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
TEPCO, the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, has said that the highly radioactive water leaking into the basement of the reactor #3 building is likely to be coming from a hole in the reactor’s primary containment vessel. The leak was discovered by a robot sent in by workers as the radiation levels are still too high for humans to enter the building.
Video of leak can be seen here. According to Nuclear Engineering International:
A sample of the water showed contamination levels of 24,000 Bq/cm3 of all beta radiation, 1700 Bq/cm3 of caesium-137, 700 Bq/cm3 of caesium-134 and 25 Bq/cm3 of cobalt-60.
TEPCO is conducting investigations but is not able to say how long the leak has been happening and how much water has escaped.
Meanwhile, researchers from Tokyo Metropolitan University and High Energy Accelerator Research Organization have developed a way of taking images of the melted nuclear fuel inside the damaged Fukushima reactors using cosmic rays. The team successfully tested the system at the idle Tokai nuclear power plant. The system uses elementary particles called muons which change behavior when in contact with nuclear fuel. “The (cosmic ray) measurement system can be installed easily. We are ready to use it at the Fukushima No. 1 plant if Tepco cooperates,” Hidekazu Kakuno, an associate professor from TokyoMetropolitanUniversity.
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 27, 220 of the 1,533 fuel assembles have been transferred.
In October 2011 TEPCO began demanding its workers who had been evacuated because of the nuclear disaster suspend their claims for compensation, an investigation by Japan’s Mainichi Shimbun newspaper has found. The sheer number of applications from the other victims of the crisis was the reason given. In spring 2013 the newspaper discovered the company was demanding any compensation already paid to its workers be refunded. Workers who have been transferred by TEPCO to posts away from home or have left Fukushima are also being denied compensation. "If this life we're leading now isn't a refugee existence, then what is it?" said one employee.
Other Nuclear News inJapan
As expected, former Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa officially entered the race to become the next governor of Tokyo. He is running on an anti-nuclear power ticket and enjoys the endorsement of another former Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, who remains popular in Japan despite standing down in 2006. "I foolishly once believed the myth that nuclear energy is clean and safe. That myth has completely broken down. We need to turn around by 180 degrees the current energy-guzzling society dependent on nuclear power," said Mr Hosokawa, announcing his candidacy. The election takes place on February 9.
This has raised speculation as to what a victory for Mr Hosokawa might mean for the policies of the pro-nuclear national government led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Mr Hosokawa is calling for Japan to abandon nuclear power immediately while Mr Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is seeking to restart some of Japan’s 48 currently idle nuclear reactors.
However, Mr Abe may be coming under pressure from within his own party on the issue of nuclear power. A group of around 50 lawmakers from within his own LDP party has drawn up a proposal that the government change its energy policy to phase out nuclear power in Japan. "The plan should make clear that new commercial reactors should not be built...and that reactors that have operated for 40 years should be scrapped," said the group.
Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) is to begin safety screening at the Rokkasho spent nuclear fuel processing plant which its operator, Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited (JNFL), hopes to begin operation of in October. The NRA has asked JNFL to detail how it has prepared for accidents and disasters. The watchdog will also survey the geology the plant is built on. The Rokkasho plant will be the first of its kind in Japan.
The Japanese government reportedly looks set to bow to pressure from the US government to return over 300 kg of Cold War-era plutonium. The plutonium, said to be mainly weapons-grade and enough to make 40 to 50 nuclear weapons, was given to Japan for research. Japan has previously been reluctant to return the plutonium saying to was required for research into fast breeder reactors. The US is looking to assign an accord with Japan over the issue at the Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands this coming March.
Radiation Contamination, Including Human Exposure
Scientists from research bodies including Kyoto University and the Meteorological Research Institute have found that large amounts of radioactive cesium from the Fukushima reactors were washed into the Abukumagawa river in Fukushima Prefecture after a typhoon hit the region in September 2011. The research suggests that 6.2 trillion becquerels (TBq) of cesium - which was about 60 percent of the annual total – flowed into the sea through the river during the typhoon. Radioactive cesium from Fukushima is said to have covered 5,000 square kilometers. “Most of the cesium was attached to fine sediments in the river. It was not absorbed by living things, meaning the cesium is not significantly impacting marine life,” said KyotoUniversity professor Yosuke Yamashiki while advocating continued monitoring.
Radioactive Waste Disposal
Yukiei Matsumoto, the mayor of Naraha, a town close to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, has rejected plans to build a storage facility there for radioactive debris from the cleanup and decontamination operation. The government plans show waste would have radiation levels of over 100,000 becquerels per kilogram but Mr Matsumoto has requested the contamination be below this level. He has expressed concerns that building the storage facility in Naraha could discourage evacuated residents from returning. A public assembly is to be held to decide whether a public referendum should be held.
Evacuation and Repopulation Efforts
Nearly three years after the Fukushima crisis began, reports to the Japan Teachers Union’s national convention show that children from the region continue to suffer emotional distress and are displaying “abnormal behavior”. Children evacuated elsewhere have been the victims of bullying. They have been told "Go home to the nuclear zone" and called "dappokusha" – a term usually given to defectors from North Korea. "People have dark feelings about the nuclear plant, and in that kind of atmosphere they tend to direct their anger at those who used to live near the plant. The children are being influenced by that," said one teacher. "There are more and more children who can't seem to build human relationships. I'd say about half the kids in my class have issues that need to be dealt with as they grow up," said another.