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A year of Fukushima

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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.

It’s Not Just Fukushima: Mass Disaster Evacuations Challenge Planners – The Fukushima evacuation zone raises the issue of what would happen during an evacuation in heavily populated U.S. metropolises during a nuclear meltdown. In fact, in the U.S., more than four million Americans live within 10  miles of the 63 sites of nuclear power. Plants with at least one operating reactor, according to data compiled by the NRC based on the 2000 census. That number swells when the radius extends outward to 50 miles to affect more than 180 million Americans, and includes major metropolitan areas such as York City, Philadelphia, San Diego. In the wake of the in Japan and subsequent evacuations, could all these people in the U.S. be evacuated–or take some form of protective action – in time in similar circumstances?

Nuclear contamination: a year after Fukushima, why does Brussels still back nuclear power? – One year after the Fukushima disaster hit Japan, nuclear power remains very firmly on the agenda for the European Commission. Corporate Europe Observatory examines how the industry has been lobbying behind the scenes, promising that nuclear power does not pose a risk. The nuclear industry is gearing up to the first anniversary of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster by arguing that nuclear power remains central to the EU’s energy needs. Over the last year the industry has repeated key public relations messages that nuclear energy is not only safe, but central to any low carbon, secure energy future. And its vociferous PR campaign and highly effective lobby network, has been welcomed by parts of the European Commission.

Emptiness and Silence. From the Fukushima album by photographer Satoru Niwa.

A year on from Fukushima, the policy ramifications are still being felt across the EU, particularly in some member states. While the industry concedes that the accident “had a major impact on the EU institutional agenda,” has been lobbying hard to minimise these impacts, trying to make sure that Fukushima does not compromise the potential for nuclear new build in the EU.

Hundreds of Events Globally Will Mark One-Year Commemoration of Fukushima Nuclear Disaster – Hundreds of thousands of people across the world will be involved in actions around the March 11 commemoration of the Fukushima, Japan nuclear disaster which began on that date a year ago. Events will be going on throughout the month of March and into April. Beyond Nuclear has put together a Global Calendar of Events, which is frequently updated on it. There is a March Against Nuclear Madness Facebook page.

This is described as an unprecedented response to a catastrophe that is not yet over and may sadly resonate forever. “We are learning more on a daily basis – about the degree of cover-up, the level of radioactive contamination and the dangers still posed by the wrecked reactors and teetering high-level radioactive waste storage pools at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear site.”

Undeterred by Fukushima: Nuclear Lobby Pushes Ahead with New Reactors – A year after the catastrophe at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, it is clear just how little the nuclear lobby and its government supporters have been unsettled by the disaster in Japan. But rejection of nuclear energy is growing among people the world over – and building new reactors makes no sense in economic terms. On the face of things, it would appear that little has changed. Only a few countries, such as Switzerland, Italy and Belgium, are joining Germany in turning their backs on nuclear energy. Indeed, it is primarily Russia and the United States, the two nuclear heavyweights, that are competing in a new atomic race, though this time with technologies geared toward civilian purposes. New nuclear power plants are being built with particular relish in emerging economies, such as China and India, who want to satisfy at least part of their energy needs with uranium.

For the builders and operators of nuclear energy plants, the accident in Japan came at what might be considered a bad time. After years of stagnation, not only the emerging economies of Asia – China, South Korea and India – but also Russia and the United States were beginning to put greater emphasis on nuclear energy. This decision was driven not only by the growing energy needs of the newly industrializing nations, but also by fears related to carbon emissions and climate change.

This prompted the backers of nuclear energy to make frantic attempts to downplay the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, with the aim of nipping the debate about nuclear safety in the bud. For example, John Ritch, the director-general of the World Nuclear Association, asserted that the disaster hadn’t cost anyone their life. “Nuclear power will be even safer after Fukushima,” Ritch told the BBC in November, “and will continue to mature as the world’s premier non-carbon technology.”

On Resources Research: (1) Nuclear power in India and Prime Minister Singh’s ‘foreign’ slander; (2) Koodankulam: An Open Letter to the Fellow Citizens of India; (3) The Fukushima 50? Or the Fukushima 18,846?; (4) See the Fukushima nuclear emergency page for extensive background coverage, documents and material; (5) See the running post on Fukushima for reportage and insights.

From Japan, Bearing Witness in Debate Over Indian Point – “One quick little cigarette,” Mr. Kitajima, 45, said. The smokes, he reckoned, are an occupational hazard. Last March, unemployed and sitting in a Tokyo cafe with his girlfriend, Mr. Kitajima felt the shudders of an 8.9-magnitude earthquake. Before long, he found himself working nearly 200 miles away at the Fukushima nuclear plant, which was destroyed. “I would say about 90 percent of the workers at the plant smoke,” Mr. Kitajima said. “Stress.”

His job is to read radiation meters worn by the 3,000 people trying to clean up its lethally contaminated remnants. The most dangerous work is done at night, he said, after the main shifts are gone. A crew of 20 men is sent to pick up the irradiated rubble. Practically none of the men have families, much education or regular employment. They have no experience working in nuclear power plants. He compared them to day laborers in America. Within a few months, they accumulate what is regarded as the maximum safe dosage of radiation for four years, Mr. Kitajima said. “Then they bring in new ones,” he said. “Everybody kinds of admits to themselves that these are expendable people.”

