(This post is by Christine McCann)
Here’s the latest of our news bulletins from the ongoing crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
State of Nuclear Politics in Japan
A new poll by public television station NHK shows that 66% of Japanese people think that nuclear plants should be shut down or reduced. Eighty-six percent said that they are very concerned about another nuclear disaster, or worried to some extent.
Debate about whether to restart nuclear reactors at Chubu Electric’s Hamaoka plant or shut them down has led to heated debate between two cities in Shizuoka Prefecture, where the plant is located. The area is widely considered to be at high risk for a so-called Tokai earthquake, which seismologists estimate could top magnitude 8.0. The Makinihara city assembly has passed a resolution to close the plant permanently, fearing a nuclear catastrophe. Meanwhile, the Mayor of nearby Omaezaki is pushing for the reactor’s restart. Omaezaki depends on nuclear subsidies for a large amount of its revenue; Makinahara, on the other hand, receives only 1% of its budget from nuclear-related funds.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week at the G-20 Summit in Cannes, where the two discussed Japanese collaboration in building a nuclear power plant in Turkey, in spite of this year’s catastrophe at the Fukushima plant. The Japanese people have expressed concern about selling nuclear technology in light of the disaster.
Eight nuclear power companies in Japan, including Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), Hokkaido Power Company, and Tohoku Electric admitted that they have been the targets of recent cyber attacks. All said that no data was leaked from their data systems. However, the attacks are raising concern about vulnerability to terrorist attacks.
TEPCO estimates that net losses through fiscal 2011 will top $7.7 billion (600 billion yen) as a result of ongoing expenses from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis. In addition, the company expects to book $13 billion in compensation payments due to victims of the disaster. This week, Yukio Edano, head of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) announced that Japan approved and injection of $11.5 billion in taxpayer funds toward the compensation fund. In return, TEPCO is expected to cut costs by $32 billion over the next 10 years.
However, financial experts say that TEPCO’s so-called “special business plan” lacks detail about how the utility will reduce expenditures, as well as specific timelines, raising questions about whether or not the plan is even viable.
A group of 30 TEPCO shareholders plan to file a class-action lawsuit against the utility’s current and former management for over $14 billion. The potential plaintiffs say that management failed to adequately protect the Fukushima Daiichi plant from the March earthquake and subsequent tsunami, and are seeking record-breaking damages.
State of the Reactors
The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) said it agrees with TEPCO that last week’s discovery of xenon-135 in Reactor 2 indicated spontaneous fission rather than sustained fission, which could have led to criticality. The agency based its assessment on the fact that injecting boric acid had no effect on the density of xenon in the reactor. However, experts have raised concern about TEPCO’s ability to accurately assess the state of the reactors after the utility initially announced that criticality might be taking place. Because radiation levels remain dangerously high, workers have been unable to install monitoring equipment to appraise the current conditions inside the reactors. Instead, the company is relying on computer simulations based on temperature and pressure levels.
TEPCO workers discovered radiation measured 620 millisieverts per hour in Reactor 3 of the Fukushima Daiichi plant this week — the highest levels measured since the March disaster occurred. The World Nuclear Association recommends that workers avoid short-term exposure greater than 500 millisieverts per hour, and then only in life-saving situations.
TEPCO has begun to remove radioactive cesium from the spent fuel pool at Reactor 2, in preparation for desalination efforts. Experts are concerned that the salinated water in the pool, which was used to cool fuel there immediately after the March disaster, may corrode pipes and walls, creating small holes and allowing highly contaminated water to leak.
Contamination (Includes Human Exposure and Food Testing)
Eight months after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Tokyo officials said they will begin testing of 500 fresh and processed food products this week, concentrating on those frequently consumed by children. Monitoring will continue through the end of the year. Approximately 20-30 items will be evaluated each week with handheld Geiger counters. Results will be posted on the local government website. Virtually no processed foods have been inspected for radiation until now.
Tokyo officials have admitted that approximately 800 people were served radioactive cesium-tainted shiitake mushrooms harvested in Yokohama City during both March and October of this year. Yokohama City is approximately 250 km from the site of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Contamination levels from those picked in March were 2,770 Bq/kg; those gathered in October measured 955 Bq/kg. The government limit is 500 Bq/kg.
Japan’s Environment Ministry announced it will conduct detailed radiation mapping of 3,000 locations in Fukushima Prefecture in order to determine which areas are most in need of decontamination. Unmanned helicopters and cars will take measurements approximately every 100 meters in areas within 20 km of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, as well as those with radiation levels higher than 20 millisieverts per year. An interim report will be released in December.
Power Company Corruption
Records show that power companies are responsible for over 50 billion yen in anonymous donations made to towns in Fukui Prefecture, which hosts 15 nuclear reactors, the most in Japan. Up until now, municipal officials refused to reveal the source of the funding. Anonymous gifts attributed to utilities began in 1992 and continued to pour in even after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. This money is in addition to 324.5 billion yen in grant money that the Japanese government has distributed to municipalities since 1974.
Other Nuclear News
The former President of India, Abdul Kalam, is insisting that a planned nuclear plant poses no danger, at the same time that local villagers, who fear a disaster similar to that of Fukushima, continue to protest. Meanwhile, the former governor of West Bengal, Gopal Krishna Gandhi, has taken the opposite view, expressing concerns about safety. Gandhi, who is the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, expressed concern about seismic dangers and terrorist attacks, warning that there have been over 20 earthquakes in India over the last six weeks.