Nuclear scientist Hiroaki Koide explains Fukushima Daiichi to The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan

Hiroaki Koide, nuclear scientist and former assistant professor of Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute for 41 years, explains the problems with managing Fukushima Daiichi and the release of radioactive materials like cesium-137 into the environment.

I paraphrased Koide’s speech below:

Fukushima Daiichi’s Units 1, 2 and 3 were in operation during March 2011. Unit 4 was not operating on March 11, 2011, and therefore, did not have fuel in it. However, Unit 4 also experienced a hydrogen explosion and its core was severely damaged. All of its fuel was in the spent fuel pool on the fourth floor. The spent fuel pool, which was exposed to air, contained enough cesium-137 that is equivalent to 14,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs. At the time of the accident, there were serious concerns that if the cooling water in the spent fuel pool dried up, the fuel rods would melt, releasing an extreme amount of radiation release to warrant the evacuation of Tokyo.

Despite that the Japanese government and Tepco clearly knew of this danger, Tepco did not remove the spent fuel rods from Unit 4 until November 2013, a year-long task that was completed in December 2014.

No one knows where the melted fuel and cores of Unit 1 and 3 are. Radiation levels in those units are so high that a person would die in seconds if exposed. Tepco tried viewing the areas with robots, but all of them broke from the radiation.

The only way to control the situation as it is is to pump water into the plant, unavoidably creating massive amounts of radioactive water that is being produced at a rate of 300-400 tons daily. Workers are doing this extremely dangerous work day and night. Not Tepco workers, and not even subcontracted workers, but sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub contracted workers, eight or nine levels deep at the very bottom of the wrung. “So many commissions are taken from their salaries at they are not even receiving minimum wage.”

An even more grave issue is that the cores of Units 1, 2 and 3 are melted. “How do we deal with that?” Tepco plans on “plucking out” the “lumps” of melted fuel by reaching into the pressure vessel down into the containment vessel and extracting the fuel from the top. However, if they were to open up the pressure vessel to get in, a huge amount of radiation would be released into the air. To deal with this, Tepco plans on repairing the sides of the pressure vessel  and flooding it with water and then plucking out the fuel, which they believe sits together in the lump, like a “dumpling.”

Professor Koide’s response to this plan is:

1) We don’t have the technology to determine where the holes in the containment vessel are, let alone the means to repair it.

2) It is impossible that the melted fuel exists in a dumpling-shaped lump. It could have spread horizontally and even gone through the floor of the containment vessel.

3) If Tepco and the Japanese government try to extract the fuel from above, it will only be possible to remove some of the fuel, not all of it. Koide recommends dealing with this situation in the same manner as the Chernobyl plant by burying the plant in a concrete sarcophagus. However, we cannot start thinking about building a sarcophagus until the spent fuel rods are removed from the spent fuel pools at Units 1, 2 and 3.

How long will it take to remove the spent fuel rods at Units 1, 2, and 3? “I cannot even make a prediction. I probably won’t be alive when it occurs.” Even at Chernobyl, the concrete sarcophagus is aging and is being replaced. That was only one reactor. Fukushima Daiichi has three melted reactors. We must plan on burying the reactors in concrete and maintaining the sarcophagus with a centuries-long timeline.

The Japanese government gave a report to the IAEA with information of the cesium-137 released into the atmosphere. [Koide shows a diagram of Japan with color-coded grades of contaminated areas.] Unit 1 alone released six to seven times the cesium-137 that was released from the Hiroshima bomb. Unit 2 released the greatest amount. All together, Units 1, 2 and 3 released 168 times the amount of cesium-137 from the Hiroshima bomb. This is only the cesium-137 released into the air. Every day, more contaminated water is being produced and released into the sea. The total amount of cesium-137 released into the environment from Fukushima Daiichi is equal to several hundred times that of the Hiroshima bomb. The radioactive materials that were released into the atmosphere were carried by the “previaling westerly” winds not only all over the Kanto great plain of Japan, but also across the Pacific Ocean and contaminated the western coast of North America.

