Japan’s Broken System Pt 2: H-Japan cites AFP, Reuters, Yomiuri. NYT on how bad GOJ ineptness and obfuscation re Fukushima fiasco is getting
Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on December 12th, 2011
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Hi Blog. Dr. David Slater at Sophia U. once again delivers the goods (see his excellent post about how domestic activism is naturally stifled in Japan here). This is how bad it’s getting in Post-Fukushima Japan, and believe it or not, it’s worse than I thought.
This is why we have press cartels in Japan to keep it quiet, since the ineptness of and obfuscation by the GOJ (with little apparent hope for things being fixed) makes for depressing reading. This in a domestic media that wants the public and the world to think “nice things about Japan”. Too bad. What’s happening is not nice at all, and without a full and frank public assessment, as I have argued before, people are going to get hurt in the afterglow.
Might Japan be just a little too proud to ask for help with contamination and containment from outside? Or isn’t the public’s safety the first priority in all this? The way public money earmarked for relief efforts is being spent, it seems not. Arudou Debito
(Referential articles at very bottom.)
From: H-Japan Editor
Date: 10 December, 2011
Subject: H-Japan (E): More attempts at decontamination
Reply-To: H-NET/KIAPS List for Japanese History
December 10, 2011
Date: Sun, 11 Dec 2011
From: David H. Slater
Subject: More attempts at decontamination
As decontamination continues, here are a few recent articles.
“Residents exposed to high doses of radiation” in the Yomiuri:
Here is the goverment’s review of radiation exposure for residents. “A
Fukushima prefectural government survey on residents’ external
radiation exposure showed those in government-set evacuation zones
were likely exposed to annualized radiation doses of up to 14
millisieverts, government sources said Friday.” The government-set
annual limit is 1 millisievert, which means relief workers must limit
their digging time.
“SDF battling with brooms, brushes”, the Yomiuri.
Here is a review of the SDF (Self-Defense Forces) and their uneven and
slow attempts to clear irradiated soil. It seems that they carry as
little protection as many of the ad-hoc volunteer groups. Some of the
work was outsourced to private companies, but all of the different
groups mostly work with shovels and buckets. “‘There’s no magical way
to decontaminate the areas instantly. Our job is to prove our
technology, even though it’s low-tech,’ said an official of the Japan
Atomic Energy Agency, which is jointly conducting the decontamination
project with the central government.” And “A dosimeter briefly
displayed radiation levels of seven to eight microsieverts per hour
during the cleanup. The central government has set a goal of lowering
the radiation level to 20 millisieverts per year and 3.8 microsieverts
per hour in the contaminated zones.”
Here is the New York Times article that gives a broader scope to the
issues, and problems, of decontamination. Fackler writes, “So far, the
government is following a pattern set since the nuclear accident,
dismissing dangers, often prematurely, and laboring to minimize the
scope of the catastrophe. Already, the trial cleanups have stalled:
the government failed to anticipate communities’ reluctance to store
tons of soil to be scraped from contaminated yards and fields.”
This is midst continuing reports of opposition by local communities to
allow radioactive soil to be relocated and dumped in their own area.
The latest ideas include a “giant washer”
http://www.mysinchew.com/node/67283, or shipping it out sea
David H. Slater, Ph.D.
Faculty of Liberal Arts
Sophia University, Tokyo
TO POST A MESSAGE TO THE H-JAPAN LIST
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SLATER POST ENDS
Residents exposed to high doses of radiation
The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 10, 2011)
A Fukushima prefectural government survey on residents’ external radiation exposure showed those in government-set evacuation zones were likely exposed to annualized radiation doses of up to 14 millisieverts, government sources said Friday.
This is the first statistical data indicating external radiation exposure among people living around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The prefectural government sent questionnaires to about 29,000 residents from Iitatemura, Namiemachi and the Yamakiya area in Kawamatamachi, which are designated as in either a no-entry zone or expanded evacuation zone, between late June and mid-July, ahead of those in other areas. The survey covered the four months after the crisis began.
The figure is based on analysis of questionnaires from 1,730 people who responded early. The prefectural Fukushima Medical University and the National Institute of Radiological Sciences analyzed the results of the survey.
About half of the surveyed residents from the three municipalities are believed to have been exposed to external radiation of at least the government-set annual limit of 1 millisievert, according to the sources.
While the prefecture projected the annualized external radiation exposure would be up to 5 millisieverts for most residents, the figure was 10 millisieverts or higher for about 10 residents.
Among those examined, a Fukushima plant worker was estimated to have been exposed to a maximum annualized dose of 37 millisieverts, while the highest dose among non-plant workers was 14 millisieverts. The resident is suspected to have gone through a highly contaminated area at the time of evacuation, according to the sources.
The prefectural government has been conducting health surveys on those who lived in the prefecture when the crisis broke out at the plant.
The prefectural government plans to release the survey results by the end of December.
Meanwhile, the city government of Koriyama, also in the prefecture, announced Thursday four primary and middle school students’ cumulative radiation exposure exceeded 0.40 millisievert in the month from Oct. 5. The dose translates into an annualized dose of 4 millisieverts or more, city officials said.
The data was obtained from measurements by dosimeters that gauge cumulative radiation exposure. The city government distributed the dosimeters to 25,551 primary and middle school students. The cumulative radiation exposure levels among the students ranged between 0.01 millisieverts and 0.45 millisieverts, the city said.
“Experts told us the figures [for the four students] do not represent health problems, but we’d like to question the students to find out why their radiation exposure levels were high,” a city official said.
The International Commission on Radiological Protection sets the annual limit for radiation exposure at 20 to 100 millisieverts at the time of an emergency and 1 to 20 millisieverts after the disaster has been contained.
SDF battling with brooms, brushes
Dai Adachi and Setsuko Kitaguchi / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers (Dec. 10, 2011)
TOMIOKAMACHI, Fukushima–Self-Defense Forces members have begun decontamination work in the no-entry and expanded evacuation zones in Fukushima Prefecture, using only such low-tech implements as brooms, deck brushes and shovels.
The central government has commissioned private companies to do decontamination work in some areas on a trial basis, but they, too, lack sophisticated resources, and some Environment Ministry officials involved with the decontamination work are frustrated by its slow pace.
“The areas to be decontaminated are so wide. I wonder when the radiation levels will go down so residents can return home,” one official said.
As cold rain fell Thursday, decontamination work by SDF personnel was shown to the media in Tomiokamachi, about nine kilometers from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
Some SDF members used brooms to gather fallen leaves, while others trimmed weeds growing under trees or shoveled mud from ditches.
At a first glance, it looked like a peaceful scene at a park. However, the about 300 SDF members were entirely covered by white protective suits, large surgical masks and green gloves.
On the third-floor balcony of the town office, several personnel used buckets and rope to lower bags of gravel taken from the office’s roof.
“We’ve no choice but to do this by hand,” an SDF official said.
SDF personnel also dug up soil in a 3,400-square-meter plot of grassland contaminated with radioactive substances, and carefully cleansed asphalt-covered areas such as a parking lot with high-pressure water sprayers.
A dosimeter briefly displayed radiation levels of seven to eight microsieverts per hour during the cleanup. The central government has set a goal of lowering the radiation level to 20 millisieverts per year and 3.8 microsieverts per hour in the contaminated zones.
SDF members will be engaged in the work for about two weeks.
“To attain the goal, we’ll have to make our personnel finish a substantial amount of work,” an SDF senior official said.
The central government asked the SDF to do the decontamination work as an advance party, with the aim of securing rest areas for private decontamination companies and bases to store materials before the government starts a full-fledged decontamination project in 12 municipalities in the no-entry and expanded evacuation zones from January.
About 900 SDF members currently are involved in that work at municipal offices in Tomiokamachi, Namiemachi, Narahamachi and Iitatemura of the prefecture.
“If we commissioned private companies to do the preparations, it would take about 2-1/2 months because we have to make an official notice and hold a bid. We wanted to secure at least storage bases by the end of this year,” said Satoshi Takayama, parliamentary secretary of the Environment Ministry.
At some places in the zones, the central government has commissioned private companies to do the decontamination, in model projects to find effective measures to rid the areas of radiation.
However, these model projects also lack high-tech equipment.
“There’s no magical way to decontaminate the areas instantly. Our job is to prove our technology, even though it’s low-tech,” said an official of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, which is jointly conducting the decontamination project with the central government.
Some local governments in the zones still cannot start decontamination at all.
According to the agency, decontamination has begun at only five municipalities because it takes time to reach an agreement with local governments and residents over the establishment of temporary places to store removed soil and other matter.
Futabamachi, which hosts the nuclear power plant, has not yet agreed to hold an explanatory meeting on the decontamination work.
“It’s meaningless to hold [an explanatory meeting] at this stage as [decontamination] technology has yet to be established,” an official of the municipal government said.
Decontamination activities also are affected by the weather. If work is conducted in heavy rain, for example, removed soil will be washed away, which could spread radioactive materials.
Decontamination cannot be conducted if snow piles up because the snow will throw off radiation readings and workers might scrape away more soil than necessary.
The decontamination of roads and highways will be given priority and start in January, followed by residential areas including private houses.
However, a concrete operation schedule for the project has yet to be decided, as are specific instructions to private companies.
It still is not certain how long it will be before residents can return home.
“Not all the places have high radiation levels. There must be areas where people can return comparatively earlier. However, the targeted areas are large, so it will take a substantial time for some areas,” a ministry official said.
Japan Split on Hope for Vast Radiation Cleanup
By MARTIN FACKLER
Published: December 6, 2011
FUTABA, Japan — Futaba is a modern-day ghost town — not a boomtown gone bust, not even entirely a victim of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that leveled other parts of Japan’s northeast coast.
Its traditional wooden homes have begun to sag and collapse since they were abandoned in March by residents fleeing the nuclear plant on the edge of town that began spiraling toward disaster. Roofs possibly damaged by the earth’s shaking have let rain seep in, starting the rot that is eating at the houses from the inside.
The roadway arch at the entrance to the empty town almost seems a taunt. It reads:
“Nuclear energy: a correct understanding brings a prosperous lifestyle.”
Those who fled Futaba are among the nearly 90,000 people evacuated from a 12-mile zone around the Fukushima Daiichi plant and another area to the northwest contaminated when a plume from the plant scattered radioactive cesium and iodine.
Now, Japan is drawing up plans for a cleanup that is both monumental and unprecedented, in the hopes that those displaced can go home.
The debate over whether to repopulate the area, if trial cleanups prove effective, has become a proxy for a larger battle over the future of Japan. Supporters see rehabilitating the area as a chance to showcase the country’s formidable determination and superior technical skills — proof that Japan is still a great power.
For them, the cleanup is a perfect metaphor for Japan’s rebirth.
Critics counter that the effort to clean Fukushima Prefecture could end up as perhaps the biggest of Japan’s white-elephant public works projects — and yet another example of post-disaster Japan reverting to the wasteful ways that have crippled economic growth for two decades.
So far, the government is following a pattern set since the nuclear accident, dismissing dangers, often prematurely, and laboring to minimize the scope of the catastrophe. Already, the trial cleanups have stalled: the government failed to anticipate communities’ reluctance to store tons of soil to be scraped from contaminated yards and fields.
And a radiation specialist who tested the results of an extensive local cleanup in a nearby city found that exposure levels remained above international safety standards for long-term habitation.
Even a vocal supporter of repatriation suggests that the government has not yet leveled with its people about the seriousness of their predicament.
“I believe it is possible to save Fukushima,” said the supporter, Tatsuhiko Kodama, director of the Radioisotope Center at the University of Tokyo. “But many evacuated residents must accept that it won’t happen in their lifetimes.”
To judge the huge scale of what Japan is contemplating, consider that experts say residents can return home safely only after thousands of buildings are scrubbed of radioactive particles and much of the topsoil from an area the size of Connecticut is replaced.
Even forested mountains will probably need to be decontaminated, which might necessitate clear-cutting and literally scraping them clean.
The Soviet Union did not attempt such a cleanup after the Chernobyl accident of 1986, the only nuclear disaster larger than that at Fukushima Daiichi. The government instead relocated about 300,000 people, abandoning vast tracts of farmland.
Many Japanese officials believe that they do not have that luxury; the area contaminated above an international safety standard for the general public covers more than an estimated 3 percent of the landmass of this densely populated nation.
“We are different from Chernobyl,” said Toshitsuna Watanabe, 64, the mayor of Okuma, one of the towns that was evacuated. “We are determined to go back. Japan has the will and the technology to do this.”
Such resolve reflects, in part, a deep attachment to home for rural Japanese like Mr. Watanabe, whose family has lived in Okuma for 19 generations. Their heartfelt appeals to go back have won wide sympathy across Japan, making it hard for people to oppose their wishes.
But quiet resistance has begun to grow, both among those who were displaced and those who fear the country will need to sacrifice too much without guarantees that a multibillion-dollar cleanup will provide enough protection.
Soothing pronouncements by local governments and academics about the eventual ability to live safely near the ruined plant can seem to be based on little more than hope.
No one knows how much exposure to low doses of radiation causes a significant risk of premature death. That means Japanese living in contaminated areas are likely to become the subjects of future studies — the second time in seven decades that Japanese have become a test case for the effects of radiation exposure, after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The national government has declared itself responsible for cleaning up only the towns in the evacuation zone; local governments have already begun cleaning cities and towns outside that area.
Inside the 12-mile ring, which includes Futaba, the Environmental Ministry has pledged to reduce radiation levels by half within two years — a relatively easy goal because short-lived isotopes will deteriorate. The bigger question is how long it will take to reach the ultimate goal of bringing levels down to about 1 millisievert per year, the annual limit for the general public from artificial sources of radiation that is recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. That is a much more daunting task given that it will require removing cesium 137, an isotope that will remain radioactive for decades.
Trial cleanups have been delayed for months by the search for a storage site for enough contaminated dirt to fill 33 domed football stadiums. Even evacuated communities have refused to accept it.
And Tomoya Yamauchi, the radiation expert from Kobe University who performed tests in Fukushima City after extensive remediation efforts, found that radiation levels inside homes had dropped by only about 25 percent. That left parts of the city with levels of radiation four times higher than the recommended maximum exposure.
“We can only conclude that these efforts have so far been a failure,” he said.
Minamisoma, a small city whose center sits about 15 miles from the nuclear plant, is a good place to get a sense of the likely limitations of decontamination efforts.
The city has cleaned dozens of schools, parks and sports facilities in hopes of enticing back the 30,000 of its 70,000 residents who have yet to return since the accident. On a recent morning, a small army of bulldozers and dump trucks were resurfacing a high school soccer field and baseball diamond with a layer of reddish brown dirt. Workers buried the old topsoil in a deep hole in a corner of the soccer field. The crew’s overseer, Masahiro Sakura, said readings at the field had dropped substantially, but he remains anxious because many parts of the city were not expected to be decontaminated for at least two years.
These days, he lets his three young daughters outdoors only to go to school and play in a resurfaced park. “Is it realistic to live like this?” he asked.
The challenges are sure to be more intense inside the 12-mile zone, where radiation levels in some places have reached nearly 510 millisieverts a year, 25 times above the cutoff for evacuation.
Already, the proposed repatriation has opened rifts among those who have been displaced. The 11,500 displaced residents of Okuma — many of whom now live in rows of prefabricated homes 60 miles inland — are enduring just such a divide.
The mayor, Mr. Watanabe, has directed the town to draw up its own plan to return to its original location within three to five years by building a new town on farmland in Okuma’s less contaminated western edge.
Although Mr. Watanabe won a recent election, his challenger found significant support among residents with small children for his plan to relocate to a different part of Japan. Mitsue Ikeda, one supporter, said she would never go home, especially after a medical exam showed that her 8-year-old son, Yuma, had ingested cesium.
“It’s too dangerous,” Ms. Ikeda, 47, said. “How are we supposed to live, by wearing face masks all the time?”
She, like many other evacuees, berated the government, saying it was fixated on cleaning up to avoid paying compensation.
Many older residents, by contrast, said they should be allowed to return.
“Smoking cigarettes is more dangerous than radiation,” said Eiichi Tsukamoto, 70, who worked at the Daiichi plant for 40 years as a repairman. “We can make Okuma a model to the world of how to restore a community after a nuclear accident.”
But even Mr. Kodama, the radiation expert who supports a government cleanup, said such a victory would be hollow, and short-lived if young people did not return. He suggested that the government start rebuilding communities by rebuilding trust eroded over months of official evasion.
“Saving Fukushima requires not just money and effort, but also faith,” he said. “There is no point if only older people go back.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 9, 2011
An earlier version of this article said the evacuation zone covered more than 3 percent of Japan’s landmass; in fact it is the area contaminated above an international safety standard for the general public that covers roughly 3 percent of the country’s landmass.
Japan looks to giant washer to clean Fukushima debris
TOKYO, December 2, 2011 (AFP) – Japan is looking to launder tsunami debris in a giant washing machine to get rid of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear accident, a researcher said Friday.
In a scheme they hope will result in finally being able to dispose of contaminated waste left by the waves that crushed towns on the country’s northeast coast, a cleaning plant will be built near the Fukushima Daiichi power station.
Shredded waste — including the remains of houses and cars destroyed by the tsunami — will be put inside a huge water-filled drum where steel attachments will scrub away radioactive particles, the researcher told AFP.
The plan is a joint scheme between Tokyo-based construction company Toda Corp. and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency.
“We, as a general contractor, have experience of cleaning soil and hope that we will eventually be able to decontaminate soil as well as debris,” said a research at Toda Corp, who asked not to be named.
He said researchers will experiment with pure water and detergents to find the best way to decontaminate the waste and hope to be able to recycle the water using a series of filters.
In an initial test they will use a tub 120 centimetres (four feet) long and plan to install multiple washing drums three times larger than that once the project fully launches, he said.
Large areas around the Fukushima plant have been left contaminated with radiation since the tsunami of March 11 knocked out its cooling systems and sent reactors into meltdown.
The world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl has not directly claimed any lives, but has left tens of thousands of people displaced and rendered whole towns uninhabitable, possibly for decades.
The radiation that has leaked from the crippled reactors has contaminated the waste left behind by the tsunami, complicating the clean-up operation.
The Japanese government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power have pledged to bring the reactors to a state of cold shutdown by the end of the year.
Government planners have said radiation-contaminated debris could be stored in a facility in Fukushima prefecture for at least 30 years until its final destination is determined.
Tepco may dump decontaminated water from Fukushima plant into sea
By Shinichi Saoshiro
TOKYO Dec 8 (Reuters) – The operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant said on Thursday that it is considering dumping water it treated for radiation contamination into the ocean as early as March, prompting protests from fishing groups.
Tokyo Electric Power, (Tepco) the utility operating Fukushima’s Daiichi plant hit by a powerful tsunami in March in the world’s worst nuclear accident in 25 years, said it was running out of space to store some of the water it treated at the plant due to an inflow of groundwater.
“We would like to increase the number of tanks to accommodate the water but it will be difficult to do so indefinitely,” Tepco spokesman Junichi Matsumoto told reporters, adding the plant was likely to reach its storage capacity around March.
The admission is a setback for the utility which appeared to be making progress in its cleanup after building a cooling system that no longer required pumping in vast amounts of water. It also built a system, drawing on French, U.S. and Japanese technology, that decontaminates the vast pool of tainted runoff to supply the cooling system with water.
The company said representatives of a nationwide federation of fishing cooperatives on Thursday visited its Tokyo headquarters to protest.
Tepco said it is still assessing the potential environmental impact of releasing the accumulating water, but that if forced to do so it would discharge water expected to have the least effect the environment.
Tens of thousands tons of water contaminated with radiation have accumulated at the plant, 240 kilometres (150 miles) northeast of Tokyo after early on in the crisis Tepco tried to cool reactors that suffered nuclear fuel meltdowns by pouring in water, much of it from the sea.
“Our priority is also to look for ways to limit the inflow of groundwater into the buildings at the plant,” Matsumoto said.
The operator estimates that due to the inflow the amount of water requiring storage is increasing by 200 to 500 tonnes every day.
The utility released more than 10,000 tonnes of water tainted with low levels of radiation in April to free up space for water that had much higher levels of radioactivity, drawing sharp criticism from neighboring countries such as South Korea and China. (Editing by Tomasz Janowski)