Health uncertainties torment residents in Fukushima – Yoshiko Ota keeps her windows shut. She never hangs her laundry outdoors. Fearful of birth defects, she warns her daughters: Never have children. This is life with radiation, nearly one year after a tsunami-hit nuclear power plant began spewing it into Ota’s neighborhood, 60 kilometers away. She’s so worried that she has broken out in hives. “The government spokesman keeps saying there are no IMMEDIATE health effects,” the 48-year-old nursery school worker says. “He’s not talking about 10 years or 20 years later. He must think the people of Fukushima are fools.

“It’s not really OK to live here,” she says. “But we live here.” Ota takes metabolism-enhancing pills in hopes of flushing radiation out of her body. To limit her exposure, she goes out of her way to buy vegetables that are not grown locally. She spends 10,000 yen a month on bottled water to avoid the tap water. She even mail-ordered a special machine to dehusk her family’s rice.

Searching the Wastes. From the Fukushima album by photographer Satoru Niwa.

Released records of nuclear crisis meetings show chaos, confusion over lack of info – Just four hours after the tsunami swept into the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Japan’s leaders knew the damage was so severe the reactors could melt down, but they kept their knowledge secret for months. Five days into the crisis, then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan voiced his fears it could turn worse than Chernobyl. The revelations were in 76 documents of 23 meetings released Friday, almost a year after the disaster. The minutes of the government’s crisis management meetings from March 11—the day the earthquake and tsunami struck—until late December were not recorded and had to be reconstructed retroactively.

They illustrate the confusion, lack of information, delayed response and miscommunication among government, affected towns and plant officials, as some ministers expressed sense that nobody was in charge when the plant conditions quickly deteriorated. The minutes quoted an unidentified official explaining that cooling functions of the reactors were kept running only by batteries that would last only eight hours. “If temperatures in the reactor cores keep rising beyond eight hours, there is a possibility of meltdown,” the official said during the first meeting that started about four hours after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami hit the Fukushima Daiichi plant March 11, setting off the crisis. Apparently the government tried to play down the severity of the damage. A spokesman for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency was replaced after he slipped out a possibility of meltdown during a news conference March 12.

Containing Fukushima: Saving Japan From Itself (Huffington Post / K.T. Hiraoka) – The disaster at Fukushima last year exposed how entrenched interests among key decision-makers have contaminated Japanese society, endangering the long-term prosperity of Japan. These special interests often do what is right for themselves, as opposed to what is in the best interests of the Japanese people.

In this two-part series, discussion on what has transpired over the past twelve months as a result of decisions made related to the Fukushima disaster (Part I) will lead to a look at decision-making during the crisis in subsequent weeks and months that have passed (Part II). As the current decision-making system in Japan increasingly works to the detriment of Japanese society, what is needed instead is a more transparent, honest, and benevolent decision-making system that listens to the wishes of the people and responds to it.

Lessons from Fukushima nuclear disaster report shows millions remain at risk – Greenpeace released “Lessons from Fukushima”, a new report which shows that it was not a natural disaster which led to the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant on Japan’s east coast, but the failures of the Japanese Government, regulators and the nuclear industry. The key conclusion to be drawn from the report is that this human-made nuclear disaster could be repeated at any nuclear plant in the world, putting millions at risk. “While triggered by the tragic March 11th earthquake and tsunami, the Fukushima disaster was ultimately caused by the Japanese authorities choosing to ignore risks, and make business a higher priority than safety,” said Jan Vande Putte, Greenpeace International nuclear campaigner. “This report shows that nuclear energy is inherently unsafe, and that governments are quick to approve reactors, but remain ill-equipped to deal with problems and protect people from nuclear disasters. This has not changed since the Fukushima disaster, and that is why millions of people continue to be exposed to nuclear risks.”

The matchless Japan Focus has throughout the year kept track of these sources, sincere thanks to them and appreciation for their steadfast work. The journal has provided thoughtful, critical and independent coverage of the incident and its effects.

Local Histories. From the Fukushima album by photographer Satoru Niwa.

Blogs

Fukushima Diary – “Fukushima diary is to warm people to evacuate. so it must be fast. must be before it goes on major media. That’s what I needed just after 311, that’s why I’m doing it now. Should I evacuate or not, that’s what I wanted to know. so the balance is difficult. I try to keep it not over the top but the conclusion is, everyone must evacuate.”
“The public execution has begun in Fukushima, like in Minamisoma. As I hear from people actually working there or living there, I find the situation really desperate. Nothing can be done. Now it’s only in Fukushima but it will be in Chiba, Ibaraki, Tokyo, Kanagawa, and everywhere. But even when I talk to my family, it can’t be a conversation. I’m just get out get out get out. and they are like, it’s cold, or it’s sunny, or it’s snowing or just on about meaningless things. Once I talk about their business, it wil start a fight. I guess the situation is too serious for them to accept.”

The Wall Street Journal’s blog “Japan Realtime” offers eclectic commentary on contemporary Japan. The focus is on economic issues but the blog has presented solid original reportage on Fukushima since March. A series of original translations on issues relating to the Tsunami and nuclear crisis from a McGill University translation seminar organized by Prof. Adrienne Hurley. The blog Global Voices features the work of volunteer translators who strive to spread awareness of local perspectives that often end up lost in mainstream reportage. Highlights of the Fukushima coverage include “A Nuclear Gypsy’s Tale”. A collection of links and commentary in French. Twitter stream for Fukushima articles and info in English.

