Here’s the latest of our news bulletins from the ongoing crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
State of the Fukushima Reactors
Japan’s nuclear watchdog, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has asked TEPCO, the operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to address rising radiation levels at the plant’s boundaries. Radiation levels of 8 millisieverts per year were found in December in a southern area of the site close to storage tanks containing highly radioactive water. In fact, the tanks are generating X-rays which have contributed to the jump in radiation levels from the limit of 1 millisieverts per year to 8 millisieverts per year. TEPCO officials told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, “Beta rays released from radioactive strontium and other substances in the water reacted with iron and other elements in the storage tank containers to generate the X-rays.” Strontium accumulates in human bones and has been linked to cancer. NRA officials say TEPCO should set a timeline for bringing radiation levels back within limits.
In a sign that the Japanese government is moving to take more control of the situation at Fukushima, the industry ministry has announced that it is creating a new decommissioning team and putting it inside the government body responsible for compensating the victims of disaster, the Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund (NDLFF). “I was surprised when I heard (about it) from an official of the industry ministry’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy at the end of last year. Compensation and decommissioning are two different worlds,” said Hajimu Yamana, who it is expected will lead this new team. “A positive development is that (the new division) will be able to hire decommissioning experts and supervise TEPCO’s work,” he added. The new body will oversee TEPCO’s decommissioning work on the Fukushima reactors as well as the ongoing contaminated water crisis and decontamination of areas affected by radiation.
This comes with the news that the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning, which supports the government with decommissioning the Fukushima reactors, is to consult three foreign experts on the process. One of the experts will be Luis Echavarri, the Director-General of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's Nuclear Energy Agency. Currently, work to remove melted nuclear fuel from the reactors at Fukushima is expected to start in 2020.
Other Nuclear News in Japan
Commenting on the upcoming vote to elect Tokyo’s governor, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said he does not want nuclear issues to unbalance any debates to be had. Former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa is running for the governorship and is seen by some as seeking to join with another former Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi (who has recently been vocal on the need for the country to end its reliance on nuclear power) and call for a nuclear-free Japan.
Radiation Contamination, Including Human Exposure
A black sea bream caught in waters near the Fukushima Daiichi plant has been found to be contaminated with 12,400 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium. This is 124 times the government’s safety standard for food. The Fisheries Research Agency said the fish was caught on November 17, 37 kilometers south of the plant. Two other fish measured 426 becquerels and 197 becquerels. The agency is now studying the fish.
Evacuation and Repopulation Efforts
The evacuation order for Tamura in Fukushima Prefecture may be lifted in April. This would be the first such order to be lifted since the Fukushima disaster began in March 2011. Residents have called for the order to be lifted at the same time as schools reopen. Families with children are asking for more decontamination work to be carried out, however. When they visited Tamura in October last year, Greenpeace radiation experts found bags of radioactive waste overgrown by plants and next to a kindergarten.
The New York Times has interviewed Masami Yoshizawa, a rancher whose cattle farm sits in the evacuation zone for the town of Namie in Fukushima Prefecture. Mr Yoshizawa returned to his ranch to tend his herd after the government ordered contaminated livestock slaughtered. “These cows are living testimony to the human folly here in Fukushima. The government wants to kill them because it wants to erase what happened here, and lure Japan back to its pre-accident nuclear status quo. I am not going to let them,” he said. He now looks after 360 cows including those abandoned by other ranchers and still searches the evacuation zone for other surviving cattle.