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The Yakuza’s Cleanup Crew: It’s Not What You Think But Still Alarming

Organized criminal networks could be thought of as a coven of keepers of well guarded secrets. Powerful, profitable well guarded secrets. The organized “system” works because only “need to know” people know about it. It’s like Scientology, minus the actual Scientology. That’s sort of how militaries and governments work, where the most powerful and dangerous information and capabilities are compartmentalized in a hierarchical manner. Some mafias are quasi-legal and part of the government officially or unofficially:

The Daily Beast
The Death and Legacy of Yakuza Boss ‘Mr. Gorilla’

For years Yoshinori Watanabe (aka ‘Mr. Gorilla’) ran Japan’s most powerful and successful yakuza group. Jake Adelstein on his mysterious death over the weekend—and his legacy of modern and ruthless management of the crime syndicate.
Dec 3, 2012 5:54 PM EST
Jake Adelstein

Watanabe was found collapsed at his home in Kobe on Saturday, by his family; his death was confirmed the same day. A memorial service was held for him Monday. The cause of death is unknown, but he allegedly had been in poor health for years.

Watanabe became the fifth head of the Yamaguchi-gumi in 1989 after a four-year gang war between the Yamaguchi-gumi and the Ichiwa-kai, which had split off from the main group. Watanabe, in a move to encourage Ichiwa-kai members to return to the fold, is credited with introducing a pension plan to the Yamaguchi-gumi that promised to take care of retired “employees,” much like major Japanese corporations. Watanabe was a highly intelligent gangster, but because of his slightly simian facial features, he was known amongst some police officers and some yakuza affectionately as “Mr. Gorilla”.

Watanabe was a charismatic leader and a good businessman. By keeping the association dues low and through aggressive gang wars and leveraged peace treaties with rival gangs, he expanded the organization to become Japan’s largest organized crime group; by 2004, the Yamaguchi-gumi headquarters was collecting nearly $25 million per year in association dues alone, according to police files. In the book The Business Management Methods of the Yamaguchi-gumi (2005), by yakuza expert Atsushi Mizoguchi, Watanabe succinctly explains the secret of his organized crime management: “Absolute Unity. Retaliation. Silence. Appropriate rewards and punishments, and judicious use of violence.”

However, during his reign, problems also emerged. Anti-yakuza legislation went on the books (1992) and legal precedents were set that gradually forced the yakuza underground. In a civil lawsuit over the shooting death of a policeman in a gang conflict that involved the Yamaguchi-gumi, Watanabe was effectively ordered by Japan’s Supreme Count to pay damages of about 80 million yen in 2004. This was the first time the courts recognized a Yakuza boss’s “employer liability.”

Watanabe was a folk hero in Kobe, the town where he died, after organizing relief efforts and providing food, water, and essential supplies to the locals after the Great Hanshin Earthquake in January of 1995.

Under Watanabe’s successor, Shinobu Tsukasa, the Yamaguchi-gumi absorbed the Tokyo-based Kokusui-kai in 2005, giving them a strong base in eastern Japan. By 2007 the Yamaguchi-gumi had effectively put the Inagawa-kai under their umbrella, making them the Walmart of Japanese organized crime with more than half of the total yakuza (79,000) being under their control.

Note the references to the Yamaguchi-guchi’s pension plan for its “employees” as well as the “employer liability” legal ruling that forced the Yamaguch-guchi clan to pay a fine in 2005 after one of its “employees” killed a police officer. The yakuza’s employment efforts will be highly relevant in excerpts below. Their disaster relief efforts are also going to be highlighted. As evidenced by the yakuza’s post-earthquake/tsunami/nuclear meltdown actions, the yakuza are a lot like a corrupt political party in many ways but one difference is that the yakuza’s awful attempts at populist folksiness actually involve helping people sometimes:

The Daily Beast
Yakuza to the Rescue
Even Japan’s infamous mafia groups are helping out with the relief efforts and showing a strain of civic duty. Jake Adelstein reports on why the police don’t want you to know about it.

Mar 18, 2011 5:00 AM EDT
Jake Adelstein

The worst of times sometimes brings out the best in people, even in Japan’s “losers” a.k.a. the Japanese mafia, the yakuza. Hours after the first shock waves hit, two of the largest crime groups went into action, opening their offices to those stranded in Tokyo, and shipping food, water, and blankets to the devastated areas in two-ton trucks and whatever vehicles they could get moving. The day after the earthquake the Inagawa-kai (the third largest organized crime group in Japan which was founded in 1948) sent twenty-five four-ton trucks filled with paper diapers, instant ramen, batteries, flashlights, drinks, and the essentials of daily life to the Tohoku region. An executive in Sumiyoshi-kai, the second-largest crime group, even offered refuge to members of the foreign community—something unheard of in a still slightly xenophobic nation, especially amongst the right-wing yakuza. The Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest crime group, under the leadership of Tadashi Irie, has also opened its offices across the country to the public and been sending truckloads of supplies, but very quietly and without any fanfare.

The Inagawa-kai has been the most active because it has strong roots in the areas hit. It has several “blocks” or regional groups. Between midnight on March 12th and the early morning of March 13th, the Inagawa-kai Tokyo block carried 50 tons of supplies to Hitachinaka City Hall (Hitachinaka City, Ibaraki Prefecture) and dropped them off, careful not to mention their yakuza affiliation so that the donations weren’t rejected. This was the beginning of their humanitarian efforts. Supplies included cup ramen, bean sprouts, paper diapers, tea and drinking water. The drive from Tokyo took them twelve hours. They went through back roads to get there. The Kanagawa Block of the Inagawa-kai, has sent 70 trucks to the Ibaraki and Fukushima areas to drop off supplies in areas with high radiations levels. They didn’t keep track of how many tons of supplies they moved. The Inagawa-kai as a whole has moved over 100 tons of supplies to the Tohoku region. They have been going into radiated areas without any protection or potassium iodide.

The Yamaguchi-gumi member I spoke with said simply, “Please don’t say any more than we are doing our best to help. Right now, no one wants to be associated with us and we’d hate to have our donations rejected out of hand.”

To those not familiar with the yakuza, it may come as a shock to hear of their philanthropy, but this is not the first time that they have displayed a humanitarian impulse. In 1995, after the Kobe earthquake, the Yamaguchi-gumi was one of the most responsive forces on the ground, quickly getting supplies to the affected areas and distributing them to the local people. Admittedly, much of those supplies were paid with by money from years of shaking down the people in the area, and they were certainly not unaware of the public relations factor—but no one can deny that they were helpful when people needed aid—as they are this time as well.

It may seem puzzling that the yakuza, which are organized crime groups, deriving their principal revenue streams from illegal activities, such as collecting protection money, blackmail, extortion, and fraud would have any civic nature at all. However, in Japan since the post-war period they have always played a role in keeping the peace. According to Robert Whiting’s Tokyo Underworld and Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes, the US government even bought the services of one infamous yakuza fixer, Yoshio Kodama, to keep Japan from going communist and maintain order. Kodama would later put up the funding to create the Liberal Democrat Party of Japan that ruled the country for over fifty years. When President Obama visited Japan last year, the police contacted the heads of all Tokyo yakuza groups and asked them to behave themselves and make sure there were no problems.

Interesting fun-fact: The “yakuza fixer”/power-broker referenced above, Yoshio Kodama, was the one-time prison cell mate of former prime minister Nobosuke Kishi for war crimes(Kishi is the grandfather of current prime minister Shinzo Abe). Kodama was also a backer of gangster/oligarch/sushi king/new messiah reverend Sun Myung Moon. It’s a small world at the top. The glue that seems to hold the world at the together appears to be highly profitable and powerful secrecy and lots of money. Curiously, though, an large number of those powerful secrets aren’t really very secret:

The Daily Beast
Japan’s Justice Minister to Resign Over Yakuza Ties
It’s almost too perfect: Japan’s new minister of justice is about to resign over his ties to a leading yakuza (mafia) organization. Jake Adelstein reports on the latest political scandal—and just what the yakuza do for the politicians.

Oct 18, 2012 11:30 PM EDT
Jake Adelstein

It seems like Japanese politicians just can’t get enough of the yakuza.

It was reported last week that the newly appointed Minister of Justice Keishu Tanaka (Democratic Party of Japan) had strong ties to the Japanese mafia. This Thursday, Japan’s respected weekly news magazine, Shukan Bunshun, ran an article on how Japan’s Minister of Finance Koriki Jojima, was supported by a yakuza front company during his election campaign. Minister Tanaka is expected to resign Friday (Japan time). If he does, he’ll be the second Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) appointed cabinet minister since 2009 to resign after exposure of yakuza ties. Not a good thing for the DPJ, which came to power as “the clean party.”

Last Thursday the weekly magazine Shukan Shincho was the first to write that Minister Tanaka had long running ties to the Inagawa-kai. The Inagawa-kai, Japan’s third-largest crime group, was founded as Inagawa-Kogyo circa 1948 and their current headquarters are across the street from the Ritz Carlton Tokyo; they have 10,000 members. According to the police, since 2007 the group has been under the umbrella of the Yamaguchi-gumi, the largest yakuza group in the country, with 39,000 members. Kazuo Uchibori, the leader of the Inagawa-kai, was arrested this month on money-laundering charges. The Tokyo Prosecutor’s Office (TPO) has not yet decided whether to prosecute him. The TPO is also part of the Ministry of Justice, headed by Mr. Tanaka.

The Shincho article alleges Tanaka has long relied on the support of the Inagawa-kai in his political and business dealings and had participated in many Inagawa-kai events—including serving as a matchmaker (nakoudo) at the wedding of an underboss. The piece also states that the Inagawa-kai suppressed scandalous rumors about Tanaka’s life, involving a tawdry love affair. The underboss responsible for handling the negative PR matters allegedly told would-be extortionists, “Tanaka was the matchmaker at my wedding. Save my face—forgive and forget about it.”

The Daily Beast spoke with Inagawa-kai members and police officers from Kanagawa Prefecture who confirmed that Tanaka did indeed have strong ties to the Inagawa-kai, until at least two years ago.

Tanaka has admitted to attending Inagawa-kai events in the past, including the wedding, but has denied the rest of the allegations.

Sen. Shoji Nishida who has investigated and written about the ties of some DPJ members to the mob in WILL magazine (November 2011) says, “Tanaka is the 4th DPJ-coalition-appointed minister with yakuza ties. I wonder if they even screen the people they put in cabinet positions. The minister of Justice is supposed to be the watchdog of the law, not a matchmaker for the yakuza. Putting a yakuza associate in charge of Japan’s criminal-justice system … that’s outrageous. Now I can understand why the Yamaguchi-gumi endorsed their party.”

It should be pointed out that the DPJ coalition has not officially endorsed any organized crime group in Japan. It may very well be a unilateral relationship. The DPJ has consistently opposed passing a Criminal Conspiracy Law, legislation that would be fatal to Japan’s semi-legitimate organized-crime groups. It would make sense for the mob to support their own interests.

It was not that unusual for Japanese politicians to have yakuza ties in the past. In the good old days, yakuza themselves even served as ministers of the Japanese government. The grandfather of ex-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi (Liberal Democratic Party), Matajiro Koizumi, was a member of a yakuza group later absorbed into the Inagawa-kai. During his term serving as the minister of general affairs (1929–1931), due to his ornate body art, Matajiro Koizumi was fondly known as “Irezumi Daijin” or “the tattooed minister.”

It is increasingly likely that at least Keishu Tanaka will be forced to resign from office due to his past role as a “yakuza matchmaker.” His resignation is unlikely to be the end of—what so far—has been a really great relationship for the Japanese political parties and the underworld—a match made in heaven. For Japan’s political parties the yakuza are a necessary evil. When you need to get out the vote, squelch possible political scandals—or create them, nobody does the job quite as well as Japan’s mafia.

The embrace of the yakuza or any mafia outfit as a “necessary evil” by politicians is not a surprising global phenomena. If you go deep enough into the world of deep state power politics you’ll end up above the law. Normal laws no longer apply in those environments.

Smoldering piles of highly radioactive waste. No roof. Big problem.
One prominent exception to exemption from normal laws for deep state actors would be the laws of physics. They’re just really hard to get around. For example, if an earthquake/tsunami happens to trigger a powerful enough explosion to blow its roof off AND the building happens to contain over a thousand spent nuclear fuel rods, the laws of physics strong suggest that you’re going to have a really hard time cleaning that up. And those difficulties are going to last for a very long time:

High radiation bars decommissioning of Fukushima plant
February 21, 2013

By HISASHI HATTORI/ Senior Staff Writer

Preparations for the mammoth task of decommissioning crippled reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant are being stymied by continued high levels of radiation from the triple meltdowns there two years ago.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the plant, has had to install more tanks to store radioactive water, which continues to swell by several hundreds of tons daily.

Asahi Shimbun reporters entered the No. 4 reactor building on Feb. 20, accompanied by inspectors from the secretariat of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, to assess the situation.

The reactor was offline for regular inspections when the magnitude-9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake struck on March 11, 2011, generating towering tsunami that swamped the plant.

In the days that followed, a hydrogen explosion tore through the No. 4 reactor building. It raised alarm worldwide that the storage pool for spent nuclear fuel in the building might lose its water through evaporation, resulting in the discharge of voluminous amounts of radioactive substances.

That was narrowly averted.

Most of the debris, such as steel frames mangled in the explosion, have been removed from the roofless top floor of the reactor building, but radiation levels remain high.

“Here, the reading is 200 microsieverts per hour,” an inspector said. “But it is 1,000 microsieverts on the north side close to the No. 3 reactor building. Keep your distance.”

A shroud has been placed over the spent fuel storage pool on the top floor. The water temperature was about 20 degrees. The water, seen through an opening, was muddy and brown. The fuel inside the pool was not visible.

Workers were installing a shroud for the No. 4 reactor building on the south side of the building. It will be equipped with a crane to remove spent fuel from the storage pool.

The foundation work was already completed, and steel frames were being assembled.

TEPCO intends to mount a determined effort to remove spent fuel from the storage pool in November. Two fuel assemblies were removed on a trial basis in July.

Ever-increasing radioactive water has become a key challenge for TEPCO.

Groundwater is flowing into reactor buildings, where it mixes with water used to cool melted fuel inside the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 reactors.

The amount of radioactive water stored in tanks and other facilities rose to 230,000 tons this month, up from 10,000 tons in July 2011.

In addition, an estimated 100,000 tons of water have accumulated in the basements of buildings.

Currently, there are nearly 500 storage tanks on the plant premises, many as tall as three-story buildings. TEPCO plans to add more by 2015 when it expects to have to store 700,000 tons of radioactive water.

Preparations for decommissioning have only recently begun. Decommissioning will not be completed for the next 30 to 40 years under a plan drawn up by the government and TEPCO.

Currently, workers cannot easily approach the three reactor buildings where the meltdowns occurred due to high radiation levels. They have been removing debris, such as concrete blocks, on the plant premises.

Work to remove melted fuel from the three reactors is expected to begin by around 2022. Fuel is believed to be scattered within the pressure vessels, containment vessels or piping systems, but exact locations remain unclear.

In addition, TEPCO has yet to identify where radioactive water has been leaking from the damaged containment vessels. The containment vessels must be filled with water before melted fuel is removed.

In December, TEPCO sent a remote-controlled robot near the pressure suppression chamber in the No. 2 reactor building to find out where water was leaking. But the mission failed when the robot lost its balance and got stuck.

New technologies must be developed for decommissioning, but manufacturers and general contractors have shown little enthusiasm.

The companies fear they will not be able to recover their investments because the technologies would have little practical application other than for the Fukushima plant.

Yep, the nuclear plant that had its roof blown off two years ago by an earthquake/tsunami-induced hydrogen explosion is going to take 30-40 years to decontaminate. And it’s still very very radioactive. And the building is still leaking very very radioactive water. Thanks “Laws of Physics”!

Additionally, the article ends by informing us that fixing the situation will require the development of new technologies. But businesses aren’t interested in developing the technologies because the anti-nuclear catastrophe technologies won’t have obvious applications beyond the still unfolding nuclear disaster…even though the successful cleanup of that nuclear waste is required for the long-term health of Japan and the biosphere at large. As some might say, “corporations are people”. And like people, corporations can be mind-numbingly shortsighted and lack even a basic sense of self-preservation. Thanks “The Market”!

Help Wanted: Smoldering piles of highly radioactive waste. No roof. Big problem.
Fortunately, while new technologies may be at hand, there are strong indications that finding new people to work on the cleanup efforts won’t be as much of an issue. And there’s probably going to be a lot of new workers required for the cleanup given time-frame involved (30-40 years) and other staffing complications.

Unfortunately, that pool of available manpower appears to be due, in part, to organized crime bosses trying to secure nuclear cleanup contracts. Let’s hope there aren’t any “employer liability” cases related to the Fukushima cleanup effort for the next few decades:

Japanese underworld tries to cash in on tsunami clean-up

The yakuza is turning its attention from helping disaster victims to winning contracts for the massive rebuilding effort

Justin McCurry in Tokyo
The Guardian, Wednesday 15 June 2011 09.44 EDT

In the aftermath of the devastating March tsunami, Japan’s underworld made a rare display of philanthropy, handing out emergency supplies to survivors, sometimes days before aid agencies arrived.

Three months later, however, the yakuza appears to have dispensed with largesse and is instead hoping to cash in on the daunting clean-up effort in dozens of ruined towns and villages.

The government and police fear they are losing the battle to prevent crime syndicates from winning lucrative contracts to remove millions of tonnes of debris left in the tsunami’s wake, including contaminated rubble near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that many firms are reluctant to handle.

The disaster created almost 24m tonnes of debris in the three hardest-hit prefectures, Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate, according to the environment ministry. So far, just over 5m tonnes – or 22% – has been removed.

Those lining up to profit from the clearance operation, which is expected to take three years, include homegrown gangs and Chinese crime syndicates, according to the June edition of Sentaku, a respected political and economic affairs magazine.

The magazine recounts the story of a leading Chinese gangster who, accompanied by a national politician, visited the mayor of Minamisoma – a town near Fukushima Daiichi, where a partial evacuation order is in place – hoping to win contracts to remove radioactive waste that, according to police, could have ended up at disposal sites in China.

“The yakuza are trying to position themselves to gain contracts for their construction companies for the massive rebuilding that will come.”

Officials have said that the removal of debris should come under central government control, and the names of “antisocial” individuals have been forwarded to local authorities.

But given the sheer quantity of debris, and the manpower required to remove and dispose of it, few believe Japan’s most powerful yakuza gangs will be kept out altogether.

“The nexus of massive construction projects, bureaucrats, politicians, businessmen and yakuza are as revealing about Japan as they are about Italy and Russia,” Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University in Tokyo, wrote in his recent book, Contemporary Japan.

So just months after the Fukushima disaster (when the above article was written), organized crime groups were angling to get a share of the massive cleanup proceeds. And they were already so infused into construction/government contract sectors of the economy that their involvement was virtually guaranteed. And that cleanup effort is scheduled to take decades and will involve the handling of large amounts of highly radioactive material. And the mafia appears to be interested in the highly radioactive material disposal contracts. AND hardly anyone appears to be surprised or perturbed by this development because the yakuza has supplying manpower to Japan’s nuclear power industry for a long time. Major catastrophes often have a sudden “quick” phase of disaster (the earthquake/tsunami) followed by long, slow rolling phase of secondary disasters that emerge in the wake of the catastrophe. Organized criminal outfits infiltrating powerful institutions is an example of the larger pattern of endemic systemic corruption and endemic systemic corruption is a global phenomena. Endemic systemic corruption is also a slow motion disaster. And full-spectrum too:

The Telegraph
How the Yakuza went nuclear
What really went wrong at the Fukushima plant? One undercover reporter risked his life to find out

By Jake Adelstein

11:30AM GMT 21 Feb 2012

On March 11 2011, at 2:46pm, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck Japan. The earthquake, followed by a colossal tsunami, devastated the nation, together killing over 10,000 people. The earthquake also triggered the start of a triple nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, run by Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco). Of the three reactors that melted down, one was nearly 40 years old and should have been decommissioned two decades ago. The cooling pipes, “the veins and arteries of the old nuclear reactors”, which circulated fluid to keep the core temperature down, ruptured.

Approximately 40 minutes after the shocks, the tsunami reached the power plant and knocked out the electrical systems. Japan’s Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency (Nisa) had warned Tepco about safety violations and problems at the plant days before the earthquake; they’d been warned about the possibility of a tsunami hitting the plant for years.

The denials began almost immediately. “There has been no meltdown,” government spokesman Yukio Edano intoned in the days after March 11. “It was an unforeseeable disaster,” Tepco’s then president Masataka Shimizu chimed in. As we now know, the meltdown was already taking place. And the disaster was far from unforeseeable.

Tepco has long been a scandal-ridden company, caught time and time again covering up data on safety lapses at their power plants, or doctoring film footage which showed fissures in pipes. How was the company able to get away with such long-standing behaviour? According to an explosive book recently published in Japan, they owe it to what the author, Tomohiko Suzuki, calls “Japan’s nuclear mafia… A conglomeration of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, the shady nuclear industry, their lobbyists…” And at the centre of it all stands Japan’s actual mafia: the yakuza.

It might surprise the Western reader that gangsters are involved in Japan’s nuclear industry and even more that they would risk their lives in a nuclear crisis. But the yakuza roots in Japanese society are very deep. In fact, they were some of the first responders after the earthquake, providing food and supplies to the devastated area and patrolling the streets to make sure no looting occurred.

“Almost all nuclear power plants that are built in Japan are built taking the risk that the workers may well be exposed to large amounts of radiation,” says Suzuki. “That they will get sick, they will die early, or they will die on the job. And the people bringing the workers to the plants and also doing the construction are often yakuza.” Suzuki says he’s met over 1,000 yakuza in his career as an investigative journalist and former editor of yakuza fanzines. For his book, The Yakuza and the Nuclear Industry, Suzuki went undercover at Fukushima to find first-hand evidence of the long-rumoured ties between the nuclear industry and the yakuza. First he documents how remarkably easy it was to become a nuclear worker at Fukushima after the meltdown. After signing up with a legitimate company providing labour, he entered the plant armed only with a wristwatch with a hidden camera. Working there over several months, he quickly found yakuza-supplied labour, and many former yakuza working on site themselves.

Suzuki discovered evidence of Tepco subcontractors paying yakuza front companies to obtain lucrative construction contracts; of money destined for construction work flying into yakuza accounts; and of politicians and media being paid to look the other way. More shocking, perhaps, were the conditions he says he found inside the plant.

His fellow workers, found Suzuki, were a motley crew of homeless, chronically unemployed Japanese men, former yakuza, debtors who owed money to the yakuza, and the mentally handicapped. Suzuki claims the regular employees at the plant were often given better radiation suits than the yakuza recruits. (Tepco has admitted that there was a shortage of equipment in the disaster’s early days.) The regular employees were allowed to pass through sophisticated radiation monitors while the temporary labourers were simply given hand rods to monitor their radiation exposure.

A former yakuza boss tells me that his group has “always” been involved in recruiting labourers for the nuclear industry. “It’s dirty, dangerous work,” he says, “and the only people who will do it are homeless, yakuza, or people so badly in debt that they see no other way to pay it off.” Suzuki found people who’d been threatened into working at Fukushima, but others who’d volunteered. Why? “Of course, if it was a matter of dying today or tomorrow they wouldn’t work there,” he explains. “It’s because it could take 10 years or more for someone to possibly die of radiation excess. It’s like Russian roulette. If you owe enough money to the yakuza, working at a nuclear plant is a safer bet. Wouldn’t you rather take a chance at dying 10 years later than being stabbed to death now?” (Suzuki’s own feeling was that the effects of low-level radiation are still unknown and that, as a drinker and smoker, he’s probably no more likely to get cancer than he was before.)

The situation at Fukushima is still dire. Number-two reactor continues to heat up, and appears to be out of control. Rolling blackouts are a regular occurrence. Nuclear reactors are being shut down, one by one, all over Japan. Meanwhile, there is talk that Tepco will be nationalised and its top executives are under investigation for criminal negligence, in relation to the 3/11 disaster. As for the yakuza, the police are beginning to investigate their front companies more closely. “Yakuza may be a plague on society,” says Suzuki, “but they don’t ruin the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and irradiate the planet out of sheer greed and incompetence.” Suzuki says he’s had little trouble from the yakuza about his book’s allegations. He suspects this is because he showed they were prepared to risk their lives at Fukushima – he almost made them look good.

Finding Good Help is Hard Everywhere
The practice of forcing debtors to work around nuclear waste isn’t just an incredibly cruel form of debtors prison, it’s also kind of crazy for all parties involved. When you’re paying an organization to safely dispose of toxic waste you have the obvious concern that waste will be disposed of unsafely. This is a lesson the Italian mafia hasa longtime partner of both the Vatican and Italian power networks – taught us in recent years. And when it’s nuclear waste, you have the additional concern that the mafia might want to dump it in the sea or bury it, or maybe enrich it (imagine a mob-bomb. yikes). These are some lesson the Italian mafia has been teaching us for decades:

From cocaine to plutonium: mafia clan accused of trafficking nuclear waste

Tom Kington in Rome
The Guardian, Monday 8 October 2007

Authorities in Italy are investigating a mafia clan accused of trafficking nuclear waste and trying to make plutonium.

The ‘Ndrangheta mafia, which gained notoriety in August for its blood feud killings of six men in Germany, is alleged to have made illegal shipments of radioactive waste to Somalia, as well as seeking the “clandestine production” of other nuclear material.

Two of the Calabrian clan’s members are being investigated, along with eight former employees of the state energy research agency Enea.

The eight are suspected of paying the mobsters to take waste off their hands in the 1980s and 1990s. At the time they were based at the agency’s centre at Rotondella, a town in Basilicata province in the toe of Italy, which today treats “special” and “hazardous” waste. At other centres, Enea studies nuclear fusion and fission technologies.

The ‘Ndrangheta has been accused by investigators of building on its origins as a kidnapping gang to become Europe’s top cocaine importer, thanks to ties to Colombian cartels. But the nuclear accusation, if true, would take it into another league.

An Enea official who declined to be named denied the accusation, saying: “Enea has always worked within the rules and under strict national and international supervision.”

A magistrate, Francesco Basentini, in the city of Potenza began the investigation following others by magistrates and the leaking to the press of the police confession of an ‘Ndrangheta turncoat, detailing his role in the alleged waste-dumping.

An Enea manager is said to have paid the clan to get rid of 600 drums of toxic and radioactive waste from Italy, Switzerland, France, Germany, and the US, the turncoat claimed, with Somalia as the destination lined up by the traffickers.

But with only room for 500 drums on a ship waiting at the northern port of Livorno, 100 drums were secretly buried somewhere in the southern Italian region of Basilicata. Clan members avoided burying the waste in neighbouring Calabria, said the turncoat, because of their “love for their home region”, and because they already had too many kidnap victims hidden in grottoes there.

Investigators have yet to locate the radioactive drums allegedly buried in Basilicata – although, in a parallel investigation, police are searching for drums of non-radioactive toxic waste they believe were dumped by the ‘Ndrangheta near the Unesco town of Matera in Basilicata, famous for its ancient houses dug into the rock, the Ansa news agency reported yesterday.

Shipments to Somalia, where the waste was buried after buying off local politicians, continued into the 1990s, while the mob also became adept at blowing up shiploads of waste, including radioactive hospital waste, and sending them to the sea bed off the Calabrian coast, the turncoat told investigators. Although he made no mention of attempted plutonium production, Il Giornale newspaper wrote that the mobsters may have planned to sell it to foreign governments.

Ah, wonderful: the destination of choice for the disposal of nuclear waste by the Italian mafia has been somewhere off the coast of Somalia. Problem solved! And the most notorious of the Italian mafias, the ‘Ndrangheta, appears to be interested in plutonium production (plutonium production ambitions shouldn’t be as much of an issue for the Fukushima disaster, although not for reassuring reasons).

So do we have to worry about any yakuza with nuclear-trafficking ambitions? Well, given that the yakuza are sort of like an arm of the Japanese government, full-scale nuclear enrichment and trafficking is probably not a massive concern. It sounds like the yakuza have been playing a role in Japan’s nuclear industry for decades including roles involving the handling of nuclear material. There’s got to be some sort of TEPCO-yakuza informal protocol that’s been developed over the years so indiscriminate nuclear trafficking. Nuclear dumping, on the other hand, is a real possibility given the scale of radioactive material that’s going to have to be decontaminated and moved somewhere. Out of sight out of mind lots of profit. There’s going to be dumping. TEPCO has already engaged in no-longer-secret dumpling so it’s not really a question of whether or not secret dumping of radioactive material will take place but whether or not the yakuza will be doing TEPCO-approved secret dumping or their own “independent” secret dumping.

It’s widely presumed that the mafia is going to continue to be involved with these nuclear cleanup activities and the police appear to lack the resources to identify mob-supplied workers. It seems like just a matter of time before we get reports of illegal dumping of nuclear material by yakuza affiliates and probable some non-yakuza affiliates too. Hopefully that’s not the case. There was an enormous amount of officially tolterated dumping of radioactive waste into the countryside in the initial aftermath based on reports. Nuclear cleanup fraud is where the big money’s going to be for a lot of connected parties in Japan for a long time. Probably.

So let’s hope the yakuza never goes down the path of egregious dumping, because each of those ships filled with toxic/nuclear waste that the Italian mafia sank off the coast of Italy were extremely serious wounds to the biosphere. Life is pretty tough, but enriched nuclear waste can be tougher. Or at least it can give life a serious headache. And maybe mutations. Mutations just add up. So does nuclear waste. The half can get nasty with the stuff found in that roofless building. The Japanese government is still looking at sites to store the waste so we really have very little idea of what the long-term plans are going to be for the disposal of that stuff but presumably the disposal space will be at a premium. There’s a lot or material to store. Lots is going to get tossed. Please dump gently Mr. yakuzas. Like, at least hire ecology grad students to find the least damaging spots to dump stuff if it comes to that. And take lower profits to do it in the least environmentally damaging way. And if you could use your yakuza powers to ensure all the other dumpers also dump gently that would be super of an epic proportion. Don’t dump, of course. But if you just have to dump, dump gently. The ecosystem is already in a quasi-state of collapse and climate change is just getting underway. Throwing large amounts of radiation into the mix is cruel.

Just over a month ago, we saw the first arrest of a yakuza boss providing cleanup staff. Police called it the first such arrest of a yakuza boss for sending people to work at Fukushima. It was also the second such “first arrest of a yakuza boss for Fukushima”. The first one took place last May, although the reports are unclear if this is the same person that was arrested on both occasions. Either way, there were no hints of improper activities by the employees in the reports…the problem was that they were hired by a yakuza boss subcontractor that was taking a cut of their salaries. So it appears that there is indeed some yakuza muscle moving that nuclear waste. Not much, based on reports, but some:

Japan police arrest mobster over Fukushima clean-up

(AFP) – Feb 1, 2013

TOKYO — Japanese police have arrested a high-ranking yakuza over claims he sent workers to the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant for the clean-up without a licence.

Officers in northern Yamagata prefecture were quizzing Yoshinori Arai, a 40-year-old senior member of a local yakuza group affiliated to the Sumiyoshi-kai crime syndicate, a police spokesman said.

Arai allegedly dispatched three men to Fukushima to work on clean-up crews in November, he said.

Under Japanese law, a government licence is required by anyone who acts as an employment agent.

Arai is also suspected of sending people to work on the construction of temporary housing in the tsunami-hit northeast, the spokesman said.

Arai reportedly told police that he intended to profit from the scheme by taking a cut of the workers’ wages. Those employed at Fukushima earn more than others in similar work because of the potentially hazardous nature of the job.

It was the first arrest of a mobster linked to Fukushima clean-up, the police spokesman said.

The full scale of the damage done from the Fukushima disaster is yet to be determined. Some of it will come down to luck, like whether or not another major earthquake and/or tsunami hits the plant before those nuclears rods can be safely removed. But much of the damage that will emerge for the disaster two years ago is yet to be determined and its going to be determined primarily by human error and human choices. The “Fukushima 50” – workers that heroically worked at the plant in spite of the enormous personal risks – included Yakuza-affiliates. Their actions prevented a bad situation from become much worse. There are going to be an enormous number of sacrifices required in the future in order to minimize the addition damage that has yet to be inflicted by the giant pile of highly radioactive material sitting in a building with its roof blown off. Due the nature of the situation and the existing political power structures, those critical future decision are going to be largely in secret be largely unknown individuals. And due to the yakuza’s unique “risky/dirt business” niche in both Japan’s power structure and nuclear industry it seems likely that some of those secret decisions will be made by the yakuza. Secrets like “who dumped what horrible toxin where?” might be the exclusive domain of yakuza bosses in many instances.

The idea of yakuza mob bosses possibly having control of enormously powerful nuclear secrets should be a rather disturbing thought. At the same time, organized criminal syndicates have always played a role in national security affairs and power secrets, so this isn’t a new situation and the world hasn’t blown up yet. Then again, the world is going to hell in a handbasket, so while quasi-mob-rule isn’t a new situation, it’s still a bad situation that’s getting worse. And if you removed the mobs from the equation, it wouldn’t necessarily get much better. Mob rule can be a a state of mind.

The Saving the Economy By Saving Each Other Stimulus Plan
One of the reasons the Japanese government’s recent decision to engage in serious stimulus spending was likely to be a useful policy is that an enormous amount of work needs to be done to address the still dire situation at Fukushima. That’s going to cost money. A LOT of money. The entire world really should be participating in a global economic stimulus plan: the “Save Japan” plan. It had a horrific earthquake, tsunami, and ongoing nuclear meltdown all at once. Yeah, it’s a very wealthy country with immense resources but again: earthquake, tsunami, ongoing nuclear meltdown. And EVERYONE needs the existing dangers put under control. So why not have a global “Save Japan because, you know, earthquake, tsunami, and ongoing nuclear meltdown” plan?

Japan may be acting like it has everything all under control but it’s totally fronting. It’s not going to ask for help because, you know, it’s Japan. But they still need help and the more help they get, in terms of real manpower, the less yakuza and other shady contractors will be required and hired. They’re just going allow themselves to quietly get irradiated and it’s going to take longer to deal with those extremely radioactive rods. “Save Japan” is in everyone’s best interest. Countries around the world can build all sort of new businesses and areas of research and develop whatever technologies the businesses reportedly weren’t interested in doing. This would be the perfect stimulus target: global radioactive calamity that could take place should another major event hit that plant and release even more radiation. How many tens of billions of dollars would it cost to figure out whatever needs to be figured out for Fukushima rods? It’s going to take a while, but learning how to move and store highly radioactive crap better seems like a very useful thing for humanity to know how to do given our predilection for creating it. $100 billion over a decade for a crash movement/processing/storage program divided up between the world maybe?

Ok, now add a save Yemen because it’s about to run out of water global stimulus program. There’s clearly going to be a number of new technologies and infrastructure needed to prepare Yemen for that fateful “oh crap” day that’s hitting sometime sooner or later.

Similarly, make a “Save the Nile region because a Nile Water War Would be Hell” global stimulus plan. Nations all over could study the region’s growing water needs and study what’s going to be required to transition that regions towards a sustainable economy. Not one on a trajectory towards eco-catastrophe and war.

And just keep going finding regions of the world with the place is careening towards calamity and needs help. And just do it as stimulus. No counterbalancing austerity nonsense (I’m looking at you Europe). Just stimulus. Save the world and stimulate the economy while you’re doing it! Each country could throw in whatever money they want but would all have to be directed as solving one of the most troubled regions of the world. A place facing looming disaster. The amount should probably be a pretty big chunk for countries that can afford it. The US, for instance, could probable afford to contribute at least, oh, say, around $85 billion or so to the “Save the World and Stimulate While You Do It” plan. At least $85 billion, if not more. US industries could be developed dedicated to finding things like awesome new desalinization technologies, better radiation shielding (great for space travel), robotic factories that build ultra-eco-friendly homes and then factories that build the factories that build the homes. And then we give the home-building factories to the places that need ultra-eco-friendly homes. And we just keep doing that and no one cares about balance of trade or whatever. The entire modern economy needs to be technologically revamped to deal with the constraints of the 21st century. And once there are no more serious problems – problems like poverty or thousand of highly radioactive spent fuel rods that are sitting in a building with its roof blown off – we can end the stimulus program. We will have saved ourselves by saving each other in a stimulating way.

Update 11/12/2013
Here’s an update on the situation in Fukushima: Tepco is about to begin the highly dangerous process of safely removing the 1,300+ spent fuel-rods from Fukushima Daiichi 4.

Q. What could go wrong?


Agence France-Presse
November 6, 2013 23:21
Facts on complex operation to remove Fukushima fuel rods

Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) will this month start removing fuel from a storage pool at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, the most challenging operation since runaway reactors were brought under control two years ago.

Here are some key facts about the operation.

Q: What’s the state of nuclear fuel at the site?

A: Reactors No. 1, 2 and 3 went into meltdown after their cooling systems were knocked out by the March 2011 tsunami. The temperature of the cores and spent fuel pools at all reactors is now stable and water is being used to keep them cool.

Reactor No. 4, whose outer building was damaged by fires and an explosion, has an empty core but a total of 1,533 fuel assemblies — 1,331 spent fuel bundles and 202 unused ones — are in its storage pool.

Q: Why does TEPCO have to take fuel from the pool?

A: According to the firm, it is safer to store all fuel in a shared pool that is reinforced against possible future earthquakes and tsunamis.

This will be the first post-tsunami attempt to move any fuel from one part of the plant to another.

Q: How will the operation work?

A: Under normal circumstances, nuclear plants shuffle fuel rods around fairly frequently, often using computer-controlled robotic arms that “know” exactly where each fuel assembly is.

But the damage to the building housing this pool, along with the presence in the pool of debris from explosions, is a wildcard that will complicate this operation considerably.

Workers in heavy protective equipment will use a remote control to direct a specially installed “grabber” into the pool where it will latch onto fuel assemblies and drop them into a huge cask.

Each 4.5-metre (15-foot) fuel bundle needs to be kept completely submerged at all times to prevent it from heating up.

Once loaded with assemblies and water, the 91-tonne cask will be lifted out by a different crane and put onto a trailer. It will then be taken to another part of the complex and the process will be reversed.

Removing all 1,500-odd assemblies is expected to take until the end of 2014. Getting this done successfully will mean engineers can then start trying to extricate fuel from the reactors that went into meltdown.

But where the fuel pool operation is tricky and contains a few unknowns, removing fuel from the melted and misshapen cores of reactors 1, 2 and 3 will pose a whole new level of difficulty.

Q. What could go wrong?

A: Each rod contains uranium and a small amount of plutonium. If they are exposed to the air, for example if they are dropped by the grabber, they would start to heat up, a process that, left unchecked, could lead to a self-sustaining nuclear reaction – known as “criticality”.

TEPCO says a single assembly should not reach criticality and the grabber will not carry more than one at a time.

Assemblies exposed to the air would give off so much radiation that it would be difficult for a worker to get near enough to fix it.

Sceptics say with so many unknowables in an operation that has never been attempted under these conditions, there is potential for a catastrophe.

Government modelling in the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, which was only subsequently made public, suggested that an uncontrolled nuclear conflagration at Fukushima could start a chain reaction in other nearby nuclear plants.

That worst-case scenario said a huge evacuation area could encompass a large part of greater Tokyo, a megalopolis with 35 million inhabitants.

Only one rod can be moved at a time and if one spent fuel rod drops on the ground during it might give off so much radiation that workers will be unable to get near enough to fix it. Plus, if a rod is allowed to heat up too much it could spontaneously go “critical”. And this whole process will have to be repeated 1,300+ times, hopefully by the end of 2014.

How about we all send some extremely good vibes to the Fukushima cleanup workers that are taking one for Team Life-on-Earth. Especially the new ones.


56 comments for “The Yakuza’s Cleanup Crew: It’s Not What You Think But Still Alarming”

  1. “They did it then and they are still doing it”:

    iol news
    Mafia’s toxic secret revealed

    November 4 2013 at 09:09am
    By Alvise Armellini

    Rome –

    Italy is reeling from revelations from a former boss that the mafia made money from the late 1980s onwards by dumping huge quantities of toxic waste throughout southern Italy, endangering the lives of millions of people.

    Carmine Schiavone, an ex-affiliate of the Camorra, the Neapolitan branch of the Italian mafia, made the shocking statement to a parliamentary committee of inquiry in 1997. His remarks were protected by state secrecy laws until they were lifted on Thursday.

    “I know from experience that until 1992 (the year he was arrested), southern regions… were all contaminated by toxic waste from all over Europe, not just Italy,” Schiavone told lawmakers.

    “We are talking millions, not thousands” of tons of toxic material, he said.

    There was industrial waste from northern Italy, but also radioactive material from Germany, which was disposed of in caves up to 50m deep, near groundwater reserves, as well as in fish tanks and lakes, Schiavone said.

    The Camorra is continuing its activities today, he said on Friday, after a transcript of his 16-year-old statement was made public. “They did it then and they are still doing it,” he told RAI state television.

    In Parliament, Schiavone explained how the Casalesi, a powerful Camorra clan he belonged to, controlled the waste disposal business between Latina, 70km south of Rome, and Caserta, 40km north of Naples.

    Residents of Casal di Principe, the town the Casalesi have taken their name from, and of surrounding areas, “risk all dying from cancer within 20 years… indeed, I don’t believe they will survive”, Schiavone said.

    There are no overall statistics on the rise of cancer rates in Naples and its surroundings, but in May it was revealed that a local government health unit in the city had found that cases in its ward had increased from 136 in 2008 to 420 in 2012.

    Father Maurizio Patriciello, a local priest who is involved in grassroots protests against waste pollution, was outraged by Italian authorities’ failure to alert local residents about the dangers revealed by the mafioso.

    “If sixteen years ago the state had warned us citizens of Naples and Caserta that we would have died of cancer from dumped waste, at least those who were younger could have packed their bags and gone living elsewhere,” he told Italy’s Huffington Post on Saturday.

    Allegations about toxic waste have circulated for years. Roberto Saviano, an anti-Mafia author, wrote about the Camorra’s deadly business in his 2006 bestseller Gomorrah, which was later turned into a critically acclaimed film.

    “The open secret has been revealed,” Legambiente, Italy’s biggest environmental association, said after the publication of the Schiavone testimony.

    It called for “the truth” on “who, in politics, kept quiet for so many years and failed to act… pretending not to know, amid general indifference, and becoming a de facto accomplice of the massacre in those lands”.

