(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
Japanese politicians are asking whether the country’s power companies are downplaying their ability to generate thermal power in an effort to bolster public support for nuclear power. Kan has ordered the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) to review the nation’s power supply.
For the first time, the Mayor of Nagasaki City will encourage Japan to explore renewable energy sources and shift away from nuclear power during his annual peace declaration on August 9, the 65th anniversary of atomic bombing of Nagasaki.
Effects on Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)
TEPCO has purchased $54 billion USD in natural gas from Chevron, underscoring Japan’s need for alternative fuel sources.
State of the Reactors/Cooling Efforts
In a continued effort to deal with contaminated water, TEPCO sent workers into the Number 3 reactor after a robot showed damage to pipes and valves. Radiation levels are still high (up to75 milisieverts per hour) so workers will only be there for a limited time.
Reuters is reporting that even before the March 2011 explosions, the Fukushima Daiichi plant was rated as one of the top five most dangerous in the world, based on rates of worker radiation exposure. Cost-containment of nuclear energy was achieved, in part, by sacrificing safety.
Contamination (including human exposure)
A document created in April by METI estimates that approximately 1,600 workers have been exposed to 50 or more milisieverts of radiation as a result of the Fukushima crisis. It noted that workers should not be exposed to more than 100 milisieverts in a 5-year period, but also observed ‘it will be difficult to secure the safety of other nuclear power plants unless those who have been exposed to more than 50 milisieverts of radiation continue to engage in radiation work.’
In a study of 10 nuclear power workers who had developed cancer and received workers’ compensation, nine had been exposed to less than 100 milisieverts of radiation. The study, while small, is significant because a number of workers at Fukushima Daiichi have been exposed to more than 250 milisieverts.
The study also revealed that some records on the amount of radiation to which workers had been exposed, as well as participation in radiation safety training, had been falsified.
Currently, workers’ compensation only applies to leukaemia; for other kinds of cancer, decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.
The government has now banned all shipments of beef from Miyagi Prefecture, after contaminated cattle were discovered there.
Meanwhile, 11 prefectures will test all cattle for exposure to caesium, an initiative that’s expected to cost 4 billion yen. Eight other prefectures are considering similar testing. Initially, farmers and local government will pay the testing costs, but Miyagi prefecture plans to seek compensation from TEPCO. Yamagata and Togichi are also expected to seek damages. Concerns have risen about the amount of time it takes to test each cow (3 to 4 hours) and lack of testing equipment.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano announced that the Japanese government may pay for inspections of beef in those prefectures that choose to voluntarily check their entire beef supply.
A teacher in Fukushima City resigned after being told by school officials to avoid telling students to wear masks and long-sleeved clothing or to educate them about the effects of radiation. The school says it was trying not to alarm the children.
A bill to compensate people and businesses affected by the Fukushima crisis with government funds has passed the Japanese House of Representatives. It’s expected to pass the House of Councillors next week.
Other Nuclear News
Turkey has warned that it may buy from other countries if Japan does not clarify its position on exporting nuclear technologies.
Meanwhile, TEPCO has withdrawn from Japan’s bid to build nuclear reactors in Turkey and instead focus on victim compensation from the Fukushima crisis. In spite of this, TEPCO is still planning to export nuclear technologies toVietnam.
Researchers have created a new form of hole-filled silica, which will bind to the radioactive substances radioiodine and strontium in contaminated water. Unlike those materials currently being used, this form of silica does not bind to chlorine, magnesium, and calcium (found in seawater) making it much more absorbent.
The Fukushima crisis is taking a toll on AREVA, as power companies are cancelling orders. First quarter profits for the company fell and operating profits are down by 70%.
In a speech at the UN Conference on Disarmament Issues, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano announced that IAEA will take a “lead role” in nuclear safety, but said that nuclear power will “continue to grow in the coming decades.”
Kansai Electric has downgraded earning forecasts for this fiscal year, because of the suspension of its reactors due to safety inspections.
Chubu Electric admitted that they have been unable to remove a nuclear fuel rod damaged 17 years ago, and it is still being stored at the Hamaoka plant in reactor number 1, which has been decommissioned.
Chubu Electric Power Company also says the government's nuclear agency attempted to deceive a public forum on nuclear power in 2007:
Chubu Electric Power Company says the government's nuclear agency asked it to make sure that questions in favor of nuclear power be asked at a government-sponsored symposium in 2007.
In a report submitted to the government on Friday, the utility said the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency requested that it gather participants and have local residents pose prearranged questions at the forum held in Shizuoka Prefecture, central Japan.
The utility said it refused NISA's request to arrange the questions, citing difficulties with ensuring compliance. But senior officials of the Hamaoka nuclear power plant sent e-mails to employees and visited affiliate companies in an effort to comply with the request.
The revelation comes after Kyushu Electric Power Company came under fire for submitting fake e-mails in support of a restart of idled nuclear reactors in a government-sponsored meeting for local residents in June.
Following the scandal, the industry ministry ordered the 6 Electric Power Companies to conduct an internal investigation of its activities aimed at winning local support for nuclear power.