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
A high court in Hiroshima has given the green light to restart a reactor on Japan's Shikoku island, revoking an injunction issued last year and clearing the way for the remaining 39 inactive reactors in Japan to be brought back online.
The court upheld Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s appeal to restart the nuclear reactor in Ehime, western Japan, despite ongoing concerns that a volcanic eruption could damage the plant.
Despite having earlier sided with residents groups about the potential threat to the Ikata power plant by volcanic activity from Mt. Also in Kumamoto Prefecture, the court stated Tuesday that those claims were not backed by solid scientific evidence.
Presiding Judge Masayuki Miki was quoted as saying that there was only a remote possibility that volcanic ash and rocks would reach the plant should there be an eruption at Mt. Aso, which is about 130 km away.
Shikoku Electric president Hayato Saeki said in a statement that the court’s decision to remove the previous injunction, which would have expired this month anyway, “proves the facility’s safety.”
“We will begin preparing the facility to resume operations,” he said. The utility reportedly plans to reboot the reactor and bring it back online by Oct. 27.
Other residents groups in nearby Oita, Kagawa and Yamaguchi prefectures, however, are continuing court proceedings to block the restart.
Yet, the ruling, which has paved the way for Japan’s ninth reactor to restart since the March 2011 nuclear disasters in Fukushima, are widely viewed as providing a much-needed boost to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s goal to bring dozens more reactors back online and reduce Japan’s current dependency on costly coal and fossil fuel imports, which are threatening to derail Japan's carbon emission reduction goals, set during the Paris Accord.
A recently released report has found that 75 percent of Japanese financial institutions surveyed were effectively “funding climate change and nuclear risk.”
“Energy Finance in Japan 2018,” a research paper commissioned by climate change-focused NGO 350.org, shows that 113 of the 151 Japanese financial institutions surveyed, including such giants as Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG), Nippon Life Insurance (NLI) and Nomura Holdings, have funneled US$92 billion into coal and nuclear energy development over the past 5 years — a sum that is equivalent to the combined gross domestic products of Cameroon, Bolivia and Paraguay.
The objective of the report was “to identify Japanese financial institutions with no record of financial relations with Japanese companies engage in coal development, fossil fuel ownership and nuclear power, while profiling the financial institutions (banks, asset managers and insurance companies) with the highest exposure to fossil fuels and nuclear power in Japan.”
In order to achieve this goal, researchers utilised financial databases to calculate all known corporate loans, underwritings, bondholdings, and shareholdings from 151 financial groups and their subsidiaries provided to 26 Japanese companies engaged in fossil fuel and nuclear power generation between January 2013 and July 2018, according to the report.
The study, which was conducted by Amsterdam-Based Profound, found that those companies gave US$80 billion in loans and underwriting services, the lion’s share of which ($67 billion) went straight to coal and fossil fuel development/ownership, with the remainder going to nuclear. A further US$12 billion was invested in bonds and shares in those same industries, 65 percent of which went to coal development and 23 percent to fossil fuel owners.
It was also revealed that 59 parent companies of the financial institutions surveyed held shares in companies engaged on coal development; 22 held bonds and shares in companies engaged in fossil fuel ownership; and 48 held bonds and shares in companies engaged in nuclear power.
Despite the “even greater momentum” for decarbonising the energy sector and transitioning to renewable energies since the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, and despite the worsening impacts of climate change and nuclear risk, “Japanese financial institutions continue to support fossil fuel and nuclear projects at home and across the globe” through such investment strategies, the report states.
However, “most consumers in Japan do not realise how financial institutions invest their finds due to a lack of information disclosure regarding climate and environmental risks.”
Should the pattern continue Japan would find it difficult to reach the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets pledged in 2016, the report concludes.
In addition to MUFG, Nomura and Nippon Life, other top investors included Sumitomo Mitsui Trust, Meiji Masuda Life and Mizuho Finance.
The top three creditors of the 55 finance institutions providing loans and underwriting services to coal development companies were Mizuho Financial Group, Sumitomo Financial Group and MUFJ. The three companies listed as being the top three creditors of fossil fuel owners were Sumitomo Mitsui, Mizuho and MUFG.
Among the 151 Japanese financial institutions analyzed, only 38 of them were not involved with coal or nuclear energy projects, though the report pointed out that not all financial relationships are publicly disclosed in company publications, in financial institution publications, or through financial data service providers. There may also be links to companies involved in coal development and fossil fuel ownership that the survey was unable to unearth, the report added.
The figures in the report indicate the continuation of a huge turnaround for Japan, which until March 2011 sourced roughly 40 percent of its energy mix through nuclear power and renewables, against 25 percent sourced through coal. In 2012, nuclear and renewable contributions plummeted to 11 percent of that energy mix, while coal rose to 48 percent, according to Japanese government data. Japan has vowed to increase nuclear (to 22 percent) and renewables (to 24%) and reduce coal (to 26%) by 2030. In 2016 Japan generated its power using 82 percent conventional thermal sources (gas, coal, fuel oil), 8 percent hydro, 4 percent biomass and waste, and 2 percent nuclear, according to the International Energy Agency. The remaining 4 percent came from wind, geothermal and solar, meaning a total of 16 percent came from renewables - well below the IAE average.
There was, of course, a reason for this imbalance. On March 11, 2011 a massive earthquake and tsunami crippled one nuclear plant in Fukushima, causing multiple meltdowns and explosions at three of its six reactors.
Japan subsequently switched off all of its 54 reactors and ordered utilities to implement safety checks and upgrades where necessary. Over the seven and a half years since the disasters — which forced the evacuation of 160,000 residents living near the plant — only half a dozen of those reactors have been restarted and Japan has looked to coal to bridge the gap in energy demand.
A feed-in tariff to encourage renewable projects was introduced in the aftermath of the disasters, but has by-and-large proven to be unsuccessful. Solar development in Japan has failed to keep up with other nations, and has even been referred to as a "shambles".
And while financial institutions have spied a chance in coal and fossil fuels, Japanese banks, which are some of the world’s biggest backers of coal-fired plant projects overseas, especially in emerging economies, have created stricter financing guidelines that would disqualify new credit-seeking coal-fired plant projects that failed to implement advanced air-pollution technologies. Some of those banks, such as Sumitomo Mitsui, have suggested that they may make exceptions to some overseas projects.
Sumitomo is one of a few of the institutions listed in the 350.org report have started to tighten up their coal-financing policies. Meanwhile Nomura announced in July that it would no longer invest in coal-fired plants for environmental reasons and Dai-ichi Life has pledged a similar move to cease its financing of overseas coal plants.
Some argue that in the wider scheme of things these changes are nothing more than token gestures and will not prevent the continuation of massive Japanese investments into coal as long as suitable alternatives — to both coal and nuclear — are ignored.
Sources: IAE; Bloomberg; Energy Finance in Japan 2018
I have just been reading about a nuclear plant in North Carolina that houses reactors that share the same design as those at the Fukushima plant that suffered multiple meltdowns in 2011.
Duke Energy Corp.'s Brunswick nuclear plant's two boiling water reactors (BWR) were built by General Electric. The reactor containment vessels are BWR-4s -- the exact same models as 4 of the 6 reactors housed at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Two of those four reactors and a further one (model BWR-3) went into meltdown following the magnitude 9 earthquake and tsunami that hit northern Japan March 11, 2011 forcing the evacuation of over 160,000 residents.
One report says the Carolina utility had started powering down one reactor early Thursday and would start shutting the second reactor later in the day.
Hurricane Florence reached land near the plant on Friday.
Following the Fukushima disaster US regulators enforced new regulations whereby all U.S. nuclear nuclear plants had to be reinforced against earthquakes and flooding.
Duke Energy has not indicated if it has yet implemented those changes at Brunswick, but has said emergency generators and pumps will remove stormwater should the plant flood.
Local news yesterday broadcast images and footage of the aftermath of the strong earthquake that rocked Hokkaido Thursday, but little mention was made of another deja vu drama that was unfolding on Japan’s northernmost island.
As the magnitude 6.7 quake toppled buildings, ripped up roads and triggered massive landslides, resulting in 16 confirmed deaths and 100s of injuries, more than half of the 5.3 million residents on Hokkaido were left without electricity as power plants went into blackout -- including the Tomari nuclear power plant.
Albeit for a relatively short time, the Hokkaido Electric Power Co.-operated nuclear plant was reduced to relying on backup generators, much as the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant had done with such devastating results more than seven years ago.
In March 2011, a massive earthquake and tsunamis caused three of the six reactors there to go into meltdown causing the evacuation of more than 150,000 residents. On this occasion, the outage at the Tomari nuclear facility was relatively brief and unlike Fukushima, 600 km to the south, backup power remained intact, meaning cooling of the reactor cores could continue — a part of the “redundant” safety systems that are set up, at massive expense, within nuclear facilities around the globe.
Nonetheless, the temblor, which also damaged a local coal-fired power station among other facilities, knocked out the grid leaving many residents without electricity. More than a day on, that situation remains the same for many residents, who are also stuck in shelters rocked by aftershocks on a regular basis.
According to a government statement, the shutdown of all Hokkaido Electric's power facilities has affected around 2.95 million households, as well as business and oil and LPG terminals on the island.
While Hokkaido Electric has managed to restart some hydropower plants and one 125 megawatt coal-fired unit, its power supply capacity remains short of meeting the regional power demand, which was around 3.10 GW at the time of the earthquake.
According to one local news report Hokkaido has more than a dozen coal-fired and other power plants located in coastal areas that combined can supply close to double that amount. The interconnected system, however, means that if one goes down that interconnectivity is adversely affected, the Fuji TV report said. It also meant that it would take time to reconnect, it added. As a result, a state minister has warned that reduced power likely would continue to affect Hokkaido for over a week.
Hokkaido Electric says it hopes to restore much of that demand by Friday, topping up the supply from its restarts with an undamaged 600 MW power cable that connects Hokkaido with Japan’s main Honshu island, where Tokyo, Osaka and other major connotations are located.
The Tomari nuclear power plant, which restored power 10 hours after Thursday’s temblor, will be of little help: Like most of Japan’s nuclear reactors it has been out of service since the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima as it undergoes stringent safety checks. While the blackout will undoubtedly caused more than just a little concern, an official said there had been no radiation leakage from the plant.
Japan has acknowledged for the first time that a worker at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which experienced triple meltdowns and explosions more than seven years ago, died from radiation exposure.
According the the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the man, who was in his 50s, took up employment with a sub-contracting company of plant operator TEPCO in the immediate aftermath of the March 2011 nuclear disaster, which was triggered by a magnitude 9 earthquake and mega-tsunami.
The man had been charged with monitoring radiation levels at the stricken plant and had worked their on and off until 2015, the ministry said. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with lung cancer.
While Japan’s government has previously recognised four worker illnesses, such as cancer and leukaemia, as being directly linked to working at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the recently announced case marks the first occasion that it has recognised a death from working at the stricken facility.
The employee who died had an accumulated radiation dose of around 195 millisieverts (mSv), despite wearing the stipulated protective masks and clothing, according to local media reports.
Nuclear plant workers in Japan are limited to an accumulated dose of 100 mSv over any given 5-year period -- an amount that was controversially increased for several months to 250 mSv in the aftermath of the disaster -- which is generally accepted as being the 2nd worst in history after Chernobyl in 1986.
According to the World Nuclear Association, exposure to 100 mSv a year is the lowest level at which any increase in cancer risk is clearly evident. A cumulative 1,000 mSv would likely result in a fatal cancer in five out of every 100 persons exposed to it, the WNA says*. These estimates are made for people without protective masks or clothing.
*Some scientists believe there are cancer and other health risks from much lower doses. Others, such as Oxford University professor Wade Allison, believe there are no risks even from exposure to 1,000 mSv of radiation or more.