Here’s the latest of our news bulletins from the ongoing crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
TEPCO has released a 352-page final report on the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Although it admits that it inadequately prepared for the tsunami and subsequent power loss that occurred after last year’s earthquake, the company insists that there was no way it could have predicted the tsunami. Saying that the event was “beyond our expectations,” Masao Yamazaki Executive Vice President of TEPCO declared, “All who were related to the nuclear plant could not predict an occurrence of the event that was far beyond our expectation.” This comes less than a week after new documents surfaced, which reveal that in 2006, TEPCO employees studied the effect of a 13.5-meter tsunami at the Fukushima Daiichi plant and determined that all power at the plant would be lost should a such a large tsunami strike the coast there. Staff estimated that making upgrades to prevent power loss would cost $25 million. TEPCO never addressed the issue. In 2008, the company again studied the effects of a 10-meter tsunami, but made no upgrades.
TEPCO also blames the government for many of the problems that ensued, saying that communication issues and the Prime Minister’s micromanagement exacerbated issues at the plant. The report was issued in spite of the fact that the utility is still unable to determine the state of the reactors or assess the damage to them, and has not been able to determine how much contamination was released into the air, land, and sea.
Public response to the report was swift and negative. Yoshihiro Koyama, who heads the Nuclear Safety Measures Division of Fukushima Prefecture said, “We still don’t know what happened in the cores of the #1, #2, and #3 reactors, among other unclear information. TEPCO should continue to try and explain all facts related to the crisis, and the government’s disaster committee should do a deep investigation of the incident.” The Mayor of Namie, Tamotsu Baba, said that the report not only avoids responsibility, but also contains outright lies and fabrications. For instance, although it states that TEPCO employees visited Namie on March 13, 2011, in actuality, no one from the utility visited the town until late March. “This report is not just sloppy in content—it contains falsified information,” he said. A resident of nearby Tomioka agreed: “Despite being a final report, I feel somewhat that TEPCO is still hiding many things. It’s crystal clear that the company tries to play innocent and escape responsibility.”
State of Nuclear Politics in Japan
Hirofumi Hirano, head of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT), is defending his Ministry’s failure to disclose up-to-the minute radiation data provided by the United States in the days immediately following the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Hirano said that MEXT was only responsible for measuring radioactivity on land, but said that he will investigate the issue.
Meanwhile, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), which also received emails containing the US radiation data, apologized for its own failure to publicize it or even forward it to the Prime Minister’s Office. Thousands of residents, including children, evacuated from their homes and moved into areas with even higher radiation levels because they had no information about which areas were the most contaminated.
Japan’s Diet has approved the creation of a new Nuclear Regulatory Commission, an independent, five-person panel. The new entity will replace NISA, which had been accused of conflicts of interest because it operates under the umbrella of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), which actually promotes nuclear power.
In addition, it also says that nuclear power should “contribute to Japan’s national security.” Critics of the law say that the wording could be misinterpreted as a move toward armament, which would be a direct contradiction of the 1955 law prohibiting nuclear weapons in Japan.
Nine industry groups, including the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, the Japan Iron and Steel Federation, and the Japan Paper Association have submitted a document to METI, demanding that Japan reduce its reliance on nuclear power.
NISA has warned Chugoku Electric that new information shows its Shimane power plant is at risk for a larger earthquake than that for which the facility was designed to withstand. The Shimane reactors sit on three active faults stretching over 51 km; scientists say that if they move in unison, a massive earthquake will occur.
The Japanese Government has released its annual white paper on science and technology. The paper asserts that the Japanese public lost faith in scientists after they failed to predict last year’s massive earthquake and tsunami, as well as adequately advise the nation on the spread of radiation.
Restart of the Oi Reactors
NISA officials announced on Tuesday that an alarm sounded at reactor #3 at Kansai Electric’s Oi power plant, signaling low water levels in a power generator cooling tank. The public announcement did not come until more than half a day after the incident occurred, generating significant concern about public safety and criticism of KEPCO’s failure to keep the public informed. NHK public television reported that water levels were 5 cm lower than usual; in addition, unusual condensation was found on pipes. However, Kansai insisted that there was not a leak. NISA officials apologized for the delay in notifying the public. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda recently ordered that the Oi reactors be restarted, a move that was not well received by the public, who overwhelmingly expressed concern about the restarts. Thousands of people protested the move over the last few weeks. Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe submitted 7.4 million signatures to the Noda administration, demanding that nuclear power be abolished in Japan. NISA said it will improve its public relations efforts for future problems with the plant, and will now station round the clock inspectors there.
In the wake of Prime Minister Noda’s restart of the Oi reactors, experts are raising concerns about inadequate evacuation and contingency plans in the event of a nuclear disaster. For instance, they point out that if a meltdown were to occur at the Oi plant, the only means of evacuation for local residents is a single, winding road that is often closed down due to snow and ice during the winter. Since the government extended evacuation zones around reactors from 10 to 30 km, 135 towns are now required to submit emergency crisis plans, but few have completed them. Many local officials say they are waiting for government guidelines to do so, but so far, no central plans have been completed. A crisis manager from Shiga Prefecture said, “If another crisis hits now, we can’t do anything but flee. We feel so insecure.”
State of the Fukushima Reactors
Nuclear Crisis Minister Goshi Honoso announced this week that efforts to remove 1,535 spent fuel rods from the spent fuel pool at Fukushima Daiichi’s reactor #4 might be completed approximately a year ahead of schedule. The decision is a direct response to criticism, much of it coming from international sources, that the fuel pool, which was severely damaged in last year’s hydrogen explosions following the earthquake and tsunami, is unstable and at risk of a massive meltdown in the case of another massive quake.
For the first time since last year’s nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, fishermen from the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations will resume shipments of two types of octopus, and one type of shellfish. The announcement came after testing earlier this month showed no detectable levels of radiation in that seafood.
Other Nuclear News
Explosives were discovered at the Ringhals plant in Sweden yesterday, once again raising concerns that nuclear power plants are at risk of attack.
Officials from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced this week that steam generator tubes that are showing unusual amounts of wear at Southern California Edison’s (SCE) San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) are a result of faulty computer modeling by the tubes’ manufacturer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. However, the NRC stressed that ultimately, responsibility lies with SCE, and that no date has been set for the plant’s reopening. SONGS has been shut down for four months. “This is a significant, serious safety issue…this is a very difficult technical issue, and to be honest, it’s not one we’ve seen before,” noted Elmo Collins, NRC Regional Administrator.
This week, environmental group Friends of the Earth filed a petition with the NRC, charging SCE with failure to inform the NRC of design changes that resulted in the issues with the tubes. Friends of the Earth demanded that the plant not be reopened until it an official license amendment, including a public hearing.