    Before the parliamentary committee, Schiavone said that in the late 1980s and early 1990s the Camorra directly appointed mayors “in all 106 municipalities of the province of Caserta”.

    He said it could also count on the tacit support of national politicians such as former ministers Francesco De Lorenzo, Vincenzo Scotti, Antonio Gava, and former premier Ciriaco De Mita, currently a member of the European Parliament.

    “It is not like they were clan members, or mafiosi; unfortunately each one of us has only one vote, and to win a lot of them, especially in certain areas, you need a lot of friends,” Schiavone said.

    The former mobster was a key witness in a trial that ended three years ago when life sentences against 16 Camorra bosses – including his cousin Francesco – were upheld by Italy’s highest appeals court. The legal case lasted almost 12 years.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 4, 2013, 11:05 am
  2. See the 11/12/2013 update in the OP. Fuel rod removal from Fukushimi Daiichi 4 is beginning. The end might near, but hopefully not. We’ll find out in a year or so.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 12, 2013, 10:19 pm
  3. Some rare actually good nuclear news:

    16 November 2013 Last updated at 19:46 ET

    Naples rally against mafia’s toxic waste dumping

    Tens of thousands of people have protested in Italy’s southern city of Naples against illegal dumping of toxic waste blamed on the local mafia.

    Demonstrators carried photos of relatives who they said had died of cancer as a result of the pollution.

    Locals call the area between Naples and Caserta the “Triangle of Death” because of toxic fumes after waste burning.

    Some 10 million tonnes of industrial waste has reportedly been dumped in the region over the past 20 years.

    Environmental group Legambiente, which organised Saturday’s protest, said nearly 440 businesses in central and northern Italy had been taking part in the illegal activity.

    As more and more illegal dumps are found, the Italian government says it is starting an extensive project of cleaning the contaminated area.

    The local mafia, the Camorra, is suspected of securing lucrative contracts to dispose of waste and then dumping much of it illegally.

    Two decades ago doctors noticed that incidences of cancer in towns around Naples were on the rise.

    Since then, the number of tumours found in women has risen by 40%, and those in men by 47%.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 16, 2013, 9:38 pm
  4. It begins…err…it began. Yesterday. So far so good!

    Tepco Successfully Removes First Nuclear Fuel Rods at Fukushima
    By Jacob Adelman & Masumi Suga – Nov 18, 2013 3:28 AM CT

    Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501) successfully removed the first nuclear fuel rods today from a cooling pool at the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant, an early milestone in decommissioning the facility amid doubts about whether the rods had been damaged and posed a radiation risk.

    The first of the fuel-rod assemblies at the plant’s No. 4 reactor building was transferred from an underwater rack on the fifth floor to a portable cask just before 4 p.m., the utility known as Tepco said in an e-mailed statement.

    Tepco planned to remove 22 assemblies from the pool, which contains 1,331 spent fuel assemblies and 202 unused assemblies, by the end of tomorrow, the company said. Crews are beginning with the unused assemblies because they are less fragile, spokesman Yusuke Kunikage said by phone.

    The operation is the most significant test to date of Tepco’s ability to contain the threat stemming from the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Were the rods to break or overheat, it could prompt a self-sustained nuclear chain reaction similar to the meltdowns at three Fukushima reactors following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

    “Although moving spent fuel into long-term storage is a routine task that Tepco has taken more than 1,200 times over the years, the circumstances at Fukushima Dai-Ichi require special care,” Tepco president Naomi Hirose said in a video message on the company’s website. “The success of the extraction process therefore represents the beginning of a new and important chapter in our work.”

    So the good news thus far is that the highly dangerous operations in reactor 4 are getting underway without any unexpected “criticality”. But the good news is also part of the bad news in that the removal of over 1,500 fuel rods from the fuel pool in reactor 4 is the easy job. Getting the rods out of the actual reactor at Fukushima’s Daiichi reactor 4’s (not the spent fuel pool) won’t be so easy:

    Some spent fuel rods at Fukushima were damaged before 2011 disaster

    By Aaron Sheldrick

    TOKYO Thu Nov 14, 2013 6:32am EST

    (Reuters) – Three of the spent fuel assemblies due to be carefully plucked from the crippled Japanese nuclear plant at Fukushima in a hazardous year-long operation were damaged even before the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that knocked out the facility.

    The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co, or Tepco, said the damaged assemblies – 4.5 meter high racks containing 50-70 thin rods of highly irradiated used fuel – can’t be removed from Fukushima’s Reactor No. 4 using the large cask assigned to taking out more than 1,500 of the assemblies.

    One of the assemblies was damaged as far back as 1982, when it was mishandled during a transfer, and is bent out of shape, Tepco said in a brief note at the bottom of an 11-page information sheet in August.

    In a statement from April 2010, Tepco said it found two other spent fuel racks in the reactor’s cooling pool had what appeared to be wire trapped in them. Rods in those assemblies have pin-hole cracks and are leaking low-level radioactive gases, Tepco spokesman Yoshikazu Nagai told Reuters on Thursday.

    The existence of the damaged racks, reported in a Fukushima regional newspaper on Wednesday, came to light as Tepco prepares to begin decommissioning the plant by removing all the spent fuel assemblies from Reactor No. 4.

    “The three fuel assemblies … cannot be transported by cask,” Tepco spokeswoman Mayumi Yoshida said in an emailed response to queries on Thursday, referring to the large steel chamber that will be used to shift the fuel assemblies from the pool high up in the damaged reactor building to safe storage.

    “We are currently reviewing how to transport these fuel assemblies to the common spent fuel pool,” she said.

    Tepco is due within days to begin removing 400 tones of the dangerous spent fuel in a hugely delicate and unprecedented operation fraught with risk.

    Having to deal with the damaged assemblies is likely to make that task more difficult and could jeopardize a 12-month timeframe to complete the removal that many have already called ambitious.

    And then there’s the REALLY hard part: Reactors 1, 2, and 3…

    Damaged Japan nuke plant begin removing fuel rods
    Tuesday, November 19, 2013

    TOKYO — It’s costly, risky and dependent on technologies that have yet to be fully developed. A decades-long journey filled with unknowns lies ahead for Japan, which took a small step this week toward decommissioning its crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant.

    Nobody knows exactly how much fuel melted after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems. Or where exactly the fuel went – how deep and in what form it is, somewhere at the bottom of reactor Units 1, 2 and 3.

    The complexity and magnitude of decommissioning the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant is more challenging than Three Mile Island or Chernobyl, say experts such as Lake Barrett, a former U.S. regulator who directed the Three Mile Island cleanup and now is an outside adviser to Fukushima operator Tokyo Electric Power Co.

    One core melted at Three Mile Island in 1979, versus three at Fukushima, and it didn’t leak out of the containment chamber, the outer vessel that houses the reactor core. At Fukushima, multiple hydrogen explosions caused extensive damage, blowing the roofs off three reactor buildings and spewing radiation over a wide area.

    Chernobyl was a worse accident in terms of radiation emitted, but authorities chose an easier solution: entombing the facility in cement.

    At Fukushima, TEPCO plans a multi-step process that is expected to take 40 years: Painstakingly removing the fuel rods in storage pools, finding and extracting the melted fuel within the broken reactors, demolishing the buildings and decontaminating the soil.

    “This is a much more challenging job,” Barrett said during a recent visit to Japan. “Much more complex, more difficult to do.”

    Also, water must continuously be channeled into the pools and reactor cores to keep the fuel cool. Tons of contaminated water leaks out of the reactors into their basements, some of it into the ground.

    Uncertainty runs high as Japan has never decommissioned a full-size commercial reactor, even one that hasn’t had an accident. TEPCO has earmarked about 1 trillion yen ($10 billion) for the decommissioning, and says it will agree to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s request to set aside another 1 trillion yen to fight water leaks.

    The government itself has contributed or promised 145 billion yen, and is expected to step up its involvement in the years to come, following criticism over its lack of support and growing concern that the technical and funding challenges are beyond TEPCO’s capabilities.

    TEPCO began removing fuel rods Monday from a storage pool at Unit 4, whose building was severely damaged but didn’t have a meltdown because the fuel had been removed from the core for maintenance. In an underwater operation, 22 of the 1,533 sets of fuel rods in a pool on the building’s top floor were transferred to a cask that will be used to move them to safer storage. By 2018, the utility hopes to remove all 3,100 fuel assemblies from storage pools at the four damaged units.

    After that would come the real challenge: removing melted or partially melted fuel from the three reactors that had meltdowns, and figuring out how to treat and store it so it won’t heat up and start a nuclear reaction again.

    “This is an unprecedented task that nobody in the world has achieved. We still face challenges that must be overcome,” said Hajimu Yamana, a Kyoto University nuclear engineer who heads a government-affiliated agency that is overseeing technological research and development for the cleanup.

    Closing the holes and cracks in the containment vessels is the biggest hurdle in the decommissioning process, experts say. Every opening must be found and sealed to establish a closed cooling system. Then, under the current plan, the next step would be to fill the reactor vessels with water and examine the melted fuel.

    Because of still fatally high radiation levels, the work will have to rely on remote-controlled robots for years. Scientists are developing robots to spot leaks, monitor radiation levels and carry out decontamination. They are also developing robots that can detect holes and fill them with clay.

    Among them is a camera-loaded swimming robot that can go underwater to spot holes and cracks, and another one that can go into ducts and pipes.

    Computer simulations show the melted fuel in Unit 1, whose core damage was the most extensive, has breached the bottom of the primary containment vessel and even partially eaten into its concrete foundation, coming within about 30 centimeters (one foot) of leaking into the ground.

    “We just can’t be sure until we actually see the inside of the reactors,” Yamana said. “We still need to develop a number of robots and other technology.”

    Three Mile Island needed only a few robots, mainly for remote-controlled monitoring, sampling and handling debris, as the melted fuel remained in the core. Manned entry was possible a little more than a year after the accident.

    Some experts say Japan’s current decommissioning plan is too ambitious. They counsel waiting until contamination levels come down, and even contemplate building a shell around the reactors for the time being, as at Chernobyl.

    “I doubt if Fukushima Dai-ichi’s full decommissioning is possible. Its contamination is so widespread,” said Masashi Goto, a nuclear engineer who designed the Unit 3 reactor and now teaches at Meiji University in Tokyo. “We should not rush the process, because it means more exposure to workers. Instead, we should wait and perhaps even keep it in a cement enclosure.”

    Others say the Chernobyl solution wouldn’t be effective, noting that the reactor was a different type without massive water leaks. Developing expertise during the operation is also important to Japan, which has dozens of reactors that face eventual retirement and is considering turning decommissioning into a viable business at home, and possibly in a growing global market.

    “If you just put concrete over this, groundwater still will be flowing and things like that, and you have an uncontrolled situation,” Barrett said. “I just don’t see that as a plausible option.”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 19, 2013, 8:27 pm
  5. Something to keep in mind give all the bad news coming out of Fukuhima: As bad as the situation seems, it could have been worse. Reactor 4 could have actually been in use that day:

    Fukushima Engineer Says He Helped Cover Up Flaw at Dai-Ichi Reactor No. 4
    By Jason Clenfield – Mar 22, 2011 7:54 PM CT

    One of the reactors in the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant may have been relying on flawed steel to hold the radiation in its core, according to an engineer who helped build its containment vessel four decades ago.

    Mitsuhiko Tanaka says he helped conceal a manufacturing defect in the $250 million steel vessel installed at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi No. 4 reactor while working for a unit of Hitachi Ltd. (6501) in 1974. The reactor, which Tanaka has called a “time bomb,” was shut for maintenance when the March 11 earthquake triggered a 7-meter (23-foot) tsunami that disabled cooling systems at the plant, leading to explosions and radiation leaks.

    “Who knows what would have happened if that reactor had been running?” Tanaka, who turned his back on the nuclear industry after the Chernobyl disaster, said in an interview last week. “I have no idea if it could withstand an earthquake like this. It’s got a faulty reactor inside.”

    Tanaka’s allegations, which he says he brought to the attention of Japan’s Trade Ministry in 1988 and chronicled in a book two years later called “Why Nuclear Power is Dangerous,” have resurfaced after Japan’s worst nuclear accident on record. The No. 4 reactor was hit by explosions and a fire that spread from adjacent units as the crisis deepened.

    No Safety Problem

    Hitachi spokesman Yuichi Izumisawa said the company met with Tanaka in 1988 to discuss the work he did to fix a dent in the vessel and concluded there was no safety problem. “We have not revised our view since then,” Izumisawa said.

    Kenta Takahashi, an official at the Trade Ministry’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, said he couldn’t confirm whether the agency’s predecessor, the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, had conducted an investigation into Tanaka’s claims. Naoki Tsunoda, a spokesman at Tokyo Electric Power Co., which owns the plant, said he couldn’t immediately comment.

    Tanaka, who said he led the team that built the steel vessel, was at his apartment on Tokyo’s outskirts when Japan’s biggest earthquake on record struck off the coast on March 11, shaking buildings in the nation’s capital.

    “I grabbed my wife and we just hugged,” he said. “I thought this is it: we’re dead.”

    For Tanaka, the nightmare intensified the next day when a series of explosions were triggered next to the reactor that he helped build. Since then, the risks of radioactive leaks increased as workers have struggled to bring the plant under control.

    Fukushima No. 4

    Tanaka says the reactor pressure vessel inside Fukushima’s unit No. 4 was damaged at a Babcock-Hitachi foundry in Kure City, in Hiroshima prefecture, during the last step of a manufacturing process that took 2 1/2 years and cost tens of millions of dollars. If the mistake had been discovered, the company might have been bankrupted, he said.

    Inside a blast furnace the size of a small airplane hanger the reactor pressure vessel was being treated one last time to remove welding stress. The cylinder, 20 meters tall and 6 meters in diameter, was heated to more than 600 degrees Celsius (1,112 degrees Fahrenheit), a temperature that softens metal.

    Braces that were supposed to have been placed inside during the blasting were either forgotten or fell over when the cylinder was wheeled into the furnace. After the vessel cooled, workers found that its walls had warped, Tanaka said.

    Warped Walls

    The vessel had sagged so that its height and width differed by more than 34 millimeters, meaning it should have been scrapped, according to nuclear regulations. Rather than sacrifice years of work and risk the company’s survival, Tanaka’s boss asked him to reshape the vessel so that no-one would know it had ever been damaged. Tanaka had been working as an engineer for the company’s nuclear reactor division and was known for his programming skills.

    “I saved the company billions of yen,” said Tanaka, who says he was paid a 3 million yen bonus and presented with a certificate acknowledging his “extraordinary” effort. “At the time, I felt like a hero,” he said.

    Over the course of a month, Tanaka said he made a dozen nighttime trips to an International Business Machines Corp. office 20 kilometers away in Hiroshima where he used a super- computer to devise a repair.

    Meanwhile, workers covered the damaged vessel with a sheet, Tanaka said. When Tokyo Electric sent a representative to check on their progress, Hitachi distracted him by wining and dining him, according to Tanaka. Rather than inspecting the part, they spent the day playing golf and soaking in a hot spring, he said.

    Wining and Dining

    “The guy wouldn’t have known what he was looking at anyway,” Tanaka said. “The people at the utility have no idea how the parts are made.”

    After a month of computer modeling, Tanaka came up with a way to use pumpjacks to pop out the sunken wall. While it would look like nothing had ever happened, no-one knew what the effect of the repair would have on the integrity of the vessel. Thirty- six years later, that reactor pressure vessel is the key defense protecting the core of Fukushima’s No. 4 reactor.

    “These procedures, as they’re described, are far from ideal, especially for a component as critical as this,” Robert Ritchie, Professor of Materials Science & Engineering at the University of California of Berkeley, said in a phone interview. “Depending on the extent of vessel’s deformation, it could possibly lead to local cracking in some of its welds.”

    In late 2011, Mitsuhiko Tanaka warned that Tepco was using overly optimistic computer simulations. It’s something to also keep in mind given reports that “computer simulations show the melted fuel in Unit 1, whose core damage was the most extensive, has breached the bottom of the primary containment vessel and even partially eaten into its concrete foundation, coming within about 30 centimeters (one foot) of leaking into the ground.” Let’s hope those aren’t overly optimistic simulations.

    Let’s also hope that Mr. Tanaka is being overly pessimistic since he recently warned that all of the damaged fuel rods could be making the situation hopeless.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 21, 2013, 10:51 pm
  6. Here’s a reminder that the challenge of extracting radioactive goo from buildings at risk of collapsing isn’t limited to Fukushima:

    BBC News Magazine
    26 November 2013 Last updated at 19:28 ET
    Chernobyl’s arch: Sealing off a radioactive sarcophagus
    By Nick Meo Chernobyl

    Work began in recent days to remove, bit by bit, the giant chimney protruding from the Chernobyl nuclear power station. It’s one small part of a mammoth engineering project, now nearing completion, designed to slash the risk of another major release of radioactivity.

    Massive and glittering in the weak winter sunshine, a half-built arch looms over Chernobyl’s decaying industrial landscape of cooling towers and power lines.

    One of the biggest engineering projects in history, it has been likened to a gigantic metal igloo, built to seal off hundreds of tons of nuclear fuel and dust buried inside reactor number four, which in 1986 blew up and burned for 10 days.

    Everything about the project is epic: the size, the 1.5bn euro (£1.2bn) cost, the technical problems of working on a radioactive building site.

    At 110m (360ft) tall, the structure could house the Statue of Liberty, and at 257m (843ft) wide, there would be room for a football pitch. There are acres of metal panels in the roof, to seal off the reactor and the dangerous mess inside. The whole lot will be held together by 680,000 heavy bolts.

    With these gigantic dimensions the arch would be difficult to build anywhere, but it is being assembled in one of Europe’s more remote corners, a site surrounded by forest and marsh in northern Ukraine, far from the factories of Western Europe where its component parts are made. This autumn, as the project reached the half-way point, it was more than a decade behind schedule, although engineers believe work will now go more quickly and it could be finished in 2015.

    The reactor building itself, badly damaged in the 1986 explosion and fire, is still far too radioactive for men to work there assembling the arch above it.

    Instead the arch has had to be put together a few hundred metres away, at a safer distance from the reactor’s intense radiation. Half of it is ready, and when the other half is finished, the two parts will be clamped together. Then, as nervous engineers look on, 29,000 tons of metal will slide along specially laid tracks, until the reactor is covered and sealed off.

    At present, it is contained by a shelter of concrete and metal panels called the sarcophagus, built in the months after the accident. It was supposed to have been replaced in 2006, and although it has been shored up, it is now rusting and in danger of collapse. Last February there was a radiation alert when part of the turbine hall roof next to the reactor collapsed. The site was evacuated, although nobody suffered harmful effects and work soon resumed.

    Everyone hopes the arch will be completed before there is a major collapse. If this were to happen now, it would send a plume of radioactive dust into the sky, scattering radiation across a large area. It’s one reason Ukrainians worry about the repeated delays to the project.

    Work has started removing sections weighing up to 55 tons each. They must be cut off with a plasma cutter by teams of two men and removed by crane – a nerve-wracking process. If a crane fails, or an operator miscalculates, and a section falls into the reactor, this too could release a new cloud of radioactive dust into the atmosphere.

    Anyone working on the chimney must also be carefully monitored. All staff working on the arch have an annual allowance of exposure to radiation. Once it has been used up, they are sent to work offsite. Around the chimney, an entire year’s allowance will be used up in a few hours.

    Engineers say the radioactive environment is why work has been so slow. “It’s not dangerous, it’s just very, very difficult,” says Philippe Casse, 61, the site manager. “You have to organise everything to avoid the risk to people. But it is worth doing. I’m not just here to make a living, I’m here to make Chernobyl safe.”

    The cost of the project is being paid by the G8 nations, including British taxpayers, and the work is being done by Western corporations assisted by Ukrainian companies. Nearly three decades after the accident, the radioactive mess in Chernobyl remains a grave threat to the health of Ukrainians.

    Eventually, when the arch seals off the reactor, the plan is for giant cranes to lift out the remains of the reactor and what’s left of the fuel, which melted and flowed like lava into chambers beneath it. But there are fears the cranes would quickly become so radioactive they could not be maintained, and would gradually stop working. There is also still no suitable nuclear waste dump in the country.

    Philippe Casse acknowledges that getting rid of all this highly radioactive material will be far more difficult than building the arch.

    “Disposal will be an even bigger project,” he says.

    “There is no money at the moment.

    “It could be done in 50 years’ time. Perhaps there will be the technology to solve the problem then.”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 27, 2013, 10:06 am
  7. Here’s a reminder that the problems of large volumes of radioactive goo seeping into underground aquifers and possible spontaneous nuclear reactions aren’t limited to Fukushima:

    The Los Angeles Times
    Doubts grow about plan to dispose of Hanford’s radioactive waste
    Experts raise concerns about the complex technology intended to turn 56 million gallons of radioactive sludge at the former Hanford nuclear facility into glass and prepare it for safe burial.

    By Ralph Vartabedian

    November 29, 2013, 10:41 p.m.

    RICHLAND, Wash. — On a wind-swept plateau, underground steel tanks that hold the nation’s most deadly radioactive waste are slowly rotting. The soil deep under the desert brush is being fouled with plutonium, cesium and other material so toxic that it could deliver a lethal dose of radiation to a nearby person in minutes.

    The aging tanks at the former Hanford nuclear weapons complex contain 56 million gallons of sludge, the byproduct of several decades of nuclear weapons production, and they represent one of the nation’s most treacherous environmental threats.

    Energy Department officials have repeatedly assured the public that they have the advanced technology needed to safely dispose of the waste. An industrial city has been under development here for 24 years, designed to transform the sludge into solid glass and prepare it for permanent burial.

    But with $13 billion already spent, there are serious doubts that the highly complex technology will even work or that the current plan can clean up all the waste. Alarmed at warnings raised by outside experts and some of the project’s own engineers, Department of Energy officials last year ordered a halt to construction on the most important parts of the waste treatment plant.

    “They are missing one important target after another,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “It feels like we are going around in circles.”

    Over the last two years, technical problems on the project have multiplied. Concern has grown that explosive hydrogen gas could build up inside the treatment plant’s pipes and tanks. Clumps of plutonium could form inside the plant’s mixing tanks, some engineers now say, potentially causing a spontaneous nuclear reaction.

    A federal oversight board found that employee safety concerns had been discounted, while the Energy Department’s inspector general reported an estimate that more than a third of the plant’s nuclear safety reviews — required on every pipe, valve and device — were never conducted.

    Senior engineers at Hanford have voiced similar worries.

    Gary Brunson, then the federal engineering chief at Hanford, recommended a year ago that the prime contractor, Bechtel National, be removed as the plant designer, citing 34 instances of serious safety and engineering errors. Two other senior managers have also publicly said the project’s technology is flawed and that safety concerns have been disregarded.

    Federal officials and executives at Bechtel downplay the risk of a nuclear accident and say they are making important progress on a difficult job.

    “We have a lot of challenges, but I am confident,” said Bill Hamel, the federal manager who is directing construction of the waste treatment plant. “This is a very large, very complex facility. We continue to make progress.”

    This month, however, the Energy Department formally offered a more cautious prognosis. It notified Washington state officials that it might miss some of the most important project deadlines, promised three years ago under a consent agreement reached to address earlier lapses. Now, 14 of 19 key milestones are in jeopardy, the department has acknowledged.

    But endless delays are hardly an option — not when a million gallons of sludge from about a third of the 177 underground tanks have leaked into the soil, and some of it has reached aquifers under the plateau.

    The Columbia River, the West’s biggest waterway, is seven miles downhill from the waste and, under a worst-case scenario, could be hit by the plumes in as little as 50 years, according to the Washington State Department of Ecology.

    “It is really disappointing,” said Suzanne Dahl, who runs the department’s Hanford office.

    In late September, Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz tried to intervene with a vague plan for accelerating the project. He offered options that included the development of a new treatment plant and a change in the chemical process for treating some of the liquid waste.

    But Wyden, among other critics, dismissed it, calling it “a plan for a plan.”

    Many of the problems stem from the decision to launch construction of the plant even before engineers had completed the design. The job of turning waste as thick as peanut butter into glass is at the leading edge of nuclear chemistry, a job made difficult by the complex mixture of wastes that were fed into the underground tanks by some of the nation’s largest industrial corporations under a cloak of government secrecy.

    The basic plan is to pump the waste into a pre-treatment plant, a factory larger than a football field and 12 stories tall, that would filter and chemically separate the waste into two streams of high- and low-level radioactivity. Then, two other plants would “vitrify,” or glassify, the waste. One would produce highly radioactive glass destined for a future geological repository, and the other a lower radioactive glass that could be buried at Hanford.

    But serious questions were raised last year after Walter Tamosaitis, one of the scientific chiefs of the project, disclosed that the innovative technology for mixing the waste in processing tanks could cause dangerous buildups of explosive hydrogen gas and might allow plutonium clumps to form.

    The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, an independent federal agency that oversees nuclear weapons sites, validated Tamosaitis’ concerns about the mixing technology and found that the safety culture at the project was flawed. Construction on the project’s two most important components, the pre-treatment plant and the high-level vitrification plant, was substantially slowed. Tamosaitis was fired.

    The questions concern Bechtel’s decision not to use traditional mechanical mixers with paddles driven by electric motors, as have been employed at other nuclear processing plants.

    Instead, the company chose pulse jet mixers, which function like giant turkey basters. Powered by vacuum and air pressure, they suck waste into a cylinder within the tanks and then spit it out under high pressure. Such a system has never been used in such large tanks. The decision was based on the concern that mechanical systems could break down in highly radioactive “black cells,” as the tanks are known, over the 40-year design life of the plant.

    But doubts have grown about whether the pulse jet mixers can adequately agitate the waste and prevent the formation of hydrogen gas and clumps of plutonium at the bottom of the tanks and in pipes.

    The safety board has demanded that the Energy Department conduct a full-scale test of the mixing system, using nonradioactive sludge, before going any further. The test facility is under construction near Hanford, but the test completion date is uncertain.

    Project managers say they are not worried. Hamel said he is “100% sure” that whatever the tests show, the mixing hardware or the chemical processes can be adjusted to allow the treatment plant to fulfill its mission.

    On a recent tour of the plant, Hamel navigated around walls 6 feet thick designed to protect workers from radiation.

    Massive stainless steel tanks that can hold up to 375,000 gallons of sludge were lined up in areas that will someday be sealed off from human entry.

    “This entire design is based on safety,” Hamel said.

    Russell Daniel, Bechtel National’s technical director at Hanford, said the probability of an explosion is no greater than 1 in 1 million. And he said that even if 20 feet of hydrogen gas accumulated inside a pipe and detonated, it would not cause a rupture or any damage.

    But some of the nation’s top independent experts say the Bechtel technology is far from proven.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 1, 2013, 7:02 pm
  8. The IAEA has idea that might help Tepco avoid more uncontrolled discharges of radioactive water into the Pacific: Make controlled discharges instead:

    The Wall Street Journal
    IAEA: Tepco Should Consider Controlled Discharge

    By Mari Iwata
    Dec. 4, 2013 6:20 a.m. ET

    TOKYO—The International Atomic Energy Agency has advised the operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power plant to consider discharging lightly contaminated water into the ocean, as storing radioactive water at the plant has become increasingly unsustainable.

    The IAEA’s advice reflects the dilemma facing the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., which must weigh risks from the storage of increasing amounts of contaminated water against those of releasing some partially cleaned water into the ocean, a move vehemently opposed by local fishing communities and residents.

    Groundwater flowing into the site and its reactors is continuously adding to about 400,000 tons of highly contaminated water stored in roughly 1,000 tanks at the site. Tepco said earlier this year that it had found contaminated water leaking from underground storage tanks. In addition to the leaks, concerns have also grown that the tanks will obstruct other work necessary to decommission the plant, which suffered multiple meltdowns after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

    Juan Carlos Lentijo, head of an IAEA mission in Japan to monitor the decommissioning work, said at a Tokyo news conference Wednesday that Tepco should weigh the possible discharge against the total risks involved in the work, adding, “Controlled discharge is practiced in nuclear facilities across the world.”

    Every day, 400 metric tons of highly contaminated water is produced at the site. Radioactive materials can be removed from the water by a system known as ALPS, but relatively less harmful tritium remains.

    On Tuesday, a government-appointed expert panel said in a draft of Japan’s new Fukushima water-containment plan that most of the highly contaminated water will be cleansed by ALPS in about seven years, but the amount of water containing tritium will keep rising, exceeding 700,000 tons in two years.

    Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, said on Wednesday in a separate news conference that keeping all low-level contaminated water at the site would create a huge obstacle for other decommissioning work, including the use of remote-controlled machines to remove melted fuel at some of the reactors where radiation levels are very high.

    “You cannot keep storing the water forever. We have to make choice comparing all risks involved,” Mr. Tanaka told reporters.

    Tritium is a radioactive form of hydrogen with a half-life of about 12 years. It occurs naturally and is produced in the process of nuclear fission. Since it is a form of hydrogen, one of the elements in water, it is considered virtually impossible to separate out.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 6, 2013, 10:38 am
  9. Stories like this raise the question of what the ground water radiation levels will look like when the three melted down cores finally melt through the concrete basement floors and into the ground water:

    Radiation 36,000 times permissible level found in water at Fukushima plant
    December 03, 2013

    FUKUSHIMA — The operator of the disaster-hit Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant said on Dec. 2 that it has detected radioactive materials that topped 36,000 times the permissible level in underground water extracted in the area.

    According to plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), strontium-90 and other radioactive substances that emit beta rays were detected at a level of 1.1 million becquerels per liter in underground water pumped up from an observatory well on Nov. 28. The well is located at a sea bank east of the No. 2 reactor, about 40 meters from the ocean.

    The amount of detected radioactive materials hit the highest level since Nov. 25, which marked 910,000 becquerels per liter of underground water. The national allowable emission level for strontium-90, a typical radioactive isotope that emits beta rays, is less than 30 becquerels per liter of water.

    TEPCO said radioactive levels in seawater within the harbor around the plant do not show any major change.

    It has been feared that highly contaminated water is leaking to the ground from a trench that stretches from the No. 2 reactor building to the sea bank. The radioactive isotope detected this time suggests the possibility of radioactive materials remaining outside the trench.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 8, 2013, 4:17 pm
  10. According to TEPCO’s own admission, the status of reactor No. 3 might be worse than previously thought:


    TEPCO: Not all pumped-in water reached overheating Fukushima reactors
    December 14, 2013

    Fire engines were used in a desperate, and ultimately futile, attempt to pump water to cool overheating reactors during the early phase of the 2011 Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant disaster, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said.

    According to a Dec. 13 report by the operator of the crippled facility, water was pumped in sufficient quantity to avert core meltdowns in the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 reactors, but much of it strayed into irrelevant pipes and ended up elsewhere.

    In the report, TEPCO singled out 52 issues that had been left unanswered in its June 2012 investigation on the disaster triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. The utility said it will find answers to those questions within two years.

    The Dec. 13 report covered analysis results for 10 of those issues.

    Equipment to cool reactor cores failed and quickly became unusable following the temblors at the Fukushima plant. For this reason, fire engines were connected via hoses to the piping system of the nuclear reactors to pump in water to cool them.

    TEPCO said more than seven times the requisite volume of cooling water was pumped into the No. 2 reactor. But the water failed to cool it and the other reactors efficiently, and could not stop the core meltdowns in the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 reactors.

    An examination of pipe diagrams and related equipment showed the pipes to the reactors had branches leading off to other areas and devices, such as condensation storage tanks. TEPCO concluded that too much of the pumped-in water leaked into those branches and never reached the reactors.

    TEPCO officials said they knew as early as late March 2011 about those leakage routes.

    “We should have shared the finding with the public in the belief it would help promote universal safety, but failed to do so,” said TEPCO Managing Executive Officer Takafumi Anegawa.

    The utility has installed electric valves in reactors at its idled Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture to avert a similar problem during an emergency, the utility said.

    TEPCO also said the high pressure coolant injection (HPCI) system for emergency use lost part of its functions early in the No. 3 reactor, which was rocked by a hydrogen explosion.

    The government’s investigation committee said a manual shutdown of the HPCI system interrupted the cooling operations, which exacerbated the nuclear crisis.

    But TEPCO took exception to that theory and said the HPCI system had already lost part of its functions by the time it was shut down manually, because nuclear fuel had become exposed very quickly following the manual shutdown.

    That means nuclear fuel in the No. 3 reactor may be more damaged than an earlier study indicated. This suggests more melted fuel may have fallen outside the reactor pressure vessel, TEPCO said.

    In addition to being alarming, the report is a reminder that there’s still quite a bit yet to be learned about what happened inside those buildings and why. It’s an unfortunate situation that’s probably not going to chang anytime soon:

    Crooks and Liars
    What The Hell Is Happening At Fukushima Reactor 3?
    By Susie Madrak December 31, 2013 6:30 am
    We don’t know exactly what’s going on at Fukushima. But then, we’re not supposed to.

    We know that TEPCO was in the dangerous process of removing fuel rods from the No. 4 reactor, but since Japan is on the verge of passing a state secrets law that would make it a serious offense to leak information about Fukushima or for journalists to try to get that information, it’s just highly unlikely that anyone will tell us if there’s another nuclear disaster. We do know that steam has been observed coming from the Reactor 3 building three times this week, and we know what it’s been associated with in the past — which ain’t much, but it’s all we have:

    Tepco (translation), Dec. 27, 2013: At around 7:00 am on December 27, and confirmed by the camera that from Unit 3 reactor building, 5th floor near the center, steam is generated. Have not been identified abnormal plant conditions of 54 minutes at 7:00 am the same day, the indicated value of the monitoring post (meteorological data of 50 minutes at 7:00 am, 5.1 ? temperature, 93.1% humidity).SOURCE: Tepco (July 24, 2013)

    Tepco (translation), Dec. 25, 2013: At around 7:00 am on December 25, and confirmed by the camera that from Unit 3 reactor building, 5th floor near the center, steam is generated. Have not been identified abnormal plant conditions of 8:00 am the same day time, the indicated value of the monitoring post (meteorological data of 50 minutes at 7:00 am, 2.8 ? temperature, 76.7% humidity).

    Tepco (translation), Dec. 24, 2013: At around 7:00 am on December 19, and confirmed by the camera that from Unit 3 reactor building, 5th floor near the center, steam is generated. Have not been identified abnormal plant conditions of 55 minutes at 7:00 am the same day, the indicated value of the monitoring post (meteorological data of 40 minutes at 7:00 am, 5.6 ? temperature, 93.7% humidity). Then, in 58 minutes around 7:00 am December 24, steam is no longer observed. It should be noted, have not been identified abnormal plant conditions in a 3-minute time at 8:00 am the same day, the indicated value monitoring posts, etc. (meteorological data of 50 minutes at 7:00 am, 4.1 ? temperature, 74.9% humidity).

    Is Reactor 3 melting down now? We have no official way of knowing. Blogger Susanne Posel is assuming it as reality:

    TEPCO are reporting that “radioactive steam has suddenly begun emanating from previously exploded nuclear reactor building #3 at the Fukushima disaster site in Japan.”

    The corporation is not clear on the details of the sudden change at Reactor 3 because of “lethal radiation levels in that building.”

    Summations from experts conclude that this may “be the beginning of a ‘spent fuel pool criticality (meltdown)’ involving up to 89 TONS of nuclear fuel burning up into the atmosphere and heading to North America.”

    Under normal circumstances, I’d dismiss this as hysterical fearmongering and tell you it was highly irresponsible to make such statements. But neither can I tell you with any kind of clarity or reliability exactly what is going on. We know that TEPCO has lied all along, and I don’t think our own government is going to tell us even if something is going on (under the law, they have the authority to lie to us in order to prevent panic that would affect the food supply). So it’s not unreasonable to assume that whatever’s going on, it’s usually a lot worse than what the Powers That Be will admit.

    In what may be the first piece of good news to emerge from the Fukushima tragedy since it began almost 3 years ago, we can probably dismiss the reports that reactor No. 3 has again reached criticality. Those reports are based exclusively on the “Turner Radio Network”.

    Still, as the above article suggests, if one of the reactors really does go critical again in the future, the Japanese government and TEPCO may not feel to need to tell us about it.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 1, 2014, 5:03 pm
  11. While humans aren’t immune to radiation, we’re continuing to find out just how immune Tepco is to lawsuits:

    Huffington Post
    US Sailors Sick From Fukushima Radiation File New Class Action
    Harvey Wasserman
    Posted: 02/12/2014 4:50 pm EST Updated: 02/12/2014 4:59 pm EST

    Citing a wide range of ailments from leukemia to blindness to birth defects, 79 American veterans of 2011’s earthquake/tsunami relief Operation Tomadachi (“Friendship”) have filed a new $1 billion class action lawsuit against Tokyo Electric Power.

    The suit includes an infant born with a genetic condition to a sailor who served on the USS Ronald Reagan as radiation poured over it during the Fukushima melt-downs, and an American teenager living near the stricken site. It has also been left open for “up to 70,000 U.S. citizens [who were] potentially affected by the radiation and will be able to join the class action suit.”

    Now docked in San Diego, the USS Reagan’s on-going safety has become a political hot potato. The $4.3 billion carrier is at the core of the U.S. Naval presence in the Pacific. Critics say it’s too radioactive to operate or to scrap, and that it should be sunk, as were a number of U.S. ships contaminated by atmospheric Bomb tests in the South Pacific.

    The re-filing comes as Tepco admits that it has underestimated certain radiation readings by a factor of five. And as eight more thyroid cancers have surfaced among children in the downwind region.Two new earthquakes have also struck near the Fukushima site.

    The amended action was filed in federal court in San Diego on Feb. 6, which would have been Reagan’s 103rd birthday. It says Tepco failed to disclose that the $4.3 billion nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was being heavily dosed from three melt-downs and four explosions at the Fukushima site. The Reagan was as close as a mile offshore as the stricken reactors poured deadly clouds of radiation into the air and ocean beginning the day after the earthquake and tsunami. It also sailed through nuclear plumes for more than five hours while about 100 miles offshore. The USS Reagan (CVN-76) is 1,092 feet long and was commissioned on July 12, 2003. The flight deck covers 4.5 acres, carries 5,500 sailors and more than 80 aircraft.

    Reagan crew members reported that in the middle of a snowstorm, a cloud of warm air enveloped them with a “metallic taste.” The reports parallel those from airmen who dropped the Bomb on Hiroshima, and from central Pennsylvanians downwind from Three Mile Island. Crew members drank and bathed in desalinated sea water that was heavily irradiated from Fukushima’s fallout.

    As a group, the sailors comprise an especially young, healthy cross-section of people. Some also served on the amphibious assault ship Essex, missile cruiser Cowpens and several others.

    The plaintiffs’ ailments parallel those of downwinders irradiated at Hiroshima/Nagasaki (1945), during atmospheric Bomb tests (1946-1963), and from the radiation releases at Three Mile Island (1979) and Chernobyl (1986). Among them are reproductive problems and “illnesses such as Leukemia, ulcers, gall bladder removals, brain cancer, testicular cancer, dysfunctional uterine bleeding, thyroid illnesses, stomach ailments and a host of other complaints unusual in such young adults.”

    One 22-year-old sailor declared to the court that “Upon my return from Operation Tomodachi, I began losing my eyesight. I lost all vision in my left eye and most vision in my right eye. I am unable to read street signs and am no longer able to drive. Prior to Operation Tomodachi, I had 2/20 eyesight, wore no glasses and had no corrective surgery.” Additionally, he said, “I know of no family members who have had leukemia.”

    Plaintiff “Baby A.G.” was born to a Reagan crew member on Oct. 15, 2011–seven months after the crew members exposure–with multiple birth defects.

    The suit asks for at least $1 billion to “advance and pay all costs and expenses for each of the Plaintiffs for medical examination, medical monitoring and treatment by physicians,” as well as for more general damages.

    Both Tepco and the Navy say not enough radiation was released from Fukushima to harm the sailors or their offspring. But neither can say exactly how much radiation that might have been or where it went. The Navy has discontinued a program that might have tracked the sailors’ health in the wake of their irradiation.

    After its four days offshore from Fukushima the governments of Japan, South Korea and Guam refused the Reagan port entry because of its high radiation levels. The Navy has since exposed numerous sailors in a major decontamination effort whose results are unclear.

    In tangentially-related news:

    Tepco took months to release record strontium readings at Fukushima

    By Mari Saito

    TOKYO Thu Feb 13, 2014 2:00am EST

    (Reuters) – The operator of Japan’s wrecked Fukushima nuclear plantknew about record high measurements of a dangerous isotope in groundwater at the plant for five months before telling the country’s nuclear watchdog, a regulatory official told Reuters.

    Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) said late on Wednesday it detected 5 million becquerels per liter of radioactive strontium-90 in a sample from a groundwater well about 25 meters from the ocean last September. That reading was more than five times the broader all-beta radiation reading taken at the same well two months earlier.

    A Tepco spokesman said there was uncertainty about the reliability and accuracy of the September strontium reading, so the utility decided to re-examine the data.

    Shinji Kinjo, head of a Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) taskforce on contaminated water issues at Fukushima, told Reuters he had not heard about the record high strontium reading until this month. “We did not hear about this figure when they detected it last September,” he said. “We have been repeatedly pushing Tepco to release strontium data since November. It should not take them this long to release this information.”

    Strontium-90, which has a half-life of around 29 years, is estimated to be twice as harmful to the human body as cesium-137, another isotope that was released in large quantities during the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in March 2011. The legal limit for releasing strontium into the ocean is 30 becquerels per liter.

    And in other news…

    Record cesium level found in groundwater beneath Fukushima levee
    February 14, 2014


    A record level of radioactive cesium has been found in groundwater beneath a coastal levee east of reactor turbine buildings at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, according to the plant operator.

    Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Feb. 13 that 37,000 becquerels of cesium-134 and 93,000 becquerels of cesium-137 were detected per liter of groundwater sampled earlier in the day in a monitoring well on the levee. The total reading of 130,000 becquerels per liter is the highest ever observed in groundwater beneath the levee.

    The same sampling well had produced a cesium reading of 76,000 becquerels per liter on Feb. 12.

    The monitoring well is located close to underground pits, which are being flooded with inflows of highly radioactive water from reactor and turbine buildings. Highly radioactive water leaked from the bases of those pits to nearby areas immediately following the triple meltdown in March 2011.

