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Fukushima Commentary 5...1/18/2013-2/19/2013


Topics include Fukushima second anniversary, WHO radiation risk estimates, money wasted on radiation fears, Greenpeace calls science a ploy, Fukushima whistleblower, Japan’s radiation standards, Chernobyl wildlife thrives, and more.

March 9, 2013

Summation of Fukushima 2nd Anniversary Articles

  • 160,000 people evacuated their homes due to the Fukushima accident. Some 70,000 were ordered to leave because they lived inside the government-mandated exclusion zone – a 20 kilometer radius around F. Daiichi plus a 10km-wide corridor northwest of the accident site extending out to roughly 45 km. Another 90,000 evacuated voluntarily from communities outside the exclusion zone. About 89,000 of the total remain in Fukushima Prefecture as refugees – 42,000 from the exclusion zone and 47,000 voluntary evacuees. Some moved to other Prefectures and a few thousand have returned home where the restrictions have been lifted. 80% of the evacuees feel they may never go back to their still-intact homes – some because they believe decontamination will never be good enough and others because they fear another F. Daiichi accident. Many feel the accident is not over and Tepco’s efforts to control the crisis are makeshift and failure-prone. An NHK  survey shows that many of the Fukushima refugees have no desire to return home (19%). However, 17% said they would return home now if they were allowed, 10% have returned home to locations where the exclusion ban has been lifted, and 52% say they want to return home but only after decontamination. Three-quarters of those who never want to go home say they don’t trust decontamination efforts, fear radiation, and returning home would result in their families abandoning them.
  • The News media is posting some creative, forbidding headlines. Perhaps the most provocative is Japan Today’s “Japan's 'long war' to shut down Fukushima nuclear plant”. All news articles run a summation of the last two years, emphasizing the negative. Japan Today says the “war” to contain Fukushima Daiichi was fought with an “arsenal of weapons” which was “improvised, low-tech and underpowered”. The emergency power cable used to repower the station is called “the world’s longest extension cord”.
  • Quotes from Tepco sources have been positive, but tinged with uneasiness about the job ahead. F. Daiichi’s current plant manager, Takeshi Takahashi, says, “It’s going to take a very long time to complete the work, and it’s going to be tough, but we’re committed to completing it.” He says the issue most on his mind is the build-up of decontaminated waters and whether or not they will ever be able to release them to the sea. “The contaminated water is a pressing issue,” said Takahashi. On the other hand, the Press posts that the releases could contaminate ground water and destroy the local fishing businesses which have recovered from the tsunami. Kyoto University professor Akio Koyama, a researcher of radioactive waste, said Tepco will have no choice but to eventually dump the water. On the other hand, a national fisherman’s advocacy group says, “Fishermen have been suffering from the impacts of the Fukushima crisis and trying to regain consumers’ trust. Dumping tainted water will destroy these efforts.”
  • Tepco has used arthroscopic probes and robots to try and find the source of the leaks out of the reactor systems of units #1 through 3. The company maintains that the leaks are coming out of the rector vessels, into the surrounding Primary Containments (PCV), and from there to the attached reactor and turbine building basements. So far, none of the “looks” inside the PCVs have found leaks from any of the massive components. In fact, unit #2’s suppression pool (torus) room is completely dry.
  • Influential nuclear critics remain concerned about the integrity and stability of the spent fuel pool of unit #4. Tepco is building a massive structure to surround and encase unit #4 reactor building to remove the 1,533 fuel bundles from the pool. This herculean effort, however, is downplayed by the Press calling it a “makeshift” effort. Tepco has tested the structure and found the inner building (PCV) which holds the pool to be robust and safe, and had the work corroborated by independent experts. But, vocal nay-saying critics continue to be disturbed. They fear that another 9-Richter-scale quake could cause a complete collapse and result in a radioactive release many times worse than the three meltdowns.
  • Tokyo has allocated enough money to give full-time employment to 1,800 exclusion zone decontamination workers, but only 200 are presently employed. The shortfall is due to two reasons. First, many applicants say they will not work unless they get more money because the job should be considered hazardous. Second, many contractors say their employees fear they will get contamination on them and eventually die of cancer. Local officials bemoan the manpower shortage. However, they say the problem is amplified by too little money, a lack of decontamination technology and inability to find interim storage locations for the radioactive waste.
  • Fukushima refugees are  deeply depressed due to a combination of reasons: living in strange places, fears of coming down with cancer, forced career changes, and a constant feeling of sickness. One refugee complains of a continual “shortness of breath” and another says that living in a strange land is “stifling”. Many say that Tepco’s $1,000 per month compensation isn’t enough. Those living in free apartments, paid for by Tokyo, sare dissatisfied with what they have been given and want better places to live. Many complain of being discriminated against because people look at them with disdain and/or make disparaging remarks. 51% say things will never be the same for them.
  • Estimates of the cost of cleaning up the power station and dismantling the four damaged units run as high as $110 billion. Estimates of the cost of decontaminating the outlying exclusion zone are as high as $600 billion. Some even say the current timetables for recovery are naive and the costs could eventually run in the trillions of dollars. Michio Ishikawa of Japan’s Nuclear Technology Institute calls the current plans a “pipe dream”, adding the current 40-year time-table could actually be decades longer. Some reports stress that the unknown is more important than what is known since the technology to undertake the jobs at hand often do not yet exist in Japan. Other reports allege that the workers at Fukushima are in constant danger of cancer, underpaid, and overworked. In addition, some contractors are having problems finding enough people to get the job done. The Press seeks out those workers most upset, and posts their complaints as if they speak for the entire 3,000-man staffing. One is quoted as saying, “The money is getting worse and worse, and who would want to come and work under these conditions?I get stomach aches. I am constantly stressed. When I’m back in my room, all I can do is worry about the next day. They should give us a medal.” Some mental health experts say the Fukushima workers could experience discrimination as severe as American servicemen following Vietnam. Already, many say they are treated like the “Hibakusha” – those who survived the bombings of Hiroshima/Nagasaki. Finally, the Press emphasizes that the future of Fukushima and the refugees is unknown. One Chou University professor said, “Only God knows”. One politician in Fukushima said, “This kind of job has never been done. The technology, the wherewithal, has never been developed. Basically, we are groping in the dark.” Negativity in the Press is literally omnipresent.
  • Numerous video documentaries have emerged over the past year; some formal for internet and/or theatrical use, and others on YouTube. In the “formal” category, Japan’s Indy film-makers have flocked to Fukushima to exploit the second anniversary of the accident. The gist of these yet-to-be-released films is summed up by Japan Times, “The unnerving clicks of dosimeters are constant as people wearing white protective gear quickly visit the radiated no-go zones of decayed farms and shuttered stores. Evacuees huddle on blankets on gymnasium floors, waiting futilely for word of compensation and relocation. What’s striking is that many of the works convey a prevailing message: The political, scientific and regulatory establishment is not telling the whole truth about the disaster. And much of the public had been in the past ignorant and uncaring about Fukushima.” The majority of the internet/YouTube variety also focuses on the Fukushima refugees, how they felt during the first weeks of the crisis, their anxieties over possibly never going home again, and how they are being misled by “official” statements about exposures and cancer possibilities. One of the most recent and alarming releases is “A2 – Eighteen months after the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima”. In it, one person being checked for internal contamination says, “We’ve been deceived…We’ve been betrayed” and explains that the government lied about nuclear safety and they are lying about cancers in Fukushima. Another is “Photographing the Nuclear Disaster in Fukushima”, in which the photographer says he is interested in the idea of science being “our Achilles Heel” and uses images of the deserted Fukushima evacuation zone and drowned bodies caused by the tsunami to drive his point home.

March 7, 2013

Japan Correctly Takes Umbrage with WHO Risk Estimates

On March 1st, the World Health Organization released their public risk estimates relative to the Fukushima accident. The WHO’s concluded that the increased risk of cancer due to F. Daiichi-based exposure is tiny. However, the Japanese government is less than happy with the WHO report. They feel WHO’s results are purely hypothetical and can only increase the wide-spread fear of radiation infecting millions of their people. The WHO replied that their estimates were specific to relative risk and that they were not making predictions of additional future cancer morbidity. But, the largely-antinuclear Japanese Press is presenting the WHO report as just such a prediction. The Japanese criticism of WHO’s radiation risk estimation is (a) surprising considering that radiation is an exceedingly touchy topic in Japan, and (b) there seems to be no prior record of any other governmental body in the world openly disapproving of the risk methodology WHO used. In this writer’s opinion, it’s about time for both. First, Japan’s radiation experts have remained silent since the F. Daiichi accident. Their voices need to be heard. Second, the WHO methodology is inherently flawed and needs to be discontinued because it is deeply confusing, easily twisted into fear-mongering rhetoric and flat-out wrong!

First, let’s look at the Tokyo experts most-affected by the WHO report. The Environmental Ministry says the risk estimates were intentionally exaggerated and do not reflect “reality”. On official said “Their calculations were made based on the assumption that people continued living inside the evacuation zone and ate banned food. But there are no such people.” What? The estimates are based on factors that did not actually exist? What possessed WHO to make THAT assumption? In addition, Makoto Akashi of the National Institute of Radiological Sciences said, “It’s utterly hypothetical. It can increase peoples’ fears as they just see the findings. I’m not seeking underestimation, but I’m very angry at seeing the (WHO) raising fears by overestimating data.” To make matters worse, WHO ignored a recent report by Japan’s National Institute of Radiological Sciences’ which said no Fukushima residents were exposed to more than 46 millisieverts, and the overwhelming majority below 20 mSv. NIRS concluded that since the lowest exposure level believed to cause negative health effects is 100mSv, there will be no Fukushima cancer increases. See why the Tokyo government is upset?

Local officials near Fukushima Daiichi are even more distraught. Norio Kanno, an official at Iitate Village, harshly attacked WHO for exaggerating the cancer risk when he said, “I’m enraged!” He called the WHO estimates “totally hypothetical”. Kanno pointed to the large number of Fukushima residents who mortally dread radiation and won’t even let their children play outside for fear that they might be exposed to radiation. He believes WHO generated cancer risk estimates without accounting for the kind of psychological harm they might produce in those already terrified by the Fukushima accident. One Fukushima researcher reported, "We are starting to see more cases of suicide, depression, alcoholism, gambling and domestic violence across the area. From the point of view of mental health, this is a very critical time." WHO has done nothing but add to this social chaos.

How can the WHO be increasing fear in the Japanese people? Asia’s Press used the report to make scary headlines and fear-twisted journalism. Here’s a sampling of some of the news reports that were generated… “Fukushima residents at a higher risk of cancer”… “Risk of thyroid cancer up 70% for those who lived in the shadow of Fukushima”…“Infants in Japan's Fukushima prefecture are at greater risk of developing cancer after the March 2011 accident”… “People in the area worst affected by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident two years ago have a higher risk of developing certain cancers”…and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. For the millions in Japan who mortally fear radiation exposure, no matter how miniscule, these articles and intensifying their pre-existent fears.

Now, here’s what might be the most disturbing problem with the WHO report. In January, another prestigious United Nation’s body, the Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), released its most recent understanding of the biological effects of low level radiation exposure. UNSCEAR said there is no evidence of negative health impacts with exposures below 100 millisieverts, and that is the dose which should be used as a threshold of harm. If a linear model is to be used, it should begin at 100mSV…not at zero. No resident of Fukushima Prefecture came close to a 100 mSv dose. The highest “estimated” by WHO was 46 mSv (the same as Japan’s NIRS), which is below half of the UNSCEAR threshold. Why WHO overlooked the UNSCEAR findings is unknown, but it should serve as an embarrassment them.

The bottom-line scientific problem is WHO using the Linear/No Threshold assumption with radiation exposure to create its risk estimates. LNT is merely an assumption. There was no human data behind it when it was created more than fifty years ago, and there has been no conclusive evidence to support it since. LNT basically assumes that even the tiniest radiation exposure runs the miniscule risk of contracting cancer at some point later in life. In Japan, even the most miniscule estimate of risk is unacceptable to the nation’s radiophobic millions. In contradiction to LNT, a small mountain of conclusive evidence uncovered over the past 30+ years shows that LNT is totally wrong with respect to low-level exposures. Much of this evidence has come from Japanese researchers, beginning with a Tokyo Metropolitan Hospitals report in 1993. These studies show that low-level exposures produce no negative health effects, and suggest that low level exposure increases longevity, lowers cancer incidence, improves cellular healing and DNA repair. The WHO report ignores all of this evidence and ruthlessly clings to LNT for its “risk estimates”. Give the world a break! Give the phobic millions in Japan a break!

The umbrage taken by the Japanese government with respect to the WHO report is fully justified. Hopefully, other governmental bodies around the world will join with them and make this a watershed moment in history: when an incorrect, bureaucratically-entrenched assumption, which has generated unnecessary fear for decades, is rejected and replaced with a model that reflects the real world.

February 23, 2013

Japan needs to stop wasting money on radiation fears

Japan’s economy continues to circle the drain. January’s trade deficit was the worst in Japan’s recorded history. However, it seems Tokyo is content to continue throwing away big bucks in the desire to sooth the radiation fears of a numerically-significant minority in the population.

Last weekend, Japan’s Environment Ministry announced that 23% of 103,000 designated homes outside Fukushima Prefecture had been decontaminated by the end of 2012. The percentage had not changed since August, 2012, but not because the work had ceased. Actually, the number of homes approved for cleansing between August and December by the former Tokyo regime, had increased by 30% before they were voted out of office. The criterion for approval was based on Japan’s ridiculously low “health limit” of one millisievert per year exposure, rammed through the government in 2012 by the government of the two former antinuclear PMs; Naoto Kan and Yoshihiko Noda.

Now, here’s the problem. None of the 103,000 homes are in Fukushima Prefecture! They are all located in Iwate, Miyagi, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Saitama and Chiba prefectures, some of which are more than 200 kilometers from Fukushima Daiichi. Decontamination efforts in the evacuation zones around F. Daiichi are not the issue here. But, homes 200 kilometers away with contaminant levels that are barely detectible by the most sensitive monitoring equipment in the world, yet will never harm anyone, makes no sense. Deconning most of these 103,000 homes will make them no safer than without the expensive cleansing. While the effort is politically expedient, the money being spent on decontamination of the vast majority of these homes is being wasted.

The former Tokyo regime was rhetorically slaved to the phobic fears of a loudly-vocal minority within the Japanese public fueled by non-scientific media polls. In general, the minority has a mortal fear of radiation, in all forms, and the news media’s desire to exploit the Fukushima accident as much as possible gave them wide-spread publicity before last December’s election. The former Tokyo regime could not silence them by sticking to the scientifically-based international standards for radiation exposure, so they arbitrarily chopped their national standards to a tenth of what should have been the case. They did it to hopefully silence the radiophobes, and it worked…somewhat. However, it also seems the Kan and Noda administrations may have had a subtle but significant agenda behind their moves.

The tsunami of 3/11/11 forced the evacuations of more than 400,000 Tohoku coastline residents. The fleeing happened hours before the Tokyo government called for the first three-kilometer-wide evacuation around F. Daiichi. A full quarter-million of them had their homes swept away or totally destroyed. These were/are the people who cannot really go home again. The then-unpopular regime of Naoto Kan was helpless in effecting swift tsunami recovery. Tsunami rebuilding would cost many billions of dollars the government did not have due to then-PM Kan’s failing economic policies. However, the accident at F. Daiichi gave Kan, and his successor Noda, something they could possibly make some political hay over. They pumped billions of emergency funds into disaster recovery, but only a tiny fraction of it was used to alleviate the plight of the tsunami refugees. While the 70,000 Fukushima refugees receive more than an average of $1,500 monthly in compensation and temporary housing allotments from Tepco, the tsunami refuges only get an emergency housing allotment of about $650/month. Although Kan promised the tsunami refugees 23,000 new housing units, they have only finished 30. Much of the $Billion’s ear-marked for the tsunami refuges was frittered away on distantly-related projects, and never reached where it was really needed – rebuilding the tsunami-obliterated communities along the Tohoku coast.

The new regime of Shinzo Abe seems to want to fix this deplorable situation, but they are ham-strung by the former government’s policies. It is a lame-duck period, after all. Abe has appropriated an additional $9 billion for Tohoku recovery, but about half of it will go to Fukushima clean-up. It should all be going to tsunami refugee recovery. At least it is one small step in the right direction, but it is not what ought to be happening. I’m not saying Japan should turn away from the Fukushima refugees. Not that at all. It’s long past time to turn towards Japan’s “Kimin (forgotten people) – the tsunami refugees.

PM Abe says they need to review the lame-duck energy policy of “no-nukes by 2040” and replace it with something realistic. They should also review the lame-duck policy of spending many millions on decontaminating homes outside of Fukushima prefecture that don’t need it and never will. Tokyo should shift the funding from this politically-expedient boondoggle, and put it where it is really needed – the reconstruction of the Tohoku communities forever lost to the 3/11/11 tsunami.

February 19

Japan’s Greenpeace and Press call science a government “ploy”

On Sunday, an expert with Japan’s Institute of Radiological Sciences reported there have not been any radiation-based health effects due to the Fukushima accident. Researcher Kazuo Sakai said, “Since the accident in Fukushima, no health effects from radiation have been observed, although we have heard reports some people fell ill due to stress from living as evacuees and due to worries and fears about radiation.” He pointed out that world-wide study since the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombings in 1945 shows that exposures below 100 millisieverts have not caused increases in cancer rates among populations. Most Fukushima residents and evacuees received less than 20 mSv due to internal and internal exposure, and none greater than the 100 mSv threshold. As a result, Sakai said Fukushima accident radiation is not at “the level we have to worry about its health effect.”

However, Greenpeace-Japan judged the announcement as merely a government ploy to “play down” the public’s health worries. Kazue Suzuki, nuclear campaigner at Greenpeace, who is not a scientist (Japan Today – Feb. 17), said Tokyo should not try to minimize the potential dangers, “Japan should pour more energy into prevention of diseases including thyroid cancer than talking down the risk of low-level radiation. Even if there is no comparative epidemiological data, the government should err on the side of caution and carry out more frequent health checks among residents not only in Fukushima but in other prefectures.” In parallel, Japan’s Press is blindly following Greenpeace’s lead. For example, Japan Daily Press wrote on Monday, “…it is but common logic to also say that it is too early to assume there is no danger, or categorically say that the meltdowns did not cause the cancer. It is also worth noting that all these “experts” who have been stating that there are no radiation concerns are government-funded entities and may have biased agenda for saying so.”

In other words, Greenpeace wants the Tokyo government to ignore valid, rational, reputable science and throw money into research on low level radiation exposures that will never harm anyone – and the Press is swallowing the rhetorical bait; hook, line and sinker.

Give me a break!

It may make some sense to pump millions of dollars into monitoring children in Fukushima Prefecture, even though the exposure levels were much lower than those that have been shown to cause thyroid cancer. At least it serves to reduce the stressful psychological effects on Fukushima Prefecture’s parents spawned by never-ending news media stories saying their children are at risk. However, increasing health checks in other Prefectures outside Fukushima will only waste many millions of dollars to reinforce what has been known for decades – low level radiation exposure below 100 mSv is not a realistic health risk. Increasing unnecessary health checks per Greenpeace and the Press will only amplify the irrational fear of radiation already plaguing the Japanese population. Greenpeace obviously wants Japan’s people to remain mortally afraid of the radioactive bogey man…it’s good for their irresponsible international antinuclear crusade. This sort of rhetorical exploitation should not be tolerated. This month, some Tokyo and government officials have been considered for criminal charges due to the Fukushima accident. The Japanese constitution says the public has a right the right to live in peace, free from fear. Greenpeace’s fear-mongering is a moral crime against the people of Japan.

Meanwhile, the on-going plight of the quarter-million tsunami refuges in the Tohoku region continues to be ignored by Greenpeace and the Press. The millions of dollars Greenpeace wants spent on un-necessary low level radiation studies would be better used to rebuild the communities swept away by the 3/11/11 tsunami. To date, only 30 of the government-promised 23,000 residences for tsunami refugees have been built. Another 1,700 are in limbo due to insensitive local politics. If Greenpeace really cared about the people of Japan who lost everything on 3/11/11 – and can never go back to their homes because they are gone - they should cry out for the construction of those new homes. If the Press really cared, they would demand that justice be served, in large portions, to the nation’s tsunami refugees. Since when are hypothetical risks and phobic fears more important than 20,000 dead and 250,000 refugees whose homes no longer exist?

February 8, 2013

Fukushima Whistleblower Makes False Accusations

A panel-member of Japan’s congressional Nuclear Accident Independent Investigative Committee (NAIIC) says Tepco “blocked” one of their critical accident investigations last February. Science Journalist and NAIIC panel member Mitsuhiko Tanaka claims Tepco would not allow the panel inside the unit #1 reactor building in late February, 2012. Tepco told the NAIIC the interior was cloaked in total blackness due to the enclosure surrounding the destroyed building. The panel was also told by Tepco that the radiation levels were too high to insure the Panel’s safety. However, nearly a full year after the fact, Tanaka has presented a formal written complaint to the Diet where he says he found out there was some electric lighting inside the building after all, and that the enclosure was not completed when the panel wanted to make the visit. To the contrary, the evidence at-hand irrefutably proves his entire allegation is materially false.

The panel desired to visually inspect the F. Daiichi unit #1 fourth floor on February 28, 2012. They wanted to see the condition of the two emergency isolation condensers because some workers had told them there were water leaks on the fourth floor before the tsunami hit. The panel wanted to know if the leaks were from the condensers or the attached piping, and (if there were leaks) whether or not they were caused by the earthquake. Tepco told the panel there was no lighting inside the completely enclosed building and it was too dangerous to lead the panel members up the stairways from the ground level to the fourth floor. Instead of taking them to F. Daiichi, Tepco showed the panel a 25-minute video taken by workers hurriedly climbing the stairs (behind a man taking a radiation reading), and subsequently capturing visuals of everything on the fourth floor they could get close to. In the end, they go back down the stairs as quickly as safely possible, carefully side-stepping debris on the steps between the second and fourth floors.

Tanaka charges that Tepco wanted to prevent the NAIIC panel from inspecting the condition of the condensers and attached piping. In the prepared statement given to the Tokyo government, Tanaka’s says, "There was a serious obstruction to our investigation due to a false explanation." (Yomiuri Shimbun) Tanaka also told reporters that “they were afraid of the committee uncovering inconvenient truths, so they blocked the investigation.” (Japan Today) Tanaka claims Tepco said the footage was shot before the enclosure was finished and it shows that there was lighting inside the building on Feb. 28, 2012. To the contrary, the video provides conclusive evidence that his allegations of willful obstruction on the part of Tepco are vacuous.

The enclosure around the unit #1 reactor building was completed in mid-October…2011! (http://atomicpowerreview.blogspot.com/2011/10/fukushima-daiichi-no-1-enclosed.html ) The date Tanaka says the panel was scheduled to go into unit #1 was February 28…2012! Thus, Tepco was telling the truth and Tanaka either can’t read a calendar, or…could it be he might be intentionally fabricating the whole thing? To make matters worse for the whistleblower, in response to his unfounded allegation Tepco has posted the video they showed to Tanaka and the NAIIC panel... (http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/news/library/movie-01e.html?bcpid=59368209002&bclid=347242463002&bctid=400994198002)

In viewing the footage, we find the Tepco workers carrying hand-held lights as they ascend the stairs. However, it is obvious to anyone who has ever shot their own videos that the main light for the footage comes from the camera itself. While moving from one stairway to another on the third floor, the video shows a single portable mercury vapor lamp attached to a handrail, glowing brightly. Further, when we get to the fourth floor and first see the isolation condensers in question, they are bathed in sunlight! This could only have happened if the Tepco footage was recorded some weeks before October 14, 2011, while the roof of the enclosure was being pieced together.

Yes, there was but one small light inside unit #1’s destroyed reactor building, but not the wide-spread lighting alleged by Tanaka. And yes, the video was shot before the enclosure around the building was finished, as alleged by Tanaka, however the structure was totally completed four months before the NAIIC visit was scheduled!

It should also be noted that Tanaka has a history of vacuous whistle-blowing that can be traced back to 1974! Japan Today reports (2/8/13) “Tanaka, who has a history of exposing corruption in the nuclear industry, has made written requests to the chair people of both houses of the Diet, asking that the planned inspection be carried out in the light of the revelation.” Will anyone formally request that the Diet investigate Tanaka? We might also ask what someone of his ilk was doing on the NAIIC panel in the first place. Regardless, it is clear that his misleading mode of mischief has gone way over the line.

Tepco says their explanation on the reason for denying the NAIIC access to unit #1 reactor building on 2/28/12 must have misunderstood by Tanaka. They are being respectful and kind…way too kind, if you ask me! He made a formal, written submittal to Japan’s Congress (Diet) alleging willful obstructionism on the part of Tepco. The Diet should bring charges against him and formally try him for fabricating the whole thing. I’m mad as a wet hen and crying out for justice! These types of shenanigans must not be tolerated. Tepco executives are being considered for criminal proceedings for telling the truth. Mitsuhiko Tanaka should be considered for criminal proceedings for lying to his government, the Press and the people of Japan.

February 2, 2013

Japan Believes America Has the Better Regulatory Mouse-trap

Over the past two weeks, Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority has revealed the specifics of their proposed new rules for nukes. The changes are long-overdue and promise to be sweeping. Japan’s prior regulatory philosophy was to leave the implementation of proposed safety changes and/or upgrades up to the utility companies that own and operate the power stations. If the utilities could come up with reasonably sound rationales for not making changes, the recommendations were virtually ignored. As a result, Japan’s nuclear safety program became stagnant. The new rules, however, will carry legal weight with them. Instead of asking the utilities to make changes, they will be told!

In Japan’s pre-Fukushima era, there were essentially two over-lapping reasons for rejecting recommended safety upgrades. First, many suggested changes were intended to mitigate the possible effects of very low probability accident precursors. For example, the tsunami protection surrounding Fukushima Daiichi (a robust property-encompassing sea wall about 25 feet high) was based on the biggest wave which had occurred over the previous 450 years. The tsunami-protective structures for all cities and towns along the Tohoku coast were protected by various man-made barriers based on the same historical criterion. While there was some historical evidence indicating there was a 40-50 foot-high wave nearly 1,000 years ago, the evidence was considered inconclusive. Plus, even if the ancient tsunami had firm scientific support, the once-per-millennia event was too infrequent to be seriously considered.

Second, there was the issue of cost. What kind of investment would have to be undertaken to meet the suggested criteria? If the projected cost for the upgrades was considered too great for the possible safety benefit that might ensue, the change could be rejected by the utility involved. Tsunami upgrades addressing the rare-but-not-impossible millennial wave would have required more massive sea-walls and/or shoreline dikes, mobile back-up power generators, and waterproofing the rooms that housed the emergency diesel generators and batteries. This was judged by most utilities to be not worth the money.

In hindsight, if the allegedly too-costly recommendations from the IAEA and America’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission had been made at F. Daiichi in the early part of this century, the tsunami of 3/11/11 would probably not have caused the multiple-meltdown nuclear accident. How can I say such a thing? We need only look at Fukushima Daiini 10 kilometers south of F. Daiichi and the Onagawa station 120km north of F. Daiichi Onagawa was closest to the epicenter of the tsunami spawning quake and experienced the most severe ground motion. Both stations survived unscathed, and if it were not for Japan’s current nuclear moratorium, both would be safely operating and mitigating Japan’s current energy-shortage. The existing tsunami barriers at both were more than adequate to prevent a complete loss of power.

It must be added that not all of Japan’s utilities rejected all of the suggested upgrades covering the rare-but-not-impossible accident precursor. The Onagawa nuclear station decided to erect protective shoreline dikes more than 50 feet high….just in case. The tsunami of 3/11/11 hit the barrier with a 30 foot swell, and the dike held. In fact, hundreds of local shoreline residents near Onagawa evacuated to the nuke site and were given free food, water, and make-shift living quarters until the waters subsided. Onagawa nuclear station was the safest place to be on 3/11/11. If F. Daiichi had built a 50-foot sea-wall, it is possible the accident would have been averted.

There can be no doubt that Japan’s pre-Fukushima regulatory system failed. The rare-but-not impossible accident precursors must be accounted for. The cost of safety upgrades can no longer be allowed to exist as a rationale for non-compliance. The NRA says they are using America’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission as their model of change – and by all accounts they are doing exactly that. The NRA clearly believes that the US NRC is the better regulatory mousetrap. Prior to 3/11/11, I was a critic of the NRC, believing that the agency was unnecessarily impeding the growth of the one energy source that can best avert a worst-case global warming scenario. My attitude has changed considerably. Not that the NRC is without its warts and wrinkles. As long as the non-scientific Linear/No Threshold assumption is used to mandate public protective measures (such as evacuation distances), low level radiation exposure will remain an unnecessary, irrational fear in the minds of millions of present and future Americans. Regardless, there can be no better regulatory model than the NRC for Japan’s new nuke watchdog.

January 28, 2013

Japan’s Radiation Standards Strangle TEPCO

On Friday, Tokyo Electric Power Company said they will eventually release decontaminated Fukushima Daiichi waste water to the sea. The company has been reluctant to consider discarding low-level waste waters to the sea because of the reaction spawned by their releases made the first week of April, 2011. Tepco says they will eventually run out of room for low-level waste water storage tanks, thus releases are inevitable. Tepco says they will not make the discharge until the waters meet all Japanese radiological standards. Because of Tokyo’s overly-restrictive track record on setting radiological limits, Tepco may as well be waiting for pigs to grow wings.

F. Daiichi currently has about 275,000 tons of low level waste water in storage, and the numbers go up about 300 tons a day. They process 700 tons/day of raw radioactive liquid from the four turbine building basements, use 400 tons/day for cooling of the three damaged fuel cores and send the extra 300 tons/day to storage. The problem is the volume of groundwater which seeps into the four basements daily, so the amount of water contained in the flooded rooms stays the same. Tepco takes it out and groundwater puts it right back in.

The existing waste water decontamination system removes radioactive radioactive Cesium very well (a decontamination factor of 5,400), so the stored waste waters only have about 10 Becquerels per milliliter Cs-137 content. That’s actually better than the system was designed to do. But, there are still about 60 detectible radioactive isotopes that remain, and detectible is unacceptable in Japan. Tepco is planning a new system that will sufficiently remove all of the remaining isotopes to meet national standards…except for Tritium. Since Tritium is a gas which can become part of the water molecule itself, a dedicated Tritium removal system must be developed. Apparently no such technology currently exists in Japan. It does in Canada, if memory serves, but not Japan. (It should be noted that nuke-plant Tritium production is very, very small when compared to Cesium, Iodine and Strontium.)

Tritium is a naturally-occurring isotope of Hydrogen with a half-life of about 20 years. Instead of a single proton in the nucleus, there is a proton and two neutrons. The proton/neutron ratio make the nucleus unstable, so eventually one of the neutrons spits out an electron and becomes a proton, transforming the atom into Helium. The ejected high-speed electron is called a Beta particle, which is known colloquially as Beta radiation. Betas cannot penetrate even the thinnest tissue paper because of their inherent physical properties, so outside the body they are effectively harmless. In massive concentrations, Betas can redden the skin similar to sunburn, but that’s about the extent of the external effect. However, if a Beta-emitter is inside the body, it could result in localized ionization of living tissue. Ionization due to Beta can cause biological and chemical anomalies.

The Beta released by Tritium is very weak – about 50 times weaker than the Beta produced from Cesium-137. As a gas, Tritium is quite harmless. On the other hand, Tritium can switch places with regular hydrogen on the water molecule and be ingested. If ingested, the length of time “Tritiated” water remains in the body is about 30 days. Because the radiation is weak and the body’s retention time is relatively short, the international standards for Tritium are a considerably lower than with Cesium. America has one of the lowest Tritium limits in the world at 750 Becquerels per liter, compared with a Cs-137 limit of 7.5 Bq/liter. In other words, America believes Tritium-based risk to be 100 times less than Cs-137-based risk, and that’s just the tip of the issue’s iceberg. If Japan was using the American example to set its Tritium health standard, Tepco’s job might not be unmanageable. However, Japan currently has no Tritium-based standards!! This means Tepco has no idea how extreme a Tritium removal process must be. Considering the existing Japanese government’s track-record on establishing radiation standards, they could very well cut America’s already low limit by another factor of ten, which would provide no additional level of safety in any way, shape or form! They have done similarly unrealistic radiation standard-setting before, and there is no reason to think they are going to stop now.

It is time for the new regime in Tokyo to do the right thing and adopt the American 750 Bq/liter limit for Tritium, at the very least. Is it safe? Is the Pope a believer? Australia’s limit is 76,000 Bq/liter. Finland’s sits at 30,000. The World Health Organization sets their recommendation at 10,000 Bq/liter, the same as nuclear-averse Switzerland. Russia’s limit is 7,700, and Canada’s at 7,000 Bq/liter. In comparison, adopting the American limit is very, very safe. Tokyo should set a reasonable Tritium limit and not concern itself with exaggerated what-if scenarios. Let the Press howl. Let the antinuclear prophets of doom predict the end of Asian life as we know it. Do the right thing!

January 25, 2013

Chernobyl Wildlife Thriving: It’s Possible Impact on Japan (or not?)

A new report concerning the Chernobyl region says that the exclusion zone around the destroyed power plant has become a thriving wildlife refuge. (1) Few wild animals lived in the region before the nuclear accident of 1986, but the evacuation of nearly all humans has allowed the animals to flourish. This includes some species that were not seen in the region for decades before the accident. Yes, the animals are considerably more radioactive than the same species outside the exclusion zone, but there have been no mutations or heritable genetic damage. For a few years after the accident, mutations, dwarfism and gigantism were discovered in plants found in the highest areas of contamination close to the damaged power plant, but all have apparently dissipated. This totally contradicts the reports by some critics who claim relatively small brain sizes in some birds and a few reduced avian populations indicate significant radio-biological impact on the local Chernobyl creatures. They concluded that the birds indicated significant biologic and genetic impacts on the future animal populations. But after 25 years, the new report reveals just the opposite. According to all the population counts performed by the Ukraine and Belarus over the past 27 years, there is enormous animal diversity and abundance. The exclusion zone has unintentionally become Europe’s largest wildlife sanctuary.

This past August, a study was published claiming mutated wings and antennae of one species of butterfly common to the Fukushima Accident region…made by the very same researchers who published on the mutated birds near Chernobyl. (2) In the butterfly report, numerous references were made to their earlier Chernobyl paper and a parallel conclusion was drawn…there will be a significant biologic and genetic impact on the future wildlife of Fukushima. The new Chernobyl report makes the claims relative to Fukushima seem nigh-vacuous.

Can we compare low level radiation’s non-impact on the Chernobyl wildlife to the possibilities facing the wildlife of Fukushima? It seems that we can, and the possibilities are in no way worrisome. Let’s look at the numbers. First, we must make a distinction…Chernobyl’s unique accident allowed both volatile and non-volatile radioactive isotopes to be atmospherically expunged in large quantities. Volatiles, like Cesium and Iodine, have a strong property to dissolve in water and vaporize. Volatiles dominated the Fukushima release matrix, primarily Iodine, Cesium and Strontium, but there were almost no non-volatiles released. The total Fukushima volatile releases were a bit more than 160 PetaBecquerels (Nuclear Safety Commission, Sept. 2011). On the other hand, Chernobyl not only spawned a 12.5 times larger volume of volatiles than Fukushima at 2024 PBq, but also more than 1100 PBq of non-volatiles (like Zirconium, Molybdenum, Ruthenium and Cerium) plus a detectible wide spectrum of toxic semi-precious metals and rare earths. (3) Thus, the total releases for Fukushima were nearly 20 times less than with Chernobyl. The inescapable conclusion is this – if the Chernobyl radioactive releases have allowed the region’s wildlife to flourish, the wildlife around Fukushima will even more likely flourish.

The mutated butterfly report made headlines across Japan, but there were little or no opposing views presented. The new Chernobyl report provides some disturbing reasons as to why the fear-inducing previous reports were little more than statistically-manipulated exaggerations. Numerous opposing views made by eminent researchers in the radio-biology and health physics fields existed when the scary reports were published and broadcast by the Japanese Press, but the news media decided to ignore them and post only the scary stuff. Will the Japanese Press tell the Japanese public that the Chernobyl wildlife is flourishing and the previous studies may well have been flawed? They probably won’t, but I hope and pray I’m wrong on this one.

References:

(1) Do Animals in Chernobyl’s Fallout Zone Glow?http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/nuclear_power/2013/01/wildlife_in_chernobyl_debate_over_mutations_and_populations_of_plants_and.html

(2) The biological impacts of the Fukushima nuclear accident on the pale grass blue butterfly - http://www.nature.com/srep/2012/120809/srep00570/full/srep00570.html#/f1

(3) Chernobyl: Assessment of Radiological and Health Impact 2002 Update of Chernobyl: Ten Years On: The release, dispersion and deposition of radionuclides; Nuclear Energy Agency (2002) - https://www.oecd-nea.org/rp/chernobyl/c02.html

January 18, 2013

New Tokyo Regime Should Rethink Radiation Limits

Irrational fear of radiation continues to damage the sale of agricultural products coming out of the Tohoku Region. It is not only the foods produced by farms and businesses in Fukushima Prefecture, but it impacts all Prefectures along the coast. The problem is not only detectible levels of contamination, but also the irrational suspicion that Fukushima isotopes that might be contained in foodstuffs in concentrations below the ability for sensitive technology to detect. Not that the entire population of Japan experiences a mortal fear of radiation, but a significant minority is gripped in the throes of abject radiophobia. Millions of radiophobes are shunning perfectly safe Tohoku food-stuffs and the negative impact on the region’s recovery from the devastation of the tsunami is significant.

The Tohoku Region covers the northern third of Japan’s main island, Honshu, stretching more than 450 kilometers north-to-south. There are four Pacific Coastline Prefectures: Aomori (northernmost), Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima (southernmost). Though it is technically not part of Tohoku, Ibaraki Prefecture (south of Fukushima) is routinely included in the discussion relative to the Fukushima accident. The region is noted for its relatively low population density (nearly 10 million in a nation of 128 million), farms, mountainous terrain, and health spas. Before the F. Daiichi accident, Tohoku foods were prized among the people of Japan. However, current sales show a 30% decrease below the pre-3/11/11 level, and the reason is radiophobia.

Japan Daily Press says, “It is taking a toll on the farmers and other business owners in the Tohoku region. Products from the region that were previously hailed for their quality such as mushrooms, fruits, cereals, wasabi, sake, seaweed and salmon are now looked upon with suspicion by Japanese customers. They would rather import these products from nearby countries like South Korea or China to ease their minds.” The Tokyo Cabinet Office says that as of last November, 76 people have committed suicide due to the problems with Fukushima foodstuffs, which includes 21 because of financial issues and nine were unable to recover their business.

If the situation were specific to Fukushima Prefecture and/or the areas contiguous to the Tokyo-mandated evacuation zones, it might be understandable. However, the radiophobic impact stretches over all Tohoku eastern coastline prefectures. Japan Today reports that the Kawashu sea products company, 300 kilometers north of F. Daiichi, is feeling the impact. Seven of its seaside factories were washed away by the 2011 tsunami. They have rebuilt, but find their domestic sales to be at only 66% of their pre-3/11/11 business. Kawashu employee Mayumi Kurasawa says, “Our seaweed is checked every day, and I guarantee you that it’s safe. But we are selling two-thirds less than before Fukushima. Many clients prefer produce from South Korea or from China over us. They think it’s safer.” Japan Times ads that it’s not only seaweed, but the sale of many foodstuffs have been affected. The Times blames it on the Tokyo government’s overly restrictive standards and the resulting bans on beef, milk, mushrooms, vegetables, and rice from the Tohoku region. Speculations broadcast by the Press have also hurt business, such as officials understating potential health risks due to worries about potential economic fallout and the complications of possible compensation. This has forced food distributors to test all foods coming from Tohoku and establish a “zero risk” policy. But, even that has not resolved the problem. Katsuyasu Ito, the chef of French restaurant L’auréole in Oshu, Iwate Prefecture, said, “All products sold here are checked and healthy. But anxieties remain among consumers when it comes to Tohoku products.”

What ought to be done? The new Tokyo regime says they will “review” the energy policy of their predecessors. They should do the same with their forerunner’s radiation standards. First, the new regime in Tokyo needs to look closely at the radiation stands the people in the Tohoku region now suffer under. Raising current limits to half the international standards would be a great help, and no-one would be placed at any greater health risk. Keeping the limits as low as they now are only fuels the “detectible is dangerous” notion that fuels radiation fears. Second, Japan’s primary and secondary schools should adopt curricula teaching the basics of radiation itself, demonstrating what the many forms of radioactivity can and cannot do. Japan’s schools have never taught this subject, which is horrendous considering Japan prides itself as one of the top science-educated countries on our planet. These two things should be done as soon as possible or the much-desired recovery of the Tohoku region will continue to be unnecessarily hindered.

 

 

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