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Japan nuclear emergency, Fukushima

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12 March 2012

Memory and Loss. From the Fukushima album by photographer Satoru Niwa.

A year since the great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The loss of more than 15,000 lives in Japan. The misery of the survivors and the utter anguish of those who lost loved ones, but could not go back to look for them because of the radiation from the Dai-ichi nuclear power plant reactors. The criminal negligence of the regulators in Japan and their international counterparts, the International Atomic Energy Agency. The outrage over a national government in Japan that stood by the nuclear industry rather than the victims of Fukushima. The solidarity shown by hundreds of thousands of citizens all over the world, and the determination they have shown to oppose this evil technology. The voices and visual works of hundreds upon hundreds of artists and writers, poets and craftspeople who have expressed in as many forms as they know the need for a nuclear-free world. The monumental money-fuelled obduracy of governments before the demand of their citizens, that they halt forever nuclear power generation. It has been a year since the tsunami and the meltdown at Dai-ichi. We should in this year have had not a single, not one, nuclear power plant left running on the face of the Earth. Back to work.

On this grim anniversary, here is a small compilation of recent news and views, followed by links to information and data sources.

18 December 2011

Street lights shine in the abandoned town of Iitate, outside the 20 kilometre exclusion zone around the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, in northeast Japan. Residents were forced to evacuate the town after radiation levels from the leaking plant exceeded those inside the exclusion zone. Nov. 20, 2011. Photo: Mainichi Daily News / AP Photo / Greg Baker

More than nine months have passed since the 11 March earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan and triggered a still-unresolved disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. This set of news reports, news features and editorial in the Mainichi Daily News reveals the chronic deception and criminal corporate irresponsibility that continue to hinder all meaningful effort to mitigate the meltdown, and to obstruct at all costs the truth.

Mainichi Daily News has said that the government has declared a stable “cold shutdown” at the plant, representing a major milestone in its handling of the disaster. The public has keenly waited for the nuclear reactors to be brought under stable control, but Japan is still standing on thin ice and is miles away from a situation where it can really declare that the crisis is under control.

In the meantime, rebuilding the lives of residents near the crippled plants has been an urgent critical challenge. On the occasion of its latest political declaration, the government needs to renew its resolve to settle the crisis and achieve regional recovery. The disaster-hit reactors are certainly now in a more stable condition. However, the phrase “cold shutdown” usually refers to suspension of a sound reactor. The fact that the government is attempting to apply this term in a severe accident in which three reactors have suffered core meltdowns should be called into question. The government should rather explain in detail the possibility of any additional explosions and whether a recriticality accident has been ruled out.

Police on duty at a roadblock at the edge of the 20 kilometre exclusion zone around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, at Namie, in northeast Japan. Nov. 20, 2011. Photo: Mainichi Daily News / AP Photo / Greg Baker

Simulations suggest that nuclear fuel has melted inside the reactor containment vessels, eroding their concrete floors. Although Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the stricken nuclear plant, has indicated that melted fuel has also been cooled down by water, this is nothing but speculation. We urge the utility and the government to find a way to ascertain the precise condition of the fuel.

Mainichi Daily News has reported that conditions at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant are far worse than its operator or the government has admitted, according to freelance journalist Tomohiko Suzuki, who spent more than a month working undercover at the power station. “Absolutely no progress is being made” towards the final resolution of the crisis, Suzuki told reporters at a Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan news conference on Dec. 15. Suzuki, 55, worked for a Toshiba Corp. subsidiary as a general laborer there from July 13 to Aug. 22, documenting sloppy repair work, companies including plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) playing fast and loose with their workers’ radiation doses, and a marked concern for appearances over the safety of employees or the public.

An earthquake-damaged grave is seen at a cemetery in the abandoned town of Katsurao, outside the 20 kilometre exclusion zone around the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, in northeast Japan. The town was abandoned when radiation levels became unsafe for long term exposure. Nov. 20, 2011. Photo: Mainichi Daily News / AP Photo / Greg Baker

For example, the no-entry zones around the plant – the 20-kilometer radius exclusion zone and the extension covering most of the village of Iitate and other municipalities – have more to do with convenience that actual safety, Suzuki says. The situation at the plant itself is no better, where he says much of the work is simply “for show,” fraught with corporate jealousies and secretiveness and “completely different” from the “all-Japan” cooperative effort being presented by the government.

“Reactor makers Toshiba and Hitachi (brought in to help resolve the crisis) each have their own technology, and they don’t talk to each other. Toshiba doesn’t tell Hitachi what it’s doing, and Hitachi doesn’t tell Toshiba what it’s doing.” Meanwhile, despite there being no concrete data on the state of the reactor cores, claims by the government and TEPCO that the disaster is under control and that the reactors are on-schedule for a cold shutdown by the year’s end have promoted a breakneck work schedule, leading to shoddy repairs and habitual disregard for worker safety, he said. “Working at Fukushima is equivalent to being given an order to die,” Suzuki quoted one nuclear-related company source as saying.

At a Tokyo market, a smartphone shows radiation test results by the grower of a package of Maitake mushrooms, showing them as free of radioactive contamination. Many consumers worry about the safety of food from Fukushima and surrounding prefectures, although produce and fish found to be above government-set limits for contamination are barred from the market. Mushrooms, for example, harvested in and around Fukushima are frequently found to be contaminated and barred from the market. Sept. 12, 2011. Photo: Mainichi Daily News / AP Photo / Shizuo Kambayashi

Kenichi Oshima is currently a professor at Ritsumeikan University. After long years of nuclear power research, he had learned that the actual cost of maintaining nuclear power in Japan was twice as high as what government and electric power companies had publicly announced, the Mainichi Daily News has reported. In March 2010, published his findings in a book, but found himself under fire at a time when pro-nuclear energy was becoming even stronger. In September the same year, during a meeting of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, his comments were rejected and even mocked. “Do you call this research?” he was told and few even cared to look at his findings.

Following the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Oshima’s situation drastically changed. He was selected as a member of two expert governmental committees to serve as a critical analyst of Japan’s current nuclear power stance. The group will openly release all internal debates and documents, Oshima says. He is now more optimistic than ever that the time to destroy the “cheap and safe” nuclear power myth will eventually come.

A sober and critical editorial in the Mainichi Daily News has said that Britain has already abandoned developing fast-breeder nuclear reactors, and is set to give up nuclear fuel reprocessing as well. Moreover, its planned construction of a facility to dispose of radioactive waste including plutonium is likely to materialize even though it is still at a planning phase.

Workers in protective suits and masks wait to enter the emergency operation center at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in Okuma, Japan. The March 11 earthquake and tsunami caused massive death and destruction across northeastern Japan. Nov. 12, 2011. Photo: Mainichi Daily News / AP Photo / David Guttenfelder, Pool

In contrast, there are no prospects that Japan can build a disposal facility. However, for Japan to call for operations at the Monju prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor in Fukui Prefecture and the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in the Aomori Prefecture village of Rokkasho to be carried out as planned, would be like putting the cart before the horse as it appears the country is incapable of building a disposal facility.

Plutonium is directly related to security issues. The U.K. possesses nuclear weapons but Japan does not. One may wonder whether Japan’s independence will be threatened if it abandons nuclear fuel recycling and loses its ability to produce plutonium. Even though it is an important point of contention the issue should not be used as a reason to underestimate the harm of plutonium.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano who is in charge of energy policy, Goshi Hosono, state minister for handling the nuclear crisis, and Yoshito Sengoku, second-in-command in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s Policy Research Committee, have been hearing the views of experts on the issue. It is not enough for the government to talk only about the dream of “prosperity” built on dependence on nuclear power. Japan’s ability to overcome the mess that follows such prosperity is now being tested.

28 August 2011

Burning of debris after the Tohoku quake and tsunami. Photo: Japan Focus

It is one of the mysteries of Japan’s ongoing nuclear crisis: How much damage did the 11 March earthquake inflict on the Fukushima Daiichi reactors before the tsunami hit? The Independent of UK has published a critical report titled ‘The Explosive Truth Behind Fukushima’s Meltdown’.

The stakes are high: if the earthquake structurally compromised the plant and the safety of its nuclear fuel, then every similar reactor in Japan may have to be shut down. With almost all of Japan’s 54 reactors either offline (in the case of 35) or scheduled for shutdown by next April, the issue of structural safety looms over any discussion about restarting them.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) and Japan’s government are hardly reliable adjudicators in this controversy. “There has been no meltdown,” government spokesman Yukio Edano repeated in the days after 11 March. “It was an unforeseeable disaster,” Tepco’s then president Masataka Shimizu famously and improbably said later. Five months since the disaster, we now know that meltdown was already occurring as Mr Edano spoke. And far from being unforeseeable, the disaster had been repeatedly forewarned by industry critics.

Throughout the months of lies and misinformation, one story has stuck: it was the earthquake that knocked out the plant’s electric power, halting cooling to its six reactors. The tsunami then washed out the plant’s back-up generators 40 minutes later, shutting down all cooling and starting the chain of events that would cause the world’s first triple meltdown. But what if recirculation pipes and cooling pipes burst after the earthquake – before the tidal wave reached the facilities; before the electricity went out? This would surprise few people familiar with the 40-year-old reactor one, the grandfather of the nuclear reactors still operating in Japan.

Map of north-eastern Japan showing areas that are contaminated or have the potential to be further contaminated by the dispersal of hazardous and toxic chemicals. Graphic: Japan Focus

Problems with the fractured, deteriorating, poorly repaired pipes and the cooling system had been pointed out for years. In September 2002, Tepco admitted covering up data about cracks in critical circulation pipes. 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.”

On 2 March, nine days before the meltdown, government watchdog the Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) warned Tepco on its failure to inspect critical pieces of equipment at the plant, including recirculation pumps. Tepco was ordered to make the inspections, perform repairs if needed and report to NISA on 2 June. It does not appear, as of now, that the report has been filed.

On 2011 August 21, The New York Times reported that broad areas around the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant could soon be declared uninhabitable, perhaps for decades, after a government survey found radioactive contamination that far exceeded safe levels, several major media outlets said Monday.

The formal announcement, expected from the government in coming days, would be the first official recognition that the March accident could force the long-term depopulation of communities near the plant, an eventuality that scientists and some officials have been warning about for months. Lawmakers said over the weekend and major newspapers reported Monday ­that Prime Minister Naoto Kan was planning to visit Fukushima Prefecture, where the plant is, as early as Saturday to break the news directly to residents. The affected communities are all within 12 miles of the plant, an area that was evacuated immediately after the accident.

The tsunami carried sludge inland, which still lies piled up before wrecked and abandoned buildings. Photo: Japan Focus

The government is expected to tell many of these residents that they will not be permitted to return to their homes for an indefinite period. It will also begin drawing up plans for compensating them by, among other things, renting their now uninhabitable land. While it is unclear if the government would specify how long these living restrictions would remain in place, news reports indicated it could be decades. That has been the case for areas around the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine after its 1986 accident.

In a detailed article in Japan Focus, ‘Chemical Contamination, Cleanup and Longterm Consequences of Japan’s Earthquake and Tsunami’, Winifred A. Bird and Elizabeth Grossman form a picture of the damage, begin to understand how chemical contaminants and their potential health hazards are being handled after the tsunami, and assess their longterm effects. Bird visited the hard-hit prefectures of Ibaraki, Iwate, and Miyagi, while Grossman researched company and chemical information and how such issues are handled in the United States. While Japanese and international attention has focused on radiation danger associated with the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi reactors, chemical contamination also promises to significantly impact the region and its ability to recover.

In the weeks after the March 11 disaster, Toxic Watch Network compared Pollution Release and Transfer Register (PRTR) data against flood maps to derive a preliminary list of reporting facilities that were likely inundated by the tsunami. This map shows the 130 such facilities identified by Toxic Watch Network in the upper Tohoku region. It does not include all potentially affected facilities—for instance, those in the lower Tohoku region or those in the Kashima industrial complex, located in the neighboring Kanto region.

As cleanup continues in the disaster area, questions remain about the fate of chemical contaminants released by these damaged industrial facilities and other sources, and the environmental health hazards they might pose to the hundreds of thousands of people living and working in this area. Similar questions have arisen in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, and the World Trade Center attacks on 11 September 2001. But in Japan, the vast human catastrophe and deepening Fukushima nuclear disaster have tended to eclipse these issues of chemical contamination.

Nuclear engineer Koide Hiroaki began his career 40 years ago. Quickly, however, he recognised the flaws in Japan’s nuclear power program and has emerged as among the best informed of Japan’s nuclear power critics. Photo: Japan Focus

The tsunami wiped out a strip of coast supporting a wide range of land uses and industries. The Iwate coast has many fishing communities along with cement and plywood manufacturers and a large iron foundry in the badly damaged city of Kamaishi.8 The Miyagi coastline had an estimated 1,000 factories, including a 145,000-barrel-per-day-capacity9 oil refinery in Sendai, marine products processing plants all along the coast, and various manufacturing industries near the ports.10 Rice farms in the Sendai area—which, according to one estimate, support approximately 8% of Japan’s rice production11—have also been affected. The Fukushima coast has fishery-related industries, along with auto parts factories and some chemical plants.

“The principle of disaster prevention should be about taking preemptive measures on the basis of a reasonable overestimation of risks in order to protect people. If it turns out to really be an overestimation so that such measures are not necessary, that is okay too, because people will not have been harmed.” So said nuclear engineer Koide Hiroaki on May 23, 2011, when the Government Oversight Committee of the House of Councillors (the Upper House) invited four guests to address members of the Diet – Koide, Ishibashi Katsuhiko, a seismologist who has long warned of the reactors’ vulnerability to quakes, Goto Masashi, a former Toshiba nuclear engineer who now defies the industry, and Son Masayoshi, President of telecommunication giant Softbank and, since 3.11, an outspoken proponent of renewable energy.

Japan Focus has said that the unprecedented government effort to seek advice from staunch critics of nuclear power policy is indicative of fresh winds blowing at a time when the government is calling for a sharp increase in renewable energy and curbing of nuclear power and the nuclear power giants and their supporters in the bureaucracy are fighting back. Thousands across the nation and overseas watched Koide’s criticism of the government being webcast, sharing through Twitter the excitement of seeing their best kept secret being unveiled in a grey business suit, at the centre of Japanese politics – the very centre he has exposed throughout his career.

“However, what the Japanese government has actually been doing is the opposite,” said Koide. “It has underestimated the risks and acted on optimistic assumptions. First, they said it was a Level 4 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale and stuck to that for a long time. Then they raised it to Level 5, but it was not until the last moment that they admitted that it was a Level 7 accident. Their response was way too late.”

“The government also delayed decisions in evacuation directives. First, they evacuated those within a 3 km radius, saying it was a precautionary order for the worst case scenario. Then soon after, they evacuated those within a 10 km radius, again saying this was a “just in case” measure. Then they expanded the evacuation zone to the 20 km radius, again saying that this was preparing for the worst. In fact, they were all belated, reactive measures, instead of being precautionary.”

“I believe disclosing accurate information is the only way to avoid panic. That way people would trust the administration and the government. However, the Japanese government acted in the opposite way. They consistently hid information, repeatedly saying that the situation was not critical. The government spent more than 10 billion yen in the last 25 years to develop the radiation dispersion simulation system called SPEEDI (the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information), but they hid the simulation results from the public and did not let local residents know the risks.”

“The government has also been forcing plant workers and local residents to sacrifice without making clear who is responsible. They have raised the radiation dose limit for the workers at Fukushima Daiichi. They have also raised radiation dose limits for local residents in deciding on compulsory evacuation. Are they really allowed to do such things? I find myself at a loss when I think about the true scale of the damage caused by the Fukushima Daiichi accidents.”

The Japan Focus article, ‘The Truth About Nuclear Power: Japanese Nuclear Engineer Calls for Abolition’, has said that Koide Hiroaki began his career as a nuclear engineer forty years ago drawn to the promise of nuclear power. Quickly, however, he recognized the flaws in Japan’s nuclear power program and emerged as among the best informed of Japan’s nuclear power critic. His cogent public critique of the nuclear village earned him an honourable form of purgatory as a permanent assistant professor at Kyoto University. Koide would pay a price in career terms, continuing his painstaking research on radio nuclide measurement at Kyoto University’s Research Reactor Institute (KURRI) in the shadows. Until 3.11.

The fast breeder reactor myth

Since the earthquake tsunami and nuclear meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi, he has emerged as a powerful voice and a central figure in charting Japan’s future energy course in the wake of disaster: in scores of well attended public lectures, in daily media consultations and interviews, in his widely read posts and in three books that have helped to redefine public consciousness and official debate.

Al Jazeera has reported that Japanese doctors have warned of public health problems caused by Fukushima radiation. Scientists and doctors are calling for a new national policy in Japan that mandates the testing of food, soil, water, and the air for radioactivity still being emitted from Fukushima’s heavily damaged Daiichi nuclear power plant.

“How much radioactive materials have been released from the plant?” asked Dr Tatsuhiko Kodama, a professor at the Research Centre for Advanced Science and Technology and Director of the University of Tokyo’s Radioisotope Centre, in a July 27 speech to the Committee of Health, Labour and Welfare at Japan’s House of Representatives. “The government and TEPCO have not reported the total amount of the released radioactivity yet,” said Kodama, who believes things are far worse than even the recent detection of extremely high radiation levels at the plant.

In a dangerous, utterly repelling and criminal attempt to poison young minds, the U.S. nuclear industry is teaching its vision of a ‘bright nuclear future’ to schoolchildren by offering teachers free guides that extol “the beneficial uses of radiation,” The New Republic reports. The guides are the marketing brainchild of the EnergySolutions Foundation, the ‘charitable’ arm of a large nuclear-waste processor, and they’ve been doled out to eager recipients including the Mississippi Department of Education.

The U.S. Department of Energy's twisted and cynical attempt to brainwash schoolchildren about nuclear energy

Among the materials for sixth- to 12th-graders is a trivia game that points out the ‘ecological destruction’ wrought by wind towers (bird killers!) and solar farms (desert destruction!). One video game in the works by EnergySolutions “revolves around a broken-down reactor buried in the jungle,” according to The New Republic. Presumably, the possible outcomes do not include slow, excruciating death by radiation poisoning or cancer. Industry-funded school propaganda initiatives have a decades-old history, the magazine points out­ “but they’re making a comeback as the once-moribund nuclear industry gears up for a revival.”

The New Republic also reports that the U.S. Department of Energy has updated a pro-nuclear curriculum called the Harnessed Atom, which it will be promoting in schools nationwide, and its website hosts an interactive, animated city called Neutropolis where nuclear power is cool, fun, safe, and secure!! How completely and utterly disconnected from the filthy reality of nuclear energy can these departments and their corporate sponsors be? The American public must shut down the source of this psychological poison forever.

