Archives de décembre 2011

Japan’s tsunami refugees brace for harsh winter

ISHINOMAKI, Japan — As the mercury plunges in Japan’s disaster-hit northeast, thousands of people in temporary homes are digging in for what could be a long, hard and very cold winter.

Snow and driving winds will add to the misery of tsunami survivors in a region where the temperature frequently dips below freezing through December, January and February.

Many lost their homes when the huge waves swept ashore on March 11, killing 20,000 people and grinding whole neighbourhoods into matchwood.

In Ishinomaki, one of the hardest-hit coastal settlements, more than half of the city’s 61,000 houses were either swept away completely or severely damaged by the tsunami.

City authorities have built more than 7,000 temporary homes that are now providing shelter for around 6,800 families.

Heaters, insulation, new tatami straw mats and even electrically heated toilet seats have all been provided, said a city official.

A further 6,500 families have moved into apartments rented by the local government on their behalf.

But thousands of others are not so fortunate.

Ishinomaki officials concede they are unsure how up to 20,000 families will be keeping warm this winter.

“They must be either staying with relatives far away or living in their own house if the damage was not so bad,” an official said.

“But we don’t have much information about them.”

Hideko Kamiyama and her family were confined to the upper floor of their partially-destroyed home for months, as they patiently waited for craftsmen to transform the lower floor from a mess of broken and rotting timbers.

“Our house was almost completely destroyed in the disaster, but many volunteers and carpenters worked hard to repair it,” she said, wrapping her jacket tighter against the cold.

“It’s 80 percent repaired now, and volunteers gave us heaters and carpets.

“(They also) gave me various things such as patches you can stick on your back to warm you up. I think I can handle the winter now, no matter how cold it gets,” Kamiyama said.

In a town that registered a low of minus eight degrees Celsius (17 degrees Fahrenheit) in February, Kamiyama will need all the warmth she can get.

People allocated temporary homes have few complaints about the austere conditions in which they currently live, but are desperately hoping a more permanent solution can soon be found.

Ishio Abe and his family of five have been living in just three rooms since May.

The homes are intended to be used for just two years, but, says Abe, he does not know if this will be long enough.

“We were given a stove as well as electric carpets. I think we are good for now but I have no job and I wonder what I am going to do next,” he said.

Yoshinori Sato of the Ishinomaki City Council said authorities are working hard, but they know that real recovery will only come when residents have a sense of long-term security.

“Rebuilding houses takes time, we don?t really know how long yet,” he said.

“Once we have some idea, we can start telling the people when they can move back into real houses.”


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Japan tsunami debris a concern for years

Some personal items lost by people in the Japan earthquake and subsequent tsunami in March have been seen washed up on the coast of British Columbia.

Residents living in the town of Tofino on Vancouver Island have seen Japanese water bottles and lumber with Japanese export stamps on it, as well as socks and toothbrushes.

Perry Schmunk, the mayor of Tofino, told Radio 5 live Breakfast that these are just the first items and that more are expected to be shifted by ocean currents in 2014.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 28 (UPI) — U.S. researchers say ocean debris from the tsunami that struck Japan March 11 could pass near or wash ashore the Hawaiian Islands as early as this winter.

Scientists with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration say computer models also show the floating debris could approach the West Coast of the United States and Canada in 2013, and circle back to the main Hawaiian Islands in 2014 through 2016.

The Japanese government estimates the tsunami generated 25 million tons of rubble, but it is not known how much debris was swept into the water, a NOAA release said Wednesday.

As the tsunami surge receded, it washed much of what was in the coastal inundation zone into the ocean.

Boats, smashed buildings and plastic, metal and rubber objects of all shapes and sizes washed into the water and formed large debris fields captured by satellite imagery and aerial photos of the coastal waters.

The worst-case scenario, NOAA said, would be boats and unmanageable concentrations of other heavy objects washing ashore in sensitive areas, damaging coral reefs, or interfering with navigation in Hawaii and along the U.S. West Coast.

On the other hand, researchers acknowledge, the debris could break up, disperse and eventually degrade, sparing coastal areas.

« We’re preparing for the best- and worst-case scenarios — and everything in between, » Nancy Wallace, director for NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, said.

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Fukushima Refugees Trapped By Uncertainty

Cordula Meyer/ DER SPIEGEL

For months, the 21,000 residents of Namie have lived in trailers and shelters across Japan. By abandoning their homes, they unwittingly fled directly into the path of Fukushima’s radiation cloud. As worried and angry as they may be, most just want to return home.

Tamotsu Baba is mayor of a city that no longer exists, except in the copied maps that hang on the wall behind him. Nine months ago, Mayor Baba evacuated the 21,000 residents of the town of Namie, sending them away from the meltdowns occurring at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Baba was left to fend for himself, he says, with no catastrophe plans and no help from Tokyo or from TEPCO, the power plant’s operator. To this day, he feels he’s fighting a one-man battle.


Tamotsu Baba’s office is a small, windowless room at the Gender Equality Center in the city of Nihonmatsu. There was no other space available from which he could run Namie’s emergency administration. Baba has a vandyke beard and a face lined with exhaustion. For months, he has been trying to save his city’s future. 

« I want to bring everyone together back to Namie, » he says. « It will be difficult, and we may not be able to go back to all the districts of the city, but to Namie nonetheless. »

All but a small part of his city falls within the exclusion zone, only about eight kilometers (five miles) northwest of the damaged power plant — and precisely where radiation is particularly high. The idea is for soldiers to attempt to decontaminate city hall and other parts of Namie. « We need technical assistance, » Baba says.

Fleeing into Danger

Namie’s citizens have impossibly high hopes for these cleanup efforts, as if the cesium 137 radiation could simply be washed away down the city’s storm drains, never to be seen again. « People are asking me desperately, ‘When can we finally go back home?' » Baba says.

Namie’s residents now live scattered across 44 of Japan’s 47 prefectures. After so many months, « they’re tired of living as refugees, » the mayor says. « It’s destroyed their daily lives. »

He says TEPCO, the nuclear plant operator, promised compensation for Namie’s residents. « The company assumes the emotional scars will heal with time, » he adds. « But I’ve watched them get worse over time. »

Namie is one of nearly a dozen communities located within the exclusion zone. All together, over 100,000 people became radiation refugees this March. Mayor Baba had to organize the evacuation himself, and no one warned him or his citizens that their evacuation route would prove identical to the direction the radioactive cloud would take as it spread.

The citizens of Namie fled — and the radiation followed. For four days in March, they found themselves precisely at the spot where the most radioactive fallout landed.

A Ghost Town

For nine months, Namie has been a ghost town. Naka Shimizu, the mayor’s assistant, regularly makes the trip into the exclusion zone to check on the abandoned city hall. Today, he’s also returning to his old town for a few hours.

A couple kilometers before the roadblock, he dons a radiation suit, mask and gloves and pulls blue plastic covers over his boots. A wild mountain landscape extends beyond the barricades. Plants have taken over half the road, and weeds as tall as a person are running riot on the pastures and farms as well as out of the cracks the earthquake left in the road.

Shimizu peers through his windshield at the growth, at the plants that have absorbed the nuclear fallout. « Cesium grass, » he comments and smiles, although he looks like he’d rather cry. Black cows are still grazing in the fields. A light inside a telephone booth illuminates weeds that have found their way inside, a bar still has stools ranged outside its entrance, and yellowed laundry hangs in front of many of the houses.

Vines have completely covered the tracks at Namie’s train station. The tsunami leveled the parts of the city located directly on the Pacific, although soldiers and other clean-up crews have gathered together the largest chunks of debris.

Shimizu gets out of his car and points to a concrete building. This was Ukedo Elementary School. All of the students survived because the teachers « reacted absolutely perfectly, » Shimizu says, leading the children by foot to higher ground. But other government bodies were hardly any help at all as the people fled from the radiation, he says. « Neither the government in Tokyo nor the prefecture administration helped us. »

Shimizu is silent as he drives out of the exclusion zone. Then he turns abruptly and says, « Please help us. Help Fukushima! Please, Europe, help us! »

A Hurried Escape

In the night leading up to March 12, there was no one there to help. Thousands of people whose houses had been damaged by the tsunami or the earthquake sought refuge at Namie’s city hall or in the city’s schools. The only sources of outside information were televisions and radios.

The towns of Futaba and Okuma, located directly next to the Fukushima Daiichi plant, had been warned the evening before, and buses came to take people away. Though they were just a few kilometers further away from the damaged nuclear plant, Mayor Baba and the people of Namie claim that they weren’t informed at all.

Bus driver Norito Kikuchi and his 32-year-old son Takuya sat spellbound in front of the television that night, watching as it played images of the tsunami of the century again and again and listening to reports from Fukushima Daiichi that sounded increasingly ominous.

From their house, the Kikuchis had always been able to see the red lights blinking on the power station’s towers to warn airplanes. But now everything was dark. Takuya packed a bag and urged his father to leave, but his father wanted to wait and see.

Around 6 a.m. that Saturday morning, a newscaster read out a warning from then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan telling anyone within a radius of 10 kilometers (6 miles) of the power plant to evacuate. At that point, it was clear that engineers would need to release pressure from within the overheated reactor — with the result that the wind would carry radioactive particles over Namie. Takuya jumped up and woke his sister, saying, « We have to go. » Norito shook his mother awake and hurried to grab a framed picture of his late wife. Takuya took his portable Playstation, and his sister took her cell phone with its four little attached stuffed animals.

Ten minutes after they left, the grandmother realized she had forgotten her heart medication and turned back for the house. Although he had told himself he was going to stay calm, Norito cursed. The streets were growing crowded. Norito drove his small Honda down Highway 114, the same route he had driven his bus for 39 years.

When the family reached the mountain above Namie, they stopped to look down at their city, where traffic was jammed bumper to bumper. « It was like Armageddon, » Takuya says. « It didn’t feel like reality. »

Transportation Chaos

Hangai Masao was one of those down in the traffic jam, trying to get out of the city in his tiny Subaru pickup. Firefighters had come to his farm that morning. « They didn’t say anything about radiation, » Masao recalls. « Just something about an evacuation. » At 75, Masao is just 1.6 meters (5’3″) tall, his posture slightly stooped. His truck has a sign warning « senior at the wheel. » He suddenly had to look after his two granddaughters, 17 and 19 years old. Their father worked on the west coast of Japan, while their mother worked in a nursing home and had to stay and look after her elderly charges.

On his way out of town, Masao’s truck got a flat tire. The elderly man parked by the side of the road and tried to change the tire by himself. « No one stopped to help, » he says. Over three hours later, Masao and his wife and granddaughters finally reached an evacuation center in Tsushima. It took them over three hours to make a trip that normally took less than 30 minutes.

Keiko Watanabe, a single mother, and her two sons were also stuck in the traffic. She had slept in an elementary school with them, afraid her own house might collapse. « I saw people who had to leave their cars by the side of the road because they ran out of gas, » she says. « I saw two women trying to push their car. » Watanabe herself managed to remain strangely calm. « I just thought: I have to concentrate so I can take care of my children, » she says.

Mayor Baba also heard Kan’s message on television. He immediately activated the city’s alarm, and loudspeaker announcements warned anyone in Namie who had not already left of their own accord. By 11 a.m., most residents had abandoned the city and were on their way down Highway 114.

At this point, the first reactor core at the Fukushima Daiichi plant was melting, and pressure inside Reactor 1 was mounting relentlessly. Engineers were desperately trying to release pressure from the reactor, but they initially couldn’t open the valves. The finally succeeded by midday, releasing the first radiation cloud. At that point, Mayor Baba and his assistant, Shimizu, were on their way to Tsushima, a town about 20 kilometers (12 miles) away.

But Shimizu’s wife had stayed back in Namie with their children. When she saw the snarled traffic, she decided it would be safer to wait at home. At 3:36 p.m., she heard a loud bang, « as if a huge bridge had collapsed. »

That was the Reactor 1 building exploding. At this point, the Shimizus fled the city, as well.

A False Sense of Security

At a government building in Tokyo, a computer simulation system known as « Speedi » had predicted which direction the radiation cloud would move in once released. According to the Speedi warning, the cloud would blow northwest from Fukushima Daiichi, over Namie and toward Tsushima.

This early-warning forecast was reported to the office of Japan’s prime minister, but Mayor Baba didn’t learn of it until months later, nor did any of the others who escaped to Tsushima. They felt safe there, over 20 kilometers away from the power plant. They were given a place to stay in a community center and in the town’s schools.

Keiko Watanabe, the single mother, signed up for cooking duty, chopping vegetables in the open air. The most significant levels of radioactive fallout came on March 15, three days after their arrival in Tsushima. It consisted of particles released by the explosion of the building containing Reactor 3. Watanabe’s children were playing outside in the radioactive rain.


To this day, radioactive contamination in Tsushima’s schools is worse than almost anywhere else, at levels of 20 microsieverts per hour and even higher. 

A research team from Hirosaki University, in northern Japan, began taking on-site measurements in mid-March. Using this date, they extrapolated the likely levels of radiation that the people from Namie had been exposed to during those days in March. Their finding indicated up to 68 millisieverts, or three times as much as the annual amount the government considers acceptable under emergency conditions.

By way of contrast, a study carried out by the administration of Fukushima Prefecture found the maximum contamination in Namie and other towns within the radiation zone to be 37 millisieverts. As a further comparison, 50 millisieverts is the maximum dose for people working in a nuclear power plant.


The Evacuation Zone around the Fukushima plant


Mayor Baba didn’t know anything about the high radiation levels on the morning of March 15, when he drove to the home of the mayor of Nihonmatsu, a city located further to the west. But he did fear the situation might worsen.

In Nihonmatsu, 2,000 out of a population 60,000 were homeless after the earthquake had destroyed their homes. Baba knocked on the mayor’s door and asked, « Is it okay if I bring 5,000 to 8,000 people from Namie to Nihonmatsu? »

Since then, thousands of the former residents of Namie have made their homes here, in emergency housing and trailer parks. Keiko Watanabe and her two sons, aged 9 and 12, have moved three different times. At the moment, they’re living in a trailer park near Nihonmatsu.

Watanabe’s trailer is spotless, and her sons’ schoolbooks are neatly lined up on green shelves. « I feel so bad for my children, » Watanabe says. « Even though I know it’s really TEPCO and the government at fault, I feel I’ve let them down. »

Scientists from Fukushima University measured radioactivity levels in her sons’ thyroids in October, and Watanabe is still waiting to get the results. She sometimes helps out the prefecture administration, distributing brochures or interviewing other refugees.

Her sons arrive home from school and get themselves popsicles from the freezer. Keiko smiles at them. But there’s one conversation she’s dreading having with her sons. « They’re sure they can go back, » she says. « They don’t have the least bit of doubt. » What will happen if at some point she has to tell them they can never go back home?

Imagining the Future

Hangai Masao, the elderly farmer, worries about his granddaughters. They’ve since moved with their parents to Niigata, on the west coast of Japan and far from Fukushima. But how harmful was the radiation they were exposed to while fleeing Namie?

Masao himself wants nothing more than to return to Namie no matter how bad the radioactive contamination is there. It’s his only goal. He often stands around on the gravel yard in front of the trailer park and talks with other old men about their home. The things he misses most are fishing for salmon with his friends on the Takase River and Chinese cabbage grown in his own fields. « My greatest worry is: When will we be able to go back home? Will it ever be possible? » he says.

Norito Kikuchi, the bus driver, is also at a loss when he tries to imagine the future. « I can’t work. I can’t do anything, » he says. His friends now live scattered throughout Japan. « I miss talking with the people I’m close to, » he says.

His son and daughter have tried in vain to find work. The Kikuchis don’t have to pay rent for their trailer, only the cost of electricity and gas. Takuya, the son, often gets in arguments with the rest of the family, and he also feels lonely. « I’m scared of getting sick from the radiation, » he says. « No one can tell us how dangerous it really is. »

Indeed, Takuya finds life as a refugee nearly unbearable. « It feels as if we’ve been away from home much longer than a year, » he says. His father adds, « I never would have thought I would end up living this way. »

Consumed with Rage

Mayor Baba found a small apartment in Nihonmatsu, where he lives with his wife and mother. He also sometimes wonders why he has to live there. But far worse than the cramped living conditions is the way he has to ask for permission when he wants to do anything for the people of Namie, even something as simple as installing streetlights in the trailer park.

Baba and his fellow local politicians often serve as lightning rods for people’s anger, which should rightfully be directed at TEPCO and the government in Tokyo. Even now, when Baba thinks of the Speedi warning that reached him far too late, he’s consumed with rage. « I’m not angry, » he says. « It’s more than that. This was murder. Why did they try to kill us? »

He slips a blue handkerchief beneath his glasses with trembling fingers and dabs at his eyes. « Why has no one brought them to court for this? » he asks. « People are suffering because of it. »

Since the catastrophe, Baba has started asking himself fundamental questions about his country. « They said our country was civilized, » he says, « and that nuclear power was even a sign of that civilization. »

He says he couldn’t help thinking about that whenever he saw pictures, in the refugee center in Tsushima, of the exploding buildings at the nuclear plant. « Why can’t we control this? » he wonders. « We’re battling a monster we created ourselves. »

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« Japan Says 30-40 Years To Scrap Fukushima Plant »

« Decommissioning Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant will take three or four decades, Japan’s government said on Wednesday as it unveiled plans for the next phase of a huge and costly cleanup of the tsunami-wrecked complex. »

« The plant, 240 km (150 miles) northeast of Tokyo, was destroyed on March 11 by a huge earthquake and a towering tsunami which knocked out its cooling systems, triggering meltdowns, radiation leaks and mass evacuations.

After months of efforts the government said last week that the reactors, in operation since the 1970s, were in a state of cold shutdown, signaling it was ready to move to a longer-term phase to eventually decommission the plant.

In the next cleanup « road map » revealed on Wednesday, removal of spent fuel from the facility will begin within the next two years, the government said, with removal of melted fuel debris from the damaged reactors starting within 10 years. »

Japan Says Decommissioning Damaged Reactors Could Take 40 Years

TOKYO — Decommissioning the wrecked reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant will take 40 years and require the use of robots to remove melted fuel that appears to be stuck to the bottom of the reactors’ containment vessels, the Japanese government said on Wednesday.

The predictions were contained in a detailed roadmap for fully shutting down the three reactors, which suffered meltdowns after anearthquake and tsunami struck the plant on March 11. The government had previously predicted it would take 30 years to clean up after the accident at Fukushima, the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

The nuclear crisis minister, Goshi Hosono, acknowledged that no country has ever had to clean up three destroyed reactors at the same time. Mr. Hosono told reporters the decommissioning faced challenges that were not totally predictable, but “we must do it even though we may face difficulties along the way.”

The plan’s release follows last week’s declaration by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda that the plant had been put into the equivalent of a “cold shutdown,” a stable state that suggested the runaway reactors had finally been brought under control. Critics, however, immediately challenged that statement, saying it was impossible to call the reactors stable when their fuel had melted through the inner containment vessels, and appeared to be attached to the concrete bottom of outer containment vessels.

Still, the government appears ready to move ahead with the next stage of the cleanup. According to Wednesday’s roadmap, the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power, will spend the next two years removing spent fuel rods from storage pools located in the same buildings as the damaged reactors. At least one of those pools, which are highly radioactive, was exposed by hydrogen explosions that destroyed the reactor buildings in the first days of the accident.

The most technically challenging step will be removing the melted fuel, a process that the government said will take 25 years and require new types of robots and other new technologies that have not even been developed yet. After the removal, fully decommissioning the reactors will take another 5 to 10 years, according to the roadmap.


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TEPCO Press Releases
Press Release (Dec 12,2011)
Status of TEPCO’s Facilities and its services after the Tohoku-Chihou-Taiheiyou-Oki Earthquake (as of 3:00 pm, December 12)
Due to the Tohoku-Chihou-Taiheiyou-Oki Earthquake which occurred on March
11, 2011, TEPCO's facilities including our nuclear power stations have
been severely damaged. We deeply apologize for the anxiety and
inconvenience caused.
With regard to the accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, on
April 17, we have compiled the roadmap towards restoration from the
accident and then we updated the progress status of roadmap considering
the current situation, on July 19. Accomplishment of the Step1 target
"Radiation dose is in steady decline" has been confirmed. On November 17,
we updated the further progress. 
By bringing the reactors and spent fuel pools to a stable cooling
condition and mitigating the release of radioactive materials, we will
make every effort to enable evacuees to return to their homes and for all
citizens to be able to secure a sound life.

Below is the status of TEPCO's major facilities.

* Updates since the previous press release underlined.

[Nuclear Power Station]
· Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station: Unit 1 to 3: shut down due to
  the earthquake
   (Units 4 to 6: outage due to regular inspections)
 * At 3:48 pm on December 11, we confirmed that the water was accumulated
   inside the gate in the house the water desalination apparatus
   (evaporative concentration apparatus) 2 was installed. Leaked water is
   approx. 5 litters, kept within the gate. We also confirmed that the
   leakage has been stopped, and that it was leaked from a ventilation
   pipe at the tank storing the seal water for the evaporative
   concentration apparatus 2B. The source of the water is the filtered
   water (fresh water), and the radiation doses of the surface near the
   leaked water are 0.12 mSv/h (gamma ray), and less than 1 mSv/h
   (beta ray), which are the same level as the airborne radiation doses
   nearby. We will investigate the cause. Desalination apparatus (reverse
   osmosis membrane apparatus) 2-1 and 2-2 are continuously working, which
   generate the sufficient desalinated water, therefore, there is no
   impact on the water injection to the reactors. At approx. 11:00 am on
   December 12, we confirmed that the remaining water in the hose was
   oozing from the leakage point (the leakage amount is about 1 drop in 3
   seconds). Later we removed the water from the tank for the seal water
   and from the hose. At approx. 3:00 pm on the same day, we confirmed
   that the water ceased to ooze.

 * At 2:00 pm on December 10, We started to transfer the water accumulated
   in the basement of Unit 1 Turbine Building to the basement of Unit 2
   Turbine Building. At 9:22 am on December 12, we stopped the transfer.

 * When we cut the power of the PCV gas control system (Line A: under
   suspension) of Unit 1 to switch the power source for the improvement
   work of the on-site power source at approx. 10:38 am on December 12,
   the monitoring system in the main anti-earthquake building for the same
   system (Line B: under commissioning) was stopped. At approx. 11:30 am,
   we confirmed on site that the system (Line B) was stopped. Later, it
   was revealed that the power for controlling Line B comes from Line A,
   therefore we switched the power for the control, then at 12:00 pm we
   resumed Line B. Since Line B is normally operating after the re-start,
   we estimate that the reason Line B went down is that the power for Line
   A was cut.

· Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Station:
    Units 1 to 4: shutdown due to the earthquake
· Kashiwazaki Kariwa Nuclear Power Station: Units 5, 6: under normal
    (Units 1 to 4 and 7: outage due to regular inspections)

[Thermal Power Station]
· Power supply has returned to normal and facilities damaged by the
  earthquake are now being handled in a timely manner.

[Hydro Power Station]
· Power supply has returned to normal and facilities damaged by the
  earthquake are now being handled in a timely manner.

[Impacts on Transmission Facilities]
· Power supply has returned to normal and facilities damaged by the
  earthquake are now being handled in a timely manner.

[Impacts on Power Supply and Demand Balance]
This winter, there will be some minus factors such as the regular
inspection of Unit 5 at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Station. On the
other hand, there will be several plus factors such as the recovery of the
common thermal power stations which suffered the earthquake. As a result,
we expect to secure 54.9 GW (at the end of December), 54.6 GW (at the end
of January), 53.7 GW (at the end of February) supply power.
Compared to the maximum demand in the last winter, which is 51.5 GW, we
will have 2.2 - 3.4 GW generation reserve margin.

We expect to maintain stable power supply this winter, however, as there
remains possibilities of unplanned shutdowns at our power stations and
growth in the demand according to the rapid change in the temperature, we
would like to ask your reasonable effort to save electricity.

We will continue to make our efforts to maintain stable operation and
maintenance of the power facilities in order to "prevent in principle" the
planned blackouts and secure power supply.

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Japan Times: Journalist says Tepco not telling truth


Real cause of nuclear crisis

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), the operator of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Station, has been insisting that the culprit that caused the nuclear crisis was the huge tsunami that hit the plant after the March 11 earthquake. But evidence is mounting that the meltdown at the nuclear power plant was actually caused by the earthquake itself.

According to a science journalist well versed in the matter, Tepco is afraid that if the earthquake were to be determined as the direct cause of the accident, the government would have to review its quake-resistance standards completely, which in turn would delay by years the resumption of the operation of existing nuclear power stations that are suspended currently due to regular inspections.

The journalist is Mitsuhiko Tanaka, formerly with Babcock-Hitachi K.K. as an engineer responsible for designing the pressure vessel for the No. 4 reactor at the ill-fated Fukushima nuclear plant.

He says if the earthquake caused the damage to the plumbing, leading to a « loss-of-coolant accident (LOCA) » in which vaporized coolant gushed into the containment building from the damaged piping, an entirely new problem — « vulnerability to earthquake resistance of the nuclear reactor’s core structure » — would surface and that this will require a total review of the government’s safety standards for nuclear power plants in Japan, which is quite frequently hit by earthquakes.

Such a review will require a number of years of study, making it impossible to restart the now suspended nuclear power stations next year as Tepco hopes.

What puzzles Tanaka most is why the emergency condensers, which turn vaporized coolant (steam) into water and are supposed to lower both the pressure and temperature of the reactor, were not operating at the time of the accident although the condensers have the capability of functioning even when electricity becomes unavailable.

It is highly probable, he says, that the plumbing linked with the condensers was damaged by the earthquake, causing water or vapor to leak out, thus leading to the nonfunctioning of the condensers.

In a report released on May 23, Tepco said it stopped the emergency condensers after the quake occurred but before the tsunami hit the plant so that the temperature of the pressure vessel would not change by more than 55 degrees Celsius per hour. This, it said, was strictly in accordance with the instructions contained in the operating manual.

When a Diet committee looking into the incident asked Tepco to submit a copy of the manual, most pages of the documents so submitted were « blacked out, » as the company alleged they contained trade secrets which it did not want to go into the public domain.

Totally dissatisfied, the committee issued another order to Tepco to submit the whole manual in its original form, to which the company complied on Oct. 24. This led journalist Tanaka to come to the conclusion that the utility was not telling the truth.

He said the 55-C-per-hour is a figure used in ordinary plants in a non-emergency situation to keep piping in a good condition and that the figure should not be used in an emergency. He pointed out that the manual says that the figure is something that should be followed in operations just prior to a cold shutdown of a reactor, not immediately after a problem has arisen.

At a news conference on May 15, Tepco said that according to its simulation, the meltdown at the No. 1 reactor of the nuclear power plant happened about 15 hours after the earthquake because the tsunami destroyed all electricity supply sources and the water level in the reactor lowered rapidly. But Tanaka says that the simulation is far different from the actually measured water level and pressure.

A rapid increase in the pressure inside the containment vessel is especially unnatural. Although the simulation report says that the pressure inside the containment vessel shot up to more than seven times standard atmospheric pressure around 5:40 a.m. on March 12, or about 15 hours after the quake, the fact is that the pressure had already risen to six times the standard at 12:12 a.m. on March 12 — five to six hours before the time given by the simulation report.

Simulation data calculated by a computer can be manipulated easily depending on the types of input. Tanaka suspects that Tepco cooked up simulation results to suit its own purposes in an attempt to deceive the public.

Atsuo Watanabe, former designer of containment vessels at Toshiba Corp., said on Oct. 26 that the most fundamental cause of the Fukushima plant fiasco probably lay in the blind acceptance of the safety standards adopted in the United States, which did not take into consideration all potential consequences from earthquakes.

The reactors damaged at Fukushima were of the GE Mark 1 type designed and built by General Electric Co. He pointed out that in the U.S., there is no need to consider the combination of an earthquake and a loss-of-coolant accident caused by broken piping, adding that it is reasonable to assume that the earthquake and loss of coolant occurred simultaneously at Fukushima No. 1.

Perhaps it was against such a background that Tepco blacked out crucial matters in the operational manual of the reactors, as there are 10 other GE Mark 1 type reactors in Japan.

These and other scientific findings have given rise to serious suspicion of Tepco’s claim that the crisis at the nuclear power plant was caused by the tsunami, and not by the earthquake. And a view that blames the tremor as the true culprit is becoming more and more trusted.

It is imperative that the special investigative committee recently created within the Diet undertake thorough inquiry into the real cause of the accidents. The panel must force those Tepco employees who have worked on the spot to testify, even though the company has so far obstinately opposed such testimonies.

Should the government decide to permit the resumption of nuclear power stations in various parts of the country by blindly accepting assertions coming from Tepco, the whole nation would face uneasiness in preventing another calamity in the future and would fail to fulfill its accountability to the whole world, which is watching whether Japan will conduct a thorough investigation to determine the true cause of the Fukushima disaster.

This is an abridged translation of an article from the December issue of Sentaku, a monthly magazine covering Japan’s political, social and economic scenes.

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Wild monkeys to measure radiation levels in Fukushima

Wild monkeys in nuclear-hit Fukushima are to be fitted with special radiation-reading monitors in order to measure contamination levels in forests.

Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex in Okumamachi, northern Japan: Wild monkeys to measure radiation levels in Fukushima

Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex in Okumamachi, northern Japan

The new project, conducted by researchers at Fukushima University, will involve monkeys being fitted with collars containing radiation meters and GPS transmitters.

Scientists will be able to monitor radiation levels deep across forest areas in Fukushima, home to the nuclear power plant severely damaged in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

The collars will detachable remotely at the end of the experiment, which will last up to around two months, according to a team of scientists led by Professor Takayuki Takahashi.

We decided to use monkeys for this project because the territory they cover is very well known to us, » Professor Takahashi told the Telegraph. « It’s the first time such an experiment has been carried out with monkeys. »

Forests in the Fukushima region are currently being monitored for radiation levels primarily from the air, with testing taking place most commonly from helicopters.

The range of elevations at which monkeys spend their time will also enable scientists to obtain a broad spectrum of radiation level data, from the forest floor to the treetops.

The project will launch in Minamisoma, an area hit hard by the tsunami and earthquake and located just outside the exclusion zone, around 16 miles north of Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

As many as 14 groups of monkeys are believed to reside in the mountains forests to the west of Minamisoma city, which is where the study will focus.


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