Nuclear expert tasked with leading Fukushima decommissioning — The Japan Times

” Toru Ogawa, a 64-year-old nuclear research expert, has been entrusted with probably the most challenging task facing Japan — leading the decommissioning process at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

This April, Ogawa, a professor at Nagaoka University of Technology in Niigata Prefecture, was installed as the first chief in the Collaborative Laboratories for Advanced Decommissioning Science, a government-funded research center supporting the decommissioning.

“Our research and development must be flexible based on our analysis of the (March 2011) accident and information collected by robotic probes (in the reactor buildings),” Ogawa said during a recent interview.

The center started out with a workforce of 80 within the Japan Atomic Energy Agency based in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, as a research base for decommissioning the plant, which is plagued by increasing amounts of contaminated water.

Looking back on the disaster, which was triggered by the powerful Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, Ogawa said, “The government and the agency should have envisioned the worst-case scenario, in which all multiple layers of defense are destroyed.”

When the plant lost nearly all of its power sources and consequently the ability to cool the reactors and spent fuel pools, units 1, 2 and 3 suffered core meltdowns, while hydrogen explosions damaged the buildings housing reactors 1, 3 and 4.

“We will certainly need technological support from abroad,” Ogawa said.

He added that “we can’t carry out the decommissioning task” unless the center receives support and expertise from the United States, which experienced a meltdown at its Three Mile Island power plant in 1979, and other countries that have disposed of military nuclear waste.

Ogawa said he wants to increase the total workforce at the center to some 150 by inviting around 10 Japanese and foreign experts each year.

The center will be moved closer to Fukushima No. 1 during fiscal 2016, which begins next April 1.

A native of Yokohama, Ogawa studied nuclear engineering at Tohoku University in Sendai.

The focus of his research was on high-temperature gas reactors — the next generation reactor known to have a lower risk of core meltdowns, rather than commercial light-water reactors like the ones at Fukushima No. 1.

In researching what will be needed to complete the decommissioning project, which will take several decades, he is currently assessing the state of the melted fuel in reactors 1, 2 and 3, putting together a puzzle with small scraps of information obtained by robotic probes in the reactor buildings. ”


Fukushima operator prepares to lift 20-ton debris from fuel pool — The Wall Street Journal

” The latest challenge at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is to remove a 20-ton piece of debris from a pool holding over 500 spent fuel rods.

More than four years after the plant was hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami, Fukushima Daiichi’s operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said it would start work on the critical task this week using a specially designed crane.

“The debris will be pulled out using two cranes, but we had to create a specially designed hook with a unique shape for it to securely hold on to the object,” a Tepco spokesman told Japan Real Time on Monday.

The object is what remains of a fuel handling machine originally located above the surface of the water. The debris is preventing Tepco from removing the spent fuel rods to a safer location. It is the largest object requiring removal inside the power plant’s reactor No. 3, according to the company.

The removal will be conducted at the slowest possible speed to ensure safety. The pool’s water level, as well as any signs of a jump in radiation levels, will be monitored closely with multiple cameras during the procedure. The debris must be lifted so that it won’t swing or cause damage to the spent fuel pool’s gates.

While it is unlikely that any water from the pool will leak even if the object comes into contact with the gate, Tepco said it will be ready to add water in case of a drawdown. Reduced water levels or exposure to air could cause the radioactive fuel rods to heat up.

All other procedures at Fukushima Daiichi will be halted while the debris is being removed, according to the company. ”


Nuclear evacuees face dilemma over returning home — The Japan Times

” More than four years since Satoru Yamauchi abandoned his noodle restaurant to escape radiation spreading from the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, the central government is almost ready to declare it is safe for him to go home.

But like many of the displaced, he’s not sure if he wants to. “I want my old life back, but I don’t think it’s possible here,” he said on a recent visit to the dustysoba buckwheat noodle restaurant in Nahara that he ran for more than two decades.

The father of four has lived in Tokyo since evacuating from his home to escape toxic pollution spewing from the crippled reactors hit by gigantic tsunami in March 2011.

Meltdowns in three of the reactors — 20 km away — blanketed vast tracts of land with isotopes of iodine and cesium, products of nuclear reactions that are hazardous to health if ingested, inhaled or absorbed.

Of the municipalities immediately surrounding the nuclear plant, which were totally evacuated, Naraha will be the first where people will be allowed to return.

After years of decontamination work, where teams remove topsoil, wash exposed road surfaces and wipe down buildings, the government will in September lift the evacuation order and declare it a safe place to live.

Other towns and villages will follow in the coming months and years, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government aiming to lift many evacuation orders by March 2017.

A year after that, the monthly ¥100,000 ($800) in “psychological compensation” that plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. has been ordered to pay to evacuees will cease.

Activists say despite government assurances, many areas still show high levels of radiation, and many are unfit for habitation.

They say that for people who abandoned now-almost-worthless — but still mortgaged — homes, allowing Tepco to stop payments amounts to forcing them to return.

Environmental campaign group Greenpeace has carried out a study of radiation contamination in Iitate, a heavily forested 200 sq.-km district that sits around 40 km northwest of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 plant. Iitate is also being eyed for resettlement.

The town is significant because the government did not order its evacuation until more than a month after the nuclear disaster started, but post-facto modeling of the radiation plume showed Iitate was right in its path.

Greenpeace’s new study, published Tuesday, says only a quarter of Iitate has been decontaminated — predominantly roads, homes and a short buffer strip of woodland around inhabited areas.

“Levels of radiation in both decontaminated and non-decontaminated areas . . . make a return of the former inhabitants of Iitate not possible from a public health . . . perspective,” the report says.

A person living in the area could expect to absorb 20 times the internationally accepted level for public exposure of radiation, Greenpeace says.

“The levels of radiation in the forests, which pre-accident were an integral part of (life), are equivalent to radiation levels within the Chernobyl 30-km exclusion zone,” the report says, referring to the former Soviet plant that saw one of the world’s worst nuclear accidents.

“Over 118,000 people were permanently evacuated from the 30-km zone around Chernobyl in April 1986, with no prospect or plans for them ever returning.”

The woodlands of Iitate are “acting as a long lasting reservoir for radiocesium and as a large source for future recontamination in the environment beyond the forest,” the report says. That makes the very notion of “decontamination” problematic, says Jan Vande Putte, a nuclear campaigner with Greenpeace, who was in Iitate last week. “There is a risk that the migration of radiation will re-contaminate decontaminated areas,” he said.

In Naraha, which is southeast of the plant, government data show contamination levels are much lower than Iitate. A town survey says there are plenty of residents eager to return and rebuild.

The end of the evacuation order is “based on citizens’ real voices and plans to accelerate reconstruction,” pro-resettlement Mayor Yukiei Matsumoto said this month, adding a “prolonged evacuee life is not desirable.”

Supporters of returning point out that while the nuclear disaster is not officially recorded as having directly killed anyone, the stresses and strains of evacuee life exact their own price. Government figures show almost 1,000 people in Fukushima Prefecture have died from physical and psychological fatigue.

Still, the choice is hard. “You cannot work on a farm, you cannot grow rice, and you cannot pick wild plants either,” said Yamauchi, whose specialty used to be tempura with seasonal wild vegetables. “(The restaurant) is my everything. . . . it was my life. There is nothing good about going back.” ”


Updated 7/24/15: Mutant daisies near Fukushima nuke disaster site go viral — Sputnik International; Deformed daisies from Fukushima disaster site gain Internet fame — Yahoo! News Canada

mutated flowers

Updated July 24, 2015, Sputnik International:

” A picture of ‘mutant daisies’ found near Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant are making the rounds on the Internet, raising concerns about the long-term effects of the now four-year-old disaster, and the safety of the areas surrounding the plants.

The picture of the daisies was uploaded on Twitter by user @san_kaido in May and was shared over 600 times. It shows four daisies, three of which appear to be severely deformed. They were found in Nasushioobara City, approximately 68 miles away from the nuclear plant site.

Along with the picture, the user tweeted a description of the daisies and the recorded radiation level in the area. Loosely translated, the tweet reads as follows:

“The right one grew up, split into 2 stems to have 2 flowers connected to each other, having 4 stems of the flower tied belt like. The left one has 4 stems grow up to be tied to each other and it had the ring-shaped flower. The atmospheric dose is 0.5 μSv/h at 1m above the ground.”

Officials classify 0.5 μSv/h, or millisieverts per hour of radiation, as a safe enough level for “medium to long-term habitation.”

However, the frightening image of the flowers will likely raise concerns about the safety of the area, particularly as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government moves to lift evacuation orders of the hundreds of refugees who fled the area in the aftermath of the nuclear accident.

According to gardening experts, the flowers have been afflicted by a rare condition known as “fasciation” or “cresting,” which is typical in plant life exposed to high levels of radiation. The condition is believed to be triggered by hormonal imbalances resulting from a damaged growth environment.

The flowers are the latest in a long list of mutated life forms reported in the four years following the meltdown of three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi plant, caused by an earthquake and tsunami that struck the region in March 2011.

In June 2013, images of fruits and vegetables with tumor-like growths appeared on the website Igmur, titled “Effects from the Fukushima radiation disaster?” A study published in the journal Heredity in 2014 also revealed that a number of species, including birds, monkeys, and butterflies, “have been significantly impacted by the radioactive releases related to the Fukushima disaster.”

But despite mounting concerns over contamination levels in these areas, Tokyo has announced plans to revoke evacuation orders by March 2017 and cut compensation to nuclear refugees by 2018, effectively forcing them to return to contaminated areas.

A recent Greenpeace evaluation of a forested area by the nuclear plant found that it would be “impossible for people to safely return to their homes,” because of how “widespread” the contamination remains. According to the environmental organization, the radiation levels are still ten times more than the maximum deemed safe for the public.

“Stripping nuclear victims of their already inadequate compensation, which may force them to return to unsafe, highly radioactive areas for financial reasons, amounts to economic coercion,” Jan Vande Putte of Greenpeace Belgium said in a statement. “Let’s be clear: this is a political decision by the Abe Government, not one based on science, data, or public health.”

Some 140,000 people were evacuated from their homes within 12 miles of the Daiichi plant, and the disaster prompted the country’s nuclear industry to shut down all of its 54 operating reactors. Despite widespread opposition, Abe has announced plans to have 20% of the country’s electricity be nuclear powered by 2030. ”


* * *

Posted July 14, 2015, Yahoo! News Canada:

” Photos of flowers on Twitter and Instagram may be as commonplace as sunsets and selfies, but one Japanese amateur photographer has captured something a bit more unique than a beautiful bloom. Twitter user @san_kaido posted a photo of mutated yellow daisies last month, found in Nasushiobara City, around 70 miles from Fukushima, the site of the 2011 nuclear disaster. The photos show daisies with fused yellow centres and with the petals growing out the side of the flower. The daisies are not the first deformed plants found after the disaster. In 2013, the Daily Mail posted photos of mutated vegetables and fruit, attributing the apparent abnormalities to high levels of radiation found in the groundwater. The daisy photos come four years after the Fukushima Daichii Nuclear Power Plant meltdown which was caused after a devastating earthquake and tsunami knocked out three of the plant’s nuclear reactors. Earlier this month, The Telegraph reported that on Sept. 5, residents of Naraha, close to Fukushima, will finally be allowed to return home. ”


Tokyo under fire for plans to speed return of Fukushima evacuees — Deutsche Welle

” In a bid seen by critics as aiming to speed up reconstruction, the Japanese government is preparing to declare sections of the evacuation zone around the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant a safe place to live. The ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe intends to revoke many evacuation orders by March 2017, if decontamination progresses as hoped, meaning that up to 55,000 evacuees could return to the homes they abandoned more than four years ago.

Moreover, Tokyo recently announced that the 7,000 residents of Nahara, a town in one of the seven Fukushima municipalities completely evacuated following the nuclear crisis, will be able to return home permanently from September 5. How many residents of the settlement, which lies just 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of the plant, will return, however, remains unclear as many still have mixed feelings, according to a recent poll.

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan, causing massive devastation and ultimately sending three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into meltdown. It was the worst atomic accident in a generation. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee amid fears of rising radiation, with more than 72,500 people – who used to live within a 20-kilometer radius of the plant – still living in temporary housing units.

Massive clean-up operation

In the meantime, government-run decontamination efforts are underway in 11 cities, with at least 20,000 people involved in the clean-up, according to the environment ministry. In the mammoth task, workers try to remove tons of contaminated surface soil, plants and leaves, placing them in bags or in one of the nearly 800 temporary outdoor storage facilities that have been set up across the disaster zone.

The operation also includes parts of the district of Iitate, which covers more than 200 square kilometers, and was one of the most contaminated areas following the March 2011 disaster. Since 2014, tens of thousands of workers have been attempting to reduce radiation levels in some parts of Fukushima prefecture, including in Iitate.

Mounting concerns

But while organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) say such efforts have contributed to reducing radiation levels, many problems remain, especially when one considers the disposal of contaminated water in the plant and the fact that anyone living in the surrounding areas would be exposed to radiation levels of more than 20 millisieverts (mSv) a year.

The globally-accepted limit for radiation absorption is 1mSv per year, although the IAEA says anything up to 20mSv per year poses no immediate danger to human health. However, various studies have shown health impacts from exposure to lower levels. Moreover, critics argue that only residential areas are being cleaned in the short-term, and the worst-hit parts of the countryside are being omitted or are impossible to be decontaminated, like dense forests and mountains.

This development has raised concerns among environmentalist groups such as Greenpeace, who fear that radioactive contamination in Iitate district is so widespread and at such a high level that it will be “impossible for people to safely return to their homes.”

‘A vast stock of radioactivity’

“Prime Minister Abe would like the people of Japan to believe that they are decontaminating vast areas of Fukushima to levels safe enough for people to live in. The reality is that this is a policy doomed to failure. The forests of Iitate are a vast stock of radioactivity that will remain both a direct hazard and source of potential recontamination for hundreds of years. It is impossible to decontaminate,” said Jan Vande Putte, a radiation specialist with Greenpeace Belgium.

Based on its own investigation, Greenpeace claims that even after decontamination, radiation dose rates were measured higher than 2 micro Sv/h on decontaminated fields, the equivalent of an annual dose higher than 10mSv/year or ten times the maximum allowed dose to the general public.

“In the untouched and heavily contaminated forests, radiation dose rates are typically in the range of 1-3uSv/h – high levels that will remain for many years to come, said Greenpeace, adding that the only forest decontamination underway in Iitate is along public roads, where thousands of workers are removing contaminated soil and plants along a 10-20 meter strip.

Mamoru Sekiguchi, the group’s energy campaigner at Greenpeace Japan, put the situation into a broader perspective, arguing that even after nearly thirty years, the 30-kilometer area around he crippled Chernobyl plant in Ukraine remains an exclusion zone.

“It’s a shocking indictment of both the IAEA and the Abe government, which reveals how desperate they are to create the illusion that returning to ‘normal’ is possible after a severe nuclear accident. Their position is indefensible and plans for a de facto forced return must be stopped,” Sekiguchi said.

‘Helplessly inefficient’

Mycle Schneider, a Paris-based independent international energy and nuclear policy consultant, told DW that if the remaining dose levels were indeed between 1 and 3mSv per hour on average this would exceed the 1mSv limit applied in most of the countries. “As there is no threshold, meaning there is no safe level of exposure, the health risk to people would be significantly increased.”

The nuclear expert also slammed much of Japan’s decontamination activities, referring to them as “helplessly inefficient.” To explain his view, he said that while high pressure water would be applied to cleaning surfaces like parking lots, for instance, the used water wouldn’t be recovered, thus pushing contamination from one spot to the next.

In addition, Schneider pointed out that contamination levels were not static. “The mountains and forests that cannot even be vaguely decontaminated, will serve as a permanent source of new contamination, each rainfall washing out radiation and bringing it down from the mountains to the flat lands.”

No compensation?

Campaigners also claim the government’s plans mean that some people will have no choice but to go back to their abandoned homes given that they will trigger the ending of some compensation payments. “Stripping nuclear victims of their already inadequate compensation, which may force them to have to return to unsafe, highly radioactive areas for financial reasons, amounts to economic coercion,” said Vande Putte.

A similar view is shared by Schneider: “The decontamination program and the government plan to ‘allow’ for the return of inhabitants do have a very simple goal: reduce the amount of compensation being paid out to victims,” said the expert.

Tokyo Electric has paid some $40 billion (36.78 billion euros) in compensation to residents and expects to pay billions more to decontaminate the area and decommission the wrecked power station, a project that could take an estimated three decades, according to Reuters news agency.

Under the existing compensation scheme, the utility pays each evacuee about $1,000 (921 euros) a month for emotional distress. The assistance is to be cut off a year after the government lifts an evacuation order, said Reuters, citing a Japanese government draft. ”


Tepco gave 50 contracts to company tied to Kariwa mayor — The Asahi Shimbun

” KARIWA, Niigata Prefecture–The father of pro-nuclear Kariwa Mayor Hiroo Shinada is a director of a company that received contracts worth millions of yen for work at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co.

In addition, a gasoline stand run by Shinada’s wife is frequented by TEPCO employees as well as workers at nuclear plant-related companies.

Shinada, 58, said there was nothing inappropriate about the business transactions.

“In this community, there is no one who has zero ties to the nuclear plant, but I have always clearly separated family business with my work as mayor,” Shinada said. “I never asked the plant to provide work for the companies (with ties to my father and wife).”

Indeed, with a population of about 4,800, Kariwa as a whole depends on the nuclear power plant for much of its economic benefits. And there are no legal restrictions concerning contracts for nuclear plant work given to companies with ties to local mayors.

However, as mayor, Shinada also has the responsibility as representative of the village to make decisions on the safety of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power plant.

In the three years since October 2011, after the disaster unfolded at TEPCO’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the company where Shinada’s 84-year-old father serves as a director received at least 50 contracts worth about 50 million yen ($402,000) for equipment inspection work at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, according to documents submitted to the Niigata prefectural government.

The company was a subcontractor for most of those contracts, but it did receive a few direct orders from TEPCO.

Shinada has called for a restart of reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant despite doubts continually raised by Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida about whether TEPCO has done everything possible to prevent a recurrence of the Fukushima nuclear accident.

“Having the nuclear plant in operation is the normal situation for this community,” Shinada said. “It is the hope of the entire region for an early resumption of operations, and I believe there is a need for nuclear energy in Japan when thinking about the current supply of energy.”

The company where his father is a director was established in 1980, soon after construction work began at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant. It initially handled meal catering services within the plant but began work on the plant site in 1989.

Shinada’s father said he has served as director since the company was established and also owns company stock.

Kaichi Mitomi, 77, the Niigata prefectural assembly member elected from the district covering Kariwa, has been the company’s auditor since the beginning.

“While we would like to refrain from commenting on specific contracts, in general, contracts are based on fair procedures that do not favor any particular company,” a TEPCO official said.

The gasoline stand operated by Shinada’s wife is located about 2 kilometers from the main gate of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant. Shinada said the stand sells gasoline to those at the plant and fuel oil used for lighting purposes within the TEPCO-operated plant.

Shinada was an executive of the company operating the stand until he became mayor. He has since turned over management to his wife.

Shinada was first elected mayor in December 2000 after serving three terms in the village assembly. He is now in his fourth term as mayor.

There have been other instances in Japan of companies with ties to local mayors winning contracts for construction work at nuclear power plants located within the community. But there are no legal provisions prohibiting companies with ties to the mayors from winning such orders because those contracts are given by private-sector electric power companies. ”