past record of alcoholism and/or drug dependence. Any of these could make an applicant susceptible to terrorist recruitment. Such checks have been routine in America and Europe for more than a decade, but Japan has been reluctant to follow due to the issue of privacy invasion. The International Atomic Energy Agency has recommended such checks since 1999. Currently, all a nuclear applicant needs in Japan is a driver’s license or equivalent forms of identification. While the Fukushima accident spawned counter-terrorism concerns, the recent Algerian hostage crisis where 10 Japanese citizens were killed has heightened the issue. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • None of the residents of Fukushima Prefecture have been exposed to radiation levels that would cause thyroid gland damage. The National Institute of Radiological Sciences released the report on Sunday. Their data is much lower than the IAEA’s 50 millisievert threshold for the administration of Iodine medication to block excessive Thyroid doses. The study focused on the 12 municipalities surrounding Fukushima Daiichi. The highest exposures were in Iwake City, Futaba Town and Iitate Village, but everyone’s levels were below 50 mSv. 1-year-old children screened for thyroid Iodine-131 have had less than 30 millisieverts exposure. The records of approximately 1,000 infants who have had thyroid examinations since the accident show no excessive thyroid exposure. (Kyodo News Service; NHK World)
  • The NRA says one of the geologic anomalies running under the Tsuruga nuclear station probably qualifies as an active seismic fault. A draft report issued today says it’s likely that the seam under unit #2 has moved in the last 130,000 years. However, the report keeps the door open for a reversal of the decision, “If new knowledge is obtained, the judgment could be reviewed. However, at least at this point, the fault at the plant site is highly likely an active fault that needs to be considered in terms of seismic design.” The NRA believes the seam under the unit #2 connects to the nearby active Urazoko fault, which means it is likely they would move together. NRA commissioner Kunihiko Shimazaki said the report will be checked by other outside experts before it is finalized. Japan Atomic Power, owner of the nuke station, says the conclusion is drawn on inconclusive evidence and lacks scientific support. Unit #1 at Tsuruga is more than 40 years old, which is greater than Japan’s proposed limit on operation and may not be allowed to restart, regardless. (Japan Times)
  • A new lawsuit has been proposed against the government and Tepco by 500 Fukushima Prefecture residents. The citizens claim the stresses caused by health concerns and public discrimination warrants their legal action. The plaintiffs want $2,500 each for mental distress and $800 per month for children and pregnant women until the Fukushima Daiichi station is fully decommissioned. The majority of the claimants are from Iwake City and other communities that are outside the evacuation zones. Voluntary evacuees from outside the mandated evacuation zones who are under the age of 18 or are pregnant women have already been compensated about $7,200. The lawsuit, to be filed March 11, calls for additional damage judgments. (Mainichi Shimbun)


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