Of the unknown number of children who have been bullied for being from Fukushima Prefecture, where a nuclear disaster is still ongoing at a power station six years since its outbreak, one boy who evacuated to Yokohama was bullied and extorted by his classmates of 1.5 million yen in total.
Now in his first year of junior high school, the boy wrote when he was in sixth grade, “My classmates said, ‘You get compensation, right?’ That annoyed me, but I was frustrated with myself for not standing up against them.”
Ironically, news reports say that because the family voluntarily evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture, they are not eligible for the high levels of compensation from the operator of the stricken nuclear plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), that some victims are entitled to receive.
Those who evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture due to the nuclear crisis can be largely categorized into two groups. The first are those who were forced to leave their homes under evacuation orders from the central government, because they lived in areas where annual cumulative radiation levels exceeded 20 millisieverts, or otherwise faced extenuating circumstances as determined by the state. Such people receive a certain lump sum from TEPCO as compensation.
The second group comprises people who lived in areas with radiation levels that did not prompt government evacuation orders, but who evacuated voluntarily out of concern for the health of themselves and their children. As a general rule, these people are not eligible for compensation from TEPCO.
In the case of forced evacuations, TEPCO conducts individual interviews with evacuees to assess the value of their property and homes. But this is strictly to compensate for the assets that people have lost.
What has often attracted attention but remains commonly misunderstood, is the monthly 100,000 yen per person that evacuees are said to be receiving as compensation for emotional suffering. Those who evacuated without orders to do so from the government are not eligible for this, either.
Meanwhile, the provision of compensation for emotional suffering to state-ordered evacuees whose homes are in areas where evacuation orders are set to be lifted will be stopped in March 2018. Whether or not such evacuees will return to their homes in Fukushima Prefecture once the no-go orders are lifted, they face the harsh reality that they will be cut off from government assistance. The government is rushing to rebuild infrastructure, and appeal to the world that they are lifting evacuation orders. But whether to return or to relocate is a difficult decision, especially for families with children.
People who evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture have not only been exposed to radiation, but to prejudice and misunderstanding regarding compensation that they may or may not have received.
The false rumor that compensation recipients are enjoying the high life from compensation payments has spread. We can’t deny that some probably indulged in the momentary influx of money and bought property or a fancy car. But because of that, the internet has been teeming with rumors that compensation recipients are tax thieves or calls for them to go back where they came from. And there’s no doubt that such a backdrop of online defamation and scandalmongering emboldened the children who bullied the boy in Yokohama.
The truth is, the family of the boy in Yokohama had evacuated Fukushima Prefecture voluntarily. They received a little over 1 million yen from TEPCO, but the parents said in an interview with an NHK new program, Close Up Gendai, that the money was put toward rebuilding their lives. Voluntary evacuees are exempt from paying rent due to the Disaster Relief Act, but many must restart new lives amid unstable finances.
The abovementioned boy moved to Yokohama with his family when he was in second grade. Shortly thereafter, classmates called him by his name, with the word for “germs” added on to the end. He soon found himself the victim of physical abuse such as hitting and kicking, and once he reached fifth grade, classmates demanded he give them money.
“I was so scared I didn’t know what to do,” the boy wrote. He stole from his parents and gave away a total of 1.5 million yen.
His parents, and other parents of children at the school who realized that something was going on, alerted the school. The school conducted an investigation, but took the bullies’ claims that the boy had given them money willingly at face value, and did nothing to remedy the situation for two years.
I, too, only learned the truth about the case just recently, but I believe the school’s misguided judgment was likely based on ignorance and prejudice toward compensation given to Fukushima Prefecture evacuees.
The boy’s mother had been traveling back and forth between Yokohama and Fukushima. He knew how much his parents were struggling, so he remained silent about the bullying.
What moved the case into a new direction were notes the victim had written in the summer of sixth grade. A message calling on bullying victims not to kill themselves also written by the now first-year junior high school student who attends an alternative school, was also released to the public.
Compensation is given to some victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. But there is still too little compassion toward and understanding of the various misunderstandings, discrimination and divisions that disaster victims face.
Chiho Sato and Lucas Rue, the film directors
Yesterday, Saturday March 18. 2017, I went to watch for the second time The silent Voices, a documentary film directed by Chiho Sato and Lucas Rue, a screening organized by the French-Japanese Asuka association, an association founded by Kyoko Kugawa-Albu after the March 11. 2011 with the purpose to inform the general public about the Fukushima catastrophe.
I was very happy to meet again and spend some time with the two young movie directors, a very nice, sincere and talented couple, and with Kyoko Kugawa-Albu an antinuclear friend of mine.
This second time watching the movie confirmed my first impression, this movie is definitely the best documentary which has been made about Fukushima in the past 6 years, and you can believe it as I have watched many.
It is the best because of its unique approach, as Chiho Sato is herself from Fukushima she has been able like no one else to enter the intimacy of the Fukushima people by interviewing her own family members and her family close friends.
Chiho Sato was able to make them open up and talk about what usually nobody wants to talk about, as to talk about the catastrophe and its consequences has become kinda taboo among the Fukushima people, who never talk about it as different opinions could caused conflict, antagonism and create divisions. So after 6 years of an ongoing unresolved nuclear catastrophe, today nobody talks about it and everyone keeps it buried deep inside.
Chiho Sato for the first time succeeded to make those silent voices to talk, about the problems resulting from the catastrophe in their everyday life, their present and future inner fears.
Watching it for the second time, convinced me that I really need to write an article about it, to come in the coming weeks, because this film contains some very important testimonies that everyone should hear.
George Monbiot and others at best misinform and at worst distort evidence of the dangers of atomic energy
A girl is screened in Iitate, about 40km from the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant, where high levels of radiation have been detected.
From Monday 11 April 2011
Soon after the Fukushima accident last month, I stated publicly that a nuclear event of this size and catastrophic potential could present a medical problem of very large dimensions. Events have proven this observation to be true despite the nuclear industry’s campaign about the “minimal” health effects of so-called low-level radiation. That billions of its dollars are at stake if the Fukushima event causes the “nuclear renaissance” to slow down appears to be evident from the industry’s attacks on its critics, even in the face of an unresolved and escalating disaster at the reactor complex at Fukushima.
Proponents of nuclear power – including George Monbiot, who has had a mysterious road-to-Damascus conversion to its supposedly benign effects – accuse me and others who call attention to the potential serious medical consequences of the accident of “cherry-picking” data and overstating the health effects of radiation from the radioactive fuel in the destroyed reactors and their cooling pools. Yet by reassuring the public that things aren’t too bad, Monbiot and others at best misinform, and at worst misrepresent or distort, the scientific evidence of the harmful effects of radiation exposure – and they play a predictable shoot-the-messenger game in the process.
1) Mr Monbiot, who is a journalist not a scientist, appears unaware of the difference between external and internal radiation
Let me educate him.
The former is what populations were exposed to when the atomic bombs were detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945; their profound and on-going medical effects are well documented. 
Internal radiation, on the other hand, emanates from radioactive elements which enter the body by inhalation, ingestion, or skin absorption. Hazardous radionuclides such as iodine-131, caesium 137, and other isotopes currently being released in the sea and air around Fukushima bio-concentrate at each step of various food chains (for example into algae, crustaceans, small fish, bigger fish, then humans; or soil, grass, cow’s meat and milk, then humans).  After they enter the body, these elements – called internal emitters – migrate to specific organs such as the thyroid, liver, bone, and brain, where they continuously irradiate small volumes of cells with high doses of alpha, beta and/or gamma radiation, and over many years, can induce uncontrolled cell replication – that is, cancer. Further, many of the nuclides remain radioactive in the environment for generations, and ultimately will cause increased incidences of cancer and genetic diseases over time.
The grave effects of internal emitters are of the most profound concern at Fukushima. It is inaccurate and misleading to use the term “acceptable levels of external radiation” in assessing internal radiation exposures. To do so, as Monbiot has done, is to propagate inaccuracies and to mislead the public worldwide (not to mention other journalists) who are seeking the truth about radiation’s hazards.
2) Nuclear industry proponents often assert that low doses of radiation (eg below 100mSV) produce no ill effects and are therefore safe. But , as the US National Academy of Sciences BEIR VII report has concluded, no dose of radiation is safe, however small, including background radiation; exposure is cumulative and adds to an individual’s risk of developing cancer.
3) Now let’s turn to Chernobyl. Various seemingly reputable groups have issued differing reports on the morbidity and mortalities resulting from the 1986 radiation catastrophe. The World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2005 issued a report attributing only 43 human deaths directly to the Chernobyl disaster and estimating an additional 4,000 fatal cancers. In contrast, the 2009 report, “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment”, published by the New York Academy of Sciences, comes to a very different conclusion. The three scientist authors – Alexey V Yablokov, Vassily B. Nesterenko, and Alexey V Nesterenko – provide in its pages a translated synthesis and compilation of hundreds of scientific articles on the effects of the Chernobyl disaster that have appeared in Slavic language publications over the past 20 years. They estimate the number of deaths attributable to the Chernobyl meltdown at about 980,000.
Monbiot dismisses the report as worthless, but to do so – to ignore and denigrate an entire body of literature, collectively hundreds of studies that provide evidence of large and significant impacts on human health and the environment – is arrogant and irresponsible. Scientists can and should argue over such things, for example, as confidence intervals around individual estimates (which signal the reliability of estimates), but to consign out of hand the entire report into a metaphorical dustbin is shameful.
Further, as Prof Dimitro Godzinsky, of the Ukranian National Academy of Sciences, states in his introduction to the report: “Against this background of such persuasive data some defenders of atomic energy look specious as they deny the obvious negative effects of radiation upon populations. In fact, their reactions include almost complete refusal to fund medical and biological studies, even liquidating government bodies that were in charge of the ‘affairs of Chernobyl’. Under pressure from the nuclear lobby, officials have also diverted scientific personnel away from studying the problems caused by Chernobyl.”
4) Monbiot expresses surprise that a UN-affiliated body such as WHOmight be under the influence of the nuclear power industry, causing its reporting on nuclear power matters to be biased. And yet that is precisely the case.
In the early days of nuclear power, WHO issued forthright statements on radiation risks such as its 1956 warning: “Genetic heritage is the most precious property for human beings. It determines the lives of our progeny, health and harmonious development of future generations. As experts, we affirm that the health of future generations is threatened by increasing development of the atomic industry and sources of radiation … We also believe that new mutations that occur in humans are harmful to them and their offspring.”
After 1959, WHO made no more statements on health and radioactivity. What happened? On 28 May 1959, at the 12th World Health Assembly, WHO drew up an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); clause 12.40 of this agreement says: “Whenever either organisation [the WHO or the IAEA] proposes to initiate a programme or activity on a subject in which the other organisation has or may have a substantial interest, the first party shall consult the other with a view to adjusting the matter by mutual agreement.” In other words, the WHO grants the right of prior approval over any research it might undertake or report on to the IAEA – a group that many people, including journalists, think is a neutral watchdog, but which is, in fact, an advocate for the nuclear power industry. The IAEA’s founding papers state: “The agency shall seek to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity through the world.”
Monbiot appears ignorant about the WHO’s subjugation to the IAEA, yet this is widely known within the scientific radiation community. But it is clearly not the only matter on which he is ignorant after his apparent three-day perusal of the vast body of scientific information on radiation and radioactivity. As we have seen, he and other nuclear industry apologists sow confusion about radiation risks, and, in my view, in much the same way that the tobacco industry did in previous decades about the risks of smoking. Despite their claims, it is they, not the “anti-nuclear movement” who are “misleading the world about the impacts of radiation on human health.”
• Helen Caldicott is president of the Helen Caldicott Foundation for a Nuclear-Free Planet and the author of Nuclear Power is Not the Answer
 See, for example, WJ Schull, Effects of Atomic Radiation: A Half-Century of Studies from Hiroshima and Nagasaki (New York: Wiley-Lis, 1995) and DE Thompson, K Mabuchi, E Ron, M Soda, M Tokunaga, S Ochikubo, S Sugimoto, T Ikeda, M Terasaki, S Izumi et al. “Cancer incidence in atomic bomb survivors, Part I: Solid tumors, 1958-1987” in Radiat Res 137:S17-S67 (1994).
 This process is called bioaccumulation and comes in two subtypes as well, bioconcentration and biomagnification. For more information see: J.U. Clark and V.A. McFarland, Assessing Bioaccumulation in Aquatic Organisms Exposed to Contaminated Sediments, Miscellaneous Paper D-91-2 (1991), Environmental Laboratory, Waterways Experiment Station, Vicksburg, MS and H.A. Vanderplog, D.C. Parzyck, W.H. Wilcox, J.R. Kercher, and S.V. Kaye, Bioaccumulation Factors for Radionuclides in Freshwater Biota, ORNL-5002 (1975), Environmental Sciences Division Publication, Number 783, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN.
Court sends a shockwave through Japan’s nuclear establishment with ruling on Fukushima accident.
A writing inside Ukedo elementary school, damaged by the March 11, 2011 tsunami, is seen near Tokyo Electric Power Co’s (TEPCO) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Namie town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan, March 1, 2017.
Japan’s atomic power establishment is in shock following the court ruling on Friday that found the state and the operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant liable for failing to take preventive measures against the tsunami that crippled the facility.
The reason for the shock is the ruling has wide-ranging implications for Japan’s entire nuclear power industry and the efforts to restart reactors throughout the country.
Judges in the Maebashi District Court in Gunma prefecture ruled that Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) and the government were aware of the earthquake and tsunami risks to the Fukushima Daiichi plant prior to the 2011 triple reactor meltdown, but failed to take preventative measures.
The decision was welcomed by the 137 Fukushima citizens who filed the lawsuit in 2014. What needs to be remembered is a further 28 civil and criminal lawsuits in 18 prefectures across Japan are pending. They involve more than 10,000 citizens and include a shareholder claim seeking compensation of 5.5 trillion yen (US$49 billion).
Map of Japan’s nuclear plants
Tepco is already a de facto bankrupt, has been effectively nationalized and now faces the unprecedented challenges of how to remove three melted reactors at the Fukushima plant.
Six years after the disaster it still faces unanswered questions about the precise causes of the accident, questions that have generated public opposition to Tepco restarting reactors at another plant in Kashiwazki-kariwa in Niigata prefecture, on the opposite coastline to Fukushima.
Beside the court ruling being yet another blow to Tepco’s efforts to recover from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the judgement will be highly disruptive to plans by the government and utilities to restart nuclear reactors in Japan.
In the court ruling, the judges found that science-based evidence of major risks to the nuclear plant was “foreseen” but ignored and not acted upon by Japan’s government and Tepco.
The evidence included a 2002 government assessment that concluded there was a 20% risk of a magnitude 8 or greater earthquake off the coast of northeastern Japan within 30 years. This includes the sea bed area off the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Further, the plaintiffs cited a 2008 internal Tepco report ‘Tsunami Measures Unavoidable’ which included the likelihood of a potential 15.7 meter tsunami hitting the Fukushima nuclear site.
The court ruled that if the government had used its regulatory powers to make Tepco take countermeasures, such as installing seawalls, against such an event, the nuclear disaster could have been avoided.
While the judges in Gunma prefecture have concluded that ignoring evidence of risk can have devastating consequences, that does not seem to be the approach of the nuclear utilities or the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA).
Over the last four years, the NRA has demonstrated a tendency to ignore evidence of risks to nuclear plants that have made applications to restart reactors shut down after the Fukushima disaster, and to bend to the demands of the nuclear power companies and the government.
A total of 26 reactors have applied for NRA review, of which seven have passed and four more will likely be approved this year.
In each case, the NRA has failed to apply a robust approach to assessing risks. It has chose to screen out seismic faults that threaten nuclear plants, failed to follow recommendations from international safety guidelines, and accepted selective evidence on volcanic risks.
In the case of the three forty-year old reactors at Takahama and Mihama, the NRA approved the reactors, while granting the utility an exemption from demonstrating that the reactors primary circuit can meet the 2013 post Fukushima revised safety guidelines, until a later date.
All of these safety issues have the potential when things go wrong — see Fukushima — to lead to severe accidents, including reactor core meltdown.
District courts have issued injunctions against reactor restarts in Fukui prefecture, and in a historic ruling in March 2016 a court in Shiga prefecture ordered the immediate shutdown of the Takahama 3 and 4 reactors.
An appeal court is scheduled to rule on the above in the coming weeks and while it is anticipated that the reactor owner Kansai Electric will likely win, the prospects of further legal action remains.
Next month, for example, the former deputy chair of the NRA, Kunihiko Shimazaki will testify in a lawsuit against the operation of the Ohi reactors owned by Kansai Electric in western Japan.
Shimazeki, emeritus professor of seismology at Tokyo University and the only seismologist to have been an NRA commissioner, has challenged the formulas used by the regulator in computing the scale of earthquakes, which he believes underestimates potential seismic impact by factor of 3.5.
Last July the NRA dismissed Professor Shimazeki’s evidence.
Six years after the start of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, only 3 of Japan’s reactors are currently operating out of the 54 available in 2011.
For any business that runs the risk of its principal cash-generating asset being shut down at any point and for an extended period through legal challenges, the future does not look bright — unless you are granted approval to disregard the evidence.
The utilities are hemorrhaging money and therefore run the risk of following the same path as Tepco prior to 2011 in prioritizing cost savings over safety.
Such an approach directly led to the bankruptcy of Tepco, one the worlds largest power companies, and liabilities of at least 21 trillion yen.
The nuclear industry and current government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe understand that to allow robust evidence of safety risks, in particular seismic, to determine the future of operation of reactors would mean the end of nuclear power in Japan.
Citizens from Fukushima with their lawyers and now supported by the judges, have moved Japan one step closer to that eventual scenario.
Shaun Burnie is a senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace Germany. He has worked on nuclear issues worldwide for more than three decades, including since 1991 on Japan’s nuclear policy. firstname.lastname@example.org
In 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Japan caused a massive tsunami, which in turn led to the meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima, Japan. As a result, the site went on to release radioactive material for the next three days, becoming only the second such disaster in history–after Chernobyl in 1986–to be classified a Level 7 event on the Nuclear Event Scale.
So perhaps it should come as no surprise that, just past the tragedy’s six year anniversary, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) has made little progress in cleaning up the disaster site.
While Tepco has spent much of its time containing radiation and attempting to minimize groundwater contamination, its current mission is to locate and retrieve 600 tons of melted nuclear fuel rods lost somewhere in the radioactive wreckage. As the levels of radiation are still too high for human exposure, this task has fallen to robots. Yet so far, even the robots have failed repeatedly to locate the melted fuel rods; instead, they are dying within the reactors they were sent in to survey.
The latest device to meet its end was a scorpion-shaped robot built by Toshiba, which entered one of the reactors last month but stalled just 10 feet short of its target in a matter of hours. While it was ultimately undone by the failure of its left roller-belt, the robot was exposed to far higher than expected levels of radiation, which likely interfered with its electronics and prevented it from sending photos that could have shed some light on the location of the melted fuel rods.
Despite being manufactured using special radiation-hardened materials to protect its circuits from exposure, the levels of radiation it encountered within the reactor far exceeded the robot’s tolerance. Two prior robot missions had to be aborted as well after one got stuck and another failed to locate any melted fuel for several days.
Despite the setbacks, Tepco believes it is getting closer to locating the melted fuel, and hopes to begin removal by 2021, but admits it is a long-term project. The Japanese government estimates that it will take upwards of 40 years and $70.6 billion to complete the clean-up.
According to MIT nuclear science professor Jacopo Buongiorno, “the roadmap for removing the fuel is going to be long, 2020 and beyond. The re-solidified fuel is likely stuck to the vessel wall and vessel internal structures. So the debris have to be cut, scooped, put into a sealed and shielded container and then extracted from the containment vessel. All done by robots.”
But that begs the question: what robots?
None of those they’ve sent in so far has done the trick. What if the technology required to create the chips and robots that are radiation-hardened yet not too weighed down by protective shielding hasn’t even been invented yet? Bloomberg reports that Toshiba intends to send a new robot into Reactor 3 next year at this time to continue the search, but it is still in the development phase, and Toshiba has not yet made design details public.
The good news is that with a 40 year time horizon, the likelihood of technology catching up with Tepco’s needs is fairly good. But when will the site be clean enough so that more people may return to their homes? In the meantime, radioactive boars have been making themselves quite at home there.
Japanese government held liable for first time for negligence in Fukushima
Court rules government should have used regulatory powers to force nuclear plant’s operator to take preventive measures
A court in Japan has ruled that negligence by the state contributed to the triple meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in March 2011 and awarded significant damages to evacuees.
Although courts have awarded damages arising from the disaster in other cases, Friday’s ruling is the first time the government has been held liable.
The Maebashi district court near Tokyo awarded ¥38.55m (£270,000) to 137 people who were forced to evacuate their homes in the days after three of Fukushima Daiichi’s six reactors suffered a catastrophic meltdown, the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
Despite official claims that the size and destructive power of the quake and tsunami were impossible to foresee, the court said the nuclear meltdown could have been prevented.
The ruling said the government should have used its regulatory powers to force the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), who were also held liable, to take adequate preventive measures.
The plaintiffs – comprising forced and “voluntary” evacuees – claimed the government and Tepco could have predicted a tsunami more than 10 metres in height would one day hit the plant.
They based their claim on a 2002 report in which government experts estimated there was a one in five chance of a magnitude-8 earthquake occurring and triggering a powerful tsunami within the next 30 years.
At the time of the disaster, Japan’s nuclear regulator was severely criticised for its collusive ties with the nuclear industry, resulting in the formation of a new watchdog that has imposed stricter criteria for the restart of nuclear reactors that were shut down in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.
Tepco, which faces a ¥21.5tn bill for decommissioning the plant and compensating evacuees, said it would respond after studying the ruling.
The 137 plaintiffs, who are now living in several regions outside of Fukushima, were seeking a total of ¥1.5bn as compensation for emotional distress.
They said the meltdown and resulting evacuation had ruined their livelihoods and caused disruption to their families’ lives, adding that state compensation they had already received was insufficient.
Friday’s ruling is the first of 30 lawsuits to be brought by Fukushima evacuees. Six years after the disaster, tens of thousands of people are still living in nuclear limbo, and many say they will never be able to return home. A small number have moved back to communities where the government has lifted evacuation orders.
The ruling echoed the conclusion reached by an independent parliamentary investigation, which described the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown as a “man-made” disaster caused by poor regulation and collusion between the government, Tepco and the industry’s then watchdog, the nuclear and industrial safety agency.
The report, published in 2012, accused Tepco and the agency of failing to take adequate safety measures, despite evidence that the north-east coast of Japan was susceptible to powerful earthquakes and tsunamis.
“The Fukushima nuclear power plant accident was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and Tepco, and the lack of governance by said parties,” the report said.
“They effectively betrayed the nation’s right to be safe from nuclear accidents. Therefore, we conclude that the accident was clearly ‘man-made’.”
Japan Court Rules Government to Blame for Fukushima
A court in Japan Friday ruled that Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) and the government are liable for negligence in a case involving compensation for the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the first time the judiciary has ruled the state has liability, Japanese media reported.
The district court in Maebashi, north of Tokyo, ruled in favor of 137 evacuees seeking damages for the emotional distress of fleeing their homes as radiation spread from the meltdowns at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi plant after an earthquake and tsunami six years ago, The Mainichi newspaper and other media reported.
While courts have ruled in favor of plaintiffs and awarded damages arising from the disaster, it was the first time a court has recognized that the government was liable, the Mainichi said.
TEPCO has long been criticized for ignoring the threat posed by natural disasters to the Fukushima plant and both the company and government were lambasted for their handling of the crisis.
TEPCO said in a statement it would review the contents of the ruling before making a response.
In December, the government nearly doubled its projections for costs related to the disaster to 21.5 trillion yen ($187.7 billion), increasing pressure on TEPCO to step up reform and improve its performance.
In the world’s worst nuclear calamity since Chernobyl in 1986, three reactors at TEPCO’s Fukushima plant suffered meltdowns after a magnitude 9 earthquake in March 2011 triggered a tsunami that devastated a swathe of Japan’s northeastern coastline and killed more than 15,000 people.
It has been six years since the term Fukushima has become synonymous with the multiple meltdowns of reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. Here are six lessons that may be learnt from what happened then and since then.
The first lesson is that severe accidents at nuclear plants and other facilities are not one-time events and dealing with just the damaged structures, let alone the radioactive contamination of the environment, from such accidents can take decades. Fukushima, as Arjun Makhijani of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research phrased it, is, “possibly the longest running, continuous industrial disaster in history”. The recent discovery of high levels of radiation within Unit 2—so high that even robotic cameras cannot operate in that environment for long —serve as a reminder of the complexity of the ongoing effort to deal with the meltdowns in the reactors. Indeed, as Safecast, an organization that has pioneered citizens’ monitoring of radiation levels in the aftermath of the accidents, pointed out “The process of removing melted fuel debris from the damaged reactors at Fukushima Daiichi is expected to take decades, and these recent findings remind us once again that TEPCO has little grounds for optimism about the challenges of this massive and technically unprecedented project”. The early expectation offered by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) that it would start removing the melted fuel from these reactors by 2021 is almost certainly not going to materialize.
The second, and related, lesson is that the impacts on the people who lived near a nuclear accident site are also long lived. There are still tens of thousands of people who were evacuated from the areas near Fukushima who are yet to return to their homes. The Japanese government, of course, would like to reduce this number as soon as possible, both for financial reasons, and to affect how people view the situation in Japan, especially as the 2020 Olympics are coming up. It is lifting the restrictions for people to move back to areas that were contaminated, but with the proviso that it would stop housing subsidies for the evacuees. As a result, people are forced to move back to areas with relatively high radiation levels.
A third lesson is that human beings are not the only ones affected by the accident. When the inhabitants of the areas around Fukushima were evacuated, they were not told that the move was for a long period, and they were not allowed to take their pets. As a result, dogs and cats and cows and so on were all left behind. Many of these starved to death but some animals are still alive, trapped in the exclusion zone. There are, fortunately, some volunteers who have saved hundreds of animals from the area. Studies have revealed deleterious effects on a range of birds as well, barn swallows for example. The forested regions around Fukushima have also been badly affected, as was the case in Chernobyl, and forest fires have become an additional source of risk for radioactive releases.
A fourth lesson is that the accident could have easily been worse and only luck prevented much greater levels of land contamination and human population impacts. Because of the direction of the wind during the worst phase of the accident, most of the radioactive materials released went over the Pacific Ocean. Another fortuitous occurrence was at the water filled pool that contained the irradiated spent fuel from Unit 4 of the Fukushima Daiichi. Because this Unit had been shut down, all of its fuel was inside the pool and generated the most heat, leading to the pool’s water to start boiling. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences has modeled what happened there and found that the water levels had come close to below the top of the fuel rods. But “accidental” water leakage from the reactor fortuitously prevented pool water levels from dropping so low. Had the tops of the fuel rods been exposed to air, there could have been a fire leading to the release of large quantities of radionuclides. On 25 March 2011, Shunsuke Kondo, the chairman of Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission, told Prime Minister Naoto Kan that a fire in pool 4 could require compulsory relocations out to 110−170 kilometres from the reactor site and voluntary relocations out to 200–250 kilometres. In other words, even the population of Tokyo might have been forced to relocate—a logistical and human nightmare.
A fifth lesson is that institutions that profit from nuclear energy continue to seek to build and operate reactors, even if there are obvious risks from doing so. This is the case in Japan, where companies like the Kansai Electric Power Company and the Kyushu Electric Power Company have applied and received permission to restart reactors that were shut down after the meltdowns in Fukushima. In turn, this is because nuclear establishments have underestimated, and continue to underestimate, the likelihood and severity of possible accidents. The reactor restarts in Japan were rationalized using various arguments that do not hold up to scrutiny, including assumptions that the reactors to be restarted were safe and the chances of an initiating event, such as an earthquake, were too small to be considered seriously. Concerns of the local communities were dismissed as inconsequential. As multiple polls have shown, a majority of the Japanese public are opposed to such restarts. a testimony to the undemocratic nature of decision making when it comes to nuclear matters.
A sixth lesson is that although the country has been generating only a tiny fraction of the nuclear electricity it used to generate, the lights still continue to shine in Japan. In 2016, nuclear power provided only about 2 percent of all the electricity in the country in comparison to 29.2 percent in 2010, the year before the accident started. Not only that, starting with the fiscal year 2015 (Japan’s fiscal year is from April 1 to March 31), Japan’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have fallen below the levels in FY 2011. After an initial spike, emissions have been declining since FY2013, mainly because of “decreased electricity consumption and the improvement of carbon intensity in power generation”. The latter, in turn, is because of an increasing fraction of renewable energy in electricity generation.
Although proponents of nuclear power may not admit it, the technology comes with an inherent risk of severe accidents. Such accidents can impact people, animals, birds, and plants living in wide swaths of areas around nuclear facilities. These impacts can also last for decades. Finally, it is by no means inevitable that carbon dioxide emissions must increase when reactors are shut down.
M V Ramana is Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security at the Liu Institute for Global Issues, University of British Columbia.
The operator of the crippled nuclear complex in Fukushima Prefecture has only paid 6 percent of the compensation sought by municipalities in connection with the 2011 nuclear crisis, according to a recent prefectural tally.
The delay in payments to the 12 municipalities, designated by the government as evacuation zones, highlights the continuing challenge to their reconstruction efforts six years after the nuclear disaster, triggered by the massive earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011.
The tally found that Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. had by the end of 2016 paid around 2.6 billion yen ($22.5 million) of the 43.3 billion yen demanded by the 12 local governments.
Six years after it suffered a nuclear meltdown, Fukushima appears to have returned to a semblance of normalcy. But there is still a long way to go in terms of cleaning up the site. Martin Fritz reports.
A filter mask covering the mouth and nose, a headscarf, a helmet, gloves and two layers of socks – they constitute the protective gear that must be worn by any ordinary visitor to the Fukushima nuclear power station.
Only a few workers now have to wear face masks and hazmat suits, since most of the ground at the site has been sealed with concrete.
“The radiation is now as low as in the Tokyo’s Ginza shopping district,” Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) manager Yuichi Okamura assured a group of journalists during their recent visit to the plant.
But the illusion of normality evaporates as soon as the visitors get off their bus and stand within sight of the reactors, with dosimeters indicating radiation levels of around 160 to 170 microsieverts per hour – nearly 2,000 times above what is considered safe.
“We cannot stay here for long,” warns Okamura.
On the surface, it appears that much has changed in Fukushima since the disaster struck six years ago. The clean-up work has evidently made progress.
But the sight of skeletal steel frames, torn walls and broken pipes immediately reminds one of the 17-meter-high tsunami which flooded the facility six years ago and brought its reactors to a complete standstill.
It’s expected to take 30 to 40 years to completely clean up the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which was hit by the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl following a magnitude-9 earthquake and the subsequent tsunami. The operation is likely to carry a hefty price tag, with Japanese officials recently estimating it to cost around $189 billion in total.
Today, with 6,000 workers employed, the nuclear power plant is Japan’s largest and most expensive construction site – and it will remain so for decades. “We’re struggling with four problems,” says TEPCO manager Okamura: “Reducing the radiation at the site, stopping the influx of groundwater, retrieving the spent fuel rods and removing the molten nuclear fuel.”
Black lumps in the reactor containment
Progress in these areas, however, is slow. For instance, workers are erecting scaffolding around the collapsed roof of reactor No 1, but it will likely take four more years for the debris there to be cleared away. Only then can the almost 400 old fuel rods be retrieved from the reactor’s holding basin.
In the adjacent reactor No 2, the blue exterior still remains intact. Workers in hazmat suits can be seen walking on a new metal platform halfway up the reactor building. But behind the wall lies a nuclear nightmare. A robot sent into the reactor in January found highly dangerous black lumps of leaked fuel on a platform in the outer reactor containment.
“There is now fatally high radiation in that part,” says Okamura.
The engineer quickly turns to reactor No 3, where the progress is more obvious. A hydrogen explosion had turned the reactor’s roof into a tangle of bent metal. It took years of work to dismantle this steel scrap and remove the rubble. “Now we’re building a new roof with an integrated hoisting crane,” says Okamura proudly.
“From next year, we would finally be able to close in on the nearly 600 burnt fuel rods,” he noted. But unlike in reactor No 4, the clean-up must be undertaken remotely as the radiation is so strong that people can only stay there for a few minutes. As a result, the construction of the lifting device has already been delayed by several years.
The situation at the reactors raises doubts about the optimism shared by Japanese officials with regard to the orderly decommissioning of the plant. At the next stop, Okamura shows the control center of the underground ice wall that was built to prevent groundwater from leaking into the reactor basements and mixing with radioactive coolant water.
Since its construction, it has managed to reduce the amount of groundwater flowing into the reactor basements. But five sections of the wall have had to be kept open to prevent water inside the reactor basements from rising and flowing out too rapidly.
Despite all these adversities, the Japanese government and TEPCO are planning to decide as early as this summer how to remove the molten nuclear fuel from the reactors.
Even Shunji Uchida, the Fukushima Daiichi plant manager, couldn’t hide his skepticism from the visiting journalists. “Robots and cameras have already provided us with valuable pictures,” says Uchida, adding: “But it is still unclear what is really going on inside.”
Anti-nuclear demonstration in front of the Japanese Diet, June 22, 2012
Six years have passed since the Fukushima nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011, but Japan is still dealing with its impacts. Decommissioning the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant poses unprecedented technical challenges. More than 100,000 people were evacuated but only about 13 percent have returned home, although the government has announced that it is safe to return to some evacuation zones.
In late 2016 the government estimated total costs from the nuclear accident at about 22 trillion yen, or about US$188 billion – approximately twice as high as its previous estimate. The government is developing a plan under which consumers and citizens will bear some of those costs through higher electric rates, taxes or both.
The Japanese public has lost faith in nuclear safety regulation, and a majority favors phasing out nuclear power. However, Japan’s current energy policy assumes nuclear power will play a role. To move forward, Japan needs to find a new way of making decisions about its energy future.
Uncertainty over nuclear power
When the earthquake and tsunami struck in 2011, Japan had 54 operating nuclear reactors which produced about one-third of its electricity supply. After the meltdowns at Fukushima, Japanese utilities shut down their 50 intact reactors one by one. In 2012 then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s government announced that it would try to phase out all nuclear power by 2040, after existing plants reached the end of their 40-year licensed operating lives.
Now, however, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office at the end of 2012, says that Japan “cannot do without” nuclear power. Three reactors have started back up under new standards issued by Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, which was created in 2012 to regulate nuclear safety. One was shut down again due to legal challenges by citizens groups. Another 21 restart applications are under review.
In April 2014 the government released its first post-Fukushima strategic energy plan, which called for keeping some nuclear plants as baseload power sources – stations that run consistently around the clock. The plan did not rule out building new nuclear plants. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which is responsible for national energy policy, published a long-term plan in 2015 which suggested that nuclear power should produce 20 to 22 percent of Japan’s electricity by 2030.
Meanwhile, thanks mainly to strong energy conservation efforts and increased energy efficiency, total electricity demand has been falling since 2011. There has been no power shortage even without nuclear power plants. The price of electricity rose by more than 20 percent in 2012 and 2013, but then stabilized and even declined slightly as consumers reduced fossil fuel use.
Japan’s Basic Energy Law requires the government to release a strategic energy plan every three years, so debate over the new plan is expected to start sometime this year.
The most serious challenge that policymakers and the nuclear industry face in Japan is a loss of public trust, which remains low six years after the meltdowns. In a 2015 poll by the pro-nuclear Japan Atomic Energy Relations Organization, 47.9 percent of respondents said that nuclear energy should be abolished gradually and 14.8 percent said that it should be abolished immediately. Only 10.1 percent said that the use of nuclear energy should be maintained, and a mere 1.7 percent said that it should be increased.
Another survey by the newspaper Asahi Shimbun in 2016 was even more negative. Fifty-seven percent of the public opposed restarting existing nuclear power plants even if they satisfied new regulatory standards, and 73 percent supported a phaseout of nuclear power, with 14 percent advocating an immediate shutdown of all nuclear plants.
Who should pay to clean up Fukushima?
METI’s 22 trillion yen estimate for total damages from the Fukushima meltdowns is equivalent to about one-fifth of Japan’s annual general accounting budget. About 40 percent of this sum will cover decommissioning the crippled nuclear reactors. Compensation expenses account for another 40 percent, and the remainder will pay for decontaminating affected areas for residents.
Under a special financing scheme enacted after the Fukushima disaster, Tepco, the utility responsible for the accident, is expected to pay cleanup costs, aided by favorable government-backed financing. However, with cost estimates rising, the government has proposed to have Tepco bear roughly 70 percent of the cost, with other electricity companies contributing about 20 percent and the government – that is, taxpayers – paying about 10 percent.
This decision has generated criticism both from experts and consumers. In a December 2016 poll by the business newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun, one-third of respondents (the largest group) said that Tepco should bear all costs and no additional charges should be added to electricity rates. Without greater transparency and accountability, the government will have trouble convincing the public to share in cleanup costs.
Other nuclear burdens: Spent fuel and separated plutonium
Japanese nuclear operators and governments also must find safe and secure ways to manage growing stockpiles of irradiated nuclear fuel and weapon-usable separated plutonium.
At the end of 2016 Japan had 14,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel stored at nuclear power plants, filling about 70 percent of its onsite storage capacity. Government policy calls for reprocessing spent fuel to recover its plutonium and uranium content. But the fuel storage pool at Rokkasho, Japan’s only commercial reprocessing plant, is nearly full, and a planned interim storage facility at Mutsu has not started up yet.
The best option would be to move spent fuel to dry cask storage, which withstood the earthquake and tsunami at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Dry cask storage is widely used in many countries, but Japan currently has it at only a few nuclear sites. In my view, increasing this capacity and finding a candidate site for final disposal of spent fuel are urgent priorities.
Japan also has nearly 48 tons of separated plutonium, of which 10.8 tons are stored in Japan and 37.1 tons are in France and the United Kingdom. Just one ton of separated plutonium is enough material to make more than 1,200 crude nuclear weapons.
Many countries have expressed concerns about Japan’s plans to store plutonium and use it in nuclear fuel. Some, such as China, worry that Japan could use the material to quickly produce nuclear weapons.
Now, when Japan has only two reactors operating and its future nuclear capacity is uncertain, there is less rationale than ever to continue separating plutonium. Maintaining this policy could increase security concerns and regional tensions, and might spur a “plutonium race” in the region.
As a close observer of Japanese nuclear policy decisions from both inside and outside of the government, I know that change in this sector does not happen quickly. But in my view, the Abe government should consider fundamental shifts in nuclear energy policy to recover public trust. Staying on the current path may undermine Japan’s economic and political security. The top priority should be to initiate a national debate and a comprehensive assessment of Japan’s nuclear policy.
Exploration work inside the nuclear plant’s failed reactors has barely begun, with the scale of the task described as ‘almost beyond comprehension’
Barely a fifth of the way into their mission, the engineers monitoring the Scorpion’s progress conceded defeat. With a remote-controlled snip of its cable, the latest robot sent into the bowels of one of Fukushima Daiichi’s damaged reactors was cut loose, its progress stalled by lumps of fuel that overheated when the nuclear plant suffered a triple meltdown six years ago this week.
As the 60cm-long Toshiba robot, equipped with a pair of cameras and sensors to gauge radiation levels was left to its fate last month, the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), attempted to play down the failure of yet another reconnaissance mission to determine the exact location and condition of the melted fuel.
Even though its mission had been aborted, the utility said, “valuable information was obtained which will help us determine the methods to eventually remove fuel debris”.
The Scorpion mishap, two hours into an exploration that was supposed to last 10 hours, underlined the scale and difficulty of decommissioning Fukushima Daiichi – an unprecedented undertaking one expert has described as “almost beyond comprehension”.
Cleaning up the plant, scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl after it was struck by a magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami on the afternoon of 11 March 2011, is expected to take 30 to 40 years, at a cost Japan’s trade and industry ministry recently estimated at 21.5tr yen ($189bn).
The figure, which includes compensating tens of thousands of evacuees, is nearly double an estimate released three years ago.
The tsunami killed almost 19,000 people, most of them in areas north of Fukushima, and forced 160,000 people living near the plant to flee their homes. Six years on, only a small number have returned to areas deemed safe by the authorities.
Developing robots capable of penetrating the most dangerous parts of Fukushima Daiichi’s reactors – and spending enough time there to obtain crucial data – is proving a near-impossible challenge for Tepco. The Scorpion – so called because of its camera-mounted folding tail – “died” after stalling along a rail beneath the reactor pressure vessel, its path blocked by lumps of fuel and other debris.
The device, along with other robots, may also have been damaged by an unseen enemy: radiation. Before it was abandoned, its dosimeter indicated that radiation levels inside the No 2 containment vessel were at 250 sieverts an hour. In an earlier probe using a remote-controlled camera, radiation at about the same spot was as high as 650 sieverts an hour – enough to kill a human within a minute.
Shunji Uchida, the Fukushima Daiichi plant manager, concedes that Tepco acquired “limited” knowledge about the state of the melted fuel. “So far we’ve only managed to take a peek, as the last experiment with the robot didn’t go well,” he tells the Guardian and other media on a recent visit to the plant. “But we’re not thinking of another approach at this moment.”
Robotic mishaps aside, exploration work in the two other reactors, where radiation levels are even higher than in reactor No 2, has barely begun. There are plans to send a tiny waterproof robot into reactor No 1 in the next few weeks, but no date has been set for the more seriously damaged reactor No 3.
Naohiro Masuda, the president of Fukushima Daiichi’s decommissioning arm, says he wants another probe sent in before deciding on how to remove the melted fuel.
Despite the setbacks, Tepco insists it will begin extracting the melted fuel in 2021 – a decade after the disaster – after consulting government officials this summer.
But Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist at Greenpeace Germany who is based in Japan, describes the challenge confronting the utility as “unprecedented and almost beyond comprehension”, adding that the decommissioning schedule was “never realistic or credible”.
The latest aborted exploration of reactor No 2 “only reinforces that reality”, Burnie says. “Without a technical solution for dealing with unit one or three, unit two was seen as less challenging. So much of what is communicated to the public and media is speculation and wishful thinking on the part of industry and government.
“The current schedule for the removal of hundreds of tons of molten nuclear fuel, the location and condition of which they still have no real understanding, was based on the timetable of prime minister [Shinzo] Abe in Tokyo and the nuclear industry – not the reality on the ground and based on sound engineering and science.”
Even Shunichi Tanaka, the chairman of Japan’s nuclear regulation authority, does not appear to share Tepco’s optimism that it will stick to its decommissioning roadmap. “It is still early to talk in such an optimistic way,” he says. “At the moment, we are still feeling around in the dark.”
‘The situation is not under control’
On the surface, much has changed since the Guardian’s first visit to Fukushima Daiichi five years ago.
Then, the site was still strewn with tsunami wreckage. Hoses, pipes and building materials covered the ground, as thousands of workers braved high radiation levels to bring a semblance of order to the scene of a nuclear disaster.
Six years later, damaged reactor buildings have been reinforced, and more than 1,300 spent fuel assemblies have been safely removed from a storage pool in reactor No 4. The ground has been covered with a special coating to prevent rainwater from adding to Tepco’s water-management woes.
Workers who once had to change into protective gear before they approached Fukushima Daiichi now wear light clothing and simple surgical masks in most areas of the plant. The 6,000 workers, including thousands of contract staff, can now eat hot meals and take breaks at a “rest house” that opened in 2015.
But further up the hill from the coastline, row upon row of steel tanks are a reminder of the decommissioning effort’s other great nemesis: contaminated water. The tanks now hold about 900,000 tons of water, with the quantity soon expected to reach 1m tons.
Tepco’s once-vaunted underground ice wall, built at a cost of 24.5bn yen, has so far failed to completely prevent groundwater from leaking into the reactor basements and mixing with radioactive coolant water.
The structure, which freezes the soil to a depth of 30 metres, is still allowing 150 tonnes of groundwater to seep into the reactor basements every day, said Yuichi Okamura, a Tepco spokesman. Five sections have been kept open deliberately to prevent water inside the reactor basements from rising and flowing out more rapidly. “We have to close the wall gradually,” Okamura said. “By April we want to keep the influx of groundwater to about 100 tonnes a day, and to eliminate all contaminated water on the site by 2020.”
Critics of the clean-up note that 2020 is the year Tokyo is due to host the Olympics, having been awarded the Games after Abe assured the International Olympic Committee that Fukushima was “under control”.
Mitsuhiko Tanaka, a former Babcock-Hitachi nuclear engineer, accuses Abe and other government officials of playing down the severity of the decommissioning challenge in an attempt to win public support for the restart of nuclear reactors across the country.
“Abe said Fukushima was under control when he went overseas to promote the Tokyo Olympics, but he never said anything like that in Japan,” says Tanaka. “Anyone here could see that the situation was not under control.
“If people of Abe’s stature repeat something often enough, it becomes accepted as the truth.”
Surendra’s chilling update on the continuous radiation poisoning of the entire globe.
In approaching the sixth anniversary of the March 11, 2011 Fukushima catastrophe, February saw a bevy of updates appearing on the internet. As well as including a few general, timeless messages in this article, I have tried to highlight the implications of the latest news.
The flow of false information, from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and Japanese central and prefectural governments, about the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power complex, continues unabated. It aptly matches the flow of local groundwater as it gathers radioactive contamination on its journey from the mountains, via the Dai-ichi reactors, to the Pacific Ocean. Yes, the Pacific is still being contaminated on a daily basis while the prefectural government has surprisingly managed to kick-start the local fishing industry. Yet we should not fix our gaze on Japan as the only culprit in the cover-up.
The whole world is participating in the downplay of this disaster and the dangers of nuclear power in general. The multinational conglomerates involved in the nuclear industry are desperate to survive and world banks are already heavily invested in them. Inseparable from the financial situation is the rapid expansion of nuclear weapons production. Fuelled by the infantile ambitions of politicians for military power, this is a deadly version of the toddler’s, ‘I want to be bigger than you’, syndrome. We have to remember that without nuclear reactors there can be no nuclear weapons.
Storage tanks for contaminated cooling water, Fukushima Dai-ichi.
The problem with identifying damage caused by nuclear pollution is that it is odorless and colourless. Low doses take time, two to ninety years, to wreak havoc on living organisms and leave no obvious trace of their source. Doctors and scientists are now prohibited in Japan from linking sickness to radiation. In the few official studies being conducted, data is already being distorted to minimise the impact. Contaminated construction materials and produce from Fukushima are being distributed as widely as possible throughout the Japanese archipelago. Given these facts, it is difficult to assess the impact of the Fukushima Dai-ichi meltdowns on the health of the Japanese population. We can just be certain that there is a negative one and it is ongoing.
Instead, we do have some other facts and hypotheses to consider. Organised largely by the Japanese mafia, or yakusa, roughly 6,000 workers are employed every day in maintaining safety and rudimentary clean-up at Fukushima Dai-ichi. Half of these personnel are either involved in spraying cooling water over the damaged plants to prevent them from over-heating, or collecting as much of the contaminated run-off as possible. In addition to pollution from groundwater, some of this cooling water inevitably ends up in the Pacific. The cooling water that does get collected continues to be stored in a burgeoning mass of huge, makeshift tanks that leak from time to time.
Little mention has been given of another hazard – the spent fuel rods removed from the reactors before the disaster. Apparently, some of these are still lying in open pools without much radiological protection and present additional dangers. Costly and treacherous, this has been the state of affairs for more than five years, in the face of false assurances from officials that everything is under control. Very recent data, however, is mind-blowing.
There are four defunct reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi site. So far, the highly dangerous nuclear fuel has been removed from Reactor 4. As for Reactors 1, 2 and 3, nobody knows where their fuel is because their cores melted. It is assumed that the incendiary radioactive fuel burrowed through the bases of the concrete containment vessels into the soil below. Here it comes into contact with the groundwater and contaminates the local water table delivering radiation into surrounding rivers and the Pacific.
Irid Toshiba robot.
Japan is a world leader in robotics. Small robots, about the length of one or two school rulers, fitted with cameras and Geiger counters have been sent towards the heart of the damaged reactors to search for information on the whereabouts of the melted cores. They have all dropped dead before completing their missions as the levels of radiation were too intense even for machines. The last attempt in February did, however, retrieve information leading to an estimated radiation level of 650 sieverts per hour as it got closer to the centre of Reactor 2. It could be as much as 1,000 sieverts per hour at the centre itself. These levels would kill a human being, with or without protective clothing, within minutes.
The purpose of these robotic surveys was to help plan for decommissioning. While TEPCO prepares for its next foray, the true consequence of these astronomical figures has not been clearly broadcast. The fact is that unless unimaginable technical advances are made in protection from radiation, decommissioning can never happen in the foreseeable future. Neither humans nor machines will be able to get anywhere near the lethal centres of Reactors 1, 2 and 3 to even begin the process. Even if it were feasible, the estimated cost of decommissioning continues to grow and is currently half a trillion dollars. That is a lot of zeros: $500,000,000,000.
As Dr Helen Caldicott puts it in The Fukushima meltdown continues unabated, Independent Australia, February 13, 2017: “Bottom line, these reactors will never be cleaned up nor decommissioned because such a task is not humanly possible. Hence, they will continue to pour water into the Pacific for the rest of time and threaten Japan and the northern hemisphere with massive releases of radiation should there be another large earthquake.”
So, we are left with the likes of three undetonated atomic bombs sitting, or continuing to burrow, somewhere under the Fukushima Dai-ichi site, 300 kilometres from central Tokyo. Another earthquake in the vicinity could cause underground explosions and spew fresh plumes of radiation high into the atmosphere, as occurred in March 2011. It would also cause a fresh wave of additional contamination to the local area. In spite of this possibility, former evacuees are now being coerced into returning to their homes by the likely termination of displacement subsidies, of around $10,000 per year per person, by 2018. Although officials proclaim it is now safe for former residents to return to most areas, only ten per cent have volunteered to do so. In some designated ‘safe’ areas radiation levels are said to be the equivalent of having one chest x-ray every week for the rest of their lives.
In the danger zone, about fifteen centimetres of contaminated topsoil has been removed but only from around homes and the roadsides. The collected, contaminated soil sits in local fields in collections of large, black, plastic bags which are neither safe nor sightly and are yet to be disposed of. The rest of the land, including fields and forests, remains untouched. According to Greenpeace, in these untreated areas, radiation levels match those within the still uninhabited Chernobyl exclusion zone. Were former residents to return, not only would their movement be restricted to narrow strips, weathering is leeching contamination from the uncleaned parts back onto clean ground.
Contaminated topsoil gathers in plastic bags at many sites in Fukushima prefecture.
Even the original evacuation programme has been called fraudulent by some. Most of the paperwork detailing the process has mysteriously disappeared but it is known that there were serious mistakes. For instance, some evacuees were moved to rest centres more dangerous than their own homes because organisers had failed to pay attention to the direction of prevailing winds. This, in spite of warnings from international teams monitoring the situation from outside Japan.
TEPCO is already reneging on approved compensation payments to disrupted local businesses and the government refuses to intervene. Instead, the central and local governments are busy ‘normalising’ the effects of the disaster. Local officials have even been accused of exposing children to health risks for propaganda purposes by encouraging sporting events for them in polluted areas. Getting Fukushima food production and prices back to their former glory with national and international acceptance of contaminated produce is also a major priority. The Tokyo Olympics is coming soon, in 2020. Athletes will be offered training facilities in Fukushima and its produce will be fed to crowds of participants and visitors to the games.
More than fifty nuclear plants remain shut down in Japan. On average, one power station employs 700 people. None of these employees have been suspended. Wages are still being paid in full and probably cost around a billion dollars per year in total with nothing to show for it, as no power is being generated. The banks funding these payouts with loans are eager to see returns on their investments. This is another source of pressure on the government, in addition to the utility companies themselves, led by TEPCO, to see the closed power stations up and running again. Public suspicions still run high and the normalisation of the Fukushima disaster is hoped to allay their persistent fears.
From Hanford to Sellafield and beyond, the nuclear industry has never bothered to clean up its own mess. The recent, costly containment of the crumbling sarcophagus at Chernobyl was paid for by contributions from many nations and organisations, not by the, now non-existent, original power utility. Sellafield nuclear waste disposal site in Cumbria, UK, since the nineteen fifties, has been home to several ageing, ‘temporary’, cooling ponds whose contents are not entirely known, even to the managers at the site. France generates around three quarters of its electricity from nuclear power but despite decades of activity it is no nearer a solution for the accumulating waste.
The horrendous waste produced by all nuclear plants has yet to be stored safely anywhere in the world. Deep underground storage is proposed for hundreds of thousands of years but no country has ever built it yet. When the cost of producing electricity from nuclear power is compared with generation by renewables, the figures are usually made to come out slightly in favour of nuclear production but this is misleading. If we factor in waste disposal, let alone accident damage, then nuclear power is financially inconceivable. (See: Mark Brierly, The cost of decommissioning a nuclear power station. Conveniently ignored. New Statesman, 9 September 2013)
Cooling pond at Sellafield
Finally, the United Nations is beginning a debate this March on making all nuclear weapons illegal. Although long overdue, as these weapons have been around for more than seventy years, the start of discussions could be a nod in the right direction. Apparently, as has been the case with landmines, even banks can get jittery about investing in ventures once they are designated illegal.
As of this year, more than three hundred new nuclear reactors have been proposed and over sixty are currently under construction in fifteen different countries. However, costs continue to soar as the prices of materials and technology inflate and increasingly stringent safety standards add to the bills. In June 2016 Toshiba, having merged with the American giant, Westinghouse, announced its goal to win orders for forty-five, or more, nuclear reactors overseas by 2030. Earlier this year, just seven months later, the company declared it would not take any new construction orders for nuclear reactors. It would focus instead on maintenance and decommissioning operations. Toshiba incurred severe losses through its takeover of Westinghouse. To compensate, it has already had to sell its medical equipment leasing unit to Canon and put its lucrative memory chip business up for bids. Although the Fukushima disaster will never go away, in the end, the death of the nuclear industry might be all about money and lack of investment.
“The sooner the government and industry realize there is no future for nuclear power either domestically or in exports, the sooner they can concentrate on the energy technology of the future — renewables.”
Shaun Burnie, Greenpeace, quoted by Eric Johnston, Toshiba’s woes weigh heavily on government’s ambition to sell Japan’s nuclear technology. The Japan Times, February 15, 2017
The general view is the Fukushima reactor meltdowns in japan in 2011 were caused by the tsunami that knocked out backup power to the atomic plant. Nuclear engineers say it is not the full story.
Six years after the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, engineers remain vexed by a key question: What damage did the massive earthquake cause at the atomic plant before it was hit by the subsequent tsunami?
The answer matters because of the potential implications for the earthquake safety standards of other nuclear reactors in Japan, which sits on the seismically unstable Ring of Fire around the Pacific. The area accounts for about 90% of the planet’s earthquakes, with Japan being shaken by 10% of them, according to the US Geological Survey.
Just three out of Japan’s 42 usable reactors are running at present, as operators seek to clear regulatory, safety and legal hurdles and overcome community opposition following the Fukushima calamity. Despite the obstacles, Japan still aims to derive between 20% and 22% of its power from nuclear sources by 2030.
Investigations into the Fukushima accident generally accept that the tsunami knocked out backup power to the Tokyo Electric Power Co. Daiichi plant, causing a failure of cooling equipment and then reactor meltdowns.
However, as much of the site is a radioactive no-go zone, it’s not been possible to investigate effects on the plant from the earthquake itself off Japan’s Pacific Ocean coastline in the afternoon of March 11, 2011. The quake registered a magnitude 9, the largest ever recorded in the country.
A bus driver wearing radiation protective gear rests on the bus during a media tour at TEPCO’s tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture, November 12, 2014.
The impact of the quake is “still actually a question mark,” Mitsuhiko Tanaka, a former nuclear equipment engineer for Hitachi Ltd., said at a press conference in Tokyo.
Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) has said that the quake at 2.46 p.m. cut off power supply, but operators used emergency diesel generators to keep cooling the reactors. These generators in reactor building basements were subsequently disabled by the tsunami.
No earthquake-related damage to key safety facilities “has been confirmed,” Tepco said in its accounts of the accident. It pointed to the tsunami of “unprecedented scale” that hit the coast 50 minutes later to explain the loss of backup power, which thwarted cooling efforts and ultimately led to explosions and the meltdown of three reactors.
The Fukushima disaster is ranked alongside Chernobyl as the world’s worst civilian nuclear accident, according to the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale.
This video shows seismic activity around Japan before, during and after the major earthquake on March 11, 2011. Watch the counter at the top left for the magnitude 9 quake at 2:46 p.m.
Earthquake safety ‘inadequate’
In a briefing at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan a few days ahead of the disaster’s sixth anniversary this year, Tanaka contended that the cause of the station blackout at unit 1 of the Fukushima plant remained unclear.
He also suggested that the piping system that took in seawater for cooling purposes might have been corroded, adding that such pipes were “generally vulnerable to earthquakes.”
Mitsuhiko Tanaka, a former Hitachi nuclear engineer.
“I’m not saying that the earthquake alone caused damage in lieu of the tsunami – the tsunami no doubt had a significant role,” Tanaka said.
“But I’m also saying that the anti-seismic design of the power stations was inadequate and I’m also saying that without the tsunami the same accident possibly would have occurred. So even excluding the tsunami, just the earthquake alone could possibly cause a major rupture. I’m stressing that one should not neglect or ignore the issue of the earthquake.”
A worker wearing a protective suit and mask works on the roof of the No.4 reactor building of Tepco’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture February 20, 2012.
While such comments might appear speculative, Tanaka is in a position to understand a nuclear power station’s vulnerabilities.
He designed reactor pressure vessels for Hitachi, the company that supplied one of the units at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. He conducted stress analysis of the station’s unit 4 reactor pressure vessel and served on the Fukushima accident independent investigation commission set up by the Japanese parliament.
That commission, which had the power to subpoena evidence, differed from other studies by placing a greater emphasis on the potential quake damage. Indeed, its 2012 report said Tepco “was too quick to cite the tsunami as the cause of the nuclear accident and deny that the earthquake caused any damage.”
The panel, which was also scathing about the lax approach of the then regulators, raised the possibility that the quake damaged equipment necessary for ensuring safety and that a small-scale accident involving a loss of coolant occurred in unit 1.
Looking back at the six-month inquiry, Tanaka said: “It is really quite unfortunate that the investigation committee disbanded without really exposing or explaining much after the accident. Much remains unresolved.”
His view was supported by Masashi Goto, a former designer of reactor containment vessels for Toshiba Corp., who told the same press briefing: “There are many uncertainties still.”
One of the obstacles to finding the truth, investigators cautioned in 2012, was that a lot of the equipment relevant to the accident remained “beyond the reach of inspection or verification”.
That remains a challenge today, as thousands of workers make slow progress on the decommissioning of the plant – a process that is expected to take decades and cost 8 trillion yen ($US70 billion). In addition, 7.9 trillion yen will be spent on compensation from radiation fallout and 5.6 trillion yen on treating and storing contaminated soil, according to latest government estimates.
Push to restart reactors
Meantime the atomic power industry is making slow progress on restarting other reactors in Japan, a situation that calls into question the government’s 2030 target for nuclear power generation.
Takeo Kikkawa, a Tokyo University of Science professor who was a member of the government’s energy mix advisory committee, said achieving the 20% to 22% target would involve “a lot of difficulty.”
Map of Japan’s nuclear plants.
In a recent speech to the Foreign Press Center Japan, he noted many of the country’s aging nuclear reactors would need to be decommissioned by 2030 if the government stuck with the rule that such closures occur after 40 years of operation.
Tepco, mindful of the huge costs it is incurring at the devastated Fukushima Daiichi plant, wants to restart two reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, which was the world’s largest such facility but suffered damage from a previous earthquake in 2007.
But in a blow to the plans, voters in Niigata prefecture last year elected a governor who, like his predecessor, opposed a restart at Kashiwazaki due to safety concerns.
Just last month, Tepco was ordered to re-submit documents after revealing that its previous assurances about safety measures at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa had been wrong.
Tepco discovered in 2014 that a key building at the site may not be able to withstand even half of the assumed strongest seismic shaking, but this information was not passed on to the regulator, the Asahi newspaper reported.
Tepco’s managing executive officer, Takafumi Anegawa, apologized for the omission, which was blamed on “insufficient” communication within the company rather than a cover-up. A Nuclear Regulation Authority official was quoted as saying the lessons of Fukushima were “not utilized”.
Shaun Burnie, a nuclear specialist with Greenpeace Germany, called for a fundamental overhaul of the way the regulator reviews earthquake risks. He praised the engineers who had “spoken out” about the potential pre-tsunami damage at Fukushima Daiichi, saying they were right to demand further investigation.
“That is something the nuclear industry is determined to avoid as the ramifications, if proven, would be catastrophic for the future operation of reactors in Japan – but also have major implications worldwide,” he said in an interview.
A writing inside Ukedo elementary school, damaged by the March 11, 2011 tsunami.
Burnie said the International Atomic Energy Agency and regulators worldwide had based their reviews of the Fukushima accident on the basis that without the tsunami, there would have been no multiple reactor meltdowns.
“While this may be the conclusion the nuclear industry want to hear, it may not be correct. It could be many years before this issue is resolved one way or the other. Meanwhile, Japan continues to apply a flawed seismic model for assessing risks at nuclear plants.”
Watch the full press conference here:
Some pages and websites choose to publish sensationalism about Fukushima, as a mean to draw big numbers of visitors, like flies on the sh@t, hooking the adrenaline kick hungry crowd to get there their daily junk dose of B.S.
On my Fukushima 311 Watchdogs Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/fukushima311watchdog/,
On The Rainbow Warriors Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/277245265712386/,
And on the Nuclear News blog https://nuclear-news.net/,
And on the Fukushima 311 Watchdogs blog https://dunrenard.wordpress.com/,
I choose to stick to facts, to dig for facts.
Fukushima is a serious catastrophe, after almost 6 years it’s only at its beginning and will not be resolved after 100 years, the technology needed to clean-up 3 reactors’ meltdowns has not yet been invented.
The mainstream media are minimizing the scale of that still ongoing catastrophe, gagged by governments having their own economic and political priorities.
Those reactors are opened belly up and still spitting nonstop radioactive nanoparticles into our skies and environment, contaminating the food chain with many consequences not yet well known, being not properly studied, identified and quantified.
The nuclear lobby and their accomplices, are muzzling in many ways the scientific community, and there is no funding to be found for those studies to be made.
We have only few dedicated straight scientists, such as Tim Mousseau, Chris Busby and a few others who still believe science as being more important than their personal career and moneyed interests, who are not selling out to pressure and personal rewards. They do work hard to bring us the real facts, the hard facts, and with very little means. As an example the biologist Tim Mousseau has been the scientist making the highest number of field trips to Chernobyl and Fukushima to research the effects of radiation on the wild life there, always on a shoe string budget.
We also have many Japanese citizen-scientists on location in Fukushima, who betrayed by their government and the Japanese scientific community, are organizing themselves to measure radiation in their environment and in their food so as to protect themselves and their families.
Those are the people we must look up to, the people who dig for the facts and fight for the real facts to be known.
I refuse to deal in sensationalism, we will stick to facts, time passing by only facts can and will prevail.
The commission of inquiry set up by the government after the nuclear disaster at the Fukusima dai-ichi plant has recorded some 770 testimonies. 240 have been made public since, with the agreement of the interviewees, including that of the former director of the plant, Masao Yoshida, now deceased.
TEPCO shareholders filed a lawsuit for the publication of the testimonies from 11 executives of TEPCO and 3 executives of NISA, which was the regulator at the time. They have just been dismissed.
Justice considered that if these documents were disclosed, it would be difficult to obtain the cooperation of the concerned persons in the future. The same applies to the secret portions of partially published testimonies.
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