On the Peace Philosophy Centre blog, Asia-Pacific Journal Coordinator Satoko Norimatsu presents a range of hard-hitting criticisms of the Japanese government and TEPCO responses to the Fukushima crisis including original translations of sources not otherwise available in English and extensive Japanese and English language coverage of official, NGO and blog sources.
Ten Thousand Things is a blog Supporting Positive Peace in Japan, the Asia-Pacific and Everywhere which includes extensive coverage of peace and environmental movements. English and Japanese blog specializing in 3.11 economic and financial issues.

NGOs and Informational Websites

Green Action Kyoto, an NGO which has campaigned against nuclear power since the early 1990s, presents a comprehensive and critical blog of Fukushima stories in English drawing on government, media and NGO sources. Greenpeace has presented some of the most critical coverage of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Greenpeace, in February 2012, published a major critical overview of the 3.11 disaster and crisis. The study examines the nuclear meltdown, assesses the dangers of radiation, the fundamental failure of the Japanese nuclear system, and the issues of compensation to victims.

The Citizens’ Nuclear Information Centre is a longstanding organization that aims to provide information about nuclear energy and its risks to the Japanese public. Their bi-monthly newsletter is a valuable source of information on nuclear issues. They also offer a blog containing video resources and links to important anti-nuclear publications.

The website of Japan’s Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, an NGO devoted to phasing out atomic energy. English and Japanese sites. The Japanese website of leading nuclear protest organizer “Shiroto no Ran”. There is a collection of hundreds of anti-nuclear posters at No Nuke Art. The National Network to Protect Children from Radiation (in Japanese). EShift, a Japanese network dedicated to phasing out atomic energy in favor of natural renewables.

Fukushima coverage by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the premier source of socio-scientific views and praxis on the world nuclear industry. Arnie Gunderson’s Fairewinds Associates provides critical analysis of global nuclear issues by a scientist. It has closely followed the Fukushima situation. The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, a group which aims to provide concise and easily understood commentary on important scientific issues for the general public. The Atomic Age: From Hiroshima to the Present is a resource maintained at the University of Chicago.

France nuclear emergency Marcoule

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Update5: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has two articles relevant to the Marcoule explosion. In ‘Regime change for nuclear security’, two important questions are asked about the status and safety of fissile materials.

World map of nuclear states and countries with fissile materials (France in focus). Graphic: Fissile Materials Working Group

Irma Arguello, founder and chair of the Nonproliferation for Global Security Foundation (NPSGlobal), a private, nonprofit initiative; and international partner of the Fissile Materials Working Group, has written in the article that the term ‘nuclear security’ covers a vast swath of issues, including the prevention of, detection of, and response to criminal acts involving nuclear materials, radioactive materials, and facilities associated with nuclear and radioactive materials. Unsurprisingly, an intricate constellation of international instruments – mostly voluntary and nonbinding – is used to reduce the risks of nuclear terrorism and to reduce the illicit trafficking of nuclear materials and technology. Some of these are:

The Doomsday Clock that is the logo of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. It is six minutes to midnight

The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials, enforced since 1987.
The 2005 International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.
The 2003 Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources and its supplementary, Guidance on the Import and Export of Radioactive Sources of 2004.
The 2004 UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which calls on states to take “adequate and effective” measures to prevent terrorism and proliferation.
The 2001 UN Security Council Resolution 1373.
The 2009 UN Security Council Resolution 1887, which assesses threats to global security derived from terrorism.
The Proliferation Security Initiative of 2003, focused on the interdiction of suspicious materials related to weapons of mass destruction during transport.
The 2002 G-8 Global Partnership, which uses fund-raising to support safety, disarmament, and nonproliferation projects.
The 2006 Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, an information-exchange initiative.

The aggregation of such tools, together with individual nations’ own laws, comprise the current nuclear security regime – a regime of overlapping efforts and initiatives, overwhelming bureaucratic burdens, a host of voluntary and nonbinding “commitments,” challenges to efficiency, a lack of authority to deal with transgressions, and a lack of consensus on key issues (like sovereign rights versus multilateral control). So, given the enormity of the nuclear security complex, how internally coherent is the nuclear security regime? More important, can it cope with current and future challenges?

In the second article, ‘Nature and malice: Confronting multiple hazards to nuclear power infrastructure’, Igor Khripunov and Duyeon Kim make several interlinked points. These are: (1) as the IAEA has suggested, the lessons of Fukushima that need particular study are “those pertaining to multiple severe hazards” that might afflict a nuclear power plant; (2) such complex hazards can emerge from natural disaster, sabotage by terrorists or other malcontents, or be a combination of natural events and intentional acts; (3) nuclear safety and security staffs – whose cultures are quite different – should be trained to interact with one another as they respond to all three types of severe hazards.

Update4: There is a critical note emerging in the French media about the Marcoule nuclear fuel plant explosion. Le Figaro has run a longish report quoting ecologists in France who are demanding ‘transparency’ from the Sarkozy government on the incident: “Marcoule : les écologistes réclament la transparence”.

In translation, Le Figaro has said that Cécile Duflot, national secretary of the Greens Europe Ecologie (EELV), said on the iTV Energy Minister Eric Besson “makes fun of the world when he said that the explosion of a furnace that burns waste irradiated is not a nuclear incident or accident. “The boss of EELV also the responsibility of leading authorities in the flow of information. “This is not to the public or local officials to seek information, it must come from the authorities and in real time,” insists Cécile Duflot. “We need people living around nuclear facilities and the whole country are aware of plans to be implemented in case of accident.”

The Association France Nature Environnement does say it is  “not surprised” by the accident of Marcoule. “It must be remembered that in France there are three reported incidents per day in the nuclear industry, and we know that this area tends to under-report such incidents,” said BFM-TV Benoît Hartmann, the spokeswoman the association. It also reviews the difference between incident and nuclear accident.

