Tepco blasted for concealing latest radioactive leak for nearly a year — Xinhua; Fisheries ‘shocked’ at silence over water leak at wrecked Fukushima No. 1 plant — The Japan Times

Updated Feb. 27, 2015, Xinhua: ” TOKYO, Feb. 25 (Xinhua) — Local fisherman in Fukushima Prefecture, home to Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s stricken Daichi nuclear power station, blamed the plant’s operator on Wednesday for knowingly allowing radioactive substances from a rainwater drainage ditch linked to one of its buildings to flow freely into the sea since April last year.

The leader of a local fishing corporative, Masakazu Yabuki, lambasted the embattled utility for its latest gaffe, four years after a massive earthquake-triggered tsunami breached the plant’s defenses, leading to multiple nuclear meltdowns and the worst nuclear crisis since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

“I don’t understand why you (TEPCO) kept silent about the leakage even though you knew about it. Fishery operators are absolutely shocked,” Yabuki, chief of the Iwaki fisheries cooperative, told TEPCO officials at a meeting.

TEPCO confessed on Tuesday that it had found a pool of highly- radioactive water on the roof of one of its buildings, which had likely been leaking into the sea via a drainage ditch when it rained.

The embattled utility said it had been aware of the leak since April last year, and it stems from the roof of the building of the No. 2 reactor, where it has detected 29,400 becquerels of radioactive cesium per liter at the site of the roof. These readings are more than 10 times higher than readings taken at other sites on the roof, TEPCO said.

TEPCO also said that water containing 52,000 becquerels of beta ray-emitting radioactive substances such as strontium-90, were also detected.

The latest admission comes after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised the International Olympic Committee in September 2013 that all radiation leaks at the tsunami-ravaged plant were “under control.”

Ironically, earlier this year Abe’s government announced that TEPCO would be the Main Sponsor for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, despite the fact that more than 140,000 people still remain displaced following the 2011 disaster in Japan’s northeast.

As local, national and international fury once again rises at the hapless utility, TEPCO maintained that the contaminated water that has been freely leaking into the Pacific Ocean, does not violate regulations, because the outflow of radiation from the plant is controlled by monitoring radiation levels in sea water, and the Nuclear Regulation Agency (NRA) has not detected a spike in the sea’s radiation.

But experts and skeptics have been quick to point out that the NRA, as Japan’s nuclear watchdog, falls under the auspices of the Ministry of Environment and thus doesn’t work autonomously from the government, who itself has pumped trillions of yen to end the ongoing nuclear crisis at the plant, with the utility now effectively under state control.

On Wednesday, NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka resignedly urged the plant operator, whose history of attempting to conceal its blunders has appalled the international community, to disclose such information more swiftly.

In the latest indication that the crisis at the plant is far from under control, TEPCO officials tried to gain the approval from local fisherman to pump radioactive water from its well at the plant, before the water could leak into ditches near reactor buildings and become even more contaminated.

Chief of the Soma Futaba fisheries cooperative, Hiroyuki Sato, took aim at the lackadaisical utility, stating that the latest incident had completely “destroyed trust between the operator and local fishermen.”

Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori also said during the meeting Wednesday with TEPCO that the current situation is wholly ” regrettable,” adding that once again, “a problem which causes anxiety to people in Fukushima has occurred, and that information was not disclosed immediately.”

Uchibori, highlighting the mistrust of the utility, the central government and the government’s nuclear watchdog, said local city officials and its own nuclear experts would be conducting inspections at the Daiichi facility.

In stark contrast to TEPCO’s own readings and running contrary to the fact that the runaway utility failed for almost one year to disclose the leak, Japan’s top government spokesperson reiterated the government’s long-standing mantra that the situation is under control.

“The situation is completely under control and radiation levels in the ocean outside an enclosed port area adjacent to the plant are well below the legal limits. Any negative impact of radioactive water on the environment is completely blocked,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference.

As the nuclear crisis rumbles on in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan ‘s nuclear regulator this month gave safety clearance to two more nuclear reactors that were idled in the wake of the 2011 disaster.

Despite Abe being a staunch supporter of bringing the nation’s nuclear power stations back online, however, as a comparatively weak yen has continued to push up the price of Japan’s fossil fuel imports, all of Japan’s 48 commercial reactors currently remain offline due to safety concerns and ongoing checks. ”


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Posted Feb. 26, 2015, The Japan Times: read “Fisheries ‘shocked’ at silence over water leak at wrecked Fukushima No. 1 plant”

Updated 2/26/15, Fukushima operator finds new source of radiation leak into sea — Reuters; Fresh leak of highly radioactive water detected at Fukushima — ABC News; NHK World

Updated Feb. 26, 2015, Reuters: ” The operator of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant said on Tuesday it had found a pool of highly contaminated water on the roof of a plant building and that it had probably leaked into the sea through a gutter when it rained.

The finding comes four years after a massive earthquake and tsunami caused meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co Inc’s Fukushima reactors, and 1-1/2 years after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe assured the International Olympic Committee that radiation leaks at the plant were “under control”.

Tokyo’s victory over rivals Madrid and Istanbul to host the 2020 Olympic Games followed soon after Abe’s declaration.

Tokyo Electric said it has been aware since last spring that radiation levels in water running in one of the plant gutters rise when it rains but had confirmed the source of the contamination only on Tuesday.

Leakage of contaminated water into the sea in and of itself does not violate regulations because the outflow of radiation from the plant is controlled by monitoring radiation levels in sea water, a Nuclear Regulation Agency official said.

There have been no meaningful changes in radiation levels in sea water nearby, Tokyo Electric said.

The electric utility believes gravel and blocks laid on the roof of the building are the source of contamination, and said it plans to remove them by the end of March and take other measures to stop rainwater from being contaminated.

Sample rainwater collected at one corner of the rooftop contained 23,000 becquerels per litre of cesium 137, more than 10 times as high as radiation levels in sample water taken from other parts of the roof, Tokyo Electric said. ”


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Posted Feb. 23, 2015, ABC News: ” Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said the sensors, which were rigged to a gutter that pours rain and groundwater at the Fukushima Daiichi plant to a nearby bay, detected contamination levels up to 70 times greater than the already-high radioactive status seen at the plant campus.

TEPCO said its emergency inspections of tanks storing nuclear waste water did not find any additional abnormalities, but the firm said it shut the gutter to prevent radioactive water from going into the Pacific Ocean.

The higher-than-normal levels of contamination were detected on Sunday, with sensors showing radiation levels 50 to 70 times greater than usual.

Though contamination levels fell steadily throughout the day, the same sensors were still showing contamination levels about 10 to 20 times more than usual, a company spokesman said.

It was not immediately clear what caused the original spike of the contamination and its gradual fall, he said.

“With emergency surveys of the plant and monitoring of other sensors, we have no reason to believe tanks storing radioactive waste water have leaked,” he said.

“We have shut the gutter [from pouring water to the bay]. We are currently monitoring the sensors at the gutter and seeing the trend.”

The latest incident, one of several that have plagued the plant in recent months, reflects the difficulty in controlling and decommissioning the plant, which went through meltdowns and explosions after being battered by a giant tsunami in March 2011, sparking the world’s worst nuclear disaster in a generation.

TEPCO has not been able to effectively deal with an increasing amount of contaminated water, used to cool the crippled reactors and molten fuels inside them and kept in large storage tanks on the plant’s vast campus.

Adding to TEPCO’s headaches has been the persistent flow of groundwater from nearby mountains travelling under the contaminated plant before washing into the Pacific Ocean.

The International Atomic Energy Agency recently said TEPCO has made “significant progress” in cleaning up the plant, but suggested that Japan should consider ways to discharge treated waste water into the sea as a relatively safer way to deal with the radioactive water crisis. ” … sigh


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Construction firm exec arrested for sending teen to help Fukushima cleanup — The Japan Times

” Aichi Prefectural Police arrested a construction firm executive on Wednesday for sending a 15-year-old boy to help clean up radioactive waste outside the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant.

The police said the boy, who is from Kitanagoya, Aichi Prefecture, was sent to Fukushima to cut contaminated leaves and scrape up dirt in the disaster zone last July.

Japan’s labor law prohibits people under 18 from working in radioactive areas.

Police arrested Yuji Chiba, 49, who is in charge of the company’s labor management and is responsible for the cleanup operations.

The boy started to work at the company in April after graduating from junior high school. He began to clean up the radioactive waste in July, but escaped from the job after working for about five days. He was ordered to lie about his age.

The boy said his former employer had lowered his wages to just ¥3,000 a day and hit him when he did not work hard enough.

Workers cleaning up villages in Fukushima are supposed to receive a special hazard allowance equivalent to about ¥9,000 a day from the government, in addition to their wages.

