News updates, 28 Apr 2011

FUKUSHIMA–Some schools in Fukushima are refusing to let their students venture outdoors even though radiation levels in their school yards do not exceed government safety standards.

In other areas, where radiation levels do exceed the safety standards, schools are even more worried.

However, some schools permit outdoors club activities after receiving written consent from parents.

According to data released by the government on April 19, radiation levels exceeded safety standards–3.8 microsieverts per hour–at 13 primary and middle schools and kindergartens in Fukushima Prefecture, including 10 schools in the prefectural capital. The 13 schools and kindergartens have restricted outdoor activities.

However, at Gakuyo Middle School in Fukushima, where the radiation level did not exceed the safety standard, parents and guardians were asked if they would allow students to participate in outdoor club activities.

Among 176 responses submitted as of Monday, 17 parents did not approve of outdoor activities.

For the time being, Gakuyo Middle School will hold outdoor activities only for students whose parents consented, while considering what to do with students whose parents did not approve.

On Tuesday, a middle school attached to Fukushima University also asked parents if they would allow outdoor activities after the radiation level monitored in the school yard exceeded the safety standard once. “Every school is different so they must make their own decisions,” a Fukushima Board of Education official said.

“A radiation level of 3.8 microsieverts per hour poses no health problems. I feel schools that restrict school activities in areas where radiation levels do not exceed that level are overreacting,” said Makoto Akashi, executive director of the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Chiba.

Kenji Kamiya, director of the Hiroshima University Research Institute for Radiation Biology and Medicine, said: “Although it’s safe in terms of numerical figures, it’s difficult for the public [to grasp what it actually means]. I can understand why many parents are worried. The central and local governments should repeatedly provide more details about the safety factors.”


Surface soil being removed

The Koriyama municipal government in Fukushima Prefecture on Wednesday started removing the surface soil of school yards at 15 primary and middle schools and 13 nursery schools, where radiation levels were found to be high.

The city is scheduled to complete this work by the end of the Golden Week holiday period. It will cost 50 million yen to 100 million yen, according to the city.

On the first day of the operation, surface soil at Kaoru Primary School and nearby Tsurumidan nursery school was removed.

At the primary school yards, 25 workers wearing masks poured water on the yard and removed soil three to five centimeters deep.

The Date municipal government, also in the prefecture, is considering removing surface soil from school yards where radiation levels are high.

(Apr. 28, 2011)
TEPCO revises nuclear fuel damage ratios (NHK, Wednesday, April 27)

The operator of the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in northeastern Japan has reassessed its estimates of fuel damage in reactors No.1 to No.3.

Tokyo Electric Power Company on Wednesday announced new estimates of damage after the country’s nuclear safety agency questioned the accuracy of the initial assessments. The utility has revised the estimated fuel damage in the No.1 reactor from 70 percent to 55 percent, saying radiation levels were not correct.

TEPCO also says that it acted inappropriately in excluding fuel damage of less than 5 percent in calculating total damage ratios for the No.2 and No.3 reactors.

As a result, the utility revised upward its estimates of damaged fuel in the No.2 and No.3 reactors by 5 percentage points each to 35 percent and 30 percent respectively.

The company released its initial estimates as of March 15th, based on radiation levels in the reactors and their containment vessels.

Earlier this month, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency raised the crisis level at the Fukushima plant to the highest 7 on the international scale, based on its estimate of the volume of released radioactive substances.

TEPCO says the corrected estimates will not affect the agency’s crisis rating.

See also related topic: Children of Fukushima need our protection (Apr 27, AP)

Chinese students think twice about study in Japan (Apr 26 People’s Daily)

Chinese students are taking a wait-and-see approach toward studying in Japan because of fears about radiation and aftershocks following the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck the country.

“Chinese students who are still in China and who have applied for students visas to study in Japan are showing the strongest hesitation,” said an official surnamed Yanase who was manning a hotline at the Japanese embassy in China. “Among Chinese students who have been living in Japan for a while, the situation is better.”

She said many Chinese students flew home after the March 11 earthquake and subsequent leak from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant but they have started to return to Japan to continue their studies.


TEPCO to rid 200,000 tons of radioactive water  (NHK Thursday, April 28, 2011)

The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says it aims to begin disposing of highly radioactive water starting in June.

The contaminated water is hampering efforts to reactivate the cooling systems in the plant’s reactors.

On Wednesday, Tokyo Electric Power Company announced it would set up the treatment system to eliminate radioactive materials.

The utility firm says 87,500 tons of contaminated water has accumulated in the No.1 to 4 reactors.

It estimates that up to 200,000 tons of highly contaminated water will be produced by the year end if all the water used to cool the reactors becomes highly radioactive.

The company says it plans to start installing the system in early May and begin operating in June.

It hopes to dispose of 1,200 tons of highly contaminated water per day once the system is in place.


Tokyo Electric Power Company has unveiled details of its plan to process radioactive wastewater at its damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The wastewater has been hampering efforts to restore the reactors’ cooling systems.

Tokyo Electric announced on Wednesday it would start building early next month, together with US and French firms, a storage and processing facility for nearly 70,000 tons of highly radioactive water. The utility firm aims to begin operating the system in June of this year.

The contaminated water is believed to be pooled inside turbine buildings and utility tunnels at the plant’s 1, 2 and 3 reactors.

Tokyo Electric had earlier said it aims to set up by July of this year a system to remove radioactive substances from the water and reuse it to cool the reactors.

Contaminated water will be put through an oil filter, and the density of radioactive material would be lowered using a mineral called zeolite.

Salt would then be removed from the water so that it could be used to cool the reactors again.

Radioactive waste from this process would be stored inside the nuclear complex, but the utility has yet to consider methods for its final disposal.

TEPCO starts test for more water injection (NHK, Wednesday, April 27)

Tokyo Electric Power Company has begun testing one of the damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to check its plan to submerge and cool the hot fuel rods.

The utility firm began pumping more water into Reactor Number 1 on Wednesday in order to monitor changes in the water depth in the containment vessel and check for leaks.

After increasing the amount of water from 6 to 10 tons per hour on Wednesday the firm says it has delayed further raising the amount injected due to data showing some instability in the state of the reactor.

The company initially planned to increase the amount to 14 tons per hour at around 4 PM, but is now keeping the injection at 10 tons per hour.
Tokyo Electric plans to examine the possibility of an increase in the water amount again at around 10 PM on Wednesday.

The utility originally planned to decrease the flow back to 6 tons per hour on Thursday morning, and then check for water leaks inside the reactor building by using a remote-controlled robot.

The test is part of a plan to fill the Number 1 and 3 reactors’ containment vessels with water by July, to cool the fuel rods in a stable manner.

Big tank may be set up under Fukushima plant to store tainted water (Mainichi Apr 27)

Prime Minister Naoto Kan is considering setting up a big underground tank in the compound of the radiation-spewing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to prevent contaminated water from spilling into the sea, a fishery official said Wednesday.

“There is bedrock 46 meters underground. The government has found that no tainted water will seep below (the bedrock) and is considering building a tank there,” Ikuhiro Hattori, who heads the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperatives Associations, quoted Kan as saying.

Hattori talked to the press after he and other executives of the federation held talks with Kan, during which they lodged a protest against the government for allowing the nuclear plant’s operator to release a large amount of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean in early April.

Hattori told Kan the release of radioactive water without any prior consultation is “hard-to-forgive” and asked him to make sure that fishermen receive enough compensation for losses they incurred in the wake of the crisis at the nuclear plant — which was triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Kan apologized to the executives and promised that the government will be responsible for upcoming damages with the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co.

The utility unveiled a plan to dump “water containing relatively low levels of radioactive materials” into the sea at the last minute on April 4.

The company known as TEPCO said it was necessary to make space to store more highly radioactive water that has been hindering efforts to bring the plant’s overheating reactors under control.


Japan’s science ministry has for the first time released a map projecting estimated cumulative radiation exposure near the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The contour map shows the amount of annual cumulative radiation that a person would be exposed to by staying outdoors for 8 hours per day through March 11th, 2012.

It’s based on readings at 2,138 points near the quake and tsunami-hit Fukushima Daiichi complex on or before last Thursday, including areas within 20 kilometers of the plant.

Earlier this month, the government’s Nuclear Safety Commission released an estimated cumulative radiation map that only gave figures for areas outside the 20 kilometer radius.

This was when the commission proposed its plan for the government to call on residents within high-level zones to evacuate within about one month. The evacuation zone included areas farther than 20 kilometers from the plant where annual radiation exposure is expected to reach 20 millisieverts or more.

The science ministry says the estimated annual levels on its map, based on the latest figures, are mostly lower than those on the commission’s map.

Goshi Hosono, a senior member of the government’s nuclear taskforce, says it’s unlikely the new map will prompt a change in the evacuation areas.

The science ministry says it will update its data twice a month on its website. It also says it plans to release a map of radiation levels in the soil.

High levels of radiation in areas near nuclear plant foreseen for a year (Mainichi Apr 27)

The Japanese government unveiled a map of radioactive contamination on April 26, predicting residents in areas near the troubled nuclear power plant could be exposed to radiation far greater than permissible levels.

According to the contamination map unveiled by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, a cumulative dose of radiation for the year to March 11, 2012 is expected to reach 235.4 millisieverts in Akogi Kunugidaira in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, 24 kilometers northwest of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant.

The cities of Fukushima and Minami-Soma are also predicted to receive more than 10 millisieverts of radiation, 10 times the dose of artificial radiation an ordinary person is allowed to be exposed to a year.

Based on data collected from 2,138 monitoring points, the ministry calculated total cumulative doses of radiation between March 12 and April 21 and added them up to expected cumulative doses of radiation for the period thereafter to March 11, 2012. Expected radiation exposure was based on the assumption that the nuclear power plant continues to spew the same level of radiation as that detected on April 22. The ministry assumed that people in each monitoring point spend eight hours outdoors and 16 hours inside wooden houses a day. The ministry assumes the level of exposure to radiation in wooden houses is 40 percent lower than outdoors.

As a result, higher levels of radiation were predicted in areas northwest of the nuclear power plant. On April 11, the government designated areas outside a 20-kilometer radius of the nuclear plant that were expected to receive 20 millisievers per year as “planned evacuation zones.” Ten locations in the zones including Namie, Iitate and Kawamata were predicted to receive more than 20 millisieverts of radiation. Ryozen in Date, 48 kilometers northwest of the nuclear plant, was predicted to receive 21.2 millisieverts per year.

The ministry had unveiled a similar map on April 11, but the map released this time predicted radiation levels in wider areas based on larger quantities of data. The ministry plans to update the map regularly and release it twice a month. The Cabinet Office’s Nuclear Safety Commission says, “We should continue to monitor radiation levels.”

The ministry also unveiled a map of radiation distribution based on data of radiation levels monitored in the atmosphere as of April 24. The ministry also plans to later release a map of soil contamination.


Radiation detected in Fukushima fish, vegetable (NHK, Thursday, April 28)

Radioactivity exceeding safety limits has been detected in fish and spinach from Fukushima Prefecture, where the battle to stabilize a disaster-hit nuclear power plant continues.

On Tuesday, 2,600 to 3,200 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium was detected in 2 samples of a fish species called the sand lance caught off Iwaki City. That’s 5 to 6 times higher than the permissible level.

Spinach harvested in Otama Village on Sunday was also found to contain 960 becquerels of cesium.

510 becquerels of cesium was detected in spinach from Tamura City on Monday.

The government set the safety standard for the leafy vegetable at 500 becquerels.

The government has already banned shipments of some kinds of vegetables and fish harvested or caught in Fukushima Prefecture and is warning people not to eat them.


Leaked Fukushima reactor’s blueprint may be on Internet(Asahi, 04/27)

A blueprint believed to be of the crippled No. 1 reactor of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, considered to have leaked from Tokyo Electric Power Co., was posted on the Internet, an apparent violation of its regulations on protection of nuclear materials.

TEPCO believes this blueprint is one of its confidential documents, but is unsure of how it was leaked to the public. Nancy Foust, the 45-year-old South Dakotan website manager of the site posting the blueprint, told The Asahi Shimbun that a member of a group composed of people from diverse industries, including the nuclear industry, found the document on the Internet.

The blueprint consists of two elevated views of the No. 1 reactor building: one in a north-south direction; the other from east to west.

It indicates where the reactor, isolation condensers and a recirculation pump are located in the building, along with the heights of all the equipment above sea level. The blueprint has “No. 1 reactor of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant” and “Tokyo Electric Power Co.” printed in kanji characters on the lower right.

TEPCO said at a news conference April 24 that the company suspects the blueprint is one of its internal documents, but has not confirmed how it was made public. TEPCO also said the blueprint, if proven to be genuine, is subject to the restrictions imposed under its regulations on nuclear materials protection. The No. 1 reactor was built by General Electric Co.


Govt council to review disaster preparedness plan (NHK, Wednesday, April 27)

The Japanese government council on disaster preparedness has decided to drastically revise its plans for dealing with earthquakes and tsunamis.

The council, which consists of Cabinet ministers and experts, met on Wednesday for the first time since the March 11th disaster in northeastern Japan.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan stressed the need to examine whether the country was sufficiently prepared for the catastrophic events.

Council member Katsuyuki Abe, Professor Emeritus at the University of Tokyo, explained that last month’s earthquake and tsunami far exceeded the government’s estimate made 5 years ago.

He also noted that the tsunami caused damage even in areas that were not on the hazard map drawn up by local governments.

The council decided to set up an investigative panel of experts to take a close look at what happened on March 11th.

The panel will formulate a report over the next 6 months on such topics as new methods of predicting damage and how to prepare for disasters of unexpected scale.

The report will serve as a foundation for the government’s review of its basic plan for disaster management, and its measures for dealing with a series of earthquakes expected off central and southwestern Japan.


See also IAEA’s status report (27 Apr) on the Fukushima nuclear plant here.

A group of Diet members studying ways to build a new Japan without nuclear power plants was formed on April 26.

Hiroyuki Arai, a New Renaissance Party member in the Upper House representing Fukushima Prefecture, urged drastic steps to reinvent the country’s energy policy.

“We need a remake, including a switch in direction, rather than ‘a review’ of the country’s nuclear power policy and administration of energy measures,” Arai said.

Although the group, representing all 10 parties in the Diet, shares a goal of shifting emphasis to natural-energy sources in response to the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, its stand on nuclear power varies.

The group, calling itself Energy Shift Japan, intends to make a Japan that creates electricity through natural-energy sources, such as solar and wind power, by departing from its reliance on energy generated by nuclear power, petroleum, coal and natural gas.

It also plans to discuss a change in lifestyle and risks involved in nuclear power generation.

The group is expected to make a proposal to the Cabinet to shift Japan’s major energy sources to solar and wind power.

Energy Shift Japan was formed after 26 Diet members from the 10 parties called for the establishment of the group.

In the first weekly meeting on April 26, Katsunobu Sakurai, mayor of Minami-Soma in Fukushima Prefecture, who criticized the central government for its handling of the nuclear crisis, was due to address the group through a video message.

Toshiro Kojima, former vice minister for Global Environmental Affairs at the Environment Ministry, and Tomoko Abe, policy chief of the Social Democratic Party, engineered the move to start Energy Shift Japan.

The two, who became acquainted with each other through meetings on environmental policy, saw a need for establishing a study group in the Diet to push renewable energy in the aftermath of the nuclear plant crisis.

Kojima, an architect of a proposal to make Aichi Prefecture and its capital, Nagoya, more environmentally friendly, serves as a strategist to Aichi Governor Hideaki Omura and Takashi Kawamura, Nagoya mayor.

Kojima hopes to incorporate results of the study into the Nagoya project and create a model other municipalities can emulate in building clean energy-oriented communities.

Members of the group vary in background, including a member who was formerly with the industry ministry that promotes nuclear power generation, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party who works for the interests of the agriculture ministry and a Diet member who served as environment minister.

They share a view that the central government should be cautious about projects to build reactors in a new community, but their approaches to nuclear power generation differ.

But the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, which pushes exports of nuclear power technology as part of the nation’s economic growth strategy, is reluctant to pursue a major policy change.

“We should calm down and have a cool-headed discussion,” said DPJ Secretary-General Katsuya Okada, who is not a member of Energy Shift Japan.

One DPJ lawmaker said if DPJ members explore a possible departure from nuclear power generation, they’ll receive a call from a senior official of Rengo (the Japanese Trade Union Confederation), the nation’s largest labor organization.

It appears difficult for the DPJ and main opposition LDP to make a drastic shift in energy policies because many of them have been backed by companies and labor unions in the nuclear power industry in elections and with political donations.

But Kojima said politicians need to move on to a new stage.

“Politicians should send out a message that people can have a comfortable life without depending on nuclear power generation,” he said.

Rules near N-plant put doctors in tight spot (Apr.28) |

Nuke crisis medical response team learns hard lesson (JT,28 Apr)

Doctor symbol of disaster courage(JT Apr 28)A Japanese doctor who was recently chosen as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people said Tuesday he believes he was picked as a symbol of all the people who have been courageously fighting against difficulties after being affected by the March 11 disaster in his homeland.

Most exposure internal; NISA says more hit / TEPCO woman took three times radiation limit (DY Apr 28)

Supply disruptions to last until fall (JT, Apr 28)| Cashing in on power-saving (Apr.25)

Increased seismic activity around 13 Japanese volcanoes after the Great East Japan Earthquake

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