SENDAI — Major universities in four prefectures slammed by the March 11 disaster incurred more than ¥90 billion in damage, including facilities and equipment used to conduct advanced research, officials of the schools said Saturday.
At Tohoku University, one of the nation’s leading high-tech research centers, the damage toll stands at about ¥35.2 billion for research equipment and about ¥44.0 billion for buildings, officials at the Sendai-based school said.
Damaged facilities include the Research Center for Electron Photon Science, one of the country’s largest particle accelerators. The center is crucial to helping Japanese researchers vie with their U.S. and German rivals in research on proton and meson structures using electron beams.
The damage will be a serious setback not only for researchers at Tohoku University, but also at other Japanese universities that collaborated with it, said nuclear physics professor Toshimi Suda, who works at the center.
After conducting an emergency safety check, the university found that 28 of its buildings are unsafe, particularly on the Aobayama campus in Aoba Ward, Sendai, where its major engineering and science centers are situated.
An aquatic biology field center in the town of Onagawa meanwhile was destroyed by the tsunami.
Tsukuba University in Ibaraki Prefecture sustained the second-highest amount of damage among universities in the four prefectures, which also include Iwate and Fukushima. It has tallied about ¥7.0 billion in damage to buildings and research equipment, including another particle accelerator, its officials said.
Ibaraki University and Miyagi University of Education also sustained damage.
The government has been closely monitoring radiation levels at schools in Fukushima since the troubles began at a nuclear power plant there. The latest measurements show that radioactivity has fallen below the safety limit at 2 schools, but one school saw it rise again.
In April, the education ministry advised 13 childcare centers, kindergartens, and elementary and junior high schools in Fukushima Prefecture to restrict outdoor activities as their radiation levels exceeded the government-set safety limit of 3.8 microsieverts per hour.
The radiation level later declined below the permissible level in 11 facilities, except for 2 elementary schools in Date City.
The ministry’s latest measurements on Friday and Saturday showed radioactivity under the safety limit at these schools as well.
The education ministry says 2 straight days of declines in radiation levels allow schools to lift restrictions although the decision is up to the Fukushima education board and school principals.
Meanwhile, the radiation level at the Watari Junior High School rose again to 3.9 microsieverts per hour, after it dropped to below the permissible level last month.
The ministry says the school kept activity restrictions in place even after it was considered safe from radiation threats.
Sunday, May 08, 2011 10:57 +0900 (JST)
See also related [and also U.S. doctors hit Tokyo radiation limit for kids (JT, May 3) | also Appeal of Fukushima Teachers’ Union “Protect Children From Radiation Health Damage” Apr 20] and 100 U.S. medical group blasts Tokyo radiation policy on Fukushima children (JapanToday, May 3, 2011) Excerpt follows:
“Physicians for Social Responsibility, a U.S. nonprofit organization of medical experts, has condemned as ‘‘unconscionable’’ the Japanese government’s safety standards on radiation levels at elementary and middle schools in nuclear disaster-stricken Fukushima Prefecture.
The PSR statement directly challenges the Japanese government stance that it is safe for schoolchildren to use playgrounds on school premises in the prefecture as long as the dose they are exposed to does not exceed 20 millisieverts over a year.
The PSR view is also in line with that voiced by Toshiso Kosako, who said Friday he would step down as an adviser to Prime Minister Naoto Kan on the Fukushima nuclear crisis in protest. The University of Tokyo professor urged the government to toughen guidelines on upper limits on radiation levels the education ministry recently announced for primary school playgrounds in Fukushima.
The U.S. group said in a statement, ‘‘Any exposure, including exposure to naturally occurring background radiation, creates an increased risk of cancer.’‘
‘‘Children are much more vulnerable than adults to the effects of radiation, and fetuses are even more vulnerable,’’ it said.
The medical experts group is part of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which won the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize.
‘’(Twenty millisieverts) for children exposes them to a 1 in 200 risk of getting cancer. And if they are exposed to this dose for two years, the risk is 1 in 100. There is no way that this level of exposure can be considered ‘safe’ for children,’’ the statement said.
The crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was crippled by the March 11 mega earthquake and tsunami, is located in Fukushima Prefecture.”
The video was taken on Saturday by a camera on the tip of a mechanical arm used to pour water to cool the reactor.
The footage shows 1,535 spent fuel rods stored in racks and covered by water. It also shows debris and ladders damaged by an explosion that occurred after the March 11th earthquake and tsunami. The shelves on the side wall have been destroyed.
Bubbles are occasionally visible, as the water is boiling at a temperature of 84 degrees Celsius.
After analyzing the amount of radioactive materials in the water, Tokyo Electric Power Company has concluded that the spent fuel rods are not seriously damaged.
The Number 4 reactor was not operating at the time of the quake. The reactor building was severely damaged by a hydrogen explosion on March 15th.
Sunday, May 08, 2011 23:00 +0900 (JST)
Tokyo Electric Power Company removed a special tent installed by the door and its workers entered the building at about 4:20 AM. They stayed in the building for about 30 minutes to measure the radiation level under the supervision of staff from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.
A new filtering system started operating on Thursday. By Sunday, the density of radioactive substances in the reactor building had fallen to a level that allows staff wearing full face masks to work inside.
Shortly after 8 PM on Sunday, Tokyo Electric Power Company opened the door of the Number 1 reactor building after receiving government approval.
The company says it made efforts to minimize the leakage of substances using the tent, while removing some of the vent pipes and changing the air inside the building over an 8-hour period.
After confirming there are no problems inside the reactor building, workers will check the cooling system pipes and adjust the water gauge to be used in the filling of the containment vessel.
Monday, May 09, 2011 06:04 +0900 (JST)
The lower levels would reduce the risk of plant workers being exposed to elevated levels of radiation when they build a new cooling system for the reactor inside the building.
Meanwhile, conditions at the No. 3 reactor were taking a turn for the worse, with the temperature of its pressure vessel rising once again.
The upper part of No. 3’s pressure vessel had risen to 206 degrees as of 5 a.m. Sunday, up from 163 degrees at 11 a.m. Saturday, prompting the utility to monitor it more closely.
Its current temperature, however, is still lower than the 286 degrees usually seen during normal operations, it said.”
Tokyo Electric Power Company has detected high levels of radioactive strontium in soil inside the compound of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Strontium can cause cancer and like calcium it tends to collect in bones once humans inhale it.
Up to 570 becquerels of strontium 90 per kilogram of dry soil were detected in samples taken from 3 locations. They were taken on April 18, about 500 meters from the Number 1 and 2 reactors, between the surface and about 5 centimeters deep. The level detected is about 130 times higher than the previous high, which was measured in Fukushima Prefecture after nuclear tests in the atmosphere, and before the accident at the nuclear plant.
Tokyo Electric Power Company also said it found 4,400 becquerels of radioactive strontium 89 per kilogram of dry soil taken from the same location.
Earlier in March, strontium was detected in soil and plants outside the 30-kilometer zone around the Fukushima plant.
A director of the Japan Chemical Analysis Center, Yoshihiro Ikeuchi, says humans could inhale strontium when wind stirs up the radioactive substance, but the amounts would be very limited. He says the current levels won’t be a health hazard to plant workers wearing face masks, but monitoring of strontium levels in the air is needed.
Monday, May 09, 2011 06:04 +0900 (JST)
“The first map of ground surface contamination within 80 kilometers of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant shows radiation levels higher in some municipalities than those in the mandatory relocation zone around the Chernobyl plant.
The map, released May 6, was compiled from data from a joint aircraft survey undertaken by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and the U.S. Department of Energy.
It showed that a belt of contamination, with 3 million to 14.7 million becquerels of cesium-137 per square meter, spread to the northwest of the nuclear plant.
After the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, those living in areas with more than 555,000 becquerels of cesium-137 per square meter were forced to relocate. However, the latest map shows that accumulated radioactivity exceeded this level at some locations outside the official evacuation zones, including the village of Iitate and the town of Namie.
“I am surprised by the extent of the contamination and the vast area it covers,” said Tetsuji Imanaka, assistant professor of nuclear engineering at the Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute. “This (map) will be useful in planning evacuation zones as well as the decontamination of roads and public facilities.”
The map was made with data showing the amount of accumulated radioactive substances across a grid comprising 1 to 2 km boxes. The measurements were taken between April 6 and April 29.” More here…
Japan’s Fisheries Agency has told fishermen it’s safe to conduct regular fishing in waters beyond the 30-kilometer restricted zone around the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
The agency sent out a notice to the fisheries industry and municipalities near the plant after the Nuclear Safety Commission conducted a safety assessment requested by the government’s nuclear taskforce.
The commission studied underwater radiation levels beyond the restricted zone. It concluded that a person operating far out at sea would be exposed to a maximum of 1.13 millisieverts of radiation per year. The commission also found that a person fishing along the coast more than 30 kilometers from the plant would be exposed to a maximum of 1.43 millisieverts.
The amounts are higher than the annual 1 millisievert exposure limit for regular people, but the commission said they would not cause health problems.
The commission advises that people measure radiation levels while fishing, and avoid exposing skin, in order to reduce exposure levels.
The notice came after fishermen requested confirmation that activities at sea would be safe. These fishermen stopped fishing due to radiation concerns but are considering going back to work.
Following the accident at the nuclear power plant, the government restricted shipping within the 30-kilometer zone around it. Fishing activities are restricted in some areas due to radiation leaking into water.
Separately, the fisheries agency will work with local fishing associations to check the radiation levels of fish and shellfish in waters above the latitude of Kanagawa Prefecture.
Monday, May 09, 2011 06:04 +0900 (JST)
Huge drop in Chiba shellfish gatherers after March 11 disaster (Mainichi, May 8)
Protesters demand stoppage of Hamaoka plant (Japan Times, May 9) Excerpts: “In Nagoya, central Japan, about 1,000 people have taken to the streets to demand that Chubu Electric Power Company halt the operation of its Hamaoka nuclear plant. Prime Minister Naoto Kan has requested the suspension….The organizers say the 1,000 protesters included students and families. They marched near the headquarters of Chubu Electric Power Company, shouting that a nuclear-free society could start from the region. The protesters demanded that the company accept the prime minister’s request that it suspend the operation of the Hamaoka plant, shift its focus to renewable energy, and scrap the plant in the long run.”
Hamaoka tsunami measures ‘insufficient’ (Yomiuri, May 8) Excerpts:
Prime Minister Naoto Kan asked that the operation of all reactors at the controversial Hamaoka nuclear power station be suspended because the government deemed the plant’s precautions against damage from a giant earthquake and tsunami to be insufficient.
On Friday, Kan asked plant operator Chubu Electric Power Co. to halt all the reactors, including the currently operating Nos. 4 and 5 reactors.
The safety of the Hamaoka plant has been widely questioned in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake because a so-called Tokai earthquake has been predicted near the plant in the near future. As the entire nation is earthquake prone, Kan’s request is expected to have ramifications for other nuclear plants in coastal areas.
The Hamaoka plant has long been the focus of controversy because of predictions by scientists that a huge earthquake could occur at any time. But the plant has continued to operate as the debate has gone on. The predicted Tokai earthquake would be caused by plate movements somewhere off southern Shizuoka Prefecture. Historically, major earthquakes have occurred every 100 to 150 years in the area.
The government’s Central Disaster Management Council has calculated that if three earthquakes simultaneously occurred in the focal area–the Tokai, Tonankai and Nankai areas–the magnitude could be as large as 8.7 and the subsequent tsunami as high as six or seven meters.
The government drastically revised earthquake damage prevention standards for nuclear power plants in 2006, the first revision in about 25 years. The proposed changes would have required nuclear plants to adhere to much higher standards. But during a review of the revision by the Nuclear Safety Commission, heated arguments erupted over the Hamaoka plant and it took five years to finish the job.
After the revision was completed, operators of the nations’ 50-plus nuclear reactors were required to raise the assumed magnitude of the earthquakes they based their disaster plans on, and strengthen facilities at the plants accordingly.
At the Hamaoka plant, the presumed acceleration for the worst-case earthquake was raised by 1.7 times to 1,000 gals. In the Nos. 3 to 5 reactors, important pipes and electric cable fittings were reinforced, and exhaust structures were strengthened. The 1,000-gal figure was more than double the figure recommended by the Central Disaster Management Council for a possible Tokai quake, and is the strictest assessment in the nation.
The Nos. 1 and 2 reactors at Hamaoka began operating in the 1970s, and experts have pointed out they have deteriorated due to age. Reactors at the tsunami-crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant have been said to have similar problems.
Chubu Electric Power Co. therefore decided to decommission the two reactors because making them sufficiently earthquake-resistant would cost about 300 billion yen. In their place, the utility planned to build a sixth reactor. At the time, the government praised Chubu Electric’s efforts and approved the plant for continued operations.
However, the revised standards focused mainly on reexamining assessments of inland quakes caused by unknown active faults, and the danger posed by tsunami was left largely untouched.
But the intensity of the March 11 earthquake and the size of the tsunami exceeded all previous forecasts and revealed the limitations of the revised standards.
In the wake of the accident at the Fukushima plant, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry instructed Chubu Electric to compile additional emergency safety measures for the Hamaoka plant. The utility has since announced a safety plan that emphasizes preparing for tsunami, including preventing the loss of power to the reactors’ cooling functions, which was behind the problems at the Fukushima plant.
An emergency generator was set up on higher ground, and additional power cables and makeshift pumps to cool the reactors were installed. Heavy machinery was brought to the plant to remove debris that could obstruct repairs in an emergency.
But the pillar of the plant’s antitsunami measures is a 15-meter-high seawall, which is almost double the height of the maximum tsunami predicted in a Tokai earthquake, and would likely protect the plant from a tsunami similar to the one that hit the Fukushima plant. The wall is scheduled to be completed by the end of fiscal 2013 between the plant and some sand dunes that are 10 to 15 meters high.
The four-page paper in Japanese, titled “Nuclear Facilities and Emergencies – with Focus on Measures against Earthquakes,” appeared in the October 1995 issue of the Physical Society of Japan, a journal for a physicists’ group, after the Great Hanshin Earthquake devastated the Kobe area that January.
Based on data from the Kobe quake and other sources, Takagi, a former associate professor at Tokyo Metropolitan University, used his paper to address issues related to antiquake designs and the obsolescence of nuclear power plants as well as fault lines.
Takagi, who died in 2000, blasted the government and power companies for “refusing to consider emergency measures in the event of an earthquake because they assume nuclear power plants will not break down in an earthquake and have stopped taking further steps at all.”
Appearing Sunday on a talk show on public broadcaster NHK, Sengoku said that Japan will “stick to nuclear power as a national energy policy.”
Sengoku also said the government has no plans to halt nuclear reactors other than three at the Hamaoka power plant in central Japan.
On Friday, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said he had asked the plant to suspend operations at the reactors until a seawall is built and backup systems are improved.
Japan Atomic Power Co., the plant operator, said May 6 the irregular readings at the No. 2 reactor could indicate damage to fuel assemblies in its core.//During scheduled maintenance May 2, radioactive noble gas was measured at 3,900 becquerels per cubic centimeter, 750 times normal, while iodine was two to four times normal.//However, the readings were still within safe levels, Japan Atomic Power said.”
[See related article: Radiation leaks from fuel rods suspected at Tsuruga plan (Kyodo, May 2]
“It’s every nation’s responsibility to construct permanent nuclear waste repositories on its own territory, and a consensus will have to be reached in Japan to do the same,” said Kenzo Miya, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo.
As Tokyo Electric Power Co. struggles to execute a cold shutdown of the damaged reactors, one of the main issues will be whether the utility will then be able to successfully remove the thousands of highly radioactive spent-fuel rods resting in the reactors’ storage pools.
“The situation is quite different from that of Chernobyl, where a concrete confinement sarcophagus was built to seal the hundreds of tons of radioactive fuel still in the facility,” Miya, an expert on nuclear plants, said.
“In the case of Fukushima, all spent fuel will eventually be removed and transferred to be stored at the Rokkasho nuclear reprocessing plant” in Aomori Prefecture, before ideally being buried in a permanent repository, he said.
While the Rokkasho reprocessing plant is still undergoing tests and not in full operation, the site has a landfill for low-level radioactive waste and a temporary storage space for high-level nuclear waste, where spent nuclear fuel from Japanese power plants, after being reprocessed by similar facilities in France and the United Kingdom, is sent back to be stored and cooled for 30 to 50 years.
The radioactivity of spent nuclear fuel is believed to drop by 99.9 percent after about 40 years, although it still takes another 1,000 years before its radioactivity drops to that of natural uranium.
But the radioactivity of some elements, including plutonium-239 which has a half-life of 24,200 years, remains high for more than 100,000 years and requires secure and permanent disposal to avert nuclear proliferation and radiation hazards.
Thus, the need to bury them permanently.
In Japan, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan, or NUMO, is the primary organization responsible for undertaking the task of investigating and selecting a potential burial site, and for overseeing the repository’s construction, operation and eventual closure. The whole process combined is expected to take 100 years and an estimated ¥3 trillion to complete.
To fund the operation, all electric utilities using nuclear power plants are paying NUMO a “storage” fee based on how much nuclear waste each produces in a year. This year, the fees totaled nearly ¥80 billion.
Takeshi Yamada, a NUMO representative, said that while organization has been soliciting communities nationwide to host the repository, its efforts have been fruitless despite the allure of the billions of yen in subsidies that will be awarded to any community hosting a site that matches NUMO’s criteria.
Once, in 2007, the mayor of Toyocho, Kochi Prefecture, submitted an application to NUMO without the consent of the city council, only to lose his job in the next election amid heated calls to withdraw the application.
“At present there are no potential locations for the repository,” Yamada said.
Ideally, once a location has been identified, NUMO will take 20 years to research the site’s geological characteristics. If the site receives the go-sign, NUMO will then spend the next 10 years digging through the bedrock to create storage space as deep as 500 meters.
Yamada said that according to the blueprint, the underground repository will be filled with thousands of stainless steel canisters of solidified high-level radioactive waste that will set there for the next 50 years. The 40,000 canisters will represent all the spent fuel produced by Japan’s power plants from the 1960s to around 2030.
The repository will then be backfilled and, if needed, monitored by security personnel for decades, or possibly centuries, to come.
All this, however, depends on whether NUMO can find the right location and gain the consensus of the local community, which, in light of the heightened alarm toward nuclear energy in general, seems unlikely in the near future.
Ai Fujiwara of the Radioactive Waste Management Funding and Research Center, an organization that works in tandem with NUMO, said the only operating underground permanent repository for nuclear waste in the world is the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico.
But the site, which uses massive salt beds to store nuclear waste, primarily accepts transuranic waste, or TRU, generated by U.S. Department of Defense activities, not spent fuel.
Much time and money were spent planning a permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel and other high-level nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, but the project was scrapped by the Obama administration amid local opposition.
“At present, there are no operating permanent repositories for spent fuel and other high-level nuclear waste in the world,” Fujiwara said.
In the director’s English-language notes for “Into Eternity,” Madsen wrote: “The Onkalo project of creating the world’s first final nuclear waste facility capable of lasting at least 100,000 years, transgresses both in construction and on a philosophical level all previous human endeavors.”
As the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant casts a spotlight on the pros and cons of nuclear energy, general interest also appears to be increasing about the unanswered questions of where and how the massive amounts of nuclear waste produced each year will finally be laid to rest.
“The recent nuclear disaster has presented the Japanese with the crucial question of what to do with nuclear energy, and I believe people will seriously begin thinking about it,” said Tokyo University’s Miya.
“It’s difficult to say at this point, but I myself believe that we will eventually be able to construct our own, final repository for our nuclear waste.”
Cashing in on power-saving (DY May 9)
Business chiefs to talk post-disaster logistics (May.4) With electricity shortages looming this summer, many companies are releasing new power-saving products they hope will inspire consumers to shake off the mood of “self-restraint” prevalent since last month’s earthquake and tsunami.
Toshiba Corp. will release in July a 19-inch flat-screen TV that can operate for up to three hours on a built-in rechargeable battery that allows users to avoid using electricity during peak consumption hours.
Although the TV was originally designed for Southeast Asian nations that suffer frequent blackouts, Toshiba promptly decided to introduce it on the domestic market.
“Our energy-saving products will help revive consumption, which dropped after the March 11 disaster,” said Masaaki Osumi, an executive officer and corporate senior vice president at Toshiba.
Electrical appliance mass retailers also are making preparations to capitalize on the shift toward cutting back on electricity.
Bic Camera recently set up a “power-saving lifestyle counseling counter” on the basement floor of its Yurakucho store in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo. Staff at the counter give customers advice about how to reduce their electricity usage, such as by using light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs, energy-efficient air conditioners and other products that are displayed nearby.
“After rolling outages were implemented [in the Kanto region after the March 11 disaster], more customers purchased power-saving items,” a Bic Camera official said.
The company this month set up the counters at all its 30 stores that sell household appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines.
Exceptional demand for efficient electrical appliances is evident.
Retailers and manufacturers have high expectations that power-saving products will make up for the expected substantial drop in sales of flat-screen TVs and refrigerators following the termination of the government’s eco-point system for energy-saving appliances at the end of March.
Sales of Toshiba’s LED light bulbs have doubled compared with before the March 11 disaster. Toshiba’s plant in Nagai, Yamagata Prefecture, which suspended operations due to the quake and tsunami, resumed operations Thursday and is now at full production.
Panasonic Corp. expanded production of LED light bulbs at its plants in Indonesia and China during winter and spring to cope with an expected increase in demand in Japan.
Toshiba and Panasonic also will discuss bringing forward the launch of their capacitors for household use. The government is calling on ordinary households to cut power usage by about 15 percent from peak hours last summer to avert mass blackouts. If households use electricity stored in capacitors at night during the day, energy consumption can be reduced during peak hours.
Hitachi Ltd. plans to increase sales of its air conditioners that adjust the temperature and air flow by sensing whether people are in the room.
Top leaders of about 40 retailers and makers of food and miscellaneous goods will establish a joint council this month to study measures for dealing with supply shortages in times of disaster.
The council, to be formed on May 19, aims for joint use of trucking centers and the common packaging of goods so merchandise can be transported to convenience and other retail stores more quickly in times of disaster, according to industry sources.
Fifteen members promoting the establishment of the council include President Atsushi Kamei of Ito-Yokado Co., President Takeshi Niinami of Lawson Inc. and President Koichi Matsuzawa of Kirin Brewery Co., the sources said.
The council will delve into what caused an extreme shortage of some supplies at retailers mainly in the Tohoku region and the Tokyo metropolitan area in the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
An official of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry said that many store shelves remained empty partly because of Japan’s unique distribution system that involves the frequent delivery of small lots.
As for the delivery of goods to convenience stores, the planned panel will likely discuss measures such as jointly using trucking centers not damaged in times of disaster and establishing a more efficient loading system for delivery trucks.