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
A new leak of contaminated water has been found at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Officials for TEPCO, the plant's operator, say the water is leaking from a 30-centimeter opening on the first floor of the reactor #3 building and into the basement. "The leaked water is highly likely to have come from the water that was already used to cool fuel rods, and not from leaked rainwater or cooling water (on its way to the reactor)," a TEPCO official said. The company used a robot to take a water sample as radiation levels are too high inside the building for humans. The sample measured 2.4 million Becquerels per liter of radioactive cesium and 24 million Becquerels per liter for beta-ray emitting substances including strontium. Strontium accumulates in human bones and has been linked to cancer. When the leak began and how much water has leaked is currently unknown.
Meanwhile, the work continues to remove nuclear fuel from the storage pool in the unstable reactor #4 building and place it in a more secure location. As of January 20, 198 of the 1,533 fuel assembles have been transferred.
TEPCO president Naomi Hirose announced this week that his company plans to spend 2.67 trillion yen in an attempt to rebuild its fortunes. "For the sake of Fukushima's reconstruction, we have to seek growth. To fulfill our responsibilities in Fukushima, we will need a lot of money and are being granted a goodly amount of the government's money. We have to repay it by improving corporate value," he said. To boost the company's growth, it is looking to invest in shale gas projects, "upstream energy projects and overseas electricity businesses", as well as restarting the reactors at its currently idle Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant.
Mr Hirose also said that although he opposed the idea, setting up a separate entity to deal with the Fukushima clean up could and would be contingent on a successful decommissioning process - if worker shortages and working conditions improved. "Paying compensation (to evacuees), decontamination, and the work at the Fukushima plant; there is a lot of work to be done ... We have to continue doing this, while maintaining the workers' safety, their sense of responsibility, duty and keeping up their morale," he said.
Other Nuclear News in Japan
Former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa is to pledge to set out plans for a phase out of nuclear power in Japan by 2020 in his bid to become governor of Tokyo in the forthcoming election according to reports. "By making 2020 his target year, he will change Tokyo and Japan, with the focus on a complete end to nuclear energy. Japan will never be able to restart nuclear reactors. No restart of reactors means 'zero' nuclear power generation." said Shusei Tanaka, Mr Hosowaka's former special adviser. Mr Hosowaka, who has the support of another former prime minister, the still-popular Junichiro Koizumi, said: "Japan has faced many problems, and the issue of nuclear power generation leads to the fate of this country." Yet another former prime minister, Naoto Kan, who was in office at the time of the catastrophic March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, calls Mr Hosowaka "a nightmare for the [ruling] Liberal Democratic Party."
Elsewhere, anti-nuclear sentiment was a factor in the re-election of Katsunobu Sakurai, the mayor of Minamisoma in Fukushima prefecture. ''I am aspiring to realize a nuclear-free society and build a Minamisoma that we can boast about to the world,'' said Mr Sakurai on the news of his victory. His actions in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster saw him named one of TIME magazine's 100 most influential people in 2011.
Meanwhile, nearly one third of Japan's local assemblies have called for an end to nuclear power in the country. Statements from 455 assemblies have been submitted to the country's parliament. As well as calling for the abolition of nuclear, the statements also call for the wider adoption of renewable energy technologies. The Kochi municipal assembly called for a "review of dependence on nuclear power plants whose safety is not established," the Kunitachi municipal assembly for a "switch to a society not relying on nuclear power," and the Fukaya municipal assembly for an "immediate halt to nuclear power generation." Such statements are expressions of opinion submitted to the Diet but are not legally binding.
Japan's Industry minister Toshimitsu Motegi has denied that consumers will see electricity rates rise if TEPCO is unsuccessful in restarting idle reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant. "TEPCO has said it will make every effort (before seeking electricity rate hikes), such as cost-cutting, if the resumption of the plant falls behind schedule," he said. TEPCO is hoping to receive permission from the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) to restart the reactors in July this year.
Meanwhile, NRA investigators are reinvestigating the Tsuruga nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture after the watchdog found last May that one of the plant's reactors is sitting on an active fault and therefore unlikely to ever be restarted. In July last year, Japan Atomic Power, the plant's operator, issued a report last July saying the reactor is not built on a fault.
Radiation Contamination, Including Human Exposure
The Fukushima Prefecture Dental Association along with other dental associations across Japan is to begin a large-scale study into whether the radioactive isotope strontium-90 has accumulated in children's teeth in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. As stated above, strontium accumulates in human bones and has been linked to cancer. To begin with, children's teeth with be tested for radioactive cesium and other isotopes with tests for strontium conducted if these readings are found to be high. The study hopes to examine the teeth of 1,000-2,000 children in the next financial year. "We'd like to provide a source of relief by disclosing the research data," said Hitoshi Unno, executive director of the dental association. "Based on past radiation data, any detected amount would be extremely small. If that is proved by the research, people will feel relief. I want the researchers to take the time to explain the results to the children whose teeth will be examined," said Professor Noboru Takamura, a radiation specialist at Nagasaki University.
Radioactive Waste Disposal
Senior Vice Minister Shinji Inoue from Japan's Environment Ministry has visited three municipalities being considered as storage sites for radioactive debris from the Fukushima cleanup operation to ask their permission to begin geological surveys. The mayors of two of the municipalities, Kami and Kurihara, have expressed concerns about the selection process. Kami's mayor, Hirobumi Inomata says 1 million tourists visit a mountain nearby despite the ministry saying tourist attractions visited by more than 500,000 a year should be exempt for storing radioactive waste. Mayor of Kurihara City, Isamu Sato, said water flowing from a site there may run into a reservoir. (Source: NHK)