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Fukushima plant situation ‘volatile,’ a year after cold shutdown declared – AJW by The Asahi Shimbun

Posted by on Dec 19, 2012 in Featured, Fukushima, Japan | Comments Off

Workers are nowhere close to determining the state of melted fuel at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, a year after the government declared the damaged reactors were in a “cold shutdown” state.

Storage tanks at the site are nearing capacity for radioactive water. A makeshift system is still being used to cool the nuclear fuel. And leaks of contaminated water and quake-induced collapses of plant facilities remain a threat.

Although progress has been made in clearing rubble and reducing the amount of radioactive substances released from the plant, NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka acknowledged that preparations to decommission the reactors are only slowly getting under way.

“Workers have been obliged to respond with highly stopgap measures,” Tanaka said. “Many devices, such as a purifier for radioactive water, have been installed with no time for sufficient design considerations and safety screenings.

“The situation surrounding the decommissioning process is volatile, so there is a need for constant reviews in securing safety.”

The No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 reactors at the Fukushima plant melted down after the Great East Japan Earthquake struck off the coast of northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011, spawning a tsunami that devastated coastal communities and knocked out power to the plant.

After a furious battle to bring the situation under control, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Dec. 16 last year declared that the three reactors at the plant had reached a state of cold shutdown, a term used when a normally operating reactor is taken offline and remains at a cool temperature on a stable basis.

But the decommissioning process, including the No. 4 reactor that contained no fuel at the time of the disaster due to a regular inspection, is expected to take decades to complete.

The decommissioning work also represents an imminent challenge for the Liberal Democratic Party, which will control the government following its victory in the Dec. 16 Lower House election.

The government and Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant operator, presented a road map on Dec. 21 last year that established landmarks for the eventual decommissioning of the four reactors.

Goals for the period to spring 2013 included endoscopic inspections of the interiors of reactor containment vessels and a reduction in the length of pipes used in the “circulating water cooling” system, which recycles radioactive water to cool down the melted reactors.

Endoscope surveys of the containment vessels at the No. 2 reactor in January and the No. 1 reactor in October found radiation levels high enough to kill a human within one hour. Specifically, up to 73 sieverts per hour was detected inside the No. 2 reactor and 11 sieverts per hour inside the No. 1 reactor.

But TEPCO cannot determine the state of the melted fuel because cameras can only be inserted for a limited time period in the extremely hazardous environment.

One immediate problem facing TEPCO is the accumulation of radioactive water used to cool down the melted fuel. TEPCO says it will mobilize robots and take other measures to locate where the radioactive water is leaking from the reactors.

Storage tanks on the plant’s premises have a total capacity of 257,000 tons. As of Dec. 11, the tanks contained 237,000 tons of radioactive water.

TEPCO plans to build additional tanks on deforested land to expand the total capacity to 700,000 tons within three years.

Groundwater flowing into the reactor buildings is exacerbating the radioactive water problem. TEPCO said it will dig wells west of the reactor buildings to pump up the groundwater and reduce the inflow, but little is known about groundwater flow variations, sources said.

The 4 kilometers of pipes in the “circulating water cooling” system were installed on a temporary basis in the frantic battle to keep the melted fuel submerged. They remain in the same state, and the risk of radioactive water leaking from damage on the pipes remains.

TEPCO is preparing full-scale operations of a device that can eliminate 62 varieties of radioactive substances from the contaminated water. But the device is still being tested for durability, and the government’s Nuclear Regulation Authority has yet to give the green light for its use.

Rubble has been removed from the No. 4 reactor building, which was severely damaged in a hydrogen explosion in the early stages of the disaster and received relatively light contamination from radioactive substances.

TEPCO removed two nuclear fuel assemblies from the No. 4 reactor building’s storage pool on a trial basis in July. The assemblies showed no signs of damage or deformities, and the utility plans to start removing the remaining fuel in November 2013.

Still, about 3,100 nuclear fuel assemblies, including unspent ones, are now sitting in the storage pools of the No. 1 through No. 4 reactor buildings.

The amount of radioactive substances released from the reactor buildings has remained low since February. In November, a maximum of 10 million becquerels were leaking from the No. 1 through No. 3 reactors per hour, only one-sixth the discharge rate in December 2011.

But Fumiya Tanabe, a former chief research scientist at the now-defunct Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute, said persistent danger surrounds the plant’s reactors.

“Despite the (officially declared) cold shutdowns of the reactors, the cooling functions have been maintained there with no knowledge of where the melted fuel lies and in what state,” Tanabe said. “There is a risk of unforeseen circumstances arising if another major earthquake hits.”

via Fukushima plant situation ‘volatile,’ a year after cold shutdown declared – AJW by The Asahi Shimbun.

TEPCO struggling to find somewhere to store contaminated water ‹ Japan Today: Japan News and Discussion

Posted by on Oct 30, 2012 in Environmental News, Fukushima, Japan | Comments Off


Japan’s crippled nuclear power plant is struggling to find space to store tens of thousands of tons of highly contaminated water used to cool the broken reactors, the manager of the water treatment team said.

About 200,000 tons of radioactive water—enough to fill more than 50 Olympic-sized swimming pools—are being stored in hundreds of gigantic tanks built around the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Operator Tokyo Electric Power Co has already chopped down trees to make room for more tanks and predicts the volume of water will more than triple within three years.

“It’s a pressing issue because our land is limited and we would eventually run out of storage space,” the water-treatment manager, Yuichi Okamura, told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview this week.

TEPCO is close to running a new treatment system that could make the water safe enough to release into the ocean. But in the meantime, its tanks are filling up—mostly because leaks in reactor facilities are allowing ground water pour in.

Outside experts worry that if contaminated water is released, there will be lasting impact on the environment. And they fear that because of the reactor leaks and water flowing from one part of the plant to another, that may already be happening.

Nuclear engineer and college lecturer Masashi Goto said the contaminated water buildup poses a long-term health and environmental threat. He worries that the radioactive water in the basements may already be getting into the underground water system, where it could reach far beyond the plant, possibly the ocean or public water supplies.

“You never know where it’s leaking out and once it’s out, you can never put it back in place,” he said. “It’s just outrageous and shows how big a disaster this is.”

The concerns are less severe than the nightmare scenario TEPCO faced in the weeks after the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami knocked out power and cooling systems at the plant, leading to explosions and meltdowns of three reactor cores. The plant released radiation into the surrounding air, soil and ocean and displaced more than 100,000 residents who are uncertain when—or if—they will be able to return to their homes.

Dumping massive amounts of water into the melting reactors was the only way to avoid an even bigger catastrophe.

Okamura remembers frantically trying to find a way to get water to spent fuel pools located on the highest floor of the 50-meter-high reactor buildings. Without water, the spent fuel likely would have overheated and melted, sending radioactive smoke for miles and affecting possibly millions of people.

“The water would keep evaporating, and the pools would have dried up if we had left them alone,” he said. “That would have been the end of it.”

Attempts to dump water from helicopters were ineffective. Spraying water from fire trucks into the pools didn’t work either. Okamura then helped bring in a huge, German-made concrete-making pump with a remote-controlled arm that was long enough to spray water

via TEPCO struggling to find somewhere to store contaminated water ‹ Japan Today: Japan News and Discussion.

Mutant Butterflies Found After Fukushima Nuclear Disaster In Japan (VIDEO)

Posted by on Aug 27, 2012 in Environmental News, Featured, Fukushima, Japan | Comments Off

Researchers in Japan say they have found evidence that radiation from the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident has caused the mutation of dozens of butterflies.

Features such as stunted wings, irregularly developed eyes, disfigured antennas and different color patterns found in butterflies from irradiated regions have led scientists to say they have found evidence to suggest a link between the genetic mutations and the radioactive material that was leaked into the environment last year.

“We conclude that artificial radionuclides from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant caused physiological and genetic damage to this species,” said the researchers’ report, which was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.

The study is one of the first to explore the genetic impacts of the disaster.

According to the BBC, two months after the Fukushima nuclear accident, researchers collected 144 adult pale grass blue butterflies from 10 locations in Japan, including the Fukushima area.

Lead researcher Joji Otaki from the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa said the results were surprising.

“It has been believed that insects are very resistant to radiation,” Otaki told the BBC. “In that sense, our results were unexpected.”

According to the study, the team found that areas with higher levels of radiation in the environment were home to butterflies with more mutant characteristics. In all, about 12 percent of the 144 butterflies were found to be mutant.

Though this news is perhaps disturbing enough, what researchers say is even more alarming is that these mutations are spreading rapidly through subsequent generations.

When Otaki and his team bred the butterflies in a laboratory setting, they discovered that a whole “suite of abnormalities that hadn’t been seen in the previous generation” began to appear.

Moreover, six months after the first collection, researchers found that butterflies from the Fukushima area showed a mutation rate “more than double” that of those found two months after the accident.

The researchers concluded that this higher rate of mutation likely came from butterfly larvae eating contaminated leaves and also from mutations of genetic material being passed on to subsequent generations by mutant parents.

“Since we’ve seen these effects on butterflies, it’s easy to imagine that it would also have affected other species as well,” Otaki told NBC. “It’s pretty clear that something has gone wrong with the ecosystem.”

University of South Carolina biologist Tim Mousseau — who studies the impacts of radiation on animals and plants, but who was not involved in this study — told the BBC that this research is a crucial step forward in understanding the impact of radiation on humans and other living things.

“This study is important and overwhelming in its implications for both the human and biological communities living in Fukushima,” Mousseau said.

via Mutant Butterflies Found After Fukushima Nuclear Disaster In Japan (VIDEO).

Japan Citizens Favor Zero Nuclear in Debate Over Energy Options – Businessweek

Posted by on Aug 27, 2012 in Environmental News, Fukushima, Japan | Comments Off

Japan’s public wants the government to phase out nuclear power according to the results of town hall-like forums to give the public a say in the debate on the nation’s energy supply post-Fukushima.

The forums brought together 286 citizens for two days in early August in Tokyo from thousands surveyed by phone. They were broken into smaller groups to discuss and vote on three energy supply options the government proposed: Zero nuclear, 15 percent nuclear, and 20 percent to 25 percent nuclear.

A total 47 percent opted for zero nuclear, 16 percent favored the nuclear ratio at 15 percent, while 13 percent endorsed 20-25 percent, according to a report by Yasunori Sone, a professor of political science at Keio University and the head of the group that organized the survey for the government. The remainder chose more than one option, said Sone’s report.

The poll results “indicate Japanese citizens are prepared for a policy shift to green energy from nuclear power and consequent lifestyle changes and cost burdens,” according to the report.

The results of the poll will be used in deciding the country’s long-term energy policy, which may be drafted as early as the end of next week. Tens of thousands of Japanese citizens have held weekly demonstrations in Tokyo since March opposing nuclear power and the restart of reactors closed for safety checks after the Fukushima disaster.

The March 11 earthquake and tsunami last year caused reactor meltdowns and radiation leaks at Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501)’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, forcing the evacuation of about 160,000 people and destroying fishery and farming industries.

via Japan Citizens Favor Zero Nuclear in Debate Over Energy Options – Businessweek.

Anti-nuclear protests signal new activism in Japan

Posted by on Aug 27, 2012 in Environmental News, Fukushima, Japan | Comments Off

By MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press – 1 day ago TOKYO AP — This is Japan’s summer of discontent. Tens of thousands of protesters — the largest demonstrations the country has seen in decades — descend on Tokyo every Friday evening to shout anti-nuclear slogans at the prime minister’s office. Many have never protested publicly before.”I used to complain about this to my family but I realized that doesn’t do any good,” said Takeshi Tamura, a 67-year-old retired office worker. “So I came here to say this to his office. I don’t know if we can make a difference but I had to do something, and at least it’s a start.”The government’s much-criticized handling of the Fukushima nuclear crisis has spawned a new breed of protesters in Japan. Drawn from the ranks of ordinary citizens rather than activists, they are a manifestation of a broader dissatisfaction with government and could create pressure for change in a political system that has long resisted it.What started as relatively small protests in April has swollen rapidly since the government decided to restart two of Japan’s nuclear reactors in June, despite lingering safety fears after the meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.As many as 20,000 people have gathered at the Friday rallies by unofficial police estimates, and organizers say the turnout has topped 100,000. Officials at the prime minister’s office say their crowd estimate is “several tens of thousands.” Either way, the two-hour demonstrations are the largest and most persistent since the 1960s, when violent student-led protests against a security alliance with the United States rocked Japan.The protesters include office workers, families with children, young couples and retirees.”No to restart!” they chant in unison without a break. “No nukes!”Despite the simple message, the anger runs much deeper, analysts say.”It’s not only about nuclear,” says writer and social critic Karin Amamiya. “It mirrors core problems in Japanese society, and the way politics has ignored public opinion.”Distrust of politics runs deep in Japan, and many think politicians are corrupt and only care about big business. Some voters were angered when the government rammed through a sales tax hike in July that had divided public opinion and the ruling party. The government has also done little to reduce the U.S. military presence on the southern island of Okinawa despite decades of protests there, under the security alliance that had initially triggered violent student protests.In a country not known for mass protests, the nuclear crisis has galvanized people to an unusual extent. Unlike other issues, it cuts across ideological lines. For Japanese from all walks of life, it has shattered a sense of safety they felt about their food, the environment and the health of their children.That helps explain why the long-standing frustration with government exploded in protests after the restart of two reactors in Ohi in western Japan. They were the first of Japan’s 50 reactors to resume operation under a new regime of post-tsunami safety checks.Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda was criticized for making the restart decision behind closed doors and calling the weekly chanting and drum-beating outside his office “a loud noise.” An apparently chastised Noda met with rally leaders, who have proposed talks, allowing them inside his office compound for the first time Wednesday. Noda also met with leaders of Japan’s influential business lobbies afterwards.”It’s not a loud noise that we are making. It’s desperate voices of the people,” said Misao Redwolf, an illustrator who heads the weekly protests, as she demanded Noda immediately stop the two recently resumed reactors and eventually abandon nuclear energy. “We’ll continue our protests as long as you keep ignoring our voices.”Noda promised to listen to the people’s voices carefully before deciding Japan’s long-term energy policy, but refused to stop the two reactors.Protest leaders said they don’t expect anything to happen just because they met Noda, but at least hold on to their hope for a change.

