Japan says Fukushima residents can return home, despite NGO report warning of high radiation level — Fox News

” Almost six years after he was forced to leave his home following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the Japanese government informed Toru Anzai that it was safe for him to return to the small agricultural village of Iitate.

Anzai and the rest of the some 6,000 people who once called the village – located about 24 miles northwest of the doomed nuclear power plant – home were told that the evacuation orders were to be lifted by the end of March as the government has completed its decontamination work and reduced the average radiation level in the air to 0.8 microsieverts (µSv/h) per hour – a level deemed by international organizations as safe for human life.

Alongside lifting the evacuation order, the Japanese government also noted that it will end compensation payments to the former residents of Iitate after a year from when an area is declared safe again to live in.

The government’s announcement, however, has been met with skepticism from Iitate’s former residents and widespread criticism from environmental activists and radiation experts around the world. They say that Japan has based its policies not on any interest in public health but on undoing the financial burden of compensation and creating a false reality that life in the Fukushima prefecture is back to normal.

“The Japanese government just wants to say that we can overcome,” Jans Vande Putte, a radiation specialist with environmental group Greenpeace and one of the authors of a report on the cleanup efforts in Iitate, told Fox News. “It’s like they’re running a PR campaign to say that everything is okay and we can now go back to normal.”

Considered the worst atomic accident since the Chernobyl meltdown in the Ukraine in 1986, the Fukushima disaster occurred on March 11, 2011, following a massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami. That tsunami destroyed the emergency generators that would have provided power to cool the nuclear reactors. The insufficient cooling led to three nuclear meltdowns, explosions of hydrogen-air chemicals and the release of radioactive material into the surrounding prefecture.

While Japanese officials assert that the radiation around homes in Iitate have been brought down to an acceptable level since the disaster, Greenpeace said that a survey team it sent into the village found radiation dose rates at houses that were well above long-term government targets.

The organization’s report also noted that annual and lifetime exposure levels in Iitate pose a long-term risk to citizens who may return – especially young children. Scientific research found that on average a newborn girl is seven times more sensitive to radiation as a young adult.

The Japanese government has set a long-term decontamination target of 0.23 µSv/h, which would give a dose of 1 millisievert (mSv) per year, or the maximum limit recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. The sievert is a derived unit that measures the health effect of low levels of ionizing radiation on the human body.

Greenpeace measurements outside on Anzai’s house, however, found that level to be 0.7µSv/h, which would equal 2.5 mSv per year. Inside his home the numbers were even higher, with values coming in at a range between 5.1 to 10.4 mSv per year.

“It is still relatively unsafe to live there,” Vande Putte said. “If thousands of people go back it will be a bad situation and it’s just not wise to go back.”

The radiation levels, experts contend, are even more dangerous outside of the village and the area the government has allegedly decontaminated. Iitate is primarily an agricultural community and 75 percent of the 77-square-mile area is mountainous forest, where Greenpeace contends that radiation levels are comparable to the exclusion zone around Chernobyl.

That means that anyone taking a walk through the woods or even eating something grown in supposedly decontaminated land is at greater risk for a high level of radiation exposure.

“You don’t have to go right out into the forest because they’re not cleaning up areas that are already settled,” Keith Baverstock, a former regional adviser for radiation and public health at the World Health Organization and current medical researcher at the University of Eastern Finland, told Fox News. “If you eat anything grown locally, the levels of radiation are going to be unquestionably a lot higher.”

Baverstock, who for years has been a sharp critic of Japan’s cleanup, said that it could take between 15 and 20 years for the radioactivity in the soil to sink to safe levels if measured at the same speed as that of Chernobyl. But he added that nobody can currently be sure of that rate.

“The Japanese government doesn’t say to these people that they have to accept the risk if they return to the area,” he added.

Greenpeace is demanding that the Japanese government provide full compensation payments to residents of Fukushima prefecture and continue measuring the radiation levels so that people can decide on their own when they want to return.

Outside observers argue that the Japanese government doesn’t have many options if they really hope to protect their citizens from high levels of radiation.

“This is going to cost them,” Baverstock said. “Japan doesn’t have an alternative to waiting it out and resettling these refugees somewhere else.” ”

by Andrew O’Reilly

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Fukushima costs to soar to 20 trillion yen — Nikkei Asian Review

” TOKYO — The combined costs of paying compensation for the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the decommissioning of the plant’s reactors may be double the initial estimate, rising to more than 20 trillion yen ($176 billion), according to estimates by the country’s industry ministry.

At the end of 2013, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry calculated the cost at 11 trillion yen, which has since become the government’s official estimate.

As electric companies other than Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the crippled plant, will also pass part of the cost on to consumers through higher rates, an increase in the public burden is unavoidable.

According to multiple sources, the ministry has already conveyed its new estimates to members of its expert panel, which is in discussions on reforming the management structure at Tepco and measures to secure funds.

The ministry aims to reach an agreement with the Ministry of Finance during planned discussions over the expansion of an interest-free loan program from 9 trillion yen to support Tepco.

The 11-trillion estimates foresaw 5.4 trillion yen for compensation payments; 2.5 trillion yen for decontamination work; 1.1 trillion yen for the construction of interim radioactive waste storage facilities; and 2 trillion yen secured by Tepco to scrap the reactors.

The new estimates see compensation payments costing 8 trillion yen and 4-5 trillion yen for decontamination.

The cost of decommissioning reactors — a process which will span at least 30-40 years — are projected to swell to hundreds of billions of yen a year from the current 80 billion. That would add several trillion yen to the overall cost.

Combined with the cost of building interim storage facilities, the total cost is forecast to exceed 20 trillion yen.

The snowballing costs are due mainly to the expansion of the number of people eligible for damages and the difficulty of conducting decontamination work, neither of which was fully understood when the initial estimates were made.

As conditions inside the reactors gradually become clear ahead of the retrieval of fuel debris scheduled for early in the 2020s, it is becoming increasingly certain that decommissioning will cost more than 2 trillion yen. ”

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Prospect of Niigata nuke plant delay threatens Tepco’s Fukushima plans — Nikkei Asian Review

” TOKYO — The election of an anti-nuclear candidate as governor of Japan’s Niigata Prefecture could hit the finances of not only Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings but the public as well, as the utility is relying on a reactor restart in Niigata to cover Fukushima cleanup costs.

The central government reached an arrangement in 2014 to extend up to 9 trillion yen ($86.6 billion currently) in interest-free loans to pay for dealing with the fallout of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster. Of this, 5.4 trillion yen is to go toward compensating those affected, with Tepco and other power companies, including Kansai Electric Power and Chubu Electric Power, to repay the loans. Another 2.5 trillion yen is earmarked for decontamination work, with the costs to be recouped through the sale of Tepco shares held by the government.

But more than 6 trillion yen in compensation has been paid out so far, and cost overruns on decontamination are seen as all but certain. Decommissioning work at Tepco’s Fukushima plant, such as extracting fuel, falls outside the 9 trillion yen framework.

The 2 trillion yen Tepco had aimed to secure on its own to pay for scrapping the plant will be nowhere near enough. The utility and Japan’s industry ministry had counted on bringing the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture back online, which would improve Tepco’s earnings by 240 billion yen a year. But Gov.-elect Ryuichi Yoneyama has indicated that he is not amenable to a quick restart.

An expert panel set up by the ministry started discussing how to handle the additional costs this month. It laid out a scenario in which improved profit margins at Tepco via restructuring, along with profits from the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa facility, would be used to minimize the amount shouldered by taxpayers.

The longer it takes to restart the plant in Niigata, the larger the hit will be to Tepco’s available funding for Fukushima costs. Though the utility will squeeze out some money via internal reforms, Tepco may use rate hikes to pass on to the public what it cannot cover itself. Tepco and other utilities already have raised rates to recoup part of the compensation costs. A top industry ministry official indicated that rate increases will also be on the table to pay for decommissioning.

Power companies besides Tepco could be affected as well. Since many nuclear plants in eastern Japan use boiling-water reactors like those at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, further delays could hold up other reactor restarts in the region. ”

by Nikkei

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Panel begins debate on reducing operators’ liability for nuclear accidents — The Japan Times

” The Japan Atomic Energy Commission has started full discussions by experts on whether to limit the liability of nuclear plant operators to pay compensation in the event of an accident.

Currently, nuclear operators in Japan bear unlimited liability for damages, but some experts say a ceiling of their responsibility is needed.

The discussions are expected to be heated, as limiting liability would raise the problem of how to compensate people and businesses affected by a nuclear crisis.

For the March 2011 catastrophe at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co. is facing full liability under the nuclear compensation law.

Because Tepco can’t afford paying off all compensation demands while also funding decontamination work, the government has set aside ¥9 trillion in assistance.

The money is provided to Tepco through Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corp., a public-private organization. Tepco is to repay the money over time.

The electric power industry has been pushing for a cap on nuclear plant operators’ liability for compensation.

“If the sky’s the limit for compensation, we cannot project an outlook for our nuclear energy business,” a senior official at a major power utility said.

In line with the government’s policy of continuing to promote nuclear energy, an expert panel of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission started debate last year on problems with the current compensation regime.

Some panel members argued for a limited liability system.

“Shouldering risks that go beyond the limit of the private sector will impede fund procurement by electric power companies,” one member said.

On the other hand, another member said, “Limited liability is not an option, considering the current situation in Fukushima.”

There are also concerns that a narrower scope of responsibility for power companies could be detrimental to their commitment to safety.

With the panel sharply divided, a government official said a conclusion is not expected soon.

The expert panel plans to produce a report next year, and the government will subsequently start working on any necessary amendments to the nuclear compensation law.

Even if the nuclear compensation system is revised, past accidents would not be covered by the changes.

Among countries that impose such liability limits, the United States sets the maximum liability at $12.6 billion and Britain has a ceiling of £140 million ($199.7 million), according to the Japan Atomic Energy Commission. Under the U.S. system, if the scale of nuclear damage exceeds the limit, the president is supposed to propose a supplementary compensation program to Congress. ”

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Bags of tainted waste swept into Fukushima river during torrential rain — The Asahi Shimbun

” FUKUSHIMA–Seven sites for radioactive waste generated from the Fukushima nuclear crisis were submerged during torrential rain in eastern Japan on Sept. 11, raising fears over a possible radiation spill into the environment.

The temporary storage sites, located in Kawamata, Naraha and other municipalities near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, store soil, grass and other radiation-tainted waste generated by decontamination work due to the 2011 triple meltdown.

In Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, where all residents remain evacuated, at least 82 black polyethylene bags containing tainted grass and other waste were swept from a site of decontamination work into a river.

Each bag can hold 1 cubic meter of waste.

An Iitate town official alerted the Environment Ministry’s Fukushima Office for Environmental Restoration around 6 a.m. on Sept. 11 that bags of waste were being swept away.

By 6 p.m., officials had retrieved 37 of the 82 bags. The remaining 45 bags got stuck under bridges and other obstacles along the river.

Ministry officials said none of the bags located thus far had spilled their contents and the impact on the environment was minimal.

At the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, heavy rain caused radiation-tainted rainwater to spill into the ocean outside the plant’s harbor from the drainage system that encircles the reactor buildings on Sept. 9 and Sept. 11, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said.

Floodgates normally block tainted water from reaching the ocean from drainage ditches, but the torrential rains overwhelmed the gates twice in the pre-dawn hours of Sept. 9 and Sept. 11, the plant operator said.

Utility officials said rainfall increases the radioactive level of the water in the drainage system as rainwater accumulates radioactive materials in surrounding soil when it flows in the ditches.

While the drainage water usually contains less than 100 becquerels of beta-ray-emitting radioactive substances per liter, the water measured 750 becquerels per liter on Sept. 11, TEPCO officials said. ”

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Fukushima No. 1 workers with high radiation doses up 1.5-fold — The Japan Times

” At Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the number of workers exposed to high amounts of radiation in fiscal 2014 increased 1.5-fold from the year before, data from the utility showed Saturday.

A total of 992 workers, mostly employees at subcontractors, saw their radiation doses top 20 millisieverts in the year that ended in March. The previous year, the number of workers with such high external radiation exposure levels stood at 660, according to the data.

As the government limits Fukushima plant workers’ five-year radiation doses to 100 millisieverts per person, many of the workers could be barred from continuing at the plant.

Of those who topped the 20-millisievert threshold in fiscal 2014, only 11 are Tepco employees, while 981 are from subcontractors for the utility. The highest dose stood at 29.5 millisieverts for the Tepco employees and 39.85 millisieverts for the non-Tepco workers.

The data also showed that a total of 20,695 plant workers were exposed to radiation in fiscal 2014, with their doses averaging 4.99 millisieverts. The radiated workers’ numbers increased from the previous year’s 14,746 but the average dose declined from 5.25 millisieverts.

The number of radiation-exposed workers increased partly because the overall number of workers at the plant substantially rose from the previous year.

A public relations official at Tepco said the amount of decontamination and debris removal work in the high-radiation zones inside the plant is also on the rise, resulting in irradiation of more people. ”

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