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Fukushima Commentary 8...6/21/13-8/9/13


Topics include Fukushima groundwater contamination, Naoto Kan, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, Lady Barbara Judge, Fukushima’s tsunami refugees, Japan’s Strontium-90 scare, Japan’s Red Cross, and more.

August 9, 2013

Fukushima Groundwater Contamination is Not an Actual Emergency

This past Monday, a Nuclear Regulatory Authority inspector at F. Daiichi told the Press that the contaminated groundwater problem places the station in a “state of emergency”. The official, Shinji Kinjo, admitted his personal opinion was based on a “rather high possibility” that contaminated groundwater is leaching into the barricaded inner port (quay) at F. Daiichi, and his estimate was not based on NRA calculations! Regardless, his “state of emergency” declaration is being treated like a serious nuclear crisis at Fukushima. It doesn’t matter that the NRA-itself has not made a formal emergency declaration. It doesn’t matter that there is no evidence of the actual leakage of Cesium and Strontium into the quay. All that matters is Kinjo’s assertion.

The explanation of the situation is complicated. A month ago, some elevated levels of Cesium, Strontium and Tritium (an isotope of Hydrogen) were discovered inside a groundwater testing well. To stop the possible flow into the quay, Tepco drilled a large number of holes deep into the earth and injected a chemical to solidify the ground along the shoreline. This was designed to block groundwater flow to the quay. Over a period of 20 days, the water level in another testing well rose 70 centimeters (approx.. 28 inches). This spawned speculation that the water had risen a bit above the solidified earth below and was flowing into the quay. When Tepco announced the solitary well’s rising water level, the NRA sent a team to F. Daiichi to investigate, headed by Kinjo. Meanwhile, Tepco tested the essentially stagnant water inside two sets of cabling and piping tunnels between the basements of units #2 and #3 and their seawater intake structures, and found quite high Cesium, Strontium and a mix of some 60-other isotopes. The concentrations were similar to the highly radioactive water now in the four damaged unit’s basements.

 

Contaminated tunnels (Asahi Shimbun)

Tepco speculated that some of the waters had seeped through the tunnel’s gravel floors and into the nearby soil, plus some had possibly made it into the quay directly from the tunnels through the water intakes. These worst-case speculations have generated extremely heavy Press coverage inside Japan, and it has gained considerable traction in the international press. But, at this point it’s all based on speculation…swathed in assumption and wrapped in exaggeration. There are a number of reasons why I say this!

To begin, only one of the dozen sampling locations inside the quay has shown an elevated level of radioactivity. Also, it’s just one specific isotope…Tritium…and not Cesium or Strontium or any of the other ~60 isotopes of concern. The rest of the quay’s sampling locations show no discernible. We’ll come back to Tritium-itself later. What’s most important is that that the quay is completely barricaded from the rest of the F. Daiichi station’s seaport.

 

F. Daiichi quay (Kyodo News)

In the above picture, please note the thin red line snaking across the quay’s opening. This is a “silt dam” that drops all the way to the floor of the quay, intended for opening and closure to admit equipment barges into and out of the inner port. It has not been opened for more than a year. It keeps the inner and outer waters from mixing when closed. Nothing, not even Tritium, has been detected outside the quay. This includes sampling as far as 10 kilometers beyond the outer break-wall of the entire port area (part of this can be seen stretching beyond the quay at the top-left of the picture).

What does this tell us? Contrary to the implications common to all Press reports and NRA statements, the Pacific Ocean is obviously not being polluted! Whether or not the quay-itself is being polluted is a matter of opinion.

Next, let’s look at what is happening with the groundwater that is allegedly flowing into the sea, speculated at 300 tons per day (the NRA’s most recent estimate). Tepco has filtered at least one sample from the contaminated testing well that started everything. After filtering the sample water, the level of Tritium did not change, which should come as no surprise. Tritium is hydrogen and is thus part of the water molecule which passes through any type of filter. But, the activity of Cesium, Strontium and the ~60 other isotopes dropped to pre-emergency levels. This means the Cesium and the other non-Tritium isotopes are most likely being filtered out by the soil the groundwater is flowing through. Quay water tests confirm this. None of the non-Tritium materials are detected in the quay. The only isotope detected in the quay, at but one location near the unit #1 seawater intake structure, is Tritium.

As said before, Tritium is the radioactive isotope of Hydrogen. It is also one of the numerous radioactive isotopes produced by Mother Nature, in this case caused by upper atmospheric collisions between energetic molecules and cosmic rays. Tritium has one proton in its nucleus, like all Hydrogen. But, it also has two neutrons attached to the proton, which is symbolized as H-3. The two neutrons cause the nucleus to be a bit unstable. It may be counter-intuitive to some, but here’s what happens next. One of the neutrons spits out an electron, turns into a proton, and the Tritium instantly becomes Helium, which harmlessly goes its own gaseous way. The electron is called a Beta particle, incorrectly called a “Beta ray” by the Press. Microwave and X-ray are “rays” because they are a continual flow of energy. Betas are sub-atomic particles. Betas are also about the weakest of all the various forms of radiation. The most energetic Beta’s known to man cannot penetrate thin cellophane. Tritium’s Betas are among the weakest of the lot (~6 KeV)…the weakest of the weak, if you will. Tritium’s Betas are relatively ineffectual. That’s why the annual release limits for Tritium sound enormous.

