Tag Archives: Tepco

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.

9/8/2011 Guardian UK: Japan disaster: Fukushima residents return to visit their homes

9/8/2011 Guardian UK: Japan disaster: Fukushima residents return to visit their homes: Six months after radiation leaks from the nuclear plant led to their evacuation, residents of nearby towns briefly return by Justin McCurry in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture: Takashige Kowata thought he was prepared for the worst when he opened the door to his house for the first time in six months. But the trauma of seeing his family home abandoned amid the panic of a nuclear meltdown was compounded when he noticed a broken bathroom window.

“It looks like we have been burgled,” the 63-year-old says, still too shaken to establish what is missing. “I can’t believe that someone is capable of stealing from the victims of a disaster.”

The intruders would have committed their crime with ease: Kowata’s spacious house and garden lie about a mile from the scene of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, which has turned large swaths of nearby land into an official no-go zone.

He was one of 80,000 people living within a 12-mile (20km) radius of the nuclear plant who were told to evacuate by the government in the hours after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake launched a tsunami that crashed through its protective seawall and triggered meltdown in three of its six reactors.

Kowata and more than 200 of his neighbours have been allowed to make a brief visit home to collect as many belongings as they can carry. It is a homecoming that many accept is likely to be their last.

Dressed in protective suits, masks and goggles, they have been given just two hours to survey the damage to the houses they have been barred from entering since the triple disaster struck north-east Japan on the afternoon of 11 March.

Months of radiation leaks from Fukushima Daiichi have rendered Okuma and the nearby town of Futaba uninhabitable for years, perhaps decades.

According to a recent government report, the annual cumulative radiation dose in one district of Okuma is estimated at 508.1 millisieverts, more than 500 times the acceptable yearly level and, experts believe, high enough to increase the risk of cancer.

“We’ve been told that we can’t return home because of the radiation,” says Kinuko Yamada, a 53-year-old woman who is making the trip with her husband. “I hope we can go back, but it could be 20 to 30 years before that happens. I’ll probably be dead by then.”

Radiation levels in the town are so high that decontamination could take years, or not succeed at all. Residents have so far been allowed just this one brief visit, organised by the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power [Tepco] and nuclear safety officials. The Guardian was the only foreign media permitted to accompany them.

Evidence of the area’s dismal place in the history of Japan’s nuclear power industry becomes visible soon after the convoy of buses passes through the police checkpoint.

All traces of ordinary life have been cast in eerie suspension: roadsides are overgrown with grass and weeds; shops and restaurants lie empty, and grand farmhouses – evacuated in the hours following the accident, when Tepco officials were considering abandoning the plant – stand quiet and deserted. Toppled walls and scattered roof tiles are reminders of the staggering force of the quake that caused the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.

The only sound is the chirping of late-summer cicadas and the occasional beep of a Geiger counter. A scrawny black dog wanders into the road, sizes up his human visitors and scampers back into the woods.

And just visible above a line of trees is the roof of one of Fukushima Daiichi’s reactor buildings. As our bus drives past, radiation levels inside surge to 61 microsieverts an hour (compared to the typical Japanese average of 0.34 microsieverts).Elsewhere inside the exclusion zone, at least 1,000 cattle are roaming wild after escaping from their farm homesteads, according to local authorities. Most pets, and tens of thousands of cows, pigs and chickens have starved to death.

A few days after residents returned to their homes, police officers and firefighters resumed the search for almost 200 tsunami victims in the area still listed as missing.

Some residents are reluctant to openly criticise Tepco, a major local employer. “I never worried about the nuclear plant before the tsunami,” says one of Kowata’s neighbours, a woman in her 60s who declines to give her name.

“When we left on 11 March we thought we would be back in a week or 10 days. Then the reactor buildings started exploding and we were more cautious, but even so I never thought it would be as bad as this. The power plant put food on the table around here … I can’t find the words to describe how I feel.

“I’m going to take back some valuables and our ancestors’ spirit tablets – my parents are both dead. The earthquake left our family Buddhist altar in pieces, so I brought some flowers to place in front of it.”

Her garden, usually a blaze of colour at this time of year, is a tangle of weeds and wild grass. “I spotted a few flowers blooming among the grass,” she says. “I love flowers and told them I was sorry for not being able to look after them properly.”

Inside, the doors have come away from their hinges and the walls have been pushed up by the force of the quake. “It’s terrible,” she says. “The kind of shock from which you can never recover. I want to come back, but it might be better for my peace of mind to stop hoping.”

However, Kowata, a former local government official who witnessed the arrival of MOX (mixed oxide) nuclear fuel at Fukushima Daiichi last year, makes no attempt to hide his bitterness towards Tepco.

He has lived in this neighbourhood all his life and had only just built a new house, which he shared with four other members of his family. His father, like many other elderly tsunami survivors, died soon after being evacuated.

“I don’t know how much Tepco and the government will give us as compensation, and in any case it will take a long time to arrive,” says Kowata, who is living in rented accommodation in Aizu-Wakamatsu, a town farther inland.

“We can’t wait around for them to take action. The nuclear accident is a man-made disaster.

“The government and Tepco kept telling us that this kind of thing could not possibly happen. Tepco hasn’t changed when it comes to covering up trouble.”

Just two hours after they arrived, Okuma’s residents must board buses to take them back outside the exclusion zone to be screened for radiation.

