Nukewatch Quarterly Winter 2014
Aug. 6: Total melt-through of Reactor 3 admitted
Tokyo Electric Power Co., which owns the wrecked Fukushima-Daiichi reactor complex in Japan, has admitted that all the uranium fuel in Reactor 3 melted and burned into the bottom of the reactor’s cement containment vessel. In November 2011, Tepco said it thought 63 percent of the reactor’s 100 tons of uranium had melted through. According to the company’s new estimate, all the fuel burned through the steel pressure vessel, fell to the bottom of the containment and burned over two feet into the concrete, the Japan Times reports. So harrowing is the problem of removing this mass of hot, molten fuel wreckage, that Tepco has said it won’t begin the attempt for seven years, the daily Asahi Shimbun reported Aug. 7.
Aug. 12: Bribes offered to areas to store waste
Japan’s government is offering billions in subsidies to communities that agree to store contaminated soil and debris cleared from areas hard hit with radioactive fallout. Greenpeace said the payments were nothing but bribes.
The government has offered to pay an annual subsidy of $2.8 billion to Fukushima Prefecture, and the towns of Okuma and Futaba, in return for permission to construct temporary radioactive waste dump sites. About 900 million cubic feet of contaminated soil and debris need storage.
Asahi Shimbun reports that, “Funds will also be provided to develop measures to alleviate concerns elsewhere in Japan that farm, forestry and fishery products in Fukushima Prefecture are contaminated with radioactive materials.”
“Alleviating concern” over radiation exposure is cheaper than decontaminating heavily poisoned areas to the exposure standard required prior to the disaster. The subsidy proposal was launched after the failure of a plan to purchase private land for dump sites.
NBC News said Sept. 1 that soil being collected from cleanup sites is now stored in plastic bags in over 600 temporary sites outside the evacuation zones, “raising health and safety concerns.”
Aug. 12: Ice wall may not solve problem
In July workers began inserting 1,550 pipes 100 feet vertically into the ground inland from the reactor complex to form a long cordon around the wreckage—costing $300 million. Coolant fed into the pipes is supposed to freeze the surrounding earth and create a barrier to the groundwater now pouring into the reactor buildings at a rate of 400 tons per day.
Ice walls have never been built on such a large scale. “I’m not convinced the freeze wall is the best option,” said Dale Klein, a former head of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and a senior adviser to Tepco, Kyodo News reports. “What I’m concerned about is unintended consequences. Where does that water go and what are the consequences of that?”
Sept. 10: First reactor restart said to be safe
Japanese regulators announced that one nuclear power station is safe to restart, the New York Times reports. All of Japan’s 48 operable reactors were shuttered in March 2011 following Fukushima’s triple meltdowns. Two reactors at the Sendai station, in the far southwest, are the first to be re-certified in spite of operating in a volcanically active area. Actual restart would take months as operators seek local government consent. A final decision will be made by the prime minister. Public opinion is heavily against any Sendai reactor restart as millions of Japanese are deeply skeptical about its safety. On Sept. 24, 16,000 people marched through Tokyo protesting any such restart.
Oct. 2: Public wary of “allowable” radiation doses
Of those surveyed in Japan, 22.5 percent said the government should impose stricter limits for radiation exposures and radioactive contamination of food; 47 percent said they would like to avoid foods with radioactive substances even if the radiation level is below government-set limits. The latest survey by the Consumer Affairs Agency was conducted in August, and surveyed 5,176 adults in 11 prefectures.
Oct. 12: Groundwater contamination jumps after typhoon
The amount of tritium—radioactive hydrogen—and strontium-90 in groundwater samples at Fukushima jumped more than tenfold in October, reportedly because of heavy rain caused by typhoon Phanfone. Some 150,000 Becquerels of tritium per-liter were measured in groundwater taken Oct. 9 from a well near Reactor 2. The figure is a record and over 10 times the level measured the previous week. The amount of strontium-90 also shattered records with a well water reading of 1.2 million Becquerels per-liter, Tepco reported.
Tepco also revealed that, at a separate well also east of Reactor 2, groundwater was emitting a record 2.1 million Becquerels of strontium-90-like beta radiation, nearly double the level from a week earlier.
Oct. 15: Contaminated exports raise protest
The Wall Street Journal reports that South Koreans are still leery over contaminated imports from Japan. Residents of Changwon, a city on South Korea’s southeastern coast, staged a rally Oct. 14 at a steel company to protest its import of scrap steel from Japan at the port of Masan. The protesters demanded local steel companies stop importing Japanese steel through seaports that aren’t equipped with radioactive detection devices, such as Masan.
“A case in August, in which imports of scrap steel from Japan were found to contain radioactive material and sent back to Japan clearly shows we’re exposed to a real risk,” said Park Jong-kwon, Chairman of the Masan Changwon Jinhae Korea Federation of Environmental Movements.
Oct. 17: Tepco pretends to de-contaminate water
Asahi Shimbun reports that Tepco has decided to simply pretend it’s had some progress in decontaminating tons of water from its flooded reactors. The paper reports, “Although the water treated with … strontium removal systems alone still needs to be processed … to eliminate additional radioactive substances, Tepco officials said the company will temporarily deem such water as being ‘purified’ to achieve its initial goal of completing the processing work by the end of the fiscal year.”
Oct. 29: Radioactive soil stored at schools has nowhere to go
Japan Times reports that tons of contaminated and bagged up topsoil that was removed from school yards will have to stay where it is rather than be shipped to temporary dumps—because of a technicality. The soil was removed before a law on radioactive contamination took effect in January 2012, so its shipment off school grounds isn’t covered by the law. The Fukushima Prefecture Government says the delay is discriminatory and has repeatedly called on Tokyo to allow the soil to be shipped to temporary dump sites.[In this context, thousands of tons of contaminated soil removed from school grounds and other areas have been incinerated in Japan’s ordinary municipal incinerators. Problems with contaminated incinerator ash arose almost immediately. In August 2011, ash with too much radioactive cesium to allow it to be buried has been found at 42 facilities in Tokyo Prefecture, and five other prefectures as well as Fukushima, the Environment Ministry said Aug. 27, 2011. In the summer of 2011, a 16-prefecture survey of 469 incinerator operators in Tohoku and Kanto was reported to a panel of experts at the Environment Ministry which was discussing how to bury incinerator ash and dust with cesium levels above 8,000 Becquerels-per-kilogram.]
Nov. 11: Cesium found in west coast waters
The Oregon Statesman Journal reports that scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute found cesium-134 in seawater from Fukushima had reached the California coast. Tepco downplayed the finding saying in a statement, “It has been … expected … that … radioactivity from … the March 2011 accident … would be carried by ocean currents.” The radioactivity found “raises no concern for human or animal health,” Tepco also said.
Less than 2 Becquerels per-cubic-meter of cesium-134 were found in 10 sea water samples taken between Alaska and California by the researchers.
No US agency is testing Pacific waters for radiation from Fukushima, so the Institute took on the task as a public service.
While the Woods Hole report said the contamination was insignificant, cesium persists in the environment for at least 300 years, during which it bio-accumulates and bio-concentrates in aquatic life as it moves up the food chain.
Nov. 15: Greenpeace: Radiation risks understated
Radioactive “hot spots” are still prevalent across parts of Fukushima Prefecture, according to Greenpeace monitors who surveyed areas contaminated with fallout from the March 2011 triple meltdowns.
In addition to finding hots spots, Greenpeace experts charged that Japanese authorities consistently underestimate both the amount of radioactive contamination and the health risks it carries. The group began monitoring radiation around Fukushima’s reactor wreckage within a few days of the start of the catastrophe and has conducted independent on-site monitoring visits every year since—the most recent between Oct. 24 and 27.
Greenpeace radiation monitor Heinz Smitai, a nuclear physicist, told foreign journalists Oct. 30 in Tokyo that hot spots exist as far as 37 miles from the site of the disaster, Al Jazeera reported. Mandatory evacuation covered only a 12 mile radius.
Japan’s Ministry of Environment disputes Greenpeace’s charge that it underestimates radiation contamination and risks. The ministry claims that radiation in Fukushima has steadily diminished over time.
However, critics charge that government numbers are made up of estimated averages of radiation findings, meaning that individual “hot spots,” like those Greenpeace recorded, would go unreported and unmapped. Individuals near hot spots could be exposed to greater radiation doses than the government “average” estimates over a large area.
The government’s most recent airborne radiation survey was conducted in December 2013. —JL