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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Japan minister rejects calls to quit after Fukushima comment — Bloomberg Business

” Japan’s environment minister, Tamayo Marukawa, has brushed aside calls from opposition lawmakers to resign from her ministerial post after saying the government’s radiation decontamination target for the area around the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant had no grounding in scientific evidence.

The controversy stems from comments made by Marukawa, a surprise cabinet pick by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the run-up to last year’s climate talks in Paris, during a Feb. 7 speech in Nagano prefecture.

According to a report from the Shinano Mainichi, a regional newspaper, Marukawa questioned the basis of the government’s long-term goal for reducing additional radiation levels near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant to an annual dose of 1 millisievert or less. Some areas near the Fukushima plant exceed an annual dose of 20 millisieverts, according to the latest data compiled by the Environment Ministry.

Despite apologizing and withdrawing the comments, Abe’s opponents in parliament this week demanded that Marukawa, 45, a former television news anchor turned upper house lawmaker, resign from cabinet.

The incident and the minister’s vague stance on whether Japan should approve any new coal-power plants have given Abe’s foes and environmentalists leverage to question her suitability to the environment post. The focus on Marukawa also underscores the challenge she faces in implementing tough rules to combat climate change, while appeasing industries depending on carbon-emitting energy sources.

“I am very disappointed as I had high expectations when we had a new minister before the climate change talks,” Hisayo Takada, a climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Japan, said by phone Tuesday. “The environment ministry obviously has to work on decontamination and bring the level back to 1 millisievert. Her remarks were unacceptable.”

The International Commission on Radiological Protection recommends a maximum dose of 1 millisievert of additional radiation per year for the general public, and 20 for nuclear workers. While the ICRP views any additional radiation increasing chances of developing cancer, prolonged exposure of 100 millisieverts or more leads to a significant risk of cancer.

The millisievert is a measure of the absorption of radiation by the human body.

Fresh Opportunity

The minister addressed the controversy during a news conference on Feb. 12.

“I would like to offer my sincere apology, especially to the victims of earthquakes, if my comments caused misunderstanding that I don’t take the long-term decontamination target seriously,” she said.

Abe’s appointment of Marukawa, part of a broader push to include more women in senior government positions, was part of a cabinet reorganization in October aimed at reviving the world’s third-largest economy.

Her selection was also seen as presenting Japan with a fresh opportunity to beef up the nation’s environmental credibility in the face of growing criticism that the world’s fifth-largest emitting country isn’t doing enough to combat climate change. Just 44 at the time of her appointment, Marukawa was markedly younger than her predecessor, Yoshio Mochizuki, 68.

“When she took office, her ministry was doing its own projects on smart energy systems and had been increasingly aggressive on coal,” Andrew DeWit, a political economy professor at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, said by e-mail.

During Marukawa’s speech at the COP21 climate talks in December, she said Japan would establish global warming measures based on any agreement that came out of Paris. She also reiterated Japan’s pledge to cut emissions by 26 percent by 2030 from 2013 levels.

While Marukawa proposed a policy earlier this month that would place greater scrutiny on emissions from the nation’s electricity producers, she’s drawn fire for her unclear stance on new coal-fired power plants. Despite saying late last year that she opposed new coal plants, Japan’s Nikkei newspaper reported earlier this month that she would approve four new projects. When pressed at a news conference earlier this month, she stopped short of saying whether she would approve new projects.

Coal Plants

The matter is of urgent interest to Japan’s utilities, which are facing the prospect of increasing competition once the retail electricity market is fully liberalized in April. Coal is the cheapest fuel for thermal power generation.

“Japan is going in a direction that ignores all the measures that need to be beefed up after COP,” Mika Ohbayashi, director at the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation, said by phone. “She gave into industry pressures as the power companies prepare for liberalization” because some plants want to use cheap coal as fuel.

In 2012, the environment ministry adopted the 1 millisievert exposure benchmark in the area surrounding the Fukushima Dai-Ichi No. 1 reactor in accordance with recommendations from the ICRP and the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan.

Japan evacuated 12 towns following the Fukushima disaster in March 2011. Citizens were allowed to return to the town of Hirono six months after the disaster. Evacuation orders weren’t lifted for parts of Tamura and Kawauchi until 2014, and the entirety of Naraha until September.

Clean-up efforts at Fukushima are also ongoing. The prime minister promised in 2013 that the government would take the lead in resolving ongoing water management issues at the Fukushima site ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Two years later, hundreds of tons of water continue to pour into the reactor buildings, while tainted water at other parts of the site are still overflowing into the ocean.

Cabinet Performance

Marukawa’s radiation comments are the latest gaffe to hit Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party in recent weeks. LDP lawmaker Kensuke Miyazaki offered his resignation last week following reports of an extramarital affair. Akira Amari stepped down as economy minister last month over allegations of financial impropriety.

Akira Nagatsuma, member of the opposition’s Democratic Party of Japan and former minister of Health, Labour and Welfare, said on Monday in parliament that Marukawa was unfit to be a minister. Akihiro Hatsushika, a member of the Japan Innovation Party, called for Marukawa to resign on Monday.

“Marukawa’s performance so far suggests she either doesn’t understand her portfolio or simply hasn’t much interest in it,” Rikkyo University’s DeWit said. “But I think she will indeed continue, as the Abe regime can hardly afford to have yet another ministerial resignation while its name-brand growth policy goes south.” ”

by Stephen Stapczynski and Chisaki Watanabe

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Expected surge in workers hitting radiation limit leaves No. 1 plant’s decommissioning in jeopardy — The Japan Times

” The decommissioning crew at the defunct Fukushima No. 1 power plant is losing 174 members who have reached the legal limit for radiation exposure.

As of January, the 174 had topped the limit of 100 millisieverts in five years spelled out under the Industrial Safety and Health Act, which also limits nuclear power plant workers to a maximum exposure rate of 50 millisieverts per year.

The plant has about 14,000 registered workers, but 2,081 have already received 50 to 100 millisieverts of exposure.

Since most of the heavy lifting in the most highly radioactive areas has yet to be done, experts say the country and Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant’s operator, must find a way to consistently secure enough labor to finish the job.

As of January, a total of 41,170 people had worked at the plant since the crisis began in March 2011, and only the 174 who reached maximum exposure had left.

But many companies that send staff to the plant move them to other positions with lower exposure before they reach the legal limit. So a majority of the 2,081 workers between 50 and 100 millisieverts have already been transferred. As time passes, however, more and more are expected to test the limit.

The International Commission on Radiological Protection sets the average radiation dose for nuclear workers over five years at 20 millisieverts per year.

“Firms tend to transfer workers whose radiation exposure exceeds 20 millisieverts per year from their posts at the nuclear power plant,” said a 57-year-old employee at one of the companies that have managed radiation exposure at the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 plants for about 20 years.

Tepco claims it is not facing a shortage at Fukushima No. 1 because its worker list averaged about 14,200 between January and December last year, or about 3,000 more than the number who actually did decommissioning work there during the same period.

In response to projections that more employees will be unable to work due to radiation exposure, Tepco “will respond to the situation by reducing the level of radiation at the plant,” the utility said.

Meanwhile, an official at the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy came clean on the uncertainty of the situation.

“It is unclear to some extent whether it will be possible to secure enough labor until the decommissioning process is completed,” he said, adding the agency will urge Tepco to improve the working environment.

Four years have passed since the triple meltdown, and radiation has declined. But the decommissioning work will only get more onerous as the number of operations around the reactors grows.

In fiscal 2015, which began this month, Tepco plans to remove fuel rods from the spent-fuel pool at reactor 3, which saw its core melt just like units 1 and 2.

To keep exposure down, most of the operations will be conducted remotely. But setting up the equipment means getting close will be inevitable.

According to various scenarios, a long-term labor system is needed to ensure the project’s continuity 30 to 40 years down the line, when it is supposed to be finished, said Shigeaki Tsunoyama, head of the Fukushima Prefectural Government’s safety advisory group for nuclear power plants.

“If experienced workers leave the plant due to their radiation exposure levels, decommissioning will stall. The government and Tepco have to take some steps as early as possible,” he said. ”

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Also read The Asahi Shimbun article, “Health ministry proposes more than doubling radiation exposure limit.”

Tepco under-calculated radiation exposure for 142 Fukushima workers — RT

” Tokyo Electric Power Co. underestimated internal radiation exposure of 142 workers involved in immediate emergency operations at the damaged Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011, according to Japan’s Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

After reexamining exposure records provided by TEPCO, the Ministry said Tuesday it had increased the 142 workers’ radiation data by an average of 5.86 millisieverts, The Asahi Shimbun reported.

The Ministry said one male employee was exposed to 180 millisieverts. He was initially reported to have been exposed to around 90 millisieverts.

Two other workers were exposed to radiation of 50 to less than 100 millisieverts, the Ministry found.

According to the International Commission on Radiological Protection a person should be exposed to no more than one millisievert per year from all sources of radiation, though it says only doses of more than 100 millisieverts are associated with a higher risk of cancer.

The 142 workers – 24 who worked for TEPCO and 118 who worked for 18 different contractors – were part of the 7,500 emergency workers and first responders that were sent to manage containment operations at the Fukushima plant.

TEPCO did not have whole-body radiation counters immediately after the crisis began, thus accurate radiation measurements by the utility were difficult to attain, as the Ministry has shown.

The Ministry urged TEPCO on Tuesday to now assess exposure with the new recordings in mind.

Last July, the Ministry reviewed exposure data on around 1,300 workers and revealed that reported exposure levels of 452 workers were too low. After that announcement, the Ministry followed up on records of the remaining 6,200 workers, which led to Tuesday’s disclosure.

Three years after the catastrophe, Japan is still struggling to deal with the radioactive contamination of Fukushima including a growing volume of contaminated water used to cool crippled reactors. On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 mega earthquake struck off the coast of Japan. The quake triggered a massive tsunami, which inundated the nuclear power plant causing three reactors to melt down. ”

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