They emerge from their homes gripping plastic bags bulging with clothes, valuables, heirlooms, children’s toys and photo albums.

Kowata gathers his belongings, walks out of his front door and turns the key one last time. “As far as I am concerned, this is the last time I will see my home,” he says. “The house itself isn’t very old … it’s a great shame.”

Halfway down the driveway he turns and fixes his gaze on the home he is leaving behind.

“I wanted to say thank you one last time. Now it’s time to move on.”

8/28/2011 Extremely High First Year Radiation Doses Predicted by Japanese Government in some areas

8/28/2011 Extremely High First Year Radiation Doses Predicted by Japanese Government in some areasby Gordon Edwards: Background: Deposits of radioactive fallout from Fukushima are highly variable, depending on weather conditions, precipitation, and nature of the releases — which include not only gases and vapours, but also “hot particles”, sometimes called “nuclear fuel fleas”, which are tiny but solid radioactive “cinders” from the disintegrated fuel elements. For those who may not know, MEXT is Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science & Technology. A note about the numbers: In Canada, the maximum extra radiation exposure allowed (by regulation) for a member of the public is 1 mSv per year. In the nuclear industry, any worker who is exposed to 1 mSv or more per year must receive special training. In North America, the maximum occupational exposure for an atomic worker is 50 mSv per year. In Germany, the maximum occupational exposure for an atomic worker is 20 mSv per year.

8/23/2011 Email From: Ko-ichi Nakamura: 8/23/2011 Greetings, I am forwarding Dr. Saji’s latest daily update by Ko-ichi Nakamura: (Dr. Saji is Ex-Secretariat of Nuclear Safety Commission, Japan). He is now retired, independent from any government or industry group. The following web sites may be your good source of info, what is going on everyday. http://jaif.or.jp/english/ http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/
Best regards, Ko-ichi Nakamura

8/23/2011 Email From: Genn Saji: Dear Colleagues: 161th-165th day!:

I. Extremely high first year doses predicted by MEXT. MEXT announced their estimation of the first year doses (starting from the day of the accident), at the 50 representative spots within the 20 km “vigilance (off-limit)” zone in view of the government intention of allowing re-habilitation of the evacuees. According to their measurements, the dose rates are orders of magnitude different within the same zone in Fukushima Prefecture. Among the extremely high doses recorded are these: 508.1 mSv at Koirino, Okuma-cho, 223.7 mSv at Kawafusa, Namie-cho, 172.4 mSv at Futaba-cho, 115.3 mSv at Koryougahama, Tomioka-cho, 53.1 mSv at Kanaya, Kotaka-ku, Minamisouma-shi.

Thirty five out of 50 locations exceeded the Government guideline of the first year dose of 20 mSv. The dose rates are greatly different even in the same district. For example, at Namie-cho, it was only 4.1 mSv at Kitaokusebashi, located only 8 km from the Fukushima Daiichi. I think overall dose maps have been shown in DOE/NNRI website by indicating above 20 mSv, however, these individual values higher than 20 mSv are the first released by MEXT.

Further studies of these phenomena are very important, I believe, since there are two possibilities. One is that these highly contaminated spots are induced by the black-rain/fallout as droplets from the plumes, mostly in a liquid state. The other case is that highly radioactive solid fuel particles were included in the plume which fell out during the plume passage.

In this case, the surface concentration should be much more localized than the first case. In the first case, the removal of wider surface soil should be necessary for decontamination. Whereas, in the second case, it is essential to locate the hot particles and remove them.

Being influenced by these facts, the Government is now saying that there will be some areas where rehabilitation will not be possible for an extended [number of] years, typically several tens of years. Mr. Edano, Chief Secretary of Diet, said on August 21 that the government is going to contact with the local communities to explain these prospects. It was reported that the government is going to purchase these areas, however, the local people may refuse to sell due to a strong affection towards their homelands. The Government is shifted to lent [forced to rent] the lands for decontamination until re-habitation will become feasible.

Through watching results of various decontamination activities being performed in Fukushima, I got an impression that decreasing the soil activation by one order of magnitude may be feasible, such as by removing the surface soil as well as disposing weeds and fallen leaves, reduction of two orders of magnitude may not be practical, due to secondary contamination possibilities. I once thought it is essential to decontaminate the very highly contaminated corridor stretching towards NW direction towards the Iitate-mura [village], however, I begin to think it will not be feasible if we consider secondary radiation doses expected for the workers. It is because most of these regions are in a Mountain district (Abukuma mountain chain).

The recent observation [recently observed] activities are now showing that a large fraction of radioactivity seems to be absorbed in leaves and barks of the trees. For decontamination, we need to dispose these biomass mass safely, As in the case of the “Red Forest” stretching towards the west direction from the Chernobyl reactor, the decontamination may be impossible. The Government should clearly explain to the affected people what can be done and what will be impossible, considering the secondary radiation risk.

II. Update of internal exposure in livestock

Since I covered this subject in July 30 as [Update #134], this issue is being reported almost every day in Japanese media. I would like to update this since another route of contamination [of beef] was discovered recently. It has been generally understood that the major pathway was through rice straw feed mainly produced in Fukushima, contaminated from the straw left in the paddy field at the time of the plume passage, through a rice straw feed –> cattle.

