Blog Archive

Sunday, 30 August 2015

"Contaminated rainwater at Fukushima plant repeatedly leaked into sea

FUKUSHIMA -- Rainwater containing radioactive contaminants flowed from a drainage ditch by the reactor buildings at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant into the sea on five occasions in just over four months, it has been learned.

The ditch is 2 meters deep and 2 meters wide, and stretches for about 800 meters. It was created to ferry rainwater from the plant grounds into the ocean, but in February this year it was learned that highly contaminated rainwater from the top of the No. 2 reactor building had flowed into the ditch and subsequently into the ocean. Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the plant, set up a 70-centimeter-high dam in the ditch, as well as eight pumps to move water from the ditch to another ditch that runs into a sealed harbor area. The pumps, which together can process rainfall of 14 millimeters per hour, were started on April 17 this year.

On April 21, however, loss of power caused by trouble with power generators resulted in all of the pumps shutting down, and contaminated water leaked into the sea. On July 16, rainfall rose to 21 millimeters per hour at one point. This was more than the pumps could handle, and workers confirmed that water flowed into the ocean. In all, five leaks from the ditch occurred in the period between April 17 and Aug. 27.

The concentrations of radioactive cesium and other radioactive materials in the contaminated rainwater ranged from around 20 to 670 times the safety level set for a "subdrain" plan in which decontaminated groundwater is to be released into the ocean.

The volume of leaked rainwater is unknown, but no changes have been seen in radioactive concentrations in the sea near the plant.

The Fukushima Prefectural Government on Aug. 27 issued a new request to TEPCO to introduce leak prevention measures. The next day, TEPCO raised the ditch dam by 15 centimeters, but Naohiro Masuda, chief decommissioning officer at Fukushima Daiichi Decontamination and Decommissioning Engineering Co., says, "Our main countermeasure will be to replace the ditch with a new one."

This new ditch is designed to carry rainwater into the sealed harbor area. Masuda indicated that until completion of the new ditch -- scheduled within the fiscal year -- additional leaks may be unavoidable. The plant therefore looks set to enter the typhoon season without full preparations against further leaks.

In February, after the rainwater leaks were discovered, fishermen protested that TEPCO had not released radiation measurements for the drainage ditch water for around 10 months. Negotiations with fishermen over the subdrain plan were subsequently put on hold. However, the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations officially agreed to the plan after receiving notification from TEPCO and the national government regarding measures to prevent a recurrence of the leaks.

Regarding the rainwater leaks, federation chairman Tetsu Nozaki commented, "All we can do is to ask TEPCO to improve the situation. The subdrain plan is a separate issue, and there is no change in our acceptance of it."

Source: Mainichi

Tochigi town residents rally against selection as candidate site for final disposal of radiation-tainted waste

UTSUNOMIYA – About 2,700 residents of Shioya, Tochigi Prefecture, gathered Saturday to oppose the central government’s choice of the town as a candidate site for the final disposal of some of the radiation-tainted waste resulting from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The residents adopted a resolution urging the plan be scrapped. Among those taking part was Mayor Hirobumi Inomata from Kami, another candidate site in Miyagi Prefecture.
In Tochigi Prefecture, designated waste that contains more than 8,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram is currently stored at about 170 different locations on a temporary basis.
For final disposal, the Environment Ministry selected state-owned land in Shioya at the end of July, but the plan has since met strong local opposition.
In 2012, another city in Tochigi Prefecture, Yaita, which borders Shioya, was selected as a candidate site for final waste disposal. However, the government was later forced to reconsider the decision due to fierce local opposition.
The state is planing to build landfill facilities for final disposal in five prefectures — Tochigi, Miyagi, Chiba, Gunma and Ibaraki prefectures — which lack the capacity to dispose of such waste at existing facilities.
In a related move Friday, three nuclear plant makers denied responsibility for the March 2011 Fukushima meltdown at the first hearing on a lawsuit seeking damages from the companies.
Representatives from Toshiba Corp., Hitachi Ltd. and General Electric Co. sought to dismiss the damage claims in Tokyo District Court.
The claims were lodged by about 1,400 people in Japan, including Fukushima residents, and 2,400 people from other places with nuclear plants, such as South Korea and Taiwan.
According to the plaintiffs, the plant makers insisted they have no obligation to compensate for damage from the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, referring to the law on nuclear damage compensation, which stipulates that only power suppliers have responsibilities for nuclear accidents.
The plaintiffs claim that the law, which gives nuclear plant makers immunity from compensation claims, violates the Constitution and therefore is invalid. Under the product liability law and other laws, they are demanding payment of ¥100 each.
Meeting with the press after speaking in court, Kazue Morizono, a 53-year-old resident of Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, said she hopes the lawsuit will clarify responsibility for the nuclear accident.
Source: Japan Times

Morphological defects found in Japanese fir trees around Fukushima nuclear plant

Radiation spewed out by the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant may be responsible for differences in the growth of native Japanese fir trees in the area.
Researchers primarily from the National Institute of Radiological Sciences said Aug. 28 that many fir trees near the plant, as well as other areas, had undergone “morphological defects.”
They intentionally avoided words like abnormality, but used morphological defects and change.
Their studies showed that the changes occurred more frequently in areas with higher air rates of radiation.
"But it is still unclear whether the phenomenon has been caused by radial rays,” a team member concluded, adding that exposure to higher levels of radiation is “one possible cause.”
Conducted in January, the survey covered the town of Okuma in Fukushima Prefecture, located 3.5 kilometers from the plant, where radiation levels of 33.9 microsieverts per hour were detected, and two locations in the town of Namie, also in the prefecture.
While one of the Namie investigation sites is 8.5 km from the plant and measured 19.6 microsieverts per hour, readings of 6.85 microsieverts were detected at the other spot, located 15 km from the facility.
All the sites are within the government-designated difficult-to-return zone, meaning that the residents were evacuated and are prohibited from living there.
The team also examined firs in distant Kita-Ibaraki, Ibaraki Prefecture, which had radiation levels of 0.13 microsieverts per hour, for comparison.
In each of the four sites, the scientists checked 100 to 200 fir trees.
They found that more than 90 percent of firs in the Okuma site were not growing normally. Fir tree boles normally extend upward with two or so branches arising from them horizontally each year. But this was not the case.
Similar changes in shape were found in more than 40 percent of firs and around 30 percent of the trees, respectively, in the two Namie locations. Less than 10 percent of fir trees in the Kita-Ibaraki survey site also were different.
According to the NIRS, findings of studies concerning the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster and other research revealed that conifers, such as firs and pine trees, are vulnerable to the effects of radiation.
However, the scientists noted that the problems reported in their latest survey may have been caused by animals, tree sickness or cold weather, not by exposure to strong radiation.
The Environment Ministry has been examining the impact of radial rays on local ecosystems since the nuclear crisis unfolded at the Fukushima nuclear plant four years ago. The NIRS study is part of those ministry efforts.
The governmental agency has to date monitored 44 kinds of animals and plants in areas around the damaged facility, but no other significant changes or abnormalities have been reported.
Tomoko Nakanishi, a professor of radiation plant physiology at the University of Tokyo, said the latest findings are invaluable as researchers have difficulty doing surveys in the difficult-to-return zone due to high radiation readings.
“There had been so little data on such areas,” she said.
But Nakanishi also pointed out it will require further research to conclude the morphological changes have been caused by exposure to radial rays.
“Other factors may have affected fir trees,” Nakanishi said. “Researchers need to examine through lab experiments what will happen when firs are exposed to high levels of radiation.”
Source: Asahi Shimbun

