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Archives for : Tokyo Electric Power Company

TEPCO sued over deaths of elderly patients during Fukushima evacuation

Fukushima *

Fukushima * (Photo credit: Sterneck)

 

 

June 11, 2013

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN,

Noriko Abe is demanding answers over the death of her 98-year-old father-in-law who was forced to take a 230-kilometer bus trip lasting more than eight hours in the confusion following the Fukushima nuclear accident.

Dozens of hospital patients died during the arduous evacuation process, which was hampered by poor communications, a lack of manpower and the sheer chaos in the aftermath of two natural disasters. At least one medical worker said decisions made during the evacuation likely exacerbated the situation for the frail patients.

Abe and the families of three other patients at Futaba Hospital who died in the evacuation process filed a lawsuit at the Tokyo District Court on June 10, seeking a total of about 130 million yen ($1.3 million) in compensation from Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The patients’ ages ranged from 62 to 98 when they died.

“This is not an issue about money,” Abe, 71, said. “I want the court to clarify the reasons our father had to die and for TEPCO to apologize.”

The government’s Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations pointed to a lack of communications between various agencies of the central and Fukushima prefectural governments as part of the reason for the delay in evacuating the Futaba Hospital patients.

But the plaintiffs, citing their own advanced age, focused the lawsuit on TEPCO to avoid a drawn-out court battle against the governments.

The lawsuit adds to the mountain of compensation claims against the utility over the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

“We would like to refrain from commenting on the lawsuit,” a TEPCO official said.

According to the lawsuit, the four patients, who were being treated for pneumonia and other ailments, were among about 340 at Futaba Hospital when the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami knocked out power at the nearby Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant on March 11, 2011.

Power outages meant medical equipment could not be used at Futaba Hospital, and the four patients did not receive adequate care, the lawsuit said.

The following day, 209 patients were evacuated from the hospital and eventually taken to Iwaki Kaisei Hospital. The four patients were not among them.

At 3:36 p.m. that day, the first hydrogen explosion rocked the Fukushima No. 1 plant. Officials of the central and Fukushima prefectural governments tried to pick up the pace of relocating patients in nearby hospitals.

But the explosions hampered the evacuation of the remaining patients at Futaba Hospital.

A decision was made to take the second group of 34 patients–including the four–from Futaba Hospital to the Soso public health center in Minami-Soma, about 25 kilometers north of the Fukushima No. 1 plant, for radiation checks before transferring them to an evacuation center.

But it wasn’t until the early morning of March 14 when the Self-Defense Forces rescued the 34 patients and used an SDF bus to take them to the Soso public health center.

“I could not do anything for them,” said Kenji Sasahara, 47, who headed the Soso public health center when the patients arrived for radiation checks. “Their conditions were very bad so I should have asked that they be taken directly to the evacuation center.”

Sasahara said a number of patients were pale and in such serious condition they could not be removed from the SDF bus. Center workers entered the vehicle to conduct the radiation checks, which were completed in about 10 minutes.

A plan was devised to transfer the patients to Iwaki Koyo Senior High School, about 46 kilometers south of the Fukushima No. 1 plant, on a bus chartered by the Fukushima prefectural government.

But to avoid approaching the stricken nuclear plant, the bus route went inland and covered a distance of 230 kilometers.

According to the government investigative panel’s final report, officials at the prefectural agency dealing with the natural disasters were not aware that many of the patients were in serious condition and unfit for such a long drive.

Sasahara said he asked the SDF members to take the patients to Iwaki without transferring them to the other bus.

“It would have been dangerous to even transfer the patients to the other bus because that alone would have been a heavy burden,” he said.

Sasahara asked a public health center worker from Iwaki to travel with the group as a navigator. “That was the only thing I was able to do,” Sasahara said.

The four patients died between March 15 and April 18 while being evacuated or after they had reached the evacuation center. Abe’s father-in-law died on March 16.

A third group of 54 patients evacuated from Futaba Hospital on March 15, while 35 others were moved on March 16. Both groups ended up in Nihonmatsu, northwest of the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

Although Sasahara was worried about the patients, he and the 50 workers at the center were swamped with work as about 1,000 evacuees a day showed up for radiation checks.

Early on the morning of March 16, Sasahara received a call on his mobile phone from an acquaintance in Iwaki who worked in the prefectural government.

“A number of patients have died,” the acquaintance said, leaving Sasahara speechless.

According to the government investigative panel, three patients died before the bus reached the Iwaki high school, while five others died by the morning of March 16.

According to Futaba Hospital officials, four from the group of 34 died by the end of March.

In total, 19 patients evacuated from Futaba Hospital died over the five days after the nuclear accident, and 21 others died by the end of March.

Sasahara, who holds a PhD in medicine, now heads the Fukushima prefectural public hygiene research institute.

“The patients were not exposed to radiation because they were always either in the hospital or in a vehicle,” he said. “Looking back on it, there was no need to bring those patients to the public health center in the first place.”

(This article was compiled from reports by Shinichi Fujiwara and Noriyoshi Ohtsuki.)

 

source- http://ajw.asahi.com/

 

 

 

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Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant leaking contaminated water

Reactor control room at Fukushima 1 nuclear po...

Reactor control room at Fukushima 1 nuclear power plant in Japan This photo was taken on June 23, 1999 during a tour of the plant. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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(Reuters) – As much as 120 tons of radioactive water may have leaked from a storage tank at Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, contaminating the surrounding ground, Tokyo Electric Power Co said on Saturday.

The power company has yet to discover the cause of the leak, detected on one of seven tanks that store water used to cool the plants reactors, a spokesman for the company, Masayuki Ono, said at a press briefing.

The company plans to pump 13,000 cubic meters of water remaining in the tank to other vessels over the next two weeks.

Water from the leaking tank, which located 800 meters from the coast, is not expected to reach the sea, Kyodo news wire reported, earlier, citing unidentified officials from the utility.

The company did not say how long the tank had been leaking.

The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi plant has faced a range of problems with controlling ground water and maintaining the massive cooling system built to keep the reactors stable.

The power company said on Friday said it lost the ability to cool radioactive fuel rods in one of the plant’s reactors for about three hours. It was the second failure of the system to circulate seawater to cool spent fuel rods at the plant in the past three weeks.

The facility was the site of the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in March 2011 when a magnitude 9.0 earthquake triggered a tsunami that destroyed back-up generators and disabled its cooling system. Three of the reactors melted down.

The storage tanks, pits excavated at the site in the wake of the disaster, are lined with water proof sheets meant to keep the contaminated water from leaking into the soil

Work to decommission the plant is projected to take decades to complete.

 

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Tug-of-War Over Nuclear Future

Fukushima *

 

Suvendrini Kakuchi

TOKYO, Mar 26 (IPS)  – Pushed and pulled in opposite directions, the future of Japan’s energy plans in the wake of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant two years ago is emerging as a fight between national economic advancement and what anti-nuke activists call “the lives of the people”.“The tug-of-war between the government and opponents of nuclear power has become an excruciatingly difficult issue in Japan,” Professor Takao Kashiwage, nuclear technology expert at the prestigious Tokyo Institute of Technology, told IPS.

“The emotional (turbulence) following the devastating consequences of the Fukushima accident is masking a real and objective debate” about the country’s energy needs and its nuclear future, he added.

Kashiwage sits on the official cogeneration energy committee and backs Japanese Prime Minister Shintaro Abe’s energy platform that calls for a re-start of Japan’s nuclear reactors after the implementation of new safety standards that will be established by an independent expert commission in July.

“Japan’s energy security is heavily dependent on nuclear power. To halt this source (that produced around 30 percent of energy needs prior to the accident) completely is too drastic a step for the country,” he explained. Japan currently imports 84 percent of its energy needs.

