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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Fukushima Forever?

Fukushima power plant. (photo: unknown)
Fukushima power plant. (photo: unknown)



By William Boardman, Reader Supported News
14 August 13
lmost two and a half years after the nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima, the head of Japan's Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) raised concern on August 5 about the continued flow of radioactive water from the plant going into the Pacific Ocean, telling Reuters, "Right now we have a state of emergency."

Shinji Kinjo, head of the NRA task force, was following the apparent script for the current performance of the familiar kabuki theatre of nuclear power agencies everywhere, the stylized dance of suggesting meaning without actually clarifying it. Kinjo heads a task force set up after the March 2011 Fukushima meltdowns, a body with no authority to do anything, which was put in place by the NRA, the nuclear regulator that doesn't really regulate.

"Right now we have a state of emergency," said Kinjo, allowing one to think perhaps there had not been any state of emergency since the meltdowns.

"Right now we have a state of emergency," said Kinjo, three days after the most recent task force meeting, during which time there were no significant new developments at Fukushima, although the task force concluded that new measures were needed to stop the radioactive pollution.

"Right now we have a state of emergency," said Kinjo, as he proposed absolutely no immediate emergency responses.

Or, as Masayuki Ono, TEPCO's general manager told a press conference the following day: "We understand that this discharge is beyond our control and we do not think the current situation is good." 

At What Point Does a Constant Condition with Varying Intensity Become an Emergency? 

Kinjo's oddly-timed declaration of an "emergency" - radioactive water flowing into the Pacific - raises more questions about the task force's assessment of reality than about the obvious seriousness of an obvious danger that was well known to anyone paying much attention to the 29-month disaster at Fukushima, which has no end in sight. The declaration of an emergency actually serves as a distraction of the actual, ongoing emergency.

All of that is just the way political kabuki is supposed to work: impress the audience with the intensity of official concern, deflect attention to some "emergency" that is really just more of the same, make credible-sounding promises that won't make much difference even if they are implemented in some unspecified future. (As of August 6, the Japanese government was considering including $300 million or more in its 2014 budget request to pay for controlling the radioactive water flow.)

That would be a possible $300 million for an unknown remedy - since TEPCO, the government, and the NRA have all indicated they have no idea what to do, even though they heartily agree that they should do something.

But the Nuclear Regulatory Authority is in charge of nuclear power development in Japan, isn't it? Well, yes, in the same sense that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (and its predecessor the Atomic Energy Commission) has been in charge of promoting nuclear power development in the United States. 

What Would Meaningful Regulation of the Nuclear Industry Look Like? 

If nuclear regulation were meaningful, would Japan's NRA have allowed the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to locate Fukushima Daiichi (Number One, with four reactors) and Fukushima Daini (Number Two, with two reactors) in a seismic region where they would be vulnerable to earthquakes?

If nuclear regulation were meaningful, would the NRA have allowed TEPCO to locate six reactors close enough to the Pacific Ocean to be vulnerable to tsunamis, even if they were on a bluff about 115 feet above sea level and the design basis for tsunamis was about 16 feet?

If nuclear regulation were meaningful, would the NRA have allowed TEPCO to lower the bluff to about 33 feet above sea level, in order to build on bedrock to reduce the vulnerability to earthquakes, while increasing the vulnerability to tsunamis, and at the same time bringing the reactors about 80 feet closer to the natural aquifer beneath them?

If nuclear regulation were meaningful, would the NRA have allowed TEPCO to double down and add two more reactors in a heavily populated area where none of the risks had been effectively mitigated?

To be fair, Fukushima Number Two was only slightly damaged, and its pair of reactors remain out of service, but at least they didn't melt down. A generous scorekeeper might find that the NRA was batting .500, with only three meltdowns out of six reactors. 

Some Leaks Threaten Global Security, Not Just Corporate Security 

Logic, hydraulics, the laws of physics, workers at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, and now the Japanese government all support the conclusion that radioactive water has been running into the Pacific Ocean at a varying rate, but continuously since March 11, 2011. TEPCO did not admit this until July 23, while at the same time claiming that the impact would be limited, even while acknowledging it had no explanation for the increase in radiation levels and no way to control them.

Making the Fukushima disaster more uncertain - no one, not TEPCO, not the government, not the NRA or its task force, not environmental organizations - no one has maintained continuous, comprehensive measurement of radioactivity at or escaping from the site. The agencies responsible for protecting the public don't know what the danger is in part because they have made no good faith effort to measure it. And the public knows even less because some of the information is kept secret, despite the public's right to know as codified in international law as well as the statutes of the European Community, China, and Japan.

More than 60 different sources of radiation have been detected at Fukushima, most notably Tritium, Cesium, and Strontium. Radioactive materials release radiation in several basic forms: alpha or beta particles, gamma rays, x-rays, or neutrons. TEPCO's measuring has reportedly focused on gamma-rays, with erratic or no attention to other forms of radiation. On July 30, the NRA announced that, because it questioned the accuracy of TEPCO measurements, the NRA would join measuring radiation diffusion from the plant. 

Fukushima May Not Be a Global Problem Yet: That Takes Time 

The spread of radiation from Fukushima has been continuous, though the rate of release has most likely varied significantly. No one really knows, and the authorities have not told all they know. And they have not tried to know as much as they could. If you don't want to tell the truth, it's very helpful not to know the truth.

Accurate information could serve to mitigate the damage from Fukushima, but accurate information might also be evidence of the culpability - moral and especially legal - of those in charge. That gives them a strong incentive to know as little as possible, even when the common good requires knowing as much as possible.

Failing to tell the truth, even to themselves, the authorities find themselves dancing across a dreamscape where, even if they happen to discover something useful, they are not likely to be able to recognize it.

Making it worse, the authorities suppress the truth that might be told by others - TEPCO by threat, the government by silence and non-intervention. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) interviewed a 56-year-old Fukushima decontamination worker who works 12-hour shifts at $10 an hour. The August 12 report adds that the worker "says he has to hide his real job from his two young grandsons for fears they would shun him if they knew."

According to ABC, the worker said that if TEPCO found out he had talked to a reporter, he would suffer: "I'd be fired for sure. Speaking out is an act of suicide." 

Without Water, the Meltdowns Would Re-start, with Endless Consequences 

The reality is that conditions at Fukushima have been out of control since March 2011. Even the Global Travel Industry News is alarmed, noting the sharp rise in thyroid cancer around Fukushima as part of a story with the headline "Nuclear-contaminated Pacific Ocean may become a global threat." Conditions at Fukushima will remain out of control for a long time because the situation is untenable:
  • TEPCO must continue pumping water into the fuel pool and melted cores to keep them from over-heating, going into chain reaction, and spewing more radioactive debris.

  • The water cooling the cores becomes radioactive and continues to flow toward the sea along unknown paths at unknown rates.

  • Groundwater flowing downhill into the site gets irradiated and continues on to the sea.

  • Recent intense rains have added to the groundwater and raised the underlying aquifer, adding to the irradiated water flow.

  • TEPCO is pumping irradiated water into 1,000 or more holding tanks, most of which are already full and some of which are already leaking. They are all considered unreliable in the long term, however long that might be.

  • TEPCO has installed an underground dam to prevent groundwater from reaching the sea, but water has already flowed over and around that dam.

  • TEPCO has attempted trenching and damming efforts to keep water from flowing into the site, but with very limited success.

  • This is typhoon season in Japan.
Lori Mochizuki of Fukushima-diary.com reported on August 12 that Tepco's spokesman stated at a press conference: "In case of a severe rain fall, if the groundwater increases more than the capacity of pump, we cannot do anything."

"The plant and the entire world are completely defenseless," Mochizuki wrote.

"This is the reality that no one reports."

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