What Happened With Fukushima This Week (News Roundup) Sept 22, 2013

The current LDP government in Japan is proposing splitting TEPCO into two companies. One would focus on decommissioning the plant at Daiichi, the other on their other businesses and compensation for victims of the disaster. They do not clarify if this changes who is liable and who ultimately pays for the disaster at the plant. The main concern is that this could somehow allow TEPCO to skirt liability or avoid paying costs related to the disaster. An ongoing motivation within the government has been to not disband TEPCO or allow them to fail as a company to avoid forcing Japan’s big banks to take large financial losses.

In a similar move the government is wanting to re-classify the plant at Fukushima Daiichi as a “decommissioning center” rather than as a power plant. This could potentially change how it falls under the country’s nuclear regulatory oversight. The move would force TEPCO to take any focus off restarting units 5 and 6 and put all efforts at the plant into the work to try to control the disaster. This would not change TEPCO’s efforts to restart Fukushima Daini and Kashiwazaki Kariwa. To date TEPCO has thrown considerable money into repairing and upgrading both facilities with the hopes or being allowed to restart these reactors.

More Fukushima Daiichi workers are showing up with health problems. 284 of the 6700 workers examined had medical problems. One such problem mentioned was low white blood cell counts, something that has been known to be caused by excessive radiation exposure. This group of unhealthy workers made up about 4.21% of the workers tested. The information made public so far did not include any data relating the workers radiation exposure to their health status. There have been concerns from the public and within the government that TEPCO did not properly record workers radiation exposure leaving workers with higher real exposure than was recorded in their records.

The health ministry also released some data on worker exposures. It appears a bit different than the way TEPCO has presented the data. In July one worker received a 100 mSv external exposure. 16 workers had combined internal/external exposure of 50-75 mSv and 133 workers reached their 100 mSv maximum by July 2013.

A group of lawmakers in Japan is trying to make their cancer registry mandatory and handled at a national level. They did not cite a reason for this move, if it is related to the nuclear disaster or some other motivation. The registry would include treatment and outcome data.

A Japanese minister to the UN has resigned after his “shut up” outburst at a UN Human Rights Council meeting. Japan had been asked to answer for a string of human rights violations including a large number coming out of their actions related to the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Russia has reaffirmed a ban on seafood from the north-east areas of Japan. This was on the heels of South Korea putting a similar ban in place.

Contaminated wood chips were found in western Japan in Shiga prefecture. The chips were as high as 3000 bq/kg in radioactive contamination. They were dumped in a waterway that feeds into Lake Biwa. This lake is a major fresh water source for western Japan and for freshwater fish. Authorities are considering it an act of illegal dumping. The curious part is why wood with such high radiation was being found so far from Fukushima. This has become a major under the radar problem in Japan where radioactive debris and dirt are being illegally dumped or stored in clearly unsafe conditions that allow it to leak back to the environment.

TEPCO discovered what is likely the source of the leaks at the tanks of highly radioactive water at the plant. The bolts in the base of the tank were found to be loose after they dismantled a problem tank. TEPCO would have known this potential existed after finding exterior bolts on the sides of the tanks had worked loose months ago. They had sent workers around to tighten those. More than 300 tanks are of this type, TEPCO admits now that all could be leaking due to the same problem.

Tritium found in groundwater in the uphill area of the plant has been increasing. 110,000 bq/liter was found near the H4 tank group. This is up from 70,000 found on the 19th. There is also tritium being found in the groundwater closer to the groundwater bypass wells, far away from the tank installations.

Units 5 and 6 at Daiichi are being considered for a “training center” to work on tactics to use for decommissioning the other reactors at the site. There had already been a plan to build a reactor model for testing tactics to use towards retrieving the melted fuel and robotic work. This move would avoid having to build a model and instead use units 5 and 6 to test ideas for problems like plugging leaks. Unit 6 is an ABWR reactor that is considerably different than units 1-4 but may still offer some function towards testing ideas.

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