Fukushima radiation in the Pacific (revisited) — Triple Pundit

by RP Siegel

” My recent post on the spread of radiation stemming from the Fukushima nuclear accident drew quite a few questioning comments. Specifically the article suggested that radiation from the accident was drifting across the Pacific at levels high enough to cause alarm. It turns out such cause for alarm was exaggerated, though there is still reason to be concerned. I appreciate the feedback. I acknowledge that I relied on sources with which I was unfamiliar and posted some information that has been shown to be incorrect. I apologize.

To all who publish online, beware. Bad news travels fast. It gives credence to the old saying, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting its pants on.” This is especially true on the Internet. I truly hope no one was harmed by this information. Now begins the task of earning back your trust which, though hard-earned, can be quickly lost.

I think the best way to start is to post a revised story on what is actually happening in the waters around Fukushima, Japan, as well as those farther afield.

Let’s start by addressing the points made in the original story.

For starters the initial source, PeakOil, used a bogus NOAA graphic to sensationalize the story, having carefully scrubbed out the legend showing that the colors actually represented wave heights at the peak of the tsunami, not radiation levels as the site would have you believe. I checked this image out, noticed this and chose not to use it in my post. Still, I continued to take the central thrust of the story as true.

Several people went to the generally reliable Snopes site to question the story and found confirmation of their suspicions. The blatant misuse of the NOAA chart is clearly called and tossed into the trash where it belongs. An interesting thing about the Snopes post, however, is that while the site prominently displays a text clipping stating that, “each day 300 tons of radioactive waste seeps into the ocean,” it never specifically addresses that claim.

I dug further and found that number actually comes from a quote by Yushi Yoneyama, an official with the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which oversees energy policy as quoted in Reuters (generally considered unassailable) and elsewhere. In 2013, Yoneyama said, “We think that the volume of water [leaking into the Pacific] is about 300 tonnes a day.” Of course, anyone could be wrong, but who am I to question Reuters or a Japanese government official? I don’t.

That’s not to say Japanese government officials, or officers of TEPCO, can always be counted on to tell the truth, but their interest has generally been to minimize the extent of the damage, not to embellish it.

As for that amount of leakage, that’s equivalent to about 90,000 gallons of radioactive water. That sounds like quite a bit. But compared to the volume of the Pacific Ocean, it’s not a lot at all. Still, when that much leaks out each day, over the course of a year, it adds up to 33 million gallons. And it’s been five years now.

Even today, TEPCO only acknowledges that radioactive water threatens to flood out of the plant and into the ocean. The company denied, until recently, that any water leaked from the plant at all, even when fish contaminated with high levels of radiation were found near the plant by independent researchers from the University of Tokyo, raising major concerns for local fishermen.

The story regarding radiation reaching the Canadian West Coast, which claimed levels of iodine-131 were 300 times background levels, was recently updated with an editor’s statement that the original figures were incorrect.

Reports of a wildlife biologist (Alexandra Morton) pulling hundreds of herring out of the waters off British Columbia with blood coming out of their eyes and gills have not been discredited. However, there is no evidence linking this observation directly to radiation from Fukushima or anywhere else.

The claim that radiation levels found in tuna off the Oregon coast had tripled also appears to be legitimate. However, those levels are still substantially below what would be considered a health threat.

Having sorted through that, I would summarize as follows: Contaminated water continues to enter to ocean from the Fukushima site in significant volume. Traces of radiation have been found in various locations around the Pacific. It also appears that the levels detected at this time do not indicate any immediate threat to humans outside of Japan. That being said, our knowledge of the long-term impacts of these types of radiation on the oceans, and on ourselves, is far from complete.

Upon review, most of the statements in the original piece were in fact true, but I acknowledge the overall sense was that of an exaggerated cause for concern. What this shows is how easily a group of facts taken out of context can become a convincing story — a lesson for all of us. Putting it on the Internet is like putting a match to a dry grassland.

What is far less clear is what the actual levels are and where they can be found. What makes writing about this issue so difficult, and even dangerous, is the combination of two things: It’s a frightening subject, and there is very little solid information being made available.

In my efforts to bring in some more solid facts, I reached out to Greenpeace, which is monitoring the situation carefully. The group sent me some additional information in a press release with links to reports published outside the U.S.

Greenpeace’s famed ship, the Rainbow Warrior, went out to sample the waters around Fukushima in February of this year with former Japanese Prime Minister Mr. Naoto Kan onboard. What they found was that radiation in the seabed off Fukushima “is hundreds of times above pre-2011 levels.” They also found levels in nearby rivers that were “up to 200 times higher than ocean sediment.”

Expressing concern, Ai Kashiwagi, energy campaigner for Greenpeace Japan, said: “These river samples were taken in areas where the Abe government is stating it is safe for people to live. But the results show there is no return to normal after this nuclear catastrophe.”

The areas sampled include the Niida River in Minami Soma, where readings measured as high as 29,800 becquerels per kilogram (Bq/kg) for radio-cesium. (For those new to the subject, a becquerel is a derived unit that measures radioactivity.) More samples taken at the estuary of the Abukuma River in Miyagi prefecture, more than 90 kilometers north of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, found levels in sediment as high as 6,500 Bq/kg. To put that in perspective, recorded levels in the seabed near the plant before the disaster were 0.65 Bq/kg.

Kendra Ulrich, senior global energy campaigner for Greenpeace Japan, explained: “The sheer size of the Pacific Ocean combined with powerful complex currents means the largest single release of radioactivity into the marine environment has led to the widespread dispersal of contamination.”

Greenpeace expressed concern that the order scheduled to allow people to return to these areas next March “cannot be permitted to stand.” The group claims that “these ecosystems cannot simply be decontaminated.”

Greenpeace’s report, which came out in July of this year, concludes by saying the impact of the accident will persist for “decades to centuries.”

So, while we have not yet seen the global-scale consequences some predicted, the situation is indeed bad and getting worse. TEPCO continues to build steel tanks at the rate of three per week, to house a great deal of contaminated groundwater while awaiting decontamination. But according to this PBS documentary, the company will run out of room for more tanks sometime next year. The gravity-fed water filtration system has been effective in removing most contaminants, except for tritium. Tritium is a relatively weak radionuclide with a half-life of 12.5 years, which means it will take about 100 years to fully break down.

The molten nuclear cores in reactors still remain in three reactors. And the site will not be fully stabilized until those are removed. But the radioactivity level in those reactors is far too high for people to enter. TEPCO plans to develop robots to go in and retrieve the molten fuel. The company says that retrieval is estimated to begin in 2020.

In closing, while the level of concern suggested in the prior piece was overstated, I maintain that the situation at Fukushima is far from resolved and that it remains a serious concern, particularly in Japan. I further maintain that any plans to continue expanding nuclear power must include an in-depth review of what has happened in Fukushima, with the understanding that this story is far from over. ”

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Fukushima cover up — CounterPunch

” It is literally impossible for the world community to get a clear understanding of, and truth about, the Fukushima nuclear disaster. This statement is based upon The Feature article in Columbia Journalism Review (“CJR”) d/d October 25, 2016 entitled: “Sinking a Bold Foray Into Watchdog Journalism in Japan” by Martin Fackler.

The scandalous subject matter of the article is frightening to its core. Essentially, it paints a picture of upending and abolishing a 3-year attempt by one of Japan’s oldest and most liberal/intellectual newspapers, The Asahi Shimbun (circ. 6.6 mln) in its effort of “watchdog journalism” of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. In the end, the newspaper’s special watchdog division suffered un-preannounced abrupt closure.

The CJR article, whether intentionally or not, is an indictment of right wing political control of media throughout the world. The story is, moreover, extraordinarily scary and of deepest concern because no sources can be counted on for accurate, truthful reporting of an incident as powerful and deadly dangerous as the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima. Lest anybody in class forgets, three nuclear reactors at Fukushima Diiachi Nuclear Power Plant experienced 100% meltdown, aka The China Syndrome over five years ago.

The molten cores of those reactors melted down to a stage called corium, which is a lumpy hunk of irradiating radionuclides so deadly that robotic cameras are zapped! The radioactivity is powerful, deadly and possessed of frightening longevity, 100s of years. Again for those who missed class, TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) has no idea where those masses of sizzling hot radioactive goo are today. Did they burrow into the ground? Nobody knows, but it is known that those blobs of radioactivity are extraordinarily dangerous, as in deathly, erratically spewing radioactivity “who knows where”?

Fukushima is a national/worldwide emergency that is the worst kept secret ever because everybody knows it is happening; it is current; it is alive; it is deadly; it has killed (as explained in several prior articles) and will kill many more as well as maim countless people over many decades (a description of radiation’s gruesomeness follows later on in this article).

Yet, the Abe administration is talking to Olympic officials about conducting Olympic events, like baseball, in Fukushima for Tokyo 2020. Are they nuts, going off the deep end, gone mad, out of control? After all, TEPCO readily admits (1) the Fukushima cleanup will take decades to complete, if ever completed, and (2) nobody knows the whereabouts of the worlds most deadly radioactive blobs of sizzling hot masses of death and destruction, begging the question: Why is there a Chernobyl Exclusion Zone of 1,000 square miles after one nuclear meltdown 30 years ago, but yet Fukushima, with three meltdowns, each more severe than Chernobyl, is already being repopulated? It doesn’t compute!

The short answer is the Abe administration claims the radioactivity is being cleaned up. A much longer answer eschews the Abe administration by explaining the near impossibility of cleaning up radioactivity throughout the countryside. There are, after all, independent organizations with boots on the ground in Fukushima (documented in prior articles) that tell the truth, having measured dangerous levels of radiation throughout the region where clean up crews supposedly cleaned up.

The Columbia Journalism Review article, intentionally or not, paints a picture of “journalism by government decree” in Japan, which gainsays any kind of real journalism. It’s faux journalism, kinda like reading The Daily Disneyworld Journal & Times.

Based upon the CJR article: “The hastiness of the Asahi’s retreat raised fresh doubts about whether such watchdog journalism— an inherently risky enterprise that seeks to expose and debunk, and challenge the powerful—is even possible in Japan’s big national media, which are deeply tied to the nation’s political establishment.”

Japan’s journalists belong to “press clubs,” which are exclusively restricted to the big boys (and girls) from major media outlets, where stories are hand-fed according to government officialdom, period. It is the news, period! No questions asked, and this is how Asahi got into trouble. They set up a unit of 30-journalists to tell the truth about Fukushima and along the way won awards for journalism, until it suddenly, abruptly stopped. A big mystery ensues….

According to the CJR article, “The Investigative Reporting Section [Asahi] proved an instant success, winning Japan’s top journalism award two years in a row for its exposure of official cover-ups and shoddy decontamination work around the nuclear plant.”

Furthermore, according to the CJR article: “The abrupt about-face by the Asahi, a 137-year-old newspaper with 2,400 journalists that has been postwar Japan’s liberal media flagship, was an early victory for the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which had sought to silence critical voices as it moved to roll back Japan’s postwar pacifism, and restart its nuclear industry.”

And, furthermore, the truth be told: “In Japanese journalism, scoops usually just mean learning from the ministry officials today what they intend to do tomorrow,’ says Makoto Watanabe, a former reporter in the section who quit the Asahi in March because he felt blocked from doing investigative reporting. ‘We came up with different scoops that were unwelcome in the Prime Minister’s Office.”

It comes as no surprise that Reporters Without Borders lowered Japan’s rating from 11th in 2010 (but one has to wonder how they ever got that high) to 72nd in this years annual ranking of global press freedoms, released on April 20, 2016.

Koichi Nakano, a professor of politics at Sophia University in Tokyo, says: “Emasculating the Asahi allowed Abe to impose a grim new conformity on the media world.”

When considering the awards Asahi won during its short foray into investigative journalism, like Japan’s equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for reporting about a gag-order on scientists after the Fukushima disaster and the government’s failure to release information about radiation to evacuating residents, now that Asahi has been forced to put a lid on “investigative journalism” and it must toe the line in “press clubs,” any and all information about the dangers or status of Fukushima are ipso facto suspect!

The world is dead silent on credible information about the world’s biggest disaster! (Which causes one to stop and think… really a lot.)

The evidence is abundantly clear that there is no trustworthy source of information about the world’s biggest nuclear disaster, and likely one of the biggest dangers to the planet in human history. However, time will tell as radiation exposure takes years to show up in the human body. It’s a silent killer but cumulates over time. Fukushima radiation goes on and on, but nobody knows what to do. To say the situation is scandalous is such a gross understatement that it is difficult to take it as seriously as it really should be taken. But, it is scandalous, not just in Japan but for the entire planet.

After all, consider this, 30 years after the fact, horribly deformed Chernobyl children are found in over 300 asylums in the Belarus backwoods deep in the countryside. Equally as bad but maybe more odious, as of today, Chernobyl radiation (since 1986) is already affecting 2nd generation kids.

According to USA Today, Chernobyl’s Legacy: Kids With Bodies Ravaged by Disaster, April 17, 2016: “There are 2,397,863 people registered with Ukraine’s health ministry to receive ongoing Chernobyl-related health care. Of these, 453,391 are children — none born at the time of the accident. Their parents were children in 1986. These children have a range of illnesses: respiratory, digestive, musculoskeletal, eye diseases, blood diseases, cancer, congenital malformations, genetic abnormalities, trauma.”

It’s taken 30 years for the world, via an article in USA Today, to begin to understand how devastating, over decades, not over a few years, radiation exposure is to people. It is a silent killer that cumulates in the body over time and passes from generation to generation to generation, endless destruction that cannot be stopped! ”

by Robert Hunziker

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Fukushima backlash hits Japan prime minister — CounterPunch

” Nuclear power may never recover its cachet as a clean energy source, irrespective of safety concerns, because of the ongoing saga of meltdown 3/11/11 at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Over time, the story only grows more horrific, painful, deceitful. It’s a story that will continue for generations to come.

Here’s why it holds pertinence: As a result of total 100% meltdown, TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) cannot locate or remove the radioactive molten core or corium from the reactors. Nobody knows where it is. It is missing. If it is missing from within the reactor structures, has it burrowed into the ground? There are no ready answers.

And, the destroyed nuclear plants are way too radioactive for humans to get close enough for inspection. And, robotic cameras get zapped! Corium is highly radioactive material, begging the question: If it has burrowed through the containment vessel, does it spread underground, contaminating farmland and water resources and if so, how far away? Nobody knows?

According to TEPCO, removing the melted cores from reactors 1,2 and 3 will take upwards of 20 years, or more, again who knows.

But still, Japan will hold Olympic events in Fukushima in 2020 whilst out-of-control radioactive masses of goo are nowhere to be found. TEPCO expects decades before the cleanup is complete, if ever. Fortunately, for Tokyo 2020 (the Olympic designation) radiation’s impact has a latency effect, i.e., it takes a few years to show up as cancer in the human body.

A week ago on September 7th, Former PM Junichiro Koizumi, one of Japan’s most revered former prime ministers, lambasted the current Abe administration, as well as recovery efforts by TEPCO. At a news conference he said PM Shinzō Abe lied to the Olympic committee in 2013 in order to host the 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan.

“That was a lie,” Mr Koizumi told reporters when asked about Mr Abe’s remark that Fukushima was “under control,” Abe Lied to IOC About Nuke Plant, ex-PM Says, The Straits Times, Sep 8, 2016. The former PM also went on to explain TEPCO, after 5 years of struggling, still has not been able to effectively control contaminated water at the plant.

According to The Straits Times article: “Speaking to the IOC in September 2013, before the Olympic vote, PM Abe acknowledged concerns but stressed there was no need to worry: “Let me assure you, the situation is under control.”

PM Abe’s irresponsible statement before the world community essentially puts a dagger into the heart of nuclear advocacy and former PM Koizumi deepens the insertion. After all, who can be truthfully trusted? Mr Koizumi was a supporter of nuclear power while in office from 2001-2006, but he has since turned into a vocal opponent.

Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan in Tokyo, Mr Koizumi said: “The nuclear power industry says safety is their top priority, but profit is in fact what comes first… Japan can grow if the country relies on more renewable energy,” (Ayako Mie, staff writer, Despite Dwindling Momentum, Koizumi Pursues Anti-Nuclear Goals, The Japan Times, Sept. 7, 2016).

Mr Koizumi makes a good point. There have been no blackouts in Japan sans nuclear power. The country functioned well without nuclear.

Further to the point of nuclear versus nonnuclear, Katsunobu Sakurai, mayor of Minamisoma, a city of 70,000 located 25 km north of Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, at a news conference in Tokyo, said: “As a citizen and as a resident of an area affected by the nuclear power plant disaster, I must express great anger at this act… it is necessary for all of Japan to change its way of thinking, and its way of life too – to move to become a society like Germany, which is no longer reliant on nuclear power,” (Sarai Flores, Minamisoma Mayor Sees Future for Fukushima ‘Nonnuclear’ City in Energy Independence, The Japan Times, March 9, 2016).

In March of 2015, Minamisoma declared as a Nonnuclear City, turning to solar and wind power in tandem with energy-saving measures.

Meanwhile, at the insistence of the Abe administration, seven nuclear reactors could restart by the end of FY2016 followed by a total of 19 units over the next 12 months (Source: Japanese Institute Sees 19 Reactor Restarts by March 2018, World Nuclear News, July 28, 2016).

Greenpeace/Japan Discovers Widespread Radioactivity

One of the issues surrounding the Fukushima incident and the upcoming Olympics is whom to trust. Already TEPCO has admitted to misleading the public about reports on the status of the nuclear meltdown, and PM Abe has been caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar, but even much worse, lying to a major international sports tribunal. His credibility is down the drain.

As such, maybe third party sources can be trusted to tell the truth. In that regard, Greenpeace/Japan, which does not have a vested interest in nuclear power, may be one of the only reliable sources, especially since it has boots on the ground, testing for radiation. Since 2011, Greenpeace has conducted over 25 extensive surveys for radiation throughout Fukushima Prefecture.

In which case, the Japanese people should take heed because PM Abe is pushing hard to reopen nuclear plants and pushing hard to repopulate Fukushima, of course, well ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics since there will be events held in Fukushima Prefecture. After all, how can one expect Olympians to populate Fukushima if Japan’s own citizens do not? But, as of now to a certain extent citizens are pushing back. Maybe they instinctively do not trust their own government’s assurances.

But, more chilling yet, after extensive boots-on-the-ground analyses, Greenpeace issued the following statement in March 2016: “Unfortunately, the crux of the nuclear contamination issue – from Kyshtym to Chernobyl to Fukushima- is this: When a major radiological disaster happens and impacts vast tracts of land, it cannot be ‘cleaned up’ or ‘fixed’.” (Source: Hanis Maketab, Environmental Impacts of Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Will Last ‘decades to centuries’ – Greenpeace, Asia Correspondent, March 4, 2016).

That is a blunt way of saying sayonara to habitation on radioactive contaminated land. That’s why Chernobyl is a permanently closed restricted zone for the past 30 years.

