A Fukushima Update June 2017

Significant new information has been slow in coming. We expect the muon scan results for unit 3 at any moment but TEPCO has not released them for some reason. A robotic inspection of unit 3 should be completed at some point in the next few weeks or months. In the interim we have gathered some of the more notable development in recent weeks.

JAEA Plutonium Accident
New information has come out related to the recent plutonium accident at a JAEA lab in Japan. Japan’s nuclear regulator (NRA) raised concerns about safety protocol at the facility months before the accident. The workers involved in the accident were kept in the contaminated room for 3 hours after the incident. This may have made their internal exposures worse. Japan’s nuclear regulator is looking into the condition of the respirator masks the workers were wearing to see if they were being worn properly. So far there is no explanation why the workers were not immediately removed and decontaminated.

More Thyroid Cancers
Seven new cases of thyroid cancer have been confirmed in Fukushima. This survey only looks at residents who were under 18 at the time of the accident. As the survey evolves, new cancers are being found in individuals who had a previous exam. This makes the potential for the cancer to not be related to their radiation exposure less likely.

Mutant Rice Erases Rumors
The Japanese government has developed a “mutant” variant of a commonly grown type of rice that they claim drastically reduces the uptake of cesium. The government for years has insisted that there isn’t a contamination problem in rice yet took the effort to develop this new strain. They claim it will combat “rumors” about contaminated rice.

More Fukushima Contractor Graft
A construction company contracted to do decontamination work and radiation monitoring was caught falsifying expenses. The company over stated the cost for workers lodging costs and drastically inflated the listed number of workers for at least two projects. These inflated costs were passed on through billing to the local municipality. Those costs ultimately are paid by taxpayers and power consumers.

Fukushima Robots
A snake robot was used at Fukushima Daiichi. The report provided no details about the use.

Japan’s Softbank has purchased Boston Dynamics from Alphabet/Google. The robotics company is well known for their combat robots supplied to the US military and also Packbot, one of the frequently used robots at Fukushima Daiichi.

Contamination Found Again
Five schools in Chiba were discovered to have contaminated soil above the government limit. It was not explained if these areas had been declared safe in previous years or if this was the first effort to inspect those locations. Either option is concerning 6 years after the initial disaster.

Reactor Restarts In Japan
A district court in Saga prefecture has denied a motion to prevent the restart of the Genkai nuclear reactors. This would allow restarts at this plant to move forward.

The former head of the independent investigation into the Fukushima disaster has come out against the nuclear restart program in Japan. His comments hit on some critical problems with the restart plan.

What are you going to do if a tsunami comes?” Kiyoshi Kurokawa, former chairman of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, said at a June 12 meeting of the Lower House ad hoc committee for research of nuclear power issues. “How can you go (there) to rescue people if cars cannot move forward on roads?”

This was a problem during the Fukushima disaster that hindered aid to the site, evacuation and data collection. We identified this problem with a number of the nuclear plants in Japan where the mountains and roads could easily make an area inaccessible hindering escape for the local population. This would also prevent the influx of needed supplies and manpower to combat a nuclear meltdown.

He also dismisses the Prime Minister’s nuclear restart efforts.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said these standards are the strictest in the world. But Kurokawa said, “I cannot accept such rhetoric.”

The new governor of Niigata prefecture has said he will not consider a restart of any of the reactors at TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear plant until the prefecture investigative committee has completed their work. The committee is looking into the root causes of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster to try to determine if similar failures could happen at Kashiwazaki Kariwa. They are expected to take at least 3 years to complete their work. This means TEPCO will have to go at least a minimum of 3 years before they would have any prospect of restarting a nuclear reactor. The government plan for TEPCO has been heavily dependent on bringing in money by restarting the reactors at Kashiwazaki Kariwa to fund disaster recovery and compensation in Fukushima.

TEPCO’s Public Image
The Yomiuri Shimbun recently published and article declaring that TEPCO must regain public trust in order to recover from the Fukushima disaster. It has been 6 years since the disaster. TEPCO has been trying to rehabilitate their reputation ever since. Is such a thing even possible after revelations that the safety standards at the plant and the very design of the plant doomed it to failure? TEPCO’s executives at the time of the disaster are currently under criminal indictment.

Efforts to reform TEPCO have mostly involved media oriented “shows” with a slate of paid foreign consultants but has done little to actually change anything. Could anything be done to actually convince the public to trust TEPCO in the future? This may truly be a lost cause.

 

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