Some of these news items are taken from the twice-weekly updates produced by Greenpeace International. You can subscribe to the updates at: www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/nuclear-reaction or http://tinyurl.com/gp-nukes
Australian public health expert Assoc. Prof. Tilman Ruff has written an important, detailed article, titled 'A Public Health Perspective on the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster', in the Oct−Dec edition of the Asian Perspective journal. It neatly summarises recent (and not-so-recent) research regarding the health effects of ionising radiation and applies that knowledge to the case of Fukushima. We won't attempt to summarise a wide-ranging article here. One point that illustrates the risks: "To provide a perspective on these risks, for a child born in Fukushima in 2011 who was exposed to a total of 100 mSv of additional radiation in its first five years of life, a level tolerated by current Japanese policy, the additional lifetime risk of cancer would be on the order of one in thirty, probably with a similar additional risk of premature cardiovascular death."
Tadamori Oshima, head of the government's task force on disaster reconstruction, says that a target to reduce contamination of land around the Fukushima plant to a level equivalent to annual exposure of 1 mSv may be "informally" relaxed. "After we bring ambient radiation (down) to between 5 to 10 millisieverts and complete the decontamination, we will take thorough measures to manage individuals' dosage and safeguard their health. But a new radiation target would be difficult to publish because it would create a big problem," he said. Radiation levels in the area vary greatly. For example, Tomioka, a township about 12 kms south of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, had ambient radiation levels equivalent to annual doses ranging from 1 to 50 millisieverts by March 2013.
TEPCO said on December 2 it had found radioactive contamination 36,000 times permissible levels in water taken from an observation well. The readings were taken from the well east of reactor #2 and 40 metres from the sea. The contamination measured 1.1 million becquerels per litre. TEPCO says no major changes in the levels of radioactive contamination in the sea have been detected.
TEPCO has also found extremely high radiation levels in an area near a ventilation pipe. TEPCO found the radiation levels − equivalent to exposure levels of up to 25 sieverts per hour − on a duct which connects reactor buildings and the 120-metre-tall ventilation pipe. The estimated radiation level is the highest ever detected outside reactor buildings. A TEPCO official said materials derived from melted nuclear fuel likely entered the piping during venting soon after the accident occurred in March 2011 and have remained there.[4,5]
It has emerged that the water storage tanks that have caused so many problems this year were built in part by illegally hired workers. Workers were told to lie about being hired by third party brokers. "Even if we didn't agree with how things were being done, we had to keep quiet and work fast. People didn't have contracts, so when they weren't needed any more, they were cut immediately," said Yoshitatsu Uechi, a former Fukushima worker who lodged a complaint with labour authorities. His account was confirmed by other workers. One said: "Yes, we did a shoddy job. The quality of what we did was low, but what else would you expect? We had to race to finish up the tanks."[6,7]
A panel established by Japan's industry ministry has warned that plans to deal with the water crisis are still inadequate and that space to store contaminated water will run out in within two years if matters are not addressed. The panel made a number of suggestions including the construction of giant tanks and laying asphalt on the site to help prevent rainwater from entering the ground and flowing into the damaged reactor buildings where it is then contaminated. The panel also warned that some water storage tanks have been built on weak ground that could sink and their stability should be addressed.
TEPCO is currently storing 390,000 tons of contaminated water, growing by several hundred tons each day. There is an ongoing discussion about partially decontaminating the water then releasing it into the Pacific Ocean. It is estimated that it will take at least seven years to partially decontaminate the water already being stored.
Evacuees and decontamination
Japan's parliament passed a bill on December 4 extending the length of time victims of the Fukushima disaster have to claim compensation from three to ten years. The new legislation also says that a person can now claim compensation for any health problems resulting from the accident for 20 years after their symptoms appear rather than for 20 years after the accident occurred as was the case previously.[10,11]
Meanwhile, a science and technology ministry screening panel has compiled a plan to set a cap on compensation to residents who face prolonged evacuation, angering evacuees. The panel on disputes for nuclear damage compensation wants to set limits ranging from 10 million yen to 14 million yen ($97,000 to $136,000).
A survey by Japan's Reconstruction Agency of people who were evacuated from two towns close to the Fukushima plant found that 67% of 2,760 households from Okuma and 65% of 1,730 households from Futaba have said they will not return to their homes. Those numbers are up from 42% and 30%, respectively, in a January survey, which used slightly different wording. Those surveyed cited fears about radiation exposure and the length of time the repopulation process was taking. The latest survey found that only 9% of respondents from Okuma and 10% from Futaba said they want to return.[13,14]
Many of those evacuated from towns close to Fukushima are still living in temporary accommodation. Occupancy rates of the temporary housing built in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures in the aftermath of the disaster are at 85%. "We haven't been making progress in building public housing for disaster victims and acquiring land for projects to relocate entire communities," an Iwate housing official said. "Family members live apart and it's no good. Since we can't go back to our hometown, this is like a living hell. Nothing will change even if we complain," said Yoichi Matsumoto, a resident in temporary accommodation in Iwaki. It is not expected that the situation will improve soon. "There is a strong likelihood that it may take five years or more after the quake to see all occupants move out," said an Iwate official.
By the end of October, only 28.5% of houses, 33.2% of roads and 12.3% of forests around the Fukushima plant had been cleaned, according to the Fukushima Department of Environment. The Japanese government has extended the time-frame fpr the clean-up of the exclusion zone around the plant, initially due to be completed by March 2014, until 2017. Officials have cited several difficulties as reasons for pushing back the timetable, including finding space to store contaminated waste. Endo Kouzou, Supervisor for Decontamination Operations at the Fukushima Department of Environment, said: "It is very hard to earn support from locals in terms of where to put the contaminated materials. This is the biggest problem. Another thing is that, despite various decontamination operations, radiation cannot be eliminated once for all."
State secrecy bill
The lower house of Japan's Parliament approved a state secrecy bill on November 27 that imposes stiffer penalties on bureaucrats who leak secrets and journalists who seek them. The bill was approved after hours of delay due to protests by opposition lawmakers. The bill allows heads of ministries and agencies to classify 23 vaguely worded types of information related to defense, diplomacy, counterintelligence and counterterrorism. Critics say it might sway authorities to withhold more information about nuclear power plants. Under the bill, leakers in the government face prison terms of up to 10 years, up from one year now. Journalists who obtain information "inappropriately" or "wrongfully" can get up to five years in prison.
The legislation has triggered protests from Human Rights Watch, the International Federation of Journalists, the Federation of Japanese Newspapers Unions, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations and many other media watchdogs. Academics have signed a petition demanding it be scrapped.
Reporters Without Borders accused Japan of "making investigative journalism illegal". It said in a statement: "How can the government respond to growing demands for transparency from a public outraged by the consequences of the Fukushima nuclear accident if it enacts a law that gives it a free hand to classify any information considered too sensitive as a state secret?"
During deliberations in November, Masako Mori, the minister in charge of the bill, admitted that security information on nuclear power plants could be designated a state secret because the information "might reach terrorists."[17,19]
Residents of Fukushima Prefecture are angry over the railroading of the bill through the lower house. At a public hearing in Fukushima on November 25, all of the seven local residents who were invited to state their opinions voiced opposition to or concerns about the bill.
Elsewhere in Japan
More than 1,900 people have joined a law suit against Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) demanding the company permanently shut down its Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, western Japan. The suit was filed with the Kyoto District Court last November.
 7 Dec 2013, 'Record outdoor radiation level detected at Fukushima plant', http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201312070041
 Antoni Slodkowski, 5 Dec 2013, 'Insight - Fukushima water tanks: leaky and built with illegal labor', www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/05/us-japan-nuclear-fukushima-labour-ins...
 10 Dec 2013, 'Panel sets limit on compensation to Fukushima evacuees', http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201312100062
 7 Dec 2013, 'Over 60% of evacuees from Fukushima towns don't plan to return home', http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201312070045
 4 Dec 2013, '1,000 days after Fukushima: residents of crisis zone frustrated by slow clean-up', www.euronews.com/2013/12/04/1000-days-after-fukushima-residents-of-crisi...
 David McNeill, 26 Nov 2013, 'Japan cracks down on leaks after scandal of Fukushima nuclear power plant', www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/japan-cracks-down-on-leaks-after-s...
 Justin McCurry, 6 Dec 2013, 'Japan whistleblowers face crackdown under proposed state secrets law', www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/05/whistleblowers-japan-crackdown-sta...
 Mari Yamaguchi, 26 Nov 2013, 'Japan secrecy law stirs fear of limits on freedoms', http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/A/AS_JAPAN_SECRECY_LAW?SITE=AP
 27 Nov 2013, 'Fukushima residents furious at lower house passage of contentious secrecy bill', http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20131127p2a00m0na0130...