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 announced yesterday that loss of power at approximately 7 pm JST led to the failure of cooling functions at the spent fuel pools of reactor #1, #3, and #4 (where 1,533 fuel assemblies are stored). In addition, cooling operations were halted at a joint fuel pool used to store 6,377 fuel assemblies. There have been no interruptions to cooling functions at the reactors themselves. Although power was restored after several hours, cooling functions are still disabled, and TEPCO has not been able to determine why. Workers are actively trying to address the issue and are prioritizing restoring power at reactor #4’s spent fuel pool. Currently, engineers suspect that a malfunctioning switchboard may be the root of the problem. The utility estimates that it will take four to five days before temperatures in the pools reach 65ºC and the situation become more dire as cooling water in the pools begins to evaporate. After the earthquake, tsunami, and hydrogen explosions that occurred in March 2011, TEPCO was forced to jerry rig cooling functions at the plant. Two years later, the company is still using that makeshift equipment. The incident highlights the precarious state of the Fukushima plant.
Other Nuclear Politics in Japan
A 15-person panel tasked with studying Japan’s long-term energy plans convened this week and emphasized nuclear power, despite recent polls that show that 70% of the country supports eventual eradication of all nuclear reactors. Toshimitsu Motegi, head of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), said, “The basic energy plan must clearly show the way toward obtaining a stable supply and lower costs.” He did not talk about the hazards of nuclear power, which have devastated the country in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which was in power until this past December, promised to abolish nuclear power by 2040. However, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which currently has control of the Lower House of the Diet, has said that it will restart nuclear reactors and take 10 years to determine the role of nuclear power. A third of the previous energy panel was anti-nuclear; now, only two members are.
Two years after the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant first began to unfold, peaceful anti-nuclear protests in Japan continue. On Friday, the Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes (MCAN) hosted its forty-sixth weekly rally against nuclear power. Although the rallies no longer attract the more than 100,000 people who attended this summer, hundreds still attend each week—significant in a country where protest against government policies has traditionally been taboo. MCAN is also now distributing a newsletter and flyers that highlight the dangers of nuclear power. One protester said, “Previously, politicians may have thought that whatever they do, the people will not complain about it. But now we have been able to make them recognize that the people will not be silent anymore.”
Meanwhile, Toshimitsu Motegi, head of METI, which promotes nuclear power in Japan, said that the government plans to file suit against anti-nuclear protesters who have been living in tents in front of the Ministry building in an effort to force them to leave.
A survey of 135 municipalities in 21 prefectures shows that only 29 were able to meet the government’s deadline of March 18 for submitting revised evacuation and emergency preparedness plans in case of nuclear crisis. Before the Fukushima disaster, government guidelines only required those living within 8 to 10 km of a nuclear plant to evacuate in an emergency. However, post-Fukushima, residents living within 30 km of a nuclear reactor are required to evacuate, significantly complicating evacuation and emergency preparedness plans. The Disaster Countermeasures Basic Law requires officials to find secondary locations to which to send residents in case of emergency, identify transportation for all residents, provide food and supplies, measure contamination levels, and diagnose and treat radiation-related illnesses. In Ibaraki Prefecture, officials still have not determined locations to which 940,000 residents will evacuate, and said they will not be able to complete evacuation plans in the near future. If a nuclear disaster were to strike the Tokai plant there, people would have no pre-assigned place to go. Many officials have complained that the government has not provided enough guidance and that it released its requirements only last last month, making drawing up plans difficult.
Victims of the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster testified before a hearing of Japan’s Upper House of Parliament last week, in an effort to highlight the increased need for government support of those who were forced to evacuate their homes and livelihoods in the wake of the nuclear crisis. The hearing was arranged by a bi-partisan group of lawmakers, as well as activists. One victim lamented, “The government did not defend us.” Another noted the difficulties faced by those who voluntarily evacuated, motivated by fears of radiation contamination, but were subsequently eligible for fewer compensation benefits. “They are questioning and agonizing over their decisions [to leave], which they reached after giving it a lot of thought. The [mandatory evacuation] borderline drawn by the government is deepening a divide.” Tomoko Furuyama, who spoke at the hearing, agreed: “Measures should be taken on the basis of actual radiation levels and real life circumstances.”
TEPCO said this week that it plans to invest 70 billion yen into its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture, despite the fact that that utility was effectively nationalized last year in order to prevent it from going under. The Fukushima nuclear disaster is expected to cost up to $250 billion, including compensation due to victims, cleanup of contaminated areas, and decommissioning of the crippled reactors, a process expected to take at least 40 years. The NRA has said that fault lines beneath the plant may be active, raising questions about whether or not TEPCO even will be given permission to restart the reactors there. However, restarting the plant is a major element of TEPCO’s plan to regain solvency.
Contamination, Including Human Exposure
Researchers from the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology report that two years after the onset of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, cesium levels in seawater off the coast of the Fukushima power plant remain far above legal limits, measuring 100 Bq/liter. Although TEPCO continues to insist that no radioactivity has leaked into the ocean from the plant since June 2011, researchers estimate that since that date, approximately 16.1 trillion becquerels of cesium-137, which has a half-life of 30 years, have flooded into the sea, contaminating marine and plant life there. The scientists said that damaged pipes or leaking groundwater might be the cause of the increased radioactivity. TEPCO said that it is continuing to investigate the problem. (Source: NHK)
TEPCO announced that a highly radioactive greenling, caught in the ocean port at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, contained the most radioactive cesium ever recorded by the utility. The fish contained 740,000 Bq/kg, which is 7,400 times the government’s legal limit for seafood. Although the nuclear disaster first began to unfold over two years ago, oceanic radiation levels near the plant remain high, and fish caught there lately have contained astronomical levels of cesium.