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Particles from Fukushima meltdown contained plutonium

fukushima-nuclear-disaster-plutonium_1600Local residents who live around the 20km exclusion zone around the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Plant undergo a screening test for possible radiation at screening center on September 13, 2011 in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.

 

August 6th, 2020 Posted by Stanford

Microscopic particles emitted during the Fukushima nuclear disaster contained plutonium, according to a new study.

The microscopic radioactive particles formed inside the Fukushima reactors when the melting nuclear fuel interacted with the reactor’s structural concrete.

Nearly ten years after meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant caused a nuclear disaster, the new information about the extent and severity of the meltdown and the distribution patterns of the plutonium have broad implications for understanding the mobility of plutonium during a nuclear accident.

The study used an extraordinary array of analytical techniques in order to complete the description of the particles at the atomic-scale,” says coauthor Rod Ewing, co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) at Stanford University.

The researchers found that, due to loss of containment in the reactors, the particles were released into the atmosphere and many were then deposited many miles from the reactor sites.

Studies have shown that the cesium-rich microparticles, or CsMPs, are highly radioactive and primarily composed of glass (with silica from concrete) and radio-cesium (a volatile fission product formed in the reactors). But the environmental impact and their distribution is still an active subject of research and debate. The new work offers a much-needed insight into the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (FDNPP) meltdowns.

The study used an extraordinary array of analytical techniques in order to complete the description of the particles at the atomic-scale.

The researchers used a combination of advanced analytical techniques, including synchrotron-based micro-X-ray analysis, secondary ion mass spectrometry, and high-resolution transmission electron microscopy, to find and characterize the plutonium that was present in the CsMP samples. They initially discovered incredibly small uranium-dioxide inclusions, of less than 10 nanometers in diameter, inside the CsMPs; this indicated possible inclusion of nuclear fuel inside the particles.

Detailed analysis revealed, for the first-time, that plutonium-oxide concentrates were associated with the uranium, and that the isotopic composition of the uranium and plutonium matched that calculated for the FDNPP irradiated fuel inventory.

These results strongly suggest that the nano-scale heterogeneity that is common in normal nuclear fuels is still present in the fuel debris that remains inside the site’s damaged reactors,” says geochemist Satoshi Utsunomiya of Kyushu University, who led the team.

This is important information as it tells us about the extent [and] severity of the meltdown. Further, this is important information for the eventual decommissioning of the damaged reactors and the long-term management of their wastes.”

With regards to environmental impact, Utsunomiya says, “as we already know that the CsMPs were distributed over a wide region in Japan, small amounts of plutonium were likely dispersed in the same way.”

This is important information for the eventual decommissioning of the damaged reactors and the long-term management of their wastes.

The team “will continue to experiment with the CsMPs, in an effort to better understand their long-term behavior and environmental impact,” says Gareth T. W. Law, a coauthor on the paper from the University of Helsinki. It is now clear that CsMPs are an important vector of radioactive contamination from nuclear accidents.”

While the plutonium released from the damaged reactors is low compared to that of cesium; the investigation provides crucial information for studying the associated health impact,” says coauthor Bernd Grambow of Nantes/France.

Utsunomiya emphasizes that this is a great achievement of international collaboration. “It’s been almost ten years since the nuclear disaster at Fukushima,” he says, “but research on Fukushima’s environmental impact and its decommissioning are a long way from being over.”

The paper appears in Science of the Total Environment.

Additional researchers from Kyushu University, University of Tsukuba, Tokyo Institute of Technology, National Institute of Polar Research, University of Helsinki, Paul Scherrer Institute, Diamond Light Source, and SUBATECH (IMT Atlantique, CNRS, University of Nantes) contributed to the work.

Source: Stanford University via Kyushu University

Original Study DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.140539

https://www.futurity.org/fukushima-nuclear-disaster-plutonium-2417332-2/

 

August 7, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Billing Olympics as ‘pandemic recovery games’ unfeasible: ex-Fukushima mayor

jkjFormer Minamisoma Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai is seen talking to the Mainichi Shimbun in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, on July 3, 2020

 

August 5, 2020

MINAMISOMA, Fukushima — Katsunobu Sakurai, former mayor of Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, who was in office during the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, firmly stated during a recent interview with the Mainichi Shimbun that it is unfeasible to dub the Tokyo Olympics a “sign of humanity’s triumph over the novel coronavirus,” as suggested by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Sakurai, who was born in the city of Minamisoma himself, served two terms as mayor for his hometown between 2010 and 2018. Sakurai was picked as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2011 following the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

The following is an excerpt of Sakurai’s remarks to the Mainichi Shimbun on July 3.

* * * * *

Following the postponement of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke of holding next year’s Olympics as a “sign of humanity’s triumph over the novel coronavirus.” Up until now, the prime minister may have thought that presenting the event with the title “disaster recovery” from the Great East Japan Earthquake would gather worldwide attention, but now he is trying to replace this slogan amid the global spread of the novel coronavirus. However, the concept of a “recovery Olympics,” let alone a “coronavirus Olympics” has no chance of success.

jllkmkFormer Minamisoma Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai is seen talking to the Mainichi Shimbun in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, on July 3, 2020.

 

The torch relay for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which was eventually canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak, was just a performance put on for show. The relay was set to start at the J-Village national soccer training center in Fukushima Prefecture, which was used as a base to handle the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster (after the Great East Japan Earthquake). However, the relay route was limited to areas that have been tidied up, and did not show the real nature of the disaster-hit areas. “Recovery” means restoring an environment to a state where people can return. At the very least, if residents have returned and can once again live in a state similar to before the disaster, this may be called a recovery. But the government is trying to show how far the recovery has progressed, when in fact there is much left to be achieved.

There is also talk that flowers grown in the disaster-stricken areas will be used for victory bouquets awarded to Olympic medalists, but would this actually help boost the recovery overall? In Fukushima Prefecture, baseball and softball matches for the Olympic Games are to be held in the prefectural Azuma ballpark in the suburbs of the city of Fukushima, but this site has almost no connection to the coastal areas of the prefecture (that were damaged in the tsunami following the magnitude-9.0 temblor). It appears that it is nothing more than a performance (by the Japanese government).

No matter how much you tout the games as a sign of recovery, the overall picture of only Tokyo prospering while the recovery of the disaster-hit areas in the Tohoku region remains undone will not change. I’ve been to Tokyo many times, and saw that there were more crane trucks at the construction site of the athletes’ village than in the disaster-hit areas. It was obvious at a glance where the national government was placing its resources.

It’s not that I am disapproving of the Olympics itself. It is a festivity celebrating peace, and I am aware that Japan had been long active in its bid to host the games. However, it doesn’t make sense when you start calling it a “recovery Olympics.” The inconsistency becomes clear when labeling the games an event “contributing to the recovery of the disaster-hit areas.”

During the Japan’s bid to host the 2020 Olympics, Prime Minister Abe described the polluted water generated by the nuclear disaster as being “under control,” and then Tokyo Games bid committee chairman Tsunekazu Takeda called Tokyo “safe,” as it is 250 kilometers away from Fukushima. Don’t these very statements run counter to a “recovery Olympics”?

At the time, I was confronted by an elderly resident of my city who asked, “It’s a dangerous place here, isn’t it? Why don’t you let us live in Tokyo?” A “recovery Olympics” should by nature be something that residents of the disaster-stricken areas can feel good about holding, but the authorities’ perceptions are inconsistent with those in such areas.

If a “recovery Olympics” in the true sense of the term is to be held, it will by restoring the coastal regions of disaster-hit areas to a state capable of hosting the events, such as marathons.

During the 2019 Rugby World Cup, matches were held in the city of Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, in northeastern Japan, (an area also hit hard by the tsunami) as a way to underscore the recovery. This must have been a large source of emotional strength for local residents. However, Fukushima Prefecture still has zones that people cannot even enter. It just doesn’t seem like it is in any condition to hold the Olympics. I can only presume that the large impact of the nuclear disaster is still being underestimated.

The Japanese government has prepared for the Olympics while upholding the “disaster recovery” label, even though a recovery is far from reality. It is superficial to declare a recovery with no actual progress. The government is now talking of an Olympics that could be a sign of humanity’s triumph over the pandemic, but vaccines have not yet been put into practical use, and the world has not yet been freed from the risk of infection. There is no chance of success by trying to box in reality to meet the labels the government upholds. The idea of a “coronavirus Olympics” may also likely end as a mere fantasy.

(Original Japanese interview by Jun Kaneko, City News Department)

https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20200805/p2a/00m/0na/003000c

 

August 7, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Fallout over Fukushima fallout papers continues as two are retracted

August 4, 2020

A radiology journal has retracted two papers about the fallout from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan over concerns that the researchers used “ethically inappropriate data” from the people they studied.

The articles, which appeared in the Journal of Radiological Protection in 2017, were written by  Makoto Miyazaki, of the Department of Radiation Health Management at Fukushima Medical University, and Ryugo Hayano, a professor of physics emeritus at the University of Tokyo. As we reported, both papers were initially subject to expressions of concern last year.

The papers have been cited a total of 26 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

The retraction notice for “Individual external dose monitoring of all citizens of Date City by passive dosimeter 5 to 51 months after the Fukushima NPP accident (series): 1. Comparison of individual dose with ambient dose rate monitored by aircraft surveys” reads:

Following the Expression of Concern issued on this article on 11 January 2019, IOP Publishing is now retracting this article. On 4 June 2020, IOP Publishing received confirmation from the authors of 2017 J. Radiol. Prot. 37 1 (the first in a series of two research articles) that ethically inappropriate data were used in the study reported in this article. This confirmation follows an investigation into the matter by Date City Citizen’s Exposure Data Provision Investigation Committee, which finds that some subjects within the study did not consent to their data being used for research, and it is unclear whether the unconsented data was provided to the author. IOP Publishing believes that the authors were unaware of the ethical problems with this data, which was supplied by a third party. The results of this investigation are available (in Japanese) at https://www.city.fukushima-date.lg.jp/soshiki/3/41833.html (IOP Publishing and the Society for Radiological Protection take no responsibility for the content at this link).

The readers are asked to note that, as part of the article submission process, the authors of the above referenced article confirmed that the research reported in the article adhered to the Ethical Policy of IOP Publishing and the Society for Radiological Protection.

As a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), this matter has been investigated by IOP Publishing in accordance with COPE guidelines and it was decided that the article should be retracted. The authors agree with this retraction and have fully complied with all investigations.

More details are expected to be forthcoming. However, in line with COPE guidelines, we are retracting this article promptly and will update this retraction notice with more information, as necessary and as it is released.

Based on the investigation report it has also been found that there is an error in table 1 of this article. The figure relating to glass badge holders in 2014 3Q is incorrect and should be close to N = 12 011. These data were also provided to the authors by the same third party and the authors were not aware of this mistake in advance of publication of the article.

The second paper, Individual external dose monitoring of all citizens of Date City by passive dosimeter 5 to 51 months after the Fukushima NPP accident (series): II. Prediction of lifetime additional effective dose and evaluating the effect of decontamination on individual dose,” carries an identical notice (minus the error).

Miyazaki, the corresponding author of the papers, has not responded to a request for comment.

Fallout over Fukushima fallout papers continues as two are retracted

A pair of radiation exposure studies on the people of Date City have been retracted. Authors Hayano and Miyazaki retracted the 2017 papers this week after years of dispute.

By early 2019 this issue had become too big to ignore. Hayano and Miyazaki attempted to claim unintentional mistakes and later tried to blame the city. An investigation into scientific misconduct at the University of Tokyo went nowhere as the statues required intent. Both researchers continued to claim the data manipulation that took months worth of data and applied it over years, making radiation exposures look less severe, was merely a spreadsheet accident.

Some of Hayano’s other Fukushima related studies raised questions about the methodology and potential biases. A 2014 study used a whole body counter scanning machine in small children but used an unusually short scan duration that may have grossly under counted their radiation exposures.

August 7, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , | Leave a comment

Japan’s plans for radioactive discharges violates principles of environmental protection and defies international maritime law

Aug.4,2020

The threat of a million tonnes of highly contaminated water from the Fukushima Daiichi being discharged into the Pacific Ocean includes the potential environmental and human impacts, but also how a decision by the Japanese government relates to international law. What we conclude is that such a decision poses a direct threat to the marine environment, including that of the jurisdictional waters of the Korean peninsula. As such, Japan would be in breach of its obligations as defined under international environmental law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that Korea government has rights to oppose the discharging in the legal perspective.

The discharge of radioactivity into the marine environment from Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant will inevitably increase exposure to marine species. The level of exposure depends on multiple variables. The concentrations are of direct relevance to those who may consume them, including marine species, ultimately, humans. The 1.2 million tons of highly contaminated water in nearly 1000 storage tanks at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant currently has concentrations of radioactive tritium much higher than is permitted under Japanese regulation permissible for discharge into the ocean. Concerns are that the high relative biological effectiveness (RBE) of tritium’s beta radiation, its ability to bind with cell constituents to form organically-bound tritium (OBT) and its short-range beta particle, meaning it can damage DNA.

It is more important to remember that 800,000 tons of this water contains not only tritium but also contains other hazardous radioactive materials, including strontium-90, as a result of the failure of the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) technology operating during the last 9 years. There are 30,000 megaBecquerels of strontium-90 in the storage now which is absorbed by the body in a similar manner to calcium where it increases the risk of developing leukemia cancer. To give some perspective on this amount of strontium-90, it is what an average Pressurized Water Reactor would discharge in its liquid waste every year if it were to operate for 120,000 years, more than half the number of years humans have inhabited the earth. Even more threatening is that these discharges are only a small fraction of the radioactive inventory of what remains at the site. Most strontium-90 still remains in the molten cores at the site, an amount 17.3 million times more than would be released under the Japanese government’s plans for the contaminated water. And there are many other radionuclides present in the contaminated water with even longer half lives – iodine-129 for example is 13 million years.

For South Korea, the impacts of this radiation exposure is of great importance to the fishing communities, the wider population and the Government. The toxic cocktail of radionuclides from Fukushima Daiichi will rapidly disperse through the strong coastal currents along Japan’s Pacific coast, and would enter the East Sea via the East China Sea, including the waters of the Korean peninsula. We know this as a result of sea water sampling following the March 2011 nuclear disaster.

The South Korean government has rightly challenged the Japanese government over its plans for the Fukushima contaminated water, including at the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO). In November 2019 at the IMO they were joined in their opposition by the People’s Republic of China. While the Japanese government is looking to make a decision later this year the actual discharges would not take place for several more years. It is vitally important that the Korean government continue its efforts to protect the marine environment and the health and livelihoods of its citizens, including fishing communities, by challenging in every way possible the plans of the Japanese government.

 

15965317898548_9815965315211388Shaun Burnie

 

In addition to the requirements under the IMO, Japan is required to comply with international law that prohibits significant transboundary environmental harm, both to the territory of other States and to areas beyond national jurisdiction. Before any discharge into the Pacific Ocean, Japan is required to conduct an Environment Impact Assessment under Article 206 of UNCLOS. International radio-protection principles require that a decision to increase radioactivity in the environment must be justified, and if there is a viable alternative – in this case long term storage – it cannot be justified.

 

There is a clear alternative to discharging over 1.2 million tons of highly contaminated into the environment. There never was a justification for further deliberate radioactive pollution of the marine environment from Fukushima Daiichi; and, in the interests of protection of that environment as well as public safety, as well a compliance with its international legal obligations, the only acceptable way forward for the Japanese government is to terminate its discharge plans, commit to long term storage and processing.

 

9515965315210751Duncan E. J. Currie

 

By  Duncan E. J. Currie and Shaun Burnie

Duncan Currie is a practicing international and environmental lawyer. He has practiced international law and environmental law for nearly thirty years, and over that time has advised NGOs, corporations and governments on a wide range of environmental issues including the law of the sea, nuclear and waste issues.

Shaun Burnie is a senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace Germany, with much of his time based in Japan. He has worked on nuclear issues in Asia, the former Soviet Union, Europe, North and South America and the Middle East for 35 years. He has worked against the operation of the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi reactors since 1997.

http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/english_editorials/956456.html

 

August 7, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Japan needs to halt its plan to dump contaminated water from Fukushima immediately

8215965299187326A TEPCO employee tells reporters about the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in June 2017.

Aug.4,2020

With the world’s attention focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, the Japanese government has been pushing forward with its preparations to dump contaminated water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the ocean. After first announcing an initial plan last March for discharging the water into the sea over a period of 30 years, the Shinzo Abe administration held five hearings between April and July, with a final decision on the dump reportedly likely to come within the month of October. The Abe administration has disregarded the concerns and opposition of local residents and the international community while pursuing a measure that will cause irreversible contamination to our oceans. It must stop immediately.

In a recent hearing, Fukushima residents and fishermen voiced strong opposition to dumping radioactive water into the ocean, a plan that they labeled “unacceptable.” The position of the Japanese government is that the storage tanks that have held contaminated rainwater and groundwater since the nuclear accident will run out of room in the summer of 2022, forcing an ocean dump. But civic groups have criticized the government for attempting to ram through its dumping plan as the cheapest option, even though more tanks could be safely installed after re-zoning large tracts of land around the Fukushima reactor.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operator of the reactor, argues that all radioactive matter but tritium has been removed from the contaminated water in the tanks through purification based on the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS). TEPCO argues that the tritium that would be released along with the contaminated water is no worse than the tritium that’s already released into the ocean and atmosphere during the operation of nuclear reactors around the world. But the 1.2 million tons of contaminated water that TEPCO claims has been “processed” still contains between 100 and 20,000 times the permitted amount of cancer- and mutation-causing matter, according to international environmental group Greenpeace.

According to Greenpeace’s analysis, contaminated water from the reactor, once released into the ocean, would be carried by ocean currents to South Korea’s east coast within a year. Exposing the east coast to water contaminated with deadly radioactivity for 30 years would present a serious threat to the maritime ecosystem and to public health. The UN Human Rights Council released a statement in June expressing grave concern about reports indicating that the Japanese government is accelerating plans to dump radioactive water from Fukushima.

The Korean government has set up a task force under the Office of the Prime Minister to track the steps taken by the Japanese government, but it needs to ask for more information and work even harder to sound the alarm in the international community. As a neighbor, Korea has every right to raise the issue with the Japanese government. Seoul needs to press the issue, both in Tokyo and in other countries, for the sake of Koreans’ health and the future of East Asia.

http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/english_editorials/956441.html

 

August 7, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Tohoku disaster funds spent for wining, dining company execs

llmlmùmA convoy of trucks transports radioactive debris from decontamination work.

July 27, 2020

Subcontractors hired to rebuild the disaster-stricken Tohoku region created slush funds with taxpayer money to wine and dine and give cash to senior officials of four major construction companies, The Asahi Shimbun has learned.

The combined sum of the slush funds reached at least 160 million yen ($1.51 million), a result of padded bills paid for by revenue collected under a new tax levied for reconstruction projects in the region.

The four construction companies whose executives accepted the gifts from the subcontractors are Shimizu Corp., Hazama Ando Corp., Kajima Corp. and Taisei Corp. Together, they received more than 1 trillion yen worth of government contracts to rebuild the Tohoku region from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The projects included disposal of the mountains of debris generated by the tsunami and rebuilding communities affected by the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

The subcontractors received orders from those four general contractors, inflated the costs of the work, and pooled the excess money into slush funds.

Cash gifts from the slush funds were presented to senior officials of those companies at their branches in the Tohoku region who had an influential say in selecting subcontractors and how the funds for the projects should be allocated.

The slush funds also covered parties at night clubs to entertain the executives and even paid for the cost of overseas trips.

The slush funds were uncovered by the Tokyo Regional Taxation Bureau, sources said.

An employee with a subcontractor said that on one occasion, the company was forced to shell out more than 1 million yen to cover the drinking expenses of a senior Kajima official at a high-end club.

The employee also said the subcontractor used the slush fund to buy an expensive watch that the Kajima official wanted to give to a hostess, and to pay for the expenses of his frequent trips to the Philippines.

The Kajima official was also given “pocket money” worth 300,000 yen to 500,000 yen per occasion, the employee said.

A Tokyo company received a contract from Shimizu to clean up Okuma, a town co-hosting the crippled nuclear plant.

Shimizu overpaid the company for the work, allowing it to build a slush fund totaling tens of millions of yen.

On 10 occasions, the subcontractor used the slush fund to give a cash gift to a senior Shimizu official who oversaw the Okuma project. It also used the fund to entertain the official over dinner.

A Hazama Ando official in a similar high-level position is believed to have taken about 10 million yen from a slush fund of a subcontractor in connection with a project to dismantle buildings in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture.

The Tokyo Regional Taxation Bureau ordered the Shimizu subcontractor and Hazama Ando to pay back taxes and penalties for tax evasion, saying payments from the slush funds to their senior officials should have been declared as earnings.

After the slush funds came to light, the gift-receiving senior officials with Shimizu and Hazama Ando left their companies.

A company in Hyogo Prefecture that sells waste-disposal machinery accumulated a slush fund totaling 44 million yen from 2014 to 2015 through business transactions with another company. The two companies were involved in the tax-funded rebuilding projects in the Tohoku region.

The Hyogo company planned to use the slush fund to give money to senior officials with Taisei and Kajima.

Taisei was in charge of waste disposal in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, while Kajima oversaw a project to build a waste-processing facility in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture.

Multiple subcontractors involved in a reconstruction project in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, pooled together about 100 million yen in a slush fund to provide favors to a senior Kajima official and other officials at the site and others.

Tax authorities in Osaka and Sendai are looking into the cases.

Asked by The Asahi Shimbun about allegations he received 10 million yen from a slush fund, the former Hazama Ando official said, “I cannot say anything other than the fact that I left the company.”

The senior official with Kajima declined to comment.

Shimizu acknowledged that the senior official in the field accepted excessive entertainment from the subcontractor. It said the official’s actions caused the company to lose money that should have been reported as profit.

The official in question paid back the money he received (to Shimizu) and quit,” a Shimizu official said.

Taisei said the company does not provide details about deals with subcontractors.

Over eight years from 2011, more than 12 trillion yen in taxpayer money was spent on infrastructure projects to construct roads, embankments and housing in the disaster-hit region. In excess of 6 trillion yen in public money has been spent on rebuilding communities from the nuclear disaster.

The bulk of these funds came from revenue from the new tax to reconstruct Tohoku.

The construction industry, which had been battered by a sharp drop in public works projects, experienced a record boom with the Tohoku-related projects.

(This story was compiled from reports by Takashi Ichida, senior staff writer, Yuta Hanano and Hiroyoshi Itabashi.)

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/13581931

August 3, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , , | Leave a comment

Robot to use brush to retrieve melted fuel at Fukushima plant

jkllmmThe robotic arm to be used for collecting melted fuel at the No. 2 reactor of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant (Provided by the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning)

hkjlkmA vacuum vessel to collect powdered nuclear debris (Provided by the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning)

July 27, 2020

FUKUSHIMA–A robotic arm under development in Britain will use a brush and vacuum vessel on its end to collect melted fuel in a step toward retrieving debris at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Details of the device, which will start collecting debris inside the No. 2 reactor on a trial basis next year, were announced on July 2.

The government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. plan to retrieve melted fuel at the No. 2 reactor ahead of two other reactors because radiation levels are relatively low.

The No. 2 reactor, along with the No. 1 and No. 3 reactors, suffered meltdowns following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

The situation inside the No. 2 reactor is relatively known through past inspections. It has been confirmed that apparent debris in the lower part of its containment vessel can be collected with a robot.

Measuring 22 meters long and weighing 4.6 tons, the robotic arm will be made of high-strength stainless steel so it will not bend when stretched out.

It will be inserted into a closed box connected to a hole made on the side of the containment vessel and remotely operated to prevent radioactive substances from being released.

The arm will attach powdered nuclear debris to its brush and also suck the debris with its vacuum vessel.

Under the plan, debris totaling approximately 1 gram or so will be collected in each of the several rounds of the trial procedure.

An experiment will start in Britain as early as August with the use of a model of the containment vessel.

The robotic arm will be transported to Japan around February for the training of operators at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency’s facility in Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture.

The retrieved fuel will be measured for weight and radiation levels, put in a metal transfer vessel and moved to an analysis center in Ibaraki Prefecture.

In the full-scale retrieval stage, different equipment will be used.

Melted fuel to be removed is estimated to record a radiation reading of 6 millisieverts per hour even at distances of 20 centimeters from it.

That means the annual dose limit for ordinary individuals of 1 millisievert will be reached in 10 minutes.

Training is expected to reduce the time required for workers to put debris into the transfer vessel near the fuel.

Other measures to lessen workers’ doses will be taken, such as introducing panels to block radiation.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/13529394

August 3, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Experts propose two methods to scrap Daiichi plant

20200726_14_863728_L

July 26, 2020

Japanese atomic energy experts have proposed two ways to decommission the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The Atomic Energy Society of Japan floated the two methods in a report.

One proposal is to dismantle and remove all parts of the reactor buildings and leave the site vacant. The other is to dismantle and remove parts of the reactor buildings that are above ground and leave behind the underground structures.

The experts say each method has been studied in the United States and European countries.

They say amounts of radioactive waste to be generated during decommissioning work will vary significantly, depending on when the dismantling of reactor buildings begins — namely, starting to dismantle contaminated buildings soon or waiting a certain period for their radiation levels to drop.

A decommissioning timeline released by the Japanese government and the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, shows the scrapping process will be completed by 2051. But the plan is unclear on how the reactor buildings will be decommissioned.

Miyano Hiroshi, a member of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, says it will be difficult to draw a conclusion from various arguments on how to decommission the plant. But he adds discussions are important and that he hopes the society’s report will contribute to the debate.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20200726_14/?fbclid=IwAR135prg8cmB7Yw5kdFWbeCitGEIWkPqIxi6Hgryx-PV-2HwN9ksZKld7CU

August 3, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , | Leave a comment

Robots in Fukushima monitor cucumber production in IT-farming joint project

np_file_25710-870x653Katsumi Hashimoto (left) president of the Fukushima Seed Center, talks about how he teamed up with two other technology companies to make cucumber farming less labor intensive.

Jul 24, 2020

Three ventures from the IT and farming industries have started testing methods to produce cucumbers with less human labor in Sukagawa, Fukushima Prefecture, in the hope that it will reinvigorate the agriculture industry suffering from a worsening labor shortage, including a lack of successors.

Two technology companies, Benefic Co. and MK tech, have teamed up with Fukushima Seed Center and established a project team called Smart Agri Fukushima.

The team created a 1,300-square-meter testing greenhouse, planted 2,000 cucumbers and is monitoring temperatures, humidity and carbon dioxide among other data remotely using robots. The team has already shipped 1.6 tons of produce to a local agricultural cooperative, with a plan to expand the greenhouse to 1 hectare, or eight times the current scale, in the next five years.

In developing robots to monitor the cucumbers, Benefic will be in charge of its software while MK tech will manufacture the hardware. In the greenhouse, cucumbers are produced through a unique hanging method, which makes it easier for robots to monitor the produce, rather than the usual method which is to cut the plant at a certain height.

According to the seed center, the Sukagawa area, well-known for cucumbers, has been struggling for years with a shortage of labor, causing farmers to automate the farming process to make it more attractive to younger people. In the future, they hope to spread the smart farming method nationwide.

We want to protect cucumber farming by making the fields less labor intensive,” said Katsumi Hashimoto, president of the seed center.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/07/24/national/robots-farming-fukushima/

August 3, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Activist Professor Unveils English-language Video Warning of Tokyo Olympics Radiation Risk

July 24, 2020

SEOUL, July 24 (Korea Bizwire)Ahead of the Tokyo Summer Olympics scheduled to be held next year in Japan, Seo Kyung-duk, a professor at Sungshin Women’s University, unveiled on Thursday a video in English on social media such as YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, warning that the radiation risk still remains high in Japan.

The four-minute video focuses on highlighting the risk of being exposed to radioactive materials in Fukushima.

In 2013, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared that the radiation in Fukushima was sufficiently under control.

The video, however, claims that in the seven years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the region’s nuclear power plant and its neighboring areas still remain a dangerous radioactive area, with the radiation level of some Fukushima areas being up to 1,775 times higher than internationally recommended levels.

The video warned that the Fukushima nuclear disaster is not terminated but still underway, adding that those who want to visit the Tokyo Olympics should be careful about the risk of being exposed to radiation.

The Japanese government plans to host some Olympic games in Fukushima as well as providing ingredients and foods from Fukushima to the athletes participating in the Tokyo Olympics,” Seo said.

This move is a sign that the Japanese government only wants to use the Tokyo Olympics as a chance to herald the rebuilding of Fukushima, neglecting the region’s radiation risk.”

Lina Jang (linajang@koreabizwire.com)

http://koreabizwire.com/activist-professor-unveils-english-language-video-warning-of-tokyo-olympics-radiation-risk/165490

August 3, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , | Leave a comment

Plutonium Particles Scattered 200km From Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Site, Scientists Say

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Jul 22, 2020

Plutonium fragments may have spread more than 200km via caesium microparticle compounds released during the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster in Japan. These findings are according to research done on the region’s soil samples, published in Science of The Total Environment, by an international group of scientists.

The Fukushima Nuclear disaster occurred when a massive tsunami crashed over the plant’s walls, causing three operating nuclear reactors to overheat and melt down. Simultaneously, reactions within the plant generated hydrogen gas that exploded as soon as it escaped from containment. During the disaster, caesium — a volatile fission product created in nuclear fuel — combined with other reactor materials to create caesium-rich microparticles (CsMPs) that were ejected from the plant.

CsMPs are incredibly radioactive, and scientists study them in an attempt to both measure their environmental impact and to gain insight into the nature and extent of the Fukushima disaster. In one such research process, scientists discovered tiny uranium and plutonium fragments within these micro-particles. The range of plutonium particle spread was previously estimated at 50km, and this research changes that number to 230km. This discovery is vital as it provides a reason to extend testing for plutonium poisoning in human-inhabited regions further than before, and helps scientists understand how to decommission the nuclear reactors in the plant. Decommissioning nuclear plants is extremely important after they cease to function, in order to reduce residual radioactivity in the region to safe levels.

With respect to immediate implications for health, scientists note that radioactivity levels of the plutonium are similar to global counts from nuclear weapons tests. While this means that radioactivity levels may not pose an urgent, critical danger, scientists also note that plutonium poisoning in food items remains a threat. If plutonium were ingested — a possibility in this region — it could create isotopes that significantly increase radioactivity doses, and poison the body.

Due to high radioactivity levels, humans are still unable to enter the Fukushima plant nine years after the disaster. Yet, scientists continue to work towards safely decommissioning the reactors within the plant from the outskirts. Though radiation levels post the Fukushima disaster were much lower than Chernobyl, individuals living near the region still suffer from the aftermath of everything the disaster put them through, fear of poisoning and psychological paranoia, as they attempt to bring life back to normal.

https://theswaddle.com/plutonium-particles-scattered-200km-from-fukushima-nuclear-disaster-site-scientists-say/

July 23, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , | Leave a comment

Fukushima may have scattered plutonium widely

PW2018-01-drinkwater_pic2-635x476The upper side of the unit 3 reactor building at Fukushima Daiichi was damaged by a hydrogen explosion. This area housed the spent fuel pool and the fuel handling machines.

20 Jul 2020

Tiny fragments of plutonium may have been carried more than 200 km by caesium particles released following the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan in 2011. So says an international group of scientists that has made detailed studies of soil samples at sites close to the damaged reactors. The researchers say the findings shed new light on conditions inside the sealed-off reactors and should aid the plant’s decommissioning.

The disaster at Fukushima occurred after a magnitude-9 earthquake struck off the north-east coast of Japan and sent a 14 m-high tsunami crashing over the plant’s seawalls. With low-lying back-up generators knocked out, the site’s three operating reactors overheated and melted down. At the same time, hot steam reacted with the zirconium cladding of the nuclear fuel, generating hydrogen gas that exploded when it escaped from containment.

Caesium is a volatile fission product created in nuclear fuel. During the Fukushima meltdown, it combined with silica gas created when melting fuel and other reactor materials interacted with the concrete below the damaged reactor vessel. The resulting glass particles, known as caesium-rich microparticles (CsMPs), measure a few microns or tens of microns across.

Satoshi Utsunomiya and Eitaro Kurihara at Kyushu University and colleagues in Japan, Europe and the US analysed three such particles obtained from soil samples dug up at two sites within a few kilometres of the Fukushima plant. They used a range of techniques to study the physical and chemical composition of these CsMPs, with the aim of establishing whether they contained any plutonium.

Mapping plutonium spread

To date, plutonium from the accident has been detected as far as 50 km from the damaged reactors. Researchers had previously thought that this plutonium, like the caesium, was released after evaporating from the fuel. But the new analysis instead points to some of it having escaped from the stricken plant in particulate form within fragments of fuel “captured” by the CsMPs.

Utsunomiya and colleagues used electron microscopy and synchrotron X-ray fluorescence to look inside the CsMPs. Based on these data, they were able to map the distribution of various elements coming from materials within the damaged reactors – including iron from stainless steel, zirconium and tin from the fuel cladding and zinc from cooling water. They also found uranium within one of the CsMPs, in the form of discrete uranium oxide particles less than 10 nm across.

However, the researchers were unable to find any traces of plutonium using these methods – probably due to interference from strontium, another fission product. Instead, they turned to X-ray absorption. To compensate for high levels of noise, they carried out the measurement at two different synchrotrons, transporting their roughly 20 µm diameter particle from Japan to be blasted with X-rays at the Diamond facility in the UK and the Swiss Light Source in Switzerland.

The researchers focused their attention on the three areas of the particle that generated the most fluorescence from uranium. They failed to detect plutonium at two of these locations, but succeeded at the third, with absorption spectra produced at both synchrotrons indicating the element’s presence. The low signal-to-noise ratio meant they couldn’t identify exactly which plutonium species were present, but the shape of the spectra told them that it probably existed as an oxide, rather than as a pure metal.

Utsunomiya and co-workers also used mass spectrometry to measure the relative abundance of different plutonium and uranium isotopes within the microparticles. They found that three ratios – uranium-235 to uranium-238, as well as plutonium-239 compared to both plutonium-240 and -242 – all agreed with calculations of the proportions that would have been present in the fuel at the time of the disaster. This agreement, coupled with the fact that the measured amount of uranium-238 was nearly two orders of magnitude greater than would be the case if it had simply evaporated from the melted fuel, led them to conclude that the uranium and plutonium existed as discrete fuel particles within the CsMPs.

Implications for decommissioning

The researchers note that previous studies have shown that plutonium and caesium are distributed differently in the extended area around Fukushima, which suggests that not all CsMPs contain plutonium. However, they say that the fact plutonium is found in some of these particles implies that it could have been transported as far afield as the caesium – up to 230 km from the Fukushima plant.

As regards any threat to health, they note that radioactivity levels of the emitted plutonium are comparable with global counts from nuclear weapons tests. Such low concentrations, they say, “may not have significant health effects”, but they add that if the plutonium were ingested, the isotopes that make it up could yield quite high effective doses.

With radiation levels still too high for humans to enter the damaged reactors, the researchers argue that the fuel fragments they have uncovered provide precious direct information on what happened during the meltdown and the current state of the fuel debris. In particular, Utsunomiya points out that the composition of the debris, just like that of normal nuclear fuel, varies on the very smallest scales. This information, he says, will be vital when it comes to decommissioning the reactors safely, given the potential risk of inhaling dust particles containing uranium or plutonium.

The research is reported in Science of the Total Environment.

https://physicsworld.com/a/fukushima-may-have-scattered-plutonium-widely/

July 23, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , | Leave a comment

Japan grows the world’s “sweetest” peach – in Fukushima

Frankly speaking you have to be either masochist or suicidal to play Russian roulette by eating those Fukushima peaches, their sweetness should never make you forget their potential radioactive contamination. There are many other countries where to buy sweet and safe peaches from.

That said I cannot believe the nerve that this journalist has to write such a “sweet” propaganda piece. I understand that these people need to make a living, but should they not consider their moral responsability towards the people whose health might be put at risk buying and eating their potentially radiation contaminated products? All done in the name of “holy reconstruction”…. There is no such a thing as a harmless low dose in internal radiation.

eight_col_ian-baldwin-f7FwHomDgzg-unsplashFifth generation peach farmer Koji Furuyama has been striving to decontaminate Fukushima’s reputation by growing the world’s sweetest peaches.

20 July 2020

Would you buy a $7000 peach? A fruit so juicy, so sweet, so perfect you just don’t care about the sticky nectar dribbling down your face?

What if it came from Fukushima, infamous for one of the worst nuclear accidents in modern memory?

Before the disaster, peaches from the area were prized for their exceptional taste and luscious texture, but on 11 March 2011 a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered one of the world’s worst accidents of the nuclear power age.

As radiation spewed from the Fukushima Daiichi plant, tens of thousands of residents were forced to flee their homes – some never to return.

While radiation levels have slowly dissipated, an inescapable stigma remains for the people of Fukushima.

Since then, fifth generation peach farmer Koji Furuyama has been striving to decontaminate the region’s reputation by growing the world’s sweetest peaches.

“Produce in Fukushima was recognised as the world’s most worthless and dangerous,” Koji said.

“I thought of doing the complete opposite by making the world’s most delicious or sweetest peaches.”

‘The sweetness will be from an unknown world’

There is a scientific measurement which confirms the intense sweetness of Koji’s peaches.

When you bite into a peach, you might notice if it’s sweet or tart or bland. Among farmers, this is known as Degrees Brix, and it measures the fruit’s sugar content.

The higher on the Brix scale, which goes up to 40, the sweeter the fruit.

Your average supermarket peach is usually somewhere between 11 and 15 Degrees Brix.

In comparison, the Guinness World Records certified a peach grown in Kanechika, Japan as the world’s sweetest, with a sugar content of 22.2

But on the Furuyama Fruit Farm in rural Fukushima, Koji has managed to grow a peach so sweet, it came in at a mouth-watering 32 Degrees Brix.

While Koji sold that delectably sweet peach for $7000 a few years ago, he’s not done yet.

He has already grown a peach at 35, and is now setting his sights on the most perfect peach ever, aiming to achieve that elusive 40 Degrees Brix.

“The sweetness will be from an unknown world,” he vowed.

“It will be the only one in the world. To put a price on that, I have to settle at $40,000.”

This might seem like a lot of money for something that literally grows on trees, but fruit can play a very different cultural role in Japan.

A bunch of grapes the size of Ping-Pong balls just sold for about $NZ18,500 at auction in Ishikawa on 16 July.

The pricey, individually wrapped fruits sold at department stores are precious gifts given as a sign of respect or thanks.

Going to a housewarming or visiting a friend in hospital? Grab a box of giant, blemish-free, juicy strawberries.

It’s not always just an everyday snack here, and if you pick the wrong melon without checking the price tag, you can receive quite the hip-pocket surprise when you get to the checkout.

It means Japanese farmers are meticulous in their production processes and is the reason why Koji is unyieldingly striving for perfection.

The recovery from the March 2011 disaster also gives him a reason to keep going.

A peach replaces the Olympic torch

Japan’s organisers of the 2020 Olympics won their bid with a pitch highlighting how the Games would be the “recovery games”, showing off just how far Japan’s north-eastern region had come.

The region was hosting the baseball and softball events and the prefecture was to mark the beginning of the torch relay and play a big part of it.

The food grown in this area, including Koji’s peaches, are safe to eat. He was banking on the Olympic Games showing that off.

“If this becomes known worldwide, the image of Fukushima would improve and I thought I could change it. That’s why I focus on making such sweet peaches,” Koji said.

eight_col_053_1EMPERORPEACH201507168Japan’s Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visit a peach farmer in Fukushima.

 

When coronavirus restrictions forced Olympics organisers to delay the torch relay, Koji still ran his leg as if the Games were going ahead. Instead of a torch, he carried a peach.

Koji holds onto hope the Games will go ahead, and Fukushima will get a chance to shine, even if it is not fully recovered.

“It’s hard to return to what it was 10 years ago, before the disaster. There are many victims who have started new lives and it’s true that it’s recovering gradually,” he said.

But once the coronavirus pandemic passes, a ‘recovery’ Olympics will take on a special meaning for everyone who survived it.

“Recovery from coronavirus will apply to people around the world,” he said.

“I think it could have a deeper meaning: recovery in [this region] and recovery from coronavirus. I am thinking in a positive way.”

Inside Fukushima’s no-go zone

Not everyone shares Koji’s optimism in Fukushima. The nuclear disaster destroyed Nobuyoshi Ito’s farming business.

He regularly visits the exclusion zones and doesn’t believe the government is surveying enough radiation hotspots.

He believes the idea of the recovery Olympics is “inappropriate”.

“Which part has recovered? When 30,000 people can return to their previous lives it’s recovery. But the government … abandoned those people,” he said.

“It’s trying to host the Olympics only with the people who have recovered.”

Around Fukushima, many of the clocks on the walls stopped ticking moments after the quake struck in 2011.

Currently, 371 square kilometres of the prefecture is a no-go zone, and parts of it will never be habitable again.

Sadao Sugishita left his home of around 70 years when the nuclear meltdown happened. He and his wife Tokuko were forced to evacuate.

Nestled in the lush green mountains, their home is in the no-go zone – inaccessible to anyone but former residents.

Every few minutes, large trucks carrying giant black bags of radioactive soil hurtle down their narrow road.

The bags sit piled up across the road from their property along with piles of rubble, a sadly iconic feature throughout this vast region.

Sugishita and his wife will never again live in their home. They’ve just agreed to tear the house down.

He doesn’t feel the prefecture has recovered.

“All our neighbours and close friends have become separate and the life in the city is completely different to the life here in the village,” he said.

https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/world/421610/japan-grows-the-world-s-sweetest-peach-in-fukushima

July 23, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima localities speak out against dumping radioactive water in sea

Storage tanks for radioactive water are seen at tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma town, Fukushima prefecture

Storage tanks for radioactive water are seen at Tokyo Electric Power Co’s (TEPCO) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan February 18, 2019. Picture taken February 18, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc. projects that tanks at the Fukushima No. 1 plant that hold contaminated water will reach capacity in the summer of 2022.
 
July 17, 2020
 
Seventeen out of 59 municipal assemblies in Fukushima Prefecture have either passed a resolution or issued a statement opposing the discharge into the Pacific Ocean of treated radioactive water currently stored at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, a Fukushima Minpo survey has shown.
 
The resolutions and statements also described measures taken by the central government as inadequate to combat reputational damage to food and fishery goods produced in Fukushima Prefecture, and the hope that local voices will be reflected in Tokyo’s decision on whether to release the tritium-tainted water into the sea.
 
Fukushima Minpo conducted a survey of assemblies in the prefecture’s 59 cities, towns and villages from June 18 to June 24. The assembly for the town of Namie, close to where the nuclear power plant is located, adopted a resolution that opposed the release of the radioactive water into the sea, while assemblies from the town of Miharu and village of Nishigo both issued statements opposing both sea discharge and evaporation as methods for disposing of the water.
 
Many municipal assemblies have urged the central government to instead come up with measures involving long-term storage of the contaminated water in tanks and to fight rumors related to Fukushima produce.
 
Some assemblies said deliberations over issuing similar resolutions or statements were ongoing.
 
Assemblies in the cities of Minamisoma and Date are still deliberating on the topic, while 11 others said they were planning to discuss it in the future, indicating a strong possibility that more than half of authorities either had already or were likely to adopt some kind of statement on the matter.
 
In February, a government panel tasked with assessing how to deal with the tanks endlessly being filled with radioactive water said releasing the liquid into the sea or evaporating it were “realistic options.” It also recommended that dumping the contaminated water into the sea was technically more feasible.
 
Resolutions and statements have been issued by local assemblies since that time, during their regular assembly sessions in March and June.
 
Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc., the plant operator, projects that the tanks at the Fukushima No. 1 plant will reach capacity in the summer of 2022.
 
The Nuclear Regulation Authority has said it needs about two years to prepare for the water to be released into the sea, fueling speculation that the central government will make a final decision this summer. Ministers with responsibility for the issue have repeatedly said they cannot shelve the decision.
 
In its recommendation, the panel said the government needed to “listen thoroughly to the diverse opinions of relevant parties” before making the decision. Government sources have said it will look into doing so, but it is unclear how those opinions would affect the decision.
 

 

July 20, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , , | Leave a comment

Being Clear-Eyed About Citizen Science in the Age of COVID-19

1

July 15, 2020

An anthropologist explores the network of citizen monitoring capabilities that developed after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011 for what they might teach all of us about such strategies for the covonavirus pandemic.

In March 2011, one of the strongest earthquakes on record struck the Fukushima Dai’ichi Nuclear Power Plant in northeastern Japan. Combined with a subsequent tsunami, the disasters triggered massive nuclear meltdowns and widespread evacuations.

On the quiet Friday afternoon of March 11, 2011, Natsuo* was working in Fukushima, the capital city of Fukushima prefecture. At 2:46 p.m., a devastating earthquake of 9.0 magnitude hit the Pacific coast of Japan, where the prefecture of Fukushima is situated. Natsuo recalled to me the sheer power of this earthquake: “The whole office shook like hell, everything began to fall from the walls. I thought to myself ‘That’s it … I’m going to die!’”

Natsuo quickly returned to her hometown of Koriyama City, unaware that the earthquake had triggered a massive tsunami, which inundated an important part of the prefectural shoreline and ultimately claimed the lives of nearly 20,000 people. On top of the initial devastation, the tsunami severely damaged the Fukushima Dai’ichi Nuclear Power Plant, in Ōkuma, Fukushima, located on the east coast of Fukushima prefecture. She later learned on TV that something “seemed wrong” with the nuclear power plant. “During that time,” she said, “I tried to get as much information as I could, but the media weren’t being clear on the situation.”

Something was indeed very wrong: The earthquake and subsequent tsunami led to core meltdowns within some of the Fukushima power plant’s nuclear reactors. This malfunction, along with other technical incidents, resulted in the atmospheric release of radioactive pollutants, which spread predominantly over the northeastern part of Japan, forcing a widespread evacuation of Fukushima residents. By March 12, the area around the power plant had been evacuated; those living and working within 20 kilometers of the radius of the plant were forced to relocate. In the days, weeks, and months following this disaster, uncertainty around the scale and extent of contamination grew swiftly—much like what we see occurring throughout the world during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most notably, the public grew increasingly concerned about the legitimacy of institutional experts’ ability to control and explain the risks of residual radioactivity, while citizens like Natsuo were unable to get adequate information through traditional media venues. Initially, data about radioactive contamination came sporadically and was often explained in hard-to-understand metrics by scientists who were cherry-picked by the state to send reassuring messages to citizens.

 

2Following the meltdown, school children helped sell food items to serve those who were displaced by the disaster.

Moreover, radioactive contamination was later found to be present in some food products and in school yards where children had been playing that lay beyond the official zone of evacuation. Over the ensuing months and years, the public lost confidence in the state’s response and began to take matters into their own hands, mobilizing expert practices of their own. Widespread grassroot actions led to citizen science networks in which people tracked radiation in their environment, organized learning workshops on radiation dangers, and tested food for contamination, often through local organizations or individual households.

As an anthropologist who conducted fieldwork on the Fukushima nuclear disaster between 2015 and 2017, I came to realize that citizen science can rise up to fill in the gaps of state responses toward crises, for better or for worse. As we’ve seen play out throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in various parts of the world, governance and leadership have often been confusing, mismatched, and at times utterly misleading. The case of Fukushima offers lessons about both the promises and pitfalls of citizen science and how civil society is playing an increasingly important role in managing various disasters, catastrophes, and crises.

The Geiger counter of Masayuki was not silent for long before it began to emit the distinctive “clicking” sound associated with radiation monitoring devices. The “click” grew louder in intensity as we located a hot spot, an area where the level of radiation is significantly higher than elsewhere. Masayuki dutifully noted the number provided by the device before leaving to search for another hot spot. We were standing in the Japanese village of Iitate, situated in the prefecture of Fukushima. It was common at this time for citizens to own their own Geiger counters—often purchased off the internet using international donations or made at home as DIY devices—to measure the level of radiation around them.

3Due to growing concerns about the government’s response, many citizens began purchasing Geiger counters to monitor the radiation around them.

 

When I first came to this rural village in the spring of 2016, more than five years had passed since the nuclear disaster. The forced evacuation of citizens from Fukushima and the surrounding areas had proved short-lived; by 2012, the Japanese state had already embraced a policy of repatriation to irradiated areas like Iitate village, which is where I met Masayuki and citizens like him in 2016.

Under this repatriation policy, Iitate had become a patchwork of three different safety areas, with boundaries defined by the annual level of atmospheric radiation projected to be received by residents if they remained within the zones. Citizens could only reside in “green zones,”

areas where evacuation orders were ready to be lifted. These areas were considered safe enough for all community activities, such as hiking and school events. The “yellow zones” represented areas in which citizens were still not permitted to live, and the “red zones” were areas considered off-limits to any form of entry due to their high level of radiation.

Those who had willingly returned to Iitate were typically elderly farmers for whom Iitate was one’s native land, a concept that the Japanese call furusato. As an elderly man explained to me in 2017: “It’s the place where I was born. I always wanted to come back to this place. Seeing the sun rise, seeing the moon at night. Seeing the blueness of the sky of Iitate.”

While happy to be back in their beloved region, many residents were critical of the state radiation-monitoring networks that were supposed to provide them with adequate information to allow them to live safely in the village. Indeed, state data on radiation was often provided through fixed monitoring in precise locations or through an average radiation level taken in the village. This kind of information was not practical enough for residents, who wanted to know the specific radiation levels behind their houses or in their rice paddy fields.

Likewise, official depictions of radiation levels through clear-cut chromatic zones did little to offer the citizens reassurance. As a result of the perceived limitation of state measures, residents quickly decided to track radiation themselves as a means to keep the map of their village relevant—often finding contamination that was not evident from state mapping. In the house of one farmer, I witnessed homemade models that exhibited a 3D topography of Iitate’s geographical landscape. These models had been made using 3D printers, and the level of radiation had been monitored by the citizens themselves.

