Fukushima’s Radiation Will Poison Food “for Decades,” Study Finds

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Three of the six reactors at Japan’s Fukushima-Daiichi complex were wrecked in March 2011 by an earthquake and tsunami. The destruction of emergency electric generators caused a “station blackout” which halted cooling water intake and circulation. Super-heated, out-of-control uranium fuel in reactors 1, 2, and 3 then boiled off cooling water, and some 300 tons of fuel “melted” and burned through the reactors’ core vessels, gouging so deep into underground sections of the structure that to this day operators aren’t sure where it is. Several explosions in reactor buildings and uncovered fuel rods caused the spewing of huge quantities of radioactive materials to the atmosphere, and the worst radioactive contamination of the Pacific Ocean ever recorded. Fukushima amounts to Whole-Earth poisoning.

Now, researchers say, radioactive isotopes that were spread across Japan (and beyond) by the meltdowns will continue to contaminate the food supply for a very long time.

According to a new study that focused on “radiocaesium” — as the British call cesium-134 and cesium-137 — “food in japan will be contaminated by low-level radioactivity for decades.” The official university announcement of this study neglected to specify that Fukushima’s cesium will persist in the food chain for thirty decades. It takes 10 radioactive half-lives for cesium-137 to decay to barium, and its half-life is about 30 years, so C-137 stays in the environment for roughly 300 years.

The study’s authors, Professor Jim Smith, of the University of Portsmouth, southwest of London, and Dr. Keiko Tagami, from the Japanese National Institute of Radiological Sciences, report that cesium-caused “radiation doses in the average diet in the Fukushima region are very low and do not present a significant health risk now or in the future.”

This phraseology deliberately conveys a sense of security — but a false one. Asserting that low doses of radiation pose no “significant” health risk sounds reassuring, but an equally factual framing of precisely the same finding is that small amounts of cesium in food pose a slightly increased risk of causing cancer.

This fact was acknowledged by Prof. Smith in the June 14 University of Portsmouth media advisory that announced his food contamination study, which was published in Science of the Total Environment. Because of above-ground atom bomb testing, Prof. Smith said, “Radioactive elements such as caesium-137, strontium-90 and carbon-14 contaminated the global environment, potentially causing hundreds of thousands of unseen cancer deaths.”

No less an authority than the late John Gofman, MD, Ph.D., a co-discoverer of plutonium and Professor Emeritus of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, spent 50 years warning about the threat posed by low doses of radiation. In May 1999, Gofman wrote, “By any reasonable standard of biomedical proof, there is no safe dose, which means that just one decaying radioactive atom can produce permanent mutation in a cell’s genetic molecules. My own work showed this in 1990 for X rays, gamma rays, and beta particles.”

The Fukushima-borne cesium in Japan’s food supply, and in the food-web of the entire Pacific Ocean, emits both beta and gamma radiation. Unfortunately, it will bio-accumulate and bio-concentrate for 300 years, potentially causing, as Dr. Gofman if not Dr. Smith might say, hundreds of thousands of unseen cancer deaths.

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/06/22/fukushimas-radiation-will-poison-food-for-decades-study-finds/

 

 

Fukushima Remains “A Nuclear Radiation Nightmare”, In Pictures

“This is an accident that does not exist in the past tense, but in the present progressive form,” exclaimed Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori earlier in March, criticizing Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for not explicitly the disaster in his annual speech. “It’s not possible to avoid using the important and significant terms of the nuclear plant accident of nuclear power disaster.”

As IBTimes’s Juliana Rose Pignataro notes (and exposes in the images below), it’s been an uphill battle for the coastal prefecture of Fukushima, Japan, since an earthquake and tsunami devastated the region in 2011, causing a nuclear disaster at its power plant.

Six years later, workers are still battling to decommission the plant, where radiation is deadly. Officials expect the cleaning won’t be finished for decades.

20170605_fuku1_0In this handout provided by TEPCO, the deformed grating vessel of Fukushima’s No. 2 reactor is shown Jan. 30, 2017.

