(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
Over 80% of Japan’s nuclear reactors are now out of service, a number that is expected to increase to 100% by next spring. The majority of the reactors were stopped for routine safety inspections, but have not been restarted because of safety concerns raised by residents in the wake of the Fukushima nucl
Japan’s Health Ministry said it will lower the internal radiation limit for cesium to one millisievert per year by next April. That number is one-fifth the current level, and will match international radiation standards. In addition, the nation’s Food Safety Commission plans to recommend that cumulative radiation be limited to 100 millisieverts over the course of one’s lifetime.
Goshi Hosono, Japan’s Nuclear Crisis Minister, said that reducing the current 20 kilometers no-entry zone around the Fukushima Daiichi plant will not take place before the end of February at the earliest, and will require considerable study. The area will need extensive decontamination before residents can return to their homes within that zone.
A recent poll conducted by Japanese public television station NHK shows that 70% of local governments want the emergency preparedness zone surrounding nuclear plants expanded to 30 kilometers. The current radius is 10 kilometers. Eighty percent of those municipalities polled said they were not confident they could adequately handle a nuclear disaster.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung have confirmed that Japan will sell two nuclear reactors to Viet Nam, in spite of the ongoing nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Meanwhile, Japan and India plan to resume talks regarding selling nuclear technology in November.
A draft of Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO)’s new business plan shows that the utility will try to raise $7.66 billion in order to apply for $12 billion in government funds —which will be used to compensate victims of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. This figure is in addition to 120 billion yen to which the company is entitled under the nation’s nuclear compensation law. In order to raise the money, TEPCO will sell real estate assets and make personnel cuts.
In addition, TEPCO plans to reduce pensions for TEPCO employees age 80 and older by 30%.
A highly radioactive hotspot in Kashiwa, Chiba that measured 57.5 microsieverts per hour still has not been decontaminated, in spite of the fact that it was discovered over a week ago. A resident carrying a dosimeter discovered the hotspot. Local officials say they do not have the technical expertise or equipment to safely decontaminate the area and have called upon the Environment Ministry for assistance. In the meantime, officials have covered the area with a plastic sheet.
Decontamination and Waste Disposal Efforts
Nuclear Crisis Minister Goshi Hosono announced this week that the government is planning to move contaminated soil and other nuclear waste to a temporary facility in Fukushima Prefecture by January 2015—and the waste will be stored there for 30 years. The site is expected to occupy between 3 - 5 kilometers of land, and house 28 million cubic meters of waste measuring 100,000 Bq/kg or more. The location for the temporary facility has not yet been chosen. Hosono said it will be chosen in 2012, and construction will begin in 2014. Residents are expressing strong dissatisfaction with the decision, citing safety concerns. In addition, local officials are condemning the decision to store the waste in Fukushima for such a long period of time. Fukushima’s Governor, Yuhei Sato, has not yet approved the plan.
The Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) has developed new computer software designed to predict radiation levels once areas have been decontaminated. The software will be provided to municipal governments free of charge. If the depth of soil and cost of decontaminating per square unit are known, the software will also compute total decontamination costs.
Scientists from the Wakasa Wan Research Center have developed a portable device they say will decontaminate radioactive areas with a laser, producing less waste than current methods. Researchers hope that the machine will be used to decontaminate grounds of the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Medical professionals and government officials from Fukushima Prefecture are traveling to the Ukraine and Belarus in an effort to learn more about decontamination, as well as how to monitor long-term health of residents. The delegation will visit the Chernobyl nuclear plant, as well as local schools and hospitals.
Residents of Fukushima who purchased high-pressure hoses and other decontamination equipment are expressing outrage that neither the government nor TEPCO will reimburse them for the expenditures. Many residents, fearing for their children’s health as well as their own, began decontaminating after local and central governments failed to do so in a timely manner. Fukushima municipal officials have repeatedly asked that residents be reimbursed for such equipment. The Environment Ministry is looking into the issue.
Other Nuclear News
Provisional results for the EU’s nuclear stress tests have prompted strong reaction from Greenpeace, which criticized ‘alarming gaps in results’ and inadequate attention to factors such as crashes by airplanes, multiple reactor failure, local evacuation plans, and reactor age.
Belgium has announced that it will shut down three of its nuclear reactors by 2015 and its remaining five reactors by 2025. Popular opinion in Belgium has become decidedly anti-nuclear since the Fukushima disaster.
Critics say that China will not have enough skilled nuclear workers to safely staff 28 new reactors currently under construction. Experts estimate that China needs to hire 6,000 new nuclear workers annually. However, only several hundred qualified students in the entire nation are graduating each year, raising concerns about increasing risk of nuclear disasters.