Tag Archives: fukushima

New Normal in Japan After Fukushima

Just Keep Smiling

Common Dreams

Fukushima’s disaster task force has started issuing leaflets with a bird character called Kibitan telling children to stay away from pools and ditches where radioactive cesium from the damaged nuclear power plant might have accumulated.

The smiling, round Kibitan explains why radiation is dangerous, urging children to make a habit of washing their hands and gargling their mouths after coming in from the outdoors.

Radiation can make people sick if allowed to get inside their body, says the cartoon bird, which is a variant of the local narcissus flycatcher.

The bird is definitely well-informed on the dangers of radiation, and the autoradiographs of a dead Fukushima flycatcher posted in April by a Japanese photojournalist confirm that.

Below are the photos, from the blog Fukushima Diary.

‘hot’ enough to develop photo paper

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Ghostly Outline

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cute public safety cartoons in this century are as sinister as Duck and Cover was in the last. But it’s not all bad. You can send away for a pocket geiger on your cell phone.

From here in Rhode Island, it’s hard to vet internet content of blogs from Japan. On American news sites Fukushima is completely off the radar. On Japanese sites like Japan Times and Daily Yomiuri the nuclear crisis is off the front page but continues to develop. Japanese citizen journalists say their government is not giving them the whole truth. The news stream at Uhohjapan2 blog is deeply frightening.

The people of Japan have suffered enough in the wake of the disasters of 2011. They should not be further harmed by panic and despair. But the people of Japan are owed the truth. The world, also, needs to know the true extent of the nuclear contamination from the Fukushima disaster. Nations are rushing to build more nuclear plants, for energy and for war.

During the last presidential debate, when the topic was energy, I noticed an interesting omission from President Obama. He did not say the ‘N’ word. He did not mention nuclear power. Mitt Romney did, at least twice.

President Obama did support nuclear power as part of the mix, but I wonder if the global picture is looking different now. The economic costs and ongoing environmental effects will slow the rush to nuclear.

The Fukushima disaster is not over, but if we are lucky the damage will be limited, and if we are wise we will learn that dangerous, expensive and centralized power is not the way.

Japanese Say ‘No’ to Nuclear

USA Today reports that as many as 200,000 Japanese rallied against re-starting more nuclear power plants.

Led by Nobel-winning novelist Kenzaburo Oe, pop star Ryuichi Sakamoto and visual artist Yoshitomo Nara, the protesters expressed outrage over a report that blamed the Fukushima disaster on Japan’s culture of “reflexive obedience” and held no individuals responsible.

Japanese officials say that the needs of Japan’s economy require bringing more nuclear plants back online. Protesters want a phase-out of nuclear power. They also want accountability for the human role in the Fukushima disaster…

The demonstrators also said they were offended by a parliamentary investigation that blamed Japanese culture for the Fukushima disaster.

The report, released earlier this month, said, “Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture — our reflexive obedience, our reluctance to question authority, our devotion to ‘sticking with the program,’ our groupism and our insularity.”

Midori Tanaka, a schoolteacher marching at the park, said the right people should face up to their mistakes.

“Things can never change if we blame culture. We need to get to the bottom of this,” she said.

Oe said blaming culture was a cop-out, adding that individuals — including the president of Tokyo Electric Power Co., the utility that operates Fukushima Dai-ichi — should be held responsible.

Imagine if it were harder for individuals to hide behind corporations. Is Japanese culture the problem, or is it the undermining of democracy by big money?

In the days after the tsunami, there was no immediate risk to the established powers. The Japanese people came together for rescue and relief. Now with the passing of time, the Japanese people are demanding to know why corruption and negligence went so far without people being named and held accountable.

Clean, Local, Diverse

Japan is re-starting two of its nuclear plants to supply the country’s need for energy. There is not yet a green solution. But that is changing…

Biomass town shining amid Fukushima taint
Kyodo

While the nation in general frets over power supply shortages this summer, many of the more than 300 “biomass towns” in Japan are offering a glimpse at a range of new energy alternatives.

Among them is the city of Maniwa in Okayama Prefecture. It has been attracting attention for successfully developing comprehensive city planning and industrial tourism based on the promotion of biomass utilization to efficient produce energy.

The biomass comes from byproducts of their lumber industry, sawdust and bark processed into wood pellets that burn clean and hot enough to fuel electric generators.

You can read the rest in tomorrow’s Japan Times

No Immediate Threat

Just by comparison, there’s no immediate threat in cigarettes, asbestos, lead paint and small doses of arsenic or mercury. From the Japan Times…

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Cesium spikes in Tokyo Bay samples
Contamination linked to Fukushima plant; no immediate threat to health

By JUN HONGO
Staff writer

Sludge samples taken at the mouths of two major rivers emptying into Tokyo Bay showed radioactive cesium contamination linked to the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant crisis grew by 1.5 to 13 times since August, a researcher at Kinki University said Monday.

The contamination poses no immediate health risk since no seafood from Tokyo Bay has seen contamination levels exceed the government-set threshold. But close, long-term monitoring of the seabed mud is needed, said Hideo Yamazaki, professor at Kinki University’s Research Institute for Science and Technology.

“Contamination is flowing into the bay from rivers, including the Edogawa River, where cities with high radiation levels like Kashiwa (in Chiba Prefecture) are located upstream,” Yamazaki told The Japan Times.

“Contaminated sludge appears to be . . . accumulating on the bottom at the mouth of the rivers,” he added.

But that’s far away in Japan. No problem here, right? Thomas D. Elias in The Mercury News.com reports from California…

Anyone looking for the most under-reported story of the spring in California need venture no farther than the tall stalks of kelp swaying back and forth just beneath the ocean surface along much of the California coast.

Fish eat kelp; so do small crustaceans near the bottom of the food chain which themselves are later consumed by larger fish that sometimes become food for humans. The largely neglected news story is that it’s been somewhat radioactive off and on for months and it concentrates Iodine 131 isotopes at levels 10,000 times higher than what’s in the surrounding water.

At the same time, steam generator problems have kept the San Onofre nuclear generating station near the Orange-San Diego county line closed for three months, with no reopening in sight as California heads into the summer season of peak electricity consumption. This combination of events ought to have California authorities deeply questioning the state’s heavy reliance on power from both San Onofre and the Diablo Canyon atomic plant on the Central Coast.

There’s no easy way to solve our energy problems, but unless we take it on faith that titanic nuclear plants are unsinkable we have to look at diverse, local and conserving answers.

Nuclear Offline in Japan

As the US makes plans to build more nuclear power plants, Japan has found none of its existing nuclear facilities safe enough to operate.Public trust is lost… (Photo courtesy of The New Age.)

By YURI KAGEYAMA
AP Business Writer

TOKYO (AP) – Thousands of Japanese marched to celebrate the switching off of the last of their nation’s 50 nuclear reactors Saturday, waving banners shaped as giant fish that have become a potent anti-nuclear symbol.

Japan was without electricity from nuclear power for the first time in four decades when the reactor at Tomari nuclear plant on the northern island of Hokkaido went offline for mandatory routine maintenance.

After last year’s March 11 quake and tsunami set off meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, no reactor halted for checkups has been restarted amid public worries about the safety of nuclear technology.

This article from Japan Times,End to Crisis is Years, Fortune Away is worth reading for its relevance to nuclear problems the US has kicked down the road–

By MARI YAMAGUCHI and CHARLES HUTZLER
The Associated Press

Once Japan’s leaky nuclear complex stops spewing radiation and its reactors cool down, making the site safe and removing the ruined equipment is going to be a messy ordeal that could take decades and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Radiation has covered the area around the Fukushima No. 1 plant and blanketed parts of the complex, making the job of “decommissioning” the plant — rendering it safe so it doesn’t threaten public health and the environment — a bigger task than usual.

Toshiba Corp., which supplied four of Fukushima’s six reactors, including two on which General Electric Co. collaborated, submitted a road map this past week to the plant’s operator for decommissioning the crippled reactors. The study, done with three other companies, projects that it would take about 10 years to remove the fuel rods and the reactors and contain other radioactivity at the site, said Keisuke Omori of Toshiba.

Yamaguchi and Hutzler cite costs of decommissioning US plants like Vermont Yankee and Three Mile Island, which is still a toxic waste site that will require a vast investment of public funds to stabilize long-term.

We just passed the 26th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. A veteran photographer, Paul Fusco, who once worked for Look magazine, has created a photo essay from Russia. Link here to see it, but be warned, it’s enough to keep you up at night.

Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and countless nuclear sites less well known continue to menace future generations. We have no right to leave this mess for the sake of corporate profit and the promise of cheap energy never kept.

The answer? Prepare to spend a lot of money safely decommissioning existing nuclear power plants when their useful life is done, stop building more. When the real costs are added up it’s clear that the money is best invested in diverse, local and smart energy.

Good News and Bad News

Reading between the lines in this Burlington Free Press article…

MONTPELIER — Fish in the Connecticut River near the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant are no more radioactive than fish far across the state, according to recent study results from the state Health Department.

The testing found signs of cesium 137 and strontium 90 in four smallmouth bass in Lake Carmi in Franklin County, said Bill Irwin, radiological health chief with the state Health Department.

The findings raise questions about whether Vermont Yankee is the source of strontium 90 found in fish in the Connecticut River last year. Lake Carmi and Vermont Yankee are 200 miles apart with no waterway connection.

The latest results indicate the overall environment contains radioactive material, Irwin said, possibly long-term fallout from nuclear weapons testing and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.

Irwin said the levels of radioactive materials are similar to what has been documented in American diets and do not pose a health risk.

“There’s good news and there’s bad news,” said House Fish and Wildlife Committee Chairman David Deen, D-Westminster, whose committee heard from Irwin on Friday afternoon. “The good news is it seems to be background levels. The bad news is it seems to be background levels.”

The US, Russia, and other nations conducted above-ground detonations of nuclear weapons for decades between 1945 and 1980. The bad news is that the radiation released over 60 years ago continues to move and concentrate in the environment, showing up in unpredictable ways.

While Vermont measures radioactivity from decades past, Japan faces uncertainty about their land and their food supply, with inadequate support from their government while the perpetrators wash their hands.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), privatized their profit, now they have socialized the loss. The Japanese people will have to bear the financial cost, when neither government nor industry protect them. Heroic individuals are acting on their own.

A Zen monk named Koyu Abe has dedicated himself to protecting the citizens of Fukushima from unrecorded and uncontrolled radioactive fallout…

Now he is trading his ceremonial robes for a protective mask, working with volunteers to track down lingering pockets of radiation and cleaning them up.

One participant is Masataka Aoki, a 65-year-old engineer at nuclear plant maker Hitachi for more than 40 years. None of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors were made by Hitachi.

Aoki had long been a believer in nuclear power, but he had a change of faith after the meltdowns and now seeks to assuage a sense of guilt.

“The thing I’d come to believe was good and useful to society turned out to be useless and caused everybody trouble,” Aoki said. “I feel a deep sense of remorse.”

On a recent weekend volunteers including Aoki looked for radioactive hot spots along a small path which local parents said was mostly used by children on their way to school.

Tests with hand-held Geiger counters yielded results of more than 9 microsieverts per hour, higher than in some areas of the evacuation zone near the plant itself.

Figures from government testing stations within the exclusion zone the same day read between 3.6 microsieverts and 13 microsieverts an hour. A typical chest x-ray is about 20 microsieverts a scan.

No one would put a child under an x-ray for an hour. No one would feed a baby radioactive milk. Not knowingly.

From the detonation of the first nuclear bomb at Los Alamos, NM, in 1945, there has been a persistent pattern of public risk, private profit and lying to the public. From the Americans in the path of the radioactive fallout from weapons tests, the innocent civilians whose way of life was wiped out by contamination,the Russians at Chernobyl, and now the citizens of Fukushima– government and industry shirk the responsibility of making nuclear power safe. Can nuclear power be made safe at all, for thousands of years into the future?

