Tag Archives: radioactive contamination

How to Flirt with Disaster and Pay: the class actions of Fukushima refugees

image with wikipedia

Negligence by the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. caused the triple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, a court ruled on October 10, 2017 in the biggest class-action suit related to the March 2011 accident.

The Fukushima District Court ordered the government and Tepco to pay a total of Yen 498 million ($4.4 million) plus delinquency charges to 2,907 people who fled the radiation that was released into the air and water after a tsunami flooded the power plant, knocking out the power to the vital cooling system. It was the second time a court found the government responsible for failing to prepare adequately for the likelihood of a large tsunami wave hitting the plant.

If Japan’s government had ordered Tepco to make sure the plant was ready to withstand a tsunami wave of 15.7 meters (51.5 feet), Tepco would have made sure critical instruments were waterproof, Tuesday’s ruling said.”The accident, triggered by total loss of power, could have been avoided, ” Judge Hideki Kanazawa said.

The compensation represents a small fraction of the damages the residents had sought. They also wanted compensation for every month that radiation levels stay above normal, but the court rejected that claim. Still, with some 30 class-action lawsuits so far brought by more than 10,000 affected residents. The October 11, 2017 ruling is a sign additional compensation costs could weigh on both the government and Tepco for years to come.  Tepco has so far paid more than Yen7.6 trillion ($67 billion) in compensation to residents affected by the accident, and has been struggling to clean up the reactors — a daunting technological task that could take decades.

As of September 2017, nearly 55,000 Fukushima residents are registered as evacuees, meaning they can’t return home and haven’t settled permanently elsewhere.

The plaintiffs argued the government and Tepco failed to give adequate attention to studies that said a major tsunami could occur in the area of the plant. One 2002 study by the government’s Earthquake Research Promotion Unit said there was a 20% chance of a magnitude 8 tsunami-triggering earthquake in the area off Fukushima within 30 years. Another study by Tepco’s senior safety engineer in 2007 found there was about a 10% chance that a tsunami could breach Fukushima Daiichi’s defenses within 50 years.

The defendants said the scientific basis for such predictions was unclear, and even if the calculations were correct, the chance was too low to require immediate steps in response. The government said it wasn’t until after the accident that it gained the ability to force Tepco to take anti-flooding measures. Both argued the compensation already being paid to displaced people was adequate.

On March 11, 2011, a tsunami triggered by an earthquake flooded the Fukushima Daiichi plant, knocking out auxiliary power sources that were supposed to keep the reactors’ cooling systems running. Three reactors melted down.

Excerpts from Redress Ordered In Fukushima Case, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 11, 2017

Advertisements

Nuclear Accidents of the Future: the preparations

anti-nuclear_protests_in_Tokyo

Three major atomic accidents [Three Mile Island US 1979, Chernobyl USSR 1986, Fukushima Japan 2011] in 35 years are forcing the world’s nuclear industry to stop imagining it can prevent more catastrophes and to focus instead on how to contain them.  As countries such as China and India embrace atomic power even after the Fukushima reactor meltdowns in 2011 caused mass evacuations because of radiation fallout, scientists warn the next nuclear accident is waiting to happen and could be in a country with little experience to deal with it.

“The cold truth is that, no matter what you do on the technological improvements side, accidents will occur — somewhere, someplace,” said Joonhong Ahn, a professor at the Department of Nuclear Engineering of University of California, Berkeley. The consequences of radiation release, contamination and evacuation of people is “clear and obvious,” Ahn said. That means governments and citizens should be prepared, not just nuclear utilities, he said.

While atomic power has fallen from favor in some western European countries since the Fukushima accident — Germany, for example, is shutting all of its nuclear plants — it’s gaining more traction in Asia as an alternative to coal. China has 28 reactors under construction, while Russia, India, and South Korea are building 21 more, according to the World Nuclear Association. Of the 176 reactors planned, 86 are in nations that had no nuclear plants 20 years ago, WNA data show…

The problem is that the causes of the three events followed no pattern, and the inability to immediately contain them escalated the episodes into global disasters with huge economic, environmental and political consequences. Even if no deaths have yet been officially linked to Fukushima radiation, for example, cleanup costs have soared to an estimated $196 billion and could take more than four decades to complete.