However, stocked beef meet from 12 cattle was found contaminated as high as 2.0E+3 Bq/kg, [2,000 becquerels per kilogram] twice the temporary guideline. The meat was produced at Namiemachi (10-30 km from Fukushima Dai-ichi) in April. This rancher has not used the rice straw feed, instead he was feeding with imported hay, all stored in a barn. The local government [guessed] that the contaminated air passing through the barn may have contaminated the hay. In view of this, the Fukushima Prefecture is requesting the Government to lift the restriction of marketing cattle from Fukushima, since they are now ready to perform monitoring of each cattle.

I first suspected the pathway is from inhalation, however, due to high retention factor of radioactive aerosol in vegetation, the prominent pathway seems to be through contaminated straw or hay feed.

III. Update of the water purification system

The new zeolite sorption process, developed by Toshiba/Shaw Group has started to commission on August 18, showing DFs as below for Line B:

Species pre-processing post-processing DF
(Bq/cm3) (Bq/cm3) Decontamination Factor
I-131 ND (<7200) 5.8 <1,200 Cs-134 1,100,000 21 52,000 Cs-137 1,300,000 23 57,000 The DFs were found to be approximately 10 time lower than expected, however, it is an order of magnitude better than Kurion's process. Because of the reasonably good performance, TEPCO configured this system to run parallel to the existing system. The parallel operation improved the total capacity of the water purification system by a factor of 1.5 with 70 tons/h, starting from the night of August 19. This started to reduce the total volume of the highly contaminated water. If everything works as planned, the backlog inventories may be clarified in several month. Partly being helped from this, all of the temperature readings of the [Fukushima Dai-ichi Unit 1 plant] went below the boiling point on 11 PM on August 19. The temperature readings of [Units 2 and 3] are still 118.4/126.4, [degrees Celsius] respectively. Genn Saji

8/8/2011 NY Times: Japan Held Nuclear Data, Leaving Evacuees in Peril

8/8/2011 NY Times: Japan Held Nuclear Data, Leaving Evacuees in Peril By NORIMITSU ONISHI and MARTIN FACKLER: FUKUSHIMA, Japan — The day after a giant tsunami set off the continuing disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, thousands of residents at the nearby town of Namie gathered to evacuate. Given no guidance from Tokyo, town officials led the residents north, believing that winter winds would be blowing south and carrying away any radioactive emissions. For three nights, while hydrogen explosions at four of the reactors spewed radiation into the air, they stayed in a district called Tsushima where the children played outside and some parents used water from a mountain stream to prepare rice.

The winds, in fact, had been blowing directly toward Tsushima — and town officials would learn two months later that a government computer system designed to predict the spread of radioactive releases had been showing just that. But the forecasts were left unpublicized by bureaucrats in Tokyo, operating in a culture that sought to avoid responsibility and, above all, criticism. Japan’s political leaders at first did not know about the system and later played down the data, apparently fearful of having to significantly enlarge the evacuation zone — and acknowledge the accident’s severity.

“From the 12th to the 15th we were in a location with one of the highest levels of radiation,” said Tamotsu Baba, the mayor of Namie, which is about five miles from the nuclear plant. He and thousands from Namie now live in temporary housing in another town, Nihonmatsu. “We are extremely worried about internal exposure to radiation.” The withholding of information, he said, was akin to “murder.”

In interviews and public statements, some current and former government officials have admitted that Japanese authorities engaged in a pattern of withholding damaging information and denying facts of the nuclear disaster — in order, some of them said, to limit the size of costly and disruptive evacuations in land-scarce Japan and to avoid public questioning of the politically powerful nuclear industry. As the nuclear plant continues to release radiation, some of which has slipped into the nation’s food supply, public anger is growing at what many here see as an official campaign to play down the scope of the accident and the potential health risks.

Seiki Soramoto, a lawmaker and former nuclear engineer to whom Prime Minister Naoto Kan turned for advice during the crisis, blamed the government for withholding forecasts from the computer system, known as the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information, or Speedi.

“In the end, it was the prime minister’s office that hid the Speedi data,” he said. “Because they didn’t have the knowledge to know what the data meant, and thus they did not know what to say to the public, they thought only of their own safety, and decided it was easier just not to announce it.”

In an interview, Goshi Hosono, the minister in charge of the nuclear crisis, dismissed accusations that political considerations had delayed the release of the early Speedi data. He said that they were not disclosed because they were incomplete and inaccurate, and that he was presented with the data for the first time only on March 23.

“And on that day, we made them public,” said Mr. Hosono, who was one of the prime minister’s closest advisers in the early days of the crisis before being named nuclear disaster minister. “As for before that, I myself am not sure. In the days before that, which were a matter of life and death for Japan as a nation, I wasn’t taking part in what was happening with Speedi.”

The computer forecasts were among many pieces of information the authorities initially withheld from the public. Meltdowns at three of Fukushima Daiichi’s six reactors went officially unacknowledged for months. In one of the most damning admissions, nuclear regulators said in early June that inspectors had found tellurium 132, which experts call telltale evidence of reactor meltdowns, a day after the tsunami — but did not tell the public for nearly three months. For months after the disaster, the government flip-flopped on the level of radiation permissible on school grounds, causing continuing confusion and anguish about the safety of schoolchildren here in Fukushima.

