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Study: Cesium from Fukushima flowed to Tokyo Bay for 5 years

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A photograph taken from an Asahi Shimbun helicopter shows the Edogawa river emptying into Tokyo Bay.
 
June 7, 2018
Radioactive cesium from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant continued to flow into Tokyo Bay for five years after the disaster unfolded in March 2011, according to a researcher.
Hideo Yamazaki, a former professor of environmental analysis at Kinki University, led the study on hazardous materials that spewed from the nuclear plant after it was hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.
Five months after disaster caused the triple meltdown at the plant, Yamazaki detected 20,100 becquerels of cesium per square meter in mud collected at the mouth of the Kyu-Edogawa river, which empties into Tokyo Bay.
In July 2016, the study team detected a maximum 104,000 becquerels of cesium per square meter from mud collected in the same area of the bay, Yamazaki said.
He said cesium released in the early stages of the Fukushima disaster remained on the ground upstream of the river, such as in Chiba Prefecture. The radioactive substances were eventually washed into the river and carried to Tokyo Bay, where they accumulated in the mud, he said.
On a per kilogram basis, the maximum level of radioactivity of cesium detected in mud that was dried in the July 2016 study was 350 becquerels.
The government says soil with 8,000 becquerels or lower of radioactive cesium per kilogram can be used in road construction and other purposes.
The amount of radioactive cesium in fish in Tokyo remains lower than 100 becquerels per kilogram, the national safety standard for consumption.
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June 7, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Japan asks Philippines to lift ban on Fukushima products

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June 6, 2018,
The Japanese government is asking the Philippines to lift the restrictions it imposed on the importation of agricultural and other food products coming from areas affected by the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown.
Mitsuhiro Miyakoshi, Special Advisor to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and in charge of promoting the export of Japanese agricultural products, relayed this message to the Philippine government during a three-day official visit in Manila last week.
In his meeting with Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Pinol, Miyakoshi noted that the European Union has already lifted some regulations on certain products that include agricultural and fisheries, “based on comprehensive scientific data and analyses.”
Citing the increasing demand for consumption of Japanese products in the country, the government of Japan is eyeing a total of JY1 trillion (PhP47 billion) annual exports to the Philippines until the end of 2019.
In a statement, the Japanese Embassy in Manila said both the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) and the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) are working on several policies related to export promotion in order to facilitate the freer flow of Japanese products to the Philippines.
At the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Manila last November, Prime Minister Abe also asked the countries in the region to consider accepting imports of food from the affected areas, noting that sufficient time had passed since the earthquake and the food are widely considered safe.
In the aftermath of the 2011 nuclear incident triggered by the earthquake-borne tsunami in the eastern coast of Japan, many countries, including the Philippines, introduced restrictions on agricultural and other food products from areas near the Fukushima power plant.
Some countries and regions have since then eased the restrictions following widespread clean-up and decontamination conducted by Japan.
Alongside with the discussion on the lifting of restrictions of products from Fukushima and nearby prefectures, Miyakoshi also discussed with Pinol the updates on rice production and harvest in the Philippines and Japan, as well as the possible infusion of Japanese development assistance in these areas.
Miyakoshi, together with Ambassador Koji Haneda, also held a meeting with representatives of Japanese companies doing business in the Philippines to discuss ways to further promote exports of Japanese agricultural products.
“Miyakoshi underscored the importance of this matter to Japan, and that the Japanese Government is now exerting its best efforts to increase export in the nearest future,” the Embassy said in the statement.

June 7, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

PART 2: Radioactive water at Fukushima Daiichi: What should be done?

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DOES THE PUBLIC HAVE A SAY?

For their part, representatives of the government and TEPCO I have spoken with invariably stress how important it is to them to reach understand and agreement with all stakeholders, the Fukushima fisheries coops in particular, and to respond to their concerns in the decision-making process. They say they are fully prepared to accommodate the fishermen’s desires regarding the quantity and timing of releases, how they will be monitored, and how to adjust the release parameters in response to what is found after the system begins operation. And although when I point out that concern is not limited to fishermen in Fukushima, but that coops in Miyagi and Iwate, as well as Ibaragi and Chiba also consider themselves stakeholders, and that in fact residents internationally along the entire Pacific rim have already expressed concern, officials voice agreement but cannot point to any concrete efforts to communicate with or include anyone outside of Fukushima or the Tokyo power centers. In the same way, the concerns of major food distributors such as supermarket chains, who ultimately make the decision whether or not to purchase and sell Fukushima marine products nationwide, do not seem to be being addressed.

Shuji Okuda, METI’s Director for Decommissioning and Contaminated Water Management, Nuclear Accident Response Office, Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, stressed that no decision has yet been made which of the five options for dealing with the tritiated water detailed in the 2016 Task Force report will be chosen. In other words, although TEPCO, government ministries, and stakeholders are proceeding as if it’s a done deal, no-one with decision-making power has yet made a decision. “It will be a decision of the Japanese Government as a whole,” Okuda explains, “not one made by any single agency. And it will be based on ample discussions with all stakeholders.” Since the release of the Task Force Report in 2016, METI has been discussing the social impacts quite a lot, he noted. They are particularly concerned about “damaging rumors”- fuhyo higai – that will result from any tritiated water release, and have been discussing how to counter them. He continues, “Because the risks have been demonstrated to be very low, it’s less a question of safety, and more one of potential public reaction and reputational damage. We plan to hold further discussions with stakeholders and the general public to increase understanding.” Regarding international communication efforts, he points to English-language materials and reports the ministry releases, but says that since any impacts will involve primarily Japanese local area, information dissemination overseas is limited to experts, administrative officials and some media.”

