Archive for March, 2011

Citizen Action in Japan Prevented Larger Plutonium Disaster at Fukushima Reactor 3

March 31, 2011

WASHINGTON–(ENEWSPF)–March 31 – A concerted Japanese citizen action that delayed the loading of mixed plutonium-uranium fuel – known as MOX – into the core of the Unit 3 reactor at Fukushima and prevented the use of MOX at several other reactors, likely prevented a far worse outcome than is currently occurring at the troubled reactor today.

Japanese citizen groups successfully resisted the use of MOX fuel at Fukushima-Daiichi for a decade. MOX fuel was not loaded into the reactor until August 21, 2010 and the reactor began operation on September 18, 2010. Consequently, all the MOX fuel remains in the core and none of it had yet been transferred to the unprotected fuel pool.

Last August, Beyond Nuclear’s radioactive waste watchdog, Kevin Kamps, was invited by Green Action Japan and their local Fukushima anti-nuclear environmental allies to travel to Fukushima specifically to speak about the risks of storing MOX high-level radioactive waste in storage pools.

“If the citizen groups had not been successful, there would have been a 33% load of MOX at Fukushima Daiichi 3 instead of the current 5% and there would have been MOX in the spent fuel pool,” said Kamps. “The activists have saved countless lives by preventing what might have been a worse disaster than is already taking place.”

Plutonium is harmful when inhaled and is deadly in the environment for 240,000 years. Unit 3 was to have begun using MOX in 2000. Thirty two MOX fuel assemblies, fabricated at Belgonucleaire, were already on site when opposition was mounted. Plutonium has been found in the soil around the Fukushima accident site and is thought to be from Unit 3. However, plutonium is produced by all reactors during the fission process.

Japanese opposition to MOX also prevented the plutonium fuel being loaded into reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa and Fukushima Daini. All would have had MOX fuel in the spent fuel pools today had not this plan been blocked.

Plans for the use of MOX fuel in the U.S. experienced a setback in May 2008 when a testing program of MOX lead test assemblies in Duke Energy’s Catawba reactor had to be aborted due to dangerous conditions. The fuel assemblies, produced by the French state-owned company AREVA, grew abnormally long in the testing reactor – the Catawba plant in South Carolina. This excessive growth is a safety hazard because it can deform and damage the MOX fuel. In November 2009, Duke quietly allowed its contract with the Department of Energy to use MOX in its reactors to lapse, effectively withdrawing from the program.

No U.S. reactors are adapted to use MOX fuel which creates hotter waste and causes faster degradation of reactor components. As in Japan, U.S. activists have run a Nix-MOX campaign for several decades. However, construction of an expensive MOX fuel fabrication plant at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina continues. The plant would convert 34 metric tons of surplus weapons plutonium into fuel for use in commercial reactors.
Beyond Nuclear aims to educate and activate the public about the connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and the need to abandon both to safeguard our future. Beyond Nuclear advocates for an energy future that is sustainable, benign and democratic.


March 31, 2011


TEPCO faces massive costs over disaster / Compensation likely to add to burden
Tamaki Aikyo and Chiaki Toyoda / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers

Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s decision to scrap reactors Nos. 1-4 at a crippled nuclear power station in Fukushima Prefecture means the power utility will have to shoulder a colossal expense–possibly about 400 billion yen to decommission the reactors and several trillion yen in compensation.

TEPCO’s financial burden will include reparations for various forms of damage and losses suffered by residents in the vicinity of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

This will be compounded by the further burden of redeeming TEPCO-issued bonds and increasing power generation at its thermal power plants to make up for the reduced amount of electricity caused by the crisis.

Therefore, the government will have to continue financially supporting the beleaguered power utility to ensure victims of the disaster around near ill-fated nuclear plant receive due compensation, according to observers.

If the amount of compensation to be paid by TEPCO is beyond its means, the government may have to consider draconian measures to rehabilitate the utility, including a plan to place it under state control, they said.

Chubu Electric Power Co.’s plan to scrap two outdated reactors at its Hamaoka nuclear power plant in Shizuoka Prefecture may be illuminating in this respect. The utility estimates the cost of scrapping each reactor at about 100 billion yen. If this figure is used to calculate the costs of decommissioning the four reactors at the Fukushima facility, the project will cost TEPCO about 400 billion yen.

However, the Fukushima power station is in stark contrast to the Hamaoka facility. The latter facility is being operated today without problems, although some accidents have taken place there in the past.

“The accidents at the Fukushima No. 1 plant have led to a leak of radioactive substances. Scrapping the four reactors could cost much more than originally estimated,” an analyst said.

If the project costs TEPCO more than 500 billion yen, this would mean that the undertaking would gobble up more money than exists in the utility’s accumulated reserve funds.

TEPCO also will have to cover expenses for activities related to suspended operations at the crippled compound, including restarting suspended thermal power stations.

This would mean the firm would have to secure oil and liquefied natural gas supplies, raising the annual operating expenses by between 400 billion yen to 1 trillion yen, according to analysts. In fiscal 2011 alone, TEPCO will need about 700 billion yen to cover such expenditures as those for redeeming debentures it has issued and repaying debts.

At the end of December 2010, the utility had funds totaling 432 billion yen on hand. When combined with the 1.85 trillion yen in emergency loans from seven major banks, including three megabanks, TEPCO will experience no difficulty in covering necessary expenses for the time being. “We’ll try not to run short of funds by cooperating with the government,” TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata said.

TEPCO’s financial strength appears to be less than satisfactory. During the business term ending in March 2010, its capital adequacy ratio stood at 17.1 percent, compared with an average of 22.3 percent at 10 domestic utilities. With this in mind, TEPCO may find it necessary to sell off some of its assets and take other revenue-enhancing measures to avert a further decline in its financial footing.

In fact, Katsumata has said his company will lay off a large number of employees. “As a private corporation, we’ll do all we can to reduce our [operating and other] costs and trim off fat,” he said.

The greatest worry for TEPCO is how much it must pay in compensation. Take the example of JCO Co., a nuclear fuel processing firm in Tokaimura, Ibaraki Prefecture, that caused a criticality accident at its facilities in the village in September 1999. The company paid a total of about 15 billion yen in compensation for damage suffered by local residents, including health hazards and financial losses by farmers whose products had been shunned by the marketplace.

In the JCO accident, locals living within 350 meters of the facilities in question had to evacuate. This contrasts with a massive evacuation in the vicinity of the Fukushima nuclear power plant. In the latter case, residents living within 20 kilometers of the compound were ordered to evacuate.

The damage caused by the Fukushima nuclear disaster includes financial losses suffered by local farmers because of the contamination of their products by radioactive substances. This damage likely will be compensated by TEPCO.

TEPCO’s rolling blackouts in areas that it supplies power to may be no exception to this. The power outages could prompt certain quarters to demand compensation from the utility. “The amount of compensation may reach several trillions of yen,” an official from a government office said.

The Atomic Energy Damage Compensation Law requires the government to pay up to 120 billion yen for each entity operating nuclear power facilities if an accident occurs. The law also states the government must pay all necessary compensation for damage resulting from social unrest and extraordinarily massive natural calamities.

At a press conference last Friday afternoon, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said, “It’s impossible [TEPCO] will be exempted [from compensation payments].”

Undoubtedly, the crisis at the Fukushima plant is a consequence of the earthquake-tsunami disaster, the impact of which is beyond imagination. However, some critics have pointed a finger at apparent mistakes committed by TEPCO in handling the situation. Given this, it is unlikely the utility will be released from its obligation to pay compensation.
(Apr. 1, 2011)

End quote, there we have it. Japanese nuclear reactors rely on a law which mandates Government -taxpayer- money be used to cover 120 billion yen in the event of disaster. No mention of private insurance. So the people cover TEPCO’s arse.

The payment of compensation to people will obviously be kept to a minimum by wide circulation of stories relating to “fear of radiation” being circulated by media, nuclear industry and government. No real harm done they say, no real health risks and impacts they say and thus the compensation paid is kept unrealistically lower than a rational assessment would indicate.

US undertakes Nuke plant & cancer survey

March 31, 2011

The excellent blog site “Truthout” is carrying the article “Details Emerge on Study of Cancer Near US Nuclear Plants”, Tuesday 27 April 2010
by: Sue Sturgis | Facing South.

The link for the article is:

It is worth a read. The only part I’ll cut and paste here is this:

“Also addressing the NRSB was Dr. Steve Wing, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill whose own research documented a rise in cancers near the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania following the 1979 partial meltdown.

“Knowledge about this topic can be most effectively advanced by studying childhood cancer incidence and in utero exposures,” he said. Developing fetuses are known to be especially sensitive to radiation, and focusing on children rather than adults will largely eliminate interference from occupational exposures.

Wing also pointed out that a number of epidemiological studies carried out near nuclear facilities in the U.S. and abroad found elevated cancer rates, but the authors dismissed the possibility that they were related to the nuclear plants because the radiation doses were assumed to be too low.

“The evidence produced was not believed,” Wing said. “Why conduct a study if the results cannot be interpreted as providing support for the hypothesis?””

It’s an important, a fundamental, part of the debate about part of the uranium cycle, reactor facilities. I urge the reader to visit that blog to assess the entire article.

More on the US cancer and nukes survey here:

During Phase 1 of this project, the 19-member committee, made up of epidemiologists, statisticians, and nuclear, environmental health and cancer experts, will determine if the project is statistically feasible. They’ll have to overcome problems with analyzing the data, including background rates of cancer in the general population and loss of statistical power when looking at very small populations.

Public meetings will take place all over the US and will be available by webcast to garner public comments on the study. Phase 1 will wrap up with a report and recommendations in early 2012. If deemed possible, the study will be carried out in Phase 2.

Posted by Gwyneth Dickey Zakaib on February 25, 2011
end quote

IAEA REPORTS FUKUSHIMA Cs 137, I131 in Ireland, Russia, Switzerland, Singapore

March 31, 2011

Fukushima Nuclear Accident Update Log
Updates of 31 March 2011

Staff Report

The Russian Federation, Singapore, Ireland and Switzerland reported the detection of very small amounts of iodine-131 and cesium-137 in air. Highest levels found are in the order of a few millibecquerel per cubic meter. The levels are not of any radiological concern.

end quote

Anyone alive at the time of the British Nuclear Tests and later will recall the popular Saxa brand salt. Available in both standard and Iodine enriched varieties. The iodine variety was popular. A number of years ago, in the course, of finding out about the nuclear test era, I wrote to Saxa. The Iodine enriched variety has always been available from that company. None the less, it was a handy thing to have on the shelf and in the pantry.

Also a number of years ago, in the course of finding out more about the impact of nuclear testing upon Americans, I had cause to spend some number of hours trolling through the US Cancer Atlas. It turns out that thyroid cancer is more prevalent in populations of regions which have a higher than optimal stable Iodine intake as well as in those populations in regions of the US with a lower than optimal stable Iodine intake.

This is just my observation. Regular Iodine uptake is not something one wants to fiddle about with. Im not a doctor – but anything which has an affect has most likely a cost for its benefit. Working out whether the cost is worth the benefit is what medicine is largely all about. So all I can say is think carefully if you are self medicating on stable Iodine and you are not in the local fallout zone in Japan.

I would predict that the Japanese living on the coast and eating a comparatively high level of sea food and seaweed were already as protected by way of stable Iodine displacement as any population could be in regard to radio Iodine 131 and 134.

I just happen to be of the view that even in Japan, there might be a cost as well as a benefit to supplementary iodine if this nuclear emergency continue for weeks or months, as it indeed looks like doing.

I find it tragic that that mass reporting on the natural disasters in Japan has been severely truncated by the nuclear emergency. As I have pointed out previously, my nuclear history blog is just that. One of its functions is to record my thoughts in the context of the Australian nuclear debate. I am not a reporter. Reporters should report all the news not just some of it. Unless of course they write for a nuclear specific publication.

The natural disasters in Japan havent stopped the footy (worst luck), and neither will they stop my blog. Just dont over do the Iodine. In my unqualified opinion. Take some calcium tablets instead. I dont know how long it will be before Strontium isotopes are admitted as being present, though not, apparently in the “significant” levels Iodine and Cesium isotopes are being reported.

The technique of “displacement” – blocking the absorption of a radionuclide by ensuring competitive presence of the stable isotopes of the substance in the gut – assumes oral uptake and beyond a certain ratio and biological demand, has its limits.

And of course, if a smoker in Ireland gets excited about the risk and has an extra cigarette a day, he may as well have set up bed outside reactor No 6. Sort of , if you get my drift.

Not forgetting potassium has a natural radioisotope always present in the mix, so potassium iodine can be expected to add a dose of that as well. Still potassium spreading in the fallout contamined islands of the Pacific Islands seems to work so eat more bananas.
(thanks to the former US submariner for that information).

Anyhow, on the issue of alpha emitting hot particles. A previous post in this blog covers radiation emitted by uranium decay products (progeny) present in oil, gas and coal deposits. These are an issue covered by the US EPA. I suspect, but do not know if these are present in the refined product petrol. I suspect though that if one shoved an alpha or beta probe up the exhaust pipe of an older car, one would obtain a reasonable reading on the meter. It is an addition to “natural” background, the background present before the age of mining and drilling into the earth’s crust.

Noone runs around worrying about that. Much. Maybe I should keep my mouth shut. But I have to point it out. It is part of, and a consequence of, our way of life.

We need a better way, and that better way includes better engineered solutions to present technologies while other things are given the attention they deserve and new ways are discovered. I’m going to bed, glad, for more reasons than one, that I dont live in Japan.

Radiological Dispersal from Fukushima hits new highs

March 31, 2011
ABC News 31 March 2011
Radiation in sea off Japan hits new high

By North Asia correspondent Mark Willacy, wires

The level of radioactive iodine in the sea off Japan’s disaster-hit Fukushima nuclear plant has soared to its highest reading yet at 4,385 times the legal limit, the plant operator said.

The level of iodine-131, reported a few hundred metres south of its southern water outlet, has risen in a series of tests since last week.

Previous readings taken by plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) were 1,250 times the legal maximum on Friday, 1,850 times the limit on Saturday and 3,355 times the limit on Tuesday.

Authorities believe the damaged plant may be leaking radiation continuously into the nearby ocean, with fears the increasingly high levels of radiation could impact global shipping.

Several shipping operators are either halting services to the ports of Yokohama and Tokyo or have established no-go zones around the Fukushima plant.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says safe radiation limits had been exceeded at Iitate village, 40 kilometres north-west of the plant and well outside the government-imposed 20-kilometre exclusion zone.

Japan’s top government spokesman, chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano, said: “The IAEA has informed us the level of radiation in the soil exceeded one of the IAEA standards”.

“And the IAEA has advised us to carefully assess the situation on the basis of this report,” he said.

When asked whether Japan would expand the exclusion zone, he said: “I don’t think this is something of a nature which immediately requires such action”.

“But the fact the level of radiation is high in the soil is inevitably pointing to the possibility that the accumulation over the long term may affect human health,” he said.

“Therefore, we will continue monitoring the level of radiation with heightened vigilance and we intend to take action if necessary.”

According to Elena Buglova, head of the IAEA’s Incident and Emergency Centre, the reading in Iitate village was 2 megabecquerels per square metre.

That was a “ratio about two times higher than levels” at which the agency recommends evacuations, she said.

A 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11 knocked out the cooling systems of the Fukushima plant’s six reactors, triggering explosions and fires, releasing radiation and sparking global fears of a widening disaster.


Japan and TEPCO ingore their own Tsunami Data; Attitudes in a Modern Nuke Plant

March 31, 2011

How to Ensure a Nuclear Reactor becomes a Radiological Weapon:

Engineers knew tsunami could overwhelm Fukushima plant

Reuters March 30, 2011, 2:41 pm

The tsunami research presented by a Tokyo Electric team led by Toshiaki Sakai came on the first day of a three-day conference in July 2007 organized by the International Conference on Nuclear Engineering.

It represented the product of several years of work at Japan’s top utility, prompted by the 2004 earthquake off the coast of Sumatra that had shaken the industry’s accepted wisdom. In that disaster, the tsunami that hit Indonesia and a dozen other countries around the Indian Ocean also flooded a nuclear power plant in southern India. That raised concerns in Tokyo about the risk to Japan’s 55 nuclear plants, many exposed to the dangerous coast in order to have quick access to water for cooling.

Tokyo Electric’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, some 240 km (150 miles) northeast of Tokyo, was a particular concern.

The 40-year-old nuclear complex was built near a quake zone in the Pacific that had produced earthquakes of magnitude 8 or higher four times in the past 400 years — in 1896, 1793, 1677 and then in 1611, Tokyo Electric researchers had come to understand.

Based on that history, Sakai, a senior safety manager at Tokyo Electric, and his research team applied new science to a simple question: What was the chance that an earthquake-generated wave would hit Fukushima? More pressing, what were the odds that it would be larger than the roughly 6-metre (20 feet) wall of water the plant had been designed to handle?

The tsunami that crashed through the Fukushima plant on March 11 was 14 meters high.

Sakai’s team determined the Fukushima plant was dead certain to be hit by a tsunami of one or two meters in a 50-year period. They put the risk of a wave of 6 metres or more at around 10 percent over the same time span.

In other words, Tokyo Electric scientists realised as early as 2007 that it was quite possible a giant wave would overwhelm the sea walls and other defenses at Fukushima by surpassing engineering assumptions behind the plant’s design that date back to the 1960s.

Company Vice President Sakae Muto said the utility had built its Fukushima nuclear power plant “with a margin for error” based on its assessment of the largest waves to hit the site in the past.

That would have included the magnitude 9.5 Chile earthquake in 1960 that killed 140 in Japan and generated a wave estimated at near 6 meters, roughly in line with the plans for Fukushima Daiichi a decade later.

“It’s been pointed out by some that there could be a bigger tsunami than we had planned for, but my understanding of the situation is that there was no consensus among the experts,” Muto said in response to a question from Reuters.

Despite the projection by its own safety engineers that the older assumptions might be mistaken, Tokyo Electric was not breaking any Japanese nuclear safety regulation by its failure to use its new research to fortify Fukushima Daiichi, which was built on the rural Pacific coast to give it quick access to sea water and keep it away from population centres.

“There are no legal requirements to re-evaluate site related (safety) features periodically,” the Japanese government said in a response to questions from the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, in 2008.

In fact, in safety guidelines issued over the past 20 years, Japanese nuclear safety regulators had all but written off the risk of a severe accident that would test the vaunted safety standards of one of their 55 nuclear reactors, a key pillar of the nation’s energy and export policies.

That has left planning for a strategy to head off runaway meltdown in the worst case scenarios to Tokyo Electric in the belief that the utility was best placed to handle any such crisis, according to published regulations.

In December 2010, for example, Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission said the risk for a severe accident was “extremely low” at reactors like those in operation at Fukushima. The question of how to prepare for those scenarios would be left to utilities, the commission said.

A 1992 policy guideline by the NSC also concluded core damage at one of Japan’s reactors severe enough to release radiation would be an event with a probability of once in 185 years. So with such a limited risk of happening, the best policy, the guidelines say, is to leave emergency response planning to Tokyo electric and other plant operators.


Over the past 20 years, nuclear operators and regulators in Europe and the United States have taken a new approach to managing risk. Rather than simple defenses against failures, researchers have examined worst-case outcomes to test their assumptions, and then required plants to make changes.

They have looked especially at the chance that a single calamity could wipe out an operator’s main defence and its backup, just as the earthquake and tsunami did when the double disaster took out the main power and backup electricity to Fukushima Daiichi.

Japanese nuclear safety regulators have been slow to embrace those changes.

Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), one of three government bodies with responsibility for safety policy and inspections, had published guidelines in 2005 and 2006 based on the advances in regulation elsewhere but did not insist on their application.

Japanese regulators and Tokyo Electric instead put more emphasis on regular maintenance and programs designed to catch flaws in the components of their ageing plants.

That was the thinking behind extending the life of the No. 1 reactor at Fukushima Daiichi, which had been scheduled to go out of commission in February after a 40-year run.

On four occasions over the past four years, safety inspectors from Japan and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were called in to review failures with backup diesel generators at nuclear plants.

In June 2007, an inspector was dispatched to Fukushima’s No. 4 reactor, where the backup generator had caught fire after a circuit breaker was installed improperly, according to the inspector’s report.

“There is no need of providing feedback to other plants for the reason that no similar event could occur,” the June 2007 inspection concluded.

The installation had met its safety target. Nothing in that report or any other shows safety inspectors questioned the placement of the generators on low ground near the shore where they proved to be at highest risk for tsunami damage at Fukushima Daiichi.

The risks also appear to have made it hard to hire for key positions. In 2008, Toshiba admitted it had illegally used six employees under the age of 18 as part of a series of inspections of nuclear power plants at Tokyo Electric and Tohoku Electric. One of those minors, then aged 17, had participated in an inspection of the Fukushima Daiichi No. 5 reactor, Tokyo Electric said then.

The magnitude 9.0 quake struck on Friday afternoon of March 11 — the most powerful in Japan’s long history of them — pushed workers at the Fukushima plant to the breaking point as injuries mounted and panic took hold.

Hiroyuki Nishi, a subcontractor who had been moving scaffolding inside Reactor No. 3 when the quake hit, described a scene of chaos as a massive hook came crashing down next to him. “People were shouting ‘Get out, get out!'” Nishi said. “Everyone was screaming.”

In the pandemonium, workers pleaded to be let out, knowing a tsunami was soon to come. But Tokyo Electric supervisors appealed for calm, saying each worker had to be tested first for radiation exposure. Eventually, the supervisors relented, threw open the doors to the plant and the contractors scrambled for high ground just ahead of the tsunami.

After the wave receded, two employee were missing, apparently washed away while working on unit No. 4. Two contractors were treated for leg fractures and two others were treated for slight injuries. A ninth worker was being treated for a stroke.

In the chaos of the early response, workers did not notice when the diesel pumps at No. 2 ran out of fuel, allowing water levels to fall and fuel to become exposed and overheat. When the Fukushima plant suffered its second hydrogen blast in three days the following Monday, Tokyo electric executives only notified the prime minister’s office an hour later. Seven workers had been injured in the explosion along with four soldiers.

An enraged Prime Minister Naoto Kan pulled up to Tokyo Electric’s headquarters the next morning before dawn. “What the hell is going on?” reporters outside the closed-door discussion reported hearing Kan demand angrily of senior executives.

Although U.S. nuclear plant operators were required to install “hardened” vent systems in the 1980s after the Three Mile Island incident, Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission rejected the need to require such systems in 1992, saying that should be left to the plant operators to decide.

A nuclear power plant’s vent represents one of the last resorts for operators struggling to keep a reactor from pressure that could to blow the building that houses it apart and spread radiation, which is what happened at Chernobyl 25 years ago. A hardened vent in a U.S. plant is designed to behave like the barrel on a rifle, strong enough to withstand an explosive force from within.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission concluded in the late 1980s that the General Electric designed Mark I reactors, like those used at Fukushima, required safety modifications.

The risks they flagged, and that Tokyo did not heed, would come back to haunt Japan in the Fukushima crisis.

First, U.S. researchers concluded that a loss of power at one of the nuclear plants would be one of the “dominant contributors” to the most severe accidents. Flooding of the reactor building would worsen the risks. The NRC also required U.S. plants to install “hard pipe” after concluding the sheet-metal ducts used in Japan could make things much worse.

“Venting via a sheet metal duct system could result in a reactor building hydrogen burn,” researchers said in a report published in November 1988.

In the current crisis, the failure of the more vulnerable duct vents in Fukushima’s No. 1 and No. 3 reactors may have contributed to the hydrogen explosions that blew the roof off the first and left the second a tangled hulk of steel beams in the first three days of the crisis.

The plant vents, which connect to the big smokestack-like towers, appear to have been damaged in the quake or the tsunami, one NISA official said.

Even without damage, opening the vulnerable vents in the presence of a build-up of hydrogen gas was a known danger. In the case of Fukushima, opening the vents to relieve pressure was like turning on an acetylene torch and then watching the flame “shoot back into the fuel tank,” said one expert with knowledge of Fukushima who asked not to be identified because of his commercial ties in Japan.

Tokyo Electric began venting the No. 1 reactor on March 12 just after 10 a.m. An hour earlier the pressure in the reactor was twice its designed limit. Six hours later the reactor exploded.

The same pattern held with reactor No. 3. Venting to relieve a dangerous build-up of pressure in the reactor began on March 13. A day later, the outer building – a concrete and steel shell known as the “secondary containment” — exploded.

Masashi Goto, a former nuclear engineer who has turned critical of the industry, said he believed Tokyo Electric and regulators wrongly focussed on the parts of the plant that performed well in the 2007 quake, rather than the weaknesses it exposed. “I think they drew the wrong lesson,” Goto said.

The March 11 quake not only damaged the vents but also the gauges in the Fukushima Daiichi complex, which meant that Tokyo Electric was without much of the instrumentation it needed to assess the situation on the ground during the crisis.

“The data we’re getting is very sketchy and makes it impossible for us to do the analysis,” said David Lochbaum, a nuclear expert and analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “It’s hard to connect the dots when there are so few dots.”

In fact, Japan’s NSC had concluded in 1992 that it was important for nuclear plant operators to have access to key gauges and instruments even in the kind of crisis that had not happened then. But it left plans on how to implement that policy entirely to the plant operators.

In the Fukushima accident, most meters and gauges were taken out by the loss of power in the early days of the crisis.

That left a pair of workers in a white Prius to race into the plant to get radiation readings with a handheld device in the early days of the crisis, according to Tokyo Electric.

They could have used robots to go in.

Immediately after the tsunami, a French firm with nuclear expertise shipped robots for use in Fukushima, a European nuclear expert said. The robots are built to withstand high radiation.

But Japan, arguably the country with the most advanced robotics industry, stopped them from arriving in Fukishima, saying such help could only come through government channels, said the expert who asked not to be identified so as not to appear critical of Japan in a moment of crisis.
(Scott DiSavino was reporting from New York; Additional reporting by Kentaro Sugiayama in Tokyo, Bernie Woodall in Detroit, Eileen O’Grady in New York, Roberta Rampton in Washington; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

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Congress told the 63,000 METRIC tons of spent reactor fuel stored in USA a grave risk

March 31, 2011


Washington (CNN) — The Fukushima Daiichi disaster is focusing attention on a problem that has bedeviled Washington policymakers since the dawn of the nuclear age — what to do with used nuclear fuel.

Currently, spent fuel — depleted to the extent it can no longer effectively sustain a chain reaction — is stored in large pools of water, allowing the fuel to slowly cool and preventing the release of radiation.

But events in Japan, where two of the six spent fuel pools at the Fukushima Daiichi facility were compromised, have raised questions about practices at the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors, which rely on a combination of pools and dry casks to store used fuel.

“I truly believe we must re-think how we manage spent fuel,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said at a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing Wednesday.

In California, Feinstein said, fuel removed from reactors in 1984 is still held in spent-fuel pools, well beyond the minimum five to seven years required by federal regulators. “It’s hard to understand why the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not mandated a more rapid transfer of spent fuel to dry casks,” Feinstein said.

Currently, there is no maximum time fuel can remain in spent fuel pools, the NRC said Wednesday. As a result, critics say, nuclear plants have made fuel pools the de facto method of storing fuel, crowding pools with dangerous levels of fuel, industry critics say.

As of January 2010, an estimated 63,000 metric tons of spent fuel was in storage at U.S. power plants or storage facilities, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“For the history of our nuclear power program, I would say, the storage of spent fuel… has been an afterthought,” Ernest Moniz, a physics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, testified. “I believe we should really start thinking hard about consolidated storage, presumably in federal reservations, to solve a host of problems.”

The NRC and industry critics differed on whether spent fuel pools are safe.

“Spent fuel pools are considered ‘safety significant’ systems, so they meet a lot of the same standards that the reactor itself would have to meet,” said Greg Jaczko, chairman of the NRC. “For example, the spent fuel pools themselves are required to withstand the natural phenomena like earthquakes and tsunamis that could impact the reactor itself.”

David Lochbaum, a nuclear physicist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, disagreed.

“At many sites there is nearly 10 times as much irradiated fuel in spent fuel pools as in the reactor core,” he said. “The spent fuel pools are not housed in robust concrete containment structures designed to protect the public from the radioactivity they contain. Instead the pools are often housed in buildings with sheet metal siding like that in a Sears storage shed,” Lochbaum said.

“I have nothing against the quality of Sears storage sheds but they are not suitable to nuclear waste storage,” he said.

A nuclear industry representative said the “lack of a national strategy” on waste storage is exacerbating the problem, since it does not know whether to place spent fuel in permanent, on-site containers, or containers suitable for transport.

“We want to limit the number of times we have to handle used fuel. We want to be able to take it out of the pool once, put it in a cask… Not all casks are designed for transportation for example,” said William Levis, a power company president speaking for the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Jaczko said spent fuel pools don’t endanger the public. “We don’t have a maximum time (fuel can stay in the pools),” he said. “But we do analyze the fuel. (Fuel) goes through a very rigorous analysis to ensure that (it can be added to the pool) safely and securely.”

A high-ranking energy department official, meanwhile, said a commission studying the issue of spent fuel will issue an interim report by July 29. The commission was formed after the Obama administration killed a plan to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.



US Nuclear Regulatory Commission response to Japan Reactor event

March 31, 2011

Fukushima reactors may need ad hoc temporary cooling “for years”

March 31, 2011

Excellent design work there, GE. This is what happens when the nuclear industry believes it’s own propaganda.
It results in the slackest engineering and design philosophy outside the Trabant design studio…….


Reactor feared in meltdown, radiation spreads

As dangerously high levels of radiation spread beyond the Fukushima exclusion zone in Japan, there are fears the race to contain the nuclear crisis has been lost and meltdown has already taken place.

Radiation measured at a village 40 kilometres from the Fukushima nuclear plant now exceeds a criterion for evacuation, the UN nuclear watchdog said.

And a Japanese nuclear expert has warned crews may have to keep pouring cooling water onto the stricken reactors for years…..

Prime minister Naoto Kan says he is considering enlarging the evacuation area to force 130,000 people to move in addition to the 70,000 already displaced.

The indications are the most serious nuclear crisis in 25 years is getting worse.

Richard Lahey, head of safety research for this type of reactor at General Electric, which installed the reactors at Fukushima in the 1970s, says workers at the site appear to have lost the race to save the crippled No. 2 reactor.

This would mean in simple terms the accident is no longer a matter of melting fuel rods, but of meltdown.

That situation is reminiscent of Chernobyl where the plant needed to be covered with a concrete sarcophagus to seal it off.

However Dr Lahey says there is no danger of a Chernobyl-style catastrophe because in that case the plant exploded releasing a massive amount of radioactive steam.

The situation in Japan would still be immense environmental damage in the localised area.

Hiroto Sakashita, a nuclear reactor thermal hydraulics professor at Hokkaido University, says the other reactors and cooling ponds will take years to cool.

“They will just have to keep on pouring and pouring but contaminated water will keep leaking out,” he told The New York Times.

Japan’s Nuclear Safety Agency has confirmed radioactive iodine in the sea near Fukushima at 3,355 times the normal level.

Meanwhile, IAEA head of nuclear safety and security Denis Flory says he has heard there might be “recriticality” at the Fukushima plant, in which a nuclear chain reaction would resume, even though the reactors were automatically shut down at the time of the quake.

He says this could lead to more radiation releases but it would not be “the end of the world”.

“Recriticality does not mean that the reactor is going to blow up,” he said.

“It may be something really local. We might not even see it if it happens.”

– ABC/Reuters
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this is what happens when opponents of nuclear power are ignored and derided. As previous posts in this blog show, 1971 was the year skilled scientists, not employed by the nuclear industry, predicted overheating of this type of reactor in the event of disaster which compromised primary cooling. This design criteria, emergency core cooling, was dictated by the AEC as being sufficient. That the plants were perfectly safe. Also the GE concept of the “reactor park” – massed arrays of reactors in one location was reported by Nader and Abbott in 1977 to be a risky, cheap way to render nuclear power economic – the cost of controlling only one set of local opposition to massed reactors being seen as an advantage. The massed failures of the Fukushima reactors, resultant from humanity’s inablity to fully control fission and decay heat, has made the resolution of each reactor’s crises more diffiicult as the combined hazards of all the reactors impede the work of one limited labor pool on site. The example of aircraft water dumping, rendered useless by the required dump height, shows that closer approaches were made impossible by the gamma and other emissions from the array of reactors.

This has been a balls up waiting to happen since 1971. No matter what the former head of ANTSO says about how wonderful the Japanese reactors are in his fundamentally flawed opinion. He should get a job with big tobacco. In my opinion.
Responsible Anger being expressed in Japan. Authorities regard this as unreasoning. They are deluded.

Of course, it was all made possible by generations of elitist Japanese government, inculcated
in the AEC view of its own unquestionable superioritiy. This has been shown once again to have been an inhuman arrogance.

There has to be a better way. It will be useless, futile and counterproductive of the IAEA to blame the long term consequences of this nightmare on the “Radio-phobia” of the Japanese people. The disaster is real, as much as the IAEA might have us believe otherwise. It would be wise to wheel Dr Gale back into his box. He might want to drink TEPCO tainted Radio Iodine water but noone else does.

“The Japanese reactors are probably as good as you can find around the world, but this magnitude 9 earthquake may well have tested the limits of their design.” Threat from meltdown only minor: Ziggy Switkowski
March 14, 2011, The Age Newspaper. Delusional, Ziggy. Still, you get paid for saying such crap. The whole set of assurances about the specific reactor design at Fukushima in 1971 before the US regulators as stated by the AEC inspite of opposition from concerned scientists was that in the event of disaster they would over heat due to cooling system failure and the AEC denied this, assuring the public and the Congress that the core cooling system was safe and that data which established otherwise was in the vaunted opinion of the AEC, faulty. The Fukushima event shows that in fact the AEC was wrong.

When the AEC was obliterated for its flawed views by the US Congress and the NRC installed, the relevant authorities in the US did nothing to ensure that similar corporate/culture monsters created in other countries (such as Japan and Australia) were not likewise corrected and re educated away from the attitudes of the AEC and towards some semblence of a quasi modern public health model of harm reduction and harm minimisation. A power culture has therefore existed in Australian Japanese nuclear cultures in an unbroken line since the days of Lesley Groves and Strauss. Australia’s Ziggy is just another one of these. In my opinion.

Reactors are not low emissions. They emit a soup of radionuclides as promised by Szilard’s 1930s patent.

If something as fundamental as the cooling system cannot be controlled in shut down emergency, then that alone renders invalid every reactor approval process ever given.

The world’s best nuclear experts have been working overtime for 3 weeks in Fukushima and the joint is still vomitting Szilard soup reasonably unabatted. Yet, reactors are perfectly safe. And the Japanese reactors are “probably as good as you can find around the world”. Well the standards and the bullshit are both unacceptable.

That Port Augusta’s coal generators are not world’s best is my local scandal and just as worthy of notice.

IAEA worried about radiation in Japan village

March 31, 2011

Independent radiation monitoring by Greenpeace on 27 March 2011 described Litate Village, outside of the Fukushima exclusion zone, as follows:
Fukushima, March 27, 2011: Greenpeace radiation experts have confirmed radiation levels of up to ten micro Sieverts per hour in Iitate village, 40km northwest of the crisis-stricken Fukushima/Daiichi nuclear plant, and 20km beyond the official evacuation zone. These levels are high enough to require evacuation.

“It is clearly not safe for people to remain in Iitate, especially children and pregnant women, when it could mean receiving the maximum allowed annual dose of radiation in only a few days. When further contamination from possible ingestion or inhalation of radioactive particles is factored in, the risks are even higher.” See:

Today the IAEA seems to have caught with the independent monitors at Greenpeace:

IAEA worried about radiation in Japan village

(AFP) – 8 hours ago

VIENNA — Radiation levels recorded at a village outside the evacuation zone around the quake-striken Fukushima nuclear plant are above safe levels, the UN atomic watchdog said Wednesday.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said safe limits had been exceeded at Iitate village, 40 kilometres (25 miles) northwest of Fukushima, well outside the government-imposed 20 kilometre exclusion zone and the 30-kilometre “stay indoors” zone.

“The first assessment indicates that one of the IAEA operational criteria for evacuation is exceeded in Iitate village,” the IAEA’s head of nuclear safety and security, Denis Flory, told reporters here.

The watchdog had advised Japanese authorities to “carefully assess the situation and they have indicated that it is already under assessment,” Flory said.

But he said the IAEA — which does not have the mandate to order national authorities to act — was not calling for a general widening of the exclusion zone.

Iitate lies 40 kilometres (25 miles) northwest of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, which was crippled by a tsunami on March 11 and several explosions, leading to frantic efforts to prevent a catastrophic meltdown.

Advice had been given to “carefully assess the situation and they have indicated that it is already under assessment,” he said.

The reading in Iitate was merely a spot reading, he said.

“Deposition of radioactivity is something which is not the same everywhere, it depends on wind, it depends on rain and also on profile of terrain,” Flory said.

“Saying at one point that there is a need to assess further does not mean that all around that is a concern.”

But he said that overall, the situation at Fukushima “remains very serious.”

According to Elena Buglova, head of the IAEA’s Incident and Emergency Centre, the reading in Iitate village was 2 megabecquerels per square metre.

That was a “ratio about two times higher than levels” at which the agency recommends evacuations, she explained.

Copyright © 2011 AFP. All rights reserved.
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Voice of America

IAEA: High Radiation Levels Detected Outside Japan Evacuation Zones

The United Nations’ top nuclear official says the situation at Japan’s troubled nuclear power plant continues to be very serious as Japanese authorities struggle to bring the situation under control. The U.N.’s nuclear energy body – the International Atomic Energy Agency – says radiation levels in a village outside Japan’s nuclear evacuation zone are twice the levels believed safe for habitation.

The IAEA also revealed Wednesday that radiation levels in Iitate, a village located about 40-kilometers northwest of the plant and outside the evacuation zone, were above those believed to be safe for habitation. The nuclear monitoring agency has told the Japanese government about its findings and said authorities in Japan are looking into the assessment.

The environmental activist group Greenpeace has urged Japanese authorities to expand the evacuation zone from 20 to 30 kilometers, as their independent radiation readings also showed higher than safe levels. Top government spokesman Yukio Edano said the government was prepared to study the organization’s data.

Japan’s government has imposed a 20-kilometer evacuation zone around the plant, and recommended that residents up to 30 kilometers away remain indoors.

IAEA Director General Amano, however adds that it was not all bad news. “There has been also some progress. I really hope the efforts by the emergency workers would lead to the stabilisation of the reactors and this accident and crisis situation,” he said.

Leaking radiation from the Fukushima plant – the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986 – has not only raised concerns about whether areas around the site were safe for habitation but the safety of milk, produce and tap water as far away as Tokyo – which is more then 200 kilometers south of the plant.

Late Wednesday, a small but noisy group of protesters gathered in Tokyo outside the headquarters of the Tokyo Electric Power Company to voice their opposition to nuclear energy.

Thirty-four-year-old Chika Ito was among the protesters. “I had never really thought about it before but, because of the crisis, it has got me thinking of how frightening nuclear energy is,” he said.

On Wednesday Japanese authorities announced a new set of safety measures for the country’s 55 nuclear power plants. A panel of nuclear specialists has been organized to find ways to shut down the plant and prevent the further spread of radiation.

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