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Posts Tagged ‘Japan Tsunami 2011’

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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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.)

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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.

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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:

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The Al Jazeera English Tumblr

About an hour ago–  March 17, 2011

Screen grab from a video showing the extent of the damage done to the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi complex.

This shot shows the damage done to the unit 4 reactor, where emergency workers earlier attempted to fire water at in a bid to cool the fuel rods.

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Smoke rises from Fukushima Daiichi No 1 plant after a blast at the power station following Japan's earthquake and tsunami. Photograph: Staff/Reuters

Japan earthquake: the nuclear crisis is not over yet

Japan says disaster has been averted at the Fukushima nuclear plant but serious questions remain

Posted by Julian Borger Saturday 12 March 2011 23.24 GMT guardian.co.uk

The Japanese authorities have told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that the levels of radioactivity outside the Unit 1 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant are falling and that there was no rupture in the unit’s containment vessel that would have led to a large-scale release of radiation. However, it now appears that the cooling systems in the No 3 reactor have also failed.

Sea water and boron are being pumped into the Unit 1 vessel with the aim of preventing a meltdown of the fuel inside. For the time being, the threat of a meltdown has receded. It is not immediately clear if the same is going to be done at the No 3 reactor.

It is the first time such desperate measures have been employed. Olli Heinonen, the former head of the IAEA’s safeguards department now at Harvard University, told me that the seawater has to be continually pumped out of the vessel as well as being pumped in, and he has so far seen no confirmation that the temperature of the water is stable or dropping.

Heinonen said that the equipment being used to do the pumping has necessarily been improvised, and will be therefore be highly vulnerable to aftershocks.

He also pointed out that there has been no word so far on the spent fuel at the site which would be kept in pools at the reactor. Any breakdown in the cooling system could cause the spent fuel to melt, with the risk of a significant release of radioactivity.

There is widespread uneasiness despite the reassuring noises coming from the authorities over the situation, in part because of the industry’s history of ignoring warnings and covering up safety problems.

SOURCE

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