    TEPCO officials said they believe the radioactive contaminants originated from the leaks at that time.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 18, 2014, 10:29 am
  12. Great, so according to Tepco, all those radiation horror stories from April through September of 2013 were significantly more horrible than we thought

    Tepco Says Fukushima Radiation ‘Significantly’ Undercounted
    By Jacob Adelman and Masumi Suga Feb 25, 2014 2:26 AM CT

    Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501) is re-analyzing 164 water samples collected last year at the wrecked Fukushima atomic plant because previous readings “significantly undercounted” radiation levels.

    The utility known as Tepco said the levels were undercounted due to errors in its testing of beta radiation, which includes strontium-90, an isotope linked to bone cancer. None of the samples were taken from seawater, the company said today in an e-mailed statement.

    “These errors occurred during a time when the number of the samplings rapidly increased as the result of a series of events since last April, including groundwater reservoir leakage and a major leak from a storage tank,” according to the statement.

    It will run new tests of the samples taken from April to September 2013 and will publish corrected beta radiation readings. Outside experts were being sought in Japan and internationally to cross-check analysis results and review Tepco’s measurement methods, the company said.

    The measurement errors were halted in October 2013 after testing manuals were clarified and other steps taken to ensure accuracy, Tepco said.

    Shinji Kinjo, leader of a disaster task force at Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, said his office hadn’t been aware of the measurement errors. The regulator’s oversight of the utility is based on Tepco’s measurements, he added.

    Earlier today, Tepco suspended the removal of spent nuclear fuel rods at Fukushima plant after a cooling system failed due to a damaged power cable, the company said in a separate e-mailed statement. Work resumed at the reactor No. 4 spent fuel pool after activation of a backup system.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 25, 2014, 12:52 pm
  13. A senior adviser to the Fukushima cleanup effort has determined that storing massive amounts of radioactive water on-site is not sustainable. Uh oh:

    Fukushima operator may have to dump contaminated water into Pacific
    As Japan marks the third anniversary of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, Tepco is struggling to find a solution for hundreds of thousands of tonnes of contaminated water

    Justin McCurry in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant
    theguardian.com, Monday 10 March 2014 12.56 EDT

    A senior adviser to the operator of the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has told the firm that it may have no choice but to eventually dump hundreds of thousands of tonnes of contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean.

    Speaking to reporters who were on a rare visit to the plant on the eve of the third anniversary of the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, Dale Klein said Tokyo Electric Power [Tepco] had yet to reassure the public over the handling of water leaks that continue to frustrate efforts to clean up the site.

    “The one issue that keeps me awake at night is Tepco’s long-term strategy for water management,” said Klein, a former chairman of the US nuclear regulatory commission who now leads Tepco’s nuclear reform committee.

    “Storing massive amounts of water on-site is not sustainable. A controlled release is much safer than keeping the water on-site.

    “Tepco is making progress on water management but I’m not satisfied yet. It’s frustrating that the company takes four or five steps forward, then two back. And every time you have a leakage it contributes to a lack of trust. There’s room for improvement on all fronts.”

    Tepco’s failure to manage the buildup of contaminated water came to light last summer, when it admitted that at least 300 tonnes of tainted water were leaking into the sea every day.

    That revelation was followed by a string of incidents involving spills from poorly assembled storage tanks, prompting the government to commit about $500m (£300m) into measures to contain the water.

    They include the construction of an underground frozen wall to prevent groundwater mixing with contaminated coolant water, which becomes tainted after coming into contact with melted nuclear fuel deep inside the damaged reactors.

    Tepco confirmed that it would activate an experimental wall at a test site at the plant on Tuesday. If the test is successful, the firm plans to build a similar structure almost 2km in length around four damaged reactors next year, although some experts have questioned its ability to use the technology on such a large scale.

    Klein, too, voiced scepticism over the frozen wall solution, and suggested that the controlled release of treated water into the Pacific was preferable to storing huge quantities of it on site.

    But Tepco, the government and nuclear regulators would have to win the support of local fishermen, and the release of even treated water would almost certainly draw a furious response from China and South Korea.

    “It’s a very emotional issue,” Klein said. “But Tepco and the government will have to articulate their position to other people. For me, the water issue is more about policy than science.”

    Tepco is pinning its hopes on technology that can remove dozens of dangerous radionuclides, apart from tritium, internal exposure to which has been linked to a greater risk of developing cancer.

    Klein, however, said tritium does not pose the same threat to heath as bone-settling strontium and caesium, and can be diluted to safe levels before it is released into the sea.

    The Fukushima Daiichi plant’s manager, Akira Ono, said the firm had no plans to release contaminated water into the Pacific, but agreed that decommissioning would remain on hold until the problem was solved.

    “The most pressing issue for us is the contaminated water, rather than decommissioning,” he said.

    “Unless we address this issue the public will not be assured and the evacuees will not be able to return home.

    “We are in a positive frame of mind over decommissioning the plant over the next 30 to 40 years, But we have to take utmost care every step of the way because errors can cause a lot of trouble for a lot of people.”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 12, 2014, 12:14 pm
  14. Imagine getting laid off from your low-paying job at the local nuclear meltdown site due to heavy radiation exposure and they don’t even give you the hazard pay you were promised:

    Fukushima No. 1 workers rally against Tepco

    Mar 14, 2014

    Workers from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant rallied Friday outside the headquarters of Tokyo Electric Power Co., complaining they are being forced to work for meager pay in dangerous conditions.

    The group of about 100 demonstrators shouted and pumped their fists in the air as they railed against being cheated by contractors hired to find recruits to clean up the shattered site and surrounding area.

    “Workers at the Fukushima plant have been forced to do unreasonable tasks with no decent safety measures,” said one man in his 30s who declined to give his name.

    He said he was laid off after several months in the job due to heavy radiation exposure.

    “Workers are forced to handle contaminated water in such grim working conditions, where any human being should not be put to work,” he said. “They tend to make easy mistakes under the pressure, but it’s not they who are at fault — it’s the conditions that force them to do terrible tasks.”

    Three years since the tsunami plunged the Fukushima nuclear plant into darkness on March 11, 2011, and sent reactors into meltdown, plant workers have yet to even start the dismantling process.

    The decommissioning process is expected to stretch over decades.

    Questions have swirled about the working conditions created by the web of Fukushima contractors and subcontractors.

    Some demonstrators said they received far less pay than promised as various layers of bosses docked money for supplying meals, transportation and other expenses.

    They also said many had not received a ¥10,000 daily premium for decontamination work.

    “Most people are working for small pay without getting the special compensation,” said a 51-year-old man, who said he was doing cleanup work near the plant.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 15, 2014, 4:56 pm
  15. TEPCO promises to comply with the standards regulating the dumping of groundwater under the Fukushima plants directly into the Pacific:

    Japan Fishermen Allow Tepco Water Bypass Plan at Fukushima Plant
    By Jacob Adelman and Masumi Suga Apr 4, 2014 4:08 AM CT

    Fishermen near the Fukushima plant have approved a plan to divert groundwater into the sea away from the station’s wrecked reactors after they were assured fishing grounds won’t be further contaminated by radiation.

    The Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations had previously opposed the plan, citing the plant operator’s history of faked safety reports and cover ups. The bypass is part of efforts by operator Tokyo Electric Power (9501) Co. to reduce radioactive water at the site.

    Levels of toxic water at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant are rising at a rate of 400 tons a day as groundwater seeping into basements mixes with cooling water that has been in contact with highly radioactive melted reactor cores. The bypass system would reduce the amount of contaminated water being stored by 100 tons a day, the utility known as Tepco has said.

    Tepco made assurances that it will comply with standards for groundwater discharge and adequately disclose information about the pipelines’ operation to the public, association spokesman Kenji Nakada said by phone.

    “We want to applaud the fishermen for taking a difficult decision and express to them our commitment to carry out our obligations diligently,” Tepco spokeswoman Mayumi Yoshida said.

    Tepco has struggled to manage contaminated water stored at the site since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused meltdowns at three Fukushima reactors. The site had more than 446,000 metric tons of radioactive water stored in about 1,000 tanks as of March 25.

    Well, at least there are standards in place. Let’s hope there are no clarifications needed…

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 4, 2014, 12:57 pm
  16. Embarrassment isn’t normally very dangerous. But when it’s TEPCO expressing the embarrassment anything is possible:

    Manager at Japan’s Fukushima plant admits radioactive water ’embarrassing’

    By Yuka Obayashi

    OKUMA, Japan Thu Apr 17, 2014 5:05pm EDT

    (Reuters) – The manager of the Fukushima nuclear power plant admits to embarrassment that repeated efforts have failed to bring under control the problem of radioactive water, eight months after Japan’s prime minister told the world the matter was resolved.

    Tokyo Electric Power Co, the plant’s operator, has been fighting a daily battle against contaminated water since Fukushima was wrecked by a March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

    Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government pledged half a billion dollars last year to tackle the issue, but progress has been limited.

    “It’s embarrassing to admit, but there are certain parts of the site where we don’t have full control,” Akira Ono told reporters touring the plant this week.

    He was referring to the latest blunder at the plant: channeling contaminated water to the wrong building.

    The issue of contaminated water is at the core of the clean-up. Japan’s nuclear regulator and the International Atomic Energy Agency say a new controlled release into the sea of contaminated water may be needed to ease stretched capacity.

    But this is predicated on the state-of-art ALPS (Advanced Liquid Processing System) project, which removes the most dangerous nucleides, becoming fully operational. The system has functioned only during periodic tests.

    As Ono spoke, workers in white protective suits and masks were building new giant tanks to contain the contaminated water – on land that was once covered in trees and grass.

    A cluster of cherry trees, unmoved since the disaster, is in bloom amid the bustle of trucks and tractors at work as 1,000 tanks in place approach capacity. Pipes in black insulation lie on a hill pending installation for funneling water to the sea.


    “We need to improve the quality of the tanks and other facilities so that they can survive for the next 30-40 years of our decommission period,” Ono said, a stark acknowledgement that the problem is long-term.

    Last September, Abe told Olympic dignitaries in Buenos Aires in an address that helped Tokyo win the 2020 Games: “Let me assure you the situation is under control.”

    Tepco had pledged to have treated all contaminated water by March 2015, but said this week that was a “tough goal.”

    The utility flushes huge amounts of water over the reactors to keep them cool. That water mixes with groundwater that seeps into basements, requiring more pumping, treatment and storage.

    In a rare success, the government won approval from fishermen for plans to divert into the sea a quarter of the 400 metric tons (440.92 tons) of groundwater pouring into the plant each day.

    But things keep going wrong.

    Last week, Tepco said it had directed 203 tons of highly radioactive water to the wrong building, flooding its basement. Tepco is also investigating a leak into the ground a few days earlier from a plastic container used to store rainwater.

    In February, a tank sprouted a 100-tonne leak of radioactive water, the most serious incident since leaks sparked international alarm last year.

    A hangar-like structure houses Toshiba Corp’s ALPS system, able to remove all nucleides except for less noxious tritium, found at most nuclear power stations, its planners say.

    It sat idle for 19 months after a series of glitches. The latest miscue occurred on Wednesday, when a ton of radioactive water overflowed from a tank.

    “The ultimate purpose is to prevent contaminated water from going out to the ocean, and in this regard, I believe it is under control,” Ono said. But the incidents, he said, obliged officials to “find better ways to handle the water problem”.

    About that accidentally misdirected 203 tons of highly radioactive water that was
    pumped into the basement of the wrong building…it turns out the basement was already designated as an emergency water storage area and it was filled when four pumps located in two separate buildings were accidentally turned on:

    Over 200 tons of radioactive water pumped into wrong building at Fukushima plant

    Apr. 23, 2014

    Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said April 14 that 203 tons of highly radioactive waste water was transferred to a building at its crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant by mistake.

    It is believed the tainted water was delivered to the building, which was only supposed to store such water during emergencies, via temporary pumps. TEPCO officials said that the water contained 37 million becquerels per liter of radioactive cesium, but that there had been no leaks outside the building.

    According to TEPCO, the contaminated water was found in the basement floor of an incineration building. Cesium removal equipment that is no longer used is located on the ground floor of the building.

    On April 10, TEPCO officials noticed that the water level in two other storage facilities was fluctuating. When officials investigated, they found four temporary pumps that were only supposed to be used during emergencies running. The pump switches were located in the incineration building and another structure, and it is possible workers accidentally switched them on.

    TEPCO reported the situation to the Secretariat of the Nuclear Regulation Authority under the Act on the Regulation of Nuclear Source Material, Nuclear Fuel Material and Reactors.

    Separately on April 13, one ton of treated radioactive water leaked from a storage tank at the nuclear plant, apparently from a damaged part of the tank. This water was contaminated with 1,640 becquerels per liter of cesium and 11 becquerels per liter of strontium. None of the water was released into the sea, officials said.

    Nuke plants + Water troubles. Yuck. Even worse? Nuke plants with experimental reactors + No Water troubles:

    Deutsche Welle
    Fears grow over safety of North Korean reactor

    Shut-down of the reactor at Yongbyon indicates that Pyongyang is having trouble cooling the plutonium production plant and that a failure in the cooling system could trigger ‘the release of radioactivity.’

    Date 21.04.2014
    Author Julian Ryall, Tokyo
    Editor Shamil Shams

    Atomic energy experts are expressing concern over the problems that North Korea appears to be experiencing at its Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, which has been reportedly shut down earlier this year when the supply of cooling water from a nearby river was halted.

    Analysis of satellite images by the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, released on the 38 North website, suggest that extensive rainfall and flooding in July 2013 dramatically altered the course of the Kuryong River away from the facility and may have filled collectionb cisterns and ponds with sand or river silt, as well as destroying pipes to deliver the cooling water to the reactor.

    Images show that steam was released from the turbine building in February, suggesting that the turbines had been halted down ahead of the reactor shutdown, while snow had collected on the normally warm roof of the reactor building.

    North Korean engineers were quickly called in to carry out excavations and the construction of a new dam, the institute confirmed, but the repairs appear to be insubstantial.

    Short-term fixes

    “Despite these short-term fixes, the danger posed by an unreliable supply of water for the Yongbyon reactors remains, particularly since the channels and dam constructed are made from sand and could be washed away by future floods,” the US-Korea Institute warned. In the event that the secondary cooling system for the five megawatt reactor was to fail, it added, the result would be a fire in the graphite core and the release of radioactivity into the surrounding environment.

    Even a minor accident could cause a leak, given North Korea’s lack of experience in dealing with such problems, while an incident involving the experimental light-water reactor that is presently under construction would be potentially far more dangerous.

    “Pyongyang has no such experience operating the new facility, the first indigenously built reactor of its kind in North Korea,” the institute pointed out. “The rapid loss of water used to cool the reactor would result in a serious safety problem.”

    There has been no reaction from the North Korean government to the analysis, although the concerns that are raised ring true to those monitoring the regime and its activities.

    “I have talked to officials and experts from other countries who have been to Yongbyon and they told me they were just nervous to be there,” Daniel Pinkston, a North Korea analyst with The International Crisis Group in Seoul, told DW.

    Little attention to safety

    “North Korea is not famous for its labor standards or its attention to safety, and it is all pretty shoddy,” Pinkston said. “And once it has been built, the same sort of technology conflicts will be in play, with safety standards at Yongbyon unlikely to be anywhere near as stringent as they would be in the rest of the world.”

    And if a disaster such as that which struck Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant in March 2011 can happen in a heavily regulated and closely monitored atomic energy sector, it is hard to imagine the potential impact of an accident at Yongbyon, he added.

    “This is absolutely cause for concern,” Pinkston added. “Made worse by the fact that there is no monitoring by the [International Atomic Energy Agency], no international assistance to the nuclear sector, no transparency in what they are doing there, no oversight and very little likelihood they are operating according to international safety standards.”

    Developments at the site are being monitored by the South Korean authorities, which would be the neighboring country that would bear the brunt of any leak of radioactivity.

    In her speech to the recent Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, South Korean President Park Geun-hye stated that a nuclear accident at Yongbyon could cause more devastation than the meltdown of the reactor at Chernobyl in 1986.

    ‘Worse than Chernobyl’

    And while analysts say that is unlikely, given the relatively small scale of the reactor in North Korea, it would cause serious concerns in northeast Asia, trigger panic in local populations, and heighten already elevated military tensions.

    “Ideally, North Korea would be willing to open the plant to international observers and accept advice and help with running the facility, but that is clearly not going to happen,” Go Ito, a professor of international relations at Tokyo’s Meiji University, told DW.

    In a bit of good news, should there be a sudden radioactive release coming from North Korea soon, it may not be a meltdown. It’s pretty bad good news.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 22, 2014, 6:16 pm
  17. With the spent fuel rod removal still underway at Fukushima, it’s worth pointing out that the US has a spent fuel rod issue of its own. Fortunately, it’s not nearly as urgent as the situation in Japan. Yet:

    Cape Cod Times
    NRC: No moving spent fuel rods to dry cask storage

    May 27, 2014

    PLYMOUTH – Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station’s glut of spent fuel rods won’t be moved into more stable dry cask storage anytime soon.

    Four out of five members on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted Tuesday to end further consideration of a plan to expedite transfer of radioactive spent fuel rods from cooling pools to dry casks in plants across the country.

    NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane cast the sole vote in opposition, saying the issue warranted further study.

    The vote was part of the NRC’s review of the post-Fukushima study conducted by its staff. The staff’s overall conclusion had been that expedited transfer of the rods to casks was not necessary since pools would likely withstand earthquakes without leaking.

    “The staff has not properly explored all potential initiating events – in this case only considering seismic initiators,” Macfarlane wrote in a narrative accompanying her vote.

    A plan to store spent rods from all the nation’s reactors in a permanent geologic repository at Yucca Mountain, after years of debate, was abandoned in 2010 and another storage location has yet to be identified.

    Meanwhile the country’s 100 nuclear power plant licensees have stored spent fuel on site. When spent fuel is removed from a nuclear reactor, it produces both heat and radiation for several years. The fuel assemblies must cool in pools for five to seven years, but frequently they remain there for a much longer time.

    Studies by nuclear experts have shown even partial loss of water in spent fuel pools could result in a fire and release of radiation.

    Diane Turco, a Harwich resident and founder of the Cape Downwinders, expressed frustration over the NRC vote. “Once again, the NRC votes to support profits for the nuclear industry over glaring public safety issues of the densely packed spent fuel pools that are an imminent danger to the public,” Turco said.

    The commission’s vote prompted an angry response from U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who just last week filed a bill with fellow Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., that would give plant owners 180 days to put together plans for moving spent fuel rods from wet pools to dry casks.

    Operators would then have seven years to complete the transfer.

    “Overcrowded spent fuel pools are a disaster waiting to happen,” said Markey in a written statement Tuesday. “Experts agree an accident at one of these pools could result in damage as bad as that caused by an accident at an operating nuclear reactor.”

    Markey pointed out that Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth has about four times the number of spent fuel assemblies in its cooling pool than the unit was designed to hold.
    The pool was constructed for 880 assemblies and currently holds about 3,200.

    “It is time for the NRC to post the ‘Danger’ sign outside the fuel pools and begin to swiftly move spent fuel to safer storage now before a disaster occurs,” Markey wrote.

    Mary Lampert, a Duxbury resident and founder of Pilgrim Watch, said her group is “in a rage” over the NRC vote.

    Lampert noted there is ample scientific evidence to prove the dangers of over-crowded fuel pools.

    “Sen. Dan Wolf (D-Harwich) testified that it would be a cinch to fly a plane into the fuel pool at Pilgrim and then the game would be over,” Lampert said. “The question is when and the question is where the next accident will be. Pilgrim is a good one to bet on because of the spent fuel pools.”

    The Union of Concerned Scientists has long warned of the danger of long-term storage of spent fuel in pools. Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist with the UCS Global Security Program, called the NRC vote Tuesday “deeply disappointing” and “shortsighted.”

    Lyman noted that Macfarlane, in her narrative accompanying her vote, said the NRC staff study had shown that reducing the density of spent fuel in a pool at the Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station in Pennsylvania, “would lower the human health consequences of a zirconium fire by more than a factor of 10, the number of individuals who may have to abandon their homes by a factor of 50, and the economic cost by $100 billion.”

    Hmmm…well, at least now that the resources that were to be spent on the expedited removal of fuel rods from spent fuel pools have been freed up (because the only thing to fear from earthquakes is fear itself), hopefully there will be more resources available for other nuke-related projects. For instance, how about planning for giant ice walls to trap the radioactive water under an earthquake-stricken plant? That might be useful assuming giant ice walls are a prudent idea in the first place:

    Radiation-stalling ‘ice wall’ will be built under Fukushima
    28 May 14 by Liat Clark

    A power company is due to start building an “ice wall” under the Fukushima nuclear power plant next month in order to stall the spread of contaminated underground water. The move, given the okay by the national Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), comes after fears of extreme ground sinkage have been quashed.

    The nefarious spread of radioactive waste after the 2011 disaster in Japan has been of growing concern for years. Most recently a study of sediments, published in October 2013, confirmed that radioactive pollutants have been carried from inland, out to coastal rivers. Groundwater from the hills behind Fukushima have been reaching the radioactive region, mixing with water underground, and carrying that contamination along its flow to the ocean. Further studies demonstrated how the summer typhoons in the region and the spring snowmelts were helping exasperate the problem.

    At the site itself, water was pumped to the reactors immediately after the disaster in order to cool the plant and prevent fires. That water is meant to be contained, but in February 2014 Fukushima owner/operator Tokyo Electric (Tepco) admitted 100 tonnes of highly radioactive water had leaked from their containers, less than six months after 300 tonnes had seeped out. The fear is the flowing groundwater could mix with these, most potent water samples.
    Don’t miss

    Tepco is funnelling some of the build-up contained in the tanks out into the sea, an article published in Japan Today last week revealed. This is only done after diligent safety tests have been carried out, and Tepco reportedly started with around 620 tonnes of water last week. The company had been attempting to reduce the amount of groundwater being contaminated as it flows through the site by creating a bypass system. But it’s not enough.

    Tepco has now been given the go ahead by the national NRA to start building an “ice wall” that will freeze the earth, the Japan Times has reported. It’s a plan that, bizarre as it sounds, could help protect the future landscape from some seepage into the surrounding river networks and beyond. It will not be a plug though — it will merely slow down what is already happening.

    The wall of ice designed to fence in the radiation is made up of a network of pipes carrying a coolant strong enough to freeze the surrounding earth. It will plunge 1,500m below the surface around four buildings containing the reactors, and will set the Japanese tax-payer back 32 billion yen (£1.8 billion).

    The plan has been in the offing since last September, but concerns of ground subsidence waylaid the decision. The effort will be a mammoth one, and the greatest fear was that in implementing the plan the ground and its contamination would be further disturbed. According to the article in the Japan Times, however, Tepco has estimated the maximum ground sinkage to be 16mm at some points — not enough to cause any harm.

    16mm horror: It’s not just films.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 28, 2014, 7:45 am
  18. One of the few advantages a full-scale meltdown situation is that, at least once the damage is already done, news like this isn’t quite as immediately alarming:

    The Japan News
    TEPCO planned to use PCs with XP OS for 5 more years

    9:26 pm, July 07, 2014

    The Yomiuri Shimbun
    Tokyo Electric Power Co. will replace the Windows XP operating system in its 48,000 personal computers by September 2015, instead of 2018 as originally planned, the company said Monday.

    Microsoft Corp of the United States has already ended its support for this operating system.

    “We’ll consider whether it is possible to carry out this change even earlier,” a TEPCO official said.

    TEPCO said it decided to replace the OS earlier than previously planned because the National Information Security Center (NISC) of the Cabinet Secretariat had repeatedly urged it to do so.

    The official also said the utility decided to move up the schedule because “society as a whole was pressing our company to update the OS.”

    TEPCO said that although it would continue to use XP-installed PCs for the time being, it would take precautions against cyber-attacks when the PCs are connected to the Internet.

    Since October, the NISC has issued three written notices on the issue to infrastructure operators, including TEPCO.

    The Yomiuri Shimbun reported Sunday that TEPCO had planned to continue using the unsupported PCs for the next five years, despite government instructions to replace them.

    Because Microsoft no longer provides services to fix bugs and other faults of the XP operating system, PCs installed with this OS are vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

    Therefore, the government called on TEPCO and other operators of important infrastructure to replace the unsupported OS or the PCs that use it.

    According to the sources, TEPCO had planned to continue using about 48,000 XP-installed PCs until 2018 or 2019, when the company could begin replacing the hardware.

    TEPCO officials told The Yomiuri Shimbun recently that some of its PCs are connected to the Internet. “We are considering various technological measures [to deal with cyber-attacks],” an official said.

    Asked why TEPCO had not changed its PCs or updated its OS and what kind of security measures it plans to take, the official said, “To ensure security, we do not want to go into details.”

    No central government ministry or agency uses any PCs with the XP system.

    Kansai Electric Power Co. also has updated all of its 30,000 XP-installed PCs. Tokyo Gas Co. updated about 30,000 XP-installed PCs and the 500 PCs with the XP OS still installed are not connected to the Internet.

    “We are considering various technological measures [to deal with cyber-attacks]”. That sure sounds like an admission that cyber-attacks weren’t really something TEPCO worried about before.

    In other news…

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 7, 2014, 7:53 am
  19. While anger directed towards TEPCO’s management, owners, and the larger Japanese nuclear regulatory regime is probably appropriate at this point, stigmatizing and underpaying the people trying to clean up the radioactive mess threatening your entire society seems like an exceptionally horrible idea:

    Stigmatized nuclear workers quit Japan utility
    Posted: Wednesday, July 9, 2014 11:45 pm | Updated: 5:06 am, Thu Jul 10, 2014.

    Associated Press

    TOKYO (AP) — Stigma, pay cuts, and risk of radiation exposure are among the reasons why 3,000 employees have left the utility at the center of Japan’s 2011 nuclear disaster. Now there’s an additional factor: better paying jobs in the feel good solar energy industry.

    Engineers and other employees at TEPCO, or Tokyo Electric Power Co., were once typical of Japan’s corporate culture that is famous for prizing loyalty to a single company and lifetime employment with it. But the March 2011 tsunami that swamped the coastal Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, sending three reactors into meltdown, changed that.

    TEPCO was widely criticized for being inadequately prepared for a tsunami despite Japan’s long history of being hit by giant waves and for its confused response to the disaster. The public turned hostile toward the nuclear industry and TEPCO, or “Toh-den,” as the Japanese say it, became a dirty word.

    Only 134 people quit TEPCO the year before the disaster. The departures ballooned to 465 in 2011, another 712 in 2012 and 488 last year. Seventy percent of those leaving were younger than 40. When the company offered voluntary retirement for the first time earlier this year, some 1,151 workers applied for the 1,000 available redundancy packages.

    The exodus, which has reduced staff to about 35,700 people, adds to the challenges of the ongoing work at Fukushima Dai-ichi to keep meltdowns under control, remove the fuel cores and safely decommission the reactors, which is expected to take decades.

    The factors pushing workers out have piled up. The financial strain of the disaster has led to brutal salary cuts while ongoing problems at Fukushima, such as substantial leaks of irradiated water, have reinforced the image of a bumbling and irresponsible organization.

    “No one is going to want to work there, if they can help it, said Akihiro Yoshikawa, who quit TEPCO in 2012.

    After leaving he started a campaign called “Appreciate Fukushima Workers,” trying to counter what he calls the “giant social stigma” attached to working at the Fukushima plant.

    Many of the workers were also victims of the nuclear disaster, as residents of the area, and lost their homes to no-go zones, adding to personal hardships. They also worry about the health effects of radiation on their children.

    The Fukushima stigma is such that some employees hide the fact they work at the plant. They even worry they will be turned away at restaurants or that their children will be bullied at school after a government report documented dozens of cases of discrimination.

    While TEPCO is out of favor with the public, the skills and experience of its employees that span the gamut of engineers, project managers, maintenance workers and construction and financial professionals, are not.

    Energy industry experience is in particular demand as the development of solar and other green energy businesses is pushed along in Japan by generous government subsidies.

    Currently the government pays solar plants 32 yen ($0.31) per kilowatt hour of energy. The so-called tariff for solar power varies by states and cities in the U.S., but they are as low as several cents. In Germany, it’s about 15 cents.

    Sean Travers, Japan president of EarthStream, a London-based recruitment company that specializes in energy jobs, has been scrambling to woo TEPCO employees as foreign companies do more clean energy business in Japan.

    “TEPCO employees are very well trained and have excellent knowledge of how the Japanese energy sector works, making them very attractive,” he said.

    Two top executives at U.S. solar companies doing business in Japan, First Solar director Karl Brutsaert and SunPower Japan director Takashi Sugihara, said they have interviewed former TEPCO employees for possible posts.

    Besides their experience, knowledge of how the utility industry works and their contacts, with both private industry and government bureaucracy, are prized assets.

    “It’s about the human network and the TEPCO employees have all the contacts,” said Travers, who says he has recruited about 20 people from TEPCO and is hoping to get more.

    Yoshikawa, the former TEPCO maintenance worker, said he has received several offers for green-energy jobs that paid far better than his salary at TEPCO of 3 million yen ($30,000) a year.

    Since September 2012, all TEPCO managers have had their salaries slashed by 30 percent, while workers in non-management positions had their pay reduced 20 percent.

    But last year, TEPCO doled out 100,000 yen ($1,000) bonuses to 5,000 managers as an incentive to stay on.

    In another effort to prevent the loss of qualified personnel, TEPCO is reducing the pay cuts to 7 percent from this month, but just for those involved in decommissioning the Fukushima plant.

    The departures, however, have not been arrested, partly because of ongoing financial pressure.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 16, 2014, 2:18 pm
  20. A leak was just detected in the pipes used to cool the spent fuel rod pool in the undamaged No. 5 reactor building. And this was following the shut down of a similar cool system in the undamaged No. 6 reactor building after a leak was found there on July 11. It’s a chilling indication that the scale of the challenge facing the clean up crews is so daunting that even the basic maintenance of the undamaged units is becoming a challenge:


    Water leaks continue to plague No. 5 reactor at Fukushima plant
    July 20, 2014

    A leak of radioactive water was found in the piping of water used to cool the spent fuel pool in the undamaged No. 5 reactor building of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, its operator said on July 19, a sign of possible deterioration in the system.

    Tokyo Electric Power Co. said water from the cooling pond leaked, citing comparable levels of the concentration of radioactive substances in the leak and the pool.

    A TEPCO employee found a pool of water in each of two boxes–75 centimeters by 50 cm–that house a control valve in the cooling water piping system on the fifth floor of the No. 5 reactor building at 1:25 a.m. on July 19.

    The water had collected to a depth of 9 cm in one box and 18 cm in the other.

    The water contained 2-3 becquerels of cobalt 60 per cubic centimeter, according to the utility.

    This particular piping section has been unused since July 6, when a similar leak was discovered at another section.

    Experts say the continuing leaks indicate that valves are deteriorating, and that the utility’s inspections are inadequate.

    “We are aware that our approach proved to be lax as we were unable to detect the problem until the leak occurred,” a TEPCO official said. “We are reviewing the way checks should be conducted.”

    At the also undamaged No. 6 reactor building, the pumping of cooling water was temporarily halted after a leak in a similar piping system was detected on July 11.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 21, 2014, 6:56 pm
  21. It looks like the future dumping of radioactive water in the Pacific in the will be less due to accidents and leaks and more due to a lack of any other options:

    As Radioactive Water Accumulates, TEPCO Eyes Pacific Ocean As Dumping Ground

    TEPCO is running out of space to store contaminated water.

    By Nick Cunningham
    August 17, 2014

    Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the embattled owner of Japan’s crippled nuclear reactors, has said it is running out of space to store water contaminated with radioactive materials and is proposing to treat the water and dump it in the Pacific Ocean.

    Up until now, TEPCO has been storing radioactive water in giant storage tanks on the site of its Fukushima reactor. But groundwater continually flowing into the reactor site becomes contaminated as it does so. Containing and storing an ever-increasing volume of contaminated water is a bit like running on a treadmill – new groundwater becomes contaminated just as TEPCO succeeds in removing previously contaminated water. Meanwhile, the storage tanks multiply around the reactor complex.

    In June, TEPCO began construction on what it hoped would be a more permanent solution – an “ice wall.” This is how it is supposed to work: TEPCO would insert 1,500 pipes into the ground around the damaged reactors. It would then flow liquid through the pipes at -30 degrees Celsius, which would freeze the soil. That way, as groundwater rushed downhill towards the complex, the ice wall would block the water from flowing underneath the plant.

    Separately, TEPCO is trying to freeze the contaminated water that has leaked directly from the reactor buildings into underground trenches. In total, a staggering 11,000 metric tons of water containing substances like uranium and plutonium has accumulated. TEPCO has thus far failed to freeze the contaminated water, and had to resort to dumping ice onto the site in an effort to freeze the area.

    Now the company has admitted that it can’t keep up. So it wants approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Authority to pump out the water, treat it, and begin dumping it into the Pacific.

    The Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) has been critical of the company for not solely focusing on the contaminated trench water – which it says should be the highest priority – but spending resources on issues with lower priority.

    “The biggest risk is the trench water. Until that matter is addressed, it will be difficult to proceed with other decommissioning work,” Shunichi Tanaka, NRA chairman said at a news conference, according to the Wall Street Journal. “It appears that they are getting off track.”

    Controlling, treating, storing, and disposing of contaminated water is the most critical task in the near-term. Even if that can be resolved, the next step will actually decommissioning the destroyed reactors — a colossal engineering challenge expected to take 40 years and cost over $15 billion. Nothing like it has ever been done before; indeed, the task is so unprecedented, it will require robotics that haven’t been invented yet.

    But first, TEPCO has to find a place for its toxic water.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 17, 2014, 7:32 pm
  22. FYI:

    Expert Urges California Nuke Plant Shutdown After Quake

    Published August 25, 2014, 2:07 PM EDT

    LOS ANGELES (AP) — A senior federal nuclear expert is urging regulators to shut down California’s last operating nuclear plant until they can determine whether the facility’s twin reactors can withstand powerful shaking from any one of several nearby earthquake faults.

    Michael Peck, who for five years was Diablo Canyon’s lead on-site inspector, says in a 42-page, confidential report that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is not applying the safety rules it set out for the plant’s operation.

    The document, which was obtained and verified by The Associated Press, does not say the plant itself is unsafe.

    Instead, according to Peck’s analysis, no one knows whether the facility’s key equipment can withstand stronger shaking from those faults. The NRC and plant owner Pacific Gas and Electric Co. say the facility is safe.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 25, 2014, 11:24 am
  23. In the future, power plant disasters will just float away:

    Think Progress
    Post-Fukushima Japan Turns To Offshore Wind And Solar

    The March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan left a lasting impression on the country’s energy infrastructure and long-term energy vision. The ensuing nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant put citizens on edge and the nuclear industry — on which leaders had been relying to achieve ambitious clean energy goals — in the cross hairs. After the disaster, the country halted its nuclear program and all 48 nuclear reactors have been dormant since. As the government attempts to sway public opinion back in favor of nuclear power, reconstitute the nuclear regulatory and oversight program, and get at least some plants online by the end of 2015, an energy swell has been building off Japan’s coast.

    While the belt of solar panels around the moon proposed by a Japanese engineering company may never get built, a number of future-thinking offshore power sources are already in the works. Offshore wind is a top priority, with Toshimitsu Motegi, a member of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the former minister of economy, trade and industry, telling Bloomberg this week that Japan is “now focusing on mainly floating offshore wind, but we want to push various types of technical development and research.”

    In early September, Japanese electronics and ceramics manufacturer Kyocera announced it was beginning work on what will be the world’s largest floating solar installation. Comprised of two large, floating solar arrays, the 2.9 megwatt project is the first part of Kyocera’s plan to develop around 30 floating two-megawatt power plants, capable of generating a combined 60 megawatts of power. Solar power installations have taken off across Japan in the last few years, in large part driven by government incentives in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, and acquiring large swaths of land for utility-scale solar is especially daunting in the face of such stiff competition. Japan will have 100 gigawatts of solar power generation capacity by 2030 according to recent estimates, and floating outlets could play a significant role in this rapid growth.

    Other buoyant developments include proposed floating natural-gas fired power plants and even offshore nuclear — both of which would provide a safety buffer against future natural disasters that rumble the earth or pummel the coast. But Japan is also a narrow, mountainous country and siting renewable energy projects on land is exceptionally challenging while the ocean is vast and open.

    In June, Japan unveiled the first offshore floating wind turbine in Asia. Ten private-sector companies and the University of Tokyo are part of the experimental project commissioned by the Ministry for Economy, Trade and Industry. The world’s first floating power substation was installed a mile away from the two-megawatt turbine, according to the Global Wind Energy Council. About another 350 megawatts of commercial offshore wind projects are in development in the country.

    “Offshore wind is one of the best renewable energy resources that Japan has,” Alla Weinstein, CEO of Principle Power, maker of the WindFloat, a semi-submersible floating platform, said recently. “If you look at the natural resources that Japan has; it doesn’t have a lot to choose from.”

    On Tuesday, Bloomberg reported that Sevan Marine, a Norwegian company that builds offshore oil-drilling equipment, has proposed building a floating natural gas power plant off the coast of Japan. The 700 megwatt, $1.5 billion project would float atop a cylindrical platform bigger than a football field. It would burn liquefied natural gas.

    “The power situation in Japan after the Fukushima disaster has encouraged us to propose this solution,” Fredrik Major, Sevan’s chief business development officer, told Bloomberg.

    Offshore nuclear power generation has also been proposed as an alternative power supply. While Japan has not pursued this option yet, Russia is working on a vessel, the Akademik Lomonosov, that will house two nuclear reactors.

    With the exception of the offshore nuclear plant – which would likely jettison the reactor cores at the first hint of an emergency and generally treat the oceans as a nuclear waste dump – the rest of these ideas sure sound like something that not only Japan but the whole world could use…at least any country with a coastline. Sure, the floating natural gas plant would exacerbate the threat of catasrophic sea level rises but since humanity seems intent on flooding the world anyways (and may have already crossed the tipping down) there’s an undeniable future appeal to floating power plants. And the Seasteaders will no doubt love all of these proposals (they already have an eye on the floating nukes). So who knows, maybe someday we’ll even see the solar moon belt. Someday. But not today:

    The New York Times
    Three Years After Fukushima, Japan Approves a Nuclear Plant


    TOKYO — For the first time since the Fukushima disaster three and a half years ago, Japan’s new nuclear regulatory agency declared Wednesday that an atomic power plant was safe to operate, in a widely watched move that brings Japan a step closer to restarting its idled nuclear industry.

    The two reactors at the Sendai power plant on the southern island of Kyushu are the first to be certified as safe enough to restart by the Nuclear Regulation Authority since the agency was created two years to restore public confidence in nuclear oversight. All of Japan’s 48 operable commercial nuclear reactors were shut down after the March 2011 triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station created serious public doubts about the safety of atomic power in earthquake-prone Japan.

    Even with the approval, it will probably be months before either of the reactors can be turned back on. In addition to further safety checks, the plant’s operator, the Kyushu Electric Power Company, must obtain the consent of local governments around the plant. The final decision on whether to restart the plant will be made by the prime minister, probably in December, according to local news media reports.

    The approval follows intense political pressure on the new agency by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who supports big business and wants to restore atomic energy as part of his strategy to revive the nation’s long-anemic economy. He also wants to end Japan’s ballooning trade deficits, which many here attribute to the rising cost of imported fuel to make up for the loss of nuclear-generated electricity.

    However, opinion polls have shown that the public remains skeptical about both the safety of the plants and the ability of Mr. Abe’s governing Liberal Democratic Party to ensure that safety, as the party has long had close ties to the politically powerful nuclear industry. Those doubts were aired last month during a monthlong public comment period after the Nuclear Regulation Authority released a draft report in July that expressed approval of the Sendai plant’s safety measures.

    The agency said it had received 17,800 comments, more than it expected. Many were highly skeptical about the safety of the Sendai plant, which is in a volcanically active area. Still, the agency on Wednesday ended up adopting its July findings without major modifications.

    The agency said it made the decision after reviewing 18,600 pages of supporting documents filed by Kyushu Electric, as well as the results of its own inspections of the plant. It said the design and construction of the reactors and other facilities, and also the contingency plans for dealing with emergencies, met new safety standards that the agency adopted in July of last year.

    Opponents of the restart said the agency was ignoring the concerns raised in the public comments. They said the agency, which had started amid high hopes for more independent oversight, was looking more and more like a rubber stamp for the administration.

    “There was clearly huge pressure on the regulatory agency from the Abe government,” said Akira Kimura, a professor of peace studies at Kagoshima University who has been involved in efforts to block the restart of the Sendai plant. “This government is just ramming through its agenda, with complete disregard for the public will.”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 17, 2014, 4:44 pm
  24. Here’s one more reason it’s a tragedy the developed world hasn’t invested more in researching and fostering cheap, safe green energy technology over the last few decades: The developing world is building nuclear plants instead:

    Bloomberg News
    Nuclear Plants Across Emerging Nations Defy Japan Concern
    By Alessandro Vitelli September 26, 2014

    Three years after Japan closed all of its nuclear plants in the wake of the Fukushima meltdown and Germany decided to shut its industry, developing countries are leading the biggest construction boom in more than two decades.

    Almost two-thirds of the 70 reactors currently under construction worldwide, the most since 1989, are located in China, India, and the rest of the Asia-Pacific region. Countries including Egypt, Bangladesh, Jordan and Vietnam are considering plans to build their first nuclear plants, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance in London. Developed countries are building nine plants, 13 percent of the total.

    Power is needed as the economies of China and India grow more than twice as fast as the U.S. Electricity output from reactors amounted to 2,461 terawatt-hours last year, or 11 percent of all global power generation, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the International Energy Agency. That’s the lowest share since 1982, the data show.

    “We see most of the constructions in the growing economies, in the parts of the world where you see strong economic growth,” Agneta Rising, the head of the World Nuclear Association in London, said Sept. 24 by e-mail. “In many developed countries there is a large degree of policy uncertainty concerning nuclear.”
    Power Needs

    Yes, the technology that Japan needs to develop for the Fukushima clean up over the next few decades has quite a growing potential market, especially in South and Southeast Asian countries like India, China, Vietnam, Bangladesh. Hopefully Japan will make a developing-world discount available on the nuclear clean up tech because it might be getting unpleasantly wet in many of those growing nuclear markets:

    TPM Editor’s Blog
    Not All Equal

    By Josh Marshall
    Published September 27, 2014, 10:04 PM EDT

    Sea level rise is only one effect of climate warming. But it’s one of the most linear and easiest to grasp. On Conrad Hackett’s Twitter feed (a must follow, imo) I saw this study which was produced by Climate Central and then visualized by The Upshot. The upshot is that when it comes to the direct effects of rising sea levels – submersion and regular flooding – all countries are not equal. The impact is heavily weighted toward East and especially Southeast Asia.

    This isn’t terribly surprising when you think about the geography and topography of the globe. But I hadn’t seen it visualized in quite this way before. And it’s quite striking. I think mainly about the small island nations of Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. But look at that infographic: Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, China, India, Bangladesh.

    Some of this is just a factor of having really large populations. But the pattern is by percentage of population too. This chart from Climate Central gives another way of looking at the relative and absolute numbers.

    What this makes me think of is how much of the early and mid-century challenges on the climate front will come from these regions – countries China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam. The developed world, led by the US, brought us the carbon crisis. Even if it’s not nearly enough I have some level of confidence that North America and Europe can at least get their emissions going down. But in South and East Asia you have hundreds of millions of people lining up get in on the industrial revolution – cars, cities, pervasive electricity, all the life-transforming things which brought us the climate crisis. So even if the energy sources get greener, the demand for energy will grow by leaps and bounds for decades to come.

    In Europe and especially in North America it’s incredibly difficult to get people to sign on to even marginal increases in energy prices – or at least effectively placing a price on the externalities of carbon emissions, which hits the dirtiest fuels the hardest. These are minor inconveniences compared to the huge cost of not getting access to the range of conveniences and life transforming services people in Europe and North America have taken for granted for roughly a century. This the calculus that makes the climate change outlook look so bleak. But seeing this data visualized made me wonder how this all might be affected by the fact that these countries will get the brunt of the impact from rising seas.

    As Josh points out, it’s unfair and insane to expect the poorest parts of the world to skip out on energy-driven technology, but it’s also insane to expect that this isn’t going to dramatically complicate dealing the climate change (barring the development of some incredibly cheap and pollution-free green tech). So more nuclear plants (and probably more nuclear weapons too) are on the way for the countries with the greatest growth in energy needs and it just so happens that those countries are going to be the most flood-prone. So lets hope all those new nuke plants in soon-to-be flooded countries are built on high ground because the moral high ground of committing to clean, safe energy (when it was obvious the world was going to need it soon) was abandoned quite a while ago. The moral low ground, on the other hand, has yet to be fully explored.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 28, 2014, 10:47 pm
  25. Tepco’s plans for building a giant ice wall in the ground around the plant have hit another snag: In addition to building a massive underground ice wall (or something else) to keep the fresh groundwater out of the nuclear facilities, the existing highly toxic groundwater in the basements of the buildings needs to be extracted too. And that basement extraction process involves first blocking the primary entry points where the groundwater is already entering/leaving the buildings. And the latest attempts using an ice-plug to block those groundwater entry points in Fukushima No. 2 reactor building at plant No. 1 didn’t work. Now they’re trying specially developed cement. Cement has already been tried following the collapse of the freezing approach, but now they’re going to use special non-water-absorbing cement. That’s all pretty alarming but on top of that Tepco officials acknowledge that this new method might create a build up of radiation in the soil in the immediate area around the plant, posing a risk to workers. It’s a horrible snag:

    The Japan Times
    Tepco fails to halt toxic water inflow at Fukushima No. 1 trenches

    Nov 22, 2014

    Tokyo Electric Power Co. admitted failure Friday in its bid to halt the flow of toxic water into underground tunnels alongside the ocean at the Fukushima No. 1 plant and said that it will try using a specially developed cement instead.

    Some 11,000 tons of highly radioactive water have accumulated in the tunnels, trenches dug to house pipes and cables that are connected to the reactor 2 and 3 turbine buildings of the wrecked facility, according to Tepco.

    There are fears that this toxic buildup, which is being caused by the jury-rigged cooling system and groundwater seepage in the reactor basements, could pour into the Pacific, which is already being polluted by other radioactive leaks. Groundwater is entering the complex at 400 tons a day.

    Extracting the toxic water is a critical step in Tepco’s plan to build a huge underground ice wall around the four destroyed reactors to keep groundwater out.

    Initially, Tepco sought to freeze the water in a section of tunnel connected to the No. 2 reactor building. This was intended to stop the inflow and allow the accumulated water to be pumped out. The utility said it took additional measures that also failed.

    On Friday, Tepco proposed a new technique for the tunnels: injection of a cement filler especially developed for the task while pumping out as much of the accumulated water as possible.

    Under the new method, however, it would be difficult to drain all of this water and some of it would be left behind, endangering plant workers, Tepco acknowledged.

    And with that report about the potential for more dangerous working conditions emerging, here’s a report about a new Tepco survey that indicates false labor contracting is rampant:

    Fukushima workers still in murky labor contracts: Tepco survey

    TOKYO Fri Nov 28, 2014 12:55am EST

    (Reuters) – The number of workers at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant on false contracts has increased in the last year, the station operator said, highlighting murky labor conditions at the site despite a pledge to improve the work environment.

    The survey results released by Tokyo Electric Power Co (9501.T) (Tepco) late on Thursday showed that around 30 percent of plant workers polled said that they were paid by a different company from the contractor that normally directs them at the worksite, which is illegal under Japan’s labor laws.

    A Reuters report in October found widespread confusion among plant workers at the Fukushima facility over their employment contracts and their promised hazard pay increase.

    The Japanese government and Tepco vowed last year to improve working conditions at the plant, where sub-contractors supply the bulk of workers conducting a cleanup after the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

    Tokyo Electric, known as Tepco, said a questionnaire sent to thousands of workers at the plant indicated 30 percent of them were on false contracts, an increase of 10 percentage points since it carried out a similar survey in 2013.

    The utility survey covered 6,567 contract workers at the station north of Tokyo and about 70 percent of them responded.

    It did not question its own employees, who form a small part of the huge workforce on the clean up that is expected to take decades and cost tens of billions of dollars.

    This is all an example of why this is a ‘good luck to Tepco’ and ‘good luck to the people suing Tepco’ kind of situation going forward.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 1, 2014, 12:08 am
  26. Here’s a story from 2012 that’s a reminder that having a system for detecting radiation in the goods and raw materials flowing across the global supply chain are useful for a lot more than any concerns over radioactive fish or other materials from the Fukushima cleanup. Working with radioactive substances is basic component of the modern global economy and that’s not changing any time soon:

    Bloomberg News
    Nuclear Risks at Bed, Bath & Beyond Show Dangers of Scrap
    By Jonathan Tirone and Andrew MacAskill Mar 20, 2012 1:23 AM CT

    Going shopping? Don’t forget your wallet and credit card. Or Geiger counter.

    The discovery of radioactive tissue boxes at Bed, Bath & Beyond Inc. (BBBY) stores in January raised alarms among nuclear security officials and company executives over the growing global threat of contaminated scrap metal.

    While the U.S. home-furnishing retailer recalled the boutique boxes from 200 stores nationwide without any reports of injury, the incident highlighted one of the topics drawing world leaders to a nuclear security meeting in Seoul on March 26-27. The bi-annual summit, convened by President Barack Obama for the first time in 2010, seeks to stem the flow of atomic material that has been lost, stolen or discarded as trash.

    As U.S. and European leaders tackle the proliferation of weapons-grade uranium or plutonium in countries like Iran and North Korea, industries are confronting the impact of loose nuclear material in an international scrap-metal market worth at least $140 billion, according to the Brussels-based Bureau of International Recycling. Radioactive items used to power medical, military and industrial hardware are melted down and used in goods, driving up company costs as they withdraw tainted products and threatening the public’s health.

    ‘Major Risk’

    “The major risk we face in our industry is radiation,” said Paul de Bruin, radiation-safety chief for Jewometaal Stainless Processing BV, one of the world’s biggest stainless- steel scrap yards. “You can talk about security all you want, but I’ve found weapons-grade uranium in scrap. Where was the security?”

    More than 120 shipments of contaminated goods including cutlery, buckles and work tools like hammers and screwdrivers were denied U.S. entry between 2003 and 2008 after customs and the Department of Homeland Security boosted radiation monitoring at borders. The department declined to provide updated figures or comment on how the metal tissue boxes at Bed, Bath & Beyond, tainted with melted cobalt-60 used in medical instruments to diagnose and treat cancer, evaded detection.

    Rachael Risinger, a spokeswoman for Union, New Jersey-based Bed, Bath & Beyond, said in an e-mail on Feb. 29 that “all possibilities to address this issue are being explored and implemented as appropriate.”

    No Health Threat

    The company said in a January press release it had been informed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a U.S. government agency that oversees radioactive material, that “there is no threat to anyone’s health from these tissue holders.” It said they had been withdrawn “out of an abundance of caution.”

    Rotterdam-based Jewometaal, which found 145 nuclear items in scrap last year and 200 in 2010, reports incidents to Dutch authorities and the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency. De Bruin keeps pictures of the nuclear-fission chamber containing bomb-grade uranium and other scrap with plutonium that he’s uncovered using radiation monitors at his shipping yard.

    Cleaning a smelter of radioactive material erroneously melted inside can cost a company as much as 40 million euros ($53 million) and disrupt production for a week, he said.

    More Stringent Rules

    The Vienna-based IAEA is working with the scrap-metal industry to draft more stringent rules to increase radiation monitoring, bolster reporting requirements and improve disposal. Between 350 million tons and 550 million tons of iron scrap traded hands in 2010 for about $400 a ton, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of International Recycling, a global recycling industry association.

    “The general public basically isn’t aware that they’re living in a radioactive world,” according to Ross Bartley, technical director for the recycling bureau, who said the contamination has led to lost sales. “Those tissue boxes are problematic because they’re radioactive and they had to be put in radioactive disposal.”

    Abandoned medical scanners, food-processing devices and mining equipment containing radioactive metals such as cesium-137 and cobalt-60 are picked up by scrap collectors, sold to recyclers and melted down by foundries, the IAEA says. Dangerous scrap comes from derelict hospitals and military bases, as well as defunct government agencies that have lost tools with radioactive elements.

    Radiation Exposure

    Chronic exposure to low doses of radiation can lead to cataracts, cancer and birth defects, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A 2005 study of more than 6,000 Taiwanese who lived in apartments built with radioactive reinforcing steel from 1983 to 2005 showed a statistically significant increase in leukemia and breast cancer.

    Industry and regulators are working to define an allowable limit for radiation in products that isn’t hazardous to customers’ health, according to the draft copy of the new IAEA rules for scrap handlers. This month’s Seoul nuclear-security summit will deal for the first time with the threats posed by uncontrolled radioactive sources, said Elena Sokova, executive director of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non- Proliferation.

    Forty-five heads of state including Obama, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Chinese President Hu Jintao will attend the nuclear summit, South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement on its website today.

    When the $140 billion global scrap metal market is struggling to deal with “loose” radioactive industrial material it’s pretty clear there’s more to worry about than just a radioactive Fukushima fish.

    But as the article below points out, those fish concerns remain, especially for South Korea, which banned seafood imports from Fukushima and sever other prefectures last year. Back in September, South Korean officials were considering reviewing that ban. And South Korean inspectors are investigating the safety of the seasfood from those eight Japanese prefectures right now:

    The Japan News
    S. Korea to conduct survey on fishery products in Fukushima

    7:52 pm, December 13, 2014

    Jiji Press

    South Korea will send a team of experts to Japan this week for a field investigation related to South Korea’s import ban on fishery products from Fukushima and seven other Japanese prefectures, the Japanese Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said Friday.

    The South Korean experts will conduct the survey for five days from Monday. They will visit Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s disaster-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and wholesale markets for fishery products in the Pacific coast prefectures of Fukushima and Chiba to collect data for a possible review of the import ban.

    They will also visit Japanese institutions that conduct radioactivity analyses for food, seawater and ocean soil.

    Due to the Fukushima No. 1 plant accident, which was caused by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the South Korean government banned imports of all fishery products from the eight prefectures of Fukushima, Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi and Chiba in September 2013.

    In September this year, South Korea established a committee of experts for discussions toward a possible review of the ban.

    At a press conference on Friday, Japanese Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroshige Seko said, “Japan strongly hopes that South Korea will deepen its accurate understanding through the survey and that the ban will quickly be abolished.”

    So we’ll see if the ban is lifted but it’s going to be a big test for seafood safety from that immediate area. Especially since the head of Japan’s nuclear watchdog is calling for another round of emptying radioactive water tanks into the ocean:

    The Asahi Shimbun
    NRA head signals massive release of tainted water to help decommission Fukushima site
    December 13, 2014

    By HIROMI KUMAI/ Staff Writer

    The head of Japan’s nuclear watchdog said contaminated water stored at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant should be released into the ocean to ensure safe decommissioning of the reactors.

    Shunichi Tanaka, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, made the comment Dec. 12 after visiting the facility to observe progress in dismantling the six reactors. The site was severely damaged in the tsunami generated by the 2011 earthquake.

    “I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of tanks (holding water tainted with radioactive substances),” Tanaka told reporters, indicating they pose a danger to decommissioning work. “We have to dispose of the water.”

    With regard to expected protests by local fishermen over the discharge, Tanaka said, “We also have to obtain the consent of local residents in carrying out the work, so we can somehow mitigate (the increase in tainted water).”

    Tanaka has said previously that to proceed with decommissioning, tainted water stored on the site would need to be released into the sea so long as it had been decontaminated to accepted safety standards.

    “While (the idea) may upset people, we must do our utmost to satisfy residents of Fukushima,” Tanaka said, adding that the NRA would provide information to local residents based on continuing studies of radioactive elements in local waters.

    Keep in mind that the number of people living off of the fishing industry in Fukushima dropped precipitously following the meltdowns of 2011, with a 77% drop to only 409 people living off of the fishing business today in the entire Fukushima prefecture according to one recent report that indicating the fishing industry has been heavily impacted in the region .

    Keep in mind that the 6,000 Fukushima workers working to clean up the “forgotten” Fukushima no. 1 plant, continue to be wildly underpaid as their jobs only get harder and the buildings no one can currently enter eventually become work sites. So concerns over the risks posed by that stored radioactive water to the clean up workers should be pretty significant given their generally unsafe working conditions. But since “releasing the radiation into the water” seems to be the primarily solution to these very valid safety concerns, ongoing concerns over the local fishing industry are going to be very valid too because Japan’s clean up workers are probably going to be facing unsafe working conditions for another few decades:

    The Japan Times
    Fukushima forgotten: No. 1 plant workers feel voters don’t realize their ordeal

    Dec 10, 2014

    As Sunday’s snap election nears, many of the people working toward the decommissioning of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant say they want voters to know about their harsh working conditions, insufficient pay and worries of radiation exposure.

    Currently some 6,000 people a day are engaged in the decommissioning work at the plant — a process expected to take 30 to 40 years to complete.

    Every day, buses and cars carry workers back and forth between the reactor buildings and the nearby J-Village facilities used by Tokyo Electric Power Co. as its forward base and other offices.

    “I’m single, so I can somehow manage (with the pay) if I don’t go out to amuse myself, but I don’t think you can make a living if you have a family,” said a man in his 50s who has worked in the plant for three years. He has been engaged in such work as removing debris and setting up tanks to store radioactive water, and is now in charge of removing contaminated water from the reactor building basements. He works for a third-tier subcontractor and makes a monthly salary of less than ¥200,000.

    Radiation exposure at the plant remains high, so workers must wear heavy protective clothing and a mask that covers the whole face. It is difficult for them to work more than an hour and a half at a time. Still, they must leave their apartments in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, about 40 km away from the plant, at around 5 a.m. because of the time it takes to pass entrance checks and change clothing.

    They share rooms and cars to go to work. Most of them buy their meals at convenience stores. Their only amusement is the occasional visit to a pachinko parlor.

    The man said his most recent monthly radiation dosage was 1.8 millisieverts. The law states that a nuclear worker’s radiation dosage should not exceed 100 millisieverts in five years and 50 millisieverts in a year. Since the reference mark in the plant is 20 millisieverts a year, the man’s dosage is nearing its limit, he said.

    “I feel that people are gradually forgetting about the nuclear accident,” he said. “From now, our work will become even harsher because we will have to go inside the reactor buildings, where the radiation level is even higher. I want people to recognize that there are such workplaces.”

    “From now, our work will become even harsher because we will have to go inside the reactor buildings, where the radiation level is even higher. I want people to recognize that there are such workplaces.” And the risks associated with working in those new dangerous environments are only going to get compounded by the growing risks of stored radioactive water leaks. So as the head of Japans nuclear watchdog suggested, more massive water dumps into the ocean are probably happening and that’s the situation going forward. Water builds up in the radioactive tanks, space runs out or the tanks start leaking, the water gets dumped into the ocean, rinse, maybe scrap the tank, and repeat.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 15, 2014, 12:35 am
  27. Here’s some more good news/bad news from Fukushima, and this case the good news is genuinely fabulous news.

    The good news: All the spent fuel rods have been remove from reactor 4 at Fukushima Daiichi, eliminating the risk of a future earthquake causing what could have been an even greater release of radiation than took place during the initial catastrophe.

    The bad news, of course, is the same bad news that has been plaguing the project all along: Removal of the spent fuel rods from reactor 4 was the easy part:

    The New York Times

    Fuel Rods Are Removed From Damaged Fukushima Reactor Building

    By MARTIN FACKLERDEC. 20, 2014

    TOKYO — The cleanup of Japan’s devastated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant crossed an important milestone on Saturday when the plant’s operator announced it had safely removed the radioactive fuel from the most vulnerable of the four heavily damaged reactor buildings.

    The operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, removed the last remaining fuel rods from the ruined No. 4 reactor building, putting the rods inside a large white container for transportation to another, undamaged storage pool elsewhere on the plant’s grounds. The company, known as Tepco, had put a high priority on removing the No. 4 unit’s some 1,500 fuel rods because they sat in a largely unprotected storage pool on an upper floor of the building, which had been gutted by a powerful hydrogen explosion during the March 2011 accident.

    This had led to fears of additional releases of radioactive material if the pool was damaged further, such as by an earthquake. By succeeding in the technically difficult task of extracting those rods, Tepco eliminated one of the plant’s most worrisome vulnerabilities. This is also the first time that the fuel has been removed from one of the four wrecked reactor buildings.

    Tepco still faces the far more challenging task of removing the ruined fuel cores from the three reactors that melted down in the accident. These reactors were so damaged — and their levels of radioactivity remain so high — that removing their fuel is expected to take decades. Some experts have said it may not be possible at all, and have called instead for simply encasing those reactors in a sarcophagus of thick concrete.

    The fuel cores from those three reactors, Nos. 1-3, are believed to have melted like wax as the uncooled reactors overheated, forming lumps on the bottom of the reactor vessels. Scientists have warned that the hot, molten uranium may have even melted through the metal containment vessels, possibly reaching the floor of the reactor buildings or even the earth beneath.

    However, it was the storage pool at the No. 4 unit, and particularly its highly radioactive spent fuel rods, that had caused the most intense concern in the first weeks after the accident. While the No. 4 reactor itself had been safely shut down when the accident happened, hydrogen released by the meltdowns at the other reactors caused an enormous explosion that blew off the reactor building’s roof and walls, leaving its storage pool exposed to the air.

    Japanese and American nuclear officials at first worried that the pool may have been cracked in the explosion, but this proved not to be the case. Still, falling water levels in the storage pool caused anxiety that the fuel rods within could be exposed to the atmosphere. This would have caused a far larger release of radioactive materials than what occurred during the actual accident, which spewed contamination across a wide swath of northern Japan.

    In other (entirely good) news…

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 15, 2015, 12:58 pm
  28. Tepco has a message to the Japanese public: let us restart some nuclear reactors or also we’ll have to increase rates because the company can’t keep propping up profits by postponing repairs. Yes, the company was profitable last year, and yes, that appears to be due, in part, to the postponement of repairs. Keep in mind that the reactors aren’t running right now due to the public’s concerns over another meltdown, so it will be interesting to see the public’s response to the ‘higher rates or more nukes’ proposal considering Tepco just acknowledged that it’s been running a profit by cutting costs and postponing repairs:

    Bloomberg Business
    Tepco to Mull Power Rate Increase Without Nuclear Plant Restart
    by Tsuyoshi Inajima and Emi Urabe
    11:00 AM CST
    February 15, 2015

    (Bloomberg) — Tokyo Electric Power Co. said it will need to consider raising electricity rates for the first time since 2012 unless it can restart the world’s biggest nuclear plant.

    Resumption of the Kashiwazaki Kariwa station in western Japan’s Niigata prefecture is essential for sustaining profits., President Naomi Hirose said in a Feb. 14 interview at the utility’s headquarters in Tokyo. The company known as Tepco cannot continue to prop up earnings by postponing repairs and taking other cost-cutting measures, he said.

    The operator of the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant had expected to start two reactors at Kashiwazaki Kariwa in July as part of its turnaround plan released in January last year. Tepco, which serves about 29 million customers in the Tokyo metropolitan area, pledged earlier this month to keep electricity rates unchanged at least this year even as inactive nuclear reactors pressure Japanese utilities to increase prices.

    “Even as Kashiwazaki Kariwa remains offline, we posted a profit last year and can probably do so again this year,” Hirose said. “I wouldn’t say there won’t be the third time, but we cannot expect it can last forever.”

    The station, 220 kilometers (137 miles) northwest of Tokyo, was idled for maintenance in March 2012. It consists of seven reactor units.

    All of Japan’s 48 reactors remain idled as the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s safety checks and other restart processes have taken longer than expected. In addition, the majority of Japan’s public remain opposed to restarting nuclear reactors after the Fukushima disaster raised safety concerns, according to opinion polls.

    ‘Ceaseless Effort’

    Hirose said Tepco “must devote ceaseless effort” to gain understanding of the governor of Niigata prefecture, Hirohiko Izumida, a vocal critic of the utility, and of local communities on restarting the Kashiwazaki Kariwa station.

    Tepco returned to profit last fiscal year, ending three consecutive years of losses after the Fukushima disaster left it with massive liabilities. The utility forecasts a net income of 521 billion yen ($4.4 billion) for the year ending March 31, up from 438.6 billion yen profit in the previous period, according to its latest earnings report in January.

    That wasn’t exactly the most sympathy-inducing plea from Tepco, but it could have been worse. For instance, it could have been an acknowledgement that Tepco had kept secret for the past year a leak that was releasing massive amounts of radiation into the Pacific for the last 10 months. That would have been worse:

    The Latest Fukushima Leak Was Unreported for Almost a Year
    Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan

    Yesterday 12:40pm

    More reports, more mystery leaks, more questions about the complexity of cleaning up a broken nuclear plant.

    Last weekend, we learned about Fukushima’s latest leak, which led to water with 70 times the normal levels of radiation leaking into the nearby ocean. It seems that Tepco, the company responsible for the maintenance and decommissioning of the plant, detected contaminated water coming from a gutter and discovered that a leak was leading to radiation leakage into the plant’s drainage system.

    It’s just the latest leak in a long line of leaks. But this week, it was revealed that Tepco knew about the problem all the way back in May. And didn’t report it. An official at the plant apologized, saying that “the trust of the people in Fukushima is the most important thing,” and that “we’ve been working with that in mind, but unfortunately, we have damaged that trust this time,” according to Digital Journal, which calls the failure to report the leak “gross incompetence.”

    It’s definitely incompetence—and it’s another glimpse into the complexity of the cleanup process. After all, it was just a few days ago that the International Atomic Energy Agency said the operation had improved significantly.

    Meanwhile, understanding how radioactivity is filtering through the environment—from food to soil to water—will be its own, decades-long project, as Nature reported today

    Well, at least Tepco gets brownie points for being honest about the damage to public trust their dishonesty inflicts although the admission that “the trust of the people in Fukushima is the most important thing…we’ve been working with that in mind, but unfortunately, we have damaged that trust this time”. This time?

    Also keep in mind that the leak they’re acknowledging after 10 months isn’t 70 times the natural baseline radiation levels or what’s considered the safe limit. That’s 70 times the average reading for for the discharge gutter of one of the plant building rooftops in a corner where the leak is and those levels were already quite high. So this is a significantly worse leak than normal that we’re just learning about:

    Fukushima Has Been Leaking Radioactive Water Since May, But Tepco Didn’t Tell Anyone
    By Zoë Schlanger 2/25/15 at 1:39 PM

    The fallout from the Fukushima disaster is far from over.

    The operator of the crippled nuclear power plant announced Sunday that sensors in its drainage system had detected a leak of contaminated water 50 to 70 times more radioactive than radioactivity levels already seen on its campus—which the AFP points out were already quite high.

    The drainage system discharges water into a nearby bay, which flows into the Pacific Ocean. The operating company, Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), said it shut down a gutter to prevent the contaminated water from reaching the Pacific on Sunday morning. The radiation levels dropped off steadily throughout the day, but were still 10 to 20 times higher than usual later in the day.

    Yet more bad news surfaced just days later: On Tuesday, Tepco announced it had detected elevated levels of radiation in rainwater pooling on the roof of a plant building back in May, but had failed to disclose the finding until now, according to NBC News. The radioactive water had likely leaked into the sea through a gutter when it rained, Tepco announced.

    Tepco has been “aware since last spring” that the rainwater pooling in one corner of the roof contained 23,000 becquerels per liter of radioactive material cesium 137, which is more than 10 times more radioactive than samples of water taken from other parts of the roof, Reuters reports.

    “I don’t understand why [Tepco] kept silent even though they knew about it. Fishery operators are absolutely shocked,” Masakazu Yabuki, chief of the Iwaki fisheries cooperative, said at a meeting with Tepco officials, The Japan Times reported on Tuesday.

    The decommissioning of the Fukushima plant has been plagued by a staggering number of accidents. This week’s leak announcements are the latest in a string of high-stakes radioactive water errors since an earthquake and tsunami crippled the plant in 2011. A highly diluted radioactive plume from the original incident, meanwhile, has reached the waters off of California.

    “Tepco has been “aware since last spring” that the rainwater pooling in one corner of the roof contained 23,000 becquerels per liter of radioactive material cesium 137, which is more than 10 times more radioactive than samples of water taken from other parts of the roof, Reuters reports.”

    Yikes. Well, let’s hope the roof leak is fixable. And at least Tepco is profitable! It’s important.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 28, 2015, 10:02 pm
  29. With a potentially historic agreement between Iran and the West over Iran’s nuclear enrichment program possibly coming to fruition, here’s a reminder that although the country still intends on pursuing a industrial-scale nuclear program for peaceful purposes, it still has plenty of compelling reasons to abandon its peaceful nuclear program too. Ditto for everyone else:

    Science 6 March 2015:
    Vol. 347 no. 6226 pp. 1052-1053
    DOI: 10.1126/science.347.6226.1052


    Muons probe Fukushima’s ruins

    Dennis Normile

    Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, destroyed 4 years ago in explosions and meltdowns triggered by an earthquake and tsunami, won’t be truly safe until engineers can remove the reactors’ nuclear fuel. But first, they have to find it. A novel way to map the scattered uranium may have come, literally, from out of the blue. Two groups of physicists plan to capture muons raining down from the upper atmosphere after they stream through the reactor wreckage, resulting in x-ray–like images that could pinpoint the uranium.

    The utility that operates the station, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), thinks that after the tsunami knocked out the reactors’ cooling systems, most of the fuel in the Unit 1 reactor melted. It burned through the reactor pressure vessel surrounding the core, dropped to the bottom of the containment vessel, and perhaps even ate its way into the concrete base. Units 2 and 3 suffered partial meltdowns, and some fuel may remain in the core. But that’s as clear as the picture gets. To devise ways to safely remove the fuel, engineers need much more detail about its location and condition. Radiation levels inside the reactor buildings are too high for workers to venture in for a look. Even tethered robotic devices designed to probe inside the reactors require operators to enter areas with high radiation.

    Meanwhile countless muons, generated as cosmic rays slam into the upper atmosphere, are streaming through the reactor innards. Every minute, 10,000 or so of these wispy particles, cousins of the electron, hit every square meter of Earth’s surface. Most flow through solid objects unmolested. But a few get absorbed or deflected in proportion to a material’s density and thickness, a phenomenon physicists first put to use in the 1950s to study the geology of an underground hydroelectric facility in Australia and, in the 1960s, to show that no un discovered chambers are hiding in the Pyramid of Khafre in Egypt (Science, 6 February 1970, p. 528).

    Decades later, Kanetada Nagamine, a muon physicist at the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK) in Tsukuba, Japan, showed that detectors could snare muons spraying sideways, parallel to Earth’s surface, from cosmic-ray collisions. He suggested that these muons could be used to identify magma channels in volcanoes, enhancing forecasts of eruptions. He also saw the potential for muon imaging in nuclear disaster zones.

    The KEK strategy is to flank the reactors with stacks of scintillators: rods made of a plastic that flashes when hit by a charged particle. The team plans to map muon absorption, which depends on the density of the material it traverses. Uranium, being denser than steel or concrete, will cast a deeper muon shadow, allowing the team to distinguish fuel debris from material in the buildings and reactor vessels.

    Last month, a TEPCO contractor installed two KEK-built detectors beside Fukushima’s wrecked Unit 1 reactor. By the end of this month, Takasaki says, the detectors may have absorbed enough muons to confirm there is no fuel left in the reactor core. But these detectors, placed at ground level outside the reactor, won’t be able to map fuel that may have flowed to the bottom of the containment vessel, at basement level. That will require inspection by robots now under development.

    In units 2 and 3, fuel is likely scattered throughout the core, pressure vessel, and containment vessel. For that more challenging imaging assignment, TEPCO is turning to the Los Alamos team. Work on muon detectors there began in the 1990s, when physicist Christopher Morris led a team looking for noninvasive ways to inspect nuclear weapons. They observe muons before and after they pass through an object of interest, using detectors spot muons when they ionize a gas, producing an electrical charge. The signal patterns can reveal how the particles are deflected by atomic nuclei in the material. The angle of deflection depends on the number of protons in the nucleus, identifying the element that the muon grazed, and the location of the collision.

    The technology has already been commercialized to scan cargo containers and trucks for contraband nuclear material. “The detectors can spot 20 kilograms of uranium in less than a minute,” Morris says. The team has tested their technique on research reactors to verify that it will also work at Fukushima, but they face a practical problem: installing their mammoth 7-by-7-meter detectors at Unit 2. “How do you get these detectors mounted next to those reactors in that radiation field?” Morris asks. Toshiba Corp., which supplied two of Fukushima’s six reactors, is building the detectors and will install them later this year, says Miyadera, who joined Toshiba to oversee the project.

    The KEK and the Los Alamos–Toshiba teams are both supported by the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning, established by TEPCO, Toshiba, and other public and private sector entities to develop new technologies needed for the Fukushima cleanup. The institute won’t say what the muon-imaging efforts will cost. One thing is certain: The cost of pinpointing Fukushima’s uranium debris will be trivial compared with that of devising a plan and the technologies for removing it. Decommissioning could take 30 to 40 years and, TEPCO says, cost at least $8 billion.

    Muon detectors to the rescue! It’s a neat plan and hopefully it will work, but note this part:

    The team has tested their technique on research reactors to verify that it will also work at Fukushima, but they face a practical problem: installing their mammoth 7-by-7-meter detectors at Unit 2. “How do you get these detectors mounted next to those reactors in that radiation field?” Morris asks. Toshiba Corp., which supplied two of Fukushima’s six reactors, is building the detectors and will install them later this year, says Miyadera, who joined Toshiba to oversee the project.

    That’s the kind of ‘practical’ nightmare Japan is dealing with thanks to nuclear power: it needs to set up muon radiation detectors outside the reactor buildings, but it’s unclear how it’s going to be able to do that because the overall radiation levels outside the building are too high. So hopefully Toshiba can figure out how to do that soon because you can’t decommission those plants without finding the missing fuel:

    Muon scans confirm complete reactor meltdown at Fukushima Reactor #1

    By Joel Hruska on March 20, 2015 at 3:28 pm

    The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has announced that its muon tomography scanning efforts at Fukushima have borne fruit, and confirmed that nuclear plant’s Reactor #1 suffered a complete meltdown following the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, 2011.

    Thus far, the muon tomography scans haven’t revealed anything that scientists and cleanup crews working at Fukushima didn’t expect. But that doesn’t make the work any less important. The only way to safely clean the site and dispose of the highly radioactive slag that’s now believed to fill the bottom of the Pressure Containment Vessel, or PCV, is to first map out what melted within the core and where the flow went afterwards.

    Muon tomography was used to scan the damaged reactor because muons can penetrate materials that absorb other imaging wavelengths, like X-rays, in their tracks. Muons have also been used to image buildings and structures like the Great Pyramid in a search for secret chambers, and to examine volcano magma chambers for evidence of imminent eruptions. Superman’s X-ray vision is actually more like muon vision, except for that whole can’t-see-through-lead restriction.

    What today’s findings confirm is that nuclear fuel rods inside the reactor underwent complete meltdown. The image below shows a before-and-after shot of what a reactor looks like in normal operation and then after partial meltdown has begun. Note that the water level inside the Reactor Pressure Vessel (RPV) has dropped and the rods are melting as a result. This began to happen in Reactor #1 within hours of the tsunami. Subsequent analysis over the past few years has confirmed that there seemed to be very little nuclear fuel remaining inside the RPV. Maybe.

    Did Fukushima suffer a melt-through at Reactor #1?

    After first denying that a melt-through had occurred, TEPCO later changed its tune and said that it most likely had, at least at Reactor #1. This means that molten corium flowed completely through the RPV and into the PCV before being stopped by the several meters of concrete within the base. This wasn’t an entirely settled question, however, since radiation measurements and water testing have not found the isotope levels that would be expected if the majority of the corium were in direct contact with the concrete layer beneath the PCV. One alternate theory is that the seawater that was pumped into Reactor #1 after the disaster may have cooled the corium before it finished burning through the reactor pressure vessel.

    What happened to the fuel rods is more than an academic question. Reactor #1 contained an estimated 125 tons of uranium dioxide, zirconium, steel, boron carbide, and inconel, and finding out where the corium flowed is critical. TEPCO has announced that unlike Chernobyl, which is slowly being sealed inside a layer of concrete, they intend to scrap reactor Daiichi 1, 2, 3, and 4. This makes it particularly critical to understand where the corium is in order to facilitate its eventual removal. The scrapping process is a long one — it’ll take an estimated 30-40 years to finish, and the company won’t start removing reactor fuel until ten years after the accident.

    That was kind of a neat fun fact:

    Superman’s X-ray vision is actually more like muon vision, except for that whole can’t-see-through-lead restriction.

    So if anyone knows where we can find Superman that would be helpful (or maybe one of his relatives).

    And as the article points out, confirming a complete meltdown in reactor 1 with muon detectors is pretty helpful too. Sure, a complete meltdon was already suspected, but knowing is half the battle, especially when attempting to decommission a nuclear meltdown site. Or, better yet, know that it’s not worth setting up a nuclear site in the first place.

    So now that Iran and the West appear to have reached a settlment that ideally halts Iran’s development of nuclear weapons capabilities but leaves open civilian nuclear power development perhaps it would be a good to time for the world to emphasize to Iran how potentially disasterous even civilian nuclear capabilities could be for Iran. Especially in the even any of future conflicts that will leave those reactors vulnerable.

    Sure, without nuclear power plants it’s harder to eventually develop your own nukes and join the MADness club. But at the same time, nations without nuclear power plants are also nations with a Fukushima-like mega-disaster waiting to happen. So if Iran was willing to decomission its existing plants would the world help foot the bill? Sure, the current Iranian government appears to be intent on continuing with the civilian program but that could easily change in the future.

    So could the world maybe start working on a nuclear decommissioning fund for countries that would like to get rid of ALL their nuclear power plants, including those for civilian purposes and any nukes they might have sitting around too? That could be useful. And not just for Iran.

    Still, assuming this deal disarmament deal works out that’s some pretty great news. Ending global MADness doesn’t happen in a day.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 2, 2015, 10:04 pm
  30. Here’s some news you might find rather shocking: When an earthquake is powerful enough, its aftershocks can go on for years:

    Strong offshore quake rocks Tohoku

    Kyodo, AFP-JIJI

    May 13, 2015

    A strong earthquake of upper 5 on the Japanese seismic scale hit Iwate Prefecture and surrounding areas at 6:13 a.m. on Wednesday, the Meteorological Agency said. No tsunami warning was issued.

    The focus of the quake, estimated at magnitude 6.6, was in the Pacific off Miyagi Prefecture and its depth was about 50 km, the agency said.

    No damage was reported to nuclear reactors in the region, including those at Tepco’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 power station. No nuclear plant in the country is currently active.

    Hanamaki in Iwate Prefecture logged an upper-5 on the Japanese seismic scale, and many other locations along the Sanriku coast felt strong jolts. Moderate tremors were also felt in Tokyo.

    The tremor rattled areas damaged by the 2011 quake and tsunami which killed more than 18,000 people and triggered the nuclear meltdown.

    “We believe the latest earthquake was an aftershock” from the 2011 tremor, said Yohei Hasegawa of the Meteorological Agency.

    The 2011 quake was “such a huge tremor that its aftershocks are still continuing,” he told a press conference.

    He warned that another strong tremor could strike within a week, adding “if it happens (beneath) the sea, it could trigger a tsunami.”

    Shinkansen and other train services in the region were temporarily suspended but later resumed operation.

    Here’s another bit of shocking news: The 6.6 magnitude aftershock experienced off the coast of Japan this week was preceded by well over 830 previous aftershocks of magnitude 5 or greater:

    The Wall Street Journal
    Update: Megaquake Aftershocks Jolt Japan Four Years On

    By Jun Hongo
    1:54 pm JST
    Feb 17, 2015

    Two earthquakes that struck off the coast of northeastern Japan on Tuesday were both aftershocks of the Great East Japan Earthquake four years ago, Japan’s meteorological agency said.

    The first quake, which occurred a little after 8 a.m., had a preliminary magnitude of 6.9. It triggered a tsunami alert and 10- to 20-centimeter waves were observed in some locations. The quake was the 830th aftershock of magnitude 5 or higher, , according to the agency’s website. Around 300 of those occurred within two days of the main earthquake on March 11, 2011.

    A second quake with preliminary magnitude of 5.7 struck around 1:46 p.m. Tuesday, and it was also an aftershock of the 2011 earthquake, the agency said. No tsunami alert was issued after the second quake, and there have been no reports of damage from either.

    And here’s some news that, given the volume of aftershocks that have already hit the region, isn’t really shocking. But it’s still rather alarming:

    Japan Today
    M5.1 quake strikes off Fukushima coast

    National May. 15, 2015 – 01:15PM JST

    TOKYO —

    An earthquake with a magnitude of 5.1 struck off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture on Friday, the Japan Meteorological Agency said, adding there was no danger of a tsunami.

    The epicenter of the quake, which struck at 12:30 p.m., was 50 kilometers deep in the sea off the Fukushima coastline. There were no immediate reports of damage or injury.

    Tohoku Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said there were no abnormalities at the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

    The quake registered a 4 in Fukushima Prefecture and a 3 in Miyagi Prefecture.

    While the aftershock only registered a 4 in Fukushima Prefecture, keep in mind that, once you start getting into the 5 range, weak structures might start getting damaged. That’s why, even though Fukushima has managed to dodge +830 aftershock ‘bullets’ since the 2011 disaster thus far, when these quakes hit off the cost of Fukushima it’s still pretty alarming.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 14, 2015, 11:09 pm
  31. Given the unprecedented challenges facing the Fukushima cleanup workers, it’s tempting to forget that so much of the damage on the day of the Fukushima disaster had nothing to do with the nuclear meltdown. That tsunami, alone, was devastating enough to classify as a mega-disaster even without the nuclear meltdown. Hence, the Great Anti-Tsunami Sea Wall of Japan plan. The underground icewall of frozen soil that’s supposed to redirect the ground water flowing into reactor basements is also still part of the plan. It’s a really difficult plan:


    The $6.8 Billion Great Wall of Japan: Fukushima Cleanup Takes on Epic Proportion

    By Nick Cunningham
    Posted on Mon, 23 March 2015 23:58

    More than four years after the catastrophic tsunami that crippled several nuclear reactors in Fukushima, the Japanese utility that owns the site is struggling to deal with a continuous flood of radioactive water.

    But getting a handle on the mess, let alone permanently cleaning up the site, has been extraordinarily difficult. The problem is the daily flood of rainwater that flows downhill towards the sea, rushing into the mangled radioactive site. An estimated 300 tons of water reaches the building each day, and then becomes contaminated. TEPCO, the utility that owns the site, has been furiously building above ground storage tanks for radioactive water. Storing the water prevents it from being discharged into the sea, but this Sisyphean task does nothing to ultimately solve the problem as the torrent of water never ends. TEPCO has already put more than 500,000 tons of radioactive water in storage tanks.

    To reduce the 300 tons of newly created radioactive water each day, TEPCO must cut off the flow of groundwater into the nuclear complex. To do that, it plans on building an ice wall that will surround the four reactors. TEPCO plans on building an intricate array of coolant pipes underneath the reactors, freezing the soil into a hardened ice wall that will block the flow of water. The ice wall will stretch one and a half kilometers around the reactors.

    Great plan, except that it has never been done before. TEPCO may be able to freeze the soil, but there is no telling if it can build an ice wall without any holes that could allow water to seep into the reactor building. Questions surrounding the viability of the ice wall, and with it the prospects for halting the flow of radioactive water, heightened after TEPCO announced in mid-March that it was postponing the project.

    In fact, much of what TEPCO has to do to clean up the disaster area is daunting. TEPCO actually has to dig up radioactive soil and remove it, putting it in an interim storage facility. The idea is to make Fukushima inhabitable again, rather than indefinitely leave it as a radioactive and toxic no-go zone like the immediate surroundings of Chernobyl. When or if that can happen is anybody’s guess. The removal of radioactive soil began recently.

    Another unnerving challenge is TEPCO’s plan to remove radioactive elements from contaminated water and then discharge the water into the Pacific Ocean, a plan that is facing enormous pushback. That’s because TEPCO has lost the trust of the public. Not only has the utility responded poorly to the cleanup, but it also recently admitted to not having publicly disclosed that a leak was resulting in radioactive water flowing into the ocean. TEPCO knew about the leak for more than ten months, one of a long line of acts of obfuscation that has enraged the Japanese public. The Japanese Nuclear Regulatory Authority gave its stamp of approval for dumping cleansed water into the ocean, but the fishing industry is hoping to block the plan, as many fishermen do not trust that the water TEPCO plans on dumping is in fact clean of radioactivity.

    The Japanese government hopes to prevent future nuclear meltdowns by constructing “The Great Wall of Japan,” a controversial $6.8 billion campaign to build around 440 sea walls along the coast to fend off tsunamis.

    That may be able to prevent future disasters, but in the meantime the cleanup and decommissioning of the Fukushima nuclear power plant continues. It could take another forty years before the work is complete.

    So let’s hope the ice and walls do indeed come to fruition so the current crisis can come to a sustainable resolution and future crises can be avoided.

    The ice wall is especially urgent, since, as we learned last year, the best sustainable solution recommended by Tepco for dealing with the radioactive water flowing into the basements of the Fukushima buildings was controlled release of the radioactive water into the ocean. Until the ice wall works or some other plan ends the flow of water into the buildings, controlled release is ‘Plan A’, as Tepco was recommending last March:

    The Guardian
    Fukushima operator may have to dump contaminated water into Pacific
    As Japan marks the third anniversary of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, Tepco is struggling to find a solution for hundreds of thousands of tonnes of contaminated water

    Justin McCurry in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

    Monday 10 March 2014 12.56 EDT
    Last modified on Tuesday 3 June 2014 03.21 EDT

    A senior adviser to the operator of the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has told the firm that it may have no choice but to eventually dump hundreds of thousands of tonnes of contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean.

    Speaking to reporters who were on a rare visit to the plant on the eve of the third anniversary of the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, Dale Klein said Tokyo Electric Power [Tepco] had yet to reassure the public over the handling of water leaks that continue to frustrate efforts to clean up the site.

    “The one issue that keeps me awake at night is Tepco’s long-term strategy for water management,” said Klein, a former chairman of the US nuclear regulatory commission who now leads Tepco’s nuclear reform committee.

    “Storing massive amounts of water on-site is not sustainable. A controlled release is much safer than keeping the water on-site.

    “Tepco is making progress on water management but I’m not satisfied yet. It’s frustrating that the company takes four or five steps forward, then two back. And every time you have a leakage it contributes to a lack of trust. There’s room for improvement on all fronts.”

    Tepco’s failure to manage the buildup of contaminated water came to light last summer, when it admitted that at least 300 tonnes of tainted water were leaking into the sea every day.

    That revelation was followed by a string of incidents involving spills from poorly assembled storage tanks, prompting the government to commit about $500m (£300m) into measures to contain the water.

    They include the construction of an underground frozen wall to prevent groundwater mixing with contaminated coolant water, which becomes tainted after coming into contact with melted nuclear fuel deep inside the damaged reactors.

    Tepco confirmed that it would activate an experimental wall at a test site at the plant on Tuesday. If the test is successful, the firm plans to build a similar structure almost 2km in length around four damaged reactors next year, although some experts have questioned its ability to use the technology on such a large scale.

    Klein, too, voiced scepticism over the frozen wall solution, and suggested that the controlled release of treated water into the Pacific was preferable to storing huge quantities of it on site.

    But Tepco, the government and nuclear regulators would have to win the support of local fishermen, and the release of even treated water would almost certainly draw a furious response from China and South Korea.

    “It’s a very emotional issue,” Klein said. “But Tepco and the government will have to articulate their position to other people. For me, the water issue is more about policy than science.”

    Tepco is pinning its hopes on technology that can remove dozens of dangerous radionuclides, apart from tritium, internal exposure to which has been linked to a greater risk of developing cancer.

    Klein, however, said tritium does not pose the same threat to heath as bone-settling strontium and caesium, and can be diluted to safe levels before it is released into the sea.

    The Fukushima Daiichi plant’s manager, Akira Ono, said the firm had no plans to release contaminated water into the Pacific, but agreed that decommissioning would remain on hold until the problem was solved.

    “The most pressing issue for us is the contaminated water, rather than decommissioning,” he said.

    “Unless we address this issue the public will not be assured and the evacuees will not be able to return home.

    “We are in a positive frame of mind over decommissioning the plant over the next 30 to 40 years, But we have to take utmost care every step of the way because errors can cause a lot of trouble for a lot of people.”

    Currently about 400 tonnes of groundwater is streaming into the reactor basements from the hills behind the plant each day. The plant has accumulated about 300,000 tonnes of contaminated water, which is being stored in 1,200 tanks occupying a large swath of the Fukushima Daiichi site.

    Eventually Tepco hopes to have enough space to store 800,000 tonnes, but fears are rising that it will run out of space sometime next year because it can’t keep up with the flow of toxic water.

    Fukushima three years on

    For visitors and workers alike, the journey to the plant begins at J-Village, a former training complex for the Japanese football team that now serves as the Fukushima cleanup’s logistical base.

    During the 20-minute bus ride through neighbourhoods still bearing the scars of the earthquake and tsunami, there were signs that decontamination work is making modest progress.

    Atmospheric radiation levels are falling, leading the authorities to partially lift evacuation orders in neighbourhoods on the edge of the evacuation zone.

    Some of Fukushima’s 100,000-plus nuclear evacuees are now permitted to return to their homes during the day, but radiation levels are still too high for them to make a permanent return.

    In the town of Naraha, where atmospheric radiation hovered around 2 microsieverts an hour on Monday – the official decontamination target is 0.23 microsieverts an hour – large black bags filled with radioactive soil cover fields once used for agriculture, where they will remain until agreement can be reached on a permanent disposal site.

    Keep in mind this article was from March of last year. So when it says this:

    Eventually Tepco hopes to have enough space to store 800,000 tonnes, but fears are rising that it will run out of space sometime next year because it can’t keep up with the flow of toxic water.

    That time is now.

    Also note one of the reasons given for ground water decontamination being a higher priority than the decommission of the plant itself: The government wants to ease worries about the the ground water getting radioactive and then flowing into the sea (or getting d)evacuees to move back soon:

    The Fukushima Daiichi plant’s manager, Akira Ono, said the firm had no plans to release contaminated water into the Pacific, but agreed that decommissioning would remain on hold until the problem was solved.

    “The most pressing issue for us is the contaminated water, rather than decommissioning,” he said.

    “Unless we address this issue the public will not be assured and the evacuees will not be able to return home.

    And based on the recent statements by the Fukushima government, a number of those evacuees living just outside mandatory evacuation zone just might end up doing and returning. In 2017. But not necessarily because they’ve been reassured that the ground water contamination/controlled discharge issues have been adequately dealt with. They might return after getting kicked off the government relocation assistance program:

    The Japan Times
    Fukushima may end free accommodations for voluntary nuclear evacuees in 2017

    May 18, 2015

    FUKUSHIMA – The Fukushima Prefectural Government may stop providing free accommodations at the end of March 2017 for people who voluntarily left areas in the prefecture not designated by evacuation advisories after the March 2011 nuclear crisis started, it was learned Sunday.

    The Fukushima government hopes to encourage people who evacuated at their own judgment to return home, but the proposed end to the assistance will certainty draw objections from them.

    The prefecture will make a decision after listening to the opinions of officials of related Fukushima municipalities later this month, sources said.

    Of about 115,000 people who have taken refuge in and outside the northeastern prefecture, some 36,000 are believed to be from areas that are not covered by the central government’s evacuation advisories.

    Many voluntary evacuees are people with children as well as former residents of municipalities such as the town of Hirono, the village of Kawauchi and the city of Minamisoma, all geographically close to the government-designated evacuation zones. They sought refuge outside their hometowns mainly due to concerns over exposure to radiation from the reactor meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant.

    Under the Disaster Relief Act, the prefectural government provides prefabricated temporary housing for nuclear evacuees for free and fully finances their rent for private apartments.

    The accommodation aid was launched as a two-year program in principle and was extended by a year twice, with the current program set to expire at the end of March 2016. For voluntary evacuees, the prefectural government hopes to terminate the assistance after another one-year extension, the sources said.

    It is looking at continuing the free accommodations for people who fled the designated evacuation areas, the sources said.

    So the decision on whether or not to rescind the assistance to the ~36,000 evacuees living close to the official evacuation zone is going to be made later this month. And if they do return they’re going to presumably be quite concerned about water safety since that’s presumably one of the main reasons they’re staying away in the first place. So a sustainable solution is going to be increasingly urgent for the radioactive ground water that either leaks into the sea or gets discharged by Tepco. The people most freaked out by that are getting forced back in a couple years. And for something like this, with four decade time frame for the whole decommissioning plan, a couple of years isn’t much time. Underground ice walls with no leaks don’t build themselves.

    Fortunately, there’s an international community that’s there to potentially help is things get out of hand although the IAEA has already assessed the situation and issued a recommendation for how Tepco should handle the water storage issue and the returning evacuees probably aren’t going to be very enthusiastic about the IAEA’s recommendations:

    Bloomberg News
    Tepco May Need to Dump Fukushima Water Into Sea, UN Says

    by Jonathan Tirone
    6:21 AM CDT May 15, 2015

    Tokyo Electric Power Co. should consider discharging water contaminated by the Fukushima Daiichi reactor meltdowns into the Pacific Ocean, the International Atomic Energy Agency said.

    More than four years after the nuclear power-plant disaster in Japan, the United Nations agency renewed pressure for an alternative to holding the tainted water in tanks and offered to help monitor for offshore radiation.

    “The IAEA team believes it is necessary to find a sustainable solution to the problem of managing contaminated water,” the Vienna-based agency said in a report. “This would require considering all options, including the possible resumption of controlled discharges into the sea.’

    Tepco officials are still using water to cool molten nuclear fuel from the reactors and while on-site tanks were installed to hold 800,000 cubic meters of effluent, engineers have battled leaks and groundwater contamination. The assessment, published Thursday, was based on visits by an IAEA team in February and April.

    The IAEA also said it would send scientists to collect water and sediment samples off the Fukushima coastline to improve data reliability.

    ‘‘TEPCO is advised to perform an assessment of the potential radiological impact to the population and the environment arising from the release of water containing tritium and any other residual radionuclides to the sea in order to evaluate the radiological significance,’’ the agency said. ‘‘The IAEA team recognizes the need to also consider socioeconomic conditions .’’

    Fishermen Protest

    Previous releases of Fukushima contamination into the Pacific have drawn protests by Japanese fishermen and environmental groups. Fish caught off the coast of Fukushima have been subject to testing for radiation before being sold.

    The resumption of controlled discharges might be part of a “sustainable solution” according to the IAEA. And it really is possibly the most sustainable option in terms of the sustainability of the overall decommissioning work there since the tanks just might fill up and there really won’t be another option other than controlled discharges. In other words, the IAEA’s recommendation to Tepco was basically “deal with reality”. If the tanks fill up, something is getting dumped. Dump wisely. That’s basically the message and it might be the only message that’s feasible if space runs out.

    It all raises the question: So what happens if the planned 800,000 tons of total water storage capacity eventually runs out? Will they be able to build more? If so, maybe not nearby:

    The Wall Street Journal
    Fukushima Watch
    Fukushima Watch: Tepco Eyes Radioactive Strontium-Removal System

    By Mari Iwata

    3:00 pm JST
    Jun 9, 2014

    Still trying to work out the bugs in its water processing system, the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has decided to adopt technology to reduce risks posed by a deadly radioactive isotope stewing in water stored in a thousand tanks at the site.

    Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Monday that the new technology would remove radioactive strontium from the 400,000 metric tons of highly contaminated water. Kurion Inc., the provider of the technology, has already delivered the first set of equipment to the site for inspection and plans to ship the balance of equipment in the coming weeks, the company said in a statement. The California-based company said it expects the processing system, which can handle 300 tons of water a day, to be operational this summer.

    Strontium is essentially the biggest ecological risk that the contaminated water poses with radioactive cesium, a less dangerous but more prevalent material, having already been removed. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Strontium-90 is chemically similar to calcium, and tends to deposit in bone and blood-forming tissue. Internal exposure is linked to bone cancer, cancer of the soft tissue near the bone, and leukemia.

    Shunichi Tanaka, the chairman of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, warned Tepco last week that the utility’s priority is to remove strontium from the water in the tanks, citing rising radiation levels in the site as the volume of contaminated water increases.

    ALPS, the system that Tepco claims is capable of removing all radioactive materials except for relatively harmless tritium, has still been having periodical technological problems since commencing test operations in March 2013.

    Tepco and government are upholding their target to remove all radioactive materials except for tritium from the water in the tanks by the end of March 2015, but have not specified how they can achieve this goal. “We have been improving the system little by little,” a Tepco spokesman told the Japan Real Time.

    Dealing with the rising contaminated water is one of the biggest problems at the Fukushima plant faces. Because a large amount of groundwater flows into the melted reactor cores on a daily basis, the volume of contaminated water in the tanks rises by 400 metric tons a day. Tepco recently announced a plan to build more tanks to boost storage capacity to 800,000 tons. But after that, there will be no place to build additional tanks. Tepco also started building facilities from this month to create a subterranean ice wall around the Nos. 1-4 reactors to shut out the water flow, but it will take form only as early as April 2015.

    “Tepco recently announced a plan to build more tanks to boost storage capacity to 800,000 tons. But after that, there will be no place to build additional tanks“.

    So we have groundwater that needs to be diverted using an ice wall, plus all the rest of the water that’s continually used to cool the nuclear fuel in the reactors that needs to be eventually cycled through the various radiation decontamination systems that we hope are working. And if the 800 tons of water storage capacity is eventually reached there’s presumably going to be a lot more dumping because, at that point, controlled discharges are the only sustainable solution left.

    Some sustainable solutions are scarier than others.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 17, 2015, 11:36 pm
  32. Here’s another bad news/worse news update out of Fukushima.

    The bad news: 10 percent of the radioactive water tanks appear to be leaking.

    The worse news: The reasons so many tanks are leaking is because water is getting pushed out by the potentially explosive hydrogen gases that are building up in the tanks:

    The Telegraph
    Fukushima leak ‘could cause hydrogen explosion’ at nuclear plant
    Warnings of risk of hydrogen explosion due to build up of gases in containers leaking radioactive water at Japan’s disaster-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant

    By Danielle Demetriou, Tokyo

    8:19AM BST 25 May 2015

    Leaking containers at Japan’s embattled Fukushima nuclear power plant are at risk of possible hydrogen explosions, experts have claimed.

    Almost 10 per cent of recently inspected containers holding contaminated water at the nuclear plant in northeast Japan were found to be leaking radioactive water.

    The leakages, discovered during inspections by Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), the operators of the plant, were thought to be caused by a build-up of hydrogen and other gases due to radiation contamination.

    The discovery was reported to the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), which raised concerns surrounding the potential hazards of accumulated hydrogen building up in the containers.

    “If the concentration level is high, a spark caused by static electricity could cause a container to explore,” one NRA official told the Asahi Shimbun.

    Tepco officials made the discovery while inspecting 278 of the plant’s 1,307 containers and found that 26 – close to ten per cent – had a leakage or overspill from their lids.

    It is believed that gases had accumulated in the sediment at the base of the containers, prompting the volume of the liquid to expand and resulting in the overflow.

    However, officials at Tepco stated that the risk of an explosion was believed to be minimal, with a series of measures being undertaken as a matter of urgency to resolve the faulty storage containers.

    The operators also emphasised that there was no sign of radioactive water escaping beyond the confines of the concrete structures that encase the leaking containers.

    “We think the possibility of an occurrence of hydrogen explosion from these storage facilities is extremely low, since there is no fire origin, or anything that generates static electricity nearby,” Mayumi Yoshida, a spokeswoman for Tepco, told the Telegraph.

    Outlining measures to fix the problem, she added: “For temporary measures, we have been removing the leaked water, installing absorption materials, monitoring by patrol, keeping water level inside those facilities lower than set and keeping equipment which may generate fire away.

    “In the long term, we’re going to lower the water level of current facilities so as to prevent further leakages.”

    The plant, currently embroiled in a complex decades-long process of decommissioning, has been plagued by problems since it was damaged in the earthquake and tsunami four years ago.

    Among its biggest challenges relate to the disposal of the constant stream of water flushed over reactors to keep them cool enough to prevent further radioactive releases.

    “In the long term, we’re going to lower the water level of current facilities so as to prevent further leakages.” Yep. That’s the plan.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 26, 2015, 1:58 pm
  33. FYI, Japan, and the world, just dodged another couple of bullets:

    The Associated Press
    Earthquakes strike off Japan coast, injuring 2
    No tsunami warning issued or reports of damage

    Posted: May 30, 2015 8:53 AM ET Last Updated: May 30, 2015 6:32 PM ET

    A powerful earthquake struck near remote Japanese islands and shook most of the country Saturday evening, but it occurred well beneath the earth’s surface and did not trigger a tsunami warning. Several people suffered non-life-threatening injuries, and there were no reports of deaths or major damage.

    The magnitude-8.5 offshore quake struck off the Ogasawara islands at a depth of 590 kilometres, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake had a magnitude of 7.8 and a depth of 678 kilometres.

    The temblor was powerful enough to rattle most of Japan, from the southern islands of Okinawa to Hokkaido in the north. It caused buildings to sway in Tokyo — about 1,000 kilometres north of the Ogasawara islands — and temporarily disrupted some train services in the city. About 400 houses in Saitama prefecture, just north of the capital, were without power, according to the Tokyo Electric Power Co.

    On Sunday morning, a strong magnitude-6.4 earthquake struck off of Japan’s Izu islands, which are north of the Ogasawara islands, the U.S. Geological Survey said. It struck at a depth of 13 kilometres with its epicentres630 kilometres south-southeast of Tokyo.

    The earthquake was not strong enough to generate a tsunami warning or close enough to the islands to cause any significant damage or injuries, said John Bellini, a geophysicist with the U.S.G.S. in Golden, Colorado. He said it is considered a separate seismic event and not an aftershock to the magnitude-8.5 quake that struck hours earlier.

    Late Saturday, at Tokyo’s Roppongi Hills shopping and business complex, elevators stopped soon after the magnitude-8.5 earthquake struck the area, forcing hundreds of visitors to climb down the stairs. Among them were about 200 people who came to see the Star Wars exhibit on the 52nd floor.


    The meteorological agency did not issue a tsunami warning because the quake struck so far beneath the earth’s surface. Deep offshore earthquakes usually do not cause tsunamis, and generally cause less damage than shallow ones.

    In March 2011, a magnitude-9.0 earthquake rocked northeastern Japan, triggering a tsunami that killed more than 18,500 people and ravaged much of the northern Pacific coast. The depth of that quake was just 24 kilometres , according to the meteorological agency.


    In tangentially related news, the US just announced that it’s going to be extending its “cyber defense umbrella” to Japan

    U.S. to Bring Japan Under Its Cyber Defense Umbrella

    MAY 30, 2015, 7:04 A.M. E.D.T.

    TOKYO — The United States will extend its cyber defense umbrella over Japan, helping its Asian ally cope with the growing threat of online attacks against military bases and infrastructure such as power grids, the two nations said in a joint statement on Saturday.

    “We note a growing level of sophistication among malicious cyber actors, including non-state and state-sponsored actors,” they said in a statement released by the U.S.-Japan Cyber Defense Policy Working Group, which was established in 2013.

    Cybersecurity is a key area where Japan and the United States are deepening their military partnership under a set of new security guidelines released in April, that will also integrate their ballistic missile defense systems and give Tokyo a bigger security role in Asia as China’s military power grows.

    Both the United States and Japan are wary of cyber threats, including potential attacks from China or North Korea. While the United States is investing heavily in building a force to counter and retaliate against online attacks, Japan, which hosts the biggest U.S. military contingent in Asia, has been slower to buttress its cyber defenses.

    The Japanese military’s cyber defense unit has around 90 members, compared to more than 6,000 people at the Pentagon, a Japanese Defense Ministry official said at a briefing on Thursday.

    Japan is trying to catch up as it prepares to host the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and with cyber attacks on the rise. Assaults on government websites are now being detected ever few seconds, according to Japanese cyber defense experts.

    In the statement on Saturday, Japan’s defense ministry pledged to “contribute to join “efforts for addressing various cyber threats, including those against Japanese critical infrastructure and services utilized by the Japan Self-Defense Forces and U.S. Forces.”

    So why is this news related to Fukushima? Well, let’s just say that when the Japan’s defense ministry pledges to address “various cyber threats, including those against Japanese critical infrastructure and services utilized by the Japan Self-Defense Forces and U.S. Forces,” there’s some very ‘critical‘ infrastructure that could use a cyber umbrella. Plus an OS upgrade:

    48,000 PCs at Fukushima plant operator TEPCO still run Windows XP

    By Ryan Whitwam on April 23, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has been under intense scrutiny ever since the 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy complex. Following an investigation by Japan’s Board of Audit, TEPCO has been told to upgrade its computer systems. That doesn’t sound particularly unusual, except that TEPCO operates more than 48,000 PCs all running Windows XP. Oh, and they’re connected to the Internet.

    No one is alleging that Windows XP was the cause of the disaster, of course. Power plant infrastructure runs on more robust embedded platforms, though TEPCO didn’t plan ahead very well in the case of Fukushima. The chain of events that led to the runaway fission reaction have been thoroughly investigated, from the tsunami to the system failures that prevented reactor shutdown. The heavy reliance on Windows XP could, however, be seen as more evidence of complacency within TEPCO.

    Windows XP was released in 2001, and enjoyed update support from Microsoft for more than a decade until it was finally cut off in 2014. That was after several extensions due to the poor performance of subsequent versions of Windows. A lack of security patches means XP systems will be vulnerable to any and all security flaws that are discovered going forward. This might not be a huge deal if the TEPCO computers weren’t connected to the Internet.

    TEPCO was reportedly aware of how dated its systems were (it would be hard not to), but had actively chosen to keep using XP until at least 2019 as a cost-saving measure. That means TEPCO workers would be using 18-year-old software by the time it was upgraded. It is possible for businesses to pay Microsoft large sums of money for custom XP support, but obviously TEPCO was not doing that.

    The Board of Audit calls this out as not only catastrophically unsafe, but not even likely to result in cost savings. Supporting ancient operating systems like this only gets harder as hardware and software moves on to support more modern platforms. TEPCO has reportedly agreed to make the upgrades. But really, it shouldn’t have taken a government audit to convince an operator of nuclear power plants that using outdated, insecure computers is a bad idea.

    “The Board of Audit calls this out as not only catastrophically unsafe, but not even likely to result in cost savings”. Double yikes.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 30, 2015, 4:55 pm
  34. Oh great. Someone else wants to join the nuclear meltdown club:

    Malaysian federal agency: If Pakistan, Romania can have nuclear energy, why can’t Malaysia?

    KUALA LUMPUR — The Malaysia Nuclear Power Corporation (MNPC), which is looking to build the country’s first nuclear power plant, has questioned public objections to the project when less developed countries already have nuclear energy.

    MNPC chief executive officer Dr Mohd Zamzam Jaafar pointed out that nations behind Malaysia in terms of technology and economic status like Romania and Pakistan have been running nuclear power plants without major incidents.

    “These countries are not as industrialised as the three big countries, but still able to operate plants smoothly. Some are less developed than we are,” Dr Zamzam told Malay Mail Online in a recent interview.

    “That means if a nuclear power plant can be operated properly by less developed countries, why should we have a problem here?” he asked.

    South Africa, Argentina and Brazil too have been operating similar plants smoothly, unlike developed countries like Japan, Russia and the United States that have suffered nuclear accidents, he said.

    MNPC was formed under the government’s Economic Transformation Programme and acts as a Nuclear Energy Programme Implementing Organisation following the recommendations made by the International Atomic Energy Agency as Malaysia looks to implement nuclear energy.

    However, the programme which the government aims to implement around 2025, has come under public criticism over the dangers of nuclear power, following major nuclear disasters in the US’ Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986 (then part of the former Soviet Union) and Fukushima in Japan four years ago.

    Dr Zamzam dismissed concerns over building nuclear power plants in a country where several government construction projects have suffered building flaws, citing state oil giant Petronas as an example of an internationally recognised local company.

    “We always say Malaysia has poor maintenance culture, but doesn’t mean everything does not work here. We have the internet, electricity and world class fuel systems here.

    “When it comes to nuclear energy, we will look at safety issues and make it as tight as possible. Most importantly people must trust our regulators, they must have confidence in them. We shouldn’t degrade our own people. We should have more faith in Malaysians,” he said.

    Putrajaya plans to table the Atomic Energy Regulatory Bill in Parliament by this year in order to get the project underway by 2021, said Dr Zamzam.

    “After the Bill is tabled in Parliament, first thing we want to do is organise a forum where we call in people from every side, those supporting and against. We want to have an intellectual discussion and listen to everyone on their points. We have to educate the public.”

    He added that much public engagement is necessary before progressing with the nuclear power project tabled in the government’s 11th Malaysia Plan that says an independent atomic energy regulatory commission will be established based on a nuclear law for electricity generation.

    “Most important is to convince the local people, where the site is going to be built. Even if we cannot convince the whole country to support it, the people in the area must know the benefits.”

    However, Dr Zamzam clarified that he does not know how much public approval Putrajaya expects for the nuclear power plant project, saying: “If they want 100 per cent support, we might not have nuclear at all.”

    The government was reported as early as December 2010 to have intentions of building two nuclear power plants.

    However, the project initially aimed to be completed by 2021 and 2022 was postponed as the Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown in Japan made the public uneasy.

    Well, you can’t say the head of Malaysia’s nuclear power isn’t optimistic:

    Dr Zamzam dismissed concerns over building nuclear power plants in a country where several government construction projects have suffered building flaws, citing state oil giant Petronas as an example of an internationally recognised local company.

    “We always say Malaysia has poor maintenance culture, but doesn’t mean everything does not work here. We have the internet, electricity and world class fuel systems here.

    “When it comes to nuclear energy, we will look at safety issues and make it as tight as possible. Most importantly people must trust our regulators, they must have confidence in them. We shouldn’t degrade our own people. We should have more faith in Malaysians,” he said.

    There we go! Positive energy will save us from the dangers of nuclear energy, so what’s the problem?

    Of course, as Dr Zamzam also indicated, getting the locals where the plants will be built on board with the project could be a challenge. Which raises the question of where those plants are actually built. For a country on the edge of the Ring of Fire, decision over the location or those plants (other than the decision to build them at all) is quite possibly going to be the most important decision in this project. Earthquakes can happen where you don’t expect them. And also where you do expect them:

    The Malaysian Insider
    Moderate earthquake ‘can happen anytime’ in Malaysia

    Published: 8 February 2013 5:29 PM

    KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 8 – Although Malaysians may feel that the country is not prone to earthquakes, experts believe otherwise.

    Located at the peripheral of the ring of fire and beside two neighbours, Indonesia and the Philippines, which have seen violent episodes of seismological activities in the past few years, the chances of being jolted by at least one moderate earthquake cannot be ruled out.

    So far, Malaysia has only encountered strong vibrations and aftershocks after its neighbours were hit by strong earthquakes.

    In 2012, the Meteorological Department had detected eight earthquakes in the eastern part of the country, in Sabah and Sarawak (between 2 and 4.5 on the Richter scale).

    Six earthquakes had occurred in Sabah (Tambunan, Kota Marudu, Kudat, Beluran, Kunak and Keningau) and two earthquakes had occurred in Belaga, Sarawak.

    However, an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.8 on the Richter scale in Lahat Datu in Sabah in 1976 is believed to be the strongest earthquake so far.


    A seismology expert, Dr Mohd Rosaidi Che Abas, 54, said the threat of an earthquake in Malaysia cannot be ignored.

    The Meteorological Department’s Deputy Director (Application) said some of the country’s most vulnerable areas are Bukit Tinggi in Pahang and Kuala Pilah in Negeri Sembilan.

    A relatively strong earthquake can hit these areas and some parts of Sabah and Sarawak.

    “Previously, a moderate earthquake had occurred in Lahad Datu, Sabah, and it is possible for a moderate earthquake to occur in other areas located at or near active fault lines.

    “Malaysia is close to areas that have experienced strong earthquakes, including Sumatra and the Andaman Sea, while Sabah and Sarawak are located close to the earthquake zone of South Philippines and North Sulawesi. Therefore, the odds of an earthquake striking Peninsula Malaysia cannot be ruled out,” he said to Bernama at the Meteorological Department’s headquarters.


    Nevertheless, Dr Mohd Rosaidi, who has been with the meteorological department for the last 30 years, stated that the possibility of being hit by a strong earthquake remains slim.

    This fact is based on the findings of local experts who study earthquakes, with local universities conducting further studies on the country’s vulnerability to earthquakes.

    “The proposed long term studies on active fault lines, especially in Ranau and Lahad Datu in Sabah and Bukit Tinggi in Pahang, are being carried out by the department, along with the Mineral and Geosciences Department,” he said.

    Dr Mohd Rosaidi, who has a Doctorate in earthquake studies from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia and a Masters degree in seismology from Japan’s International Institute of Seismology and Earthquake Engineering, said earthquakes in a seabed unleashes another threat – tsunami.

    “Based on some of the findings, strong earthquakes occur at zones where tectonic plates collide at the Andaman Sea, the South China Sea, the Sulu Sea and the Sulawesi Sea. When a strong earthquake occurs in these seas, it can unleash a tsunami that can end up at the coastlines of Perlis, Kedah, Penang, Perak, Selangor, Sabah and Sarawak,” he said.

    So it sounds like earthquakes are possible on the Malaysian peninsula, but it’s in places like Sabah, which was hit with a 5.8 earthquake in 1978 where you probably want to avoid plopping down a giant meltdown box (especially since a 6.0 earthquake hit Sabah today).

    And then there’s the issue of tsunamis. So if Malaysia does decide to build those nuke plants, it sounds Malaysia is going to have to be rather careful in where it decides to go nuclear.

    And we do have a general idea of where they’re going to be built based on previous government : The east coast states of Pahang, Johar, and Terengganu, and Pahang, as indicated above, has an active fault line that warrants close study.

    So hopefully Malaysia chooses wisely, and skips the nukes boxes and goes solar. But if we do end up seeing nuclear power in Malaysia, let’s hope those plants have extensive floodproofing. Earthquakes or not, Malaysia’s nuke boxes are going to need some serious flood-proofing.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 5, 2015, 7:08 pm
  35. The winds of change are blowing in Fukushima. They might slightly radioactive winds but that’s less bad now now thanks to Fukushima’s new giant wind turbine:

    This Huge Wind Turbine Floating on Water Is Fukushima’s Energy Solution

    Bryan Lufkin
    6/23/15 12:30pm

    A mere 12 miles from the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant will soon sit a 620-foot, 1,500-ton windmill atop a 5,000-ton podium. It’ll be the biggest floating wind turbine on Earth, and it could usher in a new age of green energy for a region largely fed up with nuclear energy.

    The turbine, completed Monday, will generate up to 7 megawatts of electricity, making it Japan’s most powerful wind turbine, and the most powerful floating turbine in the world. That’s good news for Japan, a country that’s shut down nuclear power plants in the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami and subsequent meltdown.

    The beast of a turbine sports three 270-foot-long blades and is built to stand against winds nearly 200 mph. It’ll be part of a wind farm that will include three turbines total, and will be stationed in the Pacific in the coming months. One is already in place in the ocean—that smaller one generates 2 megawatts of electricity.

    Japan’s a mountain-filled island, so land is at a premium, making it hard to build sprawling energy infrastructure. Luckily there are a lot of reservoirs that irrigate the country’s huge rice industry, so the country’s been plopping massive solar panels on such water bodies. Countries like the UK and India have also rolled out buoyant solar panels recently, so it’s a trend that’s catching on outside of Japan. As far as wind turbines go, putting them out to sea is a plus because you don’t have to worry about land restrictions, and you get the benefit of stronger winds.

    In the future, we’ll be getting our energy from more offshore, floating behemoths like this one in Fukushima.

    Pretty nifty! Cleans and earthquake proof. Two features that are easy to ignore until you can’t:

    Irish Independent
    Force 6.9 quake a reminder of Japan’s nuclear legacy

    An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.9 struck deep under the seabed off the coast of Japan south of Tokyo yesterday, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

    Aaron Sheldrick

    Published 24/06/2015 | 02:30

    The quake’s epicentre was near the Ogasawara islands south of the capital, the agency said, adding that a tsunami warning had not been issued. The quake’s preliminary depth was put at 480km below the seabed.

    There were no immediate reports of damage. Earthquakes are common in Japan, one of the world’s most seismically active areas, and a magnitude 8.5 quake struck the area around the chain of islands that run south from Tokyo last month. There were no reports of casualties or serious injuries.

    Japan accounts for about 20pc of the world’s earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater, which has made the country’s extensive nuclear power infrastructure hugely problematic.

    With the country is still dealing with the huge clean up after Fukushima and debating its future use of atomic energy, Japan now faces another nuclear conundrum – what to do with 16 tonnes of its plutonium sitting in France after being reprocessed there.

    With its reactor fleet shut down in the wake of Fukushima, Japan is unable to take fuel made from the plutonium at the moment and could be forced to find other countries to use it.

    The matter has taken on greater urgency as Areva, the French nuclear company that owns the La Hague reprocessing facility holding the plutonium in western Normandy, faces billions of dollars of losses.

    “In this whole mess (at Areva) we have a huge amount of Japanese plutonium,” said Mycle Schneider, an independent energy consultant, adding Japan would need to resolve the problem sooner rather than later.

    An Areva spokesman said the company had long-standing contracts with Japanese utilities to take nuclear fuel made from the plutonium.

    Schneider said leaving it in France would be one option, but that the cost would likely be high.

    “Giving its plutonium away and paying for it would expose the Japanese to the reality of plutonium as a liability rather than an asset,” said Schneider.

    A precedent for that kind of deal could be set in Britain, where the government has offered to take ownership of 20 tonnes of Japanese plutonium stored at the Sellafield processing plant.

    “This is a kind of win-win deal,” Tatsujiro Suzuki, a former vice chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, told Reuters, before he made a presentation on spent fuel at the same meeting as Von Hippel on Thursday.

    “The British side would make money and the Japanese would lose less,” said Suzuki. (Reuters)

    Technically that would be a win-lose-less deal, but if Japan’s nuclear officials wants to characterize the proposal as ‘win-win’ for Japan to just pay the French company Areva to store the growing stockpiles of unusable plutonium following the shutdown of Japan’s nuclear plants following the Fukushima catastrophe, that works too. Whatever helps get that plutonium away from shaky fault lines.

    But it’s still hard to avoid seeing this as a ‘lose-lose’ deal, like all deals that involve generating a bunch of highly toxic material that someone is going to have to watch over for potentially millenia. France gets paid, but it also gets a bunch of plutonium to take care of and for who knows how long. Nice work if you can get it and have a place to stash 16 tons of plutonium fuel. As the energy consultant hinted above, Areva’s price for that plutonium storage will probably be pretty high. And it should be (not actually). Areva’s going to need that high revenue stream from Japan to pay for important things to do the service safely, like hiring lots of security to guard the plutonium so no one steals it. And as Frank von Hippel, co-founder of the International Panel on Fissile Materials, warned France, Japan, and the rest of the world recently, those kinds of concerns represent a “clear and present danger” that applies to everyone else’s growing nuclear fuel stockpiles too:

    Japan faces dilemma over plutonium stored in France

    TOKYO | By Aaron Sheldrick
    Thu Jun 18, 2015 12:33pm BST

    Still dealing with the huge clean up after the Fukushima crisis and debating its future use of atomic energy, Japan now faces another nuclear conundrum – what to do with 16 tonnes of its plutonium sitting in France after being reprocessed there.

    The question will be among the issues that come under the spotlight on Thursday and Friday as nuclear proliferation experts meet with legislators and government officials in Tokyo.

    With its reactor fleet shut down in the wake of Fukushima, Japan is unable to take fuel made from the plutonium at the moment and could be forced to find other countries to use it.

    An Areva spokesman said the company had long-standing contracts with Japanese utilities to take nuclear fuel made from the plutonium.

    Frank von Hippel, one of the founders of the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), a group of arms-control and proliferation experts, brought up the issue of Japan’s stock of plutonium overseas at a presentation to Japanese legislators, including ruling Liberal Democratic Party member Taro Kono.

    “It is a big concern because we already have 10 tons” in Japan, Kono said when asked by Reuters after the presentation about the French stockpile and Areva’s financial woes. “If Areva needs some kind of money why don’t we just pay France to keep the plutonium over there.”

    The IPFM argues the world’s growing inventory of plutonium from civilian use is a “clear and present danger” as it could be used in so-called dirty bombs.

    Schneider said France would be one option, but that the cost would likely be high, especially as that country has its own stockpile to deplete. He did not give an exact cost.

    That wasn’t exactly the most uplifting assessment of the risks involved with storing Japan’s plutonium. Storage that could go on for a long, long time if Japan decides to keep its plants mostly shut down. But don’t forget that there’s a strange race going on between the development of new technological capacities to safely dispose the world’s nuclear stockpiles and the race and do potentially dangerous things with it, like build something much scarier than a dirty bomb. Who knows what will be possible with civilian material, say, 20 or 30 years from now with advances in technology.

    Who knows how many different ways there are for us to use future-tech to dispose of the crap. We’ll have to not blow ourselves up to find out. Either way, we should probably have everyone around the globe stop producing more fissile material even if we do have some future-tech that can clean it up. Why? Because Lockheed Martin is apparently a decade away from commercially viable mobile fusion reactors:

    Mit Technology Review
    Does Lockheed Martin Really Have a Breakthrough Fusion Machine?

    Lockheed Martin says it will have a small fusion reactor prototype in five years but offers no data.

    By David Talbot on October 20, 2014

    Lockheed Martin’s announcement last week that it had secretly developed a promising design for a compact nuclear fusion reactor has met with excitement but also skepticism over the basic feasibility of its approach.

    Nuclear fusion could produce far more energy, far more cleanly, than the fission reactions at the heart of today’s nuclear power plants. But there are huge obstacles and no hard evidence that Lockheed has overcome them. The so-far-insurmountable challenge is to confine hydrogen plasma at conditions under which the hydrogen nuclei fuse together at levels that release a useful amount of energy. In decades of research, nobody has yet produced more energy from fusion reaction experiments than was required to conduct the experiments in the first place.

    Most research efforts use a method that tries to contain hot plasma within magnetic fields in a doughnut-shaped device called a tokamak. Three research-scale tokamaks operate in the United States: one at MIT, another at a lab in Princeton, and a third at a Department of Energy lab in San Diego. The world’s largest tokamak is under construction in France at an international facility known as ITER, at a projected cost of $50 billion.

    Tom McGuire, project lead of the Lockheed effort, said in an interview that the company has come up with a compact design, called a high beta fusion reactor, based on principles of so-called “magnetic mirror confinement.” This approach tries to contain plasma by reflecting particles from high-density magnetic fields to low-density ones.

    Lockheed said the test reactor is only two meters long by one meter wide, far smaller than existing research reactors. “In a smaller reactor you can iterate generations quicker, incorporate new knowledge, develop faster, and make riskier design choices. That is a much more powerful development paradigm and much less capital intensive,” McGuire said. If successful, the program could produce a reactor that might fit in a tractor-trailer and produce 100 megawatts of power, he said. “There are no guarantees that we can get there, but that possibility is there.”

    The small team developing the reactor at the company’s skunkworks in Palmdale, California, has done 200 firings with plasma, McGuire said, but has not shown any data on the results. However, he said of the plasma, “it looks like it’s doing what it’s supposed to do.” He added that with research partners Lockheed could develop a competed prototype within five years and a commercial application within a decade. The company is even talking about how fusion reactors could one day power ships and planes.

    But many scientists are unconvinced. Ian Hutchinson, a professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT and one of the principal investigators at the MIT fusion research reactor, says the type of confinement described by Lockheed had long been studied without much success.

    Hutchinson says he was only able to comment on what Lockheed has released—some pictures, diagrams, and commentary, which can be found here. “Based on that, as far as I can tell, they aren’t paying attention to the basic physics of magnetic-confinement fusion energy. And so I’m highly skeptical that they have anything interesting to offer,” he says. “It seems purely speculative, as if someone has drawn a cartoon and said they are going to fly to Mars with it.”

    Hutchinson adds: “Of course we’d be delighted if a real breakthrough were possible, but when someone who shows no evidence of understanding the issues makes a bald claim that they will just make a small device and therefore it will be quicker [to develop], we say, ‘Why do they think they can do that?’ And when they have no answers, we are highly skeptical.”

    Lockheed joins a number of other companies working on smaller and cheaper types of fusion reactors. These include Tri-Alpha, a company based near Irvine, California, that is testing a linear-shaped reactor; Helion Energy of Redmond, Washington, which is developing a system that attempts to use a combination of compression and magnetic confinement of plasma; and Lawrenceville Plasma Physics in Middlesex, New Jersey, which is working on a reactor design that uses what’s known as a “dense plasma focus.”

    Well, at least Lockheed Martin might be developing portable fusion reactors. It didn’t sound like the other fusion experts were very convinced. But that’s no reason to give up on fusion. Especially since it could potentially be used to clean up our fissile nuclear waste.

    And fusion or not, let’s hope we see a lot more giant wind turbines. Like solar, wind generates waste too…when you don’t capture it for your electrical needs and use something more polluting instead, you waste it.

    So hopefully we’ll cut down on the build up of nuclear waste by cutting down on our wind waste. And that means more giant turbines. Really giant turbines. There’s going to be a lot of wind waste to avoid generating.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 23, 2015, 11:25 pm
  36. There’s been more news coming out out Fukushima recently. Some good, some not so good. But to put it in context, here’s some bad news from back in October,
    when TEPCO had to postpone plans for the removing the nuclear fuels from reactor-1 for five years due to concerns over radioactive dust escaping into the atmosphere:

    International Business Times
    Dismantling Of Fukushima Reactor 1 Faces Delays, US Judge Gives Sailor Go Signal To Push Through Lawsuit Against TEPCO Over Radiation

    By Esther Tanquintic-Misa
    on October 31 2014 2:08 PM

    Japan has announced that it will be delaying the dismantling and removal of the molten nuclear fuel from the reactor-1 of the crippled Fukushima power plant. The postponement will be for five years, from the original schedule of 2020.

    Both the federal government and Tokyo Electric Power Co, operator of the facility, explained the slowdown and sudden change in plans were prompted by safety concerns arising from the presence of radioactive material detected in nearby paddy fields in July. The company had earlier removed the contaminated debris around the building that surround reactor-3. Authorities believed the presence of radioactive material they detected resulted from the dust that flew during the removal. They believe the same thing can happen with reactor-1.

    TEPCO had started dismantling the canopy over the damaged No. 1 reactor building earlier in October. The canopy had been installed to prevent radioactive substances from entering the atmosphere. Asahi Shimbun reported both the government and TEPCO are expected to review the plans concerning the removal of the nuclear fuel at the No. 2 reactor building so as not to further hamper original plans. The removal of spent nuclear fuel from the No. 4 reactor building, meantime, is expected to be finished as scheduled, which is by yearend.

    Meanwhile, a California court has ruled that U.S. Navy personnel who were exposed to radiation from the crippled Fukushima plant can sue TEPCO right inside the United States.

    TEPCO had earlier sought for the dismissal of the class-action lawsuit, citing jurisdictional issues. Moreover, it asked that the case be filed and heard in Japan. But U.S. District Judge Janis L. Sammartino based in San Diego quashed TEPCO’s counter, saying in an October 28 ruling that private and public interest factors gathered on the case “suggest that it would be more convenient for the parties to litigate in a U.S. court.”

    At least 79 personnel of the U.S. navy filed a US$1 billion lawsuit against TEPCO in April 2014 on allegations the operator lied about the high level of radiation in the area as they carried out their humanitarian mission. They were the first respondents to the crisis three years ago. They were aboard USS Ronald Reagan at the time.

    Some of the sailors have developed a number of cancer cases. One of them has given birth to a child with birth defects, the lawsuit filed in federal court in San Diego said.

    Yes, the dismantling of reactor 1 got delayed five years due, in part, to concerns raised over the radiation released when from debris removal at reactor 3:

    Both the federal government and Tokyo Electric Power Co, operator of the facility, explained the slowdown and sudden change in plans were prompted by safety concerns arising from the presence of radioactive material detected in nearby paddy fields in July. The company had earlier removed the contaminated debris around the building that surround reactor-3. Authorities believed the presence of radioactive material they detected resulted from the dust that flew during the removal. They believe the same thing can happen with reactor-1
    TEPCO had started dismantling the canopy over the damaged No. 1 reactor building earlier in October. The canopy had been installed to prevent radioactive substances from entering the atmosphere…

    So that was some bad news. Although the ruling by a California court that US Navy personnel exposed to radiation during the initial event can indeed sue TEPCO from within the US sounds like good news (and potentially quite impactful news regarding international nuclear liability laws).
    Flash forward to July and we got another round of good news/bad news: the Japanese government is declaring some of the evacuation zone habitable again, including the town of Nahara, one of the towns that was completely evacuated. So assuming the government and TEPCO are correct in their assessment of the safety for returning evacuees, this would be pretty good news. On the other hand…:

    Deutsche Welle
    Tokyo under fire for plans to speed return of Fukushima evacuees

    As Japan aims to lift evacuation orders for many people forced from their homes by the Fukushima disaster, environmentalists say many areas still show highly-elevated levels of contamination and are unfit for habitation.

    Date 21.07.2015
    Author Gabriel Domínguez

    In a bid seen by critics as aiming to speed up reconstruction, the Japanese government is preparing to declare sections of the evacuation zone around the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant a safe place to live. The ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe intends to revoke many evacuation orders by March 2017, if decontamination progresses as hoped, meaning that up to 55,000 evacuees could return to the homes they abandoned more than four years ago.

    Moreover, Tokyo recently announced that the 7,000 residents of Nahara, a town in one of the seven Fukushima municipalities completely evacuated following the nuclear crisis, will be able to return home permanently from September 5. How many residents of the settlement, which lies just 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of the plant, will return, however, remains unclear as many still have mixed feelings, according to a recent poll.

    On March 11, 2011, a magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan, causing massive devastation and ultimately sending three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into meltdown. It was the worst atomic accident in a generation. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee amid fears of rising radiation, with more than 72,500 people – who used to live within a 20-kilometer radius of the plant – still living in temporary housing units.

    Mounting concerns

    But while organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) say such efforts have contributed to reducing radiation levels, many problems remain, especially when one considers the disposal of contaminated water in the plant and the fact that anyone living in the surrounding areas would be exposed to radiation levels of more than 20 millisieverts (mSv) a year.

    The globally-accepted limit for radiation absorption is 1mSv per year, although the IAEA says anything up to 20mSv per year poses no immediate danger to human health. However, various studies have shown health impacts from exposure to lower levels. Moreover, critics argue that only residential areas are being cleaned in the short-term, and the worst-hit parts of the countryside are being omitted or are impossible to be decontaminated, like dense forests and mountains.

    This development has raised concerns among environmentalist groups such as Greenpeace, who fear that radioactive contamination in Iitate district is so widespread and at such a high level that it will be “impossible for people to safely return to their homes.”

    ‘A vast stock of radioactivity’

    “Prime Minister Abe would like the people of Japan to believe that they are decontaminating vast areas of Fukushima to levels safe enough for people to live in. The reality is that this is a policy doomed to failure. The forests of Iitate are a vast stock of radioactivity that will remain both a direct hazard and source of potential recontamination for hundreds of years. It is impossible to decontaminate,” said Jan Vande Putte, a radiation specialist with Greenpeace Belgium.

    Based on its own investigation, Greenpeace claims that even after decontamination, radiation dose rates were measured higher than 2 micro Sv/h on decontaminated fields, the equivalent of an annual dose higher than 10mSv/year or ten times the maximum allowed dose to the general public.

    “In the untouched and heavily contaminated forests, radiation dose rates are typically in the range of 1-3uSv/h – high levels that will remain for many years to come, said Greenpeace, adding that the only forest decontamination underway in Iitate is along public roads, where thousands of workers are removing contaminated soil and plants along a 10-20 meter strip.

    Mamoru Sekiguchi, the group’s energy campaigner at Greenpeace Japan, put the situation into a broader perspective, arguing that even after nearly thirty years, the 30-kilometer area around he crippled Chernobyl plant in Ukraine remains an exclusion zone.

    “It’s a shocking indictment of both the IAEA and the Abe government, which reveals how desperate they are to create the illusion that returning to ‘normal’ is possible after a severe nuclear accident. Their position is indefensible and plans for a de facto forced return must be stopped,” Sekiguchi said.

    No compensation?

    Campaigners also claim the government’s plans mean that some people will have no choice but to go back to their abandoned homes given that they will trigger the ending of some compensation payments. “Stripping nuclear victims of their already inadequate compensation, which may force them to have to return to unsafe, highly radioactive areas for financial reasons, amounts to economic coercion,” said Vande Putte.

    A similar view is shared by Schneider: “The decontamination program and the government plan to ‘allow’ for the return of inhabitants do have a very simple goal: reduce the amount of compensation being paid out to victims,” said the expert.

    Tokyo Electric has paid some $40 billion (36.78 billion euros) in compensation to residents and expects to pay billions more to decontaminate the area and decommission the wrecked power station, a project that could take an estimated three decades, according to Reuters news agency.

    Under the existing compensation scheme, the utility pays each evacuee about $1,000 (921 euros) a month for emotional distress. The assistance is to be cut off a year after the government lifts an evacuation order, said Reuters, citing a Japanese government draft.

    It looks like there might be quite a few more number of additional inhabitants in the areas around the clean up site. Financially coerced inhabitants:

    Campaigners also claim the government’s plans mean that some people will have no choice but to go back to their abandoned homes given that they will trigger the ending of some compensation payments. “Stripping nuclear victims of their already inadequate compensation, which may force them to have to return to unsafe, highly radioactive areas for financial reasons, amounts to economic coercion,” said Vande Putte.

    A similar view is shared by Schneider: “The decontamination program and the government plan to ‘allow’ for the return of inhabitants do have a very simple goal: reduce the amount of compensation being paid out to victims,” said the expert.

    So that some rather awful good news.

    But just a week later, we got some very good news. At least, let’s hope it’s good news, because it was very significant: the canopy at reactor 1 that couldn’t be removed back in October due to concerns over the release of radiation was getting removed:

    TEPCO removes canopy panel from Fukushima reactor building
    July 28, 2015

    By HIROMI KUMAI/ Staff Writer

    OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture–Tokyo Electric Power Co. on July 28 started removing a canopy covering a damaged reactor building at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant to prepare for the eventual extraction of spent nuclear fuel inside.

    Around 7 a.m., workers using a giant crane lifted away the first of six canopy panels, each measuring 40 meters long and 7 meters wide, from the No. 1 reactor building.

    The 30-minute removal of the panel left a large hole in the canopy through which steel beams on the damaged upper part of structure could be seen from above. Workers closely monitored radiation levels in the surrounding areas during the removal process.

    The utility plans to remove the remaining five panels from next week.

    The removal of the canopy will allow TEPCO to clear debris inside the building, possibly in the latter half of fiscal 2016. That process should pave the way for the removal of nuclear fuel rods from the spent fuel pool in the building.

    Before removing the canopy panel, the utility sprayed the inside of the reactor building with liquid resin through holes drilled in the cover to prevent radioactive materials from being stirred up during the dismantling work.

    TEPCO initially planned to start removing the canopy panels from the No. 1 reactor building in summer 2014, but the schedule was delayed because a large amount of radioactive substances was released into the environment when the utility removed debris from the No. 3 reactor building in August 2013.

    Good news! At least, it’s good assuming it’s actually safe to remove to the canopy.

    But that wasn’t the only good news. The situation in reactor 3 just got unambiguously MUCH better in a highly critical way: A 20-ton fuel handling machine that had fallen onto reactor 3’s spent fuel pool, preventing the remove of those fuel rods, was successfully removed:

    Company hails breakthrough in Fukushima nuclear clear-up

    August 3, 04:56 CET

    The company that operates the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, says it has managed to remove a 20-ton fuel handling machine from one of the plant’s reactors.

    The Tokyo Electric Power Company, TEPCO, said the operation in reactor three took months of preparation.

    TEPCO said its removal clears the way for removing the rest of the 514 spent fuel assemblies in the pool.

    The Fukushima nuclear plant was extensively damaged as a result of a massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

    The company has faced a stream of legal cases and compensation claims over the disaster and some of its executives at the time could still face charges.

    Tens of thousands of people are still in temporary housing four years after the accident.

    Excellent! In terms of good news stories, removing the giant piece of machinery that’s preventing the spent fuel rod removal is one of the best pieces of news we can get. And it’s looking like TEPCO’s executives might actually get sued too. More good news!

    But while TEPCO’s leadership sucks, it’s cleanup workers sure don’t. And that brings us to the latest round of bad news which is particularly alarming given the recent removal of both the canopy on reactor 1 and the debris removal on reactor 3: A 30 year old TEPCO worker just died on the job while working on the underground “ice wall”. The cause of death is not yet known:

    Worker Dies at Disabled Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant

    By Pierre Longeray et Pierre-Louis Caron
    August 4, 2015 | 3:15 pm

    A 30 year-old man died this weekend as he worked on decommissioning Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, which was devastated in the 2011 Tohoku tsunami, in which 20,000 died or were reported missing.

    It is not yet known whether the man’s death was due to radiation exposure, and an autopsy is pending.

    The Fukushima Daiichi plant suffered a series of meltdowns in 2011 during a massive earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Japan. The quake knocked out the plant’s cooling systems, causing meltdowns in the plant’s reactors and a radioactive leak that triggered the evacuation of thousands of people in the area.

    In a statement released Monday, the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), said that the man had been taken to the emergency room after complaining that he wasn’t feeling well. “His death was confirmed early in the afternoon,” Tepco said.

    Isabelle Dublineau, the head of the experimental radiotoxicology laboratory for France’s Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), said that, “there are many thresholds of radiation exposure.” Speaking to VICE News Tuesday, Dublineau said it was “too early” to comment on the death.

    This is the third recorded death at the stricken Fukushima plant since the start of the decommissioning work. In March 2014, a laborer at the plant was killed after being buried under gravel while digging, and in January 2015, a worker died after falling inside a water storage tank.

    While the latest death has already been branded suspicious in the media, Tepco has so far denied that any of the deaths are related to radiation exposure.

    On some days, radioactive emissions at the Fukushima plant can be as high as 2.16 millisieverts [mSv] — more than one-tenth of the allowed annual exposure for nuclear energy workers. As a result, workers are limited to three-hour shifts, and labor in grueling conditions, particularly in the summer, when the temperature can reach 113 degrees. The heat is made worse by the heavy protective gear worn by workers to protect themselves from radiation exposure — including suits boots, gloves and masks.

    The worker who died over the weekend was working up to three hours a day at the plant, on the construction of the “ice wall” — an underground frozen wall designed to box in the melted reactors and contain the seeping radioactive water to prevent further groundwater pollution. Today, clean groundwater from around the plant flows through the melted reactor and mixes with the contaminated water in the reactors. To prevent ocean pollution, Tepco has to store the contaminated water in reservoirs and treat it, before pumping it back out.

    Tepco has warned that decommissioning the Fukushima nuclear plant could take up to 40 years. In early July, the Japanese government notified the evacuated residents of Naraha — a town of 7,400 that lies 20 miles from the nuclear plant — that they would be able return to their homes in September. Naraha has an estimated annual radiation dose of 20 millisieverts — the maximum annual dose allowed for nuclear energy workers in France.

    Following the 2011 nuclear disaster, Japan shut down all of its 50 working reactors, which were supplying close to a third of the country’s electricity. Forced to turn to other sources of energy, Japan has since become the second largest importer of coal behind China.

    Tepco has been heavily criticized for its handling of the Fukushima catastrophe, and three former Tepco executives currently face criminal charges and are due to stand trial soon for “negligence.”

    So that was some very bad news. And it wasn’t the only new coming from Japan’s nuclear power sector this week. Guess what Japan’s nuclear regulator just did: It just placed the largest nuclear power plant in the world, which has a similar design to Fukushima’s boiling-water reactor, on the list of nuclear plants to restart:

    Japan puts Tepco reactors on priority list for restart screening

    Thu Aug 6, 2015 9:58am BST

    Aug 6 Japan’s nuclear regulator said on Thursday it placed on a priority list for safety screening two reactors operated by Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), the owner of the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

    The move potentially brings Tepco closer to restarting the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa station, the world’s biggest nuclear plant, though the checks are expected to take at least several months, based on the progress of other screenings.

    Even if Tepco gets approval from the regulator any restart must be signed off by the governor of Niigata prefecture, where the plant is located. Governor Hirohiko Izumida is vehemently opposed to any restart, saying the utility has not fully explained or atoned for the Fukushima disaster.

    All of Japan’s reactors remain shut down for screening under tougher safety standards introduced after the meltdowns at Fukushima in March 2011, following an earthquake and tsunami, although one in southwestern Japan is scheduled for restart next week.

    The move by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) to place reactors number 6 and 7 at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa station on the list is also significant because the units are boiling water reactors, the same type that melted down at Fukushima, albeit of a more advanced design.

    All other units on the priority list, including the Sendai reactor due to restart next week, are pressurized water reactors, which are more modern and considered less prone to meltdowns.

    Yes, Japan’s government and TEPCO want to prioritize the restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant. It’s not good news.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 7, 2015, 8:54 pm
  37. Look who’s back!

    Japan Restarts Reactor After Break Due to Fukushima

    AUG. 10, 2015, 10:34 P.M. E.D.T.

    TOKYO — A power plant operator in southern Japan restarted a nuclear reactor on Tuesday, the first to begin operating under new safety requirements following the Fukushima disaster.

    Kyushu Electric Power Co. said Tuesday it had restarted the No. 1 reactor at its Sendai nuclear plant as planned. The restart marks Japan’s return to nuclear energy four-and-half-years after the 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in northeastern Japan following an earthquake and tsunami.

    A majority of Japanese oppose the return to nuclear energy. Dozens of protesters, including ex-Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who was in office at the time of the disaster and has become an outspoken critic of nuclear power, were gathered outside the plant as police stood guard.

    The Nuclear Regulation Authority affirmed the safety of the Sendai reactor and another one at the plant last September under stricter safety rules imposed after the 2011 accident, the worst since the 1986 Chernobyl explosion.

    The Sendai No. 1 reactor is scheduled to start generating power Friday and reach full capacity next month. The second Sendai reactor is due to restart in October.

    Koichi Miyazawa, Japan’s industry minister, said Tuesday that the government would “put safety first” in resuming use of nuclear power.

    All of Japan’s 43 workable reactors were idled for the past two years pending safety checks. To offset the shortfall in power output, the country ramped up imports of oil and gas and fired up more thermal power plants, slowing progress toward reducing its emissions of greenhouse gases.

    Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has sought to have the reactors restarted as soon as possible to help reduce costly reliance on imported oil and gas and alleviate the financial burden on utilities of maintaining the idled plants.

    “There are very strong vested interests to reopen nuclear reactors. Accepting them as permanently closed would have financial implications that would be hard to manage,” said Tomas Kaberger, chairman of the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation.

    Utilities are seeking approvals to restart 23 reactors, including the other Sendai reactor.

    The government has set a goal to have nuclear power meet more than 20 percent of Japan’s energy needs by 2030, despite the lingering troubles at the Fukushima plant, which is plagued by massive flows of contaminated water leaking from its reactors.

    Removal of the melted fuel at the plant — the most challenging part of the 30-to-40-year process of shutting it down permanently — will begin only in 2022.

    Still, the government favors restarting other plants judged to meet the new safety criteria, for both economic and political reasons. Japan invested heavily in its nuclear power program and many communities rely on tax revenues and jobs associated with the plants.

    Japan also faces pressure to use its stockpile of more than 40 tons of weapons-grade plutonium, enough to make 40 to 50 nuclear weapons. The plutonium, as fuel called MOX, will be burned in reactors since the country’s nuclear fuel recycling program at Rokkasho in northern Japan has been stalled by technical problems.

    To burn enough plutonium, Japan needs to restart as many as 18 reactors. Nuclear experts say this could pose a challenge.

    It’s one of the fun things about nuclear power: you can turn the power generation off, but you can’t really off the need to store your nuclear fuel. And when you have 40 tons of weapons grade plutonium lying around, more nuclear reactions are one of your obvious options for making your plutonium a little more storable. 18 reactors is apparently a good start:

    Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has sought to have the reactors restarted as soon as possible to help reduce costly reliance on imported oil and gas and alleviate the financial burden on utilities of maintaining the idled plants.

    “There are very strong vested interests to reopen nuclear reactors. Accepting them as permanently closed would have financial implications that would be hard to manage,” said Tomas Kaberger, chairman of the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation.

    Japan also faces pressure to use its stockpile of more than 40 tons of weapons-grade plutonium, enough to make 40 to 50 nuclear weapons. The plutonium, as fuel called MOX, will be burned in reactors since the country’s nuclear fuel recycling program at Rokkasho in northern Japan has been stalled by technical problems.

    To burn enough plutonium, Japan needs to restart as many as 18 reactors. Nuclear experts say this could pose a challenge.

    So we’ll see what happens with that 40 tons of weapons-grade plutonium. Hopefully the technology to safely get rid of all of it is developed soon. There are less than safe alternatives available.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 11, 2015, 8:13 pm
  38. It turns out volcano gods don’t support nuclear power. Now we know:

    Agence France-Presse

    Sakurajima volcano: chance of large eruption ‘extremely high’

    Japan raises eruption warning for southern volcano to second-highest level and tells thousands of residents to prepare for a possible evacuation

    Saturday 15 August 2015 07.15 EDT

    Japan’s weather agency on Saturday told thousands of residents near a southern city to prepare for a possible evacuation as it upgraded a volcanic eruption warning.

    Officials raised their alert to its second-highest level after picking up increasing seismic activity around the volcano Sakurajima, which sits just off the coast of Kagoshima, a city of more than 600,000 people.

    Activity has spiked since Saturday morning, they said.

    The volcano is about 50 kilometres (31 miles) from a nuclear reactor that was switched on this week, as Japan restarted its nuclear power programme following the 2011 Fukushima crisis when a quake-sparked tsunami set off reactor meltdowns at the now-crippled site.

    Critics have said the restarted reactor at Sendai was still at risk from natural disasters.

    “The possibility for a large-scale eruption has become extremely high for Sakurajima,” the agency said, warning residents to exercise “strict caution” and prepare for a possible evacuation. The warning applies to a part of the island, which is home to more than 4,000 people.

    The last major eruption at the 1,117-metre-high Sakurajima – a popular tourist attraction – was in 2013 when it spewed ash as far as Kagoshima and sent rocks flying into populated areas, causing damage but no major injuries.

    There are scores of active volcanoes in Japan, which sits on the so-called “ring of fire”, where a large proportion of the world’s quakes and eruptions are recorded.

    “The volcano is about 50 kilometres (31 miles) from a nuclear reactor that was switched on this week, as Japan restarted its nuclear power programme following the 2011 Fukushima crisis when a quake-sparked tsunami set off reactor meltdowns at the now-crippled site.”
    Yikes. Well, it would been nice if Japan hadn’t awoken the volcano gods by tempting fate so brazenly, but at least appeasing those gods might still be an option.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 15, 2015, 7:12 pm
  39. Parts of eastern Japan were just hit with flooding so severe that parts of some towns are now submerged. Fukushima prefecture wasn’t in the hardest hit areas, but it was still hit hard enough to overwhelm the pumps operating at the nuclear plant, sending hundreds of tons of contaminated water into the ocean. So it could have been a lot worse for Fukushima, and was a lot worse for the areas that are still submerged:

    The Guardian
    Typhoon Etau: thousands evacuated as severe flooding hits Japan

    More than 100,000 people ordered to leave homes as torrential rains cause widespread disruption in east of country

    Justin McCurry in Tokyo

    Thursday 10 September 2015 05.25 EDT

    At least two people have died and several others are missing as flooding in eastern Japan forced the evacuation of more than 100,000 people and left large parts of one town submerged.

    TV footage showed Japanese military personnel rescuing dozens of stranded residents in Joso, a town of about 65,000 people 37 miles north-east of Tokyo, after the Kinugawa river burst its banks, sending a torrent of muddy water cascading into the town.

    Aerial footage from the public broadcaster NHK and other networks showed rescuers plucking people from the rooftops. A low-lying section of the town appeared to be completely submerged, with just a short section of elevated motorway visible above the water.

    Some residents stuck on the roofs of their homes waved cloths and towels to attract rescuers as the floodwaters pulled houses from their foundations and washed away cars.

    In one of the most dramatic scenes, a rescuer lowered himself from a military helicopter four times over a 20-minute period to rescue a stranded group people as floodwater coursed around their home.

    Another man was shown clinging to a telegraph pole, unable to move as the water surged past. He was later rescued.

    Kyodo News said military personnel had rescued 39 people by Thursday afternoon. In a message apparently directed at stranded residents, an NHK presenter called on them to keep asking for help. Joso residents were still being evacuated when the river burst its banks, sending water several kilometres through the town.

    The transport ministry said that 6,900 households had been affected, adding that only 2,500 people had fled to safety when water levels rose dramatically. Local officials said rescuers were no longer able to respond immediately to the huge number of requests for help.

    Many parts of central and eastern Japan have been hit in recent days by torrential rain caused by Typhoon Etau, which has since been downgraded to tropical storm.

    “This is a downpour on a scale that we have not experienced before,” forecaster Takuya Deshimaru told an emergency press conference. “Grave danger could be imminent.”

    The prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who has set up an emergency response headquarters, said: “The government will stand united and do its best to deal with the disaster, by putting its highest priority on people’s lives.”

    The threat of floods and landslides – an ever-present danger in Japan, where many smaller communities live on or close to mountains – prompted the evacuation of tens of thousands of people across the country.

    The heavy rain, which is expected to spread north on Friday, has also caused additional leaks of radioactive water at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

    The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), said rain had overwhelmed the site’s drainage pumps, sending hundreds of tonnes of contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean.

    Workers at the Fukushima plant have had to store huge quantities of contaminated water used to cool melted fuel in three badly damaged reactors in thousands of steel tanks.

    Japan’s meteorological agency issued special warnings for Tochigi and Ibaraki prefectures north of Tokyo, and urged residents to watch out for more flooding and landslides.

    Etau, which made landfall in Japan on Wednesday, had moved out into the Sea of Japan by Thursday afternoon but continued to dump heavy rain on many parts of the country.

    Parts of central Tochigi have seen almost 60 centimetres of rain since Monday evening. The authorities had ordered more than 90,000 residents to evacuate, and another 116,000 were advised to leave their homes, according to NHK. In neighbouring Ibaraki prefecture, at least 20,000 were ordered to evacuate.

    Etau also caused widespread disruption to rail transport in the east and northeast of the country. The meteorological agency warned that heavy rain would continue in the northeast, including Fukushima prefecture, until early Friday morning.

    So Fukushima prefecture sort of dodged a bullet considering the devastation to the south. And considering the unprecedented nature of the storm, it might be tempting to assume that this type bullet is only going to have be dodged once or twice century. And 50 years ago that may have been the case. Times change:


    Warmer Waters Are Making Pacific Typhoons Stronger
    Decades of storm data show that tropical cyclones in the Pacific are getting more intense as ocean temperatures rise

    By Sarah Zielinski
    May 29, 2015

    Tropical cyclones in the northwestern Pacific have strengthened about 10 percent since the 1970s because of warming ocean temperatures, researchers report this week in Science Advances. According to an extensive analysis of historical cyclone data, nearly 65 percent of typhoons now reach category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale, compared with around 45 percent just decades ago.

    The northwestern Pacific produces some of the world’s most intense and most devastating tropical cyclones, called typhoons in the Pacific and hurricanes in the Atlantic. The category 5 super typhoon Haiyan, for instance, had record winds that reached nearly 200 miles per hour, and the 2013 storm killed at least 6,300 people in the Philippines.

    For years scientists have been working to determine how climate change is affecting these storms. Warmer waters should make for more intense storms in theory, but plenty of other factors can affect tropical cyclone development. This year’s Atlantic hurricane season, for instance, should be below normal in part because of El Niño, according to the most recent forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Such variability has made finding a signal from climate change difficult.

    In the new study, Mei’s team looked at the average intensity of tropical cyclones that occurred in the northwestern Pacific between 1951 and 2010. They focused on storms that reached at least category 1 on the Saffir-Simpson scale and examined season-to-season variability, of which there was quite a bit. Some seasons saw much stronger storms on average than others, others much weaker. Plotted out over the years, though, the average intensity could be seen starting to rise in the 1970s.

    But what is causing that rise? The team considered several factors that influence tropical cyclones, such as air pressure, sea surface temperatures and localized differences in wind speed and direction, known as wind shear. They were surprised to find that the variability in ocean temperatures, rather than atmospheric conditions, were dominant in controlling the observed changes in typhoon intensity, Mei says.

    “How strongly and quickly a cyclone can grow depends on two oceanic factors: pre-storm sea surface temperature and the difference in temperature between the surface and subsurface,” Mei explains. “A warmer sea surface generally provides more energy for storm development and thus favors more intense typhoons. A large change in temperature from the surface to subsurface, however, can disrupt this flow of energy, because strong winds drive turbulence in the upper ocean, bringing cold water up from below and thereby cooling the sea surface.”

    Since the mid-1970s, sea-surface temperatures in the tropical northwestern Pacific have risen by about 1 degree Fahrenheit, while temperatures at 250 feet below the surface have gone up by about 1.4 degrees. This reduction in the vertical temperature difference favors more intense typhoons, Mei says.

    The researchers project that even under a scenario of moderate warming—one in which there are cutbacks in greenhouse gas emissions—the average typhoon intensity will still increase by another 14 percent by 2100. If emissions continue apace, “we anticipate that the typhoons will intensify even more,” Mei says.

    There appears to be a trade-off between typhoon number and intensity. A recent study published in Nature Climate Change found that as ocean waters have warmed over the last 30 years, tropical cyclones globally have slightly decreased in number but increased in intensity. And earlier this year, a team led by Mei reported in the Journal of Climate that the number of storms in the northwestern Pacific has declined since the mid-1990s due to rising sea surface temperatures.

    But the decline in storm number should not put anyone at ease, Mei notes: “It is the most intense typhoons that cause the most damage.”

    The researchers project that even under a scenario of moderate warming—one in which there are cutbacks in greenhouse gas emissions—the average typhoon intensity will still increase by another 14 percent by 2100. If emissions continue apace, “we anticipate that the typhoons will intensify even more,” Mei says.

    Yes, times change, and that just might include changes in typhoon intensity. How fun facts like this change humanity remains to be seen, although if that change comes in the form of us spontaneously sprouting gills that could work.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 10, 2015, 8:02 pm
  40. It was a historic day for the Fukushima cleanup work: TEPCO dumped 850 tons of water into the ocean, but for the first time ever it’s not radioactive (at least not very radioactive…one hopes):

    Fukushima Dumps First Batch of Once-Radioactive Water In Sea

    Sep 14, 2015 12:30 PM ET

    Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant Monday began releasing previously contaminated water into the sea, but the man tasked with preventing another meltdown warned other highly radioactive fluid still stored on site could pose a major threat.

    Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), which operates the plant in eastern Japan, discharged 850 tons of formerly contaminated water it had extracted from the ground near the plant into the sea, saying a filtration process had now made it safe.

    Monday was the first time the plant, whose reactors went into meltdown after being hit by a huge tsunami in 2011, has released once radioactive water into nature after a years-long battle with fishermen, who feared it could destroy their livelihood.

    But Dale Klein, the chairman of a committee created to ensure the nuclear meltdown is never repeated, said other highly radioactive water used to cool the reactors four years ago and which is still kept in tanks in the plant could be dangerous.

    “The risk that you run is that you have all these tanks full of water,” Klein told AFP in an interview.

    “The longer you store the water, the more likely you are going to have (an) uncontrolled release,” he said, adding that he would like to see the supplies released from storage in the next three years.

    TEPCO has faced criticism for its handling of the meltdown, which saw thousands of people evacuated as radiation poisoned the air, land and water and has already cost some $57 billion in compensation for residents.

    Four years later it is still extracting some 300 tons of contaminated water from the ground every day, which had been stored in tanks before TEPCO started releasing it into the sea after purification on Monday.

    ‘Long-term solution’

    The move is a milestone for the company, which said its Advanced Liquid Processing System, which removes highly radioactive substances like strontium and caesium, meant the ground water was now safe to release into the natural environment.

    Fishermen had argued that the discharge even of the groundwater would heighten contamination concerns and hurt their already battered reputation.

    They had fought to stop the water being released into the sea, even after it is filtered, but eventually bowed to pressure from TEPCO, which is struggling to find space to store the tainted supplies.

    But it has yet to find a solution to deal with another highly radioactive 680,000 tons of water that was used to cool the reactors during the meltdown, which is still stored on site.

    Fishermen are opposed to the fluid being released into the sea, even after it is filtered.

    “I would much rather see Japan move to a long-term solution of the controlled release, rather than have an unexpected release” that could be caused by pipebreaks or other failures, said Klein.

    Torrential flooding this month in an area not far south of the plant added to contamination concerns, flushing away at least 293 plastic bags of plants and soil that had been collected in the clean up.

    This month saw the evacuation order lifted for Naraha, the first of seven municipalities fully emptied after the explosion whose residents can return permanently, but the full clean up is expected take decades.

    Just to put it into perspective, the 850 tons of treated water is 0.125% of the 680,000 total tons of highly radiactive water, with 300 additional tons added each day. So if we assume 850 tons can be cleaned and released every day, with 300 tons of new radictive water added to the storage tanks, that’s a net of 550 tons of water storage capacity that could be freed up each day and it would take 1,236 days to empty them completely which is just under 3 1/2 years. So when you read…

    But Dale Klein, the chairman of a committee created to ensure the nuclear meltdown is never repeated, said other highly radioactive water used to cool the reactors four years ago and which is still kept in tanks in the plant could be dangerous.

    “The risk that you run is that you have all these tanks full of water,” Klein told AFP in an interview.

    “The longer you store the water, the more likely you are going to have (an) uncontrolled release,” he said, adding that he would like to see the supplies released from storage in the next three years.

    keep in mind that it is sort of possible that we could see those water storage tanks could be completely emptied by 2018 if we assume an 850 ton/day cleaning capacity.

    Another thing to keep in is mind that, as this article from last year mentions, TEPCO’s radiation scrubbing equipment doesn’t remove tritium. And while tritium is probably the best radioactive element to have around if you have to be exposed to radiation, it’s still not something you really want to dump in the environment at high levels:

    Asahi Shinbun
    Problems still plague ALPS decontamination system at Fukushima plant
    June 05, 2014

    High radiation levels and technical difficulties continue to stymie full-scale operations of key decontamination equipment at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant even though tests started more than a year ago.

    The multi-nuclide removal equipment, called ALPS (advanced liquid processing system), began trial runs in March 2013 to reduce levels of 62 kinds of radioactive substances in contaminated water, such as strontium, to below detectable limits.

    But Tokyo Electric Power Co. has been forced to repeatedly suspend operations, having discovered holes from corrosion and liquid leaks.

    Cloudy water was found at the B channel of the ALPS system in March. Two months later, all three ALPS channels were stopped after cloudy water was detected at the A channel and the C channel on May 17 and 20, respectively.

    TEPCO, operator of the embattled nuclear plant, concluded that the packing to fill gaps had deteriorated due to radiation exposure and resumed operations at the B channel on May 23. TEPCO also plans to restart the A and C channels by the end of June after replacing the packing.

    High radiation readings have not only damaged the system, but have also prevented workers from spending long hours near ALPS for inspections and repairs.

    Radioactive water to be processed contains various impurities derived from seawater and concrete, and chemical agents are necessary to remove them. An elaborate pipe arrangement also makes it difficult for workers to handle ALPS.

    The ALPS system consists of two facilities: preprocessing and absorption.

    The system first removes materials that can hamper radioactive substance removal procedures at its preprocessing facility. At this stage, mud and metal in contaminated water stored in tanks are precipitated with chemical agents. Then calcium and magnesium are filtered out by adding sodium carbonate and other chemicals to the water.

    The deteriorated packing was found at a filter used at the last stage of preprocessing.

    After all preprocessing procedures are complete, the water is transferred to the absorption facility, where radioactive materials will be absorbed by particles 0.5 millimeter in diameter and removed. A total of 15 devices of seven types can remove 62 kinds of radioactive substances.

    But one of the three ALPS channels has been found to fail to significantly decrease levels of four radioactive materials.

    As of May 27, about 360,000 tons of highly contaminated water remain stored in tanks on the plant site to be processed with ALPS.

    While the decontamination equipment has processed just 85,000 tons of water since the start of trial runs, TEPCO and the government expect all the water on the premises to be processed by the end of the fiscal year.

    To achieve that goal, the utility plans to double ALPS’ current processing capacity of up to 750 tons per day by this fall.

    The government is also expected to provide funding to introduce a similar system with the capacity of up to 500 tons per day in the near future.

    However, even after readings for the 62 types of radioactive substances fall to well below detectable limits, radioactivity levels of those materials in the processed water will likely remain at several hundreds of becquerels per liter in total.

    In addition, ALPS cannot remove tritium, raising radioactive levels in the processed water by several hundreds of thousands of becquerels per liter. Those levels of tritium are not allowed to be released into the sea.

    It is possible that contaminated water on the premises contains radioactive materials other than the 62 kinds. The Nuclear Regulation Authority has told TEPCO to re-examine the water to decide if it includes additional radioactive substances.

    Yes, as of last year, the news reports about the Advanced Liquid Processing System included fun facts like this:

    However, even after readings for the 62 types of radioactive substances fall to well below detectable limits, radioactivity levels of those materials in the processed water will likely remain at several hundreds of becquerels per liter in total.

    In addition, ALPS cannot remove tritium, raising radioactive levels in the processed water by several hundreds of thousands of becquerels per liter. Those levels of tritium are not allowed to be released into the sea.

    And yet we now have the announcement from TEPCO in the first article about today’s debut ocean dumping that:

    The move is a milestone for the company, which said its Advanced Liquid Processing System, which removes highly radioactive substances like strontium and caesium, meant the ground water was now safe to release into the natural environment.

    So let’s not only hope that the ALPS radiation scrubbers don’t suffer from any major maintenance issues over the next few years or so, but let’s also hope that TEPCO figure out a solution to the tritium problem that doesn’t simply involve declaring it safe to dump. Because as of April, simply declaring the tritium safe to dump was definitely where TEPCO was leaning:

    Japan considers evaporation, storage of tritium-laced Fukushima water
    TOKYO | By Aaron Sheldrick
    Green Business | Wed Apr 8, 2015 6:34am EDT

    Japan is considering evaporating or storing underground tritium-laced water from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant as an alternative to releasing it into the ocean, Tokyo Electric Power Co’s chief decommissioning officer told Reuters on Wednesday.

    The removal of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of water containing tritium, a relatively harmless radioactive isotope left behind in treated water is one of many issues facing Tokyo Electric as it tries to cleanup the wrecked plant.

    Tokyo Electric wants to release the tritium laced water to the ocean, a common practice at normally operating nuclear plants around the world, but is struggling to get approval from local fisherman, who are concerned about the impact on consumer confidence and have little faith in the company.

    With the release to the ocean stalled, the government task force overseeing the cleanup is looking at letting the water evaporate or storing it underground, chief decommissioning officer Naohiro Masuda, told Reuters at the close of a seminar on decommissioning.

    Masuda said he didn’t know when the discussions would be completed and a decision made.

    Time and space is running out for Tepco, which has been forced to build hundreds of tanks to hold contaminated and treated water.

    The evaporation method was used after the Three Mile Island disaster but the amounts were much smaller, Dale Klein, an outside adviser to Tepco told Reuters last week.

    “They have huge volumes of water so they cannot evaporate it like they did at Three Mile Island,” Klein said. “If they did it would likely be evaporated, go out over the ocean, condense and fall back as rainwater. There’s no safety enhancement.”

    Water flushed over the wrecked reactors to keep them cool enough to prevent further radioactive releases is treated but current technology can’t remove tritium.

    “They really do need to make a decision,” Klein said. “Storing it in all those tanks, you are just asking for failure.”

    Missteps and leaks have dogged the efforts to contain the water, slowing down the decades-long decommissioning process and causing public alarm.

    “I think they will need to make that decision,” U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Stephen Burns, said when asked should Japan release the tritium laced water at a media briefing at the U.S. Embassy on Wednesday.

    As Dale Klein, the former chairman of the US Nuclear Regulator Commission puts it:

    The evaporation method was used after the Three Mile Island disaster but the amounts were much smaller, Dale Klein, an outside adviser to Tepco told Reuters last week.

    “They have huge volumes of water so they cannot evaporate it like they did at Three Mile Island,” Klein said. “If they did it would likely be evaporated, go out over the ocean, condense and fall back as rainwater. There’s no safety enhancement.”

    Yes, if TEPCO dumps the tritium, it’ll just be raining tritium in Japan. But as many experts also point out, simply storing the water indefinitely isn’t really an option either because at some point the space just runs out.

    So just FYI, it’s probably about to start raining tritium in the areas around Fukushima. It’s certainly nothing to be enthusiastic about but, of course, as far as radiation in the rainwater goes, it could be a lot worse.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 14, 2015, 6:30 pm
  41. There was some “good news/horrible news” news for a Fukushima worker that’s also a reminder of the risks the wildly underappreciated Fukushima clean up workers are taking: the horrible news for the man, who worked at the cleanup site for 18 months, was getting diagnosed with leukemia in his late 30’s. The good news is that he was compensated by the government for it, becoming the first Fukushima cleanup worker to get compensated for developing cancer.

    The fact that he was the first to get compensated is also, in itself, sort of a “good news/bad news” situation. It’s good that workers might finally start getting compensated when their cancer can be connected to their work. But it’s sort of bad news because, with over 44,000 people having worked at Fukushima since the disaster, there’s going to be a lot more “good news/horrible news” situations going forward. And that’s assuming the workers actually get compensated when they get cancer which is going to be an open question for Fukushima’s cleanup crew since, as the article below points out, the man who become the first recipient of cancer compensation was one of eight people at his site to apply for the compensation:

    The Wall Street Journal
    Japan Says Fukushima Nuclear Plant Worker Diagnosed With Cancer
    Construction worker’s leukemia could have been caused by radiation exposure

    By Mitsuru Obe
    Updated Oct. 20, 2015 11:44 a.m. ET

    TOKYO—A construction worker at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has cancer that could have been caused by radiation exposure, the government said Tuesday in announcing the first compensation award to be granted in such a case.

    The man, who wasn’t identified, was diagnosed while in his late 30s with leukemia, the Health and Labor Ministry said. His current age and condition weren’t disclosed, but the ministry said he is receiving outpatient treatment.

    The man worked at the Fukushima plant for 18 months from 2011 to 2013, starting after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which triggered three nuclear meltdowns. He is the first worker at the plant to receive compensation after developing cancer, although the ministry said a definitive connection hasn’t been established.

    Seven other workers at the site who have been diagnosed with cancer had applied for compensation. Three were denied and three applications are pending. One worker withdrew an application. An expert panel under the ministry reviews the applications.

    News of his diagnosis comes just weeks after the restarting of a second nuclear reactor in Japan, even as court battles continue between plant operators and opponents of restarts. The first was restarted in August.

    All of the country’s reactors were taken offline in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, the country’s worst, as the government developed more stringent safety standards.

    More than 44,000 people have been employed at the Fukushima plant since the disaster, in capacities ranging from construction worker to engineer, as part of a cleanup and decommissioning effort that is expected to take decades, according to Tepco.

    Of them, 15,408 have been exposed to radiation exceeding 10 millisieverts, Tepco says. Most of the exposure has occurred near the damaged reactor buildings, the official said, where workers have been removing spent nuclear fuel stored at the top of these buildings.

    On average, people are exposed to 2.4 millisieverts of radiation a year during daily life, according to the U.N. The ministry said it is difficult to prove a link between cancer and radiation exposure of less than 100 millisieverts a year.

    The man awarded compensation was exposed to a total of 15.7 millisieverts of radiation through his work at the plant, the ministry said. He also worked at other nuclear plants, bringing his total exposure to 19.8 millisieverts, it said.

    He did construction work at Fukushima, including building covers for damaged reactor buildings and an incinerator for low-level radioactive waste, the ministry said.

    The government and Tepco also face lawsuits from Fukushima residents demanding compensation for losses caused by the meltdown at the plant. About 71,000 residents of Fukushima prefecture are still unable to return to their homes because of high levels of radiation.

    Researchers have found high rates of thyroid cancer among children and adolescents in Fukushima prefecture, but disagree about whether that is the result of radiation exposure or more rigorous testing. Some people with thyroid cancer don’t have symptoms.

    A total of 104 young people have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, according to the Fukushima prefectural government.

    “Researchers have found high rates of thyroid cancer among children and adolescents in Fukushima prefecture, but disagree about whether that is the result of radiation exposure or more rigorous testing. Some people with thyroid cancer don’t have symptoms.” That’s also some horrible news.

    And keep in mind when you read:

    More than 44,000 people have been employed at the Fukushima plant since the disaster, in capacities ranging from construction worker to engineer, as part of a cleanup and decommissioning effort that is expected to take decades, according to Tepco.

    Of them, 15,408 have been exposed to radiation exceeding 10 millisieverts, Tepco says. Most of the exposure has occurred near the damaged reactor buildings, the official said, where workers have been removing spent nuclear fuel stored at the top of these buildings.

    On average, people are exposed to 2.4 millisieverts of radiation a year during daily life, according to the U.N. The ministry said it is difficult to prove a link between cancer and radiation exposure of less than 100 millisieverts a year.

    The man awarded compensation was exposed to a total of 15.7 millisieverts of radiation through his work at the plant, the ministry said. He also worked at other nuclear plants, bringing his total exposure to 19.8 millisieverts, it said.

    that the 10 millisieverts of radiation that Tepco estimates over 15,000 workers have already been exposed to is the equivalent of about 2.5-5 coronary angiograms. So, assuming Tepco’s estimations are correct, the Fukushima workers are getting radiation doses that you might get after a series of medical imaging scans. And while 100 millisieverts is clearly associated with cancer, the cancer risks for 10 – 100 millisieverts of exposure is more of an open question.

    So it looks like about a third of Fukushima’s ~44,000 workers are getting radiation doses at “maybe dangerous, but not conclusively cancer-causings” levels (and they’re underpaid). And that’s assuming Tepco isn’t underestimating the exposure. So let’s hope that’s not the case.

    And let’s also hope that Fukushima’s children aren’t also getting elevated levels of thyroid cancer:

    Researcher: Children’s cancer linked to Fukushima radiation

    Oct. 8, 2015 4:25 AM EDT

    TOKYO (AP) — A new study says children living near the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer at a rate 20 to 50 times that of children elsewhere, a difference the authors contend undermines the government’s position that more cases have been discovered in the area only because of stringent monitoring.

    Most of the 370,000 children in Fukushima prefecture (state) have been given ultrasound checkups since the March 2011 meltdowns at the tsunami-ravaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. The most recent statistics, released in August, show that thyroid cancer is suspected or confirmed in 137 of those children, a number that rose by 25 from a year earlier. Elsewhere, the disease occurs in only about one or two of every million children per year by some estimates.

    “This is more than expected and emerging faster than expected,” lead author Toshihide Tsuda told The Associated Press during a visit to Tokyo. “This is 20 times to 50 times what would be normally expected.”

    Right after the disaster, the lead doctor brought in to Fukushima, Shunichi Yamashita, repeatedly ruled out the possibility of radiation-induced illnesses. The thyroid checks were being ordered just to play it safe, according to the government.

    But Tsuda, a professor at Okayama University, said the latest results from the ultrasound checkups, which continue to be conducted, raise doubts about the government’s view.

    Scientists are divided on Tsuda’s conclusions.

    In the same Epidemiology issue, Scott Davis, professor at the Department of Epidemiology in the Seattle-based School of Public Health, said the key limitation of Tsuda’s study is the lack of individual-level data to estimate actual radiation doses.

    Davis agreed with the findings of the World Health Organization and UNSCEAR, or the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, both of which have carried out reviews on Fukushima and predicted cancer rates will remain stable, with no rises being discernable as radiation-caused.

    David J. Brenner, professor of radiation biophysics at Columbia University Medical Center, took a different view. While he agreed individual estimates on radiation doses are needed, he said in a telephone interview that the higher thyroid cancer rate in Fukushima is “not due to screening. It’s real.”

    Conclusions about any connection between Fukushima radiation and cancer will help determine compensation and other policies. Many people who live in areas deemed safe by the government have fled fearing sickness, especially for their children.

    An area extending about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the nuclear plant has been declared an exclusion zone. The borders are constantly being remapped as cleanup of radiated debris and soil continues in an effort to bring as many people back as possible. Decommissioning the plant is expected to take decades.

    Andrew F. Olshan, professor at the Department of Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill, noted that research on what follows a catastrophe is complex and difficult.

    “Dr. Tsuda’s study had limitations including assessment of individual radiation dose levels to the thyroid and the ability to fully assess the impact of screening on the excess cases detected,” he said.

    “Nonetheless, this study is critical to initiate additional investigations of possible health effects, for governmental planning, and increasing public awareness.”

    Note the parallels in the debate over whether or not the increased rates of thyroid cancer detection in Fukushima’s children and whether or not a Fukushima worker’s cancer was due to their work at the cleanup site or just random. In both cases there’s inevitably going to be a number of cases where someone is known to be exposed to radiation levels that aren’t officially “you’re going to get cancer” levels, but still higher than “don’t worry” levels. It’s a reminder that “what caused this tumor” is going to be be of a number of difficult judgement calls involving the people both living at Fukushima at the time and continuing to work there. So let’s hope the researchers make the most scientifically appropriate calls, but since the difficulty in conducting things like attributing thyroid cancer spikes in the Fukushima children to radiation is highly related to questions like “did this Fukushima worker get cancer from all the extra radiation they got exposed to?”, let’s hope the cancer compensation screening committees err towards not continuing to screw over the people trying to stop an ongoing catastrophe.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 22, 2015, 10:14 pm
  42. Here’s an update on TEPCO’s new strategy for dumping treated radioactive water groundwater into the ocean to free up the limited space in the storage tanks for more highly radioactive water: As we saw back in September, 300 tons of contaminated ground water has been pumped from the ground each day and stored in tank. But as that tank capacity nears its limit, the decision was made to treat those 300 tons of ground water and dump it into the ocean. And while the “Advanced Liquid Processing System” radiation scrubbing technology is supposed to be able to get rid of 62 different types of radiation, it can’t get rid of tritium. The levels of tritium were still deemed low enough to be safe for ocean dumping anyway.

    Well, as we’ll see below, following the installation of seawalls in October to prevent the flow of contaminated groundwater into the sea, groundwater has been collecting in wells dug between the seawalls and the nuclear plants. But the seawalls have also resulted in a build up of groundwater at a faster rater than TEPCO expected. In addition, TEPCO started pumping groundwater from of those wells with the intent of treating the water and dumping it into the ocean. Unfortunately, the company just announced that four of the five of those wells have way too much tritium to dump into the oceans and, as part of its emergency response to this situation, TEPCO has starting pumping 200-300 tons of that contaminated groundwater out of the wells since November, but not into the swindling supply of storage tanks. Instead, that 200-300 tons of groundwater each day is getting pumped back into the reactor buildings (where it gets a lot more than just extra tritium added):

    The Asahi Shimbun
    TEPCO confronts new problem of radioactive water at Fukushima plant
    December 26, 2015

    By HIROMI KUMAGAI/ Staff Writer

    Tokyo Electric Power Co. has unexpectedly been forced to deal with an increasingly large amount radioactive water accumulating at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant after seaside walls to block the flow of groundwater were constructed in October.

    TEPCO completed the walls on Oct. 26 to block contaminated groundwater from flowing into sea. The utility began pumping up groundwater from five wells dug between the walls and the plant’s reactor buildings. The plan called for releasing the less contaminated water into the sea after a purification process, but TEPCO discovered that the water had larger amounts of radiation than it had expected.

    TEPCO officials said the situation has left the utility with no option but to transfer 200 to 300 tons of groundwater each day into highly contaminated reactor buildings since November, a move that could further contaminate the water.

    Comprised of numerous cylindrical steel pipes measuring 30 meters tall, the seaside walls were installed on the coastal side of the No. 1 to No. 4 reactor buildings to block contaminated groundwater flowing out of the highly contaminated buildings from reaching the ocean.

    To control groundwater levels, TEPCO planned to release the less contaminated groundwater from the five wells into sea after a purification process.

    However, the water from four of the wells was discovered to have high levels of tritium–a radioactive substance that is hard to remove–at levels higher than 1,500 becquerels per liter, which means the water cannot be released into sea.

    To compound the problem, the seaside walls have also significantly raised groundwater levels, forcing the utility to pump a lot more groundwater than it originally planned.

    TEPCO has been forced to temporarily transfer large amounts of the groundwater into highly contaminated reactor buildings, where it could become contaminated to an even further degree by being exposed to melted nuclear fuel.

    The utility said it suspects the high levels of radiation found in the groundwater from the wells is due to the water being exposed to highly contaminated soil near the plant’s coastal embankment.

    To reduce the amount of contaminated water at the plant, TEPCO began operations in September to pump up the groundwater in wells constructed around the reactor buildings to release it into the sea after a purification process.

    The company initially announced that the project had reduced the amount of groundwater flowing into the contaminated reactor buildings from 300 tons to 200 tons a day.

    The increasing amount of contaminated water has been stored in tanks constructed in the plant’s compound after going through operations to reduce contamination.

    TEPCO plans to increase the amount of water it pumps from wells located elsewhere on the plant site to help reduce the amount of contaminated groundwater accumulating in the seaside wells.

    “TEPCO officials said the situation has left the utility with no option but to transfer 200 to 300 tons of groundwater each day into highly contaminated reactor buildings since November, a move that could further contaminate the water.”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 26, 2015, 11:27 pm
  43. The Japanese farm ministry made an announcement that should please the farmers of Fukushima: the EU is dropping mandatory radiation checks on vegetables, fruits, and livestock products from the Fukushima Prefecture:

    EU to ease import curbs on Fukushima

    12:15 am, January 08, 2016

    Jiji Press TOKYO (Jiji Press) — The European Union will substantially ease its restrictions on food items imported from Fukushima Prefecture effective on Saturday, Japan’s farm ministry said Thursday. Vegetables, fruits and livestock products imported from the prefecture will be exempt from the EU’s mandatory radiation checks, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said.

    The EU imposed restrictions on food imports from the prefecture after the 2011 triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

    The EU will also stop requiring radiation screening for all food items imported from Aomori Prefecture and Saitama Prefecture.

    Rice, buckwheat and some other foods produced in the Japanese prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba will also be removed from the list of items subject to the EU’s import restrictions.

    While that’s the kind of news that could obviously raise concerns over radiation in imported food, here’s a reminder that concerns over radiation and other toxins in your food
    probably shouldn’t be limited to imports:

    The Independent
    Europe’s largest illegal toxic dumping site discovered in southern Italy – an area with cancer rates 80% higher than national average
    The vast 60 acre site bears the hallmarks of organised crime – but experts claim the Mafia alone is not responsible

    Michael Day

    Wednesday 17 June 2015

    The biggest toxic dumping site ever discovered in Europe is being investigated in the area of southern Italy plagued by cancer rates that are up to 80 per cent higher than the national average.

    Police say over two million cubic metres of dangerous material, including 25kg packets of French industrial waste and containers with solvents, have been dug out up in the Calvi Risorta area north of Naples, where the Camorra crime syndicate makes hundreds of millions a year from illegal dumping.

    The dump site was so big that forestry officials could only estimate its size after three days’ digging with bulldozers, Il Fatto Quotidiano newspaper reported. Sergio Costa, the regional commander of the Forestry Police, said investigators would establish to whom the products has been sold – and thus who was responsible for disposing of them.

    Mr Costa said the vast dump site, covering 60 acres, bore the hallmarks of the Camorra’s Casalesi clan, made notorious by the hit book and film Gomorrah. He said the site have been formed using the clan’s “almost scientific system” in which rubbish and soil were separated in distinct but compact layers, leaving just 10cm or so of untainted soil on the surface as cover.

    A spokesman for the prosecutor’s office in nearby Santa Maria Capua Vetere said ongoing tests would reveal how dangerous the waste is. But scientists say the studies have already shown the deadly effects of the illegal trade.

    Research published in 2012 suggested that women in the Naples area were almost 50 per cent more likely to develop breast cancer than their compatriots. Antonio Giordano, the director of the Sbarro Institute for Cancer Research at Temple University in Philadelphia, and Giulio Tarro, a doctor at the Cotugno hospital in Naples, found cancer rates in some towns in the area were up to 80 per cent above the national average.

    The environmental group Legambiente has warned that organised crime groups across southern Italy were earning €20bn a year by illegally burying heavy metals and cancer-causing organic compounds, often in agricultural areas or on land used to build homes. It said, though, that Campania, the region around Naples, was the area worst hit by Mafia-linked environmental damage. The local crime syndicate, the Camorra, is frequently blamed for exacerbating or even causing the problems – by encouraging the closure of official incineration plants – to increase demand for its illegal dumping services.

    But experts said the Mafia alone was not responsible. “It’s not just the Camorra, but also institutions and civil society who have a responsibility,” said Corrado De Rosa, the author of several books on the Mafia. “Because those who have taken money from the Mafia to bury waste in their land, and those who didn’t report what was happening even though they knew about the tragedy, are also responsible.”

    Many companies from the north of Italy are thought to pay Mafia clans to dispose of dangerous industrial waste.

    “The dump site was so big that forestry officials could only estimate its size after three days’ digging with bulldozers.”
    That a lot of toxic waste, including nuclear waste…sitting just 10 cm below the surface, often in agricultural and residential areas:

    Mr Costa said the vast dump site, covering 60 acres, bore the hallmarks of the Camorra’s Casalesi clan, made notorious by the hit book and film Gomorrah. He said the site have been formed using the clan’s “almost scientific system” in which rubbish and soil were separated in distinct but compact layers, leaving just 10cm or so of untainted soil on the surface as cover.

    The environmental group Legambiente has warned that organised crime groups across southern Italy were earning €20bn a year by illegally burying heavy metals and cancer-causing organic compounds, often in agricultural areas or on land used to build homes

    It sort of puts a new spin on the Mafia’s historic association with ‘shallow graves’.

    And with 20 billion euros a year made from this illegal dumping, and plenty of complicit authorities and industries that played a role and apparently continue to play a role, it’s hard to see how what’s going to stop the practice. But when you consider that the Mafia groups suspected of this are basically dumping this stuff in their own home states, hopefully the growing cancer rates, and this thing called a ‘conscience’, will help put a stop to the practice. Because otherwise there’s probably going to be a lot more stories about the people of that region heading to an early grave, including a growing number of very early, very tiny graves:

    Associated Press

    Italy confirms higher cancer, death rates from mob’s dumping of toxic waste

    By Nicole Winfield January 2

    ROME — A health survey mandated by Italy’s Parliament has confirmed higher-than-normal incidents of death and cancer among residents in and around Naples, because of decades of toxic-waste dumping by the local Camorra mob.

    The report by the National Institute of Health said it was “critical” to address the rates at which babies in the provinces of Naples and Caserta are being hospitalized in the first year of life for “excessive” instances of tumors, especially brain tumors.

    The report, which updated an initial study in 2014, blamed the higher-than-usual rates on “ascertained or suspected exposure to a combination of environmental contaminants that can be emitted or released from illegal hazardous waste dump sites and/or the uncontrolled burning of both urban and hazardous waste.”

    Residents have long complained about adverse health effects from the dumping, which has poisoned the underground wells that irrigate the farmland that provides vegetables for much of central and southern Italy. Over the years, police have sequestered dozens of fields because their irrigation wells contained high levels of lead, arsenic and the industrial solvent tetrachloride.

    Authorities say the contamination is the result of the Camorra’s multibillion-dollar racket in disposing of toxic waste, mainly from industries in Italy’s wealthy north that ask no questions about where the garbage goes as long as it is taken off their hands — for a small fraction of the cost of legal disposal. In recent years, Camorra turncoats have revealed how the mafia racket works, directing police to specific sites where toxic garbage was dumped.

    In 2014, the Italian Parliament passed a law mandating that the National Institute of Health, a public institution under the Health Ministry, report on the rates of death, hospitalization and cancer in the 55 municipalities in the “Land of Fires.”

    “The report by the National Institute of Health said it was “critical” to address the rates at which babies in the provinces of Naples and Caserta are being hospitalized in the first year of life for “excessive” instances of tumors, especially brain tumors.”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 7, 2016, 9:20 pm
  44. Naoto Kan, Japan’s prime minister during the 2011 Fukushima tragedy, recently reflected on his experiences during the disaster and his reassessment of the costs and benefits of nuclear power. Surprise! He not a big fan. It’s an understandable position for a lot of reason. But for Mr. Kan, those reasons included that time he was about to evacuate Tokyo and declare martial law:

    The Telegraph
    Fukushima: Tokyo was on the brink of nuclear catastrophe, admits former prime minister
    Five years on from the tsunami, the former Japanese prime minister says the country came within a “paper-thin margin” of a nuclear disaster

    By Andrew Gilligan, Tokyo

    10:00 PM GMT 04 Mar 2016

    Japan’s prime minister at the time of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami has revealed that the country came within a “paper-thin margin” of a nuclear disaster requiring the evacuation of 50 million people.

    In an interview with The Telegraph to mark the fifth anniversary of the tragedy, Naoto Kan described the panic and disarray at the highest levels of the Japanese government as it fought to control multiple meltdowns at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station.

    He said he considered evacuating the capital, Tokyo, along with all other areas within 160 miles of the plant, and declaring martial law. “The future existence of Japan as a whole was at stake,” he said. “Something on that scale, an evacuation of 50 million, it would have been like a losing a huge war.”

    Mr Kan admitted he was frightened and said he got “no clear information” out of Tepco, the plant’s operator. He was “very shocked” by the performance of Nobuaki Terasaka, his own government’s key nuclear safety adviser. “We questioned him and he was unable to give clear responses,” he said.

    “We asked him – do you know anything about nuclear issues? And he said no, I majored in economics.”

    Mr Terasaka, the director of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, was later sacked. Another member of Mr Kan’s crisis working group, the then Tepco chairman, Tsunehisa Katsumata, was last week indicted on charges of criminal negligence for his role in the disaster.

    “When we got the report that power had been cut and the coolant had stopped working, that sent a shiver down my spine,” Mr Kan said. “From March 11, when the incident happened, until the 15th, the effects [of radioactive contamination] were expanding geographically.

    “From the 16th to the 20th we were able to halt the spread of radiation but the margin left for us was paper-thin. If the [fuel rods] had burnt through [in] all six reactors, that would definitely have affected Tokyo.

    “From a very early stage I had a very high concern for Tokyo. I was forming ideas for a Tokyo evacuation plan in my head. In the 1923 earthquake the government ordered martial law – I did think of the possibility of having to set up such emergency law if it really came down to it.

    “We were only able to avert a 250-kilometre (160-mile) evacuation zone [around the plant] by a wafer-thin margin, thanks to the efforts of people who risked their lives. Next time, we might not be so lucky.

    Dramatic CCTV footage from the plant, released in 2012, showed a skeleton staff – the so-called “Fukushima 50” – struggling to read emergency manuals by torchlight and battling with contradictory, confusing instructions from their superiors at Tepco. At one stage, an appeal went out for workers to bring batteries from their cars so they could be hooked up to provide power for the crippled cooling systems.

    Total disaster was averted when seawater was pumped into the reactors, but the plant manager, Masao Yoshida, later said he considered committing hara-kiri, ritual suicide, in despair at the situation.

    Mr Kan said he had to retreat to an inner room after the atmosphere in the government’s crisis management centre became “very noisy”.

    He said: “There was so little precise information coming in. It was very difficult to make clear judgments. I don’t consider myself a nuclear expert, but I did study physics at university.

    “I knew that even based on what little we were hearing, there was a real possibility this could be bigger than Chernobyl. That was a terrible disaster, but there was only one reactor there. There were six here.”

    Although the Fukushima disaster caused no immediate deaths from radiation, it did force the evacuation of almost 400,000 people, most of whom have still been unable to return to their homes. Hundreds of thousands more fled in panic and much of Fukushima province ceased functioning.

    An area within 20km (12.5 miles) of the plant remains an exclusion zone, with no-one allowed to live there. Some studies have identified a higher incidence of child cancer in the wider region.

    Mr Kan said that the nuclear accident is “still going on” today. He said: “In reactors 2 and 3, the radioactive fuel rods are still there and small amounts of [radioactive] water are leaking out of the reactor every day, despite what Tepco says.”

    He said the experience had turned him from a supporter of nuclear power into a convinced opponent. “I have changed my views 180 degrees. You have to look at the balance between the risks and the benefits,” he said. “One reactor meltdown could destroy the whole plant and, however unlikely, that is too great a risk.”

    Mr Kan lost the prime ministership later in 2011 amid strong criticism of his handling of the crisis. A parliamentary investigation accused him of distracting emergency workers by making a personal visit to the plant, withholding information, and misunderstanding a request by Tepco to pull out some staff as a demand to withdraw them all.

    However, another independent inquiry said his action in ordering the “Fukushima 50” to stay at their posts was vital. “I went to the Tepco offices and demanded they not evacuate. To this day I am criticised for that, but I believed then and I still believe now that I did the right thing and that that was a decisive moment in the crisis,” he told The Telegraph.

    He admitted “regret” at his decision not to publish results from a computer system called Speedi, System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information, which accurately forecast the spread of radioactivity around the plant and could have saved thousands of local residents from exposure.

    “As a result, some areas were exposed to high levels of radiation,” he said.

    He criticised his successor as prime minister, Shinzo Abe, for restarting some of the country’s nuclear power stations, all of which were shut down after the crisis, saying that Japan had “not learned the lessons enough” and was “closing its eyes” to the risk of a second disaster. He has joined protest demonstrations against the plant reopenings.

    “There is a clear conflict between government policy and the wishes of the public,” he said. “Additional protective measures against tsunamis have been taken, such as raising the protective walls, but I don’t think they go far enough. We shouldn’t be building nuclear power plants in areas where there is a population to be affected. After the tsunami, Japan went without nuclear power for years, so it can be done.”

    The former leader said that “a lot of the accident was caused before March 11” by the complacency and misjudgment of Tepco, a verdict echoed by the official inquiry, which dubbed the nuclear accident a “man-made disaster”.

    The criminal investigation which led to last week’s charges against Mr Katsumata and two other Tepco managers found that they had known since June 2009 that the plant was vulnerable to a tsunami but had “failed to take pre-emptive measures [despite] knowing the risk”.

    Mr Kan expressed satisfaction at the charges brought last week against a senior Tepco manager and said he would testify against Mr Katsumata if asked.

    “He said the experience had turned him from a supporter of nuclear power into a convinced opponent. “I have changed my views 180 degrees. You have to look at the balance between the risks and the benefits,” he said. “One reactor meltdown could destroy the whole plant and, however unlikely, that is too great a risk.””
    Technologies with the capacity to damage the entire planet tend not to do well with cost/benefit analysis.

    And while the Fukushima disaster hopefully won’t spiral out of control and end up, if not taking down the ecosystem, at least doing massive, massive damage because it’s just harder to clean up than anticipated, let’s not forget that there’s no guarantee advancements in nuclear technology will actually make future nuclear plants any safer. After all, as Mr. Kan acknowledges, this main cause of the Fukushima disaster wasn’t the earthquake/tsunami. It was the fact that the plant wasn’t designed to handle such an event. And while there already exists plenty of nuclear technologies and designs that are vastly safer than what was used at the Fukushima plant, the fact that plants as dangerous as the Fukushima plant or worse are still operating around the world is a reminder that the availability of safer nuclear technology doesn’t necessitate the use of that safer options. There are plenty of reasons to keep using the dangerous nuclear powder kegs that are already built. They might be bad reasons, but they’re empirically persuasive reasons nonetheless, which is why it’s not really a question of whether or not the world experiences another Fukushima-league nuclear disaster. It really just a question of frequency.

    And once the disaster hits, the frequency of another mega-disaster at the same location go up significantly. Why? Because as the interview below with Akira Ono, the head of the Fukushima disaster cleanup note, the five year old cleanup has barely gotten under way yet, with the most difficult and dangerous tasks still ahead. And it’s probably another four decades, assuming all goes well. But as Ono also nos, the biggest risk to that successful cleanup is something that’s rather difficult to control for: another nearby natural disaster. Because it’s probably not going to take a massive earthquake/tsunami nearly as large as the one that struck in 2011 to hit the cleanup site and cause another mega-disaster:

    The Telegraph

    Fukushima: Five years after nuclear disaster, the clean-up has barely begun
    Japan’s Fukushima clean-up may take up to 40 years, says plant’s operator, five years after meltdown

    By Julian Ryall, Fukushima

    5:11PM GMT 11 Feb 2016

    Five years after the Fukushima nuclear plant was crippled during a devastating earthquake and tsunami, the plant operator has admitted that only a fraction of the clean-up has been accomplished to make the site safe.

    As Japan prepares to mark the anniversary of the world’s second-worst nuclear disaster, it is clear that the progress to date – clearing up debris, and installing protective structures around the four reactor buildings that were destroyed – is largely skin deep.

    The most technically complex and dangerous tasks, including locating and removing the nuclear fuel that has burned through the pressure vessels of three of the reactors and is believed to have pooled at the bottom of the containment chambers, are yet to begin.

    The plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), believes that the work will take at least another 40 years to complete.

    “It is difficult to estimate, but I would say that we have achieved around 10 per cent of decommissioning,” said Akira Ono, superintendent of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, 140 miles north-east of Tokyo.

    “We have a very difficult challenge in front of us, but the actions we take today and tomorrow will get us closer to achieving that aim.”

    Looking down on what is left of the four reactors gives an idea of the scale of the task, with many areas still untouched after the magnitude 9 earthquake struck directly offshore on March 11 2011 and sent a tsunami barrelling into the coastline of north-east Japan. Almost 16,000 people were killed, with 160,000 more losing their homes.

    High-water marks are still visible some 45ft up the side of the reactor buildings.

    A boiler building has been reduced to skeletal girders and rusted machinery, while a large mobile crane is suspended at an angle determined by the waves. Battered pipes and building material litter the ground and the roofs of lower buildings, deposited by the waves or the hydrogen explosions.

    The debris has been joined by coils of pipes and wiring being used by workers who are struggling to wrest back control of the site.

    Tepco has managed to remove 1,535 fuel rods from the spent fuel pool in Unit 4 at the site, which was out of operation at the time of the earthquake and is now in a state of cold shutdown.

    Radiation levels around the plant are also steadily falling, although the persistent ticking of personal radiation counters are a constant reminder that the danger has not gone away.

    On a low hill overlooking the four reactors, the metre read 69.3 microsieverts an hour. Tepco has set visitors’ maximum daily exposure to 100 microsieverts.

    The 100 microsievert limit is tiny in comparison with exposure to up to 10 sieverts an hour in what is left of the Unit 2 building, where cranes are removing rubble and twisted girders from the upper levels of the structure in preparation for the removal of 566 fuel rods in the spent fuel pool.

    Humans are still unable to enter the building – exposure to those levels of radiation would be lethal, even with medical treatment – and efforts by robots to navigate the debris-strewn interior have proved hit-and-miss.

    Around 8,000 workers labour at the site daily, with those closest to the reactor buildings still in full-body protective suits, three layers of gloves, face masks with respirators and hard hats.

    A 41-year-old man has been diagnosed with leukaemia after spending 12 months at the site. More cases are expected, which thwarted efforts to encourage people in communities around the plant to return to their homes.

    Work continues in the paddy fields and gardens in towns such as Naraha and Tomioka, where the clean-up is scheduled to be completed by 2017 and families are due to return.

    Back at the plant, the company has made better progress with groundwater that is flowing into the basements of the reactor buildings and becoming highly radioactive. Efforts to restrict the amount seeping into the buildings have proved effective while decontamination equipment set up on the site has helped to stabilise the amount held in 900 vast storage tanks at around 750,000 tons.

    The newest initiative, a series of pipes dug into the landward side of the reactors that can be frozen and stop groundwater flow, was completed this week and Tepco is awaiting approval from the government to put it into operation.

    The attitude of a company that was criticised in government inquiries for assuming that nothing could go wrong has also changed significantly.

    “We were not able to prevent the accident from happening because we stopped thinking,” said Yuichi Okamura, a company spokesman.

    “We were not able to think beyond a certain point, such as that a tsunami might be higher and what would happen to the plant if that scenario did occur. We didn’t think what would happen if the safety equipment did not function as it was meant to.”

    Mr Ono warned that the biggest risk to the crippled facility was another major natural disaster.

    “The possibility may be low, but if a major earthquake or tsunami hit, that would cause a lot of anxiety,” he said.

    But he insisted the chaos of 2011 would not be repeated.

    “The accident was partly due to a narrow view of what an accident would be and a fixed view of safety, and we now know that our attitude towards safety has to be better today and better again tomorrow.”

    “The possibility may be low, but if a major earthquake or tsunami hit, that would cause a lot of anxiety”
    Yes indeed. And as the former prime minister noted, that anxiety could include the possible evacuation of Tokyo if the next disaster is bad enough.

    Given all that, you have to marvel as Mr. Ono’s insistence that the chaos of 2011 would not be repeated. After all, it’s hard to avoid another ill-placed natural disaster. At least if Japan continues restarting nuclear reactors. As he put it, “the accident was partly due to a narrow view of what an accident would be and a fixed view of safety, and we now know that our attitude towards safety has to be better today and better again tomorrow.” Let’s hope so. But if the following article about Stanford Professor Robert Ewing’s risk-assessment of the nuclear industry’s risk-assessment methodologies and track record are accurate, Mr. Ono’s optimism might be an indication of a risk-assessment problem:

    Stanford Report

    Fukushima five years later: Stanford nuclear expert offers three lessons from the disaster

    On the fifth anniversary of the partial meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant, Stanford’s Rodney Ewing says we should rethink our language, reassess natural disaster risks and appreciate the links between nuclear energy and other renewables.

    By Miles Traer
    March 4, 2016

    It has been five years since the emergency sirens sounded at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant following the massive 2011 earthquake and subsequent devastating tsunami. The partial meltdown of three reactors caused approximately 170,000 refugees to be displaced from their homes, and radiation releases and public outcry forced the Japanese government to temporarily shut down all of their nuclear power plants. The events at Fukushima Daiichi sent waves not only through Japan but also throughout the international nuclear industry. Rodney Ewing, an expert on nuclear materials, outlines three key lessons to be taken from the tragedy at Fukushima.

    Lesson One: Avoid characterizing the Fukushima tragedy as an ‘accident’

    One of the biggest lessons to be learned from Fukushima Daiichi revolves around the language used to describe nuclear disasters. In the media and in scientific papers, the event was frequently described as an accident, but this does not properly capture the cause of the event, which was a failure of the safety analysis.

    As an example, Ewing points specifically to the domino chain of events that led to the partial meltdown at reactors 1 and 3. Following the powerful magnitude 9.0 earthquake, the power plant automatically shut down its reactors, as designed. Emergency generators immediately started in order to maintain circulation of coolant over the nuclear fuel, a critical process to avoid heating and eventual meltdown. But the tsunami that followed flooded the diesel engines that were supplying power, and so cooling could no longer be maintained.

    “The Japanese people and government were certainly well acquainted with the possibility of tsunamis,” said Ewing, the Frank Stanton Professor in Nuclear Security and senior fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation in the Freeman Spogli Institute. “Communities had alert systems. But somehow, this risk didn’t manifest itself in the preparation and protection of the backup power for the Fukushima reactors. The backup power systems, the diesel generators for reactors 1 through 5, were low along the coast where they were flooded and failed. They could have been located farther back and higher, like they were at reactor 6. These were clearly failures in design, not an accident.

    “This is why when I refer to the tragedy at Fukushima, it was not an accident,” said Ewing, who is also a professor of geological sciences in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences. “When some speak of such an event as an ‘act of God,’ this has the effect of avoiding the responsibility for the failed safety analysis. We need to use language that doesn’t seek to place blame, but does establish cause and responsibility.”

    Lesson Two: Rethink the meaning of ‘risk’

    Shortly following the disaster at Fukushima, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) received heavy criticism for its lack of planning and response. For Ewing, this criticism speaks to a larger issue: “We need to rethink what we mean by ‘risk’ when we perform risk assessments. Risk is more than the loss of life and property.”

    Reassessing risk also begins with changing our language, Ewing said. When we say a risk like an earthquake or tsunami is rare or unexpected, even when the geological record shows it has happened and will happen again, it greatly lessens the urgency with which we ought to act and prepare.

    “It can be that the risk analysis works against safety, in the sense that if the risk analysis tells us that something’s safe, then you don’t take the necessary precautions,” he said. “The Titanic had too few lifeboats because it was said to be ‘unsinkable.’ Fukushima is similar in that the assumption that the reactors were ‘safe’ during an earthquake led to the failure to consider the impact of a tsunami.”

    When evaluating risk, Ewing recommends that we carefully consider the way in which we frame the question of risk. For example, a typical risk assessment usually only considers the fate of a single reactor at a specific location. But perhaps that question should be asked in a different way. “You could ask, ‘What if I have a string of reactors along the eastern coast of Japan? What is the risk of a tsunami hitting one of those reactors over their lifetime, say, 100 years?'” he said. “In this case, the probability of a reactor experiencing a tsunami is increased, particularly if one considers the geologic record for evidence of tsunamis.”

    Ewing acknowledges that incorporating geological hazards into a standard risk assessment has proved to be difficult because of the long recurrence intervals of damaging events. But ongoing research at Stanford Earth continues to analyze the seismic and tsunami risks around Japan and over the entire world. Professor Paul Segall and graduate student Andreas Mavrommatis analyze dense GPS networks and small repeating earthquakes to better understand unprecedented accelerating fault slip that took place in advance of the surprisingly large 2011 earthquake. Associate Professor Eric Dunham, graduate student Gabe Lotto and alum Jeremy Kozdon create mathematical models to better understand the relationships between fault motions, ocean floor properties and tsunami generation. And Assistant Professor Jenny Suckale is working to improve tsunami early warning messages that will allow populations in Indonesia to receive the specific information they need to prepare. This research, and more, helps quantify some of the geological risks that should have been considered.

    Lesson Three: Nuclear energy is strongly linked to the future of renewables

    In the five years since the tragedy at Fukushima, Ewing has seen a number of ripple effects throughout the nuclear industry that will have a great impact on the future of renewable energy resources.

    As recently as 10 years ago, nuclear energy was quickly gaining support as a carbon-free power source. While the costs of renewables such as solar and wind remain more expensive than some fossil fuels, the steady decline in their costs and the boom of natural gas combined with the tragedy at Fukushima has once again muddied the waters of many countries’ energy future.

    “The biggest need for the U.S. right now is to have a well-defined energy policy,” Ewing said. “With an energy policy, we would have a clear picture of how our country will address its energy needs.”

    “It can be that the risk analysis works against safety, in the sense that if the risk analysis tells us that something’s safe, then you don’t take the necessary precautions,” he said. “The Titanic had too few lifeboats because it was said to be ‘unsinkable.’ Fukushima is similar in that the assumption that the reactors were ‘safe’ during an earthquake led to the failure to consider the impact of a tsunami.”
    That’s quite a conundrum: If you think you have safe technology, you’re less likely to ensure it’s actually safe. It’s going to be something to keep in mind going forward as long as humanity continues dabbling in risky nuclear energy technologies. Sure, once there’s a super-non-risky tried and tested nuclear energy technology available that replaces the risky technology, maybe we can start getting lazy. But for now, it’s hard to see how nuclear energy is seen as viable option when, as Ewing points out, cheap renewables like wind and solar are getting cheaper.

    So lets hope governments heed professor Ewing’s risk-assessment warnings. Especially warnings the need to ask questions like:

    When evaluating risk, Ewing recommends that we carefully consider the way in which we frame the question of risk. For example, a typical risk assessment usually only considers the fate of a single reactor at a specific location. But perhaps that question should be asked in a different way. “You could ask, ‘What if I have a string of reactors along the eastern coast of Japan? What is the risk of a tsunami hitting one of those reactors over their lifetime, say, 100 years?'” he said. “In this case, the probability of a reactor experiencing a tsunami is increased, particularly if one considers the geologic record for evidence of tsunamis.”

    Ok, so it sounds like questions like “What if I have a string of reactors along the eastern coast of Japan? What is the risk of a tsunami hitting one of those reactors over their lifetime, say, 100 years?” are rather novel questions in the nuclear risk-assessment world. That seems risky.

    Of course, non-nuclear energy options are risky too in their own ways. Fossil fuels have obvious climate catastrophe risks. Biofuels can carry similar climate risks along with agricultural pollution and habitat loss. And green technology like solar and wind have their own costs. But it’s the non-nuclear green technologies like wind and solar that don’t pose the possible mega-disaster threat that comes with nuclear technology (that becomes more and more possible over time) or the almost certain mega-disaster that comes with climate change. So, in the spirit of Professor Ewing’s suggestions, shouldn’t we be asking what kind of risk we’re taking by not making a transition to a green energy grid, globally, a top priority everywhere? It seems insane risky not to do that ASAP. And yet we don’t. So that’s something that should be added into the risk-assessment the risk-assessment of our models for both nuclear and fossil-fuel energy technologies: we’re too stupid not to use it. That seems like that should increase the overall risk.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 6, 2016, 12:58 am
  45. Here’s an update on the Fukushima clean up effort: The radiation-hardened robots being sent into the Fukushima wreckage are still dying. It’s not much of an update. So if anyone is selling a robot manufacturing firm that can build robots capable of handling extremely high levels of radiation, there’s still at least one big potential buyer:


    Fukushima’s ground zero: No place for man or robot

    By Aaron Sheldrick and Minami Funakoshi
    Fri Mar 11, 2016 2:38am EST

    The robots sent in to find highly radioactive fuel at Fukushima’s nuclear reactors have “died”; a subterranean “ice wall” around the crippled plant meant to stop groundwater from becoming contaminated has yet to be finished. And authorities still don’t know how to dispose of highly radioactive water stored in an ever mounting number of tanks around the site.

    Five years ago, one of the worst earthquakes in history triggered a 10-meter high tsunami that crashed into the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station causing multiple meltdowns. Nearly 19,000 people were killed or left missing and 160,000 lost their homes and livelihoods in the quake and tsunami.

    Today, the radiation at the Fukushima plant is still so powerful it has proven impossible to get into its bowels to find and remove the extremely dangerous blobs of melted fuel rods, weighing hundreds of tonnes. Five robots sent into the reactors have failed to return.

    The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) 9501.t, has made some progress, such as removing hundreds of spent fuel roads in one damaged building. But the technology needed to establish the location of the melted fuel rods in the other three reactors at the plant has not been developed.

    “It is extremely difficult to access the inside of the nuclear plant,” Naohiro Masuda, Tepco’s head of decommissioning said in an interview. “The biggest obstacle is the radiation.”

    The fuel rods melted through their containment vessels in the reactors, and no one knows exactly where they are now. This part of the plant is so dangerous to humans, Tepco has been developing robots, which can swim under water and negotiate obstacles in damaged tunnels and piping to search for the melted fuel rods.

    But as soon as they get close to the reactors, the radiation destroys their wiring and renders them useless, causing long delays, Masuda said.

    Each robot has to be custom-built for each building.“It takes two years to develop a single-function robot,” Masuda said.

    “Each robot has to be custom-built for each building.“It takes two years to develop a single-function robot,” Masuda said.”
    Yikes. That definitely sounds like a job for a robotics firm specializing in robots designed for rough terrains. And lo and behold, look what Google just put on the market:

    Bloomberg Business

    Google Puts Boston Dynamics Up for Sale in Robotics Retreat

    By Brad Stone and Jack Clark

    * Alphabet executives questioned path to marketable products
    * Toyota, Amazon are among possible acquirers of division

    March 17, 2016 — 11:36 AM CDT

    The video, published to YouTube on Feb. 23, was awe-inspiring and scary. A two-legged humanoid robot trudges through the snow, somehow maintaining its balance. Another robot with two arms and pads for hands crouches down and lifts a brown box and delicately places it on a shelf — then somehow stays upright while a human tries to push it over with a hockey stick. A third robot topples over and clambers back to its feet with ease.

    Tens of millions of people viewed the video over the next few weeks. Google and the division responsible for the video, Boston Dynamics, were seemingly pushing the frontier in robot technology.

    But behind the scenes a more pedestrian drama was playing out. Executives at Google parent Alphabet Inc., absorbed with making sure all the various companies under its corporate umbrella have plans to generate real revenue, concluded that Boston Dynamics isn’t likely to produce a marketable product in the next few years and have put the unit up for sale, according to two people familiar with the company’s plans.

    Possible acquirers include the Toyota Research Institute, a division of Toyota Motor Corp., and Amazon.com Inc., which makes robots for its fulfillment centers, according to one person. Google and Toyota declined to comment, and Amazon didn’t respond to requests for comment.

    Robotics Push

    Google acquired Boston Dynamics in late 2013 as part of a spree of acquisitions in the field of robotics. The deals were spearheaded by Andy Rubin, former chief of the Android division, and brought about 300 robotics engineers into Google. Rubin left the company in October 2014. Over the following year, the robot initiative, dubbed Replicant, was plagued by leadership changes, failures to collaborate between companies and an unsuccessful effort to recruit a new leader.

    At the heart of Replicant’s trouble, said a person familiar with the group, was a reluctance by Boston Dynamics executives to work with Google’s other robot engineers in California and Tokyo and the unit’s failure to come up with products that could be released in the near term.

    Tensions between Boston Dynamics and the rest of the Replicant group spilled into open view within Google, when written minutes of a Nov. 11 meeting and several subsequent e-mails were inadvertently published to an online forum that was accessible to other Google workers. These documents were made available to Bloomberg News by a Google employee who spotted them.

    The November meeting was run by Jonathan Rosenberg, an adviser to Alphabet Chief Executive Officer Larry Page and former Google senior vice president, who was temporarily in charge of the Replicant group. In the meeting, Rosenberg said, “we as a startup of our size cannot spend 30-plus percent of our resources on things that take ten years,” and that “there’s some time frame that we need to be generating an amount of revenue that covers expenses and (that) needs to be a few years.”

    In December, Google announced that Replicant had been folded into Google’s advanced research group, Google X. In a private all-hands meeting around that time, Astro Teller, the head of Google X, told Replicant employees that if robotics aren’t the practical solution to problems that Google was trying to solve, they would be reassigned to work on other things, according to a person who was at that meeting.

    Distancing Google

    Boston Dynamics, though, was never folded into Google X and was instead put up for sale. After the division’s latest robot video was posted to YouTube, in February, Google’s public-relations team expressed discomfort that Alphabet would be associated with a push into humanoid robotics. Their subsequent e-mails were also published to the internal online forum and became visible to all Google employees.

    “There’s excitement from the tech press, but we’re also starting to see some negative threads about it being terrifying, ready to take humans’ jobs,” wrote Courtney Hohne, a director of communications at Google and the spokeswoman for Google X.

    Hohne went on to ask her colleagues to “distance X from this video,” and wrote, “we don’t want to trigger a whole separate media cycle about where BD really is at Google.”

    “We’re not going to comment on this video because there’s really not a lot we can add, and we don’t want to answer most of the Qs it triggers,” she wrote.

    ““There’s excitement from the tech press, but we’re also starting to see some negative threads about it being terrifying, ready to take humans’ jobs,” wrote Courtney Hohne, a director of communications at Google and the spokeswoman for Google X.”
    So Google is scared of being associated with technologies that could end up taking human jobs. Huh. Well, at least there wouldn’t be any human jobs stolen when it comes to building radiation-hardened Fukushima-bots!

    So it will be interesting to see if a Japanese company ends up acquiring Boston Dynamics. After all, a Japanese company working with the Japanese government on the Fukushima cleanup effort probably isn’t going to be focused on generating a profit over the next few years. Especially when each of the current Fukushima-bots take literally years to build. And note which companies are listed as potential buyers: Amazon, and Toyota:

    Possible acquirers include the Toyota Research Institute, a division of Toyota Motor Corp., and Amazon.com Inc., which makes robots for its fulfillment centers, according to one person. Google and Toyota declined to comment, and Amazon didn’t respond to requests for comment.

    So who knows, maybe Toyota will end up the lucky owner of a new cutting-edge robots firm. It seems possible, although there’s going to be plenty of competition, including Amazon. So while we shouldn’t be surprised if a Toyota-owned Boston Dynamics ends up sending robots where no human can go, we also shouldn’t be super surprised if an Amazon-owned Boston Dynamic ends up sending robots where no human should go. Or, who knows, maybe the firm will get scooped up by a defense contractor and start churning out the Terminator-bots of our nightmares.

    Of course, it’s really “all of the above” in the long run, which means it’s just a matter of time before radiation-hardened robots are just a standard technology. And while that’s the kind of future that any up and coming Skynets would like to see developed as soon as possible, it’s worth keeping in mind that radiation-hardened robots is one of those technologies the rest of us should probably be pining for too.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 17, 2016, 9:06 pm
  46. The new ice wall is nearing completion. It’s intended to freeze the soil and prevent groundwater from reaching the radioactive goo still sitting in the basement of the the Fukushimi Daichii complex and, for the most part, it sounds like it’s going to do that.

    Unfortunately, due to the volume of groundwater, some is still going to get through and add to the radioactive water headache. How much? About 50 tons a day, according to the estimates provided by the project’s chief architect, which is around as much tainted water as was released in the eight months following the 3-mile island disaster. So a lot less water should be joining the radioactive nightmare in the Fukushima complex basement once the ice wall is nice and chilly, but it’s still a nightmare’s worth of water every day:

    Associated Press

    Fukushima No. 1 plant’s ice wall won’t be watertight, says chief architect

    by Yuri Kageyama and Mari Yamaguchi

    Coping with the vast amounts of groundwater flowing into the broken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant — which then becomes irradiated and seeps back out — has become such a problem that the country is building a ¥35 billion “ice wall” into the ground around it.

    Even if the frozen barrier built with taxpayers’ money works as envisioned, it will not completely block all water from reaching the damaged reactors because of gaps in the wall and rainfall, creating as much as 50 tons of tainted water each day, said Yuichi Okamura, a chief architect of the massive project.

    In an interview earlier this week Okamura said “it’s not zero,” referring to the amount of water reaching the reactors. He is a general manager at Tokyo Electric Power Co., which runs the facility hit by a triple core meltdown after swamped by tsunami in 2011, prompting 150,000 nearby residents to evacuate.

    Pipes that constantly spray water into the reactors keep the fuel from overheating, but coping with the resulting water has been a major headache. Tepco has stored the water in nearly 1,000 huge tanks around the plant, with more being built and added each week.

    Tepco resorted to devising the 1.5-km-long (1-mile-long) ice wall around the facility after it became clear it had to do something drastic to stem the flow of groundwater into the facility’s basement and keep contaminated water from flowing back out.

    The water woes are just part of the many obstacles involved in controlling and dismantling the Fukushima plant, a huge task that will take 40 years. No one has even seen the nuclear debris. Robots are being created to capture images of the debris. The radiation is so high no human being can do that job.

    The ice wall, built by construction company Kajima Corp., is being turned on in sections for tests, and the entire freezing process will take eight months since it was first switched on in late March. The entire wall requires as much electricity as would be needed to power 13,000 Japanese households.

    Edward Yarmak, president of Arctic Foundations, based in Anchorage, Alaska, which designs and installs ground freezing systems and made an ice wall for the Oak Ridge reactor site, says the solution should work at Fukushima.

    “The refrigeration system has just been turned on, and it takes time to form the wall. First, the soil freezes concentrically around the pipes and when the frozen cylinders are large enough, they coalesce and form a continuous wall. After time, the wall increases in thickness,” he said in an email.

    But critics say the problem of the groundwater reaching the reactors was a no-brainer that should have been projected.

    Building a concrete wall into the hill near the plant right after the disaster would have minimized the contaminated water problem considerably, says Shigeaki Tsunoyama, honorary professor and former president of University of Aizu in Fukushima.

    Even at the reduced amount of 50 tons a day, the contaminated water produced at Fukushima will equal what came out of Three Mile Island’s total in just eight months because of the prevalence of groundwater in Fukushima, he said.

    Although Tepco has set 2020 as the goal for ending the water problems, Tsunoyama believes that’s too optimistic.

    “The groundwater coming up from below can never become zero,” he said in a telephone interview. “There is no perfect answer.”

    Okamura acknowledged the option to build a barrier in the higher elevation near the plant was considered in the early days after the disaster. But he defended his company’s actions.

    The priority was on preventing contaminated water from escaping into the Pacific Ocean, he said. Various walls were built along the coastline, and radiation monitors show leaks have tapered off over the last five years

    Opponents say the ice wall is a waste of taxpayers’ money and that it may not work. “From the perspective of regular people, we have serious questions about this piece of research that’s awarded a construction giant,” said Kanna Mitsuta, director of ecology group Friends of the Earth Japan.

    “Our reaction is: Why an ice wall?”

    “Even at the reduced amount of 50 tons a day, the contaminated water produced at Fukushima will equal what came out of Three Mile Island’s total in just eight months because of the prevalence of groundwater in Fukushima, he said.”
    Well, let’s hope those radiation scrubbers are working. And note the amount of electricity required:

    The ice wall, built by construction company Kajima Corp., is being turned on in sections for tests, and the entire freezing process will take eight months since it was first switched on in late March. The entire wall requires as much electricity as would be needed to power 13,000 Japanese households.

    And that’s just the electricity for the ice wall. When you think about how much electricity the rest of the cleanup efforts require, it’s not surprising that the Japanese government is so tempted to restart more reactors beyond the two in Sendai. Those plans for further restarts were reportedly halted, though. Why? The strongest earthquake since the 2011 disaster that just hit off the coast of Sendai:


    Japan’s Worst Quake Since 2011 Seen Delaying Nuclear Starts

    Stephen Stapczynski

    April 25, 2016 — 7:23 PM CDT
    Updated on April 25, 2016 — 11:16 PM CDT

    * Earthquakes on southern island of Kyushu kill 49 people
    * Japan lawyer group renews call for shutdown of Sendai reactors

    Japan’s biggest earthquake in five years may slow a government plan to restart the country’s atomic fleet that was shuttered amid safety concerns after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused the triple meltdown at Fukushima.

    A series of earthquakes, including a magnitude-7.3 tremor that struck about 119 kilometers (74 miles) from the Sendai nuclear facility on the southern island of Kyushu this month, destroyed hundreds of homes, snapped bridges and left at least 49 people dead. It has also revived an effort to halt the plants’ operations.

    The events may delay Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s goal of returning the country’s nuclear power plants to operation. About 60 percent of Japanese citizens oppose restarting reactors, according to a Nikkei newspaper poll from February, and the earthquake is intensifying pressure on the country’s nuclear regulator to vet safety rules.

    “Nuclear is under a magnifying glass now, so even the smallest problem can create big delays,” Michael Jones, a Singapore-based gas and power analyst at Wood Mackenzie Ltd. said in an e-mail. “Fukushima has changed everything, and earthquakes and volcanoes are only making things worse.”

    Transport Disruptions

    Trains and highways were damaged in the Kyushu earthquake and if there is a nuclear accident from another earthquake or volcanic eruption, evacuations may be difficult, Datsugenpatsu Bengodan, a group of lawyers working to wean Japan off nuclear power said in an April 19 statement. The group said Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai No. 1 and 2 reactors, which were the first to restart under post-Fukushima safety rules last year, should be shut.

    Evacuation Procedures

    “Given this is the largest earthquake in over a century in Kyushu that has caused significant damage to infrastructure, it could slow down the pace of restarts,” said Tom O’Sullivan, founder of Mathyos, a Tokyo-based energy consultant. “It may now be even more imperative that emergency evacuation procedures are thoroughly tested.”

    A nuclear accident at Sendai would require the evacuation of about 5,000 people in the surrounding 5 kilometers and more than 200,000 would need to seek immediate shelter within a 5- to 30-kilometer radius, according to a local government simulation from 2014.

    The NRA, Japan’s nuclear regulator, said on April 18 that it sees no need to shut the two Sendai reactors. A high court on April 6 upheld a ruling that the Sendai reactors can withstand seismic damage and don’t pose a risk to the surrounding area.

    A local court issued an injunction in March preventing the operation of Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama No. 3 and 4 reactors, questioning whether evacuation plans and tsunami prevention measures — which had been endorsed by the government — were robust enough.

    The earthquake near Japan’s only operating reactors “may boost the nation’s anti-nuclear sentiment,” Joseph Jacobelli, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, said in an April 22 note. “Technical and political obstacles mean even those units approved for restart are returning at a snail’s pace.”

    The earthquake near Japan’s only operating reactors “may boost the nation’s anti-nuclear sentiment…Technical and political obstacles mean even those units approved for restart are returning at a snail’s pace.”
    Yeah, that’s a reasonable analysis. When strongest earthquake since the 2011 disaster hits near the only two plants restarted since, it’s a pretty strong sign the gods are anti-nuclear. Giant monsters are just a matter of time. That’s all bound to increase anti-nuclear sentiments. Especially near Sendai.

    But as the delayed plans to restart more nuclear plants beyond Sendai reminds us, when you have a bunch of nuclear plants just sitting there, the temptation is to use them. The Sendai plant is near a volcano. That’s the one that got reopened first. It’s clear there’s going to be a lot more reopened. And if something does unfortunately happen and there’s a new nuclear disaster on the scale of Fukushima that requires years of energy-intensive cleanup efforts, the temptation to open even more nuclear plants is only going to be that much more urgent as the power it was providing goes away and another energy-sucking cleanup effort gets created. And the more nuclear accidents that take place in the future, the more tempted Japan is going to be to restart one of its other many aging nuclear plants to fill in the gap. Until the shutdown plants are decommissioned, that temptation to restart is going to be there due to all the resulting nuclear energy slack and plants that could be shut back on in short order. It’s one of the other seemingly uncontrollable chain-reactions set off by the 2011 meltdown and nuclear industry shutdown.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 1, 2016, 10:25 pm
  47. There was some new research at a recent geochemistry conference in Japan on how the caesium released from Fukushima disaster spread. It’s unfortunate new research because it suggests that most of the radioactive fallout on downtown Tokyo days after the disaster was a ‘glassy soot’. And the research shows that a very large amount of the caesium released (~89 percent) was caesium trapped in these glass particles that were part of the glass soot. The micron-sized beads were formed by blowtorch temperatures during the meltdown. And these microbeads were 100 times more concentrated with caesium than the rest of the soil and distributed in a more uneven manner than was previously assumed because of a lack of water-solubility.

    So now we know when nuclear meltdown temperatures hit blowtorch temperatures we need watch out for radioactive microparticle formation. Unfortunately:


    Radioactive cesium fallout on Tokyo from Fukushima concentrated in glass microparticles

    June 27, 2016

    New research shows that most of the radioactive fallout which landed on downtown Tokyo a few days after the Fukushima accident was concentrated and deposited in non-soluble glass microparticles, as a type of ‘glassy soot’. This meant that most of the radioactive material was not dissolved in rain and running water, and probably stayed in the environment until removed by direct washing or physical removal. The particles also concentrated the radioactive caesium (Cs), meaning that in some cases dose effects of the fallout are still unclear. These results are announced at the Goldschmidt geochemistry conference in Yokohama, Japan.

    The flooding of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (FDNPP) after the disastrous earthquake on March 11 2011 caused the release of significant amounts of radioactive material, including caesium (Cs) isotopes 134Cs (half-life, 2 years) and 137Cs (half-life, 30 years).

    Japanese geochemists, headed by Dr Satoshi Utsunomiya (Kyushu University, Japan), analysed samples collected from within an area up to 230 km from the FDNPP. As caesium is water-soluble, it had been anticipated that most of the radioactive fallout would have been flushed from the environment by rainwater. However, analysis with state-of-the-art electron microscopy in conjunction with autoradiography techniques showed that most of the radioactive caesium in fact fell to the ground enclosed in glassy microparticles, formed at the time of the reactor meltdown.

    The analysis shows that these particles mainly consist of Fe-Zn-oxides nanoparticles, which, along with the caesium were embedded in Si oxide glass that formed during the molten core-concrete interaction inside the primary containment vessel in the Fukushima reactor units 1 and/or 3. Because of the high Cs content in the microparticles, the radioactivity per unit mass was as high as ~4.4×1011 Bq/g, which is between 107 and 108 times higher than the background Cs radioactivity per unit mass of the typical soils in Fukushima.

    Closer microparticle structural and geochemical analysis also revealed what happened during the accident at FDNPP. Radioactive Cs was released and formed airborne Cs nanoparticles. Nuclear fuel, at temperatures of above 2200 K (about as hot as a blowtorch), melted the reactor pressure vessel resulting in failure of the vessel. The airborne Cs nanoparticles were condensed along with the Fe-Zn nanoparticles and the gas from the molten concrete, to form the SiO2 glass nanoparticles, which were then dispersed.

    Analysis from several air filters collected in Tokyo on 15 March 2011 showed that 89% of the total radioactivity was present as a result of these caesium-rich microparticles, rather than the soluble Cs, as had originally been supposed.

    According to Dr Satoshi Utsunomiya: “This work changes some of our assumptions about the Fukushima fallout. It looks like the clean-up procedure, which consisted of washing and removal of top soils, was the correct thing to do. However, the concentration of radioactive caesium in microparticles means that, at an extremely localised and focused level, the radioactive fallout may have been more (or less) concentrated than anticipated. This may mean that our ideas of the health implications should be modified”.

    Commenting, Prof. Bernd Grambow, Director of SUBATECH laboratory, Nantes, France and leader of the research group on interfacial reaction field chemistry of the ASRC/JAEA, Tokai, Japan, said:

    “The leading edge observations by nano-science facilities presented here are extremely important. They may change our understanding of the mechanism of long range atmospheric mass transfer of radioactive caesium from the reactor accident at Fukushima to Tokyo, but they may also change the way we assess inhalation doses from the caesium microparticles inhaled by humans. Indeed, biological half- lives of insoluble caesium particles might be much larger than that of soluble caesium”.

    “According to Dr Satoshi Utsunomiya: “This work changes some of our assumptions about the Fukushima fallout. It looks like the clean-up procedure, which consisted of washing and removal of top soils, was the correct thing to do. However, the concentration of radioactive caesium in microparticles means that, at an extremely localised and focused level, the radioactive fallout may have been more (or less) concentrated than anticipated. This may mean that our ideas of the health implications should be modified”.

    Well, if there’s one positive thing about something like the Fukushima disaster it’s that we’ll inevitably learn lots of useful things about how to prevent and respond to future Fukushima-like disasters. So now you know that if if you happen to be caught in the wake of a nuclear disaster similar to the Fukushima meltdown, there’s non-water-soluble glass particles you’ll want to think about scrubbing away along with all the other decontamination procedures. Hopefully, for personal decontamination purposes, the radioactive microparticles will be soluble in all the bodywash and skin care products that advertise their microbeads, although that raises the question of how radioactive microparticles impact radiation bioaccumulation in the wildlife since consumption of man-made microbeads is such a plague on the ecosystem from animals eating them.

    Radioactive glass soot that very heavy rainwater doesn’t wash away. That is some terrifying soot. And now we know about it. Unfortunately.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 29, 2016, 10:49 pm
  48. Here’s a public service announcement for any Pokemon Go players who decide to make a pilgrimage to the Pokemon homeland: If you’re in the Fukushima area and just gotta catch ’em all, don’t forget the radiation suit:

    The Telegraph

    Japan urges Pokemon Go players not to hunt in Fukushima disaster zone

    By Helena Horton

    26 July 2016 • 5:54pm

    Japan has asked the makers of Pokemon go to prevent the animated monsters appearing in the Fukushima disaster zone after at least one was discovered on the site.

    They are worried Pokemon hunters will put themselves in danger while playing the game if Pokemon continue to appear on the site of power stations in the area.

    Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (Tepco) has asked Niantic and the Pokemon Company to stop the collectible characters appearing in or near areas affected by the nuclear reactor meltdown in Fukushima.

    This is to help prevent encouraging players to enter dangerous areas.

    Tepco said it tested the Fukushima Daiichi plant, the Fukushima Daini plant and the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture and found Pokemon.

    The Fukushima governor, Masao Uchibori said it was not good that people could enter dangerous areas in pursuit of Pokemon and that “the prefectural government will consider how to draw attention to this”.

    The city government of Nagasaki has also asked Niantic to remove Pokemon from Nagasaki Peace Park, a memorial to victims of the atomic bombing of the city in 1945 and asked people not to play Pokemon on the site.

    Pokemon have been turning up in inappropriate places since the launch of the game.

    A squirtle reportedly showed up on the front line of the war against Isil in Iraq. Former US marine Louis Park shared a photo of his Squirtle encounter on Facebook.

    The 26 year-old is volunteering with Dwehk Nawsha, Christian militia who are fighting against Islamic State forces.

    The Holocaust Museum in Washington DC has reportedly been attracting some unwelcome visitors in recent days – gamers playing Pokémon Go.

    “Playing the game is not appropriate in the museum, which is a memorial to the victims of Nazism,” said museum spokesman Andrew Hollinger in an interview with the Washington Post.

    “We are trying to find out if we can get the museum excluded from the game.”

    “Tepco said it tested the Fukushima Daiichi plant, the Fukushima Daini plant and the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture and found Pokemon.”

    Yeah, you probably want to skip the actual Fukushima Daiichi plant during your Pokemon Go tour of Japan. Just skip the Pokemon requiring a radiation suit. Although, while you’re wander around the surrounding forest and waterways looking for non-radioactive Pokemon, there’s a pocket Geiger count that you can hook up to your iPhone that still might be worth taking on your Fukushima area Pokemon hunt:

    Japan Times

    Greenpeace reports jump in radioactive contamination in Fukushima waterways

    by Eric Johnston
    Staff Writer

    Jul 21, 2016

    OSAKA – Greenpeace Japan on Thursday said it has discovered radioactive contamination in Fukushima’s riverbanks, estuaries and coastal waters at a scale hundreds of times higher than pre-2011 levels.

    One sample of sediment taken along the Niida River, less than 30 km northwest of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power plant, revealed the presence of cesium-134 and cesium-137 at levels of 29,800 becquerels per kilogram.

    That was just one of 19 samples of dried sediment and soil the environmental activist group took and analyzed from the banks of the Abukuma, Niida, and Ota rivers. The samples were collected by Greenpeace in February and March.

    All of the samples but one exhibited more than 1,000 Bq/kg of radioactive material. The lowest level, 309 Bq/kg, was logged at a spot along the Abukuma River.

    Cesium-134 has a half-life of about two years, but cesium-137 has a half-life of 30 years and is considered particularly hazardous. The standard limits set for radioactive cesium in Japan are 100 Bq/kg for general foods and 10 Bq/kg for drinking water.

    “The radiological impacts of the Fukushima nuclear disaster on the marine environment, with consequences for both human and nonhuman health, are not only the first years. They are both ongoing and future threats, principally the continued releases from the Fukushima No. 1 plant itself and translocation of land-based contamination throughout Fukushima Prefecture, including upland forests, rivers, lakes and coastal estuaries,” the report said.

    “All of the samples but one exhibited more than 1,000 Bq/kg of radioactive material. The lowest level, 309 Bq/kg, was logged at a spot along the Abukuma River.”

    Luckily for the Pokemon they’re digital.

    In other news, radioactive wild boars are breeding out of control within the Fukushima exclusion zone and rampaging across surrounding populated areas. It’s unclear what the best iPhone app is for dealing with packs of radioactive wild boars, although a real life army of Pokemon would really be preferably during any sort of radioactive wildlife encounter.

    Oh well. Have fun on your Fukushima Pokemon Go adventures. Try to be safe.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 7, 2016, 10:22 pm
  49. Here’s a reminder that we shouldn’t be surprised if the cost tallies for the Fukushima cleanup effort change dramatically over the years since the the initial estimates for what it’s going to cost to clean up the Fukushima plant were exactly that. Estimates. Specifically, underestimates:

    The Chicago Tribune

    In Japan, nuclear accident costs rise

    December 9, 2016, 9:20 PM

    The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry released Friday an estimate that the cost of decommissioning nuclear reactors and paying compensation for damage caused by the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant will total about 21.5 trillion yen (about $186,835,000,000), nearly double the former estimate of 11 trillion yen.

    The figure surged because the number of compensation targets expanded and the decommissioning work for the unprecedented accident is facing more difficulties than initially expecte. Part of the additional costs will be reflected in electricity bills and covered by tax, which means the general public will shoulder them.

    The estimate was revealed at a Friday morning meeting of the ministry’s expert panel tasked with discussing management reforms of plant owner Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. and how to handle issues related to the accident at the plant.

    Regarding costs related to the accident, the ministry initially calculated 2 trillion yen for nuclear reactor decommissioning, 5.4 trillion yen for compensation, 2.5 trillion yen for decontamination and 1.1 trillion yen for constructing interim storage facilities for radioactive material. However in the new estimate, decommissioning costs will be 8 trillion yen, up by 6 trillion yen; compensation will cost 7.9 trillion yen, up by 2.5 trillion yen; decontamination will be 4 trillion yen, up by 1.5 trillion yen; and the construction of interim storage facilities will cost 1.6 trillion yen, up by 0.5 trillion yen.

    How the total costs will be shared depends on how they would be paid.

    To pay compensation, not only TEPCO but also other major companies, along with new entrants to the electric power market known as PPSs (power producers and suppliers), will be asked to shoulder the burden, except for Okinawa Electric Power Co. as it operates no nuclear power plants. This means that extra costs will be added to most electricity bills across the nation.

    All costs for decommissioning reactors will be borne by TEPCO with its profits.

    The decontamination work will be covered by the government selling the TEPCO stocks it holds. Concerning the “difficult-to-return zones,” the government plans to take necessary measures to secure a budget to carry out full-scale decontamination work starting next fiscal year.

    The figure surged because the number of compensation targets expanded and the decommissioning work for the unprecedented accident is facing more difficulties than initially expecte. Part of the additional costs will be reflected in electricity bills and covered by tax, which means the general public will shoulder them.”

    Yeah, while it would have been a remarkably positive turn of events if the cleanup effort turned out to be cheaper and easier than expected, it also would have been a remarkably improbable turn of events. Instead, it’s what we should have expected, which is that the cleanup effort is going to be a lot harder than expected and the costs a lot higher than expected. This probably isn’t going to be the last doubling.

    But that doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of opportunities for things to go better than expected in some instances given the massive number of different things that are going to have to be actually accomplished if the scheduled cleanup over the coming decades is going to come to completion. Imagine all the custom ordered technical feats that will be required, with each melted down reactor its own special nightmare.

    So, for instance, if the radiation-hardened robotic crane that’s being built by Toshiba to go down into No. 3 reactor’s cooling pool and remove the highly radioactive fuel rods works out much better than expected, who knows what kind of savings that could create in the long run. So let’s hope it’s on schedule. Or better yet ahead of schedule. Because according to this article from January of this year, it’s going to be needed very soon since the remote remove of reactor 3’s submerged fuel rods is scheduled to start next year:

    The Japan Times

    Toshiba unveils remote-controlled device to remove reactor 3 fuel assemblies at Fukushima No. 1

    by Kazuaki Nagata

    Staff Writer

    Toshiba Corp. on Monday demonstrated a device it anticipates will be used to remove fuel-rod assemblies from the spent fuel pool in the reactor 3 building at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

    Scheduled to begin extracting 566 fuel-rod assemblies sometime in fiscal 2017, Toshiba, the builder of reactor 3, showed how the gigantic remote-control crane-like device will work during a demonstration at a company factory in Yokohama.

    Tokyo Electric Power Co. has said that although it is working to reduce the radiation level inside the reactor 3 building, it remains impossible for humans to safely monitor the removal of the fuel-rod assemblies.

    It was this hurdle that prompted Toshiba to create the remotely controlled device to clear debris and remove rods from the cooling pool.

    The crane consists of two parts, including two robotic arms that can pick up and cut debris, and another arm that is designed to grab the assemblies.

    In December 2014, Tepco finished removing 1,535 fuel rod assemblies from the pool in the reactor 4 building.

    For that job, low radiation levels allowed workers to stand at the pool to directly monitor the removal process.

    Compared with that job, the removal of the fuel-rod assemblies from the reactor 3 pool will be “more difficult since it will have to be done completely remotely,” Tepco official Isao Shirai said.

    Unlike reactor 4, which had been shut down and unfueled at the time of the March 11, 2011, disasters, reactor 3 was damaged by a hydrogen explosion and meltdown in the days that followed released radioactive materials into the area.

    Tepco said it hopes to eventually bring radiation levels down to 1 millisievert per hour — a rate still too high for long-term work at the reactor 3 site.

    The utility plans to install a cover over the pool and begin setting up the Toshiba device this year. Training for workers to master the intricacies of the remote-control system is expected to begin next year.

    “Tepco said it hopes to eventually bring radiation levels down to 1 millisievert per hour — a rate still too high for long-term work at the reactor 3 site.”

    Toshiba is going to be really good at building remote controlled disaster robots by the end of this. Let’s wish them luck. Especially next year. Hopefully there will be some positive surprises. But don’t be surprised if we get some negative ones instead. Negative surprises like, for instance, the cooling system for No 3 reactor getting accidentally shut off for nearly an hour during an inspection. Things like that should be expected too. Hopefully not too often:

    The Associated Press

    Fukushima reactor briefly loses cooling during inspection

    Originally published December 5, 2016 at 12:05 am
    Updated December 5, 2016 at 1:32 am

    TOKYO (AP) — One of the melted reactors at the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant had a temporary loss of cooling Monday when a worker accidentally bumped a switch while passing through a narrow isle of switch panels during an inspection and turned off the pumping system.

    The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., said cooling for the No. 3 reactor, one of the three that melted following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, was out for nearly an hour before a backup pump kicked in.

    The reactor had enough water left inside and there was no temperature increase or radiation leak from the incident, TEPCO spokesman Yuichi Okamura said at a news conference.

    Even though there was no radiation leak or overheating of the core, or any injuries, the incident was a reminder that Fukushima’s decommissioning work is running on a very fragile system.

    The plant was largely running on makeshift pipes, wiring and other equipment in the first two to three years following the 2011 disasters, suffering a series of minor blackouts — including those caused by rats chewing cables — cooling stoppages and other problems.

    The plant has since largely stabilized, but it remains vulnerable to unanticipated incidents as it continues to struggle with decommissioning work, which is expected to last decades.

    Monday’s incident occurred when the worker was passing by a dimly lit isle that was only 85 centimeters (2.8 feet) wide, flanked by tall switch panels on both sides, Okamura said. With radiation levels still high, the worker was wearing a full-face mask and hazmat suit when he lost his balance while carrying equipment. His elbow jammed into the switch, breaking off its safety cover and inadvertently turning the lever to turn off the water injection pump to the No. 3 reactor.

    “Monday’s incident occurred when the worker was passing by a dimly lit isle that was only 85 centimeters (2.8 feet) wide, flanked by tall switch panels on both sides, Okamura said. With radiation levels still high, the worker was wearing a full-face mask and hazmat suit when he lost his balance while carrying equipment. His elbow jammed into the switch, breaking off its safety cover and inadvertently turning the lever to turn off the water injection pump to the No. 3 reactor

    Wow. That’s like the stumble of doom. But at least it sounds like a backup system eventually kicked in. So that’s fortunate. We don’t need to see Toshiba’s remote controlled radiation hardened robot development team receive any more custom projects.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 12, 2016, 12:37 am
  50. Tepco is getting a pair of early Christmas present this year: First we have Nuclear Santa bringing the gift of state funds to cover the cleanup costs of Fukushima. And it’s one of the best gifts you can get: money. Basically:

    Jiji Press

    State funds to cover cleanup of Fukushima

    9:03 pm, December 20, 2016

    Jiji PressTOKYO (Jiji Press) — The government decided Tuesday to use state funds to decontaminate areas in Fukushima Prefecture where entry is banned in principle due to high levels of radiation following the March 2011 nuclear accident.

    Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., the operator of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station, knocked out by the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, will not be asked to cover the costs.

    The plan is part of the government’s revised guidelines for promoting the reconstruction of Fukushima, which were adopted at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.

    Based on the revamped guidelines, the government will submit to next year’s ordinary session of the Diet a bill to revise the special law on rebuilding the prefecture.

    At a meeting of the government’s Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “I want all related Cabinet ministers to cooperate closely to set out a concrete path to help Fukushima achieve reconstruction as soon as possible.”

    The government plans to establish a base for accelerating the decontamination work and infrastructure projects in the no-go zones intensively from fiscal 2017, aiming to lift its evacuation order for the areas in five years.

    The revised guidelines say that the government will bear the costs for the construction of the base, instead of calling on TEPCO to shoulder the expenses.

    Previously, the government took the stance of making TEPCO pay the decontamination costs to hold it responsible for the Fukushima No. 1 plant accident.

    But it changed the policy partly because TEPCO has finished payments of compensation to all residents from the no-go zones.

    The government plans to earmark about ¥30 billion to fund the decontamination work under its fiscal 2017 budget. However, the move may draw public criticism as it could be regarded as a de facto rescue of TEPCO.

    “The revised guidelines say that the government will bear the costs for the construction of the base, instead of calling on TEPCO to shoulder the expenses.”

    Public financing for meltdown clean up costs. That’s a pretty sweet gift from Nuclear Santa. Radiation decontamination bases can’t be cheap. It’s one of the implicit fun gifts that come with being a nuclear power utility: the public doesn’t just share the cost of building the damn things, it’s also inevitably going to share the costs after the meltdowns. Because cleaning that kind of mess up generally isn’t optional.

    The second gift to Tepco this Christmas is possibly much sweeter, and it’s also not exclusively publicly financed, although it is publicly financed to the extent that the rest of the Japanese power industry is publicly financed: Japan’s government is urging Tepco to divest its risk and costs by partnering with the rest of Japan’s power industry. Which is basically the government’s way of saying Tepco should use it’s profitable operations to entice other players to buy up those operations, assuming parts of Tepco’s long-term clean up costs in the process. As you can imagine, the rest of Japan’s power industry doesn’t appear to be very enthusiastic about this particular gift from Nuclear Santa:


    Japan urges bold reform for Tepco as Fukushima costs soar
    By Yuka Obayashi | TOKYO
    Tue Dec 20, 2016 | 5:05am EST

    Japan’s government on Tuesday urged Fukushima operator Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) to integrate its transmission and nuclear operations with peers to cut costs and generate higher income to pay the costs from the 2011 nuclear disaster.

    A government panel that has held intensive meetings since October said the next six months will be “make or break” for Tepco’s reform efforts, after it earlier nearly doubled the estimated costs of the Fukushima disaster to more than $180 billion.

    Tepco’s two previous business plans written to map out a recovery from the three meltdowns at its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant after a 2011 earthquake and tsunami were based on assumptions of other nuclear reactors returning to service that now look unlikely anytime soon. The panel said that now is the time for Tepco to act boldly.

    “Tepco needs to focus on securing funds for compensation and decommissioning as well as boosting income through management reforms. And it needs to carry out those actions with a sense of urgency,” the panel said. “The next half year is make or break for Tepco’s reform.”

    Tepco said it will come up with a new plan next year.

    “We take the proposal seriously and will put bold reforms into effect to fulfil our responsibilities for Fukushima,” Tepco President Naomi Hirose told reporters after the meeting where he attended as an observer.

    The panel earlier this month doubled its estimate for the Fukushima-related costs to 21.5 trillion yen ($182 billion). Tepco’s portion of the burden has risen to 15.9 trillion yen from 7.2 trillion yen.

    The panel also recommended that Tepco fully integrates its fuel and thermal power operations into JERA Co, a joint venture between the company and Chubu Electric Power, and urged the same for its transmission and nuclear operations.

    “We will look into policies that enhance alliances,” said Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko when asked if the government will change regulations to support consolidation between Tepco and other utilities.

    Other utilities have voiced opposition to joining with Tepco because of concerns they will get saddled with the Fukushima costs.

    The panel also called for financial institutions and other Tepco stakeholders to provide support to what was once Asia’s biggest utility.

    Tepco’s Hirose reiterated that his company still aims to issue bonds by the end of March.

    “Other utilities have voiced opposition to joining with Tepco because of concerns they will get saddled with the Fukushima costs.”

    With Nuclear Santa, if you’re ‘meltdown’-league naughty you’ll get immense gifts that year. And for decades and perhaps centuries to come. But part of that gift might have to come from the other Nuclear Santa gift recipients. Nuclear Santa isn’t like regular Santa but still pretty sweet. Sweet for Japanese oligarchs.

    If the other utilities end up getting forced into unwanted partnerships with Tepco that will perhaps be something to complain about. Although if any outside players should be saddling the costs of the Fukushima clean up effort it would seem like the rest of Japan’s power industry – which gets all sort of Power Industry Santa gifts day after day year after year – should be the first sector of society to be saddled with costs of this nature.

    Also note that when you read things like:

    The panel also recommended that Tepco fully integrates its fuel and thermal power operations into JERA Co, a joint venture between the company and Chubu Electric Power, and urged the same for its transmission and nuclear operations.

    such mergers have already happened, like the Tepco Chuba liquid natural gas mega-merger that created the largest natural gas buyer in the world. It’s a reminder that the Japanese government’s call for Tepco to merge its operations with other power operators, the government is simultaneously calling for a pretty significant consolidation of the energy sector:


    UPDATE 2-Tepco, Chubu Electric say may merge fossil-fuel plants

    * If merged, fossil fuel generation would total 65 gigawatts

    * Deepening tie-up may lead to industry consolidation (Adds comment, details on LNG purchases)

    By Osamu Tsukimori and Aaron Sheldrick
    Mon Feb 9, 2015 | 4:19am EST

    TOKYO, Feb 9 Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) and Chubu Electric Power Co said on Monday they may combine their fossil-fuel plants under a joint venture they are setting up from April to handle fuel procurement and related businesses.

    Should the companies, the biggest and third biggest of Japan’s 10 regional power utilities, include all their fossil-fuel stations, the tie-up would oversee almost 68 gigawatts of capacity, making it one of the world’s largest power generators.

    The rigid boundaries between Japan’s regional monopolies are gradually breaking down in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis. The disaster exposed flaws in the national grid, pushed up prices and led to three of them, including Tepco, owner of the Fukushima plant, to turn to the government for aid.

    The growing ties between Chubu and Tepco may prompt mergers in the industry after the government opens up the $63 billion retail market from April 2016, said Tom O’Sullivan, founder of independent energy consultant Mathyos Japan.

    “The combination of Tepco and Chubu’s thermal power businesses may be indicative of a consolidation trend that might follow the proposed liberalization of Japan’s power market,” he said.

    Such consolidation has occurred in other markets that have liberalized, O’Sullivan noted: “Germany has four power companies, the UK has six, while Japan has 10.”

    Chubu and Tepco said they agreed to start a comprehensive joint venture from April that will gradually include fuel procurement, investment in gas and other upstream developments, and some areas of power generation to lower costs.

    Tepco was saved from bankruptcy by the government in 2012 following the reactor meltdowns at its Fukushima plant north of Tokyo after an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. The Fukushima nuclear disaster was the world’s worst since Chernobyl in 1986.

    Fukushima exposed Tepco to tens of billions of dollars of compensation claims and clean-up costs and led to the shutdown of all of Japan’s nuclear reactors for stringent safety checks.

    That forced operators to import record amounts of coal and expensive liquefied natural gas (LNG) for power generation, contributing to a record run of trade deficits for Japan and forcing two other regional monopolies to seek state aid.

    Tepco, the world’s second-biggest LNG buyer, currently buys about 25 million tonnes a year. Chubu Electric, the third-biggest LNG buyer, takes in around 14 million tonnes a year.

    “The growing ties between Chubu and Tepco may prompt mergers in the industry after the government opens up the $63 billion retail market from April 2016, said Tom O’Sullivan, founder of independent energy consultant Mathyos Japan.”

    The proposed merger became a reality the next month.

    And as the article makes clear, we shouldn’t expect the corporate mergers to be limited to Tepco. Because the crisis created in the electricity markets following the Fukushima disaster when Japan’s nuclear sector was shutdown became a pretext for deregulating Japans electricity sector. And now that deregulation is actually happening. And that means a flood of opportunities for small operators to enter the markets. And a flood of opportunities for large operators like Tepco to form service “bundles” in partnership with other major service providers and dominate its markets more efficiently:

    Bloomberg Technology

    The $67 Billion Prize on Offer as Japan Shakes Up Power Market

    by Tsuyoshi Inajima
    and Stephen Stapczynski
    October 26, 2015, 6:17 PM CDT October 27, 2015, 1:43 PM CDT

    * Japan registered power suppliers jump seven-fold in two years
    * SoftBank to Canadian Solar seek piece of $67 billion market

    Spend a few minutes to fill in a single-page form from a government website. Mail it in. That’s all you need to register as a power producer in Japan as the country opens its $67 billion retail electricity market.

    More than 750 applicants, from rice farmers to billionaire Masayoshi Son’s mobile carrier SoftBank Group Corp., have signed up to provide electricity and compete with the existing 10 regional monopolies. Fewer than 100 of them are already supplying power to the industrial market that’s already been deregulated. They have almost doubled their share over the last three years and now account for about 5 percent of Japan’s supply.

    While Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushes for the return of nuclear power after the 2011 Fukushima disaster led to the shutdown of the country’s reactors, he’s also promoting liberalization as a way to reduce costs and increase grid reliability for residential consumers. Canadian Solar Inc. and South Korea’s Hanwha Q Cells Co. have been lured by the possibility of getting a piece of Asia’s third-largest energy market. Increased competition may help drive retail electricity costs down by 15 percent, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

    “New participants are entering the market at a time when the utilities’ competitive power remains weak because there are almost no operating reactors,” said Moody’s Corp. analyst Mariko Semetko. “Competition in areas that include Tokyo and Osaka will intensify as new entrants emerge to meet demand.”

    Japanese rice and grain grower Arima Co, a 10-person operation on the island of Shikoku about 600 kilometers (373 miles) west of Tokyo, registered as a power supplier because it’s considering installing solar panels in unused fields, said Yoji Arima, the sales manager. The business is optimistic revenue from power production could help stabilize volatile agricultural profits that are affected by weather and commodity price swings.

    Yet entering the market isn’t as easy as buying solar panels and plugging into the grid. Participants must pay a consignment charge to supply customers through transmission lines owned by regional utilities. And, unlike a clean energy incentive program started in 2012 that guarantees payment for producers, participants must find their own customers.

    Japan electricity demand may rise by about 22 percent to 1,177 billion kilowatt hours by the year starting April 2030 from fiscal 2013 under one scenario, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said in a report. Sixteen percent of households plan to change their electricity supplier if rates are 10 percent cheaper, according to a survey from Nomura Research Institute Ltd.

    In August, Japan rejoined the group of nations using atomic power as it swept aside public opposition and fired up one of the reactors shuttered for safety upgrades after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that wrecked the Fukushima Dai-Ichi station. The disaster led to rolling blackouts in Tokyo and helped sway public support for the liberalization.

    Analysts and academics are divided over whether liberalizing power markets always benefits consumers. In the 11 states and Washington D.C. that have restructured electricity markets in the U.S., prices have risen more than four times faster after deregulation than before, relative to national prices, according to a study published in the International Journal of Energy Economics and Policy.

    Japan has already deregulated power markets for factories and large buildings and the country’s total electricity market is worth about 18.2 trillion yen ($150 billion).

    Existing companies with customers may fare best under new rules.

    Power, Mobile

    Tokyo Gas Co., the nation’s largest city-gas distributor, plans to enter the power business in April and target sales in the Kanto region of Japan, which includes Tokyo, and which has been dominated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. for decades.

    “If you’re Tokyo Gas you already have a residential customer base in Tokyo, so all you’re doing is going back to those customers and saying, ‘You are buying gas from me now, how about you buy electricity from me?’” said Izadi-Najafabadi of BNEF.

    Tokyo Electric Power, Japan’s largest utility, announced a partnership with SoftBank Group this month to package power, telephone and Internet service. More partnerships may be on the horizon as companies bundle offerings to scoop up more customers.

    “If someone can give you a package at a lower price with a whole bunch of goods, then that is what you are going to take,” said Joseph Jacobelli, a utilities and infrastructure analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. “They want to sell packages, which will basically own the customer, then they leverage that up.”

    “Tokyo Electric Power, Japan’s largest utility, announced a partnership with SoftBank Group this month to package power, telephone and Internet service. More partnerships may be on the horizon as companies bundle offerings to scoop up more customers.”

    As we can see, the Tepco’s mega-merger with Chuba Power’s LNG sector happened shorly before the whole electricity market got deregulated and companies with large customer bases, the biggest being Tepco, are poised to potentially benefit the most. So those calls by the Japanese government for Tepco to form more partnerships and reinvent itself over the next year and half aren’t quite as outlandish as they might seem. Some sort of big Tepco reinvention of sorts really could happen in the near future if more mega-mergers take place. And that appears likely because Tepco is already huge and the whole sector is about to get redrawn from the deregulation. Whether or not Tepco’s deregulation reinvention plans actually work and save Tepco a significant amount of money remains to be seen. But if it doesn’t work there’s always another round of gifts from Nuclear Santa. And probably more deregulation and mega-mergers.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 23, 2016, 10:57 pm

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