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Fukushima Commentary 6...3/10/13-4/20/13


Topics include Tokyo overestimates Fukushima evacuee exposures, fear and doubt in Japan, Fukushima reactor cooling water, spent fuel pool accident, Tokyo considers more realistic exposure limits, 2nd anniversary tsunami articles.

April 20, 2013

Tokyo has greatly overestimated Fukushima resident’s exposures

A team at Tokyo University’s Science Research Dept. reports that Fukushima resident’s exposures due to ingestion since October, 2011, have been negligible. In addition, the results indicate that previous official exposure assessments for the prefecture’s most contaminated communities have been greatly over-estimated. Unfortunately, the Japanese Press has refrained from covering this good news.

This is believed to be the first study of its kind relative to the Fukushima accident. Team leader Dr. Ryugo Hayano says, “Findings suggest that the level of internal radiation exposure brought about by pollution from the soil within the Fukushima Prefecture is much less than originally believed. The amount is so negligible that it is difficult to imagine there being any risk to the health.” Hayano’s group found that nearly 120,000 Fukushima residents were given sensitive Whole Body Counter scans between March 2011 and November 2012. 99.9% show an internal exposure of less than 1 millisievert, which is the national standard. All of those above the criterion were examined before May, 2011, with the majority of positive results occurring in March of that year. Since then, thousands have been reexamined and found to have no detectible radioactive Cesium in their systems. This includes the more than 1,000 students who were tested at Miharamachi elementary school, 50 kilometers from Fukushima Daiichi.

Up to this point, residential exposure estimates were created out of worst-case, upper limit ingestion assumptions, but did not use any actual data. Hayano’s team used only actual data, and their findings were stunning. First, of course, were the results of a comprehensive study of the Whole Body Count outcomes, mentioned above. When he actual numbers were much lower than expected, they wanted to know why. Ministry of Health records contain over 40,000 radiological analyses on foodstuffs since 3/11/11. 10% failed Tokyo’s exceedingly restrictive limit of 100 Becquerels per kilogram. However, only 2% of the failed foods were over the health standard. In other words, only a tiny fraction of each specific food banned for distribution actually had contamination levels above 100 Bq/kg. 98% of the volume was below the limit. This strongly indicates that the actual ingestion of radioactive Cesium has been many times lower than prior government estimates.

In addition, the report contradicts the exposure estimates for communities that have the higher levels of soil contamination outside the government-mandated exclusion zone. 10,000 of the people tested live in locations reported to have more than 100,000 Bq/m2. Only 4.7% showed detectible Cesium radioactivity in March 2011. Only 1% of those re-tested since then have detectible Cesium in their systems. After August 2012, no children have shown even a trace of internal contamination. The team believes the lower than expected exposure levels are because residents have been keenly aware of the foods they buy, and also because food restrictions began almost immediately after the first week of the crisis at F. Daiichi. Professor Hayano says, “Results have shown that even the minority of people whose radiation exposure was high can reduce or eliminate exposure through regular health monitoring and avoiding contaminated food.”

Even with all this good news, the research team wanted to know more; where did the original, flawed exposure estimates come from? They feel it has to do with a line of thought prominent after the Chernobyl accident in 1986. Exposures were assumed to be proportional to soil contamination levels, similar to what was the case with the Chernobyl-area population. At Chernobyl, food restrictions were not put in place until weeks after the accident, plus contamination was much-more wide-spread and the concentrations much higher than around F. Daiichi. When these Chernobyl-based assumptions were applied to a community like Koriyama, which had many areas above 100,000 Bq/m2, it was estimated that the population’s Cesium intake would result in a 5 mSv/yr exposure. This was assuming that the population was consuming the banned foodstuffs at a rate similar to their ingestion before the Fukushima accident. However, the actual levels of intake were considerably less and the resulting exposures more than 5 times lower than the long-standing official estimates. It also suggests that a majority of food products from areas of higher soil contamination were not as contaminated as first thought. Again, the previous estimates for contamination up-takes from the soil were centered on Chernobyl-based assumptions that no longer seem to be valid for Fukushima.

Dr. Hayano believes that the team’s findings ought to ease the public’s deep-rooted fear of radiation, and dispel negative rumors about Fukushima, its foods and its people. However, it does not appear the Japanese public will know of this good news because their politicians and popular press are not telling anyone. The politicians are probably remaining mum because it would seem they have been needlessly frightening hundreds of thousands of Fukushima residents, and tens of thousands of evacuees could have safely returned home a long time ago. Tokyo should tell those who can safely go home to “go home”, and be done with it. The Press is probably remaining silent because this extremely good news conflicts with their publically-admitted antinuclear agenda. But, it seems Japan’s news media only wants to keep the radiophobic demographic cowering in fear.