On the other side of the fence are anti-nuclear activists, who have drawn negative attention to the development of nuclear power plants by Japan’s nine most powerful utility companies, supported by public funds on the basis of creating a secure supply of energy for resource-poor Japan.

Large sums of revenue were poured into cash-strapped localities to host nuclear plants that were touted as “safe”: according to official estimates, a single reactor costs about 10 billion dollars, though activists say the amount is much higher when other expenses, such as support for new facilities and subsidies for hosting local governments, are taken into account.

But, as the Fukushima accident made tragically clear, those projects failed to meet safety requirements such as contingency plans for large-scale evacuation of residents in the event of a crisis.

Activists point to the heavy toll the Mar. 11 disaster took on communities living close to the Fukushima Daiichi reactors as one of the more jolting examples of the tragic human consequences of nuclear power. They have also called attention to the environmental risks of storing radioactive material that could easily poison the surrounding area.

Indeed, life-threatening radiation leaks have already forced entire communities to leave their homes and jobs, with more than 300,000 people still living in temporary housing, scores of families separated and miles of farmland transformed into contaminated wastelands, unable to produce a single edible crop.

Yasuo Fujita, 67, is one of these many nuclear refugees.

His family had lived for several generations in Namie village, located just seven kilometres from the stricken nuclear plant. Shortly after the meltdown, he was forced to give up his beloved sushi shop that he had run for 30 years and move to Koto-ku, a Tokyo ward.

Today Fujita is still waiting for compensation from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to restart his life. “I lost everything in a second because of the Fukushima accident,” he told IPS.

“Despite government plans to rebuild Fukushima within three to four decades, nobody believes they can return. With (scores of) young people now moving away, there is no point in returning even if the government does make the area safe again, a prospect we do not believe in anyway,” Fujita added.

Meanwhile, the announcement last Monday that cooling of the spent fuel rods of three reactors at the Fukushima plant would be suspended due to a power outage created national panic and exposed a key problem in Japan’s nuclear industry: the lack of transparency leading to poor information dissemination and negligence of solid safety procedures.

The ‘Yomiuri’, Japan’s leading daily, noted on Thursday that TEPCO’s public announcement of the problem on Monday evening came too late, and illustrates the company’s “lax safety measures”, including the absence of a back-up plan to deal with accidents.

But as Japan’s massive fuel bills continue to rise for the second straight year – in February liquefied natural gas imports grew 19.1 percent, contributing almost 40 percent of the record 8.2-billion-dollar trade deficit, according to the Finance Ministry – and household utility bills climb 20 percent on average to meet increasing electricity costs, public support for the anti-nuke camp appears to be wavering.

An opinion poll conducted by ‘Asahi’, Japan’s leading national newspaper, in February revealed that 46 percent of respondents were in favour of continuing nuclear power if safety measures are strengthened — higher than the 41 percent who support total abolishment.

Only two of Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors – units 3 and 4 of the ?hi nuclear power plant located in the Fukui Prefecture – are operating, while the rest have been closed for maintenance or repairs, bringing nuclear power supply to almost zero.

This is a drastic reduction from pre-Fukushima levels, and a huge set back for national plans to grow the energy source to 50 percent of total supply.

Faced with the stark reality of the impacts of the accident and deep public commitment to avert another disaster, Abe is currently pushing safety measures, including installation of the new Nuclear Regulation Authority, comprised of independent experts, which has already issued seismic warnings against two nuclear power plants.

An upcoming national election in the summer marks an important turning point. If Abe’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party wins, experts contend the coast will be clear to restart idle nuclear plants.

But Aileen Smith, head of Green Action and a leader in the anti-nuclear movement, told IPS that activists will do their best to halt these plans, applying pressure in the form of lawsuits and large public protests and demonstrations.

“The government is talking of restarting idled plants. But the dangerous reality on the ground is such that utility companies applying for permission will face an uphill struggle,” she said.

 

 

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Gujarat – Mega Nuclear Power Plant Raises Fear of Fukushima Type Disaster

‘We are staring at the possibility of a man-made disaster in the shape of a nuclear power park’

by Ranjit Devraj, Inter Press Service

 

Bhagwat Singh Gohil frets for the future of his bountiful orchards in Mithi Virdi village in western Gujarat state’s coastal district Bhavnagar. “After contending with droughts, rough seas and earthquakes we are staring at the possibility of a man-made disaster in the shape of a nuclear power park.”

[]

Women protesting against a proposed nuclear plant at Mithi Virdi in the Indian state Gujarat. Credit: Krishnakant/IPS. Speaking with IPS over telephone from Mithi Virdi, Gohil said he and other villagers are unconvinced by official declarations guaranteeing the safety of the Gujarat Nuclear Power Park (GNPP) which, when complete, is due to generate 6,000 megawatts of electricity.

“They could not have chosen a worse site for a mega nuclear power plant – we have a history of earthquakes and fear a Fukushima type disaster in the Gulf of Khambat where the GNPP is coming up,” said Gohil. “Also, Gujarat borders Pakistan, a hostile neighbour. What if this nuclear facility is bombed in a future war?”

On Mar. 5  Gohil and some 5,000 villagers silently walked out of a public hearing  held by the local administration seeking approval for construction for the GNPP which is due to be equipped with six Westinghouse-Toshiba nuclear reactors, each with a 1,000 megawatt capacity.

“We did not want to be party to an illegal public hearing that was seeking endorsement for an environment impact assessment (EIA) report that was flawed and ignored many safety aspects which we are soon going to publish in a parallel document,” Rohit Prajpati, leader of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (Environment Protection Group), a voluntary agency active in Gujarat told IPS.

“To begin with, the EIA was drawn up by Engineers India Limited (EIL), a public sector consultancy that does not have the required accreditation – a fact which is apparent on the government’s own website,” Prajapti said. “An attempt was made to hoodwink the villagers, but they did not buy it.”

According to the terms of reference, EIL was supposed to carry out a detailed risk assessment and provide a disaster management plan, but the final document avoids that responsibility. “We have made written protests about this flawed EIA to the environment ministry,” Prajapati said.

According to V. T. Padmanabhan, independent researcher and member of the Brussels-based European Commission on Radiation Risk, basic safety aspects are being glossed over in the EIAs in the rush to set up a string of nuclear parks along India’s vast coastline.

“The EIA drawn up for the Mithi Virdi project, for instance, ignores the fact that there has been no study conducted on maximum flood levels – and that in an area that is seriously prone to tidal floods,” Padmanabhan told IPS.

On Mar. 6, answering questions in parliament concerning the new nuclear parks, V. Narayanswamy, minister in the prime minister’s office, said coastal nuclear power parks are designed with consideration given to possible earthquakes, tsunamis, storm surges and tidal flooding.

“Safety is a moving target in nuclear power plants and is continuously evolving based on the reviews by utilities and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB)  besides internationally evolving standards,” Narayanaswamy informed parliament.

But, it is not just the villagers and activists who are worried at the haste with which the public sector Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) is going about setting up coastal nuclear power projects – the courts have been lending a sympathetic ear to the protestors.

On Mar. 12, the high court of the southern Andhra Pradesh state halted plans for a 9,000 megawatt nuclear park at Kovvada in coastal Srikakulam district following a petition filed on behalf of local residents and fishermen by J. Rama Rao, a retired naval engineer.

The high court took notice of the petitoners’ plea that the government was going about attempting to acquire land for the 6,000 megawatt nuclear facility even though the project is yet to gain clearance from the AERB.

Kovvada villagers have been on a relay hunger strike since December 2012 against the proposed nuclear power plant. Their petition cited the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear meltdowns to say that in the event of an accident, future generations would be affected by radiation contamination.

But, in spite of the protests and intervention by the court the government appears determined to push ahead with plans to generate 40 gigawatts of nuclear energy by 2020, most of it from nuclear parks in various stages of completion along India’s peninsular coastline.

