Japan nearly doubles Fukushima disaster-related cost to $188 billion — Reuters

” Japan’s government on Friday nearly doubled its projections for costs related to the Fukushima nuclear disaster to 21.5 trillion yen ($188 billion), increasing pressure on Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) (9501.T) to step up reform and improve its performance.

The new estimates could mean a heavier burden for Tepco and other utilities that are helping to pay the costs, and could result in higher power bills for consumers in the long run.

In 2013, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) had calculated the costs of the Fukushima meltdowns at 11 trillion yen. METI boosted its estimate as industry experts now see decommissioning of the wrecked Fukushima reactors at 8 trillion yen, quadruple an earlier estimate of 2 trillion yen.

The new projection, part of a recommendation from a government panel considering the future of Tepco and Fukushima Daiichi, also calls for 7.9 trillion yen in reparations, up from 5.4 trillion yen, and 5.6 trillion yen for the treatment and storage of contaminated soil, up from 3.6 trillion yen.

“For now, we don’t expect the costs to increase further, but new developments and unforeseen factors mean there is a chance they could go higher,” METI Minister Hiroshige Seko told a press conference.

“Decommissioning technological innovation and a speedier clean up could help reduce costs and it is important that we put effort into that,” he said.

Tepco’s portion of the burden has more than doubled to 15.9 trillion yen from 7.2 trillion yen, while other major utilities will need to pay 3.7 trillion. New electric companies will have to shoulder 240 billion yen.

A METI official said the new projections of the decommissioning costs are an estimate based on certain assumptions and the costs of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, and does not represent a loss Tepco needs to book. ”

by Yuka Obayashi and Kentaro Hamada

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Fukushima’s voluntary evacuees — The Japan Times Editorial

” A citizens’ group supporting the people in Fukushima Prefecture who have fled from their homes in the wake of the March 2011 nuclear disaster has submitted a petition to the Diet with nearly 200,000 signatures asking for the continuation of public housing assistance for the evacuees. The prefectural government announced last year that it plans at the end of next March to terminate the assistance for people who voluntarily left their homes. However, most such evacuees have yet to find new residences.

Halting the housing assistance will place a heavy financial burden on low-income evacuees. Fears also persist over the radioactive contamination in the areas where they lived before the nuclear crisis. Not only the prefecture but the national government, which pays for a large portion of the assistance, should rethink the decision.

As of July, some 89,000 Fukushima people continued to live away from their homes — 48,000 inside the prefecture and 41,000 elsewhere in Japan — after they fled from the dangers posed by the triple meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima No. 1 power plant. Some evacuees followed the government’s designation of their hometowns as no-go zones due to the high levels of fallout, while others left their homes on their own out of fear of radiation exposure, particularly for their children, and other reasons even though they lived outside the designated evacuation zones.

The Fukushima Prefectural Government has since been providing housing assistance to the nuclear refugees regardless of whether they stayed within the prefecture — and regardless of whether they were forced out by government order or fled by choice — to cover their rent, including for public housing units owned by local governments. Fukushima has offered the aid by annually renewing the application of the Disaster Relief Law, under which a prefectural government carries out relief measures to residents in the event of a disaster — including supply of food, water, clothing and medical services as well as emergency repairs to damaged homes — with a large portion of the cost coming from national coffers. The national government has shouldered most of the expense of the housing assistance regarding Fukushima.

The prefectural government announced in June last year that it would end the assistance for voluntary evacuees at the end of next March. Gov. Masao Uchibori said the termination is aimed at prompting the evacuees to return to their original homes and at helping promote their sense of self-reliance. He explained that living conditions in the prefecture have improved with the development of public infrastructure and progress in the cleanup of radiation-contaminated soil.

According to a prefectural report based on a survey conducted in January and February, the decision will halt housing assistance for 12,436 households. Of the 3,614 households that voluntarily evacuated but remained in the prefecture, 56 percent have not yet found a place where they can live once the assistance is halted. The corresponding figure for the 3,453 such households living outside the prefecture is much higher — nearly 78 percent. The prefecture should pay serious attention to these findings. Some families may not be able to find and pay for a new home, although the prefecture reportedly plans to offer small subsidies for low-income and single-mother households after the large-scale assistance is ended.

The voluntary evacuees are confronted with various difficulties, both financial and psychological. The amount of compensation they received from Tepco is much smaller than that paid out to evacuees from the no-go zones. They also do not receive the monthly damages of some ¥100,000 that Tepco doles out to cover the mental suffering of those from the designated evacuation zones. Many of them face hardships ranging from the loss of their former jobs to separation from family members, long-distance commuting and divorces of couples due to differences over evacuating. The loss of housing assistance will likely result in even more hardships, both financial and emotional.

Many of the voluntary evacuees remain reluctant to go back to their hometowns for a variety of reasons, including the persistent fear of radiation, the desolate conditions of their original homes, and anticipated low levels of medical and other services in their former communities. The national government says it is safe for evacuees to return if the annual cumulative dose in the area is 20 millisieverts (mSv) or less, but that level is much higher than the legal limit of 1 mSv allowed for people in ordinary circumstances. In Ukraine, hit by the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe, people are required to migrate if the annual cumulative dose in their area is 5 mSv or more and have “the right to evacuate” if the rate is between 1 mSv and 5 mSv. The national government and Fukushima Prefecture need to address why many of the volunteer evacuees are reluctant to return.

The national government may want to highlight the reconstruction in areas devastated by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami as well as the Fukushima nuclear disaster when Tokyo hosts the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. However, this should not result in the premature termination of vital relief measures for the affected people or untimely lifting of the designation of danger zones hit by the nuclear crisis. The government, which has sought to reactivate the nation’s nuclear power plants idled since the 2011 disaster, should understand why the evacuees felt they had to flee from their homes in the first place. It should not give up its duty of adequately helping the disaster victims. ”

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Untrained staff did radioactive cleanup work in Fukushima — The Asahi Shimbun

” NIHONMATSU, Fukushima Prefecture–A company has admitted to not giving the required special training to workers before dispatching them to carry out decontamination work in radiation-hit Fukushima city.

A subcontractor called “Zerutech Tohoku” issued at least 100 bogus certificates to its workers showing they had completed the training, when, in fact, they had done nothing, according to the Fukushima Labor Standards Inspection Office.

The office had warned the subcontractor, which is based in Nihonmatsu and decontaminates parts of nearby Fukushima city, which was affected by the 2011 nuclear disaster, that it should give special training to workers to prepare them for the task.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare requires decontamination operators be given at least 5.5 hours of special training to each individual in accordance with the Industrial Safety and Health Law.

The training includes a lecture on potential health hazards and how to operate decontamination equipment as their job involves handling soil polluted by radioactive materials.

The 52-year-old representative of the company admitted wrongdoing in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun.s

“We had to hire a large number of workers over a short period of time since we received a contract involving a vast swath of land,” he said of the false certificates, of which between 100 and 150 have been discovered.

In addition, the company, a fourth-tier subcontractor, issued seven other kinds of certificates needed to operate an aerial vehicle or chain saw, which were required to land the cleanup contract.

For issuing false certificates, offenders could be imprisoned for up to six months or fined 500,000 yen ($4,800).

But the law has been criticized for having numerous loopholes.

One is that there is no test of workers’ knowledge after they have received the training.

The operators are also not required to register the certificates with municipal authorities.

And it is not specified what qualifications are required for the person who conducts the training.

The Labor Standards office, a regional arm of the health ministry, has been inspecting the company for breaches of the law and regulations on decontamination work since Oct. 19.

The Zerutech Tohoku representative founded the company in March last year. ”

by Masakazu Honda and Yuki Chai

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Radioactive Fukushima wood becomes power in German machine — Bloomberg

” Japan is turning to a small German company to generate power from timber irradiated by the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear meltdowns.

Closely held Entrade Energiesysteme AG will sell electricity from 400 of its container-sized biomass-to-power machines set up in Fukushima Prefecture, said the Dusseldorf-based company’s Chief Executive Officer Julien Uhlig. The devices will generate 20 megawatts of power by next year and function like a “biological battery” that kicks in when the sun descends on the the region’s solar panels, he said.

Selling green power with Entrade’s mobile units could support Japanese attempts to repopulate a region that’s struggled to restore normality after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami killed 18,000 people while also triggering the Fukushima nuclear meltdown that dislocated 160,000 others. The prefecture aims to generate 100 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2040.

Entrade’s so-called E4 plants, four of which fit inside a 40-foot (12-meter) container, can reduce the mass of lightly irradiated wood waste by 99.5 percent, according to Uhlig. Shrinking the volume of waste could help Japanese authorities who need to reduce the volume of contaminated materials. Workers around Fukushima have been cleaning by scraping up soil, moss and leaves from contaminated surfaces and sealing them in containers.

“Burning won’t destroy radiation but we can shrink detritus to ash and create a lot of clean power at the same time,” said Uhlig, a former German government employee, in a phone call from Tokyo on Oct. 21. “There’s a lot of excitement about this project but I also detected a high degree of reluctance in Fukushima to talk about radiation.”

Ballooning Costs

The decommissioning of Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc.’s stricken plant is set to take as long as four decades and the government estimates environmental clean-up costs may balloon to $3.3 trillion yen ($31.5 billion) through March 2018.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in March that Japan cannot forgo nuclear power. His government wants about a fifth of Japan’s power generated by nuclear by 2030, compared with almost 30 percent before three reactors melted down at the Fukushima plant.

Currently, just two of the nation’s 42 operable nuclear reactors are running, which has translated into higher costs for imported fossil fuels as well as more greenhouse gas emissions.

Germany’s Federal Office for Radiation Protection declined to comment on the process of burning radioactive waste in Fukushima. Entrade’s biomass units will be located about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the Tepco reactors, said Uhlig.

Like Muesli

Entrade’s biomass plants, which rely partly on technology developed by Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute, are “compactors” of lightly irradiated waste, said Uhlig. The “all in the box” technology is attractive to environmentally-conscious clients who have a steady stream of bio waste but don’t want to invest in a plant, he said.

Uhlig’s company is cooperating with London’s Gatwick Airport to turn food waste from airlines into power. Royal Bank of Scotland financed another project supplying power from 200 units to an industrial estate near Liverpool, U.K.

Entrade has experimented with 130 types of biofuel since beginning operation in 2009. The company claims its plants convert biomass to power with 85 percent efficiency.

“It’s a bit like mixing muesli, taking what’s available from clients or the locality and blending it,” said Uhlig.

Entrade is moving its headquarters to Los Angeles to generate investment capital and help meet demand in the U.S. and Caribbean, he said. The company has 250 units in California and can hardly keep up with demand, Uhlig said. ”

by Brian Parkin

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Study: Possible water problem at storage sites in Fukushima — The Asahi Shimbun

” Bags of radiation-contaminated soil could be sinking into the ground at temporary storage sites in Fukushima Prefecture, allowing water to accumulate within instead of flowing to outside tanks for testing, the Board of Audit said.

No confirmation has been made that the ground at the sites is actually sinking or if contaminated water has pooled inside. But Board of Audit officials are asking the Environment Ministry to consider additional safety measures if signs indicate that this is actually occurring.

The board’s study focused on 34 of the 106 temporary storage sites that the Environment Ministry set up for soil removed through decontamination work after the disaster in March 2011 unfolded at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Construction of the storage sites started in 2012, and the transfer of contaminated soil to these facilities was completed in 2015.

The temporary storage sites were designed to have a slight mound on the ground in the center to allow water from the bags to flow down into surrounding collection tanks for periodic measurements of radiation levels.

Internal Environment Ministry guidelines called for this setup at storage sites containing bags that are not waterproof.

The Board of Audit studied 34 temporary storage sites where the bags are not waterproof. These bags were piled five deep or higher at those sites.

The study showed that at 31 of the sites, the weight of the bags may have not only flattened the mound in the center, but it also could have created an indent in the ground where the leaking water could accumulate.

If the water does not flow to the tanks, it will be difficult to determine the radiation levels.

The study also noted that the foundations at the sites were soft to begin with and may be unable to support the bags of soil. The sinking phenomenon could worsen as time passes.

The Environment Ministry played down the risk of the water contaminating areas around the storage facilities.

“Even if the ground has sunk, the structure is designed so water does not leak outside the site,” a ministry official said. “Eventually, the water should collect in the tanks. We will make every effort to oversee the sites as well as use waterproof bags as much as possible.”

A total of 4.16 billion yen ($40 million) was spent to construct the 31 temporary storage sites.

The Environment Ministry designed the temporary storage sites under the precondition they would be used for only three years and then removed. For that reason, measures were not taken to strengthen the foundations to prevent the ground from sinking, even if soft farmland was chosen for a site.

The plan is to eventually return the land where the temporary storage sites have been built to its original state and return it to the landowners.

However, the Board of Audit’s study adds another concern for residents, many of whom had opposed construction of the temporary storage sites in their neighborhoods.

Toshio Sato, 68, has evacuated to Fukushima city from his home in Iitate village, where four of the possible problem storage sites are located.

“There are some people who want to resume growing rice once they return home,” Sato said. “If water is accumulating, there is the possibility it could unexpectedly overflow into surrounding areas. The concerns just seem to emerge one after another.”

The government plans to lift the evacuation order for a large part of Iitate in March 2017. ”

by Kosuke Tauchi, Shoko Rikimaru, Kenji Izawa and Akifumi Nagahashi

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Residents who fled Fukushima meltdown fear return to ghost town — Bloomberg

” Weed-engulfed buildings and shuttered businesses paint an eerie picture of a coastal Japanese town abandoned after a monstrous earthquake and tsunami triggered meltdowns in the Fukushima nuclear plant.

Namie, one of the communities hardest hit by the 2011 disaster, had 21,000 residents before they fled radiation spewing from the reactors eight kilometers (five miles) away. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is now looking to repopulate the town as early as next year, a symbolic step toward recovery that might also help soften opposition to his government’s plan to restart Japan’s mostly mothballed nuclear industry.

“The national and local governments are trying to send us back,” said Yasuo Fujita, 64, a sushi chef who lives alongside hundreds of other Fukushima evacuees in a modern high rise in Tokyo more than 200 kilometers away. “We do want to return — we were born and raised there. But can we make a living? Can we live next to the radioactive waste?”

So far few evacuees are making plans to go back even as clean-up costs top $30 billion and Abe’s government restores infrastructure. That reluctance mirrors a national skepticism toward nuclear power that threatens to erode the prime minister’s positive approval ratings, particularly in areas with atomic reactors.

Mothballed Reactors

Officials in his government are calling for nuclear power to account for as much as 22 percent of Japan’s electricity supply by 2030, nearly the same percentage as before the Fukushima meltdown, in part to help meet climate goals. Only two of the nation’s 42 operable nuclear plants are currently running, leaving the country even more heavily reliant on imports of oil and gas.

A poll published by the Asahi newspaper this week found 57 percent of respondents were opposed to restarting nuclear reactors, compared with 29 percent in favor. One of Abe’s ministers lost his seat in Fukushima in an upper house election in July, and the government suffered another setback when an anti-nuclear candidate won Sunday’s election for governor of Niigata prefecture, home to the world’s largest nuclear plant.

Some 726 square kilometers — roughly the size of New York City — of Fukushima prefecture remain under evacuation orders, divided by level of radioactivity. While the government is looking to reopen part of Namie next year, most of the town is designated as “difficult to return to” and won’t be ready for people to move back until at least 2022.

“We must make the area attractive, so that people want to return there,” Reconstruction Minister Masahiro Imamura said this week. “I want to do everything I can to make it easy to go back.”

Workers are cleaning by scraping up soil, moss and leaves from contaminated surfaces and sealing them in containers. Still, the operation has skipped most of the prefecture’s hilly areas, leading to fears that rain will simply wash more contamination down into residential zones. Decommissioning of the stricken plant itself is set to take as many as 40 years.

The bill for cleaning up the environment is ballooning, with the government estimating the cost through March 2018 at $3.3 trillion yen ($32 billion). That’s weighing on Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc., which is already struggling to avoid default over decommissioning costs.

“They are spending money in the name of returning things to how they were” without having had a proper debate on whether this is actually possible, said Yutaka Okada, senior researcher at Mizuho Research Institute in Tokyo. “Was it really right to spend this enormous amount of money?”

Namie officials, operating from temporary premises 100 kilometers away in the city of Nihonmatsu, are plowing ahead with preparations. A middle school in the town is scheduled for remodeling to add facilities for elementary pupils — even though they expect only about 20 children to attend. Similar efforts in nearby communities have had limited success.

Only 18 percent of former Namie residents surveyed by the government last year said they wanted to return, compared with 48 percent who did not. The remainder were undecided.

Staying Put

Fujita, the sushi chef, has joined the ranks of those starting afresh elsewhere. He opened a seafood restaurant near his temporary home last year, and is buying an apartment in the area. In a sign the move will be permanent, he even plans to squeeze the Buddhist altar commemorating his Fukushima ancestors into his Tokyo home.

For those that do return, finding work will be a headache in a town that was heavily dependent on the plant for jobs and money.

Haruka Hoshi, 27, was working inside the nuclear facility when the earthquake struck, and she fled with just her handbag. Months later she married another former employee at the plant, and they built a house down the coast in the city of Iwaki, where they live with their three-year-old son. They have no plans to return.

“It would be difficult to recreate the life we had before,” she said. “The government wants to show it’s achieved something, to say: ‘Fukushima’s all right, there was a terrible incident, but people are able to return after five years.’ That goal doesn’t correspond with the reality.” ”

by Isabel Reynolds and Emi Nobuhiro

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