Nukewatch Quarterly Fall 2014
Commercial newspapers in the United States don’t often report on the ongoing radiation disaster at Fukushima in Northeast Japan. But June 17, the New York Times said this:
“Inside the complex, there are three wrecked reactor cores, twisted masses of hundreds of tons of highly radioactive uranium, plutonium, cesium and strontium. After the meltdown[s], which followed a tsunami and earthquake in 2011, most of the material in the reactors re-solidified, in difficult shapes and in confined spaces, wrapped around and through the structural parts of the reactors and the buildings.
“Or at least, that is what the engineers think. Nobody really knows, because nobody has yet examined many of the most important parts of the wreckage. Though 3.5 years have passed, it is still too dangerous to climb inside for a look, and sending in a camera would risk more leaks.”
Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), owners of the Fukushima wreckage, has said it will take 40 years to clean up the disaster. This number was probably pulled out of the thin air, because owners of the Kewaunee reactor in Wisconsin, which shut down in April 2013, said decommissioning of that single undamaged reactor would take 40 years.
May 16: Ongoing Leaks: “Drips” or Gushers?
A robot for the first time took clear pictures showing what Bloomberg News called “drips” of highly contaminated cooling water inside the wreckage of reactor Unit 1. Four paragraphs later, the report said as much as 396 gallons of water is leaking every hour, or about 10,000 gallons a day, according to Tepco estimates.
The robot took pictures and video while being remotely controlled by far-removed operators. With radiation inside the reactor high enough to kill a person “within a few weeks” from a single exposure, according to the World Nuclear Association, even hardened robots have been disabled by the extremely harsh radioactive and thermal heat. It’s been six months since Tepco tried and failed to find the leak using a robotic boat. — Japan Times, May 16, 2014
June 3: Government Inspectors Were First to Flee
Safety inspectors with Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) were the first to flee when disaster stuck March 11, 2011. With all government safety inspectors absent, the authorities in Tokyo had no direct means to grasp what was happening and was forced to depend entirely on operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) for information.
Then plant manager, Masao Yoshida, testified March 15, 2011 that 700 of the workers in the complex fled to another reactor complex six miles away. However, even before the workers bolted, all of the NISA’s inspectors fled, having left the site immediately after the accident even though they should have stayed.
Yoshida’s startling testimony was only made public June 2 after it was obtained by the Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun. Yoshida died of esophageal cancer, July 9, 2013.
Since the disaster, the government has decided that inspectors from the Nuclear Regulation Authority, the successor to NISA, must stay in an “emergency office” set up in the operator’s command center, but the rules do not say how long. — Asahi Shimbun, June 3, 2014
June 4: The Volcano Next Time
Japan’s utilities have pledged $15 billion to harden their reactors against earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes and terrorist attacks. But what about Japan’s 110 active volcanoes?
Two 30-year-old reactors at Sendai, 621 miles south of Tokyo, on the island of Kyushu, are 31 miles from Sakurajima, an active volcano. Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority says the chance of volcanic activity during its operational life is minimal, and in July Sendai was the first to win the NRA’s preliminary approval for eventual restart.
Setsuya Nakada, a professor of volcanology at the University of Tokyo, told Reuters, “No-one believes that volcanic risks have been adequately discussed.”
— Reuters, June 4, 2014
June 5: Groundwater Being Contaminated Before Flooding Reactors’ Wreckage
Tepco admitted June 3 that it had found cesium in groundwater flowing into the Fukushima complex, reversing earlier claims that the water was not contaminated. Groundwater is leaking into the severely damaged reactor building basements at a rate of about 400 tons a day and becomes (more) heavily contaminated. Tepco had planned to pump some of the groundwater directly into the Pacific Ocean before it moves through the wrecked reactor buildings.
Those dumping plans, which need the approval of residents and commercial fishing groups outside the heavily contaminated exclusion zone, may now be halted. Only a week before its reversal, Tepco had tried to persuade the fishing cooperatives to approve the dumping by telling them that cesium could not be detected in the groundwater. Even before the June 3 admission by Tepco, fisherman said they no longer trusted any claims made by the company.