The enormity of generated radioacticity. Graphic: Koide Hiroaki/Japan Focus

Washingtons Blog has quoted nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen explaining in a new interview that the Japanese are burning radioactive materials. The radioactivity originated from Fukushima, but various prefectures are burning radioactive materials in their terroritories. Gundersen says that this radioactivity ends up not only in neighboring prefectures, but in Hawaii, British Columbia, Oregon, Washington and California. He notes that radioactive rain-outs were documented recently in British Columbia and Oklahoma with geiger counters. Gundersen says that well see another year of radioactive rain-outs, as the Japanese continue to burn radioactive materials.

Gundersen has a high-level contact in the State Department who says that the U.S. government has decided – within various agencies, including the State Department, FDA, and other agencies – to downplay the dangers from Fukushima. Because of this policy decision, the government is not really testing for radiation. Gundersen is working with scientists who will publish a paper in the near future definitively debunking Canadian and American health officials’ claims that only harmless levels of radiation are being released.

Scientists in California are reporting raised levels of radioactive chemicals in the atmosphere in the weeks following the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Scientific American has reported. The measurements are the latest evidence that the reactors melted down catastrophically, said the report, ‘Radioactive Chemicals in California Tracked to Fukushima Meltdown’.

Picking up the bulletin from Nature News, the magazine has said that researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), say that radioactive sulfur from the stricken power plant reached California in late March, two weeks after the crisis at Fukushima began. The sulfur is a by-product of emergency procedures taken immediately after the accident. The work is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. On 11 March, the Fukushima Daiichi plant was shaken by a magnitude-9 earthquake and slammed with a 13-metre-high tsunami. The disaster knocked out emergency generators designed to back up systems that cooled the plant’s three operating reactors.

In a desperate attempt to slow heating and avert a total meltdown, operators flooded the reactor cores with boric acid and sea water. But it didn’t work: in May, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, which oversees the plant, announced that despite their best efforts, the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi had melted down completely. The latest measurements seem to confirm that. For several years, Mark Thiemens, a chemist at UCSD, and his group have been measuring atmospheric levels of a radioactive isotope of sulfur, 35S, which is usually generated by cosmic rays striking argon atoms in the atmosphere. On 28 March, the team detected levels of radioactive sulfur dioxide gas (35SO2) and sulphate aerosols (35SO4-2) that were well above the natural background.

The chemicals posed “no risk” to residents in San Diego, says Thiemens. In fact, it took a year to even develop equipment sensitive enough to measure levels as low as these, he says. Thiemens and his colleagues believe that the radioactive sulfur was produced from chlorine in the sea water used to flood the reactors. The chlorine atoms probably absorbed neutrons from the ruined nuclear fuel, and were transmuted into 35S. They then escaped the reactor in both gas and aerosol form and were spread across the ocean by strong westerly winds.

Although 400 billion may sound like a lot, it’s tiny in comparison with the normal flux of neutrons inside a reactor, says Patrick Regan, a nuclear physicist at the University of Surrey in Guildford, UK. Regan says that the neutrons do not indicate that the melted reactors restarted after the emergency began, but are a clear by-product of sea water inside the reactors.On the basis of models, the team estimates that around 400 billion neutrons per square metre ‘leaked’ from the reactor cores at the time of the meltdowns.

Thiemens says that the most significant contribution of the measurement may be in helping researchers to better understand how sulphates and other aerosols travel through the atmosphere after a nuclear accident. Fukushima provided a single, well defined source of traceable radiation, he says. Follow-up studies with Japanese colleagues “will be very significant in uniquely addressing how, and how fast, radioactivity spreads”.

21 May 2011

Tepco has released a set of pictures showing the waters rushing into the nuclear power plant on 11 March, when the tsunami hit. There are 11 pictures in this release. They show dramatically just how the nuclear plant was battered, and remind us that this is the water of the wave that flung fishing vessels four kilometres inland. You have to wonder at how Tepco’s senior crew must think – they knew all this, they had the pictures that told them the truth, they had no data from no sensors, they knew the nature of the process and the fuel, and still they lied, every single day until they were cornered tight. What exactly were they thinking? And, more important, is this how all our nuclear power plant operators think?

For readers from the USA, the Union of Concerned Scientists has an excellent line-up of new and reference material on this page, summarised as under:

There’s an FAQ that provides in-depth answers to a wide range of questions about the crisis; on the All Things Nuclear blog, where UCS experts have offered insights on a variety of topics related to the crisis; in testimony before the US Congress UCS nuclear power expert David Lochbaum’s May 13 testimony to the Joint House Subcommittees; power expert Edwin Lyman’s April 6 testimony to the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce; Lochbaum’s March 30 testimony to the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee.

The UCUSA has said: “It may be years before the consequences of the crisis are fully understood. UCS continues to follow events in Japan and will provide information and analysis on significant developments as they occur, while we shift our focus to using lessons learned from Fukushima to improve nuclear power safety at existing and future reactors.” No, dear scientists, we will not “improve safety” of nuclear power – we want none of it, we want every last reactor on our planet to be shut down, safely and forever, amen.

Here is the photo set, taken from the 4th floor, of the north side of the ‘Radiation Waste Treatment Facility’.

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Images 3,4 and 5 show the ferocious maelstrom of water hammering its way through the power plant. Images 6 to 11 show some of the effects of the power of the tsunami, as it ripped away metal fixtures, threw cars around and exposed building interiors.

20 May 2011

Just how do you keep a reactor meltdown secret? Look to the Tokyo Electric Power Company for the last word on the subject. Of course you also need a pliant government and spineless local administrations to help you. It makes a big difference to have a global nuclear energy agency (“Atoms for Peace” they brightly said in the 1950s, when setting it up), the IAEA, which since 11 March 2011 has been saying “oh dear, this is very serious”.

You can keep a reactor meltdown secret if you can also count on the blokes who sold you the damned thing in the first place, General Electric, help out by making soothing noises and generally patting the hands of anxious nuclear power plant owners elsewhere while assuring them a few millisieverts here and a few becquerels there are not that bad after all. And if GE can use its glowing old boys network to make sure that the return on investment on all that nuclear power machinery isn’t jeopardised by an earthquake or big wave or some such trifle, so much the better. Then, that’s when you can start to be pretty sure that they won’t hear about your runaway reactor. Not at first anyway.

Close to 70 days after the Fukushima emergency began, some extraordinarily strange and terribly worrying news is coming out about the deadly ruins of the nuclear plant there, about the handling of the whole catastrophe and about the way this industry functions. These few news reports, among the welter that have been written this week, illustrate why.

Tepco has now admitted, said NHK News, that reactor number 1 melted down hours after the earthquake. As NHK notes: Tokyo Electric Power Company, the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, says most of the fuel rods in the No.1 reactor had dropped to the bottom of the pressure vessel within 16 hours of the earthquake on March 11th. The utility revealed its study on the subject on Sunday. TEPCO said it analyzed the data and calculated a timeline for the developments in the No. 1 reactor on the assumption that the reactor lost its cooling system as soon as it was hit by the tsunami. The firm said that within about 3 hours after the reactor automatically shut down, the cooling water had evaporated to a level at the top of the rods. In the next hour and a half, parts of the fuel rods are believed to have begun melting.

Tepco says the melted rods created small holes on the bottom of the vessel, said another NHK report. Tepco has also admitted that reactors 2 and 3 have likely melted down as well. As reported in a separate article from NHK: TEPCO also says the gauges at the No.2 and 3 reactors might not be showing the actual water levels and that both reactors are likely to have undergone meltdowns.

Partial meltdown hits Fukushima nuclear plant, the Independent of Britain reported. Uranium fuel in at least one of the six reactors at Fukushima has melted, the operator of the crippled nuclear plant has said. The admission effectively torpedoes a plan to flood the overheating fuel with water and bring a quick end to the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.

The Fukushima Data Page has said that at no time has TEPCO ever reported a temperature higher than ~750 degrees F (400C) and has more typically reported primary containment temperatures barely one-third that high.

Xinhua has reported that Japanese officials detect radioactive incinerator ashes in Tokyo, other prefectures – A radioactive substance of up to 170,000 becquerels per kilogram was detected in incinerator ashes at a sewage plant in Koto Ward, east Tokyo, in late March, the Kyodo News Agency quoted government sources as saying Friday. The highly-contaminated ashes were discovered following the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant which escalated through March as a hydrogen explosion exacerbated the disaster and highly radioactive water was both discharged and found to be freely flowing into the Pacific Ocean. The ashes have since been recycled into materials used for construction, such as cement, sources with knowledge of the matter said. In addition, the sources revealed that also in late March a radioactive substance, which may or may not have been cesium, measuring 100,000-140,000 becquerels per kg, was found in two other separate sewage facilities in the Itabashi and Ota areas of Tokyo.

The Fukushima Daiichi Photo site has a set of questions for the Japanese government and the plant operator. The questions have come as part of a statement in response to some claims by Tepco. This is the statement:

TEPCO, now that they have been publicly confronted with both their denials to the press that blueprints exist (or could be made available) and their claims that I am somehow violating some law by copying a publicly available image on my web site, I felt the need to make a statement.

The real question is why was this blueprint available on Google image search for months or longer? Why is TEPCO and the govt. of Japan not making all information easily and widely available online for the world to see? This issue greatly impacts the people in Japan, they deserve honest information now, not in hindsight ten years from now. They deserve the right to know accurate details so they may make decisions for themselves and their children’s safety.

Why did the govt. of Japan raise the “safe” radiation level for children to that of a German nuclear plant worker? Why did the Ministry of Defence not release heat images for April 21, 22, 23 and 25? Those dates coincide with increased heat events in the spent fuel pools in reactor 3 and 4. All information should be given to the public, not just the “good news”.

13 May 2011

A woman walks across a road in the part of the town of Minamisoma, which is inside the 20-kilometre evacuation zone, in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, Thursday, April 21, 2011. Japan declared the 20-kilometre area evacuated around its radiation-spewing nuclear power plant a no-go zone on Thursday, urging residents to abide by the order for their own safety or possibly face fines or detention. Photo: Sergey Ponomarev

Fuel rods in the No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant may have mostly melted and dropped to the bottom of the pressure vessel as the water level in the vessel has been found to be significantly lower than thought, the Daily Yomiuri has reported, quoting the Tokyo Electric Power on Thursday. The fuel rods in the reactor are believed to be completely exposed, according to TEPCO, the operator of the plant.

So-called water entombment operations to fill the containment chamber with water are continuing in an effort to cool the reactor. But the water level in the chamber cannot be clearly determined, and water is likely leaking from it, the utility said. TEPCO said the temperature in the pressure vessel is stabilized at 100 C to 120 C but that the water-entombment plan, in which water was expected to be filled to about 1 meter above the top of the fuel rods, needs to be reconsidered. The company is considering increasing the amount of water injected into the pressure vessel, which currently stands at about 8 tons per hour.

TEPCO learned about the water level of the pressure vessel after workers who entered the reactor building beginning Tuesday adjusted a water-level gauge. Previously, the reading of the water level had remained almost unchanged at about 1.6 meters below the top of fuel rods since immediately after the outbreak of the crisis at the plant following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

After adjusting the gauge, workers found the actual water level was more than 5 meters below the top of the fuel rods. As the fuel rods are about 4 meters long, they are considered to have been fully exposed above the cooling water, TEPCO said. It said it believes the fuel rods mostly have fallen to the bottom of the pressure vessel after melting or collapsing.

A man wearing a protective suit walks along a street in deserted town of Futaba, inside the 20-kilometre evacuation zone, in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, Thursday, April 21, 2011. Photo: Sergey Ponomarev

The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said the fuel has been cooled with water pooled at the bottom of the pressure vessel as the temperature of the vessel remains relatively low. At the bottom of the steel pressure vessel, which is 16 centimeters thick, the water level is believed to stand at a maximum of only about 4 meters, TEPCO said. The company believes that most of the 190 tons of water injected every day is leaking from the pressure vessel, which is likely to be damaged more seriously than previously thought.

More than 10,000 cubic meters of water had been injected into the reactor as of Thursday, exceeding the combined 360-cubic-meter capacity of the pressure vessel and the 7,800-cubic-meter capacity of the containment chamber.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said one of the reactor cores at its stricken Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant is more seriously damaged than previously thought, setting back the utility’s plan to resolve the crisis. Bloomberg has reported that fuel rods in the core of the No. 1 reactor are fully exposed, with the water level 1 meter (3.3 feet) below the base of the fuel assembly, Junichi Matsumoto, a general manager at the utility known as Tepco, told reporters at a briefing in Tokyo. Melted fuel has dropped to the bottom of the pressure vessel and is still being cooled, Matsumoto said.

Japan is trying to contain the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl after a quake and tsunami two months ago knocked out power and cooling systems at the Fukushima station. While authorities have previously suspected a partial meltdown at unit 1, high radiation levels had prevented workers from entering the building to check the damage until last week. “What this means is this is probably going to be a much more difficult cleanup than they originally planned for,” said Paul Padley, a particle physicist at Rice University in Houston. The government and Tepco “have consistently appeared to be underestimating the severity of the situation.”

There was too much spent fuel stored on site at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, this analysis by Institute of Science in Society (ISIS) has said. This is common at nuclear plants everywhere because the designers have generally assumed that the waste would be taken to a permanent store as soon as it was cool enough to move safely. No such stores exist yet anywhere in the world, and while the fuel rods can be put into strong metal casks for the time being (this is usual in Germany), most are left in cooling ponds that were not designed for medium term storage, and are less well protected and require a reliable supply of electricity and water. At Daiichi, there were cooling ponds on the upper floors of the reactor buildings, and in particular the one in No. 4 Reactor led to two explosive fires. There was a serious danger that these ponds would run dry, and this was only averted by the use of fire engines and even helicopters to get water into the ponds.

Japan Self-Defense Forces soldiers wearing protective suits collect data and temperatures measured from the air from a helicopter as it flies over the Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) Co.'s crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima prefecture, in this video grab image taken on April 26, 2011 and released by the Defense Ministry on May 2.

Only two weeks before the tsunami, TEPCO had admitted to safety inspectors that it had failed to inspect 33 pieces of equipment at the plant, including a backup power generator. In 2002, TEPCO admitted that it had falsified safety records at Fukushima’s No. 1 Reactor. Fukushima demonstrates that while the technology and understanding have indeed improved, the attitude of the nuclear industry has not. It still fails to heed warnings of weaknesses of design, it is still not punctilious enough about safety, it still tells the public as little as it can get away with, and it still does all it can to play down the consequences of incidents that occur. And, like other industries such as biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, it is quick to dismiss inconvenient evidence on the grounds that it hasn’t been peer reviewed, or the measurements weren’t as reliable as they might have been, or whatever.

As Fuksuhima reminds us, nuclear power is inherently dangerous. It is also not economical; no nuclear plant has ever operated without a government subsidy and no one seriously expects that any will in the future. The subsidy may be visible or it may be concealed as a cheap loan, a permanent low-carbon premium, an open cheque for the cost of disposing of the waste, or in some other form. Furthermore, we do not need it even as “part of a basket of technologies”: on the most optimistic estimates, nuclear energy could not produce more than 8 percent of the UK’s total energy requirement in the foreseeable future. This could easily be made up by renewables if we choose to invest in wind, solar, biogas and other technologies that already exist and are becoming ever more efficient and cost effective.

In Germany, a draft of a report from a special Ethics Commission on a Safe Energy Supply has been leaked. The 28-page draft – to be officially released at the end of May – recommends “a complete withdrawal” from nuclear energy by 2021. Der Spiegel has reported that the implications would be huge. Germany is the world’s fourth-largest industrial nation. A nuclear phase-out would require an unprecedented national push to make renewable energies potent enough to keep German factories, computer networks, espresso machines, laptops and electric cars humming through the 21st century.

The ethics report sees obstacles, like potential damage to the environment if green technologies are developed too quickly, or a reliance on imported nuclear power to pick up any slack, as well as a new reliance on domestic coal. But it implies that an “Energiewende” – or national energy transformation – would be possible by 2021, the rough deadline for a total shutdown of German reactors envisioned by a groundbreaking law enacted under former Chancellor Schröder in 2002.

Prior to Fukushima, German chancellor Angela Merkel had spent months carefully reversing the Schröder policy, in what her critics described as a gift to the nuclear lobby. But she changed her mind with dizzying speed after the tsunami in Japan. The ethics commission argues in its draft that the Fukushima disaster “demonstrates the limitations of human disaster-preparedness and emergency measures,” even “in a highly organized, high-tech country like Japan”.

More than 2 million people in Japan were likely receiving welfare benefits as of February – the second-highest level in the postwar period – a survey by the Mainichi has found. Figures released by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare showed that 1,998,975 people were receiving livelihood protection payments as of January 2011. A subsequent survey by the Mainichi found that Tokyo, Hokkaido, Osaka and 41 other prefectures and 19 major cities had already compiled data for February, and the number of recipients was higher in all of these prefectures besides Kagawa.

Representatives of the remaining three prefectures that are still compiling data (Fukushima, Niigata and Gifu), said it was difficult to imagine that February’s figure would fall below the figure recorded in January, but even if their figures remained unchanged, the total number of recipients in February would reach 2,005,613. The last time the number of welfare recipients topped 2 million was in 1952, when 2.04 million people received benefits amid the confusion remaining after World War II.

Per head of population, Osaka was expected to top the chart, with 56 out of every 1,000 people receiving livelihood protection payments. It is expected that applications for livelihood protection benefits from people who lost their homes in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami will increase in the future. In the survey, some local governments including the Kyoto, Kobe and Hiroshima municipal governments stated they had simplified their asset surveys without waiting for responses from financial institutions.

The livelihood protection system was implemented in 1950. In 1995 the number of recipients stood at 880,000, but the figure has been increasing since then. The government is considering ways to curb the total amount of payments, which have continued to mark record highs.

07 May 2011

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan told a news conference Friday, May 6, 2011, his government asked operator Chubu Electric Power Co. to suspend two running reactors and a third shut for a regular inspection at its Hamaoka nuclear plant, because of safety concerns in the event of a major earthquake. This is a picture of a full-scale mockup of No.3 reactor of the s Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station, which is the same model of boiling-water reactor (BWR) of the Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s (TEPCO) crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, is displayed at a nuclear museum beside the Hamaoka station in Omaezaki, Shizuoka Prefecture, about 200 km (124 miles) southwest of Tokyo.

05 May 2011

Anti-nuclear demonstrators from Bosnia hold a banner with text 'We do not want another Chernobyl on Balkans' during a protest marking the 25th anniversary of the nuclear accident in Chernobyl in western town of Banja Luka 240 kms northwest of the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, on Tuesday, April 26, 2011. Bottom text reads "better to be active today then radioactive tomorow". Photo: AP/Radivoje Pavicic

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has published an article titled ‘Radiation exposure and the power of zero’. This talks breifly about the history of medical work with radiation, and the fallacy – alas not challenged enough – that there is no such thing as “safe” levels below which one is not harmed.

In 1895, the article recounts, Wilhelm Röntgen discovered x-rays and used them to take a picture of the bones inside his wife’s hand. A year later, Henri Becquerel realized that invisible emanations from uranium salts would expose photographic plates. Marie Curie and her husband Pierre carried this work further, leading to the use of mobile x-ray machines in World War I.

Madame Curie, it is said, enjoyed the glow from radioactive test tubes that she kept in her desk. She died at age 66 from aplastic anemia thought to be caused by her work with radiation. Were she alive today, she would undoubtedly follow the precautions that modern scientists take when dealing with radiation, and would not be carrying around radioactive material unprotected. Likewise, radiologists began taking steps to protect themselves from the damaging effects of radiation after noticing that people in this profession were dying at earlier ages than their colleagues who were not exposed to radiation.

Yet even in the 1970s it was common medical practice to x-ray pregnant women during labor to see if the pelvis was “adequate” — a procedure, incidentally, that was absolutely worthless. Sentinel work by Alice Stewart, a physician and epidemiologist who studied the effects of radiation on health, revealed that even one x-ray before birth could increase a child’s chances of getting leukaemia. Despite criticism of Stewart’s work by the nuclear industry, doctors no longer perform x-rays on pregnant women unless absolutely necessary. The trend throughout the nuclear age has been a growing recognition that there is no “safe” or “harmless” dose of radiation.

In 2006 the National Academies’ National Research Council published a comprehensive report, “Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR VII – Phase 2)” stating that radiation exposure has a linear relationship to the development of cancer. The report concluded that even low doses of ionizing radiation are likely to pose some health risks; there is no threshold of exposure below which the risk drops to zero.

South Korean mothers stage an anti-nuclear energy rally to protect their children from radioactive exposure in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, April 19, 2011. Fears over possible radiation contamination are growing in South Korea, the country closest to Japan, after Japanese nuclear power plants were damaged by earthquakes last month. Photo: AP/Ahn Young-joon

Scientific arguments regarding the effects of particular doses of radiation will and should continue. However, to make this the focus of any discussion of nuclear safety obscures the real issue, thus missing the forest for the trees. The real issue is that the use of nuclear power and nuclear weapons is forcing humankind, and indeed the whole ecosystem, to participate in a particularly cruel and totally uncontrolled experiment. Given the scientific evidence that there is no safe dose of radiation, this is an experiment that has already gone awry. Indeed, if this were a true scientific experiment, it would have been halted a long time ago.

The Bulletin’s article, ‘Radiation exposure and the power of zero’, concludes by saying:

The real question is whether we, as a human race, can afford in good conscience to risk annihilation with our continued reliance on nuclear technology. Can we continue to despoil our environment with long-lived radioactive materials that are scattered to the wind and embedded in our precious soil, randomly exposing large populations, and foisting health impacts on unsuspecting future generations who have no choice in this matter?

We may choose to do so. But if we do, I am quite sure that our children and grandchildren will roundly condemn us for our lack of foresight and our selfishness. As they struggle to deal with a poisonous environment and waste that must be safeguarded for thousands of years, they will certainly wonder what possessed us to do this.

One question in particular demands attention: Why was the actual event in Japan, an earthquake and tsunami, so different from the “credible” event that was expected?

Also in the Bulletin, the first of a contribution to a roundtable on ‘Fukushima: What don’t we know?’ starts to provide an answer. From our perspective as geoscientists, the article has said, this is the most important question because the definition of the credible event provides the basis against which a nuclear power plant is designed. In the case of the Fukushima Daiichi power station, the magnitude of the earthquake (9.0 on the Richter scale, or M9) and subsequent tsunami (with a reported wave height of 14 meters) exceeded the credible event on which the nuclear power plant’s design was based. The site has six nuclear reactors; three of them were operating at the time of the quake and successfully shut down in response to the ground shaking. Nevertheless, the power station and its spent fuel storage pools were overwhelmed by an event that had not been planned for — a “larger-than-expected” tsunami wave, leading to a sequence of catastrophic failures.

Around 900 demonstrators gather to protest against nuclear power in Helsinki on Tuesday, 26th April, 2011. The day marks the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. Banner reads: Finland get rid of nuclear power. Photo: AP/Lehtikuva, Antti Aimo-Koivisto

Some experts have since described the tsunami as a “rare” or “exceptional” event that was entirely out of the range of reasonable or credible expectation. But shallow, offshore earthquakes can cause tsunamis, and the height of the tsunami at Daiichi was certainly not unexpected for a 9.0 magnitude earthquake. In addition, there have been three 9.0 magnitude earthquakes during the past decade: Indonesia in 2004, Chile in 2010, and now Japan in 2011. The fact that such earthquakes occur infrequently over historical periods does not explain why the Fukushima nuclear power plant was not designed to withstand this type of geologic event.

From a geologic perspective, the earthquake and its great magnitude should not have been a surprise. Ten years ago, Japanese earth scientists, led by Koji Minoura at Tohoku University in Sendai, described a major earthquake and tsunami that happened in July 869 and was recorded in an historical document. This event, which is also clearly recorded in the coastal sediment of the Sendai plain, extended inland about four kilometers from the coast. Based on even older tsunami deposits that go back some 3,000 years, Minoura and his colleagues suggested a 1,000-year recurrence interval for large-scale earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan and presciently published their results in the Journal of Natural Disaster Science.

Their results and conclusions did not go unnoticed. Based on the Minoura et al. paper, Yukinobu Okamura, the director of Japan’s Active Fault and Earthquake Research Center, raised the possibility that a large tsunami could damage the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, dismissed these warnings.

UTC-GMT, Wednesday 13 April March 2011, 16:30 / IST, Wednesday 13 April 2011, 22:00 / CET, Wednesday 13 April 2011, 17:30 / JST, Thursday 14 April 2011, 01:30 / PDT, Wednesday 13 April 2011, 09:30

Radiation monitoring map of Japan's prefectures and cities

The Japan Times has reported that radiation has risen to high levels above the spent-fuel pool at reactor No. 4 and its temperature is rising, the nuclear safety agency said Wednesday, indicating the fuel rods have been further damaged and emitting radioactive substances. The radiation level 6 meters above the spent-fuel storage pool at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant was measured at 84 millisieverts per hour Tuesday. Normally, it’s 0.1 microsievert. The temperature of the pool was 90 degrees, compared with 84 before it caught fire on March 15 in a suspected hydrogen explosion, the agency said.

“It’s quite an amount,” figured Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency told Japan Times. Tokyo Electric Power Co. was unsure whether the surge in radiation was being caused by the spent fuel rods or radioactive material leaking from the reactor’s pressure vessel. Tepco used a robot to take a water sample from the pool Tuesday to analyze the radioactive materials in it, which can tell them in greater detail what is happening to the spent fuel rods. Tepco dumped 195 tons of fresh water onto the rods early Wednesday to stop the temperature from rising.

[Japan Times has more stories on the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear emergency here. There is a prefecture radiation level monitor here.]

A train bogie wrecked by the tsunami. Photo: Iwasa Hiroki (http://www.flickr.com/photos/iwasansan/)

The continuing idiocy of the world’s nuclear industry was on display again in this interview conducted by Euronews. This interview was done after the Japanese authorities raised the severity of the Fukushima incident from 5 to 7.

The nuclear talking head in this textbook case is Serguei Novikov, spokesman for the Russian state nuclear energy corporation Rosatom, and he is a member of the Fukushima monitoring group spoke to euronews from Moscow.

Here are the responses which illustrate how completely the scientists and standard-bearers of the nuclear industry deny radiation illnesses, the medical evidence of decades of nuclear weapons testing and – in this case – the continuing toll of the Chernobyl meltdown.

Said Novikov: “You know, all the monitoring by Japanese and Russian specialists shows that at the border of the 20 kilometre exclusion zone the radioactivity level is reaching normal. If you talk about a 200 kilometre zone, that includes Tokyo, the radiation level today is lower than in Moscow. And there have not been traces of caesium or iodine 131 in tap water since the 10th of April.”

“What do we know about it? Yes the accident is serious, it’s ridiculous not to admit that. But if you look at the effect of what’s happened on human health, as far as I know out of the 20,000 dead after the earthquake and tsunami, none has died from radiation. Even the emergency workers in areas with high radioactivity levels haven’t yet received the maximum allowed dose, defined by the Japanese government as 250 millisieverts, which means there’ll be no radiological consequences for their health.” This must be placed on record – “no radiological consequences”!

Radiation data map, Greenpeace

A moving tale of one tsunami survivor on a Greenpeace blog. Setsuko Yamamoto was 81 years old and living alone, had just lost her husband, Takeshi one month ago at 90 years old. They were married more than 60 years ago, before the nuclear plants came to Japan. Since then, they have been living in very small house in Namie Town with small rice field. When the huge earthquake hit, she felt very happy because she thought she would go to heaven and join her husband. She held her husband’s remains as the earthquake shook their house, and prayed for a happy death and to go to heaven.

But, her prayers were not answered as she was rescued by her neighbors. For her, it was then that the nightmare came to her life. She had to escape the destruction of the earthquake, the Tsunami, and now the nuclear crisis. She has moved four times now, from refugee camp to refugee camp, in search of a safe place. And now, she has lost everything. She can never return home because of high radiation that will last “forever”. She has limited time left in her life and little to dream for. She said to me with smile: “I lost the chance to go to heaven with my husband.”

[Greenpeace has a continuously updated section containing data and monitoring information on the situation at Fukushima here.]

More studied criticism is being aired about Japan’s government. “The government’s move was always one step behind,” said Tadao Inoue, chairman of the Institute for Nuclear, Biological, Chemical and Radiological Defense, a nonprofit organization. “That caused the damage to spread.” Inoue said in a Japan times report, referring to the radiation being emitted by Fukushima No. 1, the leaking nuclear power plant that is contaminating vegetables and milk from neighboring prefectures. After a high concentration was detected in milk, spinach and other green vegetables, the government banned shipments last month.

Anti-nuclear demonstrators march in Cologne, western Germany Saturday March 26, 2011 to protest against nuclear power. Poster in front reads: Fukushima warns: Pull the Plug on all Nuclear Power Plants. White banner behind reads : 'Solidarity with the people in Japan'. Some 200,000 people turned out in Germany's largest cities on Saturday to protest against the use of nuclear power in the wake of Japan's Fukushima reactor disaster, police and organizers said.

But Inoue, who served as head of the Ground Self-Defense Force Chemical School, claims the vegetable contamination could have been mitigated if the government provided vital information and a warning beforehand. “If the government gave out information on where the radiation was likely to spread and told farmers to cover their vegetables with plastic sheets, the contamination level could have stayed within the government limit,” said Inoue. “It’s a man-made disaster.” The government’s biggest headache may be coming up with the funds to cover the long-term costs of the nuclear crisis.

According to a government estimate compiled last month, restoring housing, factories, roads and other infrastructure in the disaster-hit area will cost between ¥16 trillion and ¥25 trillion, and this doesn’t include the tab for the nuclear crisis. The figures soars above the ¥10 trillion in damage incurred by the Great Hanshin Earthquake that devastated Kobe and its vicinity in 1995, resulting in the loss of more than 6,400 lives.

A Bank of America Merrill Lynch report said Tepco could face compensation claims of up to ¥3 trillion if the nuclear crisis drags on for six months. Goldman Sachs Japan Co. estimates Tepco faces an extraordinary loss at ¥700 billion if it were to decommission all 10 reactors at the site as well as at the Fukushima No. 2 nuclear plant. Tepco obviously will not be able to shoulder the bills by itself, triggering speculation that the utility may face nationalization. This will no doubt balloon the cost the government will have to shoulder.

Even if Kan’s Democratic Party of Japan-led ruling coalition gives up key pledges, including monthly child allowance and free highway tolls, and uses reserves for this fiscal year and the last, it will only mount to about ¥6 trillion. One idea emerging from politicians in the ruling bloc is to issue government bonds underwritten by the Bank of Japan, an action that is basically prohibited by law. However, the Public Finance Act allows the bank to underwrite sovereign debt in exceptional cases.

UTC-GMT, Sunday 10 April March 2011, 10:10 / IST, Sunday 10 April 2011, 15:40 / CET, Sunday 10 April 2011, 11:10 / JST, Sunday 10 April 2011, 19:10 / PDT, Sunday 10 April 2011, 03:10

Anti-nuclear power campaigner in Tokyo, Japan

Dr Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress has said that “we are left with the uncomfortable realization that the cause of the Cl-38 concentrations is not seawater intercepting neutrons from natural spontaneous fission of the used nuclear fuel“.

“There has to be another reason. Assuming that the TEPCO measurements are correct, this analysis seems to indicate that we cannot discount the possibility that there was another strong neutron source during the time that the workers were sending seawater into the core of reactor #1. However, without knowing the details of the configuration of the core and how the seawater came in contact with the fuel, it is difficult to be certain. Given these uncertainties it is nonetheless important for TEPCO to be aware of the possibility of transient criticalities when work is being done; otherwise workers would be in considerably greater danger than they already are when trying to working to contain the situation. A transient criticality could explain the observed 13“neutron beams” reported by Kyodo news agency. This analysis is not a definitive proof, but it does mean that we cannot rule out localized criticality and TEPCO should assure that the workers take the necessary precautions.”

Technicians at the Three Mile Island plant enter the outer airlock door leading into the containment building housing the disabled reactor in Harrisburg, Pa. on Feb. 11, 1982. Photo: Washington Post/AP

What must be done right now, Dalnoki-Veress has asked. “The purpose of the Cl-38 calculation was to exclude the possibility that an “inadvertent criticality” can occur at the Fukushima reactor #1 which I was unable to do.” Therefore, it is prudent that TEPCO takes seriously the possibility of criticality excursions and monitors the neutron flux with independent neutron detectors close to the core.  A sudden increase in the neutron flux would be immediately measurable above the background due to the spontaneous fission of the different actinides in the fuel. TEPCO must continue to mix Boric acid with the fresh cooling water to ensure that no criticality excursions can occur especially in reactor #1. All efforts must be made to protect the workers when the probability for “inadvertent criticalities” are non-zero. I suggest that TEPCO takes the following actions:

* Install a neutron detector to monitor the core of Fukushima Daiichi reactor #1
* Keep mixing neutron absorbers with the cooling water for cooling reactor cores and spent nuclear fuel ponds
* Give complete gamma spectra rather than just the summaries of the results
* Include not only sampling times but also measurement times for all measurements and repeat measurements to increase confidence in the results

Dalnoki-Veress is a Research Scientist at the James Martin Center for Non-Proliferation Studies of the Monterey Institute of International Studies. He is a specialist on nuclear disarmament and on aspects of global proliferation of fissile materials. He holds a PhD in high energy physics from Carleton University, Canada, specializing in ultra-low radioactivity background detectors. [Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress and Arjun Makhijani, What Caused the High Cl-38 Radioactivity in the Fukushima Daiichi Reactor #1?, The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 9, Issue 14 No 3, April 4, 2011.]

For a discussion of the article at Nature see Jeff Brumfiel, Japan faces more than a decade of nuclear clean-up. For further discussion of related issues see Fukushima Physicists Forum.

Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force personnel stand on a U.S. military barge carrying pure water (bottom) as it is being towed by a Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force auxiliary multi-purpose support ship Hiuchi near the Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima Prefecture, in this photo taken April 4 and released by Japan's Maritime Defense Force April 6, 2011.

Total releases of radioactive iodine-131 and cesium-137 from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi reactors in Japan now appear to rival Chernobyl, Dr Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, has said. As a result, there is now fallout through the northern hemisphere, with hot spots appearing due to rain. For instance, rainwater in Boise, Idaho, on March 22, 2011, was reported by the Environmental Protection Agency at 242 picocuries per liter, about 80 times the U.S. drinking water standard if the level persisted for a prolonged time. The drinking water standard is a common reference number for water purity, even if the water is not used for drinking.

Preliminary risk calculations on the March 22, 2011, rainout event in Boise indicate that the risk from a single such event would be low, even if cows were mostly getting their feed from outdoor grazing, which may not have been the case, said Makhijani/IEER. However, government agency measurements of milk contamination are limited and appear to be uncoordinated. Ingesting milk contaminated with iodine-131 increases the risk of contracting thyroid cancer, especially for female infants. A low dose would produce a low risk; the risk increases proportionally to the dose.

“We don’t have data on iodine-131 levels in milk samples taken from the same areas where polluted rain fell,” said Makhijani. “Such information is important for making reliable estimates of radiation dose and risk. We must ensure that fallout is not rising to levels that could repeat even a small part of the tragedy associated with atmospheric nuclear weapons testing in Nevada during the 1950s and 1960s.”

Missing person's wall in refugee centre, Rikuzen-Takata, Iwate Prefecture. From 'Communities Struggle to Rebuild Shattered Lives on Japan’s Coast' by David McNeill, The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 9, Issue 14 No 4, April 4, 2011.

IEER has recommended that government actions should include:

* Designating water, food, and air radiation measurements as an emergency function to be kept operational in the event of a federal government shutdown due to lack of a budget resolution.
* Making coordinated measurements of Fukushima fallout in air, rainwater, milk, and drinking water, and making these data immediately available on a public web site.
* Air measurements should include results from charcoal filters or canisters to ensure that the gaseous forms of iodine-131 are captured.
* Coordinating measurements of rainwater with weather patterns and estimated arrival of fallout from Japan over the United States, and making these data available in as close to real time as possible, on a public web site.
* Advising those who might be using rainwater for drinking purposes by publication of rainout maps with iodine-131 data.
* Developing contingency plans for advising farmers in case high milk contamination levels are anticipated. Such plans may include of sheltering animals and feeding them stored, uncontaminated grain and hay so that clean milk can be produced in the event of greater fallout than has been reported so far.
* Publication of the protocol used for sampling air, water, and milk.
* Use of consistent risk statements based on the 2006 risk study by the National Academies

“It is lamentable that the U.S. government is not speaking with a coherent, science-based voice on the risks of radiation,” said Dr. Makhijani. “There is no safe level of radiation exposure in the sense of zero risk. Period. This has been repeatedly concluded by official studies, most recently a 2006 study done by the National Academies. Yet there is no shortage of unfortunate official statements on radiation that may seek to placate the public about ‘safe’ levels of radiation, but actually undermine confidence.”

As an example, IEER cited a statement by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that “In general, a yearly dose of 620 millirem from all radiation sources has not been shown to cause humans any harm.” This annual dose includes medical uses of radiation, including CAT scans, and other voluntary exposures, from which people get some benefits. It also includes indoor radon, which the EPA estimates “is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers…. Overall, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer [after smoking]. Radon is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year. About 2,900 of these deaths occur among people who have never smoked.”

While the NRC is saying the 620 millirem a year on average has not been shown to cause harm, the EPA is saying that only about one-third of this total average annual dose attributable to indoor radon, is responsible for thousands of cancer deaths every year,” said Dr. Makhijani. “The NRC statement is an appalling misrepresentation of the science that underlies its own regulations as well as published statements on radon risks by the EPA. Using the 2006 National Academies risk estimates for cancer, 620 millirem per year to each of the 311 million people in the United States would eventually be associated with about 200,000 cancers each year; about half of them would be fatal.”

Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) personnel, wearing protective suits, operate on JMSDF auxiliary multi-purpose support ship Hiuchi near the Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan, in this photo taken April 5 and released by Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force April 6, 2011.

Dr. Makhijani continued, “The largest risks by far are in Japan; the risks from Fukushima in the United States, based on the limited data so far, appear to be very low at the individual level. But they are being experienced by large populations, as they were during Chernobyl fallout. More intensive measurements, a frank portrayal of both individual and population risks, for children and adults using National Academies risk numbers, and prompt publication are essential. If the government does not provide accurate, science-based, trustworthy information, how can people make well-informed decisions for themselves and their families at a confusing time?”

Related materials: [National Cancer Institute. SEER Cancer Statistics Review 1975-2007, Table 1.4 Age-Adjusted SEER Incidence and U.S. Death Rates and 5-Year Relative Survival (Percent) By Primary Cancer Site, Sex and Time Period.] [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. RadNet Laboratory Data: Japanese Nuclear Emergency: Radiation Monitoring, 2011]

Analysis of that dust is a key step in an intricate process of nuclear sleuthing: The dust’s distinctive chemical signature can show scientists whether the particles blew into the air from a bomb, a damaged nuclear reactor or used uranium fuel, according to this Washington Post report. It can even point to the extent of damage suffered by a fission reactor. Tracing global wind patterns back then pinpoints where the emissions originated.

A car passes between cooling towers of the Temelin nuclear power plant 80 miles south of Prague. The Czech Republic has no immediate plans to review its atomic expansion plans due to the nuclear crisis in Japan following an earthquake and tsunami, the Czech's nuclear safety office chief said on Monday. Photo: Washington Post/Petr Josek /Reuters

“It’s nuclear forensics,” said Kai Vetter, a professor of nuclear engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, who built his own radiation detector atop a campus building after the Fukushima crisis began. “You can learn quite a lot from the pattern of radioactive isotopes,” said Hamish Robertson, a physicist at the University of Washington in Seattle. In the United States, another network of more than 100 stations maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency is also gathering radioactivity from Japan. State health departments maintain their own monitoring systems, which is how Maryland detected tiny traces in the air and water March 24.

Modern radiation detection systems are simply astoundingly sensitive, they explain, designed to pick up traces of nuclear explosions anywhere in the world. The detector atop the CTBTO’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria, still catches vestiges of the Chernobyl disaster that occurred 25 years ago, said Lassina Zerbo, director of the group’s international data center. Vetter’s detector at Berkeley even catches radioactivity on the wind from treatments received by thyroid cancer patients passing by six stories below.

So a sensor that simply measured the total amount of radiation from airbone particles would be useless in nuclear forensics. Modern detectors do much more. They outline the dust’s distinctive radioactive fingerprint by measuring precise concentrations of five or more radioactive elements, or isotopes. Each atom of these isotopes is unstable, shedding excess energy — via radiation — in a process called decay. By measuring the form and intensity of this energy, the radiation detectives can identify the isotopes in play and deduce from them what might have happened.

Radioactive iodine-131 and cesium-137 are key to this process. They don’t exist in nature, so their appearance signals a nuclear event — either a bomb or a reactor in trouble. Both can cause health problems in large amounts. But iodine-131 decays relatively rapidly: After eight days, half the original amount is gone. Its presence means that the event that created it occurred just weeks beforehand. Cesium-137 takes much longer to decay, with a half-life of 30 years. Traces of cesium-137 from Chernobyl still waft on Earth’s great jetstreams.

UTC-GMT, Friday 08 April March 2011, 12:55 / IST, Friday 08 April 2011, 18:25 / CET, Friday 08 April 2011, 13:55 / JST, Friday 08 April 2011, 21:55 / PDT, Friday 08 April 2011, 05:55

A month after the explosion, Chernobyl employees head off by bus to work in a highly contaminated environment. Photo: NPR/Kostin Igor/Corbis Sygma

For readers of the running post about Fukushima and the Japan nuclear crisis, please take the time to look also at this interview with Belarussian writer Svetlana Alexievich and at her book, ‘Voices of Chernobyl: Survivors’ Stories’. This interview is not new; it was published in April 2006, five years ago. The book was published to mark the 10th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. These accounts hold up a 20-year-old mirror to all that we have seen and heard and read about Fukushima and its awful threat.

Belarussian writer Svetlana Alexievich

From the interview:
“I continue to be amazed that people have failed to understand Chernobyl as a new way of seeing the world. Chernobyl changed space, but politicians still talk about things in terms of today, there, nearby, foreign. It’s so strange. What does near or far mean when the cloud was hanging over Europe on the second day and over China on the fourth? Even a country that doesn’t build reactors will be hit by the fallout from another country.”
“Chernobyl also changed time. Radionuclides take hundreds of thousands of years to degrade. This is too much for the human imagination. And yet the politicians are deliberately calculating the victim numbers lower than they are. In Belarus alone, two liquidators die every day. They have dozens of diseases: kidney failure, infarcts. Children have radioactive levels that are way above the norm. Chernobyl has only just begun.”

An aerial view of the fourth reactor of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant after its explosion is seen in this 1986 file picture. Photo: NPR/Vladimir Repik/Reuters

An excerpt from ‘Voices of Chernobyl’:

“It happened late Friday night. That morning no one suspected anything. I sent my son to school, my husband went to the barber’s. I’m preparing lunch when my husband comes back. “There’s some sort of fire at the nuclear plant,” he says. “They’re saying we are not to turn off the radio.” I forgot to say that we lived in Pripyat, near the reactor. I can still see the bright-crimson glow, it was like the reactor was glowing. This wasn’t any ordinary fire, it was some sort of shining. It was pretty. I’d never seen anything like it in the movies. That evening everyone spilled out onto their balconies, and those who didn’t have them went to friends’ houses. We were on the ninth floor, we had a great view. People brought their kids out, picked them up, said, “Look! Remember!” And these were people who worked at the reactor — engineers, workers, physics instructors. They stood in the black dust, talking, breathing, wondering at it. People came from all around on their cars and their bikes to have a look. We didn’t know that death could be so beautiful. Though I wouldn’t say that it had no smell — it wasn’t a spring or an autumn smell, but something else, and it wasn’t the smell of earth. My throat tickled, and tears came to my eyes.”

Twenty years ago this month, a routine maintenance test at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in northern Ukraine veered wildly out of control. At 1:23 in the morning on April 26, 1986, there was a disastrous chain reaction in the core of reactor No.4. A power surge ruptured the uranium fuel rods, while a steam explosion created a huge fireball that blew the roof off the reactor. The resulting radioactive plume blanketed the nearby city of Pripyat.

The cloud moved on to the north and west, contaminating land in neighboring Belarus, then moved across Eastern Europe and over Scandinavia. From the Soviets: utter silence. There was no word from the Kremlin that the worst nuclear accident in history was under way. Then monitoring stations in Scandinavia began reporting abnormally high levels of radioactivity. Finally, nearly three days after the explosion, the Soviet news agency TASS issued a brief statement acknowledging that an accident had occurred.

UTC-GMT, Thursday 07 April March 2011, 17:05 / IST, Thursday 07 April 2011, 22:35 / CET, Thursday 07 April 2011, 18:05 / JST, Friday 08 April 2011, 02:05 / PDT, Thursday 07 April 2011, 10:05

US Geological Survey quake map 2011 April 07

The Japan Meteorological agency has reported a 7.4 quake in Miyagi prefecture, northeastern Japan, which hit at 11:32pm local time. USGS has reported a magnitude 7.1 earthquake, about 96km from Sendai, Japan, and about 40km below the sea-bed. Tsunami warnings, the first since the catastrophic March 11 quake and tsunami, are being issued throughout the region. This quake is considered to be an aftershock of the March 11 seismic event.

The USGS quake info is:

Magnitude: 7.1
Date-Time: Thursday, April 07, 2011 at 14:32:41 UTC / Thursday, April 07, 2011 at 11:32:41 PM at epicenter
Location: 38.253°N, 141.640°E
Depth: 49 km (30.4 miles)
Region: near the east coast of Honshu, Japan
Distances: 66 km (41 miles) E of Sendai, Honshu, Japan; 114 km (70 miles) E of Yamagata, Honshu, Japan; 116 km (72 miles) ENE of Fukushima, Honshu, Japan; 330 km (205 miles) NNE of TOKYO, Japan

An operation to reduce the risk of a hydrogen explosion at the crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station by injecting nitrogen into its No. 1 reactor has gone smoothly, Kyodo News has reported, and has quoted the plant’s operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Thursday. Pressure in the reactor’s containment vessel has risen as expected, indicating the success of the operation. The operator, TEPCO also plans to inject nitrogen into the Nos. 2 and 3 reactors for the same purpose, but the schedule has not been fixed.

Police officers near Fukushima plant. A handout photo shows police officers in protective suits measuring radiation levels in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, near the troubled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, on April 4, 2011. Photo: Kyodo/supplied by the Fukushima prefectural police

TEPCO also continued on Thursday to dump water contaminated with low-level radiation into the Pacific Ocean to make room for the storage of highly radioactive water that has been hampering restoration work at the plant. The utility said it will finish discharging 8,000 tons of contaminated water from a facility for nuclear waste disposal Friday. The operation to release 1,500 tons of groundwater contaminated with low-level radiation will be completed on Saturday, according to the government’s nuclear safety agency. The dumping of the tainted water has sparked concern over sea contamination among neighboring countries and strong protests from the domestic fishing industry.

NHK has reported police as having said that more than 27,600 people are dead or missing in the March 11th disaster that hit northeastern Japan. The National Police Agency said on Thursday evening that 12,690 people have been confirmed dead and 14,736 are still listed as missing. In worst-hit Miyagi prefecture, 7,743 deaths have been confirmed, followed by 3,709 in neighboring Iwate Prefecture and 1,177 in Fukushima Prefecture. About 82 percent of the recovered bodies have been identified and are being handed over to the victims’ families.

A woman hangs photos, retrieved from debris, on a wall at her home in hopes that their owners will find them in Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, on April 7, 2011. The area was devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Photo: Kyodo

The government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) appear to be too insensitive to global criticism over their response to the crisis at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant that the power supplier operates, said the Mainichi Daily News. It should be regarded as a diplomatic blunder that the government has come under fire for failing to provide a detailed explanation to not only local governments concerned and fishermen’s cooperatives but also neighboring countries before discharging water contaminated with low levels of radiation from the plant into the sea.

The administration of Prime Minister Naoto Kan should keep in mind that the crisis at the tsunami-hit nuclear power plant could have a huge impact on a global scale and that many countries share the same concerns and interests with Japan regarding nuclear power generation, said the Mainichi.

People line up to receive rice, diapers and other aid supplies in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, on April 6, 2011. Photo: Kyodo

The South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry expressed deep displeasure at Japan’s failure to notify Seoul before discharging radioactive water into the sea, while the Russian government has voiced concern that radiation could adversely affect fishing resources.

About 70 percent of the 400 fuel rods in the No. 1 reactor at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant are damaged, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) has revealed. In addition, some 30 percent of the 548 fuel rods in the No. 2 reactor core and 25 percent of those in the No. 3 reactor core are also thought to be damaged, the power company stated on April 6. The figures are based on analysis of radiation data collected from the side of the reactor pressure vessel between the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and March 15.

The Daily Yomiuri has reported that fishery associations in the prefecture of Ibaraki said Wednesday they would voluntarily stop fishing kounago (young sand launce) after radioactive cesium exceeding the provisional limit of 500 becquerels per kilogram was detected the previous day in samples of the small eellike fish caught recently off the prefecture. The fishery association of Otsu Port in Kita-Ibaraki announced Tuesday it had detected 510 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium, above the provisional limit, in launce caught off the port Monday.

UTC-GMT, Tuesday 05 April March 2011, 18:25 / IST, Tuesday 05 April 2011, 23:55 / CET, Tuesday 05 April 2011, 19:25 / JST, Wednesday 06 April 2011, 03:25 / PDT, Tuesday 05 April 2011, 11:25

A handout image released Sunday by Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency shows a worker wearing a protective suit walking near the damaged pit at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant No. 2 reactor on Saturday. Photo: European Pressphoto Agency

The radioactive leak at Fukushima appears to be lessening, NHK has reported. The operator of the crisis-hit Fukushima nuclear plant has injected a hardening agent beneath a leaking concrete pit in a bid to stem the flow of highly radioactive water into the sea. The firm says the leakage seems to be decreasing, following the infusion of the hardening agent. The utility showed reporters a photo of the leak on Tuesday evening, saying it indicates such a decrease.

TEPCO said it will infuse another 1,500 liters of liquid glass. Tokyo Electric Power Company started infusing liquid glass into gravel below the pit near the Number 2 reactor at 3 PM on Tuesday. TEPCO spotted a crack in the pit 3 days ago while trying to find the source of the leakage of contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean. Since then, the utility has tried in vein to seal the pit with concrete, or to plug piping leading into it with a polymer mixture.

Infographic, Asahi Shimbun

A test using a dye agent showed the possibility that the radioactive water is leaking from a cracked pipe, and then seeping through gravel into the concrete pit. TEPCO is planning to board up the breached sections of an offshore dike to prevent the tainted water from spreading further into the sea. It is also considering building underwater barriers at 3 locations, including one near a water intake for the Number 2 reactor.

TEPCO officials are now considering dropping a fence into the ocean to prevent the spread of contaminated water, the Asahi Shimbun has reported. The idea being contemplated is to lower a silt fence into the water. Silt fences are used in civil engineering projects to prevent the spread of polluted water. The fence is suspended from a float and extends to the seabed like a curtain and is designed to limit the movement of seawater. The water off the coast of the Fukushima No. 1 plant has a depth of between five to six meters. One idea being considered is to install the fence near the seawater intake from where contaminated water is flowing as well as near embankments that surround the waters off the plant site.

Goshi Hosono, special adviser to Prime Minister Naoto Kan for the Fukushima crisis, told reporters: “We cannot allow radiation to go on being emitted. Yet while we have to resolve that problem as quickly as possible, it will likely take several months to achieve that goal.” Hosono is coordinating cooperation efforts with the United States to deal with the plant. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano also said Sunday, “It will take months to cool (the reactors) and to implement measures to prevent (radiation) from spreading.” At a Friday news conference, Kan also said the government would have to be prepared for a protracted fight to resolve the issue. The setting of a general time frame likely means that the government wants to show it has a long-term commitment to the situation, rather than merely haphazardly fixing problems when they arise.

Institut de Radioprotection et de Sûreté Nucléaire: La circulation générale à plus grande échelle résulte de l'interaction du courant océanique Kuroshio qui vient du sud en longeant les côtes du Japon et du courant Oyashio, de moindre importance, qui vient du nord. L'intensité et l'étendue du Kuroshio sont comparables à celles du Gulf Stream. Les eaux littorales à proximité de la centrale de Fukushima-Daiichi se trouvent dans la zone d'interaction de ces deux courants, entraînant des courants giratoires faibles et variables. Ce sont ces courants qui vont être déterminants pour la dispersion de la pollution radioactive à moyen terme.

Even so, NHK has just reported that water 7.5 million times the safety limit has been discovered flowing from reactor 2. This is by far the highest level ever. The operator of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says 7.5 million times the legal limit of radioactive iodine 131 has been detected from samples of seawater near the plant. Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, found on Saturday that contaminated water was leaking from a cracked concrete pit near the No. 2 reactor. Experts say this makes it clear that highly radioactive substances from the reactor are flowing into the sea, and that the leak must be stopped as soon as possible. The utility firm said samples of water taken near the water intake of the No. 2 reactor at 11:50 AM Saturday contained 300,000 becquerels of iodine 131 per cubic centimeter, or 7.5 million times the legal limit.

As if they are resident on an alternate Planet Earth, nuclear industry executives continue to babble on about n-power as if nothing happened in Japan. The latest unhinged raving has come from Jacques Besnainou, chief executive of the US arm of nuclear giant Areva SA. This is the French company which has been using all the openings provided by the Sarkozy government to guarantee it huge new contracts in countries like India. Besnainou said that the world must embrace nuclear power and advocated the continuation of US federal loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants.

The Wall Street Journal reported him as saying that to those who think “nuclear is dead, I do not agree at all,” said Besnainou, speaking at the Columbia University Energy Symposium in New York. He said that there is no alternative in the US, Japan, or in European countries if nuclear power plants are phased out and new ones are not approved. Besnainou also said that he doesn’t think the cost of building new nuclear power plants will rise as a result of the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant. He rejected the argument that licensing a new reactor will now take longer, or that increased resistance from the public would cause the price to go up.

“Nuclear is the cheapest” power source, Besnainou said, obviously showing that his understanding of events like radiation leak and contamination, as is being reported from Japan daily, is altogether zero. He added that this is so even if one includes both the cost of building a new plant and then retiring it. Although building a plant might cost between $5 billion and $7 billion, Besnainou said that it then “becomes a cash machine.” The operational cost is very predictable, he said. The disconnection this man has displayed in the face of extreme danger is criminal, and goes a long way towards explaining why this industry, at all levels in all countries, must be shut down for good.

Asahi Shimbun infographic, radioactive water leak

The French Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety Institute (IRSN) is modeling human health impacts for the accident at Fukushima. Their assessment of sea water contamination came out today. A press release (also translated into English) and PDF (extended report in French) are provided. They seem most concerned with radionuclides that are soluble and can be transported over large distances, and those that are heavier and present a risk for concentration in sediments: “Depending on the persistence of these radionuclides and their concentrations more or less important, some plant and animal species could be contaminated to significant levels, justifying the establishment of a radiological monitoring program of seafood from most impacted areas of coastal Japan.”

A US Navy image of sea surface temperature shows the Kuroshio current turning east and going offshore away from central Japan. The Kuroshio current will act as a boundary keeping radioactivity and pollution from Fukushima away from the coast of southern Japan.

In a briefing titled ‘The Tohoku Pacific earthquake: Economic consequences’, the OECD has commented on the impacts of the quake and tsunami on Japan’s economy. The four prefectures most affected by the earthquake (Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima and Ibaraki) account for 6 to 7% of Japan’s population and economic output. “The destruction caused by the earthquake and the subsequent tsunami is so large that it is not possible at this point to estimate its economic impact. Such disasters reduce potential growth through damage to tangible fixed assets and injury and loss of life. The 1995 Kobe earthquake, for example, resulted in damage estimated at around 2% of GDP. The area hit by the Kobe earthquake, as a share of GDP, was roughly comparable to the area devastated by the Tohoku Pacific earthquake. Nevertheless, the impact of the 11 March disaster may be much worse, given the greater severity of the earthquake and the subsequent tsunami.”

At present, fiscal resources appear limited to the remaining 0.2 trillion yen (0.04% of GDP) reserve fund in the FY 2010 budget and the 1.1 trillion yen (0.2%) reserve in the FY 2011 budget. However, supplementary budgets to finance reconstruction efforts will expand available fiscal resources. In the wake of the Kobe earthquake, for example, the central government spent about 5 trillion yen (1.0% of 1995 GDP), said the briefing. My view is that the OECD economists who wrote this will have to go back to their spreadheets in order to factor in the enormous and long-term costs of containing Fukushima and then of the health consequences to Japan’s suffering citizens.

UTC-GMT, Monday 04 April March 2011, 16:50 / IST, Monday 04 April 2011, 22:20 / CET, Monday 04 April 2011, 17:50 / JST, Tuesday 05 April 2011, 01:50 / PDT, Monday 04 April 2011, 09:50

A 12-year-old girl and her 10-year-old sister carry baskets on their backs to help their grandfather take relief supplies from an elementary school in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, to seniors in the quake-hit city in this recent photo. Many seniors living in the city cannot travel to the school to pick up supplies because there are steep slopes and roads remain cut in many locations. Photo: The Mainichi Daily News

NHK has reported that the Japanese government withheld the release of computer projections indicating high levels of radioactivity in areas more than 30 kilometers from the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The estimates were made on March 16th following explosions at the plant by an institute commissioned by the government using a computer system called SPEEDI. The system made its projections on the assumption that radioactive substances had been released for 24 hours from midnight on March 14th, based on the available data.

But the government was reluctant to reveal the SPEEDI projections, and did not release them until March 23rd, said the NHK report (Monday, April 04, 2011 12:38 +0900 (JST)-‘Govt did not reveal high level radiation estimate’). The released data showed that higher levels of radioactive substances would flow over areas to the northwest and southwest of the plant. The estimates showed that the radiation would exceed 100 millisieverts in some areas more than 30 kilometers from the nuclear plant if people remained outdoors for 24 hours between March 12th and 24th. That is 100 times higher than the 1 millisievert-per-year long-term reference level for humans as recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection.

The Nuclear Safety Commission says it did not release the projections because the location or the amount of radioactive leakage was not specified at the time. Professor emeritus Shigenobu Nagataki of Nagasaki University, says the government should release more data about the dangers of possible radiation exposure and draw up evacuation plans and other measures together with residents.

The European Committee on Radiation Risk has said its models predict some 400,000 cancers over the next 50 years from Fukushima fallout in the area within 200 kilometers (120 miles) from the site. Models used by the UN’s ICRP predict a little over 6,000 cancers. See ’417,000 cancers forecast for Fukushima 200 km contamination zone by 2061′. Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk (ECRR), Professor Chris Busby, has released calculations of the cancer incidence to be expected in fallout areas of Japan. Using data from the International Atomic Energy Agency and official Japanese web sites he has used two methods to estimate the numbers of cancer cases. He compares these results with estimates derived from ICRP modelling.

Yutaka Okajima, the postmaster at a local post office, searches for his 42-year-old wife Hitomi in the remains of their home in the Shizugawa area of Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, on March 28, 2011. Okajima, 46, comes to the area every day to hunt for some sign of his wife, missing since the March 11 tsunami tore through the neighborhood. Photo: The Mainichi Daily News

An entry in the energy discussion website, The Oil Drum, titled ‘Fukushima Dai-ichi status and prognosis’, has said that the disjointed news flow from Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) continues to provide a confusing picture of the status of the 4 crippled nuclear power stations at Fukushima Dai-ichi on the East coast of Japan. This is leading to a very broad spectrum of opinion on the actual status and future consequences. The spectrum of opinion ranges from those who argue that Fukushima Dai-ichi is on course to become a Chernobyl scale incident or worse, to those who argue this is a storm in a teacup, pointing out that reactors have been hit by a large earthquake, gigantic tsunami and survived with minimal casualties so far.

What do we think we know for sure, The Oil Drum has asked. The answers provided are: 1) The Japanese government have warned of a grave nuclear incident on a number of occasions. 2) The status of the reactors, fuel pools and dispersion of radioactive materials continues to get worse, not better. 3) There are perhaps 7 or 8 reactor loads of fuel in play compared with a single load at Chernobyl and 4 or 5 of those are outside of containment in badly damaged spent fuel pools. 4) Reports suggests that daily release of radioactive 131I and 137Cs is running at around 73% and 60% of Chernobyl respectively. 5) The Chernobyl fire burned for 8 to 10 days whilst Fukushima Dai-ichi has been emitting radioactive material for around 15 days with no end in sight. 6) There is a 30 km exclusion zone in place and thousands of residents have become refugees with little prospect of returning home in the near future.

Status of Fukushima Dai-ichi from Japan Atomic Industrial Forum on 30th March. Significance: Red = Severe (need immediate action); Yellow = High; Green = low. Click to enlarge.

Japanese nuclear technicians plan to release 10,000 tonnes of moderately radioactive water into the sea from Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station to create room to store more highly contaminated water building up under the crippled plant, the Financial Times has reported. Over the past three weeks emergency crews have injected tens of thousands of tonnes of water, most of it pumped from the sea, into the station’s four most damaged reactors in an effort to cool their overheated uranium fuel. Some of that water has found its way into service tunnels extending toward the sea from turbines attached to each reactor. But it is the water in the No 2 reactor’s tunnel that is causing the most concern: it is far more radioactive than the water elsewhere, and it is leaking continuously into the ocean from a crack in the tunnel’s concrete wall.

Children surround a keyboard piano and its player at Ishinomaki high school in Miyagi Prefecture on April 1, 2011. The school is sheltering numerous local residents after the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. Every day, children have been singing songs and drawing pictures in the pictured area, which has been designated for use by children. Photo: The Mainichi Daily News

Radioactive water has pooled throughout the plant because the operator has been forced to rely on makeshift ways of pumping water into the reactors – and allowing it to gush out wherever it can – to bring down temperatures and pressure in the cores. The Los Angeles Times has reported that government officials conceded Sunday that it will likely be several months before the cooling systems are completely restored. And even after that happens, there will be years of work ahead to clean up the area around the complex and figure out what to do with it. The makeshift system makes it difficult to contain the radiation leaks, but it is aimed a preventing fuel rods from going into a full meltdown that would release even more radioactivity into the environment.

The Nuclear Information and Resource Service has said (10:30 am, Monday, April 04, 2011) that Japan’s government has acknowledged the obvious: that it will be months before the Fukushima nuclear crisis can be considered under control, and likely there will continue to be radiation releases for an extended period. Efforts over the weekend to seal an 8-inch crack in a concrete pit holding Unit 2 electrical cables so far have been unsuccessful. It’s believed the crack is a source for highly radioactive water (about 100 rems/hour) leaking into the Pacific Ocean.

However, Tepco officials also admit there may be other release points and are planning to inject dye (where is not entirely clear) in an effort to try to trace the leaks. Tepco announced Monday evening that it has begun deliberately discharging 11,000 tons of radioactive water into the ocean. Two workers were confirmed dead at the site over the weekend; they reportedly were killed in the initial tsunami but were in a high radiation area. It seems Tepco should have known—and reported—that workers were missing. Are there any other workers still missing?

UTC-GMT, Friday 01 April March 2011, 17:30 / IST, Friday 01 April 2011, 23:00 / CET, Friday 01 April 2011, 18:30 / JST, Saturday 02 April 2011, 02:30 / PDT, Friday 01 April 2011, 10:30

In this March 24, 2011 aerial photo taken by a small unmanned drone and released by Air Photo Service, damaged Unit 3, left, and Unit 4 of the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant are seen in Okumamachi, Fukushima prefecture, northern Japan. Photo: Air Photo Service Co Ltd, Japan

More signs of serious radiation contamination in and near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant were detected Thursday 31 March 2011, with the latest data finding groundwater containing radioactive iodine 10,000 times the legal threshold and the concentration of radioactive iodine-131 in nearby seawater rising to the highest level yet. Radioactive material was confirmed from groundwater for the first time since the March 11 quake and tsunami hit the nuclear power plant on the Pacific coast, knocking out the reactors’ key cooling functions. An official of the plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said, “We’re aware this is an extremely high figure.”

The New Scientist magazine has provided a new backgrounder: ‘Fukushima radioactive fallout nears Chernobyl levels’ which states: “Japan’s damaged nuclear plant in Fukushima has been emitting radioactive iodine and caesium at levels approaching those seen in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident in 1986. Austrian researchers have used a worldwide network of radiation detectors ­designed to spot clandestine nuclear bomb tests ­to show that iodine-131 is being released at daily levels 73 per cent of those seen after the 1986 disaster. The daily amount of caesium-137 released from Fukushima Daiichi is around 60 per cent of the amount released from Chernobyl.”

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has released a collection of the journal’s collection on Japan. Here is a selection. (1) ‘The road not taken: Can Fukushima put us on a path toward nuclear transparency?’ The origins of civilian nuclear power positioned our society, and the nuclear industry, to favor military needs and financial gain over public understanding. Until this approach is changed, history will continue to repeat itself in devastating ways. (2) ‘Japan’s nuclear crisis: The fine line between security and insecurity’. Since the 1970s, Japan has turned to nuclear as a secure source of energy. But this security has a double meaning. (3) ‘Reflections on Fukushima: A time to mourn, to learn, and to teach’. Japan faces prolonged anxiety and distress in its quest to find answers to the Fukushima disaster. One answer may be that a conventional back-up system was in the wrong place. There is much to learn. (4) ‘In this nuclear world, what is the meaning of ‘safe’?’ Before the world’s nations refine energy development plans, countries must ensure that one word – safety – is not lost in translation. (5) ‘After the nuclear renaissance: The age of discovery’. Before this month’s tragedy in Japan, many were confident that reactor design and safety had matured and catastrophic accidents were simply not going to happen. Fukushima has proven these assumptions wrong – and it will have a number of implications for the energy debate.

In this March 24, 2011 aerial photo taken by a small unmanned drone and released by Air Photo Service, Unit 4, left, and Unit 3 of the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant are seen in Okumamachi, Fukushima prefecture, northern Japan. Photo: Air Photo Service Co Ltd, Japan

People and resources: (1) Arjun Makhijani is president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, which has released a series of papers on the Japan nuclear disaster. The most recent is titled “Radioactive Iodine Releases from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Reactors May Exceed Those of Three Mile Island by Over 100,000 Times.” (2) Aileen Mioko Smith is executive director of Green Action, a Japanese environmental group. She has been stating from the beginning of the crisis that the Japanese government has not been sharing critical information with the public. She is analysing the situation and has been translating reports and posting other information on the web. She has said: “We would like to have the international community sanction the Japanese government for wantonly raising the level of contamination allowed for Fukushima citizens. Up until now, it had certain standards for food from the area, but is working to change those standards to make things appear OK. What the government should be doing is broadening the official evacuation zone.”

In an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel, peace activist and author Jonathan Schell discusses the lessons of the Fukushima disaster, mankind’s false impression that it can somehow safely produce electricity from the atom, and why he thinks the partial meltdown in Japan could mark a turning point for the world. Spiegel: “You say that dealing with nuclear energy is like gambling with ‘Mother Nature’s power’. Why is it so totally different from other sources of energy?”

Schell: Because it’s so colossally more powerful. Comparable energy can be found, at best, in the centre of stars. It’s basically not found on earth naturally, and it’s only through our own scientific brilliance that we’ve been able to introduce it into the terrestrial setting. But, unfortunately, we’re not as advanced morally, practically and politically as we are scientifically, so we are not prepared to control this force properly. The most dangerous illusion we have concerning nuclear energy is that we can control it.

Photo taken from a Kyodo News helicopter shows fire engines gathered in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan, to douse overheated reactors and spent fuel at the quake-hit Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on March 18, 2011. Photo: Spiegel/DPA/ Kyodo

Hirose Takashi has written a whole shelf full of books, mostly on the nuclear power industry and the military-industrial complex. Probably his best known book is ‘Nuclear Power Plants for Tokyo’. He was interviewed for Counterpunch by Douglas Lummis, a political scientist living in Okinawa.

Hirose: “If I were [Japanese] Prime Minister Kan, I would order them to do what the Soviet Union did when the Chernobyl reactor blew up, the sarcophagus solution, bury the whole thing under cement, put every cement company in Japan to work, and dump cement over it from the sky. Because you have to assume the worst case. Why? Because in Fukushima there is the Daiichi Plant with six reactors and the Daini Plant with four for a total of ten reactors. If even one of them develops the worst case, then the workers there must either evacuate the site or stay on and collapse. So if, for example, one of the reactors at Daiichi goes down, the other five are only a matter of time. We can’t know in what order they will go, but certainly all of them will go. And if that happens, Daini isn’t so far away, so probably the reactors there will also go down. Because I assume that workers will not be able to stay there.”

Hirose: “I’m speaking of the worst case, but the probability is not low. This is the danger that the world is watching. Only in Japan is it being hidden. As you know, of the six reactors at Daiichi, four are in a crisis state. So even if at one everything goes well and water circulation is restored, the other three could still go down. Four are in crisis, and for all four to be 100 per cent repaired, I hate to say it, but I am pessimistic. If so, then to save the people, we have to think about some way to reduce the radiation leakage to the lowest level possible. Not by spraying water from hoses, like sprinkling water on a desert. We have to think of all six going down, and the possibility of that happening is not low. Everyone knows how long it takes a typhoon to pass over Japan; it generally takes about a week. That is, with a wind speed of two meters per second, it could take about five days for all of Japan to be covered with radiation. We’re not talking about distances of 20 kilometers or 30 kilometers or 100 kilometers. It means of course Tokyo, Osaka. That’s how fast a radioactive cloud could spread. Of course it would depend on the weather; we can’t know in advance how the radiation would be distributed. It would be nice if the wind would blow toward the sea, but it doesn’t always do that. Two days ago, on the 15th, it was blowing toward Tokyo. That’s how it is.”

UTC-GMT, Tuesday 22 March 2011, 17:15 / IST, Tuesday 22 March 2011, 22:45 / CET, Tuesday 22 March 2011, 18:15 / JST, Wednesday 23 March 2011, 02:15 / PDT, Tuesday 22 March 2011, 10:15

This small section is from a cutaway diagram of an advanced boiling water reactor. This is taken from a complete set of 105 reactor wall charts which has been archived by the University of New Mexico. They first appeared in the Nuclear Engineering International magazine.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported (at 16:45 UTC on 22 March) that Japanese authorities said the Tokyo Electric Power Company has detected radioactive materials in seawater at one location near the Southern discharge canal at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Samples taken included levels of iodine-131, cesium-134, and cesium-137.

Earlier, it was reported that in order to study a larger area of the marine environment, the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) plans to measure radioactivity around the plant from 22-23 March. Seawater will be collected from eight locations, and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency plans to analyse the samples and release results on 24 March. The analysis will include radionuclide concentrations found in sea water and dose rate in the air.

This is from the daily update (Wednesday, March 23, 12 a.m. ET, Tokyo) from Japan provided by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) reported that power has been restored in the control room of unit 3. This is a significant step toward a recovery of full cooling capability. Unit 4 is also connected to the grid. This is good news.

Earlier (Tuesday, March 22, 7 p.m. ET, Tokyo) the daily update reported the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) press conference: Even at a greater distance – 16 kilometers from the plant – there is a higher-than-regulated level of Iodine 131 (80 times the regulated level at 8 kilometers; 27 times at 10 kilometers; 16 times at 16 kilometers) and Cesium 134 (1.3 times the regulated level at 8 kilometers away). Cobalt 58 was also detected but below regulated level.

Amid the destruction caused by the disaster, this news feature from The Australian has said, Kesennuma’s experience was unique. All along this northeast coast, town after town was struck first by the earthquake and then by the tsunami, but here there was a third element. Having been first shaken and then inundated by water, Kesennuma was finally burnt, in a fire kindled by the first two disasters.

Large tuna fishing ships in the harbour smashed into one another and caught alight. They were carried by successive waves into neighbourhoods that burnt to the ground after the waters had withdrawn. As the tsunamis rose and then receded, those who survived witnessed an unprecedented sight: the sea overwhelming the land, not only with water, but with fire.

“In many lifetimes, there has not been such a disaster as this,” said Mr Hatakeyama, standing on the Kesennuma seafront. “When we saw it, it was so huge. It was 10 metres high over here, but down there, facing the sea, it was higher than that. I could never have imagined such a thing. The water kept coming until dawn.

“The anchor chains broke and because the boats were so close together they collided and fires started. One was spinning over and over. Luckily the closest one didn’t break. If it had, it could have come through our house. The far boat burnt for 10 hours. I never imagined that I would see that happening on the sea.”

[The reactor wall charts can be viewed here. Thanks to Bibliodyssey for the link.]

UTC-GMT, Monday 21 March 2011, 16:45 / IST, Monday 21 March 2011, 22:15 / CET, Monday 21 March 2011, 17:45 / JST, Tuesday 22 March 2011, 01:45 / PDT, Monday 21 March 2011, 09:45

Buildings destroyed by a tsunami are pictured in Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, in northern Japan, March 13, 2011. Photo: Reuters/Kyodo

The death toll from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that hit northeastern and eastern Japan and the number of those reported missing came to a combined total of 21,911 as of noon Monday, the National Police Agency has said, as reported late Monday by The Mainichi Daily News.

The number of deaths reported in a total of 12 prefectures came to 8,649, while people reported by their relatives to be missing climbed to 13,262 in six prefectures. Police have identified about 4,080 bodies, including 2,990 returned to their families, the agency said. A total of about 340,000 evacuees, including those who fled from the vicinity of the troubled nuclear reactors in Fukushima Prefecture, are now staying at some 2,070 shelters set up by 16 prefectures.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has begun a daily update from Japan. In today’s updates, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano has held a press conference; the first restriction-order has been issued for some foods (spinach and milk) in Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, and Fukushima prefectures – these foods are no longer allowed to be distributed from these areas. Experts stress that no immediate public health risk exists even if these foods are consumed for a short period of time. Still, this illustrates that food contamination may be becoming real.

