Tag Archive: Fukushima


Japan admits being unprepared for nuclear disaster

Banri Kaiedahttp://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110607/ap_on_re_us/as_japan_earthquake

By MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press 2 hrs 1 min ago

TOKYO – Japan admitted Tuesday it was unprepared for a severe nuclear accident like the tsunami-caused Fukushima disaster and said damage to the reactors and radiation leakage were worse than it previously thought.

In a report being submitted to the U.N. nuclear agency, the government also acknowledged reactor design flaws and a need for greater independence for the country’s nuclear regulators.

The report said the nuclear fuel in three reactors likely melted through the inner containment vessels, not just the core, after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami knocked out the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant’s power and cooling systems. Fuel in the Unit 1 reactor started melting hours earlier than previously estimated.

The 750-page report, compiled by Japan’s nuclear emergency taskforce, factors in a preliminary evaluation by a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency and was to be submitted to the IAEA as requested.

“In light of the lessons learned from the accident, Japan has recognized that a fundamental revision of its nuclear safety preparedness and response is inevitable,” the report said. It also recommended a national debate on nuclear power.

The report said the flaws in basic reactor design — the Mark-1 model developed by General Electric — included the venting system for the containment vessels and the location of spent fuel cooling pools high in the buildings, which resulted in leaks of radioactive water that hampered repair work.

GE’s website says 32 Mark-1 reactors, designed 40 years ago and upgraded since, still operate around the world.

Japan’s report also noted that the six-reactor Fukushima plant paired up two reactors to share some facilities and equipment, also delaying the accident responses.

The report said the vents lacked filtering capability, causing contamination of the air, and the vent line interfered with connecting pipes.

Desperate attempts by plant workers to vent pressure to prevent the containment vessels from bursting repeatedly failed. Experts have said the delay in venting was a primary cause of explosions that further damaged the reactors and spewed huge amounts of radiation into the air. The report also noted the outermost containment buildings should have had vents to prevent a series of explosions at three units.

The melted cores and radiation leaks have irradiated workers, including two control room operators whose exposures have exceeded the government limit.

Earlier Tuesday, the Health and Labor Ministry inspectors visited the plant to investigate if TEPCO used adequate caution.

Lack of protection for plant workers early in the crisis and inadequate information about radiation leaks were also a problem, nuclear crisis taskforce director Goshi Hosono said.

The report acknowledged a lack of independence for Japan’s nuclear regulator, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, and pledged to improve safety oversight, as recommended in the IAEA report last week. Bureaucracy and division of responsibility by several government agencies also delayed decision-making, the report said.

The report also said accident management measures, which are left up to operators’ voluntary effort, should be made legally binding. Accident management guidelines have not been reviewed or improved since being introduced in 1992, it said.

Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda promised to share all available data about the accident and cooperate with the IAEA.

“Our country bears a serious responsibility to provide data to the international community with maximum transparency and actively contribute to nuclear safety,” he said.

The report comes a day after NISA said twice as much radiation may have been released into the air as earlier estimated. That would be about one-sixth of the amount released at Chernobyl instead of the earlier estimate of one-tenth.

NISA said its analysis used a different method than had been employed by the plant’s operator last month and is believed to “better reflect reality.”

After Chernobyl, Japan stepped up nuclear safety measures but that effort did not last long, Hosono acknowledged.

“We should never repeat the same mistake,” he said.

 

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Japan utility delays decision on halting reactors

A police officer walks in rubble at recovery operation in the area destroyed by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Kesennuma,  Miyagi Prefecture,http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110507/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press 1 hr 48 mins ago

TOKYO – A Japanese power company postponed its decision Saturday on a government request that it halt three reactors at a coastal nuclear plant until safety measures can be improved to guard against future earthquakes and tsunamis.

Shutting down the reactors would likely worsen power shortages expected this summer.

On Friday, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said he had asked Chubu Electric Power Co. to suspend operation of the reactors at the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station in Shizuoka prefecture until a seawall is built and backup systems are improved. Though not legally binding, the request is a virtual order.

The government is reviewing the safety of the country’s 54 atomic reactors since a March 11 earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in the north. The disaster left more than 25,000 people dead or missing on the northeast coast.

The Hamaoka plant, which is about 125 miles (200 kilometers) west of Tokyo in an area where a major quake is expected within decades, has been a major concern for years.

Chubu Electric executives failed to reach a decision after discussing the request Saturday afternoon and decided to meet again after the weekend, company official Mikio Inomata said.

At issue is how to make up for the power shortages that would result from the shutdown of the three reactors. Inomata said they account for more than 10 percent of the company’s power supply.

Chubu Electric has estimated maximum output of about 30 million kilowatts this summer with the three Hamaoka reactors running, with estimated demand of about 26 million kilowatts.

“It would be tight,” Inomata said, adding that officials are discussing the possibility of boosting output from gas, oil and coal-fueled power plants and purchasing power from other utility companies.

Kan said the shutdown request was for the “people’s safety.”

“If an accident occurs at Hamaoka, it could create serious consequences,” he said Friday.

He noted that experts estimate there is a 90 percent chance that a quake with a magnitude of 8.0 or higher will strike the region within 30 years.

Since the March 11 disasters, Chubu Electric has drawn up safety measures that include building a 40-foot-high (12-meter-high) seawall nearly a mile (1.5 kilometers) long over the next two to three years, company officials said. The company also promised to install additional emergency backup generators and other equipment and improve the water tightness of the reactor buildings.

The plant does not have a concrete sea barrier now. Sand hills between the ocean and the plant are about 32 to 50 feet (10 to 15 meters) high, deemed enough to defend against a tsunami around 26 feet (8 meters) high, officials said.

Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu called Friday’s government request “a wise decision” and vowed to secure alternative sources of energy.

Residents of Shizuoka have long demanded a shutdown of the Hamaoka reactors. About 79,800 people live within a 6-mile (10-kilometer) radius of the plant.

The Hamaoka plant provides power to around 16 million people in central Japan including nearby Aichi, home of Toyota Motor Corp.

Automakers and other industries have had troubles with interrupted supply lines, parts shortages and damage to manufacturing plants because of the March 11 disasters.

The nationwide newspaper Yomiuri welcomed the government request to shut down the reactors despite concerns about a power crunch.

“The idea is to use the lesson we learned (from Fukushima),” the Yomiuri said, urging other utilities to also improve safety. “An accident and subsequent release of radiation could paralyze the entire country.”

Thousands of people joined an anti-nuclear march Saturday in Tokyo’s crowded Shibuya shopping and entertainment district, chanting “No nuke plants!”

The Fukushima Dai-ichi plant lost its power and cooling systems in the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami, triggering the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

Radiation leaks have forced 80,000 people living within a 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius of the plant to leave their homes.

Since the Fukushima crisis unfolded, officials have acknowledged that tsunami safety measures at Japanese nuclear power plants are insufficient.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the Fukushima plant, has said the tsunami that wrecked critical power and cooling systems there was at least 46 feet (14 meters) high.

It said radioactivity inside the No. 1 reactor building has fallen to levels deemed safe for people wearing protective suits to enter after workers rapidly installed air filtering equipment Thursday — their first entry since shortly after the tsunami. Workers are to begin preparations as early as Sunday to install a cooling system.

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Associated Press writer Shino Yuasa contributed to this report.

Radiation near Japan reactors too high for workers

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110418/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press 10 mins ago

TOKYO – A pair of thin robots on treads sent to explore buildings inside Japan’s crippled nuclear reactor came back Monday with disheartening news: Radiation levels are far too high for repair crews to go inside.

Nevertheless, officials remained hopeful they can stick to their freshly minted “roadmap” for cleaning up the radiation leak and stabilizing the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant by year’s end so they can begin returning tens of thousands of evacuees to their homes.

“Even I had expected high radioactivity in those areas. I’m sure (plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co.) and other experts have factored in those figures when they compiled the roadmap,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said.

Officials announced for the first time Monday that spent fuel rods in Unit 2 were damaged, and contaminated water was discovered in other areas of the plant, underscoring the growing list of challenges facing TEPCO in cleaning up and containing the radiation. They also described in more detail the damage to fuel in three troubled reactors, saying pellets had melted.

Angry at the slow response to the nuclear crisis and to the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that caused it, lawmakers tore into Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

“You should be bowing your head in apology. You clearly have no leadership at all,” Masashi Waki, a lawmaker from the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, shouted at Kan.

“I am sincerely apologizing for what has happened,” Kan said, stressing the government was doing all it could to handle the unprecedented disasters.

TEPCO’s president, Masataka Shimizu, appeared ill at ease as lawmakers heckled and taunted him.

Workers have not been able to go inside the reactor buildings at the stricken plant since the first days after the its cooling systems were wrecked by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that left more than 27,000 people dead or missing. Hydrogen explosions in both buildings in the first few days destroyed their roofs and scattered radioactive debris.

On Sunday, a plant worker opened an outer door to one of the buildings and two Packbots, which resemble drafting lamps on tank-like treads, entered. After the worker closed the door, one robot opened an inner door and both rolled inside to take readings for temperature, pressure and radioactivity. They later entered a second building.

Click image to see photos of quake, tsunami damage

The robots reported radioactivity readings of up to 49 millisieverts per hour inside Unit 1 and up to 57 inside Unit 3, levels too high for workers to realistically enter.

“It’s a harsh environment for humans to work inside,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama of Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

Japanese authorities more than doubled the legal limit for nuclear workers since the crisis began to 250 millisieverts a year. Workers in the U.S. nuclear industry are allowed an upper limit of 50 millisieverts per year. Doctors say radiation sickness sets in at 1,000 millisieverts and includes nausea and vomiting.

The robots, made by Bedford, Massachusetts, company iRobot, which also makes the Roomba vacuum cleaner, explored Unit 2 on Monday, but TEPCO officials had yet to analyze that data.

The radioactivity must be reduced, possibly with the removal of contaminated debris and stagnant water, before repair crews would be allowed inside, said NISA official Masataka Yoshizawa.

Sturdier robots can remove some of the debris, but workers are needed to test the integrity of the equipment and carry out electrical repairs needed to restore the cooling systems as called for in the road map, Yoshizawa said.

“What robots can do is limited, so eventually, people must enter the buildings,” TEPCO official Takeshi Makigami said.

The robots, along with remote-controlled miniature drones, have enabled TEPCO to photograph and take measurements of conditions in and around the plant while minimizing workers’ exposure to radiation and other hazards.

Separately, readings from a water tank in Unit 2 showed a severe spike in radiation that indicates likely damage to the fuel rods inside the spent fuel pool there, TEPCO officials said. That was the first indication of damage to those rods. The radiation was far higher than that measured in the spent fuel pool of Unit 4, suggesting the damage to the fuel in Unit 2 is greater.

NISA also sent a report to the government watchdog Nuclear Safety Commission, saying that some fuel pellets and rods in the reactors in Units 1, 2 and 3 had become overheated and melted during the crisis, the first time it had provided details of the damage to the fuel. Nishiyama, said the agency can only say “more than 3 percent” of the fuel rods have melted.

A pool of stagnant radioactive water was also discovered in the basement of Unit 4.

With evacuees’ ordeal stretching into the long-term, some began moving out of school gymnasiums into temporary housing. Hundreds who have not found apartments or relatives to take them in began filling up inns at hot springs.

“The government has asked us to be ready to take in as many as 200 evacuees for the next four months at least,” said Masaki Hata, whose family has run the Yoshikawaya Hot Springs Inn on the outskirts of Fukushima for seven generations.

Michiaki Niitsuma, a 27-year-old office worker, said he was glad to have a comfortable place to stay while he waited to go home.

“My kids got sick in the shelter. It was cold. It’s much better here. It’s a relief,” he said.

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Associated Press writers Eric Talmadge in Fukushima and Noriko Kitano in Tokyo contributed to this report.

Operator airs plan to control Japan nuclear crisis

Tsunehisa  Katsumatahttp://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110417/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By RAVI NESSMAN and YURI KAGEYAMA, Associated Press Ravi Nessman And Yuri Kageyama, Associated Press 1 hr 14 mins ago

TOKYO – The operator of Japan’s crippled nuclear plant laid out a blueprint Sunday for stopping radiation leaks and stabilizing damaged reactors within the next six to nine months as a first step toward allowing some of the tens of thousands of evacuees to return to the area.

While the government said the timeframe was realistic, those forced to flee their homes, jobs and farms were frustrated that their exile is not going to end soon. And officials acknowledge that unforeseen complications, or even another natural disaster, could set that timetable back even further.

“Well, this year is lost,” said Kenji Matsueda, 49, who is living in an evacuation center in Fukushima after being forced from his home 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the plant. “I have no idea what I will do. Nine months is a long time. And it could be longer. I don’t think they really know.”

Pressure has been building on the government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. to resolve Japan’s worst-ever nuclear power accident since a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami hit the country March 11, knocking out power and cooling systems at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex.

On orders from Prime Minister Naoto Kan, TEPCO drew up the blueprint and publicly explained its long-term strategy — for the first time since the disaster — for containing the crisis that has cast a cloud of fear over the country.

“We sincerely apologize for causing troubles,” TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata said. “We are doing our utmost to prevent the crisis from further worsening.”

Under the roadmap, TEPCO will deal with the crisis in two stages.

In the first stage, the company will focus on cooling the reactors and spent fuel pools and reducing the level of leaking radiation. It will also aim to decontaminate water that has become radioactive, reduce the amount of radiation released into the atmosphere and soil, and lower radiation levels in the evacuation area, Katsumata said.

In the next stage, TEPCO aims to firmly control the release of radioactive materials, achieve a cold shutdown of the reactors and temporarily cover the reactor buildings, possibly with a form of industrial cloth. Longer-term goals include removing fuel from the spent fuel pools and putting permanent covers over the buildings.

TEPCO also plans to establish a system to recycle cooling water that will remove radioactivity as well as corrosive salt left behind by seawater that was earlier used as an emergency cooling measure.

“Given the conditions now, this is best that it could do,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama of the government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, adding that conditions at the facility remain unstable.

Explosions, fires and other malfunctions have hindered efforts to repair the stricken plant and stem radiation leaks.

In a show of support for a staunch American ally, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Tokyo on Sunday to express admiration and sympathy for the Japanese.

Clinton had tea with the emperor and empress, who have been visiting evacuation centers to commiserate with the victims of the earthquake and tsunami, which left nearly 28,000 people dead or missing.

“We pledge our steadfast support for you and your future recovery. We are very confident that Japan will demonstrate the resilience that we have seen during this crisis in the months ahead,” Clinton said.

She also met with government officials, including Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto, who asked for U.S. feedback on TEPCO’s plan to combat the nuclear crisis, Clinton said.

Goshi Hosono, an adviser to the prime minister and member of his nuclear crisis management task force, said the government would closely monitor TEPCO’s implementation of the plan and hoped the work could be concluded ahead of the six to nine month schedule. He said he understood people were frustrated by the timeline, but he called it “realistic.”

“There is no shortcut to resolving these issues. Though it will be difficult, we have to go step by step to resolve these problems,” he said.

Even with the announcement of the timeline, it remained unclear when evacuees might be able to return home.

The area would need to be decontaminated, including removing and replacing the soil, Nishiyama said.

Hosono said the evacuees would not have to stay in gymnasiums for such a long period, but would be moved into temporary housing.

Some evacuees were unswayed by TEPCO’s plan.

“I don’t believe a word they say,” said Yukio Otsuka, 56, a private school owner whose home is about 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the power plant. “I don’t trust them. I don’t believe it is possible. We have really drawn the short stick on this one.”

Activists criticized the delay in the roadmap’s announcement.

“TEPCO has taken far too long to provide an indication of the direction it plans to take to bring the situation at Fukushima Dai-ichi under control,” said Philip White of the Tokyo-based Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center, a group of scientists and activists who have opposed nuclear power since 1975. “We hope TEPCO meets its targets, but there are many challenges ahead and many uncertainties.”

The unveiling of the roadmap came two days after TEPCO — also under pressure from Kan’s government — announced plans to give 1 million yen ($12,000) in initial compensation to each evacuated household, with much more expected later.

Katsumata, the TEPCO chairman, was hammered Sunday by questions over his managerial responsibility and told reporters he was considering stepping down because of the crisis.

“I feel very responsible,” he said.

Kan said in a weekend commentary in the International Herald Tribune that ending the nuclear crisis as soon as possible was his “top priority.”

As Japan has begun planning for reconstruction and mulling how to pay for it, Kan’s political opponents have resumed calls for his resignation after refraining from criticism in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

Government officials fanned out across the affected areas over the weekend seeking to explain evacuation decisions and calm nerves. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano met Sunday with the governor of Fukushima, who has vigorously protested the predicament the nuclear crisis poses for his prefecture.

“The safety of residents is our foremost priority,” Edano said. “I told the governor that the government will do everything it can to prevent the crisis from worsening.”

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Associated Press writers Noriko Kitano and Shino Yuasa in Tokyo and Eric Talmadge in Fukushima contributed to this report.

Japan’s evacuees annoyed at compensation offer

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110415/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By SHINO YUASA and RYAN NAKASHIMA, Associated Press Shino Yuasa And Ryan Nakashima, Associated Press 8 mins ago

TOKYO – The crisis at Japan’s tsunami-crippled nuclear plant forced Kazuko Suzuki to flee her home without packing, ended her job at a welfare office and cost her 18-year-old son an offer for work of his own.

The plant operator’s announcement Friday that it would pay $12,000 in initial compensation to each evacuated household struck her as far too little to repay her family for the economic turmoil it has already suffered.

“I’m not satisfied,” said the 49-year-old single mother from Futaba, who has lived for the past month with her two teenage sons at a shelter in a high school north of Tokyo. “I feel like this is just a way to take care of this quickly.”

Suzuki is among tens of thousands forced to leave their homes because of radiation leaking from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, unsure of when, if ever, they will be able to return. The complex’s cooling systems were disabled by the March 11 tsunami, which was spawned by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake.

Some have traveled hundreds of miles (kilometers) to Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s headquarters in the capital to press their demands for compensation. Pressed by the government as well, TEPCO announced it would begin distributing money April 28.

“We have decided to pay provisional compensation to provide a little help for the people (who were affected),” TEPCO President Masataka Shimizu told a news conference.

Roughly 48,000 households living within about 20 miles (30 kilometers) of the crippled plant would be eligible for the initial payments — 1 million yen (about $12,000) for families and 750,000 yen (about $9,000) for single adults, the government said. The government said more was expected to be paid later.

TEPCO expects to pay 50 billion yen (about $600 million) in the initial round of compensation. As costs mount for the utility, Shimizu said the company would consider cutting executive salaries as well as a number of its employees.

Suzuki said the evacuation has placed a serious financial burden on her family, forcing it to buy clothes, food and other basics.

“We’ve had to spend money on so many extra things, and we don’t know how long this could go on,” she said.

Akemi Osumi, a 48-year-old mother of three also from Futaba, said the money was a “small step” but that it didn’t fairly compensate larger families. Her family is living at the same shelter but also must rent an apartment for her eldest son to go to a vocational school.

“One million yen doesn’t go very far,” she said. “I’m not convinced at just 1 million yen per family. If it was dependent on the size of the family I’d understand, but it’s not.”

In the small fishing town of Namie, about six miles (10 kilometers) from the plant, store owner Masami Watanabe hurriedly inspected his shop while scores of police searched the evacuated area for bodies of those slain by the tsunami.

Watanabe, who received special permission from the government to return for a quick survey of his shop, was also critical of TEPCO’s offer.

“There is no way they can compensate us for what happened here. What they are offering isn’t enough. I have a mortgage to pay. And besides, it’s not all about money,” he said.

Watanabe rented an apartment in the northeastern city of Sendai after the evacuation, but wants to move back home.

“Who knows how long that will take,” he said, as he put a garbage can in front of his shop doorway to keep burglars out.

TEPCO is still struggling to stabilize the nuclear plant and restore cooling systems that failed after the tsunami wrecked emergency backup systems as well as much of the plant’s regular equipment.

Radiation leaks from the crisis have contaminated crops and left fishermen in the region unable to sell their catches, a huge blow to an area heavily dependent on fishing and farming.

The governor of Fukushima, Yuhei Sato, has vigorously criticized both TEPCO and the government for their handling of the disaster, demanding faster action.

“This is just a beginning. The accident has not ended. We will continue to ask the government and TEPCO to fully compensate evacuees,” he said.

Japan’s nuclear compensation law exempts the operator from liability when the accidents are “caused by a grave natural disaster of an exceptional character, or by an insurrection.” However, it would be politically untenable for TEPCO to cite the tsunami as a rationale for not paying damages, given the complex nature of the problems that have unfolded at the plant, and questions over its preparedness, among other issues.

It is unclear whether TEPCO is likely to face lawsuits going forward. Most Japanese prefer to avoid the cost and publicity of going to the courts for redress, and the country relies heavily on nonjudicial resolution of disputes.

With Tokyo still suffering a power crunch because of the loss of power generated by its stricken plants, TEPCO said it planned to install gas turbines at two thermal power plants to boost output.

TEPCO, the main power supplier to the Tokyo region, said the new turbines would raise its capacity to between 50 million and 52 million kilowatts, still well below the nearly 60 million kilowatts of power consumed during peak hot weather days last summer.

The company earlier said it would only be able to provide 46 million kilowatts of capacity.

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Associated Press writers Elaine Kurtenbach, Mari Yamaguchi and Noriko Kitano in Tokyo contributed to this report.

What Does Fukushima’s New “Level 7” Status Mean?

http://news.yahoo.com/s/time/20110412/wl_time/httpecocentricblogstimecom20110411whatdoesfukushimae28099snewe2809clevel7e2809dstatusmeanxidrssfullworldyahoo

By KRISTA MAHR Krista Mahr Tue Apr 12, 3:15 am ET

Japanese officials announced on Tuesday morning that they were planning to raise the event level at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant from a 5 to the maximum level of 7, the highest on the international scale for nuclear incidents and the same level assigned to the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl in the Ukraine.

The decision was made after Japan’s nuclear safety body determined that at one point after the March 11 earthquake, the plant was releasing 10,000 terabecquerels of iodine-131 for several hours; level 7 accidents are defined as releasing tens of thousands of terabecquerels. “The INES rating itself is not an indicator of a daily phenomena, but the assessment after careful consideration and calculation on the event that happened in the past,” Ken Morita of NISA told TIME on Tuesday morning. (See inside Japan’s nuclear wasteland.)

NISA has also noted, however, that the amount of radioactive material being released at Fukushima today is less than 1 terabecquerel. The agency says that, to date, Fukushima has only released about 10% of total radiation released 25 years ago in Chernobyl, or about 1.8 million terabecquerels. About 30 people, mostly workers, died in the immediate aftermath of Chernobyl, though the UN has estimated that the long-term death toll due to exposure could eventually be as high as 4000.

The International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), designed in 1989 by the IAEA and the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) of the OECD, ranges from 1 (anomaly) to 7 (major accident). The scale is intended to help easily communicate with the public to indicate the seriousness of a nuclear event. Chernobyl is the only other nuclear accident to have been given a 7, an accident classified as having a major radioactive release with widespread impact on the environment and public health. According to INES, “Such a release would result in the possibility of acute health effects; delayed health effects over a wide area, possibly involving more than one country; long-term environmental consequences.” (Read the IAEA’s glossary of short- to long-term health effects of radiation exposure here.) (See the world’s top 10 environmental disasters.)

Besides Chernobyl, the only event that’s come close to a 7 before was a 1957 accident at a fuel processing plant (where spent nuclear fuel is recycled into new fuel) in Russia, in which an off-site release of radiation prompted preventative evacuations. The Three Mile Island accident in the U.S. in 1978, in which a reactor core was severely damage but off-site release of radioactivity was limited, was classified as a 5. Almost all reported events at nuclear facilities are a level 3 or under, according to INES.

Tuesday’s announcement comes on the back of a minor fire spotted by workers outside Fukushima’s reactor 4 on Tuesday morning, shortly after the second of three major aftershocks to hit the beleaguered northeast in the space of 24 hours. Three people in Iwaki died in landslides triggered by the 7.1 aftershock on Monday evening. The government also expanded the exclusion zone around Fukushima on Monday to include several towns within a 30-km (19-mile) radius that had formerly been told that they could remain at home, but were recommended to stay indoors. The towns now added to the mandatory evacuation zone were found to have high levels of radiation. (See the battle to hold Fukushima’s cores.)

Meanwhile, Greenpeace has said that in a survey conducted in Fukushima last week, its team of experts found radiation levels 75 times higher than the government recommendation in 11 samples of vegetables from gardens and small farms. The environmental group also announced that it found radiation levels equivalent to an annual exposure of 5 millisieverts – the evacuation threshold for Chernobyl – in a playground in Fukushima City, population 300,000. Greenpeace is urging the government to delay the start of the school year.

Though raising Fukushima’s level to 7 may not herald any immediate worsening of events, it is sure to add to many residents’ growing concern – and feelings of helplessness – over what could happen at dozens of other nuclear reactors spread across this seismic archipelago. On Sunday, over 17,000 people protested at two separate demonstrations in Tokyo against nuclear power. It was the first time that Yohei Nakamura, 45, had ever been to a protest. “For a long time I’ve been suspicious of nuclear power, but now I realize it’s a serious problem,” he said amidst the crowds carrying placards and shouting slogans. He said anti-nuclear demonstrations were undercovered in the Japanese press because of the influence of Tokyo Power and Electric Power Company, which owns Fukushima. “TEPCO is one of the most powerful companies in Japan,” Nakamura said. “They use a tremendous amount of money for adverstising. If the mass media shows anti-nuclear power activities like demonstrations, they risk losing TEPCO as an advertiser.”

– With reporting by Lucy Birmingham / Tokyo

Japan shaken by quake after more evacuations urged

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110411/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By JAY ALABASTER and ERIC TALMADGE, Associated Press Jay Alabaster And Eric Talmadge, Associated Press 57 mins ago

SENDAI, Japan – A strong new earthquake rattled Japan’s northeast Monday as the government urged more people living near a tsunami-crippled nuclear plant to leave, citing concerns about long-term health risks from radiation.

The magnitude 7.0 aftershock, which trapped some people in collapsed homes, came just hours after residents bowed their heads and wept in ceremonies to mark a month since a massive earthquake and tsunami killed up to 25,000 people and set off radiation leaks at the nuclear plant by knocking out its cooling systems.

“Even after a month, I still cry when I watch the news,” said Marina Seito, 19, a student at a junior college who recalled being in a basement restaurant in Sendai when the original 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit on March 11. Plates fell and parts of the ceiling crashed down around her.

Officials said Monday’s aftershock did not endanger operations at the tsunami-flooded Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex, where power was cut but quickly restored. The epicenter was just inland and about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Tokyo.

But a nuclear safety official said repeated strong aftershocks — another large quake hit last Thursday — were slowing work at the plant, and said that if one of them were to spawn a tsunami, the complex would be just as vulnerable as on March 11.

“At the moment, no tsunami resistance has been added to the plant. At the moment, there is nothing we can do about it,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama of Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

With the crisis dragging on, residents of five more communities, some of them more than 20 miles (30 kilometers) from the plant, were urged to evacuate within a month because of high levels of radiation, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters. People living in a 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius around the plant already have been evacuated.

“This is not an emergency measure that people have to evacuate immediately,” he said. “We have decided this measure based on long-term health risks.”

Edano sounded a grave note, acknowledging that “the nuclear accident has not stabilized” and that “we cannot deny the possibility the situation could get worse.”

The latest quake spooked people yet again in a disaster-weary northeastern Japan. Customers in a large electronics store in Sendai screamed and ran outside and mothers grabbed their children.

Click image to see photos of quake, tsunami damage

In Iwaki, a city close to the quake’s epicenter, three houses collapsed and up to seven people were believed trapped inside. Two were later rescued, city fire department spokesman Takumi Namoto said. Their condition, and the fate of the others, was not immediately known.

Japanese officials said the quake had a magnitude of 7.0, but the U.S. Geological Survey said it measured 6.6.

With workers still far from bringing the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant under control, the bodies of thousands of tsunami victims yet to be found and more than 150,000 people living in shelters, there was little time Monday for reflection on Japan’s worst disaster since World War II.

People in hard-hit towns gathered for ceremonies at 2:46 p.m., the exact moment of the massive quake a month earlier.

“My chest has been ripped open by the suffering and pain that this disaster has caused the people of our prefecture,” said Yuhei Sato, the governor of Fukushima, which saw its coastal areas devastated by the tsunami and is home to the damaged plant at the center of the nuclear crisis. “I have no words to express my sorrow.”

In a devastated coastal neighborhood in the city of Natori, three dozen firemen and soldiers removed their hats and helmets and joined hands atop a small hill that has become a memorial for the dead. Earlier, four monks in pointed hats rang a prayer bell there as they chanted for those killed.

The noisy clatter of construction equipment ceased briefly as crane operators stood outside their vehicles and bowed their heads.

In the industrial town of Kamaishi, Iwate Gov. Takuya Tasso led a moment of commemoration as a loud siren rang through a high school gymnasium being used as a shelter. He bowed while people who have lived there since the tsunami kneeled on makeshift futons, bowed their heads and clasped their hands.

The school’s students will return to classes Tuesday even though 129 people are living in their gym. Some, like 16-year-old Keisuke Shirato, wore their baseball uniforms for Monday’s ceremony. Shirato’s family was not affected by the tsunami, but about half of his teammates lost their homes.

“A new school year starts tomorrow,” Shirato said. “Hopefully that will help give people hope and allow them to look toward a new start.”

The earthquake and tsunami flattened communities along hundreds of miles (kilometers) of coastline, causing what the government estimates could be as much as $310 billion in damage. About 250,000 are without electricity, although some of them because of the latest two quakes Monday and last Thursday.

Adding to the misery is radiation spewing from the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex, 140 miles (220 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo. The 70,000 to 80,000 people who lived within 12 miles (20 kilometers) of the plant must stay away from their homes indefinitely.

“We have no future plans. We can’t even start to think about it because we don’t know how long this will last or how long we will have to stay in these shelters,” said Atsushi Yanai, a 55-year-old construction worker. The tsunami spared his home, but he has to live in a shelter anyway because it is in the evacuation zone.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said its president, Masataka Shimizu, went to Fukushima prefecture Monday to relay his gratitude and apologies. Shimizu recently spent eight days in the hospital with dizziness and high blood pressure, but has since returned to work.

Shimizu told reporters in Fukushima that people who live near the plant are “suffering physically and mentally due to the nuclear radiation leak accident,”

“We sincerely apologize for this,” he said.

At TEPCO headquarters in Tokyo, hundreds of employees bowed their heads for a moment of silence at 2:46.

Japan’s government marked the one-month period by putting an ad in newspapers in China, South Korea, Russia, France, the United Kingdom and the United States — a letter from Prime Minister Naoto Kan thanking people for the outpouring of support that followed the tsunami. The Red Cross alone said it has collected $107 million (9.1 billion yen) from overseas.

Kan described the outpouring as “kizuna,” the bond of friendship.

“We deeply appreciate the kizuna our friends from around the world have shown and I want to thank every nation, entity, and you personally, from the bottom of my heart.”

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Talmadge reported from Fukushima. Associated Press Writers Tomoko Hosaka in Kamaishi and Shino Yuasa, Mari Yamaguchi and Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed to this report.

Japan’s PM vows to win battle against nuke plant

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110401/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By RYAN NAKASHIMA and MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press Ryan Nakashima And Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press 1 hr 41 mins ago

TOKYO – Japan’s prime minister sounded a resolute note Friday, promising to win the battle against an overheating nuclear plant even as atomic safety officials raised questions about the accuracy of radiation measurements at the complex.

Naoto Kan was grave a week ago when he addressed this nation rattled by fears of radiation that has contaminated food, milk and tap water. But three weeks after a massive tsunami disabled a nuclear power plant’s cooling systems, Kan vowed that Japan would create the safest system anywhere.

Japan will “do whatever it takes to win the battle” at Fukushima Dai-ichi, Kan said in a televised news conference. And when the crisis ends, “We will establish a system that could respond to any situation based on an assumption that anything could happen.”

While a massive earthquake and tsunami set off a series of events that disabled the plant, the accident has been exacerbated by several missteps along the way. Apparently spotting another mistake Friday, the nuclear safety agency ordered Tokyo Electric Power Co. to review its recent radiation figures, saying they seemed suspiciously high.

TEPCO has repeatedly been forced to retract such figures, eroding confidence in the company’s ability to respond effectively to the crisis and fueling fears over health risks.

Among the measurements called into question was one from Thursday that TEPCO said showed groundwater under one of the reactors contained iodine concentrations that were 10,000 times the government’s standard for the plant, the safety agency’s spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said. Seawater and air concentrations from this week also are under review.

“We have suspected their isotope analysis, and we will wait for the new results,” Nishiyama said.

TEPCO has conceded that there appears to be an error in the computer program used to analyze the data, but spokesman Junichi Matsumoto insisted that the glitch only affected readings for two radioactive isotopes, neither of which was iodine or other readings that have raised recent radiation concerns.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has held out the possibility that a complete review of all radiation data collected since the tsunami might eventually be ordered.

In any case, it appears radiation is still streaming out of the plant, underscoring TEPCO’s inability to get it under control. The company has increasingly asked for international help in its uphill battle, most recently ordering giant pumps from the U.S. that were to arrive later this month to spray water on the reactors.

Click image to see photos of quake, tsunami damage

“I don’t think the evacuation zones make any sense,” said Tadayuki Matsumoto, a 46-year-old construction worker who lives in a zone 15 miles (25 kilometers) away where residents have been advised to stay indoors. “They don’t seem to have thought it out and are making things up as they go along.”

Radiation concerns have rattled the Japanese public, already struggling to return to normal life after the earthquake-borne tsunami pulverized hundreds of miles (kilometers) of the northeastern coast. Three weeks after the disaster in one of the most connected countries in the world, 260,000 households still do not have running water and 170,000 do not have electricity.

Japan’s nuclear safety agency on Friday ordered plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. to review its latest measurements of radiation in air, seawater and groundwater samples, saying they seemed suspiciously high.

TEPCO has repeatedly made mistakes in analyzing radiation levels, and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said it might eventually order a complete review of all radiation data collected since the tsunami.

Though the size of recent leaks is unclear, it appears radiation is still streaming out of the plant, underscoring TEPCO’s inability to get it under control.

The company has increasingly asked for international help, most recently ordering giant pumps from the U.S. that will arrive later this month to spray water on the reactors.

The prime minister said in a televised news conference Friday that Japan will do whatever it takes to win the battle at Fukushima Dai-ichi, though he warned that it could be a long process.

“I promise to overcome this problem and regain a society where we can live with peace of mind,” said Kan, who wore a suit instead of a blue work jacket for the first time since the tsunami. He also looked ahead, saying he wants to do something innovative beyond just restoring the areas that were destroyed.

He vowed that Japan would create the safest nuclear systems anywhere and reiterated that TEPCO will be responsible for compensating victims of the nuclear disaster — a bill that could be anywhere between 1 trillion and 10 trillion yen ($12 billion and $120 billion), depending on how long it takes to resolve the crisis, according to Yusuke Ueda, a Merrill Lynch analyst. Kan said the government will provide some compensation beyond the utility’s legal responsibility.

Some cities are already helping their own residents. In hard-hit Natori, next to Sendai, dozens lined up to apply for funds as aircraft searching for bodies zoomed overhead.

Many people lost all of their possessions, including IDs, so the city has created software that compares neighborhoods before and after the tsunami. People point out where they lived, and if the house in that location has been destroyed, they are eligible for 100,000 yen ($1,200) in assistance.

“We have records of everyone that lived there, and so we can confirm identities by asking birthdays and other information,” said Takeshi Shibuya, an official at city hall.

Some applying for the funds, like 33-year-old Osamu Sato, said it would be hardly be enough. He and his pregnant wife bought their apartment and moved in six months before the tsunami destroyed it, plus all of their new furniture and electronics.

“To be honest, 100,000 yen doesn’t help much,” Sato said. “I’ve lost everything.”

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Associated Press Writers Eric Talmadge in Fukushima and Ryan Nakashima, Shino Yuasa, Mayumi Saito, Noriko Kitano and Cara Rubinsky in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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