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Sushi and Rev. Moon

How Americans’ growing appetite for sushi is helping to support his controversial church

By Monica Eng, Delroy Alexander and David Jackson
Tribune staff reporters
Published by The Chicago Tribune April 11, 2006

On a mission from their leader, five young men arrived in Chicago to open a little fish shop on Elston Avenue. Back then, in 1980, people of their faith were castigated as “Moonies” and called cult members. Yet the Japanese and American friends worked grueling hours and slept in a communal apartment as they slowly built the foundation of a commercial empire.

They were led by the vision of Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the self-proclaimed messiah who sustained their spirits as they played their part in fulfilling the global business plan he had devised.

Moon founded his controversial Unification Church six decades ago with the proclamation that he was asked by Jesus to save humanity. But he also built the empire blending his conservative politics, savvy capitalism and flair for spectacles such as mass weddings in Madison Square Garden.

In a remarkable story that has gone largely untold, Moon and his followers created an enterprise that reaped millions of dollars by dominating one of America’s trendiest indulgences: sushi.

Today, one of those five Elston Avenue pioneers, Takeshi Yashiro, serves as a top executive of a sprawling conglomerate that supplies much of the raw fish Americans eat.

Adhering to a plan Moon spelled out more than three decades ago in a series of sermons, members of his movement managed to integrate virtually every facet of the highly competitive seafood industry. The Moon followers’ seafood operation is driven by a commercial powerhouse, known as True World Group. It builds fleets of boats, runs dozens of distribution centers and, each day, supplies most of the nation’s estimated 9,000 sushi restaurants.

Although few seafood lovers may consider they’re indirectly supporting Moon’s religious movement, they do just that when they eat a buttery slice of tuna or munch on a morsel of eel in many restaurants. True World is so ubiquitous that 14 of 17 prominent Chicago sushi restaurants surveyed by the Tribune said they were supplied by the company.

Over the last three decades, as Moon has faced down accusations of brainwashing followers and personally profiting from the church, he and sushi have made similar if unlikely journeys from the fringes of American society to the mainstream.

These parallel paths are not coincidence. They reflect Moon’s dream of revitalizing and dominating the American fishing industry while helping to fund his church’s activities.

“I have the entire system worked out, starting with boat building,” Moon said in “The Way of Tuna,” a speech given in 1980. “After we build the boats, we catch the fish and process them for the market, and then have a distribution network. This is not just on the drawing board; I have already done it.”

In the same speech, he called himself “king of the ocean.” It proved not to be an idle boast. The businesses now employ hundreds, including non-church members, from the frigid waters of the Alaskan coast to the iconic American fishing town of Gloucester, Mass.

Records and interviews with church insiders and competitors trace how Moon and members of his movement carried out his vision.

In a recent interview Rev. Phillip Schanker, a Unification Church spokesman, said the seafood businesses were “not organizationally or legally connected” to Moon’s church, but were simply “businesses founded by members of the Unification Church.”

Schanker compared the relationship to successful business owners-such as J. Willard “Bill” Marriott, a prominent Mormon who founded the hotel chain that bears his name-who donate money to their church.

“Marriott supports the Mormon Church but no one who checks into a Marriott Hotel thinks they are dealing with Mormonism,” he said. “In the same way I would hope that every business founded by a member based on inspiration from Rev. Moon’s vision also would be in a position to support the church.”

LEADER’S SEAFOOD STRATEGY

But links between Moon’s religious organization and the fish businesses are spelled out in court and government records as well as in statements by Moon and his top church officials. For one thing, Moon personally devised the seafood strategy, helped fund it at its outset and served as a director of one of its earliest companies.

Moon’s Unification Church is organized under a tax-exempt non-profit entity called The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity. The businesses are controlled by a separate non-profit company called Unification Church International Inc., or UCI.

That company’s connections to Moon’s Unification Church go deeper than the shared name. A 1978 congressional investigation into Moon’s businesses concluded: “It was unclear whether the UCI had any independent functions other than serving as a financial clearinghouse for various Moon organization subsidiaries and projects.”

UCI as well as its subsidiaries and affiliates such as True World are run largely by church members, Schanker said. The companies were “founded by church members in line with Rev. Moon’s vision,” he said. “It’s not coincidence.”

Sometimes the links are more direct. The boatbuilding firm US Marine Corporation shares its headquarters offices with the church and lists the church as its majority shareholder, according to corporate records.

SERVING THROUGH BUSINESS

A portion of True World’s profits makes its way to the church through the layers of parent corporations, Yashiro said, adding: “We live to serve others, and this is how we serve by building a strong business.”

Moon predicted in 1974 that the fishing business would “lay a foundation for the future economy of the Unification Church.” In fact, while Moon and businesses affiliated with him reportedly have poured millions of dollars into money-losing ventures including The Washington Times newspaper, the seafood ventures have created a profit-making infrastructure that could last-and help support the church-long after the 86-year-old Moon is gone.

Much of the foundation for that success has its roots in Chicago. True World Foods, Yashiro’s wholesale fish distribution business spawned near Lawrence and Elston Avenues, now operates from a 30,000-square-foot complex in Elk Grove Village.

The company says it supplies hundreds of local sushi and fine-dining establishments. Even many who might have religious reservations about buying from the company do so for one simple reason: It dependably delivers high-quality sushi.

“We try not to think of the religion part,” said Haruko Imamura, who with her husband runs Katsu on West Peterson Avenue. “We don’t agree with their religion but it’s nothing to do with the business.”

Like Moon himself, who served a 13-month prison sentence for tax fraud in the 1980s, the seafood companies have at times run afoul of U.S. laws.

In June 2001, True World Foods’ Kodiak, Alaska, fish processing company pleaded guilty to a federal felony for accepting a load of pollock that exceeded the boat’s 300,000-pound trip limit. The firm was fined $150,000 and put on probation for five years under a plea agreement with prosecutors.

The company also has been cited for sanitation lapses by the Food and Drug Administration. Last year, after repeated FDA inspections found “gross unsanitary conditions” at True World’s suburban
Detroit plant, the facility manager tried to bar inspectors from production areas and refused to provide records, according to an FDA report. The plant manager told the inspectors that his True World supervisor was “a great man, that he was a part of a new religion, and that if we took advantage of him, then `God help you!’.”

Later, according to that FDA report, an employee wearing a ski mask approached one female inspector, put his thumb and forefinger in the shape of a gun, pointed at her and said: “You’re out of uniform. Pow!”

Saying they had been “hindered, intimidated and threatened,” the FDA inspectors took the unusual step of securing a court order compelling True World to let them inspect the facility. Yashiro, chief executive of True World Foods, said in a written statement that the “isolated instance ….. arose from a miscommunication.” The plant is now closed; Yashiro said its operations were consolidated into the Elk Grove Village plant in January, adding: “We maintain the highest standards of food safety.”

THE OCEAN KING’S VISION

In the late 1970s, Moon laid out a plan to build seafood operations in all 50 states as part of what he called “the oceanic providence.”

This dream of harvesting the sea would help fund the church, feed the world and save the American fishing industry, Moon said.

He even suggested that the church’s mass weddings could play a role in the business plan by making American citizens out of Japanese members of the movement. This would help them avoid fishing restrictions applied to foreigners.

“A few years ago the American government set up a 200-mile limit for offshore fishing by foreign boats,” Moon said in the 1980 “Way of Tuna” sermon. But by marrying Japanese members to Americans, “we are not foreigners; therefore Japanese brothers, particularly those matched to Americans, are becoming ….. leaders for fishing and distribution” of his movement’s businesses.

Sushi’s popularity had flowered enough by 1986 for Moon to gloat that Americans who once thought Japanese were “just like animals, eating raw fish,” were now “paying a great deal of money, eating at expensive sushi restaurants.” He recommended that his flock open “1,000 restaurants” in America.

In fashioning a chain of businesses that would stretch from the ocean to restaurant tables across America, Moon and his followers created a structure uniquely able to capitalize on the nation’s growing appetite for sushi and fresh fish.

Some of the business start-up funds came from the Unification Church. In a seven-month period from October 1976 to May 1977, Moon signed some of the nearly $1 million in checks used to establish the fishing business, according to a 1978 congressional report on allegations of improprieties by Moon’s church.

After acquiring an ailing boatmaking operation, Master Marine, Moon and his followers turned their attention to establishing the next link in the network. Church members who saw fishing as their calling took to the seas, many powered by Master Marine boats. Moon’s Ocean Church would bring together members and potential converts for 40-day tuna fishing trips every summer in 80 boats he bought for his followers.

Many of the tournaments took place off the coast of Gloucester, Mass., by no coincidence one of the first homes to a church-affiliated seafood processing plant. Moon proudly declared in his “Way of Tuna” speech that “Gloucester is almost a Moonie town now!” (The church has since rejected the term Moonies as derogatory.)

FROM ANGER TO ACCEPTANCE

Sometimes working surreptitiously, Moon affiliates and followers bought large chunks of the key fishing towns–in each case initially sparking anger and suspicion from longtime residents.

The church and its members created an uproar when they bought a villa that had been a retirement home run by Roman Catholic nuns. Moon was hanged in effigy in the local harbor.

Eventually, such resistance withered away. In Bayou La Batre, Ala., Russell Steiner was among community leaders who clashed with the newcomers. But like many in the town, Steiner has mellowed considerably since the church’s arrival. “They have been very active in the community and are very nice people, actually,” he said.

The Alabama shrimp business is among the largest in the Gulf of Mexico, and the nearby boat-building plant has not only built more than 300 boats, but also done repairs on the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy ships, according to federal documents.

And the fish businesses have thrived. Company officials say the wholesale distribution arm, True World Foods, had revenue of $250 million last year.

According to True World Foods, its fleet of 230 refrigerated trucks delivers raw fish to 7,000 sushi and fine-dining restaurants nationwide. Dozens of those trucks leave each day from the Elk Grove Village warehouse, one of 22 distribution facilities around the country.

True World Foods’ Alaska plant processes more than 20 million pounds of salmon, cod and pollock each year, the company says. Its International Lobster operation in Gloucester ships monkfish and lobster around the world from a 25,000-square-foot cold storage facility that is among the largest on the East Coast.

And it is again in an expansionist mood. True World recently opened up shop in England and established offices in Japan and Korea, setting its sights on the world’s biggest market for sushi.

AN EMPIRE’S CHICAGO ROOTS

When Takeshi Yashiro arrived in Chicago in 1980 to help set up one of the earliest outposts of the fishing empire, the area had just a handful of sushi joints. That number has ballooned to more than 200 restaurants statewide, and Yashiro’s fish house has flourished.

The son of an Episcopalian Japanese minister, he immigrated to the U.S. and joined the church as a student in San Francisco. On July 1, 1982, Moon blessed Yashiro and his bride along with more than 2,000 other couples in one of his mass wedding ceremonies, in New York City’s Madison Square Garden.

The Rainbow Fish House that Yashiro and fellow church members founded on Chicago’s Northwest Side has become not only the city’s dominant sushi supplier but also the nation’s. The fish house became True World Foods, which buys so much tuna from around the world that it has seven people in Chicago solely dedicated to sourcing and pricing the best grades.

One of True World’s advantages is that its sales force speaks Chinese, Korean and Japanese, making it easy for first-generation ethnic restaurant owners to do business with them.

“It’s kind of tough to compete in this industry with a company that is so global, has a major presence in almost every market and that is driven by religious fervor,” said Bill Dugan, who has been in the fish business for almost 30 years and owns the Fish Guy Market on Elston Avenue, near the original Rainbow shop. “We should all be so blessed.”

But not all of True World’s employees are church members. Tuna buyer Eddie Lin recently left True World for Fortune Fish Co., a local rival. Lin said his former workplace was not overtly religious, but he added that as a non-church member he felt his ability to advance was limited. “You can feel the difference between the way they see members and non-members,” Lin said.

FAITH-BASED BUSINESS CULTURE

While disputing such assertions, Yashiro noted that new employees “have to know that the founder is the founder of the Unification Church. It’s a very clear distinction between joining the church or not joining the church. There’s no discrimination, but I think our culture is definitely based on our faith.”

It’s that faith that makes some uneasy. Wang Kim, a Chicago-area youth ministry director and M
oon critic, was certain he could find local Korean Christian sushi restaurateurs who didn’t use True World because they might consider his views heretical. As Kim said, Moon “says that he is the Messiah, and we hate that.”

But Kim called back empty-handed. “I checked with several of my friends,” he said, “and they know it is from Moon but they have to use [them because] they have to give quality to their customers.”

The sheer success of the venture has left lingering questions even in the minds of Moon’s dedicated followers. Yashiro, the Chicago pioneer who now heads True World Foods, remembers dedicating his career and life 26 years ago to achieving Moon’s dream, which included solving world hunger.

But that part of Moon’s grand vision has yet to materialize. “I was wondering if we are really here to solve the world’s hunger,” Yashiro said. “Every day I ….. pray on it.”

He still hopes True World Foods eventually will help end hunger. But until then, he said, his role will be to grow the business and make money.

Discussion

49 comments for “Sushi and Rev. Moon”

  1. With radiation showing up in Tokyo’s supermarkets, it’s worth noting that True World is still up to its old tricks.

    From sea to sushi bar, a system open to abuse
    Boston Globe
    By Beth Daley and Jenn Abelson, Globe Staff

    Overall, the testing revealed that nearly half of 183 fish samples collected at restaurants and supermarkets were not the species ordered.

    Massachusetts has long played a major role in the nation’s seafood industry, with both fresh catches and frozen fish being sent here to get processed. Last year, about $673 million worth of seafood was processed in Massachusetts, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service, enough to rank the state fourth in the nation. (Alaska tops the list.)

    The Globe investigation found that the majority of the restaurants selling mislabeled fish get their products from a handful of distributors, including True World Foods and Goldwell Trading, which operate Boston warehouses. Some suppliers implicitly or overtly encourage seafood misrepresentation, according to restaurateurs and their employees.

    Restaurant invoices and product catalogs that were provided to the Globe show that suppliers often use two names for one species of fish. For example, Goldwell Trading, which delivers sushi to about 150 restaurants in Massachusetts, describes the same fish as white tuna and escolar on its invoices. The catalog of True World, a large supplier that says it delivers to high-profile clients such as the Red Sox clubhouse at Fenway Park, lists it the same way.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 25, 2011, 7:07 am
  2. Considering the Unification Church’s dominant role in the Gulf of Mexico shrimping business, the recent NY Times report on the decimated shrimp populations in the Gulf is extra worrying. You also have to wonder how much of that $20 billion BP-spill compensation fund is heading into the Unification Church’s coffers (since it doesn’t sound like the local residents have had much luck getting their hands on it). Oh well, at least it sounds like it’s safe to eat! *eye roll*

    Gulf Shrimp Are Scarce This Season; Answers, Too
    By CAMPBELL ROBERTSON
    Published: October 10, 2011

    LAFITTE, La. — The dock at Bundy’s Seafood is quiet, the trucks are empty and a crew a fraction of the normal size sits around a table waiting for something to do. But the most telling indicator that something is wrong is the smell. It smells perfectly fine.

    “There’s no shrimp,” explained Grant Bundy, 38. The dock should smell like a place where 10,000 pounds of shrimp a day are bought off the boats. Not this year. In all of September, Bundy’s Seafood bought around 41,000 pounds.

    White shrimp season began in late August, and two months in, the shrimpers here say it is a bad one, if not the worst in memory. It is bad not just in spots but all over southeastern Louisiana, said Jules Nunez, 78, calling it the worst season he had seen since he began shrimping in 1950. Some fishermen said their catches were off by 80 percent or more.

    “A lot of people say it’s this, it’s that, it’s too hot, it’s too cold, it’s BP,” Mr. Nunez said. “We just don’t know.”

    Those who work in the gulf seafood industry, as well as their lawyers, have watched closely for signs of a species collapse similar to the one that decimated the herring fishery four years after the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. The causes of even that collapse remain a matter of dispute, but it is often cited as an example of the delayed disaster that shrimpers and others fear.

    This concern was stoked further by a recent study by L.S.U. researchers that reported that a species of fish abundant in Gulf marshes was showing signs of cellular damage, problems typically due to exposure to oil. The functions of the fish, a minnow called the killifish, have been affected in ways that could harm reproduction, the study found.

    Seafood industry representatives say there is enough uncertainty to raise doubts that the shrimp harvest will recover by 2012, a supposition in a report that Kenneth R. Feinberg, the administrator of the $20 billion compensation fund for victims of the spill, used in his formula for determining final settlements.

    Concerns about the lack of shrimp are different from concerns about the state of shrimp that are found. Repeated studies have shown gulf seafood is safe to eat, a fact trumpeted by industry representatives and government officials, who launched a gulf seafood safety Web site last week to reassure consumers.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 26, 2011, 10:16 am
  3. Another chilling round of updates just released suggests 20 times more cesium was leaked into the ocean during the initial radiation release then previously estimated, putting the total estimate for the ocean release at 27,000 becquerels (the ‘Little Boy’ bomb released 89 becquerels, for reference). Note that this is just the initial release in the to ocean and atmosphere and doesn’t appear to include all of the radiation that has been leaking from the plants since then as a result of rain and spraying.

    There’s also a new estimate of the clean up time: 3 years before radioactive waste disposal facilities will be online and 30 years for a complete cleanup.

    Fukushima Plant Released Record Amount of Radiation Into Sea
    Bloomberg
    October 31, 2011, 5:10 AM EDT

    Oct. 31 (Bloomberg) — The destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan was responsible for the biggest discharge of radioactive material into the ocean in history, a study from a French nuclear safety institute said.

    The radioactive cesium that flowed into the sea from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant was 20 times the amount estimated by its owner, Tokyo Electric Power Co., according to the study by the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety, which is funded by the French government.

    It’s the second report released in a week calling into question estimates from Japan’s government and the operator of the plant that was damaged in the March earthquake and tsunami. The Fukushima station may have emitted more than double the company’s estimate of atmospheric release at the height of the worst civil atomic crisis since Chernobyl in 1986, according to a study in the Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics journal.

    he oceanic study estimates 27,000 terabecquerels of radioactive cesium 137 leaked into the sea from the Fukushima plant, north of Tokyo.

    Tepco is aware of the estimate from the institute through media reports and has no comment, spokesman Hajime Motojuku said today by phone.
    ….

    Fukushima nuclear plant could take 30 years to clean up
    Removal of fuel rods and decommissioning of reactors could take decades, warns Japan’s atomic commission
    Justin McCurry in Tokyo and agencies
    guardian.co.uk, Monday 31 October 2011 04.14 EDT

    Experts in Japan have warned it could take more than 30 years to clean up the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

    A panel set up by the country’s nuclear energy commission said the severity of the accident meant it would take decades to remove melted fuel rods and decommission the plant, located 150 miles north of Tokyo.

    The commission called on the facility’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), to begin removing the fuel rods within 10 years. The damage to Fukushima is more difficult to repair than that sustained at Three Mile Island, where fuel removal began six years after an accident in 1979.

    Work to decommission four of Fukushima’s six reactors could start this year if Tepco brings the plant to a safe state known as cold shutdown.

    The utility will begin by removing spent fuel from storage pools within three years of making the reactors safe, before beginning the more difficult task of removing melted fuel from the three reactors that suffered meltdown.

    While radiation emissions have dropped significantly since the 11 March earthquake and tsunami, workers continue to operate in highly dangerous conditions.

    Towns near Fukushima have responded cautiously to plans to build temporary storage sites for massive quantities of radioactive debris generated by the accident.

    Almost eight months after the start of the crisis the government says the facilities will not be ready for at least another three years. In the meantime, towns will have to store the contaminated waste locally, despite health concerns.

    Much of the early decontamination work has been performed by local authorities and volunteers, although neither has found a satisfactory means of storing the waste. The central government is not expected to take control of the cleanup operation until a decontamination law is passed in January.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 31, 2011, 6:53 am
  4. two steps forward: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204479504576636503693856820.html


    Tepco said that emissions from the plant are now estimated at 100 million becquerels per hour, or one eight-millionth of their peak on March 15, though Tepco officials noted current levels are still higher than normal.

    The assessment came after temperatures in the three damaged reactor cores all recently fell below 100 degrees Celsius, stopping radioactive steam from being emitted into the atmosphere.

    “Stopping the steam leakage is a major step forward in terms of radiation control,” said Tadashi Narabayashi, professor of reactor engineering at Hokkaido University.

    one step back:
    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-11-01/tepco-says-nuclear-fission-possible-at-fukushima-plant-2-.html



    Tokyo Electric Power Co. detected signs of nuclear fission at its crippled Fukushima atomic power plant, raising the risk of increased radiation emissions. No increase in radiation was found at the site and the situation is under control, officials said.

    The company, known as Tepco, began spraying boric acid on the No. 2 reactor at 2:48 a.m. Japan time to prevent accidental chain reactions. Tepco said it may have found xenon, which is associated with nuclear fission, while examining gases taken from the reactor, according to an e-mailed statement today.

    and one very ill advised drink of water: http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/01/japanese-official-drinks-water-from-fukushima-reactor-buildings/


    As Asahi Shimbun explained, that skeptical mood was obvious last month when a journalist dared Mr. Sonoda to drink some of the water.

    At an Oct. 10 news conference hosted by Tepco, a freelance writer said: “Because we are prohibited from entering the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant grounds, we have to trust the information provided by Tepco. If the water is really safe enough to drink, can you provide the water in glasses and have everyone drink it?”

    Three days later, a muckraking journalist named Yu Terasawa pointed out to Mr. Sonoda that, in 1996, when the public was concerned that radish sprouts might be contaminated with E. coli bacteria, the Japanese health minister at the time ate some to demonstrate his faith in the food’s safety. “Since Tepco officials said the water is safe enough to drink,” the journalist asked, “why don’t you drink a cup? Will you drink it?”

    On Monday, after gulping down half a glass of the water, Mr. Sonoda said: “Just because I drank the water does not mean that its safety has been confirmed, so there is no significance to the act. I drank it because a request had been made.”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 2, 2011, 10:12 am
  5. The phrase “avoiding ownership of the problem” comes to mind. Some less pleasant phrases too:

    TEPCO: Radioactive substances belong to landowners, not us
    November 24, 2011

    By TOMOHIRO IWATA / Asahi Shimbun Weekly AERA

    During court proceedings concerning a radioactive golf course, Tokyo Electric Power Co. stunned lawyers by saying the utility was not responsible for decontamination because it no longer “owned” the radioactive substances.

    “Radioactive materials (such as cesium) that scattered and fell from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant belong to individual landowners there, not TEPCO,” the utility said.

    That argument did not sit well with the companies that own and operate the Sunfield Nihonmatsu Golf Club, just 45 kilometers west of the stricken TEPCO plant in Fukushima Prefecture.

    The Tokyo District Court also rejected that idea.

    But in a ruling described as inconsistent by lawyers, the court essentially freed TEPCO from responsibility for decontamination work, saying the cleanup efforts should be done by the central and local governments.

    Although the legal battle has moved to a higher court, observers said that if the district court’s decision stands and becomes a precedent, local governments’ coffers could be drained.

    The two golf companies in August filed for a provisional disposition with the Tokyo District Court, demanding TEPCO decontaminate the golf course and pay about 87 million yen ($1.13 million) for the upkeep costs over six months.

    The golf course company commissioned a radiation testing agency to check the course on Nov. 13. It detected 235,000 becquerels of cesium per kilogram of grass, a level that would put the area into a no-entry zone under safety standards enforced after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

    On Nov. 17, radioactive strontium at 98 becquerels per kilogram was detected in the grass and ground.

    Asked about TEPCO’s doubts concerning the city’s radiation measurements, Nihonmatsu Mayor Keiichi Miho said, “We made the utmost efforts when we conducted the checks.”

    A TEPCO official told The Asahi Shimbun that company will refrain from commenting on the legal battle.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 30, 2011, 1:55 pm
  6. Some good news from Dec 1:

    Japan may announce Fukushima cold shutdown on Dec. 16: Yomiuri

    TOKYO | Thu Dec 1, 2011 8:26pm EST

    (Reuters) – Japan may announce on December 16 that tsunami-damaged nuclear reactors in Fukushima are in a cold shutdown, the Yomiuri newspaper reported on Friday, an important milestone in its plan to bring under control the worst nuclear accident in 25 years.

    The Fukushima Daiichi plant, 240 km (150 miles) northeast of Tokyo, was wrecked by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which knocked out reactor cooling systems, causing meltdowns of nuclear fuel rods.

    A cold shutdown is when water used to cool nuclear fuel rods remains below its boiling point, preventing the fuel from reheating.

    Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda may declare a cold shutdown because a November 30 analysis by plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co showed that temperatures for the nuclear fuel lying at the bottom of the containment vessel have stabilized, the paper said.

    Radiation levels at the reactors have also fallen significantly, it said.

    Declaring a cold shutdown will have repercussions well beyond the plant as it is one of the criteria the government has said must be met before it begins allowing 80,000 residents evacuated from within a 20 km (12 mile) radius of the plant to return home.

    You have to wonder how soon residents are going to return to the quarantined region now that it’s technically allowable.

    Another huge advantage of getting to the “cold-shutdown” status is that Tepco no longer has to keep pumping water into buildings. This issue was highlighted last week with another announcement. It was good news, in a bad sort of way:

    Fukushima nuclear plant scraps plan to dump water into sea
    The decision comes after the utility released more than 10,000 tons of water tainted with low levels of radiation in April.

    By ReutersThu, Dec 08 2011 at 10:20 PM EST

    TOKYO – Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant said Friday it has scrapped a plan to dump water it treated for radiation contamination into the sea following fierce protests from fishing groups.

    That caused an uproar among Japanese fishing cooperatives.

    Tepco estimates that the amount of treated water requiring storage is increasing by 200 to 500 tons every day. It says the plant is likely to reach its storage capacity of about 155,000 tons around March.

    The utility released more than 10,000 tons of water tainted with low levels of radiation in April to free up space for water with much higher levels of radioactivity, drawing sharp criticism from neighbors such as South Korea and China.

    Yes, achieving cold shutdown is indeed a hugely important achievement:

    IAEA welcomes Japan’s announcement of cold shutdown at Fukushima plant
    (Mainichi Japan) December 17, 2011

    VIENNA (Kyodo) — The International Atomic Energy Agency on Friday welcomed the Japanese government’s announcement that the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has achieved a stable state of cold shutdown.

    Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant’s operator, and the Japanese government have “made significant progress,” IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said in a statement.

    Amano also said the IAEA will continue monitoring the status of the plant and radiation data in the wake of the nuclear disaster.

    “The agency continues to stand ready to provide necessary assistance to Japan as requested,” he said.

    (Mainichi Japan) December 17, 2011

    Well that has to have the IAEA breathing a sigh of relief.

    In other tangentially related news

    ‘Absolutely no progress being made’ at Fukushima nuke plant, undercover reporter says

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 16, 2011, 9:51 pm
  7. Health officials want you to know that there’s still nothing to be worried about…:

    After Fukushima, fish tales

    Montreal Gazette
    By Alex Roslin, The Gazette January 14, 2012

    After the world’s WORST nuclear accident in 25 years, authorities in Canada said people living here were safe and faced no health risks from the fallout from Fukushima.

    They said most of the radiation from the crippled Japanese nuclear power plant would fall into the ocean, where it would be diluted and not pose any danger.

    Dewar, the executive director of Physicians for Global Survival, a Canadian anti-nuclear group, says the Canadian government has downplayed the radiation risks from Fukushima and is doing little to monitor them.

    “We suspect we’re going to see more cancers, decreased fetal viability, decreased fertility, increased metabolic defects – and we expect them to be generational,” she said.

    And evidence has emerged that the impacts of the disaster on the Pacific Ocean are worse than expected.

    Since a tsunami and earthquake destroyed the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant last March, radioactive cesium has consistently been found in 60 to 80 per cent of Japanese fishing catches each month tested by Japan’s Fisheries Agency.

    In November, 65 per cent of the catches tested positive for cesium (a radioactive material created by nuclear reactors), according to a Gazette analysis of data on the fisheries agency’s website. Cesium is a long-lived radionuclide that persists in the environment and increases the risk of cancer, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, which says the most common form of radioactive cesium has a half-life of 30 years.

    The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which monitors food safety, says it is aware of the numbers but says the amounts of cesium detected are small.

    “Approximately 60 per cent of fish have shown to have detectable levels of radionuclides,” it said in an emailed statement.

    “The majority of exported fish to Canada are caught much farther from the coast of Japan, and the Japanese testing has shown that these fish have not been contaminated with high levels of radionuclides.”

    But the Japanese data shows elevated levels of contamination in several seafood species that Japan has exported to Canada in recent years.

    In November, 18 per cent of cod exceeded a new radiation ceiling for food to be implemented in Japan in April – along with 21 per cent of eel, 22 per cent of sole and 33 per cent of seaweed.

    Overall, one in five of the 1,100 catches tested in November exceeded the new ceiling of 100 becquerels per kilogram. (Canada’s ceiling for radiation in food is much higher: 1,000 becquerels per kilo.)

    Fisher is researching how radiation from Fukushima is affecting the Pacific fishery. “There has been virtually zero monitoring and research on this,” he said, calling on other governments to do more radiation tests on the ocean’s marine life.

    “Is it something we need to be terrified of ? No. Is it something we need to monitor? Yes, particularly in coastal waters where concentrations are high.”

    In October, a U.S. study – coauthored by oceanographer Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist at the non-profit Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Mass., – reported Fukushima caused history’s biggest-ever release of radiation into the ocean – 10 to 100 times more than the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe.

    “It’s completely untrue to say this level of radiation is safe or harmless,” said Gordon Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.

    “The reassurances have been completely irresponsible. To say there are no health concerns flies in the face of all scientific evidence,” said Edwards, who has advised the federal auditor-general’s office and Ontario government on nuclear-power issues.

    Other Fukushima impacts have been unexpected, too. The first debris swept into the sea by the tsunami reportedly started to wash ashore on the west coast in mid-December, a year earlier than scientists and authorities predicted.

    The Gazette analyzed the Japanese fisheries data for 22 seafood species that Japan has exported to Canada in recent years.

    Some cesium was found in 16 of these 22 species in November, the last full month for which data was available.

    Cesium was especially prevalent in certain of the species:

    – 73 per cent of mackerel tested

    – 91 per cent of the halibut

    – 92 per cent of the sardines

    – 93 per cent of the tuna and eel

    – 94 per cent of the cod and anchovies

    – 100 per cent of the carp, sea-weed, shark and monkfish

    Some of the fish were caught in Japanese coastal waters. Other catches were made hundreds of kilometres away in the open ocean.

    There, the fish can also be caught by fishers from dozens of other nations that ply the waters of the Pacific.

    Yet, Japan is the only country that appears to be systematically testing fish for radiation and publicly reporting the results.

    CFIA is no longer doing any testing of its own. It did some radiation tests on food imports from areas of Japan around the stricken nuclear plant in the weeks after the Fukushima accident.

    Only one of the 169 tested products showed any radiation. CFIA stopped doing the tests last June, saying they weren’t needed.

    CFIA now relies on Japanese authorities to screen Japanese food exported to Canada.

    But Japan’s monitoring of food has come under a storm of criticism from the Japanese public after food contaminated with radiation was sold to consumers.

    But despite this belief and the importance of the Pacific fishery, few studies exist on how Fukushima affected marine life.

    One of those studies found that fish and crustaceans caught in the vicinity of Fukushima in late March had 10,000 times more than socalled safe levels of radiation. The study, published last May in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, also said macroalgae had 19,000 times the safe level.

    Those levels were measured before the Japanese utility that runs the crippled nuclear plant dumped 11,000 tonnes of radioactive water into the Pacific in April and additional leaks that have released hundreds of tonnes more.

    But since that early study, little research has been published on the topic.

    He co-authored the study in October that said cesium levels in the Pacific had gone up an astonishing 45 million times above pre-accident levels. The levels then declined rapidly for a while, but after that, they unexpectedly levelled off.

    In July, cesium levels stopped declining and remained stuck at 10,000 times above pre-accident levels.

    It meant the ocean wasn’t diluting the radiation as expected. If it had been, cesium levels would have kept falling. The finding suggested radiation was still being released into the ocean long after the accident in March, Buesseler said in an interview.

    It implies the groundwater is contaminated or the facility is still leaking radiation.

    The Japanese fisheries data seems to support this conclusion. Far from declining, contamination levels in some species were flat or even rose last fall, including species that Japan exports to Canada like skipjack tuna, cod, sole and eel.

    Continuing radiation leaks from Fukushima could be to blame, he said. Another culprit, he said, may be a phenomenon called bio-magnification – the tendency for radiation concentrations to increase in species that are farther up the food chain.

    See no evil, hear no evil, radiate no evil.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 18, 2012, 2:36 pm
  8. Of the many scary questions raised by this article, perhaps the scariest question is this: just how hellish did it need to get before the situations was “out of control”?

    The Irish Times – Friday, January 27, 2012
    Report urging mass evacuation of Tokyo residents kept secret

    DAVID McNEILL in Tokyo

    JAPAN’S GOVERNMENT feared millions of Tokyo residents might have to be evacuated during the worst of last year’s nuclear crisis, but kept the scenario secret to avoid panic in some of the world’s most crowded urban areas, according to an internal report.

    The 15-page report, by the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, was delivered to then prime minister Naoto Kan two weeks after the March 11th earthquake and tsunami triggered the crisis as the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

    It warned that if the situation at the plant spiralled out of control, compulsory or voluntary evacuation orders would have to be issued to residents living within 250km (155 miles), a radius that would have included the metropolitan Tokyo area, home to about 30 million people.

    The directive would have also covered several large cities north and west of the plant, including Sendai, which has roughly the same population as Dublin. Some of the areas would be contaminated for “several decades” warned the report, which has been seen by AP news agency.

    Last May, operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) admitted that uranium fuel inside three of the plant’s reactors had melted down in the first few days after March 11th. A series of hydrogen explosions had showered thousands of square kilometres of land and sea with radioactive substances, but government and Tepco officials repeatedly denied the meltdown scenario.

    Over 80,000 people were subsequently told to leave the most heavily irradiated areas around the nuclear plant and have yet to return. Tens of thousands more have since left Fukushima prefecture voluntarily.

    Mr Kan and his government insisted throughout March and April that the nuclear crisis was being contained and ignored calls to widen the evacuation area, saying there was no need.

    After he left office, the prime minister admitted in an interview with a Tokyo newspaper last autumn that he feared the Fukushima disaster would leave the capital uninhabitable, and that evacuating it would have been “impossible”. He said that the “spine-chilling thought” of a deserted capital convinced him to scrap nuclear power.

    The latest revelations will revive criticism that the authorities have been less than forthcoming since the crisis erupted, and add to suspicions that they are still downplaying the impact of radiation. Government officials recently admitted that data on where the radiation went was withheld from the Japanese public for 10 days, but given to the US military in Japan.

    The report will also add to concerns that Japan is unprepared for a similar disaster. Last week researchers at the University of Tokyo warned that there was a 75 per cent probability that the capital would be hit by a major earthquake in the next four years.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 31, 2012, 7:27 pm
  9. So no one has died yet from the Fukushima radiation? Well that’s a relief:

    No big Fukushima health impact seen: U.N. body chairman

    VIENNA | Tue Jan 31, 2012 2:15pm EST

    (Reuters) – The health impact of last year’s Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan appears relatively small thanks partly to prompt evacuations, the chairman of a U.N. scientific body investigating the effects of radiation said on Tuesday.

    The fact that some radioactive releases spread over the ocean instead of populated areas also contributed to limiting the consequences, said Wolfgang Weiss of the U.N. Scientific Committee on the effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR).

    “As far as the doses we have seen from the screening of the population … they are very low,” Weiss told Reuters. This was partly “due to the rapid evacuation and this worked very well.”

    Weiss was speaking on the sidelines of a week-long meeting of 60 international experts in Vienna to assess for the United Nations the radiation exposures and health effects of the world’s worst nuclear accident in 25 years.

    The March 11 disaster caused by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami wrecked the Fukushima plant on the coast north of Tokyo, triggering a radiation crisis and widespread contamination. About 80,000 residents fled a 20-km (12-mile) exclusion zone.

    Weiss said Japanese experts attending the meeting had told him that they were not aware of any acute health effects, in contrast to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine.

    “What we have seen in Chernobyl – people were dying from huge, high exposures, some of the workers were dying very soon – nothing along these lines has been reported so far (in Japan),” he said. “Up to now there were no acute immediate effects observed.”

    Several thousand children developed thyroid cancer due to radiation exposure after the Chernobyl disaster in the then Soviet Union, when a reactor exploded and caught fire and radiation was sent billowing across Europe.

    Weiss said a few workers at Fukushima had received high radioactive doses, but “so far the initial medical follow-up of these workers who had high doses, as far as the Japanese colleagues told us, was OK.”

    Asked whether he was optimistic that the overall health effects would be quite small, Weiss said: “If we find out that what we know now is representing the situation, then the answer would be yes … the health impact would be low.”

    What happens if we find out that we “we know” is NOTrepresenting the situation“?

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 2, 2012, 1:17 pm
  10. Well this is confidence inspiring:

    Fukushima farmers furious over lack of consideration in decontamination subsidies

    February 2, 2012

    The Fukushima Municipal Government has worked out a specific plan to decontaminate all local farmland between this month and March next year in order to ensure the safety of agricultural products and prevent residents’ external exposure to radiation. Shipments of rice grown in some areas of the city have been prohibited because radioactive cesium in excess of the provisional limit set by the national government has been detected.

    However, the municipal government has deemed it difficult to replace thick layers of surface soil with subsoil or to plow large portions of farmland according to the guidelines, because most local farmland is divided into small plots and large machinery cannot enter such land. For the time being, the municipal government has decided to plow a layer of surface soil about 12 centimeters deep, using agricultural machinery that local farmers possess.

    The national government has offered to extend subsidies to cover the costs of buying zeolite used to absorb radioactive substances only if the surface soil is replaced and plowed in accordance with the Environment Ministry guidelines.

    The Fukushima Municipal Government is poised to demand that the central government subsidies cover the purchase of zeolite even if the requirements are not met, on the grounds that spraying zeolite over farmland can help reduce the contamination of agricultural products through radioactive cesium.

    However, bureaucratic red tape has posed a stumbling block to such subsidies.

    The Environment Ministry, which is aiming primarily to reduce airborne radiation, insists that reducing agricultural products’ radiation levels is beyond its jurisdiction.

    “Decontamination is aimed at preventing ordinary people’s external exposure to radiation. We’re aware of the need to prevent agricultural products from being contaminated with radiation, but it’s outside our jurisdiction,” a ministry official said.

    The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry says it is experimenting with various decontamination methods, including those to be employed in small areas of farmland where large machinery cannot be used. If some of these methods prove effective, the ministry will urge the Environment Ministry to incorporate them in its guidelines.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 2, 2012, 10:40 pm
  11. Still nothing to worry about

    More leaks found at crippled Japan nuclear plant

    By MARI YAMAGUCHI
    Associated Press
    Published: Friday, Feb. 3, 2012 – 6:42 am
    Last Modified: Friday, Feb. 3, 2012 – 7:28 am

    TOKYO — Leaks of radioactive water have become more frequent at Japan’s crippled nuclear power plant less than two months after it was declared basically stable.

    The problem underlines the continuing challenges facing Tokyo Electric Power Co. as it attempts to keep the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant under control. A massive earthquake and tsunami badly damaged the plant last March, resulting in the melting of three reactor cores.

    Workers spotted a leak Friday at a water reprocessing unit which released enough beta rays to cause radiation sickness, TEPCO spokesman Junichi Matsumoto said. He said no one was injured and the leak stopped after bolts were tightened on a tank.

    Matsumoto said TEPCO also found that 8.5 tons of radioactive water had leaked earlier in the week after a pipe became detached at Unit 4, one of the plant’s six reactors. The company earlier had estimated that only a few gallons (liters) had leaked.

    He said officials are investigating the cause of that leak, but that it was unlikely the pipe had been loosened by the many aftershocks that have hit the plant.

    The structural integrity of the damaged Unit 4 reactor building has long been a major concern among experts because a collapse of its spent fuel cooling pool could cause a disaster worse than the three reactor meltdowns.

    Cold winter weather has also caused water inside pipes to freeze elsewhere at the plant, resulting in leaks in at least 30 locations since late January, Matsumoto said.

    Officials have not detected any signs of radioactive water from the leaks reaching the surrounding ocean. Sandbag walls have been built around problem areas as a precaution.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 6, 2012, 8:58 pm
  12. Shocker: study finds that oil is toxic to marine life. Seriously, this is being presented as a paradigm changing study because, while it has long been known that exposing marine life to oil can be toxic in the lab, folks were apparently skeptical that this was the case in the wild. Yep:

    Oil is more toxic than previously thought, study finds
    By Dean Kuipers

    December 27, 2011, 12:00 p.m.

    Bad news for the Gulf of Mexico: a study released this week sheds new light on the toxicity of oil in aquatic environments, and shows that environmental impact studies currently in use may be inadequate. The report is to be published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    The study, spearheaded by the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory in collaboration with NOAA, looked into the aftermath of the 2007 Cusco Busan spill, when that tanker hit the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and spilled 54,000 gallons of bunker fuel into the bay.

    The key finding involved the embryos of Pacific herring that spawn in the bay. The fish embryos absorbed the oil and then, when exposed to UV rays in sunlight, physically disintegrated. This is called phototoxicity, and has not previously been taken into account when talking about oil spills.

    “This phenomenon had been observed in the laboratory, but had never been observed in the field, and there were even some skeptics out there wondering if this was just a phenomenon that people would see under lab conditions,” said Gary Cherr, director of the marine lab and professor of environmental toxicology.

    “One of the real take-home messages from our study was: yes, in fact, it definitely happens in the real world.”

    This is another big jump in understanding the real damages from oil spills. Studies of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill created an entirely new understanding of oil damage when it was found that oil was toxic in minute quantities measured in parts-per-billion and even parts-per-trillion – much lower than previously recognized. This finding of phototoxicity, however, presents a new challenge.

    “It’s kind of a new paradigm in thinking about the toxicity of oil,” adds Cherr. “Up until now, there has been this awareness of it in the laboratory studies, but it has not been taken into account in the real world, in environmental analyses, and certainly in regulating the amounts of oil that are spilled.”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 29, 2012, 3:53 pm
  13. Contemporary “leadership” on display:

    Reconstructed records show Japan leaders knew meltdown risk early, feared worse than Chernobyl

    By Associated Press, Updated: Friday, March 9, 11:19 AM

    TOKYO — Just four hours after the tsunami swept into the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Japan’s leaders knew the damage was so severe the reactors could melt down, but they kept their knowledge secret for months. Five days into the crisis, then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan voiced his fears it could turn worse than Chernobyl.

    The revelations were in documents released Friday, almost a year after the disaster. The minutes of the government’s crisis management meetings from March 11 — the day the earthquake and tsunami struck — until late December were not recorded and had to be reconstructed retroactively.

    They illustrate the confusion, lack of information, delayed response and miscommunication among government, affected towns and plant officials, as some ministers expressed sense that nobody was in charge when the plant conditions quickly deteriorated.

    The minutes quoted an unidentified official explaining that cooling functions of the reactors were kept running only by batteries that would last only eight hours.

    “If temperatures in the reactor cores keep rising beyond eight hours, there is a possibility of meltdown,” the official said during the first meeting that started about four hours after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami hit the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant March 11, setting off the crisis.

    Apparently the government tried to play down the severity of the damage. A spokesman for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency was replaced after he slipped out a possibility of meltdown during a news conference March 12.

    The plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., acknowledged a partial meltdown much later, in May.

    It was nearly 10 days before one of his top nuclear advisers produced a worst-case scenario at his request. The March 25 paper, produced by the head of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, warned that a disaster of that scale would require evacuating 30 million people from the greater Tokyo area. Fearing panic, the government kept the report a secret, but The Associated Press obtained it in January.

    The failure to record the minutes of the government’s crisis management meetings properly has added to sharp public criticism about how the nuclear crisis was handled and deepened distrust of politicians and bureaucrats.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 9, 2012, 10:17 am
  14. If you’re feeling a little dizzy after reading this article, it’s understanble. The centrifugal force from all the spinning may be sucking the blood out of your brain:

    Marketwatch
    Fukushima flood defenses given good marks
    March 22, 2012, 4:52 PM

    The nuclear disaster following the destruction of Japan’s Fukushima power plant by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake last year had an upside. Really?

    That’s what a couple of industry officials said at the Wall Street Journal’s ECO:nomics conference Thursday. While two of the plant’s four reactors suffered meltdowns, the facility held up remarkably well overall, preventing the kind of catastrophe seen at Chernobyl, said Jacques Besnainou, chief executive of Areva Inc.

    Besnainou wasn’t alone in the assessment. Aris Candris, chief executive of Westinghouse Electric said the disaster showed that nuclear plants handled catastrophic flooding better than expected.

    The two industry executives said they were bullish on nuclear energy, though not in the U.S. China remains the top market for nuclear energy growth with 25 plants in the works. Second on the list is India.

    So a 50% meltdown rate during a flood was even better than expected performance? Great…

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 22, 2012, 2:48 pm
  15. There have been a number of updates on the situation in Fukushima and it’s looking increasingly grim at all four reactors at Fukushima 1. The water levels at reactor 2 appear to have dropped to a surprisingly low level, causing radiation levels to rise so high that existing radiation-resistant robots can no longer function long enough to inside the plant to be useful. Fortunately, the loss of access for the robots isn’t expected to delay the scheduled plant decommissioning. Unfortunately that’s because its scheduled to take 40 years:

    Japan Times
    Thursday, March 29, 2012

    Reactor 2 radiation too high for access
    73 sieverts laid to low water; level will even cripple robots

    By MINORU MATSUTANI
    Staff writer

    Radiation inside the reactor 2 containment vessel at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant has reached a lethal 73 sieverts per hour and any attempt to send robots in to accurately gauge the situation will require them to have greater resistance than currently available, experts said Wednesday.

    Exposure to 73 sieverts for a minute would cause nausea and seven minutes would cause death within a month, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said.

    The experts said the high radiation level is due to the shallow level of coolant water – 60 cm – in the containment vessel, which Tepco said in January was believed to be 4 meters deep. Tepco has only peeked inside the reactor 2 containment vessel. It has few clues as to the status of reactors 1 and 3, which also suffered meltdowns, because there is no access to their insides.

    The utility said the radiation level in the reactor 2 containment vessel is too high for robots, endoscopes and other devices to function properly.

    Spokesman Junichi Matsumoto said it will be necessary to develop devices resistant to high radiation.

    High radiation can damage the circuitry of computer chips and degrade camera-captured images.

    For example, a series of Quince tracked robots designed to gather data inside reactors can properly function for only two or three hours during exposure to 73 sieverts, said Eiji Koyanagi, chief developer and vice director of the Future Robotics Technology Center of Chiba Institute of Technology.

    That is unlikely to be enough for them to move around and collect video data and water samples, reactor experts said.

    “Two or three hours would be too short. At least five or six hours would be necessary,” said Tsuyoshi Misawa, a reactor physics and engineering professor at Kyoto University’s Research Reactor Institute.

    The high radiation level can be explained by the low water level. Water acts to block radiation.

    “The shallowness of the water level is a surprise . . . the radiation level is awfully high,” Misawa said.

    While the water temperature is considered in a safe zone at about 50 degrees, it is unknown if the melted fuel is fully submerged, but Tepco said in November that computer simulations suggested the height of the melted fuel in reactor 2’s containment vessel is probably 20 to 40 cm, Tepco spokeswoman Ai Tanaka said.

    Tepco has inserted an endoscope and a radiation meter, but not a robot, in the containment vessel. It is way too early to know how long Tepco will need to operate robots in the vessel because it is unknown what the devices will have to do, Tanaka said.

    According to experts, even though high radiation in the containment vessel means additional trouble, it is not expected to further delay the decommissioning the three crippled reactors, a process Tepco said will take 40 years.

    Tepco has not been able to gauge the water depths and radiation levels of the containment vessels for reactors 1 and 3, as, unlike unit 2, there is no access.

    The NYTimes also has an update with some additional info. The “cold shutdown” status of reactor 2 is now in question as the article points out that 9 tons of water getting pumped into the reactor 2 every hour, also suggesting that the radioactive water leakage could be much higher than previosly estimated. In addition, reactor 4 still has all the spent fuel rods sitting above it and officials acknowledge that any problems with keeping the vessel filled with water could result in another “colossal” radiation release from those spent rods. Adding to the risk of a radiation release is the fact that reactors 1 and 3 could be in even worse shape than reactor 2, but no one knows because they are still inaccessible and it’s thought that the hydrogen explosion that took place inside reactor 4 days after the tsunami was possibly due to a build up of hydrogen gas that leaked over from reactor 3. The one bit of good news in the report is that Tepco and the Japanese government appear to no longer have any credibility with the Japanese public, so that sort of progress:

    NYTimes
    Inquiry Suggests Worse Damage at Japan Nuclear Plant
    By HIROKO TABUCHI
    Published: March 29, 2012

    The results of the inquiry, released this week by the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, also cast doubt over the Japanese government’s declaration three months ago that the ravaged site is now under control.

    Throughout the crisis that ensued after a powerful earthquake and tsunami last March, both the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power, or Tepco, and the government were accused of playing down the dangers posed by the nuclear meltdown. Subsequent disclosures that the event was indeed far more severe than they let on have badly damaged their credibility, to the point that almost any statement from the authorities is now regarded as suspect by a dubious Japanese public.

    Fukushima Daiichi’s vital cooling systems were knocked out in the early stages of the crisis last year. The uranium cores at three of the plant’s six reactors quickly melted down, breaching their containment vessels and setting off a large radiation leak.

    Three reactors were later rocked by hydrogen explosions, which blew out their outer walls.

    What followed was a frantic effort to keep the inner parts of the reactors flooded with cooling water to prevent their cores from again overheating. Officials at Tepco had previously said that operation was succeeding, and that the damaged fuel rods were safely submerged in water.

    But earlier this week, an examination at one of the reactors showed the water level at its core to be lower than levels previously estimated, raising fears that the broken-down remnants of the uranium fuel rods there may not be completely submerged and in danger of heating up again.

    Cooling water at the plant’s No. 2 reactor came up to just two feet from the bottom of the reactor’s containment vessel, a beaker-shaped structure that encases the fuel rods. That was below the 33-foot level estimated by officials when the government declared the plant stable in December.

    The low water levels also raise concerns that radioactive water may be leaking out of the reactor at a higher rate than previously thought, possibly into a part of the reactor known as the suppression chamber, and into a network of pipes and chambers under the plant – or into the ocean.

    At the No. 2 reactor, workers still pump about nine tons of water an hour into the core to keep it cool.

    The investigation also found current radiation levels of 72.0 sieverts inside the containment vessel, enough to kill a person in a matter of minutes, as well as for electronic equipment to malfunction.

    Kazuhiko Kudo, a professor of nuclear engineering at Kyushu University in southwestern Japan, said it was now suspect whether the nuclear fuel was being adequately cooled. And if some parts of the fuel remained above water, there was a risk that the fuel could again heat up and melt. That could set off a dangerous spike in the pressure inside the containment vessel, and lead to more radiation escaping the reactor, he said.

    Two other badly damaged reactors – Nos. 1 and 3 – could be in even worse condition. Hydrogen explosions blew out the outer walls of those reactors, and officials believe that more nuclear fuel has breached the containment vessel at the No. 1 reactor than the others.

    Experts also worry about a fourth reactor that was not operating at the time of the accident, but nevertheless poses a risk because of the large number of spent nuclear fuel rods stored in a water coolant tank there. The No. 4 reactor was also hit by a hydrogen explosion in the early days of the crisis, possibly due to hydrogen that leaked into the reactor from the adjacent No. 3 unit.

    The spent fuel rods stored at the No. 4 reactor pose a particular threat, experts say, because they lie unprotected outside the unit’s containment vessel. Tokyo Electric has been racing to fortify the crumpled outer shell of the reactor, and to keep the tank fed with water. But should a problem also arise with cooling the spent fuel, the plant could run the risk of another colossal radiation leak, experts say.

    The many aftershocks that continue to hit the Fukushima region are also a source of worry.

    “The plant is still in a precarious state,” said Mr. Kudo of Kyushu University. “Unfortunately, all we can do is to keep pumping water inside the reactors,” he said, “and hope we don’t have another big earthquake.

    That last sentence is perhaps the most chilling statement found in either of the articles because if a successful multi-decade cleanup effort is contingent on no more large earthquakes in the region, it’s probably time for a preemptive evacuation…

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 29, 2012, 9:33 pm
  16. On looky, a new pair of nuke plants are approved for the US. Fortunately, the license doesn’t include any of those pesky new regulations adopted after the Fukushima meltdown:

    WSJ
    March 30, 2012, 3:18 p.m. ET
    U.S. Approves New Nuclear Reactors in South Carolina

    By RYAN TRACY

    Federal regulators Friday approved Scana Corp.’s proposal to build two new nuclear reactors in South Carolina, paving the way for the second license issued to a new nuclear power plant in two months after a drought that lasted more than 30 years.

    The Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted 4-1 to green-light construction of the plant, with the agency’s chairman, Gregory Jaczko, dissenting.

    Mr. Jaczko said the vote was a “significant milestone,” but that he still disagreed with other commissioners about some parts of the license. He didn’t specify his objections on Friday, but in February he objected to issuing a new reactor license to Southern Co. because the license didn’t include a provision requiring the company to comply with regulations adopted in light of Japan’s 2011 nuclear accident.

    The two reactors to be built by Scana unit South Carolina Electric & Gas and state-owned utility Santee Cooper follow the two Southern Co. reactors in Georgia that received the NRC’s blessing last month. But those four reactors, if built, may be the last to go forward for some time due to the low cost of natural gas, which competes with nuclear as an available fuel for generating electricity.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 30, 2012, 12:10 pm
  17. Today’s episode of “Things that aren’t surprising but should be” is brought to you by the UN’s World Food Program:

    (Mainichi Japan) March 17, 2012
    Japan using overseas food aid to help dispel contamination fears

    TOKYO (Kyodo) — Japan and the U.N. World Food Program exchanged notes Friday on using certified-safe food products from disaster-hit eastern Japan as overseas aid as a way to dispel fears over radioactive contamination.

    Using 1 billion yen in a supplementary budget for fiscal 2011 ending this month, the WFP will procure canned fish products made in Aomori, Iwate, Ibaraki and Chiba prefectures and provide Cambodia and four other developing countries with these products for school lunches and other purposes, Japanese officials said.

    The official development aid plan has come under fire from some citizens’ groups, which are concerned about radioactive contamination of food products as a result of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant accident triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

    “We would like to break down deep-rooted fears overseas by exporting food products that are certified as safe after being tested for radiation,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

    Parliamentary Vice Foreign Minister Toshiyuki Kato told a ceremony for the exchange of notes that the aid is planned at a time when “fish-processing companies in the regions damaged gravely by the disaster are struggling to fully restart their business operations.”

    Fukushima fish for school lunches? I can’t see any problems with this plan:

    (Mainichi Japan) April 3, 2012
    Cesium up to 100 times levels before disaster found in plankton far off nuke plant

    Radioactive cesium up to 100 times pre-nuclear disaster levels has been detected in plankton inhabiting the sea far from the crippled nuclear plant following the March 2011 disaster, according to a survey conducted by Japanese and U.S. researchers.

    The high concentration of cesium, which is believed to derive from the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, suggests that radioactive substances that have leaked from the complex are spreading extensively in the sea.

    Jun Nishikawa, research associate with the University of Tokyo’s Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, underscored the need for a long-term survey on the contamination of marine creatures with radioactive substances.

    “Even though radiation levels detected from the plankton samples were still low, there is a possibility that large amounts of cesium will accumulate in fish through the food chain in a phenomenon called biological concentration. We need to continue our survey,” he said. “Each species of marine creatures that feed on animal plankton need to be monitored over the long term.”

    The results of the survey were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States on April 3.

    In the survey, Nishikawa and other researchers including those with U.S. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution collected samples of sea water and animal plankton at about 60 locations in the sea some 30 to 600 kilometers off the crippled plant in June last year, and measured the levels of radioactive cesium in them.

    Radioactive cesium was detected in at least one sample taken at each of the locations.

    The largest amount of radioactive cesium in animal plankton was found in a sample collected at a location 300 kilometers from the power plant — at 102 becquerels of cesium-134 and cesium-137 per kilogram in dry weight. This compares with the average amount before the accident, which stood at 0.1 to 1 becquerel of only cesium-137.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 3, 2012, 2:32 pm
  18. Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 6, 2012, 12:49 pm
  19. According to a former Japanese diplomat, the fate of the world depends on what happens to all those spent fuel rods sitting in reactor 4 and he’d like to see the UN assemble a team of experts to address the situation. This sounds like a good idea.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 9, 2012, 2:39 pm
  20. There some new research out on the causes of the Permian extinction event ~250 million years ago, when 95% of marine and land animals went extinct over a relatively short period of time. Take a guess at the new suspected cause…hint: it’s what we’re doing to the planet now:

    NY Times
    Life in the Sea Found Its Fate in a Paroxysm of Extinction
    By ALANNA MITCHELL
    Published: April 30, 2012

    It may never be as well known as the Cretaceous extinction, the one that killed off the dinosaurs. Yet the much earlier Permian extinction – 252 million years ago – was by far the most catastrophic of the planet’s five known paroxysms of species loss.

    No wonder it is called the Great Dying: Scientists calculate that about 95 percent of marine species, and an uncountable but probably comparable percentage of land species, went extinct in a geological heartbeat.

    The cause or causes of the Permian extinction remain a mystery. Among the hypotheses are a devastating asteroid strike, as in the Cretaceous extinction; a catastrophic volcanic eruption; and a welling-up of oxygen-depleted water from the depths of the oceans.

    Now, painstaking analyses of fossils from the period point to a different way to think about the problem. And at the same time, they are providing startling new clues to the behavior of modern marine life and its future.

    In two recent papers, scientists from Stanford and the University of California, Santa Cruz, adopted a cellular approach to what they called the “killing mechanism”: not what might have happened to the entire planet, but what happened within the cells of the animals to finish them off.

    Their study of nearly 50,000 marine invertebrate fossils in 8,900 collections from the Permian period has allowed them to peer into the inner workings of the ancient creatures, giving them the ability to describe precisely how some died while others lived.

    “Before, scientists were all over the map,” said one of the authors, Matthew E. Clapham, an earth scientist at Santa Cruz. “We thought maybe lots of things were going on.”

    Dr. Clapham and his co-author, Jonathan L. Payne, a Stanford geochemist, concluded that animals with skeletons or shells made of calcium carbonate, or limestone, were more likely to die than those with skeletons of other substances. And animals that had few ways of protecting their internal chemistry were more apt to disappear.

    Being widely dispersed across the planet was little protection against extinction, and neither was being numerous. The deaths happened throughout the ocean. Nor was there any correlation between extinction and how a creature moved or what it ate.

    Instead, the authors concluded, the animals died from a lack of dissolved oxygen in the water, an excess of carbon dioxide, a reduced ability to make shells from calcium carbonate, altered ocean acidity and higher water temperatures. They also concluded that all these stresses happened rapidly and that each one amplified the effects of the others.

    That led to a wholesale change in the ocean’s dominant animals within just 200,000 years, or perhaps much less, Dr. Clapham said.

    Among the hardest hit were corals; many types, including the horn-shaped bottom-dwellers known as rugose corals, disappeared altogether. Sea sponges were also devastated, along with the shelled creatures that commanded the Permian reefs and sea. Every single species of the once common trilobites, with their helmetlike front shells, vanished for good.

    No major group of marine invertebrates or protists, a group of mainly one-celled microorganisms, went unscathed. Instead, gastropods like snails and bivalves like clams and scallops became the dominant creatures after the Permian. And that shift led directly to the assemblage of life in today’s oceans. “Modern marine ecology is shaped by the extinction spasms of the past,” Dr. Clapham said.

    So what happened 252 million years ago to cause those physiological stresses in marine animals? Additional clues from carbon, calcium and nitrogen isotopes of the period, as well as from organic geochemistry, suggest a “perturbation of the global carbon cycle,” the scientists’ second paper concluded – a huge infusion of carbon into the atmosphere and the ocean.

    But neither an asteroid strike nor an upwelling of oxygen-deprived deep-ocean water would explain the selective pattern of death.

    Instead, the scientists suspect that the answer lies in the biggest volcanic event of the past 500 million years – the eruptions that formed the Siberian Traps, the stairlike hilly region in northern Russia. The eruptions sent catastrophic amounts of carbon gas into the atmosphere and, ultimately, the oceans; that led to long-term ocean acidification, ocean warming and vast areas of oxygen-poor ocean water.

    The surprise to Dr. Clapham was how closely the findings from the Great Dying matched today’s trends in ocean chemistry. High concentrations of carbon-based gases in the atmosphere are leading to warming, rapid acidification and low-oxygen dead zones in the oceans.

    The idea that changes in ocean chemistry, particularly acidification, could be a factor in a mass extinction is a relatively new idea, said Andrew H. Knoll, a Harvard geologist who wrote a seminal paper in 1996 exploring the consequences of a rapid increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere on the physiology of organisms.

    “In terms of the overall pattern of change, what we’re seeing now and what is predicted in the next two centuries is riding a parallel track to what we think happened in the past,” he said.

    Dr. Clapham noted that Permian and modern similarities are not exact. The Permian ocean was easier to acidify than today’s ocean because it had less deep-water calcium carbonate, which offsets the acid. But he said that corals are the most vulnerable creatures in the modern ocean for the same reason they were during the Permian extinction. They have little ability to govern their internal chemistry and they rely on calcium carbonate to build their reefs.

    Like Dr. Clapham, he cautioned that the trends between the two periods were not exactly comparable. Back in the Permian, the planet had a single supercontinent, Pangea, and ocean currents were different.

    And he and Dr. Langdon noted that carbon was being injected into the atmosphere today far faster than during the Permian extinction. As Dr. Knoll put it, “Today, humans turn out to be every bit as good as volcanoes at putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.”

    In the nuclear age we’ve grown up often thinking of “mutually assured destruction” as one big sudden explosive event. It turns out doing nothing meaningful towards fixing our long-term ecological problems for decades and decades is also an act of MADness. The pathetic-slow-grind-down-over-decades-because-humanity-can’t-help-itself version of mutually assured destruction may not have the fireworks of nuclear annihilation but it gets the job done.

    And this is not to say that there won’t be plenty of radiation in our slow grind down

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 1, 2012, 6:54 am
  21. We been given a tentative timeframe for the removal of the spend fuel rods from reactor 4 at the Fukushima Daiichi complex: Removal might start as early as 2014 and should take around a decade. Those spent fuel rods are the biggest danger still lurking in the meltdown aftermath so don’t plan on causing any big earthquakes around Japan for the next dozen years. Things could get really messy otherwise:

    April 17, 2012, 8:44 PM JST
    WSJ
    Fukushima Daiichi’s Achilles Heel: Unit 4’s Spent Fuel?

    By Phred Dvorak

    Just how dangerous is the situation at Japan’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant? Very, according to U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, a senior member of the Senate’s energy committee who toured the plant earlier this month.

    Another big earthquake or tsunami could send Fukushima Daiichi’s fragile reactor buildings tumbling down, resulting in “an even greater release of radiation than the initial accident,” Mr. Wyden warned in a Monday letter to Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Ichiro Fujisaki.

    Fukushima Daiichi suffered meltdowns at three of its reactors last year after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami knocked out power in the area. Much of the nuclear fuel in those three reactors is thought to be in a melted lump at the bottom of the vessels that surround the core. That’s bad, but at least the vessels shield the outside world from the radioactive fuel.

    But Fukushima Daiichi’s Unit 4 reactor was shut down for maintenance when last year’s accident took place, meaning the nuclear fuel rods were outside those protective vessels and sitting in a pool of water, high up in the reactor building, where they were being stored. The water in that “spent fuel pool” keeps the rods cool and insulates them from the outside. But if the pool should spring a leak, or another earthquake bring the pool crashing down, all that fuel would be exposed to the outside air, letting them heat up and release massive amounts of radiation. Other reactors have spent-fuel pools too, but they contain less fuel.

    Tepco says an analysis it conducted on the Unit 4 pool showed the building didn’t need reinforcing, but it went ahead and reinforced the structure anyway, increasing its safety margin by 20%. Tepco says it’s working to remove the fuel rods as fast as it can. If all goes according to its timetable, the utility could start taking the rods out in 2014.

    Mr. Wyden points out, though, that the schedule allows up to ten years to get all the spent fuel in all the Fukushima reactor pools out – something he says is too risky.

    “This schedule carries extraordinary and continuing risk if further severe seismic events were to occur,” he wrote in his letter to Ambassador Fujisaki. “The true earthquake risk for the site was seriously underestimated and remains unresolved.”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 8, 2012, 8:24 am
  22. Just FYI:

    May 28, 3:48 PM EDT

    Radioactive bluefin tuna crossed the Pacific to US

    ALICIA CHANG
    AP Science Writer

    LOS ANGELES (AP) — Across the vast Pacific, the mighty bluefin tuna carried radioactive contamination that leaked from Japan’s crippled nuclear plant to the shores of the United States 6,000 miles away – the first time a huge migrating fish has been shown to carry radioactivity such a distance.

    “We were frankly kind of startled,” said Nicholas Fisher, one of the researchers reporting the findings online Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    The levels of radioactive cesium were 10 times higher than the amount measured in tuna off the California coast in previous years. But even so, that’s still far below safe-to-eat limits set by the U.S. and Japanese governments.

    Previously, smaller fish and plankton were found with elevated levels of radiation in Japanese waters after a magnitude-9 earthquake in March 2011 triggered a tsunami that badly damaged the Fukushima Dai-ichi reactors.

    But scientists did not expect the nuclear fallout to linger in huge fish that sail the world because such fish can metabolize and shed radioactive substances.

    The real test of how radioactivity affects tuna populations comes this summer when researchers planned to repeat the study with a larger number of samples. Bluefin tuna that journeyed last year were exposed to radiation for about a month. The upcoming travelers have been swimming in radioactive waters for a longer period. How this will affect concentrations of contamination remains to be seen.

    Now that scientists know that bluefin tuna can transport radiation, they also want to track the movements of other migratory species including sea turtles, sharks and seabirds.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 28, 2012, 8:25 pm
  23. Whoops, that’s a dead link above. Enjoy!

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 29, 2012, 7:34 am
  24. It appears that the radiation being detected in the bluefin tuna might actually save the species because out of control overfishing was sending the fish into oblivion and overfishing may not be as big an issue going forward. Conrats humanity, we’ve hit a low! Woohoo! Our basic eating habits are more harmful to the environment than our nuclear catastrophes:

    5/31/2012 @ 7:34AM
    Monte Burke, Forbes Staff
    Fukushima Radiation May Actually Save Bluefin Tuna

    This week, a trio of researchers reported that Bluefin tuna caught off the coast of southern California carried radiation from the Fukushima, Japan, nuclear plant that was damaged in the March 2011. The fish were caught in August 2011 as they migrated east 6,000 miles from their spawning grounds in Japan in search of prey.

    It sounds counterintuitive, but the radiation in the tuna may turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the species.

    Bluefin tuna, found in the Atlantic and northern and southern Pacific, are among the most imperiled fish species on the planet. Though the U.S. government recently-and somewhat controversially-refused to list Atlantic Bluefin as an official “endangered species,” they did categorize the fish as a “species of concern.” The Atlantic Bluefin population has dwindled by as much as 80% since the 1970s, mainly because of overfishing. (Southern Pacific Bluefin are also in peril.) All species Bluefin are among the most prized table fish on the globe, especially among sushi aficionados who pay up to $24 for one single piece of the fish. Last year, the U.S. government did petition CITES to protect the Atlantic Bluefin. But the effort was blocked by Japan, where much of the world’s Bluefin end up at market.

    If the governments can’t help, maybe bad publicity will. Nicholas Fisher, the study’s co-author and a marine biologist at Stony Brook University in New York, says when he first saw the levels of radiation in the fish, caught off of San Diego, “my first thought was ‘this will do more for the conservation of this endangered animal than nearly anything else could.’”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 31, 2012, 8:21 am
  25. Just FYI, if you happen to be in Japan, avoid the weird patches of dried black soil, even if you see children playing with it. It’s some sort of goldilocks substance…radioactive enough to nuke you good but not radioactive enough for authorities to clean it up. It is thought that the substance contains large amounts of cyanobacteria, a strain of bacteria that’s seen as a possible solution to the decontamination as a means of dispersing these concentrated patches of radioactive soil. The idea would be to burying these patches deep in the ground and let the bacteria slowly disperse the radaioactive compounds.

    Interestingly, in spite of exceedingly high levels of radiation found in some of these patches, there appears to be no plans by many local governments to clean up these patches. Why? Well, Tokyo officials say the detected levels don’t actually exceed the governments limits requiring decontamination…even though it clearly does in a number of instances. Also, because these patches are found normally on the ground, it’s not something that would have an immediate effect on human health. I don’t get it either.

    Asahi
    Radioactive ‘black soil’ patches: A scourge or a solution?

    June 14, 2012

    By SHOJI NOMURA/ ASAHI SHIMBUN WEEKLY AERA

    Koichi Oyama noticed something strange when he was measuring radiation levels in Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture. In many places where the readings jumped, the municipal assembly member found patches of dried dark soil.

    Further studies found similar patches of soil–along with high radiation readings–in parts of Tokyo. In fact, the radioactive soil has been discovered as far away as Miyagi, Yamagata and Niigata prefectures.

    Researchers are now referring to “black soil” to describe these patches of dirt with unusually high levels of radiation. It is a sort of play on the “black rain” term used by victims of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to describe the mysterious precipitation that seemed to bring strange illnesses and untold suffering.

    Yet black soil, as ominous as it may seem, could end up actually helping in the decontamination efforts following last year’s accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

    But for now, nothing is being done about the black soil with high levels of radiation.

    Because it normally is found on the ground, we believe it is not something that will have immediate effects on human health,” a Minami-Soma municipal government official said.

    Minami-Soma was the first area in which attention was focused on the black soil. In autumn last year, a number of places in the city had limited but high levels of airborne radiation, often close to 10 times higher than levels in surrounding areas. Invariably, the black powdery material was found on the ground or road immediately below the spots of high radiation.

    Oyama and his group collected the soil and had it measured by Tomoya Yamauchi, a professor specializing in radiation measurement at Kobe University. The results showed the soil contained radioactive cesium at levels of 1.08 million becquerels per kilogram.

    According to Oyama, black soil with similarly high radiation levels was subsequently found in other parts of Minami-Soma–and some samples contained plutonium and strontium.

    Similar samples of black soil were collected from more than 100 locations around the nation, mainly in eastern Japan. Analyses are continuing on the samples with the cooperation of Iwaki Meisei University and Tohoku University.

    In late May, a group of about 90 people organized by parents concerned about the effects of radiation on their children met in Mizumoto Park in Tokyo’s Katsushika Ward.

    Those who brought their own dosimeters began measuring soil in ditches and under trees, and several people immediately recorded radiation levels exceeding 1 microsievert per hour. The highest level recorded was 1.117 microsieverts per hour on the surface of black soil along an asphalt road running through the park.

    The radiation level at a nearby lawn was 0.25 microsievert. The rain and wind is believed to have left almost intact the radioactive cesium that had accumulated on the lawn and grass after last year’s Fukushima nuclear accident.

    However, the radiation level of the black soil was more than four times as high as that on top of the lawn.

    Preliminary findings showed that areas with high readings were in the path of the radioactive plume from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant soon after the crisis started. The main areas affected were in northwestern Fukushima Prefecture and a wide part of the northern Kanto region. The eastern part of Tokyo also recorded higher levels of radiation.

    The highest level of radioactivity detected–about 5.57 million becquerels per kilogram–came from black soil collected in the Kanaya neighborhood of the Odaka district of southern Minami-Soma. In 36 out of 41 locations in Fukushima Prefecture where black soil was collected, the radioactivity level exceeded 100,000 becquerels per kilogram. If that level was found in incinerator ash, it would have to be handled very carefully and buried in a facility that had a concrete exterior separating it from its surroundings.

    There have also been locations in the greater Tokyo area with high radioactivity levels. For example, Kawajima in Saitama Prefecture had a level of about 420,000 becquerels per kilogram. The area in front of the Crafts Gallery of the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, in the Kitanomaru Park of Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward had a reading of about 90,000 becquerels per kilogram while Shinbashi in Minato Ward had a reading of about 70,000 becquerels per kilogram.

    In 23 of 29 areas in the greater Tokyo area, the radioactivity level was of a degree that would require waterproof sheets covering the material if it had been incinerator ash at similar levels.

    One of the instructors who took part in the May gathering at Mizumoto Park was Yukio Hayakawa, a professor of volcanology at Gunma University. He has conducted his own study of airborne radiation levels at about 60 locations, from Hokkaido in the north to Kagoshima Prefecture in the south, and has released the results on his blog.

    The highest level found by Hayakawa was 9.1 microsieverts per hour in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture. In the greater Tokyo area, two cities in Chiba Prefecture had high levels, with 3.8 microsieverts per hour in Abiko and 2.5 microsieverts per hour in Kashiwa. Both cities attracted attention after the Fukushima nuclear accident as “hot spots” close to Tokyo.

    “We have to surmise that the radiation may have spread at least as far away as the Tokai region, and it may have even reached the Kansai region,” Hayakawa said.

    The Tokai region includes Shizuoka Prefecture, where levels of radioactive cesium exceeding provisional government standards were detected in tea leaves.

    While Hayakawa has not personally conducted a study in the Kansai region, there has been a reported recording of 0.14 microsievert per hour, or double the airborne radiation level at 1 meter above ground, on fallen leaves that had accumulated in a ditch of a park in Mino, Osaka Prefecture.

    One reason for the wide prevalence of the black soil is that it contains a micro-organism known as cyanobacteria that is common around Japan.

    Although there are various types of cyanobacteria, large amounts of oscillatoriales and Nostoc commune have been found in the black soil samples.

    The bacteria is of a blue-green color, but it turns black upon drying.

    While researchers study the black soil phenomenon, cleanup efforts have been slow.

    “Under the law to prevent radiation illnesses, when the concentration of radioactive cesium exceeds 10,000 becquerels per kilogram and the total volume reaches 10,000 becquerels, it must be handled as a radioisotope,” Yamauchi said. “Radioisotopes have to be handled with care by storing them in metal barrels.”

    In light of such figures, only about 1.8 grams of the black soil with radioactivity levels of 5.57 million becquerels found in Minami-Soma would require handling as a radioisotope. About 111 grams of the soil in Tokyo with radioactivity levels of 90,000 becquerels would require similar handling.

    “In areas around the nuclear plant, it is not unusual to have radiation levels of 4 million becquerels per kilogram,” said Hideaki Sasaki, an associate professor of microbial physiology at Iwaki Meisei University who has been involved in measuring the radioactivity in the soil. “For that reason, it is possible that soil in Minami-Soma would have radioactivity levels that exceed 5 million becquerels per kilogram.”

    Ayako Ishikawa, 34, heads the group of parents who organized the May gathering in Mizumoto Park. According to Ishikawa, black soil is often found on top of asphalt and in areas where rainwater can easily accumulate or where snow drifts occur.

    In particular, the areas where black soil was commonly found were along roads, sidewalks, squares or in parking lots without barriers.

    In March, Ishikawa collected soil near a fence of a concrete square in Edogawa Ward and along a sidewalk of a national road in Koto Ward. She had the soil samples measured by Yamauchi.

    The results showed radioactive cesium of about 243,000 becquerels per kilogram in the Edogawa Ward soil and about 90,000 becquerels per kilogram in the Koto Ward soil.

    Ishikawa has subsequently found other areas within the Tokyo metropolitan area with high radiation levels.

    “Despite that, no efforts have been made to prevent the spread of the radiation,” Ishikawa said. “I have found signs that baby carriages have passed close by such locations and of children touching the soil.”

    Yamauchi said: “The black soil could become airborne, and that could lead to internal exposure if the soil is inhaled through the mouth. Decontamination efforts should be implemented immediately.”

    Minami-Soma has been aggressive about decontamination efforts, but it and other local governments do not apparently share the same sense of urgency concerning the black soil.

    “While we are aware of the existence (of the black soil), it does not meet the guidelines established by the central government,” an official with the Environment Bureau of the Tokyo metropolitan government said.

    Currently, there are two major standards to begin decontamination work.

    One is if airborne radiation levels exceed the 0.23-microsievert-per-hour standard set by the central government for a height of 1 meter above ground. The other is if the airborne radiation level at a height of 1 meter is more than 1 microsievert per hour higher than recordings in surrounding areas.

    However, airborne radiation levels 1 meter above the black soil do not reach either of these standards.

    Although that is the reasoning government officials give for not decontaminating those areas, the radiation standards for incinerator ash show that the black soil has radiation levels that require careful handling.

    The discovery of the black soil is not all bad news.

    Experiments are continuing on using the absorbent qualities of cyanobacteria to remove radioactive cesium from the soil.

    In August 2011, Micro Algae Corp. of Gifu city, a research and development company handling micro-organisms, began a joint research study with Iwaki Meisei University.

    Soil from Iwaki contaminated with radioactive materials was placed in trays. One form of cyanobacteria known as Nostoc commune was scattered in the soil.

    In one month, about 8 percent of the radioactive cesium in the soil had moved. Calculations showed that in one year, about 69 percent of the cesium could be removed.

    That would mean that if black soil is removed and buried, it could contribute to decontaminating those areas since the cyanobacteria could absorb high levels of radioactive materials from the surrounding environment.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 19, 2012, 7:28 pm
  26. Ok, this HAS to be some sort of indirect attempt to employ the insanity defense. Kudos for the creative script although the acting just isn’t very believable:

    NY Times
    Nuclear Operator in Japan Exonerates Itself in Report
    By HIROKO TABUCHI
    Published: June 20, 2012

    TOKYO – The much vilified operator of the tsunami-hit nuclear power plant at Fukushima released a report on Wednesday that said the company never hid information, never underplayed the extent of fuel meltdown and certainly never considered abandoning the ravaged site. It asserts that government interference in the disaster response created confusion and delays.

    The report, inches thick, was compiled by an in-house executive committee, overseen by a third-party panel of experts and presented to reporters after deep bows by a line of executives. The company stuck to a defense it has offered since the earliest days of the crisis: that no company could have predicted or prepared for last year’s magnitude 9.0 quake and subsequent tsunami.

    Over the last year, new details of the disaster have emerged that build a picture of an organization that ignored or concealed that its reactors might be vulnerable to quakes and tsunamis, used its close links with regulators and nuclear experts to hijack nuclear policy and – since the accident – has worked vigilantly to shut out close scrutiny of the ravaged plant’s condition.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 21, 2012, 8:47 pm
  27. What could possibly go wrong?

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 16, 2012, 10:02 pm
  28. Two down, 1,533 to go. Keep those fingers crossed:

    Japan utility takes out 2 Fukushima nuke fuel rods

    TOKYO (AP) – A giant crane removed two rods packed with nuclear fuel from the Fukushima nuclear plant on Wednesday, the beginning of a delicate and long process to reduce the risk of more radiation escaping from the disaster-struck plant.

    All of the 1,535 rods in a spent-fuel pool next to reactor No. 4 at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in northeastern Japan must eventually be moved to safer storage – an effort expected to take until the end of next year, according to the government.

    The building containing the pool and reactor was destroyed by an explosion following the failure of cooling systems after a massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. The cores of three reactors melted.

    Fears run deep about the large amounts of radioactive material stored in the pool, which unlike fuel in the cores of the reactors is not protected by thick containment vessels. The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., intends to remove all the rods to eliminate the risk of the pool spewing radiation.

    Separately, a reactor at the Ohi nuclear plant in central Japan went online Wednesday, the second to restart after the disasters. Another Ohi reactor was restarted earlier this month.

    Tens of thousands of people took to the streets Monday demanding an end to nuclear power, outraged by the restarts. It was the biggest rally since the Fukushima crisis began.

    Also Wednesday, the government ordered two utilities, Kansai Electric Power Co., which operates Ohi, and Hokuriki Electric Power Co. to restudy earthquake faults that lie beneath their nuclear plants.

    Japanese TV reports showed cranes removing the 4-meter (13-foot) rods. TEPCO declined comment, citing the need for secrecy in handling nuclear material.

    About 150,000 people fled their homes after last year’s nuclear disaster, the worst since Chernobyl. A 20-kilometer (12-mile) zone around the plant remains a no-go area.

    According to a worst-case scenario prepared by the government, a loss of coolant in the spent-fuel pool at reactor No. 4 could have caused a massive release of radiation and forced millions of people to flee.

    A year and a half after the disaster, the pool’s cooling system has been fixed and reinforcements have been built to prop it up. But TEPCO recently said the wall of the building is bulging, although the pool has not tilted.

    Hiroshi Tasaka, a nuclear engineer and professor at Tama University who served as adviser to the prime minister after the disaster, said the spent-fuel pool poses a danger because the building is not sufficiently secure to stop radiation escaping in the case of a strong aftershock.

    It’s worth noting that a strong aftershock isn’t the only thing that could force millions to flee:

    July 1, 2012 2:58 PM

    Japan reactor back online, 1st since Fukushima

    (AP) TOKYO – Dozens of protesters shouted and danced at the gate of a nuclear power plant as it restarted Sunday, the first to go back online since Japan shut down all of its reactors for safety checks following the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

    Ohi nuclear plant’s reactor No. 3 returned to operation despite a deep division in public opinion. Last month, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda ordered the restarts of reactors No. 3 and nearby No. 4, saying people’s living standards can’t be maintained without nuclear energy. Many citizens are against a return to nuclear power because of safety fears after the Fukushima accident.

    Fukushima Dai-ichi, in northeastern Japan, went into meltdowns and exploded after the March 11 tsunami destroyed backup generators to keep the reactor cores cool.

    In the latest problem at the crippled plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co., its operator, said the cooling system for the spent nuclear fuel pool at reactor No. 4 broke down Saturday, and a temporary system was set up Sunday.

    The cooling system had to be restored within 70 hours, or temperatures would have started to rise, spewing radiation.

    Also note, that the two rods removed are part amongst the ‘easy’ ones to deal with because they haven’t been used yet. It’s the spent fuel rods sitting in that pool that are going to be particularly troublesome. Also, while the above articles suggest that the spent rods should be removed by the end up next year, according to the following article Tepco is scheduled to start removing them ‘in earnest’ by the end of next year:

    WSJ
    July 19, 2012, 3:34 AM JST

    Fukushima Watch: Signs of Progress at Spent-Fuel Pool

    By Phred Dvorak

    Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of Fukushima Daiichi, won’t say, citing a law that forbids disclosing information about when or where nuclear fuel is being transported.

    But a Tepco spokesman-without commenting-helpfully pointed JRT to page 57 of a PowerPoint presentationfrom a May 28 governmental committee meeting on the Fukushima Daiichi cleanup process. That page and those that follow describe the removal, slated for July, of two racks containing unused fuel from Unit 4’s pool, to check them for erosion or other troubles. The racks will be moved to the common pool-another big water-filled structure nearby-the presentation says.

    Why unused nuclear fuel? Because unlike used fuel, which emits heat and radiation for years and requires special equipment to handle safely, fresh fuel can be removed right away, the presentation explains. And since reactor 4 was offline for repairs when the March 11 earthquake and tsunami struck, knocking out power and sparking meltdowns, Tepco had racks of fresh fuel waiting in the pool for the repairs to be completed.

    The problem is that removing racks one at a time, with a big crane, is slow. Tepco is building a special cover on top of the spent-fuel pool to help speed things along. And it’s planning eventually to put in place the equipment needed to remove the spent fuel rods as well.

    Slow or not, is Tepco going to continue taking out more fuel racks after the first two are out? Tepco’s spokesman wouldn’t say. The current plant is for the removal process to start in earnest at the end of next year.

    Keep those fingers crossed.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 18, 2012, 11:10 am
  29. This falls into the category of “things that should be immediately investigated“:

    Japan probes under-reporting of Fukushima radiation dosage

    TOKYO | Sat Jul 21, 2012 2:43am EDT
    Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori; Editing by Ed Lane

    (Reuters) – Japan’s health ministry said it would investigate reports that workers at the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant were urged by a subcontractor to place lead around radiation detection devices in order to stay under a safety threshold for exposure.

    The Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported on Saturday that an executive from Build-Up, a subcontractor to plant owner Tokyo Electric Power, told workers to cover the devices called dosimeters when working in high-radiation areas.

    Dosimeters can be worn as badges or carried as devices around the size of a smart phone to detect radiation.

    Nine workers wore the lead plates around the devices once after the executive’s plea, Public broadcaster NHK said, citing the subcontractor’s president.

    A Tokyo Electric Power spokesman told Reuters on Saturday the company was aware from a separate contractor that Build-Up made the lead shields, but that they were never used at the nuclear plant.

    Build-Up could not be reached for comment.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 20, 2012, 11:06 pm
  30. This is one of those stories where you really have to hope there was an undetected systemic problem with the data collection because this is some scary data:

    The Telegraph
    Nearly 36pc of Fukushima children diagnosed with thyroid growths
    Nearly 36 percent of children in Fukushima Prefecture have been disgnosed with growths on their thyroids, although doctors insist there is no link between the “cluster” of incidents and the disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in March of last year.

    By Julian Ryall in Tokyo

    6:14AM BST 19 Jul 2012

    The Sixth Report of Fukushima Prefecture Health Management Survey, released in April, included examinations of 38,114 children, of whom 35.3 percent – some 13,460 children – were found to have cysts or nodules of up to 5 mm (0.197 inches) on their thyroids.

    A further 0.5 percent, totalling 186 youngsters, had nodules larger than 5.1 mm (0.2 inches).

    “Yes, 35.8 percent of children in the study have lumps or cysts, but this is not the same as cancer,” said Naomi Takagi, an associate professor at Fukushima University Medical School Hospital, which administered the tests.

    “We do not know that cause of this, but it is hard to believe that is due to the effects of radiation,” she said. “This is an early test and we will only see the effects of radiation exposure after four or five years.”

    The local authority is carrying out long-term testing of children who were under the age of 18 on March 11 last year, the day on which the magnitude-9 Great East Japan struck off the coast of north-east Japan, triggering the massive tsunami that crippled the Fukushima nuclear plant.

    And the doctors denials aren’t exactly soothing: “yeah, it’s definitely not due to the radiation…must be something else in the environment that we can’t explain yet”. Well that’s a relief!

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 18, 2012, 8:57 am
  31. Just FYI, seafood devotees may want to go a little light on any bottom-dwelling delicacies for the next few decades:

    Cesium Levels in Fish off Fukushima Not Dropping

    By MALCOLM FOSTER Associated Press
    TOKYO October 25, 2012 (AP)

    Radioactive cesium levels in most kinds of fish caught off the coast of Fukushima haven’t declined in the year following Japan’s nuclear disaster, a signal that the seafloor or leakage from the damaged reactors must be continuing to contaminate the waters — possibly threatening fisheries for decades, a researcher says.

    Though the vast majority of fish tested off Japan’s northeast coast remain below recently tightened limits of cesium-134 and cesium-137 in food consumption, Japanese government data shows that 40 percent of bottom-dwelling fish such as cod, flounder and halibut are above the limit, Ken Buesseler, a marine chemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, wrote in an article published Thursday in the journal Science.

    In analyzing extensive data collected by Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, he found that the levels of contamination in almost all kinds of fish are not declining a year after the March 11, 2011 disaster. An earthquake and tsunami knocked out the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant’s vital cooling system, causing three reactor cores to melt and spew radiation onto the surrounding countryside and ocean.

    “The (radioactivity) numbers aren’t going down. Oceans usually cause the concentrations to decrease if the spigot is turned off,” Buesseler told The Associated Press in an interview. “There has to be somewhere they’re picking up the cesium.”

    “Option one is the seafloor is the source of the continued contamination. The other source could be the reactors themselves,” he said.

    The safety of fish and other foods from around Fukushima remains a concern among ordinary Japanese, among the world’s highest per capita consumers of seafood.

    Most fish and seafood from along the Fukushima coast are barred from the domestic market and export. In June, authorities lifted bans on octopus and sea snails caught off Fukushima after testing showed very low levels of radiation.

    But the most contaminated fish found yet off Fukushima were caught in August, some 17 months after the disaster. The two greenlings, which are bottom-feeders, had cesium levels of more than 25,000 becquerels per kilogram, 250 times the level the government considers safe.

    A government fisheries official, Chikara Takase, acknowledged that the figure for the greenlings was “extremely high,” but he added high numbers were detected only in limited kinds of fish sampled in the restricted waters closest to the plant. He acknowledged that “we have yet to arrive at a situation that allows an overall lifting of the ban.”

    To bolster public confidence in food safety, the government in April tightened restrictions for cesium-134 and cesium-137 on seafood from 500 to 100 becquerels per kilogram. But the step led to confusion among consumers as people noticed more products were barred.

    Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said some radioactive water used to cool the Fukushima reactors leaked into the ocean several times, most recently in April.

    “Given the 30-year half-life of cesium-137, this means that even if these sources (of contamination) were to be shut off completely, the sediments would remain contaminated for decades to come,” Buesseler wrote in Science.

    Experts suspect that radioactive water from the plant is seeping into the ground water at the same time, and is continuing to make its way into the ocean.

    Hideo Yamazaki, a marine biologist at Kinki University, agrees with Buesseler’s theory that the cesium is leaking from the Fukushima nuclear plant and that it will contaminate seafood for more than a decade.

    He said he believes the plant will continue to leak until cracks and other damage to the three reactors that melted down are repaired. It’s unclear when that work will be completed, or even how, because radiation levels in the reactors are too high for humans or even robots.

    Note that the cause of the elevated cesium levels is speculated to be due to ongoing radioactive water leakage from the nuclear plant into the ground water and subsequently onto the sea floor. That’s certainly a very real possibility and one we should probably expect at this point given the damage done to the reactor buildings and the earlier reports of highly radioactive water flooding basements of the buildings. But it’s important to keep in mind that there are other plausible mechanisms that could cause this “mystery” and they aren’t mutually exclusive.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 25, 2012, 10:41 pm
  32. It must be nice to be able to be this unconcerned about causing irreversible genetic damage to your entire country:

    Fukushima safety scientists paid by nuclear operators
    7:55 AM Friday Dec 7, 2012
    AP

    Influential Japanese scientists who help set national radiation exposure limits have for years had trips paid for by the country’s nuclear plant operators to attend overseas meetings of the world’s top academic group on radiation safety.

    The potential conflict of interest is revealed in one sentence buried in a 600-page parliamentary investigation into last year’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant disaster and pointed out to The Associated Press by a medical doctor on the 10-person investigation panel.

    Some of these same scientists have consistently given optimistic assessments about the health risks of radiation, interviews with the scientists and government documents show. Their pivotal role in setting policy after the March 2011 tsunami and ensuing nuclear meltdowns meant the difference between school children playing outside or indoors and families staying or evacuating.

    One leading scientist, Ohtsura Niwa, acknowledged that the electricity industry pays for flights and hotels to go to meetings of the International Commission on Radiological Protection, and for overseas members visiting Japan.

    He denied that the funding influences his science, and stressed that he stands behind his view that continuing radiation worries about Fukushima are overblown.

    “Those who evacuated just want to believe in the dangers of radiation to justify the action they took,” Niwa told the AP in an interview.

    The official stance of the International Commission on Radiological Protection is that the health risks from radiation become zero only with zero exposure. But some of the eight Japanese ICRP members do not subscribe to that view, asserting that low dose radiation is harmless or the risks are negligible.

    The doctor on the parliamentary panel, Hisako Sakiyama, is outraged about utility funding for Japan’s ICRP members. She fears that radiation standards are being set at a lenient level to limit costly evacuations.

    “The assertion of the utilities became the rule. That’s ethically unacceptable. People’s health is at stake,” she said. “The view was twisted so it came out as though there is no clear evidence of the risks, or that we simply don’t know.”

    The ICRP, based in Ottawa, Canada, does not take a stand on any nation’s policy, leaving that to each government. It is a charity that relies heavily on donations, and members’ funding varies by nation. The group brings scientists together to study radiation effects on health and the environment, as well as the impact of disasters such as Chernobyl and Fukushima. In Japan, ICRP members sit on key panels at the prime minister’s office and the education ministry that set radiation safety policy.

    The Fukushima meltdowns, the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, brought a higher level of scrutiny to Japan’s nuclear industry, revealing close ties between the regulators and the regulated. Last month, some members of a panel that sets nuclear plant safety standards acknowledged they received research and other grant money from utility companies and plant manufacturers. The funding is not illegal in Japan.

    Niwa, the only Japanese member to sit on the main ICRP committee, defended utility support for travel expenses, which comes from the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan through another radiation organization. Costs add up, he said, and he has spent tens of thousands of yen of his personal money on ICRP projects and efforts to decontaminate Fukushima. All ICRP members fly economy, except for long flights such as between Argentina and Japan, he said.

    The Federation declined comment.

    The risk of getting cancer at 20 millisieverts raises the already existing 25 percent chance by an estimated 0.1 percent, according to French ICRP member Jacques Lochard, who visits Japan often to consult on Fukushima.

    While that’s low, he says it’s not zero, so his view is that you should do all you can to reduce exposure.

    Kazuo Sakai, a Japanese ICRP member, said he was interested in debunking that generally accepted view. Known as the “linear no threshold” model of radiation risk, the ICRP-backed position considers radiation harmful even at low doses with no threshold below which exposure is safe.

    Sakai called that model a mere “tool,” and possibly not scientifically sound.

    He said his studies on salamanders and other animal life since the Fukushima disaster have shown no ill effects, including genetic damage, and so humans, exposed to far lower levels of radiation, are safe.

    “No serious health effects are expected for regular people,” he said.

    The parliamentary investigation found that utilities have repeatedly tried to push Japanese ICRP members toward a lenient standard on radiation from as far back as 2007.

    Internal records at the Federation of Electric Power Companies obtained by the investigative committee showed officials rejoicing over how their views were getting reflected in ICRP Japan statements.

    Even earlier, Sakai received utility money for his research into low dose radiation during a 1999-2006 tenure at the Central Research Institute of Electric Power Industry, an organization funded by the utilities.

    But he said that before his hiring he anticipated pressures to come up with research favorable to the nuclear industry, and he made it clear his science would not be improperly influenced.

    Niwa, a professor at Fukushima Medical University, said that residents need to stay in Fukushima if at all possible, partly because they would face discrimination in marriage elsewhere in Japan from what he said were unfounded fears about radiation and genetic defects.

    Setting off such fears are medical checks on the thyroids of Fukushima children that found some nodules or growths that are not cancerous but not normal.

    No one knows for sure what this means, but Yoshiharu Yonekura, president of the National Institute of Radiological Sciences and an ICRP member, brushes off the worries and says such abnormalities are common.

    The risk is such a non-concern in his mind that he says with a smile: “Low-dose radiation may be even good for you.”

    Yes, the ‘common’ occurance of abnormal thyroid growths in the children of Fukushima is nothing to get stressed over. Stress causes cancer don’t you know. Just accept, for the sake of your own health, that there’s nothing to worry about. Nothing at all.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 11, 2012, 1:39 pm
  33. And here’s another grim reminder of the obvious:

    The Asahi Shimbun
    Fukushima plant situation ‘volatile,’ a year after cold shutdown declared
    December 18, 2012
    By NAOYA KON/ Staff Writer

    Workers are nowhere close to determining the state of melted fuel at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, a year after the government declared the damaged reactors were in a “cold shutdown” state.

    Storage tanks at the site are nearing capacity for radioactive water. A makeshift system is still being used to cool the nuclear fuel. And leaks of contaminated water and quake-induced collapses of plant facilities remain a threat.

    Although progress has been made in clearing rubble and reducing the amount of radioactive substances released from the plant, NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka acknowledged that preparations to decommission the reactors are only slowly getting under way.

    But the decommissioning process, including the No. 4 reactor that contained no fuel at the time of the disaster due to a regular inspection, is expected to take decades to complete.

    The decommissioning work also represents an imminent challenge for the Liberal Democratic Party, which will control the government following its victory in the Dec. 16 Lower House election.

    The government and Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant operator, presented a road map on Dec. 21 last year that established landmarks for the eventual decommissioning of the four reactors.

    Goals for the period to spring 2013 included endoscopic inspections of the interiors of reactor containment vessels and a reduction in the length of pipes used in the “circulating water cooling” system, which recycles radioactive water to cool down the melted reactors.

    Endoscope surveys of the containment vessels at the No. 2 reactor in January and the No. 1 reactor in October found radiation levels high enough to kill a human within one hour. Specifically, up to 73 sieverts per hour was detected inside the No. 2 reactor and 11 sieverts per hour inside the No. 1 reactor.

    But TEPCO cannot determine the state of the melted fuel because cameras can only be inserted for a limited time period in the extremely hazardous environment.

    One immediate problem facing TEPCO is the accumulation of radioactive water used to cool down the melted fuel. TEPCO says it will mobilize robots and take other measures to locate where the radioactive water is leaking from the reactors.

    Storage tanks on the plant’s premises have a total capacity of 257,000 tons. As of Dec. 11, the tanks contained 237,000 tons of radioactive water.

    TEPCO plans to build additional tanks on deforested land to expand the total capacity to 700,000 tons within three years.

    Groundwater flowing into the reactor buildings is exacerbating the radioactive water problem. TEPCO said it will dig wells west of the reactor buildings to pump up the groundwater and reduce the inflow, but little is known about groundwater flow variations, sources said.

    The 4 kilometers of pipes in the “circulating water cooling” system were installed on a temporary basis in the frantic battle to keep the melted fuel submerged. They remain in the same state, and the risk of radioactive water leaking from damage on the pipes remains.

    TEPCO is preparing full-scale operations of a device that can eliminate 62 varieties of radioactive substances from the contaminated water. But the device is still being tested for durability, and the government’s Nuclear Regulation Authority has yet to give the green light for its use.

    Rubble has been removed from the No. 4 reactor building, which was severely damaged in a hydrogen explosion in the early stages of the disaster and received relatively light contamination from radioactive substances.

    TEPCO removed two nuclear fuel assemblies from the No. 4 reactor building’s storage pool on a trial basis in July. The assemblies showed no signs of damage or deformities, and the utility plans to start removing the remaining fuel in November 2013.

    Still, about 3,100 nuclear fuel assemblies, including unspent ones, are now sitting in the storage pools of the No. 1 through No. 4 reactor buildings.

    The amount of radioactive substances released from the reactor buildings has remained low since February. In November, a maximum of 10 million becquerels were leaking from the No. 1 through No. 3 reactors per hour, only one-sixth the discharge rate in December 2011.

    But Fumiya Tanabe, a former chief research scientist at the now-defunct Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute, said persistent danger surrounds the plant’s reactors.

    “Despite the (officially declared) cold shutdowns of the reactors, the cooling functions have been maintained there with no knowledge of where the melted fuel lies and in what state,” Tanabe said. “There is a risk of unforeseen circumstances arising if another major earthquake hits.”

    Well, at least this should all be cleaned up in about 50 year. Although, if the Rocketdyne meltdown of 1959 is any indication of what to expect, it might take much longer:

    Radioactive hot spots remain at former research facility’s site
    A federal study shows hundreds of hot spots at the 2,850-acre facility, overlooking the west San Fernando Valley, half a century after a partial nuclear meltdown there
    .
    December 17, 2012|By Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times

    Half a century after America’s first partial nuclear meltdown, hundreds of radioactive hot spots remain at a former research facility overlooking the west San Fernando Valley, according to a recently released federal study.

    Boeing spokeswoman Kamara Sams said her company wants to donate the property for use as “open space parkland” available to nature enthusiasts, hikers, bikers, rock climbers and nonprofits such as the Girl Scouts.

    Once home to 10 nuclear reactors and plutonium- and uranium-carbide fabrication plants, the facility also hosted more than 30,000 rocket engine tests as the nearby San Fernando and Simi valleys were experiencing a postwar population boom.

    The EPA survey, three years in the making, collected 3,735 soil and sediment samples and 215 groundwater and surface water samples. Each sample was analyzed for 54 radioactive contaminants.

    The EPA says 423 of the samples contained man-made radioactive contaminants exceeding background levels. Most of the contaminants were cesium-137 and strontium-90, both powerful carcinogenic substances.

    Most samples exceeding background levels were found in the surface soil at locations known to be contaminated, including where the partial meltdown occurred on the morning of July 14, 1959. Details of that incident, which spewed colorless and odorless gases into the atmosphere, were not disclosed until 1979, when a group of UCLA students discovered documents and photographs that referred to a problem at the site involving a “melted blob.”

    Boeing said in a statement that the EPA survey “overwhelmingly revealed no surprises or health hazards to our employees, neighbors or people in the community.”

    William Preston Bowling, founder of the Aerospace Contamination Museum of Education in Chatsworth, disagreed.

    “The good news is we now know how bad things are on the site,” Bowling said. The bad news is that the high levels of contaminants were in an area that drains into the headwaters of the Los Angeles River, he said.

    A year ago, Boeing prevailed in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court to overturn a 2007 state law that created stricter cleanup standards for the facility. A f

    The plan is to eliminate man-made radioactive materials within five years. But it may take decades longer to remove trichloroethylene, a chemical that is used to wash rocket motors, from the local aquifer, Boeing spokeswoman Sams said.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 20, 2012, 2:37 pm
  34. It looks like the US nuclear industry’s plans to overcome public fears over the significant dangers of nuclear meltdowns is to create mini-nuclear reactors that can be configured in a modular fashion. The idea is viewed as a great way to increase US exports too. So, to put it another way, the US nuclear industry’s plans to allay public fears over the unfortunate release of radiation is to sell smaller, cheaper nuclear reactors all over the world:

    Forbes
    1/15/2013 @ 8:19AM |3,162 views
    After Fukushima, U.S. Seeks to Advance Small Nuclear Reactors

    Ken Silverstein, Contributor

    Two years ago, some thought that the nuclear energy had been leveled. But the industry today is picking up steam by getting construction licenses to build four new units and by getting government funding to develop smaller nuclear reactors that are less expensive and which may be less problematic when it comes to winning regulatory approval.

    The creators of those roughly 100-megawatt electric modules want to sell their products first in this country before they would market them overseas to lesser-developed nations that don’t have a huge transmission infrastructure. They would be factory-built before being shipped and fueled to where the energy is needed. To the extent that more electric generation is required, no problem: Just lay the small-scale modules next to each other, making the financial outlays more manageable.

    The right-sized reactors are expected to operate at high efficiencies and to have built-in advantages, ultimately giving those investments a respectable return. Such units, for example, generally come with a nuclear waste storage containment device. The facilities could also be used to create drinkable water supplies in those countries where such a resource is in short supply.

    According to the Sandia National Laboratory, these smaller reactors would be factory built and mass-assembled, with potential production of 50 a year. They would all have the exact same design, allowing for easier licensing and deployment than large-scale facilities. Mass production will keep the costs down to between $250 million and $500 million per unit.

    “This small reactor … could supply energy to remote areas and developing countries at lower costs and with a manufacturing turnaround period of two years as opposed to seven for its larger relatives,” says Tom Sanders, who has been working with Sandia. “It could also be a more practical means to implement nuclear base-load capacity comparable to natural gas-fired generating stations and with more manageable financial demands than a conventional power plant.”

    In the case of Sandia, the right-sized reactors would generate their own fuel as they operate. They are designed to have an extended operational life and would only need to be refueled a few times during its projected 60-year lifespan. At the same time, the reactor system would have no need for fuel handling, all of which helps to alleviate proliferation concerns. Conventional nuclear power plants in the U.S. have their reactors refueled once every 18 to 24 months.

    The issue that manufacturers of small reactors have is that they are relying on the venture capital community to back their ideas. While they may be worthy, they must still endure years of regulatory scrutiny before they would get the permission to be built in this country. Investors don’t want to tie up their money for that long. That’s why the Energy Department is getting involved.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 18, 2013, 12:58 pm
  35. Water water everywhere, nor any drop to drink. Or store:

    More radioactive water leaking at Japan nuke plant
    By Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press 10:35a.m. EDT April 9, 2013

    TOKYO (AP) — The operator of Japan’s crippled nuclear power plant said Tuesday that it had detected a fresh leak of radioactive water from one of the facility’s storage tanks.

    Tokyo Electric Power Co. previously said two of seven huge underground tanks at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant had been leaking since Saturday if not earlier.

    The latest leak involves a tank that was being used to take water from one of the two that were leaking, TEPCO spokesman Masayuki Ono said. Up to 120 tons might have leaked from one of the tanks and smaller amount from the other two, but none of the radioactive water was believed to have reached the ocean, he said.

    TEPCO has halted the transfer of water to the third tank, diverting it to a fourth tank that remains intact. Two of the seven tanks are currently unused.

    Ono said TEPCO has decided to stop using the two most damaged of the three leaking tanks as soon as they are emptied, but will use the other because of a tank shortage.

    “We admit that the underground tanks are not reliable,” Ono said. “But we must keep using some of them that are relatively in good shape while monitoring them closely. We just don’t’ have enough tanks on the ground that can accommodate the water.”

    The tanks are crucial to the management of contaminated water used to cool melted fuel rods at the plant’s reactors, which were damaged in March 2011 by an earthquake and tsunami. They have since stabilized significantly but the melted fuel inside must be kept cool with water, which leaks out of the reactors’ holes and ruptures and flows into basement areas. Plant workers are scrambling to find extra tanks at the plans and believe they can find space from unused containers and underground tanks.

    The plant is being decommissioned but continues to experience glitches. A fuel storage pool temporarily lost its cooling system Friday, less than a month after the plant suffered a more extensive outage caused by a rat that short-circuited a switchboard, cutting off power to four storage pools for fuel rods and other key facilities.

    Ono said TEPCO hasn’t determined the cause of the leak, but cited a hole or a partial detachment of the linings as a possibility. Regulators also suspect a design problem of the underground tanks, which TEPCO allegedly chose as cheaper option to steel tanks to save money.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 9, 2013, 6:58 am
  36. This seems like it should be bigger news:

    The New York Times
    Ex-Regulator Says Reactors Are Flawed
    By MATTHEW L. WALD
    Published: April 8, 2013

    WASHINGTON — All 104 nuclear power reactors now in operation in the United States have a safety problem that cannot be fixed and they should be replaced with newer technology, the former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said on Monday. Shutting them all down at once is not practical, he said, but he supports phasing them out rather than trying to extend their lives.

    The position of the former chairman, Gregory B. Jaczko, is not unusual in that various anti-nuclear groups take the same stance. But it is highly unusual for a former head of the nuclear commission to so bluntly criticize an industry whose safety he was previously in charge of ensuring.

    Asked why he did not make these points when he was chairman, Dr. Jaczko said in an interview after his remarks, “I didn’t really come to it until recently.”

    “I was just thinking about the issues more, and watching as the industry and the regulators and the whole nuclear safety community continues to try to figure out how to address these very, very difficult problems,” which were made more evident by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, he said. “Continuing to put Band-Aid on Band-Aid is not going to fix the problem.”

    Dr. Jaczko made his remarks at the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference in Washington in a session about the Fukushima accident. Dr. Jaczko said that many American reactors that had received permission from the nuclear commission to operate for 20 years beyond their initial 40-year licenses probably would not last that long. He also rejected as unfeasible changes proposed by the commission that would allow reactor owners to apply for a second 20-year extension, meaning that some reactors would run for a total of 80 years.

    Dr. Jaczko cited a well-known characteristic of nuclear reactor fuel to continue to generate copious amounts of heat after a chain reaction is shut down. That “decay heat” is what led to the Fukushima meltdowns. The solution, he said, was probably smaller reactors in which the heat could not push the temperature to the fuel’s melting point.

    Dr. Jaczko resigned as chairman last summer after months of conflict with his four colleagues on the commission. He often voted in the minority on various safety questions, advocated more vigorous safety improvements, and was regarded with deep suspicion by the nuclear industry. A former aide to the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, he was appointed at Mr. Reid’s instigation and was instrumental in slowing progress on a proposed nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles from Las Vegas.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 9, 2013, 8:44 am
  37. The IAEA just warned Japan that it might take longer than 40 years to decommission the Fukushima Daiichi plant. It’s one of the many bits of bad news that’s continuing to leak out of that disaster zone:

    ‘A very fragile situation’: Leaks from Japan’s wrecked nuke plant raise fears
    4/30/2013
    By Arata Yamamoto and Ian Johnston, NBC News

    TOKYO — Like the persistent tapping of a desperate SOS message, the updates keep coming. Day after day, the operators of the wrecked Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant have been detailing their struggles to contain leaks of radioactive water.

    The leaks, power outages and other glitches have raised fears that the plant — devastated by a tsunami in March 2011 — could even start to break apart during a cleanup process expected to take years.

    The situation has also attracted the attention of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which sent a team of experts to review the decommissioning effort last month. They warned Japan may need longer than the projected 40 years to clean up the site. A full report is expected to be released later this month.

    The discovery of a greenling fish near a water intake for the power station in February that contained some 7,400 times the recommended safe limit of radioactive cesium only served to heighten concern.

    There was also some reassuring news in February, when a report by the World Health Organization said Fukushima had caused “no discernible increase in health risks” outside Japan and “no observable increases in cancer above natural variation” in most of the country.

    But for the most affected areas, the report said the lifetime risks of various cancers were expected to increase. For example, baby boys were predicted to have up to a 7 percent greater chance of getting leukemia in their lifetime and for baby girls the lifetime risk of breast cancer could be up to 6 percent higher than normal.

    Independent nuclear expert John Large — who has given evidence on the Fukushima disaster to the U.K. parliament and written reports about it for Greenpeace — said there would be hundreds of tons of “intensely radioactive” material in the plant.

    He said normally robots could be sent in to remove the fuel relatively easily, but this was difficult because of the damage caused by the tsunami.

    Large said the plant was close to the water table, so it was difficult to stop water getting in and out.

    “Until you can stop that transfer, you will not contain the radioactivity. That will go on for years and years until they contain it,” he said. “The structures of containment start breaking down. Engineered structures don’t last long when they are put in adverse conditions.”

    Larged added: “It may have some marked effect on the health of future generations in Japan. What it will create is a Fukushima generation — like in Nagasaki and Hiroshima – where girls particularly will have difficulty marrying because of the stigma of being brought up in a radiation area.”

    Leaks into the sea would not only affect the marine environment, Large said, as tiny radioactive particles would be washed up on the beach, dried in the sun and then blown over the surrounding countryside by the wind.

    Japanese activists are also worried by the ongoing leaks from the plant.

    The Associated Press reported that “runoff … and a steady inflow of groundwater seeping into the basement of their damaged buildings produce about 400 tons of contaminated water daily at the plant.” According to the plant’s operator, 280,000 tons of contaminated water has been stored in tanks there.

    Hisayo Takada, energy campaigner with Greenpeace Japan, complained no real progress had been made.

    “It’s still a very fragile situation and measures implemented by the government and [power company] TEPCO are only temporary solutions,” she said. “The issue with the contaminated water is very serious and we’re very concerned. And we’re very angry because it’s been two years and they’ve been saying that everything’s safe.

    Greenpeace has been testing food sold in supermarkets, and to date has not found “radiation levels higher than government guidelines,” Takada said.

    The nuclear industry in the U.S. argues its safety standards are higher than at Fukushima.

    Steve Kerekes, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, said it was “incredibly unlikely” that a similar accident could happen in the U.S.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 2, 2013, 2:47 pm
  38. They might want to reconsider those restarts:

    Bloomberg
    Tepco Finds Radioactive Water as Watchdog Sets Restart Rules
    By Jacob Adelman & Yuji Okada – Jun 19, 2013 2:34 AM CT

    Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501) found unsafe levels of radioactivity in groundwater at its crippled Fukushima station, even as Japan’s nuclear regulator set the clock ticking on the restart of the nation’s idled reactors.

    The utility, known as Tepco, detected tritium levels of 500,000 becquerels per liter and strontium levels of 1,000 becquerels per liter at a monitoring well in its turbine complex at the Dai-ichi plant, it said in a statement today.

    Japan’s nuclear safety guidelines require tritium levels at nuclear plants to remain below 60,000 becquerels per liter and strontium levels below 30 becquerels per liter. Japan’s safety limit for radioactive materials in drinking water is 10 becquerels per liter.

    The new findings by the utility, which has struggled with the handling of contaminated water at Fukushima, came as Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority finalized its new safety guidelines required for any nuclear plant restarts. All but two of Japan’s 50 reactors are idled for safety assessments after the earthquake and subsequent tsunami of March 11, 2011 caused meltdowns and radiation leaks at the Fukushima plant. The NRA was set up after the disaster to independently review Japan’s nuclear power.

    The Fukushima contamination’s spread seemed limited, with a separate monitoring well about 70 meters away showing tritium levels of 380 becquerels per liter and strontium levels of 28 becquerels per liter, according to the statement by the company.
    Ocean Water

    There was no apparent affect on the ocean water adjacent to the seaside plant, Toshihiko Fukuda, general manager for Tepco’s nuclear power and plant siting division, said at a press conference today.i

    “Tritium concentrations in the sea water remain in the same range as before,” he said.

    While Tepco hasn’t announced specific restart proposals, the resumption of four of seven reactors at its Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant is cited as part of a turnaround plan released in May 2012 that would return it to profit this fiscal year.

    The tritium and strontium detections at Tepco’s Fukushima plant followed a government order last month to build an underground wall to prevent groundwater from flowing into the basements of reactor buildings. The plant site, 220 kilometers (137 miles) northeast of Tokyo, is running out of space to store radioactive water, raising concerns the operator will be forced to dump it into the ocean.

    Also note that, while the strontium levels didn’t appear to be changed from before the recent leaks were detected, that’s not necessarily good news.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 20, 2013, 12:18 pm
  39. In case anyone needs a reminder that the Fukushima disaster is still a full-scale mega-catastrophe, here you go!

    Radioactive Water From Fukushima Is Likely Leaking Into The Pacific
    MARI YAMAGUCHI July 11, 2013, 10:46 AM

    TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s nuclear regulator says radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima power plant is probably leaking into the Pacific Ocean, a problem long suspected by experts but denied by the plant’s operator.

    Officials from the Nuclear Regulation Authority said a leak is “strongly suspected” and urged plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. to determine where the water may be leaking from and assess the environmental and other risks, including the impact on the food chain. The watchdog said Wednesday it would form a panel of experts to look into ways to contain the problem.

    The watchdog’s findings underscore TEPCO’s delayed response in dealing with a problem that experts have long said existed. On Wednesday, the company continued to raise doubts about whether a leak exists.

    TEPCO spokesman Noriyuki Imaizumi said the increase in cesium levels in monitoring well water samples does not necessarily mean contaminated water from the plant is leaking to the ocean. TEPCO was running another test on water samples and suspects earlier spikes might have been caused by cesium-laced dust slipping into the samples, he said. But he said TEPCO is open to the watchdog’s suggestions to take safety steps.

    The Fukushima Dai-ichi plant was ravaged by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and TEPCO has used massive amounts of water to cool the damaged reactors since then. Repeated leaks of the contaminated water stored on site have hampered decommissioning efforts.

    Marine biologists have warned that the radioactive water may be leaking continuously into the sea from underground, citing high radioactivity in fish samples taken near the plant.

    Since May, TEPCO has reported spikes in cesium levels in underground water collected from a coastal observation pit, while the water-soluble element strontium showed high levels in seawater samples taken in areas just off the coast of the plant. The company says most of the contamination has been there since the 2011 accident.

    TEPCO has said it has detected “no significant impact” on the environment. It says cesium tends to be absorbed in the soil, and denies water contaminated with that element reached the sea.

    But the Nuclear Regulation Authority said Wednesday that samples from both the pit water and coastal seawater indicated that contaminated underground water likely had reached the sea.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 11, 2013, 12:49 pm
  40. TEPCO is now admitting that radioactive water might be seeping into the ocean. This comes after repeated past denials. So, while there’s radioactive water that’s probably been continually leaking into the ocean for the last two years and there appears to be little TEPCO can do about that, at least they’re now sort of admitting the obvious. 21st century progress:

    Japan plant radioactive water into sea likely
    By MARI YAMAGUCHI
    — Jul. 22 9:42 AM EDT

    TOKYO (AP) — A Japanese utility said Monday its crippled Fukushima nuclear plant is likely leaking contaminated water into sea, acknowledging for the first time a problem long suspected by experts.

    Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, also came under fire Monday for not disclosing earlier that the number of plant workers with thyroid radiation exposures exceeding threshold levels for increased cancer risks was 10 times what it said released earlier.

    The delayed announcements underscored the criticisms the company has faced over the Fukushima crisis. TEPCO has been repeatedly blamed for overlooking early signs, and covering up or delaying the disclosure of problems and mishaps.

    Company spokesman Masayuki Ono told a regular news conference that plant officials have come to believe that radioactive water that leaked from the wrecked reactors is likely to have seeped into the underground water system and escaped into sea.

    Nuclear officials and experts have suspected a leak from the Fukushima Dai-ichi since early in the crisis. Japan’s nuclear watchdog said two weeks ago a leak was highly suspected and ordered TEPCO to examine the problem.

    TEPCO had persistently denied contaminated water reached the sea, despite spikes in radiation levels in underground and sea water samples taken at the plant. The utility first acknowledged an abnormal increase in radioactive cesium levels in an observation well near the coast in May and has since monitored water samples.

    Ono said the radioactive elements detected in water samples are believed to largely come from initial leaks that have remained since earlier in the crisis. He said the leak has stayed near the plant inside the bay, and officials believe very little has spread further into the Pacific Ocean.

    Marine biologists have warned that the radioactive water may be leaking continuously into the sea from the underground, citing high radioactivity in fish samples taken near the plant.

    Most fish and seafood from along the Fukushima coast are barred from domestic markets and exports.

    Ono said that an estimated 1,972 plant workers, or 10 percent of those checked, had thyroid exposure doses exceeding 100 millisieverts — a threshold for increased risk of developing cancer — instead of the 178 based on checks of 522 workers reported to the World Health Organization last year.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 22, 2013, 8:11 am
  41. “Contaminated water could rise to the ground’s surface within three weeks”:

    Exclusive: Japan nuclear body says radioactive water at Fukushima an ’emergency’

    By Antoni Slodkowski and Mari Saito

    TOKYO | Mon Aug 5, 2013 8:24am EDT

    (Reuters) – Highly radioactive water seeping into the ocean from Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant is creating an “emergency” that the operator is struggling to contain, an official from the country’s nuclear watchdog said on Monday.

    This contaminated groundwater has breached an underground barrier, is rising toward the surface and is exceeding legal limits of radioactive discharge, Shinji Kinjo, head of a Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) task force, told Reuters.

    Countermeasures planned by Tokyo Electric Power Co are only a temporary solution, he said.

    Tepco’s “sense of crisis is weak,” Kinjo said. “This is why you can’t just leave it up to Tepco alone” to grapple with the ongoing disaster.

    “Right now, we have an emergency,” he said.

    Tepco has been widely castigated for its failure to prepare for the massive 2011 tsunami and earthquake that devastated its Fukushima plant and lambasted for its inept response to the reactor meltdowns. It has also been accused of covering up shortcomings.

    It was not immediately clear how much of a threat the contaminated groundwater could pose. In the early weeks of the disaster, the Japanese government allowed Tepco to dump tens of thousands of metric tons of contaminated water into the Pacific in an emergency move.

    The toxic water release was however heavily criticized by neighboring countries as well as local fishermen and the utility has since promised it would not dump irradiated water without the consent of local townships.

    “Until we know the exact density and volume of the water that’s flowing out, I honestly can’t speculate on the impact on the sea,” said Mitsuo Uematsu from the Center for International Collaboration, Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute at the University of Tokyo.

    “We also should check what the levels are like in the sea water. If it’s only inside the port and it’s not flowing out into the sea, it may not spread as widely as some fear.”

    NO OTHER OUTLET FOR WATER

    Tepco said it is taking various measures to prevent contaminated water from leaking into the bay near the plant. In an e-mailed statement to Reuters, a company spokesman said Tepco deeply apologized to residents in Fukushima prefecture, the surrounding region and the larger public for causing inconveniences, worries and trouble.

    The utility pumps out some 400 metric tons a day of groundwater flowing from the hills above the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into the basements of the destroyed buildings, which mixes with highly irradiated water that is used to cool the reactors in a stable state below 100 degrees Celsius.

    Tepco is trying to prevent groundwater from reaching the plant by building a “bypass” but recent spikes of radioactive elements in sea water has prompted the utility to reverse months of denials and finally admit that tainted water is reaching the sea.

    In a bid to prevent more leaks into the bay of the Pacific Ocean, plant workers created the underground barrier by injecting chemicals to harden the ground along the shoreline of the No. 1 reactor building. But that barrier is only effective in solidifying the ground at least 1.8 meters below the surface.

    By breaching the barrier, the water can seep through the shallow areas of earth into the nearby sea. More seriously, it is rising toward the surface – a break of which would accelerate the outflow.

    “If you build a wall, of course the water is going to accumulate there. And there is no other way for the water to go but up or sideways and eventually lead to the ocean,” said Masashi Goto, a retired Toshiba Corp nuclear engineer who worked on several Tepco plants. “So now, the question is how long do we have?”

    Contaminated water could rise to the ground’s surface within three weeks, the Asahi Shimbun said on Saturday. Kinjo said the three-week timeline was not based on NRA’s calculations but acknowledged that if the water reaches the surface, “it would flow extremely fast.”

    A Tepco official said on Monday the company plans to start pumping out a further 100 metric tons of groundwater a day around the end of the week.

    The regulatory task force overseeing accident measures of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, which met Friday, “concluded that new measures are needed to stop the water from flowing into the sea that way,” Kinjo said.

    Tepco said on Friday that a cumulative 20 trillion to 40 trillion becquerels of radioactive tritium had probably leaked into the sea since the disaster. The company said this was within legal limits.

    Tritium is far less harmful than cesium and strontium, which have also been released from the plant. Tepco is scheduled to test strontium levels next.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 5, 2013, 8:20 am
  42. While the latest reports indicate that radiation levels around Fukushima have been holding steady (a sign, scientists say, that the situation is clearly not under control), it appears that the isotopic distribution of the radiation spewing out of Fukushima is changing. Less cesium, and more strontium. This isn’t a sign of progress:

    Fukushima’s Radioactive Water Leak: What You Should Know

    Patrick J. Kiger

    National Geographic News

    Published August 7, 2013

    Tensions are rising in Japan over radioactive water leaking into the Pacific Ocean from Japan’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, a breach that has defied the plant operator’s effort to gain control.

    Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday called the matter “an urgent issue” and ordered the government to step in and help in the clean-up, following an admission by Tokyo Electric Power Company that water is seeping past an underground barrier it attempted to create in the soil. The head of a Nuclear Regulatory Authority task force told Reuters the situation was an “emergency.” (See Pictures: The Nuclear Cleanup Struggle at Fukushima.”)

    It marked a significant escalation in pressure for TEPCO, which has come under severe criticism since what many view as its belated acknowledgement July 22 that contaminated water has been leaking for some time. The government now says it is clear that 300 tons (71,895 gallons/272,152 liters) are pouring into the sea each day, enough to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool every eight days. (See related, “One Year After Fukushima, Japan Faces Shortages of Energy, Trust.”) While Japan grapples with the problem, here are some answers to basic questions about the leaks:

    Q: How long has contaminated water been leaking from the plant into the Pacific?

    Shunichi Tanaka, head of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, has told reporters that it’s probably been happening since an earthquake and tsunami touched off the disaster in March 2011. (See related: “Photos: A Rare Look Inside Fukushima Daiichi.”) According to a report by the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety, that initial breakdown caused “the largest single contribution of radionuclides to the marine environment ever observed.” Some of that early release actually was intentional, because TEPCO reportedly had to dump 3 million gallons of water contaminated with low levels of radiation into the Pacific to make room in its storage ponds for more heavily contaminated water that it needed to pump out of the damaged reactors so that it could try to get them under control.

    But even after the immediate crisis eased, scientists have continued to find radioactive contamination in the waters off the plant. Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who has analyzed thousands of samples of fish from the area, said he’s continued to find the high levels of cesium-134, a radioactive isotope that decays rapidly. That indicates it’s still being released. “It’s getting into the ocean, no doubt about it,” he said. “The only news was that they finally admitted to this.” (See related: “Photos: Japan’s Reactors Before And After.”)

    Q: How much and what sort of radiation is leaking from the plant into the Pacific?

    TEPCO said Monday that radiation levels in its groundwater observation hole on the east side of the turbine buildings had reached 310 becquerels per liter for cesium-134 and 650 becquerels per liter for cesium-137. That marked nearly a 15-fold increase from readings five days earlier, and exceeded Japan’s provisional emergency standard of 60 becquerels per liter for cesium radiation levels in drinking water. (Drinking water at 300 becquerels per liter would be approximately equivalent to one year’s exposure to natural background radiation, or 10 to 15 chest X-rays, according to the World Health Organization. And it is far in excess of WHO’s guideline advised maximum level of radioactivity in drinking water, 10 becquerels per liter.) Readings fell somewhat on Tuesday. A similar spike and fall preceded TEPCO’s July admission that it was grappling with leakage of the radioactive water. (See related: “Would a New Nuclear Plant Fare Better than Fukushima?”)

    Scientists who have been studying the situation were not surprised by the revelation, since radiation levels in the sea around Japan have been holding steady and not falling as they would if the situation were under control. In a 2012 study, Jota Kanda, an oceanographer at Toyko University of Marine Science and Technology, calculated that the plant is leaking 0.3 terabecquerels (trillion becquerels) of cesium-137 per month and a similar amount of cesium-134. While that number sounds mind-boggling, it’s actually thousands of times less than the level of radioactive contamination that the plant was spewing in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, estimated to be from 5,000 to 15,000 terabecquerels, according to Buesseler. For a comparison, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima released 89 terabecquerels of cesium-137 when it exploded. (See related: “Animals Inherit a Mixed Legacy at Chernobyl.”)

    Another potential worry: The makeup of the radioactive material being leaked by the plant has changed. Buesseler said the initial leak had a high concentration of cesium isotopes, but the water flowing from the plant into the ocean now is likely to be proportionally much higher in strontium-90, another radioactive substance that is absorbed differently by the human body and has different risks. The tanks (on the plant site) have 100 times more strontium than cesium, Buesseler said. He believes that the cesium is retained in the soil under the plant, while strontium and tritium, another radioactive substance, are continuing to escape. (Related: “Japan’s Nuclear Refugees”)

    Q: Will seafood be contaminated by the leaks?

    As Buesseler’s research has shown, tests of local fish in the Fukushima area still show high enough levels of radiation that the Japanese government won’t allow them to be caught and sold for human consumption—a restriction that is costing Japanese fishermen billions of dollars a year in lost income. (But while flounder, sea bass, and other fish remained banned for radiation risk, in 2012 the Japanese government did begin allowing sales of octopus and whelk, a type of marine snail, after tests showed no detectable amount of cesium contamination.)

    Buesseler thinks the risk is mostly confined to local fish that dwell mostly at the sea bottom, where radioactive material settles. He says bigger fish that range over long distances in the ocean quickly lose whatever cesium contamination they’ve picked up. However, the higher concentration of strontium-90 that is now in the outflow poses a trickier problem, because it is a bone-seeking isotope. “Cesium is like salt—it goes in and out of your body quickly,” he explains. “Strontium gets into your bones.” While he’s still not too concerned that fish caught off the U.S. coast will be affected, “strontium changes the equation for Japanese fisheries, as to when their fish will be safe to eat.” (See related blog, “Safety Question on Fukushima Anniversary: Should Plants of the Same Design Have Filtered Vents?”)

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 8, 2013, 11:04 am
  43. There was a segment on Thom Hartmann’s show yesterday where a guest from Beyond Nuclear discussed the evolving situation around Fukushima. The very alarming possibility was raised that the plan to freeze the ground around Fukushima to trap the leaking water around a frozen wall might actually be turning the ground underneath the damaged plant into radioactive quicksand and threatening the entire structure. So, with that in mind, check out the new plans:

    Bloomberg
    Japan Studies Ice Wall to Halt Radioactive Water Leaks
    By Jacob Adelman & Chisaki Watanabe – Aug 14, 2013 2:11 AM CT

    Turning soil into virtual permafrost with refrigerated coolant piped through the earth was first used in the 1860s to shore up coal mines. One hundred and fifty years on, it’s the newest idea for containing the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

    At least 300 tons of water laced with radioactive particles of cesium, strontium linked to bone cancer, and tritium flow each day into the Pacific Ocean from the crippled atomic station in Japan. The plan to contain the health threat is to build an underground containment wall made of ice.

    After repeated failures to hold back water contaminated by the 2011 disaster, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501) is running out of options to deal with what was called an “urgent problem” by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week for the first time. Dealing with the water leaks is an “emergency,” the Nuclear Regulation Authority said. Japanese taxpayers already face an 11 trillion yen ($112 billion) estimated clean-up cost.

    Underground ice walls have been used to block radiation before, in an experiment at the former site of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, which produced plutonium for atomic weapons, according to a report by Arctic Foundations Inc., an Alaska-based earth-freezing contractor.

    “It’s just sometimes it’s the only scenario that will really work,” said Joseph Sopko, executive vice president of Moretrench, a Rockaway, New Jersey-based contractor specialized on frozen-earth projects. “When nothing else will work, it just jumps out at you and says ‘Wow, it’s a freeze job.’”

    Long Wait

    The plan at Fukushima has drawbacks: it won’t be completed until 2015, and there’s no cost estimate yet. The envisioned wall of ice would run 1.4 kilometers (0.9 mile) underground, the world’s longest continuous stretch of artificially frozen earth, according to Japan’s nuclear accident response office.

    Kajima Corp. (1812), the construction company that was the principal builder of the Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, has been given until March 31, 2014, to complete a feasibility study of the project.

    Highly contaminated water started to accumulate in basements of Fukushima buildings when crews began injecting tons of water into the reactors after the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, knocked out power to cooling systems.

    Groundwater then started leaking into the basements, adding to the volume of contaminated water. In turn, radiated water seeped into groundwater, causing radiation at nearby monitoring wells to spike. At least 300 tons of contaminated groundwater are thought to be flowing into the ocean from the plant each day, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

    Ice Wall

    Kajima’s proposal calls for engineers to sink vertical pipes about a meter apart and between 20 and 40 meters deep into the ground around the structures. Coolant would be cycled from on-site refrigerator units into the pipes, where they would form a frozen wall to keep contaminated water in and keep out any fresh water flowing down from nearby mountains. The government anticipates keeping the ground frozen for six years starting in July 2015.

    “We expect the walls will stem the flow of groundwater from the mountain side and also keep water inside the buildings from leaking,” Tatsuya Shinkawa, director of the nuclear accident response office in the Agency for Natural-Resources and Energy, said at an Aug. 7 press conference.

    Government officials have not released a cost estimate for the project.

    Cool Cash?

    “The proposal to freeze the earth is nothing but a cash cow for the contractor,” said Richard McPherson, a California-based energy and defense consultant who has researched the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima. “The amount of energy alone required to maintain the coolant below freezing temperature is a waste.”

    Kajima declined to comment on the cost of the project or any other details, saying in an e-mailed response that it has yet to start the feasibility study. Hirofumi Shibata, also at the nuclear accident response office, said the energy requirements were not yet known.

    A project of the scale being discussed at the Fukushima plant would require about 9.8 megawatts of power to maintain, according to Bernd Braun, a geotechnical consultant in Texas who works on ground-freezing projects. That’s enough electricity to supply about 3,300 Japanese households, according to calculations by Bloomberg.

    “This will require a hell of a refrigeration station and a huge power supply,” Braun said in an e-mail.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 14, 2013, 10:10 am
  44. Remember of the Japanese government recently intervened in the Fukushima cleanup to announce that Tepco had been systematically under-reporting the seriousness of the crisis? Well, here’s another report along those lines, although in this case it’s an international nuclear expert that’s warning that the recent elevated warnings by the Japanese government aren’t elevated enough:

    22 August 2013 Last updated at 05:32 ET

    Fukushima leak is ‘much worse than we were led to believe’
    By Matt McGrath Environment correspondent, BBC News

    A nuclear expert has told the BBC that he believes the current water leaks at Fukushima are much worse than the authorities have stated.

    Mycle Schneider is an independent consultant who has previously advised the French and German governments.

    He says water is leaking out all over the site and there are no accurate figures for radiation levels.

    Meanwhile the chairman of Japan’s nuclear authority said that he feared there would be further leaks.

    The ongoing problems at the Fukushima plant increased in recent days when the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) admitted that around 300 tonnes of highly radioactive water had leaked from a storage tank on the site.

    Note that previous reports indicated that 300 tons of radioactive water was leaking EVERY DAY from the basement of the plant. The reason this latest leak of 300 tons of water is so dire is that this is a leak from an above ground water storage tank that is much more radioactive than the water leaking from the basement.

    Continuing…

    Moment of crisis

    The Japanese nuclear energy watchdog raised the incident level from one to three on the international scale that measures the severity of atomic accidents.

    This was an acknowledgement that the power station was in its greatest crisis since the reactors melted down after the tsunami in 2011.

    But some nuclear experts are concerned that the problem is a good deal worse than either Tepco or the Japanese government are willing to admit.

    They are worried about the enormous quantities of water, used to cool the reactor cores, which are now being stored on site.

    Some 1,000 tanks have been built to hold the water. But these are believed to be at around 85% of their capacity and every day an extra 400 tonnes of water are being added.

    “The quantities of water they are dealing with are absolutely gigantic,” said Mycle Schneider, who has consulted widely for a variety of organisations and countries on nuclear issues.

    “What is the worse is the water leakage everywhere else – not just from the tanks. It is leaking out from the basements, it is leaking out from the cracks all over the place. Nobody can measure that.

    “It is much worse than we have been led to believe, much worse,” said Mr Schneider, who is lead author for the World Nuclear Industry status reports.

    At news conference, the head of Japan’s nuclear regulation authority Shunichi Tanaka appeared to give credence to Mr Schneider’s concerns, saying that he feared there would be further leaks.

    “We should assume that what has happened once could happen again, and prepare for more. We are in a situation where there is no time to waste,” he told reporters.

    The lack of clarity about the water situation and the continued attempts by Tepco to deny that water was leaking into the sea has irritated many researchers.

    Dr Ken Buesseler is a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who has examined the waters around Fukushima.

    “It is not over yet by a long shot, Chernobyl was in many ways a one week fire-explosive event, nothing with the potential of this right on the ocean.”

    “We’ve been saying since 2011 that the reactor site is still leaking whether that’s the buildings and the ground water or these new tank releases. There’s no way to really contain all of this radioactive water on site.”

    “Once it gets into the ground water, like a river flowing to the sea, you can’t really stop a ground water flow. You can pump out water, but how many tanks can you keep putting on site?”

    Several scientists also raised concerns about the vulnerability of the huge amount of stored water on site to another earthquake.

    New health concerns

    The storage problems are compounded by the ingress of ground water, running down from the surrounding hills. It mixes with radioactive water leaking out of the basements of the reactors and then some of it leaches into the sea, despite the best efforts of Tepco to stem the flow.

    Some of the radioactive elements like caesium that are contained in the water can be filtered by the earth. Others are managing to get through and this worries watching experts.

    “Our biggest concern right now is if some of the other isotopes such as strontium 90 which tend to be more mobile, get through these sediments in the ground water,” said Dr Buesseler.

    “They are entering the oceans at levels that then will accumulate in seafood and will cause new health concerns.”

    There are also worries about the spent nuclear fuel rods that are being cooled and stored in water pools on site. Mycle Schneider says these contain far more radioactive caesium than was emitted during the explosion at Chernobyl.

    “There is absolutely no guarantee that there isn’t a crack in the walls of the spent fuel pools. If salt water gets in, the steel bars would be corroded. It would basically explode the walls, and you cannot see that; you can’t get close enough to the pools,” he said.

    “The Japanese have a problem asking for help. It is a big mistake; they badly need it.”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 22, 2013, 1:05 pm
  45. There are reports that the radioactivity levels of the of the water leaking from the storage tanks around Fukushima have suddenly spiked to 1800 millisieverts, from a reported 100 millisieverts last week. 1800 millisieverts is enough to kill a person after four hours of exposure and this is a leak from one of the 1000 storage tanks used to hold the water in need of treatment so it’s a sign of how dangerous the environment is for the workers on site. The 18-fold jump in radiation levels doesn’t appear to be due to a sudden new leak, though. Instead, we’re learning that the 100 milliseivert level reported last week was also the maximum amount they could measure with the equipment used at the time. It’s the latest change in a situation that looks to be likely to continue evolving for many years to come:

    Fukushima’s radioactive ocean plume due to reach US waters in 2014
    Jeremy Hsu LiveScience

    Aug. 31, 2013 at 1:49 PM ET

    A radioactive plume of water in the Pacific Ocean from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, which was crippled in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, will likely reach U.S. coastal waters starting in 2014, according to a new study. The long journey of the radioactive particles could help researchers better understand how the ocean’s currents circulate around the world.

    Ocean simulations showed that the plume of radioactive cesium-137 released by the Fukushima disaster in 2011 could begin flowing into U.S. coastal waters starting in early 2014 and peak in 2016. Luckily, two ocean currents off the eastern coast of Japan — the Kuroshio Current and the Kuroshio Extension — has diluted the radioactive material so much that its concentration fell well below the World Health Organization’s safety levels within four months of the Fukushima incident. But it could have been a different story if nuclear disaster struck on the other side of Japan.

    “The environmental impact could have been worse if the contaminated water would have been released in another oceanic environment in which the circulation was less energetic and turbulent,” said Vincent Rossi, an oceanographer and postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Physics and Complex Systems in Spain.

    Fukushima’s radioactive water release has taken its time journeying across the Pacific. By comparison, atmospheric radiation from the Fukushima plant began reaching the U.S. West Coast within just days of the disaster back in 2011. [Fukushima Radiation Leak: 5 Things You Should Know]

    Journey across the Pacific Rim
    The team focused on predicting the path of the radioactivity until it reached the continental shelf waters stretching from the U.S. coastline to about 180 miles (300 kilometers) offshore. About 10 to 30 becquerels (units of radioactivity representing decay per second) per cubic meter of cesium-137 could reach U.S. and Canadian coastal waters north of Oregon between 2014 and 2020. (Such levels are far below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s limits for drinking water.)

    By comparison, California’s coast may receive just 10 to 20 becquerels per cubic meter from 2016 to 2025. That slower, lesser impact comes from Pacific currents taking part of the radioactive plume down below the ocean surface on a slower journey toward the Californian coast, Rossi explained.

    A large proportion of the radioactive plume from the initial Fukushima release won’t even reach U.S. coastal waters anytime soon. Instead, the majority of the cesium-137 will remain in the North Pacific gyre — a region of ocean that circulates slowly clockwise and has trapped debris in its center to form the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” — and continue to be diluted for approximately a decade following the initial Fukushima release in 2011. (The water from the current power plant leak would be expected to take a similar long-term path to the initial plume released, Rossi said.)

    But the plume will eventually begin to escape the North Pacific gyre in an even more diluted form. About 25 percent of the radioactivity initially released will travel to the Indian Ocean and South Pacific over two to three decades after the Fukushima disaster, the model showed.

    That’s right, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is slowly becoming the Great Radioactive Pacific Garbage Patch (because Captain Planet just has it too easy).

    Also recall that the dilution of radioactive particles in the ocean doesn’t mean it’s also going to get diluted in the wildlife. `Bioaccumulation is the gift that keeps on giving.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 2, 2013, 2:51 pm
  46. It’s finally here: Radiation from the original 2011 Fukushima disaster has finally traveled across the ocean to reach the shores of North America. But it’s also at miniscule levels so you’re very unlikely to notice its here unless you happen to be carrying a Geiger counter at the beach.

    So taking a dip in the ocean shouldn’t really be a concern at this point. And it never really was unless you happened to be swimming around Fukushima. It was always that post-swim snack that was going to be more of potential concern for people living outside of Japan. Especially if your snack spent some time swimming around Fukushima;
    :

    The Independent
    Food from Fukushima could be hitting Britain’s shelves through legal safety loophole

    Tom Bawden Author Biography

    Monday 13 April 2015

    Food produced around the Fukushima nuclear disaster site could be making its way on to British shelves because of loopholes in safety rules, The Independent can reveal.

    Products contaminated by radiation, including tea, noodles and chocolate bars, have already been exported from Japan under the cover of false labelling by fraudsters.

    Experts warned that Britain’s food regulations were not strong enough to prevent these kinds of contaminated products – which are fraudulently marked as coming from radiation-free regions of Japan – from entering the UK. This raises the prospect of mildly carcinogenic ingredients entering the food system.

    The alarm is being sounded after Taiwanese investigators uncovered more than 100 radioactive food products which had been produced in Fukushima but falsely packaged to give their origin as Tokyo.

    There is no firm evidence that any radioactive food has entered the UK, but experts say there is a risk, and products could already have arrived.

    “I suspect what has happened in Taiwan might well have already happened in the UK. Intermediary supply chain middlemen can buy food in bulk and package and label as they like – before shipping them to the UK,” said Alastair Marke, a fellow at the Royal Society of Arts and principal adviser in London to Shantalla, a food safety consultancy.

    “Although we have adopted one of the world’s most comprehensive and stringent traceability laws, the UK has virtually no control over how foods are processed, manufactured and packaged in Japan.”

    Any food produced for export in the “danger zone” around Fukushima, in northern Japan, must be declared as such so that it can be tested for radiation before leaving the country and again when it reaches the UK border.

    But the system is predicated on honest certification and evidence has emerged that fraudsters are abusing the situation by passing Fukushima foods off as coming from elsewhere in the country.

    The reactor meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant in 2011 sent substantial amounts of radioactive material into the atmosphere. Some of this has landed on the surface of foods such as fruits, vegetables and animal feed, while radioactivity can build up within produce over time as “radionuclides” are transferred through soil into crops or animals.

    Experts say there is little to stop similar products being shipped to the UK. “There is a risk that radioactive food is getting on to the UK market,” said Eoghan Daly, of the Institute of Food Safety Integrity and Protection. The potential health impact of consuming contaminated food is relatively low but not entirely negligible, he added.

    According to the World Health Organisation, the biggest danger comes from the radioactive isotope caesium, which can linger in the system for decades and increases the risk of cancer – although experts say that the level of caesium in radioactive foods from the Fukushima region are typically very low.

    Aha, so:


    Any food produced for export in the “danger zone” around Fukushima, in northern Japan, must be declared as such so that it can be tested for radiation before leaving the country and again when it reaches the UK border.

    But the system is predicated on honest certification and evidence has emerged that fraudsters are abusing the situation by passing Fukushima foods off as coming from elsewhere in the country.

    Well, it all sounds like one more reason for not just the UK but nations everywhere to have rigorous food-import screening regimes as the globalization of the food supply makes it harder and harder of nations to keep track of where their food is coming from. Better safe than sorry!.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 14, 2015, 6:27 pm
  47. With the US Senate having just passed a bill to grant President Obama Trade Promotion Authority, the prospect of trade agreements effectively becoming the highest laws in the land, globally, over the next 6 years is now very much a reality.

    So with that in mind, let’s take a look at some of fun features we should expect from a world where “free trade” gets elevated to the level of some sort of cosmically mandated force. Fun features like the freedom to export your food to nations that don’t want it because they’re worried that it might be radioactive. That kind of freedom:

    The Wall Street Journal
    Japan Takes Food Spat With South Korea to WTO
    Follows fears of contamination of certain foods following Japan’s Fukushima nuclear meltdown

    By Matthew Dalton and Yuka Hayashi
    Updated May 21, 2015 7:57 a.m. ET

    BRUSSELS—Japan brought a complaint against South Korea on Thursday at the World Trade Organization over import restrictions on Japanese food that Tokyo says violate international trade rules.

    South Korea put the measures in place after the 2011 tsunami that caused the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor. The measures ban some products and require additional testing and certification of Japanese food because of fears that it could be contaminated with radiation.

    South Korea’s trade ministry on Thursday defended the restrictions on Japanese food.

    “The government will explain in future consultations with Japan that import restrictions have been placed to secure the safety of people,” the ministry in Seoul said in a brief statement issued Thursday evening.

    Japan has for years pressed countries to abandon trade restrictions on Japanese food imposed after the Fukushima accident released radioactive material that was detectable thousands of miles away. Monitoring of food produced in the Fukushima region has found that by 2014, less than 1% was contaminated with radiation above Japanese food-safety limits.

    The complaint will prompt Japan and Korea to hold discussions at the WTO, the Geneva-based arbiter of trade disputes. If they can’t resolve the dispute after 60 days, Japan can ask the WTO to assemble a panel of trade experts to rule on its complaint.

    “If they can’t resolve the dispute after 60 days, Japan can ask the WTO to assemble a panel of trade experts to rule on its complaint.”

    In other fun food news, if you have an expired package of Nestle’s “Maggi” brand noodles sold in India, there’s a whole new reason to give it a pass after food inspectors found seven times the allowable levels of lead in all the tested packages that were manufactured in Feb 2014. Although if expired noodles are the best food option you have, Nestle doesn’t seem too concerned about it all.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 21, 2015, 11:42 am
  48. It looks like TEPCO has finally arrived at a medium-term solution for dealing with it’s growing problem of where to store the 300 tons of radioactive water that it’s generating each day by pumping it out of the reactor building basements. The solution should cut in half that daily buildup of contaminated water and it’s very simple and elegant: It’s the ol’ “pump and dump” scheme. Pump 300 tons of water from the reactor basements, treat it for radiation (hopefully), and them dump around 150 tons into the ocean. Every day:

    The Japan Times
    Fishermen OK Tepco’s plan to dump Fukushima plant water into sea

    Kyodo

    Aug 25, 2015

    FUKUSHIMA – Fishermen in Fukushima Prefecture on Tuesday approved a plan by Tokyo Electric Power Co. to take contaminated groundwater continuously flowing into the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and dump it into the ocean after removing almost all radioactive materials from it.

    The plan is one of Tepco’s key measures aimed at curbing the amount of toxic water buildup at the complex. Local fishermen had long opposed the plan amid concern it would pollute the ocean and contaminate marine life.

    “I don’t know if it’s acceptable for all fishery operators, but stable work of decommissioning (of the Fukushima plant) is necessary for the revival of Fukushima’s fishery industry,” Tetsu Nozaki, chairman of the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations, told reporters after a board meeting.

    He also called on Tepco to ensure it will only discharge water which does not contain radioactive materials exceeding the legally allowed limit.

    The amount of toxic water is piling up every day. Tainted groundwater is seeping into the reactor buildings and mixing with radioactive water generated through cooling the reactors that suffered meltdowns following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

    By pumping up water through drainage wells and dumping it into the ocean after treatment, Tepco said it will be able to halve some 300 tons of contaminated water being generated each day.

    Tepco has been struggling to resolve the problem of toxic water buildup at the plant since 2011, with radiation leakages into the environment still occurring regularly at the Fukushima complex.

    The company is also behind schedule on a project to build a huge underground ice wall, another key measure to prevent radioactive water from further increasing at the site.

    So until all the melted cores are extracted and dealt with, it looks like the ocean dumping of treated water pumped out of those reactor buildings is now the official plan (as opposed to the unofficial plan). So let’s hope those radiation scrubbers remain fully operational…for the next few decades or so.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 25, 2015, 1:28 pm
  49. Here’s a reminder that radiation is very far from the only pollutant you might find if your fish sticks: Researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography recently took a at a broad array of studies examining the levels of pollution in ocean life and found that, while persistent organic pollutants (POPs) with a tendency to stick around for long periods continue to contaminate fish populations from around the globe, impacting virtually every species, the levels of pollutants are still only about half of what was found a generation. So, all in all, it was pretty bad news, but relatively good bad news:

    CBW News

    Toxic pollutants found in fish across the world’s oceans

    By Brian Mastroianni
    February 1, 2016, 7:34 AM

    When you go out for seafood, are you aware of what that fish on your plate might have been exposed to while swimming around in the world’s oceans? According to new research, fish populations around the world have been contaminated with industrial and agricultural pollutants known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

    Researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego examined hundreds of peer-reviewed reports that stretched from 1969 through 2012. Some of the pollutants that were identified in the study included 20th century “legacy” toxins like DDT, which is banned in the U.S. and no longer widely used worldwide, and mercury, as well as more contemporary pollutants like coolants and other industrial chemicals like flame retardants.

    “Based on the best data collected from across the globe, we can say that POPs can be anywhere and in any species of marine fish,” study co-author Stuart Sandin said in a press release.

    However, there were some signs of improvement. The researchers found that the concentrations of pollutants contaminating fish populations have been dropping at a consistent rate over the past 30 years.

    The study found that the average concentrations of each class of POP were much higher back in the 1980s than today. Concentrations of these toxic materials in the world’s oceans dropped about 15 to 30 percent each decade.

    “This means that the typical fish that you consume today can have approximately 50 percent of the concentration of most POPs when compared to the same fish eaten by your parents at your age,” lead author Lindsay Bonito said. “But there still remains a chance of getting a fillet as contaminated as what your parents ate.”

    By comparing results of this research to federal safety guidelines for seafood consumption, the research team found that the average level of contaminants were either at or below U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) health standards. The overall decline in levels of toxic substances in the world’s oceans suggests that the global community at large has made progress in improving the conditions of marine life over the past decades.

    “This means that the typical fish that you consume today can have approximately 50 percent of the concentration of most POPs when compared to the same fish eaten by your parents at your age…But there still remains a chance of getting a fillet as contaminated as what your parents ate.”
    Well, it could be worse! Just imagine how polluted the oceans would be if the inadequate efforts in recent decades to control ocean pollution weren’t even done at all. You go from polluted fish to no fish. So at least things appear to be getting somewhat better on that front.

    And now here’s a recent study that’s a reminder that the health of the oceans doesn’t simply depend on stopping ocean pollution. Because if we don’t also stop polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, you could have the cleanest oceans in history and still have a lot of dead fish:

    The Huffington Post

    Large Swaths Of The Pacific Ocean May Actually Suffocate In Just 15 Years

    Take a wild guess what the culprit is.
    04/28/2016 11:52 pm ET

    Chris D’Angelo
    Associate Editor, HuffPost Hawaii

    It should come as no surprise that human activity is causing the world’s oceans to warm, rise and acidify.

    But an equally troubling impact of climate change is that it is beginning to rob the oceans of oxygen.

    While ocean deoxygenation is well established, a new study led by Matthew Long, an oceanographer at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, finds that climate change-driven oxygen loss is already detectable in certain swaths of ocean and will likely be “widespread” by 2030 or 2040.

    Ultimately, Long told The Huffington Post, oxygen-deprived oceans may have “significant impacts on marine ecosystems” and leave some areas of ocean all but uninhabitable for certain species.

    While some ocean critters, like dolphins and whales, get their oxygen by surfacing, many, including fish and crabs, rely on oxygen that either enters the water from the atmosphere or is released by phytoplankton via photosynthesis.

    But as the ocean surface warms, it absorbs less oxygen. And to make matters worse, oxygen in warmer water, which is less dense, has a tough time circulating to deeper waters.

    For their study, published in the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles, Long and his team used simulations to predict ocean deoxygenation through 2100.

    “Since oxygen concentrations in the ocean naturally vary depending on variations in winds and temperature at the surface, it’s been challenging to attribute any deoxygenation to climate change,” Long said in a statement. “This new study tells us when we can expect the impact from climate change to overwhelm the natural variability.”

    And we don’t have long.

    By 2030 or 2040, according to the study, deoxygenation due to climate change will be detectable in large swaths of the Pacific Ocean, including the areas surrounding Hawaii and off the West Coast of the U.S. mainland. Other areas have more time. In the seas near the east coasts of Africa, Australia, and Southeast Asia, for example, deoxygenation caused by climate change still won’t be evident by 2100.

    Long said the eventual suffocation may affect the ability of ocean ecosystems to sustain healthy fisheries. The concern among the scientific community, he said, is that “we’re conceivably pushing past tipping points” in being able to prevent the damage.

    Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State University, shared these concerns, telling The Washington Post that the new study adds to the “list of insults we are inflicting on the ocean through our continued burning of fossil fuels.”
    “Just a week after learning that 93 (percent) of the Great Barrier Reef has experienced bleaching in response to the unprecedented current warmth of the oceans, we have yet another reason to be gravely concerned about the health of our oceans, and yet another reason to prioritize the rapid decarbonization of our economy,” Mann said.

    “By 2030 or 2040, according to the study, deoxygenation due to climate change will be detectable in large swaths of the Pacific Ocean, including the areas surrounding Hawaii and off the West Coast of the U.S. mainland. Other areas have more time. In the seas near the east coasts of Africa, Australia, and Southeast Asia, for example, deoxygenation caused by climate change still won’t be evident by 2100.”
    Well, it could be worse. At least it won’t be a simultaneous oceans-wide suffocating collapse. We’ll have a whole century to smother the oceans. Although that also means the areas that don’t end up suffocating first are also going to be the only places left to fish as the rest of the ocean ecosystems collapse around them. Best of luck, Nemo.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 29, 2016, 3:21 pm

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