Too Late: The timing of many admissions — coming around late May and early June, when inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency visited Japan and before Japan was scheduled to deliver a report on the accident at an I.A.E.A. conference — suggested to critics that Japan’s nuclear establishment was coming clean only because it could no longer hide the scope of the accident. On July 4, the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, a group of nuclear scholars and industry executives, said, “It is extremely regrettable that this sort of important information was not released to the public until three months after the fact, and only then in materials for a conference overseas.”

The group added that the authorities had yet to disclose information like the water level and temperature inside reactor pressure vessels that would yield a fuller picture of the damage. Other experts have said the government and Tokyo Electric Power Company, known as Tepco, have yet to reveal plant data that could shed light on whether the reactors’ cooling systems were actually knocked out solely by the 45-foot-tall tsunami, as officials have maintained, or whether damage from the earthquake also played a role, a finding that could raise doubts about the safety of other nuclear plants in a nation as seismically active as Japan.

Government officials insist that they did not knowingly imperil the public. “As a principle, the government has never acted in such a way as to sacrifice the public’s health or safety,” said Mr. Hosono, the nuclear disaster minister.

Here in the prefecture’s capital and elsewhere, workers are removing the surface soil from schoolyards contaminated with radioactive particles from the nuclear plant. Tens of thousands of children are being kept inside school buildings this hot summer, where some wear masks even though the windows are kept shut. Many will soon be wearing individual dosimeters to track their exposure to radiation.

At Elementary School No. 4 here, sixth graders were recently playing shogi and go, traditional board games, inside. Nao Miyabashi, 11, whose family fled here from Namie, said she was afraid of radiation. She tried not to get caught in the rain. She gargled and washed her hands as soon as she got home. “I want to play outside,” she said.

About 45 percent of 1,080 children in three Fukushima communities surveyed in late March tested positive for thyroid exposure to radiation, according to a recent announcement by the government, which added that the levels were too low to warrant further examination. Many experts both in and outside Japan are questioning the government’s assessment, pointing out that in Chernobyl, most of those who went on to suffer from thyroid cancer were children living near that plant at the time of the accident.

Critics inside and outside the Kan administration argue that some of the exposure could have been prevented if officials had released the data sooner.

On the evening of March 15, Mr. Kan called Mr. Soramoto, who used to design nuclear plants for Toshiba, to ask for his help in managing the escalating crisis. Mr. Soramoto formed an impromptu advisory group, which included his former professor at the University of Tokyo, Toshiso Kosako, a top Japanese expert on radiation measurement.

Mr. Kosako, who studied the Soviet response to the Chernobyl crisis, said he was stunned at how little the leaders in the prime minister’s office knew about the resources available to them. He quickly advised the chief cabinet secretary, Yukio Edano, to use Speedi, which used measurements of radioactive releases, as well as weather and topographical data, to predict where radioactive materials could travel after being released into the atmosphere.

Speedi had been designed in the 1980s to make forecasts of radiation dispersal that, according to the prime minister’s office’s own nuclear disaster manuals, were supposed to be made available at least to local officials and rescue workers in order to guide evacuees away from radioactive plumes.

And indeed, Speedi had been churning out maps and other data hourly since the first hours after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami. But the Education Ministry had not provided the data to the prime minister’s office because, it said, the information was incomplete. The tsunami had knocked out sensors at the plant: without measurements of how much radiation was actually being released by the plant, they said, it was impossible to measure how far the radioactive plume was stretching.

“Without knowing the strength of the releases, there was no way we could take responsibility if evacuations were ordered,” said Keiji Miyamoto of the Education Ministry’s nuclear safety division, which administers Speedi.

The government had initially resorted to drawing rings around the plant, evacuating everyone within a radius of first 1.9 miles, then 6.2 miles and then 12.4 miles, widening the rings as the scale of the disaster became clearer.

But even with incomplete data, Mr. Kosako said he urged the government to use Speedi by making educated guesses as to the levels of radiation release, which would have still yielded usable maps to guide evacuation plans. In fact, the ministry had done precisely that, running simulations on Speedi’s computers of radiation releases. Some of the maps clearly showed a plume of nuclear contamination extending to the northwest of the plant, beyond the areas that were initially evacuated.

However, Mr. Kosako said, the prime minister’s office refused to release the results even after it was made aware of Speedi, because officials there did not want to take responsibility for costly evacuations if their estimates were later called into question.

A wider evacuation zone would have meant uprooting hundreds of thousands of people and finding places for them to live in an already crowded country. Particularly in the early days after the earthquake, roads were blocked and trains were not running. These considerations made the government desperate to limit evacuations beyond the 80,000 people already moved from areas around the plant, as well as to avoid compensation payments to still more evacuees, according to current and former officials interviewed.

Mr. Kosako said the top advisers to the prime minister repeatedly ignored his frantic requests to make the Speedi maps public, and he resigned in April over fears that children were being exposed to dangerous radiation levels.

Some advisers to the prime minister argue that the system was not that useful in predicting the radiation plume’s direction. Shunsuke Kondo, who heads the Atomic Energy Commission, an advisory body in the Cabinet Office, said that the maps Speedi produced in the first days were inconsistent, and changed several times a day depending on wind direction.

“Why release something if it was not useful?” said Mr. Kondo, also a retired professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Tokyo. “Someone on the ground in Fukushima, looking at which way the wind was blowing, would have known just as much.”