Picture taken in June 2009 of operators dismantling one of the rooms of the plant in Marcoule. Photo: AFP PHOTO/CEA/Celine Jandaureck

On the government side, Minister for Ecology Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet was expected in the late afternoon on the Marcoule site. According to his office, she will participate in “an accurate assessment of potential radiological impacts of this accident,” knowing that “no impact on the outside has been detected.” Information confirmed by the director of plant safety at the IRSN (institut de radioprotection et de sûreté nucléaire) on LCI.

The well-known daily Le Monde has reported that after the accident in Fukushima, the explosion near the French nuclear site is “a further illustration that an accident is unfortunately possible. It’s beyond our means,” said Corinne Lepage, former Minister of environment and President of CAP 21, on her Twitter account. “How many accidents, explosions, human dramas before starting the transition energy and finally ask the people if he is willing to take risks?” asked the Left Party in a statement.

Before stating: “Get away from the nuclear! Other energy choices are possible, we can not wait!” The Association France Nature Environment also said in a statement that “this new accident highlights the problems of risk control and nuclear technology in France.” “Without prejudice to the extent” of this accident, “we see that nuclear accidents at Chernobyl or Fukushima. Even in the Gard we are not immune,” said Catherine Grèze. She said “it is urgent to rethink our energy policy and nuclear power, to move towards a policy that does not pose a sword of Damocles over the heads of our citizens.”

The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) has assured that there was “no discharge outside” following the explosion that took place in a waste treatment facility operated by Socodei, a subsidiary of EDF. “‘No radioactive release according to the CEA…But who can still rely on such statements,” said Denis Baupin, assistant ecologist at the town hall of Paris, in a message broadcast on his Twitter account.

Satellite image of the Marcoule fuel plant site

Actu-Environnement, a news website for environmental scientists, technicians and development workers, reported that the fatal accident on the central processing of radioactive waste in Marcoule (Gard) has revived, if there was need to, the debate on nuclear power. “The government procrastinate by talking of an industrial accident. The site was under increased surveillance since 2008.” Given the finding of “gaps in the safety culture within the installation Centraco, the ASN has been led in 2008 to seek strong commitments to the operator.

ASN has found, through its inspections and analysis of a succession of events in the installation, failure of control operations and coordination, insufficient knowledge of the safety standard by operating personnel and a lack of safety culture within the facility,” stated the ASN in its report on nuclear safety in 2008. Eleven incidents with a level 1 were found in 2008. Thus, the operator [Areva through its subsidiary, see below] to set up an action plan. “In a new meeting between the ASN and CEO Centraco held in late 2010, the ASN asked for real ownership by the operator of its action plan to improving the safety and commitment at management to implement safety”.

Update3: Unlike the operation of nuclear reactors, the ‘back end’ – spent fuel reprocessing – is inconspicuous. The public know little about these plants, the kind of materials that pass through them, the safety measures they need, the hazards they represent. The nuclear industry likes to keep it that way. The nuclear industry is a worldwide club of nuclear technology suppliers, power companies, regulators and administrators. They work under several layers of secrecy and obfuscation, most of these depending on technical and scientific sophistry. This is part of what makes this club so dangerous.

In France, the way this club operates has been doubly dangeous because local anti-nuclear groups have hardly been heard, their small influence in no way comparable to the powerful French nuclear lobby and its mighty propaganda machine. Until Fukushima, decades of nuclear brainwashing had succeeded in making the population, if not supportive, at least passive and resigned, and accepting of the widely-spread myth of climate-friendly nuclear power. That has changed, slowly but perceptibly. The Marcoule explosion of 2011 September 12 will change it further.

Until more information is released through official sources or through the network of anti-nuke campaign groups, here is useful background information on the Marcoule plant, its operator Areva and its lousy safety record.

The MELOX plant, an Areva subsidiary, is the world leader in the market for the fabrication of recycled nuclear fuel (MOX). it makes 46% of the world’s Mixed Oxide fuel (MOX). To support business development, Areva has said, the MELOX plant, with a production capacity of 195 metric tons per year, launched a three-year investment plan at the end of 2009 to increase production capacity and flexibility, in particular to meet demand for “multi-design/multi-customer” fuel fabrication. Approximately 850 employees work at the site, in addition to nearly 400 indirect jobs. Areva expects the workforce to rise to 900 employees by 2015.

Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication – world total 420 tons (metric tons of initial heavy metal MTIHM/year)

Country – Owner/Controller – Plant Name/Location – Capacity [MTIHM/year]
BelgiumBelgonucléaire SADessel (closes July 31, 2006) – 37
FranceAreva NCCadarache (somewhat closed) – (40)
FranceMELOX SA (100% Areva NC) – Marcoule195
IndiaDAE Nuclear Fuel ComplexTarapur50
JapanJNCTokai-Mura10
United KingdomBritish Nuclear Fuels, LtdSellafield128

Areva nuclear power operations. Source: Areva annual report

Incidents/Events in the last five years at the MELOX MOX fuel fabrication plant, Marcoule (Gard, France):

