Archives de février 2012
Investigation result by the robot (quince2) on the 5th operating floor of the Reactor Building of Unit 2 Fukushima Daiichi NPS
5th floor of the Reactor Building of Unit 2, Fukushima Daiichi Investigation status of Robot (quince2)
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Emergency drill at Fukushima Daini nuclear plant:
[Reference]TEPCO’s explanatory material for the workshop of technique catalogue related to equipment/device development for preparation of fuel debris removal towards the decommissioning of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station
All 6 units of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station have been shut down. Unit 1 (Shut down) -Explosive sound and white smoke were confirmed after the big quake occurred at 3:36 pm on March 12, 2011. It was assumed to be hydrogen explosion. -At 3:37 pm on March 25, 2011, we started injecting freshwater to the reactor and are now injecting fresh water by a motor driven pump powered by the off-site transmission line. -At 10:11 am on December 10, 2011, in addition to water injection from water feeding system, we started water injection from piping of core spray system to the reactor. The current water injection amount from the reactor feed water system is approx.4.6 m
/h and that from the core spray system is approx.1.8 m
/h. -At 1:31 am on April 7, 2011, we commenced injection of nitrogen gas into Primary Containment Vessel. -At 11:22 am on August 10, 2011, we started cyclic cooling for the water in the spent fuel pool by an alternative cooling equipment of the Fuel Pool Cooling and Filtering System. -On October 28, 2011, we completed installation of the cover for the Reactor Building in order to contain dispersion of radioactive substances. -At 4:04 pm on November 30, 2011, we started operation to inject nitrogen into the reactor pressure vessel. -At 6:00 pm on December 19, 2011, a full-scale operation of the PCV gas management system started. Unit 2 (Shut down) -At approximately 6:00 am on March 15, 2011, an abnormal noise began emanating from nearby Pressure Suppression Chamber and the pressure within the chamber decreased. -At 10:10 am on March 26, 2011, we started injecting freshwater to the reactor and are now injecting fresh water by a motor driven pump powered by the off-site transmission line. -At 2:59 pm on September 14, 2011, in addition to water injection from feed water system, we started water injection from piping of core spray system to the reactor. The current water injection amount from the reactor feed water system is approx.2.9 m
/h and that from the core spray system is approx.5.9 m
/h. -With regard to the water injection volume for Unit 2 reactor, which was increased with temperature figure raising, we have gradually adjusted it to the original volume before temperature increasing (Feed water system: approx. 3.0m
/h, core spray system: approx. 6.0m
/h). During our observing the plant parameter after decreasing the flow rate of feed water system on February 22, we found that one thermometer in the lower part of the RPV (top of the lower head 135°) indicated the different movement from others. From 12:21 pm to 2:48 pm on February 23, we investigated the concerned device. As the result of the measurement of DC resistance, we found no breaking wire and availability of the thermometer. But we confirmed that the DC resistance of it became higher than the previous measurement test data. We will evaluate the soundness of the concerned device and examine correspondence in future. We make sure no re-criticality state because there were no significant changes at the monitoring post and as the result of the sampling for the Gas Control System of the Unit 2; we confirmed that the concentration of Xe-135 was below the detectible limit. ·At 11:00 am on February 29, the temperature of the lower part of the RPV (top of the lower head 135°) : approximate 44.7 °C (Reference) ·At 11:00 am on February 29, the temperature of the lower part of the RPV (top of the lower head 270°) : approximate 41.1 °C -At 5:21 pm on May 31, 2011, we started cyclic cooling for the water in the spent fuel pool by an alternative cooling equipment of the Fuel Pool Cooling and Filtering System. -At 8:06 pm on June 28, 2011, we started injecting nitrogen gas into the Primary Containment Vessel. -At 6:00 pm on October 28, 2011, a full operation of the PCV gas control system started. -At 10:46 am on December 1, 2011, we started the nitrogen injection to the Reactor Pressure Vessel. -At 11:50 am on January 19, 2012, we started the operation of the spent fuel pool desalting facility. Unit 3 (Shut down) -Explosive sound and white smoke were confirmed at approximately 11:01 am on March 14, 2011. It was assumed to be hydrogen explosion. -At 6:02 pm on March 25, 2011, we started injecting fresh water to the reactor and are now injecting fresh water by a motor driven pump powered by the off-site transmission line. -At 2:58 pm on September 1, 2011, we started water injection by core spray system in addition to water injection by the reactor feed water system piping arrangement. The current water injection amount from the reactor feed water system is approx.1.7 m
/h and that from the core spray system is approx.5.1 m
/h. -At 7:47 pm on June 30, 2011, we started cyclic cooling for the water in the spent fuel pool by an alternative cooling equipment of the Fuel Pool Cooling and Filtering System. -At 8:01 pm on July 14, 2011, injection of nitrogen gas into the Primary Containment Vessel started. -As installation works of the PCV gas control system was completed, we started a test operation at 11:38 am on February 23, 2012. We confirmed that an exhaust flow amount was stable at 33Nm
/h at 2:10 pm and started an adjustment operation. -At 4:26 pm on November 30, 2011, we started operation to inject nitrogen into the reactor pressure vessel. -At 3:18 pm on January 14, we started operation of the radioactive material removal instrument for the spent fuel pool in Unit 3 Unit 4 (Outage due to regular inspection) -At around 6 am on March 15, 2011, we confirmed the explosive sound and the sustained damage around the 5th floor rooftop area of Reactor Building. -At 12:44 pm on July 31, 2011, we started cyclic cooling for the water in the spent fuel pool by an alternative cooling equipment of the Fuel Pool Cooling and Filtering System. -At 10:58 am on November 29, 2011, in order to decrease more salinity, we installed Ion exchange equipment and started the operation of such equipment. -At this moment, we don't think there is any reactor coolant leakage inside the primary containment vessel. Unit 5 (Outage due to regular inspection) -Sufficient level of reactor coolant to ensure safety is maintained. -At 5:00 am on March 19, 2011, we started the Residual Heat Removal System Pump in order to cool the spent fuel pool. -At 2:45 pm on July 15, 2011, we started the operation of the original Residual Heat Removal System (System B) by its original seawater pump. -At 10:11 am on December 22, 2011, since we finished the recovery work of seawater pump (System B) of equipment water cooling system, we made a trial run. At 11:25 am on the same day, we confirmed no abnormalities and restarted the operation. Unit 6 (Outage due to regular inspection) -Sufficient level of reactor coolant to ensure safety is maintained. -At 10:14 pm on March 19, 2011, we started the Residual Heat Removal System Pump of Unit 6 to cool down Spent Fuel Pool. -At 2:33 pm on September 15, 2011, we started separately cooling the reactor through the Residual Heat Removal System and the spent fuel pool through Equipment Cooling Water System and Fuel Pool Cooling System. Others -At around 10:00 am on June 13, 2011, we started the operation of the circulating seawater purification facility installed at the screen area of Unit 2 and 3. -At 8:00 pm on June 17, 2011, we started operation of Water Treatment Facility against the accumulated water. At 6:00 pm on July 2, we started the circulating injection cooling to inject the water, which was treated by the accumulated water treatment system, to the reactors through the buffer tank. -At 7:41 pm on August 19, 2011, we started treatment of accumulated water by parallel operation of one line from the cesium adsorption instrument to the decontamination instrument and the other treatment line of the cesium adsorption instrument No.2. -At 2:06 pm on October 7, 2011, we started to spray purified accumulated water brought from Unit 5 and 6 continually in order to prevent dust scattering and potential fire outbreaks from the cut down trees. -On October 28, 2011, we started installation of the water proof wall at the sea side, in front of the existing shore protection, Units 1-4, in order to contain marine pollution by underground water. -At 12:25 pm on December 13, 2011, we started the re-circulating operation of desalination facility (reverse osmosis membrane type) for the purpose of suppression of condensed water after desalination treatment. -At 9:18 am on January 31, we started transfer of Sub-drain Water of Unit 6 to the temporary tank. We will conduct transferring to the temporary tank appropriately. -At 1:56 pm on February 28, we started transfer the accumulated water from the basement of turbine building of Unit 3 to Miscellaneous Solid Waste Volume Reduction Treatment Building (High Temperature Incinerator Building). -At 2:00 pm on February 28, we started transferring accumulated water from basement of unit 2 turbine building to Centralized Radiation Waste Treatment Facility Process Main building. -At 10:00 am to 4:00 pm on February 28, we transferred the accumulated water from the basement of T/B, Unit 6 to the temporary tank. At 10:00 am on February 29, we restarted the transfer. -As we confirmed that high radioactivity contaminated water is accumulating in the pit of water circulating pump discharge valve of unit 3 pump chamber at the inspection of trench etc. conducted on January 19, 2012, from 8:51 am to 3:45 pm on February 28, 2012 we transferred accumulated water from the pit to the basement of unit 2 turbine building. At 8:17 am on February 29, we restarted the transfer. -At 8:37 am on February 29, the gradual decrease in the volume of treated water was confirmed in the second cesium adsorption apparatus. In order to conduct a backwashing of the filter, we suspended the apparatus. At 10:07 am, we restarted the apparatus. At 10:12 am, the water injection volume reached at normal level (approx.34.4 m3/h).
D ue to the affect of tsunami accompanied by the earthquake on March 11, 2011, the relevant events under the Act on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency Preparedness occurred at each of Units 1, 2 and 4 in Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Station. On March 12 2011, the declaration of a Nuclear Emergency Situation was issued by the Prime Minister. After that, emergency response measures were taken such as restoring electric motors and recovering the function of residual heat removal pumps. Cold shut down has been achieved for each of the unit by March 15. Thereafter, those emergency response measures had been continuously taken, and also TEPCO endeavored to maintain stable cold shut down status of the plant, multiplexing power supply function and residual heat removal function. As a result, on December 26, Nuclear Emergency Situation was lifted by the Prime Minister, and TEPCO moved onto the phase to implement the post nuclear disaster incident measurement. Implementing those countermeasures, TEPCO has established the restoration plan based on the nuclear plant operator's anti- disaster measures operation plan. TEPCO submitted the plan to the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, and the governors of Fukushima prefecture, Naraha town, and Tomioka town on January 31, 2012. TEPCO will continue to restore facilities for the cold shut down of the plants etc based on this plan to improve the reliability further. Report to Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) of Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) regarding the items to be reflected in the seismic safety analysis of the nuclear power plants, etc. (Interim Report) based on the knowledge of ground motion obtained from Tohoku-Chihou-Taiheiyou-Oki Earthquake in 2011 On January 27, 2012 we received a directive * from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) of Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), regarding the items to be reflected in the seismic safety analysis of the nuclear power plants, etc. (Interim Report) based on the knowledge of ground motion obtained from Tohoku-Chihou-Taiheiyou-Oki Earthquake in 2011. (Announced on January 27, 2012) Per the aforementioned directive, a study of interrelation was implemented regarding active faults at the inland crust within Fukushima Daiichi, Fukushima Daini, Kashiwazaki Kariwa, and Higashidori Nuclear Power Stations. Today we submitted a results report to Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) of Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). ○Annex Report of the Items to be reflected in the seismic safety analysis of the nuclear power plants, etc. (Interim Report) based on the knowledge of ground motion obtained from Tohoku-Chihou-Taiheiyou-Oki Earthquake in 2011 (Outline)" * Directive document "The Items to be reflected in the seismic safety analysis of the nuclear power plants, etc. (Interim Report) based on the knowledge of ground motion obtained from Tohoku-Chihou-Taiheiyou-Oki Earthquake in 2011 (Direction)" (The attachment file will be posted later) (January 26, 2012 NISA NO.1) ------ We have provided a Japanese press release version of the instruction document received from NISA. However, at this time we have reserved the right to not provide an English version due to potential misunderstandings that may arise from an inaccurate rendering of the original Japanese text. We may provide the English translation that NISA releases in our press releases. However, in principle we would advise you to visit the NISA website for timely and accurate information. Status of TEPCO's Facilities and its services after the Tohoku-Chihou-Taiheiyou-Oki Earthquake (as of 10:00 am, February 29) 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, 2011, we have compiled the roadmap towards restoration from the accident and on July 19 we accomplished the Step1 target "Radiation dose is in steady decline". Then on December 16 we confirmed the accomplishment of the Step 2 target "Release of radioactive materials is under control and radiation doses are being significantly held down". In addition, on December 21, 2011, we have compiled the "Mid-to-long-Term Roadmap toward the Decommissioning of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Units 1-4, TEPCO". In addition to the maintenance of the plant's stable condition, we will implement Mid-to-Long Term countermeasures towards the decommissioning of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Units 1-4 to enable evacuees to return to their homes as soon as possible and reduce the anxiety of the people in Fukushima and the whole nation as soon as possible. Below is the status of TEPCO's major facilities. [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 before the earthquake) - With regard to the water injection volume for Unit 2 reactor, which was increased with temperature figure raising, we have gradually adjusted it to the original volume before temperature increasing (Feed water system: approx. 3.0m 3 /h, core spray system: approx. 6.0m 3 /h). During our observing the plant parameter after the decreasing the flow rate of feed water system on February 22, we found that one thermometer in the lower part of the RPV indicated the different movement from others. From 0:21 pm to 2:48 pm on February 23, we investigated the concerned device. As the result of the measurement of DC resistance, we found no breaking wire and availability of the thermometer. But we confirmed that the DC resistance of it became higher than the previous measurement test data. We will evaluate the soundness of the concerned device and examine correspondence in future. We make sure no re- criticality state because there were no significant changes at the monitoring post and as the result of the sampling for the Gas Control System of the Unit 2, we confirmed that the concentration of Xe-135 was below the detectible limit. · At 5:00 am on February 29, the temperature of the lower part of the RPV (top of the lower head 135°) : approx. 44.6 °C · At 5:00 am on February 29, the temperature of the lower part of the RPV (top of the lower head 270°) : approx. 40.9 °C (reference) - As we confirmed that high radioactivity contaminated water is accumulating in the pit of water circulating pump discharge valve of unit 3 pump chamber at the inspection of trench etc. conducted on January 19, 2012, from 8:51 am to 3:45 pm on February 28, 2012 we transferred accumulated water from the pit to the basement of unit 2 turbine building. At 8:17 am on February 29, we restarted the transfer. - At 10:00 am on February 28, we transferred the accumulated water from the basement of T/B, Unit 6 to the temporary tank. At 4:00 pm, we suspended the transfer. At 10:00 am on February 29, we restarted the transfer. - At 8:37 am on February 29, the gradual decrease in the volume of treated water was confirmed in the second cesium adsorption apparatus. In order to conduct a backwashing of the filter, we suspended the apparatus. · Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Station: Units 1 to 4: shutdown due to the earthquake · Kashiwazaki Kariwa Nuclear Power Station: Units 6: under normal operation (Units 1 to 5 and 7: outage due to regular inspections) [Thermal Power Station] · Power supply has returned to normal and the facilities damaged by the earthquake are now being handled in a timely manner. [Hydro Power Station] · Power supply has returned to normal and the facilities damaged by the earthquake are now being handled in a timely manner. [Impacts on Transmission Facilities] · Power supply has returned to normal and the facilities damaged by the earthquake are now being handled in a timely manner. [Impacts on Power Supply and Demand Balance] This winter, there are some minus factors such as the regular inspection of Unit 5 at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Station. On the other hand, there are several plus factors such as the recovery of the common thermal power stations which suffered the earthquake. As a result, we expect to secure 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 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.
The disaster at Fukushima last year exposed how entrenched interests among key decision-makers have contaminated Japanese society, endangering the long-term prosperity of Japan. These special interests often do what is right for themselves, as opposed to what is in the best interests of the Japanese people.
In this two-part series, discussion on what has transpired over the past twelve months as a result of decisions made related to the Fukushima disaster (Part I) will lead to a look at decision-making during the crisis in subsequent weeks and months that have passed (Part II). As the current decision-making system in Japan increasingly works to the detriment of Japanese society, what is needed instead is a more transparent, honest, and benevolent decision-making system that listens to the wishes of the people and responds to it.
Deep relationships among public and private sector players are present in all societies around the world. Yet Japan has a unique set of circumstances that make these relationships unlike any other. Looking firstly at this process sets the stage for understanding what has gone wrong in Japan.
Japan’s « Iron Triangle » of power, the traditional post-war decision-making apparatus, is comprised of Administrative Bureaucracy, Organized Business and Party Government. Together these groups create and implement policies and laws. This inter-institutional cooperation establishes the foundation for how society operates.
It is a cozy relationship. Policies are established by bureaucrats, laws are then passed by politicians and implemented by the business sector. The unelected bureaucrats who formulate policies are beholden to no one other than themselves. Long-term bureaucrats have decades to nurture connections. Top officials often « retire » on to private sector Board of Directors or are granted lucrative positions inside organizations that they used to regulate, thereby forming a comfortable intermingling of the public and private sectors. The system perpetuates itself.
To lubricate the system, up to 40% of the annual Japanese national budget is spent on infrastructure projects — many of which are unnecessary. It could easily be argued that a great number of the nuclear power plants built since the Second World War would fall in to this category. That helps explain why even though 90+ percent of all nuclear reactors are currently off-line, no energy shortages or blackouts have occurred to date.
An additional appendage to this triangle of power is the Japanese mafia or « Yakuza » which have historically been able to legally exist in Japan. The Yakuza serve to make sure the system operates smoothly. One example of this is the supplying of labor to the nuclear industry for undesirable jobs and, in particular, to the Tokyo Electric Power nuclear plant after the disaster of March 11, 2011.
Added to this mix of the Iron Triangle and mafia comes a cultural factor not seen in other nations known as ‘nakama‘ or becoming an accepted ‘trusted insider’ among a respective group. This eases the process of consensus-formation. In group-oriented Japan, such strong relationships are seen as the ultimate goal to be achieved as they allow for the maintenance of harmony. Japan is a series of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ groups and nakama relationships built over time and through mutual experience foster deep loyalties in the public and private sector.
Nakama can also become a hindrance in times of crucial decision-making where telling the truth comes head-to-head with loyalty to long-held relations. One well-known example is the case of the Japan Airlines crash in Tokyo Bay in 1982 that killed 133 people. The captain deliberately engaged the number 2 and 3 engines’ thrust-reversers in flight which caused the crash. He was later found to be suffering from mental illness prior to the incident which resulted in a not guilty verdict by reason of insanity. The interesting point about this particular story is that his co-workers and even the company had known he was unstable for a long time, yet he was able to maintain his position, hierarchy and rank. This can be the danger of nakama relations — when some one in a position of power does something he/she should not do, most are reluctant to do anything about it for fear of damaging relations.
Witness the Fukushima disaster. Not only did decision-making take too long in the early hours of the crisis because consensus needed to be formed among too many players, but there was a lack of communication due to inoperable phone systems. On top of this, the Iron Triangle players were protecting their respective turfs. Politicians and regulators protected the nuclear industry and the nuclear industry protected itself. What was best for the people of Japan took a back seat.
Observing what happened in the early hours of the crisis is to see how forming a consensus on what to do to protect the populace was a futile effort, indeed. Prime Minister Naoto Kan, to his credit,trusted neither the bureaucrats advising him nor the Tokyo Electric Power Company (which was worried about protecting its assets). Even the plant manager did not trust his superiors who had instructed him to stop pouring sea water on the reactors to keep them cool. His decision to defy that order likely prevented the disaster from becoming worse than it was. « At the drama’s heart was an outsider prime minister who saw the need for quick action but whose well-founded mistrust of a system of alliances between powerful plant operators, compliant bureaucrats and sympathetic politicians deprived Prime Minister Kan of resources he could have used to make better-informed decisions, » reported the New York Times.
How much of what went wrong was actually due to sheer incompetence or lack of adequate preparation as opposed to an attempt to hide the truth is unclear. But the New York Times ran anincredible piece on this « culture of collusion » early in the crisis. And it took an outsider (who used to be an insider) to reveal the truth — that « nuclear power’s main players are more interested in protecting their interests than increasing safety ». My point exactly. The safety of the people of Japan was not the top priority which further shows that the decision-making system is not working.
Just ask the people of Namie, a city located just north of the doomed Tokyo Electric Power nuclear plant. Lacking clear guidance on what to do or where to go from decision-makers in Tokyo, town leaders thought it would be safe to head north to escape the dangers caused by explosions at the plant. Computer calculations, known to officials in Tokyo, had predicted winds would carry radioactive clouds north — not south — as Namie town officials had thought. But no one bothered to tell them and they were exposed to high levels of radiation for three days and nights. As reported in another New York Times exposé, « The forecasts were left unpublicized by bureaucrats in Tokyo, operating in a culture that sought to avoid responsibility and, above all, criticism… Japanese authorities engaged in a pattern of withholding damaging information and denying facts of the nuclear disaster — in order to limit the size of costly and disruptive evacuations in land-scarce Japan and to avoid public questioning of the politically powerful nuclear industry ».
And to further prove the point about the failings of the Iron Triangle and how members sought to protect their turf, bureaucrats initially withheld vital information even from politicians, part of their own inner circle. As the aforementioned article notes, « Some of the predictions of the spread of radiation contamination were so alarming, that three separate government agencies — the Education Ministry and the two nuclear regulators, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and Nuclear Safety Commission — passed the data to one another like a hot potato, with none of them wanting to accept responsibility for its results ».
Added to this story were revelations the in the crucial days during and after two reactors blew up, Potassium Iodide (which blocks radioactive iodine from entering the thyroid gland) was not dispersed to people in need in the areas near the plant. Why? « Government disaster manuals require communities to wait for the central government to give the order before distributing the pills. Though Japan’s nuclear-safety experts recommended dispensing pills immediately, Tokyo didn’t order pills be given out until five days after the March 11 accident ». Once again, the people of Japan were not the top priority.
Here is yet another example — days after the earthquake and tsunami, on March 15th and 21st, clouds of radiation drifted over Tokyo due to changing wind conditions. The people of Tokyo were not encouraged to either stay indoors (thereby somewhat limiting exposure) or leave the city. It was not that the authorities didn’t know the clouds were coming — they did. Even the U.S. military knew they were on their way due to a computer simulation known as SPEEDI (System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information). SPEEDI was designed in the 1980s to make forecasts of radiation dispersal should an accident occur. SPEEDI information was shared with the U.S. military, but not with the people of Japan. Decision-makers withheld the information, most likely so as to avoid a panic.
So there was a choice in a « worst-case scenario », evacuate Tokyo (which might have led to the collapse of the Japanese economy) or risk collateral damage among the populace. All of which raises a fundamental question — What gives unelected bureaucrats the right to decide what the public is told (or not told), particularly when issues of health are at stake?
Just as with the tale of the boy who cried wolf, many people in Japan no longer trust what they are told. It is now to the point where even if the truth is told, few believe it.
(Tomorrow, in Part II, we look at more evidence of how nakama decision-making hurts Japan.)
K.T. Hiraoka is a pseudonym for the writer whose name was changed to allow for honest and open expression in order to better decipher the puzzle surrounding decision-making related to the Fukushima disaster.
Reuters) – The young Japanese woman clutches a beige blanket tight around her shoulders as she stares into the distance. Behind her hulks twisted metal and splintered wood left by the tsunami that devastated Ishinomaki, her hometown.
The photograph, taken by Tadashi Okubo at the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, was picked up by Reuters and other agencies around the world, becoming an iconic image of the March 11 disaster that killed 20,000 people.
The woman’s name is Yuko Sugimoto. She is now 29 years old.
When the photo was taken, around 7 a.m. on March 13, she was looking in the direction of her son Raito’s kindergarten, which was partly submerged and surrounded by piles of debris. Nearly two days after the quake she had yet to find the four-year-old.
« At that point, I thought there was only about a 50 percent chance he was alive, » she recalled recently.
« Some people told me the children at the kindergarten were rescued, but others told me that somebody had seen the children all swept away by the tsunami. »
Link to a slideshow: link.reuters.com/kaz76s
Sugimoto was born and raised in Ishinomaki, a city of 150,000 known for its port and fishing industry before the wall of water unleashed by the 9.0 magnitude offshore quake roared in. Around 3,800 people perished, the highest toll for a single city.
Delivering beverages for her business when the quake struck, she desperately tried to reach the kindergarten, but was forced to flee the tsunami, spending the night in her car.
Reunited with her husband the next day, the two began making the rounds of evacuation centers — first by car, then by bicycle as fuel ran out. Her husband found a boat and paddled his way towards the kindergarten, but found no one there.
It wasn’t until the next day that the couple heard that their son and other children had been rescued by the military from the roof of the kindergarten the morning after the tsunami.
« When I saw Raito in the corner of a room, the next moment I was weeping so hard I couldn’t see anything, » Sugimoto said.
She hugged him and checked his hands, his feet, every bit of his body. She even checked his smell, to be certain it really was him. Holding him tight, she said « Thank goodness, thank goodness, » over and over.
A YEAR LATER
Nearly a year later, Sugimoto stood in the same place, embracing her son and smiling. Behind her, the gently sloping road was clean, with cars and trucks stopped at a traffic light.
Her smile suggests that her life is back on track, but that is not true. Though the debris was cleared much more quickly than she expected, it will take some time for Sugimoto and her family to get on with their lives.
The house they built four years ago was submerged nearly to its second floor and they lost most of their belongings. What remains is a 31-year-mortgage of around 25 million yen ($310,000) they still have to pay.
They now live in a rented house, but the lease expires next year. Returning to the old house would mean razing it and rebuilding from scratch.
« I used to love the ocean, but ever since the disaster, I haven’t been to the ocean even once. I want to stay on in Ishinomaki, but far away from the ocean, » she said.
Despite the financial burdens, Sugimoto’s priorities have changed. Though she once worked even through vacations, she has now quit her job to spend more time with her family.
« Now, every single day is precious to me. I realize that time with my family is what is most important, » she said. « Our bond is even tighter now. »
($1 = 80.6850 Japanese yen)
(Writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Ron Popeski)
On 11 March it will be a year since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, caused by Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami. Cattle farmer Yukio Yamamoto lives in the town of Namie, four miles inside the Fukushima nuclear exclusion zone. He’s one of several farmers defying government orders to euthanise all cattle within the zone
FUKUSHIMA, Feb 28 (Reuters) – Japan’s prime minister ordered workers to remain at the tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear plant last March as fears mounted of a « devil’s chain reaction » that would force tens of millions of people to flee Tokyo, a new investigative report shows.
Then-premier Naoto Kan and his staff began referring to a worst case scenario that could threaten Japan’s existence as a nation around three days after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, according to the report by a panel set up by a private think-tank.
That was when fears mounted that thousands of spent fuel rods stored at a damaged reactor would melt and spew radiation after a hydrogen explosion at an adjacent reactor building, according to the panel report.
Yukio Edano, then Japan’s top government spokesman, told the panel that at the height of tension he feared a « devil’s chain reaction » in which the Fukushima Daiichi plant and the nearby Fukushima Daini facility, as well as the Tokai nuclear plant, spiralled out of control, putting the capital at risk.
Kan, who stepped down last September, came under fire for his handling of the crisis, including flying over the plant by helicopter the morning after the disasters hit — a move some critics said contributed to a delay in the operator’s response.
In an interview with Reuters this month, the 65-year-old Kan said he was haunted by the spectre of a crisis spiralling out of control and forcing the evacuation of the Tokyo greater metropolitan area, 240 km (150 miles) away and home to some 35 million people.
After the quake and tsunami struck, three reactors melted down and radiation spewed widely through eastern Japan, forcing tens of thousands of residents to evacuate from near the plant.
Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co, known as Tepco, managed to avert the worst scenario by pumping water, much of it from the sea, into Daiichi’s damaged reactors and spent fuel pools. The reactors were stabilised by December.
A year after the disaster, however, Fukushima Daiichi still resembles a vast wasteland. High radiation levels hamper a cleanup that is expected to take decades.
The damaged 40-metre-high (125-foot) No.2 reactor building stands like a bird’s nest of twisted steel beams. A Tepco official who accompanied foreign media to the plant on Tuesday said metal debris was being painstakingly removed by giant cranes and pincers as radiation doses were too high for workers.
Another challenge is keeping a new cooling system, built from a myriad of technologies and prone to breaking down, running without major glitches.
« An earthquake or tsunami like the ones seen a year ago could be a source of trouble for these (cooling) systems. But we are currently reinforcing the spent fuel pool and making the sea walls higher against tsunamis, » Takeshi Takahashi, the Daiichi plant’s manager, told reporters. « A series of back up systems is also being put in place in case one fails. »
Confused media reports at the time of the accident said Tepco had threatened to withdraw workers from the plant, but that Kan ordered them to keep staff on-site.
« Now Tepco is saying there was no request for a complete pullout, that it only asked for a partial withdrawal. The truth may never come out, but as a result, 50 Tepco staff stayed behind and … the worst case scenario was averted, » panel chief Koichi Kitazawa told Reuters before the report’s release.
STRONG SENSE OF CRISIS
How many of those who stayed were volunteers is a mystery.
« An order was likely given for full-time employees to stay behind. We may eventually find out who volunteered to stay, but the impression from our investigation is that they are under strict orders to remain silent. »
The six-member panel is one of several probing the disaster caused by the quake and tsunami that knocked out cooling systems at Fukushima Daiichi and triggered meltdowns of nuclear fuel in the worst radiation crisis since Chernobyl. Since September, it has interviewed more than 300 people, including Kan and Edano, but no Tepco executives.
Kan’s administration, Tepco and nuclear regulators have all faced criticism, both for a confused response and for failing to come clean on the extent of the crisis in the early days, undermining public trust in Japan’s leaders and bureaucracy.
The panel lauded Kan for keeping the workers on site, but added that the premier, who had tangled with bureaucrats in the past and did not trust those around him, was too hands on in dealing with the crisis.
« Overall, he failed to pass the test, » Kitazawa told a news conference after the report was issued.
Edano on Tuesday acknowledged he had feared the worst around March 14-15. « I was working with a strong sense of crisis that under various circumstances, such a thing may be possible, » he told a news conference in Tokyo.
But he defended his silence as government spokesman.
« I shared all information. Back then, I was not in a position where I, as someone who is not an expert, could irresponsibly speak about my own personal impressions and my sense of crisis, » he told a news conference.
« I conveyed assessments and decisions of the government, government agencies and experts, » he added.
The panel report said some of Kan’s seemingly inexplicable behaviour stemmed from his belief that Tepco was going to abandon the plant and the accident would spiral out of control.
An irate Kan blasted Tepco on March 15, yelling: « What the hell is going on » in an outburst overheard by a Kyodo news reporter and quickly reported around the globe. « I want you all to be determined, » he was quoted as telling utility executives.
The utility ultimately left a corps of workers who were dubbed the « Fukushima Fifty » by media and won admiration at home and abroad as they risked their lives to contain the crisis, although their names were never made public
(Reuters) – On a hillside in northern Japan, wind turbines slice through the cold air, mocking efforts at a nearby industrial complex to shore up the future of the demoralized nuclear power industry.
The wind-power farm at Rokkasho has sprung up close to Japan’s first nuclear reprocessing plant, a Lego-like complex of windowless buildings and steel towers, which was supposed to have started up 15 years ago but is only now nearing completion.
Dogged by persistent technical problems, it is designed to recycle spent nuclear fuel and partly address a glaring weakness in Japan’s bid to restore confidence in the industry, shredded last year when a quake and tsunami wrecked the Fukushima Daiichi power station to the south, triggering radioactive leaks and mass evacuations.
But the Rokkasho project is too little, too late, according to critics who say Japan is running so short of nuclear-waste storage that the entire industry risks shutdown within the next two decades unless a solution is found.
« You don’t build a house without a toilet, » said Jitsuro Terashima, president of the Japan Research Institute think tank and member of an expert panel advising the national government on energy policy after the Fukushima disaster.
« If Japan seriously wants to stick to nuclear power, a second Rokkasho would be needed, » he said.
Long-term storage of highly radioactive waste is a problem common to all nuclear-powered nations, including the United States, but experts say Japan’s unstable geology and densely populated terrain mean that its challenges are far bigger.
The Rokkasho plant is due to finally start up in October, barely 19 months after the radioactive clouds at Fukushima sparked the world’s worst nuclear crisis in 25 years — a crisis exacerbated by the 1,800 tonnes of spent nuclear-fuel rods being stored at the power station when the disaster struck.
As Japan approaches the anniversary of the March 11 quake, the nuclear power industry, which just over a year ago supplied a third of its power, is virtually paralyzed. All but two of the country’s 54 reactors are offline.
The reactors have steadily been shut down for maintenance, unable to restart until they meet new stress tests that aim to determine if power stations in the future can withstand the kind of terrifying natural force unleashed on Fukushima: a magnitude 9 quake and a wall of water more than 10 metres (30 ft) high.
Effectively, though, the utilities have to do more than pass stress tests; they have to finally convince local governments that the waste problems will be resolved, not continue to mount up inside power plants lined up along the Japanese coast like radioactive warehouses, exposed to the risk of tsunamis.
At Fukushima, where highly radioactive spent fuel rods were crammed mostly into pools of water inside the complex, the disaster knocked out the cooling system and led to a fire in one of the pools. At the time, it was a bigger concern than even the risk of a reactor meltdown.
The governor of Ehime prefecture, Tokihiro Nakamura, who supports nuclear power provided that safety is ensured, says it is time to finally tackle the waste issue, including the option of not only reprocessing but storing it deep underground.
He blames successive national governments for failing to take the hard decisions.
« It’s a traditional theme, » he said. « It’s a history of their fleeing from the risk of losing an election. »
Rokkasho would consume 80 percent of Japan’s spent fuel, assuming Tokyo decides to return to pre-disaster levels of nuclear power generation.
But the waste problem is now so acute that experts say the facility will only buy Japan an additional five to 10 years before it has to implement more lasting but politically sensitive solutions, such as permanent burial.
If Japan fails to find a solution to its waste-fuel problem, the entire nuclear power industry could one day grind to a halt.
« Even if the Rokkasho plant becomes operational, we cannot help but meet the deadline (for storage space to run out) in 15 to 20 years, just a little longer than about 10 years without it, » said Hideyuki Ban, co-director of the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center and also a member of a government panel studying the nuclear fuel cycle.
« We think there is an 80 to 90 percent chance of the plant being a failure, » he adds.
Rokkasho’s record is not encouraging.
Some experts expect further delays there, pointing to long-standing problems at its kiln, an essential part of the plant that deals with high-level, liquid radioactive waste that cannot be recycled into fuel. The kiln turns waste into glass, a more stable substance that is then intended to be stored underground.
The plant’s operator, Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd (JNFL), has had to make some minor design changes to the kiln, which is larger than industry-standard kilns developed and used in France. JNFL had opted for a larger kiln to cut costs.
Ultimately though, even if Rokkasho gets up and running, two problems remain: it alone cannot recycle enough fuel to stop the waste mounting up, and there is still the issue of burying the vitrified waste permanently in a crowded, quake-prone country.
« When the (safety and political) conditions are met and some reactors are restarted … we still have another high hurdle to clear. That is storage of spent fuel running out, » said Ryutaro Kono, chief economist at BNP Paribas Securities and also a member of the government advisory panel.
With the aim of recycling more spent fuel, Japan had planned to separate plutonium at the Rokkasho reprocessing plant and combine it with uranium to produce mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel. JNFL plans to build a MOX-fuel facility close to the reprocessing plant, with a scheduled launch date of 2016.
This would in turn lessen the need for imported uranium.
But this idea, along with Japan’s entire energy policy, is under review after the disaster at Fukushima. The ruined station had used MOX fuel, which raised grave concerns for human health because of the presence of dangerous plutonium isotopes.
A DECENT BURIAL
With Japan’s recycling efforts running so far behind the required pace to deal with the waste problem, Japan needs to find another resting place for its waste, away from nuclear power plants, which are typically located on the coast.
But unlike France and the United States, the world’s biggest atomic power generators, Japan does not have much in the way of geologically stable and empty landscapes in which to bury nuclear waste for centuries. Given its population density is 10 times higher than the United States and almost three times higher than France, Japan faces a « not in my backyard » problem like no other big nuclear-power nation.
It certainly has nothing like the deserts of Nevada, where Washington had been developing a burial chamber deep inside a mountain before shelving the project in 2010, partly due to local opposition. The United States also stores its waste at power stations nationwide and it too is being urged to quickly find a new burial site in light of the Fukushima crisis.
Japan has yet another peculiar challenge: the government has delegated the task of dealing with waste to the private sector, so there is no central decision-maker, only regulators — unlike France and the United States whose nuclear-weapons capability mean that state bodies call the shots.
Even large dry-cask storage facilities, used in Europe and the United States as a more secure form of interim storage than cooling pools, are still non-existent in Japan.
A joint venture between Tokyo Electric Power, operator of the crippled Fukushima plant, and Japan Atomic plans to build Japan’s first large dry-cask storage facility in Mutsu, north of Rokkasho, where 3,000 tonnes of spent fuel would be encased in metal and stored on an interim basis.
But that project would be dedicated only to Tokyo Electric and Japan Atomic rather than all nuclear utilities, and it is also delayed, with commercial operation set to begin in October next year, 15 months behind schedule.
Its capacity would be equal to three times the annual amount of Japan’s nuclear waste production, assuming Tokyo returns to pre-Fukushima levels of atomic power generation. In total, Japan’s 17 nuclear stations have room left for six years of waste, almost all of that storage only available in spent-fuel pools.
The Mutsu storage facility is planned to hold waste for about 50 years before it is removed for recycling and vitrification. By that time, it is envisaged that a second reprocessing plant would be up and running at Rokkasho, although its location and other details have yet to be decided.
In the meantime, to prevent spent-fuel pools at the power stations from becoming over-crowded, some reactors have already started using MOX fuel, reprocessed in France and Britain from waste fuel shipped overseas by Japanese utilities.
MASSIVE POWER BILL
Japan’s recycling policy is not only behind schedule, it is very expensive: according to official estimates, it would cost a staggering 19 trillion yen ($245 billion) to re-use waste reprocessed at Rokkasho over 40 years. Recycling all waste fuel would cost 2 yen per kilowatt hour in 2030, twice as much as just burying it at a final repository.
« Why does the government stick to the very costly recycle policy? That is because if they give it up, they should explain where a final repository will be located, » said BNP’s Kono.
Even Aomori prefecture, where the Rokkasho plant is located, has said it does not want to be the site of a final repository, with its governor making clear that his remote, relatively poor prefecture was already doing enough for Japan’s energy security.
« Our position is clear that Aomori would not host a final repository, » Governor Shingo Mimura told reporters this month.
The search for a final resting place has been entrusted to a private company, the Nuclear Waste Management Organisation of Japan (NUMO), rather than the government itself — in keeping with Japan’s private-sector approach to an industry that serves a civilian purpose only.
But NUMO, which is backed by funds provided by utilities, has not yet found a town willing to host it.
Responding to criticism, Makoto Yagi, head of the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, told a government panel this month that utilities were trying to secure more spent fuel storage space even though the existing space would not be filled up in the immediate future.
« In addition to Rokkasho, companies individually take measures even though the space will not run out in the immediate future, » said Yagi, who is also president of Kansai Electric Power. He added that the latest halt to tests at the Rokkasho plant was meant to ensure its smooth commercial launch.
At Rokkasho, a glance at the plant’s own temporary storage pool for spent fuel shows the gravity of the problem that looms larger for the future of Japan’s nuclear industry than just hoping some reactors will be back on line this summer.
The pool at Rokkasho is already 95 percent full of spent rods, which have been sent there over the years from across the country in anticipation of its long-awaited start-up.
Harukuni Tanaka, a JNFL director, said recently that it would take another two to three years before the pool reached its capacity, based on the plans of its customers, all of which are Japan’s 10 nuclear power generators.
As the wind turbines spin nearby, offering a glimpse of a clean-energy future that is still decades away, Japan’s nuclear industry is praying for Rokkasho to buy it more time.