“When they called me a ‘germ’ I wanted to die”

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May 13, 2018
But Fukushima boy fought back, helping win a court victory that brought compensation for evacuees from the nuclear disaster
On October 25, 2017, 15-year old former Fukushima resident Natsuki Kusano (not his real name and he has asked not to be pictured) testified before the Tokyo District Court. He was among a number of Fukushima evacuees seeking compensation from Tepco and the Japanese government and asking the court to hold the company and the government responsible for the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
As reported by the Asahi Shimbun, on March 16, 2018, the  Tokyo District Court found the central government and TEPCO responsible for contributing to the psychological stress suffered by 42 evacuees and ordered the defendants to pay a total of about 60 million yen ($566,000) in compensation.
The lawsuit was filed by 47 individuals in 17 households who fled from Fukushima Prefecture to Tokyo in the wake of the nuclear disaster. Significantly, 46 of those individuals evacuated voluntarily from areas where no evacuation order was issued by the government.
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Natsuki’s mother (left) cries with joy when she hears the Tokyo court verdict.
When the verdict came down, Natsuki was in Geneva with his mother and other women who were there to urge the Japanese government to abide by the UN recommendation of a 1 millisievert per year radiation exposure level. The Japanese authorities had raised this level to an unacceptable 20 msv per year in order to justify ordering people to return to affected areas or risk losing their compensation.
This was the sixth ruling so far among at least 30 similar law suits filed in Japan.  Four rulings have held the central government liable for the nuclear disaster and ordered it to pay compensation.
The plaintiffs believe that Natsuki’s declaration played an important role in the victory. Here is what he said:
Life in Iwaki
I was born in Iwaki city, Fukushima. I lived there with my parents and my little brother who is younger than me by 5 years.
While we were in Iwaki, we enjoyed our life season by season. When spring came, we appreciated cherry blossoms at “the Night Forest Park”, which was famous for its marvelous row of cherry trees that lots of people also know about well through the TV. In summer we went gathering shellfish. We had a fun time hunting wild mushrooms in fall and made a snowman in winter.
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A treasured life was lost after being forced to evacuate from Fukushima.
In a park or on my way home from school, I picked a lot of tsukushi (stalks of field-horsetail). My mother simmered them in soy and made tsukudani, which we loved very much. We lived in a big house with a large garden where we grew blueberries, shiitake mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. At school I collected insects and made mud pies with my friends.
Life after the Accident
But we have lost these happy days after March 11,  2011. The Night Forest Park is located in the “difficult-to-return zone”. We can’t make pies with mud fully contaminated by radioactivity.  However, the worst of it was that I was bullied at a school I transferred to.
Some put cruel notes on my work in an art class, others called me a germ. These distressing days continued a long time and I began to wish to die if possible. Once when I was around 10 years old, I wrote on a wishing card on the Star Festival, “I want to go to Heaven.”
Perhaps those who have no way of knowing anything about evacuees see us as “cheating people”. They might think that the evacuees from Fukushima got great compensation and live in shelters in Tokyo for free with no damage at home.
I believe that these misunderstandings would not have happened if the government and TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) had told the truth about the horrible reality of radioactive contamination and had provided accurate information to the public: they have hardly paid any compensation to the extramural evacuees. (Note: these are the evacuees who fled from areas outside of the official evacuation zone. Because they left without the evacuation order, the government considers them “voluntary” evacuees who are therefore not entitled to compensation. In its verdict, the Tokyo district court recognized the rights of these self-evacuees.)
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Contrary to propaganda, Fukushima evacuees were no freeloaders
I have not revealed that I am an evacuee at my junior high school which has no relations with the former school, and actually I have not been bullied ever since.
What I wish adults to bear the blame for
It is adults who made the nuclear power plants. It is adults who profited from them. It is adults who caused the nuclear accident. But it is us children who are bullied, live with a fear of becoming sick and are forced apart from families.
After the accident, no one can say that a nuclear plant is safe anymore.
In fact, no one can say to me, “Don’t worry, you’ll never be sick.”
Nevertheless, the government and TEPCO say “Rest easy, trust us. Your home town is safe now,” and make us return to the place which is not safe.
I suspect that the adults who forced us to go back to the dangerous zone will be dead and not here when we are grown-up and become sick. Isn’t that terrible? We have to live with contaminants all through our life which adults caused. I am afraid that it is too selfish of them to die without any liability. While they are alive in this world, I strongly request them to take responsibility for what they did and what they polluted in return for their profits at least.
And now, please, please don’t force us go back to the contaminated place. We never ever want to do so. The nuclear accidents changed all the lives of the evacuees as well as mine, my parents’ and my brother’s. Who wanted this? None of us. The evacuees all agree that the government and TEPCO should take responsibility.
Court of justice, please listen to us children and all the evacuees.
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Remediating Fukushima—“When everything goes to hell, you go back to basics”

5/11/2018
It may take 40 years for the site to appear like “a normal reactor at the end of its life.”
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A schematic of the Fukushima nuclear power plant hints at the complexity of decontamination and decommissioning operations.
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TEPCO workers survey operations at reactor buildings.
Seven years on from the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011, Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has come a long way from the state it was reduced to. Once front and center in the global media as a catastrophe on par with Chernobyl, the plant stands today as the site of one of the world’s most complex and expensive engineering projects.
Beyond the earthquake itself, a well understood series of events and external factors contributed to the meltdown of three of Fukushima’s six reactors, an incident that has been characterized by nuclear authorities as the world’s second worst nuclear power accident only after Chernobyl. It’s a label that warrants context, given the scale, complexity, and expense of the decontamination and decommissioning of the plant.
How does a plant and its engineers move on from such devastation? The recovery initiatives have faced major challenges, constantly being confronted by issues involving radioactive contamination of everything from dust to groundwater. And those smaller issues ultimately complicate the remediation effort’s long-term goal: to locate and remove the nuclear fuel that was in the reactors.
A sense of scale
Jonathan Cobb, spokesperson for the World Nuclear Association, spoke with Ars about the scale of Fukushima, explaining that radioactive releases in Japan were much smaller than at Chernobyl, and the accident resulted in no loss of life from radiation: “Of course, this doesn’t take away from the enormous task currently being faced at Fukushima.”
 
The UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) reported in May 2013 that radiation exposure following the Fukushima accident didn’t cause any immediate health effects and that future health effects attributable to the accident among either the general public or the vast majority of workers are unlikely. A 2017 paper from UNSCEAR reports that these conclusions remain valid in light of continued research since the incident.
Even the most at-risk citizens, those living in Fukushima prefecture, are only expected to be exposed to around 10mSv as a result of the accident over their lifetimes. “For reference, the global average natural background radiation tends to be around 2.4mSv/year, but even 20mSv/year isn’t exceptional,” said Cobb.
Still, the accident was rated a 7 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES), which is the highest rating possible, and designates it a Major Accident due to high radioactive releases. Estimates vary slightly, but Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission report puts total releases at 570 petabecquerels (PBq) iodine-131 equivalent. (For comparison, Chernobyl released 5,200PBq iodine-131 equivalent.)
But the severity of the accident is probably most keenly felt in the scale of the cleanup. The incident has necessitated the ongoing cleanup and decommissioning of the plant—something that Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the plant’s owner and operator, is responsible for. Even though the plant is seven years into the cleanup and has accomplished a great deal, we won’t see a conclusion for decades yet.
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Damage to reactor Units 1-4 in the aftermath of the March 2011 earthquake.
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In addition to damage to infrastructure and buildings, a large amount of wreckage was left strewn around the plant complex.
 

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Remotely operated machines were involved in clean-up of the most contaminated areas.
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A look inside the Primary Containment Vessel (PCV) of Unit 2.
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A composite image of photographs taken inside the Primary Containment Vessel (PCV) of Unit 2.
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A look at debris in the spent fuel pool of Unit 3.
Meltdowns and immediate priorities
Remarkably, seismic shocks of the magnitude 9 earthquake didn’t cause any significant damage to the earthquake-proofed reactors; rather, the tsunami knocked out power that precipitated reactor meltdowns in Units 1, 2, and 3. Subsequent explosions caused by hydrogen buildup (from zirconium cladding of fuel assemblies melting and oxidizing) in Units 1, 3, and 4 then expelled radioactive contamination, most of which fell within the confines of the plant.
Cobb explained that in the aftermath of this, the ongoing risk posed by radionuclides (notably, iodine-131 and cesium isotopes 134 and 137) depended on their half-lives. Iodine-131, with a half-life of just eight days, posed virtually no threat at all after just several months. It has been cesium-134, with a two-year half-life, and cesium-137, with a 30-year half-life, that have been the major focus of decontamination efforts. “Radioactive decay means that we’ve seen a reduction in contamination simply through time passing; at the plant, however, my expectation is that the majority of reduction has been due to efforts of TEPCO. Conditions have improved markedly and a sense of normalcy has returned.”
It’s useful to take stock of what TEPCO had to contend with from the outset. Lake Barrett, a veteran of the US nuclear energy industry who spent several years at the helm of decommissioning work at Three Mile Island reactor 2, is currently an independent special advisor to the Japanese Government and TEPCO board of directors. He told Ars, “When everything goes to hell on you, you go back to basics. You’re concerned with accident response and immediate recovery of the situation. Over the longer timeframe, the decontamination & decommissioning (D&D) focus shifts to a more deliberate approach to major technical challenges.”
Barrett explained that reactor stabilization at Fukushima—an imperative of the immediate recovery—has long since been achieved. Temperatures within the Reactor Pressure Vessels (RPVs) and Primary Containment Vessels (PCVs) of Units 1-3 are stable at between 15 to 30ºC, and there have been no significant changes in airborne radioactive materials released from reactor buildings. This qualifies as a ‘comprehensive cold shutdown’ condition.
Barrett explained how the issue of cooling is mostly non-existent at this point: “The three melted reactor cores emit less heat than a small car. Decay heat was a huge issue in the first weeks, but it’s no longer an issue. And while TEPCO still injects water onto the cores, this is more for dust suppression than anything else.”
With the reactors stable, early phases of TEPCO’s work simply involved debris clearing and restorative efforts throughout buildings and across the 3.5 square miles of the plant—both having been ravaged by the earthquake and tsunami. In the most contaminated places, remotely operated machines undertook most of the work. To reduce environmental contamination, they also removed top soils and vegetation, deforested the site, and then applied a polymer resin and concrete across much of the plant complex. This has locked contaminated material in place and limited the flow of groundwater through the site.
Other work has been more substantial. Units 1, 3 and 4 were blown apart and have had to be reinforced and encased, both for safety and to prevent spread of radioactive material. Although Unit 2 retained its roof, TEPCO decided to dismantle the upper building nonetheless, as it will facilitate removal of fuel from the reactor.
At the peak of these operations, some 7,450 persons worked at Fukushima. As operations have evolved, the workforce has declined to a not inconsiderable 5,000 daily personnel. With such levels of permanent staffing, it’s little wonder that a new rest-house, cafeteria, shops, and office building have all been built.
The efforts have, in a practical sense, meant that the majority of the site has transitioned to a stable, relatively risk-free environment. Describing the decommissioning as an “enormous challenge never before undertaken by humanity,” Seto Kohta of TEPCO told Ars: “We have overcome the state of chaos that ensued after the accident and have succeeded in reducing site dose levels to an average of less than 5μSv/h, with the exception of the vicinity of Units 1-4.” (Global background levels are <0.5µSv/h.)
TEPCO reports that the additional effective dose (i.e. additional to natural background radiation) at the plant’s boundary has declined to the target value of less than 1mSv/y.
This is not to say the plant is without signs of past problems—far from it. Felled trees sit waiting for incineration; huge mounds of soil lie under tarps; buildings retain marks of past trauma; and with environmental dosage a perennial concern, close to a hundred dose-rate monitors are positioned around the site.
Kohta also noted that while “95 percent of the site no longer requires the donning of full- or half-face masks or coveralls,” some level of protection is still required for working around the plant according to three levels of contamination. The vast majority of the plant grounds are in what’s termed Zone G, which requires just generic coveralls and disposable medical masks. Zone Y provides a perimeter around the Units 1-4 and necessitates heavier-duty coveralls and either full- or half-face masks. And lastly there is Zone R, closer to and including the reactor buildings, requiring double-layered coveralls and full-face masks.
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A steel structure is built around Unit 1 as part of reconstruction works.
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An outer shell is constructed around Unit 1.
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Reconstruction work at Unit 4.
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A labyrinth of subterranean tunnels and access points lie around reactor buildings.
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The Little Sunfish submersible used for investigations at Unit 3.
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A TEPCO schematic illustrates measures taken to manage groundwater.

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An impermeable wall constructed of interlocking columns extends along the seafront to restrict contaminated water reaching the sea.

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Above ground apparatus of the frozen wall which descends 30m and surrounds Units 1-4.

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A visitor to the plant performs a low-tech check on the frozen wall.

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The groundwater bypass pump works to reduce the amount of water leaking into the reactor buildings.
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Temporary storage tanks for water pumped up via the groundwater bypass.
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Flanged tanks of the sort used for indefinite storage of tritium-laced water arrive at the docks of Fukushima nuclear power plant.
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Visitors from IAEA visit the ALPS water treatment facility where radionuclides are removed from contaminated water.
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Defueling of the spent fuel pool at Unit 4 was performed in a conventional manner; it won’t be so easy at other Units where radiation and damage is more severe.
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The giant fuel handling machine (background) and fuel handling crane (foreground) arrive for installation at Unit 3.

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The final segment of the domed containment roof is lifted into place at Unit 3.
 
Reactor investigations
While they’re now stable in terms of nuclear activity, Units 1-3 remain highly contaminated. As such, while the structural integrity of these buildings has been restored, relatively little work has been undertaken within them. (One notable exception is removal of contaminated water from condensers, completed last year.)
Over recent years, a variety of remotely operated devices and imaging technologies have performed investigations of these units. The intention has been to gather information on internal physical and radiological conditions of the PCVs—the heavily reinforced bell-shaped structures that host reactors. TEPCO wants, and needs, to understand what has happened inside. Some things are known: once melted, fuel mixed with structural materials including steel and concrete to form something known as corium. But precisely where the corium ended up, how much there is, and whether it’s submerged are just some of the questions in play.
The International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning (IRID), which was established in April 2013 to guide R&D of technologies required for reactor defueling and decommissioning, is supporting TEPCO in seeking answers. IRID is composed of multiple stakeholders, including Japanese utilities and the major nuclear vendors Hitachi, Mitsubishi, and Toshiba.
Naoaki Okuzumi, senior manager at IRID, described for Ars the investigative approaches and technologies. Early work utilized Muon tomography, which Okuzumi described as “a kind of standard practice applied to each unit… to locate high density material (fuel) within PCVs.” It yielded low-resolution data on the approximate location of corium. But with pixels representing 25cm-square cross-sections, the information has been useful only in so far as validating computational models and guiding subsequent robotic investigations.
The latter task hasn’t been easy. In addition to the challenge of navigating the dark, cramped labyrinths of tangled wreckage left behind, TEPCO has had to contend with radioactivity—the high levels act something like noise in electronic circuits. The wreckage has made access a challenge, too, although varying points of ingress have been established for each PCV.
The circumstances mean that TEPCO hasn’t been able to simply purchase an off-the-shelf kit for these investigations. ”An adaptive approach is required because the situation of each PCV is different… there is no standard with investigating the PCVs by using robots,” said Okuzumi, describing an approach that has translated into devices being specially developed and built in response to conditions of each PCV.
But they’re making progress. As recently as January 2018, corium was identified for the first time inside Unit 2 using an enhanced 13m-long telescopic probe and a revised approach designed to overcome problems encountered during investigations in 2017. The situation was hardly easier at Unit 3, where the PCV is flooded to a depth of around 6.5m. Here, it took a remotely operated, radiation-shielded submersible called ‘Little Sunfish’ to locate corium in July 2017.
Altogether the investigations—featuring a litany of robotic devices—have revealed that little fuel remains in any of the cores of Units 1-3. In Unit 2, a large amount of corium is present at the bottom of the RPV; in Units 1 and 3, almost all fuel appears to have melted through the RPVs entirely and into the concrete floor of PCVs beneath. The information is crucial, as we’ll come to see, for future deconstruction work at the reactors, but it continues to be extended as investigations continue.
 
PCV investigations at Unit 2
 
Pumps, ice-walls, and storage: Water management
One of TEPCO’s major concerns has been groundwater, which runs down from mountains west of the plant and can become contaminated by the low-lying reactors before flowing out to sea. Groundwater management has subsequently become one of TEPCO’s greatest efforts, as well as one of the most challenging of the tasks it has faced.
First off, it ought to be noted that marine environment monitoring for radionuclide concentrations near the plant and as far away as Tokyo indicate that levels are well within WHO standards. “The levels of radioactivity that have been found and can be attributed to Fukushima are absolutely dwarfed by natural levels of radioactivity in the water, or even levels of cesium that came from historic nuclear weapons testing,” noted Cobb.
Still, the effort to limit further contamination—seemingly driven as much by societal-political dynamics as safety considerations—remains paramount. To this end, measures have been deployed along three principles: remove sources of contamination, isolate water from contamination, and prevent leakage of contaminated water.
Some measures have been simple enough in design. Installation of an impermeable, underground wall along the sea front, completed in October 2015, is intended to keep groundwater that passes Units 1-4 from reaching the sea. Waterproofing pavement against rainwater is another widely applied step.
After this, solutions become more sophisticated. A groundwater bypass that intercepts and pumps up water before it reaches the reactors is a key development. This water is inspected for contamination before being discharged into the sea. By November 2017, more than 337,000 cubic meters of water had been released to the ocean in this way; this bypass reduced the amount flowing into the building basements by up to 100 tons per day and successfully reduced groundwater levels around the reactor buildings.
To further limit groundwater flow into reactors buildings, TEPCO actually froze the ground around them, creating a kind of frozen wall down to a depth of about 30 meters. Approximately 1,500 meters long, the wall is kept frozen by pipes filled with an aqueous solution of calcium chloride cooled to -30ºC. Freezing commenced in March 2016 and is now “99 percent complete,” according to Kohta.
On either side of the frozen wall, sub-drains and groundwater drains have been installed; they pump water up to keep it from reactor buildings and reaching the sea, respectively. Pumped water is purified at a purpose-built treatment facility. Barrett commented: “With water released from sub-drains and the bypass, there’s an agreement with the fishing industry that releases must be below 1,500 becquerels per liter. Negotiations took several years to agree that level was ‘clean’.”
All this has come at enormous expense, but according to TEPCO, it has been successful. Before any measures were implemented, inflow was around 400m3/day, Kohta told Ars. “The average amount of water flowing into [Units 1-4] for the period from December 2015 to February 2018, before the closure of the land-side impermeable wall, was 190m3/day, and it has decreased to 90m3/day after the closure for December 2017 to February 2018.”
At face value, it’s a sound outcome. As Kohta noted, the amount of contaminated water now being generated—a mix of groundwater, rainwater and water pumped into reactors for cooling—has decreased from about 520m3/day to about 140m3/day between last December and February. Even so, treating that amount of contaminated water is proving taxing.
Water treatment is happening at large-scale facilities that have been built onsite, including a multi-nuclide removal facility. Here, a so-called Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) reduces concentrations of cesium isotopes, strontium, and other radionuclides to below legal limits for release. But one radionuclide remains: tritium.
Cobb explained: “The difficulty is that tritium is basically an isotope chemically identical to hydrogen, so it’s impractical to remove. Levels of tritium in that water are low, but nevertheless there’s great sensitivity to the suggestion that it be discharged.”
Without a feasible alternative for cleaning up the tritium, the (only) solution for ALPS-treated water has been storage. Well over a thousand tanks, each holding 1,200 cubic meters, now store tritium-laced water at the south end of the plant. Several years ago, these tanks hit the news because several were found to be leaking. Barrett acknowledged it as an unfortunate and avoidable incident resulting from use of flange-tanks. TEPCO has since moved to more sturdy welded-joint water storage tanks.
The ultimate plan for stored water is unknown; tritium has a half life of a dozen years, so physics won’t clean up the water for us. Some kind of controlled, monitored discharge—the likes of which is typical within the nuclear industry—is possible, according to Barrett. Indeed, the International Atomic Energy Agency has endorsed such a plan, which was proposed by the Atomic Energy Society of Japan in 2013. The plan involved diluting tritiated water with seawater before releasing it at the legal discharge concentration of 0.06MBq/L and monitoring to ensure that normal background tritium levels of 10Bq/L aren’t exceeded.
Discussions at both national and international levels would need to come first. Part of the difficulty here harkens back to societal dynamics surrounding risk and contamination: “In nuclear there is no such thing as absolute zero—sensitivity goes down to the atom. This makes discussion about decontamination or levels of acceptable contamination difficult. There’s tritium in that water that’s traceable to the accident; it’s entirely safe, but for the time being, with the event still in recent memory, it’s not acceptable,” observed Barrett.
Toward permanent solutions
In some sense, much of the restoration of order at Fukushima has been superficial—necessary but concerned with handling consequences more than root causes (see, TEPCO interactive timeline). Ultimately, Fukushima’s reactors must be decommissioned. Broadly, this work involves three phases: removing used fuel assemblies that are stored within ten-meter-deep spent fuel pools of each reactor building, management of melted-down reactors and removal of corium debris, and deconstruction of reactor buildings and the greater plant.
At Unit 4, spent fuel removal operations took around 13 months and concluded in December 2014. “When we began we didn’t know if fuel assemblies or racks were distorted. It turned out they weren’t, and we were able to remove all fuel conventionally without any issues at all. Actually, it went exceedingly well, concluding ahead of schedule and under cost,” recalled Barrett. In all, 1,533 fuel assemblies were removed and transferred to a common spent fuel pool onsite.
 
Spent fuel removal at Unit 4 was accomplished with conventional techniques.
 
Defueling of pools at Units 1 through 3, which suffered meltdowns, isn’t going to be as straightforward. For one, there’s some expectation of debris and circumstances requiring extraordinary removal procedures. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we find some structurally bent fuel assemblies caused by large pieces of concrete or steel,” said Barrett.
Additionally, although radiation in Unit 3 has been reduced sufficiently to allow rotating shifts of workers to install defueling equipment, the already painstaking operations will have to be conducted remotely. The same is likely true for Units 1 and 2.
At Unit 3, the next in line for defueling, preparation is already well underway. In addition to decontamination and installation of shielding plates, TEPCO has removed the original fuel handling crane, which had fallen into the pool seven years ago, and installed a new fuel handling crane and machine. An indication of extraordinary containment methods being used, workers have built a domed containment roof at Unit 3. TEPCO’s Kohta told Ars, “Removal of spent fuel [at Unit 3] is scheduled to begin from around the middle of 2018;” meanwhile, Unit 1 is also in a preparatory stage and Unit 2 will be handled last.
Further down the line still, corium will have to be removed from melted-down reactors. It’s a daunting task, the likes of which has never been undertaken before. The reactors held varying, but known, amounts of uranium oxide fuel, about 150 tonnes each. But how much extra mass the fuel collected as it melted through reactor vessels is uncertain.
“At TMI there was exactly 93 tonnes in the reactor. Once we were done digging out fuel debris, we’d removed 130 tonnes. At Fukushima, I expect maybe a factor of five to ten more mass in core debris. It’s an ugly, ugly mess underneath the PCVs,” suggested Barrett.
High-powered lasers, drills and core boring technologies for cutting, and strong robotic arms for grappling and removing corium are already under development, according to IRID, but precise methodologies remain undecided.
The original plan, Barrett explained, was to flood PCVs and work underwater—a conventional nuclear operations technique that affords protection from contamination. But this requires water-tight PCVs, something that cannot be practically achieved at Fukushima. Discussions also continue over whether a side or top-down entry would be best. “Altogether, we don’t have enough physical data about PCVs to commit to a final decision,” said Barrett, referring back to the need for continued PCV investigations. According to Kohta, fuel debris removal isn’t scheduled to commence before the end of 2021.
Without doubt, the road ahead of TEPCO is a long one, beset with challenges greater than those faced to date. The Mid- and Long-Term Roadmap—the Japanese state-curated document outlining the decommissioning of Fukushima—envisions operations stretching a full 30-40 years into the future. Some have suggested it’s an optimistic target, others say that the plan lacks details on key, long-term issues such as permanent solid-waste storage beyond the onsite repository currently being employed. Certainly it is the case that key decisions remain.
For his part, Barrett concluded: “I believe that the 40-year timeframe is reasonable for a scientifically based decommissioning; that’s to say, to reach a point similar to that of a normal reactor at the end of its life. That’s not reaching the point of a green field where you’d want to put a children’s school. Could it be a brown-field, industrial site, though? Yes it could. That’s a rational, reasonable end point.”
By all accounts, it is hard to gauge the costs for the Fukushima clean-up. Kohta told Ars that works completed to date have cost about 500.2 billion yen, or $4.7 billion—a tremendous sum, to be sure, but fractional compared to the estimate of 8 trillion yen ($74.6 billion) approved by the Japanese state last May for the complete decommissioning of Fukushima Daiichi.
 

Seismologist testifies Fukushima nuclear disaster preventable

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In this March 11, 2011 photo provided by Tokyo Electric Power Co., a tsunami is seen just after striking the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant breakwater.
 
May 10, 2018
TOKYO — A seismologist has testified during the trial of three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), operator of the tsunami-ravaged nuclear plant, that the nuclear crisis could have been prevented if proper countermeasures had been taken.
“If proper steps had been taken based on a long-term (tsunami) evaluation, the nuclear accident wouldn’t have occurred,” Kunihiko Shimazaki, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, told the Tokyo District Court on May 9.
Shimazaki, who played a leading role in working out the national government’s long-term evaluation, appeared at the 11th hearing of the three former TEPCO executives as a witness.
Prosecutors had initially not indicted the three former TEPCO executives. However, after a prosecution inquest panel consisting of members of the public deemed twice that the three deserve prosecution, court-appointed lawyers serving as prosecutors indicted the three under the Act on Committee for Inquest of Prosecution.
Court-appointed attorneys insist that former TEPCO Vice President Sakae Muto, 67, and others postponed implementing tsunami countermeasures based on the long-term evaluation, leading to the disaster.
The government’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion released its long-term evaluation in 2002 predicting that a massive tsunami could occur along the Japan Trench including the area off Fukushima.
In 2008, TEPCO estimated that a tsunami up to 15.7 meters high could hit the Fukushima No. 1 power station, but failed to reflect the prediction in its tsunami countermeasures at the power station.
The Cabinet Office’s Central Disaster Prevention Council also did not adopt the long-term evaluation in working out its disaster prevention plan.
Shimazaki, who was a member of the Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion’s earthquake research panel in 2002, told the court that the Cabinet Office pressured the panel shortly before the announcement of the long-term evaluation to state that the assessment is unreliable. The headquarters ended up reporting in the long-term evaluation’s introduction that there were problems with the assessment’s reliability and accuracy.
In his testimony, Shimazaki pointed out that the Central Disaster Prevention Council decision not to adopt the long-term evaluation led to inappropriate tsunami countermeasures.
With regard to factors behind the council’s refusal to accept the evaluation, Shimazaki stated that he can only think of consideration shown to those involved in the nuclear power industry and politics.
“If countermeasures had been in place based on the long-term evaluation, many lives would’ve been saved,” Shimazaki told the court.
Shimazaki served as deputy chairman of the government’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
(Japanese original by Epo Ishiyama, City News Department, and Ei Okada, Science & Environment News Department)

Fukushima ETHOS: Post-Disaster Risk Communication, Affect, and Shifting Risks

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26 May 2017
Abstract
ETHOS Fukushima is a risk communication (RC) program organized after the Fukushima nuclear accident by the International Commission on Radiological Protection and other international organizations supported by the Japanese government.
ETHOS has been hailed as a model RC that is participatory and dialogue-based. Yet the critical and feminist literature has shown the need for analyzing the power relations in participatory projects, and for analyzing affect as a target of management by neoliberal governmentality.
The affective work of ETHOS is characterized by narratives of self-responsibility, hope and anticipation, and transnational solidarity with Chernobyl victims. These resonate with the affective regime under neoliberalism that privileges self-responsibility, anticipation, maximization of emotional potential, and cosmopolitan empathy.
This particular regime of affect has been integral in shifting risk from the nuclear industry and the government to individual citizens. ETHOS Fukushima has supported continued residence in contaminated areas.
It has helped portray the reduction of government/industry responsibility as morally defensible, and the decision to stay in Fukushima as a free choice made by hopeful and determined citizens.
At the same time, ETHOS has helped characterize the state’s and the nuclear industry’s roles in cleaning up and compensating the victims as restricting individual freedom and demoralizing the local people.
The recent RC literature increasingly argues for a positive assessment of emotion, but this argument warrants careful analysis, as emotion is socially regulated and entangled in power relations.
Moreover, deploying affective tropes is a crucial technique of neoliberal governmentality, especially because of affect’s seemingly oppositional and external relationship to neoliberalism.

‘Global Consequences’ of Lethal Radiation Leak at Destroyed Japan Nuclear Plant

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May 4, 2018
Lethal levels of radiation have been observed inside Japan’s damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant. And they are arguably way higher than you suspect.
According to Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), radiation levels of eight Sieverts per hour (Sv/h) have been discovered within the Fukushima nuclear power plant, which was destroyed after a massive earthquake and a tsunami in March 2011.
Tepco, the company that operated the plant and is now tasked with decommissioning it, reported the discovery after making observations in a reactor containment vessel last month.
Eight Sv/h of radiation, if absorbed at once, mean certain death, even with quick treatment. One Sv/h is likely to cause sickness and 5.5 Sv/h will result in a high chance of developing cancer.
While 8 Sv/h is deadly, outside of Fukushima’s Reactor Number 2 foundations of a much higher level of 42 Sv/h was detected.
A strange occurrence, and experts are still arguing what caused the discrepancy. One possible explanation is that cooling water washed radioactive material off debris, taking it somewhere else.
But here’s a truly terrifying catch: according to the report, Tepco highly doubts the new readings, because, as was discovered later, a cover was not removed from the robot-mounted measurement device at the time of the inspection, NHK World reports.
Exactly one year ago, Sputnik reported that Tepco engineers discovered absolutely insane levels of radiation of about 530 Sv/h within the reactor. Such levels of radiation would kill a human within seconds. By comparison, the Chernobyl reactor reads 34 Sv/h radiation level, enough to kill a human after 20 minutes of exposure.
The levels of radiation within Fukushima reactor number 2 were so high that Tepco’s toughest robot, designed to withstand 1000 Sv/h of radiation, had to be pulled out, as it started glitching due to high radiation levels. Nuclear experts called the radiation levels “unimaginable” at the time.
On November 2017, the New York Times and other news outlets reported a much smaller figure of 70 Sv/h of radiation, more or less on par with a 74 Sv/h reading gathered before an anomalous 530 Sv/h spike.
While that radiation dosimeter cover negligence prevents precise calculations, the actual picture inside Unit 2 is thought to be much worse.
Japanese state broadcaster NHK World quoted experts saying that if the cleaning of the stricken power plant is not properly addressed, it will result in major leak of radioactivity with “global” consequences.
Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, says that while the readings are not reliable, they still “demonstrate that, seven years after the disaster, cleaning up the Fukushima site remains a massive challenge — and one that we’re going to be reading about for decades, never mind years.”
Mycle Schneider, independent energy consultant and lead author of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report, criticized Tepco, saying the power company has “no clue” what it is doing.
“I find it symptomatic of the past seven years, in that they don’t know what they’re doing, Tepco, these energy companies, haven’t a clue what they’re doing, so to me it’s been going wrong from the beginning. It’s a disaster of unseen proportions.”
In observing the poor maintenance of plant radiation leaks, Schneider also pointed out that the company stores nuclear waste at the site in an inappropriate way.
“This is an area of the planet that gets hit by tornadoes and all kinds of heavy weather patterns, which is a problem. When you have waste stored above ground in inappropriate ways, it can get washed out and you can get contamination all over the place.”

Fukushima Passes Chernobyl as Worst Nuclear Disaster in History: Does Anyone Care?

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May 1, 2018
The continued cover-up of the Fukushima impacts in Japan is likely due to the widespread contamination of soil, vegetation, and water prolific enough that it would lead to evacuations so massive in scope they could collapse Japan’s economy, the third largest in the world.
TOKYO – According to peace and environmental justice watchdog NukeWatch, the Fukushima disaster has overtaken Chernobyl as the worst nuclear disaster in human history. Writing in CounterPunch, John LaForge, co-director of NukeWatch, noted that the meltdown at the Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan in 2011 is now believed to have released between 5.6 and 8.1 times more atmospheric radiation than did Chernobyl, markedly surpassing the 1986 nuclear disaster. Despite the gravity of that revelation, the media has ignored the issue, suggesting that the previous cover-up of the disaster is still in effect.
The change in status is largely the result of the fact that the three melted reactors at the Fukushima plant have never been properly contained and their release of radioactivity into the environment has continued in the years since the meltdown first occurred.
For instance, last February, a hole measuring two meters in diameter was discovered within the metal grating at the bottom of the containment vessel built around the plant’s No. 2 reactor, allowing the reactor’s fuel to escape from the reactor and into the surrounding environment. The hole permitted radiation inside the reactor to reach 530 sieverts per hour, a massive increase from the 73 sieverts per hour that were recorded soon after the disaster. To put these figures in perspective, NASA’s maximum amount of radiation exposure permitted for astronauts over their entire lifetimes is 1 sievert.
Aside from now surpassing Chernobyl in terms of radiation released into the atmosphere, Fukushima has also greatly surpassed Chernobyl in the release of Cesium-137, a radioactive isotope that greatly increases cancer risk and dissolves readily in the environment.
While reporting on the disaster initially focused on the estimate of Cesium-137 released into the environment during the explosion and subsequent meltdown, scientists at the Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAER) have since multiplied those figures by the Cesium-137 inventory of the fuel contained within the three melted reactors, given that Fukushima’s discharge of nuclear waste, particularly into the ocean, has continued unabated since the initial disaster struck in 2011.
The results of Fukushima’s total Cesium-137 release is staggering. The oceanic release of Cesium-137, the worst ever recorded, resulted in the discharge of between 121.6 to 131.2 quadrillion Bq (becquerel), while the atmospheric release of Cesium-137 was between 30.4 and 32.8 quadrillion Bq. Combined, Fukushima’s total release of Cesium-137 into the environment comes to between 152 and 164 quadrillion Bq. Chernobyl’s total release of the same compound came to only between 70 and 110 quadrillion Bq, making Fukushima approximately two times worse than Chernobyl just in terms of the release of Cesium-137.
However, there has since been speculation that these startling figures are low, as the estimate of Cesium-137 in the melted Fukushima-Daiichi reactors that was used by KAER (760 – 820 quadrillion Bq) was significantly lower than the U.S. government’s estimate of 1,300 quadrillion Bq).
 
Covering up the invisible
Even though Fukushima officially gaining the title of the world’s worst nuclear disaster seems newsworthy, few outlets have covered the revelation nor have they assessed what Fukushima means for the environment and human health in the areas impacted by the release of radiation. The reasons for this have been clear since the disaster first occurred: there was and continues to be a cover-up of the dangers of the Fukushima disaster and the effects of the disaster on human health and the environment.
Though accusations of a cover-up were initially dismissed as a “conspiracy theory,” in 2016 the Japanese government and TEPCO, the Japanese energy company that manages the Fukushima plant, admitted that they had been involved in a cover-up of the scandal. The admission was made after a series of reports revealed that TEPCO officials had been pressured by the Japanese government not to use the word “meltdown” when discussing the disaster. All evidence indicates that this cover-up still continues, as the disaster is largely absent from news coverage and coordinated efforts have been made to downplay its impact.
In the years since the disaster, study after study has confirmed the widespread contamination of the soil, water and vegetation in the area surrounding Fukushima. The contamination has also been detected well beyond Fukushima, affecting Japan in its entirety, including Tokyo’s drinking water.
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A worker uses a Geiger counter to check for possible radioactive contamination at a market in Seoul, South Korea. South Korea is appealing a World Trade Organization decision against import bans on Japanese fish imposed in the wake of Fukushima. (AP/Ahn Young-joon)
 
In addition, childhood cases of thyroid cancer have skyrocketed. However, some scientists continue to claim that there is no correlation between the increased rate of cancer cases and Fukushima, asserting that increased early detection tests in the wake of the disaster were responsible for the uptick. Yet, now that Fukushima is known to have been a significantly worse nuclear disaster than Chernobyl, claims that there is no correlation hold less weight, given that the link between Chernobyl and thyroid cancer cases in children living near that area is well-known and widely recognized by the international scientific community.
Consequences of the disaster have also been felt as far away as the United States. Soon after the disaster, radiation was detected in the drinking water of numerous U.S. cities and in the milk of American cattle. Since then, radiation from Fukushima was acknowledged to have reached U.S. shores by scientists. While reported radiation of the West Coast was noted to be low, media outlets used this to suggest that there was no reason for concern, even though it was known at the time that the levels of radiation would rise in the coming years. Despite that, the U.S. government does not monitor the spread of Fukushima radiation along the U.S. West Coast or around the Hawaiian Islands.
Despite the fact that Fukushima radiation is known to have contaminated a wide area – particularly in Japan – it is shocking that so little concern around the consequences for human health or the environment has developed. One likely factor in the lack of concern is that food, water and air contaminated with radioactive Cesium looks and tastes no different from their uncontaminated counterparts. Unlike cases where the flavor of food or the appearance of water drastically changes after an environmental disaster, Fukushima’s contamination is largely invisible, making a cover-up much easier.
 
Yet another short-sighted decision
Yet, given that it is worse than Chernobyl in scope, awareness of Fukushima’s impact can only be delayed for so long, as even the smallest exposure to the radioactive isotopes released during the disaster increases cancer risk. This ensures that the worst of the crisis will make itself known in the years to come.
As LaForge notes, the likely reason for the continued cover-up of the Fukushima impacts in Japan is that the widespread nature of the contamination of soil, vegetation and water would lead to evacuations so massive in scope that doing so would likely collapse Japan’s already fragile economy, the third largest economy in the world. Given the interconnectedness of the international economy, the collapse of the Japanese economy that could occur by accurately acknowledging the scope of the disaster would have global consequences.
But is denying the impact of Fukushima better than saving a global economy that may tank anyway? The answer will surely make itself known in the generations to come.
Top Photo | A dome-shaped rooftop covers key equipment at Unit 3 reactor of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant ahead of a fuel removal from its storage pool in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, northeast Japan, Jan. 25, 2018. (AP/Mari Yamaguchi)

Move Over Chernobyl, Fukushima is Now Officially the Worst Nuclear Power Disaster in History

The Korea Atomic Energy Research (KAER) Institute outside of Seoul reported in July 2014 that Fukushima-Daiichi’s three reactor meltdowns may have emitted two to four times as much cesium-137 as the reactor catastrophe at Chernobyl. and Cesium is just the easiest to detect !

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Fukushima’s Cesium-137 Release Tops Chernobyl’s
The radiation dispersed into the environment by the three reactor meltdowns at Fukushima-Daiichi in Japan has exceeded that of the April 26, 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe, so we may stop calling it the “second worst” nuclear power disaster in history. Total atmospheric releases from Fukushima are estimated to be between 5.6 and 8.1 times that of Chernobyl, according to the 2013 World Nuclear Industry Status Report. Professor Komei Hosokawa, who wrote the report’s Fukushima section, told London’s Channel 4 News then, “Almost every day new things happen, and there is no sign that they will control the situation in the next few months or years.”
Tokyo Electric Power Co. has estimated that about 900 peta-becquerels have spewed from Fukushima, and the updated 2016 TORCH Report estimates that Chernobyl dispersed 110 peta-becquerels.[1](A Becquerel is one atomic disintegration per second. The “peta-becquerel” is a quadrillion, or a thousand trillion Becquerels.)
Chernobyl’s reactor No. 4 in Ukraine suffered several explosions, blew apart and burned for 40 days, sending clouds of radioactive materials high into the atmosphere, and spreading fallout across the whole of the Northern Hemisphere — depositing cesium-137 in Minnesota’s milk.[2]
The likelihood of similar or worse reactor disasters was estimated by James Asselstine of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), who testified to Congress in 1986: “We can expect to see a core meltdown accident within the next 20 years, and it … could result in off-site releases of radiation … as large as or larger than the releases … at Chernobyl.[3] Fukushima-Daiichi came 25 years later.
Contamination of soil, vegetation and water is so widespread in Japan that evacuating all the at-risk populations could collapse the economy, much as Chernobyl did to the former Soviet Union. For this reason, the Japanese government standard for decontaminating soil there is far less stringent than the standard used in Ukraine after Chernobyl.
Fukushima’s Cesium-137 Release Tops Chernobyl’s
The Korea Atomic Energy Research (KAER) Institute outside of Seoul reported in July 2014 that Fukushima-Daiichi’s three reactor meltdowns may have emitted two to four times as much cesium-137 as the reactor catastrophe at Chernobyl.[4]
To determine its estimate of the cesium-137 that was released into the environment from Fukushima, the Cesium-137 release fraction (4% to the atmosphere, 16% to the ocean) was multiplied by the cesium-137 inventory in the uranium fuel inside the three melted reactors (760 to 820 quadrillion Becquerel, or Bq), with these results:
Ocean release of cesium-137 from Fukushima (the worst ever recorded): 121.6 to 131.2 quadrillion Becquerel (16% x 760 to 820 quadrillion Bq). Atmospheric release of Cesium-137 from Fukushima: 30.4 to 32.8 quadrillion Becquerel (4% x 760 to 820 quadrillion Bq).
Total release of Cesium-137 to the environment from Fukushima: 152 to 164 quadrillion Becquerel. Total release of Cesium-137 into the environment from Chernobyl: between 70 and 110 quadrillion Bq.
The Fukushima-Daiichi reactors’ estimated inventory of 760 to 820 quadrillion Bq (petabecquerels) of Cesium-137 used by the KAER Institute is significantly lower than the US Department of Energy’s estimate of 1,300 quadrillion Bq. It is possible the Korean institute’s estimates of radioactive releases are low.
In Chernobyl, 30 years after its explosions and fire, what the Wall St. Journal last year called “the $2.45 billion shelter implementation plan” was finally completed in November 2016. A huge metal cover was moved into place over the wreckage of the reactor and its crumbling, hastily erected cement tomb. The giant new cover is 350 feet high, and engineers say it should last 100 years — far short of the 250,000-year radiation hazard underneath.
The first cover was going to work for a century too, but by 1996 was riddled with cracks and in danger of collapsing. Designers went to work then engineering a cover-for-the-cover, and after 20 years of work, the smoking radioactive waste monstrosity of Chernobyl has a new “tin chapeau.” But with extreme weather, tornadoes, earth tremors, corrosion and radiation-induced embrittlement it could need replacing about 2,500 times.
John Laforge’s field guide to the new generation of nuclear weapons is featured in the March/April 2018 issue of CounterPunch magazine.
Notes.
[1]Duluth News-Tribune & Herald, “Slight rise in radioactivity found again in state milk,” May 22, 1986; St. Paul Pioneer Press & Dispatch, “Radiation kills Chernobyl firemen,” May 17, 1986; Minneapolis StarTribune, “Low radiation dose found in area milk,” May 17, 1986.
[2]Ian Fairlie, “TORCH-2016: An independent scientific evaluation of the health-related effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster,” March 2016 (https://www.global2000.at/sites/global/files/GLOBAL_TORCH%202016_rz_WEB_KORR.pdf).
[3]James K. Asselstine, Commissioner, US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Testimony in Nuclear Reactor Safety: Hearings before the Subcommittee on Energy Conservation and Power of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, House of Representatives, May 22 and July 16, 1986, Serial No. 99-177, Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1987.
[4] Progress in Nuclear Energy, Vol. 74, July 2014, pp. 61-70; ENENews.org, Oct. 20, 2014.