As a result of the contaminated areas in Japan, over 100,000 people are not able to return to their homes. The most highly contaminated areas (shown in red on the diagram) are designated as “radiation controlled areas.” Until now, there were very strict regulations for these areas. For example, a person could not legally remove anything from a radiation controlled area that emits more than 40,000 becquerels of radiation per square meter. However, the areas in blue have areas over 60,00 becquerals per square meter. Dark green areas have 30,000-60,000 becquerels per square meter. If one abides strictly by the law that says that nothing over 40,000 becquerels per square matter can be removed from a radiation controlled area, then Japan must designate 14,000 square kilometers of Japan to be radiation controlled areas. However, because this is an emergency situation, the Japanese government says that normal laws do not need to be followed. Instead, they have abandoned people to live in these highly contaminated areas.

Overall, 15,000 terabecquerels of cesium-137 were released into the atmosphere, 2400 terabecquerels of which fell on the Kanto region. In weight, the total radioactive cesium-137 would equal 4.7 kilograms, and 750 grams on the Kanto region. You cannot sense the radioactive materials. To reduce radiation exposure to Kanto citizens, people have tried removing contaminated topsoil, equal to tens of millions of bags of soil. This is only a temporary solution. The contaminated soil contained seeds that grew and broke through the bags.

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Chernobyl and the fire next time — Counterpunch

Although this article by John LaForge primarily details reports of radiation fallout from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown, it interestingly notes that “the US government halted its emergency water and air radiation monitoring on the West Coast two months after the start of Fukushima’s three explosions and meltdowns.” This article is a good reminder that nuclear meltdowns cannot be contained and that radioactive fallout is redistributed by forest fires and precipitation for centuries after an accident occurs.

Read article

Updated 4/26/2015: Fukui anti-nuclear protester arrested for landing drone on Abe’s office — The Japan Times; Drone with ‘minuscule’ quantity of radiation found on Japan PM’s office roof: media — Reuters

Updated April 26, 2015, The Japan Times:

” A man was arrested Saturday in Fukui Prefecture for allegedly flying the drone found earlier this week on the roof of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s official residence, investigators said.

Yasuo Yamamoto, 40, of the city of Obama, presented himself to the Fukui Prefectural Police on Friday evening and said he landed the drone on the rooftop of the prime minister’s office to protest the government’s nuclear energy policy.

Yamamoto had sand with him and what appeared to be the controller for a drone, sources said. He was quoted as saying he had put sand from Fukushima Prefecture, home to the meltdown-ridden No. 1 nuclear plant, into a plastic bottle that was attached to the unmanned aircraft.

Tokyo police confirmed Friday that the bottle contained sand and were trying to determine whether it came from Fukushima, sources said.

According to the Metropolitan Police Department, Yamamoto said he flew the drone toward the prime minister’s office at 3:30 a.m. on April 9, nearly two weeks before it was discovered Wednesday. Police were speculating that the device had landed more recently.

Yamamoto told investigators he carried out the stunt by himself, and police searched his home in Obama on Saturday. He is being held on charges of forcible obstruction of official business.

Meanwhile, a blog entry apparently posted by Yamamoto on April 12 says he left his hometown on April 7 and arrived in Tokyo’s Akasaka district, near the prime minister’s office and the Diet building, early the following day with the intention of launching the drone.

However, the posting said bad weather forced him to give up that day, so he returned to the area on April 9 and flew the drone out of a parking lot.

The drone, bearing a radiation sticker and carrying a radioactive payload, was found on the roof of the prime minister’s office at about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. According to the police, the drone was equipped with a camera, what appeared to be two flares, and a brown container of a liquid that later turned out to have a small amount of cesium in it.

Aerial footage of the roof of the prime minister’s office taken on April 15 shows a black object matching the color of the drone.

Fukui Prefecture is the nation’s nuclear heartland, hosting over a dozen nuclear reactors on the Sea of Japan coast. Last week, the Fukui District Court endorsed a citizens’ bid to halt Kansai Electric Power Co.’s effort to restart two idle reactors at the Takahama nuclear plant. The government says it has no plan to push for restarts, but the utility is appealing the injunction, granted on safety grounds.

The drone was also equipped with a global positioning system that provides information about its flight path, sources said. A digital camera on the drone, believed to be a Phantom 2 sold by Chinese manufacturer DJI, was connected to a transmitter that can send recorded footage to a remote monitor. The Phantom is only sold in white, but the one found on the rooftop had been painted black.

On Friday, police and ministry officials held their first meeting at the prime minister’s office on drone regulation and began exploring legislation to regulate flights above sensitive facilities. Plans under consideration include obliging drone buyers to register their name and address.

“We need to immediately establish” legislation on drone usage, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at the meeting, which included officials from the ministries that oversee transportation, internal affairs, and trade and industry.

The government is also expected to weigh the introduction of a licensing system, maintenance rules and mandatory insurance, according to the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry.

Suga described the incident as “a grave issue in terms of crisis management.” He said drones “could have a substantial impact on public safety and privacy protection, depending on how they are used.”

Toshihiro Nikai, chairman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s General Council, said Friday that lawmakers need to submit a bill to prohibit drones from being flown above important facilities.

Suga said the previous day that the government will consider legislation to regulate drone flights before the Diet’s summer recess from late June. ”

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Posted April 23, 2015 , Reuters:

” (Reuters) – A drone marked with a radioactive sign was found on the roof of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s office on Wednesday and media said it tested positive for a “minuscule” amount of radiation.

The radiation was so low it was not harmful to humans, media quoted police as saying.

Public broadcaster NHK said the bomb squad was called in to take away the drone, which was carrying a small camera and a water bottle.

Police would investigate, government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said, adding that the country may need to consider regulating the devices.

“This situation concerns the center of Japanese government, the prime minister’s office, and we will take every necessary step, including a detailed investigation by police,” said Suga, noting how Japan had began studying the issue after a drone landed in the White House grounds in January.

Suga declined to comment further.

Abe was in Indonesia on Wednesday attending an Asia-Africa summit. An official at the prime minister’s office declined to comment.

It was not immediately clear who sent the drone or why. But a Japanese court on Wednesday approved the restart of a nuclear power station in the southwest of the country, rejecting worries about nuclear safety in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima radiation disaster.

The ruling was a boost for Abe, who wants to reboot nuclear power to help cut reliance on expensive fossil fuel imports.

Televised aerial footage from the prime minister’s office showed the drone with propellers covered under cardboard and later a blue tarp.

Broadcaster NHK said an official at the premier’s office found the drone and that the device was around 50 cm (20 ins) in diameter. No-one was injured.

Japan, which has a proven track record in electronics and robotics, is looking to fast track industry-friendly regulation to give its drone sector an edge over the United States.

The government is considering the Fukushima nuclear plant, wrecked by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, as a test ground for robots and drones.

A Japanese company is planning to mass produce six-propeller drones that could survey radiation levels and help with the government’s decommissioning effort, media have said. ”

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Kagoshima court rejects injunction against Sendai reactor restarts — The Japan Times

” KAGOSHIMA – The Kagoshima District Court on Wednesday dismissed a provisional injunction to block the restart of two more nuclear reactors in the prefecture, brushing aside the concerns of local residents worried about the safety of the plant.

The decision clears another hurdle for reactors at the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant to begin starting up as early as June, as the government pushes to revive Japan’s idled nuclear industry four years after the disaster in Fukushima began.

The ruling stands in sharp contrast to last week’s decision by the Fukui District Court to block the restart of reactors at the Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture over safety concerns.

The Kagoshima District Court found no “irrationalities” in new safety standards adopted after the 2011 Fukushima meltdowns, ruling in favor of the plant operator.

The Kyushu Electric Power Co. plans to fire up one of the reactors in July, a watershed moment for the nation as it would be the first reactor restart under the revised rules.

The court’s decision could inject momentum into the government’s policy to restart nuclear power plants that have passed the safety standards, although the public remains divided on the matter.

Plaintiffs, including residents near the Sendai plant, are expected to appeal the ruling, their lawyers said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the top government spokesman, said there will be no change in the government’s policy of bringing the Sendai nuclear power plant back online. All 48 of Japan’s commercial reactors remain offline amid heightened public concerns about safety following the triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No.1 plant.

Four years after a quake and tsunami wrecked that facility, prompting mass evacuations, the Sendai reactors operated by Kyushu Electric have cleared most of the regulatory hurdles and could begin starting up as early as June.

The focus of the court case was on whether the operator of the Sendai plant has adequate measures in place to guard against earthquakes and whether it had weighed the chance of a volcano erupting nearby. The effectiveness of existing evacuation plans for local residents was also called into question.

Presiding Judge Ikumasa Maeda ruled that the new safety standards were crafted based on consultations among experts.

“There are no irrationalities,” he said.

The judge also said the operator calculated the biggest possible earthquake motion after taking into account “uncertainties” over natural phenomena, and thus the decision to restart the power plant was legitimate.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to reboot reactors to help reduce high energy costs, but opponents are using the courts to block the revival of nuclear power, which is widely unpopular, especially in areas where they can’t get local governors or mayors to prevent a restart.

Kansai Electric has four of its 11 reactors under injunction and recently announced plans to decommission two units.

Tepco, which is dealing with the Fukushima No. 1 debacle, is tussling with local authorities to get another power station up and running — Kashiwazaki Kariwa, the world’s biggest. It sits on the Sea of Japan coast in Niigata Prefecture.

Chubu Electric Power Co. was forced to shut its Hamaoka plant in Shizuoka Prefecture because of its proximity to offshore tectonic plates and is facing legal action. ”

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Tokyo children’s park closed over radiation — The Sidney Morning Herald

” Tokyo: Extremely high levels of radiation have been discovered in a playground in Tokyo, officials said on Friday, fanning fears for the health of children in the area.

Soil underneath a slide at the park in the north-west of the Japanese capital showed radiation readings of up to 480 microsieverts per hour, the local administrative office said.

Anyone directly exposed to this level would absorb in two hours the maximum dose of radiation Japan recommends in a year.

The radiation level is over 2000 times that at which the national government requires soil cleaning in areas around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, where reactors melted down after the March 2011 tsunami.

That standard, however, is for measurements taken at 0.5 to 1.0 metres above ground, while officials in Tokyo’s Toshima ward checked the ground itself.

Officials were made aware of the contamination after a local resident reported it on Monday and say they do not think it is connected to the disaster at Fukushima.

“Because the area in which we detect radioactivity is very limited, and readings in surrounding parts are normal, we suspect radioactive materials of some kind are buried there,” local mayor Yukio Takano said in a statement.

The park was built in 2013, two years after the Fukushima nuclear crisis, a local official said, on what was previously a parking lot for Tokyo’s sanitation department.

Top soil at the lot was replaced before the land was turned into a park, said the Toshima official.

The park has been sealed. ”

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Less than one lifetime: Eyewitness to nuclear development, from Hunters Point to Chernobyl and Fukushima, issues a warning — San Francisco Bay View

I highly recommend reading this article that elaborates on the dangers of nuclear energy, the health effects of radiation exposure from isotopes strontium-90, cesium-134 and cesium-137, and the historical corruption of the global nuclear industry. The author, Jannette D. Sherman, M.D., is a physician, toxicologist and author, concentrating on chemicals and nuclear radiation that cause cancer and birth defects, and is consulting editor for “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and Nature,” a comprehensive presentation of all the available information concerning the health and environmental effects of the low dose radioactive contaminants. Dr. Sherman has worked in radiation and biologic research at the University of California nuclear facility and at the U.S. Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory at the Hunters Point Shipyard in San Francisco.

read article with an interview with Dr. Sherman at the bottom of the page