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information about Fukushima published in English in Japanese media info publiée en anglais dans la presse japonaise

health and radiation update Feb 11, 2012

February 11, 2012

Atomic energy commission to recommend background checks for nuclear workers


The Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) on Feb. 10 put together a draft report recommending energy companies be made to do background checks on employees working at important nuclear facilities or with nuclear materials.

Specifics are expected to be ironed out by a new government atomic energy regulatory organ to be established in April.

In January of last year, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a recommendation that the trustworthiness of nuclear employees be checked, and according to the JAEC, background checks on nuclear employees are already performed in most major countries. Such checks were considered in Japan in 2004 by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, but were not implemented over privacy concerns.

After the meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, the JAEC recommended checks because "implementing counterterrorism measures for nuclear facilities, which can cause serious damage to society, is an urgent matter."

One obstacle to the checks is that it is difficult for power companies to check on workers' criminal records or debts, so police and other authorities would have to help. Furthermore, Tokyo Electric Power Co. could not confirm the identities of some of the workers who had been sent to the Fukushima No. 1 plant in recent background checks, and the JAEC has admitted it would be difficult to put the checks into practice.

February 10, 2012
Approval near for Oi reactors / Agency says stress test evaluations at N-plant were adequate

A government nuclear safety agency has submitted a final draft of an evaluation report that approves the stress test results of the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant in Oi, Fukui Prefecture, to a meeting attended by experts.

The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has virtually completed its evaluation of the assessment of the reactors run by Kansai Electric Power Co. The agency's approval of the evaluation is one of the preconditions for the government's goal of resuming operations at the reactors.

The reactors have remained out of service after being taken off-line for regular safety checkups.

KEPCO had reported to NISA their stress test results show safety levels at the reactors are appropriate.

At the meeting, NISA officials heard a range of opinions from nuclear experts on the final draft.

NISA will soon compile a final evaluation report and will submit it to the Cabinet Office's Nuclear Safety Commission, which will examine the adequacy of the evaluation.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and three Cabinet members will decide whether to allow the reactors to resume their operations based on the results of the commission's examination of NISA's report and the opinions of local governments in Fukui Prefecture.

Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa requested the government to make the safety criteria based on the knowledge and lessons learned from the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake last year.

The government will hold explanation sessions with local governments and residents to improve their understanding about the reactors' possible resumption of operations.

When NISA submitted its final draft to the meeting, some experts required that it be modified.

But NISA plans to continue with plans to complete its final evaluation report because "The report's main objective--deciding that the Oi reactors' safety assessment results are appropriate--will not change," a senior NISA official said.

NISA's final draft says an accident with a severity similar to the problems experienced at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant will not occur at the Oi plant.

The draft also incorporates recommendations made by a delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency that recently visited Japan.

KEPCO is now researching active faults around the Oi nuclear power plant and past large-scale tsunamis that have been recorded in historical documents.

The final draft also touches on the possibility that the stress test results will change depending on KEPCO's research.

February 08, 2012
N-safety unit to be housed with METI

The Environment Ministry is likely to start operations of a new external nuclear regulatory agency to be launched in April at an annex of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry that oversees the current nuclear safety body, sources said.

The government wants to establish the new watchdog at a new location to rule out any conflict of interest that the body might have by being associated with METI, a promoter of nuclear power.

But because of difficulties in finding a home for the agency, the government will for the time being likely house the new watchdog at the current Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) premises.

The government has already been criticized because NISA, a nuclear regulator, works under the auspices of METI, and this proximity is seen as having contributed to the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Most of NISA's functions will be absorbed by the new agency, which will be staffed by about 500 people.

According to the sources, the new agency will probably be relocated as early as this summer.

Premises housing the new watchdog need sufficient earthquake resistance, must be situated on a lower floor and located near the Prime Minister's Office. Because there are also plans for a new nuclear safety investigation committee to be set up with the agency, at least 6,000 square meters of space is required, the sources said.

The sources said the Environment Ministry found a suitable private building in Tokyo's Shiodome area, but was unable to coordinate the move.

One reason for the ministry's struggle to find suitable premises is that bills to enable the creation of the new nuclear agency and the committee have yet to be passed in the Diet.

"If we decide on the location before Diet deliberations [on the bills], opposition parties would criticize us, saying we're disrespecting the Diet," a senior ministry official said.

Air radiation drops after snowfall / But decontamination necessary, levels will rise once snow melts, experts say

The Fukushima prefectural government has received many inquiries because air radiation levels across the prefecture following the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant declined considerably late January and have since remained constant, perhaps due to fallen snow blocking radiation above the ground.

According to monitoring by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry and others, the rate of decline was particularly large in the Akougi district in Namie and the Nagadoro district in Iitate, located in the expanded evacuation zone around the nuclear plant.

Radiation measuring found that the Akougi district had a reading of 19.7 microsieverts per hour in the morning of Jan. 25, down from 30 microsieverts per hour recorded in the morning of Jan. 18.

Air radiation levels also decreased to 5.9 microsieverts per hour from 10 microsieverts per hour over the same period in the Nagadoro district.

It is believed there were no major changes in air radiation levels before Jan. 18 and after Jan. 25.

According to the ministry's Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters, the decline can be attributed only to snowfall since decontamination operations were not conducted in the areas at the time.

The Fukushima Meteorological Observatory said snow accumulation is not monitored in Namie and Iitate, but temperatures and other factors suggest the town and the village had snow from Jan. 20 to 22.

The prefectural emergency response headquarters said radiation levels also declined in the city of Fukushima. While such levels measured 0.84 microsievert per hour at 6 p.m. on Jan. 21 when snow began to fall, at 9 p.m. on Jan. 22, after snowfall, radiation levels in the air measured 0.62 microsievert per hour.

Farmer Masuo Kaneko, 63, who evacuated to the city from Nagadoro district, said after reading the newspapers he thought the radiation levels were dropping rapidly. But he was disappointed to hear the decline was due to snowfall.

"I expected radiation levels to halve in about two years time," he said.

Tokyo Institute of Technology Associate Professor Keiji Saneyoshi said air radiation levels may halve if about 20 centimeters of snow falls in certain areas. "Yet decontamination work needs to continue since the levels will rise again once the snow melts," Saneyoshi said.


Cesium detected in worms near Fukushima plant



Researchers say high levels of radioactive cesium have been detected in earthworms caught in areas around the damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The researchers from the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute checked cesium levels in earthworm samples they collected at 3 locations.

The institute says about 19,000 becquerels of cesium per kilogram of worms were detected in Kawauchi Village 30 kilometers from the plant, about 1,000 becquerels in Otama Village, 70 kilometers from the plant, and 290 in Tadami Town, 130 kilometers away.

The institute says the cesium levels rise in proportion to the radioactive levels of top soil containing decomposed leaves, the worms' feed.

The reading in Kawauchi was higher than the 146,000 becquerels per kilogram detected in a wild boar in Fukushima Prefecture. The radioactive level in the animal is 30 times the official limit.

The chief researcher at the institute, Motohiro Hasegawa, says boars, birds and other forest animals feed on earthworms. He says the radioactive impact on these creatures will need to be constantly monitored to prevent contamination through the food chain.

February 07, 2012

Gov't to set up radiation yardstick for shipping Fukushima stones



TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The Japanese government plans to set up a radiation yardstick for shipping stones given the detection of a relatively high level of radiation in gravel, used as building materials, from near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, industry minister Yukio Edano said Tuesday.

The government will set up a panel to create such a standard by the end of next month. The yardstick is expected to apply mainly to quarries in Fukushima Prefecture, but details will be discussed at the panel's meetings.

The government has been checking distribution routes of crushed stones from quarries in Fukushima since the detection of the building materials suspected to have been radioactively contaminated.

The gravel used was shipped from a quarry within the evacuation zone near the stricken plant sometime between the beginning of the nuclear crisis and the government's designation of the evacuation zone on April 22.

The crisis was triggered by the earthquake and tsunami on March 11.

So far, a relatively high level of radiation has been detected at 22 locations in Fukushima Prefecture, mostly resident houses, according to government checkups, jointly conducted by local municipalities.

Crushed stones suspected to have been radioactively contaminated may have been used at more than 1,000 construction sites, and so far the measurement of radiation levels has been conducted at only 10 percent of them.

The government will speed up its radiation check process to complete it by the end of March, Edano said.

February 06, 2012

High radioactive cesium levels detected in worms 20 km from nuke plant


Radioactive cesium registering some 20,000 becquerels per kilogram has been found in worms 20 kilometers from the damaged Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

The cesium was detected by a team including Motohiro Hasegawa, chief researcher in soil zoology at Japan's Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute. Worms are a source of food for many wild animals, and it is feared that radiation could gradually accumulate in the bodies of animals throughout the food chain.

The research team's findings will be announced at a meeting of the Ecological Society of Japan, to commence in the Shiga Prefecture city of Otsu on March 17.

Researchers dug up between 40 and 100 worms in national forests in the Fukushima Prefecture village of Kawauchi, which lies partly in the exclusion zone around the nuclear plant; the village of Otama, located 60 kilometers from the plant; and the town of Tadami, about 150 kilometers from the plant, between late August and late September last year.

The worms in Kawauchi registered 20,000 becquerels per kilogram of radiation. In Otama the level was around 1,000 becquerels per kilogram, while in Tadami 290 becquerels per kilogram was recorded.

The airborne radiation dose in Kawauchi at the time of the investigation was 3.11 microsieverts per hour, while in Otama, it was 0.33 microsieverts per hour, and in Tadami it was 0.12 microsieverts per hour. The figures show radioactive cesium concentration was greatest in the areas where airborne radiation dosage was highest.

In surveys conducted by the Forestry Agency between August and September last year, radioactivity of 1.38 million becquerels per square meter of soil was measured in Kawauchi, compared with between about 80,000 and 120,000 becquerels in Otama, and 20,000 becquerels in Tadami.

Much of the radioactive substances released from the plant in the nuclear disaster remains on fallen leaves. It is thought that worms have ingested the organic matter formed from the breakdown of these leaves.

Govt to measure radiation levels in no-fly zone  


Japan's government will measure radiation levels around the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant as a step toward revising the no-fly zone over the site.

No aircraft has been allowed to fly within a 20-kilometer radius of the plant since the nuclear accident.

The government says it will revise the no-fly zone as it confirmed in December that the nuclear reactors have now reached a state of cold shutdown.

Starting Monday and continuing for several days, helicopters flying at an altitude of about 300 meters will collect air samples around the plant to measure radiation levels.

There are no specific standards on radiation levels for the designation of no-fly zones. The government plans to revise its earlier decision based on data collected during the flights.

February 04, 2012

Plowing technique to fight spread of radiation demonstrated



IWAKI, Fukushima -- A plowing technique being considered to fight the spread of radiation was demonstrated here on Feb. 2, though some farmers on hand were disappointed.

In the demonstration, four large machines dug up earth from around 30 centimeters deep to replace potentially contaminated topsoil and reduce the amount of radiation crops absorb from it.

According to a prefectural official, radiation readings in the field were 0.3 to 0.42 microsieverts on Feb. 1, and 0.23 to 0.3 microsieverts after the plowing. "There was an effect," the official said.

Around 150 people including local farmers gathered to watch the demonstration. Some farmers complained, however, that "expensive machines are necessary" for the plowing technique, and that an overall decontamination plan for the city's fields has still not been decided on.

US univ. to monitor wildlife in Fukushima


A US research team will conduct a long-term study on the impact of radiation exposure on wild animals and plants around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The team from University of South Carolina, led by Professor Timothy Mousseau, will begin the study in Fukushima Prefecture and other areas of Japan in May.

The team has been studying the impact of radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear accident on wildlife around the plant for more than 13 years.

Its study shows a decrease in the number of birds and insects, as well as abnormalities in animals even in areas with low radiation levels of one to 3 microsieverts per hour.

The team says long-term research is likely to shed light on the impact of low-level radiation from the Fukushima accident on wildlife and that it hopes to cooperate with Japanese researchers.

Professor Mousseau will visit Fukushima later this month in preparation for the study. He says generational change of animals, such as birds, is quicker than that of humans and will provide clues to the impact of radiation on human genes.

January 31, 2012

Japan's nuclear stress tests deemed consistent with IAEA standards


TOKYO (Kyodo) -- An International Atomic Energy Agency fact-finding team said Tuesday that Japan's nuclear stress tests, a key step for restarting reactors following the Fukushima nuclear crisis, are "generally consistent" with IAEA safety standards.

On the last day of its nine-day mission to Japan to review the tests at nuclear power plants, the IAEA delegation conveyed its findings to the government's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, while also making some recommendations to improve the tests's effectiveness.

"The conclusion of the team is that NISA's instructions and review process for the comprehensive safety assessments are generally consistent with IAEA safety standards," the delegation said in its preliminary report.

Tokyo introduced the stress tests after the meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi power plant in the wake of the March quake-tsunami disaster, to check how much leeway the nation's nuclear power plants have to withstand earthquakes, tsunami and the loss of power.

To confirm if the test method is consistent with global safety standards, the government asked the Vienna-based body to verify them.

But there remains criticism among some local governments hosting nuclear power plants and experts that the stress tests need to reflect the findings that the government's accident investigation team has yet to compile on the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

NISA earlier compiled a draft report endorsing results of first-round stress tests that Kansai Electric Power Co. submitted with regard to the No. 3 and 4 reactors at its Oi power plant in Fukui Prefecture. The two reactors are currently idled for scheduled checkups.

The government's nuclear safety agency is set to finalize the report after studying the IAEA's findings, and will have it checked by the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan.

James Lyons, nuclear installation safety director of the IAEA's Nuclear Safety and Security Department who heads the delegation, said at a press conference that deciding whether to restart the reactors is up to the Japanese government.

Currently, only three of Japan's 54 commercial reactors are operating. Japanese reactors must shut down for maintenance every 13 months, and so far no idled reactor has passed the stress tests, a prerequisite for resuming operations.

If no idled reactors get approval to restart, Japan will be without any operating reactors by the end of April.


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