Mr. Kosako and others, however, say the Speedi maps would have been extremely useful in the hands of someone who knew how to sort through the system’s reams of data. He said the Speedi readings were so complex, and some of the predictions of the spread of radiation contamination so alarming, that three separate government agencies — the Education Ministry and the two nuclear regulators, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and Nuclear Safety Commission — passed the data to one another like a hot potato, with none of them wanting to accept responsibility for its results.

In interviews, officials at the ministry and the agency each pointed fingers, saying that the other agency was responsible for Speedi. The head of the commission declined to be interviewed.

Mr. Baba, the mayor of Namie, said that if the Speedi data had been made available sooner, townspeople would have naturally chosen to flee to safer areas. “But we didn’t have the information,” he said. “That’s frustrating.”

Evacuees now staying in temporary prefabricated homes in Nihonmatsu said that, believing they were safe in Tsushima, they took few precautions. Yoko Nozawa, 70, said that because of the lack of toilets, they resorted to pits in the ground, where doses of radiation were most likely higher.

“We were in the worst place, but didn’t know it,” Ms. Nozawa said. “Children were playing outside.”

A neighbor, Hiroyuki Oto, 31, said he was working at the plant for a Tepco subcontractor at the time of the earthquake and was now in temporary lodging with his wife and three young children, after also staying in Tsushima. “The effects might emerge only years from now,” he said of the exposure to radiation. “I’m worried about my kids.”

Seeds of Mistrust: Mr. Hosono, the minister charged with dealing with the nuclear crisis, has said that certain information, including the Speedi data, had been withheld for fear of “creating a panic.” In an interview, Mr. Hosono — who now holds nearly daily news conferences with Tepco officials and nuclear regulators — said that the government had “changed its thinking” and was trying to release information as fast as possible.

Critics, as well as the increasingly skeptical public, seem unconvinced. They compare the response to the Minamata case in the 1950s, a national scandal in which bureaucrats and industry officials colluded to protect economic growth by hiding the fact that a chemical factory was releasing mercury into Minamata Bay in western Japan. The mercury led to neurological illnesses in thousands of people living in the region and was captured in wrenching photographs of stricken victims.

“If they wanted to protect people, they had to release information immediately,” said Reiko Seki, a sociologist at Rikkyo University in Tokyo and an expert on the cover-up of the Minamata case. “Despite the experience with Minamata, they didn’t release Speedi.”

In Koriyama, a city about 40 miles west of the nuclear plant, a group of parents said they had stopped believing in government reassurances and recently did something unthinkable in a conservative, rural area: they sued. Though their suit seeks to force Koriyama to relocate their children to a safer area, their real aim is to challenge the nation’s handling of evacuations and the public health crisis.

After the nuclear disaster, the government raised the legal exposure limit to radiation from one to 20 millisieverts a year for people, including children — effectively allowing them to continue living in communities from which they would have been barred under the old standard. The limit was later scaled back to one millisievert per year, but applied only to children while they were inside school buildings.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Toshio Yanagihara, said the authorities were withholding information to deflect attention from the nuclear accident’s health consequences, which will become clear only years later.

“Because the effects don’t emerge immediately, they can claim later on that cigarettes or coffee caused the cancer,” he said.

The Japanese government is considering monitoring the long-term health of Fukushima residents and taking appropriate measures in the future, said Yasuhiro Sonoda, a lawmaker and parliamentary secretary of the Cabinet Office. The mayor of Koriyama, Masao Hara, said he did not believe that the government’s radiation standards were unsafe. He said it was “unrealistic” to evacuate the city’s 33,000 elementary and junior high school students.

But Koriyama went further than the government’s mandates, removing the surface soil from its schools before national directives and imposing tougher inspection standards than those set by the country’s education officials.

“The Japanese people, after all, have a high level of knowledge,” the mayor said, “so I think information should be disclosed correctly and quickly so that the people can make judgments, especially the people here in Fukushima.”

Norimitsu Onishi reported from Fukushima, and Martin Fackler from Tokyo. Ken Belson and Kantaro Suzuki contributed reporting from Tokyo.

8/1/2011 Common Dreams: Record High Radiation at Crippled Japan Nuke Plant

8/1/2011 Common Dreams: Record High Radiation at Crippled Japan Nuke Plant: TOKYO — Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said Monday it had monitored record high radiation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant crippled by the March 11 quake and tsunami. TEPCO said radiation levels reached at least 10 sieverts per hour near the debris left between the number one and number two reactors of the plant at the center of the ongoing nuclear crisis. The previous record was three to four sieverts per hour monitored inside the number one reactor on June 3.

“Three plant workers were exposed to a dosage of four millisieverts while they were monitoring radiation,” a TEPCO spokeswoman said. “We are still checking the cause of such high levels of radioactivity.”

The government and TEPCO say they remain on target to bring the reactors to a safe state of cold shutdown by January at the latest now that a water circulation system has been established.

Efforts to stabilize the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl 25 years ago have continued since a 9.0 magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami, sparking reactor meltdowns at the plant and spewing radiation into the environment.

The government has said radiation levels around the plant, which lies 220 kilometers (136 miles) from Tokyo, had fallen to “two-millionths” of the peak recorded March 15.

Tens of thousands of people remain evacuated from homes, businesses and farms in a no-go zone around the plant.

