(This post is by Christine McCann)
Here’s another roundup of the news surrounding the ongoing Fukushima nuclear crisis.
Politics of Nuclear Power in Japan
Japan’s industry minister Banri Kaieda announced that he is firing three top nuclear officials as a result of the poor handling of the Fukushima crisis and repeated scandals involving power companies. Kazuo Matsunaga, Vice Minister for Economy, Trade, and Industry; Nobuaki Terasaka, the head of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), and Tetsuhiro Hosono,head of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, will all lose their jobs. Kaieda also announced that he will resign as soon as their replacements are official, and ministry restructuring plans are confirmed.
After parents and teachers expressed concern, the government announced it will lower the allowable annual radiation limit for children, which is currently set at 20 millisieverts per year. The change is expected to take place as early as this month.
The mayor of Hiroshima said he will call on the Japanese government to reconsider nuclear energy when gives his annual peace declaration on August 6, the 65th anniversary of the dropping of bombs on Hiroshima. The mayor of Nagasaki is expected to issue a similar declaration on August 9.
Power Company Scandals
A former NISA section chief admitted that he encouraged employees of Shikoku Electric to participate in a local symposium designed to elicit public opinion on use of mixed uranium and plutonium. The symposium took place five years ago.
NISA also acknowledged that a former official encouraged power company employees to sway public opinion at two other nuclear energy symposia. Requests were made to executives at Kyushu Power in 2005 regarding the Genkai plant, and Tohoku Power regarding the plant in Onogawa.
The governor of Saga Prefecture apologized for telling Kyushu Power executives to solicit pro-nuclear opinions for a town-hall meeting designed to determine public support for restarting nuclear reactors. His comments spurred the Kyushu executives to tell staff to send emails in support of nuclear power.
The president of Kyushu Power apologized for mobilizing employees to sway public opinion on the restart of the Genkai power plant, but denied that the Saga governor had influenced him.
After TEPCO was unable to confirm the whereabouts of over 180 workers in July, raising questions about possible violation of anti-terrorism laws, NISA reprimanded the power company but stopped short of revoking its operating license.
State of the Reactors/Cooling Efforts
Fatal radiation levels were discovered this week between reactors 1 and 2, the highest levels measured since the March disaster. 10,000 millisieverts per hour were recorded. The next day, a level of 5,000 millisieverts per hour was measured in a room of the 1 reactor building. Access to the room has been blocked.
Because the system continues to be plagued with problems, the amount of highly radioactive water in buildings continues to increase. The total amount of water now equals 120,770 cubic meters—120 cubic meters more than just last week. TEPCO has now raised its target rate for the system from 70% to 90%, its original goal.
The government announced it will try to lift evacuation orders 20-30 km from the plant by the end of August. Currently, residents in those zones are advised to stay indoors. The central government will provide support to local municipalities as the bans are lifted.
The DPJ party is urging the government to expropriate contaminated land near the Daiichi plant. The plan is controversial, because it would prevent evacuees from returning home.
Contamination (including human exposure)
The Japanese government will begin national radiation monitoring. It will consolidate data from numerous independent organizations already gathering such data, as well asset up 250 monitoring stations across the country. Data will be mapped and uploaded to a website by mid-August.
Radioactive leaf soil produced in Togichi Prefecture, approximately 100 km from Fukushima, was shipped and sold nationwide after the government failed to provide appropriate guidelines to fertilizer manufacturers. In June, a YouTube video viewed by over 100,000 people showed a dosimeter beeping after passing over a bag of leafsoil. However, it took officials more than a month to announce the high levels.
The government has banned beef shipments from Tochigi Prefecture after high levels of caesium were found in four cattle. This is the fourth prefecture to experience such a ban.
Fukushima Prefecture admitted that an additional 290 radioactive cows, which had been fed contaminated straw, were shipped to Fukushima, Tokyo, Kanagawa, and Saitama Prefectures. Similarly, Miyagi Prefecture announced that an additional 103 contaminated cattle had been shipped.
Shimane Prefecture announced that it will check all cattle for radiation exposure in an effort to quell consumer concerns. Checks are expected to begin next week.
The government will test rice for radiation both before and after the harvest in 14 prefectures. If rice is contaminated, shipments from that region will be banned. TEPCO is expected to compensate farmers if their crops are affected.
So far, TEPCO has paid $69 billion yen ($900 million) in compensation to businesses and individuals affected by the crisis at Fukushima. Payments are expected to eventually total tens of billions of dollars.
Both Houses of the Japanese Diet approved a plan to use government funds as well as contributions from other utilities to help TEPCO compensate victims of the Fukushima disaster. A new government entity will be established to facilitate the compensation.