References:

(1) Hayano, Ryugo S., et.al.;  ”Internal radiocesium contamination of adults and children in Fukushima 7 to 20 months after the Fukushima NPP accident measured by extensive whole-body-counter surveys”; Proceedings of Japan Academy: Series B89; 2013. https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/pjab/89/4/89_PJA8904B-01/_pdf

(2) “Fukushima Prefecture Produces First Thesis on the Effects of Internal Radiation Exposure: Children of Fukushima Unaffected?”; Rocket News 24; April 19, 2013. http://en.rocketnews24.com/2013/04/20/fukushima-prefecture-produces-first-thesis-into-the-effects-of-internal-radiation-exposure-children-of-fukushima-unaffected/

April 13, 2013

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt Resurfaces in Japan

Fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) comprise the rhetorical foundation of the world’s antinuclear persuasion. Use of FUD ran rampant in the popular Press of Japan for nearly two years after a massive tsunami caused the Fukushima accident. The politicians of the then-in-power Democratic Party of Japan catered the antinuclear Press to a fault, and they paid dearly for it. The DPJ was roundly defeated by the Liberal Democratic Party in December.  After the new regime swept into office, the Press seemed to ease their admitted antinuclear bias and move toward a more objective stance. However, the discovery of three leaking waste water reservoirs at Fukushima Daiichi has brought the Press’ use of FUD back with a vengeance. It has also provided some “experts” in Tokyo with the ammunition to attack the new Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) as being a “rubber stamp” for the nuclear utilities.

Actually, the fear aspect began to re-emerge last month when a rat invaded a temporary electrical panel outside F. Daiichi’s new auxiliary power distribution building. The animal cause a power loss and cooling systems for three spent fuel pools were knocked out of service; one of them for about 30 hours. It made no difference that none of the pools would have approached their technical limit for operation (65oC) for at least two weeks. It made no difference that the worst-case SFP accident scenario would take many months before it could have happened. The Press exploited the opportunity by running catastrophic what-if scenarios and posting impossible speculations as unquestionable fact. The term “makeshift” constantly used to identify the temporary electrical supply technology for the SFPs. The message was clear. Nuclear catastrophe was imminent at any given moment because the technology being used at F. Daiichi to cool the SFP’s is crude and primitive.

The Press’ use of fear amplified this week due to three water reservoir leaks. It didn’t matter that the vast majority of the 120 tons that leaked from the first pool was contained between the sheets of the triple-layer water-proof pool liner. It didn’t matter that a total of three liters of the stuff made it through the absorbent “special earth” surrounding the reservoir’s walls, greatly stripped of its isotopes in the process. It didn’t matter that the total radioactive concentration in the three expunged liters was five times less radioactive than Brazil nuts. It didn’t matter that there was no danger of contaminating the sea. It didn’t matter that the groundwater samples taken at F. Daiichi show no detectable radioactive isotopes. All that mattered were leaks out of reservoirs holding radioactive waste waters. The Press was clearly exploiting the public’s fear of radiation, or more correctly the mere possibility of radiation.

In order to exploit uncertainty and doubt, the Japanese press used the leaks as proof that (1) the Tokyo Electric Company is using nothing but “rickety” technology which is prone to failure, (2) Tepco is unable to prevent radiation leaks, (3) the NRA cannot be trusted to stop the allegedly on-going accident, and (4) the Fukushima accident has not ended yet. The first two foment uncertainty, and the last two provoke doubt.

The technology being used by Tepco is being trumpeted to evoke a general feeling of uncertainty. Allegedly, one cannot be sure that the equipment being used by Tepco to cool the reactors and SFPs will work well enough to keep from experiencing another large radiological release. Probably the most overt example is The Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s second largest newspaper, which had this to say, “Radiation monitors and other devices have repeatedly broken down. Human error remains a constant problem. And the troubles plaguing the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant reached farcical levels when a rat caused a blackout and subsequent work to prevent a recurrence led to another system failure…Such problems continue because the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., is still using temporary equipment and makeshift facilities…TEPCO has delayed replacing the temporary equipment and rickety facilities because it has underestimated the precarious conditions of the Fukushima No. 1 plant.” (April 8) Makeshift? Rickety? What makes the news media think they know enough to be judge and jury? Frankly, I doubt they know the difference between neutrons and ping-pong balls! Regardless, malicious allegations are posted by the Press to make it seem as if Tepco is either stupid or, worse yet, doesn’t really care.

Japan Times reports that the Nuclear Regulatory Authority has also taken up the uncertainty banner. (4/11/13) The paper quotes NRA chair Shunichi Tanaka as saying, “Fukushima Daiichi is still in an extremely unstable condition, there is no mistake about that. We cannot rule out the possibility that similar problems might occur again. The contaminated water situation is on the verge of collapse.” Not to be outdone, The Mainichi Shimbun asserts, “The nuclear crisis is far from over. There is a limit to what the patchwork operation can do on a jury-rigged (sic) system.” Clearly, the Press says there is nothing about the Fukushima situation that anyone can count on. The only certainty is uncertainty, and with the possibility of radiation releases, that’s just not good enough.