In particular, the local knowledge of the geography of Iitate helped citizens to attain a level of precision that far exceeded that of the government map. Citizens soon learned that radiation doses could be higher at the bottom of a hill than farther upslope or that the woods behind one’s home, having trapped radiation, might impact the radiation level inside houses. These practices helped strengthen a community that had previously felt helpless in the face of an imperceptible radiation threat. Geiger counters became the ears and eyes of citizens like Masayuki, enabling them to make sense of and gain some semblance of control over a hazard that cannot be registered by the senses.

After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, one of the main sources of radiation exposure stemmed from consumption of food products such as milk or wild mushrooms that had been contaminated by radioactive fallout. In an effort to make sure that this did not happen in Japan, the government took on the task of testing the food produced in Fukushima, implementing a limit to the allowable amount of radioactivity in food products.

Within months after the meltdowns, the government assured the public of the safety of its food products, encouraging citizens to consume foods sold at public fairs and other public events. However, citizens of Fukushima also consume food harvested from streams, forests, home gardens, and mountain areas—where state monitoring was largely absent or insufficient.

4The author (center) stands with two community members in front of a citizen science center.

 

Again, citizens mobilized to fill in the gaps in food testing: With the help of public donations, citizen scientists were able to purchase scintillation detectors, which are used to measure radioactive contaminants in foodstuff. Such testing enabled citizens to gain an understanding of the types of foods most prone to radioactive contamination, such as mushrooms, green leafy vegetables, citrus, sea cucumber, and seaweeds. This in turn helped people avoid eating the most risky foods. Together with state monitoring, such citizen science practices resulted in lower consumption of contaminated foods.

While such examples demonstrate the power and potential of citizen science, there are inherent political complexities involved when citizens or nongovernmental organizations step in and claim expertise in areas typically reserved for state agencies and experts. Like those entities, citizen science has its own potential pitfalls.

For one, corporate polluters or state agencies can potentially exploit citizen science, delegating the monitoring of contamination to the victims of a disaster. For instance, by the end of this year, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Agency plans to remove 80 percent of radiation monitoring posts in Fukushima, arguing that the radiation levels in many areas have stabilized themselves—owing also in part to the presence and efficiency of monitoring networks provided by citizens. This decision has been controversial, since problems of radioactive contamination persist in Fukushima. For instance, one of the main radioactive pollutants, Cesium-137, has a long lifespan and can emit radiation for nearly 300 years.

Retiring these posts will force citizen scientists to take on the burden of monitoring, shifting liability for ensuring safe living conditions onto the shoulders of the nuclear victims. In addition, the growing impact of citizen science can lead to reduced public expenditure, minimal government intervention, and risk privatization, meaning that risk becomes individual and private. Too much delegation to citizens runs the risk of creating societies where individuals have to take care of themselves in increasingly polluted environments, while interpreting complex data about controversial environmental dangers. And not every community can afford to purchase expensive monitoring devices or test food in a consistent manner.

Citizen scientists also risk reproducing forms of ignorance around certain hazards. In post-Fukushima Japan, what is meant by the “science” of citizen science is often synonymous with a tracking and monitoring agenda, where individuals resort to the very same technologies and knowledge forms used by states, nuclear lobbies, or radiological protection agencies.

Yet many anthropologists and historians have argued that what we know (and don’t know) about the extent of radiation hazards and dangers was embedded in a culture of secrecy, denial, and propaganda that was shaped by the nuclear arms race of the Cold War. Considerations over international security and political stability were often prioritized over the safety of workers or citizens who had been exposed to radiation. As a result, some of the negative effects of radiation were downplayed through different tactics.

One such tactic, which was witnessed after Fukushima, occurred through the reframing of radiation risks as simplistic and natural, unrelated to the specific risks associated with Fukushima. For instance, the government distributed pamphlets that explained that radiation naturally exists in our food, such as the potassium levels present in bananas.

Yet such information is irrelevant to the hazards of internalizing fission products from a nuclear power plant. While bananas have naturally occurring potassium, it would require eating around 20 million bananas to get radiation poisoning. On the other hand, each radionuclide released during nuclear meltdown events like Fukushima possesses specific biological signatures and presents particular risks when inhaled or ingested. During my fieldwork in Fukushima, I witnessed that this legacy of misinformation was carried on by some citizens who unwittingly replicated these propagandist forms of knowledge by making similar naturalistic or overly simplistic comparisons.

As citizen science efforts grow, it is also critical to consider to what extent citizen involvement might put individuals at risk of adverse health effects. This is a tricky question when one considers that certain members of the population, like children, are more sensitive to radiation than others. In Fukushima, some Japanese parents have understandably opted to evacuate rather than rely on citizen science, arguing that doing so would expose their children to unacceptable levels of radiation and that forcing children to be responsible for their own safety is unethical.

Citizen scientists are hardly homogeneous groups, as mothers, farmers, and urban citizens do not experience hazards and recovery in the same way. In that regard, factors such as gender, employment, and social class strongly influence why people enter citizen science, how science is mobilized, and how data about a controversial hazard ends up being interpreted. For instance, people like Natsuo have used the results gathered by citizen science to highlight the dangers of living in Fukushima, while other citizen science organizations help bring people back to their beloved region. These conflicts can result in even more fragmented communities and conflicts within and around citizen science.

5Public protests and outcries from parents increased as distrust deepened toward the government’s response to ongoing radiation pollution from the Fukushima meltdown.

 

With the continuing uncertainties, frustrations, and misinformation associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, we can expect civil society to rise up—perhaps as it did in the months and years following the Fukushima disaster. Indeed, early on in the pandemic’s spread across the U.S., there were calls for citizens to submit their COVID-19 symptoms, with the aim of tracking the rise of cases and filling in for incomplete testing at the federal and state levels in order to aid public health efforts.

Another citizen science initiative attempts to produce real-time epidemiology by enlisting individuals to use their smartphones to fight COVID-19. We have also seen a rise in 3D printing or DIY medical equipment, such as nonmedical face masks, to meet the urgent demand. The Citizen Science Association lists dozens of citizen science resources related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Much like in Fukushima, these movements will have unintended societal implications, legal ramifications, and ethical impacts—especially as they surround issues of public health safety, patented medical technologies, or data quality and interpretation amid the surge of a novel virus replete with uncertainty.

Yet, more strikingly, citizen science perhaps best demonstrates how lay people can directly draw from their own experience and scientific tools so as to provide concrete solutions beyond the traditional top-down control measures that too often epitomize post-disaster policies. In that regard, Masayuki once angrily told me, “For us, state experts are people who have 90 percent of knowledge (shiru), but no wisdom (wakaru)!”

In Japanese, two words—shiru and wakaru—can be used for the verb “knowing.” Shiru means “to find out” or “to learn.” It implies a process of acquisition of knowledge and information. Wakaru, on the other hand, is closer to “understanding this knowledge.” Shiru comes before wakaru, and in a way, one can know but not necessarily understand. Wakaru consequently shows a greater and more personal level of comprehension often based on a given context.

For Masayuki, state institutional experts possessed shiru, but not wakaru. Having been directly affected by radioactive contamination, Masayuki strongly believed that the inhabitants of a place, the jūmin (literally, the people who resided) were best suited to manage their life in a post-Fukushima Japan.

* Pseudonyms have been used to protect people’s privacy.

https://www.sapiens.org/culture/fukushima-citizen-science/

July 20, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment