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Fukushima reactor contamination zones. Source US Department of Energy

Fukushima nuclear complex goes from bad to worse

by DarkSyde for Daily Kos

Tue Apr 12, 2011 at 09:35 AM EDT

Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear reactor complex appears to have gone from bad to worse, in part due to continual aftershocks and a small fire Monday morning. That nation’s nuclear safety agency will raise the crisis level from five to seven, putting it in the same category as the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl and the danger zones could widen. The WaPo reports:

The plant’s debilitated reactors face constant threat of strong aftershocks, and the latest on Tuesday morning — a 6.4-magnitude temblor — caused a brief fire at a water sampling facility near Daiichi’s No. 4 reactor. The Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the facility, said that the critical process used to cool the hot fuel rods had not been interrupted, and radiation levels showed no signs of change. A level 7 accident, according to the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale, is typified by a “major release of radioactive material with widespread health and environmental effects.”

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Radioactive water leaks from crippled Japan plant

By EUGENE HOSHIKO and MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press 47 mins ago

RIKUZENTAKATA, Japan – Highly radioactive water spilled into the ocean from a tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant Saturday as Japan’s prime minister surveyed the damage in a town gutted by the wave.

The Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex has been spewing radioactivity since March 11, when a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and ensuing wave knocked out power, disabling cooling systems and allowing radiation to seep out of the overheating reactors. Authorities said the leak they identified Saturday could be the source of radioactivity found in coastal waters in recent days.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan went to the plant and flew over the tsunami-ravaged coast soon after the wave hit, but Saturday was the first time he set foot in one of the pulverized towns.

Dressed in the blue work clothes that have become almost a uniform for officials, Kan stopped in Rikuzentakata, where the town hall is one of the few buildings still standing. All its windows are blown out and a tangle of metal and other debris is piled in front of it.

The prime minister bowed his head for a minute of silence in front of the building. He met with the town’s mayor, whose 38-year-old wife was swept away in the wave and is still missing. Officials fear about 25,000 people may have been killed, many of whose bodies have not been found.

“The government fully supports you until the end,” Kan later told 250 people at an elementary school that is serving as an evacuation center.

Megumi Shimanuki, whose family is living in a similar shelter 100 miles (160 kilometers) away in Natori, said Kan didn’t spend enough time with people on the ground. Kan returned to Tokyo in the afternoon.

“The government has been too focused on the Fukushima power plant rather than the tsunami victims,” said Shimanuki, 35. “Both deserve attention.”

Saturday’s leak was from a newly discovered crack in a maintenance pit on the edge of the Fukushima complex, Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said.

The crack was apparently caused by the quake and may have been leaking since then, said spokesman Osamu Yokokura of Tokyo Electric Power Co., which runs the plant.

Measurements showed the air above the radioactive water in the pit contained more than 1,000 millisieverts per hour of radioactivity. Even just two feet (60 centimeters) away, that figure dropped to 400 millisieverts. Workers have taken samples of the water in the pit and seawater and are analyzing them to determine the level of contamination.

(more…)

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Fukushima Forecast: Radioactive particles to be concentrated over Midwestern US on April 1, 2 (VIDEO)

Energy News
March 29th, 2011 at 03:55 PM

Fukushima Potential Releases, Xe-133 Total Column for March 29-April 2, 2011, Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU), March 29, 2011:

* Although xenon is not toxic, its compounds are highly toxic — CRC handbook of chemistry

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How much is ‘too much’?

CNN

Radiation is invisible. You cannot taste it, smell it or feel it. It’s not possible to directly measure the amount of radiation exposure a person has had. When you see people with Geiger counters checking a site like Fukushima Daiichi, they’re measuring contamination, which generally refers to actual radioactive particles.

There are four main types of ionizing radiation:

–Alpha particles: relatively heavy, cannot penetrate human skin or clothing, but can be harmful if they get into the body in another manner.

–Beta radiation: can cause skin injury and is harmful to the body internally.

–Gamma rays: high-energy invisible light that can damage tissue and is most dangerous to humans.

SOURCE

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The Lessons of Fukushima

Truthout

Monday 28 March 2011

by: Hugh Gusterson   |  Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists | Report

As an anthropologist, I am always interested in what humans learn from their mistakes. Can humans change their behavior, thereby improving their chances of survival, not just through natural selection, but also through cultural learning? Or are we hardwired to repeat our mistakes over and over, like humanoid lemmings?

More to the point, what lessons will we learn from the nuclear accident at Fukushima, an accident thought to be impossible just two weeks ago?

Some people, many of them presumably already ill-disposed toward nuclear energy, have concluded that the lesson of Fukushima is that nuclear energy is inherently dangerous. Thus, Eugene Robinson wrote in the Washington Post: “We can engineer nuclear power plants so that the chance of a Chernobyl-style disaster is almost nil. But we can’t eliminate it completely — nor can we envision every other kind of potential disaster. And where fission reactors are concerned, the worst-case scenario is so dreadful as to be unthinkable.” His colleague Anne Applebaum wrote on the same op-ed page: “If the competent and technologically brilliant Japanese can’t build a completely safe reactor, who can? … I … hope that a near-miss prompts people around the world to think twice about the true ‘price’ of nuclear energy, and that it stops the nuclear renaissance dead in its tracks.” (The nuclear renaissance comprises plans around the world to build as many as 350 new nuclear reactors, partly as a way of inhibiting climate change.)

MORE HERE

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Sailors move food and other supplies across the USS Ronald Reagan's flight deck for earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan.

U.S. military considers mandatory evacuations in Yokosuka, Japan

CNN By Chris Lawrence, CNN Pentagon Correspondent
March 22, 2011 — Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)

Washington (CNN) — The U.S. military is considering the mandatory evacuation of thousands of American troops and their families in Japan out of concern over rising radiation levels, a senior defense official tells CNN.

The official, who did not want to be on the record talking about ongoing deliberations, says there are no discussions to evacuate all U.S. troops across the country. The talks have focused exclusively on U.S. troops in Yokosuka, just south of Tokyo, the official said. Yokosuka is home to America’s largest naval base in Japan. The military is monitoring radiation levels on a constant basis.

As of Monday, the U.S. Navy had no more warships in port at the base. The aircraft carrier USS George Washington, which had been undergoing maintenance in Yokosuka, left port Monday to get away from the plume of radioactive particles that could blow over the base. Because it left port with a much smaller than normal crew, the George Washington will not take part in the Japanese relief effort.

The official said the talks originated with Pacific Command, the military authority that directly oversees U.S. troops in the region, but “discussions have since taken place here in Washington as well.”

The official told CNN this is strictly a contingency plan, and could be accomplished “if they needed to do it in a hurry, with gray tails,” or large military transport planes like a C-17.

CBS News first reported that the evacuations were being considered.

MORE HERE

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Workers Flee Japan Nuclear Plant As Smoke Rises

AP/The Huffington Post ERIC TALMADGE and MARI YAMAGUCHI  First Posted: 03/21/11 06:20 PM Updated: 03/22/11 08:50 AM

FUKUSHIMA, Japan — Officials raced Monday to restore electricity to Japan’s leaking nuclear plant, but getting the power flowing will hardly be the end of their battle: With its mangled machinery and partly melted reactor cores, bringing the complex under control is a monstrous job that is anything but a quick-fix.

(SCROLL DOWN FOR LIVE UPDATES)

Restoring the power to all six units at the tsunami-damaged complex is key, because it will, in theory, power up the maze of motors, valves and switches that help deliver cooling water to the overheated reactor cores and spent fuel pools that are leaking radiation.

Ideally, officials believe it should only take a day to get the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear under control once the cooling system is up and running. In reality, the effort to end the crisis is likely to take weeks.

Late Monday night, the deputy director general of Japan’s nuclear safety body suggested to reporters why there is so much uncertainty about when the job will be finished.

“We have experienced a very huge disaster that has caused very large damage at a nuclear power generation plant on a scale that we had not expected,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

The nuclear plant’s cooling systems were wrecked by the massive earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan on March 11. Since then, conditions at the plant have been volatile; a plume of smoke rose from two reactor units Monday, prompting workers to evacuate.

MORE HERE

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Japan, nuclear industry and risk communication: where is the TEPCO chief?

Daily Kos

by DemFromCT for Daily Kos

Mon Mar 21, 2011 at 09:45 AM EDT

Yesterday, I wrote a Sunday essay entitled Japan, nuclear industry and risk communication: unfinished business, which was about the risk communication issues Japan is falling short on.

Now, Reuters is asking:

Where is Japan’s nuclear power CEO? The head of the Japanese power company at the center of one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters has all but vanished from the public eye.

And many Japanese, on a knife edge waiting to see if the nuclear power plant and radiation leaks can be brought under control, are beginning to ask where he is and questioning how much he is in control of the crisis.

Masataka Shimizu, chief executive of Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), has not made a public appearance in a week.

There’s a lot he’s responsible for, including overseeing the nuclear accident and taking care of the heroic workers trying to prevent a meltdown.

Reuters has some choice quotes:

“He’s making the low-ranking people do all the hard work,” said Satomi Aihara, a 46-year-old Tokyo resident. “I wonder where he’s hiding — it makes me mad.”Taro Kono, a prominent member of parliament with the Liberal Democratic Party and an opponent of nuclear power, was more blunt about TEPCO officials: “They don’t tell the truth … It’s in their DNA.”

Even Prime Minister Naoto Kan has been unable to hide his frustration. “What the hell is going on?” he was overheard telling TEPCO executives on Tuesday.

TEPCO officials say their boss is, understandably, busy.

I can’t help but think there’s a lot of people in Japan besides the news media that have even choicer quotes, including local farmers whose milk and vegetables are now contamined.

From the WSJ:

The search is being hampered by a shortage of equipment and facilities necessary for accurately measuring radioactivity in food. Also slowing the process is the absence of a central authority that can oversee the wide-reaching investigation and decide what steps should be taken.The samples are too low to have a health impact, Japanese officials said. But they represent another blow to another part of Japan’s economy resulting from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and the resulting crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant

They also represent another blow to official credibility, one that cannot be ignored. The technical and health aspects of this are one thing. But this is no time for the head of the responsible company to be MIA or to cease explaining to the public where things stand. And I shudder to think what “absence of a central authority that can oversee” and make decisions means.

From National Journal’s Michael Hirsh, the distrust is clear:

Tokyo is almost certainly not telling us the full truth, which has been getting more and more embarrassing. And despite the outside sources of monitoring available, the truth may be far worse than we are being told, if history is any measure.It was especially noteworthy when, at a State Department briefing on Wednesday night, spokesman Mark Toner admitted that Washington was no longer following the guidance of its close East Asian ally. The U.S. government is now telling American citizens who live within 80 kilometers of the badly damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to evacuate the area—the Japanese government is only asking people within 20 kilometers to leave. Previously, the United States had aligned itself with the Japanese recommendations. What led to that change? Toner was asked. “Well, I mean, obviously, it’s a very fluid situation,” he said.

Hirsh talks a bit about cultural differences between Japan and the west (shame v guilt), but arguably the big cultural divide is between the nuclear power officials’ lack of transparency and the journalists. So, the situation may be fluid, and we just don’t know about the final outcome, but we do know about TEPCO’s track record (see headline graphic prepared from Japan Times online archives—the red circle is today’s front page.)

From the WSJ:

MORE HERE

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