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Fukushima’s final emergency

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Art to honour the Fukushima 50. Illustration by 'tiger-never-die' at deviantart.com

Art to honour the Fukushima 50. Illustration by ‘tiger-never-die’ at deviantart.com

After 29 months of grave nuclear threat, all that matters now is for the world’s experts on radiation and decontamination to join forces and help fix the deadly poison streaming silently out of Fukushima. Because Japan’s political class has betrayed its people and lied to the world.

The world’s nuclear industry, the agencies of the principal nuclear powers, the reactor manufacturers and their lobbyists and financiers must cease their talk and stand aside, for they have been dealers of slow death. Now it is time for every reactor in the world – every single last nightmare nuclear pile – to begin shutting down.

This is a matter serious enough for the UN General Assembly to call an extraordinary and emergency session, and for the agenda to have two items only: (1) the immediate containment of the poison spewing out of the crippled reactors in Fukushima must be an international undertaking, (2) the safe, total and irrevocable decommissioning of all the world’s nuclear reactors must begin at once.

There is no other way. The events August 2013 alone tell us why:

Technicians work to address leaks from a tank storing highly radioactive water at the wrekced Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on Aug. 20. Photo: The Asahi Shimbun/Hiroshi Kawai

Technicians work to address leaks from a tank storing highly radioactive water at the wrekced Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on Aug. 20. Photo: The Asahi Shimbun/Hiroshi Kawai

August 23, 2013 – More tanks at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant site may have leaks as Tokyo Electric Power Company, the plant operator, said on August 22 that high radiation levels were detected near a second section of storage tanks.

August 21, 2013 – Japan’s nuclear authority said on August 21 that a radioactive water leak at the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant represents a “serious incident” under an international scale, the latest blow in the struggle against contaminated water accumulating at the site.

August 19, 2013 – The operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant said on August 19 that two workers were found to be contaminated with radioactive particles, the second such incident in a week involving staff outside the site’s main operations centre.

August 14, 2013 – The Nuclear Regulation Authority, Japan’s nuclear regulator, officially approved a plan that lays out ­in detail everything from the broad road map that Fukushima Daiichi operator Tokyo Electric Power Company is following to clean up and dismantle the crippled plant.

Clean up and dismantle – but even the tiniest mistake during an operation to extract over 1,300 fuel rods at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan could lead to a series of cascading failures with an apocalyptic outcome, fallout researcher Christina Consolo told the news website RT.

Fukushima operator TEPCO wants to extract 400 tons worth of spent fuel rods stored in a pool at the plant’s damaged Reactor No. 4. The removal would have to be done manually from the top store of the damaged building in the radiation-contaminated environment.

Radioactive water contamination graphic by Asahi Shimbun

Radioactive water contamination graphic by Asahi Shimbun

In the worst-case scenario, a mishandled rod may go critical, resulting in an above-ground meltdown releasing radioactive fallout with no way to stop it, said Consolo. But leaving the things as they are is not an option, because statistical risk of a similarly bad outcome increases every day, she said. Indeed, renowned theoretical physicist Michio Kaku stated in an interview a few weeks after the initial accident that “TEPCO is literally hanging on by their fingernails.” They still are, and always have been.

As Safecast’s blog has explained in educative detail, it is unclear whether the Japanese government has a clear plan for decontaminating Fukushima Prefecture. The questions raised are worrying indeed: “Are the aims they’ve stated really feasible? Is anyone really able to keep track of the changing standards and guidelines?” And that is why the Asahi Shimbun published a series of reports about changes in government decontamination plans, such as ‘Government secretly backtracks on Fukushima decontamination goal’. This is a situation tailor-made for abuse, and in January 2013, the Asahi Shimbun published a series of exposes detailing sloppy work practices and fraud, titled ‘Crooked Cleanup’.

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Fukushima nuclear emergency, Japan

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08 February 2017: A month short of six years after the 11 March Fukushima disaster began unfolding, the situation at the nuclear power plant has entered a new phase of danger, one which modern industrial civilisation has no experience with and very little knowledge about.

The highest radiation level at Fukushima is now much higher than the highest ever measured at Chernobyl, which was 300 sieverts per hour, an inconceivably high dose which can kill a person almost instantly. Radiation is usually measured in thousandths of a sievert, called millisieverts. For example, most people receive around 2.4 millisieverts per year from background radiation, or only 0.0002739726 per hour.

But a radiation level of 530 sieverts per hour has just been measured at Fukushima’s number 2 reactor. This new record at Fukushima is 70% higher than that of Chernobyl. (The highest level previously measured at Fukushima was 73 sieverts per hour, in March 2012.) The leakage of highly radioactive water has been continuing every day, a daily flow of radioactively contaminated groundwater into the ocean. The estimates are of about 300,000 litres per day of relatively low-level radioactive waste water. But there are storage tanks with 800,000 tons of highly radioactive water, as every day about 100 tons of water are poured on the three melted down cores.

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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