Tag Archives: Fukushima nuclear plant

A Schoolyard at Fukushima

Radiation hotspot i Kashiwa 2012. image from wikipedia

Highly radioactive soil that should by law be removed by the central government has been left dumped in the corner of a schoolyard here because the construction of a local storage site for waste has been stalled.  Students at the school were not given an official warning that the radioactive soil was potentially hazardous to their health.

When a teacher scooped up soil samples at the site and had their radiation levels measured by two nonprofit monitoring entities–one in Fukushima and another in Tokyo–the results showed 27,000-33,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram. The law stipulates that the central government is responsible for disposing of waste measuring more than 8,000 becquerels per kilogram. But as a central government project to build an interim storage site for highly radioactive waste near the nuclear power plant has been stalled, the school appears to have no alternative to indefinitely keeping it in the schoolyard…

Radioactive soil turns up at Fukushima high school,The Asahi Shimbun, June 15, 2016

All Comes Down to Money: the interim disposal of Fukushima nuclear waste

anti-nuclear protesters in Japan pushing fake nuclear waste

Fukushima Prefecture is set to accept the construction of an interim facility to store radioactive waste from cleanup work due to the nuclear disaster, advancing the stalled process of decontaminating the affected areas.  The prefectural government has decided to shoulder the difference between the appraised value of land in Okuma and Futaba, where the structure will be built, and the price it would have fetched before the 2011 accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The decision came after landowners insisted that the land should be bought at a fair market value because the current appraisals are much lower than pre-disaster estimates.  Consent from local governments is expected to move forward the central government’s plan to start transporting radioactive soil and other contaminated waste to the storage site in January.

Okuma and Futaba host the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The residents of the two towns are still living as evacuees due to high levels of radiation in their hometowns. Talks between local officials and the central government over the planned facility reached an impasse after Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara enraged landowners with a comment in June.  “In the end, it will come down to money,” Ishihara said, referring to efforts to gain local approval for the storage facilities. Residents were angry because of the implication they could be easily bought.

The stalemate threatened to jeopardize the entire decontamination operation in the prefecture since the storage site is indispensable to advance the work to clean up and rebuild the affected communities.  In an effort to break the stalemate, the central government on Aug. 8 offered to double the funds to be provided to the local governments to 301 billion yen ($2.9 billion).

Fukushima Prefecture to accept intermediate storage facility for radioactive waste, THE ASAHI SHIMBUN, August 23, 2014

Leaking Radioactive Water into the Pacific Ocean: Fukushima

Japan

The operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant on Monday admitted for the first time that radioactive groundwater has leaked out to sea, fuelling fears of ocean contamination…Earlier this month Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) said groundwater samples taken at the battered plant showed levels of possibly cancer-causing caesium-134 had shot up more than 110 times in a few days.

TEPCO did not know the exact reasons for the increased readings but had maintained the toxic groundwater was likely contained at the current location, largely by concrete foundations and steel sheets.  “But now we believe that contaminated water has flown out to the sea,” a TEPCO spokesman said Monday (July 22, 2013).  However, the spokesman insisted that the impact of the radioactive water on the ocean would be limited.  “Seawater data have shown no abnormal rise in the levels of radioactivity.”

Radioactive substances released by the meltdowns of reactors at the plant in the aftermath of the huge tsunami of March 2011 have made their way into underground water, which usually flows out to sea.  Environment experts warn that such leakage may affect marine life and ultimately impacting humans who eat sea creatures.

Excerpt, TEPCO admits radioactive water leaked into sea at Fukushima, AFP, July 22, 2013

See also Japan and the Radioactive Water

The Nuclear Village in Japan: restarting nuclear power

anti-nuclear protest japan 2011. image wikipedia

After an earthquake and tsunami created a creeping nuclear catastrophe two years ago the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) said it would get the country out of nuclear energy by 2040. Although it quickly backtracked, almost all of Japan’s 50 commercial reactors are still lying idle.

In February this year (2013), Shinzo Abe, leader of the then incoming Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), said the new government would restart reactors after they passed a forthcoming set of new safety tests. The country’s “nuclear village”, a cosy bunch from industry and government, cheered. But now the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi plant is starting to alarm the public once more. On April 15th, 2013 the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a UN body, flew in to investigate a series of dangerous incidents.

A power outage in March (2013) left four underground pools that store thousands of the plant’s nuclear fuel rods without fresh cooling water for several hours. A rat, it later emerged, had gnawed through a cable. Workmen laying down rat-proof netting caused another outage. Then this month regulators discovered that thousands of gallons of radioactive water had seeped into the ground; the plant’s operator had installed a jerry-rigged system of plastic sheeting, which sprang leaks. The quantity of contaminated water has become a crisis in its own right, the manager has admitted. And now the pipes used to transfer water to safer storage containers are leaking too.

Experts who examined the causes of the 2011 catastrophe reckon the LDP has paid too little attention to what went wrong. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, the chairman of a parliamentary investigation, says the country may be moving “too hastily back towards nuclear power, without fully regaining the trust of the Japanese public and the international community”. Yoichi Funabashi, a former editor of Asahi Shimbun newspaper who headed a private-sector investigation, says it is unfortunate that the 2012 election, which brought the LDP back to office, did not include a proper debate about the future of nuclear energy.

Now the set of policies known as “Abenomics” is making a return to nuclear power ever more pressing. The LDP is expected to push hard to restart plants if it wins a crucial election for the upper house of parliament this summer. Mr Abe’s focus on the economy has given greater say to the voice of business, including the big utilities whose plants are idle. Smaller firms clamour for cheaper power too.

Japan’s broader economic future may be at stake… [the deterioration of  overall current-account balance]  could affect Japan’s ability to keep funding its huge public debt domestically. A big cause is the cost of energy imported to fill the gap left by nuclear power. A weaker yen, the result of the central bank’s radical loosening of monetary policy, is further pushing up the price of imported oil and gas…[T]he public is still afraid of nuclear power. A nationwide poll  in February 2013 found that around 70% of respondents wanted either to phase out all the plants, or to shut them down immediately. Opposition is likely to be strongest at the local level, as regions move to switch their reactors back on. This week an Osaka court ruled on a suit brought by local residents to have Japan’s only two operating reactors, at the Oi plant in Fukui prefecture, shut down. They lost, but their suit looks like only the first of many battles

Japan’s nuclear future: Don’t look now, Economist, Apr. 20, 2013, at 44.

Who is Afraid of the Media; Fukushima’s nuclear waste

The [Japanese] government, for the first time, has allowed the media to cover operations to move waste contaminated by radioactive substances to a baseball stadium being used for temporary storage in the Ottozawa district in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture.  The contaminated waste was collected in the government-led model decontamination project conducted in the town.  The bags containing the waste were moved to the site and piled in two designated areas at the town-run stadium, about three kilometers away from the power plant. Radiation levels exceeded 70 microsieverts per hour in certain areas of the Ottozawa district, the highest level among the government-monitored locations.

Workers in protective clothing and masks used cranes to pile up bags with the contaminated soil and grass, each weighing about a ton.  A worker said, “Protective clothing hampers our breathing and it’s tough to work because my hands are freezing in these rubber gloves.”

Before placing the bags, four layers of sheeting, including a water-resistant sheet, were spread on the ground to block radiation leaks.  Later, the pile will be covered by three layers of sheets and soil.  An official at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, which handled the operation, said, “It’s possible to block 98 percent of radiation [using this system].”

Yasushi Kaneko ,Radioactive waste site opened to media in Okuma, Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer, Feb. 11, 2012

Contaminated Soil, the challenge of cleaning up in Japan

 

A nuclear decontamination law will go into full effect Sunday Jan. 1, 2012), setting the stage for full-fledged efforts to clean up buildings, soil and waste contaminated with radioactive materials in areas affected by the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Fukushima Prefecture.  The central government will be responsible for the cleanup efforts in a no-go zone around the crippled plant and other evacuation areas in the seaside prefecture also heavily hit by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.  Under the law, which was partially enacted in August, decontamination plans will be formulated by 102 municipalities in eight prefectures where radiation doses are expected to exceed 1 millisievert a year on top of natural background radiation and that from medical treatment.  The cleanup cost in the areas will be shouldered by the central government. The eight prefectures are Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Saitama and Chiba.

The Environment Ministry is set to launch an office in the city of Fukushima on Sunday to push decontamination work within Fukushima Prefecture, with plans to start in late January the cleanup of infrastructure such as roads and water supply inside the no-go zone and elsewhere.  Full-fledged cleanup work is likely to start at the end of March, ministry officials said.  The ministry hopes to halve annual radiation doses for ordinary people and reduce those for children by 60 percent by the end of August 2013.

Under the law, the state will dispose of ashes from incinerated waste and sludge if they are found to contain more than 8,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram.  It will still be necessary to find either space in the affected areas to temporarily keep contaminated soil and waste or landfills for disposal. The central government has recently asked municipalities in the Futaba district in Fukushima Prefecture to host a temporary storage facility for a massive amount of contaminated soil to be removed within the prefecture.  In the prefectures except Fukushima, contaminated waste is to be buried in landfills with plastic liners, but whether local communities will give a nod to the disposal remains to be seen.

Nuclear decontamination law to go into full force Sunday, Mainichi Daily News, Japan, December 31, 2011

23 Baseball Stadiums of Nuclear Waste: the Fukushima disaster

Japanese officials in towns around the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant reacted guardedly to plans announced on Saturday (October 29, 2011) tobuild facilities to store radioactive waste from the clean-up around the plant within three years.  Saturday’s announcement, seven months after the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 25 years, came as towns near the plant are still coping with health fears and disputes over where to store huge amounts of unwanted waste…

Japan aims to halve radiation over two years in places contaminated by the crisis. To do so, it may have to remove and dispose of massive amounts of radioactive soil, possibly enough to fill 23 baseball stadiums…Local authorities would have to keep the contaminated waste in their towns until the facility is ready….

In Minami Soma, top soil scraped from school playgrounds and house yards is kept on site, piled up in corners or buried. The city has not been able to decide on a single storage location for the soil because of resistance from residents.

Fukushima towns struggle to store radioactive waste, Reuters, Oct. 29, 2011

Getting Rid of Nuclear Power is Just a Dream, Japan

Many Japanese have grown uneasy with nuclear power since the March 11 tsunami, which left more than 20,000 dead or missing and sent a plant in Fukushima into meltdown. Anti-nuke protesters took to the streets, and a heated debate ensued over the future of atomic energy. A recent Associated Press-GfK poll found that 55 percent of Japanese want to reduce the number of reactors in the country.

Six months later, though, the nation seems to be sticking with nuclear power, at least for now. Unlike Germany, which accelerated plans to phase out atomic energy after Fukushima, Japan shows no signs of doing so. In recent days, utilities began newly mandated earthquake and tsunami stress tests, a first step toward restarting reactors idled for maintenance.

The world’s third-largest economy lacks other sources such as coal. An island nation, it can’t easily buy electricity from neighbors, as Germany can from France. Alternative energy is expensive. And nuclear technology is the nation’s pride, even a lucrative export.  Moreover, consensus-oriented Japan doesn’t have an outspoken public saying “No” to nuclear power. In a society that frowns upon defiance of the government, many Japanese are reluctant to join a movement that is often discredited as eccentric, even after Fukushima. That means Japan’s leaders have no real need to reject an industry that has helped fuel the country’s prosperity for decades.

March 11 may yet prove to be Japan’s Three Mile Island moment. No new plants have been approved in the U.S. since the 1979 disaster, and Japan has canceled two new ones already and shelved plans to increase its reliance on nuclear power from 30 to 50 percent.  [But]

Power shortages since the tsunami, coupled with an unusually sweltering summer, have helped business and its backers in government win the argument that Japan can’t afford to shut down its reactors.  The nuclear industry also benefits from close government ties. Bureaucratic ranks are packed with former utility executives. The same ministry both promotes and regulates nuclear power. Such relationships have endured, despite revelations of past cover-ups of radiation leaks and safety violations.

In the half year since the tsunami, commuter trains have often been dark inside, dizzyingly hot and more packed than usual because of reduced schedules. Neon lights disappeared from once-glitzy urban landscapes. Messages flashed on the Internet and electronic billboards, ominously warning about electricity use versus supply.  Manufacturers scrambled to cope. For automakers, the juggling included running assembly plants over the weekend and closing Thursday and Friday to reduce peak demand. “It has been totally exhausting,” said Toshiyuki Shiga, chief operating officer of Nissan Motor Co.

Before he resigned last month, Prime Minister Naoto Kan pledged to reduce Japan’s reliance on nuclear power and develop solar, wind and other sources. But he later played that down as his personal view and has since been replaced by Yoshihiko Noda, who is expected to be more willing to go along with industry-friendly bureaucrats.

Hiroshi Kainuma, a sociologist who has researched Fukushima, said residents of what he calls “nuclear villages” fear life without a plant. “Almost subconsciously, in their everyday, they have grown to support nuclear power,” he said.

Excerpts from YURI KAGEYAMA, Post-tsunami Japan sticking with nuclear power,Associated Press, Sept. 10, 2011

Fukushima Decontamination: lengthy and costly

Japan faces the daunting task of decontaminating large areas of land around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, which is still leaking low levels of radiation nearly six months after an earthquake and tsunami triggered a nuclear meltdown.  In a meeting with local officials on Saturday, the government estimated it could take more than 20 years before residents could safely return to areas with current radiation readings of 200 millisieverts per year, and a decade for areas at 100 millisieverts per year.  The estimates, which merely confirm what many experts have been saying for months, are based on the natural decline of radiation over time and do not account for the impact of decontamination steps such as removing affected soil….The Japanese government unveiled guidelines this week with the aim of halving radiation in problem areas in two years, but for spots with very high readings it could take much longer to reach safe levels….Japan has banned people from entering within 20 km (12 miles) of the Fukushima plant, located 240 km northeast of Tokyo. Around 80,000 people have been evacuated since the March 11 quake and tsunami and many are living in shelters or temporary homes.

The government’s announcement follows the release of data this week showing radiation readings in 35 spots in the evacuation zone above the 20 millisieverts per year level deemed safe by the government. The highest reading was 508 millisieverts in the town of Okuma, about 3 km from the nuclear plant.  Kan, who resigned on Friday [Aug. 26, 2011] as leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan amid intense criticism of his handling of the nuclear crisis, also told Sato that the government planned to build a temporary storage facility in Fukushima for radioactive waste.

The accident at the Fukushima plant is likely to have released about 15 percent of the radiation released at Chernobyl in 1986, Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has estimated.But that is still more than seven times the amount of radiation produced by Three Mile Island accident in the United States in 1979, and experts have estimated Japan’s decontamination efforts could cost as much as 10 trillion yen ($130 billion).

Osamu Tsukimori and Nathan Layne, Reuters, Aug. 27, 2011

From Hiroshima to Fukushima: subsidies, weapons capability and gross negligence

How did earthquake-prone Japan, where two atomic bombs were dropped at the end of World War II creating a strong antinuclear weapons culture, come to embrace nuclear power just a few decades later?  Therein lies a tale whose main characters include two former prime ministers, a suspected war criminal, CIA agent and postwar media baron, and “Japan’s Charles Lindbergh,” a flamboyant pilot who encouraged people to search for uranium in their backyards.  It also involves thousands of politicians, bureaucrats, engineers and the pronuclear media collectively known as Japan’s “nuclear power village.”  At the same time it’s the story of those who opposed nuclear power from the beginning, warning of the potential dangers and arguing for decades that nuclear power wasn’t as safe as advertised, and reactors could be seriously damaged by an earthquake.

The saga begins in summer 1953. Future Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone was then a young politician studying at Harvard University. He learned from politically connected professors that the United States was about to allow the knowledge and technology that built atomic bombs to be exported for the peaceful use of nuclear power.  In December 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced his “Atoms for Peace” initiative that provided U.S. nuclear technology to allies like resource-poor Japan that wanted to harness the atom.

Nakasone reacted immediately, leading efforts in the Diet in late 1953 and early 1954 to draw up Japan’s first-ever budget for nuclear power research. He assembled a group of like-minded allies in and out of government to help convince the public of the necessity to invest in this new technology.

 One of the most influential was Matsutaro Shoriki, head of the Yomiuri Shimbun and head of the newly created Nippon TV.  Shoriki was jailed after World War II as a suspected Class-A war criminal and sent to Sugamo Prison in Tokyo. But he was released a couple of years later without being charged and allegedly became a CIA informant.  Shoriki was, like his friend Nakasone, a strong supporter of nuclear power.  Under his guidance, the Yomiuri led the way in selling nuclear power to the public as a safe, reliable and peaceful energy source.

On New Year’s Day, 1954, the paper began a series of articles titled “Finally, the Sun Has Been Captured,” which extolled the benefits of nuclear power.  Despite the Fukuryu Maru No. 5 incident of March 1, 1954, in which 23 Japanese fishermen were exposed to nuclear fallout from U.S. testing of a hydrogen bomb at Bikini Atoll, stoking public concern about anything nuclear, the Diet passed Japan’s first nuclear power research budget, worth-