"We will aim to bring about a society that can exist without nuclear power" Japanese Prime minister Kan said on July 13. But on August 26, Kan resigned after 15 turbulent months in office. His departure both as prime minister and as president of the Democratic Party of Japan, follows Diet passage the same day of two key bills he had set as a precondition for his exit: a bill to issue deficit-covering bonds to finance a large portion of the initial fiscal 2011 budget and legislation to promote use of renewable energy.
On August 17, Tepco announced the level of radioactive contaminants escaping from damaged reactors at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy complex has dropped in the last month. The company said the monthly rate of contaminant emissions from the plant's No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 reactors has fallen to 200 million becquerels per hour; the systems were previously leaking five times that amount, Kyodo News reported.
Japan in July announced it had completed the initial stage of the plant's stabilization. Completing the second phase is expected to require between three months and half a year. A high-level Japanese official at a press event avoided offering a more specific projection. Bolstering the efficiency of the plant's water treatment equipment is a "major challenge" in the stabilization effort. Huge amounts of water were poured into the plant to prevent overheating, resulting in radiation-tainted liquid pooling in large portions of the site. Recently installed equipment cleanses the water and recycles it for continued cooling efforts. The intent is to cut off the need to pour additional coolant into the plant that could become contaminated and then escape into the outside environment. Operation of the new fluid decontamination mechanism operation has been slowed by numerous technical errors since being activated in June. It has run at an average efficiency of 69 percent following its launch, Tepco indicated.
But meanwhile, Japanese government specialists project that the quantity of radioactive cesium 137 emitted to date from the crippled the Fukushima Daiichi atomic power plant equates to 168 times the amount of material released in the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Agence France-Presse reported. Citing the work of nuclear experts, the Tokyo Shimbun reported the quantity of cesium that escaped Fukushima Daiichi was projected to be 15,000 terabecquerels. In comparison, only 89 terabecquerels were emitted by the detonation of the U.S. weapon dropped over Hiroshima near the end of World War II, according to the newspaper. The Kan administration provided the cesium projection to Japanese lawmakers.
The dropping of the atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 caused enormous destruction, brought about by the blast and by the fireball. It also caused massive radiation exposures, mainly neutron and gamma radiation, most of it delivered at the very instant of the explosion. But the fallout in the area of the bombed cities was relatively little, because in both cases the bombs were deliberately detonated high in the air so that the concussive shock wave would do the most damage on the ground. Thus no crater was created by the blast, and most of the fallout was carried high into the atmosphere by the heat of the fireball and the burning of the cities. It became global fallout more than local fallout.
On August 26, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science & Technology (MEXT) announced their estimation of the first year doses (starting from the day of the accident), at the 50 representative spots within the 20 km "vigilance (off-limit)" zone in view of the government intention of allowing re-habilitation of the evacuees. According to their measurements, the dose rates are orders of magnitude different within the same zone in Fukushima Prefecture. Thirty five out of 50 locations exceeded the Government guideline of the first year dose of 20 mSv. (one location measured 503 mSv!). Being influenced by these facts, the Government is now saying that there will be some areas where rehabilitation will not be possible for an extended [number of] years, typically several tens of years.
The government estimates that radiation in a contaminated area drops by about 40 percent over two years naturally and it wants to speed up the process by another 10 percent through human effort, according to guidelines for the clean-up unveiled on August 26. "We aim to reduce radiation levels by half over the next two years in affected areas, and by 60 percent over the same period for places used by children," Japan's nuclear crisis minister, Goshi Hosono, told a news conference.
Another key government goal is to bring radiation below 20 millisieverts per year, the threshold level for evacuation, in areas that exceed this. Some places in the evacuation zone have levels that far surpass this. "Ultimately we want to achieve this goal in a shorter period. Technology is continuing to advance and with enough government funding and effort it can be done," Hosono said.
The total area in need of cleanup could be 1,000 to 4,000 square kilometers, about 0.3 to 1 percent of Japan's total land area, and cost several trillion yen to more than 10 trillion yen (US$130 billion), experts say. One major problem that the government faces is that the removal of farmland topsoil could ruin fertile agricultural areas. The government said it will take full responsibility for the soil and debris removed in the cleanup, but that as yet it does not have a permanent solution for storing the radioactive material and that they would have to be kept within local communities for the time being. According to Hosono "Fukushima prefecture will not become the final place of treatment for the debris."
Four days later, on August 30, the results of first comprehensive survey of soil contamination of 2,200 locations within a 100-km radius of the plant have been made public. In the 100km radius 33 locations had cesium-137 in excess of 1.48 million becquerels per square meter, the level set by the Soviet Union for forced resettlement after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Another 132 locations had combined amount of cesium 137/134 over 555,000 becquerels per square meter, the level at which the Soviet authorities called for voluntary evacuation and imposed a ban on farming. Cesium 137 has a half life of 30 years, meaning that its radioactive emissions will decline only by half after 30 years and affect the environment over several generations. Cesium 134 is considered somewhat less of a long-term problem because it has a half-life of two years.
Separating regulation from promotion
Also in August the Japanese cabinet decided to transfer the country's nuclear safety agency from the trade ministry, where it nestled in a department also dedicated to the expansion of nuclear power, to the environment ministry, where, at least in theory, there is some chance that its operations will not be subverted or manipulated by Japanese energy firms. After nearly half a century of producing nuclear power, Japan has finally separated regulation from promotion, but the move may well have come too late to restore public trust. The impulse to minimize the inherent risks of nuclear power, the tendency to conceal or downplay accidents, the assertion that each succeeding generation of plants is foolproof and super safe, and the presumption, so often proved wrong by events, that every contingency has been provided for, all these have been evident again and again. In contrast, The Netherlands changed nuclear monitoring structures over the past year. The regulation agency is now part of the ministry most promoting nuclear power and responsible for licensing.
It looked like the Japanese government resumed its joint efforts with industry to export nuclear power plants, despite effectively halting reactor construction at home following the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Critics said the government is using a double standard--reducing the number of nuclear power plants at home and promoting exports. Facing difficulties in building reactors in Japan, reactor manufacturers—Toshiba Corp., Hitachi Ltd. and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.--are renewing their emphasis on exports.
In mid-July, Hitachi and General Electric Co. won preferential negotiating rights for a nuclear power plant in Lithuania, edging out Westinghouse Co., a Toshiba unit, after Hitachi President Hiroaki Nakanishi traveled to the country for sales promotion. Industry officials said emerging economies have strong expectations on nuclear power generation to meet their growing demand for electricity. Among emerging economies, only Indonesia and Thailand have frozen plans to build nuclear power plants.
According to the Asahi newspaper, a senior official at a manufacturer said the government should take a greater initiative in promoting exports of nuclear power plants. "Winning projects in large countries, unlike Lithuania, requires government-to-government negotiations," the official said. "The government and industry need to work together closely."
Electric power companies, which provide support to plant operations, are an indispensable partner to reactor manufacturers in winning overseas projects. Emerging economies require not only plant construction but also operation, maintenance and fuel supply as part of a contract. So Tepco’s situation has cast a cloud over Toshiba's bid to build a nuclear power plant in Turkey. Tepco was scheduled to provide support in the plant's operations. Turkey is asking Japan to choose a different company. If the selection is delayed, Turkey could start negotiating with other countries, such as France and South Korea.
The Japanese government, meanwhile, is trying to conclude nuclear energy agreements with a number of countries to establish a legal framework for exporting nuclear power plants. The Democratic Party of Japan-led government has signed agreements with four countries -Russia, Vietnam, South Korea and Jordan- over 18 months after it took power and is seeking Diet approval. The government has also entered negotiations with five other countries.
But in a somewhat surprising move, Diet decided to put off approval of four nuclear cooperation agreements. After hearing opinions from four experts on August 24 about an agreement between the Japanese and Jordanian governments, the Foreign Affairs Committee of Japan’s Lower House decided to put off approval at a meeting of its executive advisory board the following day. Bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements with Russia, South Korea and Vietnam were also submitted for ratification at the current session of the Diet, but the Foreign Affairs Committee decided on August 31 to postpone the decisions on approval for those later as well.
Former-Prime Minister Naoto Kan played a leading role in signing a nuclear power agreement with Vietnam. But the March 11 disaster completely changed the environment. Kan called for ending dependence on nuclear power generation, halting government-to-government negotiations and Diet deliberations and exports of nuclear power plants were stalled.
On August 29, the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) picked current finance minister Yoshihiko Noda as the new party head and imminent Japanese premier (the sixth PM in five years), who is likely to seek a prompt restart of safe nuclear reactors to revitalize the country's economic activity. Noda, a fiscal hawk, is expected to prioritize fiscal and debt reforms but also support Japanese utilities to restart reactors where their safety is confirmed to aid the country's rehabilitation efforts in the wake of March's devastating earthquake and tsunami. Noda has said that his country will continue to use nuclear power for the next 40 years in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, taking a swerve away from outgoing Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s promise of a non-nuclear future in half that time after the worst international nuclear disaster in 25 years.
Meanwhile, more than a third of Japan's nuclear reactors will have to apply for license extensions within five years or face decommissioning at a time when the industry's safety record is in tatters. Japanese opinion polls show about 70 percent of the public wants to reduce reliance on nuclear power.
Tokyo, Sept. 19: “Goodbye to Nuclear Power Plants” Rally!
We, a large coalition of Japanese NGOs, are taking action for a “peaceful and sustainable society”, reconsidering our lifestyles that exploit nature and waste limitless energy, and focusing on natural energy. For that purpose, we set the following goals:
1. Cancellation of construction plans for new nuclear power plants
2. Planned termination of existing nuclear power plants, including the Hamaoka nuclear power plant.
3. Abolition of “Monju” and nuclear reprocessing plants which use plutonium, the most dangerous radioactive material.
We will achieve these goals in order to save our own lives, and fulfill our responsibilities to the future children. We will hold the “Goodbye to Nuclear Power Plants” rally at the Meiji Park in Tokyo, Japan, on 19 September. In many countries all over the world that weekend demonstrations and other activities will take place against nuclear power and in support of the demands of the Japanese groups.
Furthermore, there is a '10 Million Signature Campaign to say Goodbye to Nuclear Power Plants' with a petition for the "Realization of Denuclearization and a Society Focused on Natural Energy". Please visit http://sayonara-nukes.org/english/ for more information and for signing the petition.
Sources: Atoms in Japan, JAIF 5 September 2011 / Bellona, 31 August 2011 / Nikkei, 30 August 2011 / Argus media, 29 August 2011 / Gordon Edwards, 29 August 2011 / Reuters, 26 August 2011 / Japan Times, 26 August 2011 / NTI Global Security Newswire, 25 & 18 August, 2011 / Asahi, 23 August 2011 / The Guardian, 16 August 2011
Contact: Citizens' Nuclear Information Center (CNIC). Akebonobashi Co-op 2F-B, 8-5 Sumiyoshi-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 162-0065, Japan