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Koizumi hopes son will push for abandonment of nuclear power

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Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi gives a speech in Hitachi, Ibaraki Prefecture, on Sept. 15.
September 16, 2019
HITACHI, Ibaraki Prefecture–Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said he hopes his son in his new position in the Cabinet will wean Japan from nuclear power and expand the use of natural energy.
In a speech here on Sept. 15, Koizumi said he was happy that his son, Shinjiro, 38, was appointed environment minister, his first Cabinet post, last week.
“He has studied things more than I did,” Koizumi said. “The environment is the most pressing issue. I want him to abandon nuclear power and turn Japan into a nation that can develop on natural energy.”
Koizumi also reiterated that he made a mistake when he promoted nuclear power when he was prime minister from 2001 to 2006.
Pro-nuclear advocates had said that nuclear power was safe, low-cost and clean, but Koizumi said the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011 “proved all three ‘virtues’ false.”
He said Japan has abundant natural energy and should seek a path that does not rely on nuclear power.

September 26, 2019 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Fukushima fishermen concerned for future over release of radioactive water

Eight years after the triple disaster, Japan’s local industry faces fresh crisis – the dumping of radioactive water from the power plant

 

4500Last year’s catch was just 16% of pre-crisis levels, partly because of the Japanese public’s reluctance to eat fish caught off Fukushima due to the radioactive water.

September 16, 2019

On the afternoon of 11 March 2011, Tetsu Nozaki watched helplessly as a wall of water crashed into his boats in Onahama, a small fishing port on Japan’s Pacific coast.

Nozaki lost three of his seven vessels in one of the worst tsunami disasters in Japan’s history, part of a triple disaster in which 18,000 people died. But the torment for Nozaki and his fellow fishermen didn’t end there. The resulting triple meltdown at the nearby Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant forced the evacuation of more than 150,000 people and sent a plume of radiation into the air and sea.

It also came close to crippling the region’s fishing industry.

Having spent the past eight years rebuilding, the Fukushima fishing fleet is now confronting yet another menace – the increasing likelihood that the nuclear plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), will dump huge quantities of radioactive water into the ocean.

We strongly oppose any plans to discharge the water into the sea,” Nozaki, head of Fukushima prefecture’s federation of fisheries cooperatives, told the Guardian.

Nozaki said local fishermen had “walked through brick walls” to rebuild their industry and confront what they say are harmful rumours about the safety of their seafood. Last year’s catch was just 16% of pre-crisis levels, partly because of the public’s reluctance to eat fish caught off Fukushima.

Currently, just over one million tonnes of contaminated water is held in almost 1,000 tanks at Fukushima Daiichi, but the utility has warned that it will run out of space by the summer of 2022.

Tepco has struggled to deal with the buildup of groundwater, which becomes contaminated when it mixes with water used to prevent the three damaged reactor cores from melting. Although the utility has drastically reduced the amount of wastewater, about 100 tonnes a day still flows into the reactor buildings.

Releasing it into the sea would also anger South Korea, adding to pressure on diplomatic ties already shaken by a trade dispute linked to the countries’ bitter wartime history.

Seoul, which has yet to lift an import ban on Fukushima seafood introduced in 2013, claimed last week that discharging the water would pose a “grave threat” to the marine environment – a charge rejected by Japan.

Fukushima fisheries officials point out that they operate a stringent testing regime that bans the sale of any seafood found to contain more than 50 becquerels of radioactive material per kilogram – a much lower threshold than the standard of 100 becquerels per kilogram observed in the rest of Japan.

At Onahama’s testing centre, just metres from where the catch is unloaded, eight employees conduct tests that last between five and 30 minutes depending on the size of the sample. “Tepco has said that the water can be diluted and safely discharged, but the biggest problem facing us is the spread of harmful rumours,” Hisashi Maeda, a senior Fukushima fisheries official, said as he showed the Guardian around the facility.

Confirming Maeda’s fears, almost a third of consumers outside Fukushima prefecture indicated in a survey that dumping the contaminated water into the sea would make them think twice about buying seafood from the region, compared with 20% who currently avoid the produce.

Tepco’s Advanced Liquid Processing System removes highly radioactive substances, such as strontium and caesium, from the water but the technology does not exist to filer out tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that coastal nuclear plants commonly dump along with water into the ocean. Tepco admitted last year, however, that the water in its tanks still contained contaminants beside tritium.

Supporters of the discharge option have pointed out that water containing high levels of tritium, which occurs in minute amounts in nature, would not be released until it has been diluted to meet safety standards.

But Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace Germany who regularly visits Fukushima, said a proportion of radioactive tritium had the potential to deliver a concentrated dose to cell structures in plants, animals or humans. “Dilution does not avoid this problem,” he said.

Burnie believes the solution is to continue storing the water, possibly in areas outside the power plant site – a move that is likely to encounter opposition from nuclear evacuees whose abandoned villages already host millions of cubic metres of radioactive soil.

There is no short-term solution to the water problem at Fukushima Daiichi, as groundwater will continue to enter the site and become contaminated,” Burnie said. “A major step would be for the government to start being honest with the Japanese people and admit that the scale of the challenges at the site mean their entire schedule for decommissioning is a fantasy.”

No other option’

Government officials say they won’t make a decision until they have received a report from an expert panel, but there are strong indications that dumping is preferred over other options such a vaporising, burying or storing the water indefinitely.

Shinjiro Koizumi, the new environment minister, has not indicated if he shares his predecessor’s belief, voiced last week, that there is “no other option” but to discharge the water into the sea.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has recommended that Japan release the treated water, while Toyoshi Fuketa, the chairman of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, said a decision on its future must be made soon.

We are entering a period in which further delays in deciding what measure to implement will no longer be tolerable,” Fuketa said, according to the Asahi Shimbun.

Putting off a decision could delay work to locate and remove melted fuel from the damaged reactors – a process that is already expected to take four decades.

Critics say the government is reluctant to openly support the dumping option for fear of creating a fresh controversy over Fukushima during the Rugby World Cup, which starts this week, and the buildup to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Nozaki said he and other fishermen throughout Fukushima would continue the fight to keep the water out of the ocean. “Releasing the water would send us back to square one,” he said. “It would mean the past eight years have amounted to nothing.”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/16/fukushima-fisherman-fear-for-future-over-release-of-radioactive-water?CMP=share_btn_fb&fbclid=IwAR1y0u_NJy4_EgeM-AVZqMI0i26J-FzhCC-_jUWLWOsMQQijrRJkB1mazfI

September 26, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , , | Leave a comment

Radioactive water at Fukushima should be stored not dumped

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Murky politics pollute the Pacific

September 15, 2019
By Linda Pentz Gunter
 
Last week, Japan’s then environment minister, Yoshiaki Harada, made news with a pronouncement that wasn’t news. The storage tanks at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear site, filled with radioactive water, were reaching capacity. By 2022 there would be no room for more tanks on the present site. Japan would then have to dump the radioactive water stored in the tanks into the Pacific Ocean, he said.
 
Although likely unrelated to those remarks, a day later, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dispatched 19 of his cabinet ministers, including Harada. Harada was replaced as environment minister by rising star, Shinjiro Koizumi, the son of former primer minister, Junichiro Koizumi. Both father and son are opposed to nuclear energy, and on his first day in office, the younger Koizumi told reporters that he believed Japan should end its use of nuclear energy and close its nuclear power plants.
 
“I would like to study how we scrap them, not how to retain them,” Reuters reported him saying. This is a surprising position from someone inside the fervently pro-nuclear Abe government and it remains to be seen whether he will be allowed to translate his position into policy.
 
Dumping Fukushima Daiichi’s accumulated radioactive water has long been the plan proposed by Tepco, the site owner. Fukushima fishermen, along with some scientists and a number of NGOs from around the world, continue to object.

 

 

Cooling water is needed at the Fukushima site because, when Units 1, 2 and 3 lost power, they also lost the flow of reactor coolant, causing their cores to overheat. The fuel rods then melted, and molten fuel dripped down and burned through the pressure vessels, pooling in the primary containment vessels. Units 1, 3 and 4 also suffered hydrogen explosions. Each day, about 200 metric tons of cooling water is used to keep the three melted cores cool, lest they once more go critical. Eventually the water becomes too radioactive and thermally hot to be re-used, and must be discarded and stored in the tanks.

As Greenpeace International (GPI) explained in remarks and questions submitted during a consultative meeting held by the International Maritime Organization in August 2019:

“Since 2011, in order to cool the molten cores in the Tokyo Electric Power Company Fukushima Daiichi reactor units 1-3, water is continuously pumped through the damaged Reactor Pressure Vessels (RPVs) and circulated through reactor buildings, turbine buildings, the Process Main Building and the “High Temperature Incinerator Building”  and water treatment systems.

“As a result, the past eight years has seen a relentless increase in the volume of radioactive contaminated water accumulating on site. As of 4 July 2019, the total amount of contaminated water held in 939 storage tanks at the Fukushima Daiichi plant (units 1-4) was 1,145,694 m3 (tonnes). The majority of this, 1,041,710 m3, is contaminated processed water. In the year to April 2019, approximately 180 m3/day of water was being circulated into the RPVs of units 1-3.”

In addition to the cooling water, the tanks also house water that has run down from the nearby mountains, at a rate of about 100 tons each day. This water flows onto the site and seeps into the reactor buildings. There, it becomes radioactively contaminated and also must be collected and stored, to prevent it from flowing on down into the sea.

The water tank crisis is just one of multiple and complex problems at the Fukushima Daiichi site, including the eventual need to extract the molten fuel debris from inside the stricken reactors. Decommissioning cannot begin until the water storage tanks are removed.

Tepco has tried to mitigate the radioactive water problem in a number of ways. The infamous $320 million ice wall was an attempt to freeze and block inflow, but has had mixed results and has worked only intermittently. Wells were dug to try to divert the runoff water so it does not pick up contamination. The ice wall has reportedly reduced the flow of groundwater somewhat, but only down from 500 tons a day to about 100 tons.

In anticipation of dumping the tank water into the Pacific Ocean, Tepco has deployed an Advanced Liquid Processing System that the company claims can remove 62 isotopes from the water — all except tritium, which is radioactive hydrogen and therefore cannot be filtered out of water. (Tritium is routinely discharged by operating commercial nuclear power plants).

 

tepco-ice-wall.jpgTepco’s “Land-side Impermeable Wall” (Frozen soil wall). (Image: Tepco)

 

But, like the ice wall, the filtration system has also been plagued by malfunctions. According to GPI, Tepco admitted only last year that the system had “failed to reduce radioactivity to levels below the regulatory limit permissible for ocean disposal” in at least 80% of the tanks’ inventory. Indeed, said GPI, “the levels of Strontium-90 are more than 100 times the regulatory standard according to TEPCO, with levels at 20,000 times above regulations in some tanks.”

The plan to dump the water has raised the ire of South Korea, whose fish stocks would likely also be contaminated. And it has introduced the question of whether such a move is a violation of The Conventions of the Rights of the Child and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as was raised in a joint written statement by the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and Greenpeace International, before the UN Human Rights Council currently in session.

So what else could or should Tepco do, if not dump the water offshore and into the ocean? A wide consensus amongst scientific, environmental and human rights groups is that on-site storage for the indefinite future is the only acceptable option, while research must continue into possible ways to extract all of the radioactive content, including tritium.

Meanwhile, a panel of experts says it will examine a number of additional but equally problematic choices, broadly condensed into four options (each with some variations — to  dilute or not to dilute etc):

  • Ground (geosphere) injection (which could bring the isotopes in contact with groundwater);
  • Vapor release (which could infiltrate weather patterns and return as fallout);
  • Releasing it as hydrogen (it would still contain tritium gas); and
  • Solidification followed by underground burial (for which no safe, permanent storage environment has yet been found, least of all in earthquake-prone Japan).

Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds, recommends a chemical injection processes (drilling mud) — also used by the oil industry — to stop the flow of water onto the site entirely. But he says Japan has never considered this option. GPI contends that Japan has never seriously researched any of the alternatives, sticking to the ocean dumping plan, the cheapest and fastest “fix.”

All of this mess is of course an inevitable outcome of the choice to use nuclear power in the first place. Even without an accident, no safe, permanent storage solution has been found for the high-level radioactive waste produced through daily operation of commercial nuclear power plants, never mind as the result of an accident.

According to Dr. M.V. Ramana, by far the best solution is to continue to store the radioactive water, even if that means moving some of the storage tanks to other locations to make more room for new ones at the nuclear site. The decision to dump the water, Ramana says, is in line with Abe’s attempts to whitewash the scene before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and claim, as he has publicly in the past, that everything at Fukushima is “under control.” (Baseball and softball games will be played in Fukushima Prefecture and the torch relay will start there, all in an effort to pretend there are no dangerous nuclear after-effects remaining in the area.)

“The reason that they keep saying they need to release it is because they might have to move some of this offsite and that goes against the Abe government’s interest in creating the perception that Fukushima is a closed chapter,” Ramana wrote in an email. “So it is a political decision rather than a technical one.”

As with all things nuclear, there are diverging views on the likely impact to the marine environment and to human health, from dumping Fukushima’s radioactive water into the ocean. These run the gamut from “a little tritium won’t hurt you” to “the Pacific Ocean is dead thanks to Fukushima” — both of which are wildly untrue. (Tritium can bind organically inside the body, irradiating that person or animal from within. The many problems in the Pacific began long before Fukushima and are likely caused by numerous compounding factors, including warming and pollution, with Fukushima adding to the existing woes.)

 

animal-aquatic-close-up-1298683.jpgThe effect on deep sea creatures of radioactive ocean dumping could be long-lasting.

 

What is fact, however, is that scientists have found not only the presence of isotopes such as cesium in fish they tested, but also in ocean floor sediment. This latter has the potential to serve as a more long-term source of contamination up the food chain.

But it is also important to remember that if this radioactive water is dumped, it is not an isolated event. Radioactive contamination in our oceans is already widespread, a result of years of atmospheric atomic tests. As was reported earlier this year, scientists studying deep-sea amphipods, retrieved from some of the deepest trenches in the ocean — including the Mariana Trench which reaches 36,000 feet below sea-level and is deeper than Mount Everest is high — detected elevated levels of carbon-14 in these creatures.

“The levels closely matched abundances found near the surface of the ocean, where the amount of carbon-14 is higher than usual thanks to nuclear bomb tests conducted more than half a century ago,” reported Smithsonian Magazine.

Weidong Sun, co-author of the resulting study, told Smithsonian Magazine that “Biologically, [ocean] trenches are taken to be the most pristine habitats on Earth”.

How chilling, then, to realize that our radioactive irresponsibility has reached the lowest depths, affecting creatures far removed from our rash behaviors.

Consequently, the decision by the Japanese government to release yet more radioactive contamination into our oceans must be viewed not as a one-off act of desperation, but as a contribution to cumulative contamination. This, added to the twin tragedies of climate crisis-induced ocean warming and plastics and chemicals pollution, renders it one more crime committed on the oceans, ourselves and all living things. And it reinforces the imperative to neither continue nor increase our reckless use of nuclear power as an electricity source.

For an in-depth look at this issue, read the January 2019 Greenpeace Germany briefing, TEPCO Water Crisis (in English.)

Murky politics pollute the Pacific

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September 26, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

New minister prioritizes Fukushima decommission

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September 14, 2019
Jiji Press FUKUSHIMA (Jiji Press) — The economy, trade and industry ministry will steadily promote decommissioning work at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, new minister Isshu Sugawara said Friday.
“Decommissioning work and disposal of tainted water at the plant are the ministry’s highest priorities,” Sugawara said in a meeting with Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori.
The nuclear plant, owned by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., is the site of a triple reactor meltdown in March 2011.
Sugawara, who took office on Wednesday as part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet reshuffle, said the ministry will also step up support to businesses in areas hit by the nuclear disaster.
Uchibori sought to move nuclear fuel stored at TEPCO’s Fukushima No. 2 nuclear plant, which will also be decommissioned, out of his prefecture.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Sugawara said the ministry will work responsively on tackling treated water at the Fukushima No. 1 plant that contains tritium, a radioactive substance.

September 26, 2019 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Disputing colleague, new Japan minister calls no-nukes policy ‘unrealistic’

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Japan’s Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Isshu Sugawara attends a news conference at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s official residence in Tokyo, Japan September 11, 2019
 
September 12, 2019
TOKYO: Exiting nuclear power in Japan is unrealistic, the country’s new industry minister said on Thursday (Sep 12), in comments that reiterated the government’s line but are at odds with those made a day earlier by another newly installed cabinet member.
The conflicting comments by cabinet members appointed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday highlight the abiding sensitivities of nuclear power in Japan, more than eight years after the Fukushima catastrophe caused mass evacuations and Japan’s worst energy crisis in the modern era.
“There are risks and fears about nuclear power,” industry minister, Isshu Sugawara, told reporters a day after his appointment in a cabinet reshuffle.
“But ‘zero-nukes’ is, at the moment and in the future, not realistic,” he added.
The comments by Sugawara, himself once an anti-nuclear advocate, were at odds with those made by new environment minister, Shinjiro Koizumi, who said earlier that Japan should look at ways to exit nuclear power to avoid repeating the March 2011 Fukushima disaster.
“I would like to study how we will scrap them, not how to retain them,” Koizumi said at his first news conference late on Wednesday.
Japan’s nuclear regulator is overseen by Koizumi’s ministry, while energy policy is set by Sugawara’s ministry.
The comments by Koizumi, the son of former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, were out of step with government policy, which designates atomic power as an important element of the energy mix. The senior Koizumi became an anti-nuclear campaigner after Fukushima.
“The reality is that restarts have been not only delayed, but are increasingly difficult and many will be scrapped” said Martin Schulz, senior research fellow at Fujitsu Research Institute.
Shinjiro Koizumi’s comments were “a bit at odds with the government position – but not totally out of line,” Schultz said.
Three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi station run by Tokyo Electric Power melted down after being hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, spewing radiation.
Most of Japan’s nuclear reactors, which before Fukushima supplied about 30 per cent of the country’s electricity, are going through a re-licensing process under new safety standards imposed after the disaster highlighted regulatory and operational failings.
Japan has six reactors operating at present, a fraction of the 54 units before Fukushima. About 40 per cent of the pre-Fukushima fleet is set to be decommissioned after operators decided it would be too expensive to refit them to meet the new safety requirements.
The nuclear sector’s shutdown forced Japan to import record amounts of thermal coal and liquefied natural gas to replace the lost capacity, sending electricity bills for consumers and businesses higher. 

September 26, 2019 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment