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

Photographs released this week have confirmed what has long been suspected - highly contaminated water is leaking from the containment vessel of reactor #1 at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. This is the first time leaks from any of the three damaged reactors have been confirmed. Two leaks were found by a remote-controlled boat equipped with a camera. "Part of the containment vessel is damaged, and water leaking from there is likely to be flowing down into the ground via the pipe," said a TEPCO official. The radiation in the area where the leaks are is dangerously high, currently measuring between 0.9 to 1.8 sieverts per hourVisiting professor at Hosei University, Hiroshi Miyano, said the amount of water escaping from the reactor suggests heavy damage to the reactor.

Meanwhile, yet another new record level of radioactivity was found at the Fukushima Daiichi plant this week. Beta ray sources measuring 710,000 Becquerels per liter were found in an observation well. Record levels were recorded four days in a row. The sources include strontium which accumulates in human bones and has been linked to cancer. Fukushima's operator TEPCO could not confirm whether the source of the radioactivity is a new leak. The well is 15 meters from a now demolished storage tank that leaked 300 tons of contaminated water in August.

TEPCO has said that it will build a new drainage ditch at the Fukushima plant as part of an attempt to prevent contaminated water from reaching the Pacific Ocean if there is a storage tank spill. The new channel will divert the water to the partially enclosed harbor at the plant rather than directly into the sea as happens currently. TEPCO hopes to have the work complete by the end of March 2014. It is thought that as much as 400 tons of contaminated groundwater is flowing into the sea every day.

With the difficult work of removing over 1,500 nuclear fuel assemblies from a storage pooling the reactor #4 building due to start within days, the plan has already suffered its first set back. News has emerged this week that three of the fuel assemblies in the pool are damaged and cannot be extracted using the removal method TEPCO has planned. The assemblies were not damaged during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami - one was damaged in 1982 during a fuel transfer when it was bent out of shape. The other two assemblies are cracked and leaking radioactive gas, said a TEPCO spokesman. "We are currently reviewing how to transport these fuel assemblies to the common spent fuel pool," said another spokeswoman. According to Reuters, each assembly contains radiation equivalent to 10 Hiroshima atomic bombs. The storage pool in the reactor #4 building is 100 feet about the ground and vulnerable to further earthquakes.  

Other Nuclear News in Japan

Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) announced this week that it will begin safety screening of two reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture. TEPCO which own the plant wants to restart the reactors which first must pass safety inspections. TEPCO applied for the inspection in September but the NRA has delayed them due to concerns about the way TEPCO has handled the Fukushima disaster. TEPCO's recent announcement about improving working conditions at Fukushima has prompted the NRA to reopen its safety reviewNRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka has stated, however, that there are many problems at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa and the screening is unlikely to go smoothly.

The recent call from former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for Japan to abandon nuclear power continues to attract headlines. Mr Koizumi pressed the case again this week in his first public session with reporters since his retirement from politics in 2006. “There are no prospects for securing disposal sites for nuclear wastes produced through nuclear power generation. The nuclear reactors should not be restarted. They should be abolished as early as possible,” he told the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo. He called on current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to use his political capital: “Nobody has had more favorable conditions to achieve a nuclear-free option than Abe. For the first time in a long time, the Japanese are ready to support a project and I want him to use his strong political clout.” Mr Koizumi suggested that divisions over nuclear power in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) would help Mr Abe, saying, "Now the opposition camp advocates a nuclear-free society, and only the LDP opposes it. But I think 50 percent of LDP lawmakers favor scrapping atomic energy. LDP lawmakers cannot voice opposition to nuclear power because Abe is promoting it. If Abe decides to scrap nuclear power, no one in the party will protest.” LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba apparently sought to narrow the gap between Prime Minister Abe and Mr Koizumi when he said: “(The LDP) seeks to reduce Japan’s reliance on nuclear power, so we are heading to a direction he is eyeing.”


TEPCO has paid the corporation that operates Narita International Airport compensation totaling 3.2 billion yen, it was announced this week. The sum is to recompense the Narita International Airport Corp for the fall in visitors and flight cancellations in the aftermath of the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The Ibaraki prefectural government is to amend its tax laws so that it continues to collect nuclear fuel taxes even though the reactor in the prefecture remains idle after the Fukushima disasterWhen the Tokai No. 2 nuclear reactor was closed, the prefecture's nuclear tax revenue fell from 1.1 billion yen to 600 million. With the law change, the prefecture hopes to secure 8.8 billion yen over five years from 2014.

Radiation Contamination, Including Human Exposure

Officials in Fukushima Prefecture said this week that 15 more children had had "definitive or suspected diagnoses of thyroid cancer" which can be linked to exposure to radiation, bringing the total to 59.  Of the 26 confirmed cases, all have undergone successful treatment, say officials. The figures from Fukushima show 12 people in 100,000 aged 18 or younger when the disaster occurred developing cancer. This compares to the national figure of 1.7 per 100,000. However, a link between the increase in cancer cases and theFukushima accident is difficult to prove. Children in Fukushima are being screened in an early detection programme. Children elsewhere are diagnosed only when symptoms present themselves. Also, after the Chernobyl disaster, thyroid cancers started presenting in larger numbers only four and five years afterwards and 6,000 children were diagnosed.

Evacuation and Repopulation Efforts

Under new recovery plans being drawn up by the Japanese government, residents evacuated from areas surround the damaged Fukushima reactors will have to choose whether to return home, move to new homes or wait until radiation falls to levels allowing them to return. The plans state that areas where radiation exceeds 50 millisieverts will be uninhabitable for an unknown length of time. This has left some residents expressing mixed emotions. “I know I will not be able to return to Okuma. As long as I am away from home, I cannot feel true happiness under any circumstance. I will be tied to these feelings forever,” said 70-year-old evacuee Etsuko Oura. Others criticized the government for what they see as false promises. “Politicians a long time ago should have specified the areas where evacuees will not be able to return and presented plans to help them rebuild their lives elsewhere,” said Toshitaka Kakinuma. The vast majority of Okuma's residents will not be able to return to their homes for at least six years. “We want to establish an environment that will allow residents to return in 10 to 20 years. We will not change that plan," said Okuma's mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe.

This week an NRA panel of experts approved proposals that evacuation orders be lifted in areas where annual radiation exposure measures 20 millisieverts or less. The long term plan is to reduce radiation levels in these areas to 1 millisievert or less. In an attempt to reassure residents, dosimeters will be issued to those who decide to return. The proposals also call for consultation and counseling to be offered.