Doug Lerner reports from Tokyo and St. Louis, and points beyond…

Archive for January, 2012

Snowy rooftops this morning


First real snow of the season 新小岩の大雪

This is the view from my 3rd floor veranda just before.


Earthquake – 5 on the Japanese scale of 7

The earthquake just now was a 5 on the Japanese shindo scale of 0 to 7. I felt it in my house, and my monitor shook and the door swung a bit, but it was very short and there was no damage. No tsunami warning.

That makes the 1,750th earthquake of magnitude 4 or greater since 3/11 last year.


Cabinet kept alarming nuke report secret

Fearful of scaring public, existence of document was denied for months

The government buried a worst-case scenario for the Fukushima nuclear crisis that was drafted last March and kept it under wraps until the end of last year, sources in the administration said Saturday.

 After the document was shown to a small, select group of senior government officials at the prime minister’s office in late March, the administration of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan decided to quietly bury it, the sources said.

“When the document was presented (in March), a discussion ensued about keeping its existence secret,” a government source said.

In order to deny its existence, the government treated it as a personal document of Japan Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Shunsuke Kondo, who authored it, until the end of December, the sources said.

It was only then that it was actually recognized as an official government document, they said.

“The content was so shocking that we decided to treat it as if it didn’t exist,” a senior government official said.

A private-sector panel investigating the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant intends to examine whether the government tried to manipulate information during its handling of the crisis.

The panel plans to interview Kan and Goshi Hosono, minister in charge of the nuclear crisis and Kan’s former adviser, among others.

Kondo drew up the document at Kan’s request and is dated March 25, 2011. The document forecast that in a worst-case scenario the plant’s crippled reactors would intermittently release massive quantities of radioactive materials for about a year.

The projection was based on a scenario in which a hydrogen explosion would tear through the No. 1 reactor’s containment vessel, forcing all workers at the plant to evacuate because of the ensuing lethal radiation levels.

The document said that in such an event, residents within a radius of 170 km of the power station, and possibly even further away, would be forced to evacuate. Those living within a radius of between 170 km and 250 km of the plant, including Tokyo, could chose to evacuate voluntarily. The wrecked power station is about 220 km northeast of the capital.

Kan admitted in September that a worst-case scenario for the disaster had been drawn up. After parts of it were leaked in December, his successor, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, decided to start treating it as a Cabinet Office document.

“Because we were told there would be enough time to evacuate residents (even in a worst-case scenario), we refrained from disclosing the document due to fear it would cause unnecessary anxiety (among the public),” Hosono, the nuclear crisis minister, said at a Jan. 6 news conference.

The health ministry has not been keeping track of radiation that workers at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant are exposed to while off-site or off duty, ministry officials said Saturday, prompting concerns that current systems to check exposure may be inadequate.

The health ministry also doesn’t check radiation doses that workers are exposed to during decontamination efforts around the wrecked No. 1 plant.

The ministry currently only keeps track of radiation exposure for the plant’s employees when they are engaged in work around the facility.

Mon-chan lets me pet her

Hao doesn’t tolerate being petted, but Mon seems ok with it.


Fukushima update – Endoscope probe fails to confirm unit 2 water-level assumptions

Camera peeks inside reactor
Tepco said Thursday it has inserted an industrial endoscope into the primary containment vessel of reactor unit 2 at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, but images showed the level of coolant water was lower than the utility had estimated.

The endoscope took images of the vessel’s interior around 4 meters from the bottom, but failed to detect any coolant water. Tepco had projected that the water level would have risen to about 4.5 meters in the vessel, based on the difference in pressure between its main body and a lower component, known as the suppression chamber.

Obtaining a clearer picture inside the containment vessels of the three crippled reactors is critically important, as the vessels are the last line of defense containing their melted nuclear fuel.

In particular, Tepco needs to find out about the state of the melted nuclear fuel at the reactor cores, the level of coolant water and the extent of the damage to the containment vessels.

The endoscope is unlikely to help Tepco to determine the state of the melted nuclear fuel, much of which is believed to have burned down to the bottom of the containment vessels, but will hopefully shed some light on coolant water levels and internal damage.

A thermometer attached to the endoscope also showed that the interior temperature was 44.7 degrees C, roughly the same as readings by heat gauges installed in the containment vessel.

Tepco spokesman Junichi Matsumoto downplayed the coolant water level, saying that even the utility had doubts over its initial projections and that the finding is therefore not necessarily surprising.

This doesn’t mean that the situation at the plant is drastically different (from that forecast) even though the water level was not confirmed at the 4-meter level, he said.

The utility released seven mostly blurry images to the media, which Matsumoto attributed to high levels of gamma radiation inside the vessel. He also said water dripping from the vessel’s roof impaired the photos.

The Olympus Corp. endoscope, which is 8.5 mm in diameter and 10 meters long, is equipped with a 360-degree camera. It was inserted through the side of the containment vessel from an opening about 7 meters from the bottom of the containment vessel.

Tepco will probably need more than three decades to decommission the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 reactors at the Fukushima plant, which all suffered meltdowns after the March 11 disasters.

Japan ‘betrayed citizens’ over radiation danger – ABC Australia

Japan has been accused of betraying its own people by giving the American military information about the spread of radiation from Fukushima more than a week before it told the Japanese public.
The mayor of a Japanese community abandoned because of its proximity to the Fukushima nuclear plant has told AM the government’s actions are akin to murder.

An official from Japan’s science ministry, which was in charge of mapping the spread of radiation, has acknowledged to AM that perhaps the public should have been told about the dangers at the same time the US military was informed.

In the hours after the meltdowns at Fukushima, unseen plumes of radiation began to roll over the Japanese landscape.

Just a few kilometres from the oozing remains of the nuclear plant the people of Namie village gathered to evacuate.
With no information coming from Tokyo, mayor Tamotsu Baba decided to lead the people of his community further north away from the plant.

He did not know it at the time, but that was the very direction the plumes of radiation were also blowing.

“Because we had no information, we were unwittingly evacuating to an area where the radiation level was high. So I’m very worried about the people’s health,” he told AM.

“I feel pain in my heart but also rage over the poor actions of the government.”

While the people of Namie and the Japanese public as a whole were not getting any clear idea from their government about the possible spread of radiation, the Americans were.

Just three days after the tsunami crushed the Fukushima nuclear plant, Japan’s science ministry handed over computer predictions about the radiation dispersal to the US military.

Itaru Watanabe from the science ministry says the government did this to secure US support in dealing with the nuclear crisis.

But he admits that maybe that same data should have been shared with the public too.

“According to the government panel investigating the disaster, the information about the potential spread of radiation could have been given to the public,” he said.

“The science ministry should have told the nuclear disaster task force to pass on the data to the people. But we didn’t think of that. We acknowledge that now.”

Mr Baba, who is now homeless, accuses the Japanese authorities of abandoning his village by withholding information and leaving his community at the mercy of unseen radiation.

“It’s not nice language, but I still think it was an act of murder,” he said.

“What were they thinking when it came to people’s dignity and lives? I doubt that they even thought about our existence.”

It is true Japan’s science ministry struggled to glean accurate information about the amount of radiation spewing from the Fukushima plant, with some data about its spread proving wide of the mark.

Mr Watanabe acknowledges whatever data was available should have been passed on to the public.

“We acknowledge the criticism that if the data was publicly known that people could have avoided areas of high contamination. So we will study what’s happened to see how we can use the system more effectively,” he said.

For the 20,000 people of Namie that probably does not mean much – they have lost their homes and many fear for the health of their children.

A system that was designed to protect and warn them has clearly failed.


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