Nuclear watchdog proposes raising maximum radiation dose to 250 millisieverts

Nuclear plant workers in Japan will be allowed to be exposed to more than twice the current level of radiation in emergency situations, according to the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s Radiation Council.

The radiation exposure limit will be raised from the current 100 millisieverts to 250 millisieverts in emergencies, the radiation council announced in a report released July 30.

The higher level is still only half of the accepted international safety level of 500 millisieverts set by the International Commission on Radiological Protection, an influential independent organization that provides guidelines on radiation protection, for rescue workers in emergency situations at nuclear facilities.

The new cap will be activated from April 2016 after revisions to the nuclear reactor regulatory law and the Industrial Safety and Health Law.

The limit was temporarily raised to 250 millisieverts by the radiation council following the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

The decision was quickly made by the council members through e-mail discussions as the 100 millisieverts limit could have caused a shortage of workers tackling the emergency at the plant. Later, the limit was returned to 100 millisieverts.

Under the revised law, the exposure limit for plant workers will be immediately raised to 250 millisieverts when certain conditions arise, including the risk of radioactive materials leaking from the facility into the surrounding area.

The workers affected will include employees of utility companies and their contractors, inspection officers from the Secretariat of the NRA and other on-field workers.

Of the 174 workers who were exposed to radiation doses more than 100 millisieverts following the Fukushima accident, six were exposed to 250 millisieverts or more.

The radiation council decided that workers are protected if they wear masks and other gear even when exposed to 250 millisieverts. The health damage from acute radiation poisoning below that limit is negligible, it said.

The council’s report calls for nuclear plant operators to carefully explain to workers tackling emergency situations about their tasks and obtain their consent to work in such an environment.

It also requests utility companies to conduct proper training of workers, while one of the council members also called on them to conduct follow-up medical checks to detect cancer and other illnesses.

The report also acknowledges that nuclear plant workers could be required to engage in tasks that cause them to be exposed to more than 250 millisieverts in acute emergency situations.

At Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, which the company aims to restart in August, workers will carry out their tasks with an exposure limit of 100 millisieverts until the maximum limit is raised to 250 millisieverts.

A plant worker who has worked at nuclear facilities for 20 years said he suspects that workers from subcontractors will agree to work under the raised limit.

“The cancer checkups and other measures also sound to me as stopgap efforts to ease our anxiety,” he said.

Source: Asahi Shimbun

http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201507310057

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Three former TEPCO executives to stand trial – Residents hail indictment decision

Three former TEPCO executives to stand trial

Three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Company will face mandatory indictment over the March 2011 nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Nobody has been held criminally responsible so far for Japan’s worst nuclear accident.

The prosecution inquest panel of randomly-selected citizens voted for the indictment on Friday, disagreeing for a 2nd time with prosecutors who had dismissed the complaint filed against the officials. The prosecutors said the officials could not have predicted a quake and tsunami on the scale of the March 11th disasters.

The decision leads to the mandatory indictment of former TEPCO chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and former vice presidents Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro for professional negligence resulting in death and injury.

Court-appointed lawyers will act as prosecutors in the trial.

In its decision, the panel said TEPCO should have taken measures to protect the plant from tsunami and flood-triggered serious accidents after it had made a projection of a 15.7-meter tsunami hitting the plant.

The panel said TEPCO could have foreseen that in a worst-case scenario, flooding would result in a massive release of radioactive substances or other severe situations. The panel said that if TEPCO had taken appropriate precautions, a serious accident like the one in March 2011 could have been avoided.

Prosecutors in 2013 dismissed the initial complaints filed by Fukushima residents and others against more than 30 former TEPCO officials for failing to take precautions against major quakes and tsunami.

The case was taken up for reconsideration by the inquest panel, which decided in July last year that the three officials should be indicted.

But prosecutors dismissed the case again in January, sending it back to the inquest panel. 

Source: NHK 

http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/english/news/20150731_32.html

Residents hail indictment decision
The leader of the residents, Ruiko Muto, has praised the panel’s decision.

Muto said she believes a court will determine who was responsible for the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and give a fair judgment.

She said that 110,000 people are still unable to return to their homes. She added that having the former executives face a criminal trial will help prevent a recurrence and create a society in which people can live in peace.

The residents’ lawyer, Hiroyuki Kawai, also said that if the former officials had escaped indictment, the real cause of the accident would have been covered up forever.
He expressed hope that the trial will find out more about what caused the nuclear accident.

TEPCO declined to comment on the decision or the criminal complaint that led to it.

But it said in a statement that it wants to renew its heartfelt apology to the people of Fukushima and many others for causing trouble and concern.

The firm said it will do its utmost for compensation, plant decommissioning and decontamination, based on the principle of seeking reconstruction of Fukushima. It added that it is fully resolved to improving the safety of nuclear power plants.

Source: NHK
http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/english/news/20150731_80.html

Robot probe into No.2 reactor may be delayed

The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant says it may have to postpone plans to send a robot probe into the plant’s No.2 reactor due to difficult preparations.

Tokyo Electric Power Company was planning to send a robot into the containment vessel of the No.2 reactor in August. The purpose is to capture video images of molten nuclear fuel for the first time.

The utility assumes the fuel penetrated the reactor core and is inside the containment vessel.

The plan involved using a pipe sticking out of the container as an entry point for the robot. But some concrete blocks are blocking the way and need to be removed.

Workers found that the remote-controlled machinery they wanted to use to remove the blocks cannot operate in some areas of the reactor building due to an eroded floor and other reasons.

TEPCO says it is now considering using chemicals to clear the blocks or developing new machinery to remove the blocks.

Due to these reasons, the utility says the probe may be postponed from August until December or later, in the worst case. 

Source: NHK 

http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/english/news/20150731_06.html

Fukushima plant tunnels clear of radioactive water

The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says it has finished removing highly radioactive water from underground tunnels linked to the reactor buildings.

More than 10,000 tons of highly contaminated water flowed into the tunnels outside the buildings for reactors No.2 and 3. Experts feared that the water might seep into the sea.

The concern led the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, to try and block any more tainted water from entering the tunnels.

The firm has been filling the tunnels with cement to pump out contaminated water since November.

It finished draining the No.2 reactor building’s tunnels late last month. The company says it also completed similar work on the tunnels connected to the No.3 reactor building on Thursday.

The firm will continue the work to fill the tunnels with cement until sometime late next month.

The utility initially attempted to freeze radioactive water in sections where the tunnels connect to the reactor buildings. But this did not work.

The government and TEPCO had placed top priority on addressing the highly radioactive water in the tunnels due to a fear that it might badly pollute the sea near the plant. The latest achievement will significantly reduce that risk. 

Source: NHK 

http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/english/news/20150731_01.html

« Welcome to Fukushima » a documentary film by Alain de Halleux

An excerpt of the documentary

I have a friend, from Belgium, Alain de Halleux, he is a movie maker. He is quite famous among the french speaking community because many years ago he made an excellent documentary on Chernobyl (in french).
3 years ago, he went to Japan and also to Fukushima, stayed a few months, and shot a documentary titled “Welcome to Fukushima”.
That documentary is excellent, because:
1. He is not an amateur cameraman but a professional cameraman
2. He interviewed many people evacuees and non-evacuees, so it brings very well the human angle.
3. This is definitely THE BEST documentary I have seen about Fukushima.
Unfortunately that documentary at present has only been distributed in Japan and in European French speaking countries: Belgium, France, Switzerland. It is in Japanese with French subtitles.
I am thinking that this excellent movie should reach the english-speaking countries, so I am now enquiring to some of my contacts, how to find a way to have this documentary distributed in an english-version (to be made) either on TV channels or on a tour.
I want to find a way to make this movie reach many, it is a unique eye opener on Fukushima, this if well distributed, reaching many people, could help awake many, and make a real difference, all the other documentaries I saw about Fukushima do not have the kind of punch that this one has…

He is also very active in renewable energy….helping a wind energy citizen cooperative in Southern Belgium….
He is also now working on a new documentary, about Taro Yamamoto and his fight against nuclear as an independent elected parlement deputy in Japan, Taro Yamamoto being a key figure in the antinuclear movement in Japan….

If any one of you has any suggestion, or contact to help this documentary to be distributed to a larger public in an english version, please send me an email. Thank you.

herve.courtois@yahoo.com

EDITORIAL: Reflections on 2 years without nuclear power ahead of planned restarts

Japan has survived without atomic energy for almost two years since all of the country’s nuclear power reactors were taken offline in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear accident triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.
The country rode out summers and winters, despite surges in electricity demand for air-conditioning and heating purposes, with no major blackouts.
The triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which threatened the very survival of the Japanese state, has yet to be brought under control.
Opinion polls show that more than half of the general public is opposed to restarting nuclear reactors. The public’s desire to keep the reactors offline, even at the cost of inconvenience, is due to the fact that people have learned how dreadful atomic energy can be.
However, the Abe administration is seeking a return to nuclear power. It is preparing to restart Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture in August, and aims eventually to have atomic energy account for 20 percent or more of Japan’s electricity mix in the future.
We oppose any return to nuclear power that comes without serious debate. Japan should make utmost efforts to avoid restarts, while at the same time taking care that doing so will not place an onerous burden on people’s living standards. Our energy needs should be centered on renewable energy sources rather than nuclear power as the primary source of electricity.
POWER DEMAND ALREADY COVERED
The Asahi Shimbun published a series of editorials in 2011 calling for a society free of nuclear power.
We stated that all of Japan’s nuclear reactors should be decommissioned, hopefully in 20 to 30 years, with priority given to aged reactors and high-risk reactors. The reactors to be kept alive should be selected on a “safety first” basis and limited to those necessary from the viewpoint of supply and demand.
We also stated that Japan should do its best to develop and spread the use of renewable energy sources while simultaneously pursuing measures for power saving and energy conservation. Thermal power generation could be strengthened as a stopgap measure, although steps should be sought in the long term so that a departure from nuclear energy does not contribute to global warming.
We also said Japan should push forward with power industry reform to encourage new entrants into the market while moving toward a decentralized energy society where wisdom and consumer choice play a greater role.
Our basic ideas remain the same. But the situation has changed over the last four years.
The most dramatic development is that the amount of electricity generated by nuclear reactors is now zero.
Nuclear reactors were up and running across Japan four years ago. They were subsequently taken offline one after another for regular inspections. Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture was reactivated temporarily, but no single nuclear reactor has been brought back online since September 2013.
Despite concerns that were raised, no serious power shortages occurred. Emergency power sources were raked up to stave off a crisis on some occasions, but there has always been sufficient supply to cover demand, partly because the practice of saving power has taken root in the public mind, and partly also because capacities were enhanced at thermal power plants and regional utilities cooperated in supplying power to each other.
But it is too early to say that we have a solid foundation for keeping the number of active nuclear reactors at zero.
The clustered siting of power plants, whereby electricity is sent from large-scale power stations to faraway areas with heavy power consumption areas, has remained unchanged after the nuclear disaster. Systemic vulnerability is still an issue. And there is always the danger of unforeseen circumstances unfolding if a key thermal power plant were to malfunction during peak power demand.
SYSTEMIC VULNERABILITY PERSISTS
The current situation, where thermal power accounts for 90 percent of Japan’s electricity, could hardly be called sustainable. As long as Japan relies on imports for its energy sources, the country will remain permanently exposed to the risk of variations in foreign exchange rates and prices.
We are also left to reflect on the extent to which the general public and the Japanese economy could tolerate additional increases in electricity rates. We have to avoid letting rate hikes, without detailed studies, have a serious impact on people’s living standards and general economic activity.
The risk of a serious impact on people’s lives has yet to be reduced to zero. Given the situation, it is difficult to totally rule out the option of restarting nuclear reactors as a last resort.
However, decisions on restarting individual nuclear reactors must be made with extreme care.
What kind of disadvantage could be averted by activating a particular nuclear reactor? Will a nuclear restart still be necessary after power demand has been covered by a mutual supply of electricity over broad areas? Persuasive explanations should be available from viewpoints such as these.
The nuclear reactor in question must be safe enough from the viewpoint of its geographical location. Means must also be available to allow residents of adjacent areas to evacuate in an emergency. These are obvious preconditions for a nuclear restart.
The fact that we have got along without nuclear power has correspondingly heightened the hurdles for a restart.
Japan, under these circumstances, must develop renewable energy sources as quickly as possible and pursue a shift to a distributed system of electric power. Indispensable to that end are policy initiatives for guiding a switch to the new direction.
The central government should set a pathway for reform and focus its resources on upgrades on the power grid, disposal of nuclear waste and other efforts. There should also be organizational arrangement for pursuing the decommissioning of nuclear reactors, assistance to local governments that will lose revenue from the nuclear plants they host, and transitional measures for business operators associated with nuclear power generation.
FUKUSHIMA DISASTER THE STARTING POINT
The Abe administration, however, is heading in the opposite direction.
It initially said it would reduce Japan’s dependence on nuclear energy as much as possible, but then changed course to maintaining nuclear plants, and left it all up to the Nuclear Regulation Authority to make all decisions on the safety of nuclear reactors ahead of any go-aheads for restarts.
The NRA is tasked only with screening procedures to ensure the safe operation of nuclear power plants. It is not in any way responsible for the entire policy.
The administration told local governments hosting nuclear plants that the central government will be responsible, but what precisely this entails remains to be seen. A mountain of unanswered questions remain about the Sendai nuclear plant, such as measures to ensure the safety of local residents and measures against potential volcanic eruptions.
The Fukushima nuclear disaster should be the starting point for reflecting on the issue of nuclear power generation.
We should think about ways to make the most of the fact that no nuclear reactor is active now.
Source : Asahi Shimbun
http://ajw.asahi.com/article/views/editorial/AJ201507300035