 

20170605_fuku2_0Workers remove nuclear fuel rods from a pool inside the No. 4 reactor at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, Nov. 18, 2013

 

20170605_fuku3_0TEPCO employee looks at the destroyed reactor in Fukushima, Japan, Feb. 25, 2016

 

20170605_fuku4_0Personal items were left behind in Fukushima, Japan, Feb. 26, 2016.

 

20170605_fuku5_0A wild boar roams in barren, Fukushima, Japan, Mar. 1, 2017

 

20170605_fuku6_0The damaged No. 3 reactor at Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan is shown Feb. 25, 2016.

 

20170605_fuku7_0A deserted home is shown in Fukushima, Japan, Mar. 11, 2016.

 

20170605_fuku8_0Workers stand near the deserted nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan, Feb. 25, 2016.

 

20170605_fuku9_0The barren landscape of Fukushima, Japan sits empty, Mar. 11, 2016.

 

Despite the ongoing decommissioning, increasingly high levels of radiation and wild boar problem, officials have begun welcoming some evacuated people back to their homes. It’s unclear how many residents will choose to return.

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-06-05/fukushima-remains-nuclear-radiation-nightmare-pictures

A Clean-up Worker’s View Inside Fukushima’s Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant

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Ichi-F is rich in detail and strikingly perceptive in analysis, and yet it oddly supports the nuclear industry even as the radiation continues to take its toll.

Kazuto Tatsuta’s account of his work experience at the massive clean-up project at Fukushima’s Daiichi nuclear plant is remarkable on many levels.

The plant—known as Ichi-F for short—was the one which experienced three nuclear meltdowns in the wake of the destructive earthquake and tsunami of 11 March 2011. Since that disaster, a large-scale clean-up effort at the nuclear plant has been underway, simultaneous with broader reclamation and recovery efforts in the surrounding regions that were devastated by the triple disaster.

Tatsuta’s (the name is a pseudonym) true identity remains unknown, but he claims to have been a middle-aged temp worker with a bit of manga illustration background who got himself hired by a subcontractor doing clean-up work at Ichi-F. After he completed his initial work assignment, he returned to Tokyo and began producing manga accounts of the recovery effort. The manga were a smash hit, rapidly consumed by a public still riveted by the disaster and starved for accurate information about what was going on in the still tightly-controlled recovery zone. Between government propaganda on the one hand and activist/media sensationalism on the other, Tatsuta’s manga offered a refreshingly different take on the situation at Ichi-F. He largely avoids politics, simply depicting the day-to-day experience of workers in the recovery effort.

Tatsuta’s work—finally compiled and translated into English—is hard to categorize as a manga. It’s deeply technical, offering layout sketches of the site, detailed explanations of the nature of the work and equipment that’s used. It’s also deeply perceptive in its analysis of the work relationships at the site; almost the equivalent of sociological fieldwork.

It’s sometimes been categorized as a ‘slice of life’ manga; that manga genre which concentrates not on literary technique or telling an exciting story, but on depicting some aspect of real life experience for the elucidation and empathy of readers.

But it’s more than that. Tatsuta’s work described itself as a ‘labour diary’ in the original Japanese version; the English translation calls it “a worker’s graphic memoir”. The terms ‘labour’ and ‘worker’ are important here: the work verges on offering a new genre, a sort of proletarian or working-class manga. This is reflected in Tatsuta’s apparent determination to identify himself and his colleagues as workers. It’s an identity he aims at in opposition to those who would label them either as heroes or as gullible and exploited; as villains or victims. He struggles to assign his colleagues a sense of agency in their work. They’re not heroes, but they’re not slaves either. They’re everyday guys (he depicts an almost exclusively male recovery project) going about their jobs with dignity, pride, and an essential sense of humanity. They care about doing a good job (a uniquely Japanese fastidiousness evident in their focused teamwork), yet eagerly grab the opportunity for a casual nap behind a radiation shield whenever they can.

Fukushima Daiichi isn’t really some terrifying place full of negligent, unsafe conditions where people are practically forced into slave labor,” he argues in an interview included in the American translated collection. “The folks working there are all just ordinary old guys, most of whom are locals from Fukushima, and the rest coming from all over the country to help. That’s what I want you to know.”

There is a proud albeit masculinist tradition in Japan of the ‘day labourer’—those workers who showed up at big city hiring sites seeking manual labour jobs in the pre- and post-WWII era. A tradition nearing extinction in the ‘90s, it was reborn in the age of the Internet, which managed to precaritize employment not just in manual labour but in all fields of endeavor. Cell phones and Internet terminals became the new hiring site, and precarious labour extended to even skilled and professional jobs. The nuclear clean-up work Tatsuta engaged in is the direct descendant of this lineage of precarious employment. Unfortunately, he doesn’t dwell on the fact, instead chosing to normalize and shrug off the broader social implications of his precarious livelihood as an unemployed man in his late 40s.

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An Eye for the Everyday

Tatsuta has an eye for the every day, and the importance it plays in humanizing his subjects—the complexity of needing to use the toilet while wearing a radiation suit, or the difficulty of organizing bath-time in an overpopulated rental unit housing a dozen workers. There’s the beauty of a sunrise breaking over the horizon as they come off a late-night work shift, and the awkwardness of his boss prepping him what to say during a ‘surprise’ safety inspection to come later that day.

His account would indeed be a remarkably working-class, proletarian manga, at least insofar as it depicts in profound detail the experience of working-class life among the precariously employed at the nuclear plant, except for the fact that it lacks any deep political analysis. His structural analysis is first-rate; he breaks down in precise detail the complex work relationships at the plant. But he offers little in the way of judgment, and what little opinion he does offer is startlingly ambivalent. Yes, they’re precariously employed, even exploited in some ways, but he shrugs it off—they’re everyday guys, and that’s the way life goes. His commentary suggests this lack of judgment is the unique strength of his approach in this manga, but it can equally be seen as irresponsible prevarication.

He argues that what he presents is the honest portrayal of workers’ attitudes, apparently trying to forestall his critics. But a shrug in the face of precarious employment is hard to accept as honest and down-to-earth; it reeks of political immaturity. He also offers a broader progress narrative and refreshing though this may be in the context of Fukushima, the world has rightly become cynical of progress narratives.

When I started work, there was a police checkpoint at the intersection next to J-Village… Just about anything within 20km of Ichi-F was an off-limits protected zone. As the zone shrinks, the evacuation orders are slowly removed, but by bit…The lots for sale, which I showed you before, now feature new buildings under construction. You still see those black bags of contaminated dirt and protective green sheets, but there are also more and more fields and paddies replanted Rather than giving credence to the boilerplate “No path to the future,” “sluggish recovery” narratives, why not lend an eye to those areas which are recovering, slowly but surely?.. Nothing will happen that can be worse than what already happened.

Well, that’s the big question now, isn’t it?

Privatization, Profit, and Precarity

Tatsuta’s account may not be inherently critical of the nuclear industry, at least not on the basis of health and safety—he goes to great length to argue that radiation and its hazards are as controllable as any workplace hazard, and that the clean-up and recovery effort is actually proceeding quite well—but his narrative offers indirect yet profound criticism of the industry from a labour rights perspective. He illustrates a complex and privatized network of contractors and subcontractors engaged in the clean-up effort, which his work reveals as inefficient, greedy and deceptive (if not outright dishonest).

This is most clearly demonstrated in his efforts to obtain work in Fukushima. Back in Tokyo, he initially applies to several contractors, and despite offers of work—some of which sound so solid that he quits part-time jobs in preparation for his departure to Fukushima—only to be left hanging, or to discover that the companies have gone out of business and disappeared. When he finally does receive an offer that takes him to Fukushima, he and his co-applicants are left hanging for weeks while they wait for the subcontractor to be offered a gig. During this time, they are accumulating debt for their company-provided food and lodgings and other obligatory expenses that will be deducted from their pay, if they ever get any. They are eventually transferred to other lower-paying jobs as an interim measure while the company awaits a hopeful contract for nuclear or tsunami cleanup. Meanwhile, their lodgings are inadequate as well: ten or more men crammed into a single family living space, with a single bathroom.

Eventually, the subcontractor gets a contract, and Tatsuta gets to do the sort of work he came to do. But the shenanigans he experiences while waiting for that work reveals the inefficient and most likely corrupt sort of schemes that are the inevitable byproduct of such a convoluted and privatized system. Tatsuta may scoff at the health risks of the nuclear industry, but he’s quite open about the shortcomings of the industry from a labour rights perspective.

The thing is, he’s open about its shortcomings but isn’t actually critical. His reaction is to shrug off the complicated and bloated layers of the project. His attitude is one of the most perplexing things about the entire book. His analysis of the layers of subcontractors, and the sociological challenges this presents to workers trying move up within the system (as he observes through first-hand experience, trying to upgrade jobs by switching between companies has an eerie resemblance to pulling off a drug deal), comprises first-rate anthropological fieldwork. It’s a brilliant synthesis and analysis of the political economy and structural organization of the clean-up effort. And from any objective perspective, it’s appalling: a morass of inefficiency and corruption. Yet he concludes his brilliant and penetrating analysis with a cheery send-off:

People might think that the many-layered subcontracting system is problematic, but it’s how we maintain the cleanup efforts. It ensures local hiring and props up the economy here. That’s not to suggest that the system is ideal, but you can say that about almost any place in Japan…

What is that supposed to mean? How is the reader supposed to interpret his take? Is he so unaware that he doesn’t realize that he’s just described an incredibly inefficient, wasteful and corrupt system, with brilliant clarity? Does he simply not care? Are his final comments to be taken as a form of defeatism verging on nihilistic insouciance? Is he simply a prodigal yet immature analyst? Or on the other hand, is he hiding his true colours, pretending to be blasé or even on the side of the nuclear industry subcontractors, while laying out the system in damning enough detail so as to allow readers to draw their own conclusions?

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Working-class Machismo

It’s hard to tell how Tatsuta situates himself in this work. On the surface, he situates himself in the working-class, but in an almost over-the-top way. He doesn’t just work at Ichi-F for a job; he actually comes to love the work. Despite the fact that it’s hot, physically grueling and demanding precarious shift-work for low pay, he seems to become addicted to it. He earnestly misses it when he’s back in Tokyo working on his comics, and eagerly jumps at any opportunity to return. Is this macho bravado? Would he, for that matter, be as gleeful at the prospect of being recalled to work at the site if he didn’t have a ready exit visa in hand whenever he wanted, in the form of his alter-ego as a rising manga star?

It is, of course, hard to say. But what is true is that the precarity of the men’s labour is ultimately sacrificed in the narrative, subsumed to Tatsuta’s effort to demonstrate the casual, if occasionally courageous, indifference of Ichi-F workers to their unusual work environment. Radiation exposure is reduced to numbers on a scale, and the men’s primary concern becomes how to reduce their daily exposure not so much for health reasons but rather so that they can extend their paid work at the site. Employees are only permitted to accumulate a certain amount of radiation exposure each year, and once they reach their annual limit they’re laid off and sent home to wait for the chance of a gig the following year, once their exposure levels have dissipated and reset. The narrative is profoundly successful at challenging broad-based fears of radiation exposure: the workers toil away, quite confident that kept within reasonable levels radiation exposure is nothing to worry about. Be that as it may, a job that lays off workers in order to preserve their health from the daily radiation they experience is a form of precarious and exploitative labour regardless of whether the radiation is dangerous or not.

Tatsuta strikes back at his critics, depicting his working-class comrades as everyday guys doing their best under difficult circumstances: hard-working, stoic, dedicated and determined to persevere. He resists efforts of journalists and activists to depict the work as unduly dangerous, or evil, or complicit in hiding truths from the public. They’re no different from any other group of hard-working labourers, he argues. But in his efforts to demonstrate this, Tatsuta’s narrative achieves the dubious success of glamourizing and normalizing precarious labour.

Tatsuta has kept his identity hidden, he says, because he continues to seek work at Ichi-F (at the same time as he cultivates careers in manga and music), and he doesn’t want to compromise his company and colleagues. He implies that he wouldn’t be hired for any more gigs at Ichi-F if it became known who he was. But really, it’s hard to say whether that’s the case. Regardless of his intentions—which he professes to be neutral; neither to promote or oppose the nuclear industry but simply to depict his first-hand experience as a worker—the fact is that his depiction does a tremendous service for the industry by portraying the experience and hazards of life at a recovering nuclear plant as normalized, everyday, routine and controllably safe (so long as one forgets that the reason they’re working there is that the plant experienced three unexpected meltdowns in the first place). This is quite a boon for the nuclear industry, whether he intends it as such or not. His analysis of work relationships are less positive, but he accompanies them with a cheery slap on the back: “the folks working there are all just ordinary old guys” and “you can say that about almost any place in Japan”.

The result is a worker’s manga that’s rich in detail, strikingly perceptive in analysis, and yet winds up siding with the bosses. Not quite the proletarian manga, but a remarkable demonstration of what working-class manga could be. And a thoroughly fascinating read, either way.

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http://www.popmatters.com/column/a-clean-up-workers-view-inside-fukushima-daiichi-nuclear-power-plant/

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Ichi-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant

Kazuto Tatsuta

(Kodansha Comics)
US: Mar 2017

Amazon

TEPCO must regain public trust to ensure Fukushima’s steady recovery

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To ensure the steady recovery of Fukushima, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s revised business plan must not be allowed to end up as pie in the sky.

TEPCO has compiled a new business plan. The utility has strengthened its steps to improve profitability to raise funds for costs including decommissioning reactors and compensation related to the March 2011 accident at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. This is the second time the plan has been revised.

The total cost of cleaning up the nuclear accident has ballooned from ¥11 trillion to ¥21.5 trillion. TEPCO will shoulder ¥16 trillion of this amount over about 30 years. The ¥300 billion TEPCO spent in fiscal 2016 on compensation and reactor decommissioning costs will be increased to ¥500 billion annually.

TEPCO must boost its “earning power” to secure sufficient capital to meet those costs. Restarting reactors at TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture will be essential for this. Each reactor brought back online will raise TEPCO’s earnings by ¥40 billion to ¥90 billion per year.

TEPCO is working to gradually restart all seven reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant from fiscal 2019. However, as things stand, high hurdles remain in its way. This is because even if a reactor passes safety screenings conducted by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, local government authorities also must agree to the reactors’ restart.

The recent revelation that TEPCO did not disclose data about the insufficient earthquake-resistance of the main quake-resistant building at the plant has further heightened local distrust of the utility. Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama is not budging from his cautious stance because he believes safety measures at the plant are insufficient. “At the moment, I can’t agree to the restart” of the reactors, Yoneyama said.

An expert panel of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry also had some stinging criticism for TEPCO, saying it “has not earned enough trust from the public.”

Transparency vital

On June 23, TEPCO will switch to a new leadership lineup when Hitachi, Ltd. Honorary Chairman Takashi Kawamura becomes TEPCO’s chairman. Kawamura will need to work hard to regain trust in TEPCO so restarting its reactors can become a reality.

Strengthening cooperation with other electric utilities and launching new operations, such as gas retailing, also will be effective in solidifying TEPCO’s revenue base. Another issue that needs to be addressed is the overseas development of its thermal power business, in which TEPCO is pursuing integration with Chubu Electric Power Co.

The new plan stipulates TEPCO will “prepare a basic framework for cooperation with other companies” by around fiscal 2020, keeping in mind the Higashidori nuclear plant TEPCO is constructing in Aomori Prefecture.

TEPCO is considering working with Tohoku Electric Power Co., which has a nuclear power plant in that region. If this tie-up comes to fruition, it will be useful for establishing a stable supply of electricity. TEPCO’s intentions on this issue are understandable.

Other utilities that could become partners with TEPCO during a realignment in the industry hold deep-rooted concerns that cooperating with TEPCO could result in the costs of dealing with the nuclear accident being shunted on to them. TEPCO must lay the groundwork to dispel such concerns.

TEPCO and the government will, as soon as this autumn, establish a forum at which they can listen to the opinions of other electric utilities on steps to reorganize nuclear power and electricity transmission businesses.

Profits will be distributed based on the capital contribution ratio in a joint venture. Other companies should not be forced to shoulder the costs of the Fukushima nuclear accident. Highly transparent rules such as these will need to be drawn up.

http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0003740107

Submersible Crawling Robot to Examine Interior of Fukushima Daiichi-3 PCV before Fuel Debris Is Removed

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On May 25, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) released a status report on the ongoing decommissioning work at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plants, which suffered a tsunami-caused meltdown in March 2011.

Starting two months ago, in March, a self-propelled robot has been used to investigate the interior of the primary containment vessel (PCV) of Unit 1 at Fukushima Daiichi—a necessary step before fuel debris can be removed. As of April 6, the robot had sampled deposits twice.

Fluorescent X-ray spectroscopy has now confirmed the presence of elements that had originally existed in the PCV, such as iron and nickel within the reactor core internals, stainless steel in the heat-insulating materials, zinc in the paint, and lead in the shielding materials.

Although uranium was confirmed as the primary radioactive nuclide within Unit 1, it is not necessarily part of the fuel debris there, given that that element exists naturally. TEPCO said that it would carry out more detailed analyses to confirm the uranium’s source.

As the water level in the PCV of Unit 3 is higher than that in Units 1 and 2, its so-called “X-6 penetration”—which would give easier access to the inside of the pedestal (under the reactor pressure vessel)—is submerged. TEPCO plans to investigate the interior of that unit’s PCV at an undetermined date this summer using a submersible robot that can both crawl and swim. Earlier this month, the power utility began taking measurements using muon observation technology to determine the location of fuel debris.

Under the “Mid-and-Long-Term Roadmap” toward decommissioning, TEPCO will determine policies on fuel debris removal at each Fukushima Daiichi unit this summer. According to its May 22 report to an expert panel of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), the power company has already made investigations to determine general conditions inside the individual PCVs.

TEPCO will continue to focus on gathering information during the current fiscal year (ended March 31, 2018), including that on the forms and distribution of fuel debris—necessary to determine the means to remove it—and safety measures for the actual removal work.

http://www.jaif.or.jp/en/submersible-crawling-robot-to-examine-interior-of-fukushima-daiichi-3-pcv-before-fuel-debris-is-removed/

Fukushima Webcam Update

Here is a pdf document with some sample screenshots from the last couple weeks: https://www.dropbox.com/s/vju5r3cpnb5zlgu/May%20and%20June%202017.pdf?dl=1

The cam views have been mostly unremarkable for the last 4 or 5 weeks, which is why I’ve not posted anything about webcam conditions.

For example, here is a screenshot from today:

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The screenshot above is pretty representative of what I’ve seen on the cams recently, although conditions were very foggy and (perhaps) steamy on June 1, a couple of days ago, when the site eventually became entirely shrouded in fog on June 2

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In general, conditions on the surface look more stable than they were a few months ago. However, appearances can be deceptive and the real drama remains underground as TEPCO struggles to locate and contain missing, melted reactor fuel.

http://majiasblog.blogspot.fr/2017/06/fukushima-webcam-update.html

Fukushima Daiichi H4 Tank Farm Dismantled, Contents Transferred

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On May 26 Tepco finished dismantling the 56 tanks from the H4 tank farm. Tepco mentioning some soil remediation having being done, but providing no details about it.

Those tanks were used to contain contaminated water and sludge from the reactors and the contaminated water treatment systems.

Those tanks panels having not been welded but only bolted with rivets, caused numerous leals in 2013. Those tanks panels were removed and sent to an automated cutting system for further dismantling and storage as radioactive waste. Their content was transfered to other more recent tanks, those welded.

http://www.tepco.co.jp/cc/press/2013/1232456_5117.html

http://www.tepco.co.jp/nu/fukushima-np/handouts/2017/images1/handouts_170526_03-j.pdf

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