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New Research Shows Global Warming Could Turn Tropics Into a Sweltering Dead Zone


New research out of Purdue University finds that a global warming event called the PETM made parts of the tropics too hot for living organisms to survive. And though the PETM happened many millions of years ago, these new scientific revelations are pertinent to the present day. The reason is that human activity in the form of fossil fuel burning is now rapidly causing the globe to heat up. And such warming, if it continues, could well turn large sections of the tropics into a dead zone.

PETM — Warm-up Sparks Global Upheaval, Extinction

The PETM was a big global warm up that happened 56 million years ago as the Paleocene epoch passed into the Eocene. It is numbered as one of many hothouse extinctions occurring in the geological record. And it is generally thought to have been one of the milder such events — especially when compared…

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March 10, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Six years after Fukushima, much of Japan has lost faith in nuclear power


Anti-nuclear demonstration in front of the Japanese Diet, June 22, 2012

Six years have passed since the Fukushima nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011, but Japan is still dealing with its impacts. Decommissioning the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant poses unprecedented technical challenges. More than 100,000 people were evacuated but only about 13 percent have returned home, although the government has announced that it is safe to return to some evacuation zones.

In late 2016 the government estimated total costs from the nuclear accident at about 22 trillion yen, or about US$188 billion – approximately twice as high as its previous estimate. The government is developing a plan under which consumers and citizens will bear some of those costs through higher electric rates, taxes or both.

The Japanese public has lost faith in nuclear safety regulation, and a majority favors phasing out nuclear power. However, Japan’s current energy policy assumes nuclear power will play a role. To move forward, Japan needs to find a new way of making decisions about its energy future.

Uncertainty over nuclear power

When the earthquake and tsunami struck in 2011, Japan had 54 operating nuclear reactors which produced about one-third of its electricity supply. After the meltdowns at Fukushima, Japanese utilities shut down their 50 intact reactors one by one. In 2012 then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s government announced that it would try to phase out all nuclear power by 2040, after existing plants reached the end of their 40-year licensed operating lives.

Now, however, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office at the end of 2012, says that Japan “cannot do without” nuclear power. Three reactors have started back up under new standards issued by Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, which was created in 2012 to regulate nuclear safety. One was shut down again due to legal challenges by citizens groups. Another 21 restart applications are under review.

reactors online march 2017

U.S. Energy Information Administration

In April 2014 the government released its first post-Fukushima strategic energy plan, which called for keeping some nuclear plants as baseload power sources – stations that run consistently around the clock. The plan did not rule out building new nuclear plants. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which is responsible for national energy policy, published a long-term plan in 2015 which suggested that nuclear power should produce 20 to 22 percent of Japan’s electricity by 2030.

Meanwhile, thanks mainly to strong energy conservation efforts and increased energy efficiency, total electricity demand has been falling since 2011. There has been no power shortage even without nuclear power plants. The price of electricity rose by more than 20 percent in 2012 and 2013, but then stabilized and even declined slightly as consumers reduced fossil fuel use.


U.S. Energy Information Administration

Japan’s Basic Energy Law requires the government to release a strategic energy plan every three years, so debate over the new plan is expected to start sometime this year.

Public mistrust

The most serious challenge that policymakers and the nuclear industry face in Japan is a loss of public trust, which remains low six years after the meltdowns. In a 2015 poll by the pro-nuclear Japan Atomic Energy Relations Organization, 47.9 percent of respondents said that nuclear energy should be abolished gradually and 14.8 percent said that it should be abolished immediately. Only 10.1 percent said that the use of nuclear energy should be maintained, and a mere 1.7 percent said that it should be increased.

Another survey by the newspaper Asahi Shimbun in 2016 was even more negative. Fifty-seven percent of the public opposed restarting existing nuclear power plants even if they satisfied new regulatory standards, and 73 percent supported a phaseout of nuclear power, with 14 percent advocating an immediate shutdown of all nuclear plants.

Who should pay to clean up Fukushima?

METI’s 22 trillion yen estimate for total damages from the Fukushima meltdowns is equivalent to about one-fifth of Japan’s annual general accounting budget. About 40 percent of this sum will cover decommissioning the crippled nuclear reactors. Compensation expenses account for another 40 percent, and the remainder will pay for decontaminating affected areas for residents.


International Atomic Energy Agency experts review plans for decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, April 17, 2013.

Under a special financing scheme enacted after the Fukushima disaster, Tepco, the utility responsible for the accident, is expected to pay cleanup costs, aided by favorable government-backed financing. However, with cost estimates rising, the government has proposed to have Tepco bear roughly 70 percent of the cost, with other electricity companies contributing about 20 percent and the government – that is, taxpayers – paying about 10 percent.

This decision has generated criticism both from experts and consumers. In a December 2016 poll by the business newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun, one-third of respondents (the largest group) said that Tepco should bear all costs and no additional charges should be added to electricity rates. Without greater transparency and accountability, the government will have trouble convincing the public to share in cleanup costs.

Other nuclear burdens: Spent fuel and separated plutonium

Japanese nuclear operators and governments also must find safe and secure ways to manage growing stockpiles of irradiated nuclear fuel and weapon-usable separated plutonium.

At the end of 2016 Japan had 14,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel stored at nuclear power plants, filling about 70 percent of its onsite storage capacity. Government policy calls for reprocessing spent fuel to recover its plutonium and uranium content. But the fuel storage pool at Rokkasho, Japan’s only commercial reprocessing plant, is nearly full, and a planned interim storage facility at Mutsu has not started up yet.

The best option would be to move spent fuel to dry cask storage, which withstood the earthquake and tsunami at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Dry cask storage is widely used in many countries, but Japan currently has it at only a few nuclear sites. In my view, increasing this capacity and finding a candidate site for final disposal of spent fuel are urgent priorities.

Japan also has nearly 48 tons of separated plutonium, of which 10.8 tons are stored in Japan and 37.1 tons are in France and the United Kingdom. Just one ton of separated plutonium is enough material to make more than 1,200 crude nuclear weapons.

Many countries have expressed concerns about Japan’s plans to store plutonium and use it in nuclear fuel. Some, such as China, worry that Japan could use the material to quickly produce nuclear weapons.

Now, when Japan has only two reactors operating and its future nuclear capacity is uncertain, there is less rationale than ever to continue separating plutonium. Maintaining this policy could increase security concerns and regional tensions, and might spur a “plutonium race” in the region.

As a close observer of Japanese nuclear policy decisions from both inside and outside of the government, I know that change in this sector does not happen quickly. But in my view, the Abe government should consider fundamental shifts in nuclear energy policy to recover public trust. Staying on the current path may undermine Japan’s economic and political security. The top priority should be to initiate a national debate and a comprehensive assessment of Japan’s nuclear policy.

March 10, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima Radioactive Debris: 2 Bangladeshis tricked into cleanup job

Two Bangladeshi asylum seekers in Japan cleared up radioactive contamination from one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters on the false promise doing so would win them permission to stay in the country longer, media reported yesterday.

The Fukushima nuclear plant suffered multiple meltdowns after being hit by a tsunami triggered by a big earthquake on March 11, 2011. Companies decontaminating areas around the plant, which usually involves removing radioactive top soil, have struggled to find workers willing to do the job.

The two men, who arrived in Japan in 2013 saying they were escaping political persecution, said they were told by brokers and construction companies that their visas would be extended if they did decontamination work, the Chunichi newspaper reported.

“We believed the visa story because they said it’s a job Japanese people don’t want to do,” Chunichi quoted one of the men, Monir Hossain, as saying.

Reuters was not able to reach the two men.

The men did the decontamination work in Iitate village, about 50 km (30 miles) south of the plant, from January to March 2015, Chunichi said.

Japan maintains tight controls on the entry of foreign workers but asylum seekers are allowed to work while their applications are reviewed. Many have permits allowing them to stay and work that have to be renewed every six months.

Mitsushi Uragami, a justice ministry official who oversees refugee recognition, said there were no residence permits on offer for people doing decontamination.