“the levels of radioactive materials are similar to what has been documented in American diets and do not pose a health risk.”

Based on what science? Acute radiation poisoning, as in the accident that killed Rhode Islander, Robert Peabody, is measurable in the short term. Long term effects- the possibility that some of those who tried to rescue Mr.Peabody died prematurely of radiation-caused diseases–are much harder to measure.

You can eat a couple of cigarettes and instantly poison yourself, but smoking them is harmless, possibly beneficial– in the short term. It took large-scale studies over decades to gather the evidence that tobacco causes cancer. It took even longer to alert the public.

For the same reason, it’s not correct to say that artificially created radioactive pollution in small quantities over a lifetime poses no health risks. There are too many unknowns. The evidence is accumulating but has not yet reached critical mass.

When government and industry are complicit, who will fund the research. Who wants to open that can of worms?

The US Department of Energy has approved the first new nuclear reactors in over 30 years.

Little has changed. The plants are still financed by public risk for private profit, the public is still placated by promises of safety broken again and again– but this time it’s different.

It’s time to really make it different. Shine some sunlight on the profit motive and incomplete science. In 1945 the Nazi threat hounded us into creating this menace to future generations. Now we have a crisis of climate change– as global and real as WWII and with no easy answers. But as they say, when you find yourself in a hole–first stop digging.

WWII has been called the ‘stimulus project’ that got us out of the depression. We are further along in progress toward clean, diverse, decentralized renewable energy than the scientists were at Los Alamos in 1945. What is needed is for all the information to be presented to the American public.

When that trust is not supported financially or politically, who will take it on?

It may be that the people of Japan, in the wake of the tragic natural disaster of the tsunami and the man-made folly of TEPCO will lead the way.

UPDATE: The #2 reactor at Fukushima Daiichi is heating up and has required extra cooling water.
Engineers are watching the situation. This is a ‘cold shutdown’.

Fukushima Nuclear– No End in Sight

I’ve been reading the Japanese press, and after almost a year, the Fukushima Nuclear disaster is still in the headlines.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) reports that views from an endoscope inserted into the No.2 reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant show that the plant has achieved a ‘cold shutdown’…

The endoscope captured images of water dripping from above apparently because of condensation, and paint was seen possibly falling off the inner wall of the container in some areas exposed to high temperatures and humidity over the months since the nuclear disaster erupted following the massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11 last year.

The probe was “the first step” to check the condition inside the reactor, Matsumoto said, but added the high humidity and radiation blurred the image.

He also said that confirming the state of the melted fuel, a key step toward decommissioning the crippled reactors, would require further technology development.

The fuel inside the No. 2 reactor, as well as inside the No. 1 and No. 3 reactors, is believed to have melted through the pressure vessels and been accumulating in the outer primary containers after the Fukushima plant lost its key functions to cool the reactors in the wake of the natural disasters.

The damaged reactors are leaking water continually injected as a coolant, but the utility known as TEPCO has said the fuel is stably cooled by a water circulation system installed after the accident.

Radioactivity so intense that engineers will have to create new technology to explore the damage, a temperature of 44.7 C (112.46 F), paint falling off walls, water leaking but contained for now– this is the first of three reactors to be viewed, chosen because disaster relief seemed to ‘go more smoothly’ there. ‘Cold shutdown’ doesn’t convey the hell inside this plant.

Even in countries where nuclear accidents have not occurred, the normal lifespan of a plant and the waste it generates create a problem beyond the scope of governments and societies.

An op-ed by Edan Corkill, staff writer for Japan Times, gives perspective on Finland’s project to deal with their stockpile of nuclear waste. The Finnish government is building a secure site…

Located in Eurajoki on Finland’s west coast, the Onkalo facility consists of a vast network of tunnels more than 400 meters below ground where that country’s nuclear waste will be stored. Construction began in 2004 and will continue in stages until some time in the next century.

Here’s the scale of time we are dealing with…

The earliest known cave paintings date from about 30,000 years ago, and the earliest bone tools found so far predate those paintings by another 40,000 years. Go back 100,000 years, and Homo sapiens — us lot — are only just emerging, though the fossil record suggests our ancestors back then had larger molars and thicker and heavier bones than we do.

How else would they differ from us?

Given a time machine, could we go back and communicate with them? Across such a vast temporal divide, would we be able to convey anything to them at all?

And how about the future? What if we needed to leave a message for people 100,000 years from now?

I wonder how the Finns are dealing with the politics of a hundred-year project to bury the waste from electricity they used decades ago?

And who pays? TEPCO has handed their liability to the Japanese people, with a plan to nationalize the cost…

The business plan is intended to prevent the utility from becoming insolvent due to the massive costs stemming from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant disaster, while making sure that compensation payments related to the accident are made in a timely fashion.

The injection of public funds that would effectively nationalize Tepco is expected to amount to about ¥1 trillion. The company will also try to improve its earnings by raising household electricity charges, possibly in the fall, as well as by reactivating its idled reactors in Niigata Prefecture starting in spring 2013.

TEPCO and the Japanese government have not been able to protect the public from contaminated debris–from the Daily Yomiuri

Contaminated crushed stone pieces taken from a quarry in the government’s expanded evacuation zone following the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant have been used to repair an irrigation channel and a road outside a school in Nihonmatsu City, Fukushima Prefecture.

The discovery was made after authorities began tracking down the whereabouts of 5,280 tons of the material that was quarried from Namie Town, in the same prefecture, after the stones were used in the construction of a condominium building in Nihonmatsu City, which was later found to contain high levels of radiation. The material is proving difficult to track because it has been sold to more than 100 construction companies throughout the prefecture.

Radioactivity is showing up in women’s breast milk…

Many mothers have expressed concerns about breast-feeding their babies amid fears that their milk may be contaminated by radioactive materials released into the air and sea by the Fukushima plant since it was crippled by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

About 18,000 babies are born each year in Fukushima Prefecture. The officials estimate that about 10,000 mothers breast-feed their babies.

The prefecture will also begin sending questionnaires in mid-January to expecting and breast-feeding mothers to get a better grasp of their mental and physical health, the officials said.

In a survey conducted in May and June by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, traces of radioactive cesium were detected in the breast milk of seven of 21 women from Fukushima. Government officials and experts have said the minute amounts posed no health risks to babies.

Good thing there’s no health risk, because there’s nothing these women could do about it if there were.

Here in the US, our Northwest coast is bracing for a vast pile of debris, traveling on ocean currents across the Pacific to Alaska…

“After the overwhelming devastation in Japan, it is distressing to see reminders of it washing up on our shores,” said Merrick Burden, the [Marine Conservation Alliance] foundation’s executive director. “Although we’re planning cleanups for next summer, if a massive onslaught of tsunami debris hits, it will overwhelm our resources.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is downplaying concerns that some debris may contain radiation. “By the time the (Fukushima) radioactive water leak developed, the debris was already in the ocean, miles from the reactor and moving farther offshore.”

A previously unknown disease or poison is affecting Alaskan wildlife…

Scientists in Alaska are investigating whether local seals are being sickened by radiation from Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.

Scores of ring seals have washed up on Alaska’s Arctic coastline since July, suffering or killed by a mysterious disease marked by bleeding lesions on the hind flippers, irritated skin around the nose and eyes and patchy hair loss on the animals’ fur coats.

That the ocean dilutes radioactivity doesn’t rule out the possibility of concentrated hot spots…

Experts hesitate to predict where the radiation will go. Once radioactive elements that can harm health are released into the outdoors, their travel patterns are as mercurial as the weather and as complicated as the food chains and biochemical pathways along which they move.

It’s likely that the seals are suffering from a previously unknown bacteria or virus, but it makes sense to check for radioactivity. After Chernobyl, contamination showed up in milk, drunk by children who later suffered a high rate of thyroid cancer.

I wouldn’t have expected that the Japanese, with an educated population and high awareness of crisis would have allowed radioactive concrete to be used in building schools, apartments and irrigation ditches.

But that seems to be a given of human nature. We’re smart, but we’re good at not seeing what we don’t want to see. We evolved to deal with life in the short term– not to sacrifice for children of the next millenium.

We have a nasty 20th Century nuclear mess to clean up. We’re already feeling the pain. We have an energy crisis with no easy answers, but nuclear is not the way.

Fukushima Like Chernobyl


Today’s news from Bloomberg.com
reports thyroid poisoning similar to Chernobyl…

Medical tests on children living in three towns near the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant found 45 percent of those surveyed suffered low-level thyroid radiation exposure, Japan’s government said in a statement.

While the statement didn’t comment on the source of the contamination, the announcement follows reports of radioactive material found in food after radiation leaks from the meltdown of three reactors at the Tokyo Electric Power Co. plant.

Not as bad as Chernobyl, no immediate risk. The Japanese public is increasingly frightened and angry, as authorities are shown to have minimized and covered up the extent of the disaster. Politics trumps science, there as well as here. We have hard choices to make if we are to cut our carbon emissions, but nuclear is not the way. The benefits last a few decades, the consequences are with us for thousands of years.

Smell Test

I upset my family sometimes by my casual attitude in the kitchen. Expiration dates are only a suggestion, I believe. Being old, I remember when there were no expiration dates and you just guessed, and my grandparents got by with an icebox. If the ice melted you just had to wing it. I took microbiology, and my philosophy is–that’s why you cook the food. When I had a baby I was fanatically vigilant– but now it’s adults and we can fend for ourselves.

That’s what I say, but I’m often the only one who will eat my cooking. Hey, more for me.

I do apply the smell test, and if doesn’t smell right I chuck it.

There’s no smell test for antibiotic residues, or for radioactivity. Some Japanese found out they had fed contaminated beef to their children before the government responded and pulled the meat from supermarkets.

But it’s all good, no danger to the public, don’t worry. Japan Times has a reassuring explanation. Does this pass the smell test?

If I eat something doubtful from my fridge, I’ll know fairly soon if it was good. The risks are short term and clear. Having radioactive Cesium in your body for a few months is a nuclear experiment on the population. The history of exposed populations– Hiroshima, Nevada, Chernobyl– is not reassuring. ‘No immediate risk’ is still the mantra. The Japanese public has a right to be concerned.

Trustworthy Source

When government and industry have a vested interest in minimizing a crisis, and partisans have an interest in pumping it up, who do you look to for accurate information?

Crowdsourcing may be one answer…

Since the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, people in Japan have been keeping up on the radiation levels in their area. And, like people all over the world, they look for information on the Internet. Surprisingly, one of the most interesting new websites aggregating and creating Japanese radiation data is coming from a small advertising studio in Portland, OR. If you were to picture the sort of person who might take the lead in gathering radiation data from the Fukushima nuclear accident, Marcelino Alvarez probably wouldn’t come to mind. “My background is actually not in physics or nuclear physics or science or radiation data, it’s actually in advertising,” Alvarez said. “So building websites, and doing product development.” But Alvarez is also a news junkie. During the early days of the Fukushima crisis, he was watching the news nonstop. And he was surprised, in this post-Chernobyl age that even the experts were fumbling around to find up to date information. “So I said, there’s got to be a better way,” Alvarez said.

Citizens post radiation readings from different locations in Japan and Safecast puts them on a map. Click on any balloon and see how many milisieverts per hour were recorded. It’s a crowdsource, amateur and uncredentialed. But when there’s enough raw data the bumps and omissions even out, and this may be a new and powerful information source. Safecast site is here.

Citizen scientists are collecting data on many projects, we recently had Bioblitz here in RI to get stats on which species of plants and animals are increasing or decreasing in our state. Measuring radioactivity has its own particular problems, some scientists discuss the pros and cons here.

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