The March 2011 earthquake and tsunami badly damaged the Fukushima No. 1 plant, sparked a triple nuclear meltdown, forced more than 160,000 residents to flee nearby towns and contaminated water, food and air.

Thousands of workers have been clearing radioactive waste from towns closest to the plant over the past four years.

Japan’s traditional subcontracting structure in the construction industry opened up lucrative cleanup contracts in Fukushima to multiple layers of smaller companies that regularly skim workers’ pay. ”


Japan’s adherence to nuclear power critical at home and overseas — MIT professor via The Japan Times

” Japan’s continued commitment to nuclear energy will be important in reducing its carbon dioxide emissions and also in improving nuclear safety on a global scale, the head of MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering said Saturday.

“Japan is still the third-largest economy in the world and is a major emitter, and of course a larger emitter (of carbon) today than it was four years ago,” professor Richard Lester told reporters in Tokyo.

Although the population is decreasing and the nation is trying to increase the use of renewable energies like solar and wind, “there is, in my judgment, almost no likelihood that Japan will be able to achieve the kinds of reductions in carbon emissions that the world will look to,” said Lester, who was in Japan to visit the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture.

Due to the Fukushima No. 1 disaster, all of the nation’s reactors are currently idled and utilities have boosted thermal power generation to cover the shortfall. As a result, the amount of Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions increased to around 1.39 billion tons in fiscal 2013 from roughly 1.25 billion tons in fiscal 2010.

The government’s energy policy drafted in light of the nuclear crisis says that it aims to increase the use of renewable energy sources and decrease nuclear power as much as possible. Public debate in Japan tends to focus on the choice between nuclear and renewable energy, but Lester stressed that both sources are essential.

“I think the central point that needs to be made here is that Japan and the U.S. and other societies will need much more of both, much more nuclear, much more renewables,” he said.

Lester also said Japan will play an important role in strengthening nuclear safety in the international community, and that, therefore, the government’s nuclear policy is important not only to the nation, but also to the rest of the world.

He said more countries will introduce nuclear energy in the next couple of decades and that there must be increased global efforts to ensure such nations manage atomic power plants safely, for instance by establishing stronger international safety organizations.

Regarding Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, which he visited on Friday, Lester said before Tokyo Electric Power Co. can restart the plant, it must be determined whether technical and managerial changes have been effectively implemented and whether those changes have had a positive effect on the public’s trust.

He noted safety measures at the plant appear to have been beefed up in the wake of a major earthquake in 2007 and the Fukushima crisis in 2011.

Lester said that while he could not make a comprehensive assessment based on a one-day visit, he did get the impression that the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa workers understand the importance of their work and morale there is high. ”


Don’t believe the hype on US-India nuclear deal — Nikkei Asian Review

” A “breakthrough understanding” on the stalled civil nuclear deal between India and the U.S. took center stage in a recent summit between U.S. President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi. It stands out as the only substantive advance in a presidential visit heavy on pageantry and symbolism. But the publicity surrounding the supposed breakthrough was overblown, and the celebrations can only be described as premature.

The deal was portrayed internationally as opening the path for U.S. companies to bag multibillion-dollar reactor contracts, and for Japan and Australia to sign similar deals with India, which plans to ramp up its capacity to generate nuclear power by importing two dozen commercial reactors within the next decade. Currently, nuclear power represents barely 2% of India’s total installed power capacity.

Since it was unveiled in 2005, the U.S.-India nuclear deal — with its many twists and turns — has hogged the limelight at virtually every bilateral summit between leaders of the two countries. In its arduous journey toward implementation, the deal has spawned multiple subsidiary agreements, each of which has been hailed as an important breakthrough.

The latest understanding centers on two issues — nuclear accident liability, and administrative arrangements to govern the bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement required under Section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act. Obama announced that “we achieved a breakthrough understanding on [the] two issues that were holding up our ability to advance our civil nuclear cooperation.” However, there is still little prospect of early commercialization of the deal.

The newest “breakthrough” is short on specifics and raises troubling questions. It contrives a model that shifts the liability risks for nuclear accidents to Indian taxpayers, thus undermining India’s domestic law, the 2011 Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, which holds suppliers, designers and builders liable in case of an accident. The breakthrough compromise has been designed to circumvent the central principle enshrined in that law — the right to bring civil legal action for damages against suppliers in the event of a nuclear accident caused by defective equipment, components or designs.

