This earthquake lasted very long…..
School satchels remain left behind at the entrance of Futaba Minami Elementary School in the same position on Feb. 2 as they were six years ago when the earthquake struck followed by the nuclear disaster in Fukushima Prefecture, forcing the children to evacuate.
FUTABA, Fukushima Prefecture–An untidy pile of school satchels lies beside the doorway of an abandoned school near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Beside them the shoes of children remain in a rack. Textbooks are discarded.
When the youngsters fled, they were clearly in a rush and were perhaps wearing only indoor soft shoes.
These simple daily items give an impression of the turmoil immediately following the March 11, 2011, magnitude-9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
The children were evacuated and have not been allowed to return due to the nuclear disaster triggered by the quake and tsunami. The children still cannot return to pick up their belongings because of high radiation levels.
Reporters have been allowed in to examine the Futaba Minami Elementary School in an area that is still under an evacuation order.
The school itself has been relocated to Iwaki in the same prefecture. It restarted in 2014 with eight pupils, down from the predisaster number of 192.
Evacuation orders will be lifted shortly for four more municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture, but the prospect of residents returning to their old homes in huge numbers seems unlikely.
The restrictions, in place since the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011, will be lifted by April 1.
About 32,000 residents will be affected, but there is no guarantee that all will soon, if ever, return.
In similar past situations, evacuated residents came back in dribs and drabs, and many never returned.
Authorities in Namie on Feb. 27 decided to accept the central government’s proposal to lift the evacuation order for the town on March 31.
This means that orders for the municipalities of Kawamata and Iitate will be lifted the same day, and for Tomioka the day after.
Naraha and Katsurao are among five municipalities that are no longer subject to evacuation orders.
However, only 11 percent of Naraha residents and 9 percent of Katsurao residents have returned.
One reason for the low rates is that evacuees have already established new domiciles elsewhere. Others are concerned about the availability of medical workers in areas where evacuation orders will be lifted.
In the aftermath of the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant triggered by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, the central government ordered the evacuation of 81,000 residents in 11 Fukushima municipalities.
In 2012-13, the evacuation region was redesignated into three zones: one where returning would continue to be difficult; another where residential areas would be limited; and lastly, where preparations would be made for former residents to return.
In June 2015, the government decreed that all evacuees from the two latter zones should be allowed to return by March 2017. Efforts were made to decontaminate land affected by radiation fallout and to restore social infrastructure.
The next step involves the 24,000 former residents of the zone where returning continues to be considered difficult.
The government intends to pay for the decontamination of certain areas within that zone so former residents can return.
According to one estimate, the program would only cover about 5 percent of the entire area that is designated as difficult to return.
FUKUSHIMA–A tour of the infamous crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is in store for some college students here over the coming years.
Fukushima University officials say it is crucial that future nuclear power plant decommissioning workers such as engineers are given the opportunity to examine the current state of the nuclear plant and gain experience from doing so.
The extracurricular tour of the Fukushima No. 1 plant, which was wrecked by the tsunami and the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, will start within the next fiscal year starting in April.
University officials said Feb. 1 that tour participants will be recruited from the 20 or so students who are working on radiation, radioactive cleanup and other research subjects at the Faculty of Symbiotic Systems Science.
Eligibility for the tours of the plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. will be expanded in and after fiscal 2018, the officials added.
The tours will be organized as part of a program that won a bidding process initiated by the science ministry for research and personnel development projects that help accelerate nuclear decommissioning processes.
The program has been designated to receive subsidies over a five-year period from fiscal 2015 through fiscal 2019.
TEPCO officials said the company has allowed university students to tour the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in the past, most of whom were from laboratories working on nuclear decommissioning processes and radiation.
A total of about 40 executive staff members, clerical workers and other officials of Fukushima University, including President Katsumi Nakai, have toured the nuclear plant twice this fiscal year, in December and January, respectively.
“With rubble and other objects cleaned up, it appeared to me that the place was tidy, but some areas were still beyond anybody’s reach and control, so I thought the situation remained difficult,” Nakai said of his impression of the Fukushima No. 1 plant during a news conference on Feb. 1.
He said he came to believe, while exchanging views with TEPCO officials, that nuclear decommissioning processes require not only personnel with scientific backgrounds but also risk communication personnel who have backgrounds in psychology and other subjects.
“The end of the five-year period (of the science ministry subsidies) will not mean the end of our efforts,” Nakai said. “We have to work on the long-term development of nuclear decommissioning personnel. We will think about creating opportunities, in the future, for taking students of human and social sciences on our tours.”
OKUMA, Fukushima — In an attempt to minimize the risk to humans during the search for melted nuclear fuel at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, robots have also been deployed to help out with the task.
However, the robots have also encountered some problems. For instance, a Toshiba Corp. robot that was sent in to clear away deposited material inside the containment vessel of the No. 2 reactor failed to clear away much material, and within approximately two hours, its camera had broken.
According to Takahiro Kimoto of plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), “The radiation inside the containment vessel was so intense that the images transmitted back from a camera attached to the robot were pitch black.” This was somewhat disappointing for the team working at the No. 2 reactor because by losing their robotic “eye” inside the containment vessel, they were unable to make the progress they were hoping for.
On Feb. 16, a “scorpion robot” was sent into the containment vessel. The intention of the mission was to locate melted nuclear fuel. However, deposited materials inside the vessel meant that the robot became stuck and was unable to move any further.
In the end, images from directly underneath the nuclear reactor were obtained not from the robot, but by “human means,” on Jan. 30. By using a pipe and a camera, the team was able to confirm the presence of holes in the platform. They also discovered brown and black deposited material, which appeared to be melted nuclear fuel. Therefore, some might say that “human methods” are more effective than robots in a mission of this nature.
According to TEPCO, “This was the first probe of its kind in the world. We were able to collect sufficient data.” However, critics would argue that six years have passed since the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, and yet the exact situation regarding melted nuclear fuel at the site is still unclear.
Looking ahead, further difficulties are anticipated at both the No. 1 and No. 3 reactors, where in the past, there have been hydrogen explosions. This is mainly because there are several meters of contaminated water underneath the containment vessels, and the radiation levels are stronger than at the No. 2 reactor.
There are plans to insert a robot inside the No. 1 reactor in March, but a date has not yet been set for the No. 3 reactor. Satoshi Okada of the nuclear power plant maker Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy, which oversees the search at the No. 1 reactor, states, “In order to deal with the problem of melted nuclear fuel, we must first ascertain exactly how and where the melted fuel has been scattered inside the reactors.”
In summer 2017, TEPCO and the government will look into ways of withdrawing the melted nuclear fuel from the site, with the aim of commencing extraction work in 2021 — exactly 10 years after the initial disaster.
The Three Mile Island Disaster in the U.S. in 1979 will provide some kind of reference for TEPCO and the government, because in that particular case, the removal of melted nuclear fuel started 11 years after the initial accident. However, the situation at Fukushima appears to be more complicated than at Three Mile Island, because in the case of the latter accident, melted nuclear fuel was retained within pressure containers. Conversely, in the case of Fukushima, some of the material has seeped through the pressure containers.
With regard to the government and TEPCO’s decommissioning work, Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Shunichi Tanaka states, “It is still early to talk in such an optimistic way. At the moment, we are still feeling around in the dark.”
Time will tell as to whether the current plan for removing melted nuclear fuel from the No. 1 power plant is a realistic possibility or just a pipe dream.
Japan lies at the middle of 4 tectonic plates. The pressure of the plates has produced 113 active fault lines in Japan’s crust. It has also 118 active volcanoes. 10% of the world earthquakes occur in Japan.
To talk about nuclear safety there is like taking bets with people lives, is like talking about a death wish.
The government has submitted to the Diet a bill to revise the Act on the Regulation of Nuclear Source Material, Nuclear Fuel Material and Reactors. The bill includes the introduction of surprise inspections at nuclear plants by inspectors from the Secretariat of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, which would allow them to enter any part of a nuclear plant at any time, as well as a system where the state gives an overall evaluation to each plant based on the results of the inspections and other factors and release the data. These new systems are expected to come into operation in fiscal 2020.
With surprise inspections, it will be difficult for power companies to hide problems at their nuclear plants. And since evaluation results will be published and comparison among nuclear plants will be possible, the principle of competition comes into play, which is expected to encourage utilities to voluntarily develop safety measures at their own plants.
In the meantime, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) should work on boosting the number of nuclear plant inspectors and training such officials so that the revisions will lead to the improvement of nuclear plant safety.
The NRA was established in the wake of the March 2011 nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Plant and new safety standards subsequently came into effect. Restarts of idled nuclear reactors based on the new standards are underway. At the same time, reviews on nuclear plant inspection systems had been put on the back burner.
The pillars of nuclear plant inspections conducted by the government and power companies are regular checkups, which are carried out about once every 13 months, and security examinations done four times a year. With regular inspections, facilities with higher levels of importance are screened, while security examinations mainly judge whether a nuclear plant is operated safely.
The dates and contents of these checks are set prior to the actual inspections, however, and the system lacks flexibility, preventing the government from acting on a case-by-case basis to check problems at each plant.
NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka has said that there is corporate culture within power companies where they think their nuclear plants are fine as long as they pass safety checks by government regulators. The International Atomic Energy Agency has also pointed out that this way of thinking is problematic and the agency recommended Japanese authorities improve nuclear plant inspection systems in the pre-disaster year of 2007 and again in January 2016.
Under the proposed bill, the division of roles shared by the government and power companies will be clarified. Utilities would be solely responsible for making sure that facilities at their nuclear plants meet safety standards, while the government would take the role of a watchdog, monitoring power companies’ safety measures and how inspections are being carried out to give an overall evaluation for each plant. The results of surprise inspections will be included in a nuclear plant’s overall grade, which will be reflected in the next inspection.
The new inspection system was inspired by those employed in the United States and other countries with nuclear power. While Japan will catch up with those countries in terms of the system after the law is revised, that alone is not enough.
In the United States, where around 100 nuclear reactors are in operation, there are some 1,000 inspectors at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and they undergo a two-year training program. In Japan, on the other hand, there are only around 100 inspectors for more than 40 reactors, and they receive a mere two weeks of training.
Unless the quality and quantity of the nuclear plant inspectors are secured, the effectiveness of the new system would become questionable.
Furthermore, the overall grades for each nuclear plant should be released in a way to make it easier for the public to understand. The government should also consider ways to make good use of the system such as changing the premiums of liability insurance policies for potential nuclear accidents depending on the nuclear plants’ safety grades.
Although nearly six years have passed since the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in 2011, the search for the melted nuclear fuel inside the plant continues.
The operators of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), deployed over 800 workers inside the No. 2 reactor at the No. 1 plant between December 2016 and February 2017 — but so far, they have been unable to identify the location of the melted nuclear fuel.
TEPCO also plans to conduct studies inside the No. 1 and No. 3 reactors, but they are surely headed for a rough road as the search for the melted nuclear fuel continues to be extremely difficult. It is likely that struggles in that search will have a negative effect on the government and TEPCO’s target of completing the Fukushima decommissioning work between 2041 and 2051.
Apart from humans, robots have also been involved in the search. In the case of the No. 2 reactor for example, robots have been used in the following way.
The mission to get a good look inside the No. 2 reactor containment vessel had four steps; first, workers would drill a hole measuring 11.5 centimeters in diameter into the containment vessel wall, allowing robots to enter the vessel; then workers would insert a pipe with a camera into the hole so that the situation inside the vessel could be observed; a cleaning robot would then be sent inside the vessel to clear away any sediment in the way for the next robot; and finally a self-propelled, scorpion-shaped robot would travel to the area directly below the nuclear reactor, in search of the melted fuel. However, a number of unexpected problems emerged along the way.
Heavy machinery giant IHI Corp.’s Keizo Imahori, 38, who oversaw the mechanical boring of the containment vessel in December 2016, explains that, “A number of unexpected dents were found on the floor of the nuclear reactor building.” This was a surprising discovery for Imahori and his team. The presence of the dents meant that it would be difficult for machines to get sufficiently close to the necessary areas to drill a hole, which in turn has a detrimental effect on the entire search for melted nuclear fuel.
As an emergency measure, 1-meter by 1-meter iron sheets were used to cover the dents, but workers involved in laying the sheets were exposed to extra radiation because of this additional work.
In addition to the dents, the No. 1 to No. 3 reactors at the Fukushima plant, which first started operating in the 1970s, had many parts that have undergone repair work not reflected in their original construction plans. It was impossible to check such changes in the structure beforehand due to high levels of radiation.
There was another problem — the machines could not be attached to the side of the containment vessel, which meant workers were unable to carry out drilling work. This was caused by the containment vessel’s paint peeling away. The problem was solved after workers peeled off the paint by hand, but this also caused them to be exposed to more radiation.
The hole-boring process at the No. 2 reactor took approximately 20 days to complete — during which, workers involved in the project were exposed to approximately 4.5 millisieverts of radiation on average. Based on national guidelines, many companies involved in decommissioning work set the annual upper radiation dose at 20 millisieverts for their workers. Therefore, workers can only be involved in this project up to five times before their level of radiation exposure exceeds the limit. However, as Imahori points out, “We have no way of knowing the situation unless we actually go in there.”
Nevertheless, in order to ensure that highly-skilled professionals with expert knowledge in nuclear power plants continue to be involved in the search for the melted nuclear fuel, it is necessary to use robots as much as possible to reduce the amount of radiation to which humans are exposed.
At the same time, with the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant being somewhat like a “burning house,” manpower is also required to make effective progress with the search. Yasuo Hirose, of IHI Corp., states, “If we completely rely on robots for the decommissioning work, they will not be able to deal with any unexpected problems. The decommissioning process is likely to be a very long task.”
Workers examine the inside of the No. 2 reactor containment vessel at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant on Jan. 30, 2017.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) has failed to grasp the entire picture of melted fuel possibly accumulating inside the container vessel of the No. 2 reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. The radiation levels inside the vessel are extremely high, to the extent a human could be killed in less than a minute, and even a robot designed to conduct a probe inside went down quckly.
The Mainichi Shimbun visited the disaster-stricken plant late last year ahead of the sixth anniversary of the nuclear meltdowns at the facility in March.
On the early morning of Dec. 24, 2016, a group of 26 workers assembled at a building housing the No. 2 reactor when it was still dark outside. The workers were from heavy machinery giant IHI Corp. and other companies engaged in disaster recovery work. On top of their protective Tyvek suits, they were wearing special protective ponchos. They also had four-layer gloves on, with plastic tape wrapped around their wrists. The outfit made them sweat though it was the middle of winter.
In order for TEPCO to move ahead with decommissioning work on the No. 1 through No. 3 reactors at the plant, the utility needs to find out how much melted nuclear fuel lies inside the facilities, and where, in the aftermath of the meltdown of 1,496 fuel rods. The 26 workers were tasked with drilling a hole measuring 11.5 centimeters in diameter in the No. 2 reactor’s container vessel to open the way for the probe robot, using a remotely controlled machine.
Ryosuke Ishida, 28, an employee of a related company in Hokkaido, was in charge of removing the machinery that was used in the drilling work. In order to ward off the severely high radiation, he was wearing a lead jacket weighing 10 kilograms on top of his already tightly sealed protective gear. Each worker was allowed only five minutes for their task to keep their radiation exposure doses to no more than 3 millisieverts a day. The dosimeters they were carrying with them were set to beep when the radiation level reached 1.5 to 2 millisieverts, with an additional alarm set to go off when radiation doses hit every one-fifth of those levels.
Ishida’s dosimeter beeped just under a minute after he stepped inside the No. 2 reactor building. “Is it beeping already?” he thought to himself. The radiation levels vary greatly depending on where one stands inside the facility. Although Ishida had got a firm grasp on where the hot spots were during pre-training, he found himself “inadvertently standing on highly radioactive spots as I was focused on work.”
While trying to calm himself down, Ishida sped up his manual work. Alas, a machine component for turning a bolt fell off and rolled on the floor. “Damn, I’m running out of time,” he thought. His full face mask went all white as he sweated physically and emotionally, blocking his view. By the time he finished picking up the fallen component and wrapped up his work, he was sweating all over his body.
“It’s a battle against radiation at the site,” Ishida recalled. He added, though, “Because nobody else wants to do the job, I find it all the more worthwhile and take pride in it.”
“In January, TEPCO urged the court to dismiss the case, citing that it is a political matter that could impact international relations.”
With a class action lawsuit pending, hundreds of Navy sailors say they can’t get the help they need
Navy servicemember seeks treatment for alleged radiation poisoning following Operation Tomodachi.
“Right now, I know I have problems, but I’m afraid of actually finding out how bad they really are,” said William Zeller, a 33-year-old active-duty Navy servicemember living in San Diego. He’s one of the 4,500 sailors who were aboard the USS Ronald Reagan during Operation Tomodachi, a humanitarian aid mission sent to Japan the day after a tsunami triggered the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown.
“I know there’s something wrong,” Zeller said. “I’ve got many other people around me telling me I don’t look good, and I need to get checked out. While I am a workaholic, it’s a distraction.”
Zeller is only one of 318 sailors (and counting) who have joined a billion-dollar class action lawsuit filed in 2012 against the nuclear generators’ operating company, Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, for injuries allegedly caused by radiation exposure.
The lawsuit argues TEPCO is financially responsible for the sailors’ medical care because the operating company, admittedly, did not inform the Japanese government of the meltdown. In turn, the Japanese government unknowingly misinformed the U.S. Navy of potential dangers of anchoring off the coast of Japan where the ship was engulfed in a plume of radiation for several hours.
“Everywhere we went we had to carry [gas masks] on our hips,” Zeller said. “We were turning on news networks, and we could see how we were right in the plume. You could taste the metallic air.”
In the six years since Fukushima, Zeller has only sought medical attention from the Navy since the care is financially covered.
“The military health system is a process, putting it politely,” he said, explaining how it took four years to learn he had abnormal bone growth, nerve damage and what he believes is irritable bowel syndrome, all of which began a year after Operation Tomodachi. His weight fluctuates 20 to 30 pounds within a month, and he’s unendingly fatigued.
“Before I went [on the USS Ronald Reagan], I used to be a martial arts instructor,” he said. “I used to go on regular bike rides. I hiked. I was in very good shape. Now, I wear a breathing machine when I go to sleep because I have respiratory problems. I literally just go to work and go home now. I don’t have the energy or the pain threshold to deal with anything else.”
Considering the Veterans Association’s inability to treat members in a timely or efficient manner, Zeller’s lawyer, Paul Garner, said VA care is not an option. Instead, they’re hopeful that a fund set up by former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will come to fruition.
Koizumi announced the creation of the fund while visiting 10 affected sailors, including Zeller, in San Diego in May. Koizumi said he expects to raise $2 million by a March 31 cutoff date. The plan is to then transfer the money to the U.S. to supplement the sailor’s medical bills at, according to Garner, some of the best care centers across the country.
However, Garner knows $2 million won’t be enough to cover every need, especially since some sailors have reported symptoms appearing in their children who were born after Operation Tomodachi.
“I have no idea if it’s caused by the radiation that I was exposed to on the Reagan, but I don’t know that it’s not,” said Jason F., who was also on board the USS Ronald Reagan but didn’t want to share his last name while he’s still active duty. His breathing is audible over the phone, as if climbing several sets of stairs, but he’s tucking his three-year-old daughter into bed at their San Diego home.
“That’s standard breathing for me,” he said. “I don’t know what to do about it. She has difficulty breathing too,” he said of his daughter, who was born in 2013. “She snores like a grown man.”
Jason is 36 years old, in shape, never smoked a day in his life and didn’t have trouble breathing until after his time on the USS Ronald Reagan. His respiratory difficulties have aggrandized since 2011, peaking during a 2016 deployment where the doctors told him the contrasting temperatures were to blame and gave him an inhaler to puff on. It took a formal request to fly him off the ship to receive medical treatment in Bahrain, where he was told he had a 60 percent chance of tuberculosis and a 40 percent chance of lung cancer. He has since been diagnosed with asthma by an outside specialist, although the treatments aren’t working.
“It’s difficult for them to figure out,” Jason said. “I mean, how many patients have they had that are exposed to radiation? And are they trained for that?”
When Zeller mentioned radiation exposure to doctors at the Navy, he said he was told it was interesting, if acknowledged at all.
Lung cancer is one of several cancers associated with high radiation exposure, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission website, as well as leukemia, which several sailors have been diagnosed with. Bloody noses, rectal and gynecological bleeding, weakness and ulcers, are also symptoms reported by the sailors and are signs of radiation poisoning, according to the Scripps Health website.
In 2014, the Department of Defense published a report acknowledging that radiation exposure can cause such medical issues, but that the exposure levels were too low and the symptoms appeared too soon to make a connection.
While Zeller and Jason hope for financial support either from Koizumi’s fund or by winning the lawsuit, they want support for the others affected.
“I’m experiencing symptoms, but it’s not just for me,” Zeller said. “It’s for the individuals who are way worse than me and to bring attention to them… They have tumors, cancers, birth defects in their children, some individuals have mass muscle fatigue where their entire half of their body isn’t functional anymore, and they are stuck in wheelchairs. I am currently on the better end.”
The sailors are waiting for a decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals determining whether the lawsuit will continue in the United States or in Japan, if at all.
In January, TEPCO urged the court to dismiss the case, citing that it is a political matter that could impact international relations.
Jason said the lawsuit is about more than money, specifically when it comes to his daughter’s future.
“I just want accountability,” he said. “I want her taken care of. Whatever that takes.”
A man living outside Fukushima Prefecture writes, “When I said that I came from Fukushima, I was told, ‘You are an evacuee, aren’t you?’ I cannot forget that.”
More than 60 percent of current or former evacuees from the Fukushima nuclear crisis said they were victims of bullying or discrimination in areas they evacuated to or witnessed or heard of such incidents, according to a new survey.
The survey, released Feb. 26, was conducted jointly by The Asahi Shimbun and Akira Imai, professor of local governments’ policies at Fukushima University, in January and February.
“It is probably the first time that the actual conditions of ‘bullying evacuees’ became clear in large quantities and concretely,” Imai said. “The recognition that evacuees are victims of the nuclear accident is not shared in society. That is leading to the bullying.”
The series of surveys started in June 2011, three months after an accident occurred at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant due to the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
In the latest survey, the sixth, The Asahi Shimbun and Imai sent a questionnaire in late January to 348 people who had replied to the series of surveys.
Of these, 184 people of 18 prefectures, including Fukushima Prefecture, gave valid responses. Of the 184, 147 were still evacuees.
The latest survey asked for the first time whether they were bullied or discriminated due to the fact that they evacuated because of the nuclear accident. Thirty-three of the 184, or 18 percent, said that they or their family members became victims of bullying or discrimination.
In addition, 81 of the 184, or 44 percent, replied that they saw or heard of those actions around them.
In a section in which respondents can freely describe their experiences or opinions, a 35-year-old woman wrote, “I was told, ‘Why do you work despite the fact that you have money. I felt sad, wondering whether I have no right to work.”
A 59-year-old man wrote, “When I bought in bulk, I was told, ‘Oh! An evacuee.’”
Meanwhile, 60 of the 184 respondents, or 33 percent, responded that they have neither been victims of bullying or discrimination nor have they seen or heard of any acts.
A 48-year-old woman wrote, “Superiors or colleagues in my workplace in the area where I have evacuated have treated me normally. I have been able to encounter good people.”
The survey also asked the 147 respondents, who are still evacuees, whether they think they are unwilling to tell people around them the fact that they are evacuating. Sixty-one, or 41 percent, replied that they think so.
In the free description section, a 49-year-old woman wrote, “I have the anxiety that talking (with other people) will lead to discussing compensation money.” A 31-year-old woman wrote, “I have a concern that my children could be bullied.”
Meanwhile, 50 of the 147 respondents, or 34 percent, replied that they don’t have that anxiety about telling people. In addition, 26 of the 147 people, or 18 percent, answered that they don’t know whether they think so or not.
A 56-year-old man wrote, “I dare not tell people who do not know that I am evacuating. I cannot move my life forward if I continue to say that I am an evacuee.”
Currently, about 80,000 people are living in and outside Fukushima Prefecture as evacuees.
A man living outside Fukushima Prefecture writes, “When I said that I came from Fukushima, I was told, ‘You are an evacuee, aren’t you?’ I cannot forget that.”
“This is too cruel.
Why play with local people’s strong desire to believe in the back-to-normal dream?
This desire is in the heart of all the people who love their hometown and want to recover the ordinary life before the nuclear accident.
If you mention the contamination, you are regarded almost as an enemy to the back-to-normal reconstruction efforts. This is how you destroy the solidarity, and it has been going on since 6 years. People’s heart bleed in this cruel situation and contradictions.”
Fishing boats return to Ukedo fishing port in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, on Feb. 25.
NAMIE, Fukushima Prefecture–Fishing boats returned to their home port on Feb. 25 for the first time in six years since the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant wreaked havoc here.
The Ukedo fishing port, located seven kilometers north of the nuclear plant, was destroyed by the tsunami caused by the powerful earthquake in March 2011. In addition, nearby areas of the sea were contaminated by radioactive substances discharged from the crippled plant.
Since then, the reconstruction of the port has started and the work is ongoing.
On Feb. 25, 26 fishing boats entered the port to prepare for the start of the fishing season of “kounago,” or young fish of “ikanago” (Japanese sand lance), in mid-March. Fishing is scheduled to resume in waters that are more than 10 km from the nuclear plant.
“This is the first step to return to my life as a fisherman,” said a smiling Ichiro Takano, 69, a third-generation fisherman.
Noda city (Noda-shi on the map) is located in Chiba prefecture, at the northern doorstep of Tokyo.
Noda City announced on January 24 that more than 15,550 Becquerel of radioactive cesium exceeded the criteria of designated waste (more than 8,000 bq per 1 kilogram) from the rooftop sludge of Municipal Nittsuka Elementary School. It is the first time that sludge exceeded the standard value in the city. The city already removed the sludge, in accordance with procedures as specified waste based on the Special Measures Law.
In response to the high radiation dose measurements found in Kashiwa city public property site this month, the city started inspection of sludge etc. and dose measurement at 300 public facilities. The country’s decontamination standard is 0.23 microsieverts per hour with a measurement height of 1 meter (50 centimeters for children-related facilities), but the city has independently set the measurement height to be a more severe 5 cm. There are no places that have exceeded city standards so far.
Meanwhile, on the 14th and 15th, they measured sludge on the roof of 12 elementary and junior high schools that were the subjects of solar panel roofing projects. As a result, they found doses exceeding city standards at five schools, up to 0.85 micro-Sievert was measured. City removed the sludge and checked radioactive cesium concentration. Only the sludge of Yotsuka-sho, had concentration of cesium exceeding the standard value of designated waste.
The removed sludge is temporarily stored at a temporary storage place surrounded by containers on the city hall premises. Approximately 5 cubic meters of targeted waste is treated, and four schools sludge which cesium concentration was found within the standard value were treated as general waste.
Translated from Japanese by Hervé Courtois
Workers bring in a new water tank, right, as a replacement for an old contaminated water tank at TEPCO’s No. 1 nuclear power plant in the town of Okuma in Fukushima Prefecture on Feb. 24, 2017
OKUMA, Fukushima — With two weeks to go until the sixth anniversary of the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)’s Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant here, the Mainichi Shimbun visited the plant on Feb. 24, obtaining a first-hand view of working conditions and the persisting problem of tainted water.
The number of areas on the plant site requiring full face masks has decreased considerably, and the overall working environment has improved greatly. However, the issue of having to replace the tanks that hold radioactively contaminated water lingers.
Dealing with contaminated water requires significant manpower. According to TEPCO, about half of the approximately 6,000 people working daily at the No. 1 nuclear power plant are involved in handling contaminated water.
There are roughly 1,000 tanks of contaminated water inside the No. 1 plant site, forming a forest of containers with nowhere else to go.
A worker makes checks with a hammer on an impermeable wall near TEPCO’s No. 4 reactor in the town of Okuma in Fukushima Prefecture on Feb. 24, 2017
During the immediate aftermath of the nuclear disaster in 2011, a considerable number of tanks known as flanges were placed within the site. However, as concerns continue to grow about contaminated water leaking from these tanks due to dilapidation, TEPCO has taken action and is working on dismantling them.
Although covering the ground at the No. 1 plant with concrete has made it possible to work in about 90 percent of the site without a protective uniform, all those working near the old tanks must wear full face masks and Tyvek suits as the tanks once held highly contaminated water. Wearing this kind of protective clothing makes the work much harder to perform — as it can be difficult to breathe — and it is physically exhausting, even in the middle of winter.
Hiroshi Abe, 55, of Shimizu Corp. — the company overseeing the dismantling work — states, “As we work toward recovery from the disaster, we want to ensure that all workers are protected from radiation exposure and injuries.”
Presently, the level of radiation in the vicinity of the buildings housing the No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 reactors is high. During the Mainichi Shimbun’s visit to the site on Feb. 24, the radiation level near the No. 3 reactor was found to be more than 300 microsieverts per hour, and near the No. 2 reactor building, it was discovered to be 137.6 microsieverts per hour.
A radiation measuring device shows a reading of 137.6 microsieverts per hour near TEPCO’s No. 2 reactor in the town of Okuma in Fukushima Prefecture on Feb. 24, 2017.
Furthermore, an “ice wall,” which was built to restrict the flow of contaminated water underground, has not been as effective as initially expected.
A spokesman for TEPCO, Takahiro Kimoto, who accompanied the Mainichi Shimbun on this visit, said, “Nearly six years have passed since the disaster. Our decommissioning work is now about to enter the main stage of extracting melted fuel.”
However, with TEPCO and the government’s decommissioning work set to continue until around 2041-2051, there is still a long way to go until they can reach the “main stage.”
- One more case of suspected thyroid cancer was diagnosed by cytology since the last report.
- No additional surgeries since the last report: the number of confirmed cancer cases remains at 145 (101 in the first round and 44 in the second round)
- Total number of confirmed/suspected thyroid cancer diagnosed (excluding a single case of benign tumor) is 184 (115 in the first round and 69 in the second round)
- The second round screening data is still not final (confirmatory examination still ongoing).
- Thyroid Examination Evaluation Subcommittee will be convened in May or June 2017 to evaluate the results of the second round screening.
On February 20, 2017, less than two months since the last report, the 26th Oversight Committee for Fukushima Health Management Survey convened in Fukushima City, Fukushima Prefecture. Among other information, the Oversight Committee released the latest results (as of December 31, 2016) of the second and third rounds of the Thyroid Ultrasound Examination (TUE). Official English translation of the results will be posted here. The narrative below presents basic facts of TUE and its current results in perspective, including information covered during the committee meeting and the subsequent press conference.
As of December 31, 2016, there is only 1 more case with cancer or suspicion of cancer from the second round, making a grand total of 184 (185 including the single case of post-surgically confirmed benign nodule) for the first and second round screening results combined. The number of surgically confirmed cancer cases, excluding the aforementioned case of benign nodule, did not change from the previous report (101 from the first round and 44 from the second round), and the remaining 38 (14 from the first round and 24 from the second round) continue to be under observation.
The second round screening (the first Full-Scale screening) was originally scheduled to be conducted from April 2014 through March 2016, and the primary examination (with the participation rate of 70.9% and the progress rate of 100.0%), is essentially complete. But the confirmatory examination (with the participation rate of 79.5% and the progress rate of 95.0%) is still ongoing.
The third round screening (the second Full-Scale Screening) began on May 1, 2016 and is scheduled to run through March 2018–the end of Fiscal Year 2018. As of December 31, 2016, 87,217 out of the survey population of 336,623 residents have participated in the ongoing primary examination at the participation rate of 25.9%. The confirmatory examination began on October 1, 2016, with the participation rate of 29.6% so far.
Full-Scale Screening (first and second)
To be conducted every 2 years until age 20 and every 5 years after age 20, the Full-Scale screening began with the second round screening (the first Full-Scale Screening) in April 2014, including those who were born in the first year after the accident. There are 381,282 eligible individuals born between April 2, 1992 and April 1, 2012. As of December 31, 2016, 270,489 actually participated in the primary examination.
The participation rate remained the same as 3 months earlier at 70.9% but lower than 81.7% from the first round screening. Results of the primary examination have been finalized in 270,468 participants, and 2,226 (increased by 4 since the last Oversight Committee meeting) turned out to require the confirmatory examination.
The confirmatory examination is still ongoing for the second round. Of 2,226 requiring the confirmatory examination, 1,770 have participated at the participation rate of 79.5% (increased from the previous 75.8% but still lower than 92.8% from the first round screening). So far 1,681 have received final results including 95 that underwent fine needle aspiration cytology (FNAC) which revealed 69 cases suspicious for cancer.
Confirmation of thyroid cancer requires pathological examination of the resected thyroid tissue obtained during surgery. There has been no additional surgical case since the last reporting. As of December 31, 2016, 44 underwent surgery and 43 were confirmed to have papillary thyroid cancer. One remaining case was confirmed to have “other thyroid cancer” according to the classification in the seventh revision of Japan’s unique thyroid cancer diagnostic guidelines. A specific diagnosis was not revealed, but it has been reported as a differentiated thyroid cancer that is not known to be related to radiation exposure and it is allegedly neither poorly differentiated thyroid cancer nor medullary cancer.
The third round screening or the second Full-Scale Screening has covered 87,217 or 25.9% of the survey population of 336,623. The primary examination results have been finalized in 71,083 or 81.5% of the participants, revealing 483 to require the confirmatory examination. Results of the confirmatory examination have been finalized in 64 of 143 (29.6%) that have been examined. FNAC was conducted in one person with a negative result: No cancer case has been diagnosed from the third round as of now.
Conducted every 2 years up to age 20, the TUE transitions at age 25 to milestone screenings to be conducted every 5 years. Some residents are beginning to participate in the age 25 milestone screening, and if they have never participated in the TUE, their milestone screening results will be added to the second round screening results. Thus the number of the second round screening participants is expected to increase even though the screening period technically ended in March 2016.
However, the third round screening survey population excludes the age 25 milestone screening participants: their results will be tallied up separately.
Also in some cases, confirmatory examinations from the second and third rounds might be simultaneously ongoing, or there could be significant delays in conducting confirmatory examinations due to logistical issues such as the lack of manpower. A two-year screening period originally designed for subsequent rounds of the Full-Scale Screening is essentially spread over a longer time period, overlapping with the next round of screening. A precise interpretation of results from each round of screening might be nearly impossible.
A newly diagnosed case in the second round
In the second round, only 1 case was newly diagnosed by FNAC with suspicion of cancer. It is a female from Koriyama-City who was 17 years old at the time of the March 2011 disaster. Her first round screening result was A1.
Prior diagnostic status of the cases newly diagnosed with cancer in the second round
Of 69 total cases suspected or confirmed with cancer in the second round, 32 were A1, 31 were A2, and 5 were B in the first round. One remaining case never underwent the first round screening (no information such as age, sex or place or residence, is available regarding this case).
Thirty-two cases that were A1 in the first round, by definition, had no ultrasound findings of cysts or nodules, whereas 7 of 31 cases that were previously diagnosed as A2 had nodules with the remaining 24 being cysts. All 5 cases that were previously diagnosed as B were nodules, and at least 2 of them had undergone the confirmatory examination in the first round.
This means 56 (32 “A1” and 24 “A2 cysts”)of 69 cases had no nodules detected by ultrasound in the first round which could have developed into cancer. This is 81% of the second round cases suspected or confirmed with cancer. It has been speculated by some that these 56 cases were new onset since the first round, suggesting the cancer began to form in 2 to 3 years after the first round screening, conflicting with the common notion that thyroid cancer in general is slow growing.
Akira Ohtsuru, the head of the TUE, explained that even though some of the small nodules are very easy to detect by ultrasound, exceptions arise when 1) the border of the lesion is ambiguous, 2) the density of the lesion is so low that it blends into the normal tissue, or 3) the lesion resembles the normal tissue. Thus, it is not because the nodules newly formed since the first round screening, but because the nodules were simply not detected even though they were there, that cases which previously had no nodules are now being diagnosed with cancer. Ohtsuru said that when such previously undetected nodules become relatively large enough to become detectable by ultrasound, they might look as if they suddenly appeared. Ohtsuru added that nodules that have already been detected by ultrasound do not to appear to grow very rapidly in general.
This is a better, more legitimate explanation than the previous ones he offered that stated the nodules were present in the first round albeit invisible. However, 56 out of 69 cases seem like a lot to be explained by this.
An issue of the female to male ratio
The female to male ratio of cancer cases warrants a special attention. For thyroid cancer, the female to male ratio is nearly 1:1 in the very young, but it is known to increase with age and decrease with radiation exposure. (See below Slide 2 in this post for more information). In the second round, the female to male ratio has been ranging from 1.19:1 to 1.44:1 overall, but the FY2015 municipalities have consistently shown a higher number of males than females with the most recent female to male ratio of 0.7:1.
What Ohtsuru said about the the female to male ratio boils down to the following:
The female to male ratio for thyroid cancer is influenced by the reason for diagnosis and the age. When the confirmatory examination of the second round screening is completed, the data will be analyzed by adjusting for age and participation rates by sex. The female to male ratio in Japan’s cancer registry data, including all ages, is around 3:1, but it used to be bigger at 4:1 or 6:1 in the 1980’s and earlier. In Fukushima, the TUE was conducted in asymptomatic youth around puberty–a different condition than the cancer registry. Yet even in the cancer registry, the female to male ratio tends to be close to 1:1 up to the puberty. Autopsy data of occult thyroid cancer in individuals who died of causes other than thyroid cancer show the female to male ratio of 1:1 or smaller (more males) in adults. This fact indicates that thyroid cancer screening would yield the female to male ratio close to 1:1 even in adults. Thus, it is scientifically expected that thyroid cancer screening in general leads to a smaller female to male ratio.
He is claiming that thyroid cancer diagnosed by cancer screening before becoming symptomatic–as opposed to symptomatic thyroid cancer diagnosed clinically–is expected to show the female to male ratio near 1:1 or smaller, i.e., as many males are diagnosed as females, or more males are diagnosed than females.
To say the least, calling extrapolation from autopsy data to screening “scientific” seems a bit of a stretch. Furthermore, Ohtsuru’s claim does not add up scientifically. South Korea, where active screening increased the incidence of thyroid cancer, did not observe a smaller female to male ratio as shown in the table of thyroid cancer incidence by sex and age group compiled from Ahn et al. (2016). It is obvious the female incidence is much higher than the male incidence without actually calculating the ratio.
Thyroid cancer incidence by sex and age group per 100,000
in the 16 administrative regions in Korea
Compiled from Supplementary Tables 2 & 3 in Ahn et al. (2016) Thyroid Cancer Screening in South Korea Increases Detection of Papillary Cancers with No Impact on Other Subtypes or Thyroid Cancer Mortality (link)
Furthermore, Ohtsuru’s claim that the female to male ratio tends to be close to 1:1 up to the puberty in the cancer registry is not corroborated by the actual data. The table below was compiled from the National estimates of cancer incidence based on cancer registries. The number of thyroid cancer cases for each sex was listed side-by-side for each year and age group. Then a total from 2000 to 2012 was tallied for each sex and age group to obtain the female to male ratio, because the number of cases varies from year to year. Even without knowing exactly which age range Ohtsuru meant by “up to the puberty,” it is clear that the female to male ratio is not at all close to 1:1.
The number of thyroid cancer cases by sex and age group from 2000 to 2012
Compiled from the National estimates of cancer incidence based on cancer registries in Japan (link)
According to this study, the female to male ratio peaks at puberty and declines with age, as excerpted below:
The increased F:M ratio in thyroid cancer incidence does not remain static with age. Female predominance peaks at puberty. […] This pattern occurs as the thyroid cancer incidence begins to increase at an earlier age in females than in males, leading to a rise in the F:M ratio. The ratio starts to decline as the male incidence rate begins to increase and, concurrently, the rate of increase in female incidence rate slows down. The steady decrease in F:M ratio with age continues, and the peak male rate does not occur until between 65 and 69 years of age, compared with the earlier peak female rate between 45 and 49 years of age, just before the mean age of menopause at 50 years.
An issue of the participation rate
The primary examination participation rate of 70.9% in the second round screening is lower than 81.7% in the first round. Most notable is the participation rate of the oldest age group: 52.7% for ages 16-18 (age at exposure) in the first round plummeted to 25.7% for ages 18-22 (age at examination) in the second round. It is 6.6% for ages 18-24 (age at examination) for the ongoing third round so far.
Younger age groups in school have maintained pretty high participation rates thanks to the school-based screening. The older age group often leave the prefecture for college or jobs, and it becomes increasingly difficult to get them to participate, especially with their interests fading in their busy lives.
The status of the new third-party committee
The “international, third-party, neutral, scientific, up-to-date and evidence-based” expert committee proposed by Chairman Hokuto Hoshi at the last committee meeting is being discussed at the prefectural level in consultation with the central government. The prefectural official admitted that the plan was to establish an independent entity that will offer, from a neutral standpoint, latest knowledge of thyroid cancer needed by the Oversight Committee.
A committee member Tamami Umeda from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare elaborated on her vision of the third-party committee as an entity to review and organize the latest clinical and epidemiological knowledge and studies. It would be separate from the Thyroid Examination Evaluation Subcommittee that is intended to evaluate and analyze the status of the TUE, including the evaluation of radiation effects. (Note: In reality, the Thyroid Examination Evaluation Subcommittee has been far from being effective in analyzing the TUE data due to lack of information released by Fukushima Medical University on the premise of protecting personal clinical data).
Explaining that international organizations frequently separate a scientific review process from discussions relating to policy making in order to maintain neutrality, Umeda said she thought a similar process might be useful for the Fukushima Health Management Survey. This comment drew questions from committee members as well as the press about the status of the Oversight Committee itself: Is it a policy-making body? Is it not scientific enough?
It would make more sense to invite experts to join the Thyroid Examination Evaluation Subcommittee to incorporate knowledge gained from the latest research on thyroid cancer. Why it has to be an “international” committee is unclear other than to say that it was recommended by the Organizing Committee of 5th International Expert Symposium in Fukushima on Radiation and Health, including Shunichi Yamashita. A former chair to the Oversight Committee, Yamashita resigned from the position in March 2013 amid controversies surrounding “secret meetings.” Although no longer involved with the Oversight Committee, he has maintained ties with the Survey as Founding Senior Director of the Radiation Medical Science Center for the Fukushima Health Management Survey, the Office of International Cooperation for the Survey.
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