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Radiation levels at Fukushima plant found worse and more lethal than previously assumed

January 5, 2021

Radiation at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant is far worse than previously thought, with the levels estimated at 10 sieverts per hour– a fatal dose for anyone who stays in the vicinity for an hour, according to experts. This means it will be extremely difficult for crews to move shield plugs, raising concerns that the plan to decommission the reactors will have to be reassessed.

Exceedingly high radiation levels inside crippled reactor buildings at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant were described by nuclear regulators as an “extremely serious” challenge to the overall decommissioning of the site.

According to the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), a huge amount of radioactive materials had attached to shield plugs of the containment vessels in the No.2 and No. 3 reactors.

With an estimated 10 sieverts per hour, the radiation levels are fatal for anyone who stays even an hour in the area. The finding also means that it would be extremely difficult for workers to move the shield plugs, which raised the prospect that the decommissioning plan will have to be reassessed.

Removing the highly contaminated shield plugs added to the challenge of recovering unclear fuel debris– the most taxing part of the process, said NRA chairman, Toyoshi Fuketa. 

“It appears that nuclear debris lies at an elevated place,” Fuketa said at a news conference in December 2020. “This will have a huge impact on the whole process of decommissioning work.”

At normal times, the shield plug blocks radiation from the reactor core. Workers remove a shield plug to get access to the containment vessel’s interior when unclear fuels need to be replaced. 

​The Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. Reactor 1 to 4 from right to left.

In a study that resumed in September after a five-year hiatus, the NRA conducted fresh measurements of radiation levels in the surrounding areas of the No. 2 and No. 3 reactors.

It found that the amount of radioactive cesium 137 was at 20-40 petabecquerels between the top and middle layers of the No. 2 reactor’s shield plug. This works out to more than 10 sieverts per hour– radiation at these levels can be fatal to a person if they spend an hour in the vicinity. Meanwhile, the estimated figure was 30 petabecquerels for the No. 3 reactor.

The 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster in Fukushima caused the shield plug of the No. 1 reactor to slip out of place. It was also damaged by a hydrogen explosion at the reactor building.

As larger amounts of cesium 137 leaked from the No. 1 reactor through the damaged plug, the amount of radioactive material was estimated at 0.16 petabecquerels, lower than for the No. 2 and No. 3 reactors. On the other hand, the shield plugs, for the No. 2 and No. 3 reactors remained secure.

The Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TECPO) announced that the removal of nuclear fuel debris will be moved to 2022 or later, rather than the initially planned operation in 2021, due to a delay in the development of equipment.

January 9, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , | Leave a comment

55% oppose release of treated water from Fukushima plant

Numerous tanks containing contaminated water from the stricken reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant occupy a large portion of the site’s premises in October.

January 4, 2021

Fifty-five percent of voters in a survey expressed opposition to the government’s plan to release treated contaminated water from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant into the sea, while 32 percent support the measure.

The Asahi Shimbun survey also found that more than 80 percent of respondents fear the reputation of local seafood would be hurt if the treated water were discharged.

The government is moving to release tons of water from the stricken facility situated on the Pacific coast of northeastern Japan because the plant’s capacity to store radioactive water on its premises is projected to reach its limit in summer 2022.

This will be accomplished by removing most of the extremely hazardous radioactive substances and diluting the polluted water sufficiently so that it comfortably clears the government’s safety standards for disposal.

However, local fishermen and the national federation of fishermen’s groups, along with local municipalities, all staunchly oppose discharging the water.

Fifty percent of voters supporting the Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and 47 percent of Suga’s Liberal Democratic Party are against the plan, outnumbering those who favor it, the survey showed.

By gender, men were sharply divided over the question, with 44 percent endorsing it and 46 percent opposing the plan.

But 62 percent of women took exception to it, compared with 22 percent who approved of the plan.

Asked whether the image of local seafood would be adversely affected after the water is released, 42 percent said they were “deeply concerned” about the matter, while 44 percent replied they were “somewhat concerned.”

The ratio of those who were “not concerned so much” came to 9 percent. Those who were “not concerned at all” stood at 2 percent.

But the survey also showed that 68 percent of voters backing the discharge said it will undermine the reputation of local seafood.

With regard to the government’s handling of the Fukushima nuclear disaster to date, 67 percent gave the thumbs down and 20 percent rated its performance highly.

Among supporters of the LDP, 56 percent had a low opinion of the government’s approach.

The survey also showed that 64 percent of respondents who took exception to government’s response were against the planned discharge of treated contaminated water into the sea.

The survey was conducted from November to December by sending questionnaires to 3,000 eligible voters nationwide selected at random. There were 2,126 valid responses, or 71 percent of the total.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/14080736

January 9, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , | Leave a comment

Emperor’s evacuation to Kyoto weighed after Fukushima nuclear disaster

January 2, 2021

The government led by the now-defunct Democratic Party of Japan unofficially proposed that then Emperor Akihito evacuate to Kyoto or somewhere further in the west from Tokyo immediately after the start of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011, a former administration official has said.

However, the Imperial Household Agency flatly dismissed the idea, saying there was “no way” the emperor would do it at a time when people were not evacuating from Tokyo, leading to the government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan to give up the proposal.

Then-Emperor Akihito speaks to an evacuee in May 2011 in Fukushima Prefecture, which hosts the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station that was crippled in the earthquake-tsunami catastrophe of the same year.

Several former senior officials at the prime minister’s office separately said the then DPJ administration also briefly considered evacuating Prince Hisahito, the son of Crown Prince Fumihito and Crown Princess Kiko, from Tokyo to Kyoto.

Prince Hisahito became second in line to the throne when his uncle, Emperor Naruhito, ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne in May 2019. The prince was 4 years old when the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant suffered core meltdowns following a devastating earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan.

Former Emperor Akihito stepped down from the throne on April 30, 2019, becoming the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in around 200 years, his eldest son succeeding him the following day.

Kan, a House of Representatives member now belonging to the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, admitted he was “thinking in my head” of evacuating the emperor at the time but denied he had conveyed the idea to the then emperor or suggested it to someone else.

However, according to the former Kan administration official, at Kan’s request he unofficially asked Shingo Haketa, then chief of the Imperial Household Agency, via a mediator whether Emperor Akihito would agree to evacuate from the Imperial Palace, possibly to the Kyoto Imperial Palace in the ancient capital in western Japan.

A former agency official said he remembers the agency turned down the proposal.

Asked whether the agency actually conveyed the evacuation proposal to the emperor, he said “maybe, but only after” saying no to the administration.

The Kan administration also treated Prince Hisahito’s evacuation as among items that should be considered in case of a spike in Tokyo’s radiation levels, but eventually decided not to formally consider it, according to the former senior officials at the prime minister’s office.

On March 11, 2011, the six-reactor plant on the Pacific coast was flooded by tsunami waves exceeding 10 meters triggered by the magnitude 9.0 quake, causing the reactor cooling systems to lose their power supply.

The Nos. 1 to 3 reactors subsequently suffered core meltdowns, while hydrogen explosions damaged the buildings housing the Nos. 1, 3 and 4 units. Around 160,000 people were evacuated at one point in the nuclear disaster with a severity level rated on a par with the 1986 Chernobyl accident at maximum 7 on an international scale.

Yutaka Kawashima, who was the agency’s grand chamberlain at the time, wrote in a magazine article shortly after the triple disaster, “It is utterly inconceivable for his majesty to abandon the people of Tokyo and leave Tokyo,” as rumors had circulated about the emperor escaping the capital.

On March 16, 2011, five days after the quake and tsunami, Emperor Akihito said in an unprecedented video message he was hurt by the devastation caused by the disaster and expressed hope the people of Japan would overcome the challenges they faced by caring for each other.

He and his wife then Empress Michiko also voluntarily cut electricity at their residence in Tokyo for two hours daily as they wanted to share the hardship experienced by the people under the power rationing measure taken by electric companies, the agency said at the time.

In parts of Tokyo and its vicinity, rolling blackouts were implemented in the face of substantial power shortages stemming from the crippled nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture. Areas in central Tokyo hosting government offices, parliament and the Imperial Palace were excluded from the measure.

https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2021/01/3f87b65872fe-emperors-evacuation-to-kyoto-weighed-after-fukushima-nuclear-disaster.html?fbclid=IwAR2aY9FCyuUnm10Tn2EdkZCJm92OtpR0g1lVig4ROO_kDaR-xrLI_vBwD50

January 9, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , | Leave a comment

Only 30% of Fukushima residents happy with disaster recovery progress

January 1, 2021

Nearly 10 years after the 2011 earthquake-tsunami and nuclear disasters in northeastern Japan, only 30 percent of Fukushima Prefecture residents say reconstruction has been sufficient, a Kyodo News survey showed Thursday.

The figure was notably lower than 80 percent in Miyagi and 66 percent in Iwate prefectures, which were also affected by the natural disasters.

Photo taken Dec. 23, 2020, from a drone shows rows of public houses for residents who lost their homes in the disaster in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture.

The low number in Fukushima reflects how the nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant and subsequent evacuation orders have slowed reconstruction work.

Face-to-face surveys were conducted in November involving 100 residents in each of the three prefectures to ask about reconstruction of the communities where they lived when the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit the region March 11, 2011.

A total of 176 people, or 59 percent, across the three prefectures said reconstruction was “progressing” or “progressing to some degree,” while 123 people, or 41 percent, said there had not been enough progress. One person did not answer.

“My hometown is full of vacant plots of land,” said a man in his 50s who evacuated from Futaba, which hosts the Fukushima Daiichi plant, to Iwaki in Fukushima Prefecture. “I cannot imagine the town becoming a place we can return to.”

Many respondents appreciated the rebuilding of infrastructure, but some said it has taken too much time. Among Fukushima residents unhappy with the reconstruction progress, many said they are disappointed that they are still not allowed to return to their hometowns due to radioactive contamination and that townscapes have not been restored.

Photo taken on Sept. 26, 2020, in Okuma, northeastern Japan, shows the disaster-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant where decommissioning work is taking place

Across the three prefectures, 66 percent said their lives were back on track as they were able either to move to public housing for disaster victims or build new homes. By prefecture, the rate was 80 percent in Miyagi and 70 percent in Iwate but significantly lower at 49 percent in Fukushima.

The cost of rebuilding homes and a decrease in income have also been a burden for residents.

“To reconstruct my house, I needed to get another loan (in addition to that for the home destroyed by the disaster). I won’t finish the payments until I’m 80 years old,” said Toshiyuki Naganuma, 58, who runs a construction firm in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture.

The local government in Natori declared the completion of the city’s recovery in March 2020. More houses have been built and tourists are returning. But Naganuma said that while “it may look like the city has recovered, reconstruction is not finished.”

“Jobs are still gone. My income is unstable,” said a man in his 40s who changed jobs three times after the disasters. He used to work at a restaurant in Rikuzentakata, Iwate, but sales dropped when construction workers and others engaged in work to rebuild the city left.

Yukihisa Ojima, 49, who operates a home appliance store in Rikuzentakata, worries about the city’s declining population. “Public facilities were rebuilt but things are slack for businesses here,” he said.

For those affected by the disasters, recovery means “getting back one’s life before the disasters,” said Jun Oyane, a professor at Senshu University and head of the Japan Society for Disaster Recovery and Revitalization.

“The next step after restoring infrastructure will be to focus on the varying needs of individual residents and to stand by them in rebuilding” their lives, he said.

https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2021/01/13fd3540b365-only-30-of-fukushima-residents-happy-with-disaster-recovery-progress.html

January 9, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , | Leave a comment