Radioactively-hot particles detected in dusts and soils from Northern Japan

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Radioactively-hot particles detected in dusts and soils from Northern Japan by combination of gamma spectrometry, autoradiography, and SEM/EDS analysis and implications in radiation risk assessment.
By MarcoKaltofen & ArnieGundersen
Highlights
• Radioactive particles from Fukushima are tracked via dusts, soils, and sediments.
• Radioactive dust impacts are tracked in both Japan and the United States/Canada.
• Atypically-radioactive particles from reactor cores are identified in house dusts.
• Scanning electron microscopy with X-ray analysis is used for forensic examinations.
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Contractors siphoned 1.6 million yen off pay of Vietnamese trainees sent to Fukushima

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TOKYO — Construction firms skimmed roughly 1.6 million yen off the danger allowances of three Vietnamese technical trainees they sent to do cleanup work in the Fukushima nuclear disaster area over a period of seven months, the Environment Ministry announced on April 12.
The ministry punished four firms over the finding, including the construction firm “Creation” in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, and a prime contractor. The firms were suspended from participating in bidding for public projects for one month from April 13.
According to the Environment Ministry, Creation skimmed up to 4,600 yen per day off trainees’ danger allowances from September to December 2016, and March to May 2017, when they were working at home demolition sites in Kawamata, Fukushima Prefecture.
(Japanese original by Kazuhiro Igarashi, Science & Environment News Department)

Fukushima doctor visits elderly patients dressed as period drama characters

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Hiroaki Shinmura is seen dressed as Zenigata Heiji, a period drama character, visiting the home of a 91-year-old patient in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, on Feb. 8, 2018. A nurse, right, is also wearing a period costume.
 
IWAKI, Fukushima — A hospital director here has taken to visiting elderly patients dressed as period drama characters in an attempt to cheer them up.
Hiroaki Shinmura, 50, head of Tokiwakai Joban Hospital, tends to dress as the Zenigata Heiji character, an Edo-period policeman, when he makes his visits, but is happy to switch to other characters such as Toyama no Kin-san and Mito Komon in response to patients’ requests.
Female nurses also dress up and accompany Shinmura, as he tries to fulfill his dream of creating a community in which “elderly people would like to live.”
The prefectural city of Iwaki was heavily affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011. In the aftermath of the disaster, water and electricity at Joban Hospital stopped running, putting the hospital under immense pressure. The number of dialysis patients at the hospital, which was about 700, was the largest in Fukushima Prefecture at the time.
A few years later, around 2015, Shinmura kicked off his costumed home visits, which he conducts once a month.
In one of his more recent visits, he went to the Iwaki home of a woman in her 80s, dressed as Zenigata Heiji and carrying the appropriate props — bringing a smile to the woman’s face as she greeted him at the door.
“How’s your condition?” Shinmura asked the woman. “The color of your face is healthy,” he told the woman’s husband, who jokingly replied, “The afterlife is full up. Apparently they don’t want us yet,” adding, “Your visits somehow manage to cheer us up.”
In the aftermath of 3.11, it became impossible to provide dialysis to patients at Joban Hospital, each of whom required the treatment three times a week. Shinmura took action and asked the Fukushima Prefectural Government as well as medical institutions across the prefecture to help out. However, the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant disaster had put the entire prefecture in a state of confusion, prompting Shinmura to seek help in other prefectures. In the end, institutions and local governments in Tokyo, Chiba and Niigata prefectures accepted the dialysis patients and their relatives, and all the patients were saved.
The sight of the relieved patients was a turning point in Shinmura’s life. “I came to realize that life is transient and that infrastructure, which I previously considered to be very robust, is in fact fragile. It made me think that if there’s anything that can be done now, I should do it immediately.”
In late March 2011, Shinmura returned to Joban Hospital and examined a considerable number of patients including those who had evacuated from their homes following the power plant disaster. He noticed that there was a sadness and lack of vitality in the patients’ expressions. The number of patients with mobility issues increased, perhaps due to a reluctance to venture outside because of radiation fears, raising demand for home visits.
However, he noticed that visiting patients’ homes in white coats was not conducive to frank conversation, because it felt like they were at the hospital. Then one day, Shinmura had a “eureka” moment. He appeared in a period costume for an event for inpatients, who seemed delighted by the sight, and Shinmura slapped his knee, saying, “This is it!”
The realization prompted him to purchase kimonos, wigs and props from a firm specializing in stage costumes. He then got into character and discovered that visiting elderly patients’ homes dressed as Zenigata Heiji put the patients at ease and led to them talking about events in their daily lives. It also helped Shinmura understand his patients’ concerns, joys and lifestyle habits.
Around New Year’s, Shinmura tends to dress as the god of wealth, Daikokusama. When plum flowers blossom, he goes for Mito Komon and when cherry blossoms emerge, he opts for Toyama no Kin-san. In total, there are no fewer than 50 characters in his repertoire, which includes fairytale characters such as Kintaro.
In the aftermath of the Kumamoto Earthquake, in April 2016, Shinmura sent backup staff to clinics in the city of Kumamoto, partly to repay his gratitude for the support he received for his dialysis patients after the 3.11 disaster.
Even as this interview is taking place, Shinmura is on his way to do another home visit dressed in character. “Take care,” say hospital staff members and patients with a smile, as he heads for another period drama-style visit.
(Japanese original by Shinichi Kurita, Tokyo Regional News Department)

Tepco Staffer Testifies in Court that Tepco Executives Put Off Tsunami Measures at Fukushima Plant

 
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In this March 11, 2011 photo provided by Tokyo Electric Power Co., a tsunami is seen just after striking the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant breakwater.
TEPCO staffer testifies execs put off tsunami measures at Fukushima plant
April 11, 2018
TOKYO — A Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) employee testified in court here on April 10 that company executives decided to postpone tsunami prevention measures at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant despite an assessment warning that a massive wave could hit the power station.
Three former TEPCO executives including former Vice President Sakae Muto, 67, are on trial for professional negligence causing death and injury over the Fukushima nuclear crisis triggered by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. The TEPCO employee’s statements at the trial’s fifth hearing were in line with the arguments of the court-appointed attorney acting for the prosecution.
Since 2007, the male employee had been part of an internal assessment group tasked with estimating the maximum height of tsunami which could strike the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
The group commissioned a TEPCO-affiliated company to estimate the size of potential tsunami, based on a long-term assessment made by the government’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion that a massive wave could be generated by a quake in the Japan Trench, including off Fukushima Prefecture. In 2008, the TEPCO subsidiary reported that tsunami as tall as 15.7 meters could hit the plant.
In the trial, the employee stated, “I thought that TEPCO should take the assessment into consideration in taking (earthquake and tsunami) countermeasures, as the assessment was supported by prominent seismologists.” He said he was so confident that the utility would take action that he emailed another working group at the company, “There will definitely be major renovations at the Fukushima No. 1 and other plants.”
When the employee reported the assessment result to Muto, the then vice president gave him instructions that could be interpreted as an order to prepare to build a levee. However, the employee testified that Muto later shifted policy and called for an investigation into whether the long-term tsunami risk assessment is correct rather than taking tsunami countermeasures.
“I thought they (TEPCO) would consider taking tsunami prevention measures, but they changed policy unexpectedly and I lost heart,” the employee told the court.
Along with Muto, former TEPCO President Tsunehisa Katsumata and Vice President Ichiro Takekuro were slapped with mandatory indictments in February 2016 after a decision by the Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution. Since the trial’s first public hearing, the court-appointed lawyers for the prosecution have claimed that the executives put off tsunami countermeasures even though TEPCO staff tasked with estimating the maximum height of tsunami that could strike the Fukushima plant endeavored to address the threat. The defendants have argued that they did not put off the countermeasures.
(Japanese original by Ebo Ishiyama, City News Department, and Ei Okada, Science & Environment News Department)
 
 
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The 2011 tsunami damaged pumps at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
TEPCO worker: Boss scrapped tsunami wall for Fukushima plant
April 11, 2018
An employee of Tokyo Electric Power Co. testified in court that his boss abruptly ended preparations in 2008 to build a seawall to protect the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant from a towering tsunami.
“It was unexpected,” the employee said of former TEPCO Vice President Sakae Muto’s instructions during a hearing at the Tokyo District Court on April 10. “I was so disheartened that I have no recollection of what followed afterward at the meeting.”
Muto, 67, was deputy chief of the company’s nuclear power and plant siting division at the time.
He, along with Tsunehisa Katsumata, former TEPCO chairman, and Ichiro Takekuro, former TEPCO vice president, are now standing trial on charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury over the 2011 nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
To prove negligence, prosecutors are trying to show that the top executives could have predicted the size of the tsunami that swamped the plant on March 11, 2011, resulting in the most serious nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
The employee was a member of a team tasked with compiling steps against tsunami at the earthquake countermeasures center that the utility set up in November 2007.
He reported directly to Muto.
According to the employee, TEPCO was considering additional safeguards on the instructions of the then Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency for all nuclear plant operators to review their anti-earthquake measures.
The group weighed its options based on a long-term assessment of the probability of major earthquakes released by the science ministry’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion in 2002.
The assessment pointed out that Fukushima Prefecture could be hit by a major tsunami.
Some experts were skeptical about the assessment, given that there were no archives showing a towering tsunami ever striking the area.
But the employee told the court, “Members of the group reached a consensus that we should incorporate the long-term assessment” in devising countermeasures.
The group asked a TEPCO subsidiary to conduct a study on the maximum height of a tsunami on the basis of the assessment.
The subsidiary in March 2008 informed the group that a tsunami of “a maximum 15.7 meters” could hit the Fukushima plant.
The group reported that number to Muto in June that year.
Based on Muto’s instructions, the group studied procedures on obtaining a permit to build a seawall to protect the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, according to the employee.
But in July, Muto, without giving an explanation, told the group at a meeting that TEPCO will not adopt the 15.7-meter estimate, the employee said.
He said Muto’s decision stunned group members who had believed the company was moving to reinforce the plant.
The tsunami that caused the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant reached 15.5 meters.
But Muto and the two others on trial have pleaded not guilty, arguing that the 15.7-meter prediction was “nothing more than one estimate.”
Why the TEPCO management dropped the tsunami prediction will be the focus of future hearings.
Prosecutors had initially declined to press charges against the three former executives, citing insufficient evidence. However, a committee for the inquest of prosecution twice concluded that the three should be indicted.
Their trial began in June last year. Lawyers are acting as prosecutors in the case.
(This story was compiled from reports by Mikiharu Sugiura, Takuya Kitazawa and Senior Staff Writer Eisuke Sasaki.)

Korea Appeals World Trade Organization Ruling on Imports from Fukushima

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Korea Appeals WTO Ruling on Imports from Fukushima
April 10, 2018
The government has appealed a World Trade Organization ruling that accused Korea of violating trade regulations by banning imports of seafood from Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture, which was the site of a massive nuclear power plant meltdown in 2011.
“The nuclear fallout persists in Japan, and the ruling is problematic since it’s our job to make sure the food Koreans eat is safe,” a government spokesman said Monday.
In February of this year, the WTO ruled in favor of Japan, which has demanded Korea lift the ban.
Korea banned imports from the region in 2011, just after a massive earthquake there resulted in the nuclear meltdown. Japan sued Korea at the WTO in 2015.
South Korea appeals WTO ruling against import ban on Japanese seafood
South Korea has appealed a World Trade Organization ruling against its restrictions on the import of seafood from eight Japanese prefectures following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The government had earlier vowed to fight the ruling to safeguard public health and safety while keeping the ban in place. Seoul announced its appeal on Monday.
 
In the ruling, announced Feb. 22, the WTO’s dispute settlement panel said the ban was inconsistent with the global trade body’s rules against “arbitrarily or unjustifiably” discriminating against another country, recommending that South Korea take corrective action.
The panel also said a South Korean requirement that Japanese exporters of all marine products submit certificates of inspection if small amounts of radioactive cesium or iodine are detected is an effective barrier to fair trade.
The decision came more than two years after Japan filed a complaint in 2015 over the South Korean ban, claiming it was not based on scientific grounds.
In Tokyo, fisheries minister Ken Saito expressed regret on Tuesday over South Korea’s appeal, telling a news conference it was “extremely regrettable.”
He also said Japan will properly address the matter so that its claims will be accepted by the WTO’s appellate body. In addition, Tokyo will urge Seoul to swiftly lift the ban, Saito said.
Following the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, triggered by a powerful earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, South Korea initially imposed a partial ban on imports of marine products from the eight prefectures due to fears of radioactive contamination.
In September 2013, Seoul expanded the restrictions to bar all fishery products from the eight prefectures and strengthened import regulations.
The eight prefectures are Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba.

Fukushima export ban maintained by Hong Kong

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April 10, 2018
Seven years after a tsunami wiped out the nuclear reactors in Fukushima, causing widespread radiation contamination in a largely agricultural region, the Fukushima prefecture continues to struggle in getting crucial overseas markets to accept its produce.
This is despite a charm offensive that saw japanese foreign minister Taro Kono visiting Hong-Kong last weekend for the first time in 21 years to lobby chief executive Carrie Lam to lift a ban on imports from Fukushima and its surrounding region.
Hong-Kong which accounts for a quarter of Japan’s food export trade, is among the 55 countries that have blocked shipments from Fukushima since the 2011 disaster.
Facing resistance
The trip did not go the way Tokyo planned, with Lam expressing her reluctance to reopen trade.
“She emphasized that it is incumbent upon the government to safeguard public health and hence effective measures must be in place to ensure food safety and to maintain public confidence,” a statement issued by Lam’s office read.
The visit came shortly after South Korea announced it would maintain a blanket ban on imports from north-eastern Japan, even though the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled this as “arbitrary and unjustifiable” discriminatory measures.
Korea’s trade ministry stated in March that it would appeal the WTO decision, which is equivalent to a court ruling.
“Despite this ruling, the current import ban will remain in force, and the government will make its utmost efforts to ensure radiation-contaminated food does not reach the dinner table,” it said in a strongly-worded statement, ahead of a likely appeal.
Radiation safe?
Meanwhile a Fukushima flatfish festival in Bangkok was forced to cancel amid pressure from consumer goods watchdogs over radioactive contamination.
According to japanese officials, food from the affected area is safe, with no radiation having been detected in rice since 2015. In January, a safety panel announced that contamination inspections would be phased out in favor of random spot checks, to bring rice in line with the current procedure for fruits and vegetables.
This position is backed up by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, whose director-general publicly ate sweets made from pears and apples grown in Fukushima at an event in Tokyo last May to publicize the safety of produce in the affected area.
“We don’t see any reason to raise concern about the safety of food,” Jose Graziano Da Silva said at the time.
Just a year after the nuclear incident japanese authorities began adopting the strictest radiation standards of any country in the world by lowering the accepted level of contamination by half.
But persuading prime export markets that Fukushima food is safe is proving to be tremendously difficult.