Gov’t panel finds breakdown in chain of command in nuclear crisis response | NUCLEAR CRISIS–9 MONTHS ON / Govt pressure on N-agency cast doubt on meltdown (Dec.16) | N-plant procedure ignored? / Workers ‘didn’t check’ reactor pressure day before explosion (Dec 17)
Decommissioning Fukushima plant to take max. 40 years (Mainichi) | National：Japan gov’t declares ‘cold shutdown’ of crippled Fukushima plant (Mainichi, Dec 16) | Officials: Cold shutdown has been achieved (Japan Times, Dec 17) | Noda’s declaration on Fukushima met with cynicism (Japan Today, Dec 17) | Daunting tasks await Japan after cold shutdown of Fukushima plant (Mainichi) | IAEA welcomes Japan’s announcement of cold shutdown at Fukushima plant (Mainichi)
Conditions at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant are far worse than its operator or the government has admitted, according to freelance journalist Tomohiko Suzuki, who spent more than a month working undercover at the power station.
“Absolutely no progress is being made” towards the final resolution of the crisis, Suzuki told reporters at a Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan news conference on Dec. 15. Suzuki, 55, worked for a Toshiba Corp. subsidiary as a general laborer there from July 13 to Aug. 22, documenting sloppy repair work, companies including plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) playing fast and loose with their workers’ radiation doses, and a marked concern for appearances over the safety of employees or the public.
For example, the no-entry zones around the plant — the 20-kilometer radius exclusion zone and the extension covering most of the village of Iitate and other municipalities — have more to do with convenience that actual safety, Suzuki says.
“(Nuclear) technology experts I’ve spoken to say that there are people living in areas where no one should be. It’s almost as though they’re living inside a nuclear plant,” says Suzuki. Based on this and his own radiation readings, he believes the 80-kilometer-radius evacuation advisory issued by the United States government after the meltdowns was “about right,” adding that the government probably decided on the current no-go zones to avoid the immense task of evacuating larger cities like Iwaki and Fukushima.
The situation at the plant itself is no better, where he says much of the work is simply “for show,” fraught with corporate jealousies and secretiveness and “completely different” from the “all-Japan” cooperative effort being presented by the government.
“Reactor makers Toshiba and Hitachi (brought in to help resolve the crisis) each have their own technology, and they don’t talk to each other. Toshiba doesn’t tell Hitachi what it’s doing, and Hitachi doesn’t tell Toshiba what it’s doing.”
Meanwhile, despite there being no concrete data on the state of the reactor cores, claims by the government and TEPCO that the disaster is under control and that the reactors are on-schedule for a cold shutdown by the year’s end have promoted a breakneck work schedule, leading to shoddy repairs and habitual disregard for worker safety, he said.
“Working at Fukushima is equivalent to being given an order to die,” Suzuki quoted one nuclear-related company source as saying. He says plant workers regularly manipulate their radiation readings by reversing their dosimeters or putting them in their socks, giving them an extra 10 to 30 minutes on-site before they reach their daily dosage limit. In extreme cases, Suzuki said, workers even leave the radiation meters in their dormitories.
According to Suzuki, TEPCO and the subcontractors at the plant never explicitly tell the workers to take these measures. Instead the workers are simply assigned projects that would be impossible to complete on time without manipulating the dosage numbers, and whether through a sense of duty or fear of being fired, the workers never complain.
Furthermore, the daily radiation screenings are “essentially an act,” with the detector passed too quickly over each worker, while “the line to the buzzer that is supposed to sound when there’s a problem has been cut,” Suzuki said.
Meanwhile much of the work — like road repairs — is purely cosmetic, and projects directly related to cleaning up the crisis such as decontaminating water — which Suzuki was involved in — are rife with cut corners, including the use of plastic piping likely to freeze and crack in the winter.
“We are seeing many problems stemming from the shoddy, rushed work at the power plant,” Suzuki says.
Despite the lack of progress and cavalier attitude to safety, Suzuki claims the cold shutdown schedule has essentially choked off any new ideas. The crisis is officially under control and the budget for dealing with it has been cut drastically, and many Hitachi and Toshiba engineers that have presented new solutions have been told there is simply no money to try them.
In sum, Suzuki says what he saw (and photographed with a pinhole camera hidden in his watch) proves the real work to overcome the Fukushima disaster “is just beginning.” He lost his own inside look at that work after it was discovered he was a journalist, though officially he was fired because his commute to work was too long.
“The Japanese media have turned away from this issue,” he laments, though the story is far from over. (By Robert Irvine, Staff Writer)
A book by Tomohiko Suzuki detailing many of his experiences at the plant and connections between yakuza crime syndicates and the nuclear industry, titled “Yakuza to genpatsu” (the yakuza and nuclear power), was published by Bungei Shunju on Dec. 15.
The Yomiuri Shimbun
Mothers and other groups are calling on the central government to permit sales of ready-made baby formula, for its safety as well as its convenience during times of emergency.
After the Great East Japan Earthquake, ready-made formula was distributed to mothers with babies in affected areas as part of relief assistance from foreign countries.
The products proved to be far more convenient than conventional powdered formula due to their ease of use. Unfortunately, they are yet to be made widely available in this country.
Rika Sato, 31, was in Shichigahamamachi, Miyagi Prefecture, when the disaster hit on March 11. She had no choice but to use powdered formula to feed her then 8-month-old son immediately after the quake.
However, the quake cut off the water supply in the town, and as she had no means of getting hot water to dissolve the powdered milk, she was forced to use cold well water instead. She tried to dissolve the power by vigorously shaking the bottle, but found it difficult.
“The powdered formula was not completely dissolved. I was also concerned about the safety [of the well water],” she said.
After Sato sent out a call for help on Twitter, ready-made baby formula products were delivered to her from Finland via a volunteer organization.
“It helped me a lot because the product required no preparation and could be stored for some time,” Sato said. “I hope I’ll be able to buy it in Japan.”
Mothers with babies in quake-hit areas received not only Finnish ready-made formula, but also products from the United States.
According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, Japan has no guidelines for ready-made baby formula, so such products have not been imported or manufactured.
Imports of the products distributed in affected areas in the aftermath of the disaster were allowed as exceptions, ministry officials said.
In 2009, the Japan Dairy Industry Association called on the welfare ministry to establish guidelines on ready-made formula products.
To do so the industry will have to present data verifying the safety of the products.
But little progress has been made on the matter because the association was unsure whether there would be enough demand.
“Ready-made formula products are certainly necessary, but it’s also important to ensure their safety. We want [the welfare ministry] to set up guidelines as soon as possible in preparation for an emergency,” said Nobue Kunizaki, a crisis management adviser.
The Yomiuri Shimbun
The government is making arrangements to buy land in Futaba County, Fukushima Prefecture, as the site for a planned interim storage facility for contaminated soil and ash from areas surrounding the nearby Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The construction site for the storage facility is expected to be within a zone where residents would be unable to return for more than five years, and the amount of annual radiation exceeds 50 millisieverts.
The government intends to offer financial support to residents by buying or leasing their plots of land within the zone.
The government has taken into account that many residents will likely give up returning to the zone and look for new homes due to concerns about the effects of radiation on health and prolongued life as evacuees. Most of these residents are expected to ask the government to buy or lease their land.
It is still unclear how much land the government plans to secure within the zone. However, the government believes radiation effects from the storage facility will be limited because few residents remain in the area.
The government will decide the details of the facility’s construction site after discussions with eight concerned municipal governments. Goshi Hosono, state minister in charge of the nuclear crisis, has already explained the plan to the eight village and town mayors, including those of Futabamachi and Okumamachi where the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant is located.
20 mSv yardstick set for repatriating residents (Yomiuri, Dec.17) | People remain afraid of returning to homes near Fukushima plant (Mainichi, Dec 17)
The Yomiuri Shimbun
This is the second and last installment in a two-part series that looks into problems facing the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, among other issues, and what is needed for a new “nuclear safety agency” to be established in April.
It was the early morning of March 14, three days after the outbreak of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant following the massive earthquake and tsunami. The Soso Public Health and Welfare Office in Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, was filled with patients and residents transferred from hospitals and homes for the elderly within 20 kilometers of the plant.
These patients–many of whom were bedridden elderly people with serious conditions–boarded buses to leave the government-designated evacuation area. When the buses arrived at the facility, some patients had blood backflow in their intravenous lines, while others had fallen out of their seats.
Earlier, the central government told the Fukushima prefectural government to evacuate about 840 people at medical and other facilities in the 20-kilometer evacuation zone, saying the power plant was “in a critical state.”
The prefectural government asked the Self-Defense Forces to transfer the patients to the Soso Public Health and Welfare Office, about 25 kilometers north of the power plant, because it was designated as a radiation screening site.
“We believed they had to undergo radiation screenings first to be accepted at evacuation centers,” a prefectural government public health official said.