Japan’s Tritium limit is the lowest in the world at 22 trillion Becquerels* per year. Tepco’s estimate of the maximum amount of leakage to the sea over the past 27 months is 40 trillion Becquerels. That’s less than the limit, folks. It should be noted that 40 trillion Becquerels should be compared to the ~million-trillion Becquerels of naturally occurring Tritium already in the Pacific. What Tepco says is the upper bound of their Tritium releases is million times less than what Mother Nature has put in the Pacific.

However, the sheer magnitude of the Tritium estimate…in the trillions…sounds like we have something extremely serious going on…something worthy of speculating that an actual “state of emergency” exists at Fukushima Daiichi. Is the Pacific Ocean actually being polluted? It doesn’t seem that it is. Is F. Daiichi actually in a “state of emergency”? It’s a speculative state of emergency, to be sure, but not actual.

* A Becquerel is one radioactive release from the nucleus of an atom every second. The human body contains a constant activity of 5,000 Becquerels due to naturally-occurring Potassium-40 and 4,000 Becquerels from Carbon-14. Each person also contains about 25 Becquerels of natural Tritium activity…just for the record.

July 27, 2013

Fukushima Groundwater Issue Poses Many Questions

On July 23, Tepco revealed that contamination is leaching into their inner port (quay) at Fukushima Daiichi. Tepco and the Nuclear Regulatory Authority make it seem as if the contamination is going into the Pacific Ocean. There are many unanswered questions with the groundwater issue, but one thing seems certain…the material is not reaching the open sea, at least not yet. Tepco’s recent revelation validates the NRA conjecture of 10 days ago. Tepco’s bases their belief on the water level in the near-shore sampling wells fluctuating with the tide. However, the data Tepco has posted over the past four months raises a considerable number of questions.

First we might ask…what is the source of the contamination? Since the groundwater contains Cesium isotopes 134 and 137, it cannot be coming from any of the waste water storage tanks or underground reservoirs at F. Daiichi. This is because those waters have been effectively stripped of their Cesium content by the station’s “makeshift” filtration system. There are several possible sources. (1) The radioactivity may be coming from basements of the four units holding 70,000 tons of water literally loaded with Cesium. (2) It could be what Tepco has said for more than a month and be residual isotopes already in the plant’s soil from a rather significant leak into a trench between unit #1 and unit #2 reactor buildings in April, 2011. (3) Could it have something to do with another trench from unit #3? Tepco quietly posted a Press handout concerning the possibility of a unit #3 leak on July 11. (http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/nu/fukushima-np/handouts/2013/images/handouts_130711_04-e.pdf ) Or, could it be a combination of all three?

If we assume the contamination is coming from the basements, it poses a pair of over-lapping questions. To begin, Tepco knows that 400 tons of groundwater is seeping into the basements every day. How’s the groundwater getting in there? Cracks in the concrete walls? Broken piping penetrations? The flowpath into the basements has not been stated. Whatever the path of seepage, groundwater is leaking into the basements and there’s no reason to think the contaminated waters are not leaking out via the same pathways. The Nuclear Regulatory Authority wants to freeze the ground surrounding the turbine buildings using an earth-freezing technology that does not yet exist. While the mere suggestion puts the technical competence to the NRA in question, if it works it will merely lower the in-flow of groundwater by 100 tons per day. Tepco already has what seems to be a better methodology to stanch the groundwater influx. They are drilling holes deep in the ground along the shoreline and inserting a chemical to harden the soil itself. (http://210.250.6.22/en/nu/fukushima-np/handouts/2013/images/handouts_130708_03-e.pdf ) Why not do the same thing around the basements of the turbine buildings, too? If it is good enough to keep contaminated groundwater from getting into the station’s near-shore quay, it will surely be better than the NRA’s pie-in-the-sky concoction to freeze the soil. Water-proofing the soils surrounding the basements, and around the suspect cable trench coming out of unit #2 should eliminate it as a source of possible leaks. Then there’s the unit #3 trench, but we’ll come back to it later.

Next, how bad is the groundwater contamination? Is it really “highly radioactive”? The highest groundwater Cesium reading to date is 11,000 Becquerels per liter inside one of the now-numerous sampling wells at F. Daiichi. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it. Want to know what’s actually highly radioactive? The water in one of the trenches connected to the unit #2 turbine basement! The Press reports Tepco has found it to contain 2.35 billion Bq/liter of Cesium. That can be called “highly radioactive” by any standard. If 11,000 Bq/liter is “highly radioactive”, then what descriptive term should the Press use for 2.35 billion Bq/liter?

