Thursday, 12 April 2012

11 April 2012 - Update

One year and one month since our world changed. How are we getting on?

At Fukushima Daiichi, freshwater and nitrogen continue to be pumped into the reactors to keep them cool.  Removing this water and decontaminating it is a lot of work. There was an announcement a week or so ago that 12 tons of water, which had had the caesium removed but still contained strontium, had leaked from piping into the sea. The state of the building over Unit 4 continues to be cause for concern as 1,331 spent  fuel assemblies are in a pool 100 ft above ground. (There are over 11,000 spent fuel assemblies in total at Fukshima Daiichi.) (Corrected from earlier version)

There's a lot of wrangling going on at the moment. Wrangling about whether to bring the nations's nuclear plants back into operation and wrangling about what will happen to the area around the nuclear power plant.

First, re-opening the nuclear power plants. (In Japanese the phrase is genpatsu no saikado 原発の再稼動) Only one of Japan's 54 reactors is currently in operation and obviously the government, industry and the electric companies want to get them going again. Last Friday the PM ordered the Ministry of the Economy (METI) to produce new 'preliminary' safety standards for reopening the Oi Plant on the Japan Sea coast. These were produced in what seemed like unseemly haste, on Monday. Then the boss of Kansai Electric (Osaka) was asked to submit a schedule for extra safety measures and METI Minister Edano was seen (on television) grilling him and asking him to bring forward the dates on some of the plans. Real ham acting.

But there are real problems. First, we've only had an interim report on the causes of the Fukushima accident. The final report will not be out until the summer. Next, Kansai Electric has put forward a schedule for say, building a higher breakwater, constructing a new earthquake-proof control centre at Oi, but they're not built yet. The IAEA and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (Hoanin 保安院)have both said that the first round of stress tests is not enough. Standards for the next round of tests were to be set by a new independent standards agency (Genshiroku Kiseicho 原子力規制庁)which was supposed to be in business by April 1st. (The  Hoanin is not independent, part of the 'atomic village' mentality which got us into this mess in the first place.) Legislation for the setting up of this new agency is still not ready. Negligence on the part of the lawmakers (opposition party included). This legislation really should have been at the top of their list of Things To Do.

Now abrasive young Osaka mayor Hashimoto has entered the fray saying that since radioactive particles from the Fukushima accident spread 100 km, prefectures (counties) within a 100 km radius of the Oi plant (five in total) need to be consulted. He does have a point. If the plant is opened without implementing the lessons from Fukushima then nothing here will change.

The other wrangling is between the mayors of the local authorities near Fukushima Daiichi and the government, over compensation and how the area is to be reorganised in future. Areas have been re-zoned according to the level of soil contamination but authorities say they want to relocate en masse and want everyone in their area to get the same full compensation for their land, buildings etc. In a separate development the government has mentioned for the first time the possibility of buying up a small area around the plant. Right from the beginning we thought that this is what would happen but there's still no clear direction and this wrangling continues.

Finally, some good news. Since May last year primary and junior high school children in Koriyama haven't been allowed to play outside for more than 3 hours a day. But the ban has been lifted. Schools have had playgrounds scraped and the average exposure in schools is down to 0.2μSv/hour. Last year kids had their sports days in the gymn in the autumn. This year things will be back to normal with sports days outside in the May sunshine. Maybe this will encourage some families to come back?
Bye for now


  1. There are more than 11,000 spent fuel *assemblies* at Fukushima - not fuel rods. I believe there are between 200-300 fuel rods in one assembly. Therefore there are more than a million fuel rods at the site.

  2. Thank you for that.
    Yes, I see what you mean.