Saturday, 29 August 2015

3 Thyroid Cancer Cases Diagnosed in Kitaibaraki City, Ibaraki Prefecture -- Immediately South of Fukushima Prefecture

Kitaibaraki City, Ibaraki Prefecture, is located in the northeastern part of the prefecture, immediately south of Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture, and about 70 km south and slightly west of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

On August 25, 2015, Kitaibaraki City released the results of the thyroid ultrasound examination. Below is the English translation of the results and the related newspaper article.

 August 25, 2015
Division of Cooperative Community Development
Office of Health Support

【Regarding the Results of Thyroid Ultrasound Examination Project in Kitaibaraki City】

Kitaibaraki City implemented “Thyroid Ultrasound Examination Project: during the two-year period in Fiscal Year (FY) 2013-2014. (Project expenses: 37,173,000 yen)
Subjects were cityい residents age 0 to 18 at the time of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident. The examination was conducted in those age 0 to 4 in FY 2013 and other ages in FY 2014.
Regarding the examination results, the Kitaibaraki City Thyroid Ultrasound Examination Project Evaluation Council, consisting of experts and physicians, reported as follows:

  1. As screening examination, some would require a detailed examination or be diagnosed with cancer at a fix rate just as expected in a routine health check-up.
  2. The detailed examination result from FY 2014 revealed 3 cases of thyroid cancer.
  3. Radiation is unlikely to be the cause of these thyroid cancer cases.
FY 2013-2014 Thyroid Ultrasound Examination Results

 ※All participants or their guardians received explanations regarding radiation effects, purpose and method of the examination, and diagnostic category at orientation sessions ahead of time.
Those who were assessed to require a detailed examination (B & C diagnostic category) received explanation about the detailed examination during individual home visits.
Second-round screening is planned. The time of screening will be considered based on the opinions of physicians and experts.

Note: Diagnostic criteria employed by Kitaibaraki City are the same as in Fukushima Prefecture according to Oshidori Mako's inquiry with Kitaibaraki City Hall.

  • A1: no nodules or cysts found
  • A2: nodules ≦ 5.0 mm or cysts ≦ 20.0 mm
  • B: nodules ≧ 5.1 mm or cysts ≧ 20.1 mm
  • C: requiring immediate secondary examination
The Asahi Shimbun article dated August 26, 2015

Ibaraki Prefecture: Three Thyroid Cancer Cases in Kitaibaraki City from Last Fiscal Year Examination of Those Age 18 or Younger

Kitaibaraki City has been independently investigating the effect of radioactive substances  due to the Tokyo Electric Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident on children. On August 25, Kitaibaraki City released the results of the thyroid ultrasound examination conducted in FY 2014 on children age 18 or younger (note: at the time of the accident; at exposure). There were 3 cases of thyroid cancer, but it was judged unlikely to be due to the nuclear power plant accident.

After the nuclear power plant accident, the central government conducted thyroid examination in Fukushima Prefecture, but not in adjacent Kitaibaraki City. Due to requests from parents, the city conducted the examination independently. 1184 children who were age 4 or younger at the time of the accident underwent the examination in FY 2013, and none were diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

Examination subjects in FY 2014 was a total of 6,151 children 18 or younger (including children age 4 or younger who did not undergo the examination in FY 2013). Of these, 3,953 wanted to be examined. The results showed 1,746 with no findings, 1,773 to be followed with observation, 72 to require detailed examinations, and 2 to require detailed examinations immediately. 3 were diagnosed with thyroid cancer by the Thyroid Ultrasound Examination Project Assessment Council. However, the cancer was determined unlikely to be due to radiation exposure owing to the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident, considering the supposed exposure dose and the length of time since the accident. 

According to tweets by a freelance journalist Ryuichi Kino who contacted the Office of Health Support, Division of Cooperative Community Development, Department of Citizen Welfare at Kitaibaraki City Hall, 3 cancer cases were diagnosed from 74 (72 in category B and 2 in category C) who had detailed examinations, but apparently 2 cases who were in diagnostic category C were not automatically diagnosed with cancer. (It is unclear if this means the 2 "C" cases were eventually diagnosed with cancer after the detailed examination, or they were not diagnosed with cancer). All 3 have been operated on and apparently doing well. The city has no intention of releasing ages and sexes of the three patients, as such information might identify the individuals. Names of the Kitaibaraki City Thyroid Ultrasound Examination Project Evaluation Council members will not be released at the request of some of the members. The Council consists of 6 members — 1 thyroid specialist, 3 physicians including surgeon(s) and general practictioner(s), and 2 city officials. According to the Ibaraki Shimbun article, president of Kitaibaraki City Hospital, Dr. Yoshifumi Uekusa, stated, “Symptoms began to appear 5 years after the Chernobyl accident, and the exposure dose is less in Japan, so it is unlikely to be due to radiation effects.”  Apparently, Dr. Uekusa is a member of the Council. 

Oshidori Mako contacted Kitaibaraki City Hall and reported that the Thyroid Ultrasound Examination Project Assessment Council (which concluded, "Radiation is unlikely to be the cause of these thyroid cancer cases") included no experts in radiation protection or dose estimation. Oshidori Mako also noted that the radioactive plume blew in the south towards Iwaki City but the lack of precipitation prevented radionuclides from depositing on the ground as it did in Iitate Village. (This means the overall radioactivity of soil may not be high, but residents still might have been exposed to the radioactive plume when it passed through the area). The early exposure dose assessment, based on the soil deposition, has been inadequate for a place such as Iwaki City. 

As a matter of fact, paragraph C43 of UNSCEAR 2013 discusses the so-called "south trace" having much higher ratios of Te-129m and I-131 to Cs-137. This suggests a significant amount of radioactive iodine isotopes might have fallen in the "south trace" which includes Iwaki City. As Kitaibaraki City is immediately south of Iwaki City, and the air movement does not stop at the border between the two cities, it is possible for Kitaibaraki City to have received a similar amount of the radioactive plume as Iwaki City.

