We round up recent news from Fukushima Daiichi and related events.
TEPCO has continued to delay the completion of a sea wall at Fukushima Daiichi, intended to prevent tsunami inundation at the disaster site. The current completion date is some time in 2021. In addition to the sea wall there are 50 locations in the reactor buildings that require some form of closure to prevent a potential tsunami from dragging highly contaminated water in the buildings out to sea. Efforts have been underway to lower the highly contaminated water levels in the reactor building basements. As groundwater levels are lowered due to the frozen wall and other groundwater measures, water levels in the reactor buildings must be lowered to prevent contaminated water from leaking out. Work at unit 3 to do this has been plagued with problems. Efforts to remove water from the basement appear to not work. As water is removed the level does not drop. What source is inputting water to the basement in such large amounts is not yet understood by TEPCO.
TEPCO has been pushing for years to gain permission to dump treated contaminated water in the ocean. If they did succeed in gaining permission to dump all of the treated water into the Pacific it would take 17 years to dump it all. A frequently mentioned tactic to attempt to dispose of this water would be to dilute it with fresh water in order to meet regulatory standards that would permit dumping it into the sea. This is a slight of hand tactic. The total amount of contamination remaining in the treated water at Fukushima Daiichi would be dumped into the ocean. The fresh water dumped along side it does nothing to change this. According to TEPCO they will run out of water storage space in 2022. The mayor of Osaka made an unusual offer regarding the water at Fukushima Daiichi. He offered to have it transported and dumped into Osaka Bay if it could be proven to be safe. South Korea is so concerned about the potential dumping of water from Fukushima Daiichi that they have complained to the IAEA.
It was noted by researchers that cesium flowing in the Pacific ocean from Fukushima Daiichi circulated back to Japan much faster than initially assumed. The cesium contamination was expected to take decades to circulate back around to Japan. Instead they found that it began to show up back in Japan in 2012 and peaked in 2014, around the same time contamination levels peaked in North American waters.
The fishing port in Tomioka, just south of Fukushima Daiichi has reopened for the first time since the 2011 disaster. Most of the other commercial fishing ports have already reopened in the region. The port in Tomioka was under evacuation orders until recently.
The fishing cooperative in Fukushima prefecture has set a goal to significantly increase the amount of commercial fishing in the prefecture. Of course the cooperative is also deeply concerned about TEPCO’s desire to dump contaminated water into the ocean as it would cause problems for their already beleaguered market.
Evacuees in Sendai have had to find new homes yet again. The municipality ended rent controls put in place to assure all evacuees could afford somewhere to live. Other prefectures and towns hit by the 2011 disaster have continued the rent caps. Sendai opted to let them lapse leaving about 176 families looking for new cheaper housing.
Over 200 evacuees in permanent housing complexes have died alone since 2017. It isn’t clear how these numbers compare to the wider population of Japan. The number of deaths has concerned officials who worry social isolation is becoming a problem among older evacuees.
Iitate village is raising dairy cattle for the first time since the 2011 disaster. Reporting by The Mainichi didn’t mention if any measures would be taken to prevent the cattle from becoming contaminated. Iodine 131 was an initial risk to dairy supplies but has since decayed away to the point it is no longer a threat. Cesium 137 and 134 can lodge in the muscle tissue. This is an issue since dairy cattle are eventually used for low grade meat. Strontium 90 is present in the environment due to the disaster, and is a known problem with milk contamination. Iitate is one of the areas of the highest levels of fallout from the 2011 disaster.
Farmers in Futaba began a growing trial of various vegetables. If they can prove the vegetables test under the government limit of 100 bq/kg of cesium contamination, they would be allowed to be sold to the public. Futaba co-hosts the Fukushima Daiichi disaster site and was one of the most contaminated areas from the nuclear disaster.
In Minamisoma, north of Fukushima Daiichi, contaminated foods are still found in routine testing. Of 493 samples, 110 were contaminated, 8 of those were over the government limit.
A recently published study confirmed that low dose external radiation exposure can promote cancer capable cells. This has been a concern with the varied levels of exposure among the public in parts of Japan. Levels of exposure below the official intervention levels may still be a serious health risk.
A maternal health survey conducted as part of the Fukushima Health Survey has ended. The government entity claims they found no problems. Other aspects of the health survey have been questioned for methods and claims that seemed to question the validity of the work. The Health Survey is funded and directed by the government.
Plans to scrap the reactors at Fukushima Daini have moved a step closer. Previously, TEPCO’s board of directors voted to scrap the plant. Now the governor of Fukushima Prefecture has accepted TEPCO’s plan. The final step would be to submit the proper paperwork to Japan’s nuclear regulator. At that point the decision would be largely irreversible.
TEPCO gained a step towards restarting the massive nuclear power plant at Kashiwazaki Kariwa. The local mayor gave his approval for restarting the plant. The prefecture government continues to refrain, while demanding investigations into the root causes of the Fukushima disaster continue.
Japan’s nuclear regulator has restarted their investigations into the Fukushima disaster. Citing progress in the ability to gain access to certain areas of the plant site and reactor buildings, regulators think they can resume investigations. One area they want to access relates to the venting systems for the reactor buildings. Regulators want to know why so much radioactive contamination was released via these systems. This could include the unit 1-2 vent tower that is one of the most contaminated locations on site.
The new environment minister for the central government issued a shocking statement soon after taking office. He declared that all nuclear power plants in Japan should be decommissioned.
“I would like to study how we will scrap them, not how to retain them,” Koizumi, 38, said. “We will be doomed if we allow another nuclear accident to occur. We never know when we’ll have an earthquake.”
This put the new environment minister, Shinjiro Koizumi, on a collision course with others in the government. Koizumi, son of the well known former Japanese prime minister, has been seen as the potential successor to the current LDP leadership in Japan. The party is aging and looking for younger politicians to help them win elections. Koizumi’s stance creates a problem for the LDP when their new prospect refuses to play along yet they may need him to remain politically relevant.
Japan’s Atomic Energy Committee has urged nuclear power companies to focus on decommissioning. This includes the needed training and funds for the work required to decommission Japan’s nuclear fleet. Many of Japan’s older reactors have already been slated for decommissioning, while newer ones remain in limbo hoping for permission to restart.
Japan’s nuclear power companies have been quietly selling off their uranium holdings. Many times the uranium has been sold off at a considerable loss. The extended reactor shutdowns mandated by the government have caused many to decide to sell off their stockpiles.
A recent typhoon in Chiba prefecture has TEPCO in the hot seat again. Two large power transmission towers fell, causing over 100,000 to be without power for weeks. Part of the blame is being put on TEPCO’s drastic cuts to maintenance and upgrades. The towers were only rated to 140 kph. Climate change and other factors are increasing the strength of typhoons yet TEPCO hasn’t made any effort to upgrade towers to deal with more powerful storms. Another strong typhoon is expected to hit Tokyo, Chiba and potentially Fukushima prefecture this coming weekend, if the storm stays on course.
We have lots of upcoming information and reports in the works, check back all this month while we work through new and emerging events related to the Fukushima disaster.
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