— New York Times, June 5, 2014
June 17: Unchecked Food and Internal Contamination
“[E]ating unchecked homegrown vegetables and wild game from radiation-tainted areas on a regular basis can lead to high levels of internal radiation exposure.”
According to a study published in the US online science journal PLOS One, “Levels of radioactive cesium detected in the bodies of the study’s participants declined once they stopped eating highly contaminated food.” The study’s authors called for increasing public awareness of radiation-risky foods especially “at a time when public interest appears to be dwindling.”
Soil from the seafloor collected about six kilometers from the wrecked reactors contains as much 2,700 becquerels of cesium-137 per kilogram, according to Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) June 14.
In August 2012, Tepco reported an all-time record 25,800 Becquerel’s-per-kilogram in two fish known as greenling caught 20 kilometers from the wrecked reactors. “There may be radiation hot spots on the seabed,” a Tepco official said then.
The enormous, unprecedented volumes of radioactive materials spewed into the Pacific Ocean by the disaster saw cesium levels near Fukushima balloon to an astonishing 50 million times pre-disaster levels.
— Japan Times, June 17, 2014
June 23: Minister Apologizes for Callous Remark
Japan’s Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara has had to repeatedly apologize for saying the problem of where to store radioactive soil removed from heavily contaminated areas near the wrecked reactors was a matter of handing out money. Nobuteru personally visited the town of Okuma, one of the chief targets for a temporary waste storage facility, to express regret for telling reporters June 16 that negotiations over dump sites would ultimately be settled by the “monetary value” of grants to the local authorities who accept the radiation risks.
— Japan Times, June 23, 2014
July 16: Quakes Continue to Rock Fukushima Region
A 4.6 magnitude earthquake struck near the destroyed Fukushima reactor complex July 16, and a much larger 6.8 magnitude quake hit the same area July 11. On Oct. 23, 2013, a 7.3 magnitude quake struck 170 miles offshore.
— Japan Times, July 16, 2014
July 16: Cesium Spread by Cleanup Activities
Radioactive contamination — re-suspended and dispersed during rubble-removal work — blew as far as 50 kilometers away, over twice as far as the government’s agriculture ministry had earlier claimed. A research team at Kyoto University conducted air sampling to estimate residents’ exposure to radiation. In some areas they found radiation levels 20 to 30 times higher than normal — well beyond the 20 kilometer exclusion zone from which 150,000 residents were forced to flee. The team concluded that the cesium contamination was dispersed by cleanup operations done at reactor No. 3, August 19, 2013.
While Agriculture Ministry knew of the dispersal in March this year, neither it nor Tepco informed local farmers that at least 14 of their rice paddies were severely contaminated. Future rubble removal at the site could again disperse radiation over broad areas. — Asahi Shimbun, July 16; RT.com (Russia Today), July 15, 2014
July 28: Oregon coast: No Fukushima radiation yet
“Scientists say the radiation will hit the US this year at very low levels that won’t harm humans or the environment. But no federal agency is monitoring it.” — Tracy Loew, (Oregon) Statesman Journal, July 28, 2014
August 6: All Fuel Melted in Reactor 3
Reversing earlier claims that only 63% of the fuel in rector 3 had melted during the catastrophic “station blackout,” Tepco admitted that it all melted and burned through the bottom of the steel reactor vessel and even melted at least 27 inches into the heavily damaged concrete “containment” structure below. — Japan Times, Aug. 6, 2014
August 9: Dump subsidies called “bribes”
Japan is faced with at least 900 million cubic feet of topsoil and debris contaminated with radiation in need of containment. It is offering billions of dollars to communities that agree to store the debris. In Fukushima Prefecture, the towns of Okuma and Futaba have been offered some 3.7 billion in financial assistance to build “interim” dump facilities. Aileen Mioko-Smith, of Kyoto-based environmental group Green Action Japan says the subsidies are more like bribes. — Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 9; South China Morning Post, Aug. 12, 2014 —JL