“The length of asylum seekers’ residence permits and them doing decontamination work are unrelated. If anyone is giving inaccurate explanations about this, it’s problematic,” Uragami told Reuters.

The department was investigating the case, he said.

Takuya Nomoto, an environment ministry official overseeing decontamination, said the Chunichi report did not give the names of the companies or labour brokers involved, and as such the ministry was not able to confirm it.

“The ministry expects all contractors involved in decontamination to comply with the law,” he said.

The Fukushima Labour Bureau said this month more than half of the 1,020 companies involved in decontamination violated labour and safety laws last year.

Reuters revealed in 2013 that homeless men were put to work clearing radioactive soil and debris in Fukushima for less than the minimum wage.

Reuters also found the clean-up depended on a little scrutinised network of subcontractors – many of them inexperienced with nuclear work and some with ties to organised crime.

March 10, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , | 1 Comment

Six years on, Fukushima rests its hopes on fearless robots


As the struggle continues to bring the six-year-old triple nuclear meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi under control, robots are providing a first, albeit expendable, line of assault.

The robots are on a high-tech suicide mission into the nooks and crannies beneath the stricken plant’s three melted-down reactor cores to discover and map an estimated yet elusive 600 tons of molten nuclear fuel.

Radiation levels in these corridors can reach up to 650 sieverts and hour, higher by nine times than the previous highs measured at the plant, which plateaued at a mere 73 sieverts in 2012.

A whole human body dose of 10 sieverts is enough to cause immediate illness and death within a few weeks at most, 650 within a minute.

Levels like those recently found in the snarls and wreckage beneath Fukushima’s reactor No 2, where radiation is more concentrated because, unlike reactor No 1 and 3, it didn’t suffer a hydrogen explosion, are lethal not just to humans but, as it turns out, to robots as well.

The most recent robot that Tokyo Electric Power Co., the owner of the Fukushima plant, sent into the breach of reactor No 2 died in less than a day. The two before that got stuck in narrow passages and were given up for dead, and a third was abandoned after it spent six days searching for the reactor’s melted fuel. Yet one more robot was sacrificed in action while trying to locate one of its lost compatriots.


Scientists are trying to develop robots better suited to the high radiation intensity. Yet they say the metallic body count is producing results by giving technicians a view of where the melted down fuel is located and helping them produce 3-D models of what it looks like.

The hope is that robots will be doing the heavy lifting when it comes time to dig out the fuel on a decommissioning job now expected to last another 30 to 40 years at a new cost of $189 billion – nearly double estimates released three years ago.

But on behalf of the 6,000 human workers at the site: Better the robots than them.

Six years ago, on March 11, 2011 a 9.0 magnitude earthquake 72 kilometers out to sea slammed a 39-meter tsunami into the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, causing a triple meltdown. In the days that followed, uranium fuel melted down in three of the six reactors. Explosions in three of the reactor buildings belched radioactive iodine, cesium and other fission by-products into the environment.

In the immediate aftermath, Japan shut down its 42 remaining nuclear reactors. Up to 160,000 people who lived within a 20-kilometer radius of the plant were forced to evacuate homes where they had lived for generations with their families in agricultural Fukushima.

Six years later, the lemming-like march of robots into the still chaotic cleanup of the plant has become a hopeful metaphor for technology accomplishing what is beyond humanity’s grasp, and their deaths are getting a lot of attention.

Tepco is still hewing to its vow of securing the plant by 2050 to 2060, and says that for the first time since the accident it has succeeded in reeling in the threat the wrecked plant poses to the surrounding area. A visual example of that, noted by reporters who took their annual tour of the plant, is that the thousands of workers on site can now work in ordinary work clothes and surgical masks rather than protective gear. And there are fewer workers to count. Where 8,000 were working at the site last year, 2000 fewer are needed now.

Damaged reactor buildings have been reinforced and 1,300 precariously perched spent fuel assemblies at reactor No. 4 that were a potential disaster all their own have been safely removed. The ground has also been covered with a special coating to prevent rainwater from added to Tepco’s water management struggles.

The company’s projection that it will finish the cleanup in the next four decades, however, is viewed skeptically by Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority, which recently told the Guardian newspaper that the effort was still groping in the dark. And many are suspicious that the Tepco’s optimism is just public relations to assure the international community ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Can you go home again?

Another looming nightmare for many thousands of people is the prospect of loosing government financial support if they don’t move back to villages and towns they evacuated, which many environmental groups say are still highly contaminated.

The evacuation orders enacted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government after the disaster will be stripped later this month, forcing the evacuees back to live in areas that where in the direct path of the disaster.

Abe’s government says it’s safe for people to return to areas where radiation is 20 millisieverts per year or lower. The globally-accepted limit for radiation absorption is 1 millisievert per year, though the IAEA says anything up to 20 millisieverts per year poses no immediate danger to humans. That has been disputed by numerous studies.

Water hazards

At the plant, contaminated water still poses one of the biggest threats to the wider environment. Nearly one million tons of it stored across 1,000 tanks that were collected after the reactors were blasted with seawater to cool them down. More water has poured in as technicians continue to circulate it through the destroyed reactors to keep them cool.

Leaks from these tanks have often contaminated groundwater, and Tepco has struggled to divert the radioactive deluge from spilling into the Pacific Ocean with an underground wall of frozen soil.

The wall looks a bit like the piping behind a refrigerator and sinks 30 meters into the ground. Over the last year, Tepco pumped water into it to begin the freezing process. But some reports say the wall is having less success in another of its tasks – holding back groundwater from leaking into the basements of reactor buildings, which creates yet more contaminated water.

At their six-year anniversary briefing to reporters, Tepco admitted it was conflicted over what to do with the sea it has amassed. The company says it will be able to cleanse much of the water of cesium, strontium and 50 other radionuclides. But they’re still stumped by how to get rid of tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, which is still in that water.

Tepco is studying two options. One is to simply dilute the water further and dump it into the sea, as tritium naturally occurs in water in microscopic quantities. They’re also considering evaporating all 960,000 tons of it to release the tritium into the atmosphere.

The company says the final decision will be subject to a public hearing process. Should dumping water into the sea – as has happened numerous times before – still be among the considerations, it would doubtless meet the fierce opposition of fishermen, who have struggled with contaminated seawater since the accident.

Robots’ maze hunt

But by far the most technically involved struggle is finding and removing the fuel that melted down in reactor Nos 1, 2 and 3. And for that, enter the robots, each of which has to be shaped to its task.

At reactor No. 2, where the robot crews have been doing most of their work, it’s not yet known if the fuel melted into or through the reactor vessel’s concrete floor. Determining where that fuel is, and how radioactive it is, dictates how the robots will be designed.

And that’s just for this reactor. At reactor Nos 1 and 3, robots will have to be further customized to handle the specifics of each location. With explorations underway at reactor No 2, Tepco says it expects more robots to march into the other reactors by this summer.

At that point, they say, they will set policy on how the melted fuel will be removed, a process that isn’t expect to begin until 2021.

Designing and building what Tepco refers to as “single function robots” takes as long as two years, and that’s only when you know what you are making the robots for.


One of the robots currently on the drawing board, for instance, would be able to leap over debris. Another that Hitachi is reportedly designing will resemble a snake so it can lower cameras through a grating in reactor No 1 to scope out and photograph melted down fuel there. That will be third Hitachi robot of that design.

Another robot designed by Toshiba, which was widely eulogized throughout the media, was designed to the anatomy of a scorpion. It died at the end of February just shy of a grating through which it might have got a peek of melted down fuel in reactor No 2.

Newer robot designs, according to a Tepco spokesman who talked with Bloomberg, are incorporating fewer wires and circuits and are built with harder parts than their earlier cousins.

But even the robots that peter out in the radiation are providing valuable clues: Toshiba’s scorpion robot sent the first grainy images from within reactor No 2 of a black residue that could actually be the spent fuel it was sent in to find.

Whether the fuel is in discrete piles or has melted to the walls of its containment vessels will present yet new challenges. Tepco and other scientists expect it’s a bit of both. Fuel that oozed and then re-melted inside the core or adhered to other reactor structures will have to be cut out, shoveled up and placed in shielded containers before it can be removed. This will be the robots’ job.

Earning the trust of a suspicious public

Six years of work is doing little to dent public suspicion of nuclear power in a country that previously relied on its 54 reactors to supply 30 percent of its power.

Tepco – which last year was shown to have delayed reporting the initial meltdowns after the catastrophe by 88 days, thus jeopardizing tens of thousands of lives – has a long way to got before it regains trust. Numerous other independent scientists are said by Japanese activists to be massaging data to make the situation look better than it is.

The mistrust is visible both in how slowly Japan is allowing its nuclear reactors go back online, and by the trickle of people who are willing to return to homes in the Fukushima Prefecture from which they were evacuated.

Japan’s reactors, all of which were shut down in the wake of the disaster, must pass the world’s most stringent stress tests before utilities can consider switching them back on. But even after they’re cleared technically, the people living near the plants have to want them back – and not many do.

As of this year, only three nuclear reactors have been switched on since 2011. Two others at the Genkai nuclear power plant on Japan’s Kyushu Island, were green lighted by a local mayor, but now must be approved by seven other surrounding municipalities.

In the most recently available national polls, taken last year on the fifth anniversary of the disaster, 70 percent of the population opposes the reactor restarts.

Among the more than 160,000 people reckoning with the dilemma of moving back to areas affected by radiation, 60 percent report feeling physical, psychological, financial and emotional stress as a result of the disaster, Japan’s NHK television reported. Up to 72,500 of these people still live in government supplied temporary housing.

In Naime, only 4 kilometers northwest of the plant, more than half of the resident have elected not to return, according to government surveys. Levels there recently hover around 0.07 microsieverts per hour, but down the road in Tomioka, they spike to 1.48 microsieverts an hour, more than 30 times levels in downtown Tokyo, showing there are still lingering radiation hotspots.

One group that is not afraid of populating the ghost-towns surrounding the plant are, according to reports, wild boar. The animals, which have grown up without humans around have reportedly grown fearless.

Tamotsu Baba, the mayor of Naime who is pushing for resettlement by the end of the month, told Reuters the boars pose make the town even less hospitable than the threat of radiation.

March 10, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , , | Leave a comment

Dying robots and failing hope: Fukushima clean-up falters six years after tsunami



Exploration work inside the nuclear plant’s failed reactors has barely begun, with the scale of the task described as ‘almost beyond comprehension’

Barely a fifth of the way into their mission, the engineers monitoring the Scorpion’s progress conceded defeat. With a remote-controlled snip of its cable, the latest robot sent into the bowels of one of Fukushima Daiichi’s damaged reactors was cut loose, its progress stalled by lumps of fuel that overheated when the nuclear plant suffered a triple meltdown six years ago this week.

As the 60cm-long Toshiba robot, equipped with a pair of cameras and sensors to gauge radiation levels was left to its fate last month, the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), attempted to play down the failure of yet another reconnaissance mission to determine the exact location and condition of the melted fuel.

Even though its mission had been aborted, the utility said, “valuable information was obtained which will help us determine the methods to eventually remove fuel debris”.

The Scorpion mishap, two hours into an exploration that was supposed to last 10 hours, underlined the scale and difficulty of decommissioning Fukushima Daiichi – an unprecedented undertaking one expert has described as “almost beyond comprehension”.

Cleaning up the plant, scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl after it was struck by a magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami on the afternoon of 11 March 2011, is expected to take 30 to 40 years, at a cost Japan’s trade and industry ministry recently estimated at 21.5tr yen ($189bn).

The figure, which includes compensating tens of thousands of evacuees, is nearly double an estimate released three years ago.

The tsunami killed almost 19,000 people, most of them in areas north of Fukushima, and forced 160,000 people living near the plant to flee their homes. Six years on, only a small number have returned to areas deemed safe by the authorities.

Developing robots capable of penetrating the most dangerous parts of Fukushima Daiichi’s reactors – and spending enough time there to obtain crucial data – is proving a near-impossible challenge for Tepco. The Scorpion – so called because of its camera-mounted folding tail – “died” after stalling along a rail beneath the reactor pressure vessel, its path blocked by lumps of fuel and other debris.

The device, along with other robots, may also have been damaged by an unseen enemy: radiation. Before it was abandoned, its dosimeter indicated that radiation levels inside the No 2 containment vessel were at 250 sieverts an hour. In an earlier probe using a remote-controlled camera, radiation at about the same spot was as high as 650 sieverts an hour – enough to kill a human within a minute.

Shunji Uchida, the Fukushima Daiichi plant manager, concedes that Tepco acquired “limited” knowledge about the state of the melted fuel. “So far we’ve only managed to take a peek, as the last experiment with the robot didn’t go well,” he tells the Guardian and other media on a recent visit to the plant. “But we’re not thinking of another approach at this moment.”

Robotic mishaps aside, exploration work in the two other reactors, where radiation levels are even higher than in reactor No 2, has barely begun. There are plans to send a tiny waterproof robot into reactor No 1 in the next few weeks, but no date has been set for the more seriously damaged reactor No 3.

Naohiro Masuda, the president of Fukushima Daiichi’s decommissioning arm, says he wants another probe sent in before deciding on how to remove the melted fuel.

Despite the setbacks, Tepco insists it will begin extracting the melted fuel in 2021 – a decade after the disaster – after consulting government officials this summer.

But Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist at Greenpeace Germany who is based in Japan, describes the challenge confronting the utility as “unprecedented and almost beyond comprehension”, adding that the decommissioning schedule was “never realistic or credible”.

The latest aborted exploration of reactor No 2 “only reinforces that reality”, Burnie says. “Without a technical solution for dealing with unit one or three, unit two was seen as less challenging. So much of what is communicated to the public and media is speculation and wishful thinking on the part of industry and government.

The current schedule for the removal of hundreds of tons of molten nuclear fuel, the location and condition of which they still have no real understanding, was based on the timetable of prime minister [Shinzo] Abe in Tokyo and the nuclear industry – not the reality on the ground and based on sound engineering and science.”

Even Shunichi Tanaka, the chairman of Japan’s nuclear regulation authority, does not appear to share Tepco’s optimism that it will stick to its decommissioning roadmap. “It is still early to talk in such an optimistic way,” he says. “At the moment, we are still feeling around in the dark.”

The situation is not under control’

On the surface, much has changed since the Guardian’s first visit to Fukushima Daiichi five years ago.

Then, the site was still strewn with tsunami wreckage. Hoses, pipes and building materials covered the ground, as thousands of workers braved high radiation levels to bring a semblance of order to the scene of a nuclear disaster.

Six years later, damaged reactor buildings have been reinforced, and more than 1,300 spent fuel assemblies have been safely removed from a storage pool in reactor No 4. The ground has been covered with a special coating to prevent rainwater from adding to Tepco’s water-management woes.

Workers who once had to change into protective gear before they approached Fukushima Daiichi now wear light clothing and simple surgical masks in most areas of the plant. The 6,000 workers, including thousands of contract staff, can now eat hot meals and take breaks at a “rest house” that opened in 2015.

But further up the hill from the coastline, row upon row of steel tanks are a reminder of the decommissioning effort’s other great nemesis: contaminated water. The tanks now hold about 900,000 tons of water, with the quantity soon expected to reach 1m tons.

Tepco’s once-vaunted underground ice wall, built at a cost of 24.5bn yen, has so far failed to completely prevent groundwater from leaking into the reactor basements and mixing with radioactive coolant water.

The structure, which freezes the soil to a depth of 30 metres, is still allowing 150 tonnes of groundwater to seep into the reactor basements every day, said Yuichi Okamura, a Tepco spokesman. Five sections have been kept open deliberately to prevent water inside the reactor basements from rising and flowing out more rapidly. “We have to close the wall gradually,” Okamura said. “By April we want to keep the influx of groundwater to about 100 tonnes a day, and to eliminate all contaminated water on the site by 2020.”

Critics of the clean-up note that 2020 is the year Tokyo is due to host the Olympics, having been awarded the Games after Abe assured the International Olympic Committee that Fukushima was “under control”.

Mitsuhiko Tanaka, a former Babcock-Hitachi nuclear engineer, accuses Abe and other government officials of playing down the severity of the decommissioning challenge in an attempt to win public support for the restart of nuclear reactors across the country.

Abe said Fukushima was under control when he went overseas to promote the Tokyo Olympics, but he never said anything like that in Japan,” says Tanaka. “Anyone here could see that the situation was not under control.

If people of Abe’s stature repeat something often enough, it becomes accepted as the truth.”

March 10, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima laden with piles of radioactive soil that can’t be moved into storage


Masaaki Sakai faces his home, which remains standing in the Fukushima Prefecture village of Iitate, on Feb. 15, 2017. In some spots the level of radiation exceeds 1 microsievert per hour, and Sakai has decided to have the structure demolished. (Mainichi)

FUKUSHIMA — As decontamination planned in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster nears an end this fiscal year, focus is shifting to the massive amount of radioactively tainted soil that has piled up during decontamination work. But the construction of interim storage facilities that are supposed to hold this waste within Fukushima Prefecture for up to 30 years before it is finally disposed of has been delayed.

As of the end of February, only about 20 percent of the 16,000 hectares earmarked for interim storage has been acquired through land contracts. It thus appears inevitable that provisional and onsite storage that was only supposed to last for three years will drag on for a long time. The situation casts doubt on the prospects of finding a final resting place for the waste outside Fukushima Prefecture within 30 years.

Six years after the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, the Fukushima Prefecture village of Iitate remains completely evacuated. With the exception of a so-called “difficult to return zone” in the south of the village, the central government plans to lift the evacuation order upon completion of decontamination work at the end of March.

Masaaki Sakai, 39, who now resides in the city of Fukushima, has a home in the Komiya district of Iitate, right next to the village’s “difficult to return” zone. A dosimeter during a recent visit showed the area around the 60-year-old, snow-covered farmhouse stood at more than 1 microsievert per hour. The level equates to more than 5 millisieverts per year — five times the 1 millisievert exposure limit for a regular person.

Sakai points out that level of radiation is sometimes higher. “Today the level is low because there is snow,” he says. In the near future he plans to have his home pulled down, as the deadline for applying for the government to cover the cost of doing so is approaching.

“Even if I want to return to Iitate, if they say, ‘Decide now’ then the only thing I can do is decide not to return,” he murmurs.

One of the reasons behind Sakai’s decision not to return is the radioactively contaminated soil that remains in the village. Walking around the village, one can see mounds with green covers over them, concealing flexible containers that hold contaminated soil. According to the Ministry of the Environment, the amount of tainted soil stored temporarily like this, as of the end of January, totals roughly 2.4 million cubic meters for the village of Iitate alone, or enough to fill the Tokyo Dome baseball stadium twice.

So far, however, only about 6,000 cubic meters of soil have been transported to interim storage facilities, while the amount due to be transported next fiscal year stands at about 22,000 cubic meters. At this pace, under a simple calculation, it would take over 100 years to transport all of the waste to interim storage facilities.

“There’s no way I’m going to live surrounded by mountains of contaminated soil,” Sakai says.

Makeshift storage of radioactive soil in areas that have not been evacuated also looks likely to be prolonged. In areas that aren’t under evacuation orders, it is the local municipalities, not the government, that handle the decontamination work. In five municipalities including the cities of Fukushima and Koriyama, the contaminated soil left after decontamination work is mostly buried onsite.

Six years have passed since the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and in many cases people have asked for the waste to be removed so they can extend or rebuild their homes or resume farming activities, but the delay in building interim storage facilities means the only solution for the time being is to change the spot where the waste is buried.

It costs several hundred thousand yen to rebury waste in a single case, but until now the Ministry of the Environment has not allowed funds to be used for the reburying of such waste, on the premise that it is supposed to be stored for only a short period of time. Local bodies have still billed the central government by quietly tacking on the cost to the fee for other decontamination work, but this will become more difficult to do next fiscal year when decontamination work is completed.

In January, the Ministry of the Environment adopted a new policy of granting funds for the reburying of waste if the original location hindered the construction of a new home. An official at one local body commented that the move was a relief, but there are outstanding issues. As a rule, the government collectively bills Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), operator of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, for the cost of decontamination work, but it is unclear whether TEPCO has to pay for the reburial of tainted soil.

Separately, decontamination work has also been carried out in prefectures besides Fukushima — extending to 57 municipalities in seven prefectures, including Tochigi and Miyagi. The amount of contaminated soil in these cases stands at about 320,000 cubic meters. In about 95 percent of cases, the soil is stored onsite. But since interim storage facilities are designed for contaminated soil from Fukushima Prefecture alone, it has not even been decided what should be done with this waste.

March 10, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , | 1 Comment

Tepco’s biggest hurdle: How to remove melted fuel from crippled Fukushima reactors


Tepco’s scorpion-shaped robot. | IRID

Six years after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, recent investigations underneath the damaged reactor 2 using cameras and robots came close to identifying melted fuel rods for the first time.

Experts say getting a peek inside the containment vessel of reactor 2 was an accomplishment. But it also highlighted how tough it will be to further pinpoint the exact location of the melted fuel, let alone remove it some time in the future.

The biggest hurdle is the extremely lethal levels of radiation inside the containment vessel that not only prevent humans from getting near but have also crippled robots and other mechanical devices.

Safely removing the melted fuel would be a best-case scenario but the risks and costs should be weighed against the option of leaving the melted fuel in the crippled reactors, some experts said.

The work to probe inside the containment vessels and remove the fuel debris will be extremely tough because of the high radiation levels,” said Hiroshi Miyano, who heads a panel of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, which is discussing ways to decommission the Fukushima plant and making recommendations to the government.

The government and Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. are trying to find a way to remedy the situation but existing methods and technologies may not be sufficient, Miyano said.

In search of melted fuel

The world’s attention turned to the melted fuel rods in late January when Tepco inserted a 10-meter-plus tube equipped with a camera into the containment vessel of reactor 2 to capture images under the pressure vessel that housed the fuel rods.

The images showed black lumps scattered beneath the pressure vessel.

When the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake and monstrous tsunami hit, the plant suffered a blackout and lost its key cooling system, triggering meltdowns in reactors 1, 2 and 3. The melted nuclear fuel rods penetrated the pressure vessels and fell into the containment vessels.

Tepco had put cameras inside the containment vessels several times in the past six years but January’s probe was the first to apparently find melted fuel debris.

We understand that this is a big milestone. We could finally get to see what it was like underneath the pressure vessel,” said Yuichi Okamura, general manager of Tepco’s nuclear power and plant siting division.

This is critical information in order to remove the fuel debris.”

Radiation barrier

But Tepco hasn’t confirmed that the black lumps are melted fuel, saying they could be paint or cable wrappings, and further investigation is needed.

Capturing the images may be progress but the robot and camera forays have not provided enough information about how to deal with the melted fuel.

Last month, Tepco sent a remote-controlled, scorpion-shaped robot in to further probe inside the reactor 2 containment vessel. But the robot failed before it reached under the pressure vessel after a tire became stuck.

The robot’s dosimeter measured radiation levels of 210 sieverts per hour — enough to kill humans instantly.

While 210 sieverts per hour indicate the melted fuel was nearby, the radiation crippled the robot’s electronics, including its semiconductors and cameras, indicating that the further use of robots to pinpoint the melted fuel will be difficult, robotics experts said.

There are computer chips “designed to withstand a certain level of radiation, but the level inside the containment vessel is totally different,” said Satoshi Tadokoro, a professor at Tohoku University who is an expert on disasters and rescue robots.

The radiation can damage a robot’s chips that serve as their brains, causing the devices to lose control, said Tadokoro, whose robots have also been used at the Fukushima plant.

On top of the high level of radiation, the entrance (to the containment vessel) for the robot is very small,” restricting what types of robots can be used to hunt for the melted fuel, he said.

Tepco said the opening it created on the side of the reactor 2 containment vessel is about 11 cm in diameter.

Fuel removal strategy

Tepco is set to conduct internal probes of the reactor 1 containment vessel this month and is preparing similar missions for reactor 3.

The government and utility then plan to adopt a basic fuel removal strategy this summer and fine-tune the plan next year, with the actual fuel removal taking place in or after 2021.

There are essentially three options for the strategy, according to the Tokyo-based International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning (IRID), which is developing technologies for the Fukushima plant decommission.

One option is to flood the containment vessels with water and use a crane above the reactors to hoist up the melted fuel. The second option is to carry out the same process but without water. The third is to install removal equipment through the side of the containment vessel.

There are merits and drawbacks to each option, said Shoji Yamamoto, who heads the team developing technologies to create the fuel removal devices at IRID.

The flooding option can block radiation using water, but if the fuel melts into the water, it could pose a risk of recriticality. The debris may need to be cut into pieces for removal, but this process would enable water to get between multiple pieces, creating the condition for recriticality. For nuclear chain reactions to happen there needs to be a certain distance between nuclear fuel and water.

If there is no water, the recriticality risk is minimal but the massive radiation levels cannot be blocked, Yamamoto said.

Tepco’s Okamura said being able to block radiation with water is a huge plus, but noted the reactor 2 containment vessel had cracks and holes that could let injected coolant water escape.

With the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the U.S., the flooding option was used to retrieve the melted fuel in the 1980s. But the key difference was that all of the melted fuel stayed inside the pressure vessel, so it was easier to flood the reactor.

Because the melted fuel in reactors 1, 2 and 3 at the Fukushima plant all penetrated the pressure vessels and fell into the containment vessels, extracting it from the top or the side was a tough call, Yamamoto said, noting it was important to know the exact location of the melted fuel.

The distance between the top of the pressure vessel and the bottom of the containment vessel is about 45 meters and some parts inside the pressure vessels will need to be removed if Tepco tries to remove the debris inside the containment vessels from the top.

If we know that the melted fuel is concentrated in the containment vessels, it will be more efficient to remove it from the side” because the entry point is closer, Yamamoto said.

Whatever option is decided, Yamamoto stressed that maintaining the fuel removal device will be difficult because the radiation will probably cripple it.

The fuel removal device will be controlled remotely … it will be broken somewhere down the line and the parts will have to be replaced, considering its (ability to withstand) radiation,” he said.

Given that, maintenance will have to be done remotely, too, and that will be a big challenge.”

To remove or not

Another option altogether is for Tepco to leave the melted fuel where it is.

During a media tour of the Fukushima No. 1 plant last month, Okamura of Tepco said the utility intended to collect the melted fuel because leaving it was “not an appropriate way” to manage nuclear fuel.

Miyano of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan said the debris must be removed because radioactive materials, including nuclear fuel, must be strictly controlled under international rules requiring strict monitoring.

Domestic nuclear power plant operators have to report the amount of nuclear fuel they have to the Nuclear Regulation Authority, which then reports to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

There is the question of whether the government and Tepco decide not to remove the fuel debris. That would be an international issue,” said Miyano, adding that a consensus from the international community would be needed.

At the same time, Miyano said debate and analysis will be required to decide which choice would be best by looking at various factors, including how much it will cost to pick up all the melted fuel and where to store it.

March 10, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , | Leave a comment

Only 20% of planned waste site secured



Six years after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the government has secured only 20 percent of the site planned for intermediate facilities to store contaminated waste, such as soil.

The environment ministry plans to build the facilities at a 16-square-kilometer site surrounding the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Futaba and Okuma towns.

The site will store radioactive waste produced from the cleanup of nuclear contamination in Fukushima for about 30 years.

The facilities started going up in November of last year. The ministry says it plans to start their operation in the autumn of this year.

But as of the end of February, it has secured 3.36 square kilometers, or 21 percent, of the needed land.

Six years on, decontamination-related waste is still kept at about 1,100 temporary storage sites. Also individuals are keeping some waste in about 146,000 gardens and other sites.

Environmental experts urge the ministry to accelerate land negotiations to improve the situation.

March 10, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , | Leave a comment

Nearly 50% of Fukushima evacuees felt harassed, the children bullied



Nearly 50% of Fukushima evacuees felt harassed

A survey has found that nearly half of the former residents of Fukushima who were forced to evacuate their homes following the 2011 nuclear disaster experienced harassment of some sort.

NHK joined hands with Waseda University and others to survey households from four municipalities in the prefecture near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Of some 741 people who responded, 334 said that they have felt harassed or suffered emotional distress.

In the multiple-choice survey, 274 cited harassment linked to compensation they were entitled to.

In 197 cases, victims felt stressed by those who noted their evacuee status. Another 127 replies were related to the nuclear fallout.

One family was barred from a community event on the grounds they were evacuees. The car of another family was vandalized. Another victim was told he or she didn’t need a wage hike or new qualifications as the family had received compensation.

The survey showed that evacuees from Fukushima were harassed as much as their children due to prejudice and other factors.

A father, whose two children were subject to bullying after fleeing from Fukushima, said he, too, was told he wouldn’t need to work because if he complained to the operator of the plant, he will receive money. He told NHK he no longer tells anyone they are from Fukushima.

Waseda University professor Takuya Tsujiuchi says people have forgotten that compensation is provided to people whose hometowns were rendered uninhabitable in the disaster.

He noted the need for society to realize that victims of the nuclear disaster continue to be penalized.

Evacuated Fukushima children victims of bullying

An NHK survey of former residents of Fukushima who fled the 2011 nuclear disaster has found that dozens of children were bullied at their new schools.

NHK joined hands with Waseda University and others to survey more than 9,500 households from the four municipalities in the prefecture near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

741 families from the towns of Okuma, Futaba, and Tomioka, as well as Minamisoma City, responded to the questionnaire ahead of the sixth anniversary of the disaster on March 11.

54 replied that their children were bullied at schools and other places because they had evacuated on account of the nuclear disaster. Three were kindergarteners, and 28 were in elementary school. 21 others were either in junior high or senior high school.

In the multiple-choice survey, 32 replied they were verbally harassed. 22 were ostracized, 13 experienced violence, and 5 were told to pay money.

Many of the acts of harassment were linked to the compensation the children’s families received.

In some of the acts of violence, one child was pressed to jump from the fourth floor of a building. Another was threatened with a knife and was told that he or she has no right to live.

As a result, more than 60 percent of the children stopped disclosing they came from Fukushima.

Fukushima University specially appointed Professor Tamaki Honda, who has been advising evacuees, noted that the children are facing more hardship as time goes by. She called for the creation of a system that will watch over the children, who have lost a sense of community after fleeing their hometowns.

March 10, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , | Leave a comment

After Fukushima disaster, Japanese mothers don lab coats to measure radiation


IWAKI, Japan, March 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – At a laboratory an hour’s drive from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, a woman with a white mask over her mouth presses bright red strawberries into a pot, ready to be measured for radiation contamination.

Six years after a massive earthquake off the coast of Japan triggered meltdowns at three of Fukushima’s reactors, local mothers with no scientific background staff a laboratory that keeps track of radiation levels in food, water and soil.

As some women divide the samples between different bowls and handmade paper containers, others are logging onto computers to keep an eye on data – findings that will be published for the public to access.

The women on duty, wearing pastel-coloured overalls, are paid a small salary to come in for a few hours each day, leaving them free to care for their children after school.

“In universities, data is handled by qualified students, who have taken exams qualifying them to measure radiation. Here, it’s done by mothers working part-time. It’s a crazy situation,” laughed Kaori Suzuki, director of Tarachine, the non-profit organisation that houses the mothers’ radiation lab.

“If a university professor saw this I think they would be completely shocked by what they see.”

Tarachine was set up 60 km (40 miles) down the coast from the Fukushima plant, in the city of Iwaki. After the magnitude 9 quake struck on March 11, 2011, triggering a tsunami, authorities declared a no-go zone around the plant.

Iwaki lay outside its 30 km radius, with lower radiation levels compared to the rest of Fukushima prefecture.

But with public announcements advising locals to stay indoors in the aftermath of the worst nuclear calamity since Chernobyl, the “invisible enemy” of radiation has continued to worry the mothers working at the lab.


“As ordinary citizens we had no knowledge about radiation at all. All we knew was that it is frightening,” said Suzuki.

“We can’t see, smell or feel radiation levels. Given this invisibility, it was extremely difficult for us. How do we fight it? The only way is to measure it.”

To supplement readings by the Japanese government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) that manages the nuclear plant, Tarachine publishes its own findings every month.

With donations from the public that helped them buy equipment designed to measure food contamination, the mothers measure radioactive isotopes caesium 134 and 137, and collect data on gamma radiation, strontium 90 and tritium, all of which were released during the Fukushima disaster.

Strontium-90 gravitates toward the bones when absorbed by breathing it, drinking it in water, or eating it in food. It can remain for years, potentially causing bone cancer or leukaemia.

Tritium goes directly into the soft tissues and organs of the human body. Although it is less harmful to humans who are exposed to small amounts of tritium every day, it could still be a hazard for children, scientists say.

The mothers say other parents trust the lab’s radioactivity readings in local food more than those from the government.

“This issue is part of everyday life for these mothers, so they have the capability to spot certain trends and various problems rather than just accumulating expert knowledge,” said Suzuki.

To handle potentially dangerous materials, the mothers have to study for exams related to radiation and organic chemistry.

“At the beginning I was just completely clueless. It gave me so much of a headache, it was a completely different world to me!” said Fumiko Funemoto, a mother of two, who measures strontium 90 at the lab.

“But you start to get the hang of it as you’re in this environment every day.”

As the lab only accepts items for testing from outside the exclusion zone, most results show comparatively low radiation levels.

But Suzuki says this is an important process and is especially reassuring to the parents of young children. The women also measure radiation levels in sand from the beach, which has been out of bounds to their children.

“If the base is zero becquerels (unit of radiation), and there is, say, 15 or 16 becquerels of caesium, that’s still higher than zero. That means there is slightly more risk,” Suzuki said.

“There are also times when you’re like, ‘Oh, I thought levels were going to be high there – but it’s actually ok’. The importance lies in knowing what’s accurate, whether it’s high or low … unless you know the levels, you can’t implement the appropriate measures.”


Since official screenings began following the nuclear accident, 174 children in Fukushima prefecture have been diagnosed with – or are suspected of having – thyroid cancer, according to figures from Fukushima’s local government.

Despite the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)reporting in 2015 that an increase in thyroid cancer is unlikely, the mothers insist there is value in their work.

The first pictures from inside the nuclear plant were released by TEPCO in January, announcing it may have found nuclear fuel debris below the damaged No. 2 reactor – one of three affected by the 2011 disaster.

“In general, the issue of nuclear power is not really talked about much these days. It was talked about after the accident for about a year or so, but today, conversations mentioning words like ‘radiation’ don’t happen anymore,” Funemoto said.

“But I think the reality is different. The radiation isn’t going to go away. That’s why I’m doing this. So many places are still damaged. This idea that it’s safe and that we shouldn’t be anxious doesn’t really add up.”

Ai Kimura, another mother agrees. “My parents think I’m a bit paranoid. They keep saying, ‘it’s okay isn’t it?” she said.

“But what if there’s a chance that in 10 or 20 years time, my own child gets thyroid cancer? And I could have done my bit to minimise the risks. My children are mine and I want to do whatever I can to protect them.”

March 10, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , | 5 Comments

The Fukushima disaster will never go away

Surendra’s chilling update on the continuous radiation poisoning of the entire globe.

In approaching the sixth anniversary of the March 11, 2011 Fukushima catastrophe, February saw a bevy of updates appearing on the internet. As well as including a few general, timeless messages in this article, I have tried to highlight the implications of the latest news.

The flow of false information, from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and Japanese central and prefectural governments, about the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power complex, continues unabated. It aptly matches the flow of local groundwater as it gathers radioactive contamination on its journey from the mountains, via the Dai-ichi reactors, to the Pacific Ocean. Yes, the Pacific is still being contaminated on a daily basis while the prefectural government has surprisingly managed to kick-start the local fishing industry. Yet we should not fix our gaze on Japan as the only culprit in the cover-up.

The whole world is participating in the downplay of this disaster and the dangers of nuclear power in general. The multinational conglomerates involved in the nuclear industry are desperate to survive and world banks are already heavily invested in them. Inseparable from the financial situation is the rapid expansion of nuclear weapons production. Fuelled by the infantile ambitions of politicians for military power, this is a deadly version of the toddler’s, ‘I want to be bigger than you’, syndrome. We have to remember that without nuclear reactors there can be no nuclear weapons.


Storage tanks for contaminated cooling water, Fukushima Dai-ichi.

The problem with identifying damage caused by nuclear pollution is that it is odorless and colourless. Low doses take time, two to ninety years, to wreak havoc on living organisms and leave no obvious trace of their source. Doctors and scientists are now prohibited in Japan from linking sickness to radiation. In the few official studies being conducted, data is already being distorted to minimise the impact. Contaminated construction materials and produce from Fukushima are being distributed as widely as possible throughout the Japanese archipelago. Given these facts, it is difficult to assess the impact of the Fukushima Dai-ichi meltdowns on the health of the Japanese population. We can just be certain that there is a negative one and it is ongoing.

Instead, we do have some other facts and hypotheses to consider. Organised largely by the Japanese mafia, or yakusa, roughly 6,000 workers are employed every day in maintaining safety and rudimentary clean-up at Fukushima Dai-ichi. Half of these personnel are either involved in spraying cooling water over the damaged plants to prevent them from over-heating, or collecting as much of the contaminated run-off as possible. In addition to pollution from groundwater, some of this cooling water inevitably ends up in the Pacific. The cooling water that does get collected continues to be stored in a burgeoning mass of huge, makeshift tanks that leak from time to time.

Little mention has been given of another hazard – the spent fuel rods removed from the reactors before the disaster. Apparently, some of these are still lying in open pools without much radiological protection and present additional dangers. Costly and treacherous, this has been the state of affairs for more than five years, in the face of false assurances from officials that everything is under control. Very recent data, however, is mind-blowing.

There are four defunct reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi site. So far, the highly dangerous nuclear fuel has been removed from Reactor 4. As for Reactors 1, 2 and 3, nobody knows where their fuel is because their cores melted. It is assumed that the incendiary radioactive fuel burrowed through the bases of the concrete containment vessels into the soil below. Here it comes into contact with the groundwater and contaminates the local water table delivering radiation into surrounding rivers and the Pacific.


Irid Toshiba robot.

Japan is a world leader in robotics. Small robots, about the length of one or two school rulers, fitted with cameras and Geiger counters have been sent towards the heart of the damaged reactors to search for information on the whereabouts of the melted cores. They have all dropped dead before completing their missions as the levels of radiation were too intense even for machines. The last attempt in February did, however, retrieve information leading to an estimated radiation level of 650 sieverts per hour as it got closer to the centre of Reactor 2. It could be as much as 1,000 sieverts per hour at the centre itself. These levels would kill a human being, with or without protective clothing, within minutes.

The purpose of these robotic surveys was to help plan for decommissioning. While TEPCO prepares for its next foray, the true consequence of these astronomical figures has not been clearly broadcast. The fact is that unless unimaginable technical advances are made in protection from radiation, decommissioning can never happen in the foreseeable future. Neither humans nor machines will be able to get anywhere near the lethal centres of Reactors 1, 2 and 3 to even begin the process. Even if it were feasible, the estimated cost of decommissioning continues to grow and is currently half a trillion dollars. That is a lot of zeros: $500,000,000,000.

As Dr Helen Caldicott puts it in The Fukushima meltdown continues unabated, Independent Australia, February 13, 2017: “Bottom line, these reactors will never be cleaned up nor decommissioned because such a task is not humanly possible. Hence, they will continue to pour water into the Pacific for the rest of time and threaten Japan and the northern hemisphere with massive releases of radiation should there be another large earthquake.”

So, we are left with the likes of three undetonated atomic bombs sitting, or continuing to burrow, somewhere under the Fukushima Dai-ichi site, 300 kilometres from central Tokyo.  Another earthquake in the vicinity could cause underground explosions and spew fresh plumes of radiation high into the atmosphere, as occurred in March 2011. It would also cause a fresh wave of additional contamination to the local area. In spite of this possibility, former evacuees are now being coerced into returning to their homes by the likely termination of displacement subsidies, of around $10,000 per year per person, by 2018. Although officials proclaim it is now safe for former residents to return to most areas, only ten per cent have volunteered to do so. In some designated ‘safe’ areas radiation levels are said to be the equivalent of having one chest x-ray every week for the rest of their lives.

In the danger zone, about fifteen centimetres of contaminated topsoil has been removed but only from around homes and the roadsides. The collected, contaminated soil sits in local fields in collections of large, black, plastic bags which are neither safe nor sightly and are yet to be disposed of. The rest of the land, including fields and forests, remains untouched. According to Greenpeace, in these untreated areas, radiation levels match those within the still uninhabited Chernobyl exclusion zone. Were former residents to return, not only would their movement be restricted to narrow strips, weathering is leeching contamination from the uncleaned parts back onto clean ground.


Contaminated topsoil gathers in plastic bags at many sites in Fukushima prefecture.

Even the original evacuation programme has been called fraudulent by some. Most of the paperwork detailing the process has mysteriously disappeared but it is known that there were serious mistakes. For instance, some evacuees were moved to rest centres more dangerous than their own homes because organisers had failed to pay attention to the direction of prevailing winds. This, in spite of warnings from international teams monitoring the situation from outside Japan.

TEPCO is already reneging on approved compensation payments to disrupted local businesses and the government refuses to intervene. Instead, the central and local governments are busy ‘normalising’ the effects of the disaster. Local officials have even been accused of exposing children to health risks for propaganda purposes by encouraging sporting events for them in polluted areas. Getting Fukushima food production and prices back to their former glory with national and international acceptance of contaminated produce is also a major priority. The Tokyo Olympics is coming soon, in 2020. Athletes will be offered training facilities in Fukushima and its produce will be fed to crowds of participants and visitors to the games.

More than fifty nuclear plants remain shut down in Japan. On average, one power station employs 700 people. None of these employees have been suspended. Wages are still being paid in full and probably cost around a billion dollars per year in total with nothing to show for it, as no power is being generated. The banks funding these payouts with loans are eager to see returns on their investments. This is another source of pressure on the government, in addition to the utility companies themselves, led by TEPCO, to see the closed power stations up and running again. Public suspicions still run high and the normalisation of the Fukushima disaster is hoped to allay their persistent fears.

From Hanford to Sellafield and beyond, the nuclear industry has never bothered to clean up its own mess. The recent, costly containment of the crumbling sarcophagus at Chernobyl was paid for by contributions from many nations and organisations, not by the, now non-existent, original power utility. Sellafield nuclear waste disposal site in Cumbria, UK, since the nineteen fifties, has been home to several ageing, ‘temporary’, cooling ponds whose contents are not entirely known, even to the managers at the site. France generates around three quarters of its electricity from nuclear power but despite decades of activity it is no nearer a solution for the accumulating waste.

The horrendous waste produced by all nuclear plants has yet to be stored safely anywhere in the world. Deep underground storage is proposed for hundreds of thousands of years but no country has ever built it yet. When the cost of producing electricity from nuclear power is compared with generation by renewables, the figures are usually made to come out slightly in favour of nuclear production but this is misleading. If we factor in waste disposal, let alone accident damage, then nuclear power is financially inconceivable. (See: Mark Brierly, The cost of decommissioning a nuclear power station. Conveniently ignored. New Statesman, 9 September 2013)


Cooling pond at Sellafield

Finally, the United Nations is beginning a debate this March on making all nuclear weapons illegal. Although long overdue, as these weapons have been around for more than seventy years, the start of discussions could be a nod in the right direction. Apparently, as has been the case with landmines, even banks can get jittery about investing in ventures once they are designated illegal.

As of this year, more than three hundred new nuclear reactors have been proposed and over sixty are currently under construction in fifteen different countries. However, costs continue to soar as the prices of materials and technology inflate and increasingly stringent safety standards add to the bills. In June 2016 Toshiba, having merged with the American giant, Westinghouse, announced its goal to win orders for forty-five, or more, nuclear reactors overseas by 2030. Earlier this year, just seven months later, the company declared it would not take any new construction orders for nuclear reactors. It would focus instead on maintenance and decommissioning operations. Toshiba incurred severe losses through its takeover of Westinghouse. To compensate, it has already had to sell its medical equipment leasing unit to Canon and put its lucrative memory chip business up for bids. Although the Fukushima disaster will never go away, in the end, the death of the nuclear industry might be all about money and lack of investment.

The sooner the government and industry realize there is no future for nuclear power either domestically or in exports, the sooner they can concentrate on the energy technology of the future — renewables.”

Shaun Burnie, Greenpeace, quoted by Eric Johnston, Toshiba’s woes weigh heavily on government’s ambition to sell Japan’s nuclear technology. The Japan Times, February 15, 2017

March 10, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , | Leave a comment

Over 123,000 evacuees 6 years after disaster

9 mars 2017


It’s been almost 6 years since the major earthquake and massive tsunami hit northeastern Japan.

The disaster on March 11th, 2011, left more than 18,000 people dead or missing.

According to the Reconstruction Agency, more than 123,000 people are still evacuees, many of them in temporary housing as of mid-February. The number is down about 30 percent from a year ago, but many continue to live with inconvenience and discomfort.

After the 1995 earthquake that killed more than 6,400 people in and around Kobe, western Japan, all evacuees left temporary housing within 5 years.

In the hardest-hit prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, more than 35,000 people still live in prefabricated temporary houses. A factor behind the situation is a delay in building public housing and work to elevate residential land.

In Fukushima Prefecture, no-entry zones remain around the damaged nuclear plant, with radiation levels higher than the safety standard and no clear idea about when residents can return.

The government recognized the deaths of more than 3,500 people as related to stress and fatigue caused by living as evacuees. Ninety-six percent of the deaths occurred within 3 years after the disaster, but the unprecedentedly prolonged evacuation is seriously affecting evacuees’ health.

March 10, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , | Leave a comment

Reasons for Japan to dump nuclear power more obvious now than ever

It has been nearly six years since the triple-meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. Two things seem symbolic of this time: the simultaneous lifting of evacuation orders for the Fukushima Prefecture village of Iitate and other nearby communities, and the recent glimpse of what appears to be melted nuclear fuel in the plant’s No. 2 reactor.

One is significant for all those residents who had no idea when they would be able to return to their hometowns, and the other for how much we understand of what is going on inside the stricken Fukushima No. 1 plant reactors, which until recently had been very nearly nothing. Considering how things were going before, these developments can be considered a step in the right direction.

However, if we take a cold, hard look at the situation, there are facts that must be seen as equally representative of the current reality: that the disaster has stolen so much from so many, and that real recovery will be a decades-long struggle with reconstruction and plant decommissioning.

Any visitor to the Fukushima plant will get a keen sense of how demanding the work is to dismantle its ruined reactors. The area where full face masks are required has been significantly reduced, and working conditions have certainly been improved. However, there is still no target for removing the melted nuclear fuel from the reactors — the greatest challenge to decommissioning — and no prospect for setting one.

Last month, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) inserted a “scorpion” robot into the No. 2 reactor containment vessel, and tried to steer it to a spot right under the core. However, its path was blocked by piles of dark material, and in the end the robot was unable to determine the state of the reactor’s nuclear fuel.

There are more than 800 workers at the Fukushima plant. Some have been exposed to excessive radiation due to unexpected tasks. They are barred from working inside the reactor buildings, where radiation is extremely high, and absorb higher doses just by getting near them.

Nevertheless, the state of the nuclear fuel in each reactor must be ascertained, and a plan must be devised to remove it.

The No. 1 and 3 reactors are thought to be in worse shape than the No. 2 reactor. The government and TEPCO are aiming to extract the fuel from all the reactors starting in 2021, but that is wildly optimistic. A drastic rethink of the entire decommissioning strategy and schedule — including the development of the robots that will take on much of the work — is likely needed.

The burdens placed on Japanese society by the nuclear disaster include the swelling financial cost of dealing with its aftermath.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry says that reactor decommissioning, victim compensation, decontamination and other nuclear disaster-related costs will hit 21.5 trillion yen — twice the initial estimate. However, even this figure does not include the cost of disposing of the melted nuclear fuel among other expenses, and is thus certain to rise.

We also cannot overlook the creation of a new system to charge third-party power suppliers to cover part of the compensation costs — a charge the power supply companies will pass on to their customers, thus effectively making a wide swath of Japanese society pay for TEPCO’s compensation liabilities. There are also apparently plans to implement a similar system to cover the decommissioning costs for Japan’s aged reactors.

It has been less than a year since the power supply market was opened to competition. Making not just the big utilities but also the new third-party electricity suppliers with no connection whatsoever to the nuclear power business pay for reactor decommissioning is a blow to the very heart of electricity market liberalization. The government’s insistence that “nuclear power is comparatively cheap even including accident countermeasure costs” no longer holds water.

If the government is to demand the Japanese people take on this financial burden, it must admit that the “cheap nuclear power” line doesn’t match the facts, and reroute Japan’s power generation plan to a nuclear-free future.

Looking at the harsh realities of dealing with the Fukushima nuclear disaster, we cannot consent to the ongoing string of reactor restarts. Utilities have applied to the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) to restart 26 reactors at 16 plants under standards drawn up in the wake of the March 2011 Fukushima meltdowns. Just three reactors have been put back on line so far, but 12 more at six plants have or are expected to pass NRA inspections. Among them are three reactors that have been in operation for 40-plus years.

A majority of Japanese citizens are opposed to the restarts, conflicting with the government’s evident enthusiasm for getting reactors back on line despite its stated goal of reducing dependence on nuclear power.

Over the past six years, we have learned that Japan would not run short of electricity if it abandoned nuclear power. A more deeply rooted argument in favour of nuclear generation is that it is needed to combat global warming.

Certainly, replacing nuclear plants with fossil fuel-driven power generation would increase carbon dioxide emissions. It is impossible to ignore the negative effect this would have on global warming.

However, Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions have in fact begun to dip slightly even as reactor restarts remain stalled. According to the Environment Ministry, fiscal 2015 greenhouse gas emissions were down 5.2 percent from fiscal 2005 levels, and 6 percent down from 2013 levels.

Japan is obliged by international treaty to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 3.8 percent from 2005 levels by fiscal 2020. The country has already met that commitment even without nuclear power. Nevertheless, for Japan to strive for even greater reductions that it promised under the Paris Agreement, it must yet expand energy saving measures and renewable power generation.

Global investment in energy is shifting in force to renewables. According to the International Energy Agency (IAE), of the $420 billion U.S. invested in power generation in 2015, some $290 billion was put into renewables.

The prices of solar panels and wind turbines are falling fast, and offer a cheaper alternative to traditional thermal generation in an increasing number of cases.

The nuclear business is in decline in the developed world, as is evidenced by the deep troubles of Japan’s Toshiba Corp. and France’s Areva SA. At the same time, the renewable energy industry is growing by leaps and bounds.

If Japan shuts its eyes to this reality and continues to pour more of its resources into keeping nuclear power going than into renewable energy, it will likely be left behind by the rest of the world.

We have no choice but to carry the burden of the Fukushima nuclear disaster for decades to come. We will overcome this crisis, but we will need support.

To make sure we never have another nuclear disaster like the one in Fukushima, Japan should take the decision to abandon dependence on nuclear power. That would be the best support of all.

March 10, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima resettlement policy violates international human rights commitments & Japanese law


Tokyo, 7 March 2017 – Japan’s policy to resettle residents to heavily contaminated areas in Fukushima is in contravention of Japanese law and multiple international human rights treaties. Greenpeace Japan and Human Rights Now detailed today numerous human rights violations resulting from the Japanese government’s response over the past six years to the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

If there is anything the nuclear industry learned from Chernobyl, it’s that a large exclusion zone is bad for business. It’s a constant reminder that a nuclear disaster is irreversible, and it’s women and children who are bearing the brunt,” said Kendra Ulrich, Senior Global Energy Campaigner with Greenpeace Japan.

Cutting off housing support for self-evacuees threatens more than 10,000 households, potentially forcing many people back to contaminated areas against their will. Compensation payments will end in a year for people from areas where the evacuation order is being lifted, even though radiation levels far exceed the long-term targets in many areas. This amounts to economic coercion and is a deliberate violation of the law and survivors’ human rights.”

Released a day before International Women’s Day, Greenpeace Japan’s report reveals the greater impact on women and children due to both social disadvantages and increased risks to radiation exposure. [1] Greenpeace Japan, Human Rights Now and Fukushima survivor Noriko Matsumoto are calling on the Abe government to comply with Japanese law and address some of the most serious violations. 

A recent Greenpeace Japan led survey team found radiation dose rates at houses in the village of Iitate well above long-term government targets, with annual and lifetime exposure levels posing a long-term risk to citizens who may return. At some homes in Iitate, the dose of radiation is equivalent to one chest X-ray every week. Only 24 percent of the total area of Iitate has been ‘decontaminated’, despite a government website [2] stating that 100% of the decontamination in Iitate is completed. 

Evacuation orders will be lifted in many areas of Iitate no later than 31 March 2017, to be followed one year later by the termination of compensation payments. [3] In 2013, the UN Special Rapporteur Anand Grover called on the Japanese government to rectify numerous issues that violated this fundamental right for Fukushima survivors.

Japan is obligated under multiple human rights treaties to uphold citizens’ right to health. Instead of acting on the UN’s recommendations, the government has instead enshrined the violation of human rights into formal policy,” said Kazuko Ito, Secretary General of Human Rights Now. 

The resettlement policy contravenes the ‘Nuclear Disaster Victims Support Act’ of June 2012 which defines the government’s responsibilities to nuclear survivors. Multiple human rights treaties that Japan is party to also obligate it to uphold citizens’ rights to “the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”, which includes the right to information and the right to make informed choices regarding their health.

Greenpeace Japan and several Japanese civil society organisations (Human Rights Now, Friends of the Earth Japan, and Green Action Japan), recently sent a letter to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Special Rapporteurs asking that they assess the ongoing human rights issues faced by nuclear survivors. [4] Greenpeace will also be submitting comments to the UNHRC as a part of the current Universal Periodic Review of Japan on the plight of Fukushima evacuees. 


Notes to editors:


[1] Unequal Impact: Women’s and Children’s Human Rights Violations and the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster 

[2] Of the 23,013 hectares in Iitate, 5,600 hectares have been decontaminated, much of it ineffectively – MOE: Environmental Remediation – Decontamination

[3] No return to Normal: Feb. 2017 – Greenpeace Iitate Case Studies

[4] Joint NGO Letter to the United Nations Human Rights Council Special Rapporteurs International Greenpeace Petition for Survivors’ Rights

March 10, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , | Leave a comment

The spiralling cost aspects of decommissioning: its estimation and examples France, UK and Germany #IAEA

How the nuclear industry plays the statistics and formulae for working out the costs of decommissioning whilst vying for funding. The costs are obviously underestimated by orders of magnitude. Sellafield cost have risen to more than double in the last decade.

The French have the lowest decommissioning costs by a fraction of Germany`s costs and also the UK. These costs are low balled to stop the nuclear industry companies from going bankrupt. The future of the costs will be borne by the tax payer and the real costs may be even higher that we have estimated now.

Dr Paul Dorfman breaks down the issues on this short but shocking video. The nuclear industry is aware of this situation but still remains silent. The word is getting out slowly to the legislator and the estimation of costs being interplayed with politics and finance are slowly being unraveled.

March 10, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment