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Since it began March 11, 2011, Nukewatch has reported on the Fukushima-Daiichi triple reactor meltdowns and radiation gusher, the deluge of accidents, leaks, faulty cleanup efforts, the widespread contamination of workers, citizens, soil, food and water, and the long series of cancer studies, lawsuits, and ever-changing clean-up and decommissioning plans. As Japan Times reports last October, “Extremely high radiation levels and the inability to grasp the details about melted nuclear fuel make it impossible for [Tepco] to chart the course of its planned decommissioning of the reactors.”
Our reporting is partly a response to the lack of mainstream US news coverage, and partly a reminder of the risk of similar radiation releases here stemming from the operation of 23 identical GE reactors (Fukushima clones) in this country.
Japanese media coverage of the catastrophe in English, along with analysis by independent scientists, researchers, and institutes is mostly available online and much of it is reliable.
Five years into crisis, officials from the Tokyo Electric Power Co. have said leaks from the six-reactor complex with “at least” two trillion Becquerels of radioactivity entered the Pacific between August 2013 and May 2014. Relentless drainage of contaminated water from the site is estimated to be about 300 tons a day and has continued for 60 months. “We should be carefully monitoring the oceans after what is the largest accidental release of radioactive contaminants to the oceans in history,” researcher Ken Buesseler, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute said last September.
However, Japan isn’t even monitoring seawater near Fukushima, according to The Ecologist.
Greenpeace launches study of 300-year effect on oceans
On Feb. 26, Greenpeace International launched a major investigation into the radiation gusher’s effects on the Pacific Ocean near the northeast Japanese site of the Fukushima complex. The group said in a press release that its investigation will employ a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) with a sensitive gamma radiation “Spectrometer” and sediment sampler.
Former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who headed the government in 2011, joined the crew of Greenpeace’s Flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, on the opening day of the study, and he used the occasion to call for a Germany-like total phase-out of nuclear power.
“I once believed Japan’s advanced technology would prevent a nuclear accident like Chernobyl from happening in Japan,” Kan said. “But it did not, and I was faced with the very real crisis of having to evacuate 50 million people… Instead, we should shift to safer and cheaper renewable energy with potential business opportunities for our future generations.”
Greenpeace noted that, “In addition to the initial release of liquid nuclear waste during the first weeks of the accident, and the daily releases ever since, contamination has also flowed from the land itself, particularly nearby forests and mountains of Fukushima, and are expected to continue to contaminate the Pacific Ocean for at least the next 300 years.”
Shaun Burnie, Senior Nuclear Specialist with Greenpeace Germany said, “There is an urgent need to understand the impact this contamination is having on the ocean -- how radioactivity is both dispersing and concentrating -- and its implications.
“Tepco failed to prevent a multiple reactor meltdown and five years later it’s still an ongoing disaster. It has no credible solution to the water crisis they created and is failing to prevent further contamination of the Pacific Ocean,” Burnie said.
Criminal charges leveled against reactor execs
Japan’s first criminal charges against executives of Tepco were filed Feb. 29 against three former officials who are alleged to have refused to take precautionary measures that could have prevented the loss of off-site power (known a “station blackout”) and the resulting out-of-control overheating and complete meltdown of reactor fuel in three units. The three are accused of negligence resulting in death and injury, specifically having ignored professional and specific warnings about the inadequate height of the seawall, and about the improper (basement) location of emergency diesel generators which were destroyed by flooding. Over 14,000 Japanese citizens signed on to the lawsuit.
Starting from scratch
Last October, four-½ years into the unprecedented self-destruction of three-reactors in one place, Japan’s Atomic Energy Agency opened an institute “to develop” techniques to inspect and eventually decommission the three ruins. Because of the vast, unprecedented complexity of the disaster, the new “Remote Technology Development Center” is starting from scratch. That’s right: No one now knows how to disassemble and safely containerize the ferociously radioactive wreckage.
Naohiro Masuda, Tepco’s chief of decontamination and decommissioning, told the Associated Press Dec. 18, “This is something that’s never been experienced. A textbook doesn’t exist for something like this.” Radiation levels inside the cores are too high for workers or even robots to make useful inspections.
The ultimate goal of dismantling work is to remove the melted uranium fuel rods. Researchers don’t yet know how to patch massive cracks in chambers under the failed reactors, and the new institute is tasked with inventing a first-ever technique to plug holes. They need to be made watertight, because removal of the melted fuel has to be done under water.
Planners must also invent a system of possible routes by which to remove the hundreds of tons of still-unseen melted fuel, and develop as yet unknown methods of reducing radiation doses to be endured by workers.
Two mayors agree to host waste dumpsites
After first opposing government plans, two towns in Fukushima Prefecture have agreed to Tokyo’s proposal for permanent radioactive waste disposal. The sites, one at an existing facility in the town of Tomioka, and another at Naraha, have been chosen for disposal of “designated waste” in exchange for large bribes, including the construction of an industrial park and subsidies worth about $81 million.
“Designated waste” is rubbish with between 8,000 and 100,000 Becquerels of radioactivity per kilogram. Oddly, the Japan Times called this deadly refuse “low-level nuclear waste,” while the daily Asahi Shimbun called the same material “highly radioactive.”
The Tomioka facility, now run by a private group called Ecotech Clean Center, will be nationalized, and will then bury some 650,000 cubic meters of designated waste which is mostly incinerator ash, sewage sludge and rice straw. It is a small fraction of the estimated 22 million cubic meters of waste that’s been collected in large black bags and stored outdoors at thousands of sites in 11 prefectures.
Waste with higher radiation is to be kept at temporary facilities being built near the doomed reactor complex.
Another proposal from the Ministry of Industry is to bury high-level radioactive waste under the seabed. Experts who made the idea public said such waste could be transported by ship, raising alarms about transfer mishaps, transport accidents, groundings, breakups, and sinking of cargo ships.
Pollution solution: Declare safe today what was unsafe yesterday
Following the start of the ongoing disaster, the government’s official allowable public external radiation exposure was arbitrarily raised. One milliSievert (mSv) per year was raised to 20 mSv for residents in areas affected with radioactive fallout. For radiation workers in the nuclear industry the annual limit was raised from 100 mSv to 250 mSv. This had the double effect of both saving the industry cleanup costs, and increasing radiation-induced health effects -- especially in women, infants, and children.
Robert Hunzinker reported in Counterpunch Dec. 14 that Physicians for Social Responsibility has warned that the new “allowable dose” means there’s a 1 in 200 risk of children getting cancer in the first year; and over two years the risk increases to 1 in 100.
Sea wall making matters
In October, Tepco completed a deep seawall dug into the shore between the ocean and the wrecked reactors. Intended to halt the flow of contaminated groundwater to the Pacific, the dam has cause groundwater levels to rise behind the wall. Now, in an attempt to fix the problem caused by the wall, Tepco dug new wells to pump backed-up groundwater, planning to dump less-contaminated groundwater from new wells into the sea. But the water is so heavily poisoned with tritium that sea dumping was not allowed. Now the company is dumping the fast rising groundwater into severely radioactive reactor buildings -- where the water will become highly contaminated by passing over the mass of hot melted uranium fuel inside. It’s not a comedy of errors, but a calamity of terrors.
Singapore, European Union to weaken food import rules
The government of Singapore is set to follow the European Union (EU) in weakening food and farm product import rules that had been imposed following the start of the meltdowns, which sent plumes of radioactive contamination (airborne) across farm lands and (water borne) into the Pacific.
The EU had required all Fukushima food to arrive with radiation inspection certificates. The EU still restricts rice, mushrooms and some seafood items, but after a Japanese diplomatic offensive 14 countries ended their import restrictions. Several dozen countries have kept them in place.