© 2011 Agence France-Presse

7/2/2011 The Atlantic Wire: Meltdown: What Really Happened at Fukushima?

The Atlantic Wire: Meltdown: What Really Happened at Fukushima? By Jake Edelstein and David McNeill: 7/2/2011 It’s been one of the mysteries of Japan’s ongoing nuclear disaster: How much of the damage did the March 11 earthquake inflict on Fukushima Daiichi’s reactors in the 40 minutes before the devastating tsunami arrived? The stakes are high: If the quake alone structurally compromised the plant and the safety of its nuclear fuel, then every other similar reactor in Japan is at risk. Throughout the months of lies and misinformation, one story has stuck: “The earthquake knocked out the plant’s electric power, halting cooling to its reactors,” as the government spokesman Yukio Edano said at a March 15 press conference in Tokyo. The story, which has been repeated again and again, boils down to this: “after the earthquake, the tsunami — a unique, unforeseeable [the Japanese word is soteigai] event — then washed out the plant’s back-up generators, shutting down all cooling and starting the chain of events that would cause the world’s first triple meltdown to occur.”

But what if recirculation pipes and cooling pipes, burst, snapped, leaked, and broke completely after the earthquake — long before the tidal wave reached the facilities, long before the electricity went out? This would surprise few people familiar with the 40-year-old Unit 1, the grandfather of the nuclear reactors still operating in Japan. The authors have spoken to several workers at the plant who recite the same story: Serious damage to piping and at least one of the reactors before the tsunami hit. All have requested anonymity because they are still working at the plant or are connected with TEPCO. One worker, a 27-year-old maintenance engineer who was at the Fukushima complex on March 11, recalls hissing and leaking pipes. “I personally saw pipes that came apart and I assume that there were many more that had been broken throughout the plant. There’s no doubt that the earthquake did a lot of damage inside the plant,” he said. “There were definitely leaking pipes, but we don’t know which pipes — that has to be investigated. I also saw that part of the wall of the turbine building for Unit 1 had come away. That crack might have affected the reactor.”

The reactor walls of the reactor are quite fragile, he notes. “If the walls are too rigid, they can crack under the slightest pressure from inside so they have to be breakable because if the pressure is kept inside and there is a buildup of pressure, it can damage the equipment inside the walls so it needs to be allowed to escape. It’s designed to give during a crisis, if not it could be worse — that might be shocking to others, but to us it’s common sense.”

A second worker, a technician in his late 30s, who was also on site at the time of the earthquake, narrated what happened. “It felt like the earthquake hit in two waves, the first impact was so intense you could see the building shaking, the pipes buckling, and within minutes, I saw pipes bursting. Some fell off the wall. Others snapped. I was pretty sure that some of the oxygen tanks stored on site had exploded but I didn’t see for myself. Someone yelled that we all needed to evacuate and I was good with that. But I was severely alarmed because as I was leaving I was told and I could see that several pipes had cracked open, including what I believe were cold water supply pipes. That would mean that coolant couldn’t get to the reactor core. If you can’t sufficiently get the coolant to the core, it melts down. You don’t have to have to be a nuclear scientist to figure that out.”

As he was heading to his car, he could see the walls of the reactor one building itself had already started to collapse. “There were holes in them. In the first few minutes, no one was thinking about a tsunami. We were thinking about survival.” A third worker was coming into work late when the earthquake hit. “I was in a building nearby when the earthquake shook. After the second shockwave hit, I heard a loud explosion that was almost deafening. I looked out the window and I could see white smoke coming from reactor one. I thought to myself, ‘this is the end.’”

When the worker got to the office five to 15 minutes later the supervisor ordered them all to evacuate, explaining, “there’s been an explosion of some gas tanks in reactor one, probably the oxygen tanks. In addition to this there has been some structural damage, pipes have burst, meltdown is possible. Please take shelter immediately.” (It should be noted that there have been several explosions at Daiichi even after the March 11 earthquake, one of which TEPCO stated, “was probably due to a gas tank left behind in the debris”.)

However, while the employees prepared to leave, the tsunami warning came. Many of them fled to the top floor of a building near the site and waited to be rescued. The reason for official reluctance to admit that the earthquake did direct structural damage to reactor one is obvious. Katsunobu Onda, author of TEPCO: The Dark Empire (東京電力・暗黒の帝国), who sounded the alarm about the firm in his 2007 book explains it this way: “If TEPCO and the government of Japan admit an earthquake can do direct damage to the reactor, this raises suspicions about the safety of every reactor they run. They are using a number of antiquated reactors that have the same systematic problems, the same wear and tear on the piping.”

In a previous story, Kei Sugaoka, a Japanese engineer who worked at the Unit 1 site, says that he wasn’t surprised that a meltdown took place after the earthquake. He sent the Japanese government a letter, dated June 28, 2000, warning them of the problems there. It took the Japanese government more than two years to act on that warning. Mr. Sugaoka has also said he saw yakuza tattoos on many of the cleanup crew staff. When interviewed on May 23 he stated, “The plant had problems galore and the approach taken with them was piecemeal. Most of the critical work: construction work, inspection work, and welding were entrusted to sub-contracted employees with little technical background or knowledge of nuclear radiation. I can’t remember there ever being a disaster drill. The TEPCO employees never got their hands dirty.”