Remembering Fukushima

Consider Japan’s 2011 Fukushima disaster. General Electric of the U.S. built or designed the three Fukushima reactors that suffered core meltdowns, yet GE escaped penalties or legal action after the disaster, despite a fundamental design deficiency in the reactors, because Japan’s law indemnifies suppliers, making plant operators exclusively and fully liable. It was to avert such a situation that India’s law armed the Nuclear Power Corporation of India, the state-run plant operator, with the right of recourse to suppliers. India’s sensitivity on this point reflects its bitter experience over a 1984 gas leak from a chemical plant in Bhopal that killed as many as 3,000 people shortly after the accident. The plant was owned by Union Carbide of the U.S.

Supplier liability is a well-established legal concept, applied in many business sectors around the world to deter suppliers from taking undue risks. But the 2011 Act makes India an outlier in terms of current international standards on civil nuclear liability. The global nuclear power industry is controlled by a powerful group of a few state-controlled or state-supported companies that push an opposite norm — that plant operators assume absolute liability so that suppliers face no downside risks.

Too many conventions

Globally, the liability issue has been muddied by a multiplicity of international conventions, protocols, and supplementary conventions introduced since 1960. A majority of the 34 states with civil nuclear power generation capacity have signed one or both of two main conventions, or revised versions of the two. Some of the states that did not sign these conventions, including heavyweights such as the U.S., Canada and Japan, have signed the 1997 Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, seen by some as a step toward a unified global liability treaty.

This network of overlapping international arrangements makes liability a complex issue. Some important nuclear power states have not signed any international agreements, including China, South Korea, Taiwan, Pakistan and Iran. India has signed but not ratified the CSC. But the conventions have some key points in common, including assigning exclusive liability to plant operators, mandatory insurance coverage of the operators’ liability, and exclusive jurisdiction of the courts in the country where the accident occurs. India’s domestic law follows this template, but also gives the operator the right to recover damages from suppliers.

The paradox is that U.S. domestic law allows suppliers, designers and builders of nuclear plants to be held legally liable in the event of accidents, although the 1957 Price-Anderson Act restricts economic liability to operators. Yet the U.S. has sought to shield its exporting firms from claims made by foreign customers by insisting that India and other importing countries accept operators’ strict liability and limit all claims to the jurisdiction of their own courts.

Under the compromise worked out by Obama and Modi, U.S. concerns about India’s legal approach are to be addressed through a legal contrivance called a “memorandum of law” — essentially an executive order — and a $245 million “India Nuclear Insurance Pool,” which is to be set up jointly by India’s state-run insurance companies and its federal government. A number of countries have nuclear insurance pools, but most do not have a legal framework that makes suppliers potentially liable for accidents, as India’s 2011 Act does. For this reason, the memorandum calls for an insurance pool that would address both operator and supplier liability, preventing damages claims against foreign supplier companies.

This arrangement, although claimed by New Delhi to be “squarely within our [Indian] law,” constitutes “a risk-transfer mechanism,” as the Indian foreign ministry has admitted. Under the arrangement, the Indian government is effectively scrapping the right of recourse to foreign suppliers provided by Indian domestic law and transferring the liability risk to Indian taxpayers, offset partly by the modest insurance pool. U.S. officials say the two governments are in agreement over India’s memorandum plan, which they view as a creative solution. But how can a “memorandum of law,” with no legislative imprimatur, reinterpret a statute in a way that effectively guts it?

First, the contrivance being fashioned as part of the understanding between the two leaders threatens to open a legal can of worms. U.S. officials are advising American companies to do their own risk assessments, even though Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, affirmed in New Delhi that “in our judgment, the Indians have moved sufficiently on these issues to give us an assurance that the issues are resolved and that there is a path open to implementation and investment here.” No details have been announced by either government on the resolution of another sticking point: a U.S. demand that India accept nuclear-materials tracking and accounting arrangements that go beyond the safeguards system approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The same obstacle has held up conclusion of a Japan-India nuclear deal. It is now up to U.S. companies to decide whether to do nuclear business in India.

Second, at a time of skyrocketing reactor construction costs, the crash of oil and gas prices has made nuclear power’s economics more unfavorable. Nuclear power is already the world’s most subsidy-fattened energy industry. Since the 1980s, average international costs for nuclear power have jumped from $1,000 per installed kilowatt to nearly $8,000. Few new reactors are under construction in the West, and the International Energy Agency has warned that “uncertainties continue to cloud the future for nuclear.”