Next, there’s the use of doubt. Since 3/11/11, Tepco has been under the microscope of suspicion, but now doubt is being used to challenge the efficacy of Japan’s NRA. Headlines like the Mainichi Shimbun’s “NAIIC says NRA inadequate” lead the assault. Nine members of the Diet’s Fukushima investigative committee (NAIIC) told Japan’s Parliament they have no faith in the NRA, and call for a formal congressional takeover. It started with former NAIIC chair Kiyoshi Korokawa telling the Diet, “Obviously, the crisis is not yet under control.” He was followed by eight other panel members who began pointing fingers of doubt at the NRA and Tepco. Lawyer Shuya Nomura told the Diet to actively get involved in bringing F. Daiichi under control and explained, "Is it all right to leave the response to contaminated water and other problems to the discretion of Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the executive branch of the government? As representatives of the people, Diet members should have expertise and get involved in the response with the mindset of the general public." Since when do career bureaucrats have the expertise to get involved in a scientific/technological situation? They don’t. Period!

It didn’t take long for other news outlets to post the scathing judgments from other former NAIIC members. Antinuclear whistleblower Mitsuhiko Tanaka said the NRA gives carte-blanche approval to plans submitted by Tepco, “They make a risk assessment, submit their plans to the government and they’re approved. It’s the same old routine. The new regulation standards will be toothless unless the causes of the accident are brought to light. We ask the Diet to inspect the site on its own.” (Japan Today) Seismologist Katsuhiko Ishibashi said, “We cannot say the world’s top-class safety measures will be in place (as the NRA claimed).” (Asahi Shimbun)

How did the NRA respond? Commissioner Toyoshi Fuketa said the recent water leaks pose a threat to Tepco’s water management program, but probably not to the environment. He questioned TEPCO’s risk evaluation of the cisterns’, but acknowledged that regulators must allow TEPCO to use the remaining underground tanks for now, “Although we need more long-term plans, we have to tackle the most immediate problem first.” (Japan Today) Fuketa’s rational words come at the very end of the few news reports to have have quoted him.

When the new regime under PM Shinzo Abe came to power, some of the Japanese news outlets relaxed their Fukushima fixation. But, the brief SFP power loss and the totally contained water leaks in the F. Daiichi waste water reservoirs have reinvigorated the antinuclear Japanese Press. Even the historically nuclear-neutral Japan News (nee, Yomiuri Shimbun) has joined the fray by reporting Tepco has underestimated the potential radiological risk of the reservoir leakage 50-fold! The News posted, “The impact of the leak could also be much bigger than Tepco’s estimate” when they guesstimated a worst-case release of 35 trillion Becquerels.  It doesn’t matter that this incomprehensible number assumes every drop of water now in cistern storage would have to be lost to the environment. It doesn’t matter that big numbers scare people when applied to anything nuclear. It’s scary, fosters uncertainty and engenders doubt. Whether or not the assumption is reasonable makes no difference.

The bottom line is this. It doesn’t matter that none of the fuel bundles in the F. Daiichi SFPs were ever in danger of damage and a radiological release. It doesn’t matter that all of the water leaking from the waste reservoirs is being collected and returned to the cisterns. It doesn’t matter than the groundwater flowing beneath F. Daiichi has not been contaminated. It doesn’t matter than a waste water release to the ocean is not going to happen. FUD sells, and the Japanese Press unquestionably believes they are doing the right thing because they are dealing with the possibility of radiation!

March 27, 2013

Where is Fukushima Daiichi’s Water Going?

One question has lurked behind the scenes at Fukushima Daiichi for more than two years. We know cooling water is being pumped into the three Reactor Pressure Vessels (RPVs) that contain damaged or fully-melted nuclear fuel. We know the water is being fed in at a rate of ~ 5 tons per hour for units 1&2 (21 gallons per minute), and 7 tons per hour for unit #3 (29 gallons per minute). We know there are two pathways of flow into the RPVs; one through the feed-water system piping and the other through the core spray ring inside the three RPVs. We know that the water being pumped into the RPVs is not staying in there because the levels appear to be constant. We know the water eventually finds its way into the basements of the outer reactor building and turbine building basements. What we don’t know is how the water gets from the RPVs and into the basements. Where is the water going?

There is little doubt that the cooling water is leaking out of the three reactor systems and into the outer reactor building basements, and from there to the attached turbine basements. There is one main theory posed by Tokyo Electric Company and the Japanese government as to how the water is getting into the outer reactor building basements. The problem is that the theory itself doesn’t seem to hold water! The evidence to date indicates that the leaks are located in places where Tepco is either not yet looking, possibly due to the high radiation levels involved. Let’s look at the theory and find out why it appears to be questionable.

The official notion is that the RPVs are leaking into the large, donut-shaped suppression pools (toruses) that surround the bottom of the Primary Containment Vessels (PCVs). The PCVs are massive steel-reinforced concrete structures that completely enclose the RPVs. The outer walls of the PCVs are several feet thick, top-to-bottom, with high-density concrete surrounding a spider-web-like network of several-inch-thick steel reinforcement bars. The PCVs are shaped like an incandescent light bulb, with the spherical portion on the bottom. The bottom houses the 600,000 gallon torus tank. Massive piping connects the torus to the inner part of the PCV outside of the reactor pedestal. The pedestal is robust cylindrical structure, also made of steel-reinforced concrete, with walls several feet thick and has the several-hundred-ton RPV sitting on top. There is an opening in the base of the pedestal for the hydraulic tubing attached to the control rod drive mechanisms (CRDMs) that are attached to the bottom head of the RPV. The hydraulic tubes that pass through the opening are packed solid with special material to provide integrity similar to the steel-and-concrete walls.

