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Putting tsunami countermeasures on hold at Fukushima nuke plant ‘natural’: ex-TEPCO VP

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 Ichiro Takekuro, a former vice president at Tokyo Electric Power Co., enters the Tokyo District Court in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward in this June 30, 2017
October 20, 2018
TOKYO — A former vice president at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) told a court here on Oct. 19 that it was “natural” for the utility to put tsunami countermeasures at the plant on hold while it consulted experts.
Ichiro Takekuro, 72, is under indictment on charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury over the nuclear disaster that broke out after tsunami hit the Fukushima Daiichi plant in March 2011. His testimony at the Tokyo District Court backed fellow defendant Sakae Muto, 68, who made the decision on the tsunami countermeasures.
TEPCO estimated in March 2008 that tsunami waves up to 15.7 meters high could hit the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, based on a long-term evaluation made by the government’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion in 2002. While being aware of the company’s estimate, Muto put tsunami countermeasures on hold in July 2008 and instructed subordinates to ask experts to evaluate the reliability of the long-term evaluation.
A key point of contention in the trial is whether the Muto’s decision constituted “postponement” of countermeasures.
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 Sakae Muto, a former vice president at Tokyo Electric Power Co., enters the Tokyo District Court in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward in this June 30, 2017
 
Muto told earlier court hearings that he had informed Takekuro in August 2008 of the company’s maximum tsunami height estimate. However, Takekuro told the Oct. 19 hearing that he had no recollection of that, adding that he heard the estimate from another subordinate sometime in April or May 2009.
With regard to the government’s long-term evaluation, Takekuro said, “I heard that it wasn’t supported by specific proof. I thought thorough discussion was necessary if there were unclear factors,” again justifying Muto’s decision.
As to TEPCO’s estimation that 15.7-meter tsunami waves could hit the power station, Takekuro said he “didn’t feel any sense of urgency.”
Takekuro is standing trial along with Muto and former TEPCO President Tsunehisa Katsumata, 78, over the nuclear crisis.
Prosecutors had abandoned indicting the three. However, court-appointed lawyers indicted them after a prosecution inquest panel deemed twice that they deserved to stand trial.
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October 22, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Four Japan firms used foreign trainees to clean up at Fukushima plant after nuclear meltdowns: final report

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The government concluded Friday that four companies had used foreign trainees to perform work cleaning up radioactive contamination after the March 2011 tsunami triggered meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
The headline figure from the final report on a survey conducted by the Justice Ministry, the labor ministry and the Organization for Technical Intern Training was the same as that in the interim report, released in mid-July, which reflected results of surveying fewer than 200 companies with foreign trainee programs.
Officials visited a total of 1,018 such companies with facilities in eight prefectures in eastern and northeastern Japan, interviewing technical interns there to confirm the situation, after the issue came to light in March.
Of the four companies, one in Iwate Prefecture has been banned from accepting foreign trainees for five years. It was found to have neglected to pay allowances for decontamination work, amounting to a combined ¥1.5 million, to three trainees.
The government has issued a similar ban for three years to a firm in Fukushima Prefecture for not paying a total of ¥180,000 to three interns for overtime work.
A company in Fukushima and another in Chiba Prefecture received warnings because foreign trainees there engaged in decontamination work, albeit for short periods of time. The names of the four companies were not revealed.
Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita told a news conference that the government gave guidance for improvement to three related regulatory organizations over insufficient inspections of companies with foreign technical interns.
“We will continue to work with the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and the Organization for Technical Intern Training to guide regulatory organizations and companies that accept technical interns, so they will not let them engage in decontamination work. We will take proper measures when we find inappropriate cases,” Yamashita said.
In March, a Vietnamese trainee at an Iwate Prefecture-based construction firm revealed he had been assigned to take part in radioactive decontamination work without being given sufficient explanation of the tasks involved.
The government announced later that month that it would not allow companies to use such foreign trainees for the removal of radioactive contamination, as such work is not consistent with the purpose of the program.
The technical trainee program was introduced in 1993 with the aim of transferring skills to developing countries. But it has drawn criticism both at home and abroad as being a cover for importing cheap labor for industrial sectors, including manufacturing and construction, where blue-collar workers are in short supply.

October 22, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Local Fury and Health Concerns as Japan Plans to Dump a Million Tons of Radioactive Fukushima Water Into Ocean

One nuclear specialist argued that the Japanese government’s reported plan “cannot be considered an action without risk to the marine environment and human health”
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by Jake Johnson, staff writer on Thursday, October 18, 2018
In a move that has sparked outrage from local residents and dire health warnings from environmentalists, the Japanese government is reportedly planning to release 1.09 million tons of water from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean despite evidence that it contains “radioactive material well above legally permitted levels.”
While both the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco)—the company that runs the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant—have claimed that radioactive material in the water has been reduced to indetectable amounts and that only “safe levels of tritium” remain, documents obtained by the London-based Telegraph suggest that the cleaning system being used to decontaminate the water “has consistently failed to eliminate a cocktail of other radioactive elements, including iodine, ruthenium, rhodium, antimony, tellurium, cobalt, and strontium.”
“The government is running out of space to store contaminated water that has come into contact with fuel that escaped from three nuclear reactors after the plant was destroyed in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck northeast Japan,” the Telegraph reported. “Its plan to release the approximately 1.09 million tons of water currently stored in 900 tanks into the Pacific has triggered a fierce backlash from local residents and environmental organizations, as well as groups in South Korea and Taiwan fearful that radioactivity from the second-worst nuclear disaster in history might wash up on their shores.”
One document the Telegraph obtained from the government body charged with responding to the 2011 Fukushima disaster reportedly indicates that the Japanese government is perfectly aware that the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) is failing to eliminate radioactive materials from the water stored at the Fukushima site, despite its claims to the contrary.
Last September, the Telegraph notes, “Tepco was forced to admit that around 80 percent of the water stored at the Fukushima site still contains radioactive substances above legal levels after the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry held public hearings in Tokyo and Fukushima at which local residents and fishermen protested against the plans.”
Shaun Burnie, a nuclear specialist with Greenpeace, argued that even so-called “safe” levels of tritium are harmful to humans and marine life.
“Its beta particles inside the human body are more harmful than most X-rays and gamma rays,” Burnie told the Telegraph, adding that there “are major uncertainties over the long-term effects posed by radioactive tritium that is absorbed by marine life and, through the food chain, humans.”
The Japanese government’s reported plans to release the water into the Pacific despite these warnings “cannot be considered an action without risk to the marine environment and human health,” Burnie concluded.

October 22, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Distrust of TEPCO Hampers Decommissioning

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Friday, October 19
A major challenge at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is disposing of water containing a large amount of radioactive tritium. The Japanese government proposed diluting and releasing the water into the sea, but many fisheries in Fukushima are voicing strong opposition to the proposal. Disposal of the tainted water is a must for scrapping reactors at the plant. So, what should the government and TEPCO officials do?
 
Doing away with tritium-tainted water is essential
Every day, more than 100 tons of radioactive water builds up. Despite various measures taken since the 2011 accident at Fukushima Daiichi, groundwater continues to enter the reactor buildings, mixing with water which is being used to cool the reactors.
The Tokyo Electric Power Company uses a system called ALPS to treat the water. Officials have been saying that the system’s high-performance filters can get rid of most radioactive substances, except tritium.
TEPCO is not allowed to dispose of that water because its tritium levels surpass the limit set by the government.
That’s why the utility is storing 920,000 tons of the water in more than 800 tanks. The water is expected to increase by up to about 100,000 tons a year. The government and the firm say that in a matter of years, Fukushima Daiichi will run out of space for tanks.
PowerPoint プレゼンテーション
A government panel of experts has been discussing what to do with the water. The experts concluded that the technology for separating tritium cannot be put into practical use yet. They instead put several options on the table such as:
1) Diluting and releasing the water into the sea
2) Heating and evaporating the water
3) Burying the water deep underground
A report later compiled by the panel said releasing the water into the sea will make the most sense. Experts say this is the cheapest and quickest way among all the options. The question is, is it safe?
Tritium exists in the atmosphere. The government, TEPCO and the Nuclear Regulation Authority say tritium emits a weaker form of radiation than other radioactive substances. They say that even if tritium enters the human body, it will be incorporated into water and quickly released outside. Officials say therefore, tritium is likely to pose few health risks if its concentration is low.
In the past, nuclear power plants across Japan actually released water containing tritium after confirming its readings were below the limit.
NRA Chairman Toyoshi Fuketa has been calling on the government and TEPCO to make a quick decision, saying releasing the water into the sea after its tritium level falls below the limit is the only viable option. He thinks the approval process for the proposal is unlikely to take long, so it will have limited impact on the work to scrap the reactors.
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Mounting distrust among fisheries
After the expert panel compiled its report, the government held public hearings to make a final decision. At a hearing held in the town of Tomioka in Fukushima Prefecture on August 30th, the proposal came under fire mainly from people in the fishing industry.
The head of the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations said the proposed move will be a devastating blow to the local fishing industry. He said its past efforts will go to waste, and it will deprive the industry of its motivation for rebuilding businesses.
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Fishermen in Fukushima suspended their operations after radioactive materials exceeding the government-set limits were detected in seafood caught off the prefecture following the 2011 accident. But in recent years, no fish from the area have been found to be highly radioactive. Now, fishermen can catch and ship most kinds of fish.
However, some consumers still hesitate to eat marine products from Fukushima. Fish landings are still about one-tenth of levels before the accident. Local fisheries fear that if TEPCO releases the water into the ocean, they will have to delay their plans to resume operations at full capacity and struggle again to make ends meet — even if the water is deemed safe.
The underlying problem is distrust towards the government and TEPCO. There have been numerous instances in which TEPCO withheld the fact that tainted water had leaked into the sea. Locals saw them as acts of betrayal. They fear that once TEPCO begins dumping the water into the sea, consumers may refrain from purchasing fishery products from Fukushima Prefecture even further.
Suspended Fishing Operations At Ports As Fukushima Leaks Prompt Government to 'Emergency Measures'
Public distrust further deepened during the hearings. It came to light that the water stored in some of the tanks contains levels of radioactive substances, such as iodine that exceed the limit. This contradicts the explanation given by the government and TEPCO — that the water treatment system can reduce all radioactive substances to a level below the limit, except for tritium.
My understanding was that tritium was the only radioactive substance in the tanks that exceeds the government-set limits. I was not the only one who was confused. Other participants also expressed concerns that TEPCO may have been concealing the facts.
TEPCO officials explained that levels of some radioactive substances could exceed the limits if the water treatment filters are used continuously. They said that’s not a problem, adding that the goal is to reduce the risk of radiation exposure, and that they have been making the data public on their website.
After hearing this, I checked TEPCO’s website once again. There, I found the iodine levels, but they were buried in a massive amount of data, making it very difficult to find. TEPCO officials didn’t seem eager to provide a full explanation of what has happened so far.
But TEPCO’s claim that this isn’t a problem differs with the public’s view. Its attitude is worsening the problem.
TEPCO officials tend to make decisions based on technical considerations, which often fail to sufficiently acknowledge the concerns of the locals. The officials also appear reluctant to release information that is inconvenient for them. Unless they change their mindset, they will not be able to regain the public’s trust.
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Steps TEPCO must take to regain trust
First and foremost, the government and TEPCO must provide thorough explanations and responses to the questions and opinions expressed in the hearings. They need to clarify why they didn’t proactively explain the level of radioactive substances and provide their exact levels and how they will deal with them.
In addition, the government should hold public hearings at various other locations and communicate more with the public. The latest round of public hearings was held only in Fukushima and Tokyo and this didn’t seem sufficient to regain public support.
Decommissioning of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is a prerequisite for the reconstruction of areas devastated by the nuclear disaster. To this end, treatment of contaminated water is a must, and it needs be done swiftly. However, there will not be progress, no matter which method is taken, without the consent of the people affected by the nuclear disaster.
TEPCO and government officials must offer truthful updates as soon as they happen. While this sounds obvious, it’s the only way to regain people’s trust and resolve the problem of the accumulation of tainted water.

October 22, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Denials dominate 1st trial questioning of ex-TEPCO VP over tsunami-triggered nuke disaster

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Former Tokyo Electric Power Co. Vice President Sakae Muto
 
October 17, 2018
TOKYO — Denials of allegations dominated the questioning on Oct. 16 of former Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) vice president Sakae Muto in the criminal trial he and other ex-TEPCO leaders face over their responsibility to predict and prevent damage caused by the 2011 tsunami that triggered an unprecedented nuclear disaster in northeastern Japan.
“The charge that I delayed (tsunami countermeasures) is outrageous,” said Muto, 68, during the questioning at the Tokyo District Court. He repeated emphatic rebuttals against the prosecution’s argument that the damage could have been avoided if he had taken appropriate actions earlier.
Muto and two other defendants — former TEPCO chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 78, and former vice president Ichiro Takekuro, 72 — stand accused of professional negligence resulting in deaths and injuries of evacuees from the nuclear disaster. They were indicted in 2016 by lawyers serving as prosecutors after public prosecutors refused to do so twice and the prosecution inquest committee shot down those refusals.
A massive tsunami caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011 hit TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, cutting the facility off the power grid and ruining emergency power generators. The prolonged blackout made it impossible to cool down the nuclear fuel cores at three reactors, triggering their meltdowns and the release of massive amounts of radioactive materials into the atmosphere. As a result, hundreds of thousands of nearby residents, including elderly patients, were forced to flee, with dozens dying and others getting injured in the process.
During the questioning on Oct. 16, Muto replied “Not at all” on many occasions when defense lawyers asked him if he procrastinated on introducing measures to protect the nuclear station from potential high tsunami waves three years before the 2011 incident.
When asked by lawyers serving as prosecutors about the exchange he had with his subordinate at the time tsunami countermeasures were discussed, Muto insisted, “I do not recall.” When his answer was cut short by the prosecution, Muto indicated his dissatisfaction, crossing his arms with a big sigh.
According to past testimonies in the trial that began in June last year, Muto and other top TEPCO officials heard reports from subordinates about the need for tsunami countermeasures at the Fukushima plant, and they approved those steps. Muto, however, told the court that the top-level meeting was “for information sharing” and not for decision-making. The defendant also denied that he was briefed on such measures.
The former TEPCO vice president did apologize at the beginning of the questioning, saying, “To the many people who lost their lives, their family members or those who were forced to evacuate their homes, I have caused you great trouble that cannot be expressed in words.” Muto, clad in a dark suit, then stood up, bowed deeply and stated, “I extend my deepest apologies. I am very sorry about what happened.”
(Japanese original by Mirai Nagira, Science & Environment News Department, and Masanori Makita, City News Department)

October 22, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Ex-TEPCO VP apologizes but denies being told of need for tsunami steps

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Former Tokyo Electric Power Co. Vice President Sakae Muto.

Ex-TEPCO VP apologizes as defendant questioning begins in Fukushima nuclear disaster trial

October 16, 2018
TOKYO — A former vice president of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) apologized on Oct. 16 during court questioning of three ex-TEPCO top officials indicted on charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury over the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Defendant Sakae Muto, 68, said, “To the many people who lost their lives, their family members or those who were forced to evacuate their homes, I have caused you great pain that cannot be expressed in words, and I extend my deepest apologies. I am very sorry about what happened.”
The questioning of Muto at the Tokyo District Court over the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in northern Japan is scheduled to continue until the evening, with plans to resume on Oct. 17.
The other former executives indicted in the criminal trial are 78-year-old former chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and former vice president Ichiro Takekuro, 72. This trial marks the first time that the three top officials will be questioned in detail in a court of law about their responsibility for the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
According to the indictment, while the three were aware of the possibility of a large tsunami hitting the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Plant, they neglected to take countermeasures, leading to the March 2011 accident. As a result, they are thought to have caused the deaths of 44 patients who had to evacuate from Futaba Hospital in the town of Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, near the power plant for a long period of time due to the accident, among other charges.
At the first hearing of the trial in June 2017, Muto said, “Looking back now, there was no way of predicting that such an accident could occur. I do not believe we are responsible.” The other two defendants are also maintaining their innocence in the matter.
Former vice president Takekuro will be questioned on Oct. 19, followed by former chairman Katsumata on Oct. 20.
(Japanese original by Masanori Makita, City News Department, and Mirai Nagira, Science & Environment News Department)
 
 
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Sakae Muto, former vice president of Tokyo Electric Power Co., in January

Ex-TEPCO exec denies being told of need for tsunami steps

October 16, 2018
A former vice president of Tokyo Electric Power Co. refused to take any responsibility for the Fukushima nuclear disaster, testifying in court Oct. 16 that he was never made aware of the possibility of destructive tsunami striking the facility and, therefore, did not authorize countermeasures.
Sakae Muto, 68, is on trial on a charge of professional negligence resulting in death and injury over the March 2011 catastrophe at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, along with Tsunehisa Katsumata, a former TEPCO chairman, and Ichiro Takekuro, another former TEPCO vice president.
Towering tsunami generated by the Great East Japan Earthquake inundated the coastal complex, knocking out cooling systems and triggering a triple meltdown.
Muto denied in the Tokyo District Court that he and the two other top executives once gave the green light for countermeasures against a powerful tsunami three years before the disaster occurred.
“We were never notified that such a thing could happen,” Muto stated.
To prove negligence, prosecutors must show that top executives could have reasonably predicted the scale of the tsunami that swamped the plant, setting off the most serious nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
Muto’s testimony followed oral statements given in a previous court hearing by Kazuhiko Yamashita, head of TEPCO’s center tasked with compiling anti-earthquake measures.
In the statetments, Yamashita said he notified Muto, Katsumata and Takekuro in a February 2008 meeting that the height of a powerful tsunami predicted to hit the site would be at least 7.7 meters.
Yamashita’s team arrived at the figure using a simplified calculation based on the long-term assessment of the probability of major earthquakes released by the government’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion in 2002.
Yamashita said in his statements that he took it that the three executives understood his team’s projection was based on a government assessment and that they approved taking anti-tsunami measures.
Yamashita’s statements were made to prosecutors between 2012 and 2014, when he was under investigation in connection with the nuclear disaster. The court accepted them as evidence.
A TEPCO subsidiary’s civil engineering team came up with a figure of 15.7 meters after conducting a more detailed study.
The update was conveyed to TEPCO executives in June that year. But Muto, who was deputy chief of the company’s nuclear power and plant siting division, instructed subordinates the following month to shelve the anti-tsunami measures, according to witnesses who testified in previous hearings.
Asked about the February meeting, Muto denied that he was notified destructive tsunami could strike, or safety steps were required.
“No such topics were raised during the meeting,” he stated.
Muto also characterized the meeting that included Katsumata and Takekuro as “not one to make a decision as an organization, but one to share information.”
With regard to the projection of 15.7 meters, Muto said, “I was briefed that the (government’s) long-term assessment is not credible and thought that no new scientific expertise was available.”
He also rejected suggestions that he postponed taking anti-tsunami measures.
“I simply thought it would be difficult to come up with a design for a strong sea wall straight away,” he said.
Asked whether it was possible that his division alone was empowered to halt plant operations in anticipation of encroaching danger, he emphatically denied this was so.
He said a decision of such gravity is “too weighty in terms of business management that the nuclear power and plant siting division’s decision alone cannot make it happen.”
Muto went on to state: “It would have been necessary for the division to consult with not only many divisions and sections of our company, but also other utilities and central and local governments and explain to them the grounds and the need to halt operations.”
He started his testimony by offering a “deep apology” for causing “trouble beyond description” to people affected by the nuclear disaster.
The Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant’s reactor buildings sit on elevated land 10 meters above sea level. The tsunami spawned by the magnitude-9.0 earthquake reached 15.5 meters around the reactor buildings, according to traces left there.
Prosecutors had initially declined to press charges against the three former executives, citing insufficient evidence. However, a committee for the inquest of prosecution twice concluded that the trio should be indicted.

October 17, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Whether tsunami predictable, damage avoidable focus of TEPCO nuclear disaster trial

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The Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) headquarters building in the capital’s Chiyoda Ward is seen from Shiodome City Center in Tokyo’s Minato Ward in this file photo taken on Aug. 24, 2011.
 
October 15, 2018
TOKYO — The criminal trial of three top former Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) officials indicted on charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury over the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster will reach a climax as the defendants will begin to answer questions from prosecutors and their defense lawyers on Oct. 16.
They will face these two focal questions: Was it possible for them to predict the massive tsunami that triggered the triple core meltdowns at the TEPCO plant in the northeastern Japan prefecture of Fukushima, and was the damage from the natural disaster avoidable?
The three former TEPCO executives to undergo questioning are former Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and former vice presidents Ichiro Takekuro and Sakae Muto. All of them essentially answered no to those two questions in the opening session of the trial in June last year; that they could not foresee the tsunami, and therefore have no criminal responsibility for the damage caused by the natural disaster leading to the nuclear accident.
This unusual trial took several years to come to the Tokyo District Court as prosecutors’ two refusals to indict the three ex-executives were overridden each time by the committee for the inquest of prosecution. As a result, the defendants were forcibly indicted by lawyers serving as prosecutors.
The trial’s eight months of cross examinations of various witnesses that ended on Oct. 3 gave rise to the view that the former management essentially postponed taking sufficient countermeasures against the level of tsunami that hit the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Station on March 11, 2011 out of cost considerations.
The gushing seawater sent to the Fukushima shore by the Great East Japan Earthquake halted diesel power generators at the plant, making it impossible to cool down the nuclear fuel cores that melted down to the ground and resulted in the release of a massive amount of radioactive materials into the surrounding environment. This nuclear disaster forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents around the plant, and many of them are still unable to return to their homes seven years after the incident.
— ‘Management first, countermeasures second’?
In the 24th session of the trial on Sept. 5, an affidavit given to the prosecution by a former top TEPCO official in charge of tsunami countermeasures was read out: “Our business environment was deteriorating because of the Niigata Chuetsu offshore earthquake of 2007 that halted the Kashiwazaki-Kariha nuclear power station, and we wanted to prevent the Fukushima No. 1 plant from stopping by all means.”
The statement said that the former management once decided to introduce measures to protect against possible tsunami damage but decided to postpone them after finding out that they were more costly than expected, implying that managerial decisions were behind the delay.
Earlier, all TEPCO tsunami countermeasure officials who testified before the court had agreed that such steps must be taken in response to a 2002 government estimate that “a massive tsunami could occur off the Fukushima coast.” Their testimonies, however, did not explain why the process was delayed.
According to the affidavit, the three defendants including Katsumata approved countermeasures at a top-level TEPCO meeting in February 2008 after a report was presented to the meeting that an estimated wave 7.7 meters high or more could hit the Fukushima facility. But more detailed calculations showed that the potential maximum height would be 15.7 meters, and it was reported to Muto, the former vice president, that it was now estimated to cost tens of billions of yen and take more than four years to complete the countermeasures. Following this estimate, Muto decided to ask experts to re-evaluate the reliability of the 2002 government estimate, effectively shelving steps to mitigate damage from tsunami.
Implementing tsunami countermeasures could mean a halt to the Fukushima nuclear plant as construction work could not be completed in time. If that was the case, it was better to work behind closed doors and influence regulators so that they would clear the facility as safe, according to the testimony by a former tsunami countermeasure official presented in September this year.
If the management really postponed measures to curb tsunami damage as explained in the affidavit that would fit with the argument by the prosecution — as highlighted by designated lawyers in the special trial. Another focal point of the trial would be how the three defendants would explain this point.
Moreover, it is still not clear what Katsumata, the then chairman, and Takekuro, another vice president back then, were thinking about the results of tsunami damage estimates reported to the February 2008 meeting. The level of involvement by these two defendants is also a highlight of the questioning session starting Oct. 16.
According to the 2002 government estimate, there was a 20 percent chance that a magnitude-8 earthquake could occur along the Japan Trench off the northeastern Japan coast of Sanriku and the eastern coast of Boso during the next 30 years. Fukushima lies alongside this area, which triggered three major tremblers that caused massive tsunami during the past 400 years as shown in historical records.
Professor Fumihiko Imamura of Tohoku University, a tsunami dynamics specialist, questioned the validity of the government evaluation during the trial saying, “It cannot be ignored but has many issues,” siding with the three defendants. But professor emeritus Kunihiko Shimazaki of the University of Tokyo, a seismologist who headed an expert panel that compiled the 2002 estimate, testified that the panel’s conclusion didn’t face any objections from panel members. “It was a consensus conclusion. The (2011 nuclear) accident could have been avoided if countermeasures were taken according to the long-term evaluation,” Shimzaki said. His testimony indicated the defendants failed to act properly.
In class action damages suits filed by evacuees from the 2011 nuclear accident and others, five district courts have ruled that the massive tsunami that triggered the core meltdowns could have been foreseen based on the 2002 estimate. But criminal trials require stronger proof and sometimes end with different conclusions than civil suits.
Meanwhile, about the question of whether the damage caused by the tsunami was avoidable, a former TEPCO employee at the time of the nuclear disaster said in the trial that “damage from tsunami could not be prevented even if countermeasures were taken.” The superior of the employee testified that “countermeasures, if implemented, could be too late, but I think something could have been done.”
A former employee of the Japan Atomic Power Co. testified that his company constructed soil embankments around its Tokai No. 2 nuclear power station in the village of Tokai in Ibaraki Prefecture to the south of Fukushima, to fend off a tsunami to a height of 12.2 meters. This measure was based on the 2002 government estimate, and the facility was spared of damage from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The prosecution argues that such a measure would have prevented the Fukushima nuclear facility from causing the devastating damage.
(Japanese original by Ei Okada, Science & Environment News Department, and Masanori Makita, City News Department)

October 17, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima nuclear plant owner apologizes for still-radioactive water

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TOKYO (Reuters) – The owner of the Fukushima nuclear plant, destroyed by an earthquake and tsunami more than seven years ago, said water treated at the site still contains radioactive materials that for years it has insisted had been removed.
 
Storage tanks for contaminated water are seen through a window of a building at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima, Japan, February 23, 2017.
 
The admission by Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) could ruin its chances of releasing the water into the ocean, a move the nuclear regulator says is safe but which local fishermen oppose.
Tokyo won the bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics more than five years ago, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declaring that Fukushima was “under control” in his final pitch to the International Olympic Committee.
The nearly one million tonnes of stored water at the wrecked plant, enough to fill about 500 Olympic swimming pools, still contained detectable levels of potentially harmful radioactive particles, Tepco told a government committee on Oct. 1.
Tepco apologized to the committee under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which is looking into ways to dispose of the water.
A spokesman at Tepco confirmed the findings and the apology.
 
A 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami in March 2011 triggered meltdowns at three of the Fukushima Daiichi plant’s six reactors, spewing radiation into the air, soil and ocean and forcing 160,000 residents to flee, many of whom have not returned.
It was the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl 25 years earlier.
Hundreds of deaths have been attributed to the chaos of evacuations during the crisis and to the hardship and trauma refugees have experienced since then, but the government only last month acknowledged for the first time that one worker at the plant had died from radiation exposure.
Documents on the government committee’s website show that of 890,000 tonnes of water held at Fukushima, 750,000 tonnes, or 84 percent, contain higher concentrations of radioactive materials than legal limits allow.
In 65,000 tonnes of treated water, the levels of radioactive materials are more than 100 times government safety levels.
Radioactive readings of one of those isotopes, strontium-90, considered dangerous to human health, were detected at 600,000 becquerels per liter in some tanks, 20,000 times the legal limit.
Tepco has for years insisted that its purification processes remove strontium and 61 other radioactive elements from the contaminated water but leaves tritium, a mildly radioactive element that is difficult to separate from water.
 
Tritium is regularly released after dilution in normally operating nuclear plants.
“We will filter the water in the tanks one more time to bring the levels to below regulatory limits before release into the ocean if a decision is made to do so,” the Tepco spokesman said.
The water build-up has come about because Tepco must pour water over the three reactors to keep the melted uranium fuel at a safe temperature.
Groundwater flowing from the hills above the plant enters the reactor basements, where it mixes with highly radioactive debris. That gets pumped out and treated before being stored in tanks that are fast filling up.
And a costly “ice wall” is failing to keep groundwater from entering the basements, a Reuters analysis of the Tepco data showed earlier this year.
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The groundwater seepage has delayed Tepco’s clean-up and may undermine the entire decommissioning process.
Nearby residents, particularly fishermen, oppose ocean releases of the treated water because they fear it will keep consumers from buying Fukushima products.
Many countries, including South Korea and China, still have restrictions on produce from Fukushima and neighboring areas.

October 12, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

TEPCO bungles it again in dealing with Fukushima tainted water

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Rows of tanks store water contaminated by radioactive materials at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant
 
October 9, 2018
Disturbing new revelations about increasing amounts of radioactive water at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant have undoubtedly further darkened the already dim prospects for solving this tricky and complicated challenge.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the nuclear plant destroyed by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, has said the filtering system to decontaminate the polluted water, known as ALPS (advanced liquid processing system), has failed to remove such radioactive elements as strontium 90 and radioactive iodine.
On Sept. 28, the utility acknowledged that about 80 percent of the water in storage tanks for ALPS-treated water on the plant premises exceeded government standards for radioactive materials.
TEPCO previously claimed that the ALPS system could remove all radioactive elements except for tritium, a mildly radioactive isotope of hydrogen.
But the fact is that of the 890,000 tons of water treated by the ALPS system and stored in the tanks, about 750,000 tons contain higher concentrations of radioactive materials than levels permitted by the safety regulations for release into the ocean.
In 65,000 tons of treated water, the levels of strontium 90 are more than 100 times the safety standards, according to TEPCO. The levels are as high as 20,000 times the standards in some tanks.
In explaining the reasons for this failure, TEPCO pointed to problems with the ALPS system shortly after it was first installed. The utility also reduced the frequency of the replacement of absorbents for removing radioactive materials to keep the system running as long as possible.
The company had long known these facts, but was less than eager to share them with the public.
TEPCO says it has disclosed the data on its website. But it is virtually impossible for an uninformed third-party information seeker to detect such problems in the massive reams of data.
The company deserves to be criticized for having deliberately concealed these inconvenient facts.
The utility reported the facts to an industry ministry subcommittee dealing with the problem of radioactive water and apologized. It appears that the company is not yet fully aware of its responsibility to solve this problem as the operator of the plant where an unprecedented nuclear accident occurred.
The ministry, for its part, should be held accountable for its failure to ensure appropriate disclosure of the information by TEPCO. The subcommittee should be faulted for concentrating its attention almost exclusively on tritium.
Tackling this formidable challenge requires debate from a broad perspective based on diverse information.
This point has been underscored afresh by the latest revelations.
The consequent radical changes in the basic assumptions concerning the problem of radioactive water have brought the process of figuring out a workable way to deal with the challenge back to square one.
TEPCO plans to treat the contaminated water with the ALPS system again to lower the levels of radioactive materials below the safety standards.
This approach, however, is expected to make the water treatment process far costlier and more time-consuming than originally expected, possibly affecting the entire project to decommission the crippled reactors at the plant.
The biggest blow comes from the serious damage the revelations have caused to TEPCO’s already strained relationship with local communities.
To build a broad consensus on how to cope with the problem, the government and the utility should work together to ensure timely and adequate information disclosure and set up opportunities for dialogue with local residents.
A system should also be created to promote a national conversation on this issue.
The tanks to store treated water is expected to be filled to capacity by around 2020, according to the government.
But no time limit should be set for debate on the problem. There is no shortcut to a solution.

October 12, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , , | Leave a comment

S. Korean activists demand Japan not dump Fukushima’s radioactive water into the sea

October 8, 2018
SEOUL, Oct. 8 (Yonhap) — South Korean environmental groups on Monday urged Japan to reverse its recent decision to release radioactive water that has accumulated in the Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea after treatment.
Korea Radioactive Watch, the Korean Federation For Environmental Movement and other civic groups held a joint news conference in Gwanghwamun Square in downtown Seoul, denouncing the decision by the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. to discharge Fukushima’s contaminated water into the ocean as “unacceptable.”
 
   “A release of Fukushima’s radioactive, contaminated water will threaten the safety of the waters of South Korea and other neighboring nations that share the Pacific Ocean, as well as the waters in the vicinity of Fukushima,” the activist groups said.
 
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South Korean environmental activists hold a rally in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul on Oct. 8, 2018, to protest against Japan’s decision to release the Fukushima nuclear plant’s radioactive, contaminated water into the sea.
 
In March 2011, a major earthquake and a subsequent tsunami triggered a meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant, which was the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
The South Korean groups went on to argue that cost reduction appears to be the main reason for Japan’s push to discharge Fukushima’s radioactive water into the sea without checking its contamination condition.
“The Japanese government should disclose all information related to Fukushima’s radioactive water and listen to the opinions of its neighboring countries about how to dispose of the contaminated water. The South Korean government should sternly protest to Japan and take aggressive countermeasures,” the groups said.
They also insisted that water contaminated by high concentrations of radioactive materials collected around the Fukushima plant buildings after the 2011 accident and that the amount is estimated to reach about 940,000 tons.

October 8, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

An insider’s perspective on Fukushima and everything that came after

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Ars chats with Naomi Hirose, who became TEPCO’s CEO after the Fukushima meltdown.
Naomi Hirose, vice chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc. (TEPCO).
 
October 5, 2018
The meltdown of the reactors at Fukushima Daichi has changed how many people view the risks of nuclear power, causing countries around the world to revise their plans for further construction and revisit the safety regulations for existing plants. The disaster also gave the world a first-hand view of the challenges of managing accidents in the absence of a functional infrastructure and the costs when those accidents occur in a densely populated, fully developed nation.
Earlier this week, New York’s Japan Society hosted a man with a unique perspective on all of this. Naomi Hirose was an executive at Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) when the meltdown occurred, and he became its CEO while he was struggling to get the recovery under control. Ars attended Hirose’s presentation and had the opportunity to interview him. Because the two discussions partly overlapped, we’ll include information from both below.
The accident and safety
During his presentation, Hirose noted that the epicenter of 2011’s Tōhoku earthquake was only 180 kilometers from Fukushima. But initially, safety protocols kicked in; called a scram, the protocols led to control rods being inserted into the reactors to shut down the nuclear reactions and bring the plant to a halt. Since this had happened previously in response to earthquakes, Hirose said people were feeling confident the situation was under control.
But the earthquake itself had damaged the power lines that fed the plant, leaving it reliant on internal power to run the cooling pumps. And the source of that power was swept away when the tsunami generated by the quake inundated all six of the reactors on the site. This left the plant unable to cool its reactors; several melted down, and the hydrogen they generated ultimately led to explosions that wrecked the buildings that housed them. Hirose suggests that these explosions were likely sparked as things shifted and fell due to aftershocks.
This has led countries around the world to tighten their rules regarding backup equipment and to re-evaluate the infrastructure they assumed would be available to help manage the accident. We also got a chance to ask Hirose about how he viewed the risks of nuclear power after this experience:
We learned that safety culture is very important. We saw that we were probably a little arrogant. We spent a huge amount of money to improve the safety of that plant before the accident. We thought that this was enough. We learned that you never think this is enough. We have to learn many things from all over the world. 9/11 could be some lessons for nuclear power stations—it’s not just nuclear accidents in other countries, everything could be a lesson.
So we learn: “Do not stop improving the safety.” This is a technical matter, a scientific matter, and we can make these risks as small as possible.
Re-establishing control
In the immediate aftermath of the accident, what had gone wrong in some of the reactors wasn’t even clear; contaminated groundwater was a massive issue, and a substantial exclusion zone forced the evacuation of thousands of residents nearby. Just to do anything on the site required huge amounts of safety gear.
“[In the] first several years, we didn’t have a really clear plan, because it’s troubleshooting,” Hirose told Ars. “Many, many things took place, so we had to settle down these things. Now the condition of the plant is very stable.”
With the stability, one of the first steps chosen was to remove spent fuel, which was stored in elevated tanks in the reactor buildings. Reactor four shut down when the earthquake struck, and more than 1,500 fuel rods have since been safely removed. At reactor three, rubble covering the spent fuel pool has been cleared, and a new roof incorporating a crane has been built, paving the way to remove the spent fuel there.
But the melted-down reactors pose a much larger challenge. “We don’t know exactly the condition of the debris, so we developed several different types of robotics and let them go into the reactor building,” Hirose told Ars. “Now the robotics are taking movies, collecting all the data—temperature, radioactivity. Now we are planning how to attack, how to go to those debris. So maybe it takes a few more years; it depends on analyzing the situation.”
Meanwhile, decontamination work and time have reduced the onsite risk so that workers only need to wear exposure-tracking badges. The area of the exclusion zone with above-background radiation levels has also shrunk considerably.
“There are only two towns left in the evacuation zone—it’s getting smaller and smaller and smaller,” Hirose said during our interview. “Even those two towns—they are planning to develop a new city hall, new spaces for commercial [activity]. Since it’s been 7.5 years already, all the people will not come back. Kids start going to school in the places they went. Each has different situations. But we’d like to have those towns available for everybody. Still, those two towns are prohibited to come back, but we’d like to have that situation cleared.”
Bearing the costs
None of this comes cheaply. When we were discussing risks, Hirose acknowledged, “Once there is a serious accident, the costs of these things is enormous. And we understood that, and everybody realized that.”
But who carries that cost? In the US, the government steps in once costs exceed $12.6 billion. That’s not the case for TEPCO. “Japanese law—it’s called nuclear damage compensation law—clarified that no matter what the size of the damages, it’s singly the nuclear operator that has all the responsibility without fault. So even if we did [make any] mistake, the operator has to pay. The Price-Anderson Act in the US stipulates the limit in the damage. Maybe we need that kind of limit. It’s been discussed in Japan, and it’s a really difficult point.”
(“I mean, we had the accident, so maybe we shouldn’t say anything about this,” he said at this point.)
In the immediate aftermath of the accident, this pushed TEPCO’s finances to a very bad place. Once the site stabilized, so did the costs, but they remain enormous. During his public discussion, Hirose said that they’re running at about $5 billion a year, and that’s expected to continue for 30 years. “We’ve made enough for the past three years, but we have to do it for 27 more,” Hirose told the audience. That will fundamentally limit the actions the company can take for the next several decades.
Japan’s future
What’s that energy economy going to look like? Prior to Fukushima, Hirose was a big advocate of increasing electrification of energy use. He brought that up in our discussion as well.
Electrification definitely will expand—like electric vehicles and heat-pump technology. Those things are much, much more efficient compared to combustion engines or conventional heating systems. Electric vehicles are very efficient, so they don’t use a lot of electricity. Based on our calculations, even if all the automobiles turn into electric vehicles in the Tokyo area, our demand for electricity only goes up 15 percent or so. So it’s not a big, big potential transition.
And still, the total energy consumption would decline very, very much, because we don’t use any gasoline. And if that electricity is provided by renewables or nuclear, carbon dioxide would decrease dramatically. I think electrification is one of the things that will decrease the total demand for energy. It’s just how to generate that amount of electricity, which depends on if it’s nuclear, solar, wind… Electrification and decarbonization are the two key things.
Any increased demand due to electrification, however, will take place against a general decline in energy use in Japan. While already a very efficient society, the Japanese managed to curtail energy use even further as all of the country’s nuclear plants were shut down in the wake of Fukushima. “Have you been to Tokyo? Shops are very bright, very, um, shining with lights. It’s gorgeous—maybe you need sunglasses,” Hirose suggested. “But people started thinking that maybe that was too much.”
Critically, what might have been temporary measures have produced what appear to be permanent changes. “The consumption of electricity has not come back yet,” Hirose told Ars. “Maybe it never will, because the population of Japan is declining. I don’t know if in the long term the demand for electricity goes up.”
Still, the country will need to continue to produce electricity while decarbonizing its grid to meet international agreements. And the government’s plans for doing so include continued use of nuclear power. “The Japanese government set a target: 20-22 percent is generated by nuclear in 2030,” Hirose said. “In order to keep this number, we need to develop new nuclear power. So far, all the electric power companies and operators focus on the restart of the already existing nuclear power plants. Everybody is not in the mood to build a new one, because they are busy handling the restart of the existing plants.”
If the new plants are ever built, Japan will get the chance to see if it can avoid the massive cost overruns that have plagued projects elsewhere.
But that’s a very large if, and during Hirose’s presentation, an audience member pointed out that more than 60 percent of the Japanese population would like to see the country eliminate nuclear power. Other low-carbon sources, however, face significant hurdles in Japan. “Solar is very popular. Wind is possible, particularly offshore wind. But the Japanese Sea suddenly becomes deep, so it’s not like Northern Europe,” Hirose told Ars. “It’s a little technically difficult. Geothermal is very possible. Unfortunately, all the possible places are in national parks or hot-spring towns, so there aren’t many good places. But technically, it’s possible.”
All of which leaves Japan’s long-term energy future unsettled. But, in the immediate future, attention will remain on the restart of the existing nuclear power plants and the identification of the melted fuel on the floor of the remaining reactors.

October 8, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

South Korean Prime Minister Expresses Concern about Tokyo’s Plan to Release Fukushima Nuclear Plant Radioactive Water

PM Lee calls for prudent decision by Japan on water from Fukushima plant

Seoul’s Prime Minister expressed serious concerns over reports that Japan is planning to dump water into the ocean from the Fukushima nuclear power plant which was badly damaged seven years ago.
In Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Lee Nak-yon noted that 80 percent of the water from the plant has been deemed by the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, to be too contaminated to be released.
However, TEPCO adds, the water has been treated.
The PM urged Japan to make a prudent decision, and instructed the relevant South Korean ministries to convey the government’s position on the matter.
He stressed the ocean does not belong to any one country, but a resource to be shared by the world, and that dumping such water would have a big impact on the marine environment.
 

Seoul to Express Concern over Tokyo’s Plan to Release Fukushima Plant Water

South Korea plans to deliver its concern over media reports the Japanese government is mulling releasing treated water from a nuclear plant damaged by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
An official of Seoul’s Foreign Ministry revealed the plan to reporters on Tuesday, saying that given the influences of radiation-related issues and public sensitivity to them, it’s a legitimate concern for South Korea as a neighboring country.
The official said the government will seize a proper opportunity to deliver its concern to the Japanese government and seek cooperation to address the issue.
The move comes after reports emerged that the Japanese government might release water at one of the Fukushima nuclear power plants after purifying it. However, the Japanese media reported more than 80 percent of the purified water still contains radioactive elements.

October 3, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima Daiichi’s “treated” liquid waste too radioactive to be dumped into the Pacific ocean

They have lied for all those years years to the people from who they needed the permission before any dumping ( fishermen associations, local government, etc.) that all radionuclides had been filtered out, that it was only tritiated water. We have to wonder what is forcing them suddenly to admit this.

The Associated Press reported from a TEPCO press conference held late last week that treated water TEPCO has been trying to dump in the Pacific ocean is not safe to dump.
“much of the radioactive water stored at the plant isn’t clean enough and needs further treatment if it is to be released into the ocean.”
“TEPCO said Friday that studies found the water still contains other elements, including radioactive iodine, cesium and strontium. It said more than 80 percent of the 900,000 tons of water stored in large, densely packed tanks contains radioactivity exceeding limits for release into the environment.”
There is no transparent system of accountability for this stored water. Reporting of the levels of contamination and what isotopes are in what types of stored water are almost non existent.

Fukushima cooling water too radioactive to release

Tokyo Electric Power Company has admitted that much of the water stored at its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant had not been treated completely enough for release into the environment.
How to dispose of an ever-increasing amount of radioactive water at the plant is a big issue. The contaminated water is generated daily in the process of cooling the damaged reactors.
Before being stored in tanks at the plant, the water undergoes treatment that is supposed to get rid of all radioactive substances but tritium. Tritium is difficult to remove.
One of the disposal ideas is to release the water still containing tritium into the sea.
But many at a public hearing in August opposed to the plan. Some people pointed that the water in question also contains other radioactive elements.
At a meeting of experts in Tokyo on Monday, the utility officials reported that as of August, there was 890,000 tons of such water at the plant.
They said they suspect that more than 80 percent of the water contained not only tritium but also other radioactive substances, such as iodine and strontium, and that their levels exceeded the limits for release into the environment.
A senior Tokyo Electric official apologized, saying his company was too focused on the issue of tritium and failed to provide a full explanation.

October 3, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Liquid radioactive waste should not be called “treated” radioactive water

Treated water at Fukushima nuclear plant still radioactive

Sepember 28, 2018
TOKYO (AP) – The operator of Japan’s wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant said Friday that much of the radioactive water stored at the plant isn’t clean enough and needs further treatment if it is to be released into the ocean.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the government had said that treatment of the water had removed all radioactive elements except tritium, which experts say is safe in small amounts.
They called it “tritium water,” but it actually wasn’t.
TEPCO said Friday that studies found the water still contains other elements, including radioactive iodine, cesium and strontium. It said more than 80 percent of the 900,000 tons of water stored in large, densely packed tanks contains radioactivity exceeding limits for release into the environment.
TEPCO general manager Junichi Matsumoto said radioactive elements remained, especially earlier in the crisis when plant workers had to deal with large amounts of contaminated water leaking from the wrecked reactors and could not afford time to stop the treatment machines to change filters frequently.
“We had to prioritize processing large amounts of water as quickly as possible to reduce the overall risk,” Matsumoto said.
 
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In this Feb. 23, 2017, file photo, an employee walks past storage tanks for contaminated water at the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) in Okuma town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan. The operator of Japan’s wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant said Friday, Sept. 28, 2018, that much of the radioactive water stored at the plant isn’t clean enough and needs further treatment if it is to be released into the ocean.
 
About 161,000 tons of the treated water has 10 to 100 times the limit for release into the environment, and another 65,200 tons has up to nearly 20,000 times the limit, TEPCO said.
Matsumoto said the plant will treat the water further to ensure contamination levels are reduced to allowable limits.
He was responding to growing public criticism and distrust about the status of the water.
More than 7 ½ years since a massive March 2011 earthquake and tsunami destroyed three reactors at the plant, Japan has yet to reach a consensus on what to do with the radioactive water. Fishermen and residents oppose its release into the ocean. Nuclear experts have recommended the controlled release of the water into the Pacific as the only realistic option.
The release option faced harsh criticism at town meetings in Fukushima and Tokyo in late August, when TEPCO and government officials provided little explanation of the water contamination, which had been reported in local media days earlier.
TEPCO only says it has the capacity to store up to 1.37 million tons of water through 2020 and that it cannot stay at the plant forever.
Some experts say the water can be stored for decades, but others say the tanks take up too much space at the plant and could interfere with ongoing decommissioning work, which could take decades.
 
 
 

Treated water at Fukushima nuclear plant still radioactive: Tepco

They called it “tritium water,” but it actually wasn’t.
About 161,000 tons of the water has 10 to 100 times the limit, and another 65,200 tons has up to nearly 20,000 times the limit.
 
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A Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. official wearing radioactive protective gear stands in front of Advanced Liquid Processing Systems during a press tour at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, on Nov. 12, 2014.
 
Sep 29, 2018
The operator of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant has said that much of the radioactive water stored at the plant isn’t clean enough and needs further treatment if it is to be released into the ocean.
Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. and the government had said that treatment of the water had removed all radioactive elements except tritium, which experts say is safe in small amounts.
They called it “tritium water,” but it actually wasn’t.
Tepco said Friday that studies found the water still contains other elements, including radioactive iodine, cesium and strontium. It said more than 80 percent of the 900,000 tons of water stored in large, densely packed tanks contains radioactivity exceeding limits for release into the environment.
Tepco general manager Junichi Matsumoto said radioactive elements remained, especially earlier in the crisis when plant workers had to deal with large amounts of contaminated water leaking from the wrecked reactors and could not afford time to stop the treatment machines to change filters frequently.
“We had to prioritize processing large amounts of water as quickly as possible to reduce the overall risk,” Matsumoto said.
About 161,000 tons of the treated water has 10 to 100 times the limit for release into the environment, and another 65,200 tons has up to nearly 20,000 times the limit, Tepco said.
Matsumoto said the plant will treat the water further to ensure contamination levels are reduced to allowable limits.
He was responding to growing public criticism and distrust about the status of the water.
More than 7½ years since a massive March 2011 earthquake and tsunami destroyed three reactors at the plant, Japan has yet to reach a consensus on what to do with the radioactive water. Fishermen and residents oppose its release into the ocean. Nuclear experts have recommended the controlled release of the water into the Pacific as the only realistic option.
The release option faced harsh criticism at meetings in Fukushima and Tokyo in late August, when Tepco and government officials provided little explanation of the water contamination, which had been reported in local media days earlier.
Tepco only says it has the capacity to store up to 1.37 million tons of water through 2020 and that it cannot stay at the plant forever.
Some experts say the water can be stored for decades, but others say the tanks take up too much space at the plant and could interfere with ongoing decommissioning work that could take decades.

October 3, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Touching from a Distance: The workers of Fukushima Daiichi

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A hill looks out over Unit 2 (left) and Unit 3.
By Andrew Deck | Posted on September 28, 2018
Our tour van came to a stop in the pass between the Unit 2 and 3 reactors. The gap, once consumed by radioactive rubble, had been cleared several months before our visit to the Fukushima Daiichi plant in June. “You’ll have 10 minutes outside before we move onto the next location,” our guide announced to the vehicle, a portable Geiger counter in hand. We buckled our construction helmets, tightened the strings of our face masks and stepped out onto the open road. The Pacific coast was no more than 200 meters in front of us and on either side were nuclear reactor buildings. While Unit 2 was weathered but structurally intact, Unit 3 showed visible scars from the explosion it had suffered seven years earlier, marked by protruding support beams and fractured cement walls.
Since our day began at the edge of the exclusion zone in Tomioka, Fukushima, we had passed through half a dozen security checkpoints and received a full-body scan to measure internal radiation, a baseline reading for later comparison. Now, at the power plant, facing the shells of two nuclear meltdowns, our observation time was further regulated to minimize exposure. A visit to this part of the plant came with the understanding that just steps away were structures housing melted nuclear debris, the epicenters of one of the largest nuclear disasters in history.
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There were no hazmat suits or gas masks, the biohazard uniform most would imagine for this portion of the tour. Pants and a long-sleeved shirt was the required outfit, a protective layer augmented by gloves, a helmet and what could pass as a kafunsho (hay fever) mask. We were directed to tuck our pant legs into four layers of neon blue socks, which we slid into black ankle-cut rain boots. A personal Geiger counter was placed in the chest pocket of our mesh vests. It would set off an alarm when it reached the tour’s daily allowance for radiation exposure, 100 microsieverts, equivalent to a roundtrip flight between Narita and JFK. In our meticulously planned day-long tour, these counters wouldn’t reach more than 30 microsieverts.
The optics of this moment, standing in plain clothes next to two nuclear reactors, were not lost on Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which operates Fukushima Daiichi and facilitated Metropolis’ tour of the 3.5km² power station, known internally as 1F. Our guide remarked that they often bring visitors to this spot. Safely getting up close to one of the reactors, even if only for 10 minutes, is a gesture they hope will show conditions at the plant have improved substantially since the 2011 disaster.
In the past year, TEPCO has expanded the number of power station tours for journalists and the general public. These tours are an effort to increase transparency and educate the public on the plant’s status. They are also an effort to build goodwill for a company that is still maligned by many for its culpability in the disaster. Three retired TEPCO executives, Ichiro Takekuro, Sakae Muto and former chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, are currently on trial for “professional negligence resulting in death and injury,” a criminal charge for ignoring internal reports that Fukushima Daiichi was at risk from a debilitating tsunami wave. The indictment was brought by a civilian judiciary panel, overruling prosecutors who had twice declined to press charges. The criminal trial follows a string of civil suits, including a ruling by a Tokyo court last year that ordered TEPCO to pay ¥11 billion (100 million USD) in damages to the residents of Minamisoma, Fukushima.
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As part of these tours, TEPCO is promoting what they consider major improvements to working conditions on the plant. Currently, 96 percent of 1F can be accessed with the “regular uniform” we wore during our tour. One of the most advertised portions of the plant is Sakura Dori, a roadway at the edge of  1F that has been specially maintained in order to match regularly-occurring radiation levels in Tokyo. Before the disaster, families of plant workers and local residents would gather under the road’s 1,000 blooming cherry blossoms trees for hanami (cherry blossom viewing) every April. This past year TEPCO invited journalists to Sakura Dori for a photo-op of the 380 trees that remain.
These entwined motivations of public education and public relations valence any visit to 1F, including Metropolis’. But even a manufactured look behind the power plant fences provides insight into the personal and working lives of the 5,000 people who are employed at Fukushima Daiichi daily. Their roles are diverse, from nuclear engineers and security guards, to bureaucratic liaisons and cafeteria servers. Decontamination workers stand alongside janitorial staff. There is even a fully-stocked Lawson convenience store tucked away in an administrative building with cashiers working the registers. Each of these workers wakes up every morning and must pass into the Fukushima exclusion zone on their way to work. Some even enter reactor buildings, earning their livelihood by putting themselves in proximity to dangerous nuclear debris.
As we walked down Sakura Dori towards our tour van, we passed a couple dozen workers; some matched us in attire, others wore blue TEPCO-issued coveralls, others wore anorak body suits and full-face masks, used in the plant’s most radioactive areas, or “R zones.” It was a muggy summer afternoon with grey clouds forecasting heavy rain. We were told heat stroke is a common problem when wearing full-body protective gear, one motivation behind efforts to make 1F more accessible with regular clothes. Without fail, though, each worker shared a hearty “otsukaresama” as they passed one another. The greeting is used to offer thanks for hard work; its literal translation addresses “someone who is tired.” Unlike PR officers, TEPCO executives and Diet legislators based in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward, it is 1F’s decommissioning workers who must walk Sakura Dori every day — not just when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. In some form, they will likely be walking this road for decades.
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On March 11, 2011 at 3:27 pm, a tsunami wave 13 meters tall crested over the six-meter seawall of Fukushima Daiichi’s complex, flooding the grounds with a force that crippled the nuclear power station’s vital cooling systems. Without electricity required to pump water into the reactors, the waterline dropped below the core rods in Units 1, 2 and 3, instigating a nuclear meltdown in each. Inside these reactor walls, boiling pools of stagnant water produced volatile amounts of hydrogen gas (a Zirconium-steam reaction). Within days Units 1, 3 and 4 (connected to the Unit 3 building by pipes) had all suffered explosions, carrying nuclear fallout over the Pacific and inland, disseminating across the towns of eastern Fukushima Prefecture. The nuclear fuel in Units 1, 2 and 3 soon melted through their primary containment vessels (PCVs) and pooled in the cement basements of each respective building, where it remains to this day.
Masahiro Yamamoto, 42, was there on March 11. In fact, he’s been at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant for over 20 years, his first and only job since university. Born in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, where southernmost Honshu meets the tip of Kitakyushu, Yamamoto enrolled in a TEPCO-affiliated high school. Trained as an engineer, the feeder program placed him at the Fukushima plant back in 1994, where he worked a steady engineering job and raised his three children in Futaba. One of two towns that border 1F, the evacuated municipality currently has an actual population of zero.
“Before the disaster, I worked just like an average salaryman. But as disaster struck and the situation worsened, it was as if I was dropped right in the middle of a battlefield,”  he says. We don’t dwell on this difficult time, but Yamamoto shares some fragmented memories. “The monitors for the reactors started to show signs of abnormality, and I thought to myself, ‘what is going to happen now,’” he remembers. “My family lived nearby and I wanted to check their safety, but I had no way of communicating with them so I didn’t know whether they were swept away by the tsunami or injured by the quake. I had many worries, but I had to bury my feelings and focus on my duties. I managed to control myself up to that point.”
The Self-Defense Force came first; then other government agencies arrived — “When I was walking down the aisle to go to the restroom, the Prime Minister passed right by me.” Yamamoto’s workplace in a quiet seaside town had overnight become ground zero for a Level 7 nuclear accident, matched in severity only by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. He describes himself and his team as co-workers that were suddenly required to be soldiers faced with daily life-threatening work. “When Unit 1 exploded, I was wearing my mask to go outside and work onsite at the reactors. I felt [the blast] blow across my face. Things took a turn for the worse and every time we had to go near the reactor buildings, our team was assembled knowing that there may be an explosion and we might die. We had to go through that many times, and it was psychologically hard on me.”
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Seven years later, the realities of working at Fukushima Daiichi have changed dramatically for Yamamoto. Along with 750 other TEPCO employees, he lives in company dormitory housing in the town of Okuma, just outside the exclusion zone. His family evacuated during the disaster and they have been living in Tokyo’s Otsuka neighborhood ever since. Long train rides on weekends are the only way he spends time with his wife and three children before returning to his duties at the plant.
“There’s nothing special about my job,” Yamamoto says, despite all signs to the contrary. “I think any work is hard and challenging.” He describes his average day, far removed from the emergency response. Early mornings begin with weight training; nights are spent studying eikaiwa (English conversation). He’s working to improve his English skills, in part, to share his experiences at the power plant and dispel fears about visiting Fukushima Prefecture. “I’d like many foreigners to come to Japan to learn not just about the fun things, but also about [Fukushima Daiichi] and the reality.”
Yamamoto currently serves as Team Leader at Units 5 and 6, two reactors that were spared from nuclear meltdowns but are set for decommissioning. While important work, this is only one part of an elaborate operation that also aspires to full decommissioning of Units 1, 2, 3 and 4 by 2050. Now seven years into this proposed timeline, some critics have questioned its feasibility. According to Daisuke Hirose, a TEPCO spokesperson who debriefed Metropolis on the state of decommissioning, there are three major priorities in fulfilling the plan as scheduled.
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The most complex is the location and extraction of nuclear fuel debris. Hundreds of tons of melted fuel remain buried deep within Units 1, 2 and 3, the exact locations of which remain unknown. Rubble and fatal radioactivity levels have rendered these parts of the reactor buildings inaccessible to humans, leaving remote-controlled robots the most viable method of investigation. Only minimal fuel debris in Unit 2 has currently been identified and the means of extraction have not been finalized, but Hirose says TEPCO will meet a 2021 benchmark for initial fuel extraction. Alongside the handling of nuclear debris, the plant must confront a rapid accumulation of contaminated water on site, perhaps the most urgent task facing the operation. 
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Despite the pressing and complex problems facing the project, Hirose argues that improving the safety of the plant must rank above all other priorities, “Decommissioning is something done by people. Our most important task is improving conditions at 1F for decommissioning workers.” Yamamoto, for one, insists he does not worry about his health while working at the plant. “At the time of the disaster, I couldn’t comprehend all the issues about contamination and radiation exposure, so I was very worried back then,” he says. “I don’t have those worries now.” Yamamoto’s duties at Units 5 and 6 include routine exposure to radiation, but he does not currently conduct work in the plant’s most radioactive locations. While we requested to speak to an employee with work duties in the R zone, TEPCO declined the request citing the priority for these employees as decommissioning work. “Of course, to be honest, there are some people who’ve suffered health damage, as has been reported in newspapers, so it’s not a zero,” he adds. Currently, 17 employees at 1F who’ve developed cancer have applied to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare for compensation as a work-related illness. In September, the Ministry acknowledged the first death related to radiation exposure at 1F, a subcontractor in his 50s who died of lung cancer.
Once a meishi (business card) that held tremendous social capital, TEPCO is now a company irrecoverably associated with the disaster. To many, the workers of Fukushima Daiichi are the face of this institution. Yamamoto shares stories of coworkers’ doors being vandalized with graffiti and trash being dumped in front of their homes. It is difficult to find sympathy for the TEPCO workers at 1F when considering the continued injustices suffered by the residents of Fukushima, but the victims of the nuclear disaster and the rain boots on the ground at 1F are not necessarily distinct populations. Around 60 percent of the employees at Fukushima Daiichi are from Fukushima Prefecture, a number that TEPCO says may be underreported since it only includes those born in the prefecture. In many instances, including Yamamoto’s, the workers at 1F are working towards recovering their own communities in the entwined futures of decommissioning and Fukushima’s restoration.
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Our coach passed the border of the “difficult to return zone,” a government-designated boundary that separates areas of Fukushima deemed habitable from those deemed uninhabitable. Suddenly we were facing the Fukushima “ghost towns” of popular imagination. While Fukushima Daiichi is ground zero, the heart of this disaster is in the abandoned towns of the prefecture: homes and businesses and schools left behind in an instant, hard evidence of the 160,000 residents that were displaced by the disaster. Abandoned vehicles, shattered windows, hollowed-out storefronts, a dilapidated pachinko parlor and seven years of weeds rising from cracks in the cement — they all passed by the coach windows on our approach to Fukushima Daiichi.
We were not the only vehicles on this highway, trucks rumbled past us and cars lined the road. Calling these “ghost towns” is a misnomer: these towns may be uninhabited, but they are not unoccupied. Many of these vehicles belonged to a decontamination project that spans the original 20km exclusion zone and beyond. It is not operated by TEPCO, but rather a web of government agencies and municipalities. Their job, first and foremost, entails the mass removal of dirt, stripping entire towns of topsoil and manually washing down rooftops and other surfaces that were doused in radioactive particles in an effort to clean away radiation. Fields of black refuse sacks, millions of which are filled with contaminated soil, now litter the prefecture without plans for their permanent storage or removal. Regardless of this work’s efficacy, it is an undertaking that requires a massive labor force; Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare reports that more than 46,000 were employed in Fukushima decontamination work in 2016.
The harsh reality is that the disaster has disrupted the industries that once thrived in Fukushima Prefecture — fishing, agriculture and service jobs. Currently, only half of the region’s 1,000 fishermen are going out to sea and they face highly reduced demand. The decontamination industry is one of the few thriving seven years later, but this line of work is not without its risks. In early September, the UN human rights division released a statement warning of possible worker exploitation in the recovery effort, both within the prefectural decontamination projects and on the 1F site. “Workers hired to decontaminate Fukushima reportedly include migrant workers, asylum seekers and people who are homeless,” wrote three UN Special Rapporteurs. “They are often exposed to a myriad of human rights abuses, forced to make the abhorrent choice between their health and income, and their plight is invisible to most consumers and policymakers with the power to change it.” Japan’s Foreign Ministry responded by calling the statement “extremely regrettable.”
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We met Yamamoto in the parking lot of the plant after our tour. His TEPCO uniform had been exchanged for pants and a graphic-T. It is the second time we’d met that he had worn this particular gray short-sleeved shirt with a Ghostbusters logo emblazoned on its chest, one of his favorite movies as a child. Outside the plant, Yamamoto sheds his professional facade to reveal a youthful energy. During the night ahead we would visit an izakaya (Japanese pub) in Iwaki City and share stories over local sake and sashimi (sliced raw fish), once celebrated Fukushima products that have since been cast off supermarket shelves as new associations and stigmas took hold of the prefectural name.
There are many people who shoulder the burden of the nuclear disaster: parents sending their children to school with Geiger counters on their backpacks, farmers who have lost their livestock and livelihood, elderly left to care for deserted towns as the young set roots far from Futaba-gun, multi-generation Fukushima lineages that have been forced to abandon their familial homes for prefabricated temporary housing units. Yamamoto carries one small burden of this sweeping tragedy, as do the other workers of Fukushima Daiichi, as do those who labor in irradiated fields without other means of income. They are trying to extinguish a danger that can’t be seen, but its presence is felt in every aspect of their work. At times the job they’ve been assigned feels beyond comprehension, but Fukushima is not a supernatural disaster and Yamamoto is no ghostbuster. This disaster is deeply human, founded in both nature and negligence. “If you think in terms of decades, the long road ahead and the abstractness of it all will crush you,” says Yamamoto. “But just as with any other work, if you split up big projects into smaller pieces, the feeling of accomplishment from each small victory will keep you motivated.” Inside the exclusion zone, we witness the people of Fukushima trying to take their land a few steps closer to normal.
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October 3, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment