Nov 28 breaking news update: Fukushima Daiichi reactor no. 2 did not explode, cause of release of radiation still not known (NHK)…

Academic society set up to study decontamination (NHK, Nov 28)

A group of researchers has set up an academic society in the hope of helping on-going efforts to remove radioactive materials caused by the trouble at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Researchers in a wide range of fields, including atomic energy and nuclear waste, jointly launched the society at a meeting in Tokyo on Monday.

Ehime University visiting professor Masatoshi Morita, an expert on environmental pollution, said progress has been slow in decontamination efforts centering on Fukushima Prefecture.

He emphasized the need for the cooperation of various types of specialists to study technologies that would be effective in cleaning up radioactive contamination.
A Japan Atomic Energy Agency official in charge of decontamination in Fukushima noted that radioactive contamination levels on houses near forests are difficult to reduce because of the radioactivity that adheres to trees.

The society hopes to come up with recommendations for municipal authorities making decontamination efforts.

Monday, November 28

Cesium from Fukushima plant fell all over Japan (Asahi, November 27, 2011)

“Radioactive substances from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant have now been confirmed in all prefectures, including Uruma, Okinawa Prefecture, about 1,700 kilometers from the plant, according to the science ministry. (Asahi, November 27)

Radioactive substances from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant have now been confirmed in all prefectures, including Uruma, Okinawa Prefecture, about 1,700 kilometers from the plant, according to the science ministry.

The ministry said it concluded the radioactive substances came from the stricken nuclear plant because, in all cases, they contained cesium-134, which has short half-life of two years.

Before the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake, radioactive substance were barely detectable in most areas.

But the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology’s survey results released on Nov. 25 showed that fallout from the Fukushima plant has spread across Japan. The survey covered the cumulative densities of radioactive substances in dust that fell into receptacles during the four months from March through June.

Figures were not available for Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, where the measurement equipment was rendered inoperable by the March 11 disaster.

The ministry also said Nov. 25 that it will conduct aerial measurements of cesium accumulations in soil in regions outside the 22 prefectures starting next year.

The highest combined cumulative density of radioactive cesium-134 and cesium-137 was found in Hitachinaka, Ibaraki Prefecture, at 40,801 becquerels per square meter. That was followed by 22,570 becquerels per square meter in Yamagata, the capital of Yamagata Prefecture, and 17,354 becquerels per square meter in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward….”

Read more at ajw.asahi.com

Towns avoid govt help on decontamination (Yomiuri, Nov. 28, 2011)

MAEBASHI–Municipalities contaminated with radiation as a result of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant are concerned that the central government’s plan to designate municipalities for which it will shoulder the cost of decontamination will stigmatize those communities, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey.

As early as mid-December, the government plans to begin designating municipalities that will be subject to intensive investigation of their contamination, which is a precondition for the government paying for decontamination in place of the municipalities.

Municipalities with areas found to have a certain level of radiation will be so designated. The aim of the plan is to promote the thorough cleanup of contaminated cities, towns and villages, including those outside Fukushima Prefecture.

However, many local governments are reluctant to seek such designation, fearing it may give the false impression that the entire municipality is contaminated.

Based on an aerial study of radiation conducted by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry in mid-September, municipalities in Tokyo and Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Saitama and Chiba prefectures were candidates for the government designation.

The aerial study examined radiation in the atmosphere one meter above the ground. Municipalities with areas where the study detected at least 0.23 microsieverts of radiation were listed as candidates. About 11,600 square kilometers of land, equivalent to the size of Akita Prefecture, reached that level, the ministry said.

The Yomiuri Shimbun has asked municipalities in the prefectures–excluding Fukushima Prefecture–whether they would seek the government designation as municipalities subject to intensive investigation of radiation contamination. Fifty-eight of the cities, towns and villages that responded to the survey said they would seek the designation.

Almost all the municipalities in Gunma and Ibaraki prefectures had areas where radiation in excess of the government standard was detected. However, only 10 municipalities in Gunma Prefecture and 19 in Ibaraki Prefecture said they would seek the designation.

The figures represent only about 30 percent of the municipalities in Gunma Prefecture and about 40 percent of those in Ibaraki Prefecture.

The Maebashi municipal government said it would not request the designation.

In late August, radioactive cesium exceeding the government’s provisional regulatory limit was detected in smelt caught at Lake Onuma, located on the summit of Mt. Akagi in northern Maebashi. The opening of the lake’s fishing season for smelt has been postponed.

Usually, the lake would be crowded with anglers at this time of year, but few people are visiting this season.

However, in most of Maebashi, excluding mountainous regions, the radiation detected in the September study was below the regulatory limit.

“If the government designates our city [as subject to intensive investigation of radiation contamination], the entire city will be seen as contaminated. We decided to avoid such a risk,” a senior municipal government official said.

The Maebashi government wants to prevent the city’s tourism and agriculture from being damaged further, the official added.

Daigomachi in Ibaraki Prefecture, a city adjacent to Fukushima Prefecture, said the city has also refrained from filing for the designation. Usually about 700,000 people visit Fukuroda Falls, the city’s main tourist destination, every year, but the number has dropped to half since the nuclear crisis began, the town said.

“If our town receives the designation, it may deliver a further blow to our image, already damaged by radiation fears,” an official of the town’s general affairs department said.

In recent months, citizens in the Tokatsu region of northwest Chiba Prefecture have held protests demanding local governments immediately deal with areas where relatively high levels of radiation were detected. All six cities in the region, including Kashiwa, said they would file requests for the government designation. The Kashiwa municipal government said it had already spent about 180 million yen on decontamination.

“People are loudly calling for decontamination. We hope that the designation will eventually lower the cost of decontamination,” an official of the municipal government’s office for measures against radiation said.

Observers have said one of the reasons the six cities decided to request the designation was their low dependence on agriculture and other primary industries that are vulnerable to fears of radiation.

Kobe University Prof. Tomoya Yamauchi, an expert on radiation metrology, said: “It will be a problem if decontamination activities stall due to local governments’ fears of stigmatization. To prevent misunderstanding of radiation, the government needs to do more to disseminate correct information.”

“The Hiroshima Syndrome” is a website that has interesting posts about growing radiophobia in Japan and traces some rumours and shows how some rumours are generated, click here to read about the issue.

RELIVING THE HORRORS OF HIROSHIMA AND NAGASAKI IN 2011 by Lester R. Brown (NPQ, Nov 22)

“Because of soil contamination, one-eighth of Fukushima’s soil can never be plowed again, and the consumption of crops grown on such plots is strictly forbidden. Many local companies have gone bankrupt, while 20,000 individual proprietors are on the brink of insolvency. The Tokyo Electric Power Company recently laid off 7,400 employees due to the cash settlements it will pay to the victims of the nuclear accident. Though the company is still afloat, it’s expected to soon go under due to its enormous capital investment in nuclear power, which now faces an uncertain fate in Japan and elsewhere.

At the risk of being melodramatic, the ripple effects of Fukushima go well beyond northern Japan. …Read more here.

Letters from tsunami-affected students tell of bullying, lingering stress (Mainichi, Nov 28)

Children forced by the Great East Japan Earthquake and accompanying disasters to change schools have written into a government-run counseling service telling of bullying and lingering stress from the disasters.

The service was started in 2006 by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ)’s Human Rights Bureau at elementary and junior-high schools around the country. A student can write on a prepared letter about problems that they can’t talk to friends or family about, post it in a mailbox, and the letter is delivered to the nearest legal affairs bureau. Government employees or volunteers write back and work with schools or youth counseling services as necessary.

According to the Human Rights Bureau, there were over 1,100 letters sent in this year between April and September, with around 20 being related to the Great East Japan Earthquake.

One student from the northeast Tohoku region wrote, “I was at school when the tsunami hit. Now I attend a different school, but I feel that I’m being ostracized.” Another student wrote, “I’ve been bullied at the school I transferred to. I can’t talk to any teachers about it. A bully even said to me, ‘Too bad you didn’t die in the tsunami.'”

“I constantly wonder why my family had to die and can’t focus on studying,” wrote another student. “My father who was living in Tohoku died in the tsunami, and I can’t accept it as reality,” wrote another.

One student in the Kanto region — which includes Tokyo — wrote, “I can’t drink the water because I’m worried about radiation.”

Through October and November, the Human Rights Bureau has been distributing the counseling letters to all elementary and junior-high schools across the nation. Kiyoko Yokata of the MOJ’s Human Rights Bureau says, “We are asking workers and volunteers to think carefully of the letter writers’ feelings when writing their responses. To protect the human rights of children, we will respond to the letters with care.”

Tsunami-hit city in Iwate delivers free schoolbags to new elementary students (Mainichi Japan) November 28, 2011

RIKUZENTAKATA, Iwate — This tsunami-hit city in Iwate Prefecture delivered on Nov. 27 schoolbags to children preparing to enter elementary school next spring for free thanks to the generosity of people from around the country.

The city’s education board handed out about 90 school bags to kindergartners out of about 150 potential first graders.

About 600 school bags were delivered to the former Yahagi Elementary School, and many children and their parents stood in line to receive the bags. Kota Maeda, 5, broke into a broad smile as he picked up and carried schoolbag of his favorite color.

Mana Takahashi, 6, who lives in a temporary house in the city’s Kesencho district, chose a pink school bag. “I want to study hard at school,” she said.

More cesium in Fukushima rice (Yomiuri, Nov.27)

FUKUSHIMA–The Fukushima prefectural government has announced that radioactive cesium beyond the provisional regulatory limit was detected in unmilled rice harvested at five farms in the Onami district of Fukushima Prefecture.

Radioactive cesium exceeding the limit of 500 becquerels per kilogram was recently detected in harvested rice at another farm in the area, fueling concerns among consumers.

This time as much as 1,270 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram was detected in unmilled rice, the prefecture said Friday. The rice has not been shipped to the market. Instead, it was stored in farmers’ warehouses or a local agricultural cooperative, or was distributed to farmers’ relatives.

The prefectural government is currently analyzing all the rice grown by the 154 rice farms in the district, or 4,752 bags containing 30 kilograms of rice each. It has finished inspecting 864 rice bags from 34 farms so far.

Apart from the first farm where rice was found to have been contaminated, excess radioactive cesium has been detected in 103 rice bags from five farms.

Excess cesium was detected in all 24 rice bags from the farm that produced rice in which radioactive cesium at 1,270 becquerels per kilogram was found. The minimum level of contamination at that farm was 970 becquerels per kilogram.

Radioactive cesium between 540 and 1,110 becquerels per kilogram was detected from unmilled rice from another farm, according to the prefectural government.

The five farms are located from one to 2.5 kilometers from the first farm in question. They have nothing in common with the first farm topographically, such as using the same freshwater from a mountain in their rice paddies.

In addition to the Onami district, the prefectural government is inspecting rice harvested in Date, which includes some hot spots recommended for evacuation, and in three other cities–Fukushima, Soma and Iwaki–which include areas with relatively high levels of radiation.

The local government plans to compile all results by mid-December.

Local govts struggling (Yomiuri, Nov.28)

Tsunami probability raised to 30% (Japan Times, Nov 27)

Much earlier: Remembering Chernobyl (Daily Bruin)

Thinking back to 20 years ago, it’s the splashing in yellow rainwater that Antonina Sergieff vividly recalls.

The third-year graduate student didn’t know it then, but the unnatural color of those puddles in her hometown of Gomel, Belarus were due to radioactive particles spewing from a nuclear explosion 80 miles away.

Surrounded by ancient pine forests, the Chernobyl nuclear power station exploded during the early morning hours of April 26, 1986, setting off a raging radioactive fire that expelled over 190 tons of toxic material into the atmosphere.

Today, on the 20th anniversary of the incident, the Russian languages and literatures student can look back to the explosion and accept a childhood surrounded by radioactive contamination.

“We all jumped in the puddles with the yellow stuff. … You don’t see (it in) the air, it doesn’t materialize. But when you see the yellow dust, you see radiation,” Sergieff said.

The accident was originally caused by a small testing error that resulted in a chain reaction in which highly pressurized steam literally blew the top off of a nuclear reactor.

The result was the release of 100 more times radiation than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, according to the United Nations issue brief on Chernobyl.

Among the unstable elements released were iodine-131, caesium-137, strontium-90 and plutonium-239. Scientists say that exposure to such elements, especially in such high doses, impairs critical cellular functions and damages DNA.

When these elements first reached Sergieff 20 years ago, they came in the form of yellow rain.

It was not long after that residents in her hometown knew it wasn’t simply “pollen” – which is what government officials assured them, she said.

Soon, people started losing their hair, pictures of deformed animals sprouted up in independent newspapers, and incidences of cancer in Belarus skyrocketed, Sergieff said.

According to the U.N. brief, cases of breast cancer in Belarus doubled between 1988 and 1999, among other increases.

Read more here.