NEC offers radiation measurement device(Asahi Dec 27)

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NEC Corp.’s radiation measurement devices. The machine on the left is for outdoor use and the one on the right can be used indoors. (The Asahi Shimbun)

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NEC Corp. has released a radiation measurement device that can be installed at public sites–including schools, hospitals and convenience stores–to provide updated data at any time on the Internet. Read more here.

Parents wary of Fukushima village schools (Yomiuri, Dec 26)

A survey by the municipal government of Kawauchimura, Fukushima Prefecture, part of which was designated an emergency evacuation preparation zone, has found that most residents do not intend to let their children return there for school. There is a primary school, a middle school and a day care center in the now-dissolved emergency evacuation preparation zone, and the survey was conducted on 142 residents whose 227 children were to attend or enroll in one of the facilities at the start of fiscal 2011. The survey was conducted by anonymous questionnaire in November. Eighty-eight people with 147 children responded. The children comprised 80 primary school students, 34 middle school students and 33 day care attendees. (Yomiuri)

Researchers: 225 schools may lie on active faults  (Asahi, Dec 22) A university research team is asking the government to take steps to ensure student safety, after finding that 225 schools are likely to lie on active faults, with 780 other schools located close to such rifts. Based on the results, the team has started further investigations using aerial photographs and other means to pinpoint locations of all schools nationwide and active faults. “We hope the heads of schools located on active faults and administrative officials in charge will consider banning use of school buildings on such rifts,” said Takashi Nakata, professor emeritus of geography at Hiroshima University, who led the study, along with Takashi Kumamoto, associate professor of geographic information at Okayama University.

Lack of exercise a concern for Fukushima children (Asahi Dec 22)

A 34-year-old woman watched her son running around an indoor play center in Fukushima city. “It’s the first time in a long while I have seen him breaking a sweat as he plays,” she said. The boy, a second-year elementary school student, has, like many of his contemporaries, spent much of his time cooped up indoors since the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. His mother won’t let him play outside because of the threat of radiation, so he has been watching television and DVDs after coming home from school instead of playing in the parks or vacant lots that were his old stomping ground.

Government evacuation order to come under fire (Japan Times, Dec 27)
A government panel probing the Fukushima disaster is expected to state that the nuclear evacuation order issued after the crisis began was irrational.

Panel compiles interim report on nuclear accident (NHK, Dec 26)

A panel looking into the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has severely criticized both the operator and the government for mishandling the accident.

The government panel released an interim report on Monday. Its investigations were based on interviews with about 450 people, including workers at the Tokyo Electric Power Company and government officials.

The report says that the utility itself predicted in 2008 that a tsunami larger than 10 meters high could hit the plant but that it failed to take preventive measures.

The report says that after the plant lost all its electricity following the March 11th earthquake and tsunami, workers mishandled the emergency cooling system at No 1 and 3 reactors.

The report says if fire trucks had been dispatched earlier to pump water into the reactors, there would have been less damage to the fuel rods, and smaller amounts of radioactive substances released into the air.

The report also describes the government’s handling of the crisis as problematic.

It says lack of communication within the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo prevented the government from making use of the so-called SPEEDI system that predicts the spread of radioactive substances.

Data from SPEEDI wasn’t used when the government issued evacuation orders to residents living near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

The report says the evacuation orders were not precise and failed to promptly reach the municipalities involved.

The panel intends to question Cabinet ministers and others to further learn how the government handled the crisis before it compiles a final report by next summer.

TEPCO to conduct endoscopy of Fukushima reactors  (NHK, Dec 27)

Tokyo Electric Power Company says it will use an industrial endoscope to study the inside of a damaged reactor at the Fukushima Nuclear power plant.The utility says the 10-meter long and 8-millimeter wide device will be deployed from next month to measure temperatures and observe other conditions inside the containment vessel at the No.2 reactor.The government announced on December 16th that all the reactors have been brought under control. But there is not much information on the inside of the containment vessels in the reactors.

The endoscopy will provide the first opportunity to see the inside of a containment vessel of one of the 3 reactors since nuclear fuel melted down in March.

At the bottom of the containment vessels, parts of the nuclear fuel are believed to be piled up after melting through the wall of the pressure vessels.

The firm will start drilling a hole in the northwest wall of the containment vessel at the No. 2 reactor next month so that the high-level radiation proof endoscope can be inserted through it.

TEPCO said it wants to study the extent to which existing technologies can be used for the decommissioning of the reactors before it develops new ones.

More post-mortem news reports:
State, Tepco slammed for crisis response (Japan Times, Dec 27, 2011) Poor communication and information gathering on the government’s part and a lack of training at complacent Tepco prevented the Fukushima crisis from being quickly contained, a disaster panel reports.

New plants to clean Fukushima debris  (Japan Times, Dec 27, 2011)
Three experimental plants are scheduled to open next month in Fukushima Prefecture to test ways to reduce the amount of radioactive material in debris and soil there, sources said Monday.Under the aegis of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, a government-backed research organization, the small plants will be built in Okuma, one of the two towns on which the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power plant sits, and in the towns of Tomioka and Naraha, which are straddled by the Fukushima No. 2 power plant, the sources said.The project is designed to cut radioactive contamination from the world’s worst nuclear plant accident since Chernobyl before the government urges evacuated residents to go home after redrawing the two hot zones based on radiation level around April.

In Okuma, contractor Kumagai Gumi Co. will set up a plant near town hall to test a special washer that will use water to decontaminate soil taken from schools and parks. The washed soil will be enclosed in concrete and its radiation levels monitored, the sources said.

Hitachi Plant Technologies Ltd. will build a plant on a town-run playing field in Tomioka to treat schoolyard soil using a thermal process. It will also try to determine if the treated soil can be reused safely.

In Naraha, contractor Toda Corp. plans to decontaminate some of the roughly 15,400 tons of debris in the town by shredding it into small pieces and washing it with water, they said.

Debris reuse guideline

Kyodo

The Environment Ministry presented a guideline Sunday for reusing disaster waste generated in radiation-hit Fukushima Prefecture as building materials there.

The waste should have an average radiation density for cesium of no more than 3,000 becquerels per kilogram and be coated with at least 30 cm of other materials, such as asphalt, gravel and concrete, before it is recycled into building material for roads, railways, breakwaters and the like, the guideline says.

Government to buy up contaminated rice (NHK, Dec 27)

Study: Fertilizer curbs cesium absorption in rice (Asahi, Dec 26, 2011)

High concentrations of potassium fertilizers in soil tend to reduce the absorption of radioactive cesium in rice plants, according to a study…

Ministry eyes stricter limits for cesium levels in food (Yomiuri, Dec.23)

Steps to put residents’ lives back in order should be core of Fukushima restoration (Mainichi, Dec 21) | Worker shortage in Tohoku / More jobs than job seekers as people seek long-term positions (Yomiuri, Dec.16)

Gov’t decides basic policy of reclassifying Fukushima evacuation zones (Mainichi Dec 27) [earlier: Govt speeds rezoning of contaminated areas (Yomiuri, Dec.18)]| Interim storage facilities planned for near N-plant (Yomiuri, Dec.14) | SDF to end Fukushima relief operations, complete post-disaster mission (Mainichi)

Picture books for toddlers in Iwate (Yomiuri, Dec.22)

High school in Minami-Soma to close due to N-crisis (Yomiuri, Dec.19)

Related news:
New Toshiba reactor model gets U.S. nod

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approves Toshiba’s new AP1000 reactor design, paving the way for building the first new U.S. reactors in more than 30 years.

The five-member agency voted unanimously Thursday in favor of certifying the reactor’s design.
Southern Co. and Scana Corp. are seeking permission to use the next-generation reactors to expand nuclear power output at existing sites in Georgia and South Carolina.

The certification “marks an important milestone toward constructing the first U.S. nuclear reactors in three decades,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Thursday in a statement.

The NRC hasn’t given permission to build a new reactor in the U.S. since the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979.

The biggest difference between the AP1000 and existing reactors is its safety systems, including a massive water tank on top of its cylindrical concrete-and-steel shielding building. In case of an accident, water would flow down and cool the steel container that holds critical parts of the reactor — including its hot, radioactive nuclear fuel.

An NRC taskforce examining the Fukushima nuclear crisis said licensing for the AP1000 should go forward because it would be better equipped to deal with a prolonged loss of power — the problem that doomed the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

Marilyn Kray, president of NuStart Energy Development, a nuclear industry consortium that has worked to demonstrate the design’s effectiveness, said she was pleased to see the design move forward.

“The AP1000 is the reactor design that will set the foundation for the next generation of nuclear plants in the U.S.,” Kray said.

A nuclear watchdog group called the vote disappointing, saying the NRC should have done a new analysis in light of the Fukushima crisis.

No dates were set for decisions to issue construction and operating licenses for Southern and Scana, NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said in an interview at the commission’s headquarters in Rockville, Maryland. The companies successfully pressed the NRC to make the rule effective immediately, instead of waiting 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

The NRC decided to waive the normal 30-day waiting period before issuing licenses because Southern had requested a quicker schedule in anticipation that the commission would approve the reactor design, according to a memo by a NRC worker released Thursday.

Southern expects its license “any time now,” Steve Higginbottom, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based company, said after the vote. The company has estimated the project’s total cost at $14 billion.

The licenses will create 3,000 jobs at each site, Westinghouse Electric, a unit of Toshiba, said Thursday in a statement.

Quake prediction myth debunked (Japan Times, Dec 27) by ROB GILHOOLY
There’s a map of Japan on a wall in Robert Geller’s office liberally marked with color-coded dots. Titled “hazardo mappu” (Hazard Map), it’s a government-produced chart indicating areas believed to be most susceptible to earthquakes”I prefer to call it the ‘hazure (off-target) mappu,’ ” says Geller, a professor of seismology at the University of Tokyo’s Department of Earth and Planetary Science. “To say that certain areas in Japan are dangerous and others are less at risk when that’s actually proven not to be the case is obviously against the public interest.

“This argument is at the heart of Geller’s recently published book “(Nihonjin wa shiranai) Jishin Yochi no Shotai,” (“The Truth About Quake Prediction (that the Japanese don’t know)”). In it, he brings into question Japan’s fascination with quake prediction research, a multibillion-dollar government initiative dating back to the 1970s that forms the basis of the probabilistic maps.

Of the nine quakes since 1979 that caused 10 or more fatalities, none occurred in areas designated on the maps as high-probability quake zones, he says.

He also decries the “cavalier approach” to building nuclear power plants on locations that the maps suggest are less at risk from major disasters, despite research data and historical records suggesting otherwise.

According to Geller, one example is the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, which was severely damaged by an estimated 15-meter-high tsunami on March 11, causing the release of large amounts of radioactivity.By identifying and interpreting sedimentary rocks deposited by tsunami several kilometers from the shoreline near Sendai, in Miyagi Prefecture, geologists, including those from Tohoku Electric Power Co.’s Onagawa nuclear power station, showed in the 1980s that the Jogan tsunami advanced as far as 4 km inland in 869. Historical chronicles indicate 1,000 fatalities from the disaster.Geologists have since used “paleo-tsunami” data from this and two other comparable prehistoric tsunami to try and convince authorities and power companies that the region’s nuclear power plant defenses need further strengthening, Geller says.

“After the March 11 disasters, TV pundits and officials frequently said the events in Tohoku were ‘unforeseeable,’ when in fact some experts have been warning of the risks for decades,” he says.

As recently as 2009 a governmental hearing held to review seismic and tsunami safety at nuclear plants also was warned of the risks of a large tsunami based on the Jogan data.

“They ignored it, preferring to concentrate on ‘foreseeable’ quakes used to create hazard maps, which are hypothetical and based on unproven prediction theories,” he says.For 140 years, geologists worldwide have speculated that before a major quake there ought to be some precursor that can be measured using sensors, or more recently GPS analysis, to indicate well in advance that a quake is coming.Such precursors would be most notable at “seismic gaps” — zones in active faults in the Earth’s crust where no major quakes have occurred for a significant time.

This theory attracted followers in Japan, gaining momentum in 1977 when then Tokyo University professor Katsuhiko Ishibashi announced that a major quake — the Tokai Earthquake (often referred to as “the Big One”) — was imminent at one of those seismic gaps in Suruga Bay off the coast of Shizuoka Prefecture.The ensuing panic — fueled, says Geller, by an unquestioning mass media — led to the birth of Japan’s ¥10 trillion-a-year quake prediction industry. This despite there being no physical theory yet established to explain how earthquakes occur, Geller says.”A lot of money has been spent putting out a lot of instruments in the hope some precursory phenomenon or other will turn up. That’s not only obviously wrong, but also very strange from a scientific point of view.”

Ishibashi’s report came in the same year that Charles Richter, creator of the earthquake magnitude scale, commented that prediction “provided a happy hunting ground for amateurs, cranks and outright publicity-seeking fakers.”Geller concurs, but says there is another category to add to that list: prediction experts — “some who don’t even believe prediction is possible” — who continue their work purely to profit from the funds allocated each year to research here.”As (author) Upton Sinclair once said, it’s very difficult to get someone to understand something when their salary depends upon his not understanding it,” Geller says.The current system allows prediction researchers to bypass the peer review system that usually exists for scientists, he says. Instead of submitting scientific papers for scrutiny here, some researchers take their theories straight to the mass media, Geller adds.

“Over the past 30 years there have been hundreds of stories published,” says Geller, who has a closet in his office piled high with weekly magazines and comic books featuring stories about quake prediction theories.”Most of the theories just repeat what has gone before and research justified on the basis that nobody has yet proved it to be impossible.Under normal circumstances, the funding agency would laugh you out of the room (for citing such justification).

“A crucial consequence of this system is that the “seemingly authoritative” hazard maps and prediction theories have led to a dangerous level of dependency among the Japanese public, Geller says.

This is particularly true among those living in areas designated as low risk, who are lured into a false sense of security by what Geller calls Japan’s “anzen shinwa” (safety myth).”We probably know most of the damaging quakes that occurred over the past 1,500 years, but even then that’s probably too short a time sample to say for sure that this place is safe and that one isn’t. It’s like trying to generalize the weather from three days in July.”While most prediction researchers are “hung up on the idea that there has to be a preparation process for a big quake,” Geller believes it is far more random.

“We need a new paradigm and I believe that it will likely say that the quake process is not deterministic but stochastic, that any quake has some probability of just running away into your next magnitude 9,” he says.

Consequently, the defenses currently in place around many of Japan’s nuclear power plants are in need of urgent review, he says.”Utility companies were a bit cavalier when plants such as those in Fukushima were built. But as more and more knowledge came along about how dangerous they were, and they didn’t upgrade the defenses, they went from being cavalier to highly negligent and/or irresponsible.

“Once in a while they have to be prepared to take a hit on profits in the short run in order to move away from the anzen shinwa and guarantee public safety.”