1. Contamination incident at MELOX MOX fuel plant – On June 28, 2011, a mechanical failure of an assembly bench caused a radioactive contamination event at the fuel assembly stage of the MELOX MOX fuel plant. Seventeen workers could return to their workplaces after medical checks. The event was rated level 1 on the INES scale. (ASN July 5, 2011)
2. MELOX SA new owner of MELOX MOX fuel plant – On Sep. 3, 2010, the Ministry of Ecology approved the ownership change of the MELOX Marcoule plant from Areva NC to MELOX SA, a 100% owned subsidiary of Areva NC. (Journal Officiel Sep. 5, 2010)
3. Worker contaminated in glove box accident at MELOX fuel fabrication plant – On Feb. 9, 2010, a worker was contaminated when the glove box he was using was damaged in an accident. The worker was transfered to a specialized medical service in the Paris area. The event was rated level 1 on the INES scale. (ASN Feb. 11, 2010)
4. MOX fuel lots mixed up at MELOX fuel fabrication plant – On Oct. 20, 2009, three baskets carrying MOX fuel pellets were mixed up at the Marcoule MOX plant. The error was not detected until Oct. 29, 2009. ASN rated the incident level 1 on the INES scale. (ASN Nov. 6, 2009)
5. Violation of criticality rules at MELOX MOX fuel plant – On March 3, 2009, the amount of fissile material located in a working station exceeded the permissible limit by 1%. No criticality occured, as the limit is set at half the amount required to initiate a criticality. Areva had initially rated the event level 1 on the INES scale. In view of the violation of several safety requirements that led to the event, the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) changed the rating to level 2 on the INES scale. (Areva March 4, 2009; ASN March 19, 2009)
6. Spill at Marcoule waste water treatment plant – On July 17, 2007, three cubic meters of waste water with a specific activity of approx. 40 Bq/cm3 spilled inside the building; only some dozen litres reached the outside of the building. The event was rated level 1 on the INES scale.
7. Violation of criticality rules at MELOX MOX fuel plant – On May 29, 2007, an automatic transport cart carrying plutonium oxide was permitted to enter an already loaded working station. No criticality occured. The incident was rated INES 1. (ASN July 9, 2007)
8. Government authorizes further capacity increase for MELOX MOX fuel plant – On April 26, 2007, Areva received government approval for the requested capacity increase of the MELOX MOX fuel plant from 145 to 195 tHM/a. (Areva April 27, 2007)
9. Public Inquiry into further extension of MELOX MOX fuel plant – On Feb. 2, 2006, the Vice Minister of Industry announced the start of the public consultation process regarding the increase of capacity from 145 to 195 tHM/a. The public inquiry was held from April 18 to June 17, 2006.
[Source: WISE Uranium Project]

Areva's graphical description of its nuclear technologies and fuels cycle. Source: Areva 2010 Reference Document

According to Areva, MOX fuel (Mixed Oxide fuel) is a mixture of approximately 93% depleted uranium powder and 7% plutonium oxide powder. Areva is the world leader in the manufacture of MOX fuel with almost 1,570 tons of heavy metal (tML) and more than 3,000 assemblies produced since the Areva MELOX plant was put online in 1995. In 2009, approximately 139 tons of MOX were produced worldwide, 134 tML of which at the MELOX plant, representing a market share of around 95% for Areva.

Areva’s 2010 Reference Document said: “The production of MOX assemblies is handled by the MELOX plant at the Marcoule site (France – Gard region). The world leader on the MOX market, the AREVA MELOX plant has grown its capacity since 2003 in order to meet increased demand. Annual licensing therefore moved from 145 tons of heavy metal to 195 tons in 2006. Since the Areva Cadarache plant ceased production in July 2003, Areva has brought together MOX production in its MELOX plant.”

We can see clearly the links to the USA and Japanese nuclear industries from these statements in the Areva 2010 Reference Document: “In France, 21 reactors have been technically adapted to cope with this type of fuel. These reactors produce around 7% of the national electricity production. EDF licensing requests for using other reactors are pending. Japan plans to use MOX fuel in 16 to 20 reactors by 2010. A MOX fabrication plant with a capacity of around 130 tons/year is in the planning stages for the Rokkasho-Mura site. Operated by JNFL, it will benefit from an Areva technology transfer. In the United States, in partnership with the Shaw Group and on behalf of the US Department of Energy (DOE), Areva is pursuing the construction of an MFFF plant (Mixed Fuel Fabrication Facility) to manufacture MOX using plutonium of military origin.”

Update2: There’s still little official news being released by France’s government and nuclear authorities on the Marcoule reprocessing plant explosion. The word from the N-safety organisations is as follows: (1) the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has in a new statement said that the explosion occurred in a furnace used for the treatment of low level radioactive waste; (2) according to [French nuclear agency] ASN, the main radionuclide present in the waste materials in the oven is cobalt-60. Autorité de sûreté nucléaire (ASN) has confirmed that there has not been any release of radioactivity from the site and that there is no prospect of any release. According to ASN, the incident has ended. The cause of the explosion is currently unknown and is under investigation.

These statements have not helped inform a Euro and global public fearful of new nuclear disasters, just six months after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami wrecked the Fukushima nuclear power plant. A look at this twitter trendmap shows why.

The Guardian has commented that the Marcoule accident came just a week after the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, bucked the anti-nuclear trend following Japan’s Fukushima disaster and pledged €1bn (£860m) of new investment in atomic power. Despite growing worldwide concern about the safety of nuclear plants – Germany has announced it is phasing its nuclear plants out — Sarkozy said the moratorium on new nuclear reactors adopted by some countries since the Japanese nuclear crisis in March “makes no sense”. “There is no alternative to nuclear energy today,” he told journalists at the time. “We are going to devote €1bn to the nuclear programme of the future, particularly fourth-generation technology.” He also promised “substantial resources” to strengthen research into nuclear safety and a further €1.3bn investment in renewable energy.

Greenpeace has urged the French government to ensure local people are kept fully up to date with the situation and the potential radioactive releases. “Information is still emerging and we do not know the cause of the explosion, but it serves as yet another tragic reminder of the dangers of nuclear power and the urgent need for governments to follow the lead taken by Germany in phasing it out.” It should be noted that this installations on the Marcoule site has not been included in the stress tests of nuclear facilities requested by the French government, nor in the last inspections by the Nuclear Safety Authority.

Authoritative background on the huge Marcoule plant is to be found in the documentation by the International Panel on Fissile Materials. “France initiated a spent nuclear fuel reprocessing program to provide plutonium for its nuclear weapons program in Marcoule in 1958. Later, the vision of the rapid introduction of plutonium-fuelled fast-neutron breeder reactors drove the large-scale separation of plutonium for civilian purposes, starting with the opening of the La Hague plant in 1966, financed under the military and civilian budgets of the Atomic Energy Commission (Commissariat à l’Énergie Atomique, CEA). This effort initially was supported broadly by neighboring European countries who contributed to the French fast breeder project and, along with Japan, signed up for French reprocessing services in the 1970s.”

Workers at the Marcoule Nuclear Plant. Photo: TPM Idea Lab

France’s first reprocessing plant was the Usine de Plutonium 1 (UP1, Plutonium Factory 1) at Marcoule. Thirteen thousand tons of reactor fuel from gas-graphite plutonium production and power reactors was reprocessed there between 1958 and late 1997. Today the site hosts a huge decommissioning and clean-up effort. In 2003, the clean up, including waste management, was estimated to eventually cost about €6 billion ($6 billion) and is currently expected last till 2040. In 2005, these costs and liabilities were transferred from the government-owned nuclear-services conglomerate, AREVA NC, to the CEA.

The two reprocessing sites, La Hague and Marcoule, contain over 90 percent of France’s radioactive waste inventory. Their inventories include spent fuel, separated plutonium, large quantities of liquid and vitrified high level waste, and various types of intermediate, transuranic and low level radioactive wastes. A significant fraction of these wastes remains unconditioned. Conditioning techniques have been under development for decades. In view of changing standards, much of the waste that was conditioned between the 1950s and the 1970s will have to be reconditioned. [This information has come from the International Panel on Fissile Materials, Spent Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing in France (2008 April)]

Update1: The first images about the Marcoule explosion have become available, thanks to MaxiSciences. See the photostrip below (captions in French and translated English). Not surprisingly, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), still has not even a mention of the problem on its website. The IAEA doesn’t have Fukushima on its main page either. The ‘Atoms For Peace’ agency, set up 54 years ago “to promote safe, secure and peaceful nuclear technologies”, has a lot of catching up to do.

Voici les premières images de la centrale nucléaire de Marcoule où a eu lieu ce matin un accident meurtrier. (L) Des employés prennent des mesures par sécurité, (M) Les photographes ne peuvent pas dépasser un certain périmètre, (R) Un homme réalise des mesures de la radioactivité. (L) Employees take safety precautions, (M) Photographers are stopped from entering the area, (R) A man measures radioactivity. Photos: MaxiSciences

Sciencemag has reported that on its home page, France’s Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) says that no radioactivity appears to have leaked from the site. The plant, called Centraco, is owned by Socodei, a daughter company of French energy giant EDF (Electricite de France SA). According to Socodei’s website, Centraco “processes scrap metal in its melting plant and combustible waste in its incinerating plant. … The objective is to reduce waste volume, recycle whenever possible, and condition the remainder as ultimate waste packages accepted by the French national agency for radioactive waste management (ANDRA).”

Location of Marcoule. Graphic: Ladepeche.fr

News reports coming in about the explosion at Marcoule, southern France, are still sketchy. One death and several injuries are reported. France’s nuclear safety agency ASN (Autorité de sûreté nucléaire) has issued a short early statement to say there is no radiation threat. This is to be taken as a pre-emptive statement. As we know from the terrible record of nuclear power the world over, the Marcoule falout will become clear in the next days and weeks. [see the detailed Fukushima page and running post].

Reuters has reported that one person was killed in an explosion at the nuclear site of Marcoule in southern France, France’s ASN nuclear watchdog said on Monday, but there was no leak of radioactive material. Marcoule is a nuclear waste management site that does not include any reactors. The explosion took place near a furnace, an ASN spokesperson told Reuters.

Electricite de France SA (EDF) is described in the European bourses as a France-based integrated energy operator active in the generation, distribution, transmission and supply of energy services. It generates energy using nuclear technology, as well as thermal, hydroelectric and other renewable sources. The company is involved in energy generation and energy sales.

Early news in the French press:

Ladepeche.fr – Gard. Un mort dans l’explosion d’un four sur un site nucléaire: Un four a explosé, ce lundi, sur le site nucléaire de Marcoule dans le Gard, entraînant la mort d’un homme et en blessant quatre, dont un grièvement. Alors que la préfecture et les pompiers craignaient une fuite radioactive, l’Autorié de sûreté nucléaire (ASN), EDF et le ministère de l’Ecologie précisent que l’accident n’a provoqué aucune fuite, ni chimique, ni radioactive.

