(This post is by Christine McCann)
Here’s a roundup of the news surrounding the ongoing Fukushima nuclear crisis.
State of Nuclear Politics in Japan
Prime Minister Nato Kan said he will resign, possibly in late August, once two bills pass the Japanese Diet. New presidential elections could take place by August 28, with a new prime minister named by August 31.
Kan said that it is “important” for Japan to participate in the United Nations meeting on nuclear safety, which will be held in September, but has not said whether or not he will attend.
Taro Kono, a prominent member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has called for the end of nuclear power in Japan by 2050, focusing on a reduction of energy consumption, followed by reliance on natural gas. Kono also said he is considering a run for the LDP presidency in 2012.
Outgoing Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) Chief Nobuaki Terasaka has admitted that the regulation of Japan’s nuclear industry is inadequate, and also said that he knew that a nuclear meltdown was a possibility the day after the March 11 earthquake in Japan.
Japan will set up a new nuclear regulatory agency under the umbrella of the Environment Ministry. NISA and the NSC will both fall under the new entity.
NISA is being criticized for hiring a former employee of a TEPCO affiliate in April, and subsequently assigning him to inspect the Fukushima Daini plant.
Power Company Scandals
A 4-person panel has convened to investigate allegations that power companies manipulated public opinion by planting emails from employees. Industry Minister Banri Kaieda promised full cooperation from Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).
The panel announced this week that Kyushu Electric Power Company destroyed emails and other documents related to efforts to win public support for using mixed-oxide fuel at the Genkai plant in 2005.
Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) reported losses that exceeded 571 billion yen ($7.4 billion; €4.5 billion) for this quarter, due in part to compensation funds set aside for victims of the Fukushima disaster. The company has not released yearly forecasts. Total compensation could exceed $130 billion.
As a result, the company is now on the verge of financial collapse, although government assistance will allow it to avoid a bankruptcy declaration in the short-term.
State of the Reactors/Cooling Efforts
Fumiya Tanabe, a researcher said that a second meltdown probably occurred at the Fukushima Number 2 reactor in March, allowing fuel to leak into the reactor’s containment vessel and form a clump. Tanabe suggested that the second meltdown happened because not enough water was pumped into the reactor.
TEPCO is building a concrete and polyester cover for the Number 1 reactor, which will contain radiation and prevent rainwater from entering the building. They plan to complete it by the end of September.
TEPCO has begun using a circulatory cooling system, rather than water injection, to cool the spent fuel pool at Number 1. All four damaged reactors are now using circulatory systems for the first time since the earthquake damaged the plant in March.
The decontamination system again experienced difficulties this week, after problems with malfunctioning pumps. TEPCO announced that the system operated at 77% of its capacity between August 3 and August 9, the highest since it was installed. Overall the system is operating at only 66% of its intended capacity. The problems have led to concerns that TEPCO will not meet its cooling deadline.
The Japanese government will lift evacuation advisories for residents living in the 20-30 kilometer radius outside the Fukushima Daiichi plant, declaring the areas safe. Residents evacuated from areas within three kilometers of the plant will also be allowed back to their homes for a brief visit.
Contamination (including human exposure)
Greenpeace announced that excessive levels of caesium were discovered in fish caught 55 kilometers from the Daiichi plant in late July. Levels in one sample measured 1053 Bq/kg (the allowable limit is 500 Bq/kg). The remaining samples measured between 625 and 749 Bq/kg. Greenpeace delivered a petition to Prime Minister Kan, urging tougher monitoring of seafood and radiation labeling of foods.
The New York Times published an extensive expose showing that government officials intentionally withheld radiation dispersal data from SPEEDI (system for prediction of environmental energy dose information) immediately following the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, in an effort to avoid blame and criticism. As a result, residents of the town of Namie in Fukushima prefecture unknowingly evacuated straight into the heart of the radiation plume. Effects of their exposure may not be known for years.
The Japanese labour ministry is considering reducing the allowable limit for radiation exposure from 250 millisieverts per year to 100, the limit before the Fukushima disaster occurred.
The Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) admitted that it erased results of thyroid radiation tests on over 1,000 children, citing privacy claims and concerns that the children could be identified by the data. Children have a higher risk of developing thyroid cancer after radiation exposure.
The Japanese government will provide training for general contractors in managing nuclear radiation management, in order to prevent current workers at the Fukushima plant from being exposed to excessive levels of radiation.
The Environment Ministry is drafting a plan to deal with radioactive ash measuring more than 8,000 Bq/kg, and will decide on a policy by the end of August.
Agura Bokujo, a cattle farm with nation-wide franchises, has filed for bankruptcy claiming the Fukushima crisis for its financial troubles. The company’s debts were valued at 62 billion yen at the end of March, and it says that devalued beef market has contributed to its losses. It said it will seek compensation from TEPCO.
Other Nuclear News
Reactor Number 1 at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture was halted this week for regular safety inspections. Reactor Number 7 is scheduled to shut down for similar checks inspections at the end of August. However, the governor of Niiagata said he would not authorize a restart until the Fukushima crisis is resolved, even if the reactors pass all stress tests.