A man cycles through the scene of devastation in Rikuzentakata, northern Japan, March 13, 2011. Photo: Reuters/Toru Hanai

Tatsujiro Suzuki has written in the Bulletin’s updates that the Nuclear Industry and Safety Agency (NISA) held a press conference about continuing efforts at the Fukushima nuclear power plants: 1,137 tons of sea water was poured into the storage pool of unit 3, and about 90 tons of tank water (not sea water) was poured into the storage pool of unit 4. Units 1, 2, 5, and 6 are now connected to the grid; the current priority is unit 2 to test, check, and replace parts as necessary. Power may be recovered this afternoon in unit 2′s control room. It may take a few days to complete the power recovery.

Workers on site have succeeded in increasing the stability of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors, reported World Nuclear News, with units 5 and 6 now in cold shutdown. Pressure built up within unit 3 but a more significant venting does not seem necessary now. External power has now been connected to unit 5 and 6, allowing them to use their residual heat removal systems and transfer heat to the sea. This has been used to cool the fuel ponds and bring the units to cold shutdown status, meaning that water in the reactor system is at less than 100ºC.

Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology is providing readings of environmental radioactivity levels by Japanese city.

According to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency of Japan, here is the update of 12:00 GMT. Work to recover external AC power is in progress at unit 1 through 6 of Fukushima power plant. External AC power cable has already been connected to the distribution switchboards at unit 1 and 2. Works for laying electricity cable to the Power Center at unit 4 was completed around 15:00 on March 21. The pressure of the Reactor Containment Vessel at unit 3 of Fukushima Daiichi rose once (320 kPa as of 11:00 March 20th) and dropped later. Monitoring the pressure continues (120 kPa as of 12:15 March 21).

Reuters is running a continuous live update of the work at Fukushima and of the rescue efforts in Northern Japan.

UTC-GMT, Saturday 19 March 2011, 16:45 / IST, Saturday 19 March 2011, 22:15 / CET, Saturday 19 March 2011, 17:45 / JST, Sunday 20 March 2011, 01:45 / PDT, Saturday 19 March 2011, 09:45

A fire truck sprays water at No. 3 reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Tomioka, Fukushima prefecture in this still image taken from a video by the Self Defense Force Nuclear Biological Chemical Weapon Defense Unit on March 18, 2011. Engineers have successfully attached a power cable to the outside of the damaged nuclear plant in a first step to help cool reactors and stop the spread of radiation after a massive earthquake and tsunami devastated north-east Japan. Photo: Reuters/Japan Self Defense Force Nuclear Biological Chemical Weapon Defense Unit

Earlier today, the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) said that in Fukushima Units 5 and 6, workers have opened holes in the roofs of both buildings to prevent the possible accumulation of hydrogen, which is suspected of causing explosions at other units. About iodine, IAEA has said that on 16 March, Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission recommended local authorities to instruct evacuees leaving the 20-kilometre area to ingest stable (not radioactive) iodine. The pills and syrup (for children) had been made available at evacuation centres.

There is contamination in food products around Fukushima, according to the latest update from IAEA. The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has confirmed the presence of radioactive iodine contamination in food products measured in the Fukushima Prefecture, the area around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. According to the latest data, the food products were measured from 16-18 March and indicated the presence of radioactive iodine. To date, no other radioactive isotopes have been shown to increase in the analysis of food products around Fukushima.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, USA, has new information on potassium iodide pills, on reactor building explosions and on the amount of fuel at Fukushima. ‘More on KI Pills’ – Potassium iodide can only reduce the risk

IAEA's latest status on the Fukushima reactors and spent fuel pools

from radioactive iodine that has entered the body, not eliminate it. People in the radioactive plume do not have the option of not breathing, so taking KI is an effective countermeasure against inhalation. ‘Possible Cause of Reactor Building Explosions’ – A key, unsolved riddle is how a significant amount of hydrogen escaped from the primary containment into the reactor building, and how this low-probability event would have happened in mulitple reactors. ‘Fuel Amounts at Fukushima’ – Based on Japanese press stories, we have compiled a table of the amount of fuel in the cores of the reactors and the spent-fuel pools in the 6 reactors at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear facility.

The Asahi Shimbun has reported on the families of the Fukushima 50 – the Tepco workers who struggled to bring the reactors under control in the face of explosions, radiation and in the most hazardous conditions possible. The wife of one worker said she received word from her husband at the plant in a text message late on the night of March 11, hours after the magnitude-9.0 temblor rocked the facility. The message was abrupt: “I’m alright.”

Not the logo you would want to see in your city

She had to wait another four days before she received a short text message. “We’re running out of drinking water. I feel like I’m coming down with something,” the second message said. She said she wondered whether her husband and other workers left behind in the facility could carry out their duties in such dire conditions.

Another family member of the same worker said: “Perhaps they are unable to say anything because, as Tokyo Electric employees, they are in the most responsible position. As kin, we would like to see something done right away for them.” Workers have been working without sleep. Some have a hard time swallowing the stored biscuits and packs of cooked rice with which they are being fed.

There are reports coming out now, from translations of blogs in Japanese, that Tepco was reluctant to use seawater because it worried about hurting its long-term investment in the Fukushima nuclear power plant complex, say people involved with the efforts. Seawater, which can render a nuclear reactor permanently inoperable, now is at the center of efforts to keep the plant under control.

Tepco “hesitated because it tried to protect its assets,” said Akira Omoto, a former Tepco executive and a member of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, an official advisory body involved in the effort to tame the plant. Both Tepco and government officials had good reason not to use saltwater, Mr. Omoto added. Early on, nuclear fuel rods were still under cooling water and undamaged, he said, adding, “it’s understandable because injecting seawater into the fuel vessel renders it unusable.”

UTC-GMT, Thursday 17 March 2011, 16:50 / IST, Thursday 17 March 2011, 22:20 / CET, Thursday 17 March 2011, 17:50 / JST, Friday 18 March 2011, 01:50 / PDT, Thursday 17 March 2011, 09:50

Handout photo shows the damaged building housing the No. 4 reactor on March 16, 2011. The picture was taken from a helicopter of the Self-Defense Forces. Photo: Kyodo/Tokyo Electric Power Co.

Kyodo News has reported on the continuing effort to cool the spent fuel pool at the No. 3 unit of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant. Up to 64 tons of water were aimed by helicopters and fire trucks of the Self-Defense Forces as well as a water cannon truck of the Metropolitan Police Department into the pool. TEPCO said vapour rising from the partially destroyed No. 3 reactor building suggests the operation went some way toward cooling down the pool that could otherwise emit highly contaminated radioactive materials. But Kyodo said the emission of smoke newly confirmed at another pool suggests the difficulties that lie in the way of resolving the crisis triggered by the March 11 quake and tsunami.

South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo has reported that the government of Japan has asked Seoul for 52.6 tons of boric acid to try and keep the damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station cool. Boric acid lowers the temperatures of the reactors by preventing nuclear fission. Korean Minister of Knowledge Economy Choi Joong-kyung said “We’ll send it as quickly as possible once we’ve checked that our stockpile is suitable for the Japanese nuclear plant.”

Based on 2008 data, a map of earthquake damage risk in the United States. The highest risk areas are purple, red and orange. Graphic: MSNBC

A US Geological Survey map based on 2008 data is being redistributed on media. The map shows earthquake damage risk in the United States. The highest risk areas are purple, red and orange. MSNBC has published a list that shows the “10 nuclear power sites with the highest risk of suffering core damage from an earthquake, showing their NRC risk estimates based on 2008 and 1989 geological data.” Sites in the American states of NY, MA, TN, PA, CA, VA, SC, and FL are on the top of the list; which goes on to detail estimated risk at the 104 total nuclear power reactors located in the United States. The article includes many links to source data, and the list is available in this Excel spreadsheet. (via BoingBoing.net)

The Guardian has reported that the British government’s chief scientific advisor, John Beddington, says it is wholly wrong to compare the situation at the Fukushima plant with Chernobyl:

Fukushima reactors status graphic, from 'Liberation' of France.

The point about the Chernobyl thing was, it went up to 30,000ft or so and it continued for months on end. The sort of thing that would happen with an explosion in Fukushima would actually be relative duration, hours at the absolute most. What happened with Chernobyl was that the graphite core caught fire and you got radioactive material being putting out to a very great height over a very long period and pretty much went round the world. That radioactive material then went in to the food chain, sheep ate it and concentrated it. That was the problem. It’s totally different here in Japan.”

The Guardian has also mentioned that Marian Steinbach, based in Germany, is collating all the real-time radiation data, collected via the System for Prediction of Environment Emergency Dose Information (SPEEDI), for the various prefectures in Japan. Go here for the mobile site. Documents from Japan’s National Institute of Radiological Sciences advising on decontamination procedure in the event of exposure to radiation from Fukushima have been translated into English in a Google doc (via @rick1 on Twitter).

UTC-GMT, Thursday 17 March 2011, 06:15 / IST, Thursday 17 March 2011, 11:45 / CET, Thursday 17 March 2011, 07:15 / JST, Thursday 17 March 2011, 15:15 / PDT, Wednesday 16 March 2011, 23:15

This simple and touching illustration was featured by the French newspaper, 'Liberation'. It is part of the 'Tsunami - le projet' collection. This has been drawn by Bengal, described as "yet another comics artist & illustrator, based in France".

This simple and touching illustration was featured by the French newspaper, 'Liberation'. It is part of the 'Tsunami - le projet' collection. This has been drawn by Bengal, described as "yet another comics artist & illustrator, based in France".

This morning (Asia) there are grim new updates about the number of confirmed dead and confirmed missing. These have been given to media by the National Police Agency of Japan: Over 5,178 people were killed, and 8,606 missing in Friday’s devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Agence France Presse has reported these new estimates of the toll. Earlier Xinhua agency reported of 4,314 killed and 8,600 missing. At the Fukushima site, 250 kilometres north-east of Tokyo, Japanese Self-Defence Force military helicopters are dumping water onto the stricken reactor structures to douse fuel rods and prevent a disastrous radiation release. The strength of the ‘Fukushima 50′ – those employees working at the plant – has risen to 322 after the Naoto Kan government took direct control of the crisis.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has released two articles on its website. These are ‘Second chances: Containment of a reactor meltdown’ by Frank von Hippel, and ‘Guarding against disaster: As Japan’s tragedy becomes more serious, so does the need to learn from it’ by Joshua Pollack. The von Hippel article has said: (1) The hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plants are a startling reminder of the unlearned lessons since similar events at Three Mile Island in 1979; (2) The problem of containment over-pressurization and the potential need to vent is not new: It has been a long-term issue in the nuclear reactor safety community; (3) The time is now to question what is “safe enough” in the nuclear industry.

In ‘Guarding against disaster’ Pollack has said that “the public will, at a minimum, insist on safety improvements. It certainly ought to. A number of constructive ideas are likely to surface concerning how to strengthen design standards for future reactors and how to retrofit existing facilities. Whether the results will satisfy anyone is a different question. Accidents on some scale will almost certainly continue to happen every few decades; anyone who failed to recognize this truth before will be hard-pressed to deny it now.” He has pointed out that at least one expert is calling the 8.9 (or 9.0) magnitude quake the most severe seismic event in Japan since the year 869. “From that perspective, the reactor operators could be congratulated for a relatively successful outcome, so far.”

Fukushima nuclear power plant No. 1 mapped by Die Zeit of Germany

The reactor operators have all soets of problems to deal with right now. One of the major problems is data. The Mainichi Daily News has reported that Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) workers have been struggling unsuccessfully to secure crucial data needed to deal with overheating reactors as key indicators at its quake-stricken nuclear power plant have stopped functioning. “As the batteries do not generate enough power, we cannot properly control the measuring instruments. We don’t know how much we can trust the data obtained from the measuring instruments we are using now,” said a TEPCO official.

The sudden power outage forced neutron detectors, designed to directly monitor the conditions of the reactors, to malfunction. In addition, many of the manometers and water gauges that could be used to monitor the status of the reactors indirectly appear to have broken down. Therefore, the operator of the nuclear plant has not been able to obtain accurate data essential to deal with the overheating nuclear reactors.

UTC-GMT, Wednesday 16 March 2011, 16:20 / IST, Wednesday 16 March 2011, 21:50 / CET, Wednesday 16 March 2011, 17:20 / JST, Thursday 17 March 2011, 01:20 / PDT, Wednesday 16 March 2011, 09:20

Schoolchildren in Gujarat, India, hold candles as they pray for Japan's earthquake victims inside their school in Ahmedabad city, March 11, 2011. Photo: Reuters/Amit Dave

The conditions of the Fukushima nuclear power plants No 1 and No 2 have been updated, reactor by reactor, by Kyodo News. You can get a status sheet I have compiled using this information, combined with the data from the IAEA Power Reactor Information System (PRIS) database. Download the pdf here.

Kyodo News has just reported [ JST 02:00 / UTC-GMT 17:00 ] that the U.S. military will operate a Global Hawk unmanned high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft over the stricken nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture, possibly on Thursday, to take a closer look at its troubled reactors, a Japanese government source said Wednesday. Photographs taken by the plane equipped with infrared sensors could provide a useful clue to what is occurring inside the reactor buildings, around which high-level radiation has been detected.

The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) has issued an alert: DigitalGlobe has released a new satellite image of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear site in Japan taken at 9:35AM local time on March 16, 2011.

DigitalGlobe commercial satellite image of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear site taken at 9:35AM local time on March 16, 2011. Photo: via ISIS

The ISIS analysis of the digitalGlobe imagery has said: “Damage to the Unit 1 reactor building from a previous explosion can still be seen. Damage to the Unit 3 reactor building from an explosion can be seen as well. Steam can still be seen emitted from the top of the damaged building. The angle of this new image, however, shows what appears to be more extensive damage to the Unit 3 reactor building than can be seen in previous satellite imagery.”

“The image also shows damage to the reactor building for Unit 4 from an explosion. Steam can be seen venting out of a hole in the side of the reactor building for Unit 2. Workers likely removed a panel in the side of the building to vent the steam. Additional imagery shows the reactor buildings for Units 5 and 6. The side and roof of the buildings appear intact and there is no sign of steam venting from the buildings.”

There’s a lot of comment and analysis about the future of the nuclear power industry in the media. Here is a sampling of what is being discussed and why.

In this image made from Japan's NHK television, Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan addresses the nation through televised press conference in Tokyo Tuesday, March 15, 2011 after a third explosion in four days rocked a crippled nuclear power plant in tsunami-ravaged northeastern Japan early Tuesday. Photo: Guardian/AP

‘Reactor Design in Japan Has Long Been Questioned’ is the title of an article in the New York Times. “Now, with one Mark 1 containment vessel damaged at the embattled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and other vessels there under severe strain, the weaknesses of the design — developed in the 1960s by General Electric — could be contributing to the unfolding catastrophe.”

‘Nuclear power: when the answer becomes the problem’, from ABC (Australia): “Hubris may apply to those who run nuclear power plants. They (and their supporters in the media) claim that because they are better designed and more rigorously constructed none of the 55 working reactors could suffer an accident like Three Mile Island or Chernobyl.”

‘What will spark the next Fukushima?’ asked John Vidal in The Guardian (UK): “The gung-ho nuclear industry is in deep shock. Just as it and its cheerleader, the International Atomic Energy Agency, were preparing to mark next month’s 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident with a series of self-congratulatory statements about the dawning of a safe age of clean atomic power, a series of catastrophic but entirely avoidable accidents take place in not one but three reactors in one of the richest countries of the world.”

Reuters reported ‘Nuclear industry in turmoil after Japan quake’: “Investors hammered companies that build nuclear reactors and supply them with fuel on Monday as Japan struggled to avert a meltdown at a stricken reactor, on fear that the whole sector could be in for a downturn, in the short and medium term at least.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, has a Tsunami Event page. This contains models of the tsunami propagation and plots of its impact across the Pacific basin. The image alongside is a high resolution maximum amplitude plot [click image for larger picture].

The objective of tsunami modeling research  is to develop numerical models for faster and more reliable forecasts of tsunamis propagating through the ocean and striking coastal communities. The primary responsibility of the NOAA Center for Tsunami Research (NCTR) is to provide assistance to the Tsunami Warning Centers (TWC).

UTC-GMT, Wednesday 16 March 2011, 14:30 / IST, Wednesday 16 March 2011, 20:00 / CET, Wednesday 16 March 2011, 15:30 / JST, Wednesday 16 March 2011, 23:30 / PDT, Wednesday 16 March 2011, 07:30

Rescue workers walk past a destroyed car during heavy snowfall at a factory area devastated by an earthquake and tsunami in Sendai, northern Japan Mar 16, 2011. Photo: China Daily/Agencies

The Mainichi Daily News has reported: “When rescue teams from China, the United States and the United Kingdom arrived in this devastated city, even their most experienced members were left speechless at the sheer scale of the destruction wrought by March 11′s tsunami. There are 150 rescue workers from the U.S. here, together with 70 from the U.K. and 15 from China.”

On March 15 they consulted the local fire department and citizens on the situation in the city, and began combing the ruins with sniffer dogs. One shocked Chinese rescue worker, meanwhile, said that “the houses were destroyed by the tsunami almost instantly, so the damage feels different than what you’d expect after just an earthquake. “Japan helped us after the Sichuan earthquake, so we are happy to help in the search here,” he said.

China Daily’s Japan quake page is carrying Beijing-timed updates. Here are the last three:
20:40 – Heavy snow blanketed Japan’s devastated northeast on Wednesday, hindering rescue workers and adding to the woes of the few, mainly elderly, residents who remained in the area worst hit by last week’s massive earthquake and tsunami.

People watch a television broadcasting Japan's Emperor Akihito's televised address to the nation at an electronics retail store in Tokyo March 16, 2011. Japanese Emperor Akihito said on Wednesday problems at Japan's nuclear-power reactors were unpredictable and he was "deeply worried" following an earthquake he described as "unprecedented in scale". It was an extraordinarily rare appearance by the emperor and his first public comments since last week's devastating earthquake and tsunami that killed thousands of people. Photo: China Daily/Agencies

20:30 – China has suspended the approval process for nuclear power stations so that safety standards can be revised after explosions at a Japanese plant, according to Wednesday’s executive meeting of the State Council, or the Cabinet. The State Council has required relevant departments to do safety checks at existing plants, according to a statement released after the meeting, which was presided over by Premier Wen Jiabao.

20:20 – Latest air monitoring results show that China remains unaffected by radioactive leaks following explosions at the Fukushima nuclear plant of Japan, said the country’s nuclear watchdog on Wednesday. The National Nuclear Safety Administration, under China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), issued the statement in a press release based on environmental monitoring results taken by 4:00 p.m.

The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (US NRC) is posting updates, the latest of which are:
03/15/2011, 11-049, NRC Analysis Continues to Support Japan’s Protective Actions
03/15/2011, 11-048, (Revised) NRC Sends Additional Experts to Assist Japan
03/14/2011, II-0-007, NRC Sends Special Inspection Team to Global Nuclear Fuel Plant

“The NRC continues to monitor the Japanese reactor events via its Headquarters Operations Center in Rockville, Md., on a 24-hour-a-day basis. The NRC has dispatched the experts to Tokyo to provide assistance as requested by the Japanese government as part of a U.S. Agency for International Development assistance team.”

UTC-GMT, Wednesday 16 March 2011, 12:30 / IST, Wednesday 16 March 2011, 18:00 UTC+5:30 / CET, Wednesday 16 March 2011, 13:30 / JST, Wednesday 16 March 2011, 21:30 / PDT, Wednesday 16 March 2011, 05:30 More on the Japan emergency page.

Japanese medical personnel check a child for radiation exposure in Fukushima City. Photo: Guardian/EPA

What does Tokyo Electric Power Co know about the reactors at Fukushima and how much is it telling the Government of Japan about them? While the ‘Fukushima 50′ – whose stories of extraordinary personal courage and dedication are being appreciated by the Japanese – battle in desperately harsh conditions to bring the reactors under control, the strain and inconsistency is showing at top levels of government.

The Guardian reported: “Clad in blue overalls, {prime minister Naoto] Kan began by urging people to remain calm. Fire had broken out in unit No 4, radiation had spread, the level was high, and there was a very high risk of further radioactive material emerging. He asked anyone remaining in the 20km (12-mile) evacuation zone around the plant to leave immediately, and those within 30km to stay indoors. But it was the workers who were “putting themselves in a very dangerous situation” to try to contain the problems, he acknowledged.

Chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano revealed that a containment vessel might also have been damaged at reactor No 2, increasing the risk of a radioactive leak. While both men called for calm, behind the scenes there were signs of the government’s plummeting faith in the plant’s operators, the Tokyo Electric Power Company. Kan was overheard reading the riot act to executives for failing to inform him of the blast, Japanese media said. “The TV reported an explosion, but nothing was said to the prime minister’s office for more than an hour,” the Kyodo agency quoted Kan as saying. “What the hell is going on?”

Radiation levels at the Fukushima plant gate rose to 8000 microsieverts/hour during the fire, reported Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF), but had fallen back to just under 500 microsieverts/hour by 4.30pm local time. There are no reliable reports of more recent measurements. In the picture, a child evacuated from areas surrounding the Fukushima nuclear facilities damaged in Friday's massive earthquake is checked for radiation exposure with other residents Sunday, March 13, 2011, in Koriyama city, Fukushima prefecture, Japan. Photo: Wally Santana/AP/Press Association

Kan has already announced he will take personal control of a new joint-response headquarters involving the power company and the government. Between 50 and 70 employees – now known in English as the Fukushima 50 – all in protective gear, were left at the plant to battle myriad problems. Some are assessing the damage and radiation levels caused by the explosions, while others cool stricken reactors with seawater to try to avert a potentially catastrophic release of radiation.

Kyodo News has reported that The National Police Agency “is considering using a special water cannon truck held by the Metropolitan Police Department to cool a pool storing spent fuel rods at the troubled No. 4 reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, police sources said Wednesday. The operation could start as early as Wednesday night, they said”.

This measure is related to the abandoning of another method, by helicopter, reported in this earlier Kyodo despatch. “The Self-Defense Forces will not conduct a planned operation Wednesday to drop water from helicopters on the troubled No. 3 reactor of the Fukushima nuclear power plant because of the high radiation level around the plant, Defense Ministry officials said.”

Unofficial radiation monitoring Googlemap using crowdsourcing. Photo: CNET

CNET has reported: “The intensifying nuclear crisis in Japan is raising anxieties on both sides of the Pacific over the potential impacts of radiation exposure, and a relative dearth of official information on radiation levels is leading some to turn to crowdsourced options. With official estimations of the threat from radiation across Japan changing rapidly and sometimes inconsistent, a number of real-time amateur radiation monitors have popped up online.”

On the spent fuel pools at Fukushima, All Things Nuclear has an explanation excerpted here: “Because of their high radioactivity, fuel rods continue to produce very significant heat even after they are no longer useful for generating electricity and are removed from the reactor core. Such “spent fuel” rods need to be continually cooled for many years to prevent them from heating to a level where they would suffer damage.”

UTC-GMT, Wednesday 16 March 2011, 07:20 / IST, Wednesday 16 March 2011, 12:50 UTC+5:30 / CET, Wednesday 16 March 2011, 08:20 / JST, Wednesday 16 March 2011, 16:20 / PDT, Wednesday 16 March 2011, 00:20 More on the Japan emergency page.

In the wake of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami that struck northeastern Japan in March 2011, ocean waters flooded croplands and settlements lining the Kitakami River. The Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA's Terra satellite captured these false-color images before and after the tsunami. The right image is from March 14, 2011, and the left is from January 16, 2011. Images: Earth Observatory/NASA

In the March image (right), water has spilled over the banks both north and south of the river. Although agricultural fields appear to have escaped the flooding farther inland (image left), some fields closer to the ocean have seemingly disappeared into the sea. North of the Kitakami, floodwaters extend far enough inland to create what looks like a parallel river. Near the coast, only the rugged peaks rising above the floodplains have escaped inundation. The full images are on NASA’s Earth Observatory site, accompanied by more description and technical detail.

UTC-GMT, Tuesday 15 March 2011, 14:45 / IST, Tuesday 15 March 2011, 20:15 UTC+5:30 / CET, Tuesday 15 March 2011, 15:45 / JST, Tuesday 15 March 2011, 23:45 / PDT, Tuesday 15 March 2011, 07:45

This extraordinary footage was shot by a local resident in a northern Japan town devastated by Friday’s great quake and tsunami.

There are new radiation leak fears even while some news reports speak of stable/falling radiation levels. New emergency measures are being proposed in Japan. Here are summaries and links:

Kesennuma City in northeast Japan today. Photo: Reuters/Adrees Latif

Kyodo News has reported that the Japanese government is considering using Self-Defense Forces helicopters to pour water on the spent fuel pool of one of the troubled reactors at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture to help cool it, Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said Tuesday. But the measure has been put on hold because the government has had trouble assessing the potential impact it would pose to the fuel rods underwater and SDF personnel involved in such an operation, Kitazawa told reporters.

The request for the measure came from a task force set up Tuesday by the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co., according to the Defense Ministry. The power supplier is battling to bring reactors at the plant under control, including the No. 4 reactor, where a spent fuel pool was boiling and its water levels were feared to be receding on Tuesday.

The IAEA Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC) has released a new update (UTC 14:10:00). This said: All units at the Fukushima Daini, Onagawa, and Tokai nuclear power plants are in a safe and stable condition (i.e. cold shutdown). The IAEA remains concerned over the status of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, where sea water injections to cool the reactors in units 1, 2 and 3 are continuing.

Attempts to return power to the entire Daiichi site are also continuing. After explosions at both units 1 and 3, the primary containment vessels of both units are reported to be intact. However, the explosion that occurred at 04:25 UTC on 14 March at the Fukushima Daiichi unit 2 may have affected the integrity of its primary containment vessel. All three explosions were due to an accumulation of hydrogen gas. A fire at unit 4 occurred on 14 March 23:54 UTC and lasted two hours.

The Daily Yomiuri has reported that high levels of radiation were detected at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant Tuesday morning after a fire broke out near a pool in the No. 4 reactor where spent nuclear fuel is temporarily kept, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said. TEPCO said radiation measuring 400 millisieverts (400,000 microsieverts) per hour was detected at 10:22 a.m. following the fire, which broke out at 9:38 a.m.

“There is no doubt [these radiation levels] may pose health risks to humans,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a press conference. Earlier in the day, an explosion occurred at the No. 2 reactor at 6:14 a.m., leading to lower pressure in the suppression pool in the lower part of the reactor containment vessel. Experts fear that a massive amount of radioactive material has leaked from the reactors after the series of accidents that may have damaged nuclear fuel rods.

The Mainichi Shimbun has said that radiation is feared to have leaked after part of a container vessel was apparently damaged by an explosion at the troubled No. 2 reactor of the quake-hit Fukushima nuclear plant Tuesday morning, its operator said, triggering fears that the problem could develop into a critical “meltdown” situation. The government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said that radiation levels at the plant shot up after the apparent blast at 6:10 a.m., and the operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. ordered some workers at the site to temporarily evacuate the area.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan urged people living between 20 and 30 kilometers of the plant to stay indoors. Residents within a 20-km radius have already been ordered to vacate the area following Saturday’s hydrogen blast at the plant’s No. 1 reactor. “The radiation level has risen substantially. The risk that radiation will leak from now on has risen,” Kan said.

UTC-GMT, Tuesday 15 March 2011, 09:15 / IST, Tuesday 15 March 2011, 14:45 UTC+5:30 / CET, Tuesday 15 March 2011, 10:15 / JST, Tuesday 15 March 2011, 18:15 / PDT, Tuesday 15 March 2011, 02:15

This cutaway diagram shows the central reactor vessel, thick concrete containment and lower torus structure in a typical boiling water reactor of the same era as Fukushima Daiichi 2. Graphic: World Nuclear News

MIT’s Nuclear Science and Engineering has set up a Nuclear Information Hub. This is carrying updates on the condition of the reactors in the Fukushima nuclear power plant. It is also maintaining a running status update from the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan.

The info hub reproduces a comment written by Dr Josef Oehmen, research scientist at MIT. “It is worth mentioning at this point that the nuclear fuel in a reactor can never cause a nuclear explosion like a nuclear bomb. At Chernobyl, the explosion was caused by excessive pressure buildup, hydrogen explosion and rupture of all structures, propelling molten core material into the environment.  Note that Chernobyl did not have a containment structure as a barrier to the environment.” He discusses “why that did not and will not happen in Japan”.

In a report, ‘Dramatic escalation in Japan’, World Nuclear News reported loud noises were heard at Fukushima Daiichi 2 at 6.10am this morning. A major component beneath the reactor is confirmed to be damaged. Evacuation to 20 kilometres is being completed, while a fire on site was put out. Tepco have said containment shows ‘no change’. Confirmation of loud sounds at unit 2 this morning came from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA). It noted that “the suppression chamber may be damaged.” It is not clear that the sounds were explosions in the usual sense.

UTC-GMT, Tuesday 15 March 2011, 07:00 / IST, Tuesday 15 March 2011, 12:30 UTC+5:30 / CET, Tuesday 15 March 2011, 06:00 / JST, Tuesday 15 March 2011, 16:00 / PDT, Monday 14 March 2011, 00:00

Google Crisis Response has set up a 2011 Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami page with disaster message board links and alarm and warning resources links. These are:

Alarm and warning – Japan Meteorological Agency Tsunami Warnings/Advisories; Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency; Pacific Tsunami Warning Center; Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet (Japanese language)

Disaster message boards – NTT Docomo disaster message board; KDDI/au disaster message board; SoftBank disaster message board; EMOBILE disaster message board; WILLCOM disaster message board

UTC-GMT, Tuesday 15 March 2011, 06:00 / IST, Tuesday 15 March 2011, 11:30 UTC+5:30 / CET, Tuesday 15 March 2011, 05:00 / JST, Tuesday 15 March 2011, 15:00 / PDT, Monday 14 March 2011, 23:00

In a nationally televised statement, Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan said radiation has spread from four reactors of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Fukushima province, one of the hardest-hit in Friday’s 9.0-magnitude earthquake and the ensuing tsunami that has killed more than 10,000 people. “The level seems very high, and there is still a very high risk of more radiation coming out,” Kan said. “We are making utmost efforts to prevent further explosions and radiation leaks.”

The Guardian has reported that citizens have been ordered indoors in the radiation leak crisis. This is the worst nuclear crisis Japan has faced since the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. It is also the first time that such a grave nuclear threat has been raised in the world since a nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine exploded in 1986.

The Institute for Science and International Security has released a DigitalGlobe commercial satellite image showing the Fukushima Daiichi reactor complex taken on March 14, 2011.

Commercial satellite image showing the Fukushima Daiichi reactor complex taken on March 14, 2011. Photo: ISIS/DigitalGlobe

Damage to the top of the reactor building for Unit 1 as well as damage to the reactor building for Unit 3 following the explosions can be seen.  Steam can be seen venting out from the reactor building for Unit 3.

ISIS has learned that the satellite image was taken approximately three minutes after the explosion at the reactor building for Unit 3. According to the Tokyo Electric Power Company, the explosion at the reactor building for Unit 3 occurred at approximately 11:01AM local time. According to DigitalGlobe, the image was taken at 11:04 AM local time. Taken so soon after the explosion, the plume seen extending out across the water is likely smoke or dust from the explosion.

The Mainichi has written a plain and blunt perspective on the crisis and what needs to be done.The Naoto Kan government needs such advice. Read this in Japanese.

“An increase in radiation levels was observed at Tohoku Electric Power Co.’s Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant, more than 100 kilometers away from the Fukushima plant, raising concern that radiation that leaked from the plant has spread more extensively than imagined. Many of those exposed to radiation are worried about possible health damage even if the amount is small. To help relieve their concerns, the government should promptly and efficiently release data on how much radiation they have been exposed to and provide a detailed explanation on its possible effects on their health.”

“Power suppliers appear to be slow in releasing information on damage caused to their nuclear power plants. It was not until the afternoon of March 13 that Tohoku Electric Power Co. announced the rise in radiation levels at its Onagawa plant, which it had detected as early as the predawn hours of the day. Explanations that government officials have provided on radiation leaks and an explosion at the Fukushima nuclear plant at news conferences are too vague. Government officials probably fear possible overreactions by the public to their announcements, but they should keep in mind that accurate information is indispensable for ensuring the safety of members of the public.”

UTC-GMT, Monday, 14 March 2011, 15:30:00 / Japan JST, Tuesday, 15 March 2011, 00:30:00, UTC+9 hours JST / (USA PDT, Monday, 14 March 2011, 08:30:00, UTC-7 hours PDT

The news pictures coming out of north coastal Japan now are showing us the full extent of the earthquake and tsunami destruction. The pictures are stark and terrible. The ocean tides are now bringing the bodies back. Coastal administrations are slowly beginning to be able to take stock of the loss of life.

The Independent of UK has reported: “Japan was overwhelmed today by the vast numbers of tsunami victims. A tide of bodies washed up along the coastline, crematoriums were overflowing with the dead and rescue workers ran out of body bags as the nation faced the reality of its mounting humanitarian, economic and nuclear crisis. Millions were facing a fourth night without water, food or heating in near-freezing temperatures in the devastated north-east.”

Friday’s double tragedy has caused unimaginable deprivation. In many areas there is no running water, no power and four- to five-hour waits for petrol . People are suppressing hunger with instant noodles or rice balls while dealing with the loss of loved ones and homes. “People are surviving on little food and water. Things are simply not coming,” said a government official in Iwate prefecture, one of the three hardest hit.

The Daily Yomiuri has reported that the second reactor has been hit by blasts: TEPCO official hints meltdown may be under way”. Explosions hit the No. 3 reactor of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s quake-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant at about 11 a.m. Monday, injuring 11 plant workers and Self-Defense Forces personnel, the company said.

The Daily Yomiuri has also reported the rising death toll. According to a central government count, about 530,000 people were taking shelter at public facilities and other makeshift evacuation centers early Monday morning in areas struck by the massive earthquake and tsunami. Those evacuees included about 150,000 in Miyagi Prefecture and 130,000 in Fukushima Prefecture as of 12 a.m.

Update on Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), 14 March 2011, 11:00:00 / UTC-GMT, Monday, 14 March 2011, 15:00:00. The Nuclear Energy Institute has said in this latest update that fuel rods in the reactor vessel of Unit 2 at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant were temporarily uncovered from cooling water today, but seawater injection has raised the water level to the halfway point, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said. “Seawater is now being used to cool all three Daiichi reactors that were shut down after the March 11 earthquake. Unit 2 had lost its emergency cooling capacity. Workers were preparing to remove hydrogen from the reactor building, and TEPCO has opened the steam relief valve of the reactor. The primary containment vessels and reactor cores of reactors 1 and 3 at the Fukushima Daiichi facility are intact, following earlier hydrogen explosions in the secondary containment buildings of both reactors.”

Reuters has also reported: “Japan scrambled to avert a meltdown at a stricken nuclear plant Monday after a hydrogen explosion at one reactor and exposure of fuel rods at another, just days after a devastating earthquake and tsunami that killed at least 10,000 people. Jiji news agency said fuel rods at the No. 2 reactor had been entirely exposed and a fuel rod meltdown could not be ruled out. The plant operator confirmed there was little water left in the reactor, adding that the fuel rods may have been exposed. The rods have now been partially covered by sea water, the reactor’s operator said.”

JST, Monday, March 14, 2011, 07:30:00 / UTC-GMT, Sunday, 13 March 2011, 22:30:00

Japan: Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency: Seismic Damage Information, Source: Government of Japan. Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) confirmed the current situation of Onagawa NPS, Tohoku Electric Power Co., Inc; Fukushima Dai-ichi and Fukushima Dai-ni NPSs, Tokyo Electric Power Co., Inc. The full report is in this file.

JST, Sunday, 13 March 2011, 10:00:00 / UTC-GMT, Monday, 14 March 2011, 01:00:00 Japan: On the incident regarding Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant Unit 1, Source: Government of Japan

1.At 15:36 on March12th, 2011, the roof of the reactor building of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Power Plant Unit 1 was blown away due to heightened pressure from inside. It is envisaged that the containment vessel has not been seriously damaged by this incident.

2.It seems that the loss of the roof of the reactor building was caused by the mixing of oxygen in the air and the hydrogen accumulated in the ceiling of the reactor building from the containment vessel, with a subsequent explosion.

3.The radiation monitor data taken at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Power Plant endorses the above-mentioned view. At 15:29 before the explosion, the reading was 1015 micro sievert per hour, while at 18:55 after the explosion, the reading dropped down to 70.5 micro sievert per hour. It seems that the earlier reading of 1015 sievert per hour is attributed to the intentional venting of the air with tiny amount of radiation from the containment vessel, which was conducted for the purpose lowering the pressure inside the containment vessel.

4.In order to secure the safety of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Power Plant Unit 1, at 20:20, the GOJ began measures to lower the temperature of fuel in the reactor pressure vessel by injecting sea water, and to restrain further nuclear fissions of fuel by mixing some boron into sea water.

5.Thus, the incident is fundamentally different from the Chernobyl in incident which was caused by core meltdown. The GOJ is of the view to continue taking thoroughgoing measures to secure the safety of nuclear power stations, which experienced the earthquake. (END)

The IAEA’s Alert Log has two new entries:
14 March 07:00 CET / Tokyo (Japan)    Monday, 14 March 2011, 15:00:00, UTC+9 hours JST / UTC (GMT), Monday, 14 March 2011, 06:00:00

Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) has provided the IAEA with further information about the hydrogen explosion that occurred today at the Unit 3 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. All personnel at the site are accounted for. Six people have been injured. The reactor building exploded but the primary containment vessel was not damaged. The control room of unit 3 remains operational.

14 March 05:15 CET / Tokyo (Japan)    Monday, 14 March 2011, 13:15:00, UTC+9 hours JST / UTC (GMT),Monday, 14 March 2011, 04:15:00

Based on information provided by Japanese authorities, the IAEA can confirm the following information about the status of Units 1, 2, 3 and 4 at Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant. All four units automatically shut down on March 11. All units have off-site power and water levels in all units are stable. Though preparations have been made to do so, there has been no venting to control pressure at any of the plant’s units.

At unit 1, plant operators were able to restore a residual heat remover system, which is now being used to cool the reactor. Work is in progress to achieve a cold shutdown of the reactor. Workers at units 2 and 4 are working to restore residual heat removal systems.

Unit 3 is in a safe, cold shutdown. Radiation dose rate measurements observed at four locations around the plant’s perimeter over a 16-hour period on 13 March were all normal.

On the spot reportage in the Asahi Shimbun: “Are you from a media organization?” called Takehisa Iwabuchi, a 37-year-old town hall employee, after seeing the arm bands identifying us as reporters.”It looks like the town hall building and the fire department have been completely swallowed up,” he said. “Much of the town has been destroyed.” Iwabuchi said he thought 9,000 people had found refuge from the catastrophe, including 3,000 people at Shizugawa elementary school, which is located on higher land, and 1,000 people at a local sports center that has been set up as an emergency center.

Rescuers had been trying without success to find the 9,000 missing people by radio and other means. “Many shelters are isolated and have no access to information,” he said. “The shortage of food is very serious. Please report quickly on the devastation here.” Iwabuchi bowed and hurried to a shelter.’

Japan, Sunday, 13 March 2011, 10:10:00, UTC+9 hours JST / GMT/UTC, Sunday, 13 March 2011, 01:10:00 / USA, PST, Saturday, 12 March 2011, 17:10:00, UTC-8 hours PST

The Financial Times has just put out a report titled ‘Japan battles partial nuclear meltdown’. The report has said Japanese nuclear experts are working to contain a partial meltdown at an earthquake-stricken nuclear power plant north of Tokyo, as fears grow that the death toll from Friday’s massive quake and tsunami could reach the tens of thousands. Yukio Edano, Japan’s chief government spokesman, said there was a “significant chance” that radioactive fuel rods had partially melted in two reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility, 240km north of the capital.

A partial meltdown, experts said, would likely mean that some portion of the reactors’ uranium fuel rods had cracked or warped from overheating, releasing radioactive particles into the reactors’ containment vessels. Some of those particles would have escaped into the air outside when engineers vented steam from the vessels to relieve pressure building up inside.

Naoto Takeuchi, head of a police earthquake response centre in Miyagi prefecture, one of the worst affected areas, on Sunday said he was “certain” that at least 10,000 people had been killed in the area, one of three in the northeast most affected by the quake and tsunami. The number of confirmed deaths rose to 1,000, and around 400,000 people were sheltering in schools, community centres and government buildings.

A woman looks at the damage caused by a tsunami and an earthquake in Ishimaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, after the magnitude 8.9 earthquake struck the area March 13, 2011. Photo: Reuters/Yomiuri Shimbun

This extraordinary account of entire towns having been levelled in Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures is in The Daily Yomiuri: “The next town south was Rikuzen-Takata, but almost no buildings were to be seen where the town should have been located. It seemed as if the port town had suddenly vanished. What I could see there were only medium-rise buildings believed to be made of reinforced concrete, such as a hospital.”

“Piles of rubble were seen scattered even as far as wooded areas several kilometers away from the coastline. The plane entered Miyagi Prefecture. The city of Kesennuma smoldered beneath clouds of white smoke. The fishery town was ravaged by a tsunami during the day and suffered intense blazes at night. As if nothing burnable was left, the tragic area was filled with only rubble.”

Officials in protective gear at the the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan. Photograph: Guardian/Kim Kyung-Hoon-Reuters

GMT/UTC Sunday, 13 March 2011 05.30 / Japan, Sunday, 13 March 2011, 14:30:00, UTC+9 hours JST / USA, PST, Saturday, 12 March 2011, 21:30:00, UTC-8 hours PSTThe Guardian has reported that Tokyo Power said radiation levels at the plant had exceeded the legal limit on Sunday morning. Hourly radiation at the site was measured at 882 micro sievert, in excess of the allowable level of 500, Japan’s nuclear safety agency said. The government’s chief spokesman, Yukio Edano, said the level had briefly risen 1,204 micro sievert.

“There was no sudden rise in radiation because of the ventilation activities,” Edano said, adding that there was no immediate threat to human health. “We are doing the two things at the same time – venting air out of the reactor and supplying water into the reactor,” he told reporters. Efforts were also under way to cool off three reactors at the firm’s No. 2 nuclear plant in Fukushima, about 150 miles south of Tokyo. The complete failure of more cooling systems has added an additional level of danger to what was already one of the worst nuclear accidents in Japan’s history. The government has classed the accident as level four on an international scale of zero to seven.

At least 22 people are known to have been exposed to radiation and were being treated in hospital, but Japan’s nuclear and industrial safety agency said that as many as 160 people may have been exposed. Tepco confirmed that the No. 3 reactor of the quake-hit Fukushima plant had lost its cooling functions. Yesterday a small amount of radiation leaked after similar problems hit the facility’s No. 1 reactor.

Police officers wearing respirators guide people away from the Fukushima nuclear power plant after the explosion. Photo: Reuters

Nineteen people were found to have been exposed to radioactivity on Sunday; three more were exposed when the roof of a building housing the No. 1 reactor exploded the previous day. Tepco said the No. 1 reactor had partially melted – the first time this has happened in Japan – and was continuing effort to cool the reactor with seawater, a procedure a British nuclear expert described as “an act of desperation”.

Central European Time (CET) 13 March 2011, 0235 CET / Japan,Sunday, 13 March 2011, 10:35:00, UTC+9 hours JST / India (IST), Sunday, 13 March 2011, 07:05:00, UTC+5:30 hours ISTThe IAEA Alert Log seems to be normally working again and can be reached. This new alert is a corrected update.

“An earlier version of this release incorrectly described pressure venting actions at Units 1, 2, and 4 at the Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant. Venting did not occur at these units. Japanese authorities have informed the IAEA that Units 1, 2, and 4 at the Fukushima Daini retain off-site power. Daini Unit 3 is in a safe, cold shutdown, according to Japanese officials.

“Japanese authorities have reported some casualties to nuclear plant workers. At Fukushima Daichi, four workers were injured by the explosion at the Unit 1 reactor, and there are three other reported injuries in other incidents. In addition, one worker was exposed to higher-than-normal radiation levels that fall below the IAEA guidance for emergency situations. At Fukushima Daini, one worker has died in a crane operation accident and four others have been injured.

“In partnership with the World Meteorological Organization, the IAEA is providing its member states with weather forecasts for the affected areas in Japan.  The latest predictions have indicated winds moving to the Northeast, away from Japanese coast over the next three days.”

UTC (GMT/Zulu) time: Saturday, 12 March 2011, 18:00:00 / Tokyo, Sunday, 13 March 2011, 00:03:00 UTC+9 hours JST / USA, Pacific, Saturday, 12 March 2011, 10:00:00An assessment of the tsunami and earthquake damage has been released by ReliefWeb, the information system for humanitarian relief. Landslides have been reported in 37 areas in Japan.

The Fukushima nuclear plant in Fukushima prefecture in northeastern Japan is pictured in a 2008 file photo. The reports risk of a significant radiation leak at two Japanese nuclear power plants following Friday's earthquake and tsunami threatens to halt an industry that has been boosted by rising demands for power from Asia in particular. Environmentalists are revisiting the arguments made against atomic power after the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 and the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Photo: Xinhua/Kyodo file photo

More than 2,500 houses have totally collapsed while a further 2,500 houses are damaged as a result of the earthquake and tsunami. Ten villages in Iwate prefecture and 1,800 households in Fukushima prefecture have been devastated by the tsunami.

Roads, bridges, railroads, dykes and buildings are damaged in about 460 places. Electricity remains cut in approximately five million households, while one million households in the most affected areas have had their water supply cut. In the most affected areas of north eastern Japan, the main highways remain closed; only emergency aid vehicles are allowed to pass through the highway. Several airports have reopened but two remain closed.

UTC (or GMT/Zulu): Saturday, 12 March 2011, 15:01:22 / Tokyo, Sunday, 13 March 2011, 00:02:00 UTC+9 hours JST / USA, Pacific, Saturday, 12 March 2011, 07:03:00: Reuters has reported that experts said pictures of mist above the plant suggested only small amounts of radiation had been expelled as part of measures to ensure its stability, far from the radioactive clouds that Chernobyl spewed out when it exploded in 1986. “The explosion at No. 1 generating set of the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, which took place today, will not be a repetition of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster,” said Valeriy Hlyhalo, deputy director of the Chernobyl nuclear safety centre.

The Reuters report quoted Prof. Paddy Regan, nuclear physicist from Britain’s Surrey University: “If the pressure vessel, which is the thing that actually holds all the nuclear fuel … if that was to explode — that’s basically what happened at Chernobyl — you get an enormous release of radioactive material. It doesn’t look from the television pictures … as though it’s the vessel itself.” Television footage showed an explosion in a large building in the area of the number one reactor at the Daiichi nuclear facility. Grey smoke billowed from the site and later, a building was shown without its exterior walls.

Reuters Japan edition online is running continuous news updates, info alerts, video feeds and pictures on its special section.

The massive rescue effort is now under way. Japan’s Kyodo News said about 300,000 people were evacuated nationwide, including 90,000 from areas near the nuclear plant, many seeking refuge in shelters, wrapped in blankets, some clutching each other sobbing.The Mainichi Daily News has reported that about 9,500 people are unaccounted for in the town of Minamisanriku in Miyagi Prefecture following Friday’s powerful earthquake, prefectural officials said Saturday. The figure is more than half of the population of about 17,000 in the town on the Pacific coast, they said. See Reuters Japan for more on the tsunami and quake.

13:40:00 CET/ Tokyo, Saturday, 12 March 2011, 21:40:00 UTC+9 hours JST / Pacific Standard Time, USA, Saturday, 12 March 2011, 04:40:00 UTC-8 hours PSTThe International Atomic Energy Agency’s alert log is down due to heavy traffic. IAEA is using its Facebook page for updates on the Fukushima I condition.

Here’s the latest from IAEA on the nuclear plant: “Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) has informed the IAEA’s Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC) that there has been an explosion at the Unit 1 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, and that they are assessing the condition of the reactor core. The explosion was reported to NISA by the plant operator, TEPCO, at 0730 CET.

Further details were not immediately available. Japanese authorities have extended the evacuation zone around the Fukushima Daiichi plant to a 20-kilometre radius from the previous 10 kilometres. At the nearby Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant, the evacuation zone has been extended to a 10-kilometre radius from the previous three kilometres. The authorities also say they are making preparations to distribute iodine to residents in the area of both the plants.”

Why iodine? After the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, there were over 6,000 cases of childhood thyroid cancers, and it was later determined if the children had taken stable iodine a few hours before being exposed to the radiation it would block the intake of the radioactive material in the thyroid.

What about the explosion reported earlier? ABC News has just reported that the container protecting a nuclear reactor at a plant facing a possible meltdown was not damaged in an explosion that injured four workers and destroyed the exterior walls of the plant, a Japanese government spokesman said today. ABC News quoted Government Spokeman Yukio Edano as having said the blast did not damage the nuclear reactor itself at the Fukushima Daiichi, which would cause radioactive material to leak out.

18:35:00 JST / 15:00:05 IST An explosion at the Fukushima nuclear station is being reported.”A massive explosion struck  a nuclear power plant in Japan on Saturday following Friday morning’s devastating earthquake,” reported the Voice of Russia.

“A huge plume of  white smoke was seen coming from the Fukushima-1 plant where experts had earlier reported a meltdown at one of the facility’s reactors. Several workers have been injured, with NHK TV showing one of the unit’s outside walls torn down by  the blast.”

ABC News reported that an explosion injured at least four workers at a nuclear plant facing a possible meltdown and destroyed the walls of one building, Japanese officials said. It was unclear if the building that was damaged by the blast contained the reactor, the Associated Press reported. Tokyo Electric said an explosion happened in the first reactor, according to local media reports. Japanese TV images showed the crumbled remains of one of the plant building’s walls with smoke emerging from the site.

A coastal community in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture is flooded by tsunami waters after a massive earthquake off Japan's east coast on March 11. Photo: Mainichi

“This is extremely serious,” said Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund and an expert on national security and international policy. “The best case at this point would still be the worst incident since Chernobyl.”

“NISA (Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency) just confirmed that the fuel may be partially melting,” Dr. Tatsujiro Suzuki, vice-chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission told ABC News. “The question is whether the situation is getting worse or not. It is reported that the level of water is declining (bad news) but pressure is also decreasing (good news).”

Mainichi Daily News has a lengthy update of the damage reports from coastal Japan, Sendai, and about the emergency and rescue work under way.

Here is the latest from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC).

Japan Earthquake Update, 12 March 2011 (0730 CET Central European Time)
Tokyo (Japan Standard Time), Saturday, 12 March 2011, 15:30:00 UTC+9 hours JST
Los Angeles (Pacific Standard Time), Friday, 11 March 2011, 22:30:00 UTC-8 hours PST
India (Indian Standard Time), Saturday, 12 March 2011, 12:00:00 UTC+5:30 hours IST

According to information compiled by Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), there are six nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power site, located near the town of Okama in the Fukushima Prefecture. Another site in the same Prefecture, Fukushima Daini, contains four nuclear reactors. The sites are on the eastern Japanese coast about 200 miles north of Tokyo. All of these reactors are owned and operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company.

“Japanese authorities have informed the IAEA’s Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC) that, starting at 9:00AM local time (on 12 March 2011), they have started the preparation for the venting of the containment of the Unit 1 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi plant through a controlled release of vapour. The operation is intended to lower pressure inside the reactor containment. Evacuation of residents living within ten kilometres of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is reported to be under way.

An area with a radius of three kilometres around the plant had already been evacuated. The evacuation of residents living within three kilometres of the Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant is also under way.

The IAEA’s IEC continues to liaise with the Japanese authorities, and is in full response mode to monitor the situation closely around the clock as it evolves.”

Japan Earthquake Update, 11 March 2011 (2210 CET Central European Time)
Tokyo (Japan Standard Time), Saturday, 12 March 2011, 06:10:00 JST
Los Angeles (Pacific Standard Time), Friday, 11 March 2011, 13:30:00 UTC-8 hours PST
India (Indian Standard Time), Saturday, 12 March 2011, 02:40:00 IST

“Japanese authorities have informed the IAEA’s Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC) that officials are working to restore power to the cooling systems of the Unit 2 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Mobile electricity supplies have arrived at the site.

Japanese officials have also reported that pressure is increasing inside the Unit 1 reactor’s containment, and the officials have decided to vent the containment to lower the pressure.  The controlled release will be filtered to retain radiation within the containment. Three reactors at the plant were operating at the time of the earthquake, and the water level in each of the reactor vessels remains above the fuel elements, according to Japanese authorities.

(The IAEA Power Reactor Information System has a page on nuclear power reactors in Japan. At this link you can get an Excel spreadsheet with the numbers.)

The IAEA’s IEC continues to liaise with the Japanese authorities, and is in full response mode to monitor the situation closely round the clock.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists USA had earlier said that concern about a serious accident is high enough that while Tokyo Electric Power Co. (the plant’s operator, TEPCO) is trying to restore cooling the government has evacuated a 3-km (2-mile) radius area around the reactor.

The UCSUSA had quoted a Bloomberg News report that the battery life for the RCIC system is eight hours. This means that the batteries would have been depleted before 10 a.m. EST today. It is unclear if this report is accurate, since it suggests that several hours have elapsed without any core cooling. Bloomberg also reported that Japan had secured six backup batteries and planned to transport them to the site, possibly by military helicopter. It is unclear how long this operation would take.

There also have been news reports that Fukushima I Unit 2 has lost its core cooling, suggesting its RCIC stopped working, but that the situation “has been stabilized,” although it is not publicly known what the situation is. TEPCO reportedly plans to release steam from the reactor to reduce the pressure, which had risen 50 percent higher than normal. This venting will release some radioactivity, said the UCSUSA release.

More information at these links:
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
Tokyo Electric Power Company
Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organisation
Union of Concerned Scientists, USA
Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant, Wikipedia
Fukushima II Nuclear Power Plant, Wikipedia

The German Press Agency DPA had reported that the Fukushima 1 plant suffered a power outage when the 8.9-magnitude quake struck at 2:45 pm (0545 GMT) Friday, said Tokyo Electric Power Co. Diesel-powered backup generators kicked in automatically, providing power to the boiling water reactors, but failed an hour later, probably due to flooding from the tsunami which hit the coastal area.

The UCSUSA said that this second power failure ‘resulted in one of the most serious conditions that can affect a nuclear plant – a ‘station blackout’ – during which off-site power and on-site emergency alternating current (AC) power is lost,’ the scientists wrote. AC power is essential for the motors and valves of the system that cools the radioactive core with water, the scientists explained. ‘If all AC power is lost, the options to cool the core are limited.’

The plant does have a steam-powered cooling system, but even that needs batteries to power its valves and controls. If the batteries run out before the main power is restored, the level of coolant water can drop. If the level falls, the core can overheat and damage the fuel, potentially causing it to melt.

If the temperature rises enough, the fuel can melt its way through the steel walls of the reactor into the containment structure, releasing large amounts of radioactivity into the building, an event known as a meltdown. The containment building is designed to protect the environment from such a radioactive leak, but a meltdown would cause pressure inside the structure to rise.

According to information compiled by Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), the reactors are:
Reactor, Design, Size, Date of Commercial operation
Fukushima I-1, General Electric Mark I BWR 439MW, March 1971
Fukushima I–2, General Electric Mark I BWR 760 MW, July 1974
Fukushima I-3, General Electric Mark I BWR 760 MW, March 1976
Fukushima I-4, General Electric Mark I BWR 760 MW, October 1978
Fukushima I-5, General Electric Mark I BWR 760 MW, April 1978
Fukushima I-6, General Electric Mark II BWR 1067 MW, October 1979

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Written by makanaka

March 15, 2011 at 12:15

14 Responses

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    Daryl

    April 10, 2011 at 14:01

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