The trial of three former Tokyo Electric Power Co Holdings Inc. (TEPCO) executives, who face criminal charges in connection with the multiple nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in March 2011, is due to commence at Tokyo District Court today.
Charges of professional negligence leading to injury or death have been brought against former TEPCO chairman, Tsunehisa Katsumata, and two former vice presidents, Sakae Muto, and Ichiro Takekuro*, who all pleaded not guilty to the charges ahead of the trial.
Three reactors at the plant went into meltdowns after a massive magnitude 9 earthquake triggered tsunamis in northern Japan that inundated the plant and caused emergency generators that were needed to cool the reactors to malfunction.
The subsequent meltdowns and explosions resulted in high levels of radiation being emitted from the plant causing the evacuation of more than 150,000 residents and the deaths of 50 hospitalized patients who also had been evacuated.
The tsunami waves that triggered the nuclear accident
reached heights of 14 meters, almost three times the height of the seawalls that were in place to protect the plant. The accused are expected to use the same argument initially used by TEPCO to defend itself against compensation claims -- that it was an unprecedented natural disaster that could not have been anticipated. Operators of Japan's nuclear facilities are considered to be not at fault in the event of a natural disaster. However, scientists and other experts have shown that the facility was negligent in failing to upgrade defences sufficiently in light of historical data showing that 15 m tsunamis were a real possibility.
Indeed, the trial would seem to be less about how the disaster could or should have been managed and more about how it could have been prevented, given the fact that the utility was aware of the shortcomings of its defence system,.
Katsumata told the court he apologised for the "tremendous trouble" caused by the release of radioactive materials, but that he did not "have a criminal responsibility" for the accident. At the time of the accident none of the three men standing trial were in Fukushima. In fact, Katsumata was in China as a part of a business delegation in Beijing, accompanied by other TEPCO executives and a group of “old boys” from various national newspapers – part of whose travel costs were being covered by the utility.
Meanwhile, TEPCO's president at the time, Masataka Shimizu, was some 5 hours away in Nara, westernJapan, where – unknown to many of his staff – he was vacationing at the plush Nara Hotel with his wife after participating in informal financial meetings with officials from major business organisations. Shimizu has not been charged in the current suit.
At the time of the disasters, Takekuro, who is president and CEO of International Nuclear Energy Development of Japan Co. — a TEPCO subsidiary — was serving as a TEPCO “fellow” who acted as a conduit between the utility and the offices of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan. Despite this position, I was told by Kan while researching Yoshida's Dilemma that Takekuro was not especially forthcoming with information from TEPCO HQ and that the first time Kan had been aware that the utility had live video contact with the Fukushima plant -- something presumably Takekuro, a former TEPCO vice-president would be aware of -- was when the prime minister invited himself to the TEPCO HQs to convene a joint emergency response centre.
Ruiko Muto, one of the plaintiffs and a leader of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Plaintiffs Association, said the claimants "hope the trial will shed light on the responsibility for this accident," adding “There is nuclear waste from the cleanup efforts everywhere in Fukushima, and there are still many unresolved problems.”
In "Yoshida’s Dilemma," Mutoh explained about the damage and effects of the nuclear accident. “Some 160,000 people have been forced to leave their homes, lost their jobs and communities and families have been separated. At the power plant itself there have been deaths and at the Futaba hospital near the plant 50 elderly people died while being evacuated,” she said.
In addition to suicides and thyroid cancers in children, people are living in “daily fear” of damage to their health, she added. “The fields are contaminated, radioactive materials have been detected in food, children can’t play outside.. … The effects of this disaster are continuing to grow and … despite these grave dangers nobody is being held accountable. That’s unconscionable, and why so many thousands are taking action.”
Meanwhile in a separate case the Fukushima District Court has sentenced a former Environment Ministry official to one year in prison for taking bribes to help a company win a contract to undertake decontamination operations in Fukushima.
The official, Yuji Suzuki, who formerly worked at a branch of the ministry’s environment regeneration office in Fukushima, was handed the one year sentence, suspended fro three years, and told to to pay a fine of ¥230,000 (US$2,000).
Suzuki assisted in securing a subcontracting project for a Toyama-based civil engineering and construction company to take part in the decontamination efforts in Namie, one of the worst-hit municipalities near the Fukushima plant and had received cash and other kickbacks in return, according to the ruling.
Presiding Judge Shoji Miyata said that the the social impact of Suzuki’s actions was “not insignificant” especially in light of the speediness with which residents were hoping for the decontamination efforts to be completed.
In other news, at general meetings of utilities companies on Wednesday, shareholders have called for an end to nuclear power in light of concerns about safety and dwindling support for nuclear power in local communities.
At the meeting of Kansai Electric Power Co., which was attended by around 680 shareholders from eight power producers, proposals included withdrawal from the nuclear power business and the decommissioning of plants. However, utilities rejected them, citing nuclear power's contribution as a stable "base load" source of electricity and -- yes, that old chestnut --lower energy prices.
Among those present was Daisaku Kadokawa, the mayor of Kyoto, who said the Kansai Electric should move away from nuclear dependency amid continuing repercussions from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Kansai Electric President Shigeki Iwane responded that the utility in western Japan will cut electricity rates from August along with the restart of reactors 3 and 4 at its Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture.
One shareholder pointed out the potential for "massive damage” should a ballistic missile launched by North Korea fall onto the Takahama nuclear plant, which is located on the Sea of Japan coast, within easy range of North Korea’s missiles.
Todd Crowell has reviewed Yoshida's Dilemma for the Asia Times. The review is available online here
Sailors scrub the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan during countermeasures to remove contamination from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in March 2011. A radioactive plume from the Fukushima plant passed over the ship and officers who claim to have fallen sick as a result are suing plant operator TEPCO. (Photo by Nicholas A. Grouch)
Over 300 members of the US Navy who claim to have been exposed to debilitating levels of radiation while providing relief ops in the northeastern region of Japan in 2011 have been given the green light to pursue a compensation lawsuit in the US against Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant operator TEPCO.
A 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals court in San Francisco ruled in favour of the 318 sailors who have filed the class action suit and were aboard the USS Ronald Reagan as well as other Navy vessels including the Essex, Washington, Prebble and Germantown as first responders in the "Operation Tomodachi" (friend) relief team when a plume of highly radioactive materials from the Fukushima plant blew over the vessels in the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes and tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011.
A three-judge appellate panel unanimously rejected an attempt by the Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc. (TEPCO) to secure the dismissal of the class-action lawsuit.
The ruling clears the way for the sailors to pursue their suit, which alleges that TEPCO provided misleading information about the extent of the radiation leak. It also means they will not have to file their case in Japan.
This incident involving the US sailors is discussed in some depth in my book, “Yoshida’s Dilemma.” One of the sailors on board USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered super carrier, was Lindsay Cooper, whose duties involved transferring food to helicopters and other aircraft. She was on the deck at the time the plume passed over and remembers at one point having a slightly metallic taste in her mouth, which was completely uncovered. Other claimants have said they experienced a similar sensation.
Two days later she was told that the flight deck area where she had been was highly contaminated. Personnel immediately set about decontaminating the ship. “It kinda freaked me out because … all the bottled water we had on board was given away to the Japanese for relief,” Cooper said. “We had no choice but to take showers in and drink contaminated water.”
Once back on land in Japan, where she lived, Cooper started to feel sick, soon developing digestive issues as well. Then, out of the blue, she began to feel something strange happening in her thyroid.
The Navy was quick to distance itself from the issue, saying in a letter that most of the radioactivity did not deposit on the ship as it sailed through the plume. “The very low levels of residual radioactivity that did deposit … were mitigated and controlled,” the letter read.
Japan’s military, meanwhile, were well aware of the potential danger, and when tests confirmed that its 17-strong team of naval helicopter crewmen had been exposed to almost a month’s worth of nuclear radiation in one hour, it burned the crew’s infected uniforms and instructed each member to scrub themselves with soap and water to wash away the toxic materials in the plume.
Yet for Cooper, the issue was far more than a scrub-behind-the ears matter: she had ingested some of the plume. In 2012, the American national took action against TEPCO for its “improper response” to the accident by allegedly mishandling the meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi and lying to the US military about the extent of the dangers its troops faced. She was joined by almost 400 other personnel preparing litigation, some of whom have displayed similar symptoms. Some have reportedly since died due to their radiation-related illnesses.
The sailors filed their lawsuit in the federal court in San Diego in 2012, though delays have since ensued due to the question of where exactly the case should be heard. One of the lawyers for the defence accused TEPCO of “downplaying” the accident and claimed compensatory damages of $40 million per plaintiff in compensatory and punitive damages “to punish the defendant and to deter similar acts in the future.”
At least half of the crew who have been struck down with radiation-related illnesses are suffering from cancer, according to the lawyer. Among them were those with leukemia, testicular cancer, thyroid cancer and “unremitting gynecological bleeding requiring transfusions and other intervention.” According to the lawyers representing the sailors many were also suffering from rectal bleeeding, brain tumors, migraine headaches and "many other life-altering conditions."
In October 2014 a California federal judge preserved the $1 billion class action against TEPCO by the plaintiffs, saying that the utility’s negligence had been shown to be the cause of the Navy personnel’s injuries.
In April 2016, meanwhile, Law360 reported that the Ninth Circuit appeals court had “granted a group of U.S. sailors’ request that it expedite a $1 billion lawsuit alleging Tokyo Electric Power Co. is responsible for radiation injuries the sailors say they suffered during their response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. … While TEPCO did not take a position on the motion to expedite, it did take the opportunity to counter some of the plaintiffs’ allegations, particularly that it caused them any injury.”
The question of where the case would be tried remained, though the most recent ruling now clears the way for that to take place in the US.
First there was the octopus, then the snake and the scorpion. Now it's the turn of the “mini mambo,” or Little Sunfish.
Several of the robots used for cleanup and inspection operations inside Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant have been likened to various creatures, the latest being named after the heaviest known bony fish in the world, albeit one with some pretty illuminating features.
The 30 cm long, 2 kg underwater robot will be deployed in July to inspect the damage at Fukushima Daiichi’s No. 3 reactor in order to to investigate the damage and locate parts of melted fuel believed to have fallen to the bottom of the chamber following the meltdown that occurred there in 2011.
The third reactor is one of three of Fukushima Daiichi’s six reactors that went into meltdown, triggered by mega earthquakes and tsunami in the vicinity in March 2011, leading to the evacuation of more than 150,000 residents. Jointly developed by Toshiba and the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning (IRID), the swimming robot will collects data using two cameras, located at the front and rear of the device, and a dosimeter.
Experts believe it can access areas below the reactor's melted core in order to locate where the melted fuel ended up — something that is still unknown. Even if this mission is a success, the data collected could take a significant time to assess and utilize in a plan to remove the melted fuel.
Dale Klein, a former US Nuclear Regulatory Commission chief told the Associated Press it would take at least six months to a year to collect data and decide on how to remove the fuel.
"The fuel debris will be a challenge," said Klein. "No one in the world has ever had to remove material like this before. So this is something new and it would have to be done carefully and accurately.”
According to Japan’s decommissioning plan, removal of fuel debris will commence in 2021. Some experts believe this may be an ambitious goal, especially due to the somewhat dubious results of previous robotic attempts at the plant.
In the early stages following the disasters, unmanned robots were employed to monitor the radiation levels around the mangled reactor 3, among them the US-made PackBot and TALON robots, both of which were developed for tactical reconnaissance.
Like many others that would follow, including the scorpion and the snake, they ultimately failed, some due to poor onsite operational skills, others due to the radiation levels, which were so high that they rendered the robots’ electronics inoperable.
“After about 30 feet they [the robots] were completely useless,” one Fukushima worker who was involved with assisting in the deployment of the robots told me while researching "Yoshida's Dilemma."
Dozens of so-called “diagnostic” robots developed by companies such as Toshiba, Hitachi and Mitsubishi since have been deployed at the Fukushima plant to assist in the decommissioning process. One or two have given insights into the state of two of the stricken reactors, though invariably operators are unable to retrieve the multi-million-dollar devices due to high contamination levels. One device developer commented that the insides of the stricken reactors surveyed thus far must resemble a "robotic graveyard."
As of mid-2016, however, none of those deployed had definitively located any melted fuel, though in February 2017 some progress was made in this area.
On Feb. 2, 2017 plant operator TEPCO reported that cameras inserted inside reactor 2 had located a 1-sq.-meter hole where the fuel had apparently melted through steel grating directly beneath the reactor pressure vessel. The utility estimated that the radiation levels there were 530 Sv/hr – sufficient to cause death in less than a minute. The highest radiation level that had been recorded inside the ruined reactors until then was 0.73 Sv/hr. TEPCO had previously claimed that muon tomography inspections had confirmed their belief that no fuel had leaked out of the pressure vessel.
The latest robot is reportedly better equipped to deal with the testing conditions at reactor 3. It is small enough to be able to swim into the now-flooded primary containment vessel, where engineers have created a 14 cm-wide penetration hole. What's more, Little Sunfish can handle radiation levels of up to 200 Sieverts per hour — still 2.5 times lower than the levels recorded in February, but an improvement on previous devices deployedt.
"We have already developed remotely operated robots for inspections at Fukushima," commented Goro Yanase, general manager of Toshiba's nuclear energy systems & services division in a statement that was released on June 15. "In this case, we had to meet the specific challenges of limited access and flooding, in a highly radioactive environment. Working with IRID, we succeeded in developing a small robot with high level radiation resistance, and through its deployment we expect to get information that will support the advance of decommissioning.”
However, even if they succeed, retrieving that melted fuel is a long way off, Kazuhiro Suzuki, former executive director of IRID, told me while researching “Yoshida’s Dilemma”. “The safest way to remove the fuel is to fill the primary containment vessel with water and … under such a condition maybe the workers can access the fuel debris underwater,” said Suzuki.
But to realize this first requires locating and fixing “possibly hundreds” of damaged components of the containment vessels, he added. “With the high radiation levels, just to fix all of these is very difficult,” he said.
A new study has concluded that food in Japan will be contaminated by low-level radioactivity for decades to come following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Researchers from the UK and Japan combined to show that radiation levels may pose a threat to health on foodstuffs such as mushrooms, game animals and new shoots of edible plants, where contamination levels remain high.
The scientists’ predictions on the effect of the Japanese disaster on food are based entirely on a legacy of data on radioactive pollution in the environment after decades of nuclear testing worldwide.
“The world’s deadliest nuclear weapons tests during the Cold War have yielded one benefit: a better understanding of how radioactivity contaminates the environment,” said Professor Jim Smith of University of Portsmouth’s School of Earth and Environmental Studies, who headed the research alongside Keiko Tagami from Japan’s National Institute of Radiological Sciences.
Smith and Tagami’s research team made their predictions on the effects of contamination on the Japanese diet by analyzing thousands of measurements collected over 50 years of nuclear weapons testing.
And while data from Chernobyl was also analyzed due to a small amount of radiocaesium reaching Japan from the Ukraine in the aftermath of the 1986 nuclear accident there, no on-the-ground research in Fukushima itself was undertaken for the study.
In addition, no mention is made about the effect on marine life by the millions of tons of contaminated ground water that has made its way into the Pacific Ocean from the Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Plant, which experienced multiple explosions and meltdowns followng the devastating earthquake and tsunami that rocked northern Japan in March 2011.
Predictably, perhaps, while the results showed that some foodstuffs should be avoided for many years to come, it also revealed that radiation in the average diet was not high enough to pose a serious risk to health.
“Hundreds of above-ground nuclear weapons tests carried out by the US, USSR, Britain, France and China during the Cold War spread thousands of peta-Becquerels of radioactivity around the World, dwarfing emissions from the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear accidents,” Smith said, echoing a perspective that is well documented by radiation experts such as Robert Peter Gale in his 2013 book “Radiation: What it is, What you need to know.” For over 30 years, Gale has been involved in the medical response to radiation and nuclear accidents, Including those in Chernobyl and Fukushima.
“Radioactive elements such as Caesium-137, Strontium-90 and Carbon-14 contaminated the global environment, potentially causing hundreds of thousands of unseen cancer deaths,” Smith continued in a press release about the paper, which was published in Science of the Total Environment.
The study uses data from the Japanese Environmental Radioactivity Database, which was established to monitor radioactivity in response to the global fallout from Cold War nuclear weapons testing and from the Chernobyl accident in 1986. It focuses on radiocaesium - the most important radioactive contaminant affecting the Fukushima area - in food.
“From 1959-2009, thousands of measurements were made of radiocaesium in nuclear fallout, wheat, rice and in people’s average diet in Japan," said Smith. "This unique historical data has allowed us to evaluate radiocaesium levels in Japanese agricultural systems, which can be used to inform predictions of the long-term consequences of food chain contamination post-Fukushima.
“The results show that radioactivity will continue to be found in foodstuffs for many decades, but that current levels are low and will continue to decline over time.”
According to Tagami the study provides evidence to explain to people how contamination levels will change over time. “It gives us confidence that radiation doses in the average diet in the Fukushima region are very low and do not present a significant health risk now or in the future. … But we have to continue monitoring foodstuffs, particularly “wild” foods such as mushrooms, new shoots of edible plants and game animals where contamination levels remain high.”
Katsutaka Idogawa, who was mayor of Futaba, one of the two towns hosting Fukushima No.1 at the time of the 2011 disasters, lambasts such studies. "The information they give is just desk work," he says. "It's being created out of a lab-based virtual reality, not based on any reality found in the field."
A Japanese court has given the go-ahead to restart more nuclear reactors, dismissing a request for an injunction against the return to operation of two reactors at a nuclear power plant in Saga Prefecture, western Japan.
A group of some 230 residents filed a lawsuit with the Saga District Court in mid-2011 claiming questions remained regarding the safety of the Genkai Nuclear Power Plant on Kyushu island, which they believed was particularly vulnerable against earthquakes.
In its ruling Tuesday, however, the court sided with Kyushu Electric Power Co., the utility operating the plant, in deciding the reactors are safe to recommence operation. It said that measures taken to bolster the plant's resistance against earthquakes and other serious accidents had been shown to be adequate, nor did it believe there was any particular threat of radiation exposure there.
The Genkai plant lies around 100 km north of Kumamoto Prefecture, which was hit by a devastating earthquake in April 2016. The Magnitude 7.3 quake resulted in fatalities and caused extensive damage, leaving tens of thousands of residents homeless. The ground movement did not, however, trigger an automatic shutdown at the Sendai nuclear power plant, about 100 km south of Kumamoto, where two reactors were the only ones in operation in Japan at the time.
Before the March 2011 disasters in Japan's Tohoku region, north of Tokyo, Japan had 54 nuclear reactors in operation, all of which were taken offline in the aftermath of the mega-quake and tsunami, which triggered multiple meltdowns and explosions at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. The restart of reactors 3 and 4 at the Genkai plant, which is not expected to take place for several months yet, will bring the number of Japan's nuclear reactors in operation to six, meaning 48 remain inactive (4 of which are the melted reactors at Fukushima No. 1, which are in the process of being decommissioned, along with two other reactors unaffected by the 2011 disasters).
The government of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is staunchly pro-nuclear, has set out a plan to restart many more reactors in the near future, though it has still to overcome widespread distrust in nuclear power by a public still struggling to come to grips with the 2011 Fukushima disaster, which contaminated wide swathes of land, as far as Tokyo, and displaced around 150,000 residents living near the plant at the time. While many believe regaining energy security without the aid of the extensive numbers of conventional power plants should be a priority, others believe the future lies with new energies, especially as the problem at the stricken Fukushima plant is still far from over. Decommissioning of the plant is estimated to take another 40 years, while contaminated ground water problems have still to be adequately dealt with. Additionally there is the issue of what to do with the country's growing stock of spent fuel, which still has no final storage place.
Children walk across the playground at Oyama Primary School in Otama Village, Fukushima Pref., Japan on May 27, 2011. New government regulations regarding acceptable radiation doses for children led to the school removing the top soil of the playground and burying it 1 meter below the surface. Photo: Rob Gilhooly
Reports emerged yesterday that radiation levels exceeding the safety limits set by the Japanese government were recorded at school playgrounds near Tokyo.
Officials of the educational board in Chiba Prefecture, which neighbours Tokyo, reported that five schools in the Chiba city of Kashiwa had detected radiation levels of up to 0.72 microsieverts per hour in areas of the schools, including playgrounds and near swimming pools, more than triple the government-set limit.
Kashiwa is among a number of areas in the Kanto region, which includes Tokyo, where high radiation readings have been detected since the 2011 nuclear disaster at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Meanwhile, the man who headed the parliamentary investigation into the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster has voiced criticisms of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his administration’s policies on restarting reactors, saying that proper evacuation plans are still to be effectuated at plants that have been restarted or where restarts are imminent.
Kiyoshi Kurokawa, who was chairman of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, questioned evacuation measures during a meeting of the Lower House ad hoc committee for research of nuclear power issues on June 12. His main questions related to what would happen in the event of another major tsunami and how effective rescue operations would be if vehicles had limited access in the face of similar destruction to roads that was experienced following the March 2011 disasters in Japan's Tohoku region.
Kurosawa's main concern was the restarts over the past month of two reactors of the Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture. Although the plants were given the green light following new stress tests and other surveys under new safety regulations set by Japan's nuclear regulator, many have been critical of the efficacy of those new guidelines.
This issue is touched upon in "Yoshida's Dilemma." Irrespective of the guidelines and their effectiveness or otherwise, some disaster response officials have noted a lack of suitable updates to the disaster response system itself. One fire department official who was directly involved with efforts to bring the nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi under control told me that there had been no efforts to improve the disaster response measures and that still there were no nuclear accident-specific measures in place. He also expressed criticism of the lack of autonomy and self-governance among Japan's emergency response services, saying a system such as FEMA in the US was needed in Japan too. He gave the example of paramedics in the US who are able to make on-the-spot decisions regarding medical response, something he said is "unthinkable" in Japan, where too much emphasis is given to correct protocol and avoidance of responsibility for fear of legal consequences.
PHOTO shows documents relating to calculations made in 2001 by the Japanese government's cost analysis committee regarding the cost efficiency of nuclear power. Almost the entire document has been redacted. The figures, which were originally submitted to the committee by the Federation of Electric Utilities, simply show that nuclear power is cheap. PHOTO COURTESY OF KENICHI OSHIMA
The photo shows pages of a 2001 report purportedly outlining a breakdown of the cost of nuclear power. It was provided by Kenichi Oshima, a Ritsumeikan University professor of environmental economics, who was among lawmakers and researchers who had requested from the government a breakdown of how the cost of nuclear power had been calculated.
Clearly, even after being furnished with the report they would have been none the wiser. Oshima says that a similarly redacted dossier was released following the original assessment of the costs of various energy over 50 years ago. The popular PR slogan used in the early days was that nuclear power was “too cheap to meter,” perhaps because the meters, too, had been covered in black ink.
“The Japanese government has always said that nuclear was the cheapest power, it was a method used to sell nuclear power right from the start,” Oshima told me. “But the figures submitted were accepted without question and were the subject of huge criticism. Nobody was allowed to access the actual data, not even Parliament members.”
According to Oshima, the figures submitted to the government’s cost analysis committee by the federation of electric utilities placed nuclear energy at ¥5.3 per kilowatt hour (kWh) compared with ¥13.6 per kWh for hydro; ¥10.2 per kWh for oil; ¥6.5 per kWh for coal; and ¥6.4 per kWh for LNG.
Following the Fukushima nuclear accident, however, the data was reappraised by a governmental “cost verification committee” that included Oshima among its expert analysts. The committee revealed that in addition to the much-publicized “safety myth” attached to nuclear power, there was a “cost myth” that had been covered up for decades, Oshima says.
The committee determined that nuclear power had two related costs: first, the cost incurred by generating electricity and back-end fuel cycle costs, such as costs incurred by the disposal of radioactive waste; and second, societal costs, such as research and development and accident costs.
They used a model power plant representing the Japanese average for nuclear power plants to calculate a new Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE). The results were revealing. When societal costs were included, nuclear rose to ¥9 (based on accident costs of ¥5 trillion) as opposed to coal (¥9.4); LNG (¥10.7) and hydro (¥10.6).
Oshima was still doubtful that this was a true reflection of the cost of nuclear power, especially as a far greater proportion of public expenditure, such as R&D, goes to nuclear.
Oshima also believes that the final cost of the Fukushima accident could be upwards of ¥15 trillion, which has since been confirmed by the government. Taking those factors into account, his final calculations puts nuclear at ¥12.5 per kWh, though he insists that other “invisible” societal costs, such as damage to the environment and loss of human dignity associated with loss of homes and jobs, if calculable, would up the unit price further.
Interestingly, other researchers and industry officials think even this figure is conservative. One of them is Masatoshi Son, CEO and founder of telecommunications giant SoftBank. Admittedly, Son’s company has invested heavily in solar power both in both Japan and India since the 2011 disasters, which may influence his perspective. But using Oshima’s data and other research undertaken by the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies as a base, Son’s research led to the conclusion that the real cost of nuclear could be as high as ¥15 per kWh. Other researchers believe it could be as much as double that.
The cost of energies is covered in more detail in my book, “Yoshida’s Dilemma: One Man’s Struggle to Avert Nuclear Catastrophe. Fukushima – March 2011.”
Last week the Fukushima prefectural government announced that seven more cases of thyroid cancer had been discovered among residents who had lived near the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power plant at the time of the multiple explosions and meltdowns there in March 2011.
The new cases were announced during a meeting of an expert panel, and brought the total of confirmed thyroid cases to 152, it was reported. However, the panel, which is headed by Hokuto Hoshi, vice-chair of Fukushima's medical association, believed it was "unlikely" that the new cases were connected to the radiation that spewed from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the air and sea for weeks and months after the disaster.
To quote one famous US baseball player, it was like déjà vu all over again, and it is worth revisiting the issue to understand why panelists and other scientists are unwilling to state categorically why cancers can or cannot be tied to radiation exposure.
According to some experts it is almost impossible to prove the medical relation between radiation exposure and cancers. Geraldine Thomas, a professor of molecular pathology at Imperial College London, says that proving a nuclear accident such as Fukushima will categorically not cause cancers or other illnesses “is incredibly difficult.” However, she adds that while it is easy to blame radiation exposure, it is almost impossible to prove there is a connection, either, as there are no biomarkers that can be used to distinguish between different aetiologies.
“There’s no way of distinguishing between the radiation from nuclear power plants and radiation in the background (i.e. naturally occurring in the environment),” says Thomas, who also runs the Chernobyl Tissue Bank, which analyzes samples of tissue from people exposed to radiation after Chernobyl in order to monitor the impact of iodine exposure in children. “Everyone hoped we would find … a (genetic) marker for radiation-induced cancer, but there isn’t one.”
Other experts, such as Hisako Kakiyama, a medical doctor who is also a former head researcher at Japan's national radiological research institute, disagrees, saying research has shown that even low levels of radiation have led directly to cancers such as thyroid cancer.
The debate over the impact of radiation on health is discussed at length in "Yoshida's Dilemma," as indeed is the issue of the credibility of Fukushima's surveys and studies examining the thyroid cancer issue.
In the wake of the worst nuclear disaster in 25 years, the Fukushima Prefectural government in cooperation with Fukushima Medical University (FMU) began monitoring the health of residents who were under 18 at the time of the incident at the plant. FMU has since been is overseeing thyroid-cancer all screening and surgeries. By April 2014, 380,000 children, including those who were in utero on 11 March 2011, had been tested in the prefectural government checks, of which around 75 were confirmed as having malignant nodules, while a similar number were suspected of having nodules, but malignancy had yet to be confirmed – high compared to other known international statistics.
However, the lead researcher at FMU at the time, Shunichi Yamashita, a former president of the Japan Thyroid Association, claimed (you guessed it) that it was highly unlikely that the cancers uncovered in Fukushima were connected to radiation.
Yet, shortly after, Yamashita, along with three other leading researchers, resigned from the study after it was revealed in a Mainichi Shimbun investigation that lengthy secret meetings had been instigated among researchers and prefectural officials to pre-determine a line of argument during official deliberation sessions that would emphasize the view of a non-causal relationship between cancer cases and the nuclear disaster.
Shortly after it came to light that the data required to confirm this assertion was not available and that one scientist, Hirosaki University’s Shinji Tokonami, who had tried to obtain independent verification of how much radiation residents had been exposed to in the immediate aftermath of the disasters, was prevented from completing his research by prefectural officials.
According to radiation expert Sakiyama, without such data it becomes impossible to say conclusively that any cancers discovered among residents was caused by radiation from the nuclear power plant.
Still more problems with the FMU study have since come to light. On March 31, 2017, Kakiyama who is also a representative of the 3.11 Fund for Children With Thyroid Cancer, announced that a 4-year-old child who had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer after the Fukushima nuclear accident was missing from government checkup records. The toddler's case was omitted from data taken by FMU, which had treated the child. This seeming clerical error raised still more questions about the thoroughness and transparency of the thyroid screenings. Sakiyama stated that any missing case was "a problem" and brought about suspicions that there could be still more such cases missing from the data.
Katsutaka Idogawa, who was the mayor of Futaba, one of the two towns hosting the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, believes this was the outcome of a deliberate and carefully planned strategy by the government to prevent accurate information about radiation doses being disseminated.
The reason, he says, is clear: To ensure compensation claims are kept to an absolute minimum. “That was a deliberate policy by the government because if they had [provided accurate data] it would have caused a massive problem to the extent of national economic collapse. So right from the start, they made the radiation problem a non-problem."
With regard to the surveys of residents undertaken by the FMU, Imperial College's Thomas said such a practice of screening for thyroid or any other cancers is highly debatable. "Although it has the obvious advantage of finding cancers early, it also finds more of them when testing on such an unusually large scale using high-tech equipment to look for them," she said, adding that such an outcome is often referred to as the “screening effect”.
Many cancers found are too small to require the treatment they almost certainly will get, whether or not such treatment at that stage is actually necessary, she adds. “If you operate on these, there is always a danger, so there is a risk and a benefit of doing these kinds of survey.”
Yet, Idogawa is among those who are critical of the likes of Thomas who, he says, have a microscopic perspective when it comes to the health impacts of radiation exposure. Indeed, Idogawa believes there are almost certainly many many more cancer cases that have yet to come to light quite simply because of the stigma that is still associated with radiation-induced cancers and other illnesses. This was prevalent following the A-bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki where hibakusha (literally "nuked person") would conceal their condition -- where possible -- for fear of being ostracised. That fear not only applied to them, but their children and other relatives. Even today, there are hibakusha and relatives of hibakusha who will not speak to journalists on the record -- if at all.
This has already been shown to be a problem in Fukushima. Children who were forced to relocate to other parts of the country have been subjected to bullying purely because they are from Fukushima. A couple I interviewed for Yoshida's Dilemma told of how on a 2012 coach trip to western Japan they had decided not to tell fellow travellers they were from Fukushima. When their identity was eventually betrayed, those same fellow travellers would not talk to them or sit near them.
Another unusual situation that did not make it into the book involved one young Fukushima man having his engagement nullified by his future parents-in-law purely because he was from Fukushima. The irony was -- so were his bride-to-be and her parents.
"My guess is there are dozens, maybe hundreds more Fukushima residents who have been diagnosed with cancer," says Idogawa. "But they won't risk coming forward for fear of similar treatment to themselves and their families."
Stories appearing that Germany's constitutional court has ruled that a tax levied on nuclear fuel rods from 2011 was "unconstitutional and void" meaning the government must refund utilities operating nuclear plants billions of euros.
Following the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011 Germany decided to phase out its nuclear program by 2022 and a fuel rod tax requiring firms to pay 145 euros per gram of nuclear fuel each time they exchanged a fuel rod was imposed. Fuel rod exchange usually happens twice a year and the total bill to utilities that operate nuclear since the tax was imposed is estimated to be over 6 billion euros -- a "colossal irritation" according to the German environment minister Barbara Hendricks.
This is particularly true as the EU's court of justice deemed the fuel rod tax legal just last year. Observers are noting that the ruling marks a significant victory for utilities that have been opposed to Germany's nuclear phase out policy.
A Bloomberg story referred to the tax as a "blunder" by Chancellor Angela Merkel and a "low point" in her administration that handed her opponents "a stick to beat her with in an election year."