However, Prof. Yoshio Hosoi of Hiroshima University–an emergency radiation medicine expert who was dispatched to the prefecture in response to the accident–could not help wondering if it was necessary for these patients to undergo the screenings. The professor believed they had probably not been exposed to excessive radiation because they remained indoors after the accident.
In fact, screenings for the 840 patients found none of them had been exposed to a level of radiation high enough for them to require decontamination treatment.
Among them were 132 patients and residents from Futaba Hospital and the Deauville Futaba home for the elderly, both of which were in Okumamachi. After arriving at the welfare office and undergoing radiation screening, they were then moved to Iwaki, in the southern part of the prefecture, via Fukushima city and Koriyama.
They traveled about 200 kilometers during the 12-hour journey before arriving at Iwaki-Koyo High School. Three patients died in transit, while an another 11 passed away hours after arriving at the school.
“The public had excessive radiation exposure fears,” Hosoi said as to why authorities put more focus on radiation screenings rather than the swift transfer of the patients.
Medical institutions also suffered from such fears.
At the crippled nuclear power plant, 11 workers were injured when a hydrogen explosion occurred at the No. 3 reactor at 11 a.m. on March 14. About three of those requiring hospital treatment were refused by some medical institutions over radiation fears.
The three workers were finally admitted by Fukushima Medical University in the prefectural capital the following day–about 20 hours after the blast. Examinations found none of the workers had been exposed to high levels of radiation.
“Radiation screenings are meant to find those requiring advanced treatment for radiation exposure or decontamination,” Hosoi said. “However, the screenings were necessary [for evacuees] to be accepted by residents in the areas to which they have been evacuated.”
Govt unprepared for screening
The Nuclear Safety Commission was in disarray over the screening.
On March 14, the Fukushima prefectural government raised the standard for designating people requiring full-body decontamination from 13,000 counts per minute (cpm) or more, which was based on its radiation emergency medicine manual, to 100,000 cpm or more. The cpm refers to the number of atoms in a given quantity of radioactive material to decay in one minute.
There were fears that, under the original standard, there would be too many people requiring full-body decontamination, preventing smooth evacuation due to staff shortage.
Also, water necessary for decontamination was in short supply due to suspension of water services.
“Decontamination was difficult in the situation. It was irrational to apply the normal standard to an emergency situation,” said Hiroshima University Prof. Koichi Tanigawa, who suggested the prefecture raise the standard.
However, the NSC’s Technical Advisory Organization, an emergency panel convened by the commission in a nuclear emergency, announced the same day the previous standard was appropriate.
This resulted in double standards between the central and prefectural governments. There were fears evacuees from Fukushima Prefecture would have been denied entry to evacuation centers in other prefectures, where the standard for full-body decontamination was lower than Fukushima Prefecture.
However, in a sudden reversal, the advisory organization on March 19 approved the increase of the standard to 100,000 cpm.
“To evacuate people to areas outside of the prefecture smoother, the standards should be unified,” a panel source said.
“It took us time to understand the situation in the prefecture,” NSC Chairman Haruki Madarame, explained.
It was not until April 17, more than one month after the March 11 disaster, when advisory panel investigators visited Fukushima Prefecture for the first time.
Taking the situation into consideration, the NSC began discussions in October aimed at revising screening purposes and standards for full-body decontamination.
Radiation Council fell short
While the NSC appeared to lack the ability to respond to the crisis, the Radiation Council of the education ministry was unable to demonstrate its use.
The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry council consists of 19 experts on radiology.
The council is designed to set standards for people’s radiation exposure to prevent radiation-caused health problems.
On March 14, the council was asked by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry for advice on raising the radiation exposure limit for workers at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to 250 millisieverts from 100 millisieverts, in emergency situations. The council gave their approval the same day, although council members did not meet, but communicated via phone and e-mail.
The members of the council convened on Aug. 4 for the first time after the nuclear accident occurred.
Former council Chairman Takashi Nakamura, professor emeritus at Tohoku University, who participated in the meeting as an observer, said, “Don’t you think the council should be more proactive with proposals in emergencies?”
“I guess so,” incumbent Chairman Otsura Niwa, replied.
However, legally the council is limited to only giving opinions to ministry inquiries.
When government ministries and agencies were reorganized in 2001, most councils were left with only minimal functions, while others were integrated. Many councils were criticized as merely bureaucratic tools to form ministry policies.
As a result, the Radiation Council lost its ability to make proposals.
The government has already decided to transfer council functions to a new nuclear safety agency scheduled to be launched in April next year. The new agency will be an external bureau of the Environment Ministry. The NSC and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency will also be integrated into the new agency.
A senior Environment Ministry official responsible for drawing up the new agancy’s organizational structure said, “After the nuclear disaster broke out, the expectation of the Radiation Council’s role has changed.”
“After the creation of the new agency, we have to combine the functions of the council and the commission to create an organization to quickly respond to the needs of society,” he added.
Ill-prepared TEPCO must heed lessons and warnings (Mainichi Dec 17)
EDITORIAL: Power, but at what cost?(Asahi Dec 16)
Earlier: Moms make radiation risks a study (The Japan Times Online Dec 14)
Concerned about the possible negative impact of radiation spewed by the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant on their children’s heath, mothers in their 20s who work as fashion models have begun studying the issue to raise awareness among other moms of their generation.
Representing some 300 members across Japan of the Mamacawa (Cute Mom) Project, which promotes educational activities of young mothers, the models recently took part in study sessions on practical ways to protect their children from the adverse effects of radiation.
They also held talks with an award-winning U.S. film director who has made documentaries about children affected by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
In a roundtable discussion organized by Kyodo News in November, three of the celebrity moms asked Keisuke Amagasa, a 64-year-old freelance journalist specializing in nuclear power, to provide useful tips on how to select and cook food to ensure their children’s safety.
Hitomi Dewa, a 27-year-old mother of two who hails from the city of Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, said she is worried about her sister and relatives who still live relatively close to the troubled nuclear plant.
“My sister called the farm ministry to ask it to prevent schools from serving kids milk produced in Fukushima, but an official said such an act would just enrage local farmers. We don’t know who to turn to for consultations,” said Dewa, who now lives in Yamanashi Prefecture.
“The government keeps saying that consuming food and drinks available on the market won’t ‘immediately’ harm health, but we can’t trust this,” said the mother of a 5-year-old boy and 4-year-old girl.
Rumi Itabashi, 24, who serves as the leader of the Mamacawa Project, said terms related to the Fukushima nuclear disaster such as “microsievert,” a measurement of radiation doses, are “totally incomprehensible” to her.
“I have no clue as to how dangerous the radiation is because it is invisible,” she said.
“I am worried as I don’t know how much radiation is measured in places I live and commute to, such as Tokyo and Saitama, and how the levels of radiation will change over the next 10 to 20 years.”
The Saitama Prefecture native, who has a 3-year-old daughter, said young mothers like her need information that is easy to understand and access.
Saori Suzuki, a 24-year-old mother who lives in Ibaraki Prefecture, said the mothers of her son’s elementary school classmates were initially nervous about radiation, making sure windows at their school were closed, but they later lowered their guard as news reports about the nuclear crisis tailed off.
In the roundtable discussion, Amagasa explained to the three that drinking water and water for bathing can now be considered safe because radioactive iodine detected earlier at purification plants has a half-life of only eight days.
He also said radioactive substances that exist on the surface of food can be reduced to one-tenth the level by washing the items carefully.
He also advised them to choose food items from a variety of different production areas to lessen the risk, as the labeling system to indicate a product’s origins is still imperfect.
The journalist, who also lectures at universities, told the models to be careful about eating fish caught in the sea near Japan, as over time the amount of radiation that accumulates in the fish will increase. He added that they should check the location of the fishing grounds and radiation levels whenever possible.
Referring to the risks of developing cancer or leukemia from internal exposure to radiation, Amagasa compared the health hazard caused by radiation with the negative impact on health caused by aging or smoking.
“Your DNA has a remedial ability and you get sick only when the self-repair mechanism can’t keep up with the rate at which damage occurs,” he said.
He said exposure to low-level radiation could slightly increase the chance of developing cancer but warned against being overly concerned about possible health risks.
Following the study session, the mothers, who were basically reassured by Amagasa’s explanations, met with film director Maryann De Leo, whose 2003 documentary “Chernobyl Heart” is now being screened in Japan. Her work on children born after the world’s worst nuclear disaster won an Academy Award in 2004.
Itabashi, who learned about the Chernobyl accident for the first time after the Fukushima crisis occurred, told De Leo she is eager to study more about radiation.
The director said mothers in areas affected by the 1986 crisis were mentally distressed but did not have support organizations.
“The slogan of the Mamacawa Project is ‘If Mom changes, her kids change and their future will change.’ We’d like to learn more about radiation and not let our fears get in the way, so as to disseminate information through our blogs to ease concerns of mothers of our generation,” the project leader said.