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.

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.

Japan’s Nuclear Crisis Continues

Immediately after the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, pundits were claiming it was a ‘success story’. That talking point vanished in the first days, and later ‘not as bad as Chernobyl’ began to lose ground.

If the accident were one tenth the severity, it would still emerge over time as a strong argument for abandoning nuclear power as an answer to our energy needs. Nuclear pollution doesn’t go away, and it concentrates in soil, water and food. Fukushima is not under control yet, as today’s news shows…

Another leak at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant has been pouring radioactive water filled with high amounts of cesium into the Pacific Ocean for an unknown period of time, but Tokyo Electric Power Co. was able to plug the leak.

Radioactive materials are also apparently penetrating the silt fence installed in the sea near the crippled plant, raising concern that a wider area of the Pacific may be contaminated.

Cesium-137, a byproduct of nuclear decay, is one of the bad ones. The talking point that ‘it’s only radioactive iodine, no big deal’ is on its way out.

‘No immediate risk’ may become a bitter joke before this is all over…

“This is an extremely serious problem,” Goshi Hosono, special adviser to Prime Minister Naoto Kan, told a news conference Wednesday attended by Tepco and government officials to explain their ongoing efforts to contain the nuclear crisis.

The Telegraph is describing the condition of the No.1 reactor as ‘a meltdown’.

There were six special advisers to Prime Minister Kan. One of them, Toshiso Tosako, resigned last month with tears in his eyes after the government decided to raise the acceptable exposure limit for schoolchildren in Fukushima.

Japan’s problems are the world’s problems. Partly because radioactive pollution doesn’t respect borders, and partly because the energy crisis and global warming are the world’s problems to solve.

Antinuclear activists in Japan will find support from Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel is out front in the clean energy race…

In mid-March, Merkel stunned the German public and other governments by announcing an accelerated phasing out of all 17 German nuclear reactors as an immediate reaction to the Fukushima disaster in Japan. The chancellor now says she wants to slash the use of coal, speed up approvals for renewable energy investments, and reduce CO2 emissions drastically. That means that the 81 million Germans living between the North Sea and the Alps are supposed to cover their huge energy needs from wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass within a few decades. Indeed, by 2030 green electricity could be the dominant source of power for German factories and households.

“We want to end the use of nuclear energy and reach the age of renewable energy as fast as possible,” Merkel said.

Japanese authorities have changed their plans to increase nuclear power, and will build up renewable sources.

Naoto Kan said Japan needs to “start from scratch” on its long-term energy policy after the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant was heavily damaged by a March 11 earthquake and tsunami and began leaking radiation.

Nuclear plants supplied about 30 percent of Japan’s electricity, and the government had planned to raise that to 50 percent by 2030.

Kan told a news conference that nuclear and fossil fuel used to be the pillars of Japanese energy policy but now the government will add two more pillars: renewable energy such as solar, wind and biomass, and an increased focus on conservation.

This is the challenge for our century. America put a man on the moon. We’ve spent a long time listening to politicians who have nothing to offer but fear. We can turn around and start leading again, and join with other countries in researching and building safe, diverse and renewable energy solutions.

Children and Radiation

The Hindu reports that the special adviser to the Japanese prime minister has resigned over new standards raising the allowable radiation exposure for schoolchildren in Fukushima.

The standard set for schoolchildren’s exposure to nuclear radiation in Japan’s Fukushima prefecture has caused a political furore. In prime focus is an expert’s disapproval of the “high” permissible limit set for annual exposure, at 20 millisieverts, for outdoor activities at school.

Citing this limit and the government’s alleged track record of ad hoc responses to the continuing nuclear radiation crisis, Toshiso Kosako, special adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, resigned on Friday night. However, the Japanese government on Saturday downplayed this development and said Prof. Kosako “misunderstands the situation.”

I think ‘ad hoc’ is Latin for duct tape. The Japanese government has raised the acceptable limit of exposure for workers in an emergency.

The Health Ministry recently raised the legal radiation limit that workers can be exposed to in an emergency from 100 to 250 millisieverts.

This is clearly not based on science, but necessity, and today’s news reports that 2 workers recorded exposures close to the new limit.

It’s very ’70′s and not politically correct to point out the dangers of radiation, especially to children, but this story is not going away. For the sake of the future, we must stop creating new nuclear hazards and safely deal with what we already have.

Common Dreams has the numbers and essentially, the Japanese authorities have declared it acceptable for children to be exposed to levels of radiation that would normally only be allowed for adult nuclear plant workers. This is why the arguments that there’s no danger to the public have to be challenged. The real harm may not be seen for decades, but the time to act is now.

Nuclear Pollution in the Ocean

One nuclear expert said that time was on their side. It doesn’t look that way. Attempts to avert worse disaster at Fukushima have the look of desperate measures. Millions of gallons of radioactive water are being dumped into the sea, with the new rationale that radioactive water is no big deal. They have no better options, because there is worse contamination building up and it has to go somewhere.

Japan sets new standards for acceptable levels of radiation in seafood, and, as always, there is ‘no immediate risk’. I think you can eat lead paint for quite a while with no immediate risk. Makes me wish I smoked.

Also Tuesday, TEPCO announced that samples taken from seawater near one of the reactors contained 7.5 million times the legal limit for radioactive iodine on April 2. Two days later, that figure dropped to 5 million.

The company said in a statement that even those large amounts would have “no immediate impact” on the environment but added that it was working to stop the leak as soon as possible.

The readings released Tuesday were taken closer to the plant than before apparently because new measuring points were added after the crack was discovered and did not necessarily reflect a worsening of the contamination. Other measurements several hundred yards away from the plant have declined to levels about 1,000 times the legal limit — down from more than four times that last week.

Experts agree that radiation dissipates quickly in the vast Pacific, but direct exposure to the most contaminated water measured would lead to “immediate injury,” said Yoichi Enokida, a professor of materials science at Nagoya University’s graduate school of engineering.

He added that seawater may be diluting the iodine, which decays quickly, but the leak also contains long-lasting cesium-137. Both can build up in fish, though iodine’s short half-life means it does not stay there for very long. The long-term effects of cesium, however, will need to be studied, he said.

I’m counting on the uncontrolled news leak to continue.

We have to look at the enormous investment we are about to make in more nuclear plants and see what we could accomplish with conservation, local clean energy and coordinated use of what we have.

Bury It Deep

So, we’re about three hours away from April’s Fools Day, EST, and maybe I’m getting punked, but I got this from two sources..

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Authorities say the world’s largest concrete pump will be flown from Atlanta to Japan on the world’s largest cargo plane as part of a series of emergency steps to help stabilize damaged nuclear reactors.

The Augusta Chronicle reports that the 190,000-pound pump features a 70-meter boom which can be remotely controlled. Officials say that makes it suitable for use in the highly radioactive environment surrounding the nuclear plants.

The pump was manufactured by Germany-based Putzmeister, whose equipment was used at Chernobyl in the 1980s to entomb the melted core of the reactor in concrete.

‘Putzmeister’? I’m a proud English-only speaker who has no German at all, but this sounds funny. Of course, most German sounds funny so that’s neither here nor there.

If the corporate board of TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) is accepting foreign aid and this will bring the crisis under control, then I hope it’s for real.

I hope that the courageous and dedicated workers at Fukushima who are bailing water to try to avert a nationwide crisis will see the cavalry come over the hill, and will see their sacrifice vindicated.

The challenge today is to prevent more disasters. Keeping this poison entombed for 50,000 years is the challenge for future generations.

UPDATE: The Atlanta Business Journal says the pump is one of only three in the world, it will be taken on a Russian transport plane, and it will not be returned to the US because radioactive contamination will make it too ‘hot’ to use.