Fukushima The Seal of the Sun 太陽の蓋

February 24, 2019

This February 20th I was invited by my friend Kolin Kobayashi in Paris to the avant-première of the movie Fukushima The Seal of the Sun, followed by a short debate, then to the private reception where Japan ex-prime Minister Naoto Kan was present.

Watching this movie brought to my mind the words of Gregory Jaczko, the former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2011, in his recently released book titled Confessions of a rogue nuclear regulator :

« And what about the problems that no engineer, scientist, or safety regulator can foresee. No amount of planning can prepare a plant for every situation. Every disaster makes its own rules – and humans cannot learn them in advance ».

« Generations of nuclear professionals have never experienced the confusion of a nuclear accident as it is happening. So it is essential that we remember and teach the lessons of Three Mile Island, chernobyl and Fukushima, for reviewing these accidents shows common themes of missed opportunities, human failings, and technological overconfidence. No amount of forgetting can change these simple facts. »

« As I learned in the wake of the Fukushima accident, crises on this scale are often characterized by incoherent communication and conflicting information. Both the Three Mile island and the Fukushima disasters featured contradictory assessments of the state of the reactor, a limited appreciation of the fact that the damage to the reactor had occured very early, and rapidly changing statements from elected officials. To the public, these statements can appear to suggest prevarication or incompetence. But when government officials – imperfect human beings like everyone else – try to make sense of the complicated physics of a nuclear reactor, they will invariably make mistakes in communication. »

Especially as in the Fukushima accident where TEPCO was not straightforward in giving the true facts to the Japanese government, but always prevaricating.

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Synopsis of the movie Fukushima The Seal of the Sun
On March 11, 2011, Japan is rocked by an earthquake, followed by a tsunami and the triple nuclear disaster of Fukushima. Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s team is trying to cope with this situation.
What really happened at the Prime Minister’s residence at the time of the worst crisis in the country’s history? Has the truth been fully revealed?

3 questions to the director – Futoshi Sato

How did you arrive on this project and how did you work with the producer and actors of the film?

Born in the area that was devastated by the 2011 earthquake, I wanted to talk about it, but I was wondering what might be the approach to make it a movie. For his part, Mr. Tamiyoshi Tachibana wondered about the possibility of adapting the book written by Tetsuro Fukuyama, Deputy Director of the Cabinet of Naoto Kan. “The Nuclear Crisis – A Testimony from the Residence of the Prime Minister” is a fundamental work that tells the truth of the events that occurred on those days at the Residence.

If this project was able to start and be realized, it is thanks to the total and complete implication of Mr Tamiyoshi Tachibana. The entire project team has been involved in the discussions around the script and during our debates, we thought it was necessary to make a choral film with in the center, the members of the Cabinet, but also with the journalists on the lookout for scoops, the workers of the power plant, as well as the inhabitants of the surrounding villages. As for casting, we managed to bring together actors who were completely convinced of the importance of the subject. We gave them all the information so that they thoroughly understand the issues of the film and their characters.

Was it important to you that the events would be experienced in a balanced way through the politicians and the people directly at the forefront of the disaster?

According to the people who experienced these events, their feeling completely varies. To make it a film capable of witnessing this story in all its diversity, we decided to adopt the different points of view of the protagonists. It was not possible to convey this reality to the public otherwise.

I remember that Naoto Kan told us: “If you represent the truth about the nuclear accident with firmness in the film, you can choose any method of expression.” He wanted the facts to be well presented. I started filming in a direction that was not meant to be easy. Instead, it was necessary to treat with audacity, an atmosphere of crisis due to a management and consequences quite unknown.

Which part of the movie is truth and which part is fiction?

The information, as to the reactions and attitudes of TEPCO following the nuclear accident, and those that have been passed on to the government are all true. We also had to do some research to recreate some scenes. In addition, about what had happened during these 5 days, it was impossible to extract and reproduce the huge amount of data.

For these reasons, and in order to stay true to the facts and to make a fiction easier to understand, we created a fictional character unfolding the story. We have made this journalist a kind of guide, to follow this whole story. The words and situations of certain scenes have been created to cover all events. On the other hand, the politicians, who are public figures, appear in the film under their true identities. Their dialogues and actions are also based on true facts.

3 questions au producteur – Tamiyoshi Tachibana

In 2011, you were close to Naoto Kan, the Japanese Prime Minister. Through this film, was it your intention to restore a truth that the latter experienced during this crisis?

At the time, I was simply a friend, one of his cadets in politics. It was only after the earthquake that I became a real member of his support group. It is not to reproduce the experience of the crisis experienced by Naoto Kan that I produced this film. The media and public opinion, manipulated by the latter, were totally hostile to the Prime Minister, accusing him of having aggravated the accident and amplified the damage. Faced with this rejection, I was plagued by anger and disgust as they led me to make this film to put things in order.

The reactors’ accident could, in the worst case, have caused the evacuation of the entire population living within a radius of 250km, including Tokyo, a total of 50 million people. Naoto Kan was the only one to have guessed the extreme gravity of the accident and to have realized that we were one step away from the collapse of Japan. If he had not been Prime Minister, if the crisis had to be managed by another in his place, the country could have been completely destroyed.

You have kept the real names of the various protagonists. What were the reactions of the people implicated, in particular the leaders of TEPCO, the company that managed the Fukushima power station?

Four politicians appear under their real names. In the history of Japanese cinema, this is the first time that characters, in a fiction film, take the true identity of people who really exist. Thus Naoto Kan is still present in the political life of Japan.

As for the other members of the government, as well as the officials and employees of TEPCO (TOBI in the film), these are not their real names, but we can easily imagine who they are!

However, there was no protest or legal proceedings on their part. I do not know if they saw the movie … or not. If they saw it, they did not want to talk about it publicly. I hope that today, they are a little ashamed of this catastrophic situation of which they are, in part, responsible.

What was the impact of the film when it was released in Japan? Has it sparked a real public debate as Japanese nuclear power resumed its place in the country, as if nothing had happened in 2011?

The accident at the Fukushima nuclear power station inspired the authors of “Shin Godzilla” (the new Gozilla), a movie released in Japan on July 29, 2016. That movie was designed by two of the largest film production companies for a total budget of 13 million euros. Thanks to this film, the producers have earned more than 64 million euros!

On our side, our film was screened in independent theaters. Obviously, this has not been the same success, especially in terms of financial benefits.

Citizens continue to organize weekly independent screenings. It should be noted that the 54 nuclear reactors, distributed among the 18 Japanese plants, were shut down in September 2013.

7 years after the disaster, 9 units restarted. The film has become a powerful vector for citizens who speak out against the restart.

Aujourd’hui, environ 70 % de la population est en effet opposée à l’énergie nucléaire.

Sources :

Synopsis of the movie, provided by Destiny Films, translated by Hervé Courtois (D’un Renard)

Confessions of a rogue nuclear regulator by gregory B. Jaczko, published by Simon & Schuster, New York, 2019

Okuma, the host town of crippled nuke plant to lift evacuation order

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February 20, 2019
OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture–An evacuation order will be lifted for two districts here as early as April, eight years after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant spewed massive amounts of radioactive substances into the air.
It would be the first time for Okuma, which co-hosts the plant, to see the evacuation order lifted, albeit partially.
The entire town, with a population of 11,500, was ordered to evacuate after the onset of the nuclear crisis following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
The lifting of the order is expected to cover the Ogawara and Chuyashiki districts, both southwest of the plant.
Together the districts account for about 40 percent of the town’s acreage. The town’s records showed that 374 residents, or about 4 percent of the current population, are registered in the districts, as of the end of January.
As of Feb. 7, 46 people have returned to live there as an advance group.
In Ogawara, about 700 employees of Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the plant, live in the company’s dormitory built in 2016 as a special case and commute to the nuclear complex to engage in decommissioning work.
At the Feb. 19 meeting, a member of the town’s committee that assesses the progress of decontamination said, “Radiation levels have declined sufficiently.”
However, the psychological barriers are high for Okuma evacuees, as the town now hosts an interim storage site for radioactive waste produced from decontamination operations in the prefecture.
Preliminary results of a survey conducted last year to gauge the sentiment of residents showed that only 10 percent of respondents expressed a desire to return. About 60 percent said they had no plans to return.
The town government of Futaba, the neighboring town that co-hosts the nuclear plant, aims to have its evacuation order partially lifted around spring 2020.
Read more:

Japan and Tepco again ordered to pay damages to Fukushima nuclear disaster evacuees

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February 20, 2019
Yokohama court orders government and TEPCO to pay $3.8m to 152 residents forced to flee homes after nuclear meltdown.
 
Presiding Judge Ken Nakadaira said the nuclear accident was preventable as the state could have foreseen as of September 2009, based on a projection by experts, that a massive tsunami similar to one that occurred in the ninth century could strike the area again and cause a complete power blackout at the plant.
 
He said it would have been “possible by the end of 2010” to implement steps such as installing emergency power generators that would have prevented damage to core reactors as well as hydrogen explosions that led to the release of massive amounts of radioactive materials outside the plant.
Nakadaira also criticized the state for its assessment before the disaster that Tepco’s anti-tsunami measures were adequate, saying it was a serious “mistake and failure.”
 
The ruling awarded compensation to 152 of the 175 plaintiffs, of whom 50 had evacuated voluntarily and 125 were forced to do so. They had each demanded ¥350,000 per month and compensation of ¥20 million for psychological damage due to “the loss of their hometown” in addition to compensation already paid by Tepco.
 
The ruling was the eighth among approximately 30 similar suits filed by more than 10,000 evacuees.
 
Read more:
 

Tokyo governor won’t speculate on Olympic bribery scandal

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February 18, 2019
TOKYO — The head of Tokyo’s city government has declined to weigh in on the future of Japanese Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda, who is being investigated for his part in an alleged bribery scandal.
Asked Monday if Takeda should resign, Tokyo Governor Yurkio Koike told reporters: “This is an issue for the JOC. Therefore, as the government of Tokyo, we are looking at what efforts need to be made in order to ensure the success of the games.”
Members of the JOC executive board are up for re-election this summer. There is speculation Takeda will not run, or could be replaced. French investigators believe he may have helped Tokyo win the 2020 Olympics in a vote by the International Olympic Committee.
Takeda has been JOC president since 2001. He is also a powerful IOC member and the head of its marketing commission. He has not stepped aside from either position while the IOC’s ethics committee investigates.
Takeda last month acknowledged he signed off on the payments but denied corruption allegations. An internal report in 2016 by the Japanese Olympic Committee essentially cleared Takeda of wrongdoing.
Tokyo is spending at least $20 billion to organize the Olympics. Games costs are difficult to track, but the city of Tokyo appears to be picking up at least half the bill.
Much of Japan’s focus has been to show that the Fukushima area is safe and has recovered from a 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and the meltdowns at three nuclear reactors.
Read more:

Probe shows challenges posed by melted fuel at Fukushima plant

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The rod-like probe outfitted with a tong-like pinching device that was used to touch melted nuclear fuel debris at the bottom of the No. 2 reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant
February 18, 2019
A specially designed, remotely controlled probe touched melted nuclear fuel debris at the bottom of a ruined reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in the first successful operation to inspect radioactive debris through direct contact.
The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), lowered the rod-like probe outfitted with a tong-like pinching device into the primary containment vessel of the No. 2 reactor at the crippled plant and used the machine to successfully lift pieces of the debris several centimeters.
The removal of the fuel debris is the biggest challenge in the long process of decommissioning the reactors, which will take at least three to four decades. The lifting of debris is a ray of hope in the grim battle to overcome the formidable challenge.
But the success was tempered by the fact that there were large chunks with slick surfaces the robot’s pinchers were unable to grab. The probe found that deposits in various conditions lie scattered about the bottom of the vessel. Some pieces are apparently entangled in the surrounding equipment.
Tasks in and around the No. 1 to No. 3 reactors at the nuclear plant cannot be carried out by humans because of dangerously high radiation levels. Nuclear fuel in the core of these reactors overheated and melted down after towering tsunami triggered by an epic earthquake knocked out vital cooling systems on March 11, 2011.
Read more:

TEPCO finds some debris in Fukushima N°2 reactor could be removed

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February 14, 2019
TOKYO (Kyodo) — The operator of the disaster-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant said Wednesday its latest probe has found that debris inside one of the reactors can be lifted, raising hopes for progress in its bid to remove melted fuel and decommission the complex.
During the around eight-hour examination on Wednesday, TEPCO inserted the probe, equipped with a camera, radiation meter and tong-like grips to hold objects, through a penetration hole that provides access to the primary containment vessel.
Of the six locations that were surveyed, the probe, which is 30 centimeters tall and 10 cm wide, successfully moved gravel and a stick-like structure in deposits in five areas. The tong-like grips were able to lift up to 5 cm of some of the deposits, according to TEPCO.
In the remaining area that resembled clay, however, the probe could not pick up any of the deposited material, indicating it was relatively hard.
“As we have found that we can move (the deposits), we proved that extracting fuel debris is possible. But for objects that cannot be grasped, we need to develop new equipment,”
Read more:

Tour brings foreigners to areas devastated by nuclear accident

The strategy of the organizers of these “Tours” participate fully to the Japanese government aim, without realizing it, to make believe that the “radioactivity” there is not dangerous.  Oh, there, what a world.
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February 17, 2019
“There is growing interest among foreign tourists for a tour in English to former evacuation zones in the northeastern Japan prefecture of Fukushima where a devastating earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 triggered a nuclear disaster.
“More people are becoming interested in going on the tour that can deepen their knowledge,” explains an official at the Japan National Tourism Organization.
The tourism company Knot World Co. based in Tokyo designed this particular tour from a desire to encourage more people to “hear the local voices and see the area’s damage and recovery” after the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.
Since the tour’s launch in February last year, some 200 people from 23 countries have participated, according to the company.
Fukushima Prefecture says 96,000 foreign tourists stayed at hotels and inns in the prefecture in 2017, which is four times the number in 2011. In February this year, an organization that promotes the prefecture’s products and tourism launched a three-day tour with English translation in areas including Naraha, another town in the vicinity of the crippled nuclear plant, to aid recovery.
However, there are numerous issues that need to be resolved regarding tours catering to foreigners such as training tour guides and providing information in various languages.
Various thoughts are voiced in Fukushima Prefecture such as, “We would really like the tourists to come not out of casual interest but to truly learn the issue,” and, “Please also turn your attention to the fact that our lives before the accident has not returned,” local officials said.”