Onda notes, “I’ve spent decades researching TEPCO and its nuclear power plants and what I’ve found, and what government reports confirm is that the nuclear reactors are only as strong as their weakest links, and those links are the pipes.”

During his research, Onda spoke with several engineers who worked at the TEPCO plants. One told him that often piping would not match up the way it should according to the blueprints. In that case, the only solution was to use heavy machinery to pull the pipes close enough together to weld them shut. Inspection of piping was often cursory and the backs of the pipes, which were hard to reach, were often ignored. Since the inspections themselves were generally cursory and done by visual checks, it was easy to ignore them. Repair jobs were rushed; no one wanted to be exposed to nuclear radiation longer than necessary.

Onda adds, “When I first visited the Fukushima power plant it was a web of pipes. Pipes on the wall, on the ceiling, on the ground. You’d have to walk over them, duck under them—sometimes you’d bump your head on them. It was like a maze of pipes inside.” Onda believes it’s not very difficult to explain what happened at Unit 1 and perhaps the other reactors as well. “The pipes, which regulate the heat of the reactor and carry coolant, are the veins and arteries of a nuclear power plant; the core is the heart. If the pipes burst, vital components don’t reach the heart and thus you have a heart attack, in nuclear terms: meltdown. In simpler terms, you can’t cool a reactor core if the pipes carrying the coolant and regulating the heat rupture—it doesn’t get to the core.”

Tooru Hasuike, a TEPCO employee from 1977 until 2009 and former general safety manager of the Fukushima plant, also notes: “The emergency plans for a nuclear disaster at the Fukushima plant had no mention of using sea-water to cool the core. To pump seawater into the core is to destroy the reactor. The only reason you’d do that is no other water or coolant was available.”

Problems with the fractured, deteriorating, poorly repaired pipes and the cooling system had been pointed out for years. In 2002, whistle-blower allegations that TEPCO had deliberately falsified safety records came to light and the company was forced to shut down all of its reactors and inspect them, including the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant. Kei Sugaoka, a GE on-site inspector first notified Japan’s nuclear watch dog, Nuclear Industrial Safey Agency (NISA) in June of 2000. Not only did the government of Japan take more than two years to address the problem and collude on covering it up, they gave the name of the whistleblower to TEPCO.

In September of 2002, TEPCO admitted to covering up data concerning cracks in critical circulation pipes in addition to previously revealed falsifications. In their analysis of the cover-up, The Citizen’s Nuclear Information Center writes: “The records that were covered up had to do with cracks in parts of the reactor known as recirculation pipes. These pipes are there to siphon off heat from the reactor. If these pipes were to fracture, it would result in a serious accident in which coolant leaks out. From the perspective of safety, these are highly important pieces of equipment. Cracks were found in the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant, reactor one, reactor two, reactor three, reactor four, reactor five.” The cracks in the pipes were not due to earthquake damage; they came from the simple wear and tear of long-term usage.

On March 2, nine days before the meltdown, the Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) gave TEPCO a warning on its failure to inspect critical pieces of equipment at the plant, which included the recirculation pumps. TEPCO was ordered to make the inspections, perform repairs if needed and give a report to the NISA on June 2. The report is not confirmed to have been filed as of this time.

The problems were not only with the piping. Gas tanks at the site also exploded after the earthquake. The outside of the reactor building suffered structural damage. There was some chaos. There was no one really qualified to assess the radioactive leakage because, as the Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency admits, after the accident all the on-site inspectors fled the site. And the quake and tsunami broke most of the monitoring equipment so there was little information available on radiation afterwards.

Before the dawn on March 12, the water levels at the reactor began to plummet and the radiation began rising. Meltdown was taking place. The TEPCO Press release issued on March 12 just past 4am stated, “the pressure within the containment vessel is high but stable.” There was a note buried in the release that many people missed. “The emergency water circulation system was cooling the steam within the core; it has ceased to function.”

According to The Chunichi Shinbun and other sources, a few hours after the earthquake extremely high levels of radiation were being measured within the reactor one building. The levels were so high that if you spent a full day exposed to them it would be fatal. The water levels of the reactor were already sinking. After the Japanese government forced TEPCO to release hundreds of pages of documents relating to the accident in May, Bloomberg reported on May 19 that a radiation alarm went off 1.5 kilometers from the number one reactor on March 11 at 3:29 p.m., minutes before the tsunami reached the plant.

TEPCO would not deny the possibility that there was significant radiation leakage before the power went out. They did assert that the alarm might have simply malfunctioned. On March 11, at 9:51 p.m., under the CEO’s orders, the inside of the reactor building was declared a no-entry zone. Around 11 p.m., radiation levels for the inside of the turbine building, which was next door to the reactor, reached hourly levels of 0.5 to 1.2 mSv. The meltdown was already underway. Oddly enough, while TEPCO later insisted that the cause of the meltdown was the tsunami knocking out emergency power systems, at the 7:47 p.m. TEPCO press conference the same day, the spokesman in response to questions from the press about the cooling systems stated that the emergency water circulation equipment and reactor core isolation time cooling systems would work even without electricity.

Sometime between 4 and 6 a.m. on March 12, Masao Yoshida, the plant manager decided it was time to pump seawater into the reactor core and notified TEPCO. Seawater was not pumped in until hours after a hydrogen explosion occurred, roughly 8:00 p.m. that day. By then, it was probably already too late.

On May 15, TEPCO went some way toward admitting at least some of these claims in a report called “Reactor Core Status of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station Unit One.” The report said there might have been pre-tsunami damage to key facilities including pipes. “This means that assurances from the industry in Japan and overseas that the reactors were robust is now blown apart,” said Shaun Burnie, an independent nuclear waste consultant. “It raises fundamental questions on all reactors in high seismic risk areas.”

As Burnie points out, TEPCO also admitted massive fuel melt — 16 hours after loss of coolant, and 7-8 hours before the explosion in unit 1. “Since they must have known all this — their decision to flood [the core] with massive water volumes would guarantee massive additional contamination — including leaks to the ocean.”

No one knows exactly how much damage was done to the plant by the quake, or if this damage alone would account for the meltdown. However, eyewitness testimony and TEPOC’S own data indicates that the damage was significant. All of this despite the fact that shaking experienced at the plant during the quake was within it’s approved design specifications. Says Hasuike: “What really happened at the Fukushima Daiicihi Nuclear Power Plant to cause a meltdown? TEPCO and the government of Japan have provided many explanations. They don’t make sense. The one thing they haven’t provided is the truth. It’s time that they did.”

Jake Adelstein is an investigative journalist, consultant, and the author of Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter On The Police Beat In Japan. He is also a board member of the Washington, D.C.-based Polaris Project Japan, which combats human trafficking and the exploitation of women and children in the sex trade. David McNeill writes for The Irish Times, The Independent and other publications. He has taught courses on journalism at Sophia University and is a coordinator of Japan Focus. Stephanie Nakajima contributed to this article.

Photos via Reuters.

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April 21, 2011 Request regarding the Great East Japan Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Power Plant Disaster

April 21, 2011  Prime Minister Naoto Kan Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo), Sunao Tsuboi, Chair, Sumiteru Taniguchi, Chair, Terumi Tanaka, Secretary General:   Request regarding the Great East Japan Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Power Plant Disaster As survivors of the atomic bombs which wreaked unprecedented devastation on humanity, we Hibakusha now expect much of the Japanese Government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) as they make efforts for recovery from the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant disaster and to aid those affected.  While a triple disaster on such a scale does indeed occur only rarely, from our experiences we are anxious that current efforts are focused on immediate measures, while comprehensive policies are being delayed and crucial aspects neglected.

We atomic bomb survivors continue to suffer in all parts of our bodies, hearts and lives from the effects of our experiences 66 years ago and since. We have accumulated achievements as a movement calling for assistance for Hibakusha. In this capacity, we call for necessary emergency measures to be taken for the survivors of the recent disaster.

Based on our own experiences, we make the following recommendations.

We call on the Japanese Government and TEPCO to accept these with sincerity and take steps for their implementation.

1. To issue all survivors and evacuees of the earthquake, tsunami and  radiation leaks with Disaster Victim Certificates.

At the time of the atomic bombings, authorities including the police made exhausting efforts to issue Disaster Victim Certificates. These were extremely effective afterwards in confirming that the holder was a survivor of the bombings.

As time passes and survivors become more dispersed, activities to confirm the victims become more difficult.

The certificates issued in this case should include a section for information about the situation of experiencing the disaster (including people whose whereabouts is unknown) and movements after the disaster.

We expect the Government to implement sufficient policies for relief and recovery, and call for all efforts to be made for initial measures, with an understanding of the overall damage and situation as a prerequisite.

2. To issue all victims of the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident with a health monitoring book, and the state to take responsibility to conduct regular medical checks at least annually.

We Hibakusha are still suffering even after 66 years.

Radiation disease caused by nuclear fallout rarely occurs within the short-term; most cases occur after a considerable amount of time. The Government and TEPCO must take responsibility for long-term policies including life-long regular health checks and medical measures.

Furthermore, we call for health monitoring books to also be issued to all workers who are now risking their lives to work inside the nuclear power plant upon TEPCO’s orders.

The Government and TEPCO must bear the responsibility to take full measures for those people in the nearby areas who were issued with evacuation orders or voluntary evacuation advisories. Measures must be taken assuming the worst case scenario.

3. Until the lives and medical care of the survivors can be properly secured, the evacuation centres where survivors are sheltering must not be closed. Policies must also be made to care for children orphaned by the disaster.

Having seen many children orphaned by the atomic bombs and the war rendered homeless, we are deeply anxious that the recent disaster could also create more orphans. We call for particular consideration to be made for policies to care for children.

4. To provide accurate information regarding the damage caused by radiation, to ease anxiety of citizens and to eradicate harmful rumours and discrimination against survivors.

5. To make a major transformation of energy and electricity policy from reliance on nuclear energy to research, development and use of renewable energy.

In the immediate future, we call for maximum measures to be made to ensure the safety of existing nuclear power plants, while protecting the three principles of the peaceful use of nuclear energy (independent, democratic, made public) and assuming the worst case scenario.

6. To learn from the severity of this nuclear power plant disaster and make progress towards the abolition of nuclear weapons. To cease the concept of protecting Japan through military means, and change to a policy of peace and security that gives the highest priority to diplomacy, aiming for the co-existence of humanity and based on Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution.

7. TEPCO to take full responsibility for the nuclear power plant accident, and give compensation for the damage it caused.

* This document was submitted to the Prime Minister, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry; Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare, Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).