Source:  Fukushima Voice version 2

Morphological defects in native Japanese fir trees around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant


After the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (F1NPP) in March 2011, much attention has been paid to the biological consequences of the released radionuclides into the surrounding area. We investigated the morphological changes in Japanese fir, a Japanese endemic native conifer, at locations near the F1NPP. Japanese fir populations near the F1NPP showed a significantly increased number of morphological defects, involving deletions of leader shoots of the main axis, compared to a control population far from the F1NPP. The frequency of the defects corresponded to the radioactive contamination levels of the observation sites. A significant increase in deletions of the leader shoots became apparent in those that elongated after the spring of 2012, a year after the accident. These results suggest possibility that the contamination by radionuclides contributed to the morphological defects in Japanese fir trees in the area near the F1NPP.


During the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (F1NPP) accident that occurred in March 2011, radionuclides that were released into the atmosphere contaminated the surrounding environment1,2. Since the accident, much attention has been paid to the biological consequences of contamination by radionuclides. To detect the biological changes in the environment, various wild organisms, such as Japanese monkeys3, lycaenid butterflies4, and gall-forming aphids5, inhabiting the surrounding area have been investigated as possible indicator organisms. However, further studies using radiation-responsive indicator organisms help us to reach a consistent conclusion, whether radiological contamination from the F1NPP accident had a biological impact on the environment.
For the purpose of biomonitoring of the radiological contamination, nevertheless, coniferous plants have been demonstrated to be suitable indicator organisms because of their high radiosensitivity, which was revealed decades ago by field examination using gamma irradiation facilities6,7,8,9. Radiosensitive damages in conifers were reported after the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986, where two local coniferous species, Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) and Norway spruce (Picea abies), showed distinct biological damage in the radioactively contaminated areas10,11,12. Under experimental and accidental exposure, morphological changes, particularly in branching of the main axis, were shown to be the most frequently observed radiosensitive responses of coniferous plants6,7,8,9,10,11,12.
Coniferous tree species are grown in the area highly radioactive contaminated by the F1NPP accident, where Japanese fir (Abies firma) is one of the most common naturally grown species. Different from other coniferous species, young-tree populations of Japanese fir are abundant, because this species has the characteristic ability to sprout even on the shaded forest floor. The short height of young trees enables the easy observation of morphological changes in the whole tree. In addition, the regular annual branching of Japanese fir trees enables determination of the year that any morphological changes occurred through a number of past years (Fig. 1).

 In this study, we used the Japanese fir tree as an indicator organism to detect the environmental impact of radiological contamination caused by the F1NPP accident. We examined the morphological changes in annual leader shoots for the past five years within the highly contaminated area around the F1NPP13. The investigation was carried out in January 2015 at 3 observation sites (S1, S2, and S3), at different distances from the F1NPP and with different contamination levels (Fig. 2, Table 1). The three observation sites were situated in “Area 3” where it is expected that the residents have difficulties in returning for a long time (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry). Fir trees were also examined in a slightly contaminated control site (S4), southwest of the F1NPP.


Most of the naturally grown Japanese fir trees showed a typical monopodial branching pattern to form a trunk with one main axis (Fig. 3A), whereas some trees showed distinctive morphological defects on the main axis of the trunk (Fig. 3B,C). Independently of the growing site, these defects were characterized by irregular branching at the whorls of the main axis with a distinct deletion of the leader shoot that normally elongates vertically to form the main axis. The space of the deleted leader shoot was filled in by the remaining lateral branches that either extended upwards (Fig. 3B) or retained their horizontal position (Fig. 3C).

 The overall frequency of the morphological defects of the main axis varied among observation sites, S1, S2, and S3, but it was significantly higher in each site compared to the control, S4 (chi-square test with df = 1, p = 2.1 × 10−58, 3.7 × 10−17, and 8.1 × 10−7, respectively, Bonferroni-corrected; Fig. 4). The frequency corresponded to the ambient dose rate at the observation sites that represented the local levels of radionuclide contamination (S1 > S2 > S3 > S4, Table 1). A high frequency of defects was observed in S1, where 125 out of 128 trees showed branching defects of the main axis.

 Branching defects of the main axis were analyzed separately in each annual whorl (Fig. 5). Compared to the whorls of 2010, which had been generated before the F1NPP accident, the frequency of deleted leader shoots was significantly increased in the whorls after 2012 (sites S1 and S3), or those after 2013 (site S2). The frequency peaked in the whorls of 2013 and tended to decrease in the whorls of 2014 in every observation site. The variation patterns in the series of annual whorls were similar among the sites, whereas no annual variation was observed in the control site, S4. These results indicated that the deletion of leader shoots occurred most frequently in the whorls that elongated from terminal winter buds during the growing season of 2012–2013.

 Despite the significant increase in the frequency of deleted leader shoots in annual whorls around 2013 in the observation sites S1–S3, the number of lateral branches that elongated from the same whorls did not show annual variation that corresponded to the deletion frequency of leader shoots (Fig. 6). The number of lateral branches was not different among annual whorls even in S1 (one-way ANOVA, p = 0.84), in which the frequency of leader shoot deletions varied most intensely compared to the other observation sites (Fig. 5). On the other hand, the number of lateral branches showed significant annual variation in S2, S3, and S4 (one-way ANOVA, p = 1.4 × 10−7, 6.3 × 10−3 and 1.5 × 10−8 for S2, S3, and S4, respectively); however, the annual variation patterns were independent from the frequency of leader shoot deletions. In addition, the variation in lateral branch number among the sites did not correspond to the frequency variation of deleted leader shoots. This indicated that the deletion of leader shoots occurred independently of the change in lateral branch number that elongated from the whorls.

 Differences in the development of the leader shoots and lateral branches were also observed from a close inspection of the defected whorls. At each site, the deleted leader shoots left no marks among normal lateral branches (Fig. 7A). Similar structures were also observed in the winter buds of 2015 at the top of the main axis, where normal lateral buds with completely deleted apical buds were sometimes observed (Fig. 7B). These observations demonstrated that the deletion of leader shoots probably resulted from the deletion of apical buds at an early stage of their development, independently of the formation of lateral buds.

  1. In this study, significant increases in the morphological defects were shown in Japanese fir populations growing in areas near the F1NPP. The occurrence corresponded to the radioactive contamination level represented by the ambient dose rate in each site, suggesting that the defects could be due to the exposure to ionizing radiation from the radionuclides released after the accident.
    On the other hand, deletion of leader shoots was also observed in the control site at a lower frequency, indicating that the defects were not radiation-specific, but universal. The deletion of leader shoots in the control site occurred randomly in the annual whorls and not specifically in a certain year. Moreover, even in the highly contaminated sites, a low frequency of defects was observed before the F1NPP accident in 2011. These results suggested that the defects could also occur independently of radiation exposure.
    Similar defects of the main axis have been reported in many coniferous species grown in plantations and involve the separation of trunk into two or more stems of similar size, which is called a forking defect14,15,16,17. Forking defects can be caused by breakage of the leader shoot due to an accidental damage, such as bird perching, animal attack, wind damage, and pathogenic disease, or due to environmental stress such as frost14. Previous studies have shown that in lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta), the forking defects could also be caused by physiological control of apical dominance even in the absence of mechanical damage14,15. In this study, the observed forking defects in Japanese fir were identical to those in other coniferous tree species.
    In relation to radiation effects, deletion of the leader shoots has been reported in Scots pine trees chronically exposed to radiation in a contaminated area close to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant11. The trees that showed forking defects with deletion of annual leader shoots eventually formed bushy canopies without a main axis. Another study showed that Scots pine trees in Chernobyl were characterized by the disappearance of a single trunk and replacement with two or more trunks or branches, corresponding to the estimated dose rate during the development of apical buds12. Although the defects in pine trees close to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant were not all identical to the defects observed in Japanese fir trees in the area close to the F1NPP, the information seems to support the relationship between the morphological changes in Japanese fir and the chronic exposure to radiation from released radionuclides.
    Despite the correlation between the defects in Japanese fir and the radioactive contamination level, there is little biological information to support the contention that the increased frequencies of the morphological changes were due to radiation released after the F1NPP accident. Even though the damage at the early stage of apical bud formation is suggested as the main cause of the deletion of leader shoots, there was an inexplicable 2-year time lag between 2011, the year with the highest radiation dose in the environment, and 2013, the year with the highest frequency of defects. Consequently, processes at the cellular and tissue level involved in the deletion of leader shoots need to be elucidated in relation to the development of lateral and apical buds in coniferous plants.
    As described above, there are several factors that are possibly responsible for increased frequencies of the morphological defect observed in Japanese fir populations near the F1NPP, and, at present, there is no decisive evidence that any single factor is causally related to these increased frequencies. However, a positive correlation was observed between ambient dose rates and frequencies of the morphological defect, and these frequencies increased after the F1NPP accident while they were much lower before the accident, suggesting that, of several potential factors, ionizing radiation is most likely to have increased frequencies of the morphological defect. To confirm this contention, dose rates to Japanese fir should be estimated in contaminated fields of Fukushima, and effects of long-term irradiation on this tree should be investigated in irradiation facilities.


    Plant and field observations

    Samples of Japanese fir were examined in 4 sites (3 observation sites and 1 control site) in the Abukuma region dominated by the Abukuma Highlands and a series of gentle hills leading to a narrow plain along the east coast of Pacific Ocean (Fig. 2, Table 1). Climate conditions in this region are commonly cold with little snow during the winter. The vegetation in the examined sites was mostly mixed forests of Japanese fir trees with other dominant trees such as Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora), and oak (Quercus serrata) (Table 1). The investigation of fir trees was performed between January 5 and 9, 2015, approximately 4 years after the F1NPP accident in March 2011. At the time of investigation, fir trees were in their dormant season when each branch has apical and lateral buds at the top (Fig. 1).
    All the fir trees between 0.4 m and 5 m in height were observed within 8–12 quadrats (10 × 10 m) placed in each examined site. Five whorls from the top of the main axis were observed. The occurrence of deleted leader shoots and the number of lateral branches were determined in each of annual whorl. The counts and the number in all the quadrats within each site were pooled before analysis.

    Measurement of ambient dose rate

    The ambient dose rate was measured at the centre and corners within each quadrat at 1 m above ground level with either an ionization chamber-type survey meter (ICS-323C, Hitachi Aloka Medical, Tokyo) for S1 or a NaI scintillation survey meter (TCS-172, Hitachi Aloka Medical, Tokyo) in S2, S3, and S4. The measurements were averaged within each site to determine the representative value of the ambient dose rate in the site.

    Statistical analysis

    Data were analyzed using Excel 2007. Comparisons between the groups were performed using Fisher’s exact test or the Chi-squared test.

    Additional Information

    How to cite this article: Watanabe, Y. et al. Morphological defects in native Japanese fir trees around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Sci. Rep. 5, 13232; doi: 10.1038/srep13232 (2015).


Cleanup starts in Fukushima's restricted zone

Japanese Govenment insisting on making priorly evacuated people to return to live in highly contaminated areas


Full-scale decontamination work has begun in one of the areas in Fukushima Prefecture that received the highest doses of radioactive fallout from the 2011 nuclear accident.

About 30 workers gathered at an elementary school in the town of Okuma on Friday. They used heavy machinery to remove top soil from the playground.

Okuma partly hosts the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The government has determined that some parts of the town will remain restricted areas where people will not live for an extended time.

In these restricted zones, decontamination work had only been carried out on an experimental basis.

But at the request of town officials, the Environment Ministry decided to launch full-scale cleanup work targeting a district where there are a lot of schools and public facilities.

The ministry plans to finish decontaminating the roughly 95-hectare area by next March.

Similar restricted zones exist in 6 other municipalities in Fukushima.

Ministry officials plan to decide whether to start decontaminating them after checking their radiation levels and the wishes of the residents. 

Source: NHK

Government mulls new subsidies for communities near decommissioned nuclear reactors

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry plans to seek ¥4.5 billion in the government’s fiscal 2016 budget to provide financial assistance to local communities facing reductions in existing subsidies following the decommissioning of nuclear reactors, ministry sources said Wednesday.

New support measures are necessary as some aging reactors are to be decommissioned, the sources said.

The operational period for nuclear reactors is limited to 40 years in principle. They can then operate a further 20 years if approval is given by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, but the requirements to extend operations are tough and maintenance costs are high.

In April, a decision was made to decommission five aging reactors, including the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Mihama plant in Fukui Prefecture, located in central Japan.

As a result of the decommissioning decision, the local governments in those areas will see a decline in the subsidies they are given for fiscal 2016 under the current program for support to communities hosting nuclear plants.

The National Governors Association is calling on the central government to continue providing support to host local communities until the dismantling of decommissioned reactors is completed.

The planned support program is expected to help finance new measures to shore up local economies near such reactors, the sources said.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, the Fukushima Prefectural Government decided to subsidize moving expenses for those who wish to return home after vacating areas outside of the designated evacuation zones after the March 2011 disaster.

To support those who aim to return to Fukushima, the prefectural government plans to offer financial assistance of up to ¥100,000 per household, the officials said.

The government has allocated ¥376 million for such expenses in a supplementary budget for September for some 5,200 households, with the aim of providing such support within the year.

“I’m taking seriously the current situation,” Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori told a news conference.

According to the prefectural government, the number of people who left areas that were not affected by evacuation advisories following the nuclear disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s wrecked Fukushima No. 1 plant was estimated at some 25,000 as of the end of last year.

The subsidy is expected to be offered to those who have already returned to Fukushima, on condition that they lived in temporary housing for two years or longer.

In June, the Fukushima government decided it would stop providing free housing under the disaster relief law at the end of fiscal 2016, when the financial support on moving expenses is scheduled to end as well.

It also plans to offer housing aid for low-income earners who move from temporary housing to privately rented housing for some two years starting in fiscal 2017.

Source: Japan Times

I-131 detected from dehydrated sludge of sewage plant in Gunma

Iodine-131 was found repeatedly in 20111, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, proving that something is still fissioning in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

According to Gunma prefectural government, 24 Bq/Kg of I-131 was detected from dehydrated sludge of a sewage plant.
From their monthly report published on 8/7/2015, the sample was collected from 7/27 to 7/29/2015. The sewage plant is situated beside Tonegawa River.
33 Bq/Kg of Cs-137 was also detected from the same sample.

I-131 was detected from 2 of 6 samples in June and May as well. The highest reading was 49 Bq/Kg.

From the sample of 6/23 ~ 6/26/2015, Cs-134 was measured to prove the dehydrated sludge is also under the effect of Fukushima accident.

Source: Fukushima Diary

Many baby seals dying of leukemia-linked disorder along California coast

Many baby seals dying of leukemia-linked disorder along California coast — Blamed for over 1/3 of recent deaths at San Francisco Bay rescue center 

Of the 46 recently weaned northern elephant seals deaths reported by the San Francisco Bay Area’s Marine Mammal Center between April 20 and August 1 of this year, Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation was listed as a cause of death in 16 — over 1/3 of the total.

U.S. National Library of Medicine (emphasis added): Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) is a serious disorder in which the proteins that control blood clotting become over active… Risk factors for DIC include: Blood transfusion reaction; Cancer, especially certain types of leukemia

DIC “is a pathological process characterized by the widespread activation of the clotting cascade that results in the formation of blood clots in the small blood vessels throughout the body… and can ultimately lead to multiple organ damage… severe bleeding can occur from various sites. DIC does not occur by itself but only as a complicating factor from another underlying condition, usually in those with a critical illness… DIC can lead to multiorgan failure and widespread bleeding… Causes — DIC can occur in the following conditions: Solid tumors and blood cancers (particularly acute promyelocytic leukemia)… Sepsis or severe infection… Severe allergic or toxic reactions… Giant hemangiomas (Kasabach-Merritt syndrome) [and] Large aortic aneurysms.”

Acute promyelocytic leukemia is a subtype of acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), a cancer of the white blood cells. According to Wikipedia, “ionizing radiation exposure can increase the risk of AML. Survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had an increased rate of AML, as did radiologists exposed to high levels of X-rays”

Journal of Intensive Care, 2014: Disseminated intravascular coagulation… with enhanced fibrinolysis is a DIC type usually seen in acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL)… The Scientific Standards Committee… defines DIC as ‘an acquired syndrome [that] can originate from and cause damage to the microvasculature, which if sufficiently severe, can produce organ dysfunction’… problems exist with this definition in terms of not taking into account the type of DIC often seen in acute leukemias (especially acute promyelocytic leukemia)

Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology, 2013: A causal association with leukemia has only been documented to date for ionizing radiation, benzene and treatment with cytostatic drugs… A large number of studies included in the review referred to the effects of ionizing radiation, where new data suggest that the effects of exposure to small doses of ionizing radiation should probably be reevaluated… An update of [the Life Span Study (LSS) of A-Bomb survivors] has shown that exposure to ionizing radiation at doses as low as those usually recorded in occupational settings, leukemia incidence follows a quadratic dose response pattern… Moreover, there is uncertainty on whether the proposed safety limits from the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) are appropriate, since revised LSS data show that the risk of leukemia remains increased even in groups with low cumulative exposure to radiation

Physics and Radiobiology of Nuclear Medicine (Springer), Jun 29, 2013: Leukemia is one of the most common cancers induced by radiation in humans, accounting for one in five mortalities from radiocarcinogenesis. Risk of leukemia varies with age, with younger persons being more prone to radiocarcinogenesis… Leukemia appears in as early as 2 to 3 years after the exposure, with an average latent period of 5 to 10 years.

Source: Enenews

Food Safety after Fukushima Disaster

On 21 May 2015, the Japanese government referred measures taken by the Korean government to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Since Sept. 6 2013, the Korean government has restricted the import of Japanese fisheries products from eight prefectures including Fukushima, where a nuclear-power-plant disaster occurred in 2011.

According to the Korean government, import restrictions are indispensable for food safety reasons, while the Japanese government argues that its products are safe for humans to consume.

The Agreement of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) provides that members have the right to take SPS measures necessary for the protection of human, animal or plant life or health.

However, members must ensure that any SPS measure is applied only to the extent necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health, and is not maintained without sufficient scientific evidence, based on a risk assessment under the SPS Agreement (Art. 2).

Since the risk assessment under the SPS Agreement is "the evaluation of the potential for adverse effects on human or animal health arising from the presence of additives, contaminants, toxins or disease-causing organisms in food, beverages or feedstuffs," (Annex A, para.4 emphasis added) risk assessments based on the minority scientific opinion can be used as justification for measures taken by South Korea, as long as there is any possibility of adverse effects on human health.

Most man-made radionuclides emitted from atomic energy incidents were classified as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2001.

The international standard recommended by the CODEX Alimentarius Commission is 1,000Bk/kg for cesium (Cs) 134/137, reflecting the maximum acceptable level for human health.

The Commission, however, proposed that radionuclides in foods should be maintained to a level that is "as low as reasonably achievable."

According to the SPS Agreement, members may maintain SPS measures resulting in a higher level of protection than the relevant international standards, if there is a scientific justification, or a member determines to be appropriate in accordance with Article 5 (Art.3.3).

Regarding Cs 134/137 in foods, many members including South Korea (100Bq/kg), the European Union (100Bq/kg), Taiwan (370Bq/kg), China (90~800Bq/kg) and Japan (10~100Bq/kg) have, therefore, maintained higher levels of protection than recommended by CODEX.

Under Article 5.7 of the SPS Agreement, South Korea can take provisional measures to restrict the importation of the Japanese products, if relevant scientific evidence is insufficient.

Given the on-going nature and unprecedented magnitude of Fukushima disaster, it is doubtful whether Japan has provided South Korea with sufficient information regarding the actual conditions of radioactive contamination after the disaster and whether a complete risk assessment estimating the adverse effects of radionuclides on human health will be currently possible.

Since South Korea and Japan failed to settle the trade dispute through consultation, under the Understanding on Rules and Procedures Governing the Settlement of Disputes, the dispute is due to be referred to the Panel.

During the Panel process, Japan must prove that there have been no more additional emissions of man-made radionuclides into the environment after the disaster, and provide the Panel with sufficient scientific evidence supporting the food safety of Japanese marine products.

Source: The Korea Times

481,000 Bq/Kg of Cs-134/137 measured from earth of Minamisoma city

On 8/23/2015, a researcher of a citizen reported high level of radioactive material is still detected from earth beside Yokokawa dam in Minamisoma city Fukushima. The dam provides agricultural and industrial water. The analysis was implemented on 8/18/2015.