Now, here’s the problematic part. Any water flow out of the vessel must first make its way through the pedestal wall, most-probably through the CRDM opening (generally acknowledged as the pedestal’s weakest section). The drywell area around the pedestal is open to the pipes that connect to the torus, outside the drywell but still inside the PCV. To get from there, the water would have to leak from the torus structure, into the “torus room” with walls made of (again) several-feet-thick steel-reinforced concrete. The torus room walls are believed to be leaking into the outer reactor building basement. However, arthroscopic and robotic inspections of the torus rooms reveal…nothing! The toruses show no signs of an integrity compromise…no cracks and no apparent leaks. Unit #2’s torus room is dry, so the probability that the leak out of the unit #2 RPV going through the torus is about nil. Units #1&3 have water in their torus rooms about half-way up the curved walls of the tanks. However, there is no indication of a flow of water through the rooms. Flow rates of between 20 and 30 gallons per minute (the gas station flow into your car’s tank is about 2 gallons per minute) would certainly create surface disturbances – tiny ripples at the very least – but the waters appear to have a mirror-like calmness. In fact, the waters in the bottom of the unit #1&3 torus rooms look stagnant. Thus, it appears unlikely that the unit #1&3 leaks follow the official theoretical path out of the PCVs and into the outer building basements. Then there’s the problem of getting through the thick torus room walls, which is in itself quite unlikely because all the observed water levels are below penetrations through the walls.  

Despite the evidence to the contrary, Tepco/Tokyo continues to hold fast to their theory. In fact, they are planning to pump a grout-like material into the three torus tanks, fill them with the stuff, and when the grout solidifies they believe it will stop the leaks out of the system and in to the outer building basements. I may be wrong, but trying to stop the leaks by filling the toruses with grout will have little effect on the outflows.

In my honest opinion, the leaks may very well be located outside the PCV walls. Is all the water being pumped into the RPVs actually getting there? Or, is some of it leaking out of the feed-water piping and inner core spray piping that was severely over-heated and over-pressurized the first five days of the accident before going through the PCV wall? Then there’s the possibility of leaks from piping attached to the core recirculation system. The recirculation system itself is entirely inside the PCV, but some auxiliary system piping comes from outside the PCV and connects into the recirculation piping. One such tie-in, Reactor Water Cleanup, is designed to hold full system pressure. Another, Residual Heat Removal (RHR), is not built to contain high operating pressures. RHR is used during shutdown periods for refueling and maintenance when everything is depressurized. RHR removes the heat of radioactive decay while fuel is being removed from the RPV and eventually replaced for the next power run. Most of the low pressure RHR piping is outside the PCV and inside the outer reactor building. If I was a betting man, I’d lay my wager on the leaks being out of one or more of the systems attached to the RPV, but outside the PCV. I think it likely the outflow is coming from system piping not built to handle the pressures experienced the first five days of the accident.

March 21, 2013

Exaggeration and Fiction Dominate the Spent Fuel Pool Issue in Japan

The power loss to the F. Daiichi spent fuel pools (SFP) continues to dominate the Japanese Press. Full power restoration occurred at 12:02 am, Wednesday morning (Japan time). Most Japanese newspapers have dutifully reported the good news. Some have not. It seems a rat was electrocuted on one of the three temporary power-supply switchboards for the SFPs which (because of interconnections) knocked out all three. (Kyodo News; Sankei Shimbun; Japan Today) The Press articles strongly imply that the event was the result of the temporary switch boards being “makeshift” – literally slapped together in a chaotic scramble to get SFP cooling restarted before the nigh-apocalyptic worst-case scenario happened – which allowed the culprit rat to get into one of them. The term “makeshift” is misleading and implicitly inappropriate. Further, we have the greater issue continuing – an incessant focus on a “worst-case scenario” based on embellishment and impossibility.

First, the switchboards are incorrectly, albeit misleadingly dubbed “makeshift” by all but one of Japan’s major news outlets, the lone exception being the Yomiuri Shimbun. Makeshift is defined as a crude and temporary expedient used as a substitute. (Meriam Webster) However, the Press uses the term in the context of synonyms such as “slapdash, hit-or-miss, primitive and/or amateurish”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, the installed switchboards are temporary until the in-plant panels can be re-powered…but that will not happen until the radiation levels are severely lowered inside the reactor buildings. To be precise, the temporary technology has functioned without a hitch for nearly two years. Such a track record hardly qualifies as primitive or amateurish. Two of the boards were erected inside a nearby building to keep environmental effects from causing a problem to them, and they were not invaded by the rat. The third is located on a truck, the bed of which is enclosed. It was the one on the truck that was violated by the now-deceased rat. The technology-itself did not fail because it was crude or slapdash. Regardless, the term “makeshift” is misleading to the point of being incorrect, what other term should the Press be using? “Temporary” is OK. “Substitute” is better. “Surrogate” is probably the best.

Second, the ubiquitous SFP worst-case scenarios contain exaggerations that border on the ridiculous; embellishments steeped in exaggeration. The common worst-case scenario speculates that if power is not restored for a number of days, the decay heat will build up enough to boil off all the water, dry out the fuel bundles and temperatures will necessarily soar. To begin, we have real-world, Fukushima-specific evidence to show that the pools will not get hot enough to boil. Please recall that main power to all SFP cooling systems was lost on 3/11/11. Recovering power to any SFP cooling system at the station was not possible until the temporary power cable from the 1km-distant transmission system was spliced together and energized on 3/17/11. Days of inefficient water drops from helicopters provided a little help with units 1, 2 and 4 SFPs, but it was but a a band-aid on an open gash. . For all intents and purposes, SFP cooling was lost for six days! The level of heat generation in all the pools was at their peak. But, none of the pools boiled. The waters in the unit #3 and 4 pools were heated to about 90 OC and evaporating rapidly enough to produce the “white smoke” wafting above their destroyed refueling decks, but there was no boiling. This site, AREVA and MIT pointed out that it would have taken at least ten days before the tops of the fuel bundles in any of the pools would have become uncovered. It would have taken 5-7 more days for any of the pools to have evaporated to dryness. Now, here’s the rub… decay heat production has dropped constantly over the last two years, so that the current rate of heat-up is but a minor fraction of the original case. It would take three or more weeks, not many days, for the pools to evaporate enough to “dry out”. And this would occur if-and-only-if no-one did anything to mitigate the problem, which simply will not happen in a situation where the whole world is watching.

But, is it possible that dried out fuel bundles could get hot enough to cause a massive release of radioactivity? Possible does not mean inevitable. Possible means conceivable or hypothetical, but not inescapable. Regardless, the dried out fuel bundles would have to heat up beyond 900 oC for sufficient deterioration of the outer Zirconium tubes in the bundles to allow a radiological release. Conceivable? Yes. Probable? No! As the two-year-reduced heat production warms up the bundles, the heat will be naturally lost to the surrounding air. As the bundle temperatures increase, the rate of heat loss necessarily increases with it. At what point will the bundles temperatures peak? That’s a matter of assumption, but it is certainly considerably less than 900oC. Further, it’s absurd to believe all the stored fuel bundles will hot enough for an SPF “meltdown. Meltdown of Uranium (that’s what we’re talking about) begins at ~2,500oC, making it realistically out of the question for the hypothetically dry SFP environment.

Lastly, many news outlets continue to include something impossible as the scariest of all “facts” about an SFP worst-case scenario. Several news outlets say the worst of the worst will occur “…if its [Uranium fuel] temperature is allowed to rise uncontrollably to the point where a self-sustaining critical reaction begins, causing a meltdown.” (Japan Today; Japan Times; Jiji Press; Kyodo News, AFP News) As explained in Tuesday’s commentary, dried-out reactor fuel bundles cannot achieve a chain reaction. The fuel is so dilute in U-235 and Pu-239 isotopes (the only ones that undergo the chain reaction) that it is imperative for the bundles to be immersed in water for criticality to occur. The neutrons released from fission are about a million times too energetic for a chain reaction. After a dozen or so collisions with the Hydrogen atoms in water flowing through the bundles, the neutrons are at a low enough energy level for a chain reactor. No water = no chain reaction. Period!

Thus, the worst-case SFP accident scenario can be rationally dismissed. Dropping it from the SFP issue in the Japanese Press is reasonable, rational and entirely correct. However, past Press practice indicates it will continue unabated because it’s the scary stuff that sells. Whether or not it makes any sense is irrelevant. [Pictures of the truck and switchboard inside - http://photo.tepco.co.jp/en/date/2013/201303-e/130320-01e.html]

March 19, 2013

Much Ado About Nearly Nothing: The Latest Fuel Pool Scare in Japan

Much ado about nearly nothing hit Japan over the past 24 hours, and it is the lead story in all Japanese Press. An electrical malfunction in a switchboard for four spent fuel pools (SFP) at Fukushima Daiichi stopped cooling water flow. SFPs for units #1 and #4 was lost at 7pm on Monday evening, but were returned to operation by 10am Tuesday morning (Japan time). The cooling for the pools in unit #3 and the “common” spent fuel storage facility is expected to be resumed by 8pm Tuesday night. Tepco announced the problem within two hours of discovery and the Nuclear Regulatory Authority confirmed it an hour later. Tepco crews will investigate the cause after recovering the remaining cooling systems. Tepco says it was probably faulty switchgear, but cannot say for sure, at this point.

The decay heat level being generated in the pools is so low, two years after the Fukushima accident, that it would take weeks to months of a complete loss of cooling to any of the pools before evaporation would uncover any of the fuel bundles. Unit #4 pool, which contains the largest number of bundles, and some of which are producing the highest level of decay heat, increased in temperature from ~25oC to 30oC over its 15 hour cooling loss. All others experienced considerably less temperature increase. The technical specification (upper limit) for SFP temperature is 65oC; this is the number the Japanese press and some politicians are fixated on. Actual fuel tube damage (deformation) cannot happen until temperatures exceed more than 100 degrees Celsius. Hypothetically, the fuel’s Zirconium tubes can “burn” (actually, like a large fireworks sparkler) when temperatures reach 900oC. However, before this could ever happen, all water in an SFP would have to evaporate away. Plus, the natural convection of heat would somehow have to be stopped for a long period of time to reach those high temperatures because the dry bundles would necessarily lose heat to the surrounding environment, and then only with a few isolated locations inside the hypothetically dry pool.

In other words, the worst-case scenario is so unlikely that it approaches the impossible…much ado about nearly nothing!

But this has not stopped the Japanese Press from blowing it completely out of proportion and a few lawmakers from trying to make political hay out of it. A majority of the Press stories focus on the nigh-impossible worst-case scenario, but neglect to put in in any kind of real-world perspective. They point to the 65oC tech-spec and make it sound like radioactive contamination will soon be spewed from the pools and everyone should cower in fear. One newspaper went so far as to allege the absolutely impossible. Japan Today posted, “Even used nuclear fuel becomes dangerous if its temperature is allowed to rise uncontrollably to the point where a self-sustaining critical reaction begins, causing a meltdown.” However, temperature alone cannot cause criticality. The fuel must be immersed in water in order to slow down neutrons enough to cause a chain reaction. No water equals no criticality. There will be no meltdown either, because that needs more than 2500oC.

And what has all of this vacuous hoopla done? Japan Times lets everyone know how frightened the Fukushima evacuees are. A 27-year-old housewife in the city of Fukushima said, “I am very worried because I have a baby. I want the information to be disclosed as quickly as possible because it will be difficult to evacuate promptly if (an emergency occurs) at night.” Takashi Haga, a 49-year-old office worker in the city, said, “It revived the memory of the nuclear accident two years ago.I thought it was under control.” NHK World reports that a university student in Fukushima city said the outage itself causes her serious concern because such problems could seriously affect residents. For the moment, fear of a spent fuel pool catastrophe has compounded fear of radiation in the minds of evacuees, and the Press is letting everyone know.

Meanwhile, politicians flock to the issue and make headlines. In Tokyo, Industry Minister Motegi said the issue is serious and he has ordered Tepco to fix the problem as quickly as possible. Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, "We will make utmost efforts to prepare alternative methods to cool the pools in consideration of a worst-case scenario." (Mainichi Shimbun)  Suga makes a wholly politically-expedient statement over a worst-case scenario that will not happen. One local official, Mayor Masahide Matsumoto of Katsurao village said, “We will be in trouble unless Tokyo Electric Power Co. properly investigates the cause (of the outage) and restores power.” Statements like this from public officials only fuel the fears of innocent people.

It makes me want to chew my foot off!  For two years we have been faced with fear of trivial amounts of radiation exposure in Japan. Now, it’s fear of essentially harmless spent fuel pools. And who’s to blame? Tepco? No. The Press and policians? Partially. I lay the primary blame on the international prophets of nuclear energy doom that have filled the antinuclear Press of Japan with ridiculous visions of Apocalyptic cataclysm concerning spent fuel pools for two years, the most culpable of which is probably America’s Arnie Gundersen. From a phantom “teetering” of reactor building #4 just because the 3/15/11 explosion caused one of the non-load-bearing outer walls to bow out a few inches, to making ridiculous speculations on a radiological release more than 100 times worse than Hiroshima/Nagasaki, these prophets should be held accountable for the on-going, completely unnecessary psychological damage they have inflicted on the unsuspecting people of Fukushima.

March 14, 2013

Fukushima-Two Years On: Tokyo chooses realism over political expediency

At the same time as the second anniversary of the Fukushima accident, it seems the Tokyo government is finally coming to its senses. The former government’s desire to soothe public radiation fears by establishing ridiculously-low radiation exposure standards is now being formally reconsidered. Popular PM Shinzo Abe says the new guidelines will be completed by the end of the year. At this point, what the future radiation exposure limits will be is a matter of speculation, but at least they are trying to do the right thing and stop needlessly scaring the millions of Japanese who deeply fear nature’s most natural and ubiquitous phenomena…radiation.

There are generally two categories of radiological exposure limits being reconsidered. The first deals with external, whole body doses and the level which will exclude people from a location. The second deals with radioactivity levels in foodstuffs.

The international radiation standard for evacuation is 20 mSv per year. However, the former regime in Tokyo kept lowering the criteria until they were down to Japan’s alleged natural background level of 1 mSv. This was a de-facto standard – arbitrarily official but not necessarily legitimate, moral, or rightful. As the standard kept getting lower and lower, more and more people were told to leave their Fukushima homes and the exclusion zone expanded so much that some 70,000 people were affected. In addition, about 90,000 outside the zone voluntarily evacuated for fear of the possibility of low level radiation exposure. 20 mSv has never harmed anyone. In fact, millions of people in the world lead healthy lives in higher natural background levels. In addition, Japan’s leading experts on the biological effects of radiation exposure point out that the threshold of harm is 100 mSv per year…five times greater than the international standard. The scientific evidence is overwhelming and Tokyo’s new regime is doing something about it. Will they raise the limit to 20 mSv and allow tens of thousands of Fukushima refuges to go home before the end of the year? Probably not. However, the numbers being mentioned in the Press are between 5 and 10 mSv per year, either of which would allow thousands to return to their still-intact residences. Since a typical medical checkup with a full battery of tests safely exposes a person to about 7 mSv, I think the 5 mSv level is the most likely to become the new guideline, below the international standard but easier to convince the public with than 20 mSv.

The international restriction on foodstuffs is 1,000 Becquerels per kilogram. The former Tokyo government kept lowering the Japanese limits until they became one-tenth of the international standard; 100 Bq/yr. This was beyond ridiculous. It was un-natural. If this limit was applied to some imported foodstuffs like Brazil nuts (~450 Bq/kg) and Bananas (130 Bq/kg), they would have to be banned. In other words, the 100 Bq/kg food limit was set below levels commonly found in nature! That makes it un-natural. Numerous foods in Japan have been restricted because of radioactivity below these naturally-occurring levels, but a bit higher than 100Bq/kg. Once again, the new regime in Tokyo is taking the reasonable path and re-considering the de-facto radiological limit imposed by the former regime. What will the new food standard be? I’m guessing 500 Bq/kg.

I just can’t see Japan reverting all the way back to international standards. The public has been conditioned to unrealistic, un-natural limits for more than a year. The new government says they are committed to Japan having the lowest radiological standards in the world, so raising them to the international levels would contradict that policy. It should be noted that while the Shinzo Abe government is routinely identified as pronuclear by the Japanese Press, they should be more-correctly viewed as nuclear-neutral. They are proceeding with caution. They will scrap those nukes considered too dangerous or too old by the new government watchdog (NRA). It only follows that they will set radiation standards below the rest of the international community…but not ridiculously, un-naturally below them. If the new regime was really as pronuclear as the Press makes it out to be, new nuke restarts would happen as soon as the new NRA regulations are handed down in July…and that just isn’t going to happen. Abe’s government is neither pro- nor antinuclear. They are in between, and that’s what I think their radiation standards decision will be…in between the old, ridiculously restrictive limits and the international guidelines.

Making the national standards more realistic, based on real-world evidence, will unquestionably produce a major uproar from the multitude of Japanese who believe there is absolutely no safe level of radiation exposure. There is no doubt that these nay-saying voices will be given full coverage by the largely antinuclear Japanese Press. Regardless, the former government’s politically-expedient-feeding of radiation fears was unrealistic, unethical and psychologically damaging. Japan’s wide-spread phantom fear of low-level radiation exposure should be replaced by understanding, if the future changes go hand-in hand with public education. Not a “what-if” education, but one steeped in “what-is”. Let the Press howl. Let the international bastions of antinuclearism issue their rhetorical condemnations. Japan’s new government should do the correct thing and raise their limits by at least a factor of five, educate the public on the correctness inherent to the change and let the interim public relations’ chips fall where they may. If they do, their public will be as safe as they are now and the second anniversary of 3/11/11 will witness a triumph of reason over irresponsibility.

March 10, 2013

Summary of Tsunami 2nd Anniversary Articles

  • On 3/11/11, a massive wave inundated the northeast coast of Honshu, Japan’s main island. The brunt of the tsunami struck three prefectures: Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima. The region itself is called “Tohoku”. The worst-impacted of the prefectures was Miyagi. Wave heights ranged from 4 meters to 20 meters high, depending on coastline and undersea topography. By Tohoku police estimates, nearly one-half million residents fled their homes and businesses, seeking higher ground or tall, sturdy buildings. Tens of thousands, however, did not flee. Many felt existing tsunami protections would keep them safe. Some delayed evacuating because prior tsunami alerts had resulted in waves of little consequence. Some did not receive the tsunami warning because the earthquake had knocked out the electrical system all along the coastline. Regardless, many of the more than 19,000 killed by the tsunami were because they did not flee while they had the chance. In addition, thousands were severely injured by the wave and had to be hospitalized, over-taxing medical facilities that were unprepared for such a human onslaught. More than 2,000 succumbed to complications of their injuries. More than a million homes were either swept away or severely damaged in the three prefectures. When the black waters receded, some 27 million tons of rubble, sand and mud were left behind. The Tohoku police say 129,225 buildings totally collapsed, with a further 254,204 buildings 'half collapsed', and another 691,766 partially damaged. Some structural damage was due to the earthquake, but the majority because of the huge waves.
  • Now, two years later, 315,000 refugees of the tsunami remain in limbo. 60% of those polled by the Press are dissatisfied with reconstruction efforts. Most displeasure is due to temporary housing issues and the limited government aid which has been given them. They feel they have been left to fend for themselves. Many have taken to calling themselves “Kimin” – the forgotten people. 35% plan to try and rebuild where their homes used to be, but 24% say they have to rebuild elsewhere because the land of their old homes is gone. 24% say they will not rebuild along the coast because they fear another monster tsunami. More than 16,000 people remain homeless in Ishinomaki, a city with a pre-3/11/11 population of about 160,000. Some coastal fishing companies have rebuilt, like the Kinoya Company which is located in Ishinomaki City. Kinoya has spent $10 million of their own money (in addition to $20 million from the government) in order to reopen last month. But this is merely one shining example. In Rikuzentakata City, business recovery is burdened with construction delays and lack of funds to rebuild. Nearly the entire community was inundated. Out of a population of 26,000, about 2,000 were killed. The Mayor and the townspeople are severely frustrated. Mayor Futoshi Toba complains, "We have kept going, believing that time will perhaps alleviate our difficulties, that a year from now, two years from now, things will definitely get better and we'll be able to look back and think that was the worst time and things have gotten better. But now, two years later, I have to frankly tell you that reconstruction is still not making good progress." Currently, refugees get only $400 per month to help with housing costs. Hido Sato, age 83, sleeps on cardboard boxes to insulate her from the cold floor of the 325 square-foot living space she rents. It is all she can afford. According to the Reconstruction Agency, only 45 percent of the fiscal 2012 reconstruction budget, plus funds carried over from fiscal 2011, were spent in the first half of fiscal 2012 in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures. Restricted funds procurement is blamed for delaying many reconstruction projects, including public housing. Obstructionist politics in the Diet played a role in the delays. Of the 23,000 housing projects promised by the former government, only 56 have been built because of a shortage of building materials and local problems with procuring land on higher ground. As life in temporary housing continues, the residents’ frustration is nearing the boiling point.
  • Over 81,000 jobs were lost due to the tsunami in Iwate, Fukushima and Miyagi Prefectures. 47,800 of those had found new jobs by October, 2012. As of October, 2012, more than 33,000 remained unemployed, mostly in Miyagi and Fukushima. In addition, the numbers of those who took an indefinite leave of absence stood at 117,000 in Iwate, and 260,000 each for Fukushima and Miyagi. The major cause of the high unemployment numbers was the tsunami, which swept away numerous businesses along the three-prefecture coast. Approximately 1 million Tohoku jobs were adversely affected by the tsunami. The pre-3/11/11 work-force for the region was about 2.3 million. Of those affected, 638,000 people were forced to miss at least one day of work due to either the earthquake or tsunami, but quickly returned to their jobs. The others either lost their jobs, were forced to resign, or took an extended leave of absence to help family and friends search for lost loved ones and/or find new housing.
  • As of March 1, only about a third of the tsunami debris has been properly disposed of. The rest is either piled in temporary collection sites near the coast or has been left untouched. Most of the untouched is in Fukushima Prefecture, where fear of radiation and mandated “no-go zone” restrictions are holding things back. For Iwate and Miyagi, the primary hold-up problem is finding other prefectures in Japan to take the ash from incineration and rubble for burial. Residents in many other prefectures continue to fear the possibility of radiation from Tohoku’s tsunami debris…including Iwate and Miyagi materials that are not contaminated. It seems the mere thought of possible tsunami debris contamination causes citizens in distant prefectures to oppose giving Tohoku the assistance so desperately needed.
  • Tohoku farmers, ravaged by the tsunami, are struggling to recover. The Tohoku region is largely agrarian, so this is a major issue. Desalination of soil and the removal of sand are on schedule to be 63% complete by this spring. 21,500 hectares of farmland was inundated by the giant wave and some 8,000 hectares remain to be touched. Large debris, like rocks and pieced of decimated buildings, can be removed by machinery. But small materials, especially shards of glass, have to be removed by hand. Most farmers depend on the help of volunteers to get the small stuff. Volunteer Sachie Kajiro, 24, from Chuo Ward, Chiba, said: "Small pieces of glass and debris buried in the farmland are a hazard. Every time we think that we have removed it all, other debris comes to the surface once a heavy machine turns the soil over." The soils have been severely depleted by the recovery work and the variety of crops that can be planted is limited. Also, crop yields from rice paddies and vegetable fields, the majority of the recovered acreage, have been but a fraction of the pre-3/11/11 levels. Those rice paddies completed in time for the 2012 crop experienced low yields, and 20% of their acreage produced nothing. Kotaro Atami, representative of a local farming corporation, said, "The fertile soil that had been created through work over dozens of years is gone.” The Abe government has earmarked $2.9 billion for farmland restoration and says desalination and debris removal should be done by the end of 2014. However, it will take many years before the soil recovers and Tohoku returns to its former level of agricultural health.
  • The positive impact of volunteers from all over Japan cannot be over-stated. Kinoya Fishing Company President Nagato Kimura said, “Without the support of the volunteers, we would not have thought about restarting our business.” Because of the volunteers, most of the Ishinomaki shoreline rubble is gone and stored in temporary locations awaiting final disposal. Open lots exist where there used to be mountains of debris. Hopefully these tracts will be used to rebuild Ishinomaki’s lost businesses and homes. No one can guess how long that will take. But, if it were not for the volunteers, the possibility would not yet exist. 

 

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