Modi has emphasized that reactor imports will be governed by “technical and commercial viability.” The deal’s commercialization, however, will be dictated not by the market but by the extent to which the Indian government is willing to fork out subsidies to support high-priced electricity generated from imported reactors.

India is in negotiations with four foreign supplier companies — Areva of France, Russia’s Atomstroyexport, Westinghouse, owned by Toshiba of Japan, and GE-Hitachi, jointly owned by GE and Hitachi of Japan. The latter two are both based in the U.S. Under the plans, the companies will each be confined to a single site, on which they will build multiple reactors that will be operated by the state-owned nuclear power company, thus freeing the foreign vendors from the problem of producing electricity at marketable rates. Currently, negotiations are stuck over the price of power. India has offered Areva, with which negotiations are most advanced, a price of 11 U.S. cents per kilowatt hour — more than twice the average price of electricity from indigenously built reactors. The state-controlled French company is holding out for a much higher price.

Not in our backyards

Finally, grassroots opposition is growing to new nuclear power plants in India, especially against the Fukushima-type multi-reactor parks earmarked for foreign vendors. Building six to eight giant reactors in a single complex raises additional safety issues, as highlighted by the triple Fukushima meltdown. Local communities want nuclear power plants to be located in someone else’s backyard.

Worse still, India plans to import — as Japan did at Fukushima — prototype reactors that are not in operation anywhere in the world, including GE-Hitachi’s Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor, which only recently received U.S. regulatory approval, Westinghouse’s AP1000, criticized in the U.S. for supposed design failings, and Areva’s Evolutionary Pressurized Reactor, which is under construction in France and Finland but has suffered major cost overruns and delays. Prototypes usually face major teething troubles and carry greater long-term risks.

If a serious accident were to occur, India would be saddled with staggering long-term costs. Japan’s Fukushima disaster bill has been conservatively estimated by an Osaka City University study at $105 billion, or 429 times higher than the Indian insurance pool’s capital. Japan is now establishing a state-backed compensation institution to be funded with government bonds totaling 5 trillion yen ($42 billion) and by utilities. This fund surpasses the $13.6 billion cover currently provided by the U.S. Price-Anderson Act, with another $10 billion pledged by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The Price-Anderson Act, which provides subsidies to the U.S. nuclear power industry by underwriting insurance costs, has been mocked by independent U.S. groups as “Half-Price Anderson.” India’s contrivance can be labeled “Free-Ride Anderson.” Yet it is unlikely to resolve all the tricky issues bedeviling the nuclear deal’s commercialization.

About the author: Brahma Chellaney is a professor of strategic studies at the independent Center for Policy Research in New Delhi and author of “Water: Asia’s New Battleground,” which won the 2012 Bernard Schwartz Award.


A Body in Fukushima, interview with Wesleyan University professor and visiting artist

I encourage you to watch this interview with William Johnston, a professor of history and east Asian studies at Wesleyan University, and Eiko Otake, a visiting artist in Wesleyan’s dance department and the College of East Asian Studies. Beginning 15 minutes into the video, Johnston explains the rise of nuclear power in Japan in the ’50s, when the Japanese government propagated nuclear power to gain a reputation of safety. Now the deserted towns of Fukushima Prefecture such as Tomoika are dumping grounds for radioactive waste and will not be habitable for decades if not centuries. William also criticizes the soil decontamination efforts.

Otake discusses her experience in Fukushima, where she was photographed wearing fabric from her grandmother’s kimono. She explains her feelings as a result of being in such an empty, deserted place and reflects on the loss of the Fukushima evacuees.

Summary from Wesleyan University’s website: ” A Body in Fukushima is a haunting series of color photographs and videos presented in a groundbreaking exhibition across all three of Wesleyan’s galleries. Last year, dancer-choreographer Eiko Otake and photographer-historian William Johnston followed abandoned train tracks through desolate stations into eerily vacant towns and fields in Fukushima, Japan. Following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the explosions of the Daiichi nuclear plant made the area uninhabitable. Sometimes in vulnerable gestures and at other times in a fierce dance, Eiko embodies grief, anger, and remorse. Mr. Johnston’s crystalline images capture her with the cries of the Fukushima landscapes. ‘By placing my body in these places,’ she says, ‘I thought of the generations of people who used to live there. I danced so as not to forget.’ A project of witness, remembrance, and empathy, A Body in Fukushima grapples with the reality of human failure. As Mr. Johnston writes, ‘By witnessing events and places, we actually change them and ourselves in ways that may not always be apparent but are important.’ ”

watch video