via The Associated Press: Anti-nuclear protests signal new activism in Japan.

The Japan Times, August 26, 2012

Posted by on Aug 26, 2012 in Featured, Fukushima, Japan | Comments Off

NIHONMATSU, Fukushima Pref. — The Fukushima Prefectural Government is now checking all bags of rice for radiation.

Gov. Yuhei Sato, who visited an inspection center in Nihonmatsu on Saturday, the first day of the comprehensive inspections, said that he “wants safe Fukushima rice to be delivered across the country.”

The checks were deemed necessary to allay fears caused by the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power station.

The first day saw 14 30-kg bags of early harvest rice produced in Nihonmatsu inspected.

The equipment took only about 10 seconds to check each bag, with all of the bags showing radioactivity levels below 11 becquerels per kilogram, the lowest measurable limit.

Rice farmer Takayuki Anzai, 58, smiled after his first bag passed the check.

“I don’t think that consumers will feel safe immediately, but we have to demonstrate scientifically proven safety and security,” Anzai said.

The size of this year’s rice harvest in Fukushima Prefecture is expected to total some 360,000 tons, or some 12 million bags, according to the prefectural government. Most of the checks will be finished by the end of the year.

In October, the central government plans to tighten the allowable radioactive cesium level in rice to 100 becquerels per kilogram from the current 500 becquerels.

The Fukushima Prefectural Government has decided to apply the new limit to all newly harvested rice in advance. Rice with radioactivity levels above the limit will be discarded.

via Fukushima starts radiation checks on all rice | The Japan Times Online.

Surreal Serenity In Fukushima

Posted by on Jul 24, 2012 in Environmental News, Featured, Fukushima, International Sites, Japan | Comments Off

via In Fukushima, Surreal Serenity –

KORIYAMA, JAPAN — The traditional inn nestled amid the mountainous countryside offered all the luxurious comforts for which these old-style hotels are famous. An elegant and eye-pleasing eight-course dinner was served in our room. The outdoor hot-spring bath had a view of lush foliage covering a steep cliff, lit up to highlight the diverse shades of green. A soothing sound emanated from a river flowing below. I could have been anywhere in Japan enjoying the typically understated royal treatment.

Only this time, when I checked out, instead of a parting gift of a box of local confectionaries or a hand towel with the hotel’s name on it, the owner handed me a plastic bag containing a vinyl raincoat, cotton gloves and a gauze mask. “Just in case you need it,” he said. “Sometimes when it rains, the numbers are high.” He was referring to (more…)

Inquiry Sees Chaos in Evacuations After Japan Tsunami –

Posted by on Jul 24, 2012 in Environmental News, Featured, Fukushima, Japan | Comments Off

via Inquiry Sees Chaos in Evacuations After Japan Tsunami –


Published: July 23, 2012

TOKYO — Chaotic evacuations after a tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant left children in areas where radiation levels were deemed dangerously high, while causing unnecessary deaths among sickly patients who were hastily removed from their hospitals, a government-sponsored inquiry reported on Monday.

The inquiry, the latest in a series of investigations into the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, came amid intensifying debate over the human toll of the disaster. The 450-page report on the inquiry, released on Monday, also said that the government’s failure to act on computer-aided predictions of radioactive releases as the disaster unfolded might have caused residents of at least two communities to be led straight into the radioactive plume.

The inquiry’s chairman, Yotaro Hatamura, an engineering professor at the University of Tokyo and an expert on the study of large-scale failure, stressed that he had made it a point to study the disaster from the point of view of communities affected by it.

“An analysis from the victims’ perspective takes you beyond studying what equipment or systems broke down,” Mr. Hatamura said at a news conference. “Instead, we begin to consider the suffering brought upon local communities and whether that suffering could have been minimized.”

Mr. Hatamura and his 10-member panel detailed how miscommunication among the nuclear site’s operator — the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco — local officials, the police and the Japan Self-Defense Forces set off chaos as about 340 patients, most of them elderly, were evacuated from a hospital facility near the plant. Eight patients who spent almost 12 hours on a bus died on board, while about 35 were mistakenly left behind at the hospital for two extra days. By the end of March, 40 patients had died, either from medical complications or from the fatigue of staying at evacuation centers, according to the hospital.

Local governments in the 13 municipalities affected by the Fukushima crisis have certified nearly 600 deaths as “disaster-related,” meaning caused by fatigue or by medical conditions made worse by evacuation. Experts say it is difficult to separate out the effects of the nuclear disaster, however, because many of the evacuees were also driven from their homes by the tsunami.

The report detailed how the government decided not to act on the computer-aided estimates, available 12 days into the disaster, which showed radiation levels dangerous for small children in areas to the northwest and to the south of the plant beyond the 12-mile evacuation zone.

The report said that Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission, considering those projections “grave,” brought the data to the prime minister at the time, Naoto Kan, who eventually decided that they were overblown and elected not to widen the evacuation zone. Instead, he ordered that all children in those areas undergo medical tests “to confirm thyroid exposure through actual test results,” the report said.

Those tests so far have not revealed exposure above government limits, the report said. However, some experts have warned that the health effects of longer-term exposure to low levels of radiation are not well understood. Some of these areas — like Iitate village, northwest of the plant — were not evacuated for over a month.

Earlier, government scientists had used the same estimates — made by a computer program known as the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information, or Speedi — to discover that plumes that had been blowing eastward from the plant out to sea were starting to head inland, in a northwesterly direction.

Japan’s nuclear regulator relayed the predictions to Mr. Kan’s office, which raised no alarm, the report said.

As a result, in one town near the stricken plant, Namie, the mayor might have inadvertently led evacuees northwest into the radioactive plume, the report confirms. And in Minamisoma, north of the plant, local officials probably organized evacuations by bus on the very day — March 15 — that a radioactive plume swung into their path, the report said.


Fukushima Radiation Cover-up

Posted by on Jul 24, 2012 in Environmental News, Fukushima, Health News, Japan | Comments Off

via Japan Investigates Reports of Fukushima Radiation Cover-up –

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese authorities are investigating subcontractors on suspicion that they forced workers at the Fukushima nuclear plant to underreport the amount of radiation they were exposed to so they could stay on the job longer.

Labor officials said Sunday an investigation had begun after news media reports of a cover-up at the Fukushima Daichi plant, which suffered multiple meltdowns after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

A subcontractor of plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company acknowledged having nine workers cover their dosimeters with lead plates late last year so that the instruments would indicate a lower level of radiation exposure.

Takashi Wada, president of Fukushima-based subcontractor Build-Up, said over the weekend that the dosimeter falsification had taken place.

“We should never have done that,” Mr. Wada said in an interview with the TBS network, broadcast on Saturday.

The investigation marks the first time the government has looked into the case, believed to be part of a widespread practice at the plant, since it was hit by the worst atomic crisis since Chernobyl.

The government more than doubled the emergency radiation exposure limit soon after the accident, but lowered it to the previous level in December.


Japan’s intense nuclear fight

Posted by on Jul 21, 2012 in Environmental News, Featured, Fukushima, Japan | Comments Off

via Japan’s nuclear fight intensifies –

CNN — The 1960s were a time of social revolution. Student, civil rights activists and anti-war protesters rose up against governments around the world, and Japan was no exception.Hundreds of thousands took to the streets to denounce the security treaty Japan signed with the U.S. in 1960. The rallies, which turned violent at times, were the country’s last significant protests — until now.The recent anti-nuclear protests are gathering momentum, and a society once willing to accept the government line is starting to ask questions of its leaders.Tens of thousands of people now protest outside the prime minister’s residence every Friday with one simple message — abandon atomic power.How to prevent another Fukushima disasterReport: Fukushima disaster man-madeReport says Japan failed with FukushimaJapan ends nuclear freezeJapan’s grassroots (more…)