Narayanasamy stated in parliament that electricity will begin to flow from the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) in southern Tamil Nadu by April. The KNPP, which is designed to generate 9,200 megawatts, has been in the making since 1988 when a deal was signed for its construction between India and Russia.

KNPP is yet to have valid Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) clearances. Last November, NPCIL also admitted in the Supreme Court that it had constructed a desalination plant without mandatory environmental clearance, showing how existing rules are being bypassed.

“CRZ clearance is not a technical formality, but an important procedure designed to protect India’s sensitive coastal region,” said Padmanabhan, adding that the haste in setting up coastal nuclear plants contrasts with the bureaucratic red tape that India is known for.

“What we are seeing is a repeat of the Fukushima experience where investigations by a parliamentary committee have shown that although triggered by a tsunami, the meltdown of the rectors was man-made and a result of collusion between the government, the regulators and the utility Tokyo Electric Power Company,” Padmanabhan said.

Poor governance and lack of independent regulatory oversight in the construction of nuclear plants have already been pointed out by the Comptroller and Auditor General, India’s powerful government watchdog.

 

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Fukushima is not Chernobyl ? Think Again ! #Sundayreading

Safety and Accidents, at dianuke.org
Sarah Phillips

Sarah D. Phillips is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University, Bloomington. She is author of Women’s Social Activism in the New Ukraine: Development and the Politics of Differentiation (2008, Indiana U Press) and Disability and Mobile Citizenship in Postsocialist Ukraine (2011, Indiana U Press). Her website is athttp://www.indiana.edu/~medanth/

Article courtesy:Somatosphere

The March 11, 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami caused the deaths of approximately 16,000 persons, left more than 6,000 injured and 2,713 missing, destroyed or partially damaged nearly one million buildings, and produced at least $14.5 billion in damages. The earthquake also caused a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Japan’s eastern coast. After reading the first news reports about what the Japanese call “3.11,” I immediately drew associations between the accident in Fukushima and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 in what was then the Soviet Union. This was only natural, since studying the cultural fallout of Chernobyl has been part of my life’s work as an anthropologist for the past 17 years. Knowing rather little about Japan at the time, I relied on some fuzzy stereotypes about Japanese technological expertise and penchant for tight organization and waited expectantly for rectification efforts to unfold as a model of best practices. I positioned the problem-riddled Chernobyl clean-up, evacuation, and reparation efforts as a foil, assuming that Japan would, in contrast, unroll a state-of-the-art nuclear disaster response for the modern age. After all, surely a country like Japan that relies so heavily on nuclear-generated power has developed thorough, well-rehearsed, and tested responses to any potential nuclear emergency? Thus, I expected the inevitable comparisons between the world’s two worst nuclear accidents to yield more contrasts than parallels.

Fukushima City, view from the train station, Nov. 2012.
Bullet train, symbol of Japanese modernity, entering Fukushima station.

But as reporting on the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi NPP unfolded, an unsettling story of stonewalling and sloppiness emerged that was eerily reminiscent of the Chernobyl catastrophe. TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company), which operates the Fukushima Daiichi NPP, and the plant’s head, Masao Yoshida, proved to be masters of understatement. Yoshida characterized radiation levels nearly 100 times higher than normal as “higher than the ordinary level,” and he used the wholly inadequate phrase “acute danger” to describe two explosions and the meltdown of three of the reactor cores[1] (how about “catastrophic meltdown necessitating immediate evacuation?”). One is reminded of the first official statement acknowledging the Chernobyl accident, which only appeared in a Kyiv newspaper three days after the disaster, and was hidden on the third page in the Weather section: “From the Cabinet of Ministers of the USSR. An accident has occurred at the Chernobyl atomic electrostation; one of the atomic reactors was damaged. Measures are being taken to liquidate the consequences of the accident. The victims are receiving assistance.”[2]

Recently-released video footage of the early days and weeks of the Japanese crisis reveals that some of the same mistakes made during the Soviet state’s blighted response to Chernobyl were repeated at Fukushima Daiichi. Military helicopters made futile attempts to douse flames inside the damaged reactors with water, a strategy already proven ineffective, dangerous, and potentially counterproductive during the Windscale fire in Great Britain in 1957, and later at Chernobyl. Local Fukushima firefighters were called to the accident scene but not informed of the extremely high levels of radiation—the TEPCO video reveals an official at headquarters to say, “There’s no use in us telling the fire department. That’s a conversation that needs to happen at higher levels.” Recall the six firemen who lost their lives battling the fires at Chernobyl’s Reactor No. 4; along with 25 other plant workers and first responders the firefighters for years were the only Chernobyl casualties officially recognized by the Soviet state. The accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima alike have been traced back to lax safety controls and poor plant design or siting, and the emergency response after both disasters included a muddled chain of command, the intentional withholding of vital radiological data and health directives, and the privileging of economic concerns and saving face over the well-being of human beings and the environment. Did we learn nothing from Three Mile, Selafield, Windscale, and Chernobyl? Will the Fukushima accident finally jar us out of complacency, or will the accident be successfully “socially contained,” enabling humankind to “stagger on toward our next disaster?”[3]

Thanks to colleagues at the Japan College of Social Work in Tokyo, during October and November 2012 I visited Japan to participate in interviews, informal meetings, and conference roundtables with Fukushima evacuees, social workers, medical professionals, and community activists. It was an enlightening though sobering experience: many of the Fukushima stories I heard echoed nearly word-for-word narratives I have read and collected among persons affected by the Chernobyl accident in the former Soviet Union. Just like people who survived Chernobyl and the Soviet Union’s “rectification efforts,” Fukushima-affected persons and their advocates complain of government secrecy and misinformation, top-down decision making, generalized disorganization, and the social ostracism of nuclear accident “victims.”

“No one knows what really happened here”

I traveled through northeast Japan with an esteemed group of scholars:  Dr. Yukio Yamaguchi and Dr. Takashi Fujioka, professors at the Japan College of Social Work; Dr. Masumi Shinya, a professor of sociology at East China University of Science and Technology’s School of Social and Public Administration; Dr. Decha Sungkawan, Dean of the Faculty of Social Administration at Thammasat University in Bangkok; and Dr. Charles Figley, professor and Chair of the Tulane University Trauma Institute.

Lt to Rt: Charles Figley, Masumi Shinya, Sarah Phillips, Takashi Fujioka, Decha Sungkawan. At Nihonmatsu Station. Photo by Yukio Yamaguchi.

We traveled by trains and taxis, making research stops in cities like Nihonmatsu and Yamagata City, which received thousands of disaster evacuees, and Otsuchi (Iwate Prefecture), a coastal town devastated by the 3.11 tsunami. Before the disaster Otsuchi had a population of 15,262. At least 800 residents were killed in the tsunami that carried away most of the city’s infrastructure; nearly 500 residents are still missing. Today there are 10,000 people living in Otsuchi, 5,400 of who still live in cramped temporary housing units.

Our guide in Otsuchi was Mr. Ryoichi Usuzawa, a community organizer. Mr. Usuzawa drove us around the city, much of which now consists only of partial concrete foundations where buildings once stood. The entire city administration of Otsuchi (more than 20 persons) drowned in the tsunami—they had been called by the mayor to the town hall at the time of the earthquake. Mr. Usuzawa drove us up a steep hill to an area overlooking the town, just above the now-destroyed Buddhist temple and the adjoining hillside cemetery, which is still intact. On 3.11, hundreds of residents watched from this vantage point as the massive wall of water rolled in and mowed down their town (including their own homes, some with people still inside), the buildings collapsing “like dominos.” The devastation resulted in huge amounts of debris that caused further damage in turn, as tanks of propane gas bobbed along, became entangled in debris, and ignited fires and explosions “bubbling on top with smoke.” Mr. Usuzawa says, “It was like a huge washing machine was spinning the whole town. Everything was moving clockwise.”[4]

Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, October 2012

One of these hilltop spectators captured the scene on video, and we watched the terrifying footage on Mr. Usuzawa’s laptop as we looked down over the now-leveled city.[5] He explained that hundreds of residents, many of them elderly, fled to the Buddhist temple for refuge from the water and drowned inside. As the tsunami was rolling over Otsuchi, some 200 kilometers away a wall of water invaded the coast of Fukushima Prefecture, destroying the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and the surrounding towns. Yet the impact on residents’ health is harder to calculate, because it consists not only of physical destruction but radiation contamination.

As cultural geographer Shiloh Krupar notes, “Embodied knowledge…take[s] on a particular significance in the presence of large-scale technological -environmental disasters…, where the variability and duration of harmful waste and its biological effects are uncertain and never closed.”[6]  Measuring radiation exposure and absorbed dose requires specific, often hard-to-access technologies, and laypersons are dependent on experts and their expert knowledge for interpretation of these measurements. Individuals’ ability to know and assess their risks is severely curtailed when expert knowledge—produced by agents usually beholden to states and powerful industrial interests—is the only form of knowledge recognized as valid, even as states and industry intentionally withhold information on hazards and their biological effects. Meanwhile, embodied self-knowledge is discredited.

Fukushima evacuees and their advocates report egregious examples of misinformation, negligence, and cover-up that have exacerbated their health risks. After the earthquake and tsunami the United States Department of Defense and the Department of Energy conducted environmental and radiological monitoring of air, water, and soil on DOD installations in the region.[7] According to Professor Yukio Yamaguchi of the Japan College of Social Work, when this valuable data was shared with Japanese authorities they shelved it for two weeks instead of immediately informing the population about radiation risks. Further, the Japanese government failed to provide the Japanese public with data from the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information (SPEEDI)—data predicting the location and extent of radioactive contamination after the nuclear accident—until March 23, nearly two weeks after the disaster. Because the SPEEDI data was not available, some families evacuated themselves to locations that actually were more contaminated than where they were living.[8] Perversely, the Japanese authorities provided the SPEEDI data to the U.S. military on March 14 but waited a full nine days before releasing it to the Japanese people.[9]

As happened in the Soviet Union after the Chernobyl accident, after the Fukushima accident the government quickly raised the “acceptable” level of individual radiation exposure. In Japan, the pre-nuclear accident maximum “safe” exposure was one millisievert (mSv)/year.[10] After the Fukushima disaster, suddenly exposure of 20 mSv/year was deemed safe. Some medical professionals went so far as to suggest that 100 mSv/year was a safe level of exposure.[11] Such inconsistencies made it difficult for those living near the Fukushima Daiichi NPP to make informed choices and take actions to minimize their risk of exposure to damaging radionuclides. In this context of uncertainty, a common phrase among Fukushima accident-affected persons is that, “No one knows what really happened here.”

In an age where sophisticated radiological monitoring is possible and information technology facilitates the rapid evaluation and dissemination of radiological data, the Japanese government’s crude “mapping” of the radiation fallout baffles the innocent and informed alike. Environmental contamination after a nuclear explosion or accident is uneven and patchy. We have known this since the 1950s, when radioactive fallout from bombs detonated in Nevada was carried by rain clouds all the way to New York state. Similarly, radiation maps of the area around Chernobyl (not released until years after the disaster) show an irregular contamination pattern around the NPP with “anomalous” hotspots of contamination hundreds of miles away caused by rains —biochemist and journalist Mary Mycio describes it as a “hand” with a dark palm six miles around the plant and 20-30 mile-long “fingers” caused by radiation carried by the wind.[12] Why, in the immediate wake of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, did the authorities not apply this knowledge? Why was the contamination not mapped according to the actual radiological data? Instead, in a move strangely reminiscent of the initial Chernobyl “mapping” of a 30-kilometer “zone of alienation,” a 20-kilometer “planned evacuation zone”[13] of compulsory evacuation was drawn around the Fukushima Daiichi NPP. The Japanese Cabinet Public Relations Office announced that the cumulative radiation level in those areas could reach 20 mSv/year. People living outside this artificially-drawn zone have been provided no state support to evacuate from their homes, even if the levels of contamination are actually higher there than in some places inside the planned evacuation zone.

Consider for instance the town of Namie. Namie, which was affected by both the tsunami and the NPP accident, is located inside the exclusion zone, and its roughly 20,000 surviving residents were evacuated to the city of Nihonmatsu.[14] However, levels of contamination in Namie are lower than in some towns outside the zone,[15] whose residents have not had equitable access to evacuation assistance, medical care and social services. Evacuees from Namie face their own set of very difficult circumstances in Nihonmatsu: they are tired of living in hastily-built, cramped temporary housing quarters; unemployment, boredom, and feelings of lack of control over the future fuel anomie. Long-term reliance on social welfare is demoralizing, and evacuation is especially frustrating for elderly persons who just want to go home. According to a community leader at NPO Namie in Nihonmatsu, evacuees are experiencing serious psychological problems; now that they are not in “emergency mode,” he said, they increasingly dwell on their memories of the devastating tsunami. Many suffer from survivor guilt, asking themselves why they lived when others perished. Social workers report high levels of depression and anxiety, alcoholism, gambling, and marital discord among residents of temporary housing units.

Temporary housing site for Namie evacuees in Nihonmatsu. Located in a former athletic field, this site accommodates 240 families (550 persons), including 75 children under 15 years old, and 78 solitary elderly persons. Photo by Charles Figley.

Realizing that returning to Namie is only a distant prospect, and concerned about reports of Namie children being bullied in local schools, in fall 2012 a group of community activists founded Namie Elementary School in Nihonmatsu. The school has enrolled just 30 students so far, but organizers hope it will grow and serve to cohere the community of Namie evacuees in Nihonmatsu, who one community leader described as having been “scattered like sesame seeds.”[16] Indeed, loss of community is one of the consequences of 3.11 and the resulting evacuations and resettlements of paramount concern to social workers and NPO leaders. Social work specialists in Japan point out that loss of communities was a major problem after the Great Hanshin (Kobe) earthquake in 1995, but the lessons of that tragedy have not been applied after 3.11.

Commons area at Namie Elementary School, Nihonmatsu. Photo by Charles Figley.
A map at Namie Elementary School in Nihonmatsu shows where students and teachers used to live in the seaside town of Namie, whose 20,000 surviving residents were evacuated after 3.11.

“Living apart is too difficult”

The experiences of the Nakamura family illustrate the difficulties faced bt many Fukushima accident-affected families. Before 3.11, Miki Nakamura, a nutritionist, lived with her husband and three young daughters in Koriyama in Fukushima Prefecture, 58 kilometers from the damaged NPP. The Nakamuras evacuated temporarily immediately after the accident. However, being understandably reluctant to uproot their young family, they returned to Fukushima as the new school year began in April. As in other locations close to the damaged nuclear power plant, the schools in Koriyama stayed open even though neither radiological monitoring nor decontamination efforts were underway.[17] During an informal interview in October 2012, Miki Nakamura recalled that she and other parents were told “very firmly” by their children’s schoolteachers that children should continue to attend school; children were advised to wear masks, windbreakers, and hats to protect them from radiation. Trusting in the judgment of the teachers—and in the reassurances issued by the then Prime Minister Naoto Kan and the Secretary General that “there will not be immediate health impacts”—the children in Koriyama continued going to school.