METI recently announced that meetings will be held where the public can hear explanations of proposed solutions and comment on them. The Subcommittee on Handling Water Treated by the Polynuclide Removal Facility is one of several Japanese government committees organized by METI tasked with formulating a response to the problem of the radioactive water. The planned public sessions were announced at its eighth meeting, on Friday, May 18th. This is a step in the right direction, and is long overdue. Nevertheless it may well be a case of “too little, too late.”

METI, Subcommittee on handling water treated by the polynuclide removal facility, 8th meeting May 18, 2018 (Report regarding upcoming public hearings on tritiated water problem – in Japanese)

Good public communication about the release plan, the ocean science it involves, and what the expected risks are and why, cannot by themselves guarantee public acceptance. But this kind of communication is essential, particularly with such a globally contentious and high-profile issue like releasing radiation into the ocean. The public needs to know the environmental effects, health effects, how it will be monitored, what transparency measures are in place, what the process for adjustment and revision will be. Almost two years have elapsed since the Tritiated Water task Force released its recommendations, and a broad and energetic stakeholder engagement and information effort should have been ongoing since then. But such efforts are now only in the planning stage. It seems that METI and other ministries have been paralyzed, faced with taking responsibility for a politically damaging decision, forced to acknowledge that they support the plan but unable to take concrete steps to implement it or prepare the public. TEPCO, while it accepts its responsibility for the decision, seeks full government support, including robust public communication efforts. It seems extremely unlikely to act without a clear government decision in favor of the release and stipulating its timing. We should be prepared for the government to remain paralyzed until the last possible moment, when crisis is imminent, and then to announce a decision suddenly, justifying it by saying that time has run out and that it “can’t be helped.” As a colleague pointed out, this is, unfortunately, the Kasumigaseki way.*

When asked what the official position of TEPCO was regarding the plan to release the water, Kohta Seto of TEPCO’s Communication Development, Fukushima Daiichi Decontamination and Decommissioning Engineering Company, replied, “We recognize that comprehensive examination of technical and social factors is ongoing currently at the national subcommittee. Our response policy will be made in consultation with the government and related stakeholders based on the subcommittee’s discussions.” This echoes METI’s assertion that no decision has actually been made. But in fact the Tritiated Water Task Force, the subcommittee referred to, has been dormant for over a year, and any further recommendations will come from the higher-level METI Contaminated Water Countermeasures Committee and from the NRA.

Others at TEPCO have acknowledged that the company feels ultimately responsible, and is confronted with a decision that could further damage others. Takahiro Kimoto, General Manager, Nuclear Power & Plant Siting Division, Fukushima Daiichi D&D Engineering Company, notes that under the existing plan and at the current rate, by 2020 there will be no more space to store additional tritiated water onsite at Daiichi. Constructing the dilution facilities and pipelines that the release would require is expected to require almost a year of preparation after any decision is made. At the current rate, that means the “go” signal must be given by early 2019 at the latest. Though TEPCO expects that measures such as the frozen wall and subdrain pumps will continue to reduce the amount of treated water that needs to be stored, nevertheless they recognize that there is a narrowing window for decision and action. The company has no plans to try to obtain land offsite to further expand tank space, which could provide an additional margin of time. Though feasible technically and cost-wise, this would be a stopgap measure that merely delays the decision to deal with the tritium more permanently by the other means already being considered. Kimoto explained that the company does not want to act independently. “The policies can’t and shouldn’t be determined by TEPCO alone, but we continue discussing the available options with government and other stakeholders. How much to empty the tanks, how that should be done to minimize environmental consequences, how to maintain trust and transparency, who we need to engage with on this matter, these are all issues we seek stakeholder engagement on. These discussions are taking a long time, but we consider them essential.” Put bluntly, TEPCO knows they will be the bad guys in this scenario no matter what, and prefer to have as broad support as possible.

TRANSPARENCY

I initially approached this issue as one of transparency and the need to include a broadly-defined base of stakeholders in the decision-making process and subsequent monitoring of the results. That has been experience of SAFECAST, which prioritizes transparency and impartiality, and tries to get as many people involved in environmental monitoring and decision-making as possible, with unprecedented positive results. We have seen similar benefits where citizen groups in Japan monitor food and their own environments, and seek and often gain a vital voice in decisions that affect them. The Fukushima fisheries coops, TEPCO, and METI all said they would welcome transparent, independent, ongoing third-party monitoring of seawater and marine life if and when the tritiated is released. TEPCO and METI say they understand the need for transparency, and are prepared to change their institutional cultures in order to better accommodate it. Okuda of METI observed, “Having accurate data available to the public won’t by itself ensure adequate understanding, but in the end it is essential.”

