BREAKING NEWS:  High radioactivity detected in some Fukushima rice NHK, November 17, 2011

An inspection of recently-harvested rice in Fukushima Prefecture has found levels of radiation higher than the government-allowed limit.

The Fukushima Prefectural government says tests have detected 630 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium in rice from a field in the Oonami district in Fukushima City. The government’s maximum allowable level is 500 becquerels per kilogram.

Oonami is about 50 kilometers from the disabled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The prefectural assessment followed tests conducted by a local agricultural cooperative on Monday, which pointed to higher dosages than the interim tolerable limit.

The prefecture says the farm in question produced about 840 kilograms of rice this year. It says the harvested rice is being kept in a warehouse and has not gone into circulation.

The prefecture says it has asked all farmers in the district to suspend rice shipments.

The central government says it has begun to assess whether to ban rice shipments from the district altogether.

This is the first time that radiation levels higher than the government limit have been found in rice crops since the nuclear accident.

Last month, the prefecture allowed shipments from the district after tests at 2 locations largely confirmed radioactive levels lower than the legal limit.

The prefecture says it will reexamine the crops from all 154 farms in the district.

A prefectural agriculture department official says the prefectural government is appalled by the test results. He says the prefecture will try to obtain information on distribution of rice from surrounding areas, and will investigate why the rice contained such high levels of radiation.

The head of the local agricultural cooperative says his cooperative takes the fact that radioactive cesium has been detected in the district seriously despite the contradictory results of earlier tests. He says his cooperative plans to conduct more detailed tests.

Preliminary reports show little radiation exposure in Fukushima (Ecocentric, TIME magazine blog, Nov 16) Extracted below:

“… Explosions in the plant threw large amounts of radiation—about one-tenth the amount released after the Chernobyl disaster—into the air, prompting the Japanese government to create a 20 km (12 mile) evacuation zone around the planet. More than half a year later, some 100,000 residents have yet to return home.

How long they’ll have to stay away—and how great the lasting public health impacts of Fukushima will be—will depend on how much radiation has actually found its way into the bodies of residents. That’s a long-term question, but a preliminary report (PDF) published in the November 16 PLoS ONE indicates that the situation may not be as severe as first feared.

In the immediate aftermath of the tsunami on March 11—and the accident at Fukushima—the Japanese government asked institutions to monitor radioactive contamination levels among affected residents. That included Hirosaki University, more than 350 km north of Fukushima City. Support staff from Hirosaki surveyed more than 5,000 residents in the months following the accident, and kept track of their own exposure levels as well.

The PLoS study, led by Ikuo Kashiwakura, found only 10 people among those surveyed with high levels of radiation exposure—and even those levels were not elevated enough to require decontamination. (The study covered March 15 to June 20.) Almost everyone else surveyed had low to nonexistent levels of radiation contamination, while the Hirosaki staff members on site had undetectable radiation levels.

Not everything was safe. The study found hotspots where radiation had accumulated, and the researchers also noted that outdoor air tended to be nearly 10 times more contaminated than air indoors. But as a preliminary study, the PLoS paper should allow Fukushima residents some relief. The region is still years away from being whole again, and scientists will need to keep long-term tabs on residents in case any radiation-related health problems do arise. But it could have been much worse.”

Mountains limited spread of fallout from Fukushima (Japan Today, Nov 16)

NEW YORK — A map of radioactive contamination across Japan from the Fukushima power plant disaster confirms high levels in eastern and northeastern areas but finds much lower levels in the western part of the country, thanks to mountain ranges, researchers say.

The mountains sheltered northwestern and western parts of Japan as radioactive cesium-137 emerged from the power plant and blew downwind, the scientists said.

Cesium-137 is just one of the radioactive materials that came out of the plant, but researchers focused on that because it’s particularly worrisome. It lasts for decades in soils, emitting radiation and potentially contaminating crops and other agricultural products.

The research, published online Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows estimated levels of contamination.

Higher radiation detected downstream in Fukushima (NHK, November 16)

Surveys by Japan’s Environment Ministry show that downstream radiation levels have risen in some rivers in Fukushima Prefecture.
The ministry has been monitoring radiation levels in rivers near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to assess the impact of the accident there.
Officials took sand samples from 2 rivers in September. In northern Fukushima Prefecture, the upstream radioactive cesium levels were 3,200 becquerels per kilogram in the Niida River in a district of Iitate Village. The downstream levels of the same river in an area of Soma City were 13,000 becquerels.

The upstream levels had fallen to one-fifth of those observed in May, but the downstream measurements had tripled.
Cesium levels near the mouth of the Mano River in another part of Soma City had doubled from May.
Kinki University Professor Hideo Yamazaki says radioactive substances in riverbed sands are probably moving downstream, and radiation levels should be monitored near river mouths.

Source: The Asahi Shimbun

Study: Radiation contamination likely in western Japan, Hokkaido (Asahi, Nov 15)

Radioactive substances spewed out by the quake-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant have likely spread to western Japan and Hokkaido, according to a team of Japanese, U.S. and European scientists.

Their findings were published in the Nov. 14 online edition of the Proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

Japan’s science ministry said radioactive contamination spread only as far west as the areas near the border between Nagano and Gunma prefectures. However, it conceded there was a possibility, albeit small, of contamination west of that line.

A team of scientists, led by Teppei Yasunari, research associate for the Universities Space Research Association in Maryland, simulated the dispersion of airborne cesium-137 on a 20-kilometer grid, taking account of the weather and rainfall conditions after the March 11 disaster.

The team inputted the science ministry’s observation data on cesium-137 deposition into its numerical output to obtain quantitative estimates for cesium deposits between March 20 and April 19.

Overall, the simulated distribution of contamination was in line with measurements by the science ministry.

However, the study indicated possible contamination of radioactive fallout in mountainous areas in Gifu Prefecture, the Chugoku and Shikoku regions. The simulation also showed contamination in Hokkaido.

“These deposition levels do not have immediate impact on human health and do not require decontamination,” said Tetsuzo Yasunari, a professor at Nagoya University who is a co-author of the study.

Cesium concentrations in soil were far below the safety standard for banning rice cultivation in most regions.

The analysis did not include the period through March 19 because of the unavailability of data, although most of the radioactive substances are thought to have been released during that period.

“The actual deposition is likely to be larger than our latest estimate,” one scientist said.

Low radiation questions spur anxiety (Japan Times, Nov 16)

For residents of Fukushima Prefecture, anxiety over their exposure to low levels of radiation has been palpable since the March 11 twin disasters crippled the Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

Residents both in and near the prefecture have been living with these fears as experts seem unable to give clear-cut answers about the possible health impact.

The differing opinions of three radiation experts at the recent Hoshasen to Mukiau (Facing Radiation) symposium reflects how scientists have yet to reach a consensus on how small doses of radiation affect the human body.

Despite this, the experts did agree on one thing: They all urged the public to study and deepen their understanding of radiation risks and make their own judgments in deciding what to avoid.

People need to “measure with their own yardsticks,” National Institute of Radiological Science Executive Director Makoto Akashi told the crowd of some 600 at the Oct. 30 symposium at Yurakucho Asahi Hall in Tokyo. “While our role (as scientists) is to give out accurate data, we want everyone to have their own criteria (for measuring exposure risk) by being knowledgeable.”

Akashi, who heads the Chiba-based NIRS, which currently is monitoring the health of Fukushima residents with Fukushima Medical University, said none of the 4,460 Fukushima residents examined between the end of June and the end of September had been found to have internal exposure levels exceeding 1 millisievert a year, the legal limit for the general public. Based on these examination results, Akashi said it was difficult to believe the health risk of Fukushima residents would increase.

A cumulative dose of 100 millisieverts could increase one’s cancer mortality rate by 0.5 percent and the rate rises with an increase in amount of exposure, according to the International Commission on Radiological Protection, an organization of scientists that created radiation protection guidelines used worldwide.

A level below 100 millisieverts, however, is beyond the reach of today’s science to prove statistically significant in boosting the risk of cancer, Akashi said, as the risk is too small to detect and is buried among many other risk factors, including smoking and obesity.

But any increased risk would certainly be smaller than that above 100 millisieverts, Akashi added.

“We are not saying that exposure below 100 millisieverts is safe,” Akashi said. “What we are saying is that the risk (from radiation exposure) exists among many other risk factors, so that it probably can’t be detected.”

Gen Suzuki, medical director of the International University of Health and Welfare Clinic in Tochigi Prefecture, said it was too early to speak about the exposure levels of Fukushima residents because complete health examinations have yet to be completed. But Suzuki agreed that the current exposure levels are very small.

Animal experiments have shown that health effects from prolonged exposure to low-level radiation are fewer than that of a one-time high-level exposure, Suzuki said.

Based on this experiment, it was possible to assume that the cancer mortality rate of long-term radiation exposure could be lower than that of atomic bomb survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where victims were exposed to high doses of radiation in a quick burst, he said.

“Whether (the current radiation level) is something that you or your children really have to avoid depends on each person’s philosophy. But when making judgments, it is important to grasp the basic level of risk,” Suzuki said.

Pointing out other factors that put people at a much higher risk level for cancer — including obesity — Suzuki said that being obsessed with avoiding low-level radiation exposure may contribute to these other riskier factors.

He also noted that all food contains the radioactive material potassium-40, which has a half-life of 1.28 billion years. Therefore, he said, if one wants to eliminate every little radioactive isotope from one’s diet, there would be no food left to eat.

Contrary to Akashi and Suzuki, who noted internal exposure levels as being minor, Saburo Murata, a physician and vice chairman of Hannan Chuo Hospital in Osaka Prefecture who has been helping nuclear plant workers with compensation issues, argued there is no safe dose of radiation exposure.

Murata, who has also given health checks to residents in the village of Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, site of a fatal 1999 nuclear accident at the JCO nuclear fuel-processing plant, questioned the way government-appointed institutions — including NIRS — have carried out health examinations of Fukushima residents.

He called the measurable limits of whole body counter examinations used for checking the internal exposure of Fukushima residents too high.

“The purpose of health examinations should not be to eliminate people’s fears over the health effects of radiation exposure,” Murata said.

For those who have been or will be exposed to more than 1 millisievert a year, the government must provide thorough health examinations and lifetime medical support, including mental health care, Murata said.

From his experiences with atomic bomb survivors and nuclear plant workers, Murata also stressed the importance of having a record of one’s behavior and health.

“At the moment, it’s difficult to estimate how much you’ve been exposed to, because even if you are examined (the level) could be below the measurable limits,” he said. “When you don’t know (the accurate figure of exposure), you have to have records of where you lived and what actions you took at the time (of exposure).

“If you develop some illness, (such records) could be used to determine the link” between the health effects and the past exposure, Murata said.

Parts of Japan too radioactive to farm, say int’l researchers (JT, Nov. 15, 2011)

TOKYO — Farmland in parts of Japan is no longer safe because of high levels of radiation in the soil, scientists have warned, as the country struggles to recover from the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

A team of international researchers said food production would likely be “severely impaired” by the elevated levels of cesium found in soil samples across eastern Fukushima in the wake of meltdowns at the tsunami-hit plant.

The study, published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences journal, suggests farming in neighboring areas may also suffer because of radiation, although levels discovered there were within legal limits.

“Fukushima prefecture as a whole is highly contaminated,” especially to the northwest of the nuclear power plant, the researchers said.

The study looked at cesium-137, which has a half life of 30 years and therefore affects the environment for decades.

The legal limit for concentrations in soil of the sum of cesium-134 and cesium-137, which are always produced together, is 5,000 becquerels per kilogram in Japan.

“The east Fukushima prefecture exceeded this limit and some neighboring prefectures such as Miyagi, Tochigi and Ibaraki are partially close to the limit under our upper-bound estimate,” the study said.

“Estimated and observed contaminations in the western parts of Japan were not as serious, even though some prefectures were likely effected to some extent,” it added.

“Concentration in these areas are below 25 becquerels per kilogram, which is far below the threshold for farming. However, we strongly recommend each prefecture to quickly carry out some supplementary soil samplings at city levels to validate our estimates.”

The study said “food production in eastern Fukushima Prefecture is likely severely impaired by the cesium-137 loads of more than 2,500 becquerels per kilogram.”

It is also likely production is “partially impacted in neighboring prefectures such as Iwate, Miyagi, Yamagata, Niigata, Tochigi, Ibaraki and Chiba where values of more than 250 becquerels per kilogram cannot be excluded,” it said.

The study was led by Teppei Yasunari of the Universities Space Research Association in the U.S. state of Maryland.

He and his team used daily observations in each prefecture and computer-simulated particle dispersion models based on weather patterns.

Japan has been on alert for the impact of radiation since an earthquake and resulting tsunami struck the northeast of the country on March 11, crippling the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Its cooling systems were knocked offline and reactors were sent into meltdown, resulting in the leaking of radiation into the air, oceans and food chain.

Shipments of a number of farm products from the affected regions were halted and even those that were not subject to official controls have found little favor with Japanese consumers wary of the potential health effects.

Smartphone geiger counter developed (Yomiuri, Nov 16) |  Firm makes iPhone Geiger counter for worried Japanese (JapanToday, Nov 16)

TOKYO — A Japanese company Tuesday unveiled a cheap Geiger counter for the iPhone to enable people worried about the March Fukushima nuclear accident to check their environment for radiation.

The probe, 14 centimeters long by five wide, connects to the iPhone and the screen displays radiation readings in combination with a special app such as the Geiger Bot.

The device was developed on the initiative of a young researcher who wanted to make a cheap and easy-to-use Geiger counter available following the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

“Immediately after the disaster triggered by the earthquake and tsunami of March 11 in the northeast of the archipelago, the cheapest Geiger counters cost 60,000 yen and were hard to find,” said Takuma Mori on the origins of the device made by Sanwa Corp.

The first models for iPhones will go on sale in the next few days priced at 9,800 yen. …”

Scientists: Radiation exposure near nuke plant within limits (Asahi, November 15, 2011)

Residents of areas near the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant have been exposed to radiation levels of up to 0.16 millisievert per year from radioactive cesium in food and airborne dust, according to scientists at Kyoto University and other research institutions.

These levels are lower than the publicly permissible dose of 1 millisievert per year, the authors said Nov. 14.

The research team, led by Hirohiko Ishikawa, a professor of environmental disaster at Kyoto University’s Disaster Prevention Research Institute, measured cesium-134 and cesium-137 levels in samples of food, water and air in the region between July 2 and 8.

The scientists purchased food and drinking water at supermarkets located between a 20- to 70-kilometer radius from the nuclear plant, and estimated the levels of internal exposure through ingestion on the basis of their radioactive cesium content.

The median estimated dose level was 0.003 millisievert per year, whereas the maximum estimate, which assumes that the subject consumes highly contaminated food on a daily basis, was 0.083 millisievert per year.

The group also collected samples of airborne dust at a height of 1.5 meters above ground and evaluated exposure levels on the basis of their cesium content. The dose levels by inhalation were estimated to be less than 0.003 millisievert per year at most locations, and peaked at 0.077 millisievert per year in Namie. Combined with the maximum dose level by ingestion, this gives a total of 0.16 millisievert per year.

These estimated annual internal exposure dose levels are the same as external radiation doses that can be exceeded in a matter of hours depending on locations, so the measures against external exposure are more important, the scientists said.

NASU, Tochigi Prefecture–Yasuyuki Fujimura was the go-to guy for advice on radiation in the town of Nasu in Tochigi Prefecture.

The 67-year-old inventor who is also a visiting professor at the College of Engineering at Nihon University has long been studying the effects of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster.

So after the crisis started at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March, Nasu residents, torn between safety reassurances and dire warnings of radiation exposure, hounded Fujimura with questions about whether they should evacuate.

Fujimura advised them to take matters into their own hands.

“Why not investigate the reality of radiation exposure, make scientific analyses and proceed with decontamination on our own?” he told the advice seekers.

What followed was an autonomous project that checks for radiation hot spots in Nasu, home to 27,000 people and located about 100 kilometers from the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

Hundreds have joined the Nasu wo Kibo no Toride ni Shiyo! (Let’s make Nasu a foothold of hope!) project, and the movement has spread to surrounding areas.

More than 1,000 people have taken part in the persistent and steady efforts to measure the extent of radiation at about 1,400 locations and plan for decontamination measures.

“Our idea of acting together to regain a peace of mind caught on with others,” Fujimura said. “It didn’t matter whether you were a common resident or a town government official, whether you were for or against nuclear power.”

More than eight months since the Great East Japan Earthquake triggered the nuclear crisis, the Toride Project is still going strong.

On one day in early November, mothers carrying dosimeters called out such numbers as “0.82” or “0.48” while other project members jotted down the figures on a map. The numbers represented air dose rates in microsieverts per hour.

About 30 people, including parents of children attending Takaku Elementary School, were checking the routes used by children to go to the school.

About 500 people in the Nasu district are engaged in the project, which is cooperating with the town administration, to measure radiation levels along 155 commuting routes to all 13 elementary schools in the town.

Via school authorities, the town government called on parents who were not affiliated with the project to participate in the radiation checks.

After the project started in March, about 1,000 people attended sessions on radiation measurement techniques while donations rose to about 3 million yen ($39,000), enough to buy 26 dosimeters.

Membership swelled to about 500 as the project began to attract residents in the neighboring cities of Nasushiobara and Otawara.

Surveys by the Tochigi prefectural government detected a maximum air dose rate in Nasu of 1.75 microsieverts per hour, equivalent to 15 millisieverts per year, immediately following the start of the nuclear accident.

The figure fell short of the 100-millisievert-per-year level, above which it is believed that “any additional dose will cause a proportional increase in the chance of a health effect.” But it far exceeded the 1-millisievert-per-year level, the individual dose limit for the general public.

Before the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake, Fujimura held events at his home to promote environmental protection, insisting that children could continue to live in the community if adults made their utmost efforts in this regard.

After the disasters struck, he saw couples quarreling over whether to flee the area and pregnant women fearing for the lives of their unborn babies.

At the time, the central government reiterated there was no immediate impact on health from the Fukushima accident, but nuclear experts in the media were split on how dangerous the situation really was.

Neither the central government nor the experts were presenting workable choices for a majority of the public, Fujimura said.

Naoko Okutsu, a 37-year-old mother of a fifth-grader and a third-grader in Nasu, was one of many who sought Fujimura’s advice.

She stayed with an acquaintance in Kagoshima Prefecture for a week immediately following the earthquake, and returned to Nasu just in time for the school closing ceremony in late March because her children wanted to see their friends.

Despite her concerns about radiation exposure, she decided to stay in the community after Fujimura told her: “You should not feel afraid just because you don’t know. There is still time for action.”

Okutsu invited Mayumi Kikuchi, a 46-year-old mother of a child who attended the same kindergarten as her children, to join the project.

The two women, however, were hesitant to canvass elementary schools because some of the schoolchildren’s parents were dairy farmers and innkeepers who feared negative publicity.

The women also wanted to avoid being labeled overly sensitive, so they limited their activities to leaving brochures at clinics and other places.

Shigetomo Mashiko, a 40-year-old father of three children who runs a local lumbermill, was also reluctant at the outset.

“Some farmers may lose their means of living if measurement results are made public,” he said he thought at the time.

After a three-hour discussion with Fujimura and others, Mashiko agreed to a plan to restrict most of the measurement activities along school commuting routes. He also discussed the measures with other young business operators.

Word of the Toride Project spread by word of mouth, eventually involving the town administration.

The Nasu town government bought 27 of the same dosimeters used in the Toride Project to prevent discrepancies in the measurements. All senior officials of the town government also listened to Fujimura’s advice.

“From early on, the project pointed to a pathway in a level-headed manner,” said Masaru Takaku, the 56-year-old town mayor, explaining why the movement expanded so quickly.

Fujimura said the name of the project stems from his hope of providing courage to people in other communities as well.

In fact, a Nishigo Hope Project has started in the neighboring Nishigo village in Fukushima Prefecture.

(This article was written by Yoshitaka Sumida and Kiyoko Miichi.)

Second tainted bottle found in Setagaya (Japan Times, Nov 16)

Kyodo

A bottle believed to have contained radium was found beneath the ground near a supermarket in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, on Tuesday in the second such discovery since high levels of radiation were detected in the area last month, officials said.

A Setagaya official said the substance inside the bottle was highly likely to be radium-226. The bottle was found buried in soil at a spot where the radiation reading reached 170 microsieverts per hour.

Radium-226 has been used for medical procedures.

The bottle’s radiation level measured several millisieverts, and radiation levels in the nearby area dropped after it was removed, according to officials of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

Earlier this month another bottle also believed to have contained radium was dug out of the ground at the entrance of a supermarket where up to 110 microsieverts of radiation per hour had been registered.

The Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives in Tokyo has leased the supermarket land to its operator since 1999 after buying it from a school operator in 1973. Both the union and the store operator said they have no idea how the bottle got there.

The Prometheus Trap / Men in Protective Clothing-2: Radiation information did not make it to residents (Asahi, November 16, 2011)

On March 13, after the 25 people had left the Kanno’s home, the majority of evacuees still remained in the Tsushima district.

On March 13, after the 25 people had left the Kanno’s home, the majority of evacuees still remained in the Tsushima district.

At 5:44 a.m. on March 12, the evacuation order was expanded to cover a radius of 10 kilometers from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. After the hydrogen explosion at the No. 1 nuclear reactor, the evacuation order was widened to 20 km at 6:25 p.m.

However, at a news conference on the evening of March 12, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said, “There will be no leakage of radioactive material in a large quantity. Persons in areas outside of the 20-km radius will not be affected.”

The statement effectively meant that the incident was insignificant but that people in the area are urged to take shelter as a precautionary measure. People believed that the Tsushima district, 30 km away, was safe.

On March 12 and 13, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) employees visited the Tsushima branch office in Namie to make a status report. They were not wearing protective clothing, and they did not say the area was dangerous. Their demeanor was quite different from that of the men Mizue Kanno had met.

Neither the workers in the town hall nor the head of the district had seen the men in protective clothing that Kanno had seen. However, she had carefully made note of what she had seen and heard.

Early on the morning on March 15, following the blast heard at the No. 3 reactor the previous day, a loud boom was heard at the No. 2 reactor, and then the No. 4 reactor building exploded. For the first time, the government requested that people within a 20- to 30-km radius “take refuge indoors.”

That is when the residents of the Tsushima district evacuated. Mayor Tamotsu Baba found out about the explosion at the No. 3 reactor on March 14 from TV reports and decided to implement voluntary evacuations to the neighboring city, Nihonmatsu, from the next day.

On the morning of March 15 at 9 a.m., very high levels of radiation of 11,930 microsieverts per hour were observed at the main gate to the Fukushima No. 1 plant. Despite this, Edano’s statements were optimistic.

“The concentration of radioactive material at distances exceeding 20 km is considerably weakened. The impact on the human body is small or negligible.”

“At present, water is steadily being pumped into reactors Nos. 1, 2 and 3, which is having a cooling effect.”

It was not until later that the people of Japan were told about the meltdown that had occurred at the nuclear reactors on March 12.

On the morning of March 12, police officers in charge of traffic control at Namie were wearing protective clothing.

“Why are the police dressed like that?”

The residents were apprehensive. The chairman of the Namie town assembly, Kazuhiro Yoshida, 65, went to the Tsushima district police substation and asked that the police refrain from wearing the protective clothing because it was making residents nervous.

Yoshida says, “We were the only ones who weren’t informed.”

‘Isn’t this murder?’

There is a computer simulation system named SPEEDI that the government spent 13 billion yen ($166 million) to create. When factors such as radiation quantity, geography, weather and wind direction are entered, the system immediately determines information that includes the direction in which leaked radioactive materials will flow.

On March 12, two hours before the hydrogen explosion at the No. 1 reactor, the Nuclear Safety Technology Center (NUSTEC), which is supervised by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, had already run that simulation.

Radioactive materials were shown to disperse in the direction of the Tsushima district. However, the government did not inform the residents.

Fukushima Prefecture, however, was aware of the SPEEDI results. On the night of March 12, the prefecture had called NUSTEC in Tokyo asking for information and received the results by e-mail. However, that information was not used and at some point the e-mail message was erased, and even the record of receiving the message remains uncertain.

The residents who fled the Tsushima district on March 15 were told about the SPEEDI results by the prefecture two months later, on May 20. The issue arose because the facts of the matter were coming under question in the prefectural assembly.

On May 20, the department chief from Fukushima Prefecture in charge of the matter visited the Towa branch office in Nihonmatsu, where the functions of Namie town hall had been moved, to offer an explanation.

“Isn’t this murder?”

Mayor Baba voiced his strong disapproval.

According to Baba, the prefectural department chief shed tears as he apologized for not communicating the SPEEDI results.

The results acquired from SPEEDI were not the only information that was not made known.

Fukushima Prefecture began measuring radiation levels at various locations from early in the morning on March 12, the day after the Fukushima nuclear accident.

At 9 a.m. on the same day, measurements in the Sakai district in Namie registered 15 microsieverts/h, and 14 microsieverts/h in the Takase district. Compared with other towns, those two areas in Namie showed extremely high readings. It was more than six hours before the hydrogen explosion at the No. 1 reactor, and there were many evacuees nearby.

These readings were uploaded to the website of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry on June 3. However, the figures were buried among the multitude of other data on the website and their importance was overlooked.

In late August, when that data was shown to Kazuo Ueda, the head of the disaster relief headquarters in Namie, he was astounded.

“This is the first time I’ve seen this. Why didn’t the national and the prefectural governments tell us?”

Kanno said, “Perhaps we were forsaken by the national government?”

The Prometheus Trap / Men in Protective Clothing-1 (Asahi, November 15, 2011)

‘Please, get away from here’

Tsushima district in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, is located in the mountains approximately 30 kilometers northwest of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO).

On March 12, the day after the nuclear accident, 10,000 people fled to the Tsushima District from the coastal area that lies within a 10-km radius of the nuclear power plant. Residents took people into their homes, since there was not enough room at the elementary and junior high schools, community centers and temples.

One after another, people began arriving at Mizue Kanno’s home throughout the day. By evening, 25 people had gathered. Although many were relatives and acquaintances, there were also strangers among them.

Her new house had recently been built after having torn down the family’s 180-year-old, traditional Japanese home. It has an impressive gate, expansive grounds and a large room measuring 20 tatami mats (approx. 33 square meters). It was just right for accepting evacuees, and the yard was filled with evacuees’ cars.

“I don’t know what happened at the nuclear power station, but if we evacuate this far, then we should be OK.” Everyone looked relieved for the moment.

Kanno, 59, cooked two pressure cookers full of rice and made an evening meal of rice balls and miso soup with pork and vegetables. People who fled with only the clothes on their backs assembled in the large room and began eating.

Following dinner, everyone introduced themselves and formed rules for living together:

* To prevent the toilet from getting clogged, toilet paper should be thrown away in the cardboard box placed next to the toilet.

* Everyone should help cook and serve meals.

* Do not hesitate to be open with one another. …

The people split into groups and slept in two rooms. Kanno handed out all the futons she had.

Then, Kanno stepped outside, where she noticed a white van that had stopped in front of her house. Inside were two men wearing white protective clothing. They turned toward her and shouted, but she couldn’t make out what they were saying.

“What? What’s the problem?” Kanno asked.

“Why are you here?! Please, get away from here.”

Kanno was shocked.

“Flee? But this is an evacuation shelter.”

The two men got out of the car. Both were wearing gas masks.

“Radioactive materials are spreading.”

They spoke in a grave tone and with a sense of urgency.

National road No. 114 that runs past her house was bumper to bumper with cars at a standstill, full of people who couldn’t get into evacuation shelters. The two men also shouted to the people who had gotten out of their cars, “Quickly, get back into your cars!”

The two men then drove off in the direction of Fukushima city. They did not go to the branch office of the town hall, or place a warning on the message board.

The government had said that areas outside of a 10-km radius were safe. Why, then, were those two men wearing protective clothing and gas masks as well? Who exactly were they?

Kanno was puzzled, but at any rate she hurried back to the house and told the evacuees about the men in protective clothing.

Fleeing farther away in the middle of the night 

A discussion began.

“If it really is dangerous, there should be some information from the town or the police. Let’s see what happens.”

Everyone had finally gotten settled in and were reluctant to move.

However, in the middle of the night the situation suddenly changed. Several buses arrived at the community center, which served as an evacuation shelter. One of the evacuees noticed the arrival and told everyone the bus drivers had said they were “moving the evacuees.”

At the time, the town of Namie was shuttling residents within a 20-km radius who were late in evacuating to the Tsushima district. Kanno was unaware of that fact but had concluded that the area was unsafe. She woke her sleeping guests and a discussion began again.

Most did not want to leave, but one woman noted that, “If everyone stays, then Mrs. Kanno’s family can’t leave.” That settled it.

“Let’s drive as long as the gas lasts.”

After midnight, two young couples left with a newborn baby who had just been born in February and their small children.

Though at first the couples were reluctant to flee on mountain roads so late at night, Kanno gave them rice balls, saying, “At least get the children out of here.”

The next morning on March 13, another discussion ensued after breakfast. A young couple with children who had said the night before they wouldn’t leave, decided they would go for their children’s sake. An older woman lent the couple her car.

“Since I’m alone, I’ll catch the bus at the evacuation center.”

By evening, all 25 people had re-evacuated to other locations such as Fukushima, Koriyama and Minami-Soma.

Kanno told others who had sought shelter in a nearby house about the men in protective clothing. One laughed saying, “I worked at TEPCO. The nuclear power plant we built could never be that dangerous.”

The man had fled not from the nuclear accident, but from the tsunami. Kanno felt relieved. She and her oldest son, Junichi, 27, decided not to flee.

Junichi was in charge of distributing food from the regional center, which served as a shelter, and was making rice balls.

“I can’t leave everyone behind.”

At that time, readings at locations approximately 10 km from the Tsushima district using instruments measuring up to 30 microsieverts per hour were going off the meter.

NISA puts off Fukui reactor stress test decision (Asahi, Nov 15) Extracts below:

“Consideration of the first formal application by a nuclear plant operator to restart a suspended reactor under the government’s new stress test system was postponed after experts challenged the safety of the procedure.

Kansai Electric Power Co. was the first utility to submit a first-stage stress test report, on the No. 3 reactor at its Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture, and had expected the government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) to consider its results on Nov. 14.

But calls from nuclear experts for a review of the safety standards underpinning the whole system forced NISA to put off examination of the report.

“It is incomprehensible to try to reach a conclusion on whether reactors are safe based on the test results without reviewing the safety screening process, which is flawed,” Hiromitsu Ino, professor emeritus in metal materials at the University of Tokyo, told the meeting on Nov. 14.

Ino argued that all of the country’s reactors should be shut down immediately and should not be restarted until they had passed the second stage of the government’s stress test regime.

The existing system is allowing operators to continue running reactors until they have to suspend them for routine maintenance. For the restart this time, however, they have to submit a report like that submitted for the Oi plant under the first stage of the stress test system. Under the first-stage test, utilities have to assess how much safety cushion their reactors have against quakes and tsunami at expected levels and beyond.

That report must then be passed by NISA and ratified by the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan, a panel within the Cabinet Office.

The second-stage tests are stricter. They apply to all of Japan’s nuclear plants except the No. 1 and No. 2 nuclear plants in Fukushima Prefecture, but the government is allowing existing plants to keep running while the second-stage analyses are carried out.

The stress tests are based on computer simulations conducted by the operators of nuclear plants.

Koji Okamoto, professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Tokyo, joined Ino in questioning the logic of the system at the hearing.

“The second-stage test designed to determine if the nation’s nuclear plants are intrinsically safe should be conducted first,” he said.

Masashi Goto, a part-time lecturer at Shibaura Institute of Technology who worked on nuclear reactor design when working with Toshiba Corp., also raised questions about the limited focus of the testing regime on natural disasters such as quakes and tsunami.

He said the system should also be looking at the ability to withstand aircraft accidents, beached vessels, terrorist attacks, fire and other risks.” … Read more here

IAEA praises Fukushima clean-up (Japan Today, Nov 16)

VIENNA — The U.N. atomic agency on Tuesday praised Japan’s clean-up efforts eight months after the Fukushima nuclear disaster but said there was still room for improvement.

“A lot of good work, done at all levels, is ongoing in Japan in the area of environmental remediation,” the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a final report delivered to Japanese authorities.

The agency encouraged Japan to continue its remediation efforts, taking into account IAEA advice following a recent fact-finding mission to the area led by Juan Carlos Lentijo from Spain’s nuclear regulatory authority.

“In the early phases of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, a very cautious approach was adopted by the Japanese authorities in terms of dealing with the handling of residue materials. It is considered right to do so,” Lentijo said.

“However, at this point in time, we see that there is room to take a more balanced approach, focusing on the real priority areas, classifying residue materials and adopting appropriate remediation measures on the basis of the results of safety assessments for each specific situation,” he said.

The full report can be found at: http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/focus/fukushima/final_report151111.pdf

Campaign for geothermal power use gains momentum (Asahi, November 16, 2011)

The industry ministry and lawmakers are increasingly promoting the use of geothermal power as part of a nationwide drive to diversify power resources following the crisis

Other materials besides cesium (Japan Times, Nov 13)

By GIOVANNI FAZIO
Tokyo

While Kazuaki Nagata’s Nov. 9 article, “Radiation cleanup plan falls short“, was appreciated, I must point out one misstatement in the article. Nagata asserts that “The main radioactive materials that spewed from the Fukushima No. 1 plant are cesium-134 and -137.”

This is incorrect: A quick look at emissions data from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant (June 6 press release from Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency) shows equally large emissions of plutonium, tellurium, iodine, neptunium and strontium. What can be said about cesium is that it’s easier to pick up with monitoring, and hence has been better tracked.

The other radionuclides are no less of a problem, but we were hearing disturbingly little about their presence until the recent detection of strontium-90 in Yokohama. It can be assumed that if cesium is being detected, the other materials are present as well.

Tokyo Station gets more quake-resistant (NHK, November 16, 2011)

A four-year project to make a Tokyo train station resistant to powerful earthquakes is to be completed next year.

The 650-million-dollar project is being carried out at the 97-year-old Tokyo Station, a designated important national cultural asset.

Project workers have replaced 10,000 wooden stakes supporting the building with reinforced concrete stakes driven 20 meters into the ground.

352 rubber devices called seismic isolation structures have been placed between the building’s 1st floor and the top of the 1st basement.

The work on the more-than-300-meter-long, 70,000-ton structure is one of the largest quake-resistance construction projects ever carried out in Japan.

Project leader Yasuo Kanemaru says the work is very difficult due to the station’s huge passenger volume.

The building was damaged in massive US air raids during World War Two. Work to restore the station’s original facade is also under way.

The project is scheduled to be completed next October.

More quake stories and analyses here.

Japan to tighten radiation exposure standard for minors (globalsecuritynewswire.org, Nov 11)

Japan on Friday backed plans to cut by August 2013 the maximum, yearly quantity of radiation minors are allowed to receive in regions impacted by contaminants from the Fukushima Daiichi atomic facility, Kyodo News reported (see GSN, Nov. 9).

The six-reactor power plant was damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that left more than 20,000 people missing or dead in Japan. Radiation releases on a level not seen since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster forced the evacuation of about 80,000 residents from a 12-mile ring exclusion zone surrounding the site in Fukushima prefecture.

The new standard would assign the most importance to radioactive material removal in areas frequented by young people, including schools, outdoor recreation areas and yards in private residences. The plan draws on a radioactive material removal statute slated to take effect in January (Kyodo News/Mainichi Daily News, Nov. 11).

Meanwhile, Tokyo has begun considering the potential organization of extended residency sites for use until areas restricted over radiation concerns are eventually reopened to former occupants, the Asahi Shimbunreported on Wednesday (Shinichi Sekine, Asahi Shimbun I, Nov. 9).

Tokyo Electric Power, the Fukushima facility’s operator, last week informed the International Atomic Energy Agency of debris clearancesalt removal and cooling pond decontamination efforts underway at the plant, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Thursday (International Atomic Energy Agency release, Nov. 10).

A gas emission at the plant’s No. 3 reactor was probably the source of a March 15 hydrogen blast at the site’s No. 4 reactor, the Asahi Shimbun quoted the company as saying on Thursday (Asahi Shimbun II, Nov. 11).