Kansai Electric begins fuel loading for nuclear restart — Kyodo News

” Kansai Electric Power Co. said Friday that it has started loading nuclear fuel into a reactor on the Sea of Japan following a court decision to lift an injunction against the move, paving the way for its restart in late January as the country’s third reactor to operate.

After the restart earlier this year of two reactors in southwestern Japan, while others remain offline in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, the No. 3 reactor at the utility’s Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture would be the first to run on uranium-plutonium mixed oxide, or MOX fuel, if it begins operations as scheduled.

The utility is scheduled to insert a total of 157 fuel rod assemblies by next Tuesday, including 24 of MOX fuel, according to Kansai Electric.

The reactor along with the No. 4 at the same plant was allowed to resume operation by the Fukui District Court on Thursday.

The power company envisions reactivating the No. 3 unit sometime between January 28 and 30 and having it start power generation and transmission around Feb. 1, followed by the restart of the No. 4 unit in late February.

“We will put top priority on the safety of the work” for the restart, Kansai Electric President Makoto Yagi said at a press conference Friday.

Japan returned to nuclear power generation when Kyushu Electric Power Co. brought the two reactors at its Sendai plant in Kagoshima Prefecture back online in August and October respectively.

The government is seeking to make up at least 20 percent of the country’s electricity using nuclear power plants by 2030.

The restart of Takahama’s two reactors will be “a step forward” toward the goal, Motoo Hayashi, the industry minister who is in charge of the energy policy, said at a separate press conference the same day.

Prior to the court decision, both reactors gained approval for resumption in February from the state’s Nuclear Regulation Authority under new safety regulations introduced after the nuclear meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The injunction issued by the court in April, however, banned the utility from restarting the units until it was lifted Thursday.

The Fukui governor on Tuesday gave the go-ahead for the company to restart the two units following approval by the local prefectural assembly and the mayor of Takahama.

The court’s Presiding Judge Jun Hayashi said in Thursday’s decision that he recognizes the rationality of the post-Fukushima safety regulations set by the nuclear regulator.

Hideaki Higuchi, presiding judge when the same court issued the injunction in April, said then the court could not see any credible evidence in the utility’s assumptions regarding earthquake risk and restarting the two reactors posed “imminent danger” to residents around the plant, about 380 kilometers west of Tokyo.

==Kyodo ”


‘Nuclear gypsies’ risk their lives to clean up Fukushima — Seeker Stories via EcoWatch

” The Fukushima nuclear disaster happened more than four years ago and yet Japan is still reeling from the impacts and spending billions of dollars to clean up what photographers and filmmakers who’ve entered the so-called “no go zone” have described as a “post-apocalyptic wasteland.”

More than 100,000 people remain displaced from the disaster, and the Japanese government is still working to decontaminate the area, which it estimates will cost $50 billion. The people on the frontlines of that cleanup are known by some as the “nuclear gypsies,” who are exposing themselves to dangerous amounts of radiation as they attempt to remove the nuclear waste.

Watch the “nuclear gypsies” risk their lives in this video from Seeker Stories: ”


Japan court gives go-ahead for restart of 2 nuke reactors — The Associated Press

This Associated Press article by Mari Yamaguchi talks about the Fukui District Court’s injunction lift in order to restart Kansai Electric’s Takahama Nos. 3 and 4 reactors despite heavy local opposition.

Government estimate: Almost 100 percent of contaminated soil can be recycled — The Asahi Shimbun

” Up to 99.8 percent of more than 20 million cubic meters of contaminated soil generated from cleanup operations in Fukushima Prefecture can be recycled, according to an Environment Ministry estimate.

The figure was presented at a ministry committee meeting discussing the use of contaminated soil on Dec. 21.

The ministry plans to use the radioactive soil generated through decontamination work following the 2011 accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant as construction materials for public works projects.

From the next fiscal year, which starts in April 2016, the ministry will start the development of the technology and model projects for a recycling plan of the contaminated soil. ”


Researchers trying to unravel spread of cesium and its impact on ecosystem after Fukushima disaster — The Asahi Shimbun

” More than 90 percent of the fir trees in forests close to the site of Japan’s 2011 nuclear disaster are showing signs of abnormality, and plant lice specimens collected in a town more than 30 kilometers from the crippled facility are missing legs or crooked.

But it remains unclear whether the mutations in plants and animals are definitively connected to the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

All that scientists in Japan are prepared to say is they are trying to figure out the effects of radioactive cesium caused by the release of huge amounts of radioactive materials from the triple meltdown at the Fukushima plant triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

Scientists are seeking answers to how radioactive cesium spread in forests and the soil after the accident, along with signs of mutation in plants and animals in areas close to the stricken nuclear plant.

Understanding how cesium and other radioactive particles spread after the disaster is key to putting the consequences of the nation’s worst nuclear accident into perspective.

The research has major ramifications in terms of what authorities and residents living near a nuclear power plant can expect if a similar accident occurs again. It also offers valuable insight for evacuees weighing their options about rebuilding their lives near the stricken plant.

Among radioactive substances, cesium-137 is of primary concern as it has a half-life of 30 or so years. As forests were excluded from decontamination work, an undetermined amount of cesium is bound to remain in forests and lie buried in the ground for many years to come.

Mountainous forests cover 70 percent of the Fukushima Prefecture’s land space.

The government-affiliated Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) is among research organizations studying the effects of radioactivity and the way cesium spreads in forested areas.

During a recent field trip in Kawauchi, radiation levels in the air showed 1.2 to 1.3 microsieverts per hour at a survey point.

Cesium in the soil registered between 300,000 and 400,000 becquerels of radioactivity per square meter.

The survey point used to be in a “No Entry Zone,” a designation covering a 20-km radius from the plant, which was evacuated soon after the nuclear accident triggered by the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and the towering tsunami it generated.

Now the survey site is designated as a “zone in preparation for the lifting of the evacuation order” in line with a government reassessment of the situation facing affected communities.

Rotting twigs and branches, along with leaf cover, blanket the steep slopes of the cedar forest. During the survey, researchers marked a 66-square-meter rectangular tract as a benchmark and collected rainwater and fallen leaves from the plot.

They also measured the radioactivity of rainwater. The researchers did this by wrapping tree trunks with a cover and collecting rainwater flowing down on to it.

Before the Fukushima disaster, the only data available to JAEA researchers on the long-term transfer of cesium in the soil was limited to work done in laboratories.

“We had to fumble our way to find out in what form cesium existed in the forest and housing areas after it was dispersed from the nuclear plant,” said Kazuki Iijima, who is attached to the agency’s Fukushima Environmental Safety Center.

Scientists had to gingerly examine a proposed method to decontaminate residential areas before cleanup operations got under way.

Cesium in leaves finds its way into the soil through defoliation, according to researchers.

In the case of cedar trees, for example, leaves are replaced every three to four years.

Fallen cedar leaves from the time of the nuclear accident were riddled with cesium, which then seeped into the soil. Each new bed of fallen leaves creates more weight on the topsoil and pushes the cesium down further.

This way, radiation levels in the air in the affected area drop faster than the natural decay of cesium over time.

Researchers’ past studies of the forest showed that only 0.1 percent of the total amount of cesium in the surveyed sites spread from the area over a one-year period.

“Most of it remains on the topsoil up to 5 to 10 centimeters from the surface,” Iijima said.

Because cesium attaches itself to dirt and dissolves in water, it is easily spread. It is also deposited in riverbeds and at the bottom of lakes.

At the Ogaki dam, almost 20 km northwest of the nuclear plant, researchers took cesium measurements of 800,000 becquerels per kilogram at a site 20 cm below the lake bed close to where the Ukedogawa river empties out.

But a reading close to the surface of the lake bed showed below 200,000 becquerels.

The difference, researchers say, is easy to explain: Dirt containing high levels of cesium flowed into the dam in the immediate aftermath of the accident, while dirt with lower radiation levels accumulated on top of it.

Researchers are still trying to figure out whether the release of radioactive materials affected the growth of plants and animals.

Scientists have reported on mutations and abnormalities among species varying from fir trees and plant lice to Japanese monkeys, carp and frogs.

The National Institute of Radiological Sciences (NIRS), a government-affiliated entity, said in late August that the trunks of fir trees are not growing vertically.

Fir trees are among the 44 species that the Environment Ministry asked the NIRS and other research organizations to study in trying to determine the effects of radiation on living creatures.

The NIRS reported that the frequency of these mutations corresponds to a rise in natural background radiation.

More than 90 percent of fir trees in the town of Okuma, just 3.5 kilometers from the crippled plant, showed signs of abnormal growth.

“We need to figure out cumulative radiation doses in fir trees when doing additional research,” said an NIRS researcher.

Among other changes reported: the legs of plant lice collected in Kawamata, a town more than 30 km from the plant, were found to be missing or crooked and the white blood cell count of Japanese monkeys was lower in Fukushima, the prefectural capital, which is about 60 km from the plant.

Other studies by scientists who research living creatures in their field work monitored earthworms, carp, frogs, flies and gold beetles.

After the nuclear disaster, the researchers began looking at problems from a new perspective: flora and fauna affected by radiation.

Manabu Fukumoto, a professor of pathology at Tohoku University’s Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer, cautioned not to jump to conclusions that nuclear fallout is the culprit behind all these findings.

“We cannot conclude definitively that they have been caused by radiation until (reliable estimates for) cumulative doses are calculated,” said Fukumoto, who also serves as the chief of the Japanese Radiation Research Society.

But assessing the effect on animals in the wild is proving a challenge for scientists.

Before the Fukushima disaster, most experiments designed to evaluate the impact of radiation on animals had been conducted in laboratories.

In these experiments, animals were exposed to varying intensities of radiation under the supervision of researchers.

In the natural environment, however, estimating their external exposure is difficult as creatures roam rather than stay in one spot.

In addition, doses of their internal exposure can vary significantly, depending on what they preyed on when and how much.

There is also a possibility that some animals, even if they exhibited signs of radiation’s effect, may no longer be alive for analysis. They may have been killed by their natural enemies.

In addition, scientists cannot rule out factors such as fluctuations in temperature, the presence of farm chemicals and heavy-metal contamination behind the abnormalities.

Experts say they need to produce similar results in lab tests based on their monitoring.

“We need to continue to monitor the environment for at least five or six more years,” Fukumoto said. “And at the same time, we should start analyzing the reported phenomena.” ”


Japan governor supports more nuclear restarts — Yahoo News

” A Japanese regional governor said Tuesday he supports the restarting of two nuclear reactors, as a local court prepared to rule on an injunction that has suspended their operation.

The central government and powerful utility companies have been pushing to get reactors nationwide back online, nearly five years after a huge earthquake and tsunami caused disastrous meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

The accident forced Japan’s entire array of reactors offline over the following months amid deepening public suspicion over the technology and fears of radiation exposure.

The central government says the world’s third largest economy needs nuclear power — a technology that once supplied more than a quarter of Japan’s electricity — to meet its energy demand.

A handful of reactors have come back online.

Fukui prefecture governor Issei Nishikawa said he supports the restarting of the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Takahama nuclear plant operated by Kansai Electric Power.

“I have carefully taken necessary steps such as confirmation of safety measures… and have come to conclude that I agree with the restart,” he told a press conference.

His comments came two days before the Fukui District Court rules on an objection by the utility to an injunction issued by the court in April which blocked the restart.

The court said at the time that the safety of the reactors had not been proven, despite a green light from the Nuclear Regulation Authority. The court said the authority’s guidelines were “too loose.”

Two reactors in the southern prefecture of Kagoshima, operated by Kyushu Electric Power, were switched on in August to end a two-year hiatus in nuclear power generation.

But people are still wary. Images of tens of thousands of people displaced by Fukushima still haunt the national dialogue on nuclear power. “