Scientific Forum: The Blue Planet – Nuclear Applications for a Sustainable Marine Environment
Scientific Forum: The Blue Planet – Nuclear Applications for a Sustainable Marine Environment
Fukushima nuclear disaster: three years on 120,000 evacuees remain uprooted
Japan’s 2011 plant meltdown has torn apart close families, leaving elderly relatives isolated and villages uninhabited
Justin McCurry in Fukushima
The Guardian, Thursday 11 September 2014 01.28 AEST
More than three years after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster more than 120,000 people from the region are living in nuclear limbo with once close-knit families forced to live apart.
Japan’s nuclear watchdog on Wednesday gave the green light for two nuclear reactors at Kyushu Electric Power’s Sendai plant in south-west Japan to restart, but communities are anxious over the safety aspects. The nuclear industry in Japan has been mothballed since the meltdown.
At a temporary housing complex in Fukushima prefecture one resident, Iiko Kanno, said she now spends her days reading, growing vegetables and counting the days until she is reunited with her grandchildren. As with many of her neighbours, Kanno’s family has been torn apart by the nuclear meltdown, which happened in March 2011.
“It wasn’t until about a month after the nuclear disaster that we got the order to evacuate,” Kanno said of her contaminated former home, Iitate, a picturesque, but now abandoned, village 24 miles north-west of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. “Our family’s vegetable farm was worthless, and we were told it was no longer safe to stay in Iitate.”
Most of Iitate’s 6,000 residents stayed in the village after the disaster, convinced they were safe since their homes were outside the 12-mile (20km) evacuation zone imposed by the government.
The local authorities did not order an evacuation until several weeks later, after a radiation expert discovered multiple radioactive hotspots at levels higher than those considered safe for human habitation.
About 150 residents ended up in the temporary complex on the outskirts of Fukushima city, living in cramped wooden lodges surrounded by cherry, peach and apple trees.
Three and a half years after the disaster, Iitate remains uninhabited, apart from decontamination workers and residents desperate to save their irradiated farms.
In spending her twilight years in imposed isolation, and with little prospect of returning to her hometown, Kanno, 78, is far from alone among the estimated 120,000 people from the Fukushima area who continue to live in nuclear limbo.
A survey conducted this year by the prefectural government found that almost half of the households forced to evacuate were living apart, while almost 70% had relatives suffering from physical and mental health problems.
Of the total, 48.9% of households said family members were living in two or more locations. Of that number, 58.6% said relatives who had once lived together had been scattered across three or more sites.
In the same survey, 67.5% of households said they had relatives who were showing signs of physical or psychological distress. More than half of those afflicted said they had lost interest in activities they once enjoyed or that they had trouble sleeping.
Kanno’s plight is typical of many Fukushima families who lived together in large rural homes before the disaster.
Her husband and mother died in the 12 months before north-east Japan was struck by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake, which triggered a tsunami that killed almost 19,000 people and caused the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. Her 43-year-old son, Futoshi, moved to Saitama, near Tokyo, with his wife and their young son.
“In Iitate it was normal for three generations of the same family to live under one roof,” she said. “My son initially found work in Fukushima city, but he and his wife didn’t want to bring up their children in an area with high radiation. They won’t bring him here to see me, so I only get to see them at the new year and on other special occasions.”
Her daughter and three other grandchildren, who lived in a nearby town in Fukushima, are now some distance away, in Niigata prefecture. Her daughter’s husband, a teacher, still works in Fukushima and commutes to his family’s new home every weekend.
For people of Kanno’s generation, the prospect of playing next to no part in her grandchildren’s upbringing is almost unimaginable. “If we had been able to stay in Iitate we would all be living together now,” she says. “I was practically brought up by my grandparents, and my parents helped raise my children. But radiation has made that impossible now.”
Kanno was depressed for months after the accident, and is still unable to sleep without medication. “If I don’t take it, I lie awake gazing at my grandson’s photo, wondering how much I’ll get to see of him before he’s an adult.”
Iitate’s mayor, Norio Kanno, has vowed that decontamination work will make the village inhabitable again, possibly by 2016. But residents say the problem of cleaning the village’s mountainous terrain, which sends radioactive particles into residential areas below after rainfall, makes that unlikely.
So far only a few hundred people from two districts on the eastern edge of the evacuation zone have been given permission to return permanently.
“It could be years before we can return, so families had to make a tough choice,” says Hanako Hasegawa, an Iitate resident who helps at a drop-in centre for evacuees.
Her husband makes brief returns to clean the home they once shared with their children and grandchildren, while other residents have seen their abandoned homes become overrun with mould and vermin.
“People who go back return saying it’s a sad place to be now,” says Hasegawa. “Yet they still go back to weed the garden and tidy homes they will probably never live in.”
The once close-knit residents are now part of Japan’s nuclear diaspora. Most stay in parts of Fukushima prefecture not affected by the evacuation order; the remainder are scattered among all but two of Japan’s 46 other prefectures, according to village records. Four have made new lives overseas. Hasegawa, whose family ran a dairy farm, are dispersed across four locations.
Typically, fathers leave in search of work and children move out of Fukushima with their mothers, while grandparents stay put, reluctant to venture far from their hometowns near the end of their lives. The average age of the residents of this temporary housing complex is 66; of those in their 70s and 80s, about 20 are living alone.
“If my son didn’t bring my granddaughter here, I would never get to see her,” Hasegawa says. “There are lots of older people here in the same situation. Younger members of the family come for special occasions, like festivals and sports days, then leave straight after.”
Kanno and her neighbours keep fit with morning calisthenics, and try to maintain community ties fractured by the events at Fukushima Daiichi, a two-hour drive away, with tea afternoons, craft workshops and coach trips.
“The nuclear accident turned everything upside down,” she said. “Even if the evacuation order is lifted, no young people or children will go back. We have asked everyone – the village office, decontamination workers, environment ministry bureaucrats – when it will be safe to return. But no one can give us an answer.”
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This entry was posted in Uncategorized on September 14, 2014. Edit
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RT NEWS 27 Aug. 2014
The tragedy at the Fukushima nuclear plant will cost 11.08 trillion yen ($105 billion), twice as much as Japanese authorities predicted at the end of 2011, says the study. The expenses include radiation clean-up and compensation to residents.
The research was led by Kenichi Oshima, environmental economics professor at Ritsumeikan University, and Masafumi Yokemoto, professor of environment policy at Osaka City University. They calculated the costs based on the data released by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).
The figures of the research say that the expenses will include 4.91 trillion yen ($47 billion) for compensation to residents in the affected area of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, reports Kyodo news.
A further 2.48 trillion yen ($23 billion) will be involved in the radiation cleanup of the territories, 2.17 trillion yen to scrap the disaster-hit plant and 1.06 trillion yen for the temporal storage of radioactive soil.
Fukushima nuclear meltdown worse than initially reported – TEPCO
The estimates released by Oshima and Yokemoto are twice as high as those from the national authorities, who estimated them at 5.8 trillion yen in 2011. The professors included some expenses that, according to the government were hard to estimate.
“The costs for the accident are designed to be borne by the people through taxes and utility bills,” Oshima said.
