Extreme makeover: Fukushima nuclear plant tries image overhaul

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Officials have been gradually trying to rebrand the Fukushima nuclear plant, bringing in school groups, diplomats and other visitors
 
August 3, 2018
Call it an extreme makeover: In Japan’s Fukushima, officials are attempting what might seem impossible, an image overhaul at the site of the worst nuclear meltdown in decades.
At the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, there’s a flashy new administrative building, debris has been moved and covered, and officials tout the “light” radioactive security measures now possible.
“You see people moving around on foot, just in their uniforms. Before that was banned,” an official from the plant’s operator TEPCO says.
“These cherry blossoms bloom in the spring,” he adds, gesturing to nearby foliage.
If it sounds like a hard sell, that might be because the task of rehabilitating the plant’s reputation is justifiably Herculean.
In 2011, a massive earthquake triggered a devastating tsunami that killed thousands and prompted the meltdown of several reactors.
It was the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, and has had devastating psychological and financial effects on the region.
But TEPCO officials have been gradually trying to rebrand the plant, bringing in school groups, diplomats and other visitors, and touting a plan to attract 20,000 people a year by 2020, when Tokyo hosts the Summer Olympics.
 
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Upbeat messaging from Fukushima’s operator TEPCO belies the enormity of the challenge to decommission the plant
 
Officials point out that protective gear is no longer needed in most of the plant, except for a small area, where some 3,000 to 4,000 workers are still decontaminating the facility.
Since May, visitors have been able to move around near the reactors on foot, rather than only in vehicles, and they can wear “very light equipment,” insists TEPCO spokesman Kenji Abe.
That ensemble includes trousers, long sleeves, a disposable face mask, glasses, gloves, special shoes and two pairs of socks, with the top pair pulled up over the trouser hem to seal the legs underneath.
And of course there’s a geiger counter.
The charm offensive extends beyond the plant, with TEPCO in July resuming television and billboard adverts for the first time since 2011, featuring a rabbit mascot with electrical bolt whiskers called “Tepcon”.
But the upbeat messaging belies the enormity of the task TEPCO faces to decommission the plant.
It has installed an “icewall” that extends deep into the ground around the plant in a bid to prevent groundwater seeping in and becoming decontaminated, or radioactive water from inside flowing out to the sea.
 
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About 100,000 litres of water still seeps into the plant each day, which requires extensive treatment to reduce its radioactivity
 
But about 100,000 litres (26,400 gallons) of water still seeps into the plant each day, some of which is used for cooling. It requires extensive treatment to reduce its radioactivity.
Once treated, the water is stored in tanks, which have multiplied around the plant as officials wrangle over what to do with the contaminated liquid.
There are already nearly 900 tanks containing a million cubic metres of water—equal to about 400 Olympic swimming pools.
And the last stage of decommissioning involves the unprecedented task of extracting molten nuclear fuel from the reactors.
“There was the Chernobyl accident, but they didn’t remove the debris,” said Katsuyoshi Oyama, who holds the title of TEPCO’s “risk communicator”.
“So for what we have to do here, there is no reference.”
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Fukushima Prefecture as if nothing has happened

Fukushima Pref. beach opens to swimmers for 1st time after tsunami, nuclear disasters

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Children play at Haragamaobama Beach, which opened for swimmers for the first time in eight years in the city of Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, on July 21.
July 21, 2018
SOMA, Fukushima — Haragamaobama Beach here was opened to swimmers on July 21 for the first time in eight years after the area was struck in March 2011 by a massive tsunami following the Great East Japan Earthquake.
The beach is the first in the northern part of the prefecture to reopen after the disaster. Three beaches earlier opened in the southern city of Iwaki.
Haragamaobama Beach attracted about 56,500 people in 2010. However, 207 people in the area died in the March 11, 2011 disaster, and the tsunami littered the beach with debris.
The beach is about 45 kilometers away from the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, which was struck by meltdowns following the quake and tsunami. The city has not found any detectable levels of radioactive substances in seawater quality tests it started in 2016. It reopened the beach after preparing tsunami evacuation routes.
Sayaka Mori, 29, a nursing care worker in the northern prefectural city of Minamisoma, came to the beach with her 3-year-old daughter and played at the water’s edge. “I grew up at my home in front of the sea. It was natural to play at the beach. I want my child to know the delight of playing in the sea,” she said.

Only 24 of 70 beaches reopen to public since 2011 tsunami

 

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A family plays on Hirota public beach in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, on July 20.
July 20, 2018
RIKUZENTAKATA, Iwate Prefecture–A public beach officially opened here July 20 for the first time in eight years, underscoring the destruction of sites along the Tohoku coast that bore the initial brunt of the 2011 tsunami.
Hirota beach in Rikuzentakata, a city that was devastated in the disaster, is one of 24 beaches that will be officially open to the public this summer in the prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima.
That figure is only about a third of the 70 that were available before the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami struck the Tohoku region on March 11, 2011.
Miho Mitsui, who lives in Rikuzentakata’s Hirotacho district, visited Hirota beach with her two young daughters on the morning of July 20.
“Until this year, we were disappointed at being unable to go into the sea, especially with the water so clear,” the 28-year-old homemaker said. “I want to come here every day.”
Before the 2011 disaster, Hirota and the city’s other public beach, Takata Matsubara, were key parts of social life among the locals.
Takata Matsubara beach became known as the site where a pine forest was wiped out by the tsunami, leaving only one “miracle pine tree” standing. The tree has since died, and the city is still trying to restore sand at the beach, which is still not officially open to the public.
For “officially opened” beaches, municipal governments and other operators provide maintenance and other care, check the water quality to ensure safety, and operate necessary facilities.
But at some of the sites in the Tohoku region, the beaches have essentially disappeared.
In the village of Tanohata, Iwate Prefecture, more than 100 kilometers north of Rikuzentakata, the two public beaches have been closed to the public over the past eight years for the construction of seawalls.
Tanohata Mayor Hiroshi Ishihara decided to use the Tsukuehama beach as a temporary public beach from July 26, saying it is “undesirable to deprive children, who live in the coastal village, of the experience of swimming in the sea.”
Haragamaobama beach in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, about 40 kilometers north of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, is also scheduled to reopen for the first time in eight years on July 21.
But south of the nuclear plant, in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, the city government in May decided that Kattsuo beach could no longer be considered a public beach. Much of the sandy area of the beach disappeared in plate movements caused by the offshore earthquake as well as the construction of seawalls.
Nobiru beach and the surrounding area in Higashi-Matsushima, Miyagi Prefecture, will remain closed for now.
A city government official said the beach area will reopen once “escape routes are set up (for possible future tsunami).”
The Iwate prefectural government has set up a technical review committee to explore the feasibility of restoring sand at Negishi beach in Kamaishi and Namiita beach in Otsuchi that were hit hard by the tsunami.
 
 

Japan touts completion of Fukushima cleanup at tripartite environment meeting in China

Lies, lies… and more lies!!!
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Jun 24, 2018
SUZHOU – Environment Minister Masaharu Nakagawa told his counterparts from China and South Korea on Sunday that radioactive decontamination work following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster is “all done” except for so-called difficult-to-return-to zones.
At the 20th Tripartite Environment Ministers’ Meeting held in Suzhou, in eastern China, Nakagawa also used the opportunity to again request the lifting of food import restrictions from prefectures hit by the Fukushima disaster.
Beijing has banned food imports from 10 prefectures surrounding the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, while Seoul has blocked Japanese seafood imports from eight prefectures.
Nakagawa explained to Chinese Ecology and Environment Minister Li Ganjie and South Korean Environment Minister Kim Eun-kyung that Japan has strict food safety standards in place that exceed international requirements. “Environmental regeneration in Fukushima is progressing steadily,” he said.
The three ministers also agreed on a policy to discuss the problem of plastic microparticles and their effect on marine pollution at a Group of 20 ministerial meeting on energy transitions and the global environment for sustainable growth in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, next June.
In addition, they adopted a joint statement including a pledge to promote information sharing on the problem of venomous fire ants, which have over the past year repeatedly been brought to Japan in containers shipped from China.
The ministers also decided to hold next year’s tripartite meeting in Japan. It has been held annually in rotation among the three countries since 1999.

‘Everything is fine and delicious in Fukushima’ according to the director the Fukushima Reconstruction Promotion Group at the minister’s secretariat of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

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Fukushima, seven years on
by Hideyasu Tamura
May 21, 2018
More than seven years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011. A successful decommissioning of the plant and reconstruction of Fukushima is one of the most important missions of the government, especially the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Since 2016, I’ve been involved in the ministry’s special unit on Fukushima reconstruction, and mainly charged with a mission to eliminate reputational damage.
After the accident, the government set very stringent standards on the level of radioactive substances in food (in principle, 100 becquerel/kg: 10 times stricter than the Codex radionuclides standard), and any food product exceeding that level is prohibited for market distribution. Food products from Fukushima have undergone stringent monitoring, including all-volume inspection on rice and beef. Since 2015, not a single grain of rice or any piece of beef has been found with radioactive substances exceeding that level.
Nevertheless, around 12 percent of consumers in Japan tend to avoid agricultural and fishery products from Fukushima, according to a Consumer Affairs Agency survey. Since such reputational damage lingers even at home, the popular perception gap concerning Fukushima is likely even more serious overseas. With a view toward bridging that gap, I would like to highlight the following facts.
First, in the 12 municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture where evacuation orders were introduced after the nuclear disaster (Futaba, Hirono, Iitate, Kawamata, Kawauchi, Katsurao, Minamisoma, Namie, Naraha, Okuma, Tamura and Tomioka), the number of companies in the industrial estates has doubled from 35 before the disaster (in December 2010) to 70 in January. Some of the companies that have newly launched operation there engage in business that are relatively new to this area, such as the recycling of lithium-ion batteries and the production of internet-of-things devices that are wearable.
The establishment of the new companies have been facilitated by government incentives, including subsidies on investments that cover up to three-quarters of the investment cost, as well as the development of industrial infrastructure, such as the Fukushima Robot Test Field in Minamisoma and Namie. The test field, where any entity can use an extensive site (approximately 50 hectares) for demonstration experiments of robots and drones, is the core facility of the Fukushima Innovation Coast Framework.
This shows that the areas of Fukushima hit by the nuclear disaster have already become safe enough for businesses to operate. Private-sector companies never launch operations in locations where their employees’ safety is not ensured, even when the government provides most favorable incentives.
Second, as another proof of the area’s safety, the current situation of the Fukushima No. 1 plant should be highlighted. Today, workers can enter 96 percent of the site without any special radiation protection gear because the air dose rate has significantly decreased compared with right after the accident.
In addition, through multi-layered measures (e.g., the construction of frozen soil walls to suppress the inflow of groundwater as well as the pumping up of groundwater), the generation of contaminated water has been significantly reduced and prevented from leaking into the ocean. As a result, the concentration of radioactive materials in the sea water surrounding the plant has declined from 10,000 becquerels per liter as of March 2011 to below the detection limit (less than 0.7 becquerel per liter) since 2016.
The successful management of contaminated water has resulted in the improved safety of Fukushima’s fishery products. No marine products caught off Fukushima has exceeded the standard limit (100 becquerel/kg) in monitoring surveys over the fiscal years from 2015 to 2017.
Third, evacuation orders were lifted in many parts of the 12 municipalities by April 2017, and areas still under such orders account for approximately 2.7 percent of the prefecture’s total space — compared with 8 percent when the zoning was set in 2013. In several municipalities where evacuation orders were lifted up relatively early (such as the city of Tamura and the village of Kawauchi), around 80 percent of local residents have returned to their homes. Even in the areas where evacuation orders remain in place, efforts to improve the living environment have begun to pave the way for return of residents at the earliest possible time.
Needless to say, many challenges remain toward the successful reconstruction of Fukushima. The decommissioning of the Fukushima No. 1 plant is expected to take 30 to 40 years. To carry out the decommissioning, the retrieval of the melted nuclear fuel debris will be a major hurdle, and efforts to probe the inside of the reactor structures just started in 2015. In several towns where the evacuation orders were lifted only last year, less than 10 percent of local residents have returned to their homes. The improvement of living environment is an urgent task for those towns in order to encourage more residents to return.
Despite these challenges, the safety of Fukushima both in terms of its food products and the living/working environment in most parts of the prefecture has been proven. It is a pity that several countries/regions still impose import restrictions on Japanese food products (including those from Fukushima) and some people still hesitate to visit Fukushima for tourism or business. I wish that more people will visit Fukushima to taste the delicious and world’s safest rice, peaches and fish, and that more companies would be interested in utilizing advanced facilities/infrastructure such as the Fukushima Robot Test Field, and invest in Fukushima by taking advantage of the most favorable incentives in this country. Peaches will be harvested every year, but subsidies and other incentives will not last forever — so, the fast-movers will get the advantages.
Hideyasu Tamura is director the Fukushima Reconstruction Promotion Group at the minister’s secretariat of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Fukushima Quote of the Day

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“We achieved the sixth straight year of victory despite the severe situation due to rumors about radiation contamination”.

Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori, speaking at a ceremony after the National Research Institute of Brewing awarded Fukushima Prefecture the national sake title for an unprecedented sixth straight year.

Amount of food with radioactive cesium exceeding gov’t standards ‘dropping’, so they claim

So they say…..But why should we believe such study coming from the Japanese Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry research team to be true? Especially when we know that their main policy has been a constant denial of the existing risks for the past 7 years…..
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March 22, 2018
The number of cases in which radioactive cesium exceeding Japanese government standards was found in food items dropped to less than 20 percent over a five-year period from fiscal 2012, a health ministry study has found.
 
The government standards for radioactive cesium came into effect in April 2012, which assumed that half of distributed food products contained the radioactive element generated by the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. It is set at 100 becquerels per kilogram for common food items, 50 becquerels per kilogram for baby food and cow milk and 10 becquerels for drinking water.
 
Based on central government guidelines, 17 prefectural governments, counting Tokyo, check food products in which radioactive cesium is likely to be detected, including items that have been distributed, for the radioactive element. Other local governments have also been independently inspecting such food products to confirm their safety. A Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry research team analyzed data compiled by local governments, excluding that of beef, which has an extremely low detection rate for cesium, as well as products that go through bag-by-bag inspections such as rice from Fukushima Prefecture.
 
As a result, the number of cases that exceeded the threshold set under the Food Sanitation Act totaled 2,359 of 91,547 food products inspected in fiscal 2012. In fiscal 2013, it was 1,025 out of 90,824 products, 565 out of 79,067 in fiscal 2014, 291 out of 66,663 in fiscal 2015 and 460 out of 63,121 in fiscal 2016.
 
Broken down by categories, 641 cases of food items among agricultural produce were found to have exceeded the government standards for radioactive cesium and 1,072 cases were detected among fishery products in fiscal 2012, but the figure had dropped to 71 and 11, respectively, in fiscal 2016. For fishery products, this is believed to be attributed to the reduction of cesium concentration in the seawater as the element had diffused in the ocean. It is also believed that the concentration in agricultural items had dropped as a result of decontamination work and other efforts.
 
At the same time, the number of cases exceeding national standards totaled 493 for game meat in fiscal 2012, and 378 in fiscal 2016. Researchers suspect that because wild animals continue to feed on wild mushrooms and plants with high concentrations of radioactive cesium growing in forests that have not been decontaminated, the figure does not drop among game meat products.
Almost all the foods that exceeded the government standards for radioactive cesium had not been available to consumers as the contamination was detected during inspections before being shipped to markets. However, Akiko Hachisuka of the National Institute of Health Sciences Biochemistry Division who headed the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry research team says game meat and wild mushrooms need to be prioritized in inspections for the time being and also in the future.
 
Among wild mushrooms and other products that had been distributed to markets, 19 cases exceeding government standards were reported in fiscal 2012, seven in fiscal 2013, 11 in fiscal 2014, 12 in fiscal 2015 and 10 in fiscal 2016.