(This post is by Christine McCann)
Here’s a roundup of the news surrounding the ongoing Fukushima nuclear crisis.
Politics of Nuclear Power in Japan
In spite of Prime Minister Kan’s objections, the Japanese cabinet approved a motion to continue to export nuclear technology.
Kan spoke at the August 6 ceremony commemorating the bombing of Hiroshima, and said that Japan should move away from nuclear power, against the advice of some of his advisors.
Japan’s industry minister Banri Kaieda announced that if stress tests reveal signs of aging in reactors, those reactors might be permanently shut down. Nineteen reactors will be tested in the first round, and will be conducted by power companies using computer simulations. A second round of tests will be conducted by the end of the year. All results will be certified by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA).
A meeting of local municipalities (The All Japan Council of Local Governments with Atomic Power Stations) has strongly criticized the Japanese government for poor handling of the Fukushima crisis. Industry Minister Banri Kaieda apologized to the attendees, but they continued to voice frustration and dissatisfaction.
The UN will host a meeting on nuclear power in September, and Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said he would like Prime Minister Kan to attend and play a significant role.
In another effort to shift his country away from nuclear power, Kan has called for a study to consider the decommissioning of the Monju fast-breeder reactor.
Power Company Scandals
An independent panel has been appointed to probe allegations that NISA asked utility companies to sway opinion at public symposia on nuclear power. An interim report will be released later this month.
State of the Reactors/Cooling Efforts
Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) approved a NISA report stating that the chance of another meltdown and hydrogen explosion at the Fukushima plant is very small. Even if cooling at the spent fuel pools is interrupted, the report states, it’s unlikely that radiation would increase outside of the 20 kilometer no-entry zone, an important consideration for repopulating the areas 20-30 kilometers from the plant which have been evacuated. The NSC cautioned that the areas must be decontaminated in order to lift evacuation orders.
The water decontamination system at Fukushima shut down again on Sunday for seven and a half hours when multiple pumps stopped. A backup pump also failed. This is the third time in a week that the system has broken down; Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) is working to find the root cause of the problems, as space for contaminated water is becoming very limited.
In an effort to reduce the amount of contaminated water that needs to be stored, TEPCO has begun using a new system to evaporate contaminated salt water. Currently, the system can only process 40% of the contaminated water; the other 60% remains untreated. Resulting steam will be converted to fresh water, and used to cool the reactors. Two evaporation units have been installed; six more are expected to be in place by October.
A Japanese researcher has published a study saying that the Number 3 reactor at may have suffered two meltdowns, resulting in fuel falling through its containment vessel. If so, the study says, current methods of cooling would need to be reconsidered and would put the current schedule to contain the disaster at risk.
Prime Minister Kan said he will resign once two bills — one dealing with debt-covering bonds, and one concerning renewable energy — are passed by the Japanese parliament.
Government officials announced that starting in late August, evacuees might be able to temporarily visit their homes within three kilometers from the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Contamination (including human exposure)
US Navy personnel have been storing low-level radioactive material, including cloths used to decontaminate aircraft used in Fukushima relief efforts, at the Sasebo Naval Base in Nagasaki Prefecture. Sasebo city officials were unaware of the materials and will ask the central government to dispose of it. Monitoring stations near the base have shown no raised levels of radiation.
Yahoo Japan has published an online map, updated every five minutes, showing radiation levels in 11 areas of Japan. The data is uploaded by researchers from Keio University, and the number of monitoring stations is expected to increase in the future.
As a result of issues surrounding caesium-contaminated beef, Japan will no longer vouch for the safety of Japanese foods, according to a statement by Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto.
Frustrated that the central government is not acting fast enough, the town of Minani-Soma in Fukushima Prefecture will begin decontamination of the city in August and September, except for areas in the no-entry zone. Government officials will work with scientists from the University of Tokyo to map areas of decontamination and treat them. Volunteers and workers from non-profit organizations will assist with treating private homes. The city government has set aside 960 million yen for initial cleanup costs, and has yet to decide if they will hold TEPCO and the central government responsible for the costs.
A 10-member panel looking at compensation issues recommended that TEPCO be required to pay damages to tourism companies nation-wide, including hotels, that have been adversely affected by the Fukushima disaster. They also recommended that compensation be paid to farmers and fishermen whose products have been devalued as a result of radiation fears.
The Japanese government will buy all meat suspected of being from approximately 3,500 contaminated cows in 14 prefectures. That number may increase if more prefectures are affected. Once collected, the meat will be incinerated. Farmers will be paid 50,000 yen for each cow.