To continue, three of the groundwater sampling wells have elevated levels of Tritium (more on this later), but only one has shown increases in both Cesium isotopes over the past 2 weeks. (see the Tepco handout, above, for well locations). Well no. 1-2has readings of 11,000 Becquerel per liter for Cs-137 and 5,400 Bq/liter for Cs-134. (http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/nu/fukushima-np/f1/smp/2013/images/2tb-east_13072301-e.pdf ) These are the contamination levels that are always cited in the Press, both inside and outside of Japan, even though the Cesium in the rest of the wells is about 100 times lower. But here’s the important point…when the sample water from well #1-2 has the suspended solids filtered out, the cleansed water has readings of 50 Bq/liter of Cs-134 and 71 Bq/liter of Cs-137. (http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/nu/fukushima-np/f1/smp/2013/images/2tb-east_13072303-e.pdf ) These readings are higher than the other four near-shore sampling wells, but more than 99% lower than unfiltered. This demonstrates that the vast majority of the Cesium in the unfiltered sample is contained in the suspended sediment, probably stirred up by the fluctuating water level in the well. So, why doesn’t Tepco post the filtered sample data along with the unfiltered for well #1-2? It seems they only posted the unfiltered data only once on July 22nd. Further, has Tepco attempted to filter the sample waters taken from the other near-shore wells? If not, why not? This could be significant.

Here’s why it is important. Since the filtering of suspended solids removes more than 99% of the radioactivity, the Cesium is clearly bonded with the soil. The only way the high levels of Cesium in the groundwater can get into the station’s quay would be if the soil itself is being spilled into the seawater. Is it? With the station’s quay effectively isolated from the outer port area, and the outer port surrounded by some massive break-walls, there is no shore erosion. There might be a tiny loss of Cesium-impregnated soil leaving the shore, but the vast majority is staying put. We can say this with confidence when we look at the Cesium level inside the essentially stagnant quay. We find that all sampling points have not demonstrably changed in Cs-134 and Cs-137 concentrations since early April. (http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/nu/fukushima-np/f1/smp/2013/images/intake_canal_130726-e.pdf ) The levels have fluctuated over the past four months, but that is to be expected with activity levels as low as these in full liter samples. The range of upper and lower fluctuation points has stayed quite constant for all 12 sampling points along the quay’s shoreline. If there is a “highly radioactive” leak coming out of unit #3, there does not seem to be an increased Cesium level to prove it. It should be noted that the Cesium levels inside the quay have not changed significantly since March, 2012, but the above link back to April 2013 should suffice for this commentary.

Next we have the detected Tritium (H3), which raises more questions. Well number 1-2 has an H3 level of 350,000 Bq/liter, well number 1-3 is at 270,000 Bq/liter, and well #1 has 420,000 Bq/liter. (Wells 1-2 and 1-3 are between units 2&3 reactor buildings, and well #1 is next to reactor building #1) The Cs-134 levels in both well #1 and well 1-3 are…undetectable! The Cs-137 in both is less than 1Bq/liter. Why is the well with the highest level of Tritium not showing any Cesium? There is no correlation between H3 concentrations and the Cesium concentrations. There ought to be a correlation, but there isn’t. Why is there no correlation between isotopic concentrations? On a related note, why is there an elevated level of H3 (1,100 Bq/liter) at the unit #1 near-shore sampling point, but less than 400 Bq/liter everywhere else in the quay? If there is a leak to the quay is out of the unit #3 trench, why isn’t the quay water adjacent to unit #3 showing an increase over the levels detected in April?

Finally we get to the ultimate question. Is any of this contamination going out to sea? The inner Quay is sealed off from the waters which are inside the heavy stone break-walls that surround the station. The break-wall has a single opening to the open sea. Seawater sampling outside the quay, but inside the break-wall shows nothing. No detectible Tritium…no detectible Cesium. It appears the contamination in the quay is not getting into the outer port area. The silt dam that seals the entrance to the quay seems to be doing its job quite well. In addition, samples taken from the open sea surrounding F. Daiichi also show nothing. In other words, there seems to be no groundwater-borne contamination going into the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima Daiichi. So, why do the Nuclear Regulatory Authority and Tepco both make it sound like the Pacific Ocean is being “tainted”?

Many might question the veracity of the data posted by Tepco’s staff at F. Daiichi, given the general level of distrust relative to the company. But, there is no-one else’s data to analyze. Keep in mind that Tepco discovered the problem with groundwater contamination. No-one else did. They are the ones who have reported it to the world, albeit belatedly…and there-in lies the problem. The company’s level of transparency relative to public disclosure is not perfect, and some of their statements may be tainted with paranoiac twists, but their radiological data should not be distrusted. We have no other data to go on.

Questions…questions…questions…

July 20, 2013

Naoto Kan: Japan’s Pinocchio

This past Tuesday, Naoto Kan submitted a defamation suit against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. It is very unusual for a former prime minister to sue an incumbent. The suit is because Abe posted an Email on March 20, 2011, saying Kan fabricated his part in the infamous seawater cooling dispute during the Fukushima accident. Abe also said Kan’s trying to stop Tepco from cooling with seawater is a case of severe mismanagement and that he should resign. Kan charges Abe with keeping “erroneous” information on his website and ignoring Kan’s repeated entreaties to remove the Email from archives. Kan also charges Abe with making a “false accusation” that defames the former PM. Since the Email has not been deleted, Kan has filed the suit, along with $110,000 in damages. In response…well…there is no response from Mr. Abe. He refuses to comment.

On March 12, 2011, Kan did in-fact order Tepco and plant manager Yoshido to stop cooling with seawater because it contained some natural uranium and he feared it might cause a recriticality. Yoshida ignored Kan’s orders, which was the correct thing to do. It is a prime example of Kan meddling in F. Daiichi’s emergency operations during the hectic early days of the crisis. Kan is suing because Abe’s Email makes him look bad and negatively impacts the Democratic Party of Japan’s chances in the upcoming national election. It is also yet another example of Kan trying to manipulate the facts and possibly shed responsibility for the mistakes he made during the nuclear accident. If he were Pinocchio, Kan’s nose would be growing.

This is not the first time Kan has besmirched the truth. Remember that this is the man who says he single-handedly saved Tokyo from evacuation because he kept Tepco from abandoning F. Daiichi. All government investigations into the accident conclude that Kan did no such thing. Oh, there’s no doubt that he descended on Tepco’s home office and commanded them to not abandon the stricken plant-site. However, there was no actual reason for him to have done such a thing. Tepco never intended abandonment. Never! (For a detailed explanation of what happened, see my book “Fukushima: the First Five days”.)

After Kan resigned , he told the Press his non-abandonment order was based on his nightmare of evacuating Tokyo, predicated on a phantasmagorical what-if scenario which he-himself ordered to be formulated by his emergency staff’s nuclear representative from NISA! It went something like this… If all six units at F. Daiichi melted away (only three were operating at the time), and if all six spent fuel pools suddenly collapsed and the more than 2,500 all-metal fuel bundles somehow burned themselves to a crisp (an assumption of exceptional improbability, at best), and if the wind blew directly towards Tokyo (250 kilometers distant) for several days with minimal dispersion, then it might be possible that Tokyo would have to be abandoned. All of this, of course, was dependent on the entire staff at F. Daiichi fleeing the plant-site and never returning.

Now, here’s the most ridiculous part. Kan believed every bit of the science-fiction fantasy that he literally created for himself. Kan never saved Tokyo! But, in his warped way of thinking, it seems he believed he did. He has been preaching this ridiculous gospel of fantasy for the last two years.

Should we take the lawsuit seriously? I’ve been scanning the Japanese Press every day for more than two years, and I’ve come to understand that lawsuits of questionable substance are not uncommon in Japan. For example, an elderly man recently filed a suit against NHK World because they are using more and more foreign jargon in their reports and he could not understand much of what was being reported. The man filed for psychological damage due to NHK’s use of jargon. I kid you not! Personally, I’m filing Kan’s lawsuit in the drawer labeled “Believe it or Not”. 

Kan is not above twisting the truth for personal gain. He is a political opportunist who has lost face with the people of Japan. It seems he is trying to regain some modicum of respect with his former party, the DPJ. His is not a lawsuit of material substance and should be dismissed by every court in Japan. What frightens me is that the courts might find in Kan’s favor or a settlement might be negotiated. Both thoughts give me nightmares.

July 12, 2013

Japan’s nuke watchdog is blatantly biased

This week, The Japan News criticized the Nuclear Regulatory Authority for being “blatantly biased”, while holding a “self-righteous mind-set” in its dealings with nuclear utilities. (1) The News takes the new watchdog to task for “hastily concluding that topographic strains under some facilities are active faults”, ignoring the scientific data of the affected companies. In addition, the editorial says the NRA has “often lacked fairness in making decisions” and it must “shed its self-righteous mind-set and hold constructive and repeated dialogue with the utilities” in the forthcoming review of applications for restarts. Unfortunately, it seems the newspaper’s wish for fairness and objectivity will be unfulfilled, as this week’s F. Daiichi groundwater issue demonstrates.  

To place the situation in perspective, Tepco discovered elevated contamination levels in one, solitary well used to sample groundwater. There are more than 20 other such wells at F. Daiichi, and all showed no increasing contamination. At the station’s seaport, one of the four near-shore sampling points has had an increased level of but one isotope…Tritium… but not any others. The port has several barriers installed to prevent any contamination reaching the sea. The inner “quay” is about 300 meters long by roughly 75 meters wide. It is totally enclosed on the east and south sides with thick walls of heavy stone and clay. The northern side of the quay is closed by a “silt dam”. The floor of the quay is “paved” with several layers of impervious material. How good are these barriers? Samples of seawater taken outside the quay show no detectible activity. There is also an outer break-wall which runs the length of the F. Daiichi property which is roughly a kilometer in length and connects to the shore at either end. Outside the break-wall, no contamination has been detectible for nearly two years.

Getting back to the sampling well in question…the location is quite close to the cabling trench which had a considerable leak pour into it from the unit #2 turbine building basement back in April, 2011. After several failed attempts, the leak was plugged by the end of that month. Regardless, many tons of raw, contaminated water had poured into the trench. Most of it found its way directly into the sea, but a goodly amount also drenched the surrounding soil. Tepco says the source of the one well’s contamination is likely residual from the April, 2011 leak. When pressured by the Press, Tepco said they cannot say with absolute certainty that the contamination is totally due to residuals in the soil. Clearly, Tepco is embracing Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. Regardless, it all sounds reasonable, right? Case closed?

Absolutely not! The NRA says they believe the contamination is also coming from somewhere else. The NRA also “strongly suspects” the contamination is finding its way to the ocean, even though the suspect sampling point is 25-30 meters from the sea… even though none of the other groundwater sampling points show parallel increases in radioactivity. Also, the NRA fails to consider that groundwater flow is extremely slow. It has taken more than two years for the trench contamination to move a few meters, with the exception of one isotope…Tritium. A small amount of the hydrogen isotope has reached one location in the quay, shows up in none of the other quay sampling locations and has been steadily decreasing since last Friday…nearly a week. It is possible the elevated Tritium was a spurious spike.

The NRA’s believes the sea is being contaminated because Tepco because there is no absolute assurance of no other sources and the Tritium detected inside the quay.  NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka told a press conference, "TEPCO's explanation is open to question. I think the contamination of seawater is continuing to a greater or lesser extent.” The NRA’s proof is essentially rhetorical and not based of the data at hand. Further, they obviously believe that Tepco cannot be trusted. As far as the Press is concerned, the NRA guarantees that the sea is being contaminated. This is abject use of pure speculation and adds further proof to the NRA’s blatant bias.

In addition, the NRA ordered Tepco to install barriers to keep the contamination from reaching the sea. No credit was given for the quay and break-wall barriers already in place. No credit was given to Tepco’s current work; drilling holes deep in the soil every 80 centimeters along the shoreline and injecting chemicals solidifying the dirt and clay. It doesn’t matter that Tepco may have found that the reason for the high sample activity being dirt dissolved in the water. Simple filtering before analysis brings the level back to what it was a week ago. The NRA acts like the staff at F. Daiichi is doing nothing. Further, Tepco’s plan for burying steel and glass barriers along the shoreline, to be completed in 2015, isn’t good enough. The NRA has concocted the bizarre idea of freezing the ground around the reactor and turbine buildings, using a technology that does not yet exist and will not insure zero leakage even if it works! All of this shows a self-righteous mindset with the NRA. It in no way demonstrates a constructive dialogue with the utility. It’s the NRA’s way, or the highway.

The bottom line is this… the NRA thinks contamination is leaking to the sea, and they are unabashedly trumpeting their claim in the face of considerable evidence to the contrary. It’s blatant, arrogant and hasty. The NRA was created to be an independent watchdog making decisions based on science and logic. To date, the agency has failed miserably in meeting this mandate. They leave science and logic at the door and base their decisions based speculation and negativism.  

1. http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0000367823

July 6, 2013

Misleading AP Story on Lady Barbara Judge

Yesterday, the Associated Press posted an article about Tokyo Electric Company hiring Lady Barbara Judge to oversee establishment of a nuclear safety culture in the company. 1 The article says Judge talked to “The Associated Press on Friday, during a trip to Tokyo for meetings at TEPCO.” The posting was covered by several Japanese newspapers, including The Asahi Shimbun, Mainichi Shimbun, Japan Daily Press and Japan Today. The posts make it seem Lady Judge has just been hired by the company. However, Lady Judge was actually hired by Tepco much earlier this year, with several international reports on it early in February. 2,3 Friday’s AP report contained one new item, with Lady Judge saying Tepco has changed enough to warrant restarts of some of their reactors. However, everything else was copied from the February articles. Not that the AP is doing anything heinous. I guess it is possible that Judge gave them the identical quotes she was cited for 5 months ago. It’s unlikely, but possible.

One point emphasized by the AP was Lady Judge’s position on Tepco’s attitude toward safety prior to 3/11/11, which bears repeating here. "There was a culture of efficiency, not a culture of safety. There was no safety culture. There was an assumption of safety." From this writer’s perspective, she was spot-on. Tepco could have waterproofed their F. Daiichi emergency diesel generator and battery rooms years before the tsunami hit. In doing so, the accident at F. Daiichi probably would not have occurred. Tepco chose to not waterproof their emergency facilities because they believed their off-shore 18-foot high anti-tsunami wall could hold back the worst that nature could throw at them. The company argued the benefit of waterproofing emergency power systems wasn’t worth the cost, and the Tokyo government agreed with them. Protection against the rare-but-not-impossible was believed to be un-necessary throughout Japan…and that included the nearly 200 Tohoku communities whose anti tsunami barriers failed on 3/11/11. They were very wrong, of course.

Also, back in February Lady Judge said the impact of her and the other international members of Tepco’s Safety Review Committee will make sure the company take the idea of a safety culture seriously, "It is a very big challenge because, before the accident, there was a very close relationship between the nuclear regulator and the plant operators. We need to change the culture so that people will be praised and rewarded for pointing out problems. They used to be afraid to say that anything was wrong." Hopefully, doing so will begin to restore confidence in Tepco’s ability to manage nuclear power plants safely.

However, it should be noted that there are misleading statements about Lady Judge was posted as fact by the AP reporter. Lady Judge is alleged to be Honorary Chair of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, and that she was the acting Chair from 2004-2010. However, the February reports say she was the actual chair from 2004-2006, and there is nothing about her currently being “honorary chair” of the organization. She is “Chairman Emeritus”, which is a title generally afforded to the prior chair of any major organization. The term “emeritus” is a Latin word meaning “having served one’s time”. In other words, she has retired from the position, but is kept on the docket if she is ever needed in the future.  

Beyond these mistakes, AP reporter also uses the moment to invoke the time-work practice of rehashing the Fukushima accident and the widely-disseminated problems that happened since. But, even while doing this, the reporter can’t get the facts straight. For example, with the rat-cause power outage at F. Daiichi earlier this year, the article posts, “A dead rat recently caused a massive blackout, temporarily shutting down the system to keep reactor-cores cool.” Actually, the rat shorted out the power supply to three of the spent fuel pools at F. Daiichi. Calling it “massive” is nothing more than a wild exaggeration. Further, none of the “reactor-cores” cooling systems were impacted! In another case, even though all of the inconsequential waste water leaks found this spring have been stopped, the AP says, “Tons of contaminated water continue to leak.” I guess the reporter feels misinformation is scarier that what actually happened, and perfectly allowable.

This is yet another example of how the Associated Press has become a bastion of antinuclear reporting. Their incessant assault on Tepco, Japan’s “nuclear village” and the nuclear community around the world began with the hydrogen explosion at F. Daiichi on March 12, 2013, and has continued unabated since. The use of fear, uncertainty and doubt has been central to AP’s antinuclear assault for more than two years, but this new direction of outright confabulation goes beyond the bounds of journalistic propriety. Further, if Friday’s article on Lady Judge is their idea of providing balance to their biased reporting, they have missed the mark by a very wide margin.

1. http://bigstory.ap.org/article/japan-utility-hires-nuclear-safety-advocate

2. http://edition.cnn.com/2013/02/05/business/lady-judge-fukushima-japan-nuclear

3. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/analysis-and-features/lady-barbara-judge-japans-smart-nuclear-weapon-8497747.html

June 28, 2013

Who Are Fukushima’s Tsunami Refugees?

The Press’ interest in Fukushima accident evacuees overlooks something. What if the F. Daiichi station would have survived the tsunami unscathed like the other two stations along the Tohoku coastline – Fukushima Daiini and Onagawa? The wave of water on 3/11/11 certainly pounded Fukushima as severely as southern Miyagi Prefecture. There must have been tens of thousands of Fukushima residents fleeing the Pacific coast to escape the black water surge, long before the nuclear accident transpired. It is most likely that thousands of Fukushima residents lost everything to the raging torrent, sweeping away everything in its path.

AON Benfield reports that more than 1,600 Fukushima residents lost their lives to the tsunami, with nearly 250 listed as missing and presumed dead. But, how many of Fukushima’s tsunami victims were made homeless by the giant wave? Across the Tohoku region, some 20,000 were killed by the tsunami and more than 300,000 were made permanently homeless. If we use these numbers as a ratio, we might speculate that some 20,000 Fukushima citizens may have lost their homes and property to the tsunami, long before the nuclear accident transpired. The government’s exclusion zone covers 60 kilometers along the 120km Fukushima coast. Thus, we might assume that roughly half of the tsunami-obliterated Fukushima homes lay within the exclusion zone. If correct, this means about 10,000 of the Fukushima evacuees are tsunami victims and would be refugees even if the nuclear accident never happened.

Which brings up a disturbing question…Why has nothing been reported about the tsunami-only Fukushima refugees? I’ve been scanning the major Japanese news outlets every day for more than two years, and there has been nothing about the Fukushima refugees who are also tsunami-only victims. I’ve scoured the search engines with every key phrase I can conjure in the hope that maybe I have missed something. Sadly, I must admit defeat and conclude that none of Japan’s news media has made the effort to cover this compelling story.

Coverage of Fukushima refugees appeals to Japan’s widespread fear of radiation and the common misconceptions relative to reactors and bombs. It is regularly reported that some of the Fukushima refugees may never go home due to radiation levels. How about the Fukushima refugees who will never go home because the tsunami swept their domiciles away? There is little doubt that hundreds of Futaba and Okuma residents nearest F. Daiichi might be permanently estranged from their still-intact homes due to radiation levels. But it pales in comparison to Fukushima’s thousands who lost everything to the tsunami will never go home. In an ideal world, this distinction should be made by the Press, but there seems to be no desire on the part of the news media to do this.

I assume that the tsunami refugees from the exclusion zone are receiving the same dispensation as the accident-only crowd. If they are, their condition must be considerably better than the other tsunami-only refugees in Tohoku. Why? Two reasons immediately come to mind. First, each Fukushima refugee family has been awarded $10,000 in “evacuation compensation” that 250,000 tsunami-only victims will never see. And second, the Fukushima refugees receive about $1,500 per month to help with displaced-living expenses. At the same time, some of the tsunami-only refugees get $400-650 per month. Many, if not most, of Tohoku’s tsunami-only refugees get nothing! I am not advocating that Tepco should reduce the payouts to Fukushima’s tsunami-only victims…they are unquestionably the most-deserving of all Fukushima refugees because, after all, they lost everything. But I am advocating that the Tokyo government should subsidize ALL of Tohoku’s tsunami refugees equal to what the Fukushima tsunami refugees from the exclusion zone are receiving.

Why hasn’t the Japanese Press even made a perfunctory effort to cover this? They must know that such a story is “out there” and begs coverage. They can’t be unaware enough to have missed it. Are they afraid that such a story could somehow diminish public interest in their habitual practice of Fukushima scare-mongering? I can think of no answer to that question other than a resounding “Yes”.  

The final question I ask is thus…what’s more important? The plight of people estranged from their homes due to the hypothetical, unproven risks of low level radiation exposure, or those who actually lost everything to the tsunami of 3/11/11? It seems the Japanese Press believes the hypothetical is infinitely more newsworthy than the actual.

Reference:

Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami Event Recap Report; AON Benfield; August 30, 2011 http://thoughtleadership.aonbenfield.com/Documents/201108_ab_if_japan_eq_tsunami_event_recap.pdf

June 22, 2013

A new Fukushima radiation scare about Strontium-90

This past Wednesday, Tokyo Electric Company said Strontium-90 was found in a groundwater sampling “well” at Fukushima Daiichi. There are a dozen of these sampling wells for groundwater at F. Daiichi. None of the other sampling points show any Sr-90, and daily seawater sampling reveals none escaping. The detected radioactivity is one Becquerel per milliliter, some 30 times higher than Japan’s Sr-90 limit for open release. Tepco says this is not due to a leak, but is likely residual from the cable trench leak found (and sealed) in April of 2011. The 2011 leak soaked the soil with contaminated water from the unit #2 basement containing radioactive isotopes including Sr-90. It is unlikely that the contamination will reach the sea, some 100 feet from the well. Tepco will build barriers to keep it from migrating any further, just to insure that none will escape. End of story?

Not in Japan!

The announcement from Tepco has set off a tsunami of alarming Press articles. Most of them used the very same headline…”High Levels of toxic strontium found in Fukushima groundwater”. The “evidence” for this of fear-inducement is questionable at best, with no balancing statements from actual experts. One paper, Japan Daily Press, posted that Strontium is “the principle health hazard in radioactive fallout”. (1) Their source is Encyclopedia Britannica! Since when is a popular encyclopedia worthy of referential status? If any reputable writer used an encyclopedia as evidence, he/she would be laughed out of the business. Also, the reference itself is specific to bomb fallout, not the releases from nuclear power plant accidents. JDP is appealing to wide-spread confusion over the differences between reactors and bombs -- a key underpinning of the Hiroshima Syndrome that plagues Japan.

But, JDP didn’t stop there. The article adds, “Strontium-90 has a 28 year half-life and if not properly removed may impose decades of radiation injury.” Scary? Yes! Realistic? Not even close. Here’s why. The Chernobyl accident in 1986 released more than 8,000 terabecquerels of Sr-90 (a teraBq is a million times a million), which was many, many times more than Fukushima Daiichi released. A Nuclear Regulatory Commission report from 2004 (2) says no increases in cancer incidence or mortality was caused by the monstrous release in the Ukraine. The NRC report also says Sr-90 becomes a problem only if quantities are ingested resulting in internal exposure “a thousand times higher than doses we all receive from natural radiation”. If 8,000 teraBq of Sr-90 from Chernobyl didn’t harm anyone, how could one Bq/ml in Fukushima groundwater cause long-term health issues?

It isn’t only the JDP making provocative misleading claims. For example, Japan Times posts, “If introduced into the food chain, radioactive strontium-90, with a half-life of 28.8 years, can remain in the human body for long periods and eventually cause cancer.” (3)  No supportive evidence is given by the Times. Once again, we ask…if thousands of terabecquerels from Chernobyl didn’t cause any cancers in the Ukraine, how could one Bq/ml in Fukushima ground water do it?

Plus, how coan the Sr-90 get in the food chain in large enough quantities to be an actual health hazard? Groundwater always flows toward the nearest water body that’s lower in elevation, in this case the Pacific Ocean. In addition, groundwater moves very slowly, measured in a few feet per month. Plus, particulates like Strontium move much, much slower than the water itself because of the soil’s natural filtering property. This is why the detected Sr-90 will not get into the terrestrial food chain. If Tepco did nothing, it would take about 100 years before detectible Sr-90 reached the sea, if not longer. Even if the Sr-90 did get there, it would be massively diluted to the point that it would make no discernible increase to the sea-borne Sr-90 already existent!

So…what’s the big deal?

First, 94% of the Japanese Press admitted last year that they are antinuclear. They have succumbed to the tactic of exaggerating anything related to nuclear energy, radiation and Fukushima. Second, one of the mainstays of antinuclearism around the world is distrust of the companies that own the nukes. The level of distrust toward Tepco by the Press in Japan is monumental. The Sr-90 articles only make trust in Tepco further diminish. Third, any detectible level of radiation in Japan, no matter how miniscule, is presented as the cause of a future cancer epidemic. Radiophobia runs rampant in the news media of Japan…just follow their panderings about radiation for more than two years as I have, and you will see what I’m saying.

So, how does the Japanese Press get away with such overt fear-mongering? Millions of people in Japan believe Fukushima is the third atomic bombing of their country, a-la Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Millions believe the people of Fukushima will eventually be dropping like flies from all sorts of cancers. Fukushima children will be sterile… or worse, give birth to mutated babies! The Fukushima evacuees are already called the new “Hibakusha” (unclean people tainted by bomb fallout). Radiation is worse than Godzilla to millions of Japanese, and the nation’s Press feeds this belief with as much fodder as they can muster. The Tokyo government can be viewed as an accomplice to the Press since they have made no attempt to educate their people on the realities of radiation exposure. It seems Tokyo would rather have millions suffer the psychological damage caused by unrequited fear than spend the money to educate!

A hundred years from now, the world will look back at the radiation-based scare-mongering now existent in Japan and shake their heads in amazement…just as when we recall the pre-Copernican belief that the Earth is the center of the universe.

References:

1. http://japandailypress.com/high-levels-of-toxic-strontium-found-in-fukushima-groundwater-1930883

2. https://forms.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/tooth-fairy.html

3. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/06/20/national/strontium-in-groundwater-at-no-1-soars/#.UcM-WevD8dW

June 21, 2013

Japan’s Red Cross violates their moral imperative with too-low exposure limit

The Japanese Red Cross Society (JCRS) has set a maximum radiation exposure limit of one millisievert per year for emergency response workers. (1) In doing so, they have violated the moral imperative of Red Cross Societies around the world. In essence… an emergency response action should only be taken if the benefits of the action outweigh the total (radiation and non-radiation) risks, or “do more good than harm”. The primary mission is rescuing survivable victims. (2)  To the contrary, it seems the JCRS is more concerned about avoidance of negligible radiation exposures than with saving people’s lives.

The ICRP and IAEA maintain that emergency response workers should be limited to 250 millisieverts total exposure in life-saving situations, with a 500 millisievert ceiling for the most extreme cases. It should be noted that no documented increases in cancer incidence or mortality has ever occurred below 1 Sievert (1,000 mSv) of acute (short duration) exposure. The oft-referenced exposure level for the onset of carcinogenesis is 100 mSv, but this comes from a very conservative assumption (Linear/No Threshold) which is meant to be used for setting regulatory standards, and for nothing else. The actual data shows that 500 millisievert acute exposures have not ever hurt anyone. But, it seems the JCRS chooses to succumb to Japan’s irrational and irresponsible radiation exposure standard of 1 mSv as the limit with lifesaving efforts. The only lives they will save in such situations are their own.

I’m not the only one critical of this ridiculous decision. Yasushi Asari, a professor of emergency medical care at Hirosaki University, said, “Radiation doses above 1 millisievert have no health effects. There is no need for medical workers to use that threshold.” But, Masahito Yamazawa, director-general of the JCRS nuclear disaster task force, says this insanely low limit won’t hinder their life-saving efforts in any way, “We have created the guideline out of a positive desire to help victims during a nuclear disaster.” Deplorable!! Who does he think he is kidding? Is JRCS playing on the ignorance of Japan’s public relative to the realities of radiation exposure? Is JRCS merely making a politically expedient judgment at the expense of disaster victims? The JRCS has done this sort of thing before, and it most certainly cost many people their lives.

After the great tsunami of 3/11/11 hit the Tohoku coast, more than 900 Red Cross missions were supposed to be set up. But many along the 300 kilometer-long coastlines were delayed because of fear of radiation on the part of JRCS home office in Tokyo. On March 16, 2011, JRCS spokesman Mutsuhiko Owaki said, “we cannot send rescue workers to places where there is a clear risk of radiation exposure”. That’s exactly what the JCRS did, and their staff in Tohoku felt strangled because they could not help those in need. (3) At the same time that JRCS withheld many sorely-needed life-saving missions from Miyagi – the most devastated of the five prefectures hit by the giant waves – the Tokyo Fire department sent about 500 of their finest to Miyagi without reservation. Japan’s SDF didn’t run and hide from the possibility of harmless radiation exposure, either. "The SDF has no plan to change its missions because of the radiation risks," said a spokesman of the Japanese Defense Ministry on March 16, 2011. The JCRS rationale for their skittishness was because the nuclear crisis in Fukushima, more than 100 kilometers away, was “unpredictable”.

It makes me wonder how many Japanese tsunami victims needlessly died because the JCRS was afraid of the radiation bogey-man? How can those who made the decisions relative to the tsunami victims live with themselves? Now, the JCRS has gone off the deep end made and sanctioned their immoral actions in March, 2011. They will officially do whatever needs be done to save lives, unless there is the possibility of a harmless exposure to radiation. In that case the JRCS says, “Let the victims die!”

Since when does the infinitesimally microscopic cancer risk of one mSv exposure have a higher value than the saving of a human life? It doesn’t, and it never will.

References:

1. Oiwa, Yuri; “Red Cross radiation limit for relief workers too low”; Asahi Shimbun, June 13, 2013

2. http://www.epa.gov/radiation/docs/er/planning-guidance-for-response-to-nuclear-detonation-2-edition-final.pdf

3. Obe, Mitsuru; “Relief Groups Consider Withdrawing Operations Amid Threat of Exposure”; The Wall Street Journal; March 16, 2013 http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704662604576202341130872836.html

 

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