The highest reading of Cs-134/137 was 481,000 Bq/Kg from moss and soil. The second highest reading was 222,000 Bq/Kg from the soil on the bridge.
Monkey’s excrement was also analyzed to detect 50,000 Bq/Kg of Cs-134/137. The second highest reading was 36,600 Bq/Kg.,4147,72,html#yoko_syogen

Source: Fukushima Diary

Japan nuclear watchdog revises guideline to create medical network in event of atomic crisis

The Nuclear Regulation Authority on Wednesday revised a key guideline that would boost the country’s medical preparedness in the event of an atomic disaster, reflecting lessons learned from the March 2011 triple meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 complex.

The watchdog is aiming to create a nationwide medical service network over roughly the next three years by asking local municipalities that host nuclear plants to designate one or more hospitals as institutions that can provide emergency treatment for radiation exposure.

The disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant saw enormous amounts of radioactive materials belched into the environment, and exposed the vulnerability of hospitals and medical networks in the event of an atomic emergency. Because hospitals were not prepared to deal with a situation where radioactive substances are diffused over a wide area, many evacuees were not given proper treatment.

The regulator designated a total of five university hospitals and research institutions as facilities for treating large numbers of people exposed to high-level radiation who could not be treated locally. These sites include Fukushima Medical University and Hiroshima University.

Under the revised guideline, the watchdog is also calling for strengthening medical staffers’ education on radiation treatment, while organizing teams — comprised of doctors, nurses and nuclear experts — that will be dispatched to support local hospitals in the event of a nuclear emergency.

On Aug. 11, a reactor at the Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture was the nation’s first to be rebooted under the post-Fukushima, upgraded safety regulations.

The government is seeking to reactivate the remaining idled reactors that have cleared the beefed-up regulations, though lingering safety concerns and a majority of the public opposed to nuclear power remain obstacles to that goal.

Source: Japan Times

Fukushima today: A first-person account from the field and the conference table

It has been more than four years since the east coast of Japan was hit with a trifecta: an earthquake of Magnitude 9 on the Richter scale, followed by a massive tsunami triggered by the quake’s tremors, and then the meltdown of three nuclear reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi  nuclear generating complex. Design mistakes, a poor safety culture, and human error exacerbated the situation. And it all happened within the span of an hour, searing the name “Fukushima” into the collective memory of all. Like Hiroshima a few hundred kilometers to the south, the name Fukushima became synonymous with the horrors that can befall a nation from uncontrolled atomic chain reactions. 

I had traveled to Japan to attend a meeting of the Japan Scientists’ Association in Yokohama, near Tokyo, which was expected to announce a major change in its pro-nuclear energy position.
While there, several other conference attendees and I received permission to go on a guided tour to the restricted areas surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi plant to see for ourselves, first-hand, the things that we had all been discussing in conference rooms and lecture halls for the past three days. One of the conference organizers—Yoshimi Miyake, a professor at Akita University—accompanied us on our trip to Fukushima. (To be precise, Fukushima is a prefecture with the namesake city its capital. The plant itself is called Fukushima Daiichi.) Another participant, Lucas Wirl from Germany, volunteered to act as our photographer.

What follows are my personal impressions from the tour that occurred immediately after the meeting, and a few of the relevant highlights from the meeting itself—which called for the elimination of nuclear power from Japan as soon as possible. A total of seven of us traveled about 50 miles, starting from a point some 40 miles south of the power plant, then heading along a series of coastal highways until the road took us to within just a little over a mile and a half from the plant, within the town limits of Futaba—which was about as close as anyone could get to the site without special protective gear. We then continued northeast to the village of Namie, one of the nearest villages to the plant, and a place where the government was aggressively pushing for former inhabitants to return to live year-round. 

Along the way, we passed through many towns and little villages that had been hit hard. As for the plant itself, the radiation levels are so high that it is difficult to even operate robots. And in places like Namie—whose closest boundary lay less than five miles away from the plant—the radiation levels posed significant risks, because they are so much higher than normal natural background radiation. Also accompanying us were Itoh Tatsuya of the Iwaki City chamber of commerce and Baba Isao, an assemblyman from the town of Namie—both locales hurt substantially by the multiple disasters. 

Getting there. We traveled by Shinkansen—bullet train—from Tokyo to Iwaki City in Fukushima prefecture, where we stayed overnight before beginning our journey the next day. As we left our hotel after breakfast, one of our guides—Tatsuya—readied his Geiger counter. Before leaving, he took a measurement of the background radiation level and announced that it was higher than normal today, even though Iwaki is more than 40 miles from the ill-fated power plant. It sounded like he was a weather forecaster talking about humidity levels. He did not give a figure as to how much higher the background radiation was. 

As we started heading north, we saw homes destroyed by the tsunami. Iwaki lost 200 people, Tatsuya said. As we began to reach the outskirts of Iwaki City, the radiation level rose consistently, if in very small amounts. Here at about 20 miles from the plant it was about 0.1 microSieverts per hour—objectively not really high at all, but above where we started, and marginally higher than the normal natural background radiation. The Geiger counter’s needle flickered, occasionally registering higher levels, especially when we passed through some tunnels.

As I looked out the window, I thought of what one of the conference presenters, Mitsugu Yoneda of Chuo University in Tokyo, had said: There were 120,000 evacuees across the Fukushima prefecture, and it was unlikely that they would be able to return to their homes in 2016 in the so-called “difficult-to-return” zones, where the cumulative annual exposure is expected to be 20 milliSieverts or more. In recognition of this fact, the government had come up with a new category called “release preparation zones,” where the cumulative annual exposure is estimated to be well above “normal” but less than 20 milliSieverts. The government’s plan to promote an early return to these areas was called a politically motivated whitewash by Yoneda, because anything close to 20 milliSieverts is far higher than the normally accepted safe annual limit. (One milliSievert is about equal to about 100 millirems—the units most commonly used in the United States. Thus, 20 milliSieverts would be 2,000 millirems.)

Different countries have different standards, but in the United States, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires that its licensees limit annual radiation exposure to individual members of the public to 1 milliSievert (100 millirems) above the average annual background radiation. Because the natural background radiation usually averages in the range of about 3.1 milliSieverts (310 millirems), that figure plus the allowed exposure from the nuclear power plants makes for a total of about 4.1 milliSieverts (410 millirems) annually—a far cry from the 20 milliSieverts (2,000 millirems) that could be encountered by a member of the public in any putative “release preparation zone” near Fukushima Daiichi.

To give a sense of scale, the average person gets 0.16 milliSieverts (about 4 millirems) from a single chest X-ray, and about 0.96 milliSieverts (24 millirems) in cosmic radiation annually if that person is living at sea level. Cumulative dosages of 500 milliSieverts (50,000 millirems) or above are considered “high,” and cause acute radiation sickness, many different forms of cancer, and death. But because radiation affects different people in different ways—depending upon one’s age, general health, and genetic predisposition—it is not possible to indicate precisely what dose is needed to be fatal to a given individual. All that researchers can do is give statistical averages, such as “50 percent of a population would die within 30 days of receiving a dose of between 350,000 to 500,000 millirems (3,500 to 5,000 milliSieverts).

Some of the other background information that Yoneda provided was similarly dismal. For one thing, the building containing the failed reactors has radiation levels as high as 4,000 to 5,000 milliSieverts per hour (400,000 to 500,000 millirems per hour), making even the operation of robots difficult. In fact, two power company robots had to be abandoned while inside the depths of the plant. And some spots, such as inside the primary containment vessel, went as high as 9.7 Sieverts per hour (970,000 millirems per hour). In addition, it has not been possible to precisely locate the melted core. (Another conference speaker, Jun Tateno, who was a former research scientist with the Japanese Atomic Energy Research Institute, accused the government of suppressing voices from the scientific community that were critical of the safety of power plants. He said that we have reached a situation in which we do not even know how much plutonium is in the core.) In the meantime, huge amounts of water must be pumped in to keep the reactors cool; this liquid then mixes with ground water, contaminating it as a result. 

The picture is not much better when it comes to the land. In an effort to decontaminate residential areas, radioactive soil is being dug up from approximately 1,000 sites. The government wants to consolidate this contaminated material in semi-permanent storage sites in the “difficult-to-return zones” in Futaba and Okuma towns. Local residents, meanwhile, fear that these could turn into permanent repositories of radioactive material.

I was jolted out of my reverie by the comments of Tatsuya, who pointed out a large apartment building that looked empty. He said that in days past there would have been many children’s clothes hanging from the balconies. The only people who are living there now are some of the laborers who are working to decontaminate the town. 

Our first stop was J-Village, about 18 miles from the plant. It housed a huge sports facility, including what was once Japan’s largest soccer-training complex. Because of its stadium, many of Japan’s top players once trained there. Now abandoned, the stadium was overgrown with weeds, and the scoreboard still carried the results of the last game. The parking lot was full, but not with the cars of soccer fans. The vehicles belonged to the decontamination workers who were taken by buses from there to the restricted sites. 

Tatsuya noted that the Geiger counter was reading about 1 microSievert per hour as he moved the counter around the parking lot. That was bad enough; it translated to 8.76 milliSieverts per year.
He then bent down to take a reading from a grassy spot. The counter needle pinned to the right. “Off the scale!” he exclaimed. It was higher than 5 microSieverts per hour, which is more than 50 times higher than normal natural background radiation per hour in Tokyo. It translated into a cumulative annual dose of 43 milliSieverts—many times above the 6.2 milliSieverts (620 millirems) average annual exposure for members of the general public, according to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. (In addition to the natural background radiation level of about 3.1 milliSieverts [310 millirems], the average person is also likely to fly in an airplane, watch television, or undergo medical procedures, and all these manmade sources together add another 3.1 milliSieverts [310 millirems] per year to one’s exposure, making for a total radiation dose of 6.2 milliSieverts, or 620 millirems. This figure could colloquially be considered the “normal” amount of radiation exposure for a member of the general public, as a very rough rule of thumb.) 

We left soon thereafter. We were told that most workers did not wear dosimeters to record their cumulative radiation dose. There was good money to be made in decontamination work. They did not want to know. 

But if one does the math, what the workers and their supervisors were ignoring—or were being told to ignore—could be significant. If a person spent one week working at this part of a supposedly safe parking area for 8 hours per day, then he or she would have been exposed to 40 microSieverts per day. And if that person was there for a 5-day workweek, then over the course of a single week that person would have been exposed to 200 microSieverts. In a year, that person could receive 10 milliSieverts, a significant dose. Of course, scientists are rightly cautious of such “anecdotal” evidence; our Geiger counter readings could have been off, or the machine calibrated incorrectly, or some other source of error introduced—though I doubt it because it had earlier read the background correctly. But the result of such quick and dirty, back-of-the-envelope calculations for what is supposedly a low-risk parking area, well away from the restricted hot zones, do give one pause—especially as the ongoing lack of dosimeters means that no one really knows a given individual’s cumulative dose. The amount of exposure to a thing that you cannot see, hear, smell, taste, or feel sneaks up on you. Even when you think you are safe, you are not.

If nothing else, the fact that a simple, random spot-check registered so highly is an eye-opener, and counter to what has been officially portrayed. An April 16, 2015 story in the Asahi Shimbun—one of the major, reputable, national newspapers in Japan, of a stature comparable to the New York Timesquoted a government agency as saying: “Cleanup crews around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant were exposed to an average dose of 0.5 millisievert of radiation per year, well below the government safety standard, a report shows.”
An important item seemed to lie further down in the article, which noted: “However, the health ministry said the number of workers surveyed is different from the total number of cleanup personnel reported by the Environment Ministry, which could mean the association failed to record radiation doses of all individuals working around the Fukushima plant.”

No wonder there has been public distrust and charges of a lack of clarity about the radiation clean-up operation, as can be seen in the title of a 2013 Guardian newspaper article: “Life as a Fukushima clean-up worker—radiation, exhaustion, public criticism.” Even when the approximately 7,000 workers involved in the clean-up do wear dosimeters, that is no guarantee of accuracy; there have been reports of a Tokyo Electric Power Company executive who tried to force clean-up workers to manipulate dosimeter readings to artificially low levels by covering their devices with lead shields.
The voice of science. Because of such activities, it is hard to pin down basic data. Accordingly, the conference had been a key opportunity for researchers from different countries and different fields—including physicists, of course, but also economists and climate scientists, among others—to get together and compare notes. 

Nearly 80 scientists, engineers, and academics from all over Japan attended. Many of the Japanese attendees were renowned academics in nuclear physics and engineering. Several had held high-level positions in the nuclear research establishment. Among international participants were delegates from the United States, Germany, and South Korea, among other places. 

While there were no representatives from China at the meeting, Jusen Asuka, an environmental policy professor from Tohoku University, gave his analysis of the impact of Fukushima on the Chinese nuclear program. He said that the accident in Fukushima created a figurative, as well as literal, shock wave throughout China: People started stocking up on iodized salt, and stores ran out of the substance within 30 minutes of opening. The Chinese government suspended all license applications for new reactors, temporarily halted all nuclear plant construction, and established a nuclear safety law. China also began investing heavily in non-hydro renewables.  

The meeting’s goals. The importance of the meeting could hardly be underestimated, given that Japan is at a critical juncture in its debate about what path to follow in its energy future. On the one hand, a conservative government led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and backed by powerful forces in business and the nuclear industry, was pushing hard to bring back the nuclear plants—and even build new ones. Simply put, the Abe administration’s objective is to make the Fukushima Daiichi tragedy a thing of the past; therefore, it promotes the idea that things are getting back to normal. After all, Abe won an election victory in December 2014, with one plank being that the nuclear plants would be restarted. Abe is counting on the fact that with 54 nuclear reactors in a small country, many people’s livelihoods depended on the reactors’ continued operation.

It is hard to tell if the government’s promotional campaign is succeeding. The Abe government is continuing to push for the revival of nuclear power in Japan, as exemplified by the recent restart of the Sendai plant.
 By doing so, it clearly sought to lay down a marker—and also perhaps to gauge public opinion before proceeding to restart other plants. 

On the other hand, public opinion has been growing stronger in opposition—although the opinion polls have not been overwhelming. One of the significant aspects of the conference was the vigorous participation of women scientists like Miyake, who spoke out strongly against nuclear power and also challenged the male domination in the scientific community. Young mothers were participating in increasing numbers in anti-nuclear protests in Japan and also in Korea, we were told by Hye-Jeong Kim, a leader of the anti-nuclear movement in South Korea, who is also a member of the country’s Nuclear Safety and Security Commission, an equivalent of the NRC in the United States.
With these developments in mind, a scientific community that can speak with one voice and make a credible case against the government-industry publicity campaign is crucial. The Japanese Scientists’ Association envisioned its role as accurately communicating to people around the world the dangers of nuclear power and the seriousness of the damage suffered by the Japanese people. And the group hoped to use science to counter the forces that promote nuclear power in Japan, and demand that Japan give top priority to renewables.

A welcoming banner. Heading north towards Tomioka, we found large tracts of land piled high with green trash bags. From a distance, the piles looked like vegetation; it was only as we got closer that we saw that they were full of the radioactive dirt that had been excavated from the topsoil as part of the government’s efforts to decontaminate the soil. It appeared to be a hopeless task.
In reaching Tomioka—badly hit by the tsunami—we found a nearly destroyed town invoking an image of the Apocalypse. All we saw were homes, businesses, and shops as they stood or fell after the tsunami hit and then the radiation struck. There was no sign of life other than decontamination workers going about their grim task. 

Continuing our journey toward Namie—one of the worst-hit towns, whose boundaries lie about six miles northeast of Fukushima Daiichi at the closest point—we passed through the small villages of Okuma and then Futaba. We continued onward, and edged as close as 1.5 miles from the plant at one spot, but no closer. All roads to the plant from here on were barricaded. Ironically, one banner welcoming visitors to the town read: “Nuclear Power is Our Future.” 

Can Japan make the switch to renewables? A key goal of the conference was the public announcement that the Japan Scientists’ Association formally opposed nuclear power in Japan, and that its opposition was based upon scientific analysis of the accident in Fukushima and its impact. This about-face was a major step; it meant that some of the same Japanese scientists who had been the most forceful and outspoken proponents of nuclear energy now opposed it. To bolster the impact of this statement, the association had to show both the economic and technical feasibility of alternative sources of energy. Consequently, much of the meeting focused on the lessons learned from the experiences of other countries, and the keynote speaker of the conference, professor Juergen Scheffran of Hamburg University, Germany, gave the European perspective on the implications of the transition from fossil and nuclear to renewable energy. The focus was especially on Germany, which is in the middle of its own planned transition to a non-nuclear future. 

With that in mind, Reiner Braun, co-president of the International Peace Bureau in Geneva, Switzerland, spoke about the status of the German exit from nuclear power and entrance into renewables. Known as Energiewende in German (literally “energy turn”), it would entail shutting down all nuclear plants by 2022, with seven plants shut down immediately. The renewable energy sector would be expanded at the same time that there was a step-by-step reduction in fossil fuel use; modern natural gas plants are to be used as a transition technology. Structural changes would also be made to the distribution network to account for the decentralized nature of the new energy supply. 
Braun, a veteran of the protest movements against nuclear weapons and nuclear power, said it was important to understand why a politically conservative government had made this U-turn. A vast majority of the German people had rejected nuclear energy and there were decades of organized resistance, starting with massive protests against the stationing of NATO’s tactical weapons on German soil. While progress was promising so far, Braun reminded his audience that Energiewende was the “largest technological challenge” faced by the country since the post-WW II reconstruction efforts. The political challenges, meanwhile, were comparable to those encountered after the reunification of the two Germanys after the end of the Cold War. 

But there was no doubt it had to be done, or that Japan could learn from observing the German experience. The feeling from the meeting was best summed up by the conference chair, Tsuyoshi Kawasaki, an expert on climate science and an emeritus professor at Tohoku University. Kawasaki ended his brief remarks with the words: “The Japanese Scientists’ Association believes that human beings and nuclear power cannot coexist.”
I was reminded of these words many times as we toured the forbidden land of once-lively towns of Fukushima prefecture.

It might have been worse. Finally we arrived at Namie, our destination, and as close as we could get to the actual plant itself. Another of our guides, Baba Isao, an Assemblyman from the town, had secured special permission for us to enter. We first went to the town hall for a quick lunch; the building had undergone a decontamination operation and there were a few town employees at work. A radiation level monitor with a large digital readout was in front of the building.
Namie had a population of 21,000 before it was evacuated. About 14,000 were relocated within Fukushima prefecture (his family being one) and 6,000 outside. Two hundred people were known to have perished in the tsunami. Isao told us that his wife had gone back to their house a few weeks ago and found the radiation level to be 34 microSieverts per hour, which is nearly 7 times higher than the “hotspot” we had encountered in J-Village. It would be considered an absolute no-go. Newspaper reports have cited other such hotspots in Namie.

Isao said that some people wanted to return, but he had advised them against it, although we found a convenience store to be open. Meanwhile, the government was making Namie’s clean-up a priority, undertaking infrastructure improvement and house-to-house decontamination. The town was considering a proposal that would allow people to return in 2017, but Isao was doubtful.
In addition to the presence of radiation, there was another reason not to return: There were no longer any jobs in these communities, where the nuclear power plant was the raison d’etre for the town. In fact, before the accident, in a bid to boost the economy, the town had been negotiating with the Tohoku Electric Power Company to set up another nuclear plant in Namie. 

We found a perfect ghost town where life ceased to exist, as if a light switch had been turned off. Abandoned homes were now inhabited by cats. In the downtown area there were closed stores, including a barbershop and a bakery. All looked as if the employees were on a break. There were tens of bikes left at the train station; a few buses were parked in their designated spots as if waiting for commuters to disembark from a train.  

We drove through more silent streets before arriving at an elementary school, which had been in the tsunami’s path. The school building was destroyed, but the children miraculously survived by running to a hill nearby. Inside the building, there were children’s lockers with small boxes for crayons. A memorial stupa—a mound-like, Buddhist shrine—stood on the roadside, with flowers and candles.
From the elementary school, we could just barely see what appeared to be the top of the turbine buildings of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Red and white construction cranes hovered over them. Namie escaped more damage thanks to the prevailing winds, which dispersed much of the fallout toward the ocean. And what if that second nuclear plant had already been up and running when disaster struck?
Ironically, Namie had been lucky. Things could have been much worse.

Source: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists