It’s scary when a nuclear plant can’t even handle a rainstorm — The Hankyoreh editorial

” The second reactor at Kori Nuclear Power Plant in Gijang County, Busan, was temporarily shut down by Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP) on Aug. 25 after heavy rains of up to 130 millimeters per hour in the area. Meanwhile, electrical equipment at KHNP’s Kori headquarters, which are supposed to oversee on-site emergency response measures, was incapacitated for a second straight day by the flooding. A nuclear power plant is supposed to be able to withstand any and all types of shocks from the outside. To see this kind of vulnerability to a rainstorm is spine-chilling.

This is the first time in South Korean history that a nuclear power plant has been shut down because of heavy rainfall. According to KHNP, the second Kori reactor was shut down manually as a precaution for equipment safety after too much water got into the building housing the seawater pumps and control devices. They’re suggesting it was a preemptive response for safety purposes. They also plan to restart the reactor once they’ve removed the water, conducted a safety examination, and received the go-ahead from the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission (NSSC).

But this accident is not something we can just ignore. The second Kori reactor, which marks its 32nd year in operation this year, is a prime example of an outdated nuclear power source. It’s already been pointed out numerous times how sloppy the protective measures for this reactor are, even as it’s being run past the end of its original design life. Experts are particularly troubled that the cause of the shutdown was water intake system flooding – since it was similar flooding, as a result of a tsunami, that ended up being the direct cause of the 2011 Fukushima catastrophe in Japan.

In a nuclear power plant, a water intake system needs to be constantly supplying seawater to cool the steam that makes the turbine run. The most dangerous moments are the ones where the reactor has to be shut down because of some unforeseen disaster or internal equipment failure, and the chances of something like that happening increase the older the equipment is – and the equipment at Kori is nothing if not old. Not only that, but an unexpected stoppage of even one reactor at a major power supply center like a nuclear plant can deal a major blow to power grid function all over the country.

Since the Fukushima disaster, the South Korean government and KNHP have publicly pledged to beef up the natural disaster capabilities of nuclear power plants. One of the examples they proudly presented as safer against various disasters, thanks to stronger waterproofing in its walls, was none other than the second Kori reactor. The recent flooding and shutdown expose their boasting for the bluster it was.

When a nuclear power plant with over 3 million people living in a 30-km radius can’t handle heavy rains – never mind the various larger and smaller other incidents – the public has a right to feel scared. The analysis of the extent and cause of the recent damage should be investigated by the NSSC itself, rather than being given to KNHP to examine. A joint civilian-government investigation should also be considered as a way of ensuring complete safety and keeping the public’s trust. ”

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Can Japan recapture its solar power? — MIT Technology Review

” It’s 38 °C on the Atsumi Peninsula southwest of Tokyo: a deadly heat wave has been gripping much of Japan late this summer. Inside the offices of a newly built power plant operated by the plastics company Mitsui Chemicals, the AC is blasting. Outside, 215,000 solar panels are converting the blistering sunlight into 50 megawatts of electricity for the local grid. Three 118-meter-high wind turbines erected at the site add six megawatts of generation capacity to back up the solar panels during the winter.

Mitsui’s plant is just one of thousands of renewable-power installations under way as Japan confronts its third summer in a row without use of the nuclear reactors that had delivered almost 30 percent of its electricity. In Japan people refer to the earthquake and nuclear disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on March 11, 2011, as “Three-Eleven.” Radioactive contamination forced more than 100,000 people to evacuate and terrified millions more. It also sent a shock wave through Japan’s already fragile manufacturing sector, which is the country’s second-largest employer and accounts for 18 percent of its economy.

Eleven of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors shut down on the day of the earthquake. One year later every reactor in Japan was out of service; each had to be upgraded to meet heightened safety standards and then get in a queue for inspections. During my visit this summer, Japan was still without nuclear power, and only aggressive energy conservation kept the lights on. Meanwhile, the country was using so much more imported fossil fuel that electricity prices were up by about 20 percent for homes and 30 percent for businesses, according to Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI).

The post-Fukushima energy crisis, however, has fueled hopes for the country’s renewable-power industry, particularly its solar businesses. As one of his last moves before leaving office in the summer of 2011, Prime Minister Naoto Kan established potentially lucrative feed-in tariffs to stimulate the installation of solar, wind, and other forms of renewable energy. Feed-in tariffs set a premium rate at which utilities must purchase power generated from such sources.

The government incentive is what motivated Mitsui to finally make use of land originally purchased for an automotive plastics factory that was never built because carmakers moved manufacturing operations overseas. The site had sat idle for 21 years before Mitsui assembled a consortium to help finance a $180 million investment in solar panels and wind turbines. By moving fast, Mitsui and its six partners qualified for 2012 feed-in tariffs that promised industrial-scale solar facilities 40 yen (35 cents) per kilowatt-hour generated for 20 years. At that price, says Shin Fukuda, the former nuclear engineer who runs Mitsui’s energy and environment business, the consortium should earn back its investment in 10 years and collect substantial profits from the renewable facility for at least another decade.

Overnight, Japan has become the world’s hottest solar market: in less than two years after Fukushima melted down, the country more than doubled its solar generating capacity. According to METI, developers installed nearly 10 gigawatts of renewable generating capacity through the end of April 2014, including 9.6 gigawatts of photovoltaics. (The nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi had 4.7 gigawatts of capacity; overall, the country has around 290 gigawatts of installed electricity-generating capacity.) Three-quarters of the new solar capacity was in large-scale installations such as Mitsui’s.

Yet this explosion of solar capacity marks a bittersweet triumph for Japan’s solar-panel manufacturers, which had led the design of photovoltaics in the 1980s and launched the global solar industry in the 1990s. Bitter because most of the millions of panels being installed are imports made outside the country. Even some Japanese manufacturers, including early market leader Sharp, have taken to buying panels produced abroad and selling them in Japan.

How Japan­­—once the world’s most advanced semiconductor producer and a pioneer in using that technology to manufacture photovoltaic cells—gave away its solar industry is a story of national insecurity, monopoly power, and money-driven politics. It is also a tale with important lessons for those who believe that the strength of renewable technologies will provide sufficient incentives for countries to transform their energy habits.

In Japan, for most of the 2000s, impressive advances in photovoltaics were ignored because the country’s powerful utilities exerted their political muscle to favor nuclear power. And despite resurging consumer demand for solar power and strong public disdain for nuclear, the same thing could happen again. Will a country with few fossil-fuel resources and bleak memories of the Fukushima disaster take advantage of its technical expertise to recapture its position as a leading producer of photovoltaics, or will it turn away from renewable energy once more? ”

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The Fukushima endgame: Radioactive contamination of the Pacific Ocean — Global Research

” … Known and documented, the ongoing dumping of highly radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean constitutes a potential trigger to a process of global radioactive contamination.

This water contains plutonium 239 and its release into the Ocean has both local as well as global repercussions. A microgram of plutonium if inhaled, according to Dr. Helen Caldicott, can cause death:

Certain isotopes of radioactive plutonium are known as some of the deadliest poisons on the face of the earth. A mere microgram (a speck of darkness on a pinhead) of Plutonium-239, if inhaled, can cause death, and if ingested, radioactive Plutonium can be harmful, causing leukemia and other bone cancers.

“In the days following the 2011 earthquake and nuclear plant explosions, seawater meant to cool the nuclear power plants instead carried radioactive elements back to the Pacific ocean. Radioactive Plutonium was one of the elements streamed back to sea.” (decodescience.com).

It would appear that the radioactive water has already penetrated parts of the Japanese coastline:

Environmental testing of shoreline around the nuclear plant (as well fish, especially Tuna) showed negligible amounts of Plutonium in the seawater. The Plutonium, from what little is reported, sank into the sediments off the Japanese coast.” (Ibid)

A recent report suggests that the Japanese government is intent upon releasing the remaining radioactive water into the Ocean. The proposed “solution” becomes the cause of radioactive contamination of both the Japanese coastline as well as the Pacific Ocean, extending to the coastline of North America.

While the chairman of the Nuclear Radiation Authority recognizes that the water in the tanks is heavily “tainted”, a decision has nonetheless been taken to empty the tanks and dump the water into the Ocean:

The head of Japan’s nuclear watchdog said contaminated water stored at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant should be released into the ocean to ensure safe decommissioning of the reactors.

Shunichi Tanaka, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, made the comment Dec. 12 after visiting the facility to observe progress in dismantling the six reactors. The site was severely damaged in the tsunami generated by the 2011 earthquake.

“I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of tanks (holding water tainted with radioactive substances),” Tanaka told reporters, indicating they pose a danger to decommissioning work. “We have to dispose of the water.”

With regard to expected protests by local fishermen over the discharge, Tanaka said, “We also have to obtain the consent of local residents in carrying out the work, so we can somehow mitigate (the increase in tainted water).”

Tanaka has said previously that to proceed with decommissioning, tainted water stored on the site would need to be released into the sea so long as it had been decontaminated to accepted safety standards.

“While (the idea) may upset people, we must do our utmost to satisfy residents of Fukushima,” Tanaka said, adding that the NRA would provide information to local residents based on continuing studies of radioactive elements in local waters.

The inspection tour was Tanaka’s second since he became NRA chief in September 2012. He last visited in April 2013.

During his visit, Tanaka observed work at a trench on the ocean side of the No. 2 reactor building, where highly contaminated water is being pumped out. He also inspected barriers set up around the storage tanks to prevent leaks of tainted water.

