Tag Archives: Radioactive

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.”

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.

10/6/2011 Navajo Times: 'Another insult' U.S. EPA to begin cleanup Church Rock uranium site

10/6/2011 Navajo Times: ‘Another insult’ U.S. EPA to begin cleanup Church Rock uranium site By Alastair Lee Bitsoi: CHURCHROCK, NM: The announcement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Sept. 29 that it will begin removing radioactive soil from the largest abandoned uranium mine on the Navajo Nation came as no surprise for local residents. Radioactive soil from the Northeast Church Rock Mine will be removed and placed in on top of a disposal cell at the nearby United Nuclear Corporation mill site.

The removal was one of 14 disposal site plans the U.S. EPA considered and preferred when it announced cleanup plans for the site in May 2009.

It took the U.S. EPA six years of planning and over 10 public meetings to keep area residents informed of the cleanup efforts.

Officials from the Navajo EPA, who will provide oversight along with U.S. EPA of cleanup operations by General Electric, said residents from the Red Water Pond Community were informed of U.S. EPA’s decision during a Sept. 27 meeting held at the residence of Grace Cowboy and Bradley Henio in Church Rock.

“Our first priority was to ship mine waste out of the reservation to a repository in Utah,” said Larry King, a resident and member of the Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining, on Sept. 30.

U.S. EPA’s concern, King said, was the cost of shipping the radioactive waste off of Navajo lands to a licensed disposal facility, which would have cost the federal agency about $293.6 million to transport. This compares to $44.3 million to transport to the UNC site. Also an issue is shipping the radioactive waste through a non-Native community.

“I’m very disappointed in the decision, but it was expected because it involved an indigenous community,” King said. “Yet, uranium was being transported across Native lands in the 1970s and 1980s with no concerns at all.”

Chris Shuey, a researcher with the Southwest Research and Information Center in Albuquerque, said from a public health standpoint people are still going to be living near a radioactive site.

“The potential impacts of this decision are much wider in the community and the implications of this site will apply to other mines on the Navajo Nation,” said Shuey, who has conducted research on the impacts of uranium in the Church Rock area for the last 10 years.

“When we talk about the decision EPA is making it’s another insult to a long history of insult,” Shuey added.

According to the U.S. EPA, the cleanup at mine will include the removal of 1.4 million tons of radium and uranium contaminated soil, which could take up to another seven to 10 years to clean up.

“This is an important milestone in the effort to address the toxic legacy of historic uranium mining on the Navajo Nation,” said Jared Blumenfeld, administrator for U.S. EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region, in a press release. “This plan is the result of several years of collaboration between EPA, the Navajo Nation, and the Red Water Pond Road community living near the mine.”

U.S. EPA’s cleanup plan also includes sending waste containing high levels of radium or uranium off-site for reprocessing or approved disposal, address soil cleanup in a drainage east of the Red Pond Water Community, and provide voluntary housing options during the cleanup for community members directly impacted by the mine.

The removal of the waste to the UNC mill site, which has been a Superfund site for the last 20 years, also satisfies the Navajo Nation’s request to remove the waste off trust land. The UNC mill site is located on private land owned by UNC and GE.

Stephen B. Etsitty, executive director for Navajo EPA, said cleanup decisions are handled on a case-by-case basis and whether sites are time critical or non-time critical, according to standards set by the federal Superfund Program.

“A cleanup decision is based on a variety of factors, such as, but not limited to if there is a responsible party, the future use of the site, the amounts of contamination that remains at a site, the level of background radiation in the area, how bad the contamination is, community input, and the status of Indian law,” Etsitty said.

Etsitty said a U.S. 10th Circuit Court decision in 2010, which focused on the definition of Navajo Indian Country, ultimately weakened the Navajo Nation’s argument to have Church Rock mine waste material transported out of Navajo country.

“The resulting remedy decision is a compromise,” Etsitty added.

In addition to the cleanup plan, GE has agreed to provide scholarships for Navajo students to attend the University of New Mexico or Arizona State University. They also agreed to exercise Navajo preference for cleanup jobs, improve the Pipeline Canyon Road and provide building material for ceremonial hogans as requested by Red Water Pond Community members.

Michele Dineyazhe, remedial project manager who will provide oversight for the Navajo EPA’s Superfund Program, said the specifics of a cleanup date have not yet been determined.

Dineyazhe said a technical team consisting of staff from GE, U.S. EPA, Navajo EPA, the state of New Mexico, U.S. Department of Energy, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will begin meeting to design the disposal cell. The design phase will take three years.

