Dosimeter for pregnant women in Fukushima

Dosimeter for pregnant women in Fukushima

Photo above shows the type of dosimeter that the Minamisoma city government in Fukushima Prefecture began lending on Nov. 9, 2011, for free to pregnant women concerned at exposure to radiation following the devastating explosions in March at the nearby Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. (Kyodo)

Survey: Students shying away from N-zone schools (Yomiuri, Nov.9)

FUKUSHIMA–Ten high schools in the vicinity of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant will likely attract fewer applicants for 2012 compared with this year, a survey by the prefectural board of education has found.

The board surveyed about 20,000 third-year middle school students–including those evacuated outside the prefecture since the Great East Japan Earthquake–about their choice of high school as of Sept. 1. The survey showed a significant drop in students who wish to attend the schools compared with students who sat exams for the current school year.

The 10 schools–eight public high schools and two branch campuses attached to two of the eight–are within the no-entry or expanded evacuation zones, or the recently dissolved emergency evacuation preparation zone, which were set up after the nuclear crisis triggered by the March 11 quake and tsunami.

Since then, the schools have relocated to 23 sites–mainly attached to other schools–or “satellite campuses” outside the zones so evacuated students can continue taking their schools’ classes.

Of them, Haramachi High School restarted classes at its own campus in Minami-Soma after the emergency evacuation preparation zone was dissolved at the end of September.

The survey found that Futaba High School in Futabamachi, for example, was the preference of only nine third-year middle school students, but 175 students applied for 160 places for the current school year.

Meanwhile, Namie High School’s Tsushima campus was the preference of only one student, down from the 16 applicants who applied for one of the 40 places available this year.

The schools have seen their student body shrink since the nuclear accident because many students were evacuated or relocated to other areas.

Consequently, six of the 10 schools have reduced their quotas for 2012 enrollments. The remaining four–Soma Agricultural and Odaka Commercial, both in Minami-Soma; Soma Agricultural (Iitate campus) in Iitatemura; and Namie (Tsushima campus)–have decided to keep their quotas unchanged.

The survey revealed, however, local middle school students are more anxious than expected about attending these schools.

The prefectural board of education suspects some students probably find the schools’ rented locations too far for them to commute, while others may be unhappy that students from the same school cannot take classes at one location.

“There’s no prospect as to when these schools can return to their original campuses,” said Principal Noriko Onodera of Futaba-Shoyo High School in Okumamachi. Only 12 middle school students said they would choose the school in the survey. “It’s also unclear what we’ll do with the satellite campus system next year. I believe these factors have discouraged many examinees from choosing these schools,” Onodera said.

An official from the prefectural board of education said the nuclear accident was an additional blow to schools that were already struggling to attract students due to the chronically low birthrate.

“Unless they can attract more applicants, we may have to discuss closures or integrate some of the schools,” he said.

The board of education is encouraging the schools to integrate several of their satellite campuses into one for the 2012 school year to “help them attract more applicants,” the official said.

For example, Tomioka, Futaba and Futaba-Shoyo high schools–each of which offer classes at four locations–will rent rooms at the campus of a university in Iwaki, outside the no-entry zone. Odaka Technical and Odaka Commercial high schools, which offer classes at five and two locations, respectively, will find new sites in Minami-Soma so they can offer classes much closer to their hometown.

“To attract more applicants, we’ll do our best so students can take classes and enjoy club activities [at the new location] just like they used to,” Onodera said.

25% of displaced Fukushima residents do not wish to return home again: survey (JapanToday, Nov 9) | Many evacuees ‘won’t go home’ / Uncertainty, distrust, radiation discourage displaced Fukushima people (Yomiuri, Nov.10)

Q&A Scrub homes, denude trees to wash cesium fears away (Japan Times, Nov. 9, 2011)

By Mizuho Aoki
Staff writer

Worried about radioactive fallout from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant? Don’t wait for the government to help.

News photo

Experts advise people who live in and near Fukushima Prefecture where they face cumulative annual radiation exposure exceeding 1 millisievert — the legal limit for the general public — to quickly take the initiative in removing irradiated soil and other material where fallout might accumulate in their vicinity, instead of waiting for the government to carry out decontamination work.

Annual radiation exposure of 1 millisievert translates into 0.23 microsievert per hour, according to the government. Such readings have been observed in areas in the Kanto region, including Nasu in northern Tochigi Prefecture and Kashiwa in northern Chiba Prefecture. In Tokyo, only the Okutama forest area has had similar fallout.

In many cases, significant decontamination can be achieved by a few simple procedures. Following are tips for do-it-yourself home decontamination:

What’s the first basic step?

The Japanese Society of Radiation Safety Management’s decontamination manual advises people to clean off surface areas where radioactive cesium may have landed.

Large amounts of the isotope attach to soil, roofs, walls, leaves and surfaces of other foliage.

If people have a general awareness of where cesium is likely to accumulate and take proper safety measures, they can reduce the radiation levels where they live, experts say.

Should protective clothing be worn for decontamination work?

Fukushima Prefecture’s guidelines recommend wearing a hat, face mask, gloves, waterproof boots, long-sleeved shirt and long pants to lessen external and internal exposure, and experts add that the garb should be disposable.

When decontamination efforts involve use of water, the guideline advises rain gear and eye protection, plus a helmet and safety line when cleaning roofs.

Where should one start the decontamination?

The first step is to measure radiation levels on the roof, downspouts and lawns to detect mini hot spots and other places that are highly irradiated and need thorough decontamination.

An accurate reading, however, may only be provided by a sophisticated, and thus expensive, dosimeter.

Shogo Higaki, a research associate in chemistry at the University of Tokyo’s Radioisotope Center, said many cheap dosimeters that can be purchased online are unreliable.

“If you don’t have an accurate dosimeter, then focus on cleaning likely hot spots, such as the end of downspouts,” where rainwater from the roof accumulates, Higaki said.

Some local governments lend out dosimeters. But in many cases the demand is so great that there’s a monthlong waiting period.

For example, the city of Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture, began lending out 23 dosimeters to its residents on Oct. 11, and the applicants exceeded 300 just in three days, a local official said.

What’s the next step?

Remove all garbage and fallen leaves before spraying water on soil and grass to prevent contaminated dust from being stirred up.

Then start washing from higher places down. For roofs and walls, some experts advise high-pressure sprayers — which can be purchased at home centers — or use a scrub brush to scrape off radioactive cesium from surfaces.

Other experts advise, however, that unless tainted water from a pressure wash can be captured, it will only work its way into the sewer system or other drains, some ultimately flowing to the sea.

Radioactive isotopes can be removed more easily if the cleaning water contains sodium bicarbonate or two- or three-parts vinegar, JRSM advises.

As for rusted downspouts or other surfaces that are highly likely to be tainted, use abrasive powder to remove cesium.

Because cesium adheres strongly to a roof, it’s important to carefully spray every nook and cranny, Higaki of the University of Tokyo said. It’s also important to remove fallen leaves, dirt and in some cases moss from downspouts and gutters.

In the case of soil, most of the cesium is on the surface to a depth of 5 cm, and thus removing this much can ease the problem, Higaki said.

Cesium-134 and -137 emitted from Fukushima No. 1 “is trapped within 5 or 6 cm deep in soil . . . (but) from a density point of view, topsoil has the highest amount and it gets lower the deeper it gets,” said Higaki, who has conducted decontamination experiments at homes in the Fukushima city of Koriyama.

Bushes, plants, grass, weeds, cobblestones and other surfaces covering the ground may have to be removed before surface soil is scraped away, experts said. When removing weeds, make sure to pull them out from the roots, the city of Fukushima’s decontamination manual advises. As for trees, it’s best to remove all their leaves because of the likelihood they contain large amounts of cesium, Higaki said.

Where are likely hot spots to crop up other than at the bottom of a downspout?

Places where water, dirt or leaves accumulate are the usual suspects. Zinc-roofed structures also easily trap radioactive particles, according to the science ministry’s guideline on radiation measurements. On the other hand, smooth surfaces, including plastic and painted areas, are unlikely to catch cesium, experts say.

What should you do with the soil and leaves?

Put all the waste into plastic bags and bury them on your property, covering the hole with 20 cm to 30 cm of soil and plastic tarps, until they can be removed to longer-term, but still temporary, municipal storage sites.

Leaves and weeds can be disposed of as burnable garbage, a Fukushima official said.

What should be done after completing the work?

Gargle, shower or bathe to rinse off all dirt, the prefectural guideline recommends.

Disposable garments should be placed in garbage bags and clothing not to be discarded should be washed like usual laundry, it says.

Where will tainted water used in decontamination work eventually end up?

Much of it will probably be routed through sewage treatment plants, and some will flow to the ocean, Higaki said.

Cesium in the tainted water may accumulate as highly polluted sludge, as is often found at sewage plants. Many plants are temporarily storing such sludge because they have yet to find a safe place for final disposal.

Thus some experts urge people not to use pressure washes.

Kunihiro Yamada, a professor of environmental design at Kyoto Seika University who has been conducting decontamination in Fukushima, suggests in his decontamination manual to use PVA liquid glue — often sold as laundry starch — to remove cesium from roofs and other surfaces.

By following all the recommended steps, will radiation levels decline to the pre-March 11 state?

No. Experts note just cleaning up one’s own property will only achieve limited results.

Higaki said when residents of Koriyama decontaminated their homes, radiation levels declined by about 60 percent, from 3 microsieverts per hour to 0.5 microsievert per hour. To lower the level further, decontamination of surrounding areas is needed.

“Gamma rays from cesium have a reach of about 80 meters. So to ensure a greater decontamination, cleanup efforts must extend to wider areas,” Higaki of the University of Tokyo said.

So if a house is next to a park or forest, it will be extremely hard to lower the area radiation level, Higaki added.

Given that about 70 percent of Fukushima is forested, removing the radioactive fallout will be an extremely tall order.

Do Tokyoites also need to decontaminate their property?

This has so far not been advised, as atmospheric radiation levels in most of the metropolis are now at normal levels, Higaki said.

Having said that, he advised the removal of surface soil and moss, dirt and leaves if a small hot spot is found, such as the case at an elementary school in Adachi Ward where the radiation reading near the end of a gymnasium downspout hit 3.99 microsieverts per hour in October.

Radioactive fallout from the Fukushima plant tends to accumulate at the same locations even after decontamination work. So Higaki advises that potential hot spots be monitored once every few months. If the radiation rises again, decontaminate again. Such ad hoc steps can help reduce the radiation in areas of low contamination, he said.

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RADIATION DECONTAMINATION Locals borrow equipment to do own decontamination work  Japan Times (Extracted below)

“FUKUSHIMA — At around 11 a.m. on Oct. 18, members of the media and local residents crowded around in front of a house in the Onami district in the city of Fukushima.

The gathering was partly because Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda was about to attend the kickoff of the city’s radiation decontamination work on all residences in the area in a program that is slated to run two years.

Locals were curious to see what the cleanup — washing the houses’ walls and roofs with a high-pressure water hose — would be like after their lengthy efforts to get city officials to take action.

“Finally, (the cleanup of the houses) is starting. I have to say this is a little too late,” said a 63-year-old woman who lives in Onami, a neighborhood whose claim to fame is its high radiation readings due to nuclear fallout from the Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

While the government is aiming to clean up areas that have recorded high radiation levels, the municipalities and residents are actually carrying out decontamination in areas where annual radiation levels are less than 20 millisieverts.

Since home radiation cleanup chores were the last thing locals thought about before the catastrophe struck, municipalities are still trying to work out ways to carry it out effectively and involve residents in the process.

Many people living in Fukushima, especially those with small children and babies, are worried about radiation and want to know how to lessen the danger.

“We have removed vegetation from our yard every day,” and the radiation level decreased from 1.2 microsieverts per hour to about 0.8 microsievert, said the woman in Onami.

If someone is exposed to 0.8 microsievert 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, that would amount to about 7 millisieverts over the course of a year. While Japan’s legal limit is 1 millisievert per year, Fukushima residents are being allowed to live in areas recording less than 20 millisieverts per year since March 11.

The woman has three grandchildren, so she wants to do as much as she can to prevent them from being exposed.

For residents, however, cleaning their roofs is difficult so the kickoff of the city’s decontamination work was something many had been waiting for, although the city’s move was not as quick as residents had wished”…Read the rest of the article here.

RADIATION DECONTAMINATION Radiation cleanup plan falls short (Japan Times, Nov. 9, 2011)

Experts liken current strategy to letting nature run its course…

Radioactive fallout from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant has caused widespread fear, prompting the government in August to adopt basic targets for decontamination efforts in and around Fukushima Prefecture

But the government’s plan falls short and efforts should focus in particular on residential areas with more aggressive decontamination measures and goals, including reducing current radiation levels by 90 percent, two radiation experts said when interviewed by The Japan Times.

“I really doubt their seriousness (about decontamination),” said radiation expert Tomoya Yamauchi, a professor at the Graduate School of Maritime Sciences at Kobe University.

Areas with radiation exposure readings representing more than 20 millisieverts per year have been declared no-go zones, and the government has shifted the focus of its decontamination plan to areas with radiation readings, based on an annual accumulative amount, of between 20 millisieverts and more than 1 millisievert, with the goal of reducing the contamination by 50 to 60 percent over two years.

Decontamination efforts by humans, however, are expected to only yield a reduction of 10 to 20 percent.

Nature, including the impact of rain, wind and the normal degradation of the radioactivity of cesium-134, whose half-life is roughly two years, is assumed to do the rest, thus reaching the best-case scenario of cutting the contamination by 60 percent.

The experts said the government’s goal of human effort achieving a 10 to 20 percent reduction is not ambitious enough.

“A 10 percent reduction doesn’t really mean anything. I mean, 40 percent of the radiation would be reduced just by natural causes, so I think the government is almost saying it is just going to wait for the radioactive materials to decrease naturally,” said Shunichi Tanaka, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan.

The main radioactive materials that spewed from the Fukushima No. 1 plant are cesium-134 and -137, the second of which has a half-life of 30 years. Given the relatively short half-life of cesium-134, the total radiation will naturally be halved in four years and fall to one-third in six years, although the threat from the latter will remain for a longer time.

The government is now trying to reduce contamination mainly by using high-power water hoses, known as pressure washers, on structures and removing surface soil and vegetation in limited areas.

But radioactive cesium can find its way into minute cracks and crevices. It is hard to remove, for example, from roofs made of certain materials, or surfaces that are rusted or whose paint is peeling, Yamauchi said.

He has monitored radiation in areas in the city of Fukushima and found that the levels were still quite high after the city performed cleanup operations.

To lower the contamination to pre-March 11 levels, Yamauchi said drastic, and highly costly, efforts by the government are needed, including replacing roofs and removing the surface asphalt of roads.

Tanaka meanwhile pointed out that the government has not even floated a plan for decontaminating the no-go zones where the radiation exceeds 20 millisieverts per year — areas where there isn’t even a timetable for when evacuees will be able to return… “….

Police, firefighters, coast guard search for bodies along Fukushima coast (JapanToday, Nov. 10, 2011)

TOKYO — Authorities on Wednesday began an extensive three-day joint search along a part of the coast of tsunami-hit Fukushima Prefecture for the bodies of people still missing since the March 11 disaster.

Some 140 police officers, firefighters and coast guard members are taking part in the search near the port town of Tomioka, NHK reported. All 14,000 residents of the town were evacuated months ago.

Searchers wore protective suits as the area is within the 20-kilometer no-go zone around the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Robots equipped with cameras were used to search beneath the water, NHK reported. No bodies were found, authorities said.

TEPCO: hydrogen from reactor caused blast (NHK, Nov 10)

The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant says the explosion of the facility’s Number 4 reactor on March 15th was caused by a backflow of hydrogen from an adjacent building.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, announced the finding on Thursday.

The blast was initially thought to have been caused by hydrogen created when spent fuel stored in a pool at the reactor building was damaged by the devastating March 11th quake.

TEPCO workers who entered the building on Tuesday to determine the cause found that the 5th floor was more severely damaged than the 4th, where a pool of spent fuel is located, and that the fuel was intact.
The workers also confirmed that an air conditioning duct on the floor was severely damaged.

TEPCO says the hydrogen likely flowed into the reactor through the duct connected to the plant’s Number 3 reactor when workers released pressurized air from it to prevent a hydrogen blast.

The firm says the explosion very likely occurred after the density of hydrogen in the duct increased.

A hydrogen blast took place at the Number 3 building a day before the explosion at the Number 4 building.

Tokyo govt to test N-safety of 500 food items (Yomiuri, Nov.8)

The Tokyo metropolitan government will start checking the radioactivity levels of 500 fresh and processed food items produced in east Japan by randomly testing samples of such foods from retailers, officials said Monday.

The inspections, to be conducted from Tuesday through the end of fiscal 2011, is a response to the Tokyo public’s growing concern over food safety since the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant was triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

The 500 items will include processed foods that regular households consume almost daily, such as tofu, boiled beans, juice and jam. Fresh food subject to inspection will include meat–except beef, because the metropolitan government is already conducting blanket testing on cows–milk, eggs, vegetables and fish.

Among other food items, the inspections will focus on items regularly consumed by children, according to the officials.

Metropolitan government officials will visit supermarkets and other retailers to seek their cooperation, buying 20 to 30 items per week from stores that will then be checked with handheld geiger counters.

If any of the foodstuffs are found to contain 50 becquerels per kilogram or more of radioactive substances, they will go through additional tests using germanium detectors.

The test results will be displayed on the Web site of the Tokyo metropolitan government, which also will release the names of products found to contain radioactive substances above provisional standards set by the central government.

Local governments currently conduct voluntary tests on the safety of agricultural products produced in their respective districts. However, some products have slipped through the system, such as beef contaminated with radioactive cesium. In addition, almost no processed foods have so far undergone inspection.

“Many consumers are expressing concerns whether the food they buy at retailers is really safe to eat,” said an official from the metropolitan government’s Social Welfare and Public Health Bureau. “The Tokyo metropolitan government wants to help boost [consumer confidence in] food security by regularly checking various foodstuffs during an intensive period.”

Aeon to be more stringent in checking for radiation in foodstuffs (Asahi, Nov 09, 2011)

Supermarket chain Aeon Co. will expand its range of foodstuffs subject to radiation checks and yank any items with even trace levels.

Aeon said Nov. 8 it has received some 6,000 inquiries concerning radiation contamination since disaster flared at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March.

It cited growing public concern about contamination in deciding to tighten its standards for radiation checks.

Since mid-March, Aeon has checked for radiation, through sampling, food items offered under its Topvalu private brand independently.

These include marine and animal products as well as farm produce and rice.

Since the end of July, the chain has checked all domestically-produced beef marketed under the brand.

Any food items with more than 50 becquerels of radiation have been removed from shelves, even though the government set the safety standard at 500 becquerels.

The company has suspended sales of about 30 items so far.

The strengthened radiation checks will cover 5,000 items over the next three months.

The company said it will focus on food categories that have produced radiation readings and pay closer attention to the origin of the products it offers for sale.

Aeon said it will post a list of items found to be contaminated on its website, along with the radiation readings.

Tokyo starts radiation checks on city’s food (Japan  Today, Nov 8)

TOKYO —The Tokyo metropolitan government on Tuesday began a large-scale investigation into the extent of radioactive material in the city’s food stores.

The city began monitoring the radioactivity of edible goods on sale in shops of various sizes throughout the capital and will continue the checks until the end of March 2012, TBS reported. Officials say the data will be available online at the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Public Health website from Wednesday.

The institute says it intends to randomly purchase and test around 20-30 items, such as vegetables, fruit, fish, eggs, tofu and dairy products, each week from stores throughout the capital. The center says it will prioritize foodstuffs grown and processed in Japan, products eaten regularly by the average family, and food that is often given to children, TBS reported.

Authorities said that any items found to contain more than 50 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram will be subjected to more thorough testing, while products with a cesium level of more than the government-set safety limit of 500 becquerels per kilogram will be withdrawn from sale.

An official at the Bureau of Social Welfare and Public Health told TBS that the measure is being carried out to reassure the people of Tokyo that their food is safe.

Disaster-response robots draw attention (NHK, November 09, 2011)

Robots developed for rescue operations in earthquakes and nuclear disasters are the focus of this year’s International Robot Exhibition in Tokyo.

The annual event began on Wednesday with more than 270 companies and universities exhibiting robots for industrial and other uses. They include humanoid and animal-like machines.

Much attention is focused on robots that can operate in conditions where people cannot, such as quake-hit areas and nuclear disaster sites.

A robot developed by a major machinery manufacturer can cut through concrete, carry debris and perform various other jobs by changing its arm attachments. It can be operated by remote control.

In a discussion session, Shinji Kawatsuma of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency spoke about the failure of Japanese-made robots to perform properly during the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. He said workers need more time to learn how to operate the machines, and that day-to-day training is essential for the use of rescue robots.

Commission releases report on scrapping N-plant NHK, November 09, 2011

Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission has compiled a report saying it will take more than 30 years to scrap the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The commission’s panel of experts had been discussing the schedule since August.

The report released on Wednesday says transferring spent fuel from the plant’s 4 damaged reactor buildings to a pool inside the compound will begin within 3 years after the reactors achieve cold shutdown.

Removing the melted fuel inside the No.1 through No.3 reactors will begin within 10 years. The reactors’ containment vessels must first be repaired and filled them with water to block radiation.
The schedule is based on the handling of the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in 1979. But the situation at Fukushima Daiichi is far more serious because 3 reactors suffered simultaneous meltdowns.

It could take more than 30 years to extract the nuclear fuel, dismantle the reactors, and turn the compound into a vacant lot.

Incineration of cesium-tainted vegetation resumes in Chiba Pref. city (Mainichi, November 9)

KASHIWA, Chiba — An incineration plant here resumed burning radioactive cesium-contaminated vegetation on Nov. 9 after about a three-month suspension.

The Kashiwa Municipal Government had stopped incinerating the vegetation tainted in the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant after contamination exceeding the government limit of 8,000 becquerels per kilogram was detected in the resulting ash in August. However, a lack of storage space has forced the city to resume burning the vegetation. The new round of burning will apparently last about a month.

The incinerators at one of the city’s waste processing centers began burning the vegetation at about 9:30 a.m., though to prevent high concentrations of radioactive substances in the ash, the vegetation is being mixed in with other garbage at a 10 to 20 percent ratio. As ash exceeding the government’s contamination limit cannot be buried in a landfill, it will be stored at the waste processing center.

Ibaraki firm unveils robot suit for nuclear workers (Asahi)| Disaster-response robots draw attention  (NHK, Wednesday, November 09, 2011)

Robots developed for rescue operations in earthquakes and nuclear disasters are the focus of this year’s International Robot Exhibition in Tokyo.

The biennial event began on Wednesday with more than 270 companies and universities exhibiting robots for industrial and other uses. They include humanoid and animal-like machines.

Much attention is focused on robots that can operate in conditions where people cannot, such as quake-hit areas and nuclear disaster sites.

A robot developed by a major machinery manufacturer can cut through concrete, carry debris and perform various other jobs by changing its arm attachments. It can be operated by remote control.

In a discussion session, Shinji Kawatsuma of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency spoke about the failure of Japanese-made robots to perform properly during the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. He said workers need more time to learn how to operate the machines, and that day-to-day training is essential for the use of rescue robots.

90% of Fukushima candidates want N-reactors scrapped (Yomiuri, Nov.9) | Record 2.05 million Japanese on welfare

Blaze at industrial waste disposal facility in western Tokyo finally under control (Mainichi, Nov 9)

Firefighters on the morning of Nov. 9 managed to extinguish a blaze at an industrial waste disposal facility in western Tokyo 19 hours after it broke out.

A fire broke out at the factory of Rest Corp. in the Izumi district of Kunitachi at around 4:20 p.m. on Nov. 8, and burned most of its structure with a total floor space of some 3,300 square meters, local police said.

More than 70 fire engines were dispatched to the site. One of over 10 workers at the plant suffered light injuries after he had his right ear cut with a glass fragment.

Investigators suspect that the fire broke out in a garbage incinerator on the first floor of the structure.

A worker was quoted as telling local police that an explosion occurred while sorting out garbage from a river using a crushing machine. After that, at least three explosions occurred at the plant.

Shortly after 11 a.m. on Nov. 9, firefighters managed to extinguish the blaze. Police are set to conduct an inspection of the plant to clarify the cause of the blaze and explosion.

Rest Corp. processes sludge, plastic and wood chips at the disposal facility, situated near the Kunitachi-Fuchu Interchange on the Chuo Expressway.

Farmland conversion up after disaster (Yomiuri, Nov.7)

The number of successful applications to convert agricultural land to some other use in coastal areas of Miyagi and Iwate prefectures jumped about 2.5-fold from April through October this year from the corresponding period in 2010, according to government sources.

This has given rise to concern among local governments and experts that residents may rebuild their houses without reference to any overall plan, thus hindering the efficient reconstruction of infrastructure for water supply and other essential services.

The number of applications has been rising apparently because residents who lost homes due to the March 11 quake and tsunami plan to build new houses on farmland that is on higher ground.

The central government has encouraged local governments to speed up the processing of such applications. Most have been approved, which may lead to the random building of new houses.

Nuclear watchdog releases stress test evaluations on website (Asahi, Nov 10)

Study starts on ‘long-term no-return zones’ in Fukushima(Asahi, Nov 10)

The government started discussions on establishing “long-term no-return zones” in areas with high radiation levels near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is also considering extending assistance for a “two-stage return,” whereby new towns are created in areas of low radiation levels to prepare for a future return of evacuees.

Radiation levels will soon be measured in the no-entry zone within a 20-kilometer radius of the nuclear plant. Areas that are designated long-term no-return zones will be announced when a state of cold shutdown is achieved at the plant, which the government plans by the end of the year.

The government has not decided on the length of the ban on entry to these zones, but expects it will continue for a long time.

The central and local governments may lease out or buy up land from residents of the zones and provide them with public-run “reconstruction housing.”

A science ministry survey in mid-October found that annual human exposure to radiation exceeded the evacuation threshold of 20 millisieverts at 37 of 50 measurement locations in the no-entry zone. Annual exposure exceeded 100 millisieverts at 15 locations, where more than 10 years will be needed for the figure to fall below 20 millisieverts.

The government plans to start model projects in the no-entry zone to verify how far decontamination measures can lower radiation levels. The results will be used to calculate how many years it will take before residents can return and to designate areas where a return will remain difficult in the longer term.

The designation will also include areas where everyday life is expected to remain difficult, even if the radiation levels are low, because of scant prospects for a recovery in infrastructure.

The town of Okuma in Fukushima Prefecture, in which part of the Fukushima No. 1 plant lies, has already incorporated a “two-stage return” in its draft reconstruction design.

According to the plan, a “new town” with a concentration of public facilities will be created in an area of low radiation levels to prepare for the eventual return of all evacuees. The central government plans to extend assistance to similar initiatives.

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Elsewhere in Seoul, radiation concerns have also popped up…

SEOUL — South Korean authorities began digging up streets in Seoul’s Nowon Ward on Nov. 4, after high radiation levels were detected on the asphalt.

Employees of the government-affiliated Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety on Nov. 4 dug holes to collect samples of the road surface at intervals of about 5 meters along a 200-meter stretch of a shopping street in the Weolgye-dong district.

Radiation levels of 2.7 microsieverts per hour on the road surface and 1.8 microsieverts per hour at a height of 1 meter above the ground were measured near the front gate of the Induk industrial high school, which is on the road.

Officials said it was likely that the radiation source was cesium-137, which has a half-life of 30 years. It is suspected that the aggregate used to make the asphalt may have been contaminated with the radioactive material…. Read the entire article here

Asphalt was also being removed on Nov. 4 at another road in a residential area about 1 kilometer from the shopping street. At the second location, radiation of 3.2 microsieverts per hour on the road surface and 1.4 microsieverts per hour at 1 meter above ground level was measured on Nov. 2.

That contamination was also attributed to cesium-137. Ward officials said road surface improvements had been carried out at both sites around 2000.

Seoul to conduct radiation checks on all roads (Asahi, 11/8)

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon ordered radiation checks on all roads after radioactive cesium-137 was detected in several spots of the capital.

** end of update | previous update here **

By Aileen Kawagoe