Asking the tough questions on Fukushima — The Japan Times

” In January, regional newspaper Fukushima Minpo interviewed Yosuke Takagi, state minister of economy, trade and industry. While talking about reconstruction plans for areas near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Takagi mentioned resurrecting Dash-mura (Dash Village), a farm created from scratch by boy band Tokio for its Nippon TV series “The Tetsuwan Dash.”

The location of Dash-mura was always secret, lest Tokio’s fans descend on the project and destroy its rustic purity. But following the reactor accident caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake, it was revealed that the farm was in an area declared off-limits due to its proximity to the plant. It was promptly abandoned.

A different news outlet, Fukushima Minyu, clarified that the revival of Dash-mura is “nothing more than a personal idea of Takagi’s,” but that he intends to discuss it with related parties. An 80-year-old farmer who once worked with Tokio on the project told Minyu that bringing back the farm would be a great PR boost for the area’s agriculture, which is obviously Takagi’s aim. The show’s producer, however, after hearing of Takagi’s comment, tweeted that he knew nothing about the news, adding cryptically that “Dash-mura is no one’s thing.”

The Huffington Post called the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to ask if it had any intention of reviving Dash-mura. A representative only “confirmed” that Takagi had “made such a comment” and said METI had no “definite plan” to that end but might “study it.”

Nevertheless, the idea fits in with the government’s goal of getting former residents to move back to the area. Last week, authorities announced they would further reduce the evacuation zone at the end of the month, which means it will have shrunk by 70 percent since April 2014. The concern is that few people want to return. Some have already made lives for themselves elsewhere and see a lack of opportunity in their old communities.

Many also remain suspicious of the government’s assurances that radioactivity has dropped to a safe level. There is still debate among experts as to whether or not the radiation in the area is dangerous. The government says that the problems caused by the accident are now “under control,” and affected residents can soon go back to their old lives.

One media outlet who has challenged this assumption is TV Asahi’s “Hodo Station.” On March 9, the nightly news show sent its main announcer, Yuta Tomikawa, to Iitate, a village located about 40 km from the crippled nuclear facility. All 6,000 residents were eventually evacuated after the accident.

Standing in front of rows of black plastic bags, Tomikawa reported that, according to the government, decontamination efforts have been a success. A safe annual radiation level is 1 millisievert, but a local dairy farmer told Tomikawa that his own readings showed five times that level, adding that 70 percent of Iitate is wooded and forest land had not been decontaminated yet.

Moreover, the government is lifting the evacuation order for any areas where annual radiation levels are “no more than” 20 mSv. The International Commission on Radiological Protection told the government that once the situation had stabilized in the affected areas, people could return if radiation dropped to between 1 and 20 mSv, but the lower the better. Exposure to 20 mSv for a short period may not be a problem, but it could have harmful effects in the long run.

Tomikawa did not say that people who returned to Iitate would be in danger, but he did imply that the government is manipulating numbers in an attempt to persuade evacuees to return to their homes.

The web magazine Litera wrote that TV Asahi is the only mainstream media outlet to question the government line in this regard. Actually, Nippon TV did something similar, albeit indirectly. Last month, it rebroadcasted an episode of its “NNN Document” series about the married manzai (stand-up comedy) duo Oshidori Mako-Ken’s efforts to come to terms with the Fukushima meltdowns and their aftermath.

The couple belongs to the large Osaka-based entertainment company Yoshimoto Kogyo, but ever since the disaster Mako has attended about 500 related news conferences, making a nuisance of herself by plying Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings employees and government officials with questions the mainstream media don’t usually ask.

In order to gain access to the news conferences, she offered stories to the weekly magazine Spa! Her editor there told Nippon TV that Mako is now respected or resented by a lot of full-time journalists, partly because she’s a geinojin (entertainer) who has proved her mettle as a reporter, but mainly because of her hard-line queries, which put her interlocutors on the spot.

Following the disaster, Mako became suspicious when she saw people fleeing Tokyo in large numbers but heard nothing about it on the news. In order to make sense of the situation she’d watch unfiltered news conferences about the disaster on the internet. She realized only independent reporters asked tough questions, so she started attending them herself as a proxy for average people who didn’t understand what was going on. The more officials obfuscated, the more she studied.

She’s now recognized by some foreign press as one of the most informed persons on the subject — she even received a letter of encouragement from Pope Francis — and yet she’s shunned by the Japanese press. Nevertheless, she has dedicated followers, including workers cleaning up the reactor who often feed her questions to ask of officials. She’s won awards for her work, but from citizens groups, not media groups.

Nowadays, Mako and Ken do more free lectures on Fukushima No. 1 than they do comedy shows. One of their main themes is that media reports tend to confuse the public rather than inform them, but that’s really the fault of the government, which would like nothing better than for people to feel as if nothing ever happened. ”

by Philip Brasor, The Japan Times

source with internal links

NRA puts stop to plan to reuse contaminated soil — SimplyInfo.org

” Japan’s Environment Ministry had a plan. They were going to solve the problem of the massive piles of radioactive soil but reusing it. One plan they described was using it as the base in roads. They didn’t provide much detail on how this would work or how it would not end up leaching contamination to the wider environment.

Japan’s nuclear regulator (NRA) is required to review any act by another agency that involves radiation exposures to the public. Now the NRA has requested a detailed plan before any review would begin. They want details about how this soil would be prevented from being used in residential areas or where children would be exposed.

This may have effectively put a stop to the Environment Ministry plan. Their goal appeared to be to declassify large amounts of contaminated soil and just make it go away however possible. NRA’s requirements may be too inconvenient to continue with that plan. ”

by Nancy Foust, SimplyInfo.org

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Environment Ministry to consolidate management of radioactive waste from Fukushima disaster — The Japan Times

” The government plans to set up a new bureau in the Environment Ministry to unify the handling of radioactive waste generated by the 2011 Fukushima disaster, informed sources said.

The bureau, which will also take on recycling management, will have around 200 staff and be created through a ministry reorganization in fiscal 2017 starting in April that will change the size of its workforce.

The reorganization will also abolish the Environmental Policy Bureau.

The government hopes the move will improve cooperation with municipalities damaged by the triple meltdown triggered at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in Fukushima Prefecture during the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Thus far, measures to deal with radioactive waste, including decontamination, have been handled by three sections — the Waste Management and Recycling Department, the Environmental Management Bureau and the Director-General for Decontamination Technology of Radioactive Materials.

The ruling parties’ task forces on accelerating reconstruction from March 2011 are requesting the integration move in response to complaints from the affected municipalities. ”

JIJI

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Japan finds itself backed into an atomic corner — SimplyInfo

” As Japan begins addressing some of their older nuclear facilities they are discovering the pain other nuclear nations have put themselves in.

The fuel reprocessing plant at Tokai began operating in the 1970’s, some 30 years after the US and UK began their nuclear programs. Officials in Japan are now realizing their facility may be suffering from some of the same short sighted practices.

These are just some of the dangerous conditions found at Tokai:

  • A nuclear waste storage pool with no purification system
  • Corroded barrels of nuclear waste, leaking and entangled in cables
  • Nuclear waste containers with no documentation, no one knows what is in them
  • Liquid waste with a deadly 1500 Sieverts per hour level of radiation
  • Potentially explosive high level nuclear waste

Workers will eventually open these undocumented barrels to see what is in them. This alone could be an extremely dangerous task. Cleaning up the facility is expected to take 70 years. The cost for the first 10 years alone is projected to be $1.92 billion dollars. This facility produced MOX nuclear fuel predominantly from commercial power reactor fuel from Japan’s nuclear power plants. It ceased production in 2006. New safety regulations put in place after the Fukushima disaster caused JAEA to permanently shut the facility. This facility ads to the growing list of nuclear facilities in Japan to face decommissioning.

Japan also has a plutonium problem. The country holds 48 tons of plutonium, enough to make 6000 nuclear bombs. They have been able to reprocess spent nuclear fuel to amass this stash of plutonium under an agreement with the US. This agreement allows them to reprocess nuclear fuel to make MOX fuel. The agreement forbids Japan from using their plutonium for nuclear weapons.

Monju and the foreign MOX program provided plausible excuses to continue possessing the plutonium. Plutonium could potentially be burned in Monju’s reactor. Sending spent nuclear fuel overseas to be turned into MOX provided another excuse that the program was not focused on weapons production. Keeping Monju alive in some manner kept the needed excuse in place. This may be the main reasoning behind starting another fast breeder reactor project in Japan. Even if it were never built, development research could buy Japan 10 years worth of time to avoid dealing with their plutonium issue.

Japan also lacks a viable permanent nuclear disposal facility. Seeing all of these current programs end would force the country to face that problem. As facilities reach end of life, are deemed unsafe or too costly, Japan then has to deal with what to do with them along with proving the country is not becoming a weapons proliferation risk. ”

by Nancy Foust, SimplyInfo

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Work starts in Fukushima on intermediate waste facility — The Asahi Shimbun

” The Environment Ministry on Nov. 15 started building a facility in Fukushima Prefecture that will store radiation-contaminated debris for up to 30 years, despite obtaining permission for only 11 percent of the site.

The 16-square-kilometer storage facility is expected to hold up to 22 million cubic meters of materials contaminated by radioactive fallout from the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011.

“I hope that you take pride in this project and cooperate to construct the facility,” Tadahiko Ito, a vice environment minister, told workers.

The facility, which will span the towns of Futaba and Okuma, is expected to start accepting, sorting and storing the debris in autumn 2017 at the earliest, more than two-and-a-half years later than the initial schedule of January 2015.

The project has been delayed because the ministry has faced difficulties buying or borrowing land for the project.

In fact, only 445 of the 2,360 landowners of plots at the site have agreed to sell or lend their properties to the ministry for the storage facility as of the end of October.

Many of the reluctant landowners, who possess 89 percent of the land, fear the contaminated waste will remain at the facility well beyond 30 years.

The government has worked out a bill stipulating that contaminated materials kept in the intermediate storage facility will be moved out of Fukushima Prefecture in 2045. However, the government has yet to decide on the location of the final disposal site.

A huge cleanup operation after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant collected tons of radioactive soil and debris.

In March 2015, the ministry borrowed land and created a “temporary storage place” within a 16-square-km site on an experimental basis.

However, only about 70,000 cubic meters of the waste has been taken to the temporary storage site as of the end of October. The remaining waste, exceeding 10 million cubic meters, is being tentatively stored at about 150,000 locations in the prefecture.

“If the transportation of contaminated materials to the intermediate storage facility proceeds, the waste currently stored in residential areas and at company compounds will be transported there,” said an official of the Fukushima prefectural government’s section in charge of decontamination. ”

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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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