Japan’s earthquake and nuclear power plants


in Economics, Geek stuff, Politics, The environment

This is scary:

The explosion [at Japan’s Fukushima plant], he said, was due to hydrogen buildup in the steam piping that mixed with oxygen, and that there was no damage to the container with the nuclear fuel. TEPCO has been filling the container with seawater combined with boric acid to cool the reactor, which Mr Edano called an “unprecedented” remedy. Boric acid, as well as being a strong neutron absorber to prevent the nuclear fuel from overheating, will also make the reactor much harder to get running again.

I wasn’t worried until they began taking steps that could undermine the future operation of the reactor. If they are running those risks now, they must really be worried about what could happen if they do not set things right.

Also, it is virtually guaranteed that the company running the plant and the Japanese government will play down the seriousness of the accident to the greatest possible degree. That suggests it may be worse than reported so far.

Choosing nuclear power involves special risks.

Report a typo or inaccuracy

{ 104 comments… read them below or add one }

. March 13, 2011 at 12:04 pm

The Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima is built on the shoreline in northeast Japan. So when an 8.9 magnitude earth quake struck on Friday, the tsunami waves it spawned — as tall as a house and speeding like a jet plane — washed right over the reactors and put them at risk of a meltdown.

Engineers were dousing the plants with seawater in a desperate effort to prevent a calamity on Sunday, even as the government evacuated 140,000 from the area after radioactive steam was released from the stricken plant.

The nuclear crisis was a triple whammy for Japan, coming on top of the earthquake — Japan’s biggest and the fifth strongest ever recorded in the world — and one of the most powerful tsunami in history, which caused scenes of unimaginable destruction in northeast Japan.

oleh March 13, 2011 at 12:12 pm

This is scary. I expect that the Japanese nuclear plant was built with extremely high safety specifications at a time when Japan was prepared to and could pay for safety. This would not be as true in much of the world.

One concern about future nuclear power construction is that corners will be cut for budgetary reasons, especially in poor countries. Cutting corners in nuclear power construction could be disastrous. I think for those reasons it would make sense to have high international standards. Also this is one area where rich countries could subsidize poor countries to provide safety if only for selfish reasons. Nuclear fallout does not recognize national borders.

. March 13, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Following an announcement this week that the infamous Japanese Monju fast-breeder nuclear reactor would be re-opened with a new plutonium core, Wikileaks has released suppressed video footage of the disaster that led to its closure in 1995. The video shows men in silver ‘space suits’ exploring the reactor in which sodium compounds hang from the air ducts like icicles. Unlike conventional reactors, fast-breeder reactors, which ‘breed’ plutonium, use sodium rather than water as a coolant. This type of coolant creates a potentially hazardous situation as sodium is highly corrosive and reacts violently with both water and air. Government officials at first played down the extent of damage at the reactor and denied the existence of a videotape showing the sodium spill. The deputy general manager, Shigeo Nishimura, 49, jumped to his death the day after a news conference at which he and other officials revealed the extent of the cover-up. His family is currently suing the government at Japan’s High Court.

. March 13, 2011 at 11:23 pm

Mr Kan almost doubled the number of Special Defence Force troops he had ordered to the area, to 100,000. But relief efforts were hampered by destroyed roads and bridges, waterlogged airports and other disrupted lines of communication. An American aircraft carrier and emergency services from other countries joined the rescue effort, which underscores how bad the situation must be. The assumed death toll, which has already doubled in 24 hours, may rise much further yet. It would not be a surprise if it exceeds the 6,500 or so killed in the 1995 Kobe earthquake.

However hard it is to come to grips with the enormous devastation, another crisis is playing out in real time: the risk of a Three-Mile-Island-style radiation leakage at a nuclear-power plant in Fukushima prefecture, 250 miles north of Tokyo. Overnight, the cooling system at the third reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant failed, and on March 13th Kyodo news agency cited the plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), as saying that three metres of a Mox nuclear-fuel rod had been left above the water level. That raises the risk of a meltdown of the core reactor, which could lead to a nuclear catastrophe. Disconcertingly, Japanese anti-nuclear campaigners have fiercely opposed the introduction into Japan of Mox fuel, which is a mixture of plutonium oxide and uranium oxide, arguing, among other things, that plutonium is more unsafe than enriched uranium. The fuel was first used in the Fukushima plant last year. Five other reactors spread over two Fukushima plants have also experienced trouble with their cooling systems, and two (including the Mox one) have been doused with water—and possibly permanently crippled—to prevent overheating.

. March 13, 2011 at 11:29 pm

Radioactive Releases in Japan Could Last Months, Experts Say

WASHINGTON — As the scale of Japan’s nuclear crisis begins to come to light, experts in Japan and the United States say the country is now facing a cascade of accumulating problems that suggest that radioactive releases of steam from the crippled plants could go on for weeks or even months.

The emergency flooding of two stricken reactors with seawater and the resulting steam releases are a desperate step intended to avoid a much bigger problem: a full meltdown of the nuclear cores in two reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. On Monday, an explosion blew the roof off the second reactor, not damaging the core, officials said, but presumably leaking more radiation.

So far, Japanese officials have said the melting of the nuclear cores in the two plants is assumed to be “partial,” and the amount of radioactivity measured outside the plants, though twice the level Japan considers safe, has been relatively modest.

But Pentagon officials reported Sunday that helicopters flying 60 miles from the plant picked up small amounts of radioactive particulates — still being analyzed, but presumed to include cesium-137 and iodine-121 — suggesting widening environmental contamination.

Alison March 14, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Democracy Now’s morning coverage of the disaster:

. March 14, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Japanese reactor operators now have little choice but to periodically release radioactive steam until the radioactive elements in the fuel of the stricken units stop generating intense heat – a process that can go on for a year or even longer after the fission process has stopped.

After a series of intense interchanges between Tokyo and Washington on the weekend and the arrival of the first U.S. nuclear experts in Japan, officials said they were beginning to get a clearer picture of what went wrong over the past three days.

As one senior official put it, “under the best scenarios, this isn’t going to end any time soon.”

At the heart of the problem is the definition of “off” in a nuclear reactor.

When the nuclear chain reaction is shut and the reactor shuts down, the fuel is still producing about 6 per cent of the heat that it did when it was running because of continuing heat generation by radioactivity – the release of subatomic particles and of gamma rays.

. March 14, 2011 at 6:46 pm

_Officials decided to reduce rising pressure inside the reactor vessel, so they vented some of the steam buildup. They needed to do that to prevent the entire structure from exploding, and thus starting down the road to a meltdown.

_At the same time, in order to keep the reactor fuel cool, and also prevent a meltdown, operators needed to keep circulating more and more cool water on the fuel rods.

_Temperature in the reactor vessel apparently kept rising, heating the zirconium cladding that makes up the fuel rod casings. Once the zirconium reached 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit (1,200 Celsius), it reacted with the water, becoming zirconium oxide and hydrogen.

_When the hydrogen-filled steam was vented from the reactor vessel, the hydrogen reacted with oxygen, either in the air or water outside the vessel, and exploded.

A similar ”hydrogen bubble” had concerned officials at the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear disaster in Pennsylvania until it dissipated.

If the temperature inside the Fukushima reactor vessel continued to rise even more _ to roughly 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,200 Celsius) _ then the uranium fuel pellets would start to melt.

According to experts interviewed by The Associated Press, any melted fuel would eat through the bottom of the reactor vessel. Next, it would eat through the floor of the already-damaged containment building. At that point, the uranium and dangerous byproducts would start escaping into the environment.

At some point in the process, the walls of the reactor vessel _ 6 inches (15 centimetres) of stainless steel _ would melt into a lava-like pile, slump into any remaining water on the floor, and potentially cause an explosion much bigger than the one caused by the hydrogen. Such an explosion would enhance the spread of radioactive contaminants.

If the reactor core became exposed to the external environment, officials would likely began pouring cement and sand over the entire facility, as was done at the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear accident in the Ukraine, Peter Bradford, a former commissioner of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said in a briefing for reporters.

Another expert on the call, Ken Bergeron, a physicist and former Sandia scientist, added that as a result of such a meltdown the surrounding land would be off-limits for a considerable period of time, and ”a lot of first responders would die.”

. March 14, 2011 at 11:35 pm

In response to the devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck Japan, we’ve worked with our satellite imagery providers to get the latest available data of the areas affected most.

To view this high-resolution imagery, courtesy of our partners at GeoEye, download this KML file and explore it in Google Earth. You can also explore the imagery with Google Maps, or have a look at this Picasa album of before-and-after shots.

. March 15, 2011 at 8:15 am

This nuclear accident is already the world’s worst since the explosions and meltdown at Chernobyl, in Soviet Ukraine, in 1986. As it escalates rapidly, attention is swinging from the victims and survivors of the catastrophic tsunami damage along the coast to the horrifying possibility of yet greater dangers posed by the compromised reactors. Untold thousands of people in northern Japan have died since Friday. Today panicky e-mails about radiation cascade across East Asia, offering fear and bogus medical advice.

The French embassy put out a safety alert to its nationals living in Tokyo, noting that north-easterly winds from the area around Fukushima could bring low-level radioactive contamination to the capital, 250km away, within 10 hours. While the Japanese response has been by and large stoical, foreigners are clearly giving thought to flight. Air China has cancelled scheduled flights to Tokyo from Beijing and Shanghai.

Mr Kan and his colleagues are trying to reassure the public that the fight to contain the radiation is still on. Their approach has seemed marked by composure and candour. Mr Kan complained that he had not received information directly from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) for more than one hour after he watched this morning’s explosion on live television. Tepco has requested help at Fukushima from the American army.

. March 15, 2011 at 8:23 am

Japan’s nuclear crisis verged toward catastrophe on Tuesday after an explosion damaged the vessel containing the nuclear core at one reactor and a fire at another spewed large amounts of radioactive material into the air, according to statements from Japanese government and industry officials.

In a brief morning address to the nation Tokyo time, Prime Minister Naoto Kan pleaded for calm, but warned that radiation had already spread from the crippled reactors and there was “a very high risk” of further leakage.

The sudden turn of events, after an explosion Monday at one reactor and then an early-morning explosion Tuesday at yet another — the third in four days at the plant — already made the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station the worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl reactor disaster a quarter century ago.

Engineers at the plant, working at tremendous personal risk, on Tuesday continued efforts to cool down the most heavily damaged unit, reactor No. 2, by pumping in seawater. According to government statements, most of the 800 workers at the plant had been withdrawn, leaving 50 or so workers in a desperate effort to keep the cores of three stricken reactors cooled with seawater pumped by firefighting equipment, while crews battled to put out the fire at the No. 4 reactor, which they claimed to have done just after noon on Tuesday.

But late Tuesday, Japan’s nuclear watchdog said a pool storing spent fuel rods at that fourth reactor had overheated and reached boiling point and had become unapproachable by workers at the plant. The fire earlier Tuesday morning was sparked by a hydrogen explosion generated by rising temperatures at the fuel pool, which released radioactivity directly into the atmosphere.

Antonia March 15, 2011 at 9:02 am

steps that could undermine the future operation of the reactor

The ageing plant was due to be decomissioned in the near future and following the tsunami damage there was little prospect of it being reactiveated. When managing a crisis in such circumstances I’m glad they didn’t have an eye to the later operability (and profitability) of the plant but tried whatever seemed expedient to avert disaster.

“Malcolm Grimston, associate fellow at Chatham House’s energy, environment and development programme… insists that what is most remarkable about Fukushima is how effective procedures were in preventing a meltdown.”

The plant may have turned away the US’s fire trucks the other day but I’m not entirely surprised as they’re clearly in urgent need of cooling equipment and power – they seem to have enough firefighters for now.

Other blog cross-reference for my comment with associated links. http://burycoal.com/blog/2011/03/14/nuclear-power-after-fukushima/

Antonia March 15, 2011 at 9:03 am

Sorry – Grimston (pro-nuclear) quote is from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-12746129

Antonia March 15, 2011 at 9:18 am

Recommended 16 March (in Japan anyway) report in the NY Times on current understanding of the crisis
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/16/world/asia/16nuclear.html and 14 March (ditto) report on why so resources were split owing to spent fuel concerns http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/15/world/asia/15fuel.html?ref=asia

Antonia March 15, 2011 at 12:43 pm
Antonia March 15, 2011 at 12:50 pm

However pro-nuclear this site is, it seems to have good updates on what is going on with each of the reactors http://theenergycollective.com/barrybrook/53582/fukushima-nuclear-accident-15-march-summary-situation

Antonia March 16, 2011 at 9:12 am

Unfortunately the theenergycollective information I linked to was the the erroneous (later viral) blog entry by Oehman http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/2011/03/15/josef_oehmen_nuclear_not_worried_viral/ and not the stream at http://theenergycollective.com/all/12309 I’d intended but at least the link I gave leads to the it was the amended and revised peer reviewed version. As with that site in general, the more technical information is interesting but not entirely authoritative and I wouldn’t agree with the conclusions.
Dismissing the risk so comprehensively was and remains foolhardy.

As always during an unfolding news story where journalists can’t be ‘on the ground’ and information is ever-changing and subject to censorship for a variety of reasons (including legitimate humanitarian crisis-management) it is very difficult to find realtively current information giving broadly realistic indications of the scale and probability of the risk.

Since the additional fire and damage at reactor 3 and the news that for health and safety reasons cooling attempts had been interrupted and helicopter water drops cancelled, the probability of further and more dangerous levels of radiation leakage and additional disaster escalation is clearly far higher than it had been. Yesterday I had hoped that the final scale of the disaster could be limited to the reactor 2 leakage which was being managed and, while bad, carried somewhat limited health impact largely over the already-devestated area where evacuation efforts were in place: the number of points where efforts had to be focused were fewer and there was greater appearance that increased rather than fewer resources could be brought to bear as time went on.

Sadly that limited optimism that the level of the incident might be capped before Tokyo and beyond were very substantially affected, and before the majority of those already harrowed by earthquake and tsunami were exposed to significantly damaging radiation levels, has now all-but vanished.

Antonia March 16, 2011 at 12:29 pm

As noted elsewhere this is particularly dispiriting to hear of in the context http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-15/ge-staff-quit-in-1970s-over-design-in-japan-reactor-abc-says.html
Though there had been retrofitting there are those saying that, though TEPCO got the commissioning extended this year after General Electric certified the plant, the retrofitting had not sufficiently remedied the identified design flaws. Of course the refit when the tsunami hit might have increased vulnerability but surely that should have been taken into account when planning the refit. Apparently Tepco has previously been found falsifying information about earthquake resilience or damage to obtain or keep the “SQ” “Seismic Qualification” all nuclear plants worldwide must be certified for . http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokyo_Electric_Power_Company#Scandal As the responsible individuals were not identified it is not clear that adequate steps were taken to ensure the dodgy practices did not reoccur. For a nuclear power company in one of the world’s most earthquake prone regions this is appalling.

Reactor status updates (English language) are available from The Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF) http://www.jaif.or.jp/english/
Press updates (English language) from Tepco are available http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/index-e.html

Milan March 16, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Here is one thing I wonder about:

They are pumping seawater into units 1, 2, and 3. According to the New York Times, all the water is being evaporated and boiled away – not leaking out from the reactors.

What then is happening to all the salt? Is it crusting up inside the reactor cores? Could that cause future corrosion or other problems?

Of course, that may be the least of their worries right now.

Milan March 16, 2011 at 7:14 pm

To clarify the purpose of having two posts (and I admit to muddling them a bit myself): The post on my personal site is about the ongoing development of the crisis in Japan. For instance, updates on the status of the reactors and repair efforts. The post on BuryCoal is about the broader implications of the crisis, particularly as they relate to climate change and nuclear power.

. March 16, 2011 at 7:23 pm

The nuclear industry uses a “defence in depth” approach – having backups for your backup systems – but cascading disasters and human error have overwhelmed those safety systems in Japan and pushed the country to the brink of a nuclear meltdown.

Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station was clearly designed to withstand the worst earthquake to hit the country in modern times, but key backup safety systems failed under the resulting blackout and a massive tsunami that inundated the area.

That’s left a razor-thin margin of error for emergency crews working under enormous stress to prevent a meltdown that could spread radiation across their homeland. They’ve survived catastrophic natural disasters and explosions at the plant, but the failure to close a pressure gauge could lose the war.

The see-saw battle to regain mastery of the crippled plants has been hobbled by some design shortcomings at the 40-year-old facility – though the critical containment vessels appear to be intact. And there is a residual lack of trust in its operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which has an unfortunate history of hiding trouble from the public.

. March 16, 2011 at 7:24 pm

But he acknowledged that the placement of diesel generators on the grounds outside the reactor building left them dangerously exposed to a tsunami, which was three metres higher than the plant had been designed for.

The loss of the diesel machines meant crews had to turn to battery powered generators to keep pumps operating to cool the reactor cores. Since those have given out, the workers have been using hoses to douse the reactor cores with sea water. That process resulted in a buildup of steam that requires venting, spreading low-level radiation, and the creation of hydrogen that caused explosions in at least two – perhaps three – of the outer containment buildings.

Harried crews have also apparently made some costly mistakes.

At one point, an air flow gauge was accidentally turned off, blocking the flow of water into the reactor. As a result, fuel rods in Fukushima’s No. 2 reactor were exposed and began to melt.

In another incident, crews did not notice the remaining diesel generator had run out of fuel, interrupting the water flow for precious moments.

Mr. Hawthorne said the emergency crews are operating under the most dire conditions. Two of their colleagues were lost and presumed drowned while outside checking for earthquake damage when the tsunami hit.

“The only thing left standing in this area is the plant – you don’t know where your family [is], you don’t know what’s happened, but you have a job to do and you have to stick on it.”

. March 16, 2011 at 7:24 pm

A small crew of technicians, braving radiation and fire, became the only people remaining at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on Tuesday — and perhaps Japan’s last chance of preventing a broader nuclear catastrophe.

They crawl through labyrinths of equipment in utter darkness pierced only by their flashlights, listening for periodic explosions as hydrogen gas escaping from crippled reactors ignites on contact with air.

They breathe through uncomfortable respirators or carry heavy oxygen tanks on their backs. They wear white, full-body jumpsuits with snug-fitting hoods that provide scant protection from the invisible radiation sleeting through their bodies.

They are the faceless 50, the unnamed operators who stayed behind. They have volunteered, or been assigned, to pump seawater on dangerously exposed nuclear fuel, already thought to be partly melting and spewing radioactive material, to prevent full meltdowns that could throw thousands of tons of radioactive dust high into the air and imperil millions of their compatriots.

The workers — and an increasing proportion of soldiers — struggled on Tuesday and Wednesday to keep hundreds of gallons of seawater a minute flowing through temporary fire pumps into the three stricken reactors, Nos. 1, 2 and 3. Among the many problems that officials acknowledged on Wednesday were what appeared to be yet another fire at the plant and indications that the containment vessel surrounding a reactor may have ruptured. That reactor, No. 3, appeared to be releasing radioactive steam.

. March 18, 2011 at 12:34 am

Mr. Nishiyama also said that radiation of about 250 millisievert an hour had been detected 100 feet above the plant. In the United States the limit for police officers, firefighters and other emergency workers engaged in life-saving activity as a once-in-a-lifetime exposure is equal to being exposed to 250 millisieverts for a full hour.

The radiation figures provided by the Japanese Self-Defense Force may provide an indication of why a helicopter turned back on Wednesday from an attempt to dump cold water on a storage pool at the plant.

Earlier Thursday the military forces dumped seawater from a helicopter on Reactor No. 3, making four passes and dropping a total of about 8,000 gallons over it as a plume of white smoke billowed. The Japanese government said that the reactor typically needs 50 tons of water, or about 12,000 gallons, a day to keep from overheating.

The Self-Defense Forces later said the measure had little effect on reducing the temperature in the pool where the spent rods are stored.

The military also announced that it had postponed plans to drop water on Reactor No. 4, which Gregory Jaczko, the chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, on Wednesday pinpointed as a cause for serious alarm.

. March 18, 2011 at 12:38 am

Visitors to Japan are being urged to leave and avoid non-essential travel, as the country struggles amid a nuclear crisis after last week’s earthquake and tsunami.

Countries including Britain, the United States, South Korea, Australia and Germany have advised their citizens to leave Japan because of radiation from damaged nuclear reactors.

South Korea has set up areas at international airports to test passengers for radiation, the Yonhap news agency reported. Those returning on ferries will also be tested, according to Kim Chang-kyung, vice-minister of science.

Canada hasn’t advised Canadians to leave the country altogether, but it arranged with allies Thursday to get some citizens out of the Sendai area on chartered buses from near the site of the damaged Fukushima nuclear reactors.

The American military is also gathering information on the damaged nuclear power plant. Officials said that a Global Hawk drone was flying missions over the reactor. In addition, U-2 spy planes were providing images to help the Japanese government map out its response to the quake and tsunami.

Earlier Thursday Japanese military forces dumped seawater from a helicopter on Reactor No. 3, making four passes and dropping a total of about 8,000 gallons over it as a plume of white smoke billowed. The Japanese government said that the reactor typically needs 50 tons of water, or about 12,000 gallons, a day to keep from overheating.

The Japanese military later said the measure had little effect on reducing the temperature in the pool where the spent rods are stored. A photograph from the air showed a light that seemed to suggest the presence of water, according to Tokyo Electric, but analysts said it was unclear what the image meant.

If the American analysis is accurate and emergency crews at the plant have been unable to keep the spent fuel at that inoperative reactor properly cooled — it needs to remain covered with water at all times — radiation levels could make it difficult not only to fix the problem at No. 4, but also to keep servicing any of the other problem reactors at the plant. In the worst case, experts say, workers could be forced to vacate the plant altogether, and the fuel rods in reactors and spent fuel pools would be left to melt down, leading to much larger releases of radioactive materials.

While radiation levels at the plant have varied tremendously, Mr. Jaczko said that the peak levels reported there “would be lethal within a fairly short period of time.” He added that another spent fuel pool, at Reactor No. 3, might also be losing water and could soon be in the same condition.

Danger of Spent Fuel Outweighs Reactor Threat

Published: March 17, 2011

Years of procrastination in deciding on long-term disposal of highly radioactive fuel rods from nuclear reactors is now coming back to haunt Japanese authorities as they try to control fires and explosions at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

Some countries have tried to limit the number of spent fuel rods that accumulate at nuclear power plants — Germany stores them in costly casks, for example, while Chinese nuclear reactors send them to a desert storage compound in western China’s Gansu province. But Japan, like the United States, has kept ever larger numbers of spent fuel rods in temporary storage pools at the power plants, where they can be guarded with the same security provided for the power plant.

Figures provided by Tokyo Electric Power on Thursday show that most of the dangerous uranium at the power plant is actually in the spent fuel rods, not the reactor cores themselves. The electric utility said that a total of 11,195 spent fuel rod assemblies were stored at the site.

That is in addition to 400 to 600 fuel rod assemblies that had been in active service in each of the three troubled reactors. In other words, the vast majority of the fuel assemblies at the troubled reactors are in the storage pools, not the reactors.

. March 18, 2011 at 8:21 pm

Japanese engineers have succeeded in laying a power cable to the No. 2 reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the International Atomic Energy Agency says, raising hopes that electric water pumps could soon restore cooling.

“They plan to reconnect power to Unit 2 once the spraying of water on the Unit 3 reactor building is completed,” the IAEA said in a statement Thursday.

The external grid power line is intended to restart electric pumps for cooling the reactor, which lost its main and backup power supplies following the earthquake and tsunami, causing dangerous overheating of the reactors and spent fuel rod pools.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the plant, said it hopes to activate the cooling system of the No. 2 reactor as early as Friday night after restoring power to the system, Japan’s state broadcaster NHK reported.

The utility said the No. 2 unit seems to have suffered less damage to its electrical equipment than the other reactors at the plant, but connecting the power line could be hampered by the radiation threat to workers who will need to approach the reactor.

TOKYO — Japanese engineers conceded on Friday that burying a crippled nuclear plant in sand and concrete may be a last resort to prevent a catastrophic radiation release, the method used to seal huge leakages from Chernobyl in 1986.

But they still hoped to solve the crisis by fixing a power cable to at least two reactors to restart water pumps needed to cool overheating nuclear fuel rods. Workers also sprayed water on the No.3 reactor, the most critical of the plant’s six.

It was the first time the facility operator had acknowledged burying the sprawling complex was possible, a sign that piecemeal actions such as dumping water from military helicopters or scrambling to restart cooling pumps may not work.

TOKYO — Exhausted engineers attached a power cable to the outside of Japan’s tsunami-crippled nuclear station on Saturday in a race to prevent deadly radiation from an accident now rated at least as bad as America’s Three Mile Island in 1979.

Further cabling inside was underway before an attempt to restart water pumps needed to cool overheated nuclear fuel rods at the six-reactor Fukushima plant in northeastern Japan, 240 kilometres north of Tokyo.

Japan’s unprecedented multiple crisis of earthquake, tsunami and radiation leak has unsettled world financial markets, prompted international reassessment of nuclear safety and given the Asian nation its sternest test since World War Two.

It has also stirred unhappy memories of Japan’s past nuclear nightmare — the U.S. atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Working inside a 20-kilometre evacuation zone at Fukushima, nearly 300 engineers were focussed on trying to restore power at pumps in four of the reactors.

“TEPCO has connected the external transmission line with the receiving point of the plant and confirmed that electricity can be supplied,” the plant’s operator Tokyo Electric Power Co 9501.T said in a statement.

. March 19, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Japan Finds Contaminated Food Up to 90 Miles From Nuclear Sites

TOKYO — The government said Saturday that it had found higher than normal levels of radioactive materials in spinach and milk at farms up to 90 miles away from the ravaged nuclear power plants, the first confirmation by officials that the unfolding nuclear crisis has affected the nation’s food supply.

While officials played down the immediate risks to consumers, the findings further unsettled a nation worried about the long-term effects of the damaged nuclear power plants.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company, with help from the Japan Self-Defense Force, police officers and firefighters, continued efforts to cool the damaged reactors on Saturday to try to stave off a further fuel meltdown and stem the radiation leak. The latest plan involved running a mile-long electrical transmission line to Reactor No. 2 at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station to try to restore power to its cooling system.

About 500 workers from the utility connected the power line on Saturday. They were checking the cooling system, which has been disabled since the earthquake and tsunami hit more than a week ago, and hope to try to restart it on Sunday.

. March 20, 2011 at 1:23 am

Help Wanted: Save Japan From Nuclear Disaster
Slate wants your ideas on how to avoid a complete meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.
Japan’s damaged nuclear power plant: Your solutions wanted.

By Chris Wilson

Posted Friday, March 18, 2011, at 4:12 PM ET

Japan’s nuclear safety agency now considers the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant to be a five on a seven-point disaster scale, placing it in the company of Three Mile Island and a 1957 fire at a reactor in the United Kingdom. At this point, Chernobyl—a seven—and the 1957 explosion at a Russian waste tank—a six—are the only disasters thought to have released more radiation. Efforts to cool reactor cores and spent fuel rods with seawater have failed to control the situation. Engineers are also working on a new power line that would restore electricity to the cooling systems.

The crisis has demolished confidence that nuclear power plants are safe when multiple safety mechanisms are in place. The scattered response and contradictory statements by plant and safety officials have underscored how unlikely this sort of disaster was thought to be.

. March 20, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Japan backs off from venting of leaking nuclear reactor
FUKUSHIMA, Japan— The Associated Press
Published Sunday, Mar. 20, 2011 5:40AM EDT
Last updated Sunday, Mar. 20, 2011 10:35AM EDT

The operator of Japan’s crippled, leaking nuclear plant says two of the six reactor units are now safely under control after their fuel storage pools cooled down.

Tokyo Electric Power Company declared Units 5 and 6 safe Sunday night after days of pumping water into the reactors pool brought temperatures down.

Bringing the two units under control marks a minor advance in the efforts to stop the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex from leaking radiation. The two units are the least problematic of the six reactor units at the plant, which began overheating after the earthquake-triggered tsunami disrupted the plant’s cooling systems.

Earlier, the operator backed off a tricky venting of radioactive gas from a troubled reactor Sunday as concerns grew about wider contamination of food and water.

Milan March 20, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Randall Munroe of XKCD has cooked up a radiation dose chart, which compares the radiation at Fukushima to various other sources and levels.

. March 20, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Crisis Prompts Exodus of Executives From Tokyo

TOKYO — The crisis at the nuclear power plant 140 miles north of here is leading to a steady but orderly departure of business executives from Tokyo. Foreigners in particular are among those leaving, as concerns grow about the possibility of a catastrophic release of radiation and governments urge their citizens to consider seeking safety elsewhere in Japan or overseas.

Much as in 2003, when the SARS virus slowed business around Asia, a peculiar psychology has taken hold in Tokyo, where businessmen with the wherewithal are weighing whether to decamp to cities south and west of Tokyo — or wait and see whether the nuclear emergency escalates further.

The confusion, in addition to the distraction of relocating employees, is preventing some companies from addressing urgent problems in shattered plants and facilities along the northeastern coast of the main island, Honshu, which was ravaged by the earthquake and tsunami last week.

. March 20, 2011 at 6:30 pm

A leading question about the Fukushima Daiichi plant: Why was the spent fuel pool placed on a high platform, making it difficult to replace cooling water in an emergency? It started with the selection of reactor type.

. March 24, 2011 at 9:38 pm

Millions of Tokyoites are worried about radiation in tap water or in the air, but the thousands of people living in the shadow of Japan’s stricken nuclear plant have another fear: it may force them to abandon their homes for years, if not forever.

More than 70,000 people have already been evacuated from an area within 20 km of the plant, and another 130,000 are within a zone extending a further 10 km in which residents are recommended to stay indoors. They too could be forced to leave their homes if the evacuation is extended due to worsening radiation levels.

Nobody in government has yet touched on the issue directly, but given growing worries about soil contamination in the largely rural area and bans on shipping and sales of local milk and vegetables, many residents fear the worst.

“Nobody wants to say it out loud, but I think that in their hearts everybody worries that they won’t be able to go home for years at least,” said Yoichi Azuma, principal of Koriyama Commercial High School, not far west of the 30-km zone, whose gymnasium has been turned into an evacuation centre.

“People here have suffered three disasters: the quake, the tsunami and the invisible danger of radiation, which is a man-made disaster. We feel a lot of anger about the last one.”

. March 26, 2011 at 3:31 pm

Japanese engineers struggled on Sunday to pump radioactive water from a crippled nuclear power station after radiation levels soared in seawater near the plant more than two weeks after it was battered by a huge earthquake and a tsunami.

Tests on Friday showed iodine 131 levels in seawater 30 km (19 miles) from the coastal nuclear complex had spiked 1,250 times higher than normal, but it was not considered a threat to marine life or food safety, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said.

“Ocean currents will disperse radiation particles and so it will be very diluted by the time it gets consumed by fish and seaweed,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama, a senior agency official.

Despite that reassurance, the disclosure is likely to heighten international concern over Japanese seafood exports. Several countries have already banned milk and produce from areas around the Fukushima Daiichi plant, while others have been monitoring Japanese seafood.

. March 26, 2011 at 5:51 pm

Japan Quietly Evacuating a Wider Radius From Reactors

Officials said they would assist people who want to leave the area
from 12 to 19 miles outside the plant, in a sign that they hold little
hope of controlling it.

. April 2, 2011 at 7:12 pm

There is a study on the fission products reaching North America on arXiv:

Arrival time and magnitude of airborne fission products from the Fukushima, Japan, reactor incident as measured in Seattle, WA, USA
Authors: J. Diaz Leon, J. Kaspar, A. Knecht, M. L. Miller, R. G. H. Robertson, A. G. Schubert
(Submitted on 24 Mar 2011 (v1), last revised 25 Mar 2011 (this version, v2))

Abstract: We report results of air monitoring started due to the recent natural catastrophe on March 11, 2011 in Japan and the severe ensuing damage to the Fukushima nuclear reactor complex. On March 17-18, 2011 we detected the first arrival of the airborne fission products 131-I, 132-I, 132-Te, 134-Cs, and 137-Cs in Seattle, WA, USA, by identifying their characteristic gamma rays using a germanium detector. The highest detected activity to date is <~32 mBq/m^3 of 131-I.

Comments: 4 pages, 3 figures, corrected typo
Subjects: Nuclear Experiment (nucl-ex); Atmospheric and Oceanic Physics (physics.ao-ph); Geophysics (physics.geo-ph)
Cite as: arXiv:1103.4853v2 [nucl-ex]
Submission history
From: Andreas Knecht

. April 3, 2011 at 12:19 pm

This week the discovery of large pools of highly radioactive water and raised levels of radiation in seawater near the plant has shown how far the authorities really are from regaining control. Previous releases of radioactive iodine and caesium had shown that material from the core of at least one reactor has been released. The new findings suggest that the systems designed to contain such releases may have been badly compromised. The tanks into which contaminated water is being pumped will eventually fill up. And conditions for workers are getting more dangerous, which means that fixing up the cooling systems and hooking up vital measuring instruments takes longer.

The plant is so woefully damaged that TEPCO officials cannot say when the crisis will be over. Levels of radiation have mostly been subsiding, though unevenly spread. But reports on March 31st revealed that radiation in a village 40km away exceeded criteria for evacuation and the UN’s nuclear watchdog suggested the government might widen the 20km evacuation zone. All this has compounded worries that the area round the plant may remain unsafe for years.

There is plenty of blame to go around. TEPCO wrongly measured radiated waters in one of the turbine halls at 10m times normal level, rather than the still-alarming 100,000 times. Subcontractors working for TEPCO reportedly complained about the safety of their workers on site. Three electricians accidentally stepped into a dangerous puddle on March 24th. In one sign of unpreparedness, the gauge that measured the radioactivity of water afterwards could not go higher than 1,000 millisieverts an hour, about the level at which radiation becomes an immediate threat to health.

. April 7, 2011 at 9:32 pm

U.S. Sees Array of New Threats at Japan’s Nuclear Plant
Published: April 5, 2011

United States government engineers sent to help with the crisis in Japan are warning that the troubled nuclear plant there is facing a wide array of fresh threats that could persist indefinitely, and that in some cases are expected to increase as a result of the very measures being taken to keep the plant stable, according to a confidential assessment prepared by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Among the new threats that were cited in the assessment, dated March 26, are the mounting stresses placed on the containment structures as they fill with radioactive cooling water, making them more vulnerable to rupture in one of the aftershocks rattling the site after the earthquake and tsunami of March 11. The document also cites the possibility of explosions inside the containment structures due to the release of hydrogen and oxygen from seawater pumped into the reactors, and offers new details on how semimolten fuel rods and salt buildup are impeding the flow of fresh water meant to cool the nuclear cores.

In recent days, workers have grappled with several side effects of the emergency measures taken to keep nuclear fuel at the plant from overheating, including leaks of radioactive water at the site and radiation burns to workers who step into the water. The assessment, as well as interviews with officials familiar with it, points to a new panoply of complex challenges that water creates for the safety of workers and the recovery and long-term stability of the reactors.

. April 19, 2011 at 7:59 am

Nuclear Cleanup Plans Hinge on Unknowns

TOKYO — Even before the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has been brought under control, two conglomerates vying for contracts in an eventual cleanup are estimating that the effort could take 10 years — or 30.

The widely divergent outlooks underscore the basic uncertainties clouding any forecast for Fukushima. It is far from clear when the cooling system will be restored and radiation emission halted; how soon workers can access some parts of the plant; and how bad the damage to the reactors, their fuel and nearby stored fuel turns out to be. The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission has warned that at least one reactor’s fuel may even have leaked out of the reactor pressure vessel.

A global team led by Hitachi said Thursday that it would take at least three decades to return the site to what engineers refer to as a “green field” state, meaning within legal limits of radiation for any residents. Toshiba, Japan’s biggest supplier of nuclear reactors, said it could take as little as 10 years.

Both companies have large nuclear-related businesses and appear to be eager to speak about endgame possibilities for a crisis that has heightened global public mistrust of nuclear power. Billions of dollars are likely to be at stake in the cleanup, which could help Hitachi and Toshiba improve their bottom lines. The two said last week that annual profits would fall short of their forecasts because of the widespread disruptions in production and supply chains caused by the disaster.

. April 25, 2011 at 11:43 pm

In Japan, Tokyo Electric Power Co. workers have begun “the unprecedented and potentially risky measure” of flooding the containment vessels of three troubled Fukushima nuclear reactors with water. The Asahi Shimbun reports that this is the first known attempt ever in the world to saturate an entire containment vessel with water in order to cool the pressure vessels inside, and in turn, cool the reactor cores within.

oleh May 30, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Today Germany annouced the intentioin to phase out nuclear power plants. I believe the timing is to do so by 2020. This in response to public political pressure arising from the events in Japan at the Fukushima plant less than 3 months ago.

However, I have not heard what source Germany plans to rely on to replace the nuclear power for which curretnly it is 25% of the total.

I believe that such significant decisions:
a. require putting forward a realistic alternative
b should be made after sinficant study and consideration and not as a result of temporary political pressure

oleh May 30, 2011 at 12:41 pm

The date is 2022. BBC also reports that this annoucement came after late night talks , hardly consistent with reflective analysis.

The BBC one page article suggested that the shortfall will be made up by a 10% reduction in consumption (which is good) and increased renewable energy such as wind. I hope this happens. There is also a comment from analysts which suggest that increased coal usage steps in. I hope this does not happen.

Milan May 31, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Nuclear power plants are a pretty troubling way to make electricity. Still, given the risk of climate change, they seem preferable to facilities that burn fossil fuels.

. June 6, 2011 at 7:32 pm

Tokyo Doubles Estimate for Total Radiation Release In 1st Week After Quake


TOKYO (Dow Jones)–The Japanese government, providing fresh evidence on the severity of a nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, more than doubled Monday its estimate for the amount of radiation released from the plant in the first week of the crisis in March.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, a government nuclear watchdog, also said it believes that reactor cores at some of the units at the complex melted much more quickly than the plant operator previously suggested, citing recent evidence suggesting initial efforts to inject seawater water into the reactors failed to achieve positive results.

NISA said it now estimates the total amount of radiation released into the atmosphere in the first week of the crisis at 770,000 terabecquerels. This compares with NISA’s previous estimate, released on April 12, of 370,000 terabecquerels for the first month of the crisis. NISA has pointed out that most of the radiation was released in the first week. A terabecquerel is equivalent to 1 trillion becquerels.

. June 13, 2011 at 9:23 am

In Nuclear Crisis, Crippling Mistrust
TOKYO — On the evening of March 12, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant’s oldest reactor had suffered a hydrogen explosion and risked a complete meltdown. Prime Minister Naoto Kan asked aides to weigh the risks of injecting seawater into the reactor to cool it down.
At this crucial moment, it became clear that a prime minister who had built his career on suspicion of the collusive ties between Japan’s industry and bureaucracy was acting nearly in the dark. He had received a confusing risk analysis from the chief nuclear regulator, a fervently pro-nuclear academic whom aides said Mr. Kan did not trust. He was also wary of the company that operated the plant, given its history of trying to cover up troubles.
Mr. Kan did not know that the plant manager had already begun using seawater. Based on a guess of the mood at the prime minister’s office, the company ordered the plant manager to stop.
But the manager did something unthinkable in corporate Japan: he disobeyed the order and secretly continued using seawater, a decision that experts say almost certainly prevented a more serious meltdown and has made him an unlikely hero.
The convoluted drama has exposed the underlying rifts behind Japan’s handling of the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, which eventually resulted in explosions at four of the plant’s six reactors. Mutually suspicious relations between the prime minister’s aides, government bureaucrats and company officials obstructed smooth decision-making.
At the drama’s heart was an outsider prime minister who saw the need for quick action but whose well-founded mistrust of a system of alliances between powerful plant operators, compliant bureaucrats and sympathetic politicians deprived him of resources he could have used to make better-informed decisions.

. July 6, 2011 at 7:00 pm

It’s been one of the mysteries of Japan’s ongoing nuclear disaster: How much of the damage did the March 11 earthquake inflict on Fukushima Daiichi’s reactors in the 40 minutes before the devastating tsunami arrived? The stakes are high: If the quake alone structurally compromised the plant and the safety of its nuclear fuel, then every other similar reactor in Japan is at risk.

Throughout the months of lies and misinformation, one story has stuck: “The earthquake knocked out the plant’s electric power, halting cooling to its reactors,” as the government spokesman Yukio Edano said at a March 15 press conference in Tokyo. The story, which has been repeated again and again, boils down to this: “after the earthquake, the tsunami – a unique, unforeseeable [the Japanese word is soteigai] event – then washed out the plant’s back-up generators, shutting down all cooling and starting the chain of events that would cause the world’s first triple meltdown to occur.”

But what if recirculation pipes and cooling pipes, burst, snapped, leaked, and broke completely after the earthquake — long before the tidal wave reached the facilities, long before the electricity went out? This would surprise few people familiar with the 40-year-old Unit 1, the grandfather of the nuclear reactors still operating in Japan.

. September 9, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Inside Fukushima – interactive guide

Earlier this month, Kazuma Obara became the first photojournalist to gain unauthorised access to the power plant and produced an exclusive glimpse of life in

. September 17, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Radiation in Japan
Hot concern
Japan risks another crisis over decontamination

SINCE April, Kiki Tanaka and hundreds of other ordinary citizens have been uploading radiation measurements to Safecast.org, a non-profit group. On a fine summer day she drives to Nihonmatsu, 56km (35 miles) from the ruined nuclear plant at Fukushima, and notes her Geiger counter ticking higher: another step in the DIY defence against radioactivity.

This grass-roots monitoring reflects a loss of trust in the authorities. Until June the government in Tokyo took radiation measurements at just one site, as if that were enough to survey the city’s 2,200 square kilometres and 13m people. In fact levels are known to vary widely within even small areas, depending on weather patterns and building materials.

. September 18, 2011 at 9:24 pm

THERE are many heroes in post 3/11 Japan. The mayor of Rikuzentakata, who ensured the safety of city residents only for his wife to perish, is one, as are the Tokyo firefighters who streamed up to Fukushima to spray water on the out-of-control reactors. But among those who deserve honour is also a humble bureaucrat at the trade ministry. In a system that prizes remaining nameless, faceless and not rocking the boat, Shigeaki Koga chose to step forward and reveal some of Japan’s ugliest secrets.

After 3/11, Mr Koga decided speak out about the awful practices he had experienced while working on Japan’s energy policy. The disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant, run by TEPCO, is symptomatic of a wider malaise. The utility companies buy the academy by sponsoring research, buy the media through mountains of public-service advertisements and junkets, buy big business by paying top-dollar for everything, buy the bureaucrats and regulators by handing them cushy post-retirement jobs.

Talking to him one gets a chill down the spine. Often, bureaucrats are regarded as lemming-like self-interested do-nothings or devious micro-managers. But Mr Koga’s brave words and deep understanding of how energy companies pad their costs, block competition, keep energy prices high and ultimately strangle Japan is an antidote to that image. Instead, the figure that emerges is a deeply intelligent, hard-working civil servant who wants the best for his country.

. October 25, 2011 at 3:24 pm

In a potentially damning report, the Japanese government panel probing the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown has learned that the nuclear power plant Tokai No.2 avoided station blackout thanks to making a 6.1 m high seawall, but TEPCO failed to do the same in Fukushima. From the article: ‘The tsunami that hit the Tokai plant on March 11 were 5.3 to 5.4 meters in height, exceeding the company’s earlier estimate but coming in around 30 to 40 cm lower than its revised projection. After the tsunami hit, the Tokai plant lost external power just like Fukushima No. 1 did, because the sea wall was overrun, knocking out one of its three seawater pumps. But its reactors succeeded in achieving cold shutdown because the plant’s emergency diesel generator was being cooled by the two seawater pumps that survived intact.

. October 26, 2011 at 11:25 am

A new study posted for open peer-review suggests that the nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi released far more radiation than the Japanese government initially estimated. The study [PDF] uses global radioisotope and meteorological data to calculate the size of the release from the plant. Nature News reports that, contrary to official claims, the model shows that fuel being stored in a pool at unit 4 released a significant amount of cesium-137, a long-lived contaminant that has spread across the countryside. It also says that some Xenon-133 may have been released early on in the accident, suggesting that the plant was already damaged before it was hit by a tsunami. Overall, it estimates that Fukushima released about twice as much cesium-137 as the government claims and half as much as Chernobyl.

. November 2, 2011 at 7:51 pm

24 Hours at Fukushima
A blow-by-blow account of the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl

By Eliza Strickland / November 2011

. November 2, 2011 at 8:09 pm


Emergency generators should be installed at high elevations or in watertight chambers.


If a cooling system is intended to operate without power, make sure all of its parts can be manipulated without power.


Keep power trucks on or very close to the power plant site.


Install independent and secure battery systems to power crucial instruments during emergencies.


Ensure that catalytic hydrogen recombiners (power-free devices that turn dangerous hydrogen gas back into steam) are positioned at the tops of reactor buildings where gas would most likely collect.


Install power-free filters on vent lines to remove radioactive materials and allow for venting that won’t harm nearby residents.”

. November 3, 2011 at 5:55 pm

“Asked whether the reactor was damaged by the quake itself (as distinct from the tsunami that followed it), Mr Nishizawa says it is unclear: we must wait for a report in November. This question matters. If the reactors in quake-prone Japan are not quake-proof, nuclear power may not be safe. An official at a nuclear regulator says there is evidence that the quake did indeed damage the reactor.”

. November 3, 2011 at 8:35 pm

Shutdown of Fukushima Reactors Is Ahead of Schedule
Success in cooling the reactors suggests the plant could be stabilized by year’s end

By John Boyd / November 2011

. November 3, 2011 at 8:38 pm

“By late September, as a result of these efforts, the temperatures in all three reactors had dropped below 100 °C for the first time since the accident. As of 29 September, the temperatures for reactors 1, 2, and 3, respectively, were 77.5 °C, 99.7 °C, and 78.7 °C.

And upon achieving a cold shutdown, TEPCO must take on a new series of challenges. These include finding where the injected water is escaping, stopping those leaks, dealing with the accumulated contaminated water, removing and storing the thousands of spent fuel rods from the pools in reactors 1 to 4, and then figuring out a way to remove the melted fuel. The last is a task that could take a decade or more, according to experts.”

. November 3, 2011 at 9:02 pm

Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011

Xenon means recent fission in reactor 2
Tepco claims level in gas too small to affect shutdown effort

Staff writers

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Wednesday that some of the melted fuel in reactor 2 at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant may have triggered a brief criticality event.

Although the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said there have been no drastic changes in the reactor’s temperature and pressure level, and the reactor itself is stable overall, the discovery may mean the goal of Tepco and the government to achieve cold shutdown of all three crippled reactors by the end of the year may not be possible.

Suggesting that criticality, or a sustained nuclear chain reaction, may have occurred temporarily, or partially, Tepco said one hundred thousandth of a becquerel per cubic centimeter of xenon-133 and xenon-135 was detected in gas samples.

. November 5, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Cleaning up Japan’s nuclear mess
The twilight zone
Its owner fears not just radiation leaking out of the Fukushima plant, but also bad news

IT IS another world beyond the roadblocks stopping unauthorised traffic from entering the 20km (12.5-mile) exclusion zone around the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. The few people inside are dressed in ghostly white protective suits. Town after town was abandoned after March 11th, and spiders have strung webs across the doorways. An old lady’s russet wig lies in the road, lost perhaps as she took flight after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. Outside the “Night Friend” nightclub in Tomioka, 9km from the nuclear plant, this correspondent was confronted by an ostrich with a feral glint.

Journalists are supposedly barred from the exclusion zone, though sympathetic evacuees, many furious with the authorities about their state of limbo, help provide access. Some of the 89,000 displaced residents have been given one-day permits to go home and each collect a box of valuables. To an outsider, the size and recent prosperity of the abandoned communities is striking. As well as the rice paddies, now overrun with goldenrod, are large businesses and well-built schools for hundreds of children.

Patrol cars stop passing vehicles. The police are particularly vigilant in preventing unauthorised people getting near the stricken plant, owned by Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), Japan’s biggest utility. The air of secrecy is compounded when you try to approach workers involved in the nightmarish task of stabilising the nuclear plant. Many are not salaried Tepco staff but low-paid contract workers lodging in Iwaki, just south of the exclusion zone.

. November 5, 2011 at 1:21 pm

“It is easy to spot them, in their nylon tracksuits. They seem to have been recruited from the poorest corners of society. One man calls home from a telephone box because he cannot afford a mobile phone. Another has a single front tooth. Both are reluctant to talk to journalists, because a condition of their employment is silence. But they do share their concerns about safety. One, who earns ¥15,000 ($190) a day clearing radioactive rubble at the plant, says he was given just half-an-hour of safety training. Almost everything he has learned about radiation risks, he says, came from the television.”

. November 12, 2011 at 5:38 pm
. November 12, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Devastation at Japan Site, Seen Up Close

AT FUKUSHIMA DAIICHI NUCLEAR POWER PLANT, Japan — The most striking feature at this crippled plant on Saturday was not the blasted-out reactor buildings, or the makeshift tsunami walls, but the chaotic mess.

The ground around the hulking reactor buildings was littered with mangled trucks, twisted metal beams and broken building frames, left mostly as they were after one of the world’s largest recorded earthquakes started a chain reaction that devastated the region and, to some extent, Japan. The damage reached the second story, a testament to the size of the tsunami that slammed into the reactor buildings, which sit 33 feet above the sea.

In a country as compulsively tidy as Japan, the fact that the scene has changed so little since the early days of the disaster eight months ago is as telling a sign as any of the daunting task workers have faced as they struggled to regain control of the plant’s three badly damaged reactors.

. November 21, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Fukushima prefecture has launched a comprehensive radiation testing programme, as well as distributing radiation monitors to 280,000 children at elementary and junior high schools. Hospitals at the edge of the exclusion zone are offering full body radiation scans and the government plans to check the thyroid glands of 360,000 children by March 2014 — with follow up tests continuing for the rest of their lives.

. December 16, 2011 at 7:15 am

Japan claims critical stage reached in shutdown of crippled nuclear plant

Reporting from Seoul -– Japan declared Friday that the tsunami-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has reached conditions that suggest a critical stable state known as a “cold shutdown” and has ceased to leak substantial amounts of radiation.

The deveopment comes nine months after an earthquake-generated tsunami struck the coastal plant March 11, knocking out its cooling system and eventually causing a series of meltdowns.

The reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant have reached a state of cold shutdown, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told Cabinet members in an announcement intended to reassure both Japan and the rest of the world that the nation is moving beyond its nuclear nightmare.

But critics say that continuing harm is being caused by the plant, stricken by what many call the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, and that it will still take decades to fully decommission it.

Officials had predicted they would reach the cold shutdown state by early 2012, and Tokyo’s support of the claim by the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., that the reactors have reached a critical point is one more step toward finally encasing the plant in concrete as a precaution.

. December 16, 2011 at 7:16 am

A 12-mile off-limits zone around the plant is expected to remain in effect for years, Japanese authorities acknowledge.

Facility operators conceded that engineers will not be able to remove spent fuel from the three worst-hit reactors for 10 years, but say they may begin removing fuel from storage pools within the next two years.

. January 9, 2012 at 10:24 am

The Fukushima black box

A dangerous lack of urgency in drawing lessons from Japan’s nuclear disaster

THERE is a breathtaking serenity to the valley that winds from the town of Namie, on the coast of Fukushima prefecture, into the hills above. A narrow road runs by a river that passes through steep ravines, studded with maples. Lovely it may be, but it is the last place where you would want to see an exodus of 8,000 people fleeing meltdowns at a nearby nuclear-power plant.

Along that switchback road the day after the earthquake and tsunami on March 11th 2011, it took Namie’s residents more than three hours to drive 30km (19 miles) to what they thought was the relative safety of Tsushima, a secluded hamlet. What they did not know was that they were heading into an invisible fog of radioactive matter that has made this one of the worst radiation hotspots in Japan—far worse than the town they abandoned, just ten minutes’ drive from the gates of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. It was not until a New York Times report in August that many of the evacuees realised they had been exposed to such a danger, thanks to government neglect.

Negligence forms the backdrop for the first government-commissioned report into the Fukushima nuclear disaster, released in late December. Although only an interim assessment (the complete report is due in the summer), it is already 500 pages long and the product of hundreds of interviews. A casual reader might be put off by the technical detail and the dearth of personal narrative. Yet by Japanese standards it is gripping. It spares neither the government nor Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), the operator of the nuclear plant. It reveals at times an almost cartoon-like level of incompetence. Whether it is enough to reassure an insecure public that lessons will be learnt is another matter.

Since the Three Mile Island disaster in 1979, it has become axiomatic to assume that complex systems fail in complex ways. That was broadly true of Fukushima, though often the failures appear absurdly elementary. In the most quake-prone archipelago on earth, TEPCO and its regulators had no accident-management plan in the event of earthquakes and tsunamis—assuming, apparently, that the plant was proofed against them and that any hypothetical accidents would be generated only from within. TEPCO had, in the event of nuclear disaster, an off-site emergency headquarters just 5km from the plant that was not radiation-proof, and so was effectively useless. On site, the workers in its number one reactor appear not to have been familiar with an emergency-cooling system called an isolation condenser, which they wrongly thought was still working after the tsunami. Their supervisors made the same mistake, so a vital six hours were lost before other methods for cooling the overheating atomic fuel rods were deployed. Partly as a result, this was the first reactor to explode on March 12th.

. February 15, 2012 at 11:42 am

IN MORE ways than one, things are hotting up at Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), which runs the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant crippled by an earthquake and tsunami last March 11th. In recent days temperatures in one of the plant’s reactors may have hovered too close for comfort to the level where a chain-reaction might reoccur from melted fuel. Since February 7th TEPCO has been pouring in 14 tonnes of water an hour in the hopes of keeping things cool. It is an uneasy reminder for ordinary Japanese that nearly a year after the disaster the reactors are not yet stable.

Back in Tokyo, TEPCO faces more hot water. The government is laying plans to nationalise the troubled utility, overhaul its management, and bring much-needed competition to the energy market.
In this section

The Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund (NDF), which the government created in September to oversee vast compensation payments related to the Fukushima disaster, is preparing to inject ¥1 trillion ($13 billion) of public money into TEPCO later this year, in return for perhaps two-thirds of the company. A stream of lawyers and accountants has joined the NDF to serve as a sort of shadow management team for the utility. The model being contemplated is close to Japan’s successful bank nationalisations a decade ago, when the state-backed bail-out agency replaced bank boards, but let many managers continue in their jobs under new supervision.

. March 5, 2012 at 12:07 pm

The Fukushima Question
How close did Japan really get to a widespread nuclear disaster?
By Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger

With an eye to the first anniversary of the tsunami that killed 20,000 people and caused a partial meltdown at the Fukushima power plant in Japan, a recently formed nongovernmental organization called Rebuild Japan released a report earlier this week on the nuclear incident to alarming media coverage.

“Japan Weighed Evacuating Tokyo in Nuclear Crisis,” screamed the New York Times headline, above an article by Martin Fackler that claimed, “Japan teetered on the edge of an even larger nuclear crisis than the one that engulfed the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.”

The larger crisis was a worst-case scenario imagined by Japanese government officials dealing with the situation. If workers at the Fukushima Daiichi plant were evacuated, Fackler writes, some worried “[t]his would have allowed the plant to spiral out of control, releasing even larger amounts of radioactive material into the atmosphere that would in turn force the evacuation of other nearby nuclear plants, causing further meltdowns.”

. March 11, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Nuclear Disaster In Japan Could Have Been Mitigated, Say Industry Insiders

“Some insiders from Japan’s tightly knit nuclear industry have stepped forward to say that Tepco and regulators had for years ignored warnings of the possibility of a larger-than-expected tsunami in northeastern Japan, and thus failed to take adequate countermeasures, such as raising wave walls or placing backup generators on higher ground. ‘March 11 exposed the true nature of Japan’s postwar system, that it is led by bureaucrats who stand on the side of industry, not the people,’ says Shigeaki Koga, a former director of industrial policy at the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry. Eight years ago, as a member of an influential cabinet office committee on offshore earthquakes in northeastern Japan, Kunihiko Shimazaki, professor emeritus of seismology at the University of Tokyo, warned that Fukushima’s coast was vulnerable to tsunamis more than twice as tall as the forecasts of up to 17 feet put forth by regulators and Tepco, but government bureaucrats running the committee moved quickly to exclude his views from debate as too speculative and ‘pending further research.’ Then in 2008, Tepco’s own engineers made three separate sets of calculations that showed Fukushima Daiichi could be hit by tsunamis as high as 50 feet. ‘They completely ignored me in order to save Tepco money,’ says Shimazaki.”

Anon March 31, 2012 at 7:27 pm

One thing that demonstrates the seriousness of nuclear accidents is how – once a nuclear accident has taken place somewhere – that place becomes permanently and primarily famous because of the nuclear accident.

Now ‘Fukushima’ – along with ‘Chernobyl’ and ‘Three Mile Island’ – is a place that will be known primarily for how badly things went inside their nuclear reactors.

. April 1, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Nuclear power
The dream that failed
A year after Fukushima, the future for nuclear power is not bright—for reasons of cost as much as safety

Not all democracies do things so poorly. But nuclear power is about to become less and less a creature of democracies. The biggest investment in it on the horizon is in China—not because China is taking a great bet on nuclear, but because even a modest level of interest in such a huge economy is big by the standards of almost everyone else. China’s regulatory system is likely to be overhauled in response to Fukushima. Some of its new plants are of the most modern, and purportedly safest, design. But safety requires more than good engineering. It takes independent regulation, and a meticulous, self-critical safety culture that endlessly searches for risks it might have missed. These are not things that China (or Russia, which also plans to build a fair few plants) has yet shown it can provide.

. April 1, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Japan after the 3/11 disaster
The death of trust
Last year’s triple disaster—earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown—has shattered Japanese faith in many of the country’s institutions

. April 1, 2012 at 4:02 pm

One of those advisers, Hiroshi Tasaka, a former nuclear scientist who served Mr Kan from a few weeks after the disaster, says it was a matter of “luck” that things did not get far worse. A worst-case scenario suggested that parts of Tokyo itself might have had to be evacuated. At the darkest moment, after a third meltdown and a third hydrogen explosion, Tepco prepared to pull out its employees. Only a life-risking effort by 70 brave workers brought things back from the brink.

Mr Tasaka fears lessons have not been learned. If there were another disaster tomorrow, the prime minister still could not call on specially trained experts or employ the full legal powers to cope with it, for example by ordering evacuations. A full review of how to reform regulatory structures is awaiting the conclusion of a string of investigative committees. Given the uncertainties, it is little wonder that 52 of the country’s 54 nuclear reactors are now off-line—their power replaced by old thermal plants working at full capacity.

. April 21, 2012 at 8:44 pm

But Japan never even tried to prepare for station blackouts. Even as the rest of the world moved on, says Sato, the feeling in Tokyo was, “SBOs are not conceivable; don’t even think about it.”

Critics of the industry in Japan say there is a basic reason for that. Historically, the government and the power companies spent more time and energy trying to convince the public that nuclear energy was safe than it did actually trying to make nuclear energy safe. Says Sato: “we spent ten times more money for PR campaigns than we did for real safety measures. It’s a terrible thing.”


. May 6, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Japan’s Last Nuclear Reactor Shuts Down

“Japan’s last active reactor is shutting down today, leaving the country without nuclear energy for the first time since 1970. All 50 commercial reactors in the country are now offline. 19 have been completed stress tests but there is little prospect of them being restarted due to heavy opposition from local governments. Meanwhile activists in Tokyo celebrated the shutdown and asked the government to admit that nuclear power was no longer needed in Japan and to concentrate on safety. If this summer turns out to be as hot as 2010 some areas could be asked to make 15% power savings to avoid shortages, while other areas will be unaffected due to savings already made.”

. May 9, 2012 at 8:08 pm
Milan May 9, 2012 at 8:10 pm

While its low-carbon characteristics are welcome, there is much that rankles about nuclear power.

It’s an industry where – if you remain profitable – your shareholders get the revenue but where – if there is a serious accident – taxpayers take over the mess your company has made.

. October 8, 2012 at 2:04 am

Japan’s nuclear disaster
Meet the Fukushima 50? No, you can’t

IT HAS taken the Japanese government more than 18 months to pay tribute to a group of brave men, once known as the “Fukushima 50”, who risked their lives to prevent meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant from spiralling out of control. But when the prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, belatedly offered official thanks to them on October 7th something strange was afoot: six of the eight men he addressed had their backs to the television cameras, refused to be photographed and did not introduce themselves by name, not even to Mr Noda (see the image below).

The reason: officials from the government and from Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) quietly admitted that the men wanted to keep their identities secret because they were scared of stigmatisation for being involved in the disaster, such as might lead to the bullying of their children and grandchildren. But Tepco is also muzzling them, presumably for fear that what they say will further discredit the now nationalised company. When I asked if I could at least hand my business card to them to see if they wanted to tell their side of the story, an irate Tepco spokesman answered bluntly: “Impossible.”

There are numerous ways that this incident reflects badly on both Tepco’s and the government’s handling of the situation. Firstly, there is the contrast between the frontline worker’s behaviour and the brazen hypocrisy of Tepco’s management after the accident. I remember Tepco’s then-chairman, Tsunehisa Katsumata (now thankfully retired), nonchalantly blaming everyone but himself when giving testimony to a Diet commission earlier this year.

. October 8, 2012 at 2:07 am

Meanwhile, the remaining decay heat from the nuclear fuel in the damaged reactor cores is estimated to have fallen to 1 megawatt from 2.35 megawatts over the past year as radiation is emitted, according to calculations by Tepco.

This has considerably reduced the risk of another disaster at the complex “and as time passes, (Tepco) will get greater scope” to fix the critical water coolant system, Yamana said.

The decay heat is expected to fall to 0.61 megawatt by next October and to 0.42 megawatt a year later, according to Tepco’s data.

. October 8, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Japan’s energy security
Foot on the gas
The nuclear crisis helps reshape Japan’s foreign-policy priorities

Sep 22nd 2012 | TOKYO | from the print edition

WITH doubts running high about how long the Japanese government can survive, its decision last week to phase out nuclear power by the end of the 2030s looked half-baked. Sure enough on September 19th it dropped any pretence of a deadline, leaving open the possibility that at least two reactors under construction could operate until the 2050s.

The ambiguity has much to do with the general election which the prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, has promised to call soon. Polling indicates that since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011 public opinion has turned firmly against nuclear energy. Yet big business argues that Japan’s economy will suffer if the phase-out occurs too quickly. Local governors whose prefectures host nuclear power plants also complain about the strategy.

For the time being, the government’s policy appears to be to pay lip service to a phase-out that it is too timid to implement, while also scrambling for alternative sources of energy. Even before the nuclear disaster, Japan was the world’s biggest importer of liquefied natural gas (LNG), and now consumes nearly a third of global output. But ensuring reliable supplies, as well as securing a good price, is becoming a foreign-policy headache.

. November 27, 2012 at 4:53 pm

Nuclear workers in Japan
Heroism and humility
Meet the “Fukushima 50”, the men on the front line of the nuclear disaster

Oct 27th 2012 | TOKYO | from the print edition

ACCORDING to his friends, the man in charge of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear-power plant during the 2011 disaster, Masao Yoshida, says it felt like being on Iwo Jima. That is the North Pacific island heroically defended by the Japanese in 1945 but doomed to fall to the Americans.

His two underlings, Atsufumi Yoshizawa and Masatoshi Fukura, do not portray the struggle quite so graphically. In their first interviews with foreign media since the disaster, they spoke of the sense of responsibility of the so-called Fukushima 50, those who risked their lives to fight the soaring levels of radiation coming out of the plant in the hours and days after the earthquake and tsunami on March 11th last year. They were driven, especially, by a desire to protect the local communities in which many of their families lived.

Yet the Fukushima 50, despite heroic efforts, still suffer from the complex of emotions that soldiers might experience when returning from a losing battle. A sense of shame and stigmatisation lingers. That much was evident earlier in October when Yoshihiko Noda, Japan’s prime minister, called them in to thank them. It was fully 18 months after the disaster, a long time to wait to honour those who, as Mr Noda put it, saved Japan.

. February 3, 2013 at 6:47 pm

Abe looking to renege on emissions pledge

25% cut by 2020 not possible as fossil fuels replace energy from idled nuclear reactors

Japan will drop its pledge to the global community to cut greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020 because of the country’s reduced future reliance on nuclear power, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a government panel Friday.

During a meeting of the panel, which is discussing economic revival measures, Abe stated that he will revise the energy strategy compiled by the previous administration of the Democratic Party of Japan, which aimed to completely phase out atomic energy by the 2030s.

He instructed Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara and other members of his Liberal Democratic Party-led Cabinet to alter the DPJ’s target of reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other gasses blamed for greenhouse warming by 25 percent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels.

. February 24, 2013 at 8:05 pm

Ten days ago, the Japanese government announced that it is abandoning its promise to cut the greenhouse gases the country produces by 25% by 2020. The reason it gave was the shutdown of many of its nuclear plants as a result of the Fukushima disaster. Nuclear power saved around a quarter of a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year in Japan: equivalent to just under half the UK’s emissions. Much of it will now be replaced by coal and liquified gas.

Germany also decided to shut down its nuclear power plants after the Fukushima crisis, due to the imminent risk of tsunamis in Bavaria. Last year, as a result, its burning of “clean coal” – otherwise known as coal – rose by 5%. That was despite a massive cut in its exports of electricity to other European countries*. One estimate suggests that by 2020 Germany will have produced an extra 300 million tonnes of CO2 as a result of its nuclear closure: equivalent to almost all the savings that will be made in the 27 member states as a result of the EU’s energy efficiency directive.

. March 4, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Meltdown: Despite the Fear, the Health Risks from the Fukushima Accident Are Minimal

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) report (PDF) on the estimated health effects from the Fukushima nuclear accident is out, and the results are… reassuring. The WHO modeled the impacts of excess radiation doses on those living around the Fukushima plant, which partially melted down after the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. The agency concluded that any additional cancer risk from radiation was small—extremely small, for the most part—and chiefly limited to those living closest to the plant. The WHO found:

* For leukemia, a lifetime risk increase of around 7% over baseline cancer rates for males exposed to the radiation as infants, and about 6% for females exposed as babies.
* For all solid cancers (meaning everything with a discrete tumor mass, including brain and breast cancer), a lifetime risk increase of about 4% over baseline rates for females exposed as infants.
* For thyroid cancer (which chiefly occurs in women) a lifetime risk increase of around 70% over baseline rates for women exposed as infants.

These percentages represent estimated relative increases over the baseline rates and are not absolute risks for developing such cancers. Due to the low baseline rates of thyroid cancer, even a large relative increase represents a small absolute increase in risks. For example, the baseline lifetime risk of thyroid cancer for females is just three-quarters of one percent and the additional lifetime risk estimated in this assessment for a female infant exposed in the most affected location is one-half of one percent.

Bugs Bunny (WB) April 4, 2013 at 5:55 pm

Japan needs to restart nuclear reactors, PM says


50 reactors offline after 2011 earthquake and tsunami sparked a nuclear disaster

Japan’s prime minister appealed to the nation Friday to accept that two nuclear reactors that remained shuttered after the Fukushima disaster must be restarted to protect the economy and people’s livelihoods.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said the government has taken ample safety measures to ensure the two reactors in western Japan would not leak radiation if an earthquake or tsunami as severe as last year’s should strike them.

All 50 of Japan’s workable reactors are offline for maintenance and safety concerns since the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, swept into a coastal plant in Fukushima and sparked the world’s second-worst nuclear disaster.

The two reactors at the Ohi nuclear plant are the first two ready to resume generating power, but the public has shown great concern that government failures worsened last year’s crisis and may recur.

Nuclear energy is crucial for Japanese society, Noda said in a news conference broadcast live. The government wants the reactors to be operational to avoid a summertime energy crunch.

. August 19, 2013 at 6:54 pm

As contaminated groundwater continues to flow from Japan’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant into the Pacific Ocean, the Japanese government has come up with a last-ditch solution that sounds like something out of the HBO fantasy series Game of Thrones: An underground wall of ice that would stop the radioactive leakage.

Multiple efforts by plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company to halt the daily flow of 300 tons—nearly 72,000 gallons—of radioactive water from the plant into the ocean have failed. (See related story: “Fukushima Radioactive Water Leak: What You Should Know.”) At a Tokyo press conference, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga made the frozen containment, whose cost could reach 50 billion yen (about $410 million), sound like an edgy, exotic final resort for stopping the leakage from the plant’s stricken reactor buildings, which were severely damaged by a March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that knocked out their cooling systems. “There is no precedent in the world to create a water-shielding wall with frozen soil on such a large scale,” Suga told reporters. “To build that, I think the state has to move a step further to support its realization.”


. October 5, 2013 at 7:54 pm

THE agonising efforts to clean up the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant hit new obstacles this week. On August 21st the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) said that leaks of radioactive water were a level three, or “serious”, incident on a scale that goes up to seven. Some help from American experts aside, Japan has been dealing with the disaster itself. Now, even Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), the plant’s owner, would welcome foreign help.

TEPCO is under intense fire at home. It “has no sense of crisis at all”, grumbled Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the NRA, as the leaks worsened. Another NRA commissioner questioned whether TEPCO’s data could even be trusted. After months of denial, the firm has only just admitted that contaminated water is leaking into the Pacific. China and South Korea have both expressed concern.

. November 12, 2013 at 11:27 am

Fukushima residents may never go home, say Japanese officials

Admission deals blow to government assurances that radiation near the Daiichi nuclear plant can be brought down to safe levels

. March 30, 2014 at 4:49 pm

Nuclear power in Japan
Start ’em up
The government and voters are putting economics before atoms, opening the way for Japan to restart its nuclear power plants

On February 25th the government published a draft energy plan which put nuclear power at the core. It is a sharp reversal of the previous energy strategy, devised by a former government in 2012, eventually to eliminate nuclear power altogether.

Second, the establishment fears that time is running out. A fourth summer without nuclear power—but also without any sudden blackout to alarm the public—might permanently shift opinion against switching the plants back on. Shigeru Ishiba, secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), says that people have noticed the lights are still blazing and the trains running. So some 15 months after returning to power, the government is ready to take the political risk of restarts. But it is wary of being thought ahead of the agency charged with nuclear safety.

The long-run future of nuclear power is more uncertain. The age of today’s reactors means that new ones must soon be built—a detail the government’s new energy plan skated over. Along with the Tokyo election, a governor’s race last month in Yamaguchi, the southern prefecture from which Mr Abe hails, was closely watched for signs of the mood about new plants. A battle has raged for decades over one to be built in Kaminoseki, a small fishing town in the prefecture. The result, again, was defeat for anti-nuclear candidates. The government has said it may allow three other reactors already under construction before March 2011 to be completed. Just a short time ago, that would have been unthinkable.

. August 4, 2014 at 5:08 pm

Nuclear power in Japan
Flicking the switch
Restarting nuclear plants is unpopular but crucial for Shinzo Abe

. August 7, 2014 at 5:03 pm

Almost all of the nuclear fuel in the No. 3 reactor of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant melted within days of the March 11, 2011, disaster, according to a new estimate by Tokyo Electric Power Co. TEPCO originally estimated that about 60 percent of the nuclear fuel melted at the reactor. But the latest estimate released on Aug. 6 revealed that the fuel started to melt about six hours earlier than previously thought. TEPCO said most of the melted fuel likely dropped to the bottom of the containment unit from the pressure vessel after the disaster set off by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

. January 3, 2015 at 7:11 pm

Return to Fukushima with Miles O’Brien

Three years after the disaster at Fukushima, science correspondent Miles O’Brien returned to the Daiichi nuclear plant for an exclusive look at the site. Follow Miles on a never-before-seen tour of Daiichi’s sister site, Fukushima Daini, which narrowly avoided a meltdown during the Tohoku earthquake. As the country debates turning its reactors back on, Miles asks: will Japan have a nuclear future?

. September 2, 2015 at 8:16 pm

A major factor that contributed to the accident was the widespread assumption in Japan that its nuclear power plants were so safe that an accident of this magnitude was simply unthinkable. This assumption was accepted by nuclear power plant operators and was not challenged by regulators or by the Government. As a result, Japan was not sufficiently prepared for a severe nuclear accident in March 2011.

There were also certain weaknesses in plant design, in emergency preparedness and response arrangements and in planning for the management of a severe accident. There was an assumption that there would never be a loss of all electrical power at a nuclear power plant for more than a short period. The possibility of several reactors at the same facility suffering a crisis at the same time was not considered. And insufficient provision was made for the possibility of a nuclear accident occurring at the same time as a major natural disaster.


. September 8, 2015 at 3:37 pm

Complacency contributed to Fukushima accident, says Amano

Japan considered its nuclear power plants safe and was therefore not prepared for the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general Yukiya Amano has said in a comprehensive report on the accident.

At the IAEA General Conference in September 2012, Amano announced that the agency would prepare a report on the Fukushima Daiichi accident. He stated that this report would be “an authoritative, factual and balanced assessment, addressing the causes and consequences of the accident as well as the lessons learned.”

The IAEA has now published that report, which it said is “the result of an extensive international collaborative effort involving five working groups with about 180 experts from 42 Member States with or without nuclear power programs and several international bodies.”

. September 26, 2015 at 4:37 pm

Study: Fukushima disaster was preventable

“While most studies have focused on the response to the accident, we’ve found that there were design problems that led to the disaster that should have been dealt with long before the earthquake hit,” said Synolakis, professor of civil and environmental engineering at USC Viterbi. “Earlier government and industry studies focused on the mechanical failures and ‘buried the lead.’ The pre-event tsunami hazards study if done properly, would have identified the diesel generators as the lynch pin of a future disaster. Fukushima Dai-ichi was a siting duck waiting to be flooded.”

The authors describe the disaster as a “cascade of industrial, regulatory and engineering failures,” leading to a situation where critical infrastructure – in this case, backup generators to keep the cooling the plant in the event of main power loss – was built in harm’s way.

. August 3, 2016 at 1:42 pm

Detectors confirm most fuel remains in unit 2 vessel

Most of the fuel that melted in unit 2 of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan remains within the reactor pressure vessel, an examination using a muon detection system indicates.

. September 15, 2016 at 3:27 pm

Remember that even the Fukushima disaster, a level 7 nuclear accident (the highest category), caused by a massive earthquake and tidal wave hitting an antiquated reactor, has so far killed no one as a result of radioactive discharge, and is unlikely to do so in the future. Fossil fuel burning, by contrast, kills hundreds of thousands of people every year through air pollution, and presents a possibly existential threat to civilisation through climate change.

. October 13, 2016 at 1:03 am

After disaster struck Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power station in 2011, the Chinese authorities briefly halted this pell-mell rush toward the nuclear future, announcing a moratorium on the construction of new plants, urgent safety checks on existing ones and a prolonged policy review to decide whether nuclear power would remain a part of China’s energy strategy. The following year, however, the government resolved to carry on with its nuclear-energy programme.

. December 22, 2016 at 7:38 pm

Nuclear energy in Japan

One plant illustrates the bleak outlook for the country’s idle reactors

Before the disaster, Japan got 25% of its electricity from nuclear plants. The government of the day was hoping to raise that to 50% by 2020. The present government hopes nuclear power will supply 20-22% of its electricity by 2030. But the slow progress on restarting mothballed plants is calling its plans into question. Nuclear plants currently supply less than 1% of Japan’s electricity; few see that rising beyond 10% by 2030. “Nuclear’s comeback will be modest and brief,” predicts Robert Feldman of Morgan Stanley, a bank.

Regulators’ authority has been hugely enhanced since the creation of the NRA in 2012. It has introduced a host of new safety requirements. TEPCO has spent ¥470 billion ($4.6 billion) upgrading Kashiwazaki-Kariwa alone. Employees point to its many fail-safes: a 15-metre-high sea wall to protect it from tsunamis (the main cause of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi meltdown), multiple backup power sources, scores of fire engines and a huge reservoir of cooling water. In one room, instructors watch as trainees respond to simulated emergencies. Today’s involves turbine trouble.

Yet problems remain. Posters at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa encourage workers to adopt a “questioning attitude”—part of an attempt to change a culture of deference to authority. This is “a work in progress”, says Dale Klein, a former head of America’s nuclear regulator who now chairs TEPCO’s safety commission. Mr Izumida argues that evacuation plans for people living close to the plant are inadequate. “It is unclear how we will get the 10,000 buses needed to transport the 440,000 people living in the vicinity of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa,” he says. It doesn’t help that responsibilities in an emergency are not clearly apportioned among the utilities, the central government and municipalities.

. December 22, 2016 at 7:38 pm

The loss of nuclear generation has environmental consequences, too. Power plants that run on natural gas (and, worse, the old coal-fired plants that have been started up again to make up for the lack of nuclear power) emit far more greenhouse gases. Coal alone accounts for 31% of the country’s total energy mix, compared with 25% in 2010; add in oil and natural gas, and the total contribution of fossil fuels has risen from 61% in 2010 to 85% today. All this makes it highly unlikely that Japan will meet its pledge to cut its carbon-dioxide emissions by 26% by 2030.

. January 19, 2017 at 9:27 pm

2017 an important year for Japanese reactor restarts

Japan’s future use of nuclear energy could be significantly impacted by decisions made this year on restarting reactors and extending the operating periods of its older units, according to the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan (IEEJ). However, it sees nuclear playing an important role in achieving energy security, economy and environmental protection.

. May 23, 2017 at 2:10 pm

Swiss voters approve gradual nuclear phase out

Switzerland voted in a referendum yesterday to approve a revision to the country’s energy policy that promotes the use of renewable energy sources and energy conservation. The revised Federal Energy Act also prohibits the construction of new nuclear power plants.

A new Swiss energy policy was sought in response to the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan. Two months later, both the Swiss parliament and government decided to exit nuclear power production. The Energy Strategy 2050 initiative drawn up by the Federal Council calls for a gradual withdrawal from nuclear energy. It also foresees expanded use of renewables and hydro power but anticipates increased reliance on fossil fuels and electricity imports as an interim measure.

. June 7, 2017 at 4:25 pm

Three Mile Island faces premature retirement
The Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania will be permanently shut down around the end of September 2019 if there are no policy reforms, US utility Exelon announced today. The company had warned last week the plant was at risk of early retirement.
Exelon announced on 24 May that its Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear power plant and its Quad Cities plant in Illinois had failed to clear the latest PJM regional capacity auction. The TMI plant has not cleared the past three PJM auctions and has not been profitable in five years, it noted. While the continued operation of Quad Cities is ensured by newly-introduced legislation in Illinois, the TMI plant is “at risk of early retirement”, Exelon said.
The utility announced today that it had decided to retire the plant, “absent needed policy reforms” in Pennsylvania.
Exelon said it is taking the first steps to shut down the plant, including informing key stakeholders. This, it said, includes sending regional transmission organisation PJM a deactivation notice and making permanent shutdown notifications to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) within 30 days. It will also immediately take one-time charges of $65-$110 million for 2017 and accelerate some $1.0-$1.1 billion in depreciation and amortisation between now and the announced shutdown date. Exelon is also terminating capital investment programs required for the long-term operation of TMI and cancelling 2019 fuel purchases and outage planning.

. June 18, 2017 at 7:15 pm

Nuclear fugitives return
The struggle to repopulate Fukushima

Six years after the nuclear disaster, Japan is pushing villagers back to the homes they left

The only part of the village that looks busy, however, is the home for the elderly. Locals say a few hundred people, at most, have returned, predominantly the retired. Mr Kanno will not reveal how many “because it gives the impression that we are forcing people to live here, which we don’t intend to do.” Yet many evacuees now face a stark choice: return to Iitate, or lose part of the compensation that has helped sustain them elsewhere.

Last month this dilemma was expressed with unusual clarity by Masahiro Imamura, the minister in charge of reconstruction from the disaster. Pressed by a reporter, Mr Imamura said it was the evacuees’ “own responsibility, their own choice” whether or not to return. The comment touched a nerve. “It’s economic blackmail,” says Nobuyoshi Ito, a local farmer. Mr Imamura has since resigned.

Nobody wants Fukushima mentioned in the same breath as Chernobyl. Almost three decades after the world’s worst nuclear accident, life there is still frozen in time, a snapshot of the mid-1980s Soviet Union, complete with posters of Lenin on school walls. By contrast, about ¥200m ($1.8m) per household has been spent decontaminating Iitate, helping to reduce radiation in many areas to well under 20 millisievert per year (the typical limit for nuclear-industry workers). But the clean-up extends to only 20 metres around each house, and most of the village is forested mountains. In windy weather, radioactive caesium is blown back onto the fields and homes.

. June 19, 2017 at 1:18 pm

South Korea to scrap all plans to build new nuclear reactors

SEOUL: South Korea’s new President Moon Jae-In vowed on Monday to scrap all plans to build new nuclear reactors as he seeks to steer Asia’s fourth-largest economy clear of atomic power.

Moon, who swept to power with a landslide election win last month, campaigned on promises to phase out atomic energy and embrace what he says are safer and more environmentally friendly power sources including solar and wind power.

The Fukushima nuclear meltdown in Japan sparked by a powerful earthquake in March 2011 sparked widespread public concern in neighbouring South Korea over its own aged atomic plants.

“We will dump our atomic-centric power supply and open the door to the post-nuclear era,” Moon said in a speech marking the decommissioning of the country’s first nuclear reactor, the Kori-1.

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