Based on many conversations, however, I’m not sure enough people in these organizations fully grasp what true transparency means. Dr. Ken Buesseler of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who has been monitoring Fukushima radiation effects in the ocean since immediately after the start of the disaster, started a very effective crowdsourced program to monitor radiation in the Pacific Ocean along the North American coast. He has long complained of the difficulty of getting adequate access to ocean zones close to Daiichi for scientific research. Regarding the need for transparency and independent monitoring he says, “When I talk about independent monitoring, I don’t mean JAEA or IAEA, or other big government-connected institutions, but universities, NGO’s, and other independent research labs.” He adds, “Even before the decision to release the water is made, someone should get a detailed accounting for what is in each tank for all of the radionuclides of concern, not just that they are below detection (using high thresholds), as the large volume of water means even seemingly small amounts add up. This needs to be independent of TEPCO or whoever is in charge of dumping.”

Buesseler and others share my opinion that robust and effective communication is essential, not to persuade the public that official plans are acceptable, but to better equip them to participate in the debate in an informed way, and to push back where they feel it is necessary. More effort should be made in communicating in general, and this requires a better-educated and more scientifically literate public, which means ongoing efforts that begin years before crisis renders it necessary. Independent groups should be involved in interpreting data and presenting the results in a way which does not damage their independence. It may be necessary to set funds for this aside where they cannot be controlled by government or industry. In the case of the tritiated water at Daiichi, though this kind of transparency and engagement will be essential, it will need to be accompanied by appropriate communication efforts. Those responsible for this should not underestimate the challenge or think it can effectively be rolled out in a short period of time.

According to METI, the content, location, and timing of the upcoming public sessions will be discussed at the next subcommitee meeting in July. People unable to attend in person will be able to submit comments and questions via email. Though hastily-planned events could possibly be held before the end of this year, it seems likely they will need to happen in 2019, bumping up against the decision deadline. While some fishermen are likely to attend, the cooperatives themselves will likely refuse. This situation requires the actual involvement of citizens in the decision making process, but it is difficult to find instances of that actually happening in Fukushima since the accident in 2011. At the central government level in particular, it has almost always been DAD — “Decide, Announce, Defend.” Government planners must think seriously about how prevent this from becoming just another clumsy photo-op, a fig leaf that will allow the government to claim it has adequately consulted the public.

A FINAL WORD

Regardless of whether one trusts scientific opinion or TEPCO, the tritiated water cannot be left in the tanks at Daiichi indefinitely, and releasing it to the ocean, though not without risk, is the least objectionable of the available options. As it stands now, given the depth of public mistrust and the nature of misinformation in our current era, the situation is ripe for the maximum misunderstanding and negative social impact to occur if and when this tritiated water is finally released. Unfortunately, I think we should be prepared for things to be done the “Kasumigaseki way,” with much insincere hand-wringing and expressions of regret. There will be negative social impact no matter what, but unless responsible government officials step up soon, own the decision, and ensure that public engagement is genuine, broad, and effective, these negative impacts will be unnecessarily magnified.

* Kasumigaseki is the part of Tokyo where central government functions are located.  It’s similar to Capitol Hill.

Azby Brown

Azby Brown is Safecast’s lead researcher and primary author of the Safecast Report. A widely published authority in the fields of design, architecture, and the environment, he has lived in Japan for over 30 years, and founded the KIT Future Design Institute in 2003. He joined Safecast in mid-2011, and frequently represents the group at international expert conferences.

https://blog.safecast.org/2018/06/part-2-radioactive-water-at-fukushima-daiichi-what-should-be-done/

June 7, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

PART 1: Radioactive water at Fukushima Daiichi: What should be done?

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850,000 TONS

Of all the conflicts and consequences of the Fukushima Daiichi NPP disaster, the contaminated water issue is one of the most complicated, contentious, and potentially long-term. It’s a multifaceted problem ultimately rooted in the influx of groundwater into the damaged reactor buildings. A large volume of water is pumped into and out of the damaged reactors each day to keep them cool. This is treated to remove salt and most radionuclides and recirculated back into the reactors. If there were no additional water leaking into the reactor basements, this could function as an essentially closed loop. But a volume equal to the additional groundwater inflow needs to be removed from recirculation. It too is treated to remove all radionuclides except tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen known as H-3, and is being stored in the now familiar rows of tanks onsite at Daiichi. A partially effective underground dam of frozen earth, together with a system of subdrain pumps, has reduced the volume necessary to be removed from about 400 cubic meters per day to about 150-200 cubic meters (though appreciably more when it rains heavily). About 850 large tanks now hold 850,000 tons of tritiated water, and TEPCO says that it will run out of space to store additional water onsite by 2020, so something must be done soon. As far back as 2014, the IAEA recommended a controlled release of this water to the ocean as the safest course of action, and Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Agency (NRA) has made similar recommendations. A Tritiated Water Task Force convened by METI in 2013 examined five options in detail, including evaporating it and releasing it into the atmosphere, releasing it into the atmosphere as hydrogen gas, injecting it into deep geologic strata, storing it underground, and diluting it and discharging it into the ocean. For reasons of cost, available technology, time required, and safety, in its final report issued in June, 2016, the task force concluded that ocean discharge was the least objectionable approach. TEPCO has made it clear that this is its preference as well, and in July of last year Takashi Kawamura, chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc., said publicly that the decision to release the tritiated water had already been made. Many people were alarmed, particularly Fukushima fishermen who expected to be consulted, and the company backpedalled immediately. So far no decision has been officially announced. The reason for the delay in the decision is the very reasonable expectation of a strong public backlash. Meanwhile the window for the decision to be made is rapidly closing.

METI Tritiated Water Task Force Report, June 2016 (English version)

Preliminary Summary Report: IAEA International Peer Review Mission On Mid-And-Long-Term Roadmap Towards The Decommissioning Of Tepco’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station Units 1-4
(Third Mission), Feb. 2015

Japan Times: Regulator urges Tepco to release treated radioactive water from damaged Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant into the sea, Jan. 11, 2018

Japan Times: Fukushima’s tritiated water to be dumped into sea, TEPCO chief says, July 14, 2017

TEPCO: Response to the article about the release of tritiated water into the ocean, July 14, 2017

Asahi Shimbun: New TEPCO executives tripping over their tongues, July 20, 2017

 

OPPOSITION

The strongest and most meaningful opposition comes from Fukushima’s fisheries cooperatives, which have suffered tremendously due to the disaster. Not only were their ports and fishing fleets destroyed by the tsunami, but the market for their fish collapsed after the sale of 44 marine species was prohibited by the Japanese government in 2011 due to radioactive contamination. The public seems largely unaware that in the years since the bans were initiated, the percentage of Fukushima marine products exceeding the 100 Bq/kg allowable level of radioactive cesium has decreased rapidly, and has actually been zero since 2015. People are right to be skeptical of this, perhaps, but it has been confirmed by official testing, by independent researchers, and by testing done by independent citizen groups. Testing is done for each marine variety on a fishing ground-by-fishing ground basis, and as they have gradually been demonstrated to meet the requirements, 34 of the 44 initially banned seafood varieties have been allowed back on the market. Thanks to incrementally improving consumer confidence, the market for Fukushima seafood has slowly improved. The Fukushima fisheries coops justifiably fear that if the tritiated water is released to the ocean, the resulting consumer backlash will totally destroy their livelihoods once again.

Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations

Japan Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF): Results of the monitoring on radioactivity level in fisheries products: Summary of Monitoring on fishery products (As of Mar. 31, 2018)

METI has jurisdiction over contaminated water releases from nuclear reactors like Daiichi because it is responsible for overseeing energy production systems as a whole, including accident consequences. The NRA, which is part of the Environment Ministry, has specific jurisdiction for nuclear power, and its evaluations and guidance are also important. But ultimately the decision of whether or not to release the tritiated water is TEPCO’s. A company spokesman explained to me recently that government guidelines and recommendations are taken very seriously, and that the company goes to great lengths to meet government expectations. But ultimately these recommendations are non-binding. TEPCO hopes to get the green light from METI and the NRA, and all of them have been delaying their decisions in the hopes that the approval of the fisheries coops can be obtained as well.

On the face of it, this hope is not totally unfounded, as there is an important precedent. The fisheries coops have been approving the release of water from two specific sources onsite at Daiichi for several years. One is a bypass system uphill of the reactors that intercepts groundwater before it reaches the reactor area. The other is a subdrain system that pumps water from the area around the reactors. In both cases, the water has relatively low levels of radioactive contamination, and is treated to remove radionuclides and then tested by TEPCO and third-parties (JAEA and the Japan Chemical Analysis Center). If the radioactivity is lower than TEPCO’s self-imposed target levels of 1 Bq/L each for Cs137 and Cs134, 5 Bq/L for Gross beta (including strontium), and 1500 Bq/L for tritium — all of which are many times lower than the limits for drinking water set by the WHO — the fisheries coops agree to its release. This agreement has been in place since 2014 for the bypass water, and since 2015 for the subdrain water. It appears to have been functioning smoothly, with over 350,000 tons of bypass water and about 500,000 tons of subdrain water released so far. The participation of third-parties in the monitoring has been the key to gaining trust in the measurements.

TEPCO – Water Discharge Criteria for Groundwater Bypass, February 3, 2014

TEPCO – Groundwater pump-up by Subdrain or Groundwater drain

WE’VE BEEN HERE BEFORE

The tritium in the tanks at Daiichi is much more radioactive than the subdrain or bypass water, however. The concentration levels of tritium in the tanks ranges from about 0.5 to 4 million Bq/L, a total of about 0.76 PBq (trillion Bq) in all. No decision has been made about how much is likely to be released per day, but technical and cost estimates have been based on 400 cubic meters (tons) per day, roughly equal to the maximum daily inflow of groundwater. It is expected that releases would continue for about five years. Under the scenarios being discussed, the water would be diluted to 60,000 Bq/L before being released to the ocean. This number alone seems alarming, but is the concentration level that has been legally allowed to be released from Japanese nuclear power plants and reprocessing facilities such as Tokaimura for decades. The science regarding what is likely to happen to the tritium in terms of dispersal by ocean currents and effects on fish and other biota is fairly well understood, primarily because of decades of monitoring done in Japan and near similar facilities abroad, such as Sellafield in the UK and LaHague in France. Data from the French government shows that the LaHague reprocessing plant releases about 12PBq (12 trillion Bq) per year, and the maximum concentration of tritium in the surrounding ocean has been about 7Bq/L. This means that the amount released yearly from LaHague is over 12 times the total being stored at Daiichi, and the daily release rate is over 20,000 times that expected in Fukushima. Dr. Jota Kanda, a professor at the Department of Ocean Sciences, Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, observed that the dispersal and further dilution of tritium is rapid, and says, “Based on what we’ve seen at La Hague, it seems likely that under the ocean release scenario being considered now, tritium concentrations in the ocean off Fukushima will not exceed a few Bq/L and will likely remain close to the background level.” Globally, the background levels of tritium in water currently range between 1 and 4 Bq/L, which includes 0.1 to 0.6 Bq/L that is naturally-occurring and more than doubled by tritium remaining from nuclear testing. In oceans, tritium concentration levels at the surface are around 0.1 to 0.2 Bq/L. For comparison, naturally occurring tritium in rainwater in Japan between 1980-1995 was between 0.5- 1.5 Bq/L, and prior to 2011 in Fukushima rivers and tap water was generally between 0.5-1.5 Bq/L. In the US, the EPA standard for tritium in drinking water is 740 Bq/liter, while the EU imposes a limit of 100Bq/L.

Fujita et al, Environmental Tritium in the Vicinity of Tokai Reprocessing Plant. Journal of Nuclear Science and Technology, 44:11, 1474-1480

Matsuura, et al, Levels of tritium concentration in the environmental samples around JAERI TOKAI. Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry, Articles, Vol. 197, No. 2 (1995)295-307

METI Task Force Report supplement: About the physical properties of tritium,
Yamanishi Toshihiko, 2013

LaHague tritium release data, cited in METI Task Force Report supplement, p6

Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII): A survey of tritium in Irish seawater, July 2013

IRSN factsheet: Tritium and the environment

Michio Aoyama: Long-term behavior of 137Cs and 3H activities from TEPCO Fukushima NPP1 accident in the coastal region off Fukushima, Japan. Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry, 2018

Tsumune et al: Distribution of oceanic 137Cs from the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant simulated numerically by a regional ocean model. Journal of Environmental Radioactivity 111 (2012) 100-108

Povinec, et al, Cesium, iodine and tritium in NW Pacific waters – a comparison of the Fukushima impact with global fallout. Biogeosciences Discuss., 10, 6377–6416, 2013

Dr. Kanda further explains that biological organisms such as fish have different concentration factors for different radionuclides. When the ambient level of Cs137 in seawater is 1 Bq/L, for instance, some fish species may show values approaching 100 Bq/kg. But for tritium (H3) the ratio is 1:1, and 1 Bq/L in seawater will result in 1Bq/kg in fish. Again, at La Hague, which has had a much higher release of tritium for decades, the concentrations in marine wildlife near the point of release between 1997-2006 has ranged from 4.0 – 19.0 Bq/kg, with a mean of 11.1 Bq/kg. Using this as a guideline, Kanda estimates that even with an ongoing release of 60,000 Bq/L of tritium offshore of Daiichi, the fish a short distance away are unlikely to exceed 1 Bq/kg. This can, and must be, confirmed by conscientious monitoring.

What about health effects to humans? Though the release from Daiichi would be many times smaller than what is ongoing from LaHague or Sellafield, and the levels in the ocean after release seem likely to be close to that in normal rivers and rainwater, it is understandable that people would be concerned about risk. The scientific consensus is that tritium presents a much lower risk than radionuclides such as radioactive cesium, radioactive iodine, or strontium. This is reflected in allowable limits in drinking water which are generally tens or hundreds of times higher for tritium than for these others, ranging from 100 Bq/L in the European Union, 740 Bq/L in the US, 7000 Bq/L in Canada, 30,000 Bq/L in Finland, and 76,103 Bq/L in Australia. The WHO limit for tritium in drinking water is 10,000 Bq/L. Allowable limits in food have in most cases not been established. While these limits reflect a general scientific consensus that tritium presents a very low risk, the wide range of official values suggests scientific uncertainty about how it actually affects the human body.

Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC): Standards and Guidelines for Tritium in Drinking Water, 2008

SCIENTIFIC UNCERTAINTY

Because in its most common form, known as HTO, tritiated water behaves almost identically to water, it is eliminated from the human body with a biological half-life of 10 days, the same as for water. But when it is incorporated into living things or organic matter, a fraction of it binds with organic molecules to become organically bound tritium, known as OBT. In this form it can stay in the body for years, and its risks, while assumed to be fairly low, are not fully understood. Dr. Ian Fairlie, a UK-based researcher who has published widely on the risks of tritium exposure, believes that current guidelines underestimate the nuclide’s true risk. Fairlie points out that there is a long-running controversy among experts regarding the risks of OBT, which many believe are higher than official guidelines currently recognize. Many official agencies, like France’s IRSN, have issued reports that recognize these uncertainties, and Fairlie believes that the research findings indicate that the dose from OBT should be increased by a factor of 5 compared to HTO.

Fairlie: Tritium: Comments on Annex C of UNSCEAR 2016 Report, March 14, 2017

IRSN factsheet: Tritium and the environment

In the ocean release scenarios being considered in Fukushima, Fairlie agrees that there will be high levels of dilution. Nevertheless, as the tritium disperses, he says, “It will be found throughout the entire ocean food chain.” The ICRP suggests that 3% of the tritium metabolized from water by marine life becomes potentially riskier OBT, while the IAEA estimates the fraction at 50%. IRSN and others caution that the biological exchange of tritium and other aspects of its action in organisms, such as the effects of exposure on embryos and foetuses, is incomplete. The METI Tritiated Water Task Force report of June 2016 explains that, “When standard values pertaining to radioactive material in food were established [in Japan] in 2012, it was concluded that “it is difficult to conceive of the concentration of tritium in food reaching a dose that would require attention.” This must not be assumed to be the case. Any estimate of risks to humans from tritium exposure should take the uncertainties as well as the possibility of higher risk from OBT fully into account. That said, the roughly 1Bq/kg maximum expected by experts to be found in fish off Fukushima after release is roughly from 100 to 70,000 times lower than drinking water limits around the world. Assuming that 3%-50% of that 1 Bq/kg is OBT, with a potentially higher risk factor, the human exposure risks from this scenario nevertheless appear to be extremely low, close to those of normal background radiation. The Japanese Gov’t is arguing that it is negligible.

FUKUSHIMA FISHERIES COOPS

TEPCO, METI, and other government bodies which share the mandate for dealing with contaminated water from Fukushima Daiichi believe there is no scientific reason to prevent releasing the tritiated water into the Pacific. For them, the largest stumbling bock is the lack of approval from the Fukushima fisheries cooperatives. As described above, these coops agreed to other releases of treated water from Daiichi as long as it’s compliance with safety regulations could be independently confirmed. Since the science indicates similarly minimal risk from releasing the water from the tanks after considerable dilution, what is their objection now? “We are totally opposed to the planned release,” explained Mr Takaaki Sawada of the Iwaki Office of the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations, known as FS Gyoren. “It’s not a question of money or compensation,” he continued, “nor of any level of concentration we might accept as safe. There aren’t any conditions we would set, saying ‘If you satisfy these conditions then we will agree.’ We do not think it should be our responsibility to decide whether or not to release it. That entire discussion is inappropriate.”

Over the course of our long conversation, Sawada frankly acknowledged that the scientific consensus indicates very low risk if the water is released. “It’s not a question of scientific understanding,” he said. “We understand that tritiated water is released from other nuclear power plants in Japan and around the world. But we think it will be impossible for the public in general to understand why tritium is considered low risk, and expect there will be a large new backlash against Fukushima marine products no matter how scientifically it is explained.” I pointed out that the coops agreed to the release of the subdrain and bypass water from Daiichi, and asked what was different about this. He pointed out that in those cases, the water is pumped out before it is contaminated, and the public seems to understand that the contamination levels are already very low.

Fisheries coops, or kumai, are organized at each fishing port, of which there are 14 in Fukushima, only 2 of which, in Soma and Iwaki, are now operating commercially. The Fukushima coops have a total of about 1400 members at present. FS Gyoren is a prefectural federation, or rengo kumiai, that exists to facilitate communication and cooperation among the individual coops. There is a national rengo kumiai as well, called Zengyoren. These are not companies, and are not top-down organizations. Rather, each local port kumiai maintains independence. And though in meetings with Tepco or the government FS Gyoren communicates the concerns of members based on the kumai’s own meetings, no real full consensus has been reached regarding the proposed releases. It is a difficult situation with many possibilities for dissatisfaction and dissent. As an outside observer, I expected that some trust-building conditions, such as more transparent and conscientious monitoring, or further limits to the concentration and quantities released, could be satisfied which would allow the coops to agree to the ocean discharge. But now I think they won’t budge, particularly after TEPCO chairman Kawamura’s surprise announcement last summer that the decision had already been made without their approval. The kumiai will, I think, force the decision to be made against their strong opposition. I think they’re right that Japanese society is primed for a large backlash against Fukushima seafood no matter what the science and measurement shows.

Azby Brown

Azby Brown is Safecast’s lead researcher and primary author of the Safecast Report. A widely published authority in the fields of design, architecture, and the environment, he has lived in Japan for over 30 years, and founded the KIT Future Design Institute in 2003. He joined Safecast in mid-2011, and frequently represents the group at international expert conferences.

https://blog.safecast.org/2018/06/part-1-radioactive-water-at-fukushima-daiichi-what-should-be-done/

June 7, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

About that tritiated water: Who will decide and when?

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Storage tanks of contaminated water stand at Tepco’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Tepco estimates that at the current rate it will run out of tank space in 2020, and a decision must be made on what to do with the water well before then.
 
June 5, 2018
Virtually every news story about the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant acknowledges the tremendous ongoing problem of contaminated water that is accumulating in approximately 850 large tanks on-site. There are about 850,000 tons of water in the tanks at present, from which all radionuclides of concern except tritium — radioactive hydrogen — have been effectively removed. More water accumulates each day, in quantities roughly equal to the amount of groundwater that seeps into the damaged reactor buildings. Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings estimates that at the current rate it will run out of tank space in 2020. Something needs to be done well before then, and the decision should address the concerns of all stakeholders, public and private.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry recently announced that meetings will be held where the public can hear explanations of proposed solutions and comment on them. Unless they think seriously about how to prevent this from becoming yet another clumsy exercise in DAD — “decide, announce, defend” — these meetings will be a mere fig leaf that will allow the government to claim it has adequately consulted the public.
As it is, the government’s decision-making process itself appears to be dysfunctional, and we have reason to be skeptical that it will be possible to avert very bad domestic and international public reactions if and when this water is disposed of.
The Subcommittee on Handling Water Treated by the Polynuclide Removal Facility is one of several Japanese government committees organized by METI tasked with formulating a response to the problem of the radioactive water. The planned public sessions were announced at its eighth meeting, on May 18.
This is a step in the right direction, and is long overdue. Nevertheless it may well be a case of “too little, too late.” The decision, delayed for years, will almost certainly be to dilute the water and release it to the ocean, and meanwhile, public opposition to this idea has hardened. The issue hinges on both scientific understanding and public perception.
What is tritium?
Tritium, scientifically indicated as “H3,” occurs both naturally and through man-made processes. Tritiated water (HTO), like that accumulating at the No. 1 nuclear power plant, behaves almost identically to normal water, and can be taken up easily by living organisms. The scientific consensus is that the health risks from exposure to tritium are several orders of magnitude lower than those from radionuclides like cesium, radioactive iodine or strontium. This is reflected in allowable limits in drinking water, which are generally tens or hundreds of times higher for tritium than for these others, ranging from 100 Bq/L in the European Union to 76,103 Bq/L in Australia. Nevertheless, the scientific community acknowledges some uncertainty about these risks.
Leaving the tritiated water in the tanks at No. 1 is the riskiest thing to do, due to the possibility of ruptures or uncontrolled leaks. As far back as 2014, the International Atomic Energy Agency recommended a controlled release to the ocean as the safest course of action, and Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Agency concurred.
A Tritiated Water Task Force convened by METI in 2013 examined five options in detail, and in 2016 concluded that for reasons of cost, available technology, time required, and safety, diluting and discharging it to the ocean was the least objectionable approach. The task force presented relevant monitoring data from decades of similar releases of tritium to the ocean from nuclear facilities in Japan and abroad, noting that the quantities from the No. 1 plant would be many times smaller and the tritium levels in ocean life too low to be of real concern.
Tepco has made it clear that ocean release is its preference as well. The company says that it strives to meet government recommendations, and does not intend to act without government support, but is ultimately responsible for any actual decision.
In July 2017 Takashi Kawamura, chairman of Tepco, said publicly that the decision to release the tritiated water had already been made, and the public outcry was immediate, particularly from Fukushima fishermen who expected to be consulted. The company quickly backpedaled.
Constructing the dilution facilities and pipelines that an ocean release would require is expected to require almost a year after any decision is made. At the current rate, that means the “go” signal must be given by early 2019 at the latest. That no decision has been officially announced to date can be ascribed to the very reasonable expectation of a strong public backlash, and, I believe, the reluctance of any responsible government officials to be associated with such an unpopular decision.
Fishermen’s opposition
The strongest and most meaningful opposition comes from Fukushima’s fisheries cooperatives, which have suffered tremendously due to the 2011 disaster. Representatives of Tepco, METI and other government bodies that share the mandate for dealing with the contaminated water invariably stress how important it is to them to reach understanding and agreement with all stakeholders, the fisheries cooperatives in particular.
Takahiro Kimoto, a general manager in Tepco’s nuclear power division, explained, “The policies can’t and shouldn’t be determined by Tepco alone, but we continue discussing the available options with government and other stakeholders. These discussions are taking a long time, but we consider them essential.” Put bluntly, Tepco knows they will be pilloried no matter what, and seeks broad support.
Shuji Okuda, METI’s director for decommissioning and contaminated water management, stressed that no decision has yet been made regarding which of the five options for dealing with the tritiated water will be chosen. “It will be a decision of the Japanese government as a whole,” Okuda explains, “not one made by any single agency. And it will be based on ample discussions with all stakeholders.”
Although Tepco and METI indicate that they are prepared to accommodate the fishermen’s conditions regarding the release, the cooperatives are adamant. “We are totally opposed to the planned release,” explained Takaaki Sawada of the Iwaki Office of the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations, known as FS Gyoren. “It’s not a question of money or compensation,” he continued, “nor of any level of concentration we might accept as safe. We do not think it should be our responsibility to decide whether or not to release it. We think it will be impossible for the public in general to understand why tritium is considered low risk,” he continued, “and expect there will be a large new backlash against Fukushima marine products no matter how scientifically it is explained.”
Much hinges on public understanding of the risks, and therefore on transparency. Robust and effective two-way communication is essential, not to persuade the public that official plans are acceptable, but to better equip them to participate in the debate in an informed way, and to push back where they feel it is necessary. It is the public’s right to demand this kind of inclusion.
Communication should be aimed not only at fishermen and Japanese consumers, but internationally to all who are concerned about what the effect on the Pacific will be. The government has been sitting on the Task Force recommendations for almost two years without taking action. That it has taken this long to even begin planning to engage the public on this issue is, again, because no one in a governmental decision-making position wants to be politically associated with the consequences of a tritium release.
According to METI, the content, location and timing of the public sessions will be discussed at the next subcommitee meeting in July. People unable to attend in person will be able to submit comments and questions via email. Though hastily planned events could possibly be held before the end of this year, it seems likely they will need to happen in 2019, bumping up against the decision deadline.
While some fishermen are likely to attend, the cooperatives themselves will likely refuse. This situation requires the actual involvement of citizens in the decision making process, but it is difficult to find instances of that actually happening in Fukushima since the accident in 2011. At the central government level in particular, it has almost always been DAD.
Regardless of whether one trusts scientific opinion or Tepco, the tritiated water cannot be left in the tanks at No. 1 indefinitely, and releasing it to the ocean, though not without risk, is the least objectionable of the available options. As it stands now, given the depth of public mistrust and the nature of misinformation in our current era, the situation is ripe for the maximum misunderstanding and negative social impact to occur if and when this tritiated water is finally released.
Unfortunately, I think we should be prepared for things to be done the “Kasumigaseki way”: for the decision to be avoided until the last possible moment, and for government officials to claim then that an unavoidable emergency had arisen and it couldn’t be helped.
There will be negative social impact no matter what, but unless responsible government officials step up soon, own the decision and ensure that public engagement is genuine, broad, and effective, these negative impacts will be unnecessarily magnified.
Azby Brown is the lead researcher for Safecast, a volunteer-based NPO that conducts open, independent, citizen-run monitoring of radiation and other environmental hazards worldwide. http://www.safecast.org

June 7, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima continuing | , , | Leave a comment

Hong Kong should ease post-Fukushima ban on some Japanese food imports, government says

05 June, 2018
Centre for Food Safety plans to resume imports of fruit, vegetables, milk and dairy from four prefectures neighbouring stricken area, as long as they pass radiation tests
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Hong Kong should relax a ban on food imported from Japan which has been in place since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the government proposed on Tuesday, saying it considered the health risk low.
The suggestion of relaxing the seven-year-old ban was based on a scientific assessment of food safety, said a government source, who said trade was not the main concern.
In the wake of the 2011 earthquake and nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, Hong Kong banned the import of fresh produce and milk from the prefecture and four nearby prefectures – Chiba, Ibaraki, Tochigi, and Gunma – while also testing fresh produce from the rest of the country for radiation. Hong Kong has been the top market for Japanese food for more than a decade, taking 26 per cent of the country’s food exports in 2016, according to Japan’s agriculture ministry.
But the government plans to resume imports of fruit, vegetables, milk and dairy from the four neighbouring prefectures, as long as they pass radiation tests. The ban on produce from Fukushima should stay in place “with a view to addressing the concerns of the public”, said the proposal submitted to the Legislative Council on Tuesday by the Centre for Food Safety, under the Food and Health Bureau.
“The proposed amendment is made based on the scientific data on food safety,” a government source said. “Trade consideration with Japan is not a concern that should came before food safety.”
But he added that Hong Kong should also consider measures taken elsewhere when issuing an import ban, as the city is a member of the World Trade Organisation. Many countries which had similar bans – including Canada, Australia, the United States and Singapore – had lifted them totally or partially in recent years, the report said.
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The proposal will be discussed by a Legco panel on June 12, and can be gazetted and implement once it gets lawmakers’ approval.
But legislator Helena Wong Pik-wan disagreed that the ban should be relaxed at all.
“There is no food shortage in Hong Kong and there is no urgency to relax the ban,” she said. “The government should have public health as the foremost consideration, instead of putting it at unnecessary risk.”
She expressed worries that contamination in Japan is not over, as it can take up to 30 years for radiation to wear off. She pointed out that mainland China, Taiwan and South Korea had maintained their bans.
Since the ban came in, the centre has tested 490,000 food samples from Japan and found low radiation levels in 46. The most recent tainted sample was found in September 2016.
Japanese health officials said more than 2 million food samples had been collected in the country for radiation testing by early March, and most of the 1,200 found with unacceptable radiation levels were taken before March 2013, nearly 60 per cent of them from Fukushima.
Secretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee said on Tuesday that local authorities would implement two levels of gatekeeping to ensure the safety of food from the radiation-affected prefectures once imports resume.
Food products from the four prefectures would have to meet Japanese requirements to get export certificates, which Hong Kong officials would check. The centre would then scan all Japanese food products, not just those from the affected prefectures, for radiation.
In March, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor met Japanese foreign minister Taro Kono to discuss the removal of restrictions, which Lam rejected, citing safety concerns. But last month Japanese news agency Kyodo reported that Lam had promised she was exploring measures to scrap the restrictions.

June 7, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

TEPCO Opens Up Space in Common Pool at Fukushima Daiichi to Receive Spent Fuel from Unit 3

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“X-6 penetration” at Unit 5
4 June, 2018
On May 31, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) released a progress report on the decommissioning at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plants.
Four days earlier, on May 27, the power company began transferring some of the spent fuel currently stored in a common pool to a temporary facility at the site, for storage in dry casks, to create enough space in the pool to store spent fuel taken from the Unit 3 spent fuel pool when that is eventually removed.
At the temporary storage facility, TEPCO will pack the spent fuel in dry casks providing shielding and heat removal (with natural air circulation outside the casks) and store it under stable conditions.
By August, 483 spent fuel assemblies from the common pool will have been transferred to the facility using seven transport and storage casks, in anticipation of the arrival of 566 fuel assemblies (including unused 52 assemblies) from Unit 3.
On May 11, a problem was found at Unit 3—where a fuel handling machine has been in trial operation since March—inside a control panel for a crane used for moving fuel transportation containers to the ground. TEPCO nevertheless aims to begin removing fuel from the spent fuel pool around mid-FY18, as initially planned.
TEPCO will determine a method for removing fuel debris from the first unit by FY19 (April 2019 to March 2020), and the status of that effort was also included in the status report on May 31. The approach is to proceed after heightened understanding is made of internal conditions, the nature of the debris, and the effects when removed.
As that has not yet been fully completed, though, the effort will proceed gradually and incrementally, as follows: first investigating the interiors of the primary containment vessels (PCVs) through sampling, then carrying out small-scale removal of debris, followed by large-scale removal.
As for small-scale fuel removal, one promising method seems to be using a “X-6 penetration” rail to access the interiors of the PCVs (found in all the units) from the side, in order to exchange the control rod drive mechanism (CRDM). That method is already being used for inserting investigation devices into PCVs.

June 7, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment