Here’s the latest of our news bulletins from the ongoing crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
State of Nuclear Politics in Japan
Questions remain regarding Japan’s nuclear energy policy, as the government tries to determine how much nuclear power the country should use by 2030: 0%, 15%, or 20-25%. A vast majority of the public wants nuclear power completely eradicated by 2030, while the business community of lobbying Prime Minister Noda hard to embrace at least 15% power. In response to the rising pressure from both sides, Yukio Edano, head of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), said this week that the government will no longer look at 2030 as the target year. The final decision was originally supposed to be announced at the end of this month, but analysts now expect the decision to be delayed, possibly to the end of the year.
In the meantime, the government said it will appoint experts to sift through feedback from over 80,000 people responding to the energy policy question. The government has never clarified how it will use public opinion on the matter. A survey conducted this week shows that over 62% of people polled oppose nuclear power and believe that Japan should abandon it. A participant in another private sector poll asked, “We’ve been able to tide over this summer so far with only two nuclear reactors in operation. Who would suffer if Japan had no nuclear power?”
Organizers hoping to force a referendum on whether or not to restart Chubu Electric’s Hamaoka nuclear power plant in Shizuoka Prefecture now have far more signatures than they need. Shizuoka Governor Heia Kawakatsu is expected to submit an ordinance to the prefectural assembly soon, calling for the referendum.
Tens of thousands of protesters gathered once again at Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s official residence on Friday, voicing their opposition to nuclear power and demanding that nominees to the newly-created Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), several of whom have ties to the nuclear industry, be withdrawn. Protest organizers, the Metropolitan Coalition of Nukes, estimated attendance at the rally at 90,000; police did not release an official estimate. Nearby, additional protesters formed a human chain around the Environment Ministry, also protesting nominees to the NRC.
Japanese seismic experts under the direction of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) are calling for new studies of fault lines beneath the Monju, Mihama, and Takahama nuclear power plants, all in Fukui Prefecture. The Hamaoka Plant in Shizuoka Prefecture and Shimane plant in Shimane Prefecture are also being investigated. Japanese law prohibits building nuclear plants over active faults, and recent data have raised questions about whether the faults beneath those plants—previously declared inactive by both plant operators and the government—need to be reassessed. In addition, some experts are calling for additional studies at the Oi plant, where seismic surveys are already being conducted. In spite of the safety concerns about the Oi reactors, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda ordered them restarted in July. If active faults are found beneath any reactors, they could be shut down permanently and decommissioned. (Source: NHK)
Family members of people who died as a result of last year’s tsunami have filed suit against TEPCO, charging that the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant caused delays of a month or more in search and rescue missions. The group of 164 complainants is suing for 10 million yen for each deceased person.
Details about the days immediately following last year’s nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant continue to unfold as members of the media sift through over 150 hours of videotape from teleconferences conducted between TEPCO’s central offices in Tokyo and the plant’s emergency headquarters. In new footage, high-ranking utility officials are shown balking at then-plant manager Masao Yoshida’s request to inject seawater into the #2 reactor in an effort to cool it, instead expressing concern that the salt water would permanently damage the reactor. In spite of Yoshida’s insistence that there was no time to use only fresh water, an unidentified TEPCO official asks, “I think using seawater in a hasty way would be wasteful because materials will be corroded. Can we agree that we have the option of waiting as long as possible in order to use fresh water?” When Yoshida repeats that there is no more time, another TEPCO executive yells, “What a waste.” The #2 reactor eventually experienced a full nuclear meltdown. In its own final written assessment of the disaster, published in June, TEPCO vehemently denied any hesitation in dealing with the crisis head-on. But their own videotapes clearly contradict that statement.
The TEPCO-provided video fails to definitely determine whether or not TEPCO planned to evacuate its workers from the Fukushima plant. TEPCO has long insisted that it never intended to do so, but former Prime Minister Naoto Kan and other government officials say otherwise.
In another segment of the videotapes, Kan is shown chastising TEPCO officials for the way they are handling the crisis. TEPCO insists that all audio for the segment has been lost, an assertion that Kan said he doubts. “It’s so unnatural. TEPCO says there is no sound, but they have said all kinds of things about my visit there [and the things I said], which makes it even more suspicious. The sound must be somewhere,” he said.
In an interview conducted this week in Tokyo, former Fukushima Daiichi plant chief Masao Yoshida spoke out for the first time since last year’s nuclear disaster. Yoshida hailed the workers who stayed at the crippled plant to deal with the unfolding disaster, and said he never asked TEPCO executives to evacuate the facility. “The only thing on my mind was how to stabilize the power station. I did not suggest to the head office withdrawing from the plant, nor did I even think about it,” Yoshida said. He said the experience was horrific. “It was like hell,” he remembered, saying that he knew “something catastrophic might happen. Myself and all the staff at the Seismic-Isolated Building might have died…The staff went to work although they had reached their physical limits due to lack of sleep and food. The plant has recovered to its current state thanks to them.” Yoshida said he believes they are like saints.
Worker safety at the Fukushima Daiichi plant is in the news again this week, as yet another worker said he “forgot” to wear a dosimeter for 90 minutes while working in a radioactive area of the compound. The worker was a subcontractor for Toden Kogyo Co., a subsidiary of TEPCO. Analysts estimate that he received .03 millisieverts of radiation, based on dosimeter readings of staff working in a nearby area. Just last week, another subcontractor working for a different TEPCO subsidiary also said he “forgot” his dosimeter while working in a highly radioactive area. Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare is now investigating worker safety issues after NISA released a report last week admitting that there are no official procedures in place to ensure that workers wear dosimeters and that readings are accurately recorded.
A psychological consultant, Hideki Yabuhara, notes that the mental health of those workers still fighting to bring the plant under control is, in many cases, declining. Stress levels are high, he said, and workers have had to deal with hardships ranging from poor sleeping conditions in temporary housing to being forced to cancel their own wedding celebrations.
Contamination, Including Human Exposure
A new study released by the journal Scientific Reports reveals physiological and genetic damage to Japanese butterflies, as well as premature death rates, and those abnormalities become even more common in future generations of butterflies, even when healthy butterflies mated with those exposed to radiation. “We conclude that artificial radionuclides from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant caused physiological and genetic damage” to the butterflies, the report reads.
Seventeen months after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, residents from Nahara in Fukushima Prefecture are finally being allowed to return to their homes in limited capacity, although they are still forbidden from staying there overnight. However, some residents are protesting the government’s decision to lift the no-entry ban, expressing concern about the wellbeing of their children in an environment where radiation levels remain high. (Source: NHK)