If nuclear is to remain a part of the world’s energy supply, the industry must come up with solutions to make sure contamination — and all other consequences — do not spread beyond station grounds, Gregory Jaczko, ex-chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said in an interview in Tokyo….

Since the introduction of nuclear stations in the 1950s, the industry has focused safety efforts on design and planning. Research and innovation has looked at back-up systems, passive technology that would react even if no human operator did, and strengthened materials used in construction of atomic stations….

The official toll from the reactor explosion at Chernobyl was put at 31 deaths. Radiation clean-up work, however, involved about 600,000 people, while 200,000 locals had to be relocated.  The accident contaminated 150,000 kilometers of land and according to the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev it was a factor in bringing about the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In Japan, the meltdown of three Fukushima reactors helped unseat premier Naoto Kan and forced the evacuation of about 160,000 people, destroying local fishing, farming and tourism industries along the way. It also brought tens of thousands of anti-nuclear protesters out onto the streets in the country’s biggest demonstrations since the 1960s. Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant operator and once the world’s biggest non-state power producer, would have been bankrupted by the Fukushima accident but for billions of dollars in government aid…

Building a plant that would contain an accident within the facility boils down to cold cash, he said.  The review calls for new reactor designs to make a major release of radioactive fallout outside the station site “practically impossible,” the IAEA said. The standard would be “crucial for public acceptance and for the sustainability of nuclear energy.” Specialists on the review met for the first time in March and no conclusions are yet available, IAEA spokesman Greg Webb said by e-mail.

The problem with an engineering solution, an ever better reactor design or grander safety systems, is that based on the premise that all technology is fallible those defense systems can also fail, Berkley’s Ahn said.  “This is an endless cycle,” Ahn said. “Whatever is your technology, however it is developed, we always have residual risk.”  When the next nuclear accident occurs the world needs to have better knowledge of how to limit the spread of radiation and do the clean-up, including removing radiation from the soil, water and having an efficient evacuation drill for the population in danger zones, Ahn said. We also need more understanding of the impact of low-dose radiation on organisms, he said.  “This is about recovery from an accident, not preventing an accident,” Ahn said. “It’s completely different. And I think this concept is very necessary for the future of nuclear utilization.”

Excerpts from Yuriy Humber, World Needs to Get Ready for the Next Nuclear Plant Accident, Bloomberg, Apr. 4, 2014

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

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

Cleaning Up Radioactive Mess

U.S. researchers say they’ve developed a radiation detecting and measuring device that promises faster and cheaper cleanup of radioactively contaminated sites.  Scientists at Oregon State University say hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on cleanup of major sites contaminated by radioactivity, primarily from the historic production of nuclear weapons during and after World War II. These include the Hanford site in Washington, Savannah River site in South Carolina, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.  The new detector is quicker and more accurate than previous measuring devices, an OSU release said Thursday.

“Unlike other detectors, this spectrometer is more efficient, and able to measure and quantify both gamma and beta radiation at the same time,” David Hamby, an OSU professor of health physics, said. “Before this two different types of detectors and other chemical tests were needed in a time-consuming process.  “This system will be able to provide accurate results in 15 minutes that previously might have taken half a day,” Hamby said. “That saves steps, time and money.

“Cleaning up radioactive contamination is something we can do, but the process is costly, and often the question when working in the field is how clean is clean enough,” Hamby said. “At some point the remaining level of radioactivity is not a concern. So we need the ability to do frequent and accurate testing to protect the environment while also controlling costs.”

New detector could speed nuclear cleanup, UPI.com, Dec. 30, 2010