The typhoon that wreaked havoc throughout much of Japan over the weekend reportedly scattered contaminated waste from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster zone.
Officials from Tamura in Fukushima Prefecture reported Sunday that dozens of flexible bags containing radioactive waste were swept away from a storage facility by Typhoon Hagibis, which claimed at least 40 lives and left thousands homeless.
The facility holds some 2,700 one-ton bags of waste, mostly radioactive vegetation that has been removed from the grounds of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which experienced triple meltdowns and explosions in March 2011 — the second-worst nuclear disaster in history.
According to national broadcaster NHK 10 bags were retrieved from a nearby stream, but it remained unclear how many of the remaining bags stored at the facility were still missing.
An online petition urging an appeal to the acquittal of three men charged in relation to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster has proven successful.
Japanese lawyers lodged an appeal Sept. 30 to a ruling earlier in the month that cleared three top executives of utility company Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), which operates the stricken Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, of professional negligence.
It is the only criminal trial to have been held as a result of the 2011 disaster, which was triggered by a massive tsunami that resulted in multiple meltdowns at the plant, forcing the evacuation of 160,000 residents.
The three former executives, former Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and senior executives Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro, were accused of professional negligence causing death and injury having failed to heed advice about the possibility of a large-scale tsunami inundating the nuclear facility.
Prosecutors, who had sought 5-year prison terms for the trio, had argued that there had been sufficient warnings and evidence that such an event could occur and that the TEPCO executives had ignored that evidence and failed to improve the plant’s defence system.
Defence lawyers argued that even if countermeasures had been carried out, they would not have prevented a disaster that so large nobody had ever predicted it could happen.
Presiding judge, Kenichi Nagafuchi, agreed with the defence, ruling at the Tokyo District Court on Sept. 19 that the executives could not have foreseen the magnitude 9 quake.
Around 14,000 people have since signed an online petition demanding an appeal of that ruling, prompting lawyers to file with the Tokyo District Court.
Though TEPCO claims the nuclear disaster itself did not lead directly to any fatalities, around 50 residents — mostly elderly — died as a result of the enforced evacuation.
Thousands of evacuees who have been unable to return to their homes are currently suing TEPCO for millions of dollars in damages in civil law cases.
SOURCES: NHK, Asahi Shimbun
Three former executives of the utility operating the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant have been cleared of professional negligence by a Tokyo court.
The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) executives, former chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and vice-presidents Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro, were accused of failing to implement adequate countermeasures to safeguard the plant against the magnitude 9 earthquake and towering 15 meter tsunami that devastated the region on March 11, 2011.
The tsunami triggered multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima plant, causing the evacuation of more than 160,000 residents living in the immediate vicinity. Most of them have been unable to return, or chosen not to, due to lingering high levels of radiation.
In the only criminal case resulting from the disaster, which was the worst since Chernobyl in 1986, the trio were acquitted of professional negligence leading to death and injury. Prosecutors argued that there had been sufficient warnings and evidence that such an event could occur.
In 2002 one Tohoku University professor had warned that a tsunami of more than 15 metres could hit the plant, while in the same year an internal TEPCO study, based on a government report, had itself concluded that a 15.7 meter wave could hit the plant in the event of an magnitude 8.3 quake.
However TEPCO executives ignored the evidence and failed to improve the plant’s defence system.
In a statement read during a court hearing a former TEPCO tsunami countermeasures official, Kazuhiko Yamashita, said the three executives had first approved plans to carry out tsunami safety measures but later shelved the plans due to concerns that they may lead to calls to shut down the plant.
Defence lawyers argued that even if countermeasures had been carried out, they would not have prevented a disaster which was of a scale that nobody had predicted.
Prosecutors had sought 5 year prison terms for the trio but in concluding the two-year trial, presiding judge, Kenichi Nagafuchi, agreed with the defence, ruling that the executives could not have foreseen the magnitude 9 quake.
Though TEPCO claims the nuclear disaster itself did not lead directly to any fatalities, around 50 residents — mostly elderly — died as a result of the enforced evacuation.
While protestors outside the court, some who had traveled from Fukushima 160 miles away, expressed their dismay at the ruling, former TEPCO chairman Katsumata said that he wanted to reiterate his apologies for the trouble caused to Japanese society by the nuclear disaster.
In some of the 30 civil cases that have been brought against TEPCO and the government by over 10,000 evacuees, district courts have ruled the utility could have predicted and prevented the nuclear crisis.
Sources: NHK, Mainichi Shimbun
Japan’s new environment minister, Shinjiro Koizumi, says the country should shut down all its nuclear reactors to ensure there are no more Fukushimas.
Koizumi, who is the son of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, said during his first news conference Wednesday that he wants to look into “how we will scrap [nuclear reactors], not how to retain them.”
Koizumi Jr. was appointed environment minister, which overseas Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority, during a recent Cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Shinzi Abe, a notoriously pro-nuclear hardliner.
As indeed was Koizumi’s father, until the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011, when massive earthquakes and tsunami triggered three nuclear reactor meltdowns and explosions, leading to the evacuation of 160,000 residents.
The former prime minister has since become a highly vocal opponent of nuclear energy.
Japan currently has six nuclear reactors in operation —a fraction of the 54 that were online before the March disasters that were then supplying almost 30 percent of the country’s electricity.
Japan’s government wants to increase reactor operation so that nuclear power to make up between 20% and 22% of the overall energy mix by 2030.
Despite each reactor having to go through multi-billion-dollar checks for relicensing under new safety standards, attempts to get more reactors online have been thwarted by protestors who believe nuclear power has no place in a country prone to major earthquakes and tsunami. Some nuclear plants have even been found to sit atop active geological faults.
Environment minister Koizumi’s belief that Japan can and should do without nuclear power is unsurprisingly dismissed by other atomic energy supporters in Abe’s government.
“There are risks and fears about nuclear power,” trade and industry minister Isshu Sugawara told reporters. “But ‘zero-nukes’ is, at the moment and in the future, not realistic.”
Japan’s environment minister says radioactive water being stored at the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant must be dumped into the ocean, a statement that comes just days after South Korea expressed concerns over the wastewater to the international nuclear watchdog.
Environment Minister Yoshiaki Harada says draining the more than 1 million tons of contaminated water being stored at the Fukushima plant into the sea is the “only option” left as the site is running out of space to store it.
The volume of radioactive water at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant has been growing daily since the March 2011 meltdowns at the plant. It is the result of groundwater mixing with radioactive contaminants from three reactors that experienced meltdowns and explosions following a massive earthquake and tsunami in the region.
Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) initially claimed it had stripped the contaminated water of all dangerous particles except for tritium, but was forced to backtrack following tests that showed the wastewater still contained many highly dangerous radionuclides, including strontium and caesium.
The government is awaiting an assessment from an expert panel before deciding on how to dispose of the radioactive water, though local Fukushima fisheries and other residents continue to protest its release into the Pacific.
Neighbour South Korea is also concerned. Last Thursday, Seoul sent a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency expressing concerns over the radioactive wastewater, calling on the nuclear watchdog to play a more active role. It also summoned a senior Japanese embassy official last month to explain how Japan plans to deal with the water and has asked Japan “to take a wise and prudent decision on the issue.”
During an IAEA board meeting in Vienna Sept. 10, Japan’s ambassador Takeshi Hikihara reportedly said Japan has been transparent in showing to the international community how it has been dealing with the aftermath of the nuclear accident and is taking every precaution to ensure the safety of the marine environment.
TEPCO has said it will run out of storage space at the plant by 2022, while environment minister Harada says the dumping of the current load — which is being stored within the plant’s grounds in more than 1,000 containers — could makeup to 17 years, once it has been treated and diluted to acceptably safe levels.
While Harada believes Japan now has no choice but to dump the water, Shaun Burnie, a nuclear expert with Greenpeace, criticised Harada's "innacurate and misleading statement" and called the discharge of the water into the ocean “the worst option” available.
“The only viable option, and it’s not without risks, is the long-term storage of this water in robust steel tanks over at least the next century, and the parallel development of water processing technology,” he says. As Japan has no equivalent to Europe’s Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR), Greenpeace has voiced its concerns over the water crisis with the UN International Maritime Organisation, he added.
A number of proposals to treat the water were submitted to a Japanese government task force by nuclear companies, all of which were dismissed as being impracticable – a euphemism for “too expensive,” says Burnie.
“The reality is there is no end to the water crisis at Fukushima, a crisis compounded by poor decision-making by both TEPCO and the government,” he says.
I recently had an article published in the UK's Daily Telegraph about the health situation in Fukushima. It was based upon two visits I made to the evacuation zone, the first in December 2018 with photographer Simon Townsley, whose evocative photos accompany the story here (free registration required to view full article).
In addition to venturing deep into the evacuated zone, Simon and I also jumped aboard a fishing boat to take an early morning trip out into the Pacific with a group that takes samples of water samples near the two Fukushima nuclear plants for analysis.
It was a fascinating trip and opinions still differ hugely on the health risks. On the one hand there have been few deaths directly resulting from radiation exposure (based on information actually reported to date) and confirmed or suspected thyroid cancers among children are thought by some experts to be unrelated to the Fukushima nuclear accident. At the same time, the views of those same experts are refuted by the likes of Greenpeace and Japanese government's attempts to paint a rosy picture of the situation (not to mention historical collusion with the energy sector) does give one pause.
From my experience during these most recent visits to the zone, I would err on the side of caution: armed with a Geiger counter, I took regular radiation measurements and one area where we visited was more than 350 times the safe limit stipulated by the International Atomic Energy Agency!
An article in the Asahi looks at Japan Prime Minster Shinzo Abe's recent "unprotected" visit to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, site of history's second-worst nuclear disaster in 2011, and his attempts to further his notorious 2013 claim that the situation in Fukushima is "under control."
The leader visited the viewing area, which is about 100 meters from the plant, in suit and tie in a bid to show the 40-year decommissioning of the plant is progressing smoothly. Abe has also been keen to push the notion that residents evacuated from the region in the aftermath of the disaster -- triggered by a magnitude 9 earthquake and towering tsunami -- are fast returning to the area.
In fact, the actual situation in both cases is at odds with his views. Radiation levels at the plant -- and in many parts of the evacuated zone -- are still dangerously high and official resident returnee figures are greatly exaggerated, inflated considerably by itinerant cleanup workers who are occupying abandoned homes and by the government's definition of "evacuee".
Either way, of the 100,000-plus residents who evacuated from the zone in 2011, only 12,000 have "returned" -- around half of those are thought to be cleanup workers. It would seem that just as with Trump's America, Japan is victim not of fake news, but fake governmental data.
And as I mentioned in an article for the Daily Telegraph in the UK recently, the situation at the plant is far from under control, with a million tons of contaminated water and hundreds of thousands of kilograms of strontium-laced sludge being stored within the plant's grounds. Not to mention, plant officials barely know the situation within the three devastated reactors that suffered meltdowns in March 2011.
Asahi article in English can be found here
I am happy and honoured to have a series of photos included in the 2019 Auckland Festival of Photography. The series of 25 images looks at the efforts of local residents to bring a bit of cheer to a Fukushima town that was evacuated after the 2011 nuclear disaster. More details here
On the day that Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi visited a farm in Fukushima, activists in South Korea demanded Japan reverse its recent decision to release radioactive water from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea.
Currently in Japan to attend a regional summit, Nobel Prize winner Suu Kyi, who has been widely criticised for turning a blind eye to the Rohingya persecution crisis, visited an organic farm in Izumizaki, which is located about 60 km from the Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant that experienced explosions and multiple reactor meltdowns in March 2011.
The plant, which is currently undergoing 40-year decommissioning operations, is storing 940,000 tons of contaminated water onsite while it is treated and stripped of dangerous radioactive substances leaked from the damaged reactors.
With storage space running out, Japan’s government and plant operator TEPCO recently announced a plan to release contaminated water that had been stripped of 62 contaminants, except for tritium, which experts say is not a health threat at low dosage levels.
However, it was recently revealed that the treatment of around 80 percent of the water had been unsuccessful, leaving dangerously high levels of caesium and other contaminants in a large volume of the water.
Korea Radioactive Watch and the Korean Federation For Environmental Movement were among the groups that held a joint news conference in Seoul on Monday urging the Japanese government and TEPCO to reconsider the release. To go ahead with the discharge is ”unacceptable" they say.
"A release of Fukushima's radioactive, contaminated water will threaten the safety of the waters of South Korea and other neighboring nations that share the Pacific Ocean, as well as the waters in the vicinity of Fukushima," the activist groups said.
The groups added that “the Japanese government should disclose all information related to Fukushima's radioactive water and listen to the opinions of its neighboring countries about how to dispose of the contaminated water.”
The South Korean government should sternly protest to Japan and “take aggressive countermeasures” they said.
South Korea is among a number of countries that still vetoes the import of certain goods from Japan, particularly those that have been grown and harvested in and around Fukushima and the surrounding region.
Taiwan also has banned food and agricultural imports from Fukushima and nearby areas in Japan since the 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster, although a recent referendum proposal seeks a debate on whether or not the government should halt that ban.
Meanwhile in the New Straits Times there is a remarkable op-ed piece by a little known scientist that will no doubt fuel discussions on both sides of the nuclear power fence. There is little information available about author Mohd Syukri Yahya other than he teaches an introductory course in nuclear tech at the national technology university in Malaysia, which proudly boasts being 801st (out of 1,000) universities in the world. Remarkably, the researcher had ANOTHER similar piece published in another Malaysia publication, the Star just a day earlier titled "Nuclear option should stay."
In this article he states that 436 nuclear power reactors are still in operation in 31 countries and 55 new reactors are currently under construction.
"Even Japan, which closed down or suspended the operations of all of its nuclear power plants after the Fukushima disaster, has restarted a few plants to meet domestic electricity demands," he says before adding that Germany, which has decided .to shut down all of its nuclear power stations, "now imports electricity from (ironically) nuclear-powered France while sweating over a creeping increment of carbon index due to higher reliance on fossil fuels."
In the latest index, Germany ranks 40th and "low" in the global table of greenhouse gas emitters and "high" (and ranked 15th) in its growth of renewable energies.
Sources: Yonhap News; Taipei Times; Kyodo
Despite assurances to the contrary by Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Plant operator TEPCO and the Japanese government, it has been announced that radioactive water stored at the plant is up to 20,000 times the limit considered safe for release into the ocean.
TEPCO announced Friday that studies had found the water still contains harmful radionuclides such as radioactive iodine, cesium and strontium. Previously the utility had stated that the water had been stripped of all elements except tritium, which is claimed to be relatively “harmless” in small doses.
Now it has been confirmed that in fact more than 80 percent of the 940,000 tons of water being stored within the grounds of the plant has radioactive levels that exceed acceptable safe limits for release into the Pacific — a move that had previously been approved by the government, despite protests from local fishermen.
That amounts to around 752,000 tons, of which more than 160,000 tons has up to 100 times the limit for release into the environment, according to TEPCO. A further 65,000 tons contains levels of 600,000 becquerels of radioactive contamination -- or nearly 20,000 times the officially accepted safe limit, the utility added.
The utility claimed that the issue was a result of complications in 2013 with the ALPS cleaning system being employed to strip the highly contaminated water of more than 60 harmful radionuclides -- excluding tritium, which cannot be removed.
In order assuage the concerns of an increasingly sceptical public, TEPCO has vowed to ensure the water is treated further to attain safe levels for release into the environment.
Meanwhile, it was also confirmed that the removal of 566 spent fuel assemblies stored in the plant's reactor 3 - one of three reactors to experience meltdowns and explosions in March 2011 -- will be delayed until after the new year. The removal was originally slated to commence this November but machinery required for the delicate operations was shown to be malfunctioning, making the scheduled removal impossible.
Sources: NHK, Asahi Shimbun, Nikkei