“Something like this is a milestone, but there is still so much work to be done,” Dineyazhe said, adding that the Navajo Nation’s position is to continue addressing the legacy of uranium mining at other sites. “Our intention is to do the best we can for the Navajo people and our land.”

The Northeast Church Rock Mine operated from 1967 to 1982 and included an 1,800-foot shaft, waste piles and several surface ponds.

GE conducted two previous cleanups at the site – one in 2007 that included the removal and rebuilding of one structure and the removal of over 40,000 tons of contaminated soil in 2010.

4/20/2011 Gallup Independent article: Delegate concerned about cleanup of Highway 160 site

Delegate concerned about cleanup of Highway 160 site, By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent, 4/20/2011, WINDOW ROCK – Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency has selected a contractor to begin cleanup of the “Highway 160 Site” in Tuba City and will host a Radiation Awareness Workshop next week at To’Nanees’Dizi Chapter House to educate the public, according to Navajo Nation Council Delegate Joshua Lavar Butler. “Area residents need to be reassured that the cleanup and transport of radioactive material is done in an effective and efficient manner without causing further harm to the surrounding area. During the summer it’s windy, and anyone downwind could be affected,” Butler, who represents To’Nanees’ Dizi, said.

“It is vitally important federal and tribal officials begin educating and notifying people of concerns for safety and activities associated with this cleanup. I will continue to keep our people informed and will urge the agencies involved to take all safety precautions to ensure it is done in a manner to protect the health of our people and of our environment,” he said.

The Radiation Awareness Workshop will be held 8 a.m.-5 p.m. April 27-28, with three sessions April 27 for the general public, and two more in-depth sessions April 28 for emergency and public safety personnel, according to Butler.

The Highway 160 Site is located about 5 miles east of Tuba City along Arizona Highway 160. It is directly north of the former Rare Metals uranium mill owned by El Paso Natural Gas and managed by U.S. Department of Energy’s Legacy Management.

According to an October 2010 statement of work, the Highway 160 site was discovered by Navajo EPA in 2003. The agency conducted radiological and soil analysis the following May and released a final report in September 2004. The site was found to have high radiological readings, including a finding of more than 1 million counts per minute.

In 2006 and 2007, Navajo EPA contracted William Walker of Walker & Associates, Inc., to conduct further site investigation. Walker found evidence that linked the contamination to Rare Metals, including ceramic tumblers and Normandy pebbles possibly used in the mill processing operation. Radiological levels ranged from 400 counts per minute to more than 10,000 counts per minute.

Analysis was performed on 47 soil samples and Walker released a final report in 2007 identifying radiological concerns that are affecting the immediate environment as well as health and safety concerns for humans, animals and plants. Groundwater at the Highway 160 site has not been characterized, according to Navajo EPA.

Hopi Tribal Chairman LeRoy Shingoitewa, who lives in the Upper Village of Moenkopi, is concerned, according to Butler. The Highway 160 Site is in close proximity not only to Rare Metals – where DOE has been treating contaminated groundwater for nearly a decade – but also another site known as the Tuba City Open Dump, where radioactive contamination also was found.

“There is some radioactive contamination that is showing up in a plume that is coming off the Tuba City Open Dump,” Shingoitewa said. “The plume is also moving into the drinking water, so both the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation are working as partners very closely to make sure that the open dump site will be cleaned up.”

The Highway 160 Site is within the customary use area of a family who used the area to graze their livestock. In late 2007, El Paso provided further surveys of the site and confirmed the presence of buried debris up to 13 feet deep. El Paso fenced nearly 8 acres of the 16-acre site and applied a polymer cover to prevent windblown contamination.

Stephen B. Etsitty, who has been executive director of Navajo EPA since 2003 and was confirmed again Wednesday by Council, said they fought DOE for years for recognition of the site, and finally in Fiscal Year 2009 received congressional authority and a $5 million appropriation through DOE to clean up the site. DOE will keep $500,000 of that amount for oversight of the project. “It will be a clean closure,” Etsitty said, meaning that all contaminated soil will be removed and transported away from the Navajo Nation to an approved disposal facility.

Cassandra Bloedel of Navajo EPA, in an exit interview in January with the 21st Council’s Resources Committee, said the waste will be removed this year, possibly by August, and transported on state highways for final disposal at the “Cheney Cell,” about 12 miles southeast of Grand Junction, Colo.