Nuclear centres in France. Graphic: Le Monde

Le site de Marcoule est un centre de traitement de déchets d’une filiale d’EDF. L’incident a eu lieu vers 11h45 dans le centre Centraco, de la société Socodei, a déclaré un porte-parole du Commissariat à l’énergie atomique (CEA). “Pour l’instant, il n’y a pas de rejets à l’extérieur”, a-t-il ajouté. Il a également signalé qu’un périmètre de sécurité a été mis en place en raison des risques de fuite, ce que dément le Midi-Libre.

Europe 1 – Gard : explosion sur un site nucléaire

Le Monde – Explosion d’un four et risque de fuite radioactive sur le site nucléaire de Marcoule

BBC News has provided some useful background on Marcoule – the site is one of the oldest in France, and played a significant role in the development of the French nuclear and thermonuclear deterrents. It opened in 1956 – well after the US began the era of nuclear armaments, at a time when France was among the nations looking to gain their own seat at the nuclear table.

The earliest reactors generated first data and then plutonium for the first successful French test in 1960. Other defence-oriented reactors followed – and as the world contemplated a new generation of much bigger bombs with much bigger destructive capacity, a new reactor at Marcoule was built to produce tritium, fuel for hydrogen (or thermonuclear) weapons. On the civilian side, the site also housed the experimental Phenix fast-breeeder reactor, and – since 1995 – it has combined fissile uranium and plutonium into mixed oxide (MOX) fuel, which can be used in nuclear power stations.

The Marcoule site dates back the dawn of the French nuclear age. Photo: BBC News

CBC has reported that the Marcoule site does not include any nuclear power reactors. It is involved with the decommissioning of nuclear facilities, and operates a pressurized water reactor used to produce tritium. The site is located in the Gard region of France, in Langedoc Roussillon, near the Mediterranean Sea. Midi Libre, a local paper in Montpellier, near the site, says the explosion occurred at 11:45 a.m. local time.

The report said one person was seriously injured and has been airlifted to a hospital in Montpellier. Three others were taken to a local hospital. No evacuation notice was given to the local area but a security perimeter around the site has been established, according to reports.

World Nuclear News has a short item – details of the event come from the French nuclear safety regulator, the ASN. It said that the incident occurred at the Centraco facility where low-level radiaoctive wastes is prepared for packing and disposal. This includes items such as equipment, filters and clothing from power plants, universities and hospitals. The facility is operated by Socodei, part of the EDF group. ASN said that its preliminary information was that the furnace used to melt lightly contaminated scrap metal had suffered an explosion. Its first assessment was that one worker was killed and four more injured, one of those seriously.

Nuclear centres in France. Graphic: Ladepeche.fr

RFI English has reported the French government as having said that there are no signs of a radiation leak after a blast at the Marcoule nuclear site in the Rhone Valley on Monday. At least one person died and four more were injured following the explosion of a furnace used to melt down radioactive material. One of the injured is said to be in a critical condition.

Bloomberg cites a spokeswoman for France’s Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet having confirmed that there has been an explosion and said that the minister will visit the site. France’s ASN nuclear safety watchdog said that it will make a statement on the incident. France, which has more nuclear reactors than any other European country, is carrying out safety checks on atomic installations to evaluate dangers from earthquakes and flooding.

News reports two months ago said that the UK is relying on EDF to build the first nuclear power stations for a generation in Suffolk and Somerset by 2018. However, suspicions are growing that EDF is preparing to delay Britain’s new plants substantially, having said it will issue a “revised timetable” for the UK in the autumn. It was understood by the British media that British officials are now working on the assumption that new nuclear will not arrive in the UK until after 2020. The reports had said costs in France have already doubled and construction is severely delayed at EDF’s flagship plant in Flamanville, which will be its first new plant in more than 15 years. Back when construction started in 2006, EDF thought it would cost just €3.3bn (£2.9bn) and take under five years to build. Until last year, EDF was still insisting that Flamanville would be ready by 2012.

Three months after Fukushima – hot particles, rotten fish and studied whitewash

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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

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

How far will the culpable go to deny the dangers of atomic energy, even when confronted with the evidence day after day for three months? Far enough to shock us over and again, every single one of those days. There has been melt-through – not just meltdown – at Fukushima, widespread contamination by radiation of water, the ifrst medical evidence of the impacts of airborne radiation, and still the nuclear industry and its political partners deals out lies. They do this even when the humanitarian crisis of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami continues.

A variety of news reports have said that the Tokyo metropolitan government has decided to take radiation readings at 100 sites around the city and to measure at ground level and near ground level. The city was previously taking readings only from a 19-meter high monitoring station in Tokyo. The action was prompted after citizens began finding higher readings that those released by the city government.

ABC news has reported: “Highly toxic radioactive strontium has been found in groundwater near the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. It is the first time the substance has been detected in groundwater near the plant’s No. 1 and No. 2 reactors. The operator of the Fukushima plant has also confirmed strontium up to 240 times the legal limit has been found in seawater near the facility. Strontium tends to accumulate in bones and can cause bone cancer and leukaemia. “Last week, soil samples from outside the Fukushima plant also revealed concentrations of strontium.” Fukushima city officials say they will distribute radiation readers to 30,000 children between the ages of four and 15. News reports vary as to when the children will receive the badges.

[See the Japan nuclear emergency page for an archive of news reports, analyses, videos, gtaphics and links on the Fukushima nuclear emergency, and the shorter posting on the nuclear plant crisis.]

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

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

The Japanese government has prepared a report on the accident at the Fukushima I nuclear power station (NPS) of Tokyo Electric Power Co., Inc. (TEPCO) and submitted it to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on June 7. According to the Denki Shimbun the findings will be reported at the IAEA ministerial conference due to start on June 20. The 750-page report outlines several facts and observations including the developments of the accident, Japan’s nuclear safety regulatory framework, radiation exposure situations and lessons learned from the accident, and states at the conclusion that “Japan has recognized that a fundamental revision of its nuclear safety preparedness and response is inevitable.” As part of plans for the fundamental revision, the report declares that the Japanese government will separate the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and start reviewing the administration of nuclear safety regulations.

The report consists of 13 themes. In the introduction, it points out that “the situation has become extremely severe” in dealing with the Fukushima I accident, due to the circumstances where the accident had to be dealt with in parallel with reconstruction work following the disaster caused by the great earthquake and tsunami. The report also includes an apology in relation to the nuclear accident, stating, “Japan sincerely regrets causing anxiety for people all over the world about the release of radioactive materials.”

In ‘Silent Crisis in Tohoku’, Ex-SKF and Tokyo Brown Tabby have said that with the rainy and typhoon seasons approaching and temperature rising, there are serious concerns that infectious diseases might spread in the earthquake/tsunami-struck areas. From what? Rotten fish. When the earthquake and tsunami destroyed the refrigerated storage and processing facilities for fish, the fish started to rot.

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

“Conditions are already bad for the residents and evacuees in Tohoku: lots of dust rising from debris and rubble; awful smell of wet and mouldy piles of wooden debris and tatami mats; awful smell of sludge; and now awful smell of rotten fish (mostly from many devastated seafood processing plants) and smell of bird faeces feeding on those rotten fish; and finally the threat of mosquitoes as summer approaches, as well as rats and cockroaches.”

“They have been spraying insecticides and deodorizers in vain, since huge amounts of rotten seafood products are still under piles and piles of rubble. Unless all the debris and rubble, rotten fish and all that are completely removed, there is no stopping the hideous smells and mass breeding of those pests that could transmit diseases.”

On June 12, on a night news program called “Mr. Sunday” (Fuji TV), it was reported that more than 20,000 temporary houses have been built, but only about  45% of them are occupied, because once evacuees move to these temporary houses, all the food supply would be cut off and they would have to pay for utilities even though many of them are still unemployed. In one city in Miyagi Prefecture, the number of drunk driving has doubled, since alcoholism has increased due to mental depression.

Last week, Japan’s government announced a shake-up of the country’s nuclear regulatory agencies that would separate NISA from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which is also responsible for promoting the nuclear industry. The World Socialist Web Site has said that these cosmetic changes will do little to alter the incestuous relationship between Japan’s regulators and energy giants like TEPCO. There is a well-worn path trodden by senior NISA and METI officials from the state bureaucracy into corporate boardrooms. NISA’s response to the latest revelation that eight TEPCO employees had received radiation doses above the legal limit was typical. The agency described the situation as “extremely regrettable” and issued a formal warning to TEPCO—in other words, a slap on the wrist, as it has done on previous occasions.

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.

The cover-up is not confined to Japan, however. On June 1, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued an interim report on the Fukushima disaster that listed the most obvious deficiencies in TEPCO’s safety measures but had nothing but praise for the official response. It said the government, regulatory agencies and the company had been “extremely open” in sharing information. TEPCO management at the site had been “exemplary” under arduous conditions. The government’s protection of the public had been “impressive and extremely well organised”.

The purpose of this IAEA whitewash was elaborated quite openly by deputy director general Denis Flory, who told the media: “There is a need to rebuild the confidence of the public towards their government, when their governments have decided to use nuclear energy.” Like Japan’s regulatory authorities, the IAEA is intimately bound up with the nuclear industry, which is expanding internationally and is tasked with regulating energy giants that are driven by profit, not the welfare of ordinary people.

In the US, physician Janette Sherman MD and epidemiologist Joseph Mangano published an essay that talks about a 35% spike in infant mortality in northwest cities that occurred after the Fukushima meltdown, and may well be the result of fallout from the stricken nuclear plant. The eight cities included in the report are San Jose, Berkeley, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Cruz, Portland, Seattle, and Boise, and the time frame of the report included the ten weeks immediately following the disaster.

“There is and should be concern about younger people being exposed, and the Japanese government will be giving out radiation monitors to children,” Dr MV Ramana, a physicist with the Programme on Science and Global Security at Princeton University who specialises in issues of nuclear safety, told Al Jazeera. Dr Ramana explained that he believes the primary radiation threat continues to be mostly for residents living within 50km of the plant, but added: “There are going to be areas outside of the Japanese government’s 20km mandatory evacuation zone where radiation is higher. So that could mean evacuation zones in those areas as well.”

Arnold Gundersen, who has 39 years of nuclear power engineering experience, managing and coordinating projects at 70 nuclear power plants around the US, points out that far more radiation has been released than has been reported. “They recalculated the amount of radiation released, but the news is really not talking about this,” he said. “The new calculations show that within the first week of the accident, they released 2.3 times as much radiation as they thought they released in the first 80 days.” According to Gundersen, the exposed reactors and fuel cores are continuing to release microns of caesium, strontium, and plutonium isotopes. These are referred to as “hot particles”.

Fukushima nuclear emergency, Japan

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18 December 2011: You will find the Updates archive, info links, video clips and pictures on the Japan emergency page.

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.

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. Nov. 12, 2011. Photo: Mainichi Daily News / AP Photo / David Guttenfelder, Pool

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.

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.

More updates, info links, video clips and pictures on the Japan emergency page.

Written by makanaka

March 17, 2011 at 22:20

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