As far as “returning home” goes, if Greenpeace/Japan ran the show rather than PM Abe, it appears they would say ‘no’. Greenpeace does not believe it is safe. Greenpeace International issued a press release a little over one month ago with the headline: Radiation Along Fukushima Rivers up to 200 Times Higher Than Pacific Ocean Seabed – Greenpeace Press Release, July 21, 2016.

Here’s what they discovered: “The extremely high levels of radioactivity we found along the river systems highlights the enormity and longevity of both the environmental contamination and the public health risks resulting from the Fukushima disaster,” says Ai Kashiwagi, Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace Japan.

“These river samples were taken in areas where the Abe government is stating it is safe for people to live. But the results show there is no return to normal after this nuclear catastrophe,” claims Kashiwagi.

“Riverbank sediment samples taken along the Niida River in Minami Soma, measured as high as 29,800 Bq/kg for radiocaesium (Cs-134 and 137). The Niida samples were taken where there are no restrictions on people living, as were other river samples. At the estuary of the Abukuma River in Miyagi prefecture, which lies more than 90km north of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, levels measured in sediment samples were as high as 6,500 Bq/kg” (Greenpeace).

The prescribed safe limit of radioactive cesium for drinking water is 200 Bq/kg. A Becquerel (“Bq”) is a gauge of strength of radioactivity in materials such as Iodine-131 and Cesium-137 (Source: Safe Limits for Consuming Radiation-Contaminated Food, Bloomberg, March 20, 2011).

“The lifting of evacuation orders in March 2017 for areas that remain highly contaminated is a looming human rights crisis and cannot be permitted to stand. The vast expanses of contaminated forests and freshwater systems will remain a perennial source of radioactivity for the foreseeable future, as these ecosystems cannot simply be decontaminated” (Greenpeace).

Still, the Abe administration is to be commended for its herculean effort to try to clean up radioactivity throughout Fukushima Prefecture, but at the end of the day, it may be for naught. A massive cleanup effort is impossible in the hills, in the mountains, in the valleys, in the vast forests, along riverbeds and lakes, across extensive meadows in the wild where radiation levels remain deadly dangerous. Over time, it leaches back into decontaminated areas.

And as significantly, if not more so, what happens to the out-of-control radioactive blobs of corium? Nobody knows where those are, or what to do about it. It’s kinda like the mystery surrounding black holes in outer space, but nobody dares go there.

Fukushima is a story for the ages because radiation doesn’t quit. Still, the Olympics must go on, but where? ”

by Robert Hunziker

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Fukushima clean-up chief still hunting for 600 tonnes of melted radioactive fuel — Mark Willacy, ABC

” The operator of the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant has revealed that 600 tonnes of reactor fuel melted during the disaster, and that the exact location of the highly radioactive blobs remains a mystery.

 In an exclusive interview with Foreign Correspondent, the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s chief of decommissioning at Fukushima, Naohiro Masuda, said the company hoped to pinpoint the position of the fuel and begin removing it from 2021.

But he admitted the technology needed to remove the fuel has to be invented.

“Once we can find out the condition of the melted fuel and identify its location, I believe we can develop the necessary tools to retrieve it,” Mr Masuda said.

“So it’s important to find it as soon as possible.”

Clean-up to take decades, cost tens of billions of dollars

Reactors 1, 2 and 3 at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant suffered catastrophic meltdowns in the hours and days after a giant tsunami swamped the facility on 11 March, 2011.

Thousands of workers are braving elevated radiation levels to stabilise and decommission the plant.

TEPCO says the process will take 30 to 40 years and tens of billions of dollars.

“In Reactor 1, all of the fuel has melted down from inside the pressure vessel,” Mr Masuda said.

“In reactors 2 and 3, about 30 per cent to 50 per cent remains in the pressure vessel and the rest has melted down. But unfortunately, we don’t know exactly where [the fuel] is.”

The head of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) at the time of the meltdowns at Fukushima doubts the fuel can be retrieved, saying such an operation has never been done before.

“Nobody really knows where the fuel is at this point and this fuel is still very radioactive and will be for a long time,” said Gregory Jaczko in an interview with Foreign Correspondent in Washington.

“It may be possible that we’re never able to remove the fuel. You may just have to wind up leaving it there and somehow entomb it as it is.”

Radiation killing search robots inside reactor

For the first time, TEPCO has revealed just how much of the mostly uranium fuel melted down after the tsunami swamped the plant.

“It’s estimated that approximately 200 tonnes of debris lies within each unit,” said TEPCO’s Naohiro Masuda.

“So in total, about 600 tonnes of melted debris fuel and a mixture of concrete and other metals are likely to be there.”

TEPCO has attempted to use custom-built robots to access high-dose radiation parts of the reactor buildings where humans cannot go.

“All the robots have been disabled, the instrumentation, the camera … have been disabled because of the high radiation fields,” former NRC boss Gregory Jaczko said.

Appointed to head the US nuclear watchdog by President Barack Obama in 2009, Dr Jaczko resigned a year after the Fukushima disaster.

A particle physicist, he now questions the safety of nuclear power.

“You have to now accept that in all nuclear power plants, wherever they are in the world … that you can have this kind of a very catastrophic accident and you can release a significant amount of radiation and have a decade long clean-up effort on your hands,” he said.

10 million bags of contaminated soil in gigantic waste dumps

Another supporter turned opponent of nuclear power is Naoto Kan, who was the Japanese prime minister at the time of the Fukushima meltdowns.

He says those who argue that nuclear power is a safe, cheap source of energy are misguided.

“So far, the government is paying $70 billion to support TEPCO,” Mr Kan said.

“But that is not enough. It will probably cost more than $240 billion. I think 40 years [to decommission the plant] is an optimistic view.”

More than 100,000 Japanese are still unable to return home because their communities lie in elevated radiation zones.

Some people have returned to their towns and villages since the completion of decontamination work, which often involves the removal of up to 15 centimetres of topsoil from fields and from around homes.

More than 10 million large bags of contaminated soil and waste have so far been collected. The bags are now stored in thousands of sites around Fukushima, with some of the piles several storeys high.

“In order for people to come back, we need to show that the Fukushima plant is in a stable condition,” Naohiro Masuda said.

“We need to make that the situation … we’re working on something [for] which there is no textbook.” ”

by Mark Willacy

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Near miss at Fukushima is a warning for U.S., panel says — Richard Stone, Science

” Japan’s chief cabinet secretary called it “the devil’s scenario.” Two weeks after the 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami devastated the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, causing three nuclear reactors to melt down and release radioactive plumes, officials were bracing for even worse. They feared that spent fuel stored in the reactor halls would catch fire and send radioactive smoke across a much wider swath of eastern Japan, including Tokyo.

Thanks to a lucky break detailed in a report released today by the U.S. National Academies, Japan dodged that bullet. The near calamity “should serve as a wake-up call for the industry,” says Joseph Shepherd, a mechanical engineer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena who chaired the academy committee that produced the report. Spent fuel accumulating at U.S. nuclear reactor plants is also vulnerable, the report warns. A major spent fuel fire at a U.S. nuclear plant “could dwarf the horrific consequences of the Fukushima accident,” says Edwin Lyman, a physicist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., who was not on the panel.

After spent fuel is removed from a reactor core, the fission products continue to decay radioactively, generating heat. Many nuclear plants, like Fukushima, store the fuel onsite at the bottom of deep pools for at least 5 years while it slowly cools. It is seriously vulnerable there, as the Fukushima accident demonstrated, and so the academy panel recommends that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and nuclear plant operators beef up systems for monitoring the pools and topping up water levels in case a facility is damaged. It also calls for more robust security measures after a disaster. “Disruptions create opportunities for malevolent acts,” Shepherd says.

At Fukushima, the earthquake and tsunami cut power to pumps that circulated coolant through the reactor cores and cooled water in the spent fuel pools. The pump failure led to the core meltdowns. In the pools, found in all six of Fukushima’s reactor halls, radioactive decay gradually heated the water. Of preeminent concern were the pools in reactor Units 1 through 4: Those buildings had sustained heavy damage on 11 March and in subsequent days, when explosions occurred in Units 1, 3, and 4.

The “devil’s scenario” nearly played out in Unit 4, where the reactor was shut down for maintenance. The entire reactor core—all 548 assemblies—was in the spent fuel pool, and was hotter than fuel in the other pools. When an explosion blew off Unit 4’s roof on 15 March, plant operators assumed the cause was hydrogen—and they feared it had come from fuel in the pool that had been exposed to air. They could not confirm that, because the blast had destroyed instrumentation for monitoring the pool. (Tokyo Electric Power Company, the plant operator, later suggested that the hydrogen that had exploded had come not from exposed spent fuel but from the melted reactor core in the adjacent Unit 3.) But the possibility that the fuel had been exposed was plausible and alarming enough for then-NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko on 16 March to urge more extensive evacuations than the Japanese government had advised—beyond a 20-kilometer radius from the plant.

Later that day, however, concerns abated after a helicopter overflight captured video of sunlight glinting off water in the spent fuel pool. In fact, the crisis was worsening: The pool’s water was boiling away because of the hot fuel. As the level fell perilously close to the top of the fuel assemblies, something “fortuitous” happened, Shepherd says. As part of routine maintenance, workers had flooded Unit 4’s reactor well, where the core normally sits. Separating the well and the spent fuel pool is a gate through which fuel assemblies are transferred. The gate allowed water from the reactor well to leak into the spent fuel pool, partially refilling it. Without that leakage, the academy panel’s own modeling predicted that the tops of the fuel assemblies would have been exposed by early April; as the water continued to evaporate, the odds of the assemblies’ zirconium cladding catching fire would have skyrocketed. Only good fortune and makeshift measures to pump or spray water into all the spent fuel pools averted that disaster, the academy panel notes.

At U.S. nuclear plants, spent fuel is equally vulnerable. It is for the most part densely packed in pools, heightening the fire risk if cooling systems were to fail. NRC has estimated that a major fire in a U.S. spent fuel pool would displace, on average, 3.4 million people from an area larger than New Jersey. “We’re talking about trillion-dollar consequences,” says panelist Frank von Hippel, a nuclear security expert at Princeton University.

Besides developing better systems for monitoring the pools, the panel recommends that NRC take another look at the benefits of moving spent fuel to other storage as quickly as possible. Spent fuel can be shifted to concrete containers called dry casks as soon as it cools sufficiently, and the academy panel recommends that NRC “assess the risks and potential benefits of expedited transfer.” A wholesale transfer to dry casks at U.S. plants would cost roughly $4 billion. ”

by Richard Stone, Science

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Salt in the wound — Arnie Gundersen, Fairewinds Energy Education

” What really happened to the Fukushima Daiichi reactors when workers from owner Tokyo Electric Power Company added ocean saltwater to cool them?

Fairewinds recently received this question and important technical comments from several viewers and engineers regarding utility owner TEPCO’s use of saltwater to cool the Fukushima Daiichi atomic reactors during their triple meltdowns. As we continue looking at aging operating atomic reactors around the world, it is important to understand this issue and know what may go wrong at other sites.

Listen as Fairewinds’ Chief Engineer Arnie Gundersen explains why TEPCO’s workers injected saltwater into Fukushima’s failing reactors, what happens when salt water meets steel, and what forces come into play after saltwater is used to cool down an atomic reactor in this Fairewinds Audio Update. ”

source with audio and transcript