Foreign Ministry to help local governments export food in face of radiation fears

Dec 29, 2014

The Foreign Ministry will help local governments tear down overseas barriers on food imports maintained because of worries over radiation, sources said.

Some states still ban some imports of agricultural, forestry and fishery products because of the fear of contamination from Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. As a result, the ministry will cooperate with local governments in organizing events overseas to assure regulators and consumers that products are safe.

In 2015, the ministry plans to hold two to three such events, the sources said Sunday.

Unfounded rumors are a matter of life and death for municipalities where agriculture, fisheries or forestry are key industries.

The ministry said 13 countries, including Canada and Vietnam, have lifted import restrictions imposed after the accident on agricultural, forestry and fishery products from affected areas, but nine economies including South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan still have bans.

South Korea bans marine products from prefectures such as Miyagi and Fukushima.

Many countries also implement some kind of import control, such as requiring safety certificates.

When the ministry holds the events abroad, it will give assistance through embassies, aiming to allay concerns among local companies and media organizations.

A senior ministry official said the support for local governments boils down to wanting to disseminate correct information and to sell Japan’s attractions.

Source: Japan Times

Fukushima mothers compile booklet derived from radiation seminars

xMasaharu Tsubokura, center, and the members of the Veteran Mothers’ Society in Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture

December 29, 2014

MINAMI-SOMA, Fukushima Prefecture–Mothers living near the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant have compiled a booklet offering basic knowledge about radiation and explanations addressing safety concerns arising from the disaster.

The booklet, titled “Yoku Wakaru Hoshasen Kyoshitsu” (Radiation and Health Seminar), is available in both Japanese and English and was created by the Veteran Mothers’ Society, which consists of five mothers from the city of Minami-Soma.

The members, some of whom are former high school classmates, decided to create the booklet “for children’s sake.”

The information incorporates lessons learned from doctors at seminars the group organized following the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in March 2011.

Amid the confusion and fears over radiation after the disaster unfolded, the mothers convened their first seminar for children and guardians in December 2011. They invited Masaharu Tsubokura, a doctor of hematology from the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Medical Science who had been providing consultations at the Minami-Soma municipal general hospital.

Other physicians later joined the effort to spread accurate information about radiation, and the mothers have held the sessions once or twice a month.

In the seminars, the children peppered Tsubokura with questions, such as “Can I touch my pets?” and “Is it OK to lick the snow?”

Ikumi Watanabe, the society’s 54-year-old vice chairwoman, recalled that Tsubokura’s explanations “were spoken in an easy-to-understand manner so the information popped straight into our heads. It was nice that we could talk with him on the same level and in person.”

Even now, the nature of the questions has not changed much.

“People have felt pressured not to talk about radiation, and some mothers have finally gotten the information only now, more than three years after the accident,” Tsubokura said. “I hope I can help them make decisions without thinking negatively about themselves or losing their self-confidence.”

In addition to basic knowledge, such as the differences between external and internal radiation exposure and between becquerels and sieverts, the booklet answers questions like: “Can radiation be transmitted from one person to another?” and “Is the tap water OK?”

According to the Veteran Mothers’ Society, 20,000 copies of the Japanese version were distributed to schools, companies and other organizations. The English version has been ordered by international schools, international exchange organizations and other groups.

Inquiries to the Veteran Mothers’ Society can be made via email (

Source: Asahi Shimbun

December 29, 2014

MINAMI-SOMA, Fukushima Prefecture–The central government lifted on Dec. 28 the last recommended evacuation advisory for several districts in this city, saying radiation levels from the nuclear accident fell below the annual exposure limit.

However, many of the residents of 152 households within these districts voiced their opposition to the lifting.

The central government designated areas that registered high radiation levels outside the zones under mandatory evacuation orders as specific recommended evacuation spots following the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The residents living within these locales were encouraged to evacuate from their homes.

The districts in Minami-Soma were designated as such because they were at risk of exceeding the annual accumulated dose limit of 20 millisieverts, or 3.8 microsieverts per hour.

The central government in June 2011 issued the advisory for some locales in the cities of Minami-Soma and Date and the village of Kawauchi, all in Fukushima Prefecture, home to 281 households. The advisory for Date and Kawauchi was lifted earlier.

Central government officials explained their latest decision to the residents and local officials, saying that the health risks are not expected because radiation levels in their sites now measure well below the designated limit of 20 millisieverts.

They also presented support measures to encourage the residents to return to their homes.

However, evacuee Katsuji Sato, among the residents of the 152 households, said he would not immediately return home.

The 79-year-old, who lives in temporary housing in Minami-Soma, had lived in a family of six of four generations before the Great East Earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, set off the nuclear disaster.

Sato’s mother died where she evacuated to, and his eldest son, the son’s wife and their elementary school child moved to Miyagi Prefecture.

“My wife and I cannot return to our home even though we want to unless decontamination work is undertaken again,” Sato said.

Source: Asahi Shimbun

xThe head of the Takakura district, right, reads aloud a statement in opposition to the lifting of a recommended evacuation advisory to officials of the nuclear emergency local response headquarters

in Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, on Dec. 21.

New method for contaminated water may be failing


Dec. 26, 2014

Tokyo Electric Power Company has indicated that a new method aimed at tackling a large volume of highly radioactive wastewater at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has not been entirely successful.

TEPCO gave a progress report on its work to a panel of experts at the Nuclear Regulation Authority on Friday.

The utility last month began pouring cement into underground tunnels filled with the contaminated water from the reactor buildings to stop the water inflow. The water is believed to be leaking into the sea.

TEPCO officials told the panel that workers have completely filled the U-shaped tunnels except for 4 vertical pits that connect the tunnels to the ground surface. They removed 2,500 tons of radioactive water.

But the officials said that when they pumped water up from one of the pits, the water level at another pit changed. That suggests that gaps exist in the concrete-filled tunnels.

The officials argued that they can stop the water from flowing into the tunnels once the 4 vertical pits are filled. But panel members and authority commissioners said more thorough inspections are needed.

TEPCO plans to monitor water levels for a month, look for gaps, and study more effective ways to block the water.

The utility initially planned to freeze wastewater at the end of the tunnel to stop inflow from the reactor buildings and remove the water. But the plan did not work.

Risk in Fukushima No. 4 reactor mitigated as last of nuclear fuel removed

21 dec 2014

December 21, 2014

OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture–Tokyo Electric Power Co. removed the last four nuclear fuel assemblies that remained in the No. 4 reactor building of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant from its storage pool on Dec. 20.

The No. 4 reactor was offline at the time of the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. However, an explosion occurred in the building four days later, seriously damaging it.

After the accident, experts pointed to the risk of nuclear fuel in the pool melting from insufficient cooling and releasing a large amount of radioactive materials. However, the threat has been mitigated with the removal of the last assemblies.

On Dec. 20, TEPCO allowed the media to watch the removal work.

Workers pulled up from the pool a cask containing the last four unspent nuclear fuel assemblies. They plan to transfer it to the No. 6 reactor building, which sustained relatively minor damage in the disaster, within a few days after decontaminating the outside of the cask.

The transfer will mean that all of the nuclear fuel in the No. 4 building has been removed from the building as scheduled by year-end.

The pool had held a total of 1,535 nuclear fuel assemblies, which consisted of 1,331 spent and 204 unspent nuclear fuel assemblies.

TEPCO started the removal of those assemblies from the pool in November 2013 after installing a new roof and a crane on the building. The removal of spent nuclear fuel assemblies concluded in November this year.

There will be no work in the No. 4 reactor building for the time being. TEPCO will be engaged in efforts at the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 reactor buildings and in dealing with the growing volume of contaminated water partly resulting from efforts to keep the reactors from overheating.


21 dec 2014 bWorkers use a cask to remove unspent nuclear fuel assemblies from a storage pool at the No. 4 reactor building of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on Dec. 20.

More radioactive materials released after crisis

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency says 75 percent of the radioactive substances released from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant came more than 4 days after the accident.

The government’s investigation has not released what happened during this period. Experts say the reason needs to be determined as to why massive amounts of radioactive materials continued to be released for a prolonged period.

The nuclear accident in Fukushima has been evaluated as the worst, at level 7, on a par with the Chernobyl accident in 1986, due to the large amount of radioactive substances that were released. But the details on how the substances were released remain unknown.

A research group at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency collected new data on radiation detected near the plant over time to analyze how radioactive materials were released into the air.

The research has found that an estimated 470,000 terabecquerels of radioactive substances had been released by the end of March 2011, when the discharge is believed to have mostly subsided.

The research group says 25 percent of the radioactive materials were released during the first 4 days of the accident, as the meltdown and hydrogen explosions were happening, while 75 percent were released over the 2-week period that followed.

The group also analyzed how the radioactive materials spread, using the climate data at the time. They found that contamination in places where former residents are still not allowed to return became serious on March 15th — 4 days after the accident.

They also say radioactive substances released between March 20th and 21st spread to a wider area, including the Kanto region, and are believed to have contaminated drinking water supplies.

The outcome of the analyses indicates that radioactive materials continued to be released after the first 4 days, which is believed to be the critical time during which the situation was deteriorating out of control.

The government’s investigation has focused on the first 4 days, and has not determined the cause of the massive release of radioactive substances following that period.

Masamichi Chino of the research group says the cause needs to be determined to prevent future accidents and to bring the situation under control quickly if another accident happens.

More than 120,000 people are still forced to live in temporary shelters.

Six municipalities remain off limits due to high levels of contamination.

NRA head signals massive release of tainted water to help decommission Fukushima site

13 dec 2014 ready to dump NRA chairmanNRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka, foreground, inspects storage tanks holding water contaminated with radioactive substances at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

 December 13, 2014

The head of Japan’s nuclear watchdog said contaminated water stored at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant should be released into the ocean to ensure safe decommissioning of the reactors.

Shunichi Tanaka, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, made the comment Dec. 12 after visiting the facility to observe progress in dismantling the six reactors. The site was severely damaged in the tsunami generated by the 2011 earthquake.

“I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of tanks (holding water tainted with radioactive substances),” Tanaka told reporters, indicating they pose a danger to decommissioning work. “We have to dispose of the water.”

With regard to expected protests by local fishermen over the discharge, Tanaka said, “We also have to obtain the consent of local residents in carrying out the work, so we can somehow mitigate (the increase in tainted water).”

Tanaka has said previously that to proceed with decommissioning, tainted water stored on the site would need to be released into the sea so long as it had been decontaminated to accepted safety standards.

“While (the idea) may upset people, we must do our utmost to satisfy residents of Fukushima,” Tanaka said, adding that the NRA would provide information to local residents based on continuing studies of radioactive elements in local waters.

The inspection tour was Tanaka’s second since he became NRA chief in September 2012. He last visited in April 2013.

During his visit, Tanaka observed work at a trench on the ocean side of the No. 2 reactor building, where highly contaminated water is being pumped out. He also inspected barriers set up around the storage tanks to prevent leaks of tainted water.

Tanaka praised the completion in November of work to remove all spent nuclear fuel from the No. 4 reactor building, as well as changes to work procedures that he said allows for the completion of the work at the No. 2 reactor trench.

Source: Asahi Shimbun