(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

The Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) is revising its disaster management plan in case of a nuclear crisis. The move is designed to avoid the confusion that occurred after the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant: the radius of evacuation zones was continually changing, confusing residents. The new zone, called the Urgent Protective Action Planning Zone (UPZ), will encompass a 30 kilometer radius; the old regulations specified a 10 kilometer radius. In addition, the NSC said that residents within 5 kilometers of a plant (called the Precautionary Action Zone, or PAZ) will be required to evacuate immediately if a nuclear crisis occurs. Local governments will be advised to distribute iodine tablets to residents within 50 kilometers of the plant. That area will be called the Plume Protection Planning Area (PPA). The new plan is in line with that established by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The NSC plans to determine radiation levels at which each zone must evacuate or shelter in place.

The Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organization (JNES) admitted that it certified three shipments of nuclear fuel rods whose measurements differed from those listed in a JNES manual. That manual, which included inspection goals, methods, and fuel rod measurements, was copied verbatim from documents provided by the fuel manufacturer it was supposed to be monitoring. The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) has ordered JNES to improve screening procedures.

Kyushu Power restarted Reactor 4 at its Genkai Plant in Saga Prefecture this week. The reactor was shut down early last month due to worker error, although Kyushu has declined to release full details about the incident. This reactor is the first to be restarted since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Genkai’s mayor, Hideo Kishimoto, approved the decision. However, many residents say they do not support the decision and question the plant’s safety. In July, reports surfaced that Kyushu tried to falsely influence the results of a public hearing on nuclear energy by ordering employees to send emails in support of restarting reactors. The company insists that is has received ‘a certain level of local consent.’

A representative from the Indian government will visit Japan next week to resume discussions regarding the sale of Japanese nuclear technology. The collaboration is controversial; many Japanese people have become fearful of nuclear power in the wake of the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, and have expressed concern that the country is continuing to export it. In addition, India has not signed on to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, raising additional concerns.

A Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) panel convened this week in an effort to review Japan’s pricing system for electrical power. Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) and other companies have been criticized for unfairly passing along high costs to consumers.

Japan’s National Tax Agency released new inheritance and tax value adjustments this week, rating the area near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant at zero — in effect, rating the land as worthless. Ratings are based on the amount of destruction, damage to local services, and impact on the area’s image.

The Japanese government will expand its Ukrainian embassy, in order to study radiation contamination and illness resulting from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The six-person team, comprised of nuclear specialists and translators, will apply lessons learned there to the ongoing Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Over 200 women in Tokyo are participating in a peaceful protest against nuclear power. The women plan to continue their sit-in, which is taking place in front of METI central offices, through November 5.

State of the Reactors

After gas measurements showed xenon-133 and -135 (a sign of criticality and possible nuclear fission), TEPCO announced that Reactor 2 might be experiencing criticality. The utility later retracted its statement and said that instead, spontaneous nuclear fission was occurring. TEPCO pointed to the fact that levels of xenon were low enough to indicate that criticality had not occurred. A lack of working monitoring equipment, including water gauges and neutron detectors, has plagued the power company, making it impossible to accurately assess the internal state of the reactors. Greenpeace continues to warn that the reactors are neither stable nor under control, and asserts that the Japanese government’s decision to allow residents to return to towns near the plant is both reckless and premature.

NISA did not report the suspected criticality to METI head Yukio Edano and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda until the morning after the issue was discovered, prompting a strong rebuke from Edano.

Contamination (Includes Human Exposure and Food Testing)

Three children in Fukushima were exposed to high levels of radiation in September, because their family lived near a radioactive hotspot. A third-grade elementary school girl received 1.7 millisieverts of radiation, while her brothers received 1.4 and 1.6 millisieverts. The readings were detected after city officials distributed dosimeters to over 36,000 residents. The family has since moved away from the prefecture.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) has released a map showing tellurium-129m and silver 110-m contamination within 100 kilometers of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The highest tellurium readings measured 2.66 million Bq/m2, in the town of Okuma. High contamination levels were discovered up to 30 kilometers from the plant.

Japan’s Forest Ministry confirmed it will study how much radiation is transferred between cedars and the pollen they produce, after residents expressing concern about radiation spreading during spring pollen season contacted the ministry. No research has ever been conducted on the transfer of radiation to pollen. The agency will gather samples between November and January, releasing an interim report in December. Experts believe there is no cause for concern, but the Ministry has decided to err on the side of caution.