Tag Archives: radiation threat

Fallout forensics hike radiation toll

Fallout forensics hike radiation toll : Nature News.

The disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in March released far more radiation than the Japanese government has claimed. So concludes a study1 that combines radioactivity data from across the globe to estimate the scale and fate of emissions from the shattered plant.

The study also suggests that, contrary to government claims, pools used to store spent nuclear fuel played a significant part in the release of the long-lived environmental contaminant caesium-137, which could have been prevented by prompt action. The analysis has been posted online for open peer review by the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

Andreas Stohl, an atmospheric scientist with the Norwegian Institute for Air Research in Kjeller, who led the research, believes that the analysis is the most comprehensive effort yet to understand how much radiation was released from Fukushima Daiichi. “It’s a very valuable contribution,” says Lars-Erik De Geer, an atmospheric modeller with the Swedish Defense Research Agency in Stockholm, who was not involved with the study.

The reconstruction relies on data from dozens of radiation monitoring stations in Japan and around the world. Many are part of a global network to watch for tests of nuclear weapons that is run by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization in Vienna. The scientists added data from independent stations in Canada, Japan and Europe, and then combined those with large European and American caches of global meteorological data.

Stohl cautions that the resulting model is far from perfect. Measurements were scarce in the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima accident, and some monitoring posts were too contaminated by radioactivity to provide reliable data. More importantly, exactly what happened inside the reactors — a crucial part of understanding what they emitted — remains a mystery that may never be solved. “If you look at the estimates for Chernobyl, you still have a large uncertainty 25 years later,” says Stohl.

Nevertheless, the study provides a sweeping view of the accident. “They really took a global view and used all the data available,” says De Geer.

Challenging numbers

Japanese investigators had already developed a detailed timeline of events following the 11 March earthquake that precipitated the disaster. Hours after the quake rocked the six reactors at Fukushima Daiichi, the tsunami arrived, knocking out crucial diesel back-up generators designed to cool the reactors in an emergency. Within days, the three reactors operating at the time of the accident overheated and released hydrogen gas, leading to massive explosions. Radioactive fuel recently removed from a fourth reactor was being held in a storage pool at the time of the quake, and on 14 March the pool overheated, possibly sparking fires in the building over the next few days.

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But accounting for the radiation that came from the plants has proved much harder than reconstructing this chain of events. The latest report from the Japanese government, published in June, says that the plant released 1.5?×?1016?bequerels of caesium-137, an isotope with a 30-year half-life that is responsible for most of the long-term contamination from the plant2. A far larger amount of xenon-133, 1.1?×?1019?Bq, was released, according to official government estimates.

The new study challenges those numbers. On the basis of its reconstructions, the team claims that the accident released around 1.7?×?1019?Bq of xenon-133, greater than the estimated total radioactive release of 1.4?×?1019? Bq from Chernobyl. The fact that three reactors exploded in the Fukushima accident accounts for the huge xenon tally, says De Geer.

Xenon-133 does not pose serious health risks because it is not absorbed by the body or the environment. Caesium-137 fallout, however, is a much greater concern because it will linger in the environment for decades. The new model shows that Fukushima released 3.5?×?1016? Bq caesium-137, roughly twice the official government figure, and half the release from Chernobyl. The higher number is obviously worrying, says De Geer, although ongoing ground surveys are the only way to truly establish the public-health risk.

Stohl believes that the discrepancy between the team’s results and those of the Japanese government can be partly explained by the larger data set used. Japanese estimates rely primarily on data from monitoring posts inside Japan3, which never recorded the large quantities of radioactivity that blew out over the Pacific Ocean, and eventually reached North America and Europe. “Taking account of the radiation that has drifted out to the Pacific is essential for getting a real picture of the size and character of the accident,” says Tomoya Yamauchi, a radiation physicist at Kobe University who has been measuring radioisotope contamination in soil around Fukushima.

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Stohl adds that he is sympathetic to the Japanese teams responsible for the official estimate. “They wanted to get something out quickly,” he says. The differences between the two studies may seem large, notes Yukio Hayakawa, a volcanologist at Gunma University who has also modelled the accident, but uncertainties in the models mean that the estimates are actually quite similar.

The new analysis also claims that the spent fuel being stored in the unit 4 pool emitted copious quantities of caesium-137. Japanese officials have maintained that virtually no radioactivity leaked from the pool. Yet Stohl’s model clearly shows that dousing the pool with water caused the plant’s caesium-137 emissions to drop markedly (see ‘Radiation crisis’). The finding implies that much of the fallout could have been prevented by flooding the pool earlier.

The Japanese authorities continue to maintain that the spent fuel was not a significant source of contamination, because the pool itself did not seem to suffer major damage. “I think the release from unit 4 is not important,” says Masamichi Chino, a scientist with the Japanese Atomic Energy Authority in Ibaraki, who helped to develop the Japanese official estimate. But De Geer says the new analysis implicating the fuel pool “looks convincing”.

The latest analysis also presents evidence that xenon-133 began to vent from Fukushima Daiichi immediately after the quake, and before the tsunami swamped the area. This implies that even without the devastating flood, the earthquake alone was sufficient to cause damage at the plant.

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The Japanese government’s report has already acknowledged that the shaking at Fukushima Daiichi exceeded the plant’s design specifications. Anti-nuclear activists have long been concerned that the government has failed to adequately address geological hazards when licensing nuclear plants (see Nature 448, 392–393; 2007), and the whiff of xenon could prompt a major rethink of reactor safety assessments, says Yamauchi.

The model also shows that the accident could easily have had a much more devastating impact on the people of Tokyo. In the first days after the accident the wind was blowing out to sea, but on the afternoon of 14 March it turned back towards shore, bringing clouds of radioactive caesium-137 over a huge swathe of the country (see ‘Radioisotope reconstruction’). Where precipitation fell, along the country’s central mountain ranges and to the northwest of the plant, higher levels of radioactivity were later recorded in the soil; thankfully, the capital and other densely populated areas had dry weather. “There was a period when quite a high concentration went over Tokyo, but it didn’t rain,” says Stohl. “It could have been much worse.” 

Additional reporting by David Cyranoski and Rina Nozawa.

'Old Faithful' Sunspot to Fire Off More Flares

‘Old Faithful’ Sunspot to Fire Off More Flares, Scientists Say | Solar Flares & Coronal Mass Ejections | The Sun & Space Weather | Space.com.

Sunspot 1283 Storms
A giant plume of ionized gas called plasma (to the right) leaps off the sun from sunspot 1283 in this photo snapped by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. This sunspot spouted four solar flares and three coronal mass ejections from Sept. 6-8, 2011.
CREDIT: NASA/SDO/AIA

An active region of the sun that blasted out powerful solar storms four days in a row last week likely isn’t done yet, scientists say.

Officially, the flare-spouting region is called sunspot 1283. But space weather experts have dubbed it “Old Faithful,” after the famous geyser in the United States’ Yellowstone National Park that goes off like clockwork. And the solar Old Faithful should erupt again before it dissipates, researchers said.

“It still has a fair amount of complexity,” said solar physicist C. Alex Young of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “So we still have a pretty good chance of seeing some more stuff from this one.” [Photos: Sunspots on Earth’s Closest Star]

 

An active sunspot

Sunspots are temporary dark patches on the solar surface caused by intense magnetic activity. Some last for hours before disappearing; others linger for days, weeks or even months.

Powerful solar storms often erupt from sunspots. These include radiation-flinging solar flares and phenomena known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs) — massive clouds of solar plasma that can streak through space at up to 3 million mph (5 million kph).

From Sept. 5-8, sunspot 1283 produced four big flares and three CMEs. Two of the flares were X-class events and two were M-class flares. (Strong solar flares are classified according to a three-tiered system: X-class are the most powerful, M-class are of medium strength and C-class are the weakest.)

While the rapid motion previously observed in sunspot 1283 seems to have died down a bit, Young said, the sunspot looks poised to erupt again sometime soon.

“There’s a good probability that we’re still going to see at least another M-class flare, possibly another X-class flare,” Young told SPACE.com.

It’s not uncommon for sunspots to pop off a number of powerful flares in quick succession the way 1283 has done, he added. That seems to be the natural order of things.

“When you see one big flare, your chances of seeing another one are pretty good,” Young said.

A photo of a sunspot taken in May 2010, with Earth shown to scale. The image has been colorized for  aesthetic reasons. This image with 0.1 arcsecond resolution from the Swedish 1-m Solar  Telescope represents the limit of what is currently possible in te
A photo of a sunspot taken in May 2010, with Earth shown to scale. The image has been colorized for aesthetic reasons. This image with 0.1 arcsecond resolution from the Swedish 1-m Solar Telescope represents the limit of what is currently possible in terms of spatial resolution.
CREDIT: The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, V.M.J. Henriques (sunspot), NASA Apollo 17 (Earth)

Learning more about solar storms

Solar flares directed at Earth can cause temporary radio-communication blackouts. CMEs have even greater destructive potential; they can spawn geomagnetic storms that disrupt GPS signals, radio communications and power grids. [Sun’s Wrath: Worst Solar Storms in History]

So researchers are working hard to better understand sun storms, with the aim of one day being able to predict them with a great deal of accuracy and a long lead time. But they’re not there yet.

“We still have a long way to go to really have the kind of forecasting capabilities that we have with terrestrial weather,” Young said.

That’s not to say scientists aren’t making progress. Indeed, they’ve learned a lot about solar eruptions lately, Young said. And the knowledge base will continue to grow, he added, as a fleet of sun-watching spacecraft beam home more and more observations of Earth’s star.

“We’re really in a great time right now in terms of the data that we have,” Young said, citing the contributions of spacecraft such as NASA’s STEREO and Solar Dynamics Observatory, as well as SOHO, a collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency. “It’s going to be pretty exciting, from a solar physics and a space weather point of view.”

All of these eyes on the sun should be treated to quite a show over the next several years. Solar activity has been ramping up over the last few months as the sun works toward a maximum in its 11-year activity cycle.

Scientists expect the peak of the current cycle, which is known as Solar Cycle 24, to come in 2013.

Hunt Is on for Ticking 'Time Bomb' Stars

Hunt Is on for Ticking ‘Time Bomb’ Stars | Type 1a Supernova White Dwarf Stars | Supernova Explosions & Solar Evolution | Space.com.

Thousands of stars in the Milky Way are ticking time bombs that will explode in Type 1a supernovas.
New research shows that some old stars known as white dwarfs might be held up by their rapid spins, and when they slow down, they explode as Type Ia supernovas. Thousands of these “time bombs” could be scattered throughout our galaxy. In this artist’s conception, a supernova explosion is about to obliterate an orbiting Saturn-like planet.
CREDIT: David A. Aguilar (CfA)

Thousands of ticking time bomb stars set to explode at any moment are hidden throughout our galaxy, according to a new study.

When massive stars reach the end of their lives, they can explode in fiery fits called supernovas. Astronomers calculate that about three stars explode in a specific category of supernova called Type 1a every thousand years in the Milky Way. That means that within a few thousand light-years of Earth there should be dozens of stars on the verge of exploding.

Yet while scientists know these stars are out there, they’ve had trouble so far identifying which stars are nearing the explosion point. But the new research offers hope of finding the ticking time bombs more easily by looking for features that had previously been ignored. [Photos of Great Supernova Explosions]

 

“We haven’t found one of these ‘time bomb’ stars yet in the Milky Way, but this research suggests that we’ve been looking for the wrong signs,” astrophysicist Rosanne Di Stefano of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., said in a statement. “Our work points to a new way of searching for supernova precursors.”

Unsolved mysteries

Di Stefano and her colleagues offer a new model for how these stars explode that could explain some niggling unsolved mysteries.

The reigning theory behind Type 1a supernovas is that they are caused when old, dense stars called white dwarfs slowly steal mass from nearby companion stars until they reach a tipping point, becoming too massive to fight against the inward pull of gravity, and collapse. This weight limit, about 1.4 times the mass of the sun, is called the Chandrasekhar mass.

But if that is the case, scientists would expect to find these companion stars left over after supernovas fade from sight. They also predict small amounts of hydrogen and helium gas would have been left nearby, representing material that wasn’t sucked into the white dwarf, or that was dislodged from the companion in the explosion.

Yet none of these smoking gun clues appear to be present around known supernovas.

Slowing down

Perhaps, Di Stefano and her colleagues propose, white dwarfs are able to reach the Chandrasekhar mass but postpone the inevitable by spinning quickly.

As a star gobbles up more mass, it also increases its angular momentum, which causes it to spin up. This increased spin can act as a stabilizing force, allowing the white dwarf to tip the scales over the Chandrasekhar mass without exploding.

After the star stops eating its neighbor’s mass, however, it will gradually slow down, and eventually succumb to gravity in a supernova.

Yet the spinning effect could give the star a buffer, perhaps of up to a billion years, between when the white dwarf stops accreting mass, and when it explodes. During this lag, the leftover gas from the companion star may dissipate, and the companion could evolve into a white dwarf itself.

Bomb squad

The new model suggests a new tack for hunting impending supernovas. According to the research, astronomers could start to look for white dwarf stars that have already reached the Chandrasekhar limit, and are in the process of spinning down. [Video: Supernovas: Destroyers and Creators]

“We don’t know of any super-Chandrasekhar-mass white dwarfs in the Milky Way yet, but we’re looking forward to hunting them out,” said co-author Rasmus Voss of Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands.

The researchers reported their findings in the Sept. 1 issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Fukushima Reactor Damage Detected in California Winds

Fukushima Reactor Damage Picked Up in California Winds – ScienceNOW.

on 15 August 2011, 4:23 PM | 2 Comments
sn-fukushima.jpg

Dousing Fukushima’s reactors. Air laden with radioactive material that was formed after emergency teams soaked cores at an imperiled nuclear power plant in Japan (shown) blew into San Diego, California, about 2 weeks later.
Credit: Self Defence Force Nuclear Biological Chemical Weapon Defense Unit/Reuters TV

On 28 March, scientists got a whiff of something strange in the air off a pier in San Diego, California. The atmosphere had suddenly become flush with radioactive sulfur atoms. That sulfur, it turns out, had traveled across the Pacific from a nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan, that was shaken by the 11 March earthquake and the tsunami and aftershocks that followed. Now the same team has studied those radioactive winds to come up with the first estimate of damage to the plant’s cores at the height of the disaster.

To cool fuel rods and spent fuel while stanching a total meltdown, responders pumped several hundred tons of seawater into three reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. The white-hot rods fizzled off steam, which had to go somewhere. So workers vented it into the air.

Meanwhile, across the Pacific, atmospheric scientist Antra Priyadarshi of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), remembered a study she had read a while back: Following underwater nuclear bomb tests in the 1950s and ’60s, physicists noticed that a heavy form of sulfur—sulfur-35—had mushroomed. Nuclear reactions spit out lots of fast and therefore “hot” particles called neutrons, which can then bang into abundant chloride ions in saltwater, converting them to sulfur-35. Priyadarshi and her colleagues were already tracking tiny traces of radioactive sulfur to study how layers of air mix in the atmosphere, so all they had to do was wait.

They didn’t have to wait long. The sulfur was already swirling over Fukushima, where it had combined with oxygen to form sulfur dioxide gases and fine particles of sulfates called aerosols. Soon, strong winds pushed them east. Sulfur-35 does occur naturally—cosmic rays zap argon atoms in the upper atmosphere, or stratosphere, to make radioactive sulfur. But little of it makes its way down to the lowest slice of atmosphere, called the marine boundary layer. On a normal day, Priyadarshi sees between 180 and 475 sulfur-35 atoms as sulfates per cubic meter of air, but on the 28th, her team recorded about 1500. “No one has ever seen such a high percentage of the stratospheric air coming into the marine-bound layer,” she says.

The UCSD team ran a computer simulation to trace the path of the gases and aerosols from Fukushima to the West Coast. Most sulfur-35 atoms likely dispersed or rained down into the sea before hitting San Diego, but Priyadarshi estimates that about 0.7% completed the trip, too few to become harmful. Based on the simulation, about 365 times the normal levels of radioactive sulfates had gathered over Fukushima during the disaster, Priyadarshi and colleagues report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

And because the researchers knew how many neutrons it would take to make that much sulfur, they could estimate how many were expelled during the disaster: For each square meter of reactor space doused by saltwater, the nuclear material ejected 400 billion neutrons before 20 March. And that, in turn, may give scientists a good look at the damage done to the cores during the disaster, says study co-author Mark Thiemens, an atmospheric scientist who is also at UCSD. If unchecked, these particles can heat up fuel rods and stores of spent fuel to the point of causing disastrous meltdowns like the one that rocked Chernobyl in 1986.

But Andreas Stohl, a scientist at the Norwegian Institute for Air Research in Kjeller, isn’t convinced. Trying to figure out what happened to Fukushima’s sulfur-35 as it was buffeted by haphazard winds on its nearly 10,000 kilometer journey to San Diego requires a lot of guesswork, he says: “The uncertainties must be huge.”

Karl Turekian, an atmospheric geochemist at Yale University who edited Priyadarshi’s paper for PNAS, agrees. But he adds the San Diego researchers did their best to account for that atmospheric chaos. And scientists haven’t yet come up with any other way to estimate neutron “leaks” from nuclear fuel. “Somebody didn’t have a neutron thermometer in Fukushima,” he says.

Now that Fukushima’s reactors have cooled back down, the biggest challenge facing scientists will be to contain radioactive elements that escaped during the disaster. Thiemens will be working with Japanese researchers to follow sulfur-35’s path through soil and streams near Fukushima to find where even more harmful elements may have hidden.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that winds pushed sulfur over Fukushima west. It has been corrected to say east.

Lethal radiation levels linger at Fukushima Daiichi

Short Sharp Science: Lethal radiation levels linger at Fukushima Daiichi.
gamma.jpg
(Image: Tepco)

As workers continue their efforts to secure the damaged reactors at Fukushima Daiichi, new sources of deadly doses of radiation have been uncovered at the plant.

This photo from a gamma ray camera at the plant shows radiation levels exceeding 10 sieverts per hour (in red) – the maximum level the camera can detect – at the base of a ventilation stack between reactors 1 and 2. Exposure to radiation at this level can lead to serious illness or death within seconds.

Debris leftover from emergency venting completed after the quake could be the source of these radiation hot spots, according to the Tokyo Electric Power Company. They claim the radiation is located in an area away from recovery efforts. Workers are busy removing radioactive water and installing a new cooling system so the damaged reactors can be shutdown. Company regulations prevent workers from being exposed to more than 250 millisieverts of radiation a year.

Japan endured yet another earthquake on Monday along the country’s south coast. The Hamaoka nuclear power plant, located 40 kilometres from the epicentre of the 6.1 magnitude quake, reported no damage.

Nuked: Japan's Post-Tsunami Future

Nuked: Japan’s Post-Tsunami Future – An FP Roundtable | Foreign Policy.

 

On March 11, 2011, Japan’s northern coast was shaken by the biggest earthquake ever to strike the island in recorded history. With a gigantic tsunami and the nuclear meltdown that followed, 3/11 was the worst disaster to hit the developed world for a hundred years. Confronted with tough questions about its dependence on nuclear power, about the competence of its leaders both in the private and public sectors, about the economy’s ability to rebound from a shock, the country has been plunged into crisis. After centuries of earthquakes, tsunamis, war, and a long list of other disasters, natural and unnatural, the Japanese people are accustomed to building back stronger — but how do they recover from such a devastating blow, and what will that new future look like?

FP’s latest ebook, Tsunami: Japan’s Post-Fukushima Future, the in-depth look at the quake’s aftermath, assembles an exclusive collection of the top writers and scholars working in Japan today to answer these questions. In the excerpts published here, a group of Japan-watchers debate the country’s nuclear future: Will TEPCO, which supplies 29 percent of all of Japan’s electricity, be able to rebuild or will its collapse drag down the Japanese economy? What was the role of Japan’s famous “nuclear village” — the close-knit, revolving-door community of nuclear-industry officials, regulators, and lobbyists who’ve managed to keep Japan pro-nuclear even after the shocks of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — in allowing the Fukushima disaster to happen? And does it make sense to continue building nuclear power plants in a country so susceptible to natural disaster, or would a new smart grid based on renewable energy sources be a better solution for Japan’s north, as Andrew DeWit and Masaru Keneko argue?

For a longer look, plus articles on many other angles of Japan’s disaster, check out the ebook — with proceeds going to the Japan Society’s tsunami relief efforts.

Lawrence Repeta: Could the Meltdown Have Been Averted?

According to Greek legend, the god Apollo bestowed on the beautiful Cassandra the gift of prophecy, but when she resisted his charms, he applied the curse that no one would believe the truths she foretold. Thus, the Trojans ignored her warnings of impending doom.

A government hearing on TEPCO’s interim report about Fukushima No. 1 provided the stage for an eerie forewarning of the tragedy to come. At this June 2009 gathering, a Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry official named Yukinobu Okamura presented research concerning another great tsunami that had appeared more than a millennium ago, in the year 869 (the Jogan earthquake and tsunami). Soil analysis and other work indicated that the waters from this tsunami had penetrated as far as three to four kilometers inland into the area of the modern city of Sendai. Sendai lies between the coastal zones to the north decimated by the great tsunamis of 1933 and 1896 and Fukushima No. 1, about 100 kilometers to the south of the city. The March 11 quake and tsunami are thought to bear many similarities to the Jogan monster of 869. Okamura asserted that TEPCO’s plans were inadequate to protect the Fukushima complex against tsunami waves of the size and location generated by the great Jogan quake and demanded better defenses. Like Cassandra’s prophecies, however, Okamura’s warnings were laid aside, perhaps to be considered another day.

According to comments of a Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) official published by the Associated Press after the disaster, NISA had never demanded that TEPCO explain its tsunami protection measures and had not conducted its own studies of what degree of protection might be “appropriate.” Various published reports indicate that TEPCO assumed that tsunami waves would not exceed 5.7 meters. This official further said that NISA was about to begin a study of tsunami risks this year.

The story of the Fukushima reactors is intimately tied to Japan’s postwar pursuit of rapid economic growth. The most fundamental cause of the disaster is the boundless appetite for power needed to drive the economy.

Surely the die was cast when the first Fukushima reactors were built. Japan’s nuclear industry was in its infancy. Contractors followed blueprints and designs provided by General Electric (GE), and GE sent technical staff to Japan to advise on construction. Perhaps the GE design team was not familiar with local tsunami risk and the Japanese contractors were overly focused on successfully completing their work according to GE’s plans. Some have even suggested that the Fukushima No. 1 complex was a “learning experience” for Japanese engineers.

In accordance with the GE plans, the emergency power generators and water pumps were placed between the reactor buildings and the sea. Fukushima No. 1 continued in operation for more than 40 years. Despite local knowledge of tsunami history, the better plan developed for Fukushima No. 2 and a senior official’s specific objections to the TEPCO report in 2009, neither TEPCO nor any agency of the Japanese government took action to address the risks at Fukushima No. 1. Just before the disaster, NISA renewed TEPCO’s license to operate the complex for another 10 years.

The evidence suggests that regulators are under the thumb of the regulated and that critical voices are ignored. Japan’s present regulatory apparatus is weak and constrained by profound conflicts. It is simply not up to the role of contending with the dominant force of the nuclear power village. Coastal communities built seawalls on the assumption that another great tsunami would come one day. TEPCO operated its Fukushima No. 1 reactors on the assumption that it would not. As long as the facility continued to generate power and profits, institutional resistance to change overcame the faint glimmering of tsunami risk. The people relied on public officials to protect them, but the officials failed.

The obvious lesson from the Tohoku disaster is that if we continue to rely on nuclear power, we must establish independent regulatory agencies free of the control of private corporations driven by profit and of the bureaucratic mindset that denies all challenge to conventional wisdom. It’s not clear that this is possible. Humanity may have learned the science necessary to dominate the forces of nature to produce nuclear power, but it has not yet evolved the human structures needed to ensure that this science is applied safely.

Lawrence Repeta is a professor of law at Meiji University.

Andrew Horvat: How American Nuclear Reactors Failed Japan

What does Astro Boy have to do with the failed nuclear reactors at Fukushima? Plenty. The rise in popularity of the pop culture icon starting from the early 1950s closely parallels the gradual acceptance by the Japanese public of nuclear power as a source of electrical energy. Astro Boy both promoted and reflected optimistic visions of prosperity through atomic energy typical both in Japan and the United States in the latter half of the last century. After all, the cute little robot with rockets for legs is known in Japan as Tetsuwan Atomu (Powerful Atom). His little sister is Uran (uranium), and his brother is Kobaruto (Cobalt). There is hardly anyone in the “nuclear family” not entirely radioactive. All these characters offered pleasant distractions from the political infighting and bureaucratic turf wars that ultimately saddled Japan with nuclear generating equipment that was neither the safest nor the most efficient but that, at least until March 11, proved to be highly profitable for this country’s entrenched utilities.

The decision against importing the CANDU, a highly stable Canadian-made brand of nuclear reactor, after more than a decade of vacillation offers an opportunity to analyze Japan’s policy priorities in nuclear energy. They would appear to be close ties with the United States, diversification of sources of energy supply, strong bureaucratic control and localization of foreign technology with a view to promoting future exports. Safety and efficiency do not appear to be on the list.

Were one to be rude, one might add that greed and complacency also played a role. We now know that TEPCO had enormous financial resources and that executives had every opportunity to increase safety at the aging Fukushima plants. TEPCO had been warned to prepare for a tidal wave significantly higher than Fukushima Daiichi’s 5.6-meter retaining wall. The poor design features of the Fukushima plant — the fact that spent fuel was stored inside the reactor housing and that emergency diesel generators were installed in the basement of the turbine buildings where they would be flooded — were all pointed out at various times.

A nonmainstream publication, Shukan Kin’yobi (Weekly Friday), accused TEPCO of spending money not on emergency preparedness but on payments to 25 prominent public figures to appear in advertising aimed at persuading consumers that safety was a high priority for the electric utility. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano demonstrated that he understood public sentiment when he said on television that TEPCO and not the taxpayer should be made to pay for the damage and disruption caused by the failed reactors. His statement came roughly at the same time as news reports detailing the real estate and other holdings TEPCO would sell off to raise Y100 billion ($1.2 billion) just to stabilize four damaged reactors. The assets included some 33 holiday resorts and retreats for use by TEPCO employees, including senior executives. The utility also promised to eliminate 21 directorships, given to former executives and company friends who were required to do little to deserve lavish remuneration and copious perks.

Serious nuclear engineers such as Heinrich Bonnenberg are also upset and with good reason. Bonnenberg echoes the remarks of Atsushi Kasai, former laboratory chief of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, when he writes, “The energy industry and politicians valued profitability over safety. They built unsafe nuclear power plants with light-water reactors based on a faulty design.… Due to the disaster in Fukushima, people have lost confidence in all nuclear energy technologies.”

It is not a coincidence that the relatively safe HTR reactor that Bonnenberg champions and the latest version of the CANDU are being built in China. Renewable energy may be the wave of the future, but safer nuclear reactors are needed to fill the gap. In the 1980s, Osamu Tezuka, the cartoonist who created Astro Boy, replaced the nuclear reactor in his robot hero’s chest with a reactor using deuterium, the D in CANDU. Had TEPCO executives only paid more attention to the exploits of Astro Boy.

Andrew Horvat is a Japan-based journalist who worked as a correspondent for the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times and the Independent of London.

Paul J. Scalise: Can TEPCO Survive?

For the past 10 years, TEPCO’s generated cash flow has slowly but surely declined. Falling electricity prices in a liberalized market, stagnant demand growth, rising operating costs and unforeseen natural disasters plague the company. Little by little, TEPCO has been forced to increase its borrowing to meet its obligations. Perhaps the most ironic of all, TEPCO has been forced to trade on its brand name. The remarkable loyalty of its customers, creditors and regulators guaranteed that virtually any cost in the siting, licensing and construction of controversial power plants could eventually be passed on to its loyal customers while the company relied on low-cost corporate bonds, bank loans and commercial paper to fund mounting capital expenditures in the short term.

The Law on Compensation for Nuclear Damage suggests that “the government shall give a nuclear operator … such aid as is required for him to compensate the damage, when the actual amount which he should pay for the nuclear damage … exceeds the financial security amount and when the government deems it necessary in order to attain the objectives of this act.”

TEPCO is well aware of its legal rights. It is also well aware of the market and commercial realities. Press too hard and you risk alienating your customer base and the delicate tapestry of public opinion. Don’t press hard enough and your company’s viability, its shareholders and eventually its legacy will be lost. What to do?

At the time of writing, TEPCO now trades at only Y200 a share. Both the market and the country increasingly view this situation with dread. Time is running out.

Paul J. Scalise is nonresident fellow at the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies, Temple University, Japan campus. This article is an expanded version of the original titled “Looming electricity crisis: three scenarios for economic impact,” Oriental Economist, Economic Outlook, Vol. 79, No. 4, April 2011, pp. 8-9.

Andrew DeWit and Masaru Keneko: Moving Out of the “Nuclear Village”

Long dismissed as a dwindling has-been, a “fly-over” between China and America, Japan has suddenly been catapulted into an energy future that all nations face.… The need to reconstruct a good part of the Tohoku region, including much of its electrical grid, opens the possibility of doing the power part of the Y20- to Y30-trillion job “smart,” sustainable and distributed (broadly dispersed) rather than conventional and centralized. The monopolized utilities, including the “nuclear village” of industry insiders and regulators, have been working behind the scenes over the past two years to impede domestic progress on installing smart grids and evolving smart-city urban forms. This obstructionism derives from generalized inertia as well as fear of losing their dominance to distributed power. But now Japan has the chance to leapfrog its own sunk costs and incumbent interests.

The balance of power in energy policy-making is fluid and hotly contested, but the sustainable-energy policy option is rapidly moving to the center of Japanese public debate. The discourse in the media, reconstruction committees and elsewhere increasingly recognizes that the centralized system focused on nuclear power is too costly and dangerous. Highly complex, centralized systems per se are inherently and disastrously vulnerable to shocks, something as true of financial regimes and supply chains as it is of power generation and transmission. By contrast, Germany and a host of other countries and regions prioritize sustainable energy. They distribute increasing amounts of small-scale generating capacity among the myriad rooftops, yards, rivers and open fields of households, small businesses, farmers, local communities and so on. This strategy not only spreads the wealth and political influence created by a growing energy economy; it also bolsters the generating network because it is less vulnerable to the concentrated shock of an earthquake and tsunami. Natural disasters do not hit everywhere at once.

Andrew DeWit is professor of the politics of public finance and chair of the graduate program at Rikkyo University in Tokyo. Masaru Kaneko is professor of public finance in the faculty of economics at Keio University in Japan. DeWit thanks the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science for its generous research funding.

Robert Dujarric: Why a Nukes-Free Future is a False Dream

The emotional reaction to the Fukushima Daiichi disaster has failed to take into account the risks and costs inherent in the alternatives to atomic electricity generation.

Opponents of nuclear power often suggest that the solution is consuming less energy. This is a worthy goal, but there are limits to what can be achieved without accepting a fall in the standard of living except if one accepts a return to the Stone Age. Moreover, there are still billions of human beings on the planet who live in poverty. If they are to enjoy a better life they will need to consume more energy to light and heat their homes, wash their clothes, keep their food cold and travel to school and work. They will — rightly — want to have access to goods that require manufactured energy and to energy-consuming services. Therefore, though they mean well, the more extreme antinuclear groups in the developed world want to deny a large percentage of humankind the benefits of a modern technologically advanced standard of living that they themselves enjoy. Their message to the world’s poor is “Sorry, the boat is full, have a nice day, it was nice knowing you.”

Another alternative to nuclear plants could be solar- or wind-based electricity production and other sources of energy such as biomass or hydroelectricity. Unfortunately there are severe technological and economic obstacles to be overcome to allow these techniques to make a much greater contribution to the world’s energy needs. Additionally, some of them, such as biofuels, turn out to have ecological and other costs that make them far from perfect. Questions are often raised about the unintended ecological consequences of the dams that produce hydroelectricity. In several cases, such as the dams Turkey has built upriver from Syria and Iraq, hydroelectricity can fuel international conflicts between upstream and downstream nations. Investing more in these options makes sense. Regulatory changes and effective tax incentives could help a lot. But we cannot expect renewables to “solve” the energy question in the foreseeable future. Moreover, if they come online, the priority should be to use them to decrease oil consumption.

Thus, though they seldom mention it, those who seek to abandon nuclear power are arguing in favor of greater reliance on fossil fuels. Their prescription is “let’s burn more oil and let’s drill everywhere.” Unfortunately, there are costs associated with this option. One that is often forgotten is the geopolitical price. The inescapable fact is that the largest reserves are located in politically volatile regions, principally but not exclusively the Persian Gulf and North Africa. West Africa, where oil is also plentiful, is not particularly stable, and few can predict with certainty that Kazakhstan will remain the steady autocracy it has been since the breakup of the Soviet Union. With regard to natural gas, countries such as Russia and Qatar are not the ideal suppliers. In fact, of the major oil and gas exporters, only Norway and Canada (for gas) qualify as countries that offer stability, the rule of law and foreign-policy ambitions that are compatible with world peace.

Thus, as a consequence of the distribution of petroleum reserves, the United States and its allies have had to sacrifice the lives of their servicemen and women and spend trillions of dollars over the past decades to sustain a military establishment that could, in case of emergency, take control of the Persian Gulf oil fields. The self-destructive U.S. invasion of Iraq has understandably discredited American intervention in the region. But the fact remains that should a dreadful contingency — be it a global Shia-Sunni war, an Iran-Saudi conflict or an al-Qaeda uprising in Saudi Arabia — threaten to shut off the Persian Gulf oil fields, even the most devoted pacifists in Japan would want the U.S. military — perhaps helped this time by China and partly funded by Japanese taxpayers — to take control of the region to prevent a Great Depression II.

Nuclear power itself is not without its disadvantages. These include storage of radioactive waste, control of highly dangerous substances that can be used to build nuclear weapons and the potential for lethal accidents. Policies that encourage conservation and development of alternative sources of energy are highly desirable. But overall, countries that decide to abandon nuclear energy in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi accident may well be embarking on a road that will do more harm than good to their economies and the environment.

Robert Dujarric is director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies, Temple University, Japan campus. He gave a paid lecture at Areva University in 2008.

Gavan McCormack: Building the Next Fukushimas

March 2011 is set to mark a caesura in Japanese history comparable to August 1945: the end of a particular model of state, economy and society, both marked by nuclear catastrophes that shook the world (even if the present one seems likely to be slightly muted and the meltdown kept to partial, the regional consequences may be broader, the number of people disastrously affected greater). Where the mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki signaled the end point of the path chosen by the young officers of the Kwantung Army in the 1930s, the chaos and apocalyptic apprehension of postquake and tsunami Fukushima in 2011 is the end point of the path chosen by senior state bureaucrats and their corporate and political collaborators in the 1950s and steadily, incrementally reinforced ever since. Their legacy is today’s nuclear state Japan. 1945 was a purely human-caused disaster. 2011 differs in that it was occasioned by natural disaster, but human factors hugely exacerbated it.

Japan’s “Hiroshima syndrome” of fear and loathing for all things nuclear meant that cooperation with U.S. nuclear-war-fighting strategy had to be kept secret, in mitsuyaku or “secret treaties,” especially in the 1960s and 1970s, that have become public only in the past two years. The nuclear energy commitment, also pressed by the U.S., had likewise to be concealed, never submitted to electoral scrutiny and continually subject to manipulation (extensive advertising campaigns), cover-up (especially of successive incidents) and deception (as to risk and safety levels). The extent of that too is now laid bare.

The way out of the current disaster remains unclear. The debate over Japan’s energy and technology future will be long and hard, but what is now clear is that Japanese democracy has to rethink the frame within which this elite was able to overrun all opposition and push the country to its present brink. The crisis is not just one of radiation, failed energy supply, possible meltdown, the death of tens of thousands, health and environmental hazard but of governability, of democracy. Civic democracy has to find a way to seize control over the great irresponsible centers of fused state-capital monopoly and open a new path toward sustainability and responsibility. A new mode of energy generation and of socioeconomic organization has to be sought. Ultimately it has to be a new vision for a sustainable society.

It is of course a paradox that nuclear victim Japan should have become what it is now: one of the world’s most nuclear-committed, if not nuclear-obsessed countries. Protected and privileged within the American embrace, it has over this half century became a nuclear-cycle country and a plutonium superpower, the sole non-nuclear state committed to possessing both enrichment and reprocessing facilities and the fast-breeder reactor project. Its leaders chose to see the most dangerous substance known to humanity, plutonium, as the magical solution to the country’s energy security. While international attention focused on the North Korean nuclear threat, Japan escaped serious international scrutiny as it pursued its nuclear destiny. One bizarre consequence is the emergence of Japan as a greater nuclear threat to the region than North Korea.

Just over a decade from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, at the time of Eisenhower’s “atoms for peace” speech, Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission drew up its first plans. The 1967 Long-Term Nuclear Program already incorporated the fuel cycle and fast-breeder program. By 2006, the Ministry of Economics, Trade, and Industry’s “New National Energy Policy” set the objective of turning Japan into a “nuclear state” (genshiryoku rikkoku). Nuclear power generation grew steadily as a proportion of the national grid, from 3 percent of total power in 1973 at the time of the first oil crisis to 26 percent by 2008 and around 29 percent today. The country’s basic energy policy calls for the ratio of nuclear, hydro and other renewables (nuclear the overwhelming one) to be nearly 50 percent by 2030. Under the Basic Energy Plan of 2010, nine new reactors were to be built by 2020 (none having been built since the 1970s in the wake of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl) and 14 by 2030, while operating levels of existing reactors were to be raised from 60 percent as of 2008 to 85 percent by 2020 and then 90 percent by 2030.

The dream of eternal, almost limitless energy has inspired the imagination of generations of Japanese national bureaucrats. In the words of a panel at the Aquatom nuclear theme park-science museum in Tsuruga, close to the Monju plutonium fast-breeder reactor, “Japan is a poor country in natural resources … therefore Monju, a plutonium-burning reactor, is necessary because plutonium can be used for thousands of years.”

Trillions of yen were channeled into nuclear research and development programs and additional vast sums appropriated to construct and run major nuclear complexes. If the Federation of Electric Power Cos. estimate is even roughly correct, that the Rokkasho complex in northern Honshu will cost Y19 trillion over the projected 40-year term of its use, that would make it Japan’s, if not the world’s, most expensive civil facility in history. Japan is alone among non-nuclear-weapon states in its pursuit of the full nuclear cycle, building plants to reprocess its reactor wastes, burning plutonium as part of its fuel mix (as at the Fukushima Daiichi’s No. 3 plant since late 2010), storing large volumes of “low-level” wastes, and desperately struggling to chart a way forward to fast-breeder technology, something so prodigiously difficult and expensive that the rest of the world has set it aside as a pipe dream. At all stages — fuel preparation, reactor construction and operation, waste extraction, reprocessing, storage — its nuclear system was problematic long before the tsunami crashed into its Fukushima plant on March 11, 2011.

There are 54 reactors in operation or were till March. At Fukushima the reactor cores may have survived intact, but the management practice of leaving highly toxic and long-lived wastes in ponds beside the actual reactor has proven a terrible mistake. According to atomic specialist Robert Alvarez, such pools contain radioactivity between five and 10 times greater than that of one reactor core, with one pond holding “more cesium 137 than was deposited by all nuclear weapons tests in the Northern Hemisphere combined,” and “a major release of cesium 137 from a pool fire could render an area uninhabitable greater than that created by the Chernobyl accident.” Whether because of sloshing under the impact of the quake or leakage from structural collapse, the rods at several of the Fukushima plants were partially exposed for unknown periods, fires did burn with unknown consequences and the resumption of cooling using seawater by fire hose or helicopter bombing and ultimately by the reconnection of pumps has proven immensely difficult.

Once the immediate crisis passes, these plants will have to be decontaminated and dismantled, an expensive, difficult and time-consuming task that will take decades, while the electricity they once provided must be somehow substituted. Whether they can or will simply be cased in concrete like Chernobyl remains to be seen, but they will surely become a monument to the disastrous mistakes of the postwar Japanese nuclear plan.

Of the major complexes other than Fukushima, the most notorious are those at Kashiwazaki in Niigata and Hamaoka in Shizuoka. Kashiwazaki, with seven reactors generating 8,000 megawatts, is the world’s largest nuclear generation plant. The 6.8-magnitude quake it experienced on July 16, 2007, was more than twice as strong as the design had allowed for, and the site proved to be on a previously undetected fault line. Catastrophic breakdown did not occur, but multiple malfunctioning did, including burst pipes, fire and radioactive leaks into sea and air. The Hamaoka complex, 190 kilometers southwest of Tokyo, has five reactors, which, like those at Kashiwazaki, sit on fault lines where the Eurasian, Pacific, Philippine and North American plates grind against one another and where experts predict a strong chance of a powerful quake sometime in the near future. Company officials say the plant is designed to withstand an 8.5-magnitude earthquake, as that was believed to have been the most powerful ever known in the area. After Fukushima’s 9.0, however, the preconditions on which Hamaoka was based have collapsed. A Fukushima-level event here could force the evacuation of up to 30 million people.

Perhaps most controversial of the site plans is that for two reactors to be built at Kaminoseki, population 3,700, an exquisitely beautiful national park site at the southern end of the Inland Sea about 80 kilometers from Hiroshima, one to commence operation in 2018 and the other in 2022. After nearly 30 years of attempts to start these works, blocked by fierce local resistance, especially on the part of the fishing community of Iwaishima, the island that faces the reactor site across about four kilometers of sea, preliminary forest clearing and sea refilling works began late in 2010. With fierce confrontation continuing between fishing boats, canoes and kayaks on the part of the protesters and the power company’s ships, however, it is hard to imagine that after March 2011 the government will find the will to move in and crush the protesters. Indeed, the governor of the prefecture has demanded that work be halted (and in the wake of March 11 it has indeed halted, at least temporarily).

For the country whose scientific and engineering skills are the envy of the world to have been guilty of the disastrous miscalculations and malpractices that have marked the past half century — including data falsification and fabrication, the duping of safety inspectors, the belittling of risk and the failure to report criticality incidents and emergency shutdowns — and then to have been reduced to desperate attempts with fire hoses and buckets to prevent a catastrophic meltdown in 2011 raises large questions not just for Japan but for humanity. Could the rest of the world, for which the U.S. government holds out the prospect of nuclear renaissance, do better?

The “nuclear state Japan” plans have plainly been shaken by the events of March 2011. It is too much to expect that they will be dropped, but the struggle between Japan’s nuclear bureaucracy, pursuing the chimera of limitless clean energy, global leadership, a solution to global warming, the maintenance of nuclear weapon defenses (America’s “extended deterrent”) on the one hand and Japan’s civil society, pursuing its agenda of social, ecological and economic sustainability, democratic decision-making, abolition of nuclear weapons, phasing out of nuclear power projects, and reliance on renewable energy, zero emission, material recycling and non-nuclear technologies enters a new phase after March 2011.

Gavan McCormack is a coordinator of the Asia-Pacific Journal and an emeritus professor of Australian National University. He is the author, most recently, of Client State: Japan in the American Embrace (New York, 2007, Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing 2008) and Target North Korea: Pushing North Korea to the Brink of Nuclear Catastrophe (New York, 2004, Tokyo and Seoul 2006). This essay, which draws on and updates a 2007 Japan Focus article, was written for Le Monde Diplomatique, where it was posted online in French in April 2011.

Researchers ask Fukushima residents to move out as radiation in urine is detected

Researchers ask Fukushima residents to move out as radiation in urine is detected.

By IBTimes Staff Reporter | June 27, 2011 12:35 PM GMT

Residents near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant in Japan are passing urine contaminated with radiation, raising concern over permanent dwellings in the region.

Radiation has been measured in the urine of 15 residents living near Fukushima reactor No. 1, which has been releasing radioactive elements after being hit by the disastrous tsunami in March.

According to radiation biologists, more than three millisieverts of radiation has been measured in the urine of 15 residents living within a radius of 30 to 40 kilometers from Fukushima reactor No. 1, which has been releasing radioactive elements after being hit by the disastrous tsunami triggered by the March 11 earthquake in Japan.

The findings about internal radiation exposure pose a serious concern for the settlements in the area, especially in the village of Litate and the town of Kawamata, Nanao Kamada, professor of radiation biology at Hiroshima University, told The Japanese Times on Sunday.

“It will be difficult for people to continue living in these areas,” Kamada said, warning residents to stop eating contaminated vegetables and drinking radioactive water.

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Radioactive iodine was found as high as 3.2 millisieverts in six people and the total exposure was measured between 4.9 to 14.2 millisieverts over two months since the leakage started, said the researchers.

The data is comparatively much higher than the estimated 20 millisieverts radiation exposure a year, compelling residents to reconsider their permanent inhabitation near Fukushima nuclear plant.

“The figures did not exceed the maximum of 20 millisieverts a year, but we want residents to use these results to make decisions to move,” Kamada added, urging people to flee to be safe from radiation risks.

A 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl nuclear power plant in North Ukraine led to the evacuation of the city of Prypiat across a radius of 48 kilometers. About 50,000 Pripyat residents had to flee to escape harmful radiation from the explosion of Chernobyl reactor No. 4, which contaminated a large part of Northern Europe, including Belarus and Russia.

25 years later, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture, Japan, was devastated by Tsunami waves in March, leading to leakage of radioactive water into the ocean.

Agency report praises Fukushima staff, slams TEPCO

Agency report praises Fukushima staff, slams TEPCO – environment – 21 June 2011 – New Scientist.

Workers 1, bosses zero. If independent verification were needed that staff at Fukushima performed heroically when disaster hit the nuclear plant in northern Japan, it came on Monday.

A report presented at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria, praised the staff who struggled to bring the situation under control after the tsunami destroyed emergency power and cooling systems. “Given the resources available it is doubtful that any better solutions than the ones chosen could have realistically been implemented,” it concluded. The report was presented by the head of the fact-finding delegation, Michael Weightman.

But the IAEA document criticised the operator, Tepco, and the Japanese regulatory authorities for underestimating the tsunami hazard and failing to review protective measures at the plant. Its 15 conclusions and 16 lessons from the disaster include calls for all 440 nuclear plants worldwide to “harden” protection against external hazards, making sure that emergency backups can’t be destroyed by natural hazards. It also questioned whether Japan’s nuclear regulators were truly independent of the vested interests of the nuclear industry.

Yukiya Amano, director general of the IAEA, said in response to the report that the industry needed to create a global emergency preparedness and response system, and make sure regulators are “genuinely independent”.

Amano also warned the nuclear industry to increase safety standards everywhere. “Business as usual is not an option,” he said.

Tepco treats radioactive water at Fukushima plant

BBC News – Tepco treats radioactive water at Fukushima plant.

Storage tanks for radioactive water Some of the radioactive water is being temporarily stored in special tanks away from the site

Operators of Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant have begun pumping decontaminated water in as part of a system to cool damaged reactors.

The government hailed the move as “a giant step forward” in bringing the facility under control.

Some 110,000 tonnes of water have built up during efforts to cool reactors hit by the 11 March earthquake and tsunami.

The tsunami destroyed both power and back-up generators at the plant, breaking the cooling systems.

Three of the reactors went into meltdown, and there have been radiation leaks.

It is the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986.

‘Critical’

Operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) said about 1,850 tonnes of radioactive water had been recycled so far.

The firm said it would continue to inject 16 tonnes of water every hour into reactors 1, 2, and 3, and that 13 tonnes of this would be the decontaminated water.

“This is critical in two aspects,” said Goshi Hosono, an adviser to Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

“First, the system will solve the problem of contaminated water, which gave all sorts of worries to the world. Second, it will enable stable cooling of reactors.”

Tepco has been running out of space to store the huge quantities of contaminated water, which has also hindered engineers’ efforts to carry out critical work.

Small amounts of low-radioactive wastewater have been released into the sea.

Tepco said the process would help the company meet its target of bringing the plant to a “cold shutdown” by January next year.

Radiation discovered in Fukushima residents

Radiation discovered in Fukushima residents – CNN.com.

People line up for radiation screening in Fukushima prefecture on March 21.

People line up for radiation screening in Fukushima prefecture on March 21.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Radioactive iodine levels concern Japanese researchers
  • Those tested are 4 to 77 years old
  • All of those tested have been exposed to radiation

(CNN) — Japanese researchers have found radiation in all 15 people tested last month from the area near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Cesium was found in the participants, ranging from 4 to 77 years old, through two rounds of testing conducted by Nanao Kamada at the Research Institute for Radiation Biology and Medicine of Hiroshima University.

Kamada insisted that the cesium numbers are minute and do not represent a health threat.

The people tested lived in the towns of Iitate and Kawamata, located about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the nuclear plant.

The participants were also tested for radioactive iodine, which was found in the urine of six Fukushima prefecture residents.

The urine samples from a 77-year-old man in the first round of tests indicated radioactivity as high as 3.2 millisieverts. However, no iodine was found from the urine of the same man in the second round of tests, ruling out the possibility of air contamination.

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“The cause might be that they ate contaminated vegetables and mushrooms before the restrictions, not by inhaling contaminated air,” Kamada said, referring to a large scale restriction on Fukushima produce following the incident at the plants on March 11.

The data indicated that accumulated external exposure was between 4.9 and 13.5 millisieverts for the two months after the accident — a number which could exceed the government limit of 20 millisieverts per year if they continue living in the area.

“From the perspective of protecting human health from radiation, it is clear that they unfortunately cannot continue to live in their homes,” Kamada said. About 7,500 people were evacuated from the communities by the end of May, although some folks continue to live in Iitate.

The first test was conducted May 5, while the second was conducted at the end of the month. The results were announced to the residents June 19.