Tag Archives: Nuclear Power

12/4/2011 AFP: India's uranium mines cast a health shadow

12/4/2011 AFP: India’s uranium mines cast a health shadow By Ammu Kannampilly: Gudiya Das whines as flies settle on her face, waiting for her mother to swat them while she lies on a cot in Ichra, one in a cluster of villages around India’s only functioning uranium mines. The 12-year-old, whose skeletal frame makes her look about half her age, was diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy when she was a year old. “Back then there were 33 disabled kids here, now there are more than a hundred,” her father, Chhatua Das told AFP in his home in Jaduguda valley in the eastern state of Jharkhand. For Das and his wife Lakshmi, who have lost six children before the age of one, there is only one possible culprit — the nearby mines run by the state-owned Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL).

“I know there is some connection between the mining and what’s happened to my daughter,” Lakshmi told AFP. “It’s because of the uranium in the water here.”

Environmental groups say the mining company is polluting the groundwater by dumping radioactive waste inside three so-called tailings ponds that hold the sludge produced by the mining process — a charge vehemently denied by UCIL.

UCIL opened its first mine in Jaduguda in 1967, and has built six more since then, providing work for thousands of local villagers in what was a deeply impoverished area.

With starting salaries of 14,000 rupees ($280) a month, jobs with the mining firm are highly coveted and bring a level of economic prosperity that adds a conflicting layer of complexity to the health risk issue.

Jharkhand is one of India’s poorest states, with more than 40% of the population living on less than $2 a day, according to 2007 World Bank figures.

Ghanshyam Birulee, founder of the Jharkhand Organisation Against Radiation, believes the financial benefits are meaningless when weighed against what his group says is an alarming rise in stillbirths, birth defects, and adults and children diagnosed with cancer, kidney disease, and tuberculosis.

“How did these illnesses suddenly become so commonplace here? It’s because our valley has become a dumping ground for all this nuclear trash,” Birulee said.

“Jaduguda” means “magic fields” in the local language Sadri.

“These days it feels like there’s black magic at work here,” said Birulee, a former apprentice at UCIL who lost both his parents to cancer.

“When people first started getting sick, they thought it was because of witches or evil spirits. We had never seen anything like this,” he told AFP.

UCIL firmly denies any links between its operations and any health issues in Jaduguda.

“The grade of ore is very low, so the level of radioactivity is also very low. If you are 100-120 metres away from the periphery of the tailings ponds, you face no risk,” said A.K. Sarangi, deputy general manager for strategic planning at UCIL.

“We acquired land for several people here and tried to help them move, but they refused. Their intention is to extract as much money as possible from the company now,” Sarangi said.

The company cites a 1998 government-funded study that found no water contamination and rejected the idea that illnesses in Jaduguda could be ascribed to radiation exposure.

Critics say the study, carried out by the Mumbai-based Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, was tainted by association with the nuclear industry, and cite a 2007 report by the non-profit Indian Doctors for Peace and Development (IDPD).

That report showed a far greater incidence of congenital abnormality, sterility, and cancer among people living within 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles) of the mines than those living 35 kilometres away.

Mothers in villages close to the mine sites were also twice as likely to have a child with congenital deformities, it said.

The IDPD is an affiliate of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize winning organisation, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.

The health risks associated with exposure to uranium are well-known. According to the US department of energy, sustained exposure can result in kidney damage and an increased risk of cancer.

A few years ago, the US environmental protection agency noted high levels of radiation in homes and drinking water sources in parts of Arizona state occupied by Navajo people, many of whom worked in the mines operating there from 1944 to 1986.

Developed nations like the United States and Australia employ strict environmental standards to limit the amount of uranium released into the air by mines and processing plants.

They also require mining waste to be disposed of in a manner that limits emissions and keeps groundwater clean, by erecting fences around tailings ponds and building earthen covers to prevent any seepage into the soil.

UCIL officials insist that their mines are in complete compliance with international requirements, and that emission levels are within the accepted limits.

“We have built fences around the tailings ponds, but villagers still cut through them in parts,” to take shortcuts across the land, Sarangi said.

“It is a huge area, it is just not possible to guard it all the time.”

Asha Kaibart lives in a small house about 200 metres from a tailings pond.

Seventeen years ago her son Anil started to have trouble with his eyes. A few years later the same thing happened to his younger sister Sumitra. Doctors said both had sustained severe damage to their optic nerves.

Today, at 29, Anil is totally blind. He and Sumitra rarely leave the house anymore, according to their father Situ, a former UCIL miner.

“I am sure waste from the company mixes with the water we use to bathe,” Asha said, pointing to a small lake nearby.

Birulee says companies like UCIL simply abdicate responsibility, refusing to help families like the Kaibarts and “threatening anyone who supports us” — a charge that UCIL spokesperson Pinaki Roy rejected outright.

“Such allegations pain us. Our social responsibility is very important to us. After all, at least one member of each family here is working for us,” Roy said.

12/4/2011 Los Angeles Times: Japan's 'nuclear gypsies' face radioactive peril at power plants

Japan’s ‘nuclear gypsies’ face radioactive peril at power plants Unskilled contractors make up most of the workforce and face higher doses of radiation than utility employees at Fukushima and other nuclear power plants in Japan. By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, December 4, 2011: Namie, Japan— Kazuo Okawa’s luckless career as a “nuclear gypsy” began one night at a poker game. The year was 1992, and jobs were scarce in this farming town in the shadow of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. An unemployed Okawa gambled and drank a lot. He was dealing cards when a stranger made him an offer: manage a crew of unskilled workers at the nearby plant. “Just gather a team of young guys and show up at the front gate; I’ll tell you what to do,” instructed the man, who Okawa later learned was a recruiter for a local job subcontracting firm. Okawa didn’t know the first thing about nuclear power, but he figured, what could go wrong?

He became what’s known in Japan as a “jumper” or “nuclear gypsy” for the way he moved among various nuclear plants. But the nickname that Okawa disliked most was burakumin, a derisive label for those who worked the thankless jobs
he and others performed.

Such unskilled contractors exist at the bottom rung of the nation’s employment ladder, subjecting themselves to perilous doses of radioactivity.

Solicited from day labor sites across the country, many contractors are told little of the task ahead.

“The recruiters call out their windows that they have two days of work; it’s not unlike the way migrant farm workers are hired in the U.S.,” said Kim Kearfott, a nuclear engineer and radiation health expert at the University of Michigan.

“Many are given their training en route to the plant. They’re told: ‘Oh, by the way, we’re going to Fukushima. If you don’t like it, you can get off the truck right now.’ There’s no such thing as informed consent, like you would have
in a human medical experiment,” she said.

After an earthquake-triggered tsunami deluged the Fukushima plant in March, a disaster that cascaded into reactor core meltdowns, activists are calling for better government regulation of what they call the nuclear industry’s dirtiest
secret.

For decades, they say, atomic plants have maintained a two-tiered workforce: one made up of highly paid and well-trained utility employees, and another of contractors with less training and fewer health benefits.

Last year, 88% of the 83,000 workers at the nation’s 18 commercial nuclear power plants were contract workers, according to Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, a government regulator.

A study by the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center, a Tokyo-based watchdog group, found that contractors last year accounted for 96% of the harmful radiation absorbed by workers at the nation’s nuclear power plants.

Temporary workers at the Fukushima plant in 2010 also faced radiation levels 16 times higher than did employees of the plant’s owner-operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., because contractors are called in for the most dangerous work, according to the government’s industrial safety agency.

“This job is a death sentence, performed by workers who aren’t being given information about the dangers they face,” said Hiroaki Koide, an assistant professor at Kyoto University’s Research Reactor Institute and author of the book “The Lie of Nuclear Power.”

Okawa, who was off work from the plant the day of the tsunami, immediately quit the job and the “suicidal work” he performed there: mopping up leaks of radioactive water, wiping down “hot” equipment and filling drums with contaminated nuclear waste.

He described an unofficial pecking order at most nuclear plants among contractors, with the greenest workers often assigned the most dangerous jobs until they got enough experience to question the work or a newer worker came along.

“In the beginning, you get a little training; they show you how to use your tools,” said Okawa, 56. “But then you’re left to work with radiation you can’t see, smell or taste. If you think about it, you imagine it might be killing you.
But you don’t want to think about it.”

Okawa, a small man with powerfully built hands, said contractors knew they faced layoff once they reached exposure limits, so many switched off dosimeters and other radiation measuring devices.

“Guys needed the work, so they cut corners,” he said. “The plant bosses knew it but looked the other way.”

Now the Fukushima plant needs its temporary workers more than ever, to help Tokyo Electric Power Co. engineers shut down the stricken reactors for good. The “gypsies” are being paid salaries several times higher than before the accident, says Okawa, who says he was offered $650 a day to return to work at Fukushima after the reactor meltdowns there.

On a recent day, hundreds of contractors milled about an abandoned soccer complex near the Fukushima plant that Tokyo Electric Power Co., known as Tepco, has transformed into a nuclear-worker locker room and debriefing center. Men waited in line to pick up dosimeters and disposed of dirty clothes from a just-completed shift. Buses packed with blank-faced workers ran continuously between the center, known as J-Village, and the plant a few miles away.

Tepco defended its worker training, which “includes basic knowledge of protection against radiation, such as how to manage radiation doses or how to put on and take off protective suits and other equipment,” said Mayumi Yoshida, who works in the utility’s corporate communications office.

But nuclear experts point to what they call a lax safety culture that downplays the risk of radiation exposure. “What’s troubling is that both the utilities and the government are saying there isn’t a problem, while we know the doses these workers are being subjected to [are] quite high,” said Kristin Shrader-Frechette, a professor of radiobiology and philosophy at Notre Dame University.

After the Fukushima disaster, the government raised the annual limit for allowable radiation exposure from 200 millisieverts to 250 for nuclear plant workers, Shrader-Frechette said.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation has warned that exposure to just 30 millisieverts a year can cause cancer. “The government is allowing workers to receive more than seven times that amount,” she said.

Tepco says it monitors radiation absorption rates among workers, who are not allowed to exceed government-set limits.

Since the start of Japan’s nuclear boom in the 1970s, utilities have relied on temporary workers for maintenance and plant repair jobs, while providing little follow-up health training, activists say.

“Typically, these workers are only told of the dose they get from an individual or daily exposure, not the cumulative dose over the time they work at a particular plant,” said Shrader-Frechette. “As they move from job to job, nobody is asking questions about their repeated high doses at different sites. We’re calling for a nuclear dosage tracking system in Japan and other nations.”

Activists say utilities rely on a network of contractors, subcontractors and sub-subcontractors to supply those who work for short periods, absorb a maximum of radiation and are then let go.

Hiroyuki Watanabe, a city councilman in Iwaki, just south of the Fukushima plant, said past medical tests on plant contractors who had become sick did not produce a definite link to radiation exposure. Still, he thinks the utilities
should be more forthright about the dangers such workers face.

“It’s wrong to prey on the poor who need to feed their families,” he said. “They’re considered disposable, and that’s immoral.”

No matter what people called him, Okawa is proud of the work he performed for his nation’s nuclear industry. He labored among teams of men who every day faced incredible risks without complaint.

Yet his scariest work had nothing to do with radioactive exposure. “I stood atop a building once, seeing the danger with my own eyes,” Okawa said. “That’s the way many guys felt about radioactivity: You had to see the danger to fear it. We never saw it.”

12/5/2011 NY Times: More Radioactive Water Leaks From Japanese Nuclear Plant

More Radioactive Water Leaks From Japanese Nuclear Plant By HIROKO TABUCHI. New York Times, December 5 2011 TOKYO — At least 45 tons of highly radioactive water has leaked from a purification facility at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station, and some of it may have reached the Pacific Ocean, the plant’s operator said on Sunday. Nearly nine months after Fukushima Daiichi was ravaged by an earthquake and tsunami, the plant continues to pose a major environmental threat. Before the latest leak, the Fukushima accident had been responsible for the largest single release of radioactivity into the ocean, threatening wildlife and fisheries in the region, experts have said.

The new radioactive water leak called into question the progress that the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, appeared to have made in bringing its reactors under control. The company, known as Tepco, has said that it hopes to bring the plant to a stable state known as a cold shutdown by the end of the year.

The trouble on Sunday came in two stages, a Tepco statement said. In the morning, utility workers found that radioactive water was flooding a catchment next to a purification device; the device was then switched off, and the leak appeared to stop. But the company said it later discovered that leaked water was escaping through a crack in the catchment’s concrete wall and was reaching an external gutter.

In all, as much as 220 tons of water may now have leaked from the facility, according to a report in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper that cited Tepco officials.

The newspaper says the water may have contained up to one million times as much radioactive strontium as the maximum safe level set by the government, and about 300 times as much radioactive cesium. Both are readily absorbed by living tissue and can greatly increase the risk of developing cancer.

Tepco said it was exploring ways to stop the water from leaking through the crack.

Since the disaster in March, workers have been struggling to cool the stricken plant’s reactors by flooding them with water, which is contaminated with radioactivity in the process and becomes a problem of its own.

Tepco installed a new circulatory cooling system in September that was meant to decontaminate and recycle the cooling water. But the company acknowledges that some water has already leaked into the ocean and more remains in the flooded
basements of the plant’s reactor buildings.

The Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety in France estimates that between March and mid-July, the amount of radioactive cesium 137 that had leaked into the Pacific from the Fukushima Daiichi plant amounted to 27.1 petabecquerels, the greatest amount known to have been released from a single episode. (A becquerel is a frequently used measure of radiation, and a petabecquerel is a million billion becquerels.)

Ocean currents rapidly dilute the leaking radioactive water, the institute said, but mollusks, deep-water fish and predators high in the marine food chain can be sensitive to radioactive cesium pollution.

Fukushima: First visit of journalists since evacuation + Amazing photos of damaged reactor buildings

Fukushima: First visit of journalists since evacuation + Amazing photos of damaged reactor buildings from Gordon Edwards <ccnr@web.ca>: Background: These new photos show extensive structural damage — to Units 3 and 4 in particular. All of this damage was self-inflicted by the reactors overheating and producing hydrogen gas which exploded with great force.  None of the visible damage was caused directly by the earthquake or the tsunami. The structural damage, core melting, spent fuel fires, and radioactive releases are all the result of a prolonged power blackout which prevented the heat from the irradiated fuel in the reactor cores and the spent fuel bays from being removed.  Similar events could occur in any commercial nuclear power plant if there were no electrical power for a period of days. Go to the following URL to see the photos.  A caption appears below each photograph. http://cryptome.org/eyeball/daiichi-111211/daiichi-111211.htm


10/22/2011 Avoiding Hiroshima Obama could send a vivid message about proliferation with one visit

MARK PERNICE FOR THE BOSTON GLOBEMODERN HIROSHIMA is a contradiction, a profoundly futuristic city unwilling to turn away from its past. So when Hiroshima’s schoolchildren and its senior citizens staged a letter-writing campaign to persuade Barack Obama to visit the city, their intention seemed clear: Before the atomic bombing of 1945 passes beyond human memory, they want a sitting American president to bear witness to the city’s recovery - and, perhaps, express some remorse for the conflagration that preceded it.