The young families who at the time of the Chernobyl accident were living in Pripyat—the workers’ city built 2 km from the NPP—would find this tragedy familiar. Although news of the accident began to circulate informally hours after the Chernobyl explosion, the authorities did not warn the 49,000 residents of Pripyat to take precautions until a full 36 hours after the accident. Children enjoyed playing outside on the warm April day, unaware that their young bodies, especially their young thyroid glands, were soaking up radioactive particles. The thyroid gland is the organ most sensitive to radiation exposure; this is particularly true for children and for those with iodine deficiencies. Local health workers were instructed not to distribute prophylactic potassium iodine pills, for fear of “causing panic.” (Subsequently, around 6,000 cases of thyroid cancers—and many more cases of thyroid anomalies—have been documented among children who at the time of the Chernobyl accident were living in contaminated areas in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia.[18]) Incredibly, a similar scenario unfolded after the Fukushima Daiichi accident. Although health workers themselves took prophylactic potassium iodine, it was not given to children.[19]

On March 15, it snowed in Fukushima, and the snow contained radioactive materials. Radioactive particles landed on the surface of the soil. In April, the air dose rate exceeded 3.8 microsieverts (μSv)/hour at “hot-spots” in Koriyama, and 8 microsieverts/hour at some points along the school route.[20]Meanwhile, during the days following the Fukushima Daiichi accident, the Nakamuras’ dosimeter registered radiation levels of 1.5 microsieverts /hour right outside their home. It was not long before the eldest Nakamura daughter (age nine at the time) started having uncontrollable nosebleeds that her mother says “persisted even after going through a box of tissues.” The child’s nosebleeds were the first key factor in the family’s decision to leave Koriyama.

The second factor was the resignation of Professor Toshiso Kosako, an expert on radiation safety at the University of Tokyo and a nuclear advisor to the Japanese Prime Minister. In late April 2011 Kosako resigned in protest of the Japanese government’s decision after the Fukushima Daiichi accident to raise the official acceptable level of radiation exposure in schools from 1 to 20 mSv/year, a decision that allowed “children living near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to receive doses of radiation equal to the international standard for nuclear power plant workers…a level [that is] is far higher than international standards set for the public.”[21] Professor Kosako said he could not endorse this policy change from the point of view of science, or from the point of view of human rights.

The Nakamura family made a difficult decision: Miki and the children would move to Yamagata City, about an hour’s drive across the mountains from Koriyama. Mr. Nakamura would remain behind for his job, and the family would get together on weekends. Thus, Miki Nakamura and her three girls joined approximately 4,200 evacuees from Fukushima prefecture who moved to Yamagata. Like the Nakamuras, around 2,500 of these evacuees are from Fukushima City and the surrounding Nakadori area that were not under mandatory evacuation.[22] As “voluntary” evacuees, these citizens are hardly entitled to the same state entitlements that mandatory evacuees receive. Some voluntary evacuees did receive two-part reparation payments from TEPCO, the first for the months up until December 2012, and the second for the months from January to August 2013.

The financial stress on voluntary evacuees—many of which find themselves running two households (one back home, one in Yamagata)—is enormous. Rent is free for evacuation housing, but families spend approximately 100,000 Yen ($1,110) per month on moving costs, utilities for two residences, and children’s kindergarten and school fees outside their place of official residence. (The latter obstacle compels some voluntary evacuee families to transfer their official place of residence, a decision that produces its own set of complications.) Costs of transportation are also high for these split families, who travel frequently to spend time together; also, unlike mandatory evacuees, voluntary evacuees must cover the costs of their own medical check-ups. Reparations from TEPCO do not even begin to offset these expenditures: the Nakamura family received the first compensation payment of just 400,000 yen for one child, 80,000 yen for each parent “for their unnecessary radiation exposure that could have been avoided,” and another 200,000 yen “for minor and additional costs.” The second payment consisted of only 80,000 yen for a child, 40,000 yen for an adult, and 40,000 yen for additional costs.

Miki Nakamura notes that, lacking appropriate entitlements and compensation, among voluntary evacuees “there are so many children and mothers across the country that live each day by digging into their savings set aside for children’s education and their own retirement.”[23] Over time, despite their continuing concerns about radioactive contamination, the financial and emotional burdens of voluntary evacuation have compelled a number of these families to return home against their better judgment. Miki Nakamura predicts that a number of families will return to Fukushima Prefecture from Yamagata in spring 2013, “not because Fukushima will be safe, but because living apart is too difficult.”

“I am not a doctor but I know my children are sick”

In Yamagata City, the Nakamura girls continue to have health problems such as sore throat, canker sores, swollen lymph nodes, and dark circles under their eyes, which their mother believes to be related to the nuclear accident. The 10-year-old’s nosebleeds continue, but doctors—state employees who likely do not have the freedom to admit a Fukushima accident-related diagnosis—continue to discount radiation effects. One doctor who examined the eldest Nakamura child suggested that the girl’s nosebleeds were “caused by the stress of the mother.”

This readiness to attribute bodily complaints of disaster-affected persons to psychological and emotional stress is all too reminiscent of the diagnoses of “radiophobia” doled out by medical professionals and experts in the Soviet Union after the Chernobyl disaster.[24] Not surprisingly, many people in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia who believed that Chernobyl fallout had compromised their health balked at the suggestion that their ailments were caused by “fear of radiation,” not radiation itself. They had good reason to be skeptical. Anthropologist Adriana Petryna’s ethnographic study of the Chernobyl medical assessment and compensation system has revealed it that system to be anything but objective.[25] Petryna documents how the invention and application of radiation-related diagnoses in Soviet medicine were as political and social as they were scientific. Further, only half-hearted attempts were made to systematically collect health data from Chernobyl-affected persons (plant workers, clean-up workers, evacuees), making any firm conclusions about biological effects of radiation exposure versus psychological effects of “radiophobia” impossible.

During 1997 I shadowed medical professionals working at the clinic in Kyiv that houses the “Chernobyl registry.” Persons with a “Chernobyl tie” from across the country (those deemed partially or fully disabled due to Chernobyl’s effects on their health) were offered regular examinations at the clinic—some were required to undergo these checks to retain their benefits—and personnel were supposed to enter patients’ data into the clinic’s computer database. The doctors and nurses I shadowed were harried and underpaid, and saw the data entry task as a nuisance. Often data was never entered, or it was entered helter-skelter. It is well known that after Chernobyl some data concerning individual exposure to radiation (particularly among clean-up workers) was actively destroyed or changed.[26]

I also in 1997 assisted with a WHO-funded study of children’s thyroid health in Chernobyl-contaminated areas whose planned evacuation was scuttled due to lack of funds. The research team exerted a yeoman’s effort, but the desperate conditions of local infrastructure made our tasks extremely difficult. We worked in hospitals without running water or electricity, and thus our ability to do blood draws and perform ultrasounds on children’s thyroids was limited. Local medical personnel were skeptical of our team and the study’s motives and we suspected they actively discouraged sick villagers from participating. Qualitative questionnaires were not tailored to local ways of life. For instance, youngsters who spent hours each day working in the fields and walking long distances to school were never sure how to answer the ill-phrased question, “Do you exercise or do sports regularly?”

Observing these problematic data-collection procedures makes me question research conclusions that purport to definitively assess Chernobyl’s health impacts, and especially those that downplay the medical effects of radiation exposure (e.g. the 2003-2005 Report of the Chernobyl Forum).[27] The same critical eye should be applied to Fukushima accident health studies, since reports from Japan indicate that health monitoring of persons exposed to radiation after the Fukushima Daiichi NPP accident has been far from systematic or problem-free. The affected population is skeptical that doctors in the state system of medicine can offer objective diagnoses. This distrust means they may be compelled to pay out-of-pocket for private health care, in which case their medical data may not make it into official databases. In the future, these persons will not be eligible for public compensation for their Fukushima accident-related health problems.

Skepticism of official health pronouncements is reflected in people’s desire to have their personal levels of radiation exposure checked. Whole body counters (a device used to identify and measure the radioactive material in the body) are in deficit in Fukushima City, and the waiting list to be checked is some six months long.[28] Even though Yamagata hosts the largest group of Fukushima evacuees in Japan, there is not a single whole body counter in the city.[29] And as with Chernobyl, the chaotic evacuation of residents after the Fukushima accident complicates exposure assessment and health monitoring. Additionally, in early Feburary 2013 at a private meeting of the research and survey committee on residents’ health, it was suggested that the Fukushima Prefectural Medical College, the institution entirely responsible for examining radiation and its health effects, has attempted to delay the thyroid check-up for evacuees outside the prefecture.[30]

Not surprisingly, “radiophobia” has made its way into the Fukushima accident lexicon.[31] It becomes convenient and somehow perversely comforting to focus on the psychological impacts of nuclear disasters, with their many “unknowns.” The victim-blaming Miki Nakamura encounters (“the child’s health complaints are caused by the stress of the mother”) would be familiar to many Chernobyl-affected persons I have interviewed in Ukraine. Of course, this is not to discount the real psychosocial stresses associated with evacuation and the multiple forms of Fukushima’s fallout (radioactive, economic, social, psychological), many of which are being tracked by the Fukushima Health Management Survey.[32]

Miki Nakamura has met with other forms of stonewalling in her efforts to monitor her children’s health. Like all children living near the disaster site, the Nakamura girls are entitled to thyroid screenings. After her daughters’ thyroid checks at the Fukushima Prefectural Medical College, Miki received a brief notice in the mail that lacked any details or explanation of the test results. When she phoned the Medical College to ask for an explanation of the test results, personnel told her, “We are so very busy…” and discouraged her from getting a second opinion, which in the words of the doctors, “just causes confusion.” Despite the deficit of whole body counters, Miki  managed to arrange whole body counts for her daughters. However, without regular follow-ups to track the dynamic—whether their counts are going up or down—the information is of limited utility.

Miki Nakamura sums up her frustrations: “I am not a doctor but I know that my children are sick. And I saw that other children from Fukushima and in the greater Kanto region had the same health problems as my daughters, though I do not hear about it anymore…” Recent health studies show that Miki’s concern about her daughters’ thyroid health is far from unfounded. According to the April 2012 Sixth Report of Fukushima Prefecture Health Management Survey, which included examinations of 38,114 children, 35.3% of those examined were found to have cysts or nodules of up to 5 mm (0.197 inches) on their thyroids. A further 0.5% had nodules larger than 5.1 mm (0.2 inches).[33] Contradicting earlier reports, the National Institute of Radiological Sciences admitted in July 2012 that children from Fukushima had likely received lifetime thyroid doses of radiation.[34] The Health Risk Assessment from the Nuclear Accident after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in February 2013 states that in the most affected regions of Fukushima Prefecture the preliminary estimated radiation effective doses[35] for the first year after the disaster ranged from 12 to 25 mSv. According to the report, in the most contaminated location the estimated increased risks over what would normally be expected are as follows:

  • all solid cancers – around 4% in females exposed as infants;
  • breast cancer – around 6% in females exposed as infants;
  • leukemia – around 7% in males exposed as infants;
  • thyroid cancer – up to 70% in females exposed as infants (the normally expected risk of thyroid cancer in females over lifetime is 0.75% and the additional lifetime risk assessed for females exposed as infants in the most affected location is 0.50%).[36]

“The future is what we are looking at right now”

Miki Nakamura spends time with other evacuee families every day as founder and director the Yamagata Association of Mothers in Evacuation (YAME). The association is a resource base and support system for families like the Nakamuras who are voluntary evacuees often split between two households. YAME has a liaison council to help mothers get necessary information, provides babysitting services and a “mothers’ morning out,” offers free legal consultations, and sponsors a regular “children’s plaza” where mothers can socialize and exchange advice while their children play. Miki Nakamura and her association worked with a local politician to draft the Fukushima Child Victims’ Law, which was passed by the Diet. But this is just a resolution without enforceability, and specific measures to protect victims’ rights (e.g. the right not to return to Fukushima) have not been determined.

As a nutritionist, in a context of radiological uncertainty Miki Nakamura draws on her knowledge of food properties and the complexities of the food supply to regulate her children’s diet. She shares and publishes recipes that contain “radioprotective” ingredients. Foods that contain beta carotene and vitamin C, for example, can help rid the body of radionuclides.[37] One food that people in the Fukushima-affected areas have not enjoyed since 3.11 is persimmons (a crop for which the region is famous), which actively absorb radionuclides and thus are highly contaminated. The Yamagata countryside is adorned with scores of persimmon trees laden with ripe, juicy, entirely inedible fruit. Just as apples have become the key symbol of the Chernobyl accident (the forbidden fruit, original sin, humankind’s folly in seeking to control nature through science)[38], perhaps the quintessential symbol of the Fukushima Daiichi accident will be the persimmon, which in Buddhist thought symbolizes the transformation of humans’ ignorance (the acrid green persimmon) into wisdom (the sweet, ripened fruit).

Loaded persimmon tree in Yamagata City.

Miki Nakamura has lost all trust in the authorities. Before the disaster she always believed the government and she never thought twice about living near a nuclear power plant. Today she demands justice. She said: “The Fukushima disaster is not just an economic problem, but a problem of our children’s future. The future is what we are looking at right now. Our kids have the right to safety and to a good and long, peaceful life. These are not ‘poor kids.’ They have a future. The most important part of reconstruction after the accident is the restoration of people’s trust and sense of security.”

Was nuclear technological failure—the Chernobyl disaster—the “straw that broke the camel’s back” of the Soviet Union?[39] The botched handling of the accident and its aftermath—and especially the central government’s overt failure and disinterest to protect the safety of citizens—confirmed what many citizens strongly believed: their government did not care for them and the system had become thoroughly corrupt and untrustworthy. While widespread protest against nuclear energy and its environmental and health risks was not possible in the authoritarian Soviet state, even in those conditions of a muzzled press and lack of freedom of speech a green movement emerged in response to Chernobyl. Chernobyl’s political fallout was one factor contributing to Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost (openness), and in a limited way anti-nuclear sentiment also fueled the Ukrainian independence movement.

Similarly, Japanese citizens have lost trust in the government and in engineers and physicians who previously commanded such respect and authority. Community leaders strongly feel that Japan lags behind other industrialized nations in democratic governance; they are particularly concerned about lack of press freedom. Indeed, in December 2012 the World Audit on corruption, democracy, and freedom of press gave Japan a democracy ranking of 29 (1 is most democratic, 150 least democratic). This puts Japan in the Audit’s “Division 2” list, along with Ghana, Panama, and Israel. Of the 26 OECD countries, Japan ranks 19th in democratic governance.[40]

The sound defeat of the Democratic Party by the Liberal Democratic Party in the national parliamentary elections in December 2012 reflected dissatisfaction with the status quo. But the elections were a referendum on the DP, not nuclear power; the LDP is pro-nuclear and does not plan to scale back nuclear energy production. Indeed, traveling through Japan I was struck by the relative lack of anti-nuclear discourse, even in Fukushima Prefecture. Few politicians criticize nuclear power. A notable exception is Tetsunari Iida, director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies who lost a bid for governor of Yamaguchi Prefecture in elections in July 2012. The anti-nuclear Tomorrow of Japan Party—formed less a month before the national parliamentary elections in December 2012—garnered scant voter support and disappeared. Reportedly the party’s calls for nuclear power drawdown failed to gain traction “amid concerns that electrical shortages could hurt the already shrinking economy.”[41]

Indeed, one gets the impression that response to the disaster has centered primarily on short-term economic, not human, concerns. Before the accident at the Fukushima NPP, Japan relied on nuclear power for 30% of its energy needs and was planning to increase that to over 50% within two decades. According to Japan’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, scrapping nuclear power would result in losses of $55.9 billion for power companies, at least four of which would likely face insolvency.[42] With these economic stakes, it is not surprising that TEPCO and the Japanese government have been stingy with information about the disaster, the radioactive fallout, and the potential health consequences. My acquaintances who hoped Japan would abandon nuclear energy after the Fukushima disaster fear that the chance to “change the country’s direction” has already passed by.

Haruhiko Fukase, a resident of Yamagata City who worked as a shelter volunteer and coordinator during the evacuation effort, said that the nuclear accident-affected people have been forgotten not just by the international community, but by many of their fellow Japanese citizens. “For people in Tokyo and other big cities,” he said, “the evacuees don’t even register anymore. Their problems have been forgotten.” But for thousands of families, the Fukushima nuclear disaster will never end. Community leaders repeat this refrain: “The reactor is still hot; the situation is still unstable.” Miki Nakamura and like-minded community leaders are not giving up on the democratic process. They continue to speak justice to power. As Nakamura said during the December 2012 Japanese elections, “To give up on Japanese politics is, to me, to give up on Fukushima.”[43]

Fukushima is Chernobyl. Independent of the system (Japanese, Soviet), nuclear technology requires disregard for the public, misleading statements, and obfuscation in multiple domains (medicine, science and technology, governance). As anthropologist Hugh Gusterson notes, “The disaster at Fukushima has generated cracks in what we might call the ‘social containment vessels’ around nuclear energy—the heavily scientized discourses and assumptions that assure us nuclear reactors are safe neighbors.”[44] Comparing the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima shows that “peaceful” nuclear technology is anything but.

I am grateful to Miki Nakamura, Satoko Hirano, Yukio Yamaguchi, Paul Josephson, Marvin Sterling, and Charles Figley for their contributions to this article.

.

 

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#India- wake up—World’s biggest nuke plant may shut: Japan report

by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) Jan 25, 2013

The largest nuclear power plant in the world may be forced to shut down under tightened rules proposed by Japan’s new nuclear watchdog aimed at safeguarding against earthquakes, a report said Friday.

Fukushima operator Tokyo Electric Power‘s vast Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in central Japan could be on the chopping block if the Nuclear Regulation Authority expands the definition of an active fault.

The movement of a fault — a crack in the earth’s crust — can generate massive earthquakes like the one that sparked a tsunami that slammed into the Fukushima Daiichi plant in March 2011, setting off the worst atomic crisis in a generation.

The watchdog is planning to define an active fault as one that moved any time within the past 400,000 years, rather than the current 120,000 to 130,000-year limit, an official told AFP, which could spell the end of the TEPCO plant.

“The new guidelines will be put into effect in July, and then we will re-evaluate the safety of each of Japan’s nuclear plants,” said the NRA official, adding no decisions would be made until the new rules were in place.

At least two “non-active” faults underneath the site’s reactors could be ensnared by the new definition, forcing its closure, according to a report in the mass-circulation Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper on Friday.

Other Japanese media have carried similar reports.

A company spokesman said TEPCO was conducting more tests on the faults underneath the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, the world’s biggest by generating capacity.

The NRA is conducting or planning to conduct investigations into six other nuclear plants in Japan.

At present only two of the country’s 50 reactors are operational, after the entire stable was shuttered over several months for scheduled safety checks. Public resistance has meant the government has been reluctant to give the go-ahead for their re-starting.

The two reactors that are working are both being investigated by seismologists.

In 2007, the government ordered the temporary closure of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant after a 6.8-magnitude earthquake destroyed hundreds of homes in the area and jolted the sprawling plant, which was close to the quake’s epicentre, leading to a small radiation leak.

The 9.0-magnitude earthquake that struck off Japan’s northeastern coast in 2011 triggered the tsunami that left about 19,000 dead and set off the emergency at Fukushima.

No one is officially recorded as having died as a direct result of the nuclear catastrophe, but radiation leaks forced tens of thousands of people from their homes and left swathes of agricultural land unfarmabl

 

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Japan- local governments addicted to nuclear subsidies

Monday, Nov. 26, 2012

 

SENTAKU MAGAZINE

Nov 26,2012

Municipalities hosting nuclear power plants throughout Japan have received large amounts of central government subsidies, donations from utilities and lucrative business contracts.

 

Now, 1½ years after the Fukushima nuclear disasters, those municipalities realize how much their finances depend on the nuclear power-induced money.

“They’re like drug addicts cut off from supplies,” said a member of the assembly of Niigata Prefecture, which hosts Tokyo Electric Power Co.‘s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant on the Sea of Japan coast. All the reactors at the plant remain shut down after its No. 5 and 6 reactors went offline earlier this year.

After the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdowns in March 2011, the government refused to give the go-ahead for restarting reactors at other plants throughout Japan that had gone offline for regular inspections, until it approved reactivating two reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi plant in Fukui Prefecture in July.

“I was scared to death when the Fukushima accident happened, but now I am thankful that the plant resumed operations,” said a resident of the town of Oi who works for a subcontractor to the power station. “I think that most of the local people here feel the same way.”

Many newspaper reporters and TV crew rushed to Oi — along with anti-nuclear power activists — when the town was at the center of nationwide attention over the government’s decision to reactivate the reactors. The man says he did not feel like talking to media crews, who he thought were trying to paint a stereotype picture of the local residents worried about the dangers of reactivating the plant.

There are indeed gaps among local residents and businesses on how they benefit financially from hosting the nuclear plants.

Host prefectures and municipalities receive central government grants based on laws designed to promote development of power generation facilities.

These subsidies are heavily distributed while siting research and construction are going on, but are gradually reduced once the plants starts operation. After that, only the local residents who work at the plant and related businesses continue to get the rewards.

“People who do not benefit from the plant are a minority here. Still, it’s true that some residents who don’t directly get the money were unhappy about the restart,” said an Oi town assemblyman.

Media reports played up the voices of residents who spoke up in opposition to the restart. But it was “never a consensus of the local residents” to oppose the plant restart, the assemblyman said.

People in other host municipalities have mixed feelings toward the restart of the Oi plant.

“A growing number of residents ask me when the plant here will be restarted,” says a politician from Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, where Japan Atomic Power Co. has a power station and Japan Atomic Energy Agency operates the Monju fast-breeder reactor, which constitutes the core of the nation’s nuclear fuel cycle policy.

A reporter with a local newspaper says “special financial consideration” has been given to the Tsugaru area as part of the effort to achieve the nuclear fuel cycle, which he called “a pie in the sky” to begin with. Money kept flowing in generously from the nuclear community even after Monju was kept mostly offline following a serious sodium coolant leak in 1995.

The city of Tsuruga has so far received a total of over ¥100 billion in “official” grants. In addition, another ¥10 billion has been provided to the city coffers in the name of “anonymous donations.”

Such funds are then used to benefit local businesses in the form of public works projects contracts. One construction industry insider in Fukui Prefecture explains that bid-rigging is still rampant in such projects in municipalities hosting nuclear plants, resulting in higher costs.

For example, the municipal government paid well in excess of ¥100 million for a road improvement project, but the sum would have been more than 20 percent less if the same work had been undertaken in other cities, he said.

There will be additional construction orders from a utility after a nuclear plant starts operations — at costs mostly above the industry average, according to a source familiar with the construction industry in the Kansai region. Some of the money will likely go from construction firms to local politicians, the source said.

Kansai Electric Power Co., which operates three nuclear power plants in Fukui Prefecture, is a private company and may not see a problem in paying whatever price is bid for its construction work. But under relevant laws, utilities are allowed to pass all of such costs on to electricity bills charged on consumers.

Even among host municipalities, there are differences in attitudes depending on the extent to which they rely on financial assistance and benefits linked to nuclear energy. In February, Kashiwazaki Mayor Hiroshi Aida expressed his support for a policy to reduce and eventually eliminate the nation’s dependence on nuclear energy, but his counterpart at Kariwa said his village cannot survive without the nuclear power station.

While they both host Tepco’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, nuclear plant-related subsidies or donations from the utility account for 14 percent of Kashiwazaki’s annual budget and as high as 30 percent of Kariwa’s.

An insider in the construction industry in Kashiwazaki says that local politicians and contractors continue to hunt for new sources of nuclear power-related income even after the Fukushima plant disasters. Even though it is now next to impossible to hope for construction of new nuclear plants, they are looking into the possibility of building facilities for temporary storage of spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power plants around the country, or a storage site for contaminated materials from Fukushima, he points out.

Another example of a local community dependent on money related to nuclear facilities is in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, formerly a poverty-stricken village where most of its 11,000 residents relied on agriculture and fisheries for their livelihood. The village is now called one of Japan’s wealthiest municipalities.

Nippon Nuclear Fuel Ltd., which plays the central role in the nation’s nuclear fuel cycle project, has its headquarters in Rokkasho and accounts for ¥6 billion of the estimated ¥6.8 billion in local tax revenue for fiscal 2012. Rokkasho’s general account budget for the year is ¥13 billion — double the amount of a village in Kumamoto Prefecture with roughly the same population.

If the government’s plan to phase out nuclear power in Japan is to be implemented, the whole concept of a nuclear fuel cycle in this country would collapse, which in turn would deal a serious blow to Rokkasho’s fiscal foundation.

Alarmed by such a prospect, the village assembly in September unanimously adopted a resolution demanding that if the nuclear fuel cycle program were to be stopped, all spent fuels that had been shipped to the reprocessing facility in Rokkasho be moved out of the village immediately. It was an outright threat to both the central government and the power companies.

Spent fuel storage pools at nuclear plants throughout the country are filled almost to capacity, and would overflow if the fuel rods at Rokkasho were returned to the power plants where they originated. This would make it impossible to restart any of the nuclear plants in Japan.

A journalist who covers nuclear power issues for a major newspaper notes that Rokkasho’s special status among host municipalities gives it enormous leverage.

“It’s like a drug addict engaging in robbery to get the money to buy more narcotics,” the journalist said.

The episode shows that the system in which money flows from the nuclear community into host municipalities remains intact, and unless the link is cut off, those municipalities will continue to rely on the nuclear industry.

This is an abridged translation of an article from the November issue of Sentaku, a monthly magazine covering Japanese political, social and economic scenes.

 

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Anti-nuclear conference in Japan calls international day of action, March 11

“We now stand at a crossroads. We have the choice to break out of the nuclear fuel chain and move towards efficient, renewable and sustainable energy that does not threaten health or environment.”

The Global Conference for a Nuclear Power Free World was held at Pacifico Yokohama on 14 and 15 January 2012. 6000 people on the first day and 5500 on the second, including 100 international participants from over 30 countries, gathered at the conference, with a total of 11,500 participants.

The conference was broadcast live over the internet, with an audience of approximately 100,000. At the closing of the conference, the Yokohama Declaration for a Nuclear Power Free World was announced. The 11 March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and related melt down at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has led to great suffering for the people of Japan and has increased radioactive contamination across the globe. It has also sounded a warning bell throughout the world about the long-term health, environmental and economic risks of nuclear power. As with Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the accident at Fukushima has reminded us once again that nuclear technology is unforgiving and accidents cannot be contained. The situation is not under control as declared by the Japanese Government.

The nuclear power plant is still unstable and workers continue to work under life-threatening conditions. Radioactive contamination is spreading. This is a regional and global emergency. People are either forced to flee with their children or live with unacceptable health dangers and prolonged radiation exposure. In Fukushima prefecture, evidence of radioactive material has been found in the breast milk of mothers and the urine of children. Lives are threatened, including those of future generations. The regional economy has been destroyed. Every step in the nuclear fuel chain has created Hibakusha, a term initially used to describe survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, but now used for all victims of radiation exposure. Uranium mining, nuclear weapons testing, accidents at nuclear power plants, and the storage and transport of nuclear waste have all created Hibakusha. The experience of these Hibakusha around the world is one of secrecy, shame and silence. The right to information, health records, treatment and compensation has been inadequate or denied with excuses of “national security” or due to cost. This lack of accountability is not limited to Japan, but is a problem fundamentally present in the nuclear industry everywhere due to the corrupt relationship between governments and the nuclear industry. We now stand at a crossroads. We have the choice to break out of the nuclear fuel chain and move towards efficient, renewable and sustainable energy that does not threaten health or environment. For the sake of future generations, it is our responsibility to do so.

Turning away from nuclear energy goes hand in hand with nuclear weapons abolition, and will contribute to lasting world peace. The global solidarity shown towards the people of Fukushima and the spirit of those gathered at the Yokohama Global

Conference for a Nuclear Power Free World demonstrates that connections between people are truly what will create the foundations for our future.

We call for:

1. The protection of the rights of those affected by the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident; including the right to evacuation, health care, decontamination, compensation and the right to enjoy the same standard of living as before 11 March 2011;

2. Full transparency, accountability and responsibility of the Japanese Government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and the establishment of an independent body to disseminate information to the public to reverse the history of concealing information from the public and releasing contradictory information.

3. Ongoing comprehensive data collection and radiation measurement of humans, food, water, soil and air to inform the urgent and necessary measures to minimise the populations exposure to radiation. Data collection will be necessary for generations and inter-agency governmental undertakings and the support of the international community are required. Corporations that have profited from the nuclear industry should carry their share of the costs.

4. A global road map for the phase out of the nuclear fuel chain – from uranium mining to waste – and the decommissioning of all nuclear power plants. The ‘safety myth’ has been destroyed. Nuclear technology has never been safe and has never survived without massive public subsidies. Renewable energy is proven and ready to be deployed on a decentralised and local scale if only policies to promote it were advanced to support local economies, such as Feed-in-Tariffs.

5. Currently closed Japanese nuclear power plants to not be reopened. Japan’s energy needs can be met by implementation of policies including the Feed-in-Tariff law that has been adopted and the structural separation of ownership of transmission and production of energy.

6. The prohibition of export of nuclear power plants and components, especially to industrialising nations in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

7. Support for local and municipal authorities that play an important role in creating a society not dependent on nuclear power. We encourage solidarity between local municipal leaders, regional parliamentarians and civil society to promote strong communities, decentralization, bottom up approaches and an end to economic, racial and gender discrimination.

8. Actions, demonstrations, seminars and media events to be held throughout the world on 11 March 2012 to protest the treatment of the citizens of Fukushima and call for a nuclear power free world. Based on the above principles, the participants of the Global Conference have launched the “Forest of Action for a Nuclear Power Free World”, containing concrete plans for action.

These many recommendations will be submitted as appropriate to the Japanese Government, governments of other nations, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development(Rio+20) and so on. 10,000 people came to the Global Conference for a Nuclear Power Free World in Yokohama, and 30,000 watched online. We, the participants are determined to maintain an international network to support Fukushima, cooperation among those affected by radiation through the Global Hibakusha Network, the establishment of the East Asia Non Nuclear Power Declaration Movement, and a network of local municipal leaders and mayors.

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Radioactive water leak at Japan nuclear plant: report

Feb 2, 2012

TOKYO: Some 8.5 tons of radioactive water leaked from a reactor at Japan’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant but it had not flowed outside the reactor building.

Tokyo Electric Power Co said the leak occurred in the No 4 reactor after a pipe connected to the reactor dropped off, Kyodo News agency reported today, quoting the plant‘s operator.

The leak was discovered last night and was stopped shortly afterwards.

The Fukushima Daiichi plant was crippled by meltdowns and explosions caused by a massive earthquake and tsunami in March last year.

Radiation was scattered over a large area and made its way into the oceans, air and food chain in the weeks and months after the disaster.

Tens of thousands of people were evacuated from their homes in a large area around the plant and swathes of this zone remain badly polluted, with the clean-up proceeding slowly amid warnings that some towns could be uninhabitable for three decades.

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