Tanaka praised the completion in November of work to remove all spent nuclear fuel from the No. 4 reactor building, as well as changes to work procedures that he said allows for the completion of the work at the No. 2 reactor trench. Hiromi Kumai , NRA Head Signals Massive Release of Tainted Water to Help Decommission Fukushima Site Asahi Shimbun December 13, 2014

The contradictory statements of the NRA chief avoid addressing the broader implications, by giving the impression that the issue is local and that local fishermen off the Fukushima coast will be consulted. … ”

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Global eco-radiation research institute opens in Fukushima — The Asahi Shimbun

” FUKUSHIMA–With its team of international researchers, Fukushima University’s Institute of Environmental Radioactivity moved into full-scale operation on Dec. 3.

An official ceremony was held to mark the opening of its new two-story-high facility built with a government subsidy of roughly 1.8 billion yen ($15 million).

Established in July 2013, the institute studies the effects of the fallout from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant accident triggered by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster as well as various forms of environmental contamination globally.

“With varying factors such as terrain, soil composition, water flow and vegetation, each region is influenced differently by radiation,” said Takayuki Takahashi, director of the institute and a professor of robotics at the university. “Rather than conducting symptomatic treatments, we aim to take part in the recovery efforts by clarifying what effects radiation has in a scientific scope.”

There are currently 13 researchers at the institute, nine of whom are from Russia, Ukraine or other nations. They have already begun conducting studies in cooperation with other research organizations and universities looking at lake beds and marshlands using underwater drones. They have also surveyed the distribution of radioactive materials in the oceans, woodlands and other parts of the ecosystem.

The first floor of the facility has nine germanium semiconductor detectors that study radioactive content such as cesium levels in water, plants and soil samples. Some of the equipment is so sensitive they can detect the most miniscule traces of radiation while other machines are capable of studying 50 samples simultaneously.

The facility also has an electron microscope that can magnify images up to 3 million times. The researchers plan to use the device to observe how radioactive substances attach themselves to minerals in the hope of finding more effective decontamination methods.

“When we make progress, we will inform the public to give them a better understanding of our work,” Takahashi said. ”

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Student peddling Fukushima air to revive interest in nuclear disaster — The Asahi Shimbun

” A teenager is selling cans of “Fukushima air” to shock the public into reviving debate over the 2011 nuclear disaster.

“I want to try to surprise people and renew interest in the nuclear accident,” said Atsu, a 17-year-old high school student in the Tokyo city of Machida who also works as a painter.

During his summer vacation, Atsu headed to Fukushima Prefecture’s coastal area to collect air for his “Tohoku Cans.” Before injecting the air, he measures the radiation levels in the air with two dosimeters to verify its safety.

After the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami caused the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in March 2011, Atsu joined the reconstruction assistance effort. An avid painter since the fifth grade in elementary school, he gave donations to the Japanese Red Cross using proceeds from sales of wristbands and other goods he made and his paintings.

He has continued to solicit donations but recently heard some negative remarks about his endeavor. Some said the Fukushima evacuees no longer needed assistance. Others suggested that Atsu was just seeking publicity for himself.

Atsu said he came up with the idea to sell canned Fukushima air to shed new light on the continuing crisis at the nuclear plant and providing assistance for reconstruction of the Tohoku region.

“I’ll try selling Fukushima air,” he said he thought at the time. “I’m sure it’ll attract both support and criticism and spur debate. And debate will generate interest.”

The Japanese government has set a long-term decontamination target of 1 millisievert or lower for radiation exposure per year in areas around the nuclear plant, apart from the natural background radiation dose. This amounts to 0.23 microsievert per hour.

The air Atsu collected in Fukushima Prefecture has shown readings between 0.05 and 0.09 microsievert per hour, below the limit. In comparison, radiation levels in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district are around 0.03 microsievert per hour.

Atsu says the Tohoku Cans have another meaning.

“While the public seems to think that the nuclear accident is in the past, people tend to shun vegetables produced in Fukushima Prefecture,” he said. “So, the Fukushima disaster is not really over. I wanted to express something that words cannot convey.”

When Atsu started his project in Fukushima Prefecture, local residents approached him. When he explained the purpose of the cans, the residents were pleased and thanked him.

“I want people to know that radiation levels here are not that different from Tokyo’s,” one resident said.

Atsu had sold around 50 Tohoku Cans as of Nov. 11, mainly at art events around the country that he attended as a painter. He also takes orders through his blog.

Most of the buyers praise Atsu’s efforts. Bovgatei, a gallery in the Tateshina district in Chino, Nagano Prefecture, sold 24 Tohoku Cans when Atsu held a solo exhibition there in September.

The gallery’s owner, painter Yumiko Takayama, said, “Many people were impressed by Atsu’s passion to remind us of the nuclear issue we seemed to have forgotten about.”

Still, Atsu said, “I thought there would be more criticism.”

Some buyers are apparently reluctant to open the cans.

The Tohoku Cans, which contain a short message inside, sell for 600 yen ($5) each. All proceeds are donated to the Japanese Red Cross. Orders can be made via e-mail (tohoku.air@gmail.com). ”

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