A number of individual events have taken place recently. We review them here.
Communities rebuilding after the 3-11 earthquake have developed micro-grids that take part of the energy use in their communities “off the grid”. This allows for more power stability and the ability for the community to keep power on when there are grid blackouts. Fueled by various renewable energy sources these new community power plans show the waning dominance of the big regional power utilities in Japan.
A significant court ruling has been handed down in one of the many Fukushima related court cases. This new ruling confirms that people’s loss of community, existing jobs and businesses are fully losses that have not been compensated for to date. The ruling also stated that TEPCO’s declaration that various towns have been reopened and that this relieves them of responsibility for further damages was not valid. This latter portion of the ruling is significant as the rush to reopen towns has been a large part of the government effort to try to make the disaster go away. Creative interpretations of the radiation levels in the evacuated communities were used to deem them safe. Reopening a community will now absolve TEPCO out of responsibility for damages.
Another recent court in Chiba ruling blamed TEPCO but not the government for negligence related to the nuclear disaster. A ruling in March in Gunma prefecture found that both the government and TEPCO were to blame citing known earthquake risks in the region that had a high likelihood of causing a major tsunami.
Thousands of people were forced into government run housing after they fled the 3-11 disasters. Now 70% of those impacted are facing rent hikes. Government subsidy money distributed to those who had to evacuate will begin to be reduced next month. Many have been unable to sufficiently rebuild their lives or are unable to safely return to their homes. Some still have no home to return to or those homes have been heavily damaged.
TEPCO had delayed the removal of spent fuel from units 1 and 2 until 2023. Asahi Shimbun cites the complexity of debris over a spent fuel pool, likely referring to unit 1. The high radiation levels in the buildings was also given as a reason. This could be referring to the high radiation levels on the refueling floor of unit 2. Work on unit 1’s refueling floor debris removal has been incredibly slow while experiencing frequent work stoppages. TEPCO said after the debris dust releases from unit 3, they would be more careful with similar work at unit 1. This may be part of the extensive delays as they stop to determine how to approach each new problem. A large platform was installed on unit 2 so heavy equipment could enter the refueling floor to clear equipment as preparation to remove the refueling floor roof and walls. TEPCO has not explained how they plan to mitigate radiation releases when this work takes place.
Japan’s nuclear regulator and TEPCO have been discussing a “new” technology they think may improve containment failure risks during a reactor meltdown. The system would circulate containment spray water through a cooling loop in an effort to keep escaped fuel from generating massive amounts of hydrogen and steam. This did not explain how they would keep fuel particles from being pulled into this system as was seen with a containment sump system at Fukushima Daiichi unit 1. It also isn’t clear if such a system would have sufficient heat removal capability to mitigate the massive amounts of heat generated by melted nuclear fuel.
TEPCO was recently given permission to restart two reactors at Kashiwazaki Kariwa. This still requires a number of other approvals before the reactors could be restarted. One of these being a set of self written legally binding rules TEPCO would submit to Japan’s nuclear regulator. The regulator could punish TEPCO for not following their own rules but appeared to only cite extreme violations of those rules possibly leading the NRA to shut down the plant. This unusual situation seems outside the norm of previous nuclear regulations in Japan and even those in the US frequently used for comparison. Allowing an operator to write their own set of rules to augment the basic set of existing government rules smacks of the same kind of industry captured regulator that NISA, the previous nuclear regulator body in Japan had been accused of.
A portion of highway 114 in Fukushima prefecture has been reopened. The section joins the Joban Expressway and leads toward the Pacific coast. Previously, people would have to pass a checkpoint and would need a verifiable reason to drive through the area. Checkpoints and barriers have been placed on exits along the section of the highway to prevent thieves and those without a reason to be in the area from entering. The area around the highway is still off limits due to high radiation levels. Only cars are allowed along the opened section of road. Motorcycles and bikes are banned. Radiation levels along the opened highway are still over levels deemed in need of decontamination.
The national government declared an area near the Futaba JR station as a rebuilding hub. This area would be decontaminated first and serve as a starting point towards attempting decontamination in other parts of the municipality. Futaba received some of the worst radioactive contamination from the meltdowns and explosions at Fukushima Daiichi. The plan includes eventually reopening parts of this area for residents to return. There is no official government program that looks at other risk issues such as the insoluble contamination found throughout the contaminated zones or how it would deal with the constant problem of re-contamination as soil and dusts move through the environment.
EU Parliament ministers were outraged at an attempt to remove oversight of Japanese food imports as a bargaining chip in upcoming trade negotiations. Ministers voted to not remove the oversight at this time though the issue could be revisited through the political process.
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