10/22/2011 Avoiding Hiroshima – Obama could send a vivid message about proliferation with one visit By Peter S. Canellos: MODERN HIROSHIMA is a contradiction, a profoundly futuristic city unwilling to turn away from its past. So when Hiroshima’s schoolchildren and its senior citizens staged a letter-writing campaign to persuade Barack Obama to visit the city, their intention seemed clear: Before the atomic bombing of 1945 passes beyond human memory, they want a sitting American president to bear witness to the city’s recovery – and, perhaps, express some remorse for the conflagration that preceded it.

So I assumed when, early this year, the Foreign Press Center of Japan conveyed an invitation from a group of high-school students to visit the city as a journalist and learn, firsthand, about their desire to have President Obama visit.

Apparently, both the US government and the Japanese government jumped to the same concluson – that the people of Hiroshima wanted an American president to see what an American atomic bomb had wrought. In a 2009 State Department cable recently released by WikiLeaks, US Ambassador to Japan John Roos reported to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Japanese officials believed “the idea of President Obama visiting Hiroshima to apologize for the atomic bombing during World War II is a ‘non-starter.’ While a simple visit to Hiroshima without fanfare is sufficiently symbolic to convey the right message, it is premature to include such a program in the November visit.’’

Obama did not go to Hiroshima that November. But Roos, the Japanese government, and perhaps even the White House seem to have misunderstood the nature of this invitation, as I did.

In Hiroshima, both elderly survivors and schoolchildren made the same points: No apology is requested. A meeting with survivors of the bombing would be useful, but not to bridge any gap between the American government and the people of Hiroshima. The city is impressively in touch with its complex history, and doesn’t primarily blame the United States for its fate. Japanese militarism, and Japanese wartime atrocities, are on full display at the city’s Peace Museum and are discussed in the mandatory “peace curriculum’’ at schools. The real focus in today’s Hiroshima is on nuclear proliferation.

Young and old, the people of the city where more than 100,000 died in an atomic attack share a special sense of mission to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

That happens to be Obama’s goal, too – one he coupled with a promise that the United States would lead the way. That’s what got the people of Hiroshima excited. Obama made his vow in 2009, but hasn’t made much progress since.

In fact, the problem of nuclear proliferation is on the verge of getting much worse. If Iran and North Korea join the list of nuclear nations without serious consequences, the entire non-proliferation regime that has checked the world’s nuclear ambitions for four decades will fall apart. Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and many other non-nuclear nations – among them Japan – will start exploring nuclear options of their own. The genie will truly be out of the bottle.

Unfortunately, the international peace movement that has its moral and spiritual roots in Hiroshima maintains its Cold War fixation on the United States and Russia, the countries with the largest arsenals. If Obama were to go to Hiroshima, he’d hear a lot of idealistic, and perhaps simplistic, pleas to just stop the nuclear insanity. But he could, and should, turn the conversation around: The United States and Russia, at the very least, share a commitment to arms control; the danger of nuclear weapons spreading among rogue states and terrorist groups is a far greater threat to world safety. It’s something the international peace movement needs to focus on, just as Obama needs to engage the rest of the world in a moral quest to stop North Korea and Iran.

A visit to Hiroshima by Obama would, of course, prompt some blowback at home. Though many presidents, starting with Harry Truman himself, have expressed misgivings about the American role in introducing nuclear weaponry, most Americans, including hundreds of thousands of World War II veterans, still support Truman’s decision to order the atomic bombing of Japan. Obama probably couldn’t say anything to prevent at least some Americans from suggesting a visit would be tantamount to an expression of regret. But most people would understand that no apology was being offered, and no regrets expressed. There would be plenty of occasions for Obama to make his views perfectly clear.

Meanwhile, the inherent drama of a sitting president going to Hiroshima would make the visit a worldwide event, providing the kind of stage for an Obama foreign policy speech that he’s lacked since his Nobel Prize address in the first year of his presidency. And a forceful speech aimed at rallying the world against the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea – and reminding people in every country of how threats have evolved since the Cold War – could have lasting impact.

There’s another reason he should go: A lot of the world wants and expects that kind of vivid, symbolic leadership from him, and he’s made far too few dramatic gestures in foreign policy. If it’s surprising to Americans how prosaic the Obama administration has been, it’s been even more baffling to the world. The billions of people overseas who chafed at the America-first swagger of George W. Bush pinned their hopes on Obama. Many are still waiting for his call to action.

And a visit to Hiroshima inevitably concentrates the mind — all minds — on the dangers of nuclear war. The stories of melting faces, of square miles of cityscape erased in moments, of the “black rain’’ that brought radiation poisoning and cancer to those even outside the city center, of the cases of leukemia decades later, the young women deemed unmarriageable because of radiation exposure — all are there, waiting for the world to hear.

This is the issue Obama wanted to make central to his presidency, the one that transcends all the crackdowns and liberation movements and peace negotiations of a fractious world. If Obama wants to send a strong message about the dangers of nuclear proliferation, he should go to Hiroshima.

10/14/2011 NY Times ASIA PACIFIC: Citizens’ Testing Finds 20 Hot Spots Around Tokyo

Toshiyuki Hattori, who runs a sewage plant in Tokyo, surrounded by sacks of radioactive sludge. By HIROKO TABUCHI 10/14/2011 New York Times: Citizens’ Testing Finds 20 Hot Spots Around Tokyo: TOKYO — Takeo Hayashida signed on with a citizens’ group to test for radiation near his son’s baseball field in Tokyo after government officials told him they had no plans to check for fallout from the devastated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Like Japan’s central government, local officials said there was nothing to fear in the capital, 160 miles from the disaster zone.

Then came the test result: the level of radioactive cesium in a patch of dirt just yards from where his 11-year-old son, Koshiro, played baseball was equal to those in some contaminated areas around Chernobyl.

The patch of ground was one of more than 20 spots in and around the nation’s capital that the citizens’ group, and the respected nuclear research center they worked with, found were contaminated with potentially harmful levels of radioactive cesium.

It has been clear since the early days of the nuclear accident, the world’s second worst after Chernobyl, that that the vagaries of wind and rain had scattered worrisome amounts of radioactive materials in unexpected patterns far outside the evacuation zone 12 miles around the stricken plant. But reports that substantial amounts of cesium had accumulated as far away as Tokyo have raised new concerns about how far the contamination had spread, possibly settling in areas where the government has not even considered looking.

The government’s failure to act quickly, a growing chorus of scientists say, may be exposing many more people than originally believed to potentially harmful radiation. It is also part of a pattern: Japan’s leaders have continually insisted that the fallout from Fukushima will not spread far, or pose a health threat to residents, or contaminate the food chain. And officials have repeatedly been proved wrong by independent experts and citizens’ groups that conduct testing on their own.

“Radioactive substances are entering people’s bodies from the air, from the food. It’s everywhere,” said Kiyoshi Toda, a radiation expert at Nagasaki University’s faculty of environmental studies and a medical doctor. “But the government doesn’t even try to inform the public how much radiation they’re exposed to.”

The reports of hot spots do not indicate how widespread contamination is in the capital; more sampling would be needed to determine that. But they raise the prospect that people living near concentrated amounts of cesium are being exposed to levels of radiation above accepted international standards meant to protect people from cancer and other illnesses.

Japanese nuclear experts and activists have begun agitating for more comprehensive testing in Tokyo and elsewhere, and a cleanup if necessary. Robert Alvarez, a nuclear expert and a former special assistant to the United States secretary of energy, echoed those calls, saying the citizens’ groups’ measurements “raise major and unprecedented concerns about the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.”

The government has not ignored citizens’ pleas entirely; it recently completed aerial testing in eastern Japan, including Tokyo. But several experts and activists say the tests are unlikely to be sensitive enough to be useful in finding micro hot spots such as those found by the citizens’ group.

Kaoru Noguchi, head of Tokyo’s health and safety section, however, argues that the testing already done is sufficient. Because Tokyo is so developed, she says, radioactive material was much more likely to have fallen on concrete, then washed away. She also said exposure was likely to be limited.

“Nobody stands in one spot all day,” she said. “And nobody eats dirt.”

Tokyo residents knew soon after the March 11 accident, when a tsunami knocked out the crucial cooling systems at the Fukushima plant, that they were being exposed to radioactive materials. Researchers detected a spike in radiation levels on March 15. Then as rain drizzled down on the evening of March 21, radioactive material again fell on the city.

In the following week, however, radioactivity in the air and water dropped rapidly. Most in the city put aside their jitters, some openly scornful of those — mostly foreigners — who had fled Tokyo in the early days of the disaster.

But not everyone was convinced. Some Tokyo residents bought dosimeters. The Tokyo citizens’ group, the Radiation Defense Project, which grew out of a Facebook discussion page, decided to be more proactive. In consultation with the Yokohama-based Isotope Research Institute, members collected soil samples from near their own homes and submitted them for testing.

Some of the results were shocking: the sample that Mr. Hayashida collected under shrubs near his neighborhood baseball field in the Edogawa ward measured nearly 138,000 becquerels per square meter of radioactive cesium 137, which can damage cells and lead to an increased risk of cancer.

Of the 132 areas tested, 22 were above 37,000 becquerels per square meter, the level at which zones were considered contaminated at Chernobyl.

Edwin Lyman, a physicist at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, said most residents near Chernobyl were undoubtedly much worse off, surrounded by widespread contamination rather than isolated hot spots. But he said the 37,000 figure remained a good reference point for mandatory cleanup because regular exposure to such contamination could result in a dosage of more than one millisievert per year, the maximum recommended for the public by the International Commission on Radiological Protection.

The most contaminated spot in the Radiation Defense survey, near a church, was well above the level of the 1.5 million becquerels per square meter that required mandatory resettlement at Chernobyl. The level is so much higher than other results in the study that it raises the possibility of testing error, but micro hot spots are not unheard of after nuclear disasters.

Japan’s relatively tame mainstream media, which is more likely to report on government pronouncements than grass-roots movements, mainly ignored the citizens’ group’s findings.

“Everybody just wants to believe that this is Fukushima’s problem,” said Kota Kinoshita, one of the group’s leaders and a former television journalist. “But if the government is not serious about finding out, how can we trust them?”

Hideo Yamazaki, an expert in environmental analysis at Kinki University in western Japan, did his own survey of the city and said he, too, discovered high levels in the area where the baseball field is located.

“These results are highly localized, so there is no cause for panic,” he said. “Still, there are steps the government could be taking, like decontaminating the highest spots.”

Since then, there have been other suggestions that hot spots were more widespread than originally imagined.

Last month, a local government in a Tokyo ward found a pile of composted leaves at a school that measured 849 becquerels per kilogram of cesium 137, over two times Japan’s legally permissible level for compost.

And on Wednesday, civilians who tested the roof of an apartment building in the nearby city of Yokohama — farther from Fukushima than Tokyo — found high quantities of radioactive strontium. (There was also one false alarm this week when sky-high readings were reported in the Setagaya ward in Tokyo; the government later said they were probably caused by bottles of radium, once widely used to make paint.)

The government’s own aerial testing showed that although almost all of Tokyo had relatively little contamination, two areas showed elevated readings. One was in a mountainous area at the western edge of the Tokyo metropolitan region, and the other was over three wards of the city — including the one where the baseball field is situated.

The metropolitan government said it had started preparations to begin monitoring food products from the nearby mountains, but acknowledged that food had been shipped from that area for months.

Mr. Hayashida, who discovered the high level at the baseball field, said that he was not waiting any longer for government assurances. He moved his family to Okayama, about 370 miles to the southwest.

“Perhaps we could have stayed in Tokyo with no problems,” he said. “But I choose a future with no radiation fears.”

Matthew L. Wald contributed reporting from Washington, and Kantaro Suzuki from Tokyo.

10/8/2011 The Economist: Radiation in Japan Hot spots and blind spots – The mounting human costs of Japan’s nuclear disaster

10/8/2011 The Economist: Radiation in Japan Hot spots and blind spots – The mounting human costs of Japan’s nuclear disaster: CREST the hill into the village of Iitate, and the reading on a radiation dosimeter surges eightfold—even with the car windows shut. “Don’t worry, I’ve been coming here for months and I’m still alive,” chuckles Chohei Sato, chief of the village council, as he rolls down the window and inhales cheerfully. He pulls off the road, gets out of the car and buries the dosimeter in the grass. The reading doubles again.

Iitate is located 45km (28 miles) from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant hit by a tsunami on March 11th this year. In the mountains above the town, the forests are turning the colour of autumn. But their beauty is deceptive. Every time a gust of wind blows, Mr Sato says it shakes invisible particles of radioactive caesium off the trees and showers them over the village. Radiation levels in the hills are so high that villagers dare not go near them. Mr Sato cannot bury his father’s bones, which he keeps in an urn in his abandoned farmhouse, because of the dangers of going up the hill to the graveyard.

Iitate had the misfortune to be caught by a wind that carried radioactive particles (including plutonium) much farther than anybody initially expected after the nuclear disaster. Almost all the 6,000 residents have been evacuated, albeit belatedly, because it took the government months to decide that some villages outside a 30km radius of the plant warranted special attention. Now it offers an extreme example of how difficult it will be to recover from the disaster.

That is mainly because of the enormous spread of radiation. Recently the government said it needed to clear about 2,419 square kilometres of contaminated soil—an area larger than greater Tokyo—that received an annual radiation dose of at least five millisieverts, or over 0.5 microsieverts an hour. That covered an area far beyond the official 30km restriction zone (see map). Besides pressure- hosing urban areas, this would involve removing about 5cm of topsoil from local farms as well as all the dead leaves in caesium-laden forests.

However, Iitate’s experience suggests the government may be underestimating the task. Villagers have removed 5cm of topsoil from one patch of land, but because radioactive particles continue to blow from the surrounding trees, the level of radiation remains high—about one microsievert an hour—even if lower than in nearby areas. Without cutting down the forests, Mr Sato reckons there will be a permanent risk of contamination. So far, nobody has any idea where any contaminated soil will be dumped.

The second problem is children’s health. On September 30th the government lifted an evacuation advisory warning to communities within a 20-30km radius of the plant. The aim was partly to show that the authorities were steadily bringing the crippled reactors under control.

But these areas are still riddled with radiation hot spots, including schools and public parks, which will need to be cleaned before public confidence is restored. Parents say they are particularly concerned about bringing their children back because the health effects of radiation on the young are so unclear. What is more, caesium particles tend to lurk in the grass, which means radiation is more of a risk at toddler height than for adults. In Iitate, Mihori Takahashi, a mother of two, “believes only half of what the doctors say” and says she never wants to bring her children back. That, in itself, may be a curse. “The revival of this town depends on the children returning,” says Mr Sato.

And even if people return, Mr Sato worries how they will make a living. These are farming villages, but it will take years to remove the stigma attached to food grown in Fukushima, he reckons. He is furious with Tokyo Electric Power, operator of the plant, for failing to acknowledge the long-term impacts of the disaster. He says it is a way of scrimping on compensation payouts.

One way to help overcome these problems would be to persuade people to accept relaxed safety standards. A government panel is due to propose lifting the advisory dose limit above one millisievert per year. This week in Tokyo, Wade Allison, a physics professor at Oxford University, argued that Japan’s dose limit could safely be raised to 100 millisieverts, based on current health statistics. Outside Mr Sato’s house, however, a reading of the equivalent of 150 millisieverts a year left your correspondent strangely reluctant to inhale.

10/10/2011 NY Times: After Fukushima, Does Nuclear Power Have a Future?

10/10/2011 NY Times: After Fukushima, Does Nuclear Power Have a Future? By STEPHANIE COOKE: A couple of months after the catastrophe at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant March 11, an American nuclear expert posed an interesting question. “The post-Fukushima public sentiment is surprisingly low-key isn’t it? What a difference between this event and TMI or Chernobyl,” he wrote in an e-mail, using an abbreviation for the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania. “What do you think is going on? Why so quiet?”

I was not convinced. What he said was certainly true in the United States, but the accident had a profound effect in Germany, China and several other countries, serving as a fearful reminder of what can go wrong with nuclear power plants. Phase-outs were the order of the day in Germany (where Chancellor Angela Merkel also demanded immediate shutdowns of eight of the country’s oldest reactors) and Switzerland. China suspended approvals for new reactors pending a safety review, which is now reportedly completed. This has resulted in a downward revision of China’s unofficial pre-Fukushima goal to install 86 gigawatts of nuclear capacity by 2020. It now looks like that will be set around 60 gigawatts (up from around 12 currently) or just a little higher.

Italy said no to new reactors for the second time, ending a relatively brief flirtation with nuclear planners after a long post-Chernobyl freeze. “I think there is now less than 0.01 percent chance for nuclear in Italy,” said Luigi De Paoli, energy economy professor at the Bocconi University in Milan, according to Reuters.

Taiwan appears on the brink of some kind of phase-out involving four reactors, although it is likely to allow a recently constructed fifth unit to operate. Venezuela and Israel, both countries that had harbored nuclear power ambitions, decided they could do without after all. “I think we’ll go for the gas,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CNN. “I think we’ll skip the nuclear.”

In Japan, of course, the effect was most dramatic. Thirteen units were automatically “scrammed” when the earthquake struck, and a 14th was already out for maintenance. With 15 others offline because of previous quakes or for mandatory inspection and refueling, the country’s fleet of 54 operating reactors was cut to 25. In May, the government ordered a shutdown of three additional units (one of which had already been down for maintenance) at Hamaoka, situated in a particularly vulnerable seismic zone near Tokyo.

The nuclear “capacity factor” — a measure of how much electricity reactors generate as a percentage of what they could provide — had dropped precipitously, from 71 percent in February to 51 percent in May, but it would plunge even further in subsequent months.

Facing the prospect of broad electricity failures over the summer, Japan’s leadership did not dare order more plants shut down, but it hardly needed to. Because of the requirement for inspections every 13 months, more reactors were taken offline, one after the other. Now only 11 are operating. (The Japan Atomic Industrial Forum stopped publishing monthly capacity factors after July, when the figure stood at 34 percent, with 19 units operating.) While there certainly were electricity shortages, Japan survived the summer without the extensive blackouts that had been predicted.

Normally the reactors would have been restarted within several weeks of shutdown, but these are not normal times in Japan. Restarts require approvals from local and prefectural governments, and these have not been received since the disaster. The 11 reactors still in operation are due to go down for maintenance between now and next September, and that in theory could leave Japan with zero nuclear-generated electricity — although that is unlikely, given the pro-nuclear sentiment of governors in some prefectures and the intense pressure for restarts from Tokyo.

However, the Japanese government has ordered a gradual phase-out of the country’s reactors, reversing a previous policy of increasing nuclear’s share of the generating mix to 50 percent by 2030. (Japan’s reactors were generally credited with supplying about 30 percent of the electricity mix, but the figure was debatable, given the frequency of power failures even before Fukushima.) “To build new reactors is unrealistic, and we will decommission reactors at the end of their life spans,” Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said in his first policy speech Sept. 2.

Despite this relatively dismal outlook for nuclear energy, the London-based World Nuclear Association predicts a 30 percent increase in global nuclear generating capacity over the next decade; it foresees 79 more reactors online by 2020, for a total of 514, even taking Fukushima into account. And it sees a 66 percent increase by 2030, with capacity additions in China, India, South Korea and Russia outnumbering projected declines in Germany, France, the United Kingdom and the United States. Curiously, it assumes Japan will restart all but the six units at Fukushima Daiichi and continue to build new reactors to replace aging ones, for a net number of operating reactors in 2030 more or less the same as before Fukushima.

While the nuclear association is obviously bullish, it is less so than it was in its last forecast two years ago. And the projected increase would only keep nuclear energy treading water. As a percentage of global generation it would account for just 14 percent, the same amount the association says it currently contributes. (Other experts say the figure is lower.)

In the United States, currently home to the world’s largest reactor fleet, only one proposed project, in Texas, was effectively canceled after Fukushima, but it had been teetering for more than a year since its largest backer, NRG Energy, decided to pull the plug. Plans for about 30 new reactors in the United States already had been whittled down to just four, despite the promise of large subsidies and President Barack Obama’s support of nuclear power, which he reaffirmed after Fukushima.

Perhaps most interesting to watch will be France, whose dependence on nuclear energy is the highest in the world, with nearly 80 percent of the country’s electricity produced by 58 reactors, a fleet second in size only to that of the United States.

A poll by the Institut Français d’Opinion Publique in May, published in Le Journal du Dimanche, found 77 percent of the public favored some kind of nuclear phase-out. That is not completely surprising, given past polls showing French opinion toward nuclear energy to be lukewarm. What is clear is that Fukushima is prompting a major rethinking of the country’s energy policies and that the nuclear issue promises to be a big factor in the presidential election next year.

Against this background, it is not surprising that in the World Nuclear Association’s midcase scenario, both the United States and France show a gradual decline in the number of operating reactors over the next two decades.

It has been evident for some time that nuclear energy’s future increasingly lies in Asia. Whatever the reasons for the muted response to Fukushima, the European phase-outs prompted by the tragedy would make this trend even more pronounced. But even in Asia, a nuclear future is no certain thing. Twenty-five years apart, Chernobyl and Fukushima were events that nuclear plant designers assumed would never happen. Any further major accidents could spell the industry’s doom.

Stephanie Cooke is editor of the Energy Intelligence Group’s Nuclear Intelligence Weekly and author of “In Mortal Hands: A Cautionary History of the Nuclear Age.”

Video: Fukushima Now Radiating Everyone: 'Unspeakable' Reality 'Will Impact All Of Humanity'

8/25/2011 Quebec's largest nuclear plant: shut down following two malfunctions

Gordon Edwards Background: Gentilly-2 is Quebec’s only nuclear power reactor!: And the heavy water that leaked was contaminated with substantial amounts of radioactive materials, including not only a lot of radioactive hydrogen (tritium) but also small amounts of radioactive iodine, radioactive cesium, radioactive cobalt, and radioactive plutonium. Heavy water itself is not radioactive, it is just a bit heavier than normal water (also called “light water”). However when the heavy water is used as to cool the reactor’s fuel, as in this case, it picks up various kinds of radioactive fission products (these are the broken pieces of uranium atoms that have been split) and radioactive activation
products (these are previously non-radioactive materials that have become radioactive as a result of absorbing stray neutrons given off by the nuclear fuel elements).

8/25/2011 Quebec’s largest nuclear plant: shut down following two malfunctions By Brian Daly, QMI Agency, Kingston Whig-Standard: MONTREAL — Quebec’s only nuclear power plant was shut down Tuesday night following two malfunctions, including a heavy water leak that Hydro-Quebec didn’t announce for two months.

A recuperation system overflowed on June 13 inside the Gentilly-2 plant, located 150 km northeast of Montreal.

Hydro-Quebec spokeswoman Flavie Cote tells QMI Agency the leak was immediately reported to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

She says Gentilly-2 is safe and there was no urgency to inform the public.

“There’s a system that’s responsible for recuperating that water, but the system had a slight leak,” she said.

“So there was a leak of heavy water. But it was in the room where the reactor is which is very, very secure, so our employees were protected.”

Cote says the heavy water was recuperated within a day or two.

She also confirmed a second problem at the 48-year-old nuclear plant. A pneumatic valve malfunctioned inside the reactor building. Workers were attempting to restore ventilation on Wednesday.

Officials had planned to shut down Gentilly-2 for annual repairs on Friday, but the two recent problems prompted them to move that date up to Tuesday night.

Hydro-Quebec says the facility will remain closed for at least 70 days. The Gentilly-2 plant, built in 1963, will reach the end of its lifespan in 2014.

It needs a $2-billion refit that would extend its service life through to 2040, but Quebec hasn’t decided whether to approve the refit or close the plant permanently.

Environmentalists and protest groups say nuclear power is unsafe and Gentilly-2 should be dismantled.

Cote insists the facility isn’t a danger to the public.

“It is safe,” she said.

“(This) is an incident that does not happen often, it’s within the normal operations of the plant.”

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission renewed Gentilly- 2’s five-year operating licence on June 29.

But the commission added that Hydro-Quebec must shut down the plant for refurbishment no later than December 31, 2012, “and obtain approval from the commission before reloading fuel in the reactor after the refurbishment.”