Funny, this was news last fall, but folks didn’t seems to hear about it?
Anxiety and inattention over Tokyo’s next Big One
Last week, the possibility of a new political party being formed under the leadership of Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara emerged, but Tokyoites were more shocked by news indicating there was a 70 percent chance of a magnitude 7-level earthquake hitting the capital within four years.
The news caused a stir because it was based on projections by the authoritative Earthquake Research Institute (ERI) at the University of Tokyo. I visited professor Naoshi Hirata, 57, director of the institute’s Earthquake Prediction Research Center, thinking the institute’s announcement daring. But I soon learned that this figure was not an “announcement.” The episode is very interesting.
An initial report on the likelihood of a major quake appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun’s Jan. 23 morning editions. In a front-page exclusive, the daily reported the news with the banner headline: “70% chance of magnitude-7 level Tokyo earthquake within 4 yrs.” The Nikkei, The Tokyo Shimbun and the Mainichi Shimbun followed suit in their evening editions and The Asahi Shimbun and The Sankei Shimbun caught up with them in their Jan. 24 editions. All trailing dailies had almost identical headlines.
TV stations quickly reported the news through their news departments as well as in other programs. Overwhelmed by a barrage of reports by news organizations, the ERI published a special explanation online to account for the reasons behind the Yomiuri report.
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Ever wonder how close the blogosphere is? This is reading more like a suspense novel every day.
Here’s the story so far:
“The Fukushima Blogger”, Numauchi Emiko, or “Numayu”, writes on her blog that a worker she trusts at Daiichi says there was fuel in Unit 4. Fukushima-Diary.com picks up the story, translates it, and adds it to his blog today. EX-SKF, very cool-headed, in a very infrequent action, mentions “someone” who translated her post and who–perhaps–jumped to the conclusion that TEPCO has been lying all along about #4. EX-SKF says, “Whoa, hold on now.” EX is no fan of TEPCO, but has yet to see evidence that a meltdown did, in fact, occur at #4. EX makes a good point – “What’s the point of hiding another meltdown, after 10 months?” Except, to me, from what I gather, #4 is in very bad shape. If it has had a meltdown, perhaps it would be closest to seeping out below the concrete floors? With attention focused on #1-3, TEPCO could be quietly attempting to stabilize the SFP, dismantle the fractured building so as to make it appear that all is quiet on the #4 front. Unfortunately, I’m only the reader of the novel, not the expert who is writing it, so I can only make armchair guesses.
Anyway, here are the links to the articles:
From FukushimaDiary.com – includes English translation of Numayu’s post:
There was nuclear fuel in reactor 4
Here is Numayu’s post (in Japanese):
迷いましたが、記事を再度 上げます。 「 【 原発 】 の 作業員 さん 」 の お話です。
= + = + =
And EX-SKF’s take on it (after the main article):
Fukushima I Nuke Plant Reactor 4 Was Leaking Water from Reactor Well/Spent Fuel Pool, and That Was Indicated by Water Level of Skimmer Surge Tank
TEPCO announced during the February 1 morningpress conference that the valve of a pipe line connected to the reactor was found broken and at least 6 liters of water from the reactor had spilled.
Title: Kono Taro on Japan’s reaction to the Fukushima nuclear disaster
Source: If You Love This Planet Radio w/ Dr. Helen Caldicott
Date: Jan 27, 2012
This week, Dr. Caldicott speaks with Kono Taro for an in-depth look at Japan’s reaction to the Fukushima meltdown. Kono is Director General of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party’s International bureau and a fifth-term Member of the House of Representatives in Japan.
Editorial: Nuclear regulatory reform must weed out entrenched interests
Bills relating to a shift in the nation’s nuclear power policy were approved by the Cabinet on Jan. 31. In addition to the establishment of a new nuclear regulatory agency under the Environment Ministry, the government is aiming to legislate the lifespan of nuclear reactors, and require plant operators to outline specific measures against severe nuclear accidents.
Significant harm has been done by allowing the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), an administrative body tasked to regulate nuclear power safety, to exist under the umbrella of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), a major promoter of nuclear power. Divorcing nuclear regulation from nuclear promotion and centralizing regulatory duties into one agency stands to reason. Changing the agency’s name from the originally proposed “nuclear power safety agency” to “nuclear power regulatory agency” is likewise pertinent, considering the new agency’s nature.
However, the mere alteration of a name and rearrangement of an organization will not result overnight in a highly independent agency specializing in regulation. Because many of the new agency staff members are likely to come from NISA, specific measures are necessary to secure the independence of the new body.
It remains unclear how a nuclear safety investigation committee, envisaged in one of the bills approved by the Cabinet, will contribute toward ensuring the safety of nuclear power. Since the Cabinet Office’s Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) lost the confidence of the Japanese public over its response to the ongoing nuclear disaster, the new committee cannot expect to gain it back without demonstrating its independence and competence.
The handling of the continuing nuclear crisis has been problematic particularly due to the government’s lack of readiness, which has generated suspicions that the disaster could have been mitigated had the government been more capable of crisis management. Crisis management will be an important duty of the new regulatory agency, and must be attended to adequately.
Meanwhile, some things have slipped through the centralization of regulatory responsibilities. Safety research conducted by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) and the inspections and other safeguards implemented by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology to prevent the diversion of nuclear material toward the production of nuclear weapons will not fall under the jurisdiction of the new regulatory agency. It remains to be seen how these tasks will be integrated into the new scheme.
Included in the latest bills are the designation of a 40-year lifespan for nuclear reactors and the implementation of “back-fit” measures that would hold existing reactors to the latest technological standards. The government claims that the combination of these two mandates would make it extremely difficult for reactors to continue running more than 40 years. The bills, however, include special exemptions allowing reactors to operate for up to 60 years. Stringent criteria must be set to prevent “exceptions” from undermining the rule.
We hope also that the proposed legal reforms lead to a stronger nuclear disaster prevention scheme. In the case of the Fukushima disaster, the off-site emergency response center failed to function. A fundamental review of Japan’s nuclear crisis preparedness is imperative. Along with an expansion of disaster protection zones emphasizing nuclear disaster countermeasures, there is a pressing need to reassess national and regional disaster prevention plans.
Numerous corporations and organizations make up the national framework that had heretofore promoted nuclear power, and their role in “amakudari” — literally “descent from heaven,” referring to the practice of former bureaucrats taking advisory posts in industries they previously regulated — has been pointed out. For effective regulations to gain ground, it is important to extend reform to such organizations with entrenched interests.
(Mainichi Japan) February 1, 2012
‘Shadow meals’ employed to keep families safe from radiation
The practice of kagezen — literally “shadow meal” — entails setting out meals at home for a family member who is absent, in hopes that they will be safe while traveling. Meals were commonly prepared by family members waiting at home for the safe return of husbands and sons on distant battlefields, or fathers who were away as migrant workers. There may be some families today who practice kagezen for family members who are hospitalized or for children away on long school trips.
There’s been a recent revival of kagezen, which families had been carrying out less and less in modern times. “Shadow” meals at homes and schools are being set aside, not for someone who is absent from the dinner table, but for radiation testing. Apparently, setting aside actual meals for nutritional analysis is a method that had been used prior to the nuclear crisis.
The latest kagezen trend began in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, when the city started radiation testing of school lunch last fall, and has spread across the country. Starting Jan. 16, the method has been implemented by schools and nursery schools in the Fukushima Prefecture city of Minamisoma, where a week’s worth of school meals are tested with equipment that can distinguish between different types of nuclear species, on top of measuring radiation doses. Neither iodine-131 nor cesium-134 or -137 was detected in the first test, which must have had many people relieved.
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Nuclear safety advisers slam stress tests
By SOPHIE KNIGHT / Staff Writer
Two advisers to Japan’s nuclear safety agency have slammed stress tests being conducted on idle nuclear reactors, saying they do not guarantee the safety of the facilities and calling into question the impartiality of the U.N. nuclear agency that approved Japan’s handling of the tests on Jan. 31.
Masashi Goto, a former nuclear power plant designer, and Hiromitsu Ino, emeritus professor at the University of Tokyo, who both served as members of an advisory committee to Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) for the stress tests, said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had sent a delegation to merely rubberstamp the process.
At a news conference in Tokyo on Jan. 27, both Goto and Ino criticized the narrow scope of the test criteria and the lack of citizen involvement.
“The calculations are all based on ideal scenarios: ‘If this piece of equipment breaks, then will another kick in?’” said Ino. “It doesn’t look at complex scenarios, such as system-wide failure due to the aging of the plant, or human error.”
The stress test model, which was imported from Europe, assesses the extent to which nuclear power plants can physically withstand “site-specific natural disasters”—namely, earthquakes and tsunami—and whether they have sufficient safety procedures in place to avoid power loss.
The Japanese government announced last July that all the nation’s nuclear plants would undergo the tests following the meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant caused by the magnitude-9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake earlier that year.
All but three of Japan’s 54 reactors are now offline, and must pass the stress tests as well as gain the approval of both local and national governments before they can be put back online.
The tests do not assess aging of plant equipment or other potential causes of accidents, such as fires, plane crashes, tornadoes or lightning.
According to Goto, even the scenarios for the two disasters the tests purport to simulate are insufficient.
“The tsunami was not just an issue of water; there was rubble and boats flowing in, large amounts of fuel, fires out at sea—none of those factors were considered. Is it sufficient that a plant can withstand an earthquake 1.8 times stronger than that it was designed for? What happens if an earthquake twice as strong hits?” he said, referring to the magnitude used in a stress test simulation at the Oi nuclear power plant in Oi, Fukui Prefecture.
Ino described the stress tests as an “optimistic desk simulation” in a written critique distributed at the conference. He argued that the tests will only be meaningful if they replicate the conditions at the Fukushima plant when the accident occurred.
Although high radiation levels inside the plant are still impeding investigations into damage caused by the earthquake rather than the giant tsunami it spawned, Ino said water gauge readings taken from the pressure vessel suggests that the quake ruptured pipes, and that this should be reflected in the stress test criteria.
Ino also voiced doubts about the impartiality of the IAEA, citing the organization’s previous assessment of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture, following the 2007 Chuetsu-Oki earthquake, when the agency said the damage was less than expected without having any knowledge of the condition of the reactor pressure vessel or pipes.
“It is highly unlikely that the IAEA can undertake a fair assessment. The agency promotes the nuclear industry and it is only investigating the stress tests for a short time,” he said. “The last IAEA report was very flimsy, and I fear it’ll be the same this time.”
James Lyons, the head of the IAEA delegation that left Japan on Jan. 31, emphasized that the IAEA’s mission was to refine the review of the stress tests, not to change the criteria of the tests.
“What we saw was a process that we felt comfortable with,” he said at a news conference on the same day. “We were looking to provide suggestions on how they could improve the process but that doesn’t call into question the adequacy of the original process.”
The IAEA released a preliminary report approving Japan’s implementation of the stress tests, saying they were “generally consistent” with the agency’s own safety standards, as well as issuing recommendations and suggestions for the secondary assessment to be undertaken by the NISA.
One of the recommendations was to improve communication with residents living in the immediate vicinity of the plant, and to allow them to attend discussion sessions about the result of the stress tests.
In his critique, Ino described a meeting of the advisory committee on Jan. 18 in which citizens were shut out and forced to watch the proceedings via a monitor from another room.
“It is inadmissible that the citizens’ right to closely observe the review process was inhibited, the minimum requirements of democracy for such a crucial decision-making on whether or not to reopen nuclear power plants after a historic nuclear disaster,” he wrote.
According to Goto, residents would be hard to please even if they were more involved in the process.
“In reality what would make nuclear power really safe would be to make entire plants earthquake-proof, everything down to the wiring system,” he said. “That’s the viewpoint of the residents, and if you can’t do it for financial reasons then I think they wouldn’t want nuclear power at all.”
An IAEA spokesman, Greg Webb, said that the agency’s mission is to improve safety regulations among member countries. However, he stressed that the IAEA cannot guarantee the safety of any nuclear power plant and does not have the power to shut plants or keep them open.
“Nuclear safety is a national responsibility in any country. No country has asked the IAEA to be a safety watchdog. We don’t conduct nuclear safety inspections,” he said at the news conference.