According to the researchers, the figure (11.08 trillion yen) does not include costs for the final disposal of radioactive substances, compensation and plant decommissioning.
There will be also extra 5 trillion yen ($48 billion) for the decontamination of the crippled Fukushima plant, which is twice as much as initial estimates.
“Nuclear plant operators would become less able to make a right business judgment under the situation where the state covers the costs of accidents, as they cannot recognize risks of nuclear power generation,” said Oshima.
TEPCO has been struggling with the consequences of the post-earthquake and tsunami nuclear leak for three years now, without notable success and with much blame directed at it for the mishandling of the crisis.
The company is now paying compensation to people affected by the Fukushima crippled plant. The compensation money is provided from the Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corp. The fund raised its limit of its pay-out to 9 trillion yen.
The recent ruling of the Japanese court says that TEPCO will have to pay 49 million yen ($472,000) to widower Mikio Watanabe, a resident of Fukushima Prefecture. His wife suffered severe depression in the wake of the tragedy, and committed suicide by dousing herself in gasoline and setting herself on fire.
Earlier in August, TEPCO announced that the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi’s third reactor building was even worse than initially believed. After experts studied conditions surrounding the fuel core, they found out that the reactor’s cooling system stopped functioning more than five hours earlier than previously estimated. As a result, the meltdown would have started around that same time period.
Don’t Be So Sure Fukushima isn’t Chernobyl?
by SARAH D. PHILLIPS
by SARAH D. PHILLIPS
The March 11, 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami caused the deaths of approximately 16,000 persons, left more than 6,000 injured and 2,713 missing, destroyed or partially damaged nearly one million buildings, and produced at least $14.5 billion in damages. The earthquake also caused a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Japan’s eastern coast. After reading the first news reports about what the Japanese call “3.11,” I immediately drew associations between the accident in Fukushima and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 in what was then the Soviet Union. This was only natural, since studying the cultural fallout of Chernobyl has been part of my life’s work as an anthropologist for the past 17 years. Knowing rather little about Japan at the time, I relied on some fuzzy stereotypes about Japanese technological expertise and penchant for tight organization and waited expectantly for rectification efforts to unfold as a model of best practices. I positioned the problem-riddled Chernobyl clean-up, evacuation, and reparation efforts as a foil, assuming that Japan would, in contrast, unroll a state-of-the-art nuclear disaster response for the modern age. After all, surely a country like Japan that relies so heavily on nuclear-generated power has developed thorough, well-rehearsed, and tested responses to any potential nuclear emergency? Thus, I expected the inevitable comparisons between the world’s two worst nuclear accidents to yield more contrasts than parallels.
But as reporting on the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi NPP unfolded, an unsettling story of stonewalling and sloppiness emerged that was eerily reminiscent of the Chernobyl catastrophe. TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company), which operates the Fukushima Daiichi NPP, and the plant’s head, Masao Yoshida, proved to be masters of understatement. Yoshida characterized radiation levels nearly 100 times higher than normal as “higher than the ordinary level,” and he used the wholly inadequate phrase “acute danger” to describe two explosions and the meltdown of three of the reactor cores1 (how about “catastrophic meltdown necessitating immediate evacuation?”). One is reminded of the first official statement acknowledging the Chernobyl accident, which only appeared in a Kyiv newspaper three days after the disaster, and was hidden on the third page in the Weather section: “From the Cabinet of Ministers of the USSR. An accident has occurred at the Chernobyl atomic electrostation; one of the atomic reactors was damaged. Measures are being taken to liquidate the consequences of the accident. The victims are receiving assistance.”2
Recently-released video footage of the early days and weeks of the Japanese crisis reveals that some of the same mistakes made during the Soviet state’s blighted response to Chernobyl were repeated at Fukushima Daiichi. Military helicopters made futile attempts to douse flames inside the damaged reactors with water, a strategy already proven ineffective, dangerous, and potentially counterproductive during the Windscale fire in Great Britain in 1957, and later at Chernobyl. Local Fukushima firefighters were called to the accident scene but not informed of the extremely high levels of radiation—the TEPCO video reveals an official at headquarters to say, “There’s no use in us telling the fire department. That’s a conversation that needs to happen at higher levels.” Recall the six firemen who lost their lives battling the fires at Chernobyl’s Reactor No. 4; along with 25 other plant workers and first responders the firefighters for years were the only Chernobyl casualties officially recognized by the Soviet state. The accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima alike have been traced back to lax safety controls and poor plant design or siting, and the emergency response after both disasters included a muddled chain of command, the intentional withholding of vital radiological data and health directives, and the privileging of economic concerns and saving face over the well-being of human beings and the environment. Did we learn nothing from Three Mile, Selafield, Windscale, and Chernobyl? Will the Fukushima accident finally jar us out of complacency, or will the accident be successfully “socially contained,” enabling humankind to “stagger on toward our next disaster?”3
Thanks to colleagues at the Japan College of Social Work in Tokyo, during October and November 2012 I visited Japan to participate in interviews, informal meetings, and conference roundtables with Fukushima evacuees, social workers, medical professionals, and community activists. It was an enlightening though sobering experience: many of the Fukushima stories I heard echoed nearly word-for-word narratives I have read and collected among persons affected by the Chernobyl accident in the former Soviet Union. Just like people who survived Chernobyl and the Soviet Union’s “rectification efforts,” Fukushima-affected persons and their advocates complain of government secrecy and misinformation, top-down decision making, generalized disorganization, and the social ostracism of nuclear accident “victims.”
No one knows what really happened here”
I traveled through northeast Japan with an esteemed group of scholars: Dr. Yukio Yamaguchi and Dr. Takashi Fujioka, professors at the Japan College of Social Work; Dr. Masumi Shinya, a professor of sociology at East China University of Science and Technology’s School of Social and Public Administration; Dr. Decha Sungkawan, Dean of the Faculty of Social Administration at Thammasat University in Bangkok; and Dr. Charles Figley, professor and Chair of the Tulane University Trauma Institute.
We traveled by trains and taxis, making research stops in cities like Nihonmatsu and Yamagata City, which received thousands of disaster evacuees, and Otsuchi (Iwate Prefecture), a coastal town devastated by the 3.11 tsunami. Before the disaster Otsuchi had a population of 15,262. At least 800 residents were killed in the tsunami that carried away most of the city’s infrastructure; nearly 500 residents are still missing. Today there are 10,000 people living in Otsuchi, 5,400 of who still live in cramped temporary housing units.
Our guide in Otsuchi was Mr. Ryoichi Usuzawa, a community organizer. Mr. Usuzawa drove us around the city, much of which now consists only of partial concrete foundations where buildings once stood. The entire city administration of Otsuchi (more than 20 persons) drowned in the tsunami—they had been called by the mayor to the town hall at the time of the earthquake. Mr. Usuzawa drove us up a steep hill to an area overlooking the town, just above the now-destroyed Buddhist temple and the adjoining hillside cemetery, which is still intact. On 3.11, hundreds of residents watched from this vantage point as the massive wall of water rolled in and mowed down their town (including their own homes, some with people still inside), the buildings collapsing “like dominos.” The devastation resulted in huge amounts of debris that caused further damage in turn, as tanks of propane gas bobbed along, became entangled in debris, and ignited fires and explosions “bubbling on top with smoke.” Mr. Usuzawa says, “It was like a huge washing machine was spinning the whole town. Everything was moving clockwise.”4
One of these hilltop spectators captured the scene on video, and we watched the terrifying footage on Mr. Usuzawa’s laptop as we looked down over the now-leveled city.5 He explained that hundreds of residents, many of them elderly, fled to the Buddhist temple for refuge from the water and drowned inside. As the tsunami was rolling over Otsuchi, some 200 kilometers away a wall of water invaded the coast of Fukushima Prefecture, destroying the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and the surrounding towns. Yet the impact on residents’ health is harder to calculate, because it consists not only of physical destruction but radiation contamination.
As cultural geographer Shiloh Krupar notes, “Embodied knowledge…take[s] on a particular significance in the presence of large-scale technological -environmental disasters…, where the variability and duration of harmful waste and its biological effects are uncertain and never closed.”6 Measuring radiation exposure and absorbed dose requires specific, often hard-to-access technologies, and laypersons are dependent on experts and their expert knowledge for interpretation of these measurements. Individuals’ ability to know and assess their risks is severely curtailed when expert knowledge—produced by agents usually beholden to states and powerful industrial interests—is the only form of knowledge recognized as valid, even as states and industry intentionally withhold information on hazards and their biological effects. Meanwhile, embodied self-knowledge is discredited.
Fukushima evacuees and their advocates report egregious examples of misinformation, negligence, and cover-up that have exacerbated their health risks. After the earthquake and tsunami the United States Department of Defense and the Department of Energy conducted environmental and radiological monitoring of air, water, and soil on DOD installations in the region.7 According to Professor Yukio Yamaguchi of the Japan College of Social Work, when this valuable data was shared with Japanese authorities they shelved it for two weeks instead of immediately informing the population about radiation risks. Further, the Japanese government failed to provide the Japanese public with data from the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information (SPEEDI)—data predicting the location and extent of radioactive contamination after the nuclear accident—until March 23, nearly two weeks after the disaster. Because the SPEEDI data was not available, some families evacuated themselves to locations that actually were more contaminated than where they were living.8 Perversely, the Japanese authorities provided the SPEEDI data to the U.S. military on March 14 but waited a full nine days before releasing it to the Japanese people.9
As happened in the Soviet Union after the Chernobyl accident, after the Fukushima accident the government quickly raised the “acceptable” level of individual radiation exposure. In Japan, the pre-nuclear accident maximum “safe” exposure was one millisievert (mSv)/year.10 After the Fukushima disaster, suddenly exposure of 20 mSv/year was deemed safe. Some medical professionals went so far as to suggest that 100 mSv/year was a safe level of exposure.11 Such inconsistencies made it difficult for those living near the Fukushima Daiichi NPP to make informed choices and take actions to minimize their risk of exposure to damaging radionuclides. In this context of uncertainty, a common phrase among Fukushima accident-affected persons is that, “No one knows what really happened here.”
In an age where sophisticated radiological monitoring is possible and information technology facilitates the rapid evaluation and dissemination of radiological data, the Japanese government’s crude “mapping” of the radiation fallout baffles the innocent and informed alike. Environmental contamination after a nuclear explosion or accident is uneven and patchy. We have known this since the 1950s, when radioactive fallout from bombs detonated in Nevada was carried by rain clouds all the way to New York state. Similarly, radiation maps of the area around Chernobyl (not released until years after the disaster) show an irregular contamination pattern around the NPP with “anomalous” hotspots of contamination hundreds of miles away caused by rains —biochemist and journalist Mary Mycio describes it as a “hand” with a dark palm six miles around the plant and 20-30 mile-long “fingers” caused by radiation carried by the wind.12 Why, in the immediate wake of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, did the authorities not apply this knowledge? Why was the contamination not mapped according to the actual radiological data? Instead, in a move strangely reminiscent of the initial Chernobyl “mapping” of a 30-kilometer “zone of alienation,” a 20-kilometer “planned evacuation zone”13 of compulsory evacuation was drawn around the Fukushima Daiichi NPP. The Japanese Cabinet Public Relations Office announced that the cumulative radiation level in those areas could reach 20 mSv/year. People living outside this artificially-drawn zone have been provided no state support to evacuate from their homes, even if the levels of contamination are actually higher there than in some places inside the planned evacuation zone.
Consider for instance the town of Namie. Namie, which was affected by both the tsunami and the NPP accident, is located inside the exclusion zone, and its roughly 20,000 surviving residents were evacuated to the city of Nihonmatsu.14 However, levels of contamination in Namie are lower than in some towns outside the zone,15 whose residents have not had equitable access to evacuation assistance, medical care and social services. Evacuees from Namie face their own set of very difficult circumstances in Nihonmatsu: they are tired of living in hastily-built, cramped temporary housing quarters; unemployment, boredom, and feelings of lack of control over the future fuel anomie. Long-term reliance on social welfare is demoralizing, and evacuation is especially frustrating for elderly persons who just want to go home. According to a community leader at NPO Namie in Nihonmatsu, evacuees are experiencing serious psychological problems; now that they are not in “emergency mode,” he said, they increasingly dwell on their memories of the devastating tsunami. Many suffer from survivor guilt, asking themselves why they lived when others perished. Social workers report high levels of depression and anxiety, alcoholism, gambling, and marital discord among residents of temporary housing units.
Realizing that returning to Namie is only a distant prospect, and concerned about reports of Namie children being bullied in local schools, in fall 2012 a group of community activists founded Namie Elementary School in Nihonmatsu. The school has enrolled just 30 students so far, but organizers hope it will grow and serve to cohere the community of Namie evacuees in Nihonmatsu, who one community leader described as having been “scattered like sesame seeds.”16 Indeed, loss of community is one of the consequences of 3.11 and the resulting evacuations and resettlements of paramount concern to social workers and NPO leaders. Social work specialists in Japan point out that loss of communities was a major problem after the Great Hanshin (Kobe) earthquake in 1995, but the lessons of that tragedy have not been applied after 3.11.
Living apart is too difficult”
The experiences of the Nakamura family illustrate the difficulties faced bt many Fukushima accident-affected families. Before 3.11, Miki Nakamura, a nutritionist, lived with her husband and three young daughters in Koriyama in Fukushima Prefecture, 58 kilometers from the damaged NPP. The Nakamuras evacuated temporarily immediately after the accident. However, being understandably reluctant to uproot their young family, they returned to Fukushima as the new school year began in April. As in other locations close to the damaged nuclear power plant, the schools in Koriyama stayed open even though neither radiological monitoring nor decontamination efforts were underway.17 During an informal interview in October 2012, Miki Nakamura recalled that she and other parents were told “very firmly” by their children’s schoolteachers that children should continue to attend school; children were advised to wear masks, windbreakers, and hats to protect them from radiation. Trusting in the judgment of the teachers—and in the reassurances issued by the then Prime Minister Naoto Kan and the Secretary General that “there will not be immediate health impacts”—the children in Koriyama continued going to school.
The young families who at the time of the Chernobyl accident were living in Pripyat—the workers’ city built 2 km from the NPP—would find this tragedy familiar. Although news of the accident began to circulate informally hours after the Chernobyl explosion, the authorities did not warn the 49,000 residents of Pripyat to take precautions until a full 36 hours after the accident. Children enjoyed playing outside on the warm April day, unaware that their young bodies, especially their young thyroid glands, were soaking up radioactive particles. The thyroid gland is the organ most sensitive to radiation exposure; this is particularly true for children and for those with iodine deficiencies. Local health workers were instructed not to distribute prophylactic potassium iodine pills, for fear of “causing panic.” (Subsequently, around 6,000 cases of thyroid cancers—and many more cases of thyroid anomalies—have been documented among children who at the time of the Chernobyl accident were living in contaminated areas in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia.18) Incredibly, a similar scenario unfolded after the Fukushima Daiichi accident. Although health workers themselves took prophylactic potassium iodine, it was not given to children.19
On March 15, it snowed in Fukushima, and the snow contained radioactive materials. Radioactive particles landed on the surface of the soil. In April, the air dose rate exceeded 3.8 microsieverts (/hour at “hot-spots” in Koriyama, and 8 microsieverts/hour at some points along the school route.20 Meanwhile, during the days following the Fukushima Daiichi accident, the Nakamuras’ dosimeter registered radiation levels of 1.5 microsieverts /hour right outside their home. It was not long before the eldest Nakamura daughter (age nine at the time) started having uncontrollable nosebleeds that her mother says “persisted even after going through a box of tissues.” The child’s nosebleeds were the first key factor in the family’s decision to leave Koriyama.
The second factor was the resignation of Professor Toshiso Kosako, an expert on radiation safety at the University of Tokyo and a nuclear advisor to the Japanese Prime Minister. In late April 2011 Kosako resigned in protest of the Japanese government’s decision after the Fukushima Daiichi accident to raise the official acceptable level of radiation exposure in schools from 1 to 20 mSv/year, a decision that allowed “children living near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to receive doses of radiation equal to the international standard for nuclear power plant workers…a level [that is] is far higher than international standards set for the public.”21 Professor Kosako said he could not endorse this policy change from the point of view of science, or from the point of view of human rights.
The Nakamura family made a difficult decision: Miki and the children would move to Yamagata City, about an hour’s drive across the mountains from Koriyama. Mr. Nakamura would remain behind for his job, and the family would get together on weekends. Thus, Miki Nakamura and her three girls joined approximately 4,200 evacuees from Fukushima prefecture who moved to Yamagata. Like the Nakamuras, around 2,500 of these evacuees are from Fukushima City and the surrounding Nakadori area that were not under mandatory evacuation.22 As “voluntary” evacuees, these citizens are hardly entitled to the same state entitlements that mandatory evacuees receive. Some voluntary evacuees did receive two-part reparation payments from TEPCO, the first for the months up until December 2012, and the second for the months from January to August 2013.
The financial stress on voluntary evacuees—many of which find themselves running two households (one back home, one in Yamagata)—is enormous. Rent is free for evacuation housing, but families spend approximately 100,000 Yen ($1,110) per month on moving costs, utilities for two residences, and children’s kindergarten and school fees outside their place of official residence. (The latter obstacle compels some voluntary evacuee families to transfer their official place of residence, a decision that produces its own set of complications.) Costs of transportation are also high for these split families, who travel frequently to spend time together; also, unlike mandatory evacuees, voluntary evacuees must cover the costs of their own medical check-ups. Reparations from TEPCO do not even begin to offset these expenditures: the Nakamura family received the first compensation payment of just 400,000 yen for one child, 80,000 yen for each parent “for their unnecessary radiation exposure that could have been avoided,” and another 200,000 yen “for minor and additional costs.” The second payment consisted of only 80,000 yen for a child, 40,000 yen for an adult, and 40,000 yen for additional costs.
Miki Nakamura notes that, lacking appropriate entitlements and compensation, among voluntary evacuees “ there are so many children and mothers across the country that live each day by digging into their savings set aside for children’s education and their own retirement.”23Over time, despite their continuing concerns about radioactive contamination, the financial and emotional burdens of voluntary evacuation have compelled a number of these families to return home against their better judgment. Miki Nakamura predicts that a number of families will return to Fukushima Prefecture from Yamagata in spring 2013, “not because Fukushima will be safe, but because living apart is too difficult.”
I am not a doctor but I know my children are sick”
In Yamagata City, the Nakamura girls continue to have health problems such as sore throat, canker sores, swollen lymph nodes, and dark circles under their eyes, which their mother believes to be related to the nuclear accident. The 10-year-old’s nosebleeds continue, but doctors—state employees who likely do not have the freedom to admit a Fukushima accident-related diagnosis—continue to discount radiation effects. One doctor who examined the eldest Nakamura child suggested that the girl’s nosebleeds were “caused by the stress of the mother.”
This readiness to attribute bodily complaints of disaster-affected persons to psychological and emotional stress is all too reminiscent of the diagnoses of “radiophobia” doled out by medical professionals and experts in the Soviet Union after the Chernobyl disaster. Not surprisingly, many people in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia who believed that Chernobyl fallout had compromised their health balked at the suggestion that their ailments were caused by “fear of radiation,” not radiation itself. They had good reason to be skeptical. Anthropologist Adriana Petryna’s ethnographic study of the Chernobyl medical assessment and compensation system has revealed it that system to be anything but objective.25 Petryna documents how the invention and application of radiation-related diagnoses in Soviet medicine were as political and social as they were scientific. Further, only half-hearted attempts were made to systematically collect health data from Chernobyl-affected persons (plant workers, clean-up workers, evacuees), making any firm conclusions about biological effects of radiation exposure versus psychological effects of “radiophobia” impossible.
During 1997 I shadowed medical professionals working at the clinic in Kyiv that houses the “Chernobyl registry.” Persons with a “Chernobyl tie” from across the country (those deemed partially or fully disabled due to Chernobyl’s effects on their health) were offered regular examinations at the clinic—some were required to undergo these checks to retain their benefits—and personnel were supposed to enter patients’ data into the clinic’s computer database. The doctors and nurses I shadowed were harried and underpaid, and saw the data entry task as a nuisance. Often data was never entered, or it was entered helter-skelter. It is well known that after Chernobyl some data concerning individual exposure to radiation (particularly among clean-up workers) was actively destroyed or changed.26
I also in 1997 assisted with a WHO-funded study of children’s thyroid health in Chernobyl-contaminated areas whose planned evacuation was scuttled due to lack of funds. The research team exerted a yeoman’s effort, but the desperate conditions of local infrastructure made our tasks extremely difficult. We worked in hospitals without running water or electricity, and thus our ability to do blood draws and perform ultrasounds on children’s thyroids was limited. Local medical personnel were skeptical of our team and the study’s motives and we suspected they actively discouraged sick villagers from participating. Qualitative questionnaires were not tailored to local ways of life. For instance, youngsters who spent hours each day working in the fields and walking long distances to school were never sure how to answer the ill-phrased question, “Do you exercise or do sports regularly?”
Observing these problematic data-collection procedures makes me question research conclusions that purport to definitively assess Chernobyl’s health impacts, and especially those that downplay the medical effects of radiation exposure (e.g. the 2003-2005 Report of the Chernobyl Forum).27 The same critical eye should be applied to Fukushima accident health studies, since reports from Japan indicate that health monitoring of persons exposed to radiation after the Fukushima Daiichi NPP accident has been far from systematic or problem-free. The affected population is skeptical that doctors in the state system of medicine can offer objective diagnoses. This distrust means they may be compelled to pay out-of-pocket for private health care, in which case their medical data may not make it into official databases. In the future, these persons will not be eligible for public compensation for their Fukushima accident-related health problems.
Skepticism of official health pronouncements is reflected in people’s desire to have their personal levels of radiation exposure checked. Whole body counters (a device used to identify and measure the radioactive material in the body) are in deficit in Fukushima City, and the waiting list to be checked is some six months long.28 Even though Yamagata hosts the largest group of Fukushima evacuees in Japan, there is not a single whole body counter in the city.29 And as with Chernobyl, the chaotic evacuation of residents after the Fukushima accident complicates exposure assessment and health monitoring. Additionally, in early Feburary 2013 at a private meeting of the research and survey committee on residents’ health, it was suggested that the Fukushima Prefectural Medical College, the institution entirely responsible for examining radiation and its health effects, has attempted to delay the thyroid check-up for evacuees outside the prefecture.30
Not surprisingly, “radiophobia” has made its way into the Fukushima accident lexicon.31> It becomes convenient and somehow perversely comforting to focus on the psychological impacts of nuclear disasters, with their many “unknowns.” The victim-blaming Miki Nakamura encounters (“the child’s health complaints are caused by the stress of the mother”) would be familiar to many Chernobyl-affected persons I have interviewed in Ukraine. Of course, this is not to discount the real psychosocial stresses associated with evacuation and the multiple forms of Fukushima’s fallout (radioactive, economic, social, psychological), many of which are being tracked by the Fukushima Health Management Survey.32
Miki Nakamura has met with other forms of stonewalling in her efforts to monitor her children’s health. Like all children living near the disaster site, the Nakamura girls are entitled to thyroid screenings. After her daughters’ thyroid checks at the Fukushima Prefectural Medical College, Miki received a brief notice in the mail that lacked any details or explanation of the test results. When she phoned the Medical College to ask for an explanation of the test results, personnel told her, “We are so very busy…” and discouraged her from getting a second opinion, which in the words of the doctors, “just causes confusion.” Despite the deficit of whole body counters, Miki managed to arrange whole body counts for her daughters. However, without regular follow-ups to track the dynamic—whether their counts are going up or down—the information is of limited utility.
Miki Nakamura sums up her frustrations: “I am not a doctor but I know that my children are sick. And I saw that other children from Fukushima and in the greater Kanto region had the same health problems as my daughters, though I do not hear about it anymore…” Recent health studies show that Miki’s concern about her daughters’ thyroid health is far from unfounded. According to the April 2012 Sixth Report of Fukushima Prefecture Health Management Survey, which included examinations of 38,114 children, 35.3% of those examined were found to have cysts or nodules of up to 5 mm (0.197 inches) on their thyroids. A further 0.5% had nodules larger than 5.1 mm (0.2 inches).33 Contradicting earlier reports, the National Institute of Radiological Sciences admitted in July 2012 that children from Fukushima had likely received lifetime thyroid doses of radiation.34 The Health Risk Assessment from the Nuclear Accident after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in February 2013 states that in the most affected regions of Fukushima Prefecture the preliminary estimated radiation effective doses35 for the first year after the disaster ranged from 12 to 25 mSv. According to the report, in the most contaminated location the estimated increased risks over what would normally be expected are as follows:
*all solid cancers – around 4% in females exposed as infants;
*breast cancer – around 6% in females exposed as infants;
*leukemia – around 7% in males exposed as infants;
*thyroid cancer – up to 70% in females exposed as infants (the normally expected risk of thyroid cancer in females over lifetime is 0.75% and the additional lifetime risk assessed for females exposed as infants in the most affected location is 0.50%).36
The future is what we are looking at right now”
Miki Nakamura spends time with other evacuee families every day as founder and director the Yamagata Association of Mothers in Evacuation (YAME). The association is a resource base and support system for families like the Nakamuras who are voluntary evacuees often split between two households. YAME has a liaison council to help mothers get necessary information, provides babysitting services and a “mothers’ morning out,” offers free legal consultations, and sponsors a regular “children’s plaza” where mothers can socialize and exchange advice while their children play. Miki Nakamura and her association worked with a local politician to draft the Fukushima Child Victims’ Law, which was passed by the Diet. But this is just a resolution without enforceability, and specific measures to protect victims’ rights (e.g. the right not to return to Fukushima) have not been determined.
As a nutritionist, in a context of radiological uncertainty Miki Nakamura draws on her knowledge of food properties and the complexities of the food supply to regulate her children’s diet. She shares and publishes recipes that contain “radioprotective” ingredients. Foods that contain beta carotene and vitamin C, for example, can help rid the body of radionuclides.37 One food that people in the Fukushima-affected areas have not enjoyed since 3.11 is persimmons (a crop for which the region is famous), which actively absorb radionuclides and thus are highly contaminated. The Yamagata countryside is adorned with scores of persimmon trees laden with ripe, juicy, entirely inedible fruit. Just as apples have become the key symbol of the Chernobyl accident (the forbidden fruit, original sin, humankind’s folly in seeking to control nature through science)38, perhaps the quintessential symbol of the Fukushima Daiichi accident will be the persimmon, which in Buddhist thought symbolizes the transformation of humans’ ignorance (the acrid green persimmon) into wisdom (the sweet, ripened fruit).
Miki Nakamura has lost all trust in the authorities. Before the disaster she always believed the government and she never thought twice about living near a nuclear power plant. Today she demands justice. She said: “The Fukushima disaster is not just an economic problem, but a problem of our children’s future. The future is what we are looking at right now. Our kids have the right to safety and to a good and long, peaceful life. These are not ‘poor kids.’ They have a future. The most important part of reconstruction after the accident is the restoration of people’s trust and sense of security.”
Was nuclear technological failure—the Chernobyl disaster—the “straw that broke the camel’s back” of the Soviet Union?39 The botched handling of the accident and its aftermath—and especially the central government’s overt failure and disinterest to protect the safety of citizens—confirmed what many citizens strongly believed: their government did not care for them and the system had become thoroughly corrupt and untrustworthy. While widespread protest against nuclear energy and its environmental and health risks was not possible in the authoritarian Soviet state, even in those conditions of a muzzled press and lack of freedom of speech a green movement emerged in response to Chernobyl. Chernobyl’s political fallout was one factor contributing to Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost (openness), and in a limited way anti-nuclear sentiment also fueled the Ukrainian independence movement.
Similarly, Japanese citizens have lost trust in the government and in engineers and physicians who previously commanded such respect and authority. Community leaders strongly feel that Japan lags behind other industrialized nations in democratic governance; they are particularly concerned about lack of press freedom. Indeed, in December 2012 the World Audit on corruption, democracy, and freedom of press gave Japan a democracy ranking of 29 (1 is most democratic, 150 least democratic). This puts Japan in the Audit’s “Division 2” list, along with Ghana, Panama, and Israel. Of the 26 OECD countries, Japan ranks 19th in democratic governance.40
The sound defeat of the Democratic Party by the Liberal Democratic Party in the national parliamentary elections in December 2012 reflected dissatisfaction with the status quo. But the elections were a referendum on the DP, not nuclear power; the LDP is pro-nuclear and does not plan to scale back nuclear energy production. Indeed, traveling through Japan I was struck by the relative lack of anti-nuclear discourse, even in Fukushima Prefecture. Few politicians criticize nuclear power. A notable exception is Tetsunari Iida, director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies who lost a bid for governor of Yamaguchi Prefecture in elections in July 2012. The anti-nuclear Tomorrow of Japan Party—formed less a month before the national parliamentary elections in December 2012—garnered scant voter support and disappeared. Reportedly the party’s calls for nuclear power drawdown failed to gain traction “amid concerns that electrical shortages could hurt the already shrinking economy.”41
Indeed, one gets the impression that response to the disaster has centered primarily on short-term economic, not human, concerns. Before the accident at the Fukushima NPP, Japan relied on nuclear power for 30% of its energy needs and was planning to increase that to over 50% within two decades. According to Japan’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, scrapping nuclear power would result in losses of $55.9 billion for power companies, at least four of which would likely face insolvency.42 With these economic stakes, it is not surprising that TEPCO and the Japanese government have been stingy with information about the disaster, the radioactive fallout, and the potential health consequences. My acquaintances who hoped Japan would abandon nuclear energy after the Fukushima disaster fear that the chance to “change the country’s direction” has already passed by.
Haruhiko Fukase, a resident of Yamagata City who worked as a shelter volunteer and coordinator during the evacuation effort, said that the nuclear accident-affected people have been forgotten not just by the international community, but by many of their fellow Japanese citizens. “For people in Tokyo and other big cities,” he said, “the evacuees don’t even register anymore. Their problems have been forgotten.” But for thousands of families, the Fukushima nuclear disaster will never end. Community leaders repeat this refrain: “The reactor is still hot; the situation is still unstable.” Miki Nakamura and like-minded community leaders are not giving up on the democratic process. They continue to speak justice to power. As Nakamura said during the December 2012 Japanese elections, “ To give up on Japanese politics is, to me, to give up on Fukushima.”43
Fukushima is Chernobyl. Independent of the system (Japanese, Soviet), nuclear technology requires disregard for the public, misleading statements, and obfuscation in multiple domains (medicine, science and technology, governance). As anthropologist Hugh Gusterson notes, “The disaster at Fukushima has generated cracks in what we might call the ‘social containment vessels’ around nuclear energy—the heavily scientized discourses and assumptions that assure us nuclear reactors are safe neighbors.”44Comparing the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima shows that “peaceful” nuclear technology is anything but.
This article was originally published on Somatosphere.net.
Sarah D. Phillips is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University, Bloomington. She is author of Women’s Social Activism in the New Ukraine: Development and the Politics of Differentiation (2008, Indiana U Press) and Disability and Mobile Citizenship in Postsocialist Ukraine (2011, Indiana U Press). Her website is at http://www.indiana.edu/~medanth/.
She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I am grateful to Miki Nakamura, Satoko Hirano, Yukio Yamaguchi, Paul Josephson, Marvin Sterling, and Charles Figley for their contributions to this article.
1 Hiroko Tabuchi, “New View from Inside Fukushima: Chaos and Uncertainty,” New York Times, November 30, 2012, http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/30/new-view-from-inside-fukushima-chaos-and-uncertainty/
2Vechirnii Kyiv, April 29, 1986, p. 3.
3 Hugh Gusterson, “Social Containment of Disaster,” Anthropology News, May 2011, p. 4.
4 From a video of the Great East Japan Earthquake Series: Witnesses of the Tsunami featuring Ryoichi Usuzawa, November 20, 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CxR74iIF6QM&feature=share
5 The video is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6k3GKp0NH0
6 Shiloh Krupar, 2007, “Where Eagles Dare: An Ethno-fable with Personal Landfill,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 25:194-212.
8 Fuminori Tamba (Disaster Recovery Research Institute, Fukushima University), “Recovery in Fukushima: Present Situation and Future Issues,” paper presented at the International seminar on Social Welfare and the Pacific Rim 2012, “Social Work in Fukushima—Social Recovery from Damages Caused by Radiation” (November 3, 2012).
9The Japan Times Online, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20120118a1.html
10 The millisievert is the most commonly accepted unit for measuring the amount of radiation people receive (their “dose”). 1 mSv = 0.001 Sv. It is estimated that the average person in the U.S. receives an effective dose of about 3 mSv per year from naturally occurring radioactive materials and cosmic radiation from outer space. Around 2 mSv of this “background radiation” comes from radon gas in homes. Common radiological procedures carry the following approximate effective doses: Computed Tomography (CT)-Colonography: 10 mSv; Computed Tomography (CT)-Spine: 6 mSv; X-ray of extremity: 0.001 mSv; Intraoral (dental) X-ray: 0.005 mSv; Mamography: 0.4 mSv. Source: Radiological Society of North America, Inc., http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/safety/index.cfm?pg=sfty_xray
11 Miki Nakamura, 2012, personal communication.
12 Mary Mycio, Wormwood Forest: A Natural History of Chernobyl (2005, Washington, D.C.: Joseph Henry Press), p. 18.
13 Opening Statement by Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano, Cabinet Secretariat, Cabinet Public Relations Office,Friday, April 22, 2011. http://www.kantei.go.jp/foreign/incident/110422_0944.html
14 The tsunami destroyed 600 homes in Namie. 198 persons died, and 30 are still missing.
15 Tamba (2012).
16 Toyotaka Kanakura, director of NPO “ShinmachiNamie” in Nihonmatsu.
17 Tamba (2012).
19 This was related by Haruhiko Fukase, head of the “Yamagata Lifesaving Club” at the Yamagata City Sports Complex and a shelter management volunteer leader during the evacuation of disaster victims to Yamagata.
20 1 μSv = 0.000001 Sv
21 Martin Fackler, “Japan’s Prime Minister Defends Handling of Crisis,” New York Times, April 30, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/01/world/asia/01japan.html?_r=0
22 Information from official at support organization for evacuees located inside the Yamagata City Sports Complex.
23 Miki Nakamura, post to Facebook wall, 12/16/12.
24 Adriana Petryna, Life Exposed: Biological Citizens after Chernobyl (2002, Princeton: Princeton University Press).
25 Petryna (2002).
26 Sergii Mirnyi, Worse than Radiation (2001, Budapest: Bogar Kiado).
27Chernobyl’s Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts and Recommendations to the Governments of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine. Chernobyl Forum 2003-2005. Vienna: IAEA.
28 Information from Haruhiko Fukase, head of the “Yamagata Lifesaving Club” at the Yamagata City Sports Complex and a shelter management volunteer leader during the evacuation of disaster victims to Yamagata.
29 Information from Haruhiko Fukase.
30“The East Japan’s Great Earthquake/Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident: Thyroid examination ‘delayed for evacuees outside the prefecture’ Fukushima Prefecture, principle discussed in a private meeting.” [Higashi Nihon Daishinsai: Fukushima Daiichi genpatsu jiko. Kojosen kensa “Kengai hinansha, atomawashi” Fukushima-ken, himitsukai de hoshin.], The Mainichi Newspaper [Online], Feb. 9, 2013, http://mainichi.jp/feature/20110311/news/20130209ddm041040143000c.html
31 Geoff Brumfiel, “Fukushima: Fallout of Fear.” Nature, vol. 493, January 17, 2013, pp. 290-293, http://www.nature.com/news/fukushima-fallout-of-fear-1.12194
32 Brumfiel (2013).
33 Julian Ryall, “Nearly 36pc of Fukushima children diagnosed with thyroid growths,” The Telegraph, July 19, 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/japan/9410702/Nearly-36pc-of-Fukushima-children-diagnosed-with-thyroid-growths.html
34 Yuri Oiwa, “Study finds lifetime thyroid doses of radiation in Fukushima children,” The Asahi Shimbun AJW, July 11, 2012, http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201207110058
35 Effective dose is a measure of the overall risk arising from the exposure. The WHO describes effective dose as “sum of the products of absorbed dose to each organ multiplied by a radiation-weighting factor and a tissue-weighting factor that takes into account the radiosensitivity of tissues and organs” (WHO, 2013, p. 110).
36 From http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2013/fukushima_report_20130228/en/index.html. The full report is available in multiple languages at http://www.who.int/ionizing_radiation/pub_meet/fukushima_report/en/index.html.
37 Sarah D. Phillips, 2002, “Half-Lives and Healthy Bodies: Discourses on ‘Contaminated’ Foods and Healing in Post-Chernobyl Ukraine.” Food and Foodways 10(1-2):27-53. http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/titles/FOF-sp-issue.pdf
38 Sarah D. Phillips, 2004, “Chernobyl’s Sixth Sense: The Symbolism of an Ever-Present Awareness.” Anthropology and Humanism 29(2):159-185.
39 Adriana Petryna, 1995, “Sarcophagus: Chernobyl in Historical Light.” Cultural Anthropology 10(2):196-220, http://www.jstor.org/stable/656333
There is far more to living with nuclear disaster than the invented term “radiophobia, a term of abuse invented by nukers in an attempt to further isolated nuclear survivors . As a diagnosis, it isn’t one. As spiritual and moral mirror is most revealing of the perpetrators.
Still from the German movie Ranga Yogeshwar in Fukushima (ARD, 03.11.2014, 22:45.
Shows the growing mound in one temporary nuclear waste dump in Fukushima from the decontamination of
land affected by super clean and super cheap nuclear industry.
Best of luck, Japan. Gee isn’t lucky that Nuclear is “clean and green” and that nuclear
pollution is “like a vitamin” (Flinders University, South Australia (that Sykes woman)
Source: Japan Atomic Industry Forum.
Main page: http://www.jaif.or.jp/english/fukushima/plantstatus201103.html
pdf page: http://www.jaif.or.jp/english/news_images/pdf/ENGNEWS01_1300189582P.pdf
Content: Status of nuclear power plants in Fukushima as of 19:00 March 15 (Estimated by JAIF)
Image of log content:
Transcript relevant to Reactor 4:
“SFP level low, Injecting Water”
“Environmental effect NPS border: 489.8μSv/h at 16:30, Mar. 15”
“Evacuation Area 20km from NPS * People who live between 20km to 30km from the Fukushima #1NPS are to stay indoors”
“INES Level 4 (estimated by NISA)”
“Remarks A fire broke on the 4th floor of the Unit-4 Reactor Building around 6AM, Mar. 15, and the radiation monitor readings increased outside of the building:
30mSv between Unit-2 and Unit-3, 400mSv beside Unit-3, 100mSv beside Unit-4 at 10:22, Mar. 15.
It is estimated that spent fuels stored in the spent fuel pit heated and hydrogen was generated from these fuels, resulting in explosion.
TEPCO later announced the fire had been extinguished.
Other staff and workers than fifty TEPCO employees who are engaged in water injection operation have been evacuated.”
Explanation and Interpretation:
The Japan Atomic Industry Forum at http://www.jaif.or.jp/english/fukushima/plantstatus201103.html provides links to its “Reactor Status and Major Events Update – NPPs in Fukushima (Estimated by JAIF) March 2011″. Earliest date provided being Update Number 2, Tuesday March 15 2011 at 10.30 hours.
This status update states that Reactor 4 is “safe”. This report notes the evacuation zone is 20 kms from the NPP.
Status update 3 of 13:00 hours 15 March 2011 states that the evacuation zone is “Evacuation Area 20km from NPS * People who live between 20km to 30km from the Fukushima #1NPS are to stay indoors.”
The update reports also notes that “Remarks: Fire broke (out) on the 4th floor of the Unit-4 Reactor Building around 6AM and the radiation monitor readings increased outside of the building:
30mSv between Unit-2 and Unit-3, 400mSv beside Unit-3, 100mSv beside Unit-4 at 10:22.
It is estimated that the spent fuels stored in the spent fuel pit heated and hydrogen was generated from these fuels, resulting in the explosion. TEPCO later announced the fire had been extinguished.
Other staff and workers than 50 TEPCO employees, who are engaged in water injection operation, have been evacuated.”
It can be seen that the order for people to stay indoors in the defined area occurred after the fire commenced. The view was that that overheating fuel in spent fuel pools generated hydrogen resulting in the explosions. Of interest here is the explosion in reactor 4. Prior to the explosion, Reactor 4 building was intact. After the explosion it was not. The fuel overheated in spent fuel pool 4 and this is sufficient cause to generate hydrogen. This of course means that hydrogen generated within the spent fuel pool occurred regardless of events at reactor 3. The fuel rods in these two fuel pools was overheating and radiation levels outside both reactor buildings was high. JAIF ascribes this to the condition and environment of the spent fuel in both pools. However, it was number 4’s spent fuel pool which experienced fire.
What was burning is not specified. However the fuel is implicated, though no attempt is made to clarify exactly what was burning. The further implication is that fuel rods in the spent fuel pool of Reactor 4 were venting into the air. It is a logical progression from overheat, to explosion, to damaged containment and to the order for people with a defined zone to stay indoors.
The JAIF accident update of 15 March 2011 states that for reactor 4 “SFP level low, Injecting Water SFP Temp. Increasing SFP Temp. Increasing” The text is red flagged by JAIF.
The JAIF accident update of 16 March 2011 08:00 hours states in relation to reactor 4 : “SFP Level Low” red flagged text. The update further states :”Remarks A fire broke on the 4th floor of the Unit-4 Reactor Building around 6AM, Mar. 15, and the radiation monitor readings increased outside of the building: 30mSv between Unit-2 and Unit-3, 400mSv beside Unit-3, 100mSv beside Unit-4 at 10:22, Mar. 15.
It is estimated that spent fuels stored in the spent fuel pit heated and hydrogen was generated from these fuels, resulting in explosion. TEPCO later announced the fire had been extinguished. Another fire was observed at 5:45, Mar. 16, and then disappeared later. Other staff and workers than fifty TEPCO employees who are engaged in water injection operation have been evacuated. ”
IN none of the reports is it concretely stated that fires were composed of burning of fuel rods. However, the clear conclusion gained from reading the reports is that regardless of what was burning, the fuel rods were overheating, measured radiation showed an increase and radically changed procedures for people in a defined area around the NPP ie people had to stay indoors. The conclusion reasonably drawn from this is that there was immediate danger off site to people within a defined area.
The biggest danger to nuclear industry comes when an event has an immediate effect on civilians in surrounding areas. Hence people were instructed to stay indoors. At this time, the possibility of severe consequences were being denied by world nuclear industry. However, the nature of the accident had obviously changed with the overheating of the fuel rods in the spent fuel pools. Further, while the first fire was claimed to be extinguished on the 15th March 2011 by TEPCO, another fire was reported as burning at 05:45 on March 16. It “disappeared later”.
On 16 March 2011, 7:16 PM, by Eli Kintisch, staff writer for Science Insider at http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2011/03/contention-over-risk-of-fire-fro.html wrote an article entitled “Contention Over Risk of Fire From Spent Fuel Pools”
In this article Kintisch states: ” Among the worst case scenarios at the Fukushima plant is that the spent nuclear fuel, which sits in essentially open cooling pools near the six nuclear reactors, could catch fire for a prolonged period and spew tons of radioactive dust in a radioactive plume. It appears some of the spent fuel has been on fire at reactor #4; fire occurs if the rods get hot enough to burn their cladding. Reports say that high levels of radioactivity have made it difficult to fight the fire, which appears to have continued to burn late Wednesday. Today, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) head Gregory Jaczko said that the pool at reactor #4 had run dry; Japanese authorities denied this. …”
If it were the fuel rod cladding which was burning then there may very well be grounds for considering that the overheating event in the fuel pool of reactor 4 had produced rapid oxidation (which may or may not produce what is normally considered to be a flame) in the fuel rod cladding. The salient point being the damage done to the integrity of the fuel rod cladding. For where the cladding fails, there is, in the absence of sufficient water in the spent fuel pool, a direct of radiation into the air, and where outer containment has failed, as occurred in reactor 4 resultant from the explosions there, the venting of fission and fuel products enters the outside air unimpeded.
It is easy to conclude therefore that people in a defined area around the NPP were ordered to stay indoors due to the emissions from the nuclear power plant’s number four spent fuel pool and the fresh spent fuel rods stored there.
Turning to the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) we find this report:
Tuesday March 15, 2011, 18:10 hours. Headline “Explosion at No 4 Fukushima Reactor” MARK COLVIN: The Fukushima nuclear disaster has moved up the ladder from the third-worst civilian nuclear accident in history to the second, now behind only Chernobyl. With explosions at three of the plant’s reactors, and now a fire in spent fuel at reactor number four; it’s now a good deal worse than the 1979 Three Mile Island disaster.
The International Atomic Energy Agency says radiation levels around the plant are now 400 millisieverts an hour. That means that every six minutes eight times as much radiation are spewing out as nuclear workers are normally supposed to absorb in a year.
And the authorities are getting no help from the elements. Instead of blowing east and out to sea, as on most days, the smoke from the burning nuclear fuel is drifting south. About halfway to Tokyo at Utsunomiya, radiation is registering 33 times normal, still not a serious threat to health if things get better soon.
In the capital itself the level is less, 23 times normal. Earlier, the prime minister Naoto Kan briefly addressed the nation on television pleading for calm. …”
The Japanese people were, to my eyes, calm. It was the nuclear industry which was in panic.
On 5 April 2011, the New York Times published a piece which cited a confidential NRC report on the events at Fukushima Diiachi.
U.S. Sees Array of New Threats at Japan’s Nuclear Plant
By JAMES GLANZ and WILLIAM J. BROAD
Published: April 5, 2011 New York Times
“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. ….The document also suggests that fragments or particles of nuclear fuel from spent fuel pools above the reactors were blown “up to one mile from the units,” and that pieces of highly radioactive material fell between two units and had to be “bulldozed over,” presumably to protect workers at the site. The ejection of nuclear material, which may have occurred during one of the earlier hydrogen explosions, may indicate more extensive damage to the extremely radioactive pools than previously disclosed.”
Unless a reactor containment had massively failed, the only source for the fuel rods found “up to one mile from the (reactor) units, the only possible place those fuel rods could have originated was one of the fuel pools. Seeing as every source confirm that the explosion in reactor 4 came from the fourth floor – the floor the spent fuel pool is located on – it is rational to conclude that Spent Fuel Pool Four was the origin of fuel rods found up to one mile away.
There was one explosion and two fires on the fourth floor of Reactor 4.
My opinion is that the fuel rods in that spent fuel pool were damaged by the events and that the fuel pool was venting radionuclides to the atmosphere.
I also think that the following report is legitimate:
IAEA ENAC Data – March 15th – Reactor 4 Spent Fuel Pool Fire – Pages from ML12037A104 – FOIA PA-2011-0118, FOIA PA-2011-0119 & FOIA PA 2011-0120 – Resp 41 – Partial – Group DDD Part 2 of 3. (138 page(s), 1 24 2012)-6
I also have the view from following the media at the time that the information released by nuclear authorities was deliberately false, misleading, confusing and inexpert. And that modern journalists are really at a loss at putting two and two together and reporting clearly and accurately with insight. With some remarkable exceptions.
I think also that the fires in the fuel pools and the fact that both were put out, reveals something about fires in spent fuel pools.
How long did the pool vent for ? How much of the contamination and hazard was created by the spent fuel pools?
Nuclear industry has maintained reactors as built at Fukushima are safe. They obviously are not.
Academic paper : Deposition of fission and activation products after the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant accident
Deposition of fission and activation products after the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant accident
Katsumi Shozugawaa, Corresponding author contact information, E-mail the corresponding author,
a Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, The University of Tokyo, 3-8-1 Komaba, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 153-8902, Japan
b Radioisotope Center, The University of Tokyo, 2-11-16 Yayoi, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0032, Japan
Received 22 August 2011. Revised 24 December 2011. Accepted 1 January 2012. Available online 20 January 2012.
The Great Eastern Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, damaged reactor cooling systems at Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. The subsequent venting operation and hydrogen explosion resulted in a large radioactive nuclide emission from reactor containers into the environment. Here, we collected environmental samples such as soil, plant species, and water on April 10, 2011, in front of the power plant main gate as well as 35 km away in Iitate village, and observed gamma-rays with a Ge(Li) semiconductor detector. We observed activation products (239Np and 59Fe) and fission products (131I, 134Cs (133Cs), 137Cs, 110mAg (109Ag), 132Te, 132I, 140Ba, 140La, 91Sr, 91Y, 95Zr, and 95Nb). 239Np is the parent nuclide of 239Pu; 59Fe are presumably activation products of 58Fe obtained by corrosion of cooling pipes. The results show that these activation and fission products, diffused within a month of the accident. end quote