Great Tohoku Earthquake 5

By Michael Gakuran | | Japan | 158 Comments |

Aftershocks seem to gradually be getting less and less and the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is, while still serious, improving little by little. Radiation levels and leakages are being monitored.

**For the latest on the Great Tohoku Earthquake, click here.**

**End Live Updates**

14.22 More clarification from the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF) as well as the Food Safety Commission.

Figures below are based on the model by the International Commission of Radiological Protection, (ICRP) Publication 72 (1995): “Age-dependent Doses to the Members of the Public from Intake of Radionuclides – Part 5 Compilation of Ingestion and Inhalation Coefficients”.

It is important to note that the dose coefficients for radioactive nuclides vary between types, depending on whether they were ingested or inhaled, and depending on the age of the person (with children absorbing a lot more radiation). The values below are for adults who have ingested the radionuclides.

For Iodine 131, the model given by the ICRP is 2.2×10^-8 Sv/Bq

This means that for every 1 Becquerel there are X amount of Sieverts.

So, let’s say we have water with 300Bq/kg of Iodine 131. To work out the cummulative dose, we can use coefficient above.

300 x 0.000000022Sv = 0.0000066Sv

Converting this to millisieverts then:

0.0066mSv of radiation from 1kg of 300Bq water

Let’s see how much radiation a person drinking this water would accumulative in one year, assuming the dose did not change. Our person drinks 2 litres of water per day (=2kg).

2 x 365 x0.0066 = 4.818mSv

This amount alone does not pose much of a problem for adults, but remember that it is in addition to regular background radiation, as well as radiation from other sources of food and the environment.

(Incidentally, the dose coefficient for adults based on the model by the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan (NSC, not NISA) is: 1.6×10^-5 mSv/Bq)

For infants, the dose rate given in the document from the Food Safety Commission is:

For babies: 7.5×10^-5 mSv/Bq. Equivalent one year dose at 300Bq/kg drinking 2l/day: 0.0225mSv x 365 x 2 = 16.425mSv per year.
For infants: 1.4×10^-4 mSv/Bq. Equivalent one year dose at 300Bq/kg drinking 2l/day: 0.042mSv x 365 x 2 = 30.66mSv per year.

(The order they give seems to suggest the first value is for babies, but this would seem to go against the logic saying that younger people are more susceptible to radiation. I suspect the figures are the other way around. Either way, it is clear that younger children are absorbing more radiation).






PDF for Posterity

13.43 Some more clear analysis of the effects of radiation. This time the claimed source is a health scientist, Stephen Browne, trained in measuring the amount of radiation people are exposed to. The analysis begins by commenting on the chart below, provided by XKCD. The comments largely echo what I’ve been finding in my own research – particularly in regard to the recent problems of contaminated food. The radiation doses in food and water that we are seeing are only a problem if they remain above the limit for prolonged periods of time and we accumulate that radiation. Anyway, I’ll let the scientist do the talking.

Well, the individual dose numbers are about right, but you cannot sum numbers which represent dissimilar things, such as one-time hypothetical exposure events, annual average exposures, thresholds for biological effects, and regulatory limits. Also, partial body doses (e.g., x-ray of hand, chest, arm, and mammogram) cannot be compared to whole body doses without an additional weighting factor. It would be better to just list the numbers in ascending order to show their relative magnitudes.

I think it would be more helpful for people to look at the two charts discussed below which were produced by the National Councial on Radiation Protection & Measurements (NCRP), a scientific body chartered by Congress.

  • The first chart breaks down the total dose to the U.S. population by major category. The magnitude of the average dose in the U.S. is about 620 millirem1 per year, of which 50% comes from natural background and 48% from medical exposure.
  • The second chart breaks down the collective occupational dose in the U.S and shows the groups receiving the greatest collective dose are medical and aviation — not what most people would guess.

    The public also ought to know that the fatalities attributable to radiation exposure from the two most serious previous commercial nuclear power accidents are very low.

  • TMI = 0 deaths or injuries
  • Chernobyl = 28 short term deaths among plant and emergency response personnel from acute radiation syndrome
    and 15 excess deaths from thyroid cancer. There were many more cases of thryroid cancer but, being that it is one of the most treatable forms of cancer, few deaths. These numbers are based on the recently published report of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) which looked at peer-reviewed studies of the radiation effects on populations over of a period of 20 years after the accident. You will hear claims that tens of thousands to a million deaths were caused by Chernobyl, but that is false. Those numbers are projected deaths based on cancer risk per unit dose x collective population dose, which is an invalid method because low doses carry no risk. Actual cancer death estimates can only be determined from post-accident epidemiological studies, which is why it has taken 20 years.
  • 1 100 millirem = 1 millisievert (mSv)

    It is not easy to make all of this stuff understandable to a layman and still get it technically correct.

    One of the common problems I see in the media is the failure to distinguish between dose and dose rate. That’s like mixing up miles and miles per hour. It makes a lot of what is reported confusing and hard to interpret.

    Moreover, risk of harm is a function of both dose and dose rate. The same total dose spread relatively evenly over weeks, months, or years (chronic exposure) carries much lower risk of harm than the same total dose received over minutes, hours or days (acute exposure). This has to do with the body’s ability to repair damage at the cellular level. So you can’t really estimate risk accurately without knowing something about both dose and dose rate.

    You are now starting to see a lot of reporting of radioactivity levels in food and water relative to government established concentration limits. Internal exposure is much more complex than external exposure. However, it is important to understand that accidental consumption of something that is above the limits, perhaps even many times greater than the limits, does not automatically mean the person is at great risk of harm. In general, it would take repeated or prolonged consumption at levels above the limits to have a significant risk as all limits are set very conservatively. Essentially, the risk is a function of the accumulated internal dose. The radioactivity concentration limits for food and water are just derived values, meaning you start with a dose limit and calculate backwards to find the concentration that, based on a complex set of assumptions and models, would deliver a certain internal dose to a hypothetical person in a given period of time.

    10.19 I tweeted a while ago about Our Man in Abiko’s #quakebook – a community project full of stories and experiences about the Great Tohoku Earthquake. Several big news outlets have covered the story and the digital book is due to go on sale in the next few days! I helped out setting up the pre-release form on the website yesterday, so get yourself over there to register your interest. The proceeds from the book will go to the Japan Red Cross to help the disaster effort and those in need.

    Quakebook website

    Other media coverage:

    Japan Times:

    March 29th, 2011

    **End Live Updates**

    02.05 TEPCO have admitted that they neglected to share important information about potential high radiation levels with employees entering the area, it has been discovered.

    Tepco said early Saturday that it had detected a radiation reading of 200 millisieverts per hour in a pool of water in the No. 1 reactor’s turbine building on March 18 and failed to notify workers, but later denied that a radiation level that high was found.

    “If we had warned them, we may have been able to avoid having workers (at the No. 3 reactor) exposed to radiation,” a Tepco official said.

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the government had not been informed about the high radiation reading at the No. 1 plant and he will order Tepco to thoroughly report information. “If (Tepco) doesn’t report various information with speed and accuracy, the government can’t give proper instructions,” Edano said. “It will only trigger distrust from the public and from the workers at the site.”

    01.18 Yesterday on March 27th, radiation levels of more than 100,000 times the accepted limit were recorded at unit 2. Further to that, levels of radioactive iodine 131 recorded 330m off shore reached 1,850 times the standard. Both high readings indicate that the fuel rods inside one or more reactors is damaged and that the radioactive materials are leaking into the water.

    High levels of radiation have already been detected in units 1 and 2 (10 times the limit), so TEPCO decided to inspect unit 2 in addition. TEPCO had originally announced levels of radiation for Iodine 134 at 10,000,000 times the standard, but admitted later that it had been mistaken. However, the readings taken from the surface of spilt water in unit 2 were unchanged and showed readings of 1000mSv/h – the needle on the dosimeter going off the scale.

    Readings od Iodine 131 taken 330m off shore from the drain at Fukushima Daiichi showed readings of 1,850 times the standard on March 26th. (Readings the day before were 1,250.8 times over the limit). Work to cool the reactors has slowed because of the recent developments and high levels of radiation recorded. TEPCO are currently trying to extract the leaked water form the basements of the adjoined rooms containing the turbines for the reactors in units 1-4.

    Highest readings as of 14.30 on March 27th:

    Iodine 131 (half life of 8 days): 74,000Bq/kg
    Cesium 134 (half life of 2 years): 12,000Bq/kg
    Cesium 137 (half life of 30 years): 12,000Bq/kg

    March 28th, 2011

    **End Live Updates**

    02.44 Brief note, but the government has also issued a call for voluntary evacuation from residents living within the 20-30km zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The instruction is based on the fact that people’s lives in the region are especially difficult through lack of supplies reaching them, the order to remain indoors and possibility of radiation released in the future due to the unstable situation at the plant.

    02.06 I’ve managed to find the latest TEPCO press release containing the figures that all the broadcasters have been referring to recently. They are pretty damn confusing, but I think I’ve understood how to interpret them.

    For Iodine 131, the value recorded was 5.0E +01. The acceptable standard is 4E -02. The amount over the acceptable limit is 1250.8 times.
    For Cesium 137, the value recorded was 7.2E +00. The acceptable standard is 9E -02. The amount over the acceptable limit is 79.6 times.

    Referring to the Asahi newspaper article, it says the value recorded for Iodine 131 was 50Bq/cm3. The values above are in scientific notation (thanks to nholzschuch for the help):

    Most calculators and many computer programs present very large and very small results in scientific notation. Because superscripted exponents like 107 cannot always be conveniently represented on computers, typewriters and calculators, an alternative format is often used: the letter E or e represents times ten raised to the power of, thus replacing the × 10, followed by the value of the exponent. Note that the character e is not related to the mathematical constant e (a confusion that is less likely with capital E); and though it stands for exponent, the notation is usually referred to as (scientific) E notation or (scientific) e notation, rather than (scientific) exponential notation (though the latter also occurs).

    That means the values are as follows:

    5.0E +01 is 5×10^1
    4E -02 is 4×10^-2 (which is the same as dividing by 100)
    7.2E +00 is 7.2
    9E -02 is 9×10^-2 (again, divide by 100)

    For Iodine 131, the value recorded was 50Bq/cm3, or 50,000Bq/Kg. The acceptable standard is 0.04Bq/cm3 or 40Bq/kg. The amount over the acceptable limit is 1250.8 times.
    For Cesium 137, the value recorded was 7.2Bq/cm3 or 7200Bq/kg. The acceptable standard is 0.09Bq/cm3 or 90Bq/kg. The amount over the acceptable limit is 79.6 times.

    Recall for reference that the acceptable limits for adults of Iodine 131 in drinking water is 300Bq/kg and for Cesium is 200Bq/kg. In other words, the limits are much stricter for nuclear products in the waste water discharged out to sea near the plant. That ’1250 times’ figure now starts to make sense. Of course, having nuclear materials like these in our environment is clearly a big problem as they will end up in our food and water eventually. This is especially so for Cesium 137 which has a half-life of 30 years. The values at 50,000Bq/kg and 7200Bq/kg are huge and dangerous, but note on the graph below that they dropped significantly 90 minutes afterwards. The question we need to be concerned with is just how much cumulative radiation has been released and how well it will disperse. Since it is sea water, my (perhaps naive) hope is that the levels will not be dangerous in areas away from the plant. However, the Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano has said in a recent press conference that the government will step up its efforts monitoring the sea water around Japan.

    March 27th, 2011

    23.52 The main news hitting the headlines today has been the level of radioactive iodine 131 found in seawater near to the plant – as much as 1,250.8 times the acceptable limit. Readings were taken on March 25th, 330m from the mouth of the drain at the plant. A person drinking a 500ml bottle of water containing this level of radiation would absorb approximately 1mSv. Iodine 131 has a half life of approximately 8 days, so the effects will not be serious in the long term. Cesium 137, however, has a half life of 30 years and will be much more of an issue.

    TEPCO has said that the radioactive fuel may be damaged and in the water that is leaking from the unit 3 reactor. They are hurrying to find the source of the leak. Water inside the building holding the turbine were 2 workers were recently exposed to high levels of radiation is said to be water that was inside the reactor cooling the fuel, and has radiation levels in excess of 10,000 times the normal limit.

    Work has also been proceeding replacing the corrosive seawater with fresh water in the reactors. So far units 1-3 have been completed. Unit 4 is and units 5 and 6 are stable and cool. TEPCO are aiming to replace the seawater in the spent fuel pools with fresh water on March 27th.

    Fukushima Nuclear Accident Update (26 March 2011, 05:15 UTC)
    Brief Update on State of Fukushima Daiichi Reactors

    Japanese authorities today confirmed a number of developments at the nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi.

    Unit 1

    Workers have restored lighting in the control room and have recovered some instrumentation. As of 25 March, fresh water is now being pumped into the reactor pressure vessel (RPV) instead of seawater.

    Unit 2

    Seawater injection into the reactor pressure vessel continues, and RPV pressures remain stable.

    Unit 3

    Workers are now pumping fresh water into the RPV, while seawater is pumped into the spent fuel pool. In addition, firefighters sprayed water into the reactor building yesterday from the outside.

    Unit 4

    With no fuel in the RPV, concerns remain focused on the condition of the spent fuel pool, and workers continued to use a concrete pump truck to pour water into the pool from above while pumping seawater into the pool through the fuel pool cooling line.

    Units 5 and 6

    Both reactors have achieved safe, cold shutdown, and their fuel pool temperatures have stabilised at acceptable levels.

    March 26th, 2011

    **End Live Updates**

    22.26 14.46 this afternoon, marked 2 weeks since the initial quake hit off the east coast of Japan. Figures from the National Police Department currently stand at over 27,000 people either missing or dead, with 10,102 people officially confirmed deceased. I remember hearing somewhere in the course of my research that Japan (NHK?) is somewhat different to many other countries in that it does not estimate the number of dead, preferring only to report exact and meticulous figures for the people confirmed deceased. This is out of care for each and every individual life – providing rough figures feels very disrespectful.

    **End Live Updates**

    00.46 The number of deceased has now reached 9,811 people. Combined with the number of people missing, the number tops 27,000.

    00.46 Three employees from a company assisting TEPCO working at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant have been overexposed to radiation, two of whom have skin damage thought to be due to beta-ray burning. The men, all in their 20s-30s, were working in the first floor basement containing the turbine for unit 3 when they were exposed to between 173-180mSv of radiation. Two of them got radioactive water into their boots while working in an area with a water depth of 30cm. The two were first taken to a hospital in Fukushima before being transferred to a specialist radiology department in Chiba.

    People working in radioactive or medical environments are only allowed to be exposed to a total of 100mSv of radiation in emergencies, but because of the extreme situation at Fukushima the limit was raised to 250mSv. According to TEPCO, 17 workers have been exposed to more than 100mSv to date while working at the troubled plant.

    It generally takes more than two weeks for symptoms to appear from beta ray burns. The area becomes red after a few hours, followed by hair loss and blistering in a few weeks. Symptoms appear faster with higher doses of radiation. Unlike a normal burn, the cells in the affected area are damaged meaning the area stays inflamed for a long time and may even require skin grafts.

    00.40 There have been calls from various political parties during a meeting by for the government to evacuate the people living within the 20-30km radius outside the Fukushima Daiichi plant. ‘It has already been over 10 days since the instruction was given for people living in the area to remain indoors and we cannot say that there is no effect from the radiation on the health of the people living there’, came successive voices. The government will consider the matter.

    00.35 Busy today so not a lot of time for updates. Here are the latest developments. Foreign arrivals at Narita take a huge fall. Unsurprisingly, the number of foreigners leaving Japan saw a huge rise, so much so they someone started calling them ‘flyjin‘ – a cross between ‘flying’ and ‘gaijin’ (the word for ‘foreigner’ in Japanese).

    Foreign arrivals at Narita airport dive 60% since quake
    TOKYO, March 24, Kyodo

    The number of foreign arrivals at Narita International Airport near Tokyo plunged about 60 percent from a year earlier to some 67,000 between March 11, the date of the massive earthquake, and March 22, officials with the Immigration Bureau said Thursday.

    In contrast, non-Japanese who left Japan through the country’s biggest international gateway during the same period jumped about 20,000 to roughly 190,000, they said.

    Foreigners’ departures peaked at some 40,000 on March 13, a day after the Japanese authorities expanded the evacuation zone to areas within a 20-kilometer radius from the troubled nuclear power station in Fukushima Prefecture.

    Many appear to have left temporarily because some 6,000 applied for permits for reentry into Japan between March 11 and March 22, the officials said.

    Both departures by Japanese from Narita and Japanese arrivals at the international airport sank 100,000 from a year earlier to about 200,000 each way.

    ”Many might have canceled their trips because of the quake although schools let out this time of year,” a bureau official said.


    March 25th, 2011

    **End Live Updates**

    00.34 Radioactive iodine 131 was detected in the water supply to Tokyo at a level of 210 Becquerels per litre that is above the accepted amount for infants (100Bq/kg) (children under 1 year old). All 23 wards in Tokyo as well as 5 cities in the Tamachiiki ward are affected. From March 24th, 240,000 bottles of 550ml mineral water will be distributed to families with young children, 3 bottles per infant. The limit for adults is 300Bq/kg, so the government is saying that the water is safe to drink. (In my humble opinion breastfeeding women and pregnant mothers should also avoid drinking the water.)

    00.19 Once again humour trumps all and shows just how ridiculous some of the Western media has been covering the situation in Japan. Well done to Charlie Brooker.

    March 24th, 2011

    22.53 More sources talking about TEPCO’s past. The first few are primary sources by TEPCO in English making reference to past failures and promises to improve. The Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center has a fantastic English section with links to Japanese sources on the TEPCO website and also PDFs with English translations with very detailed information. Again though, they are anti-nuke, so watch for bias.

    TEPCO PDF for Posterity
    CNIC PDF for Posterity
    CNIC PDF for Posterity
    AMPO PDF for Posterity

    22.53 Continuing with looking into the past, here’s a documentary by Small World Productions called Nuclear Ginza – a short film about Japan’s hidden sub-contracted, unskilled labourers who are used and then thrown away after being exposed to extreme amounts of radiation. A recent Guardian article suggests that this practice may not be dead. The IAEA has also reported subcontractors working at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

    Fukushima Nuclear Accident Update (17 March 2011, 01:15 UTC)
    Injuries or Contamination at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant

    Based on a press release from the Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary dated 16 March 2011, the IAEA can confirm the following information about human injuries or contamination at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

    Please note that this list provides a snapshot of the latest information made available to the IAEA by Japanese authorities. Given the fluid situation at the plant, this information is subject to change.


    2 TEPCO employees have minor injuries;
    2 subcontractor employees are injured, one person suffered broken legs and one person whose condition is unknown was transported to the hospital;
    2 people are missing;
    2 people were “suddenly taken ill”;
    2 TEPCO employees were transported to hospital during the time of donning respiratory protection in the control centre;
    4 people (2 TEPCO employees, 2 subcontractor employees) sustained minor injuries due to the explosion at Unit 1 on 11 March and were transported to the hospital; and
    11 people (4 TEPCO employees, 3 subcontractor employees and 4 Japanese civil defense workers) were injured due to the explosion at Unit 3 on 14 March.
    Radiological Contamination

    17 people (9 TEPCO employees, 8 subcontractor employees) suffered from deposition of radioactive material to their faces, but were not taken to the hospital because of low levels of exposure;
    One worker suffered from significant exposure during “vent work,” and was transported to an offsite center;
    2 policemen who were exposed to radiation were decontaminated; and
    Firemen who were exposed to radiation are under investigation.
    The IAEA continues to seek information from Japanese authorities about all aspects of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

    Watch Video here:

    22.34 Crime Reporter Jake Adelstein talks about TEPCO and the Yakuza.
    MP3 for Posterity

    22.17 The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), the organisation that is responsible for the safety of nuclear energy in Japan, operate under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which is tied to the government and also the government-sponsored broadcaster NHK. Below I have mirrored the insightful article from the World Socialist Web Site (be sure to note the source and their bias – opposing capitalism). The link is underneath, so please go to their website to read. I’m in the process of verifying the facts the talk about in the article (not trusting any media source seems to be to only way to do things now), so any help would be appreciated to verify *primary sources* showing the past cover-ups by TEPCO. The article says TEPCO have admitted to them, so there should be some evidence around.

    When asked whether NHK World’s receipt of monetary support from the national government would compromise its coverage of the events surrounding the Fukushima reactors, he said that it wouldn’t. “If we were to refrain from covering something, then the other domestic broadcasters would just cover it, and it would be obvious what we had done.” An NHK spokesperson also pointed out that the government support only accounts for a fraction of the overall NHK World budget.


    The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) is the conglomerate at the centre of Japan’s nuclear radiation emergency at Fukushima. Its operations over the past several decades epitomise the government-backed pursuit of corporate profit, at the direct expense of lives, health and safety.

    TEPCO is the fourth largest power company in the world, and the biggest in Asia, operating 17 nuclear reactors and supplying one-third of Japan’s electricity. It has a long, documented history of serious safety breaches, systemic cover-ups of potentially fatal disasters, persecution of whistleblowers, suppression of popular opposition and use of its economic and advertising clout to silence criticism.

    Among the company’s record of more than 200 proven falsifications of safety inspection reports are several relating to the stricken Fukushima Daiichi facility itself. In 2002, TEPCO admitted to falsifying reports about cracks that had been detected in core shrouds at reactors number 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, as far back as 1993.

    The current crisis at Fukushima, caused by last Friday’s magnitude 9 earthquake, is not the company’s first quake-related breakdown. In 2007, a much smaller 6.8-magnitude tremor caused a fire and radiation leaks that shut down TEPCO’s seven-reactor Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, the world’s biggest. The company later admitted that the plant had not been built to withstand such shocks.

    TEPCO’s record is a case study in the complicity of successive Japanese governments and regulatory agencies over the past 40 years in the safety failures of nuclear power companies. With the backing of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which ruled Japan virtually continuously from 1955, when it was formed, to 2009, the business elite aggressively pursued the construction of more than 50 nuclear plants over the objections of residents and environmentalists, in order to secure the energy needs of Japanese capitalism, despite the patent dangers of doing so in one of the world’s most earthquake-prone zones.

    The known nuclear cover-ups—undoubtedly just the tip of the iceberg—began to emerge in 1995. In that year, an official falsification of the extent of a sodium leak and fire at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency’s Monju fast-breeder reactor caused public outrage. It was revealed that Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corporation (PNC), the agency then in charge of Monju, had altered reports, edited a videotape taken immediately after the accident, and issued a gag order to employees. After a long series of court battles, the government allowed the reactor to restart last year.

    In 1999, one of Japan’s worst nuclear accidents occurred at the Tokaimura uranium processing plant, 120 kilometres north of Tokyo. An uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction at the plant, operated by JCO, a subsidiary of Sumitomo Metal Mining, killed two employees and spewed radioactive neutrons over the countryside. Fifty-five workers were exposed to radiation and 300,000 people ordered to stay indoors, after the circumvention of safety standards caused a leak. Government officials later said safety equipment at the plant had been missing.

    In 1999, one of Japan’s worst nuclear accidents occurred at the Tokaimura uranium processing plant, 120 kilometres north of Tokyo. An uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction at the plant, operated by JCO, a subsidiary of Sumitomo Metal Mining, killed two employees and spewed radioactive neutrons over the countryside. Fifty-five workers were exposed to radiation and 300,000 people ordered to stay indoors, after the circumvention of safety standards caused a leak. Government officials later said safety equipment at the plant had been missing.

    Three years later, TEPCO was exposed as falsifying safety data, including at the ageing Fukushima Daiichi facility. Initially, the company admitted 29 cases of falsification. Eventually, however, it admitted to 200 occasions, over more than two decades between 1977 and 2002, involving the submission of false technical data to authorities. According to the Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), TEPCO had attempted to hide cracks in reactor vessel shrouds in 13 units, including Fukushima Daiichi (6 reactors), Fukushima Daini (4 reactors), and Kashiwazaki-Kariwa (7 reactors) (emphasis added).

    TEPCO’s wrongdoings were only revealed as a result of whistle-blowing by a former engineer at General Electric (GE), a company with close connections to TEPCO. GE built the plants and has been contracted by TEPCO to carry out inspection and operational matters for decades. Two years earlier, the engineer had reported the safety frauds to the relevant ministry, MITI, the forerunner of the current Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), only to have the government supply his name to TEPCO and conspire with the company to bury the information (emphasis added).

    Hitachi, which conducted the air tightness checks for TEPCO, was also implicated in the manipulation of test results. On two occasions, the pressure readings in Fukushima’s No 1 reactor were unstable, so workers were instructed to inject air into the container to make it appear that pressure was being maintained.
    Nevertheless, relying on TEPCO’s own calculations, NISA maintained that there should be no problem regarding the safety of the plants. The agency inspects nuclear plants only every 13 months, and leaves the inspection of the shrouds and pumps around the reactor cores to each company.

    The LDP government feigned concern at these blatant safety breaches, with Seiji Murat, Vice Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry, declaring the company had “betrayed the public’s trust over nuclear energy”. TEPCO’s senior executives duly resigned, and their successors formally pledged to take all necessary measures to prevent any further fraud. By the end of 2005, generation had been restarted at all suspended plants, with government approval.

    A little over a year later, in March 2007, the company announced that an internal investigation had revealed a large number of unreported incidents. These included an unexpected unit criticality in 1978 and additional systematic false reporting, which had not been uncovered in 2002. Once more, the firm was publicly remorseful. “We apologise from the bottom of our heart for causing anxiety to the public and local residents,” TEPCO vice president Katsutoshi Chikudate said. The company was permitted to keep operating.

    Several months later, in July 2007, the 6.8 quake that shut down TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant demonstrated the real nature of the company’s assurances. The earthquake, 10 kilometres offshore from the Honshu west coast plant, caused subsidence of the main structure, ruptured water pipes, started a fire that took five hours to extinguish, and triggered radioactive discharges into the atmosphere and sea. The company initially said there was no release of radiation, but admitted later that the quake had released radiation and had spilled radioactive water into the Sea of Japan. Seismologist Katsuhiko Ishibashi warned that had the epicentre been 10 kilometres to the southwest and at magnitude 7, Kashiwazaki City would have experienced a major emergency.

    Amid a public outcry, the government again put on a display of anger. According to media reports, a senior Japanese government official hauled TEPCO’s president into his office “for a rare and humiliating verbal caning”. The official was “furious” because TEPCO management had “initially misled his officials—and not for the first time, either—about the extent of breakdowns at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa”.

    The 2007 closure of TEPCO’s largest nuclear plant contributed to the company posting its first ever losses over the past two years. It is now the world’s most indebted utility, with current net borrowings of $88 billion. This financial crisis has driven management to slash costs and boost output from its other plants, no doubt also at the expense of safety. TEPCO’s “2020 Vision” document pledges to “accelerate cost reduction efforts” and raise the non-fossil fuel (mainly nuclear) proportion of its generation from 33 to 50 percent.

    The current meltdown and radiation emergency at Fukushima is the inevitable product of the protracted record of TEPCO-government collaboration, which is being continued by the present Democratic Party of Japan administration. Prime Minister Naoto Kan, like his LDP predecessors, has publicly professed outrage at TEPCO’s repeated cover-ups in this latest—and by far the most serious—disaster. Reuters reported: “Japan’s prime minister was furious with executives at a power company at the centre of the nuclear crisis for taking so long to inform his office about a blast at its stricken reactor complex, demanding ‘what the hell is going on?’.

    Kan’s “fury” is purely for public consumption. In recent months, the Kan government has stepped up a campaign to help Japanese power companies, led by TEPCO, to win contracts to build nuclear reactors overseas. As part of that push, METI, the parent ministry of the nuclear safety agency NISA, has boasted that Japan maintains a “healthy regulatory environment” (emphasis added). Last August, TEPCO chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, together with other Japanese power company executives, was part of a delegation, headed by then METI minister, Masayuki Naoshima, which signed deals to build two nuclear reactors in Vietnam.
    With the government’s backing, TEPCO also remains closely interlocked with other giant Japanese companies. Just weeks ago, on February 23, TEPCO and Mitsubishi Corporation formed a partnership to take over the management of Electricity Generating Public Company Limited (EGCO), one of the largest power companies in Thailand.

    The company’s recent expansion extends to the US. In May 2010, TEPCO announced an agreement for the planned enlargement of the South Texas Project nuclear plant, in partnership with Nuclear Innovation North America LLC (NINA), a nuclear development company jointly owned by NRG Energy, Inc. and Toshiba.
    Within Japan, TEPCO is planning to open six new nuclear reactors, including units 7 and 8 of the Fukushima Daiichi plant (in 2014 and 2015), and units 1 and 2 of the Higashidori plant, facing the Pacific Ocean in northern Japan (in 2015 and 2018). Last month, residents protested as the company commenced construction, in the dark of night, on two nuclear plants at Iwai Island, in the Inland Sea south of Honshu, Japan’s main island, and close to Kyushu island, where a volcano burst this week.
    Scenes of the Iwai Island protest were broadcast on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s 7.30 television program on March 15. The footage was recorded by documentary film-maker Hitomi Kamanaka, who resigned from the state broadcaster NHK after it refused to run her material criticising the country’s nuclear power companies. (emphasis added)

    TEPCO has been shielded by governments and the media for decades because, as the World Socialist Web Site has pointed out (“The implications of the Japanese catastrophe”), the Japanese ruling elite turned to the breakneck development of nuclear power in the late 1960s and early 1970s to shield itself from dependence on imported oil. Now more than 40 years-old, TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi plant was the very first to begin operational generation, on March 26, 1970.

    TEPCO’s litany of deliberate violations of the most elementary safety standards, enabled by the collusion of one government after another, is a graphic demonstration of the intolerable danger posed to the world’s population by the capitalist economic order itself, based as it is on the extraction of private profit at all costs.

    Must Read Article:

    21.23 Trying to remain balanced and critical of all media sources is indeed difficult. Up until recently I’d thought of NHK as an impeccable example of how media should be done, with largely factual reporting and a good balanced of emotive and rational analysis. However, over the past few days some have questioned TEPCO, NISA and the government in their handling of the situation at the nuclear plant, particularly in regards to the information they are releasing. While on the one hand we have good and definite fear mongering from a great many foreign media sources, some might say that we have calm mongering from the Japanese media. Others even accuse them of kowtowing. I have yet to see any stories on NHK about potential cover-ups, so here are a bunch of stories that challenge the Japanese media and TEPCO over their handling of the situation at Fukushima Daiichi. A Reuters article points to a report released by TEPCO saying they missed certain machinery in a scheduled inspection. The SDF have reportedly said that they distrust TEPCO and other reports say Prime Minister Kan rejected a plea from TEPCO to withdraw all of its workers on March 14th. As pointed out by my climber friend Chris, it seems profoundly odd that the Japanese media has not picked up these stories, especially in regards to the missed inspections. Perhaps I just overlooked them? If so please link them to me.

    In a report submitted to Japan’s nuclear safety agency on February 28, Japan’s largest power utility, Tokyo Electric Power Co, said it had failed to inspect 33 pieces of equipment in the six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi complex.

    The equipment missed in scheduled inspections included a motor and a backup power generator for the No. 1 reactor, the firm said in a report available on a company website.

    The exchange between the utility and safety regulators regarding safety misses at the plant has attracted attention because of its timing, and the equipment involved.

    The failure of backup power systems is a key element of the current crisis, which has prompted a massive effort to contain radiation from the stricken plant.

    In its response to the Tokyo Electric report, Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency gave Tokyo Electric until June 2 to draw up a corrective plan for the plant, the utility’s oldest nuclear facility, which dating back to the 1970s.

    The nuclear safety agency said in its March 2 response, available on the agency’s website, that it did not believe there was an immediate risk to safety as a result of the missed inspections.

    The agency, which has been criticized for its close ties to the industry it regulates, said it had been assured the equipment that had gone without inspection would be tested in the near term by Tokyo Electric.

    11.55 I’ve been doing a few calculations as I wanted to see just how much radiation an average adult living in Tokyo would have absorbed up until now. The result is quite shocking and deeply ironic – people who took a flight home outside Japan are likely to have absorbed more radiation than those who remained living in Tokyo! Anyone who flew from Tokyo to New York (and back!) will have absorbed at least 4 times as much radiation as the people who stayed.

  • I calculated the daily radiation dose for Tokyo using the maximum value, erring on the side of caution. (I’ve provided the average daily dose for reference too.)
  • I calculated the radiation from the beginning of the month when in fact the earthquake struck on March 11th. (I also provided the radiation readings for just during the period since the earthquake struck).
  • The amount of radiation absorbed from an international flight will probably be less for shorter distances, but there is so much leeway in the figures that it’s likely to still be higher than those who stayed in Tokyo!
  • The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) states a return flight from Tokyo – New York is about 140uSv of radiation. Even with this smaller estimate, the levels absorbed are much higher than people who stayed in Tokyo.
  • It is important to note as well that no-one is constantly exposed to levels of background radiation due to changes in environment (going indoors). We also need to add the background radiation present in other countries for people who flew home, which may be higher or lower than average Tokyo background radiation. In other words, a flight is additional to the background radiation.
  • After talking more with people on Twitter, I concede that I should have subtracted the average Tokyo BG radiation from the elevated values. The average in Tokyo is about 0.0345uSv/h. So 18.216uSv in 22 days. If we subtract this from the total, we will see the amount of extra radiation absorbed due to the elevated levels. Of course, this just makes the figure for extra radiation absorbed from flying look even bigger! Amount of extra radiation absorbed over 22 days in Tokyo: 30uSv (max dose) or 8uSv (average dose). Amount of extra radiation absorbed over 11 days in Tokyo since the quake hit: 30uSv (max dose) or 9uSv (average dose).
  • Reference for amounts of radiation:
    Data Source:

    10.11 The latest from the International Atomic Energy Agency on the condition of the reactors and spent fuel pools at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

    Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident Update (22 March 23:15 UTC)
    Summary of conditions at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

    Located on the Eastern coast of Japan, the six nuclear power reactors at Daiichi are boiling water reactors (BWRs). A massive earthquake on 11 March disabled off-site power to the plant and triggered the automatic shutdown of the three operating reactors – Units 1, 2, and 3. The control rods in those units were successfully inserted into the reactor cores, ending the fission chain reaction. The remaining reactors — Units 4, 5, and 6 — had previously been shut down for routine maintenance purposes. Backup diesel generators, designed to start up after losing off-site power, began providing electricity to pumps circulating coolant to the six reactors.

    Soon after the earthquake, a large tsunami washed over the reactor site, knocking out the backup generators. While some batteries remained operable, the entire site lost the ability to maintain normal reactor cooling and water circulation functions.

    Here is the current status of the six reactors, based on documents and confirmed by Japanese officials (new information from 22 March in bold):

    Unit 1

    Coolant within Unit 1 is covering about half of the fuel rods in the reactor, and Japanese authorities believe the core has been damaged. High pressure within the reactor’s containment led operators to vent gas from the containment. Later, an explosion destroyed the outer shell of the reactor building above the containment on 12 March.

    There are no indications of problems with either the reactor pressure vessel or the primary containment vessel.

    Efforts to pump seawater into the reactor core are continuing.

    No precise information has been available on the status of the spent fuel pool.

    On 18 March, Japan assigned an INES rating of 5 to this unit. Further information on the ratings and the INES scale.

    On 19 March, the containment vessel pressure indication was restored.

    Unit 2

    Coolant within Unit 2 is covering about half of the fuel rods in the reactor, and Japanese authorities believe the core has been damaged. Following an explosion on 15 March, Japanese officials expressed concerns that the reactor’s containment may not be fully intact. As of 19 March, 11:30 UTC, officials could no longer confirm seeing white smoke coming from the building. Smoke had been observed emerging from the reactor earlier. White smoke/vapour was observed again from 9:22 UTC on March 21 and diminished to nearly invisible by 22:11 UTC the same day. During the time of smoke emission, an increase in radiation dose rates was reported at 9:30 UTC 21 March. TEPCO then ordered an evacuation of plant personnel, though workers returned as of 00:00 UTC 22 March.

    Efforts to pump seawater into the reactor core are continuing.

    On 20 March, workers began pumping 40 tonnes of seawater into the spent fuel pool. Spent fuel temperature remains relatively stable with readings between 49 and 53°.

    Restoration work to return power to all units continues, with progress at Unit 2 the most advanced. A distribution panel (power center) of Unit 2 has been connected to off-site electricity supply, and individual components in the unit are being checked prior to being energized.

    On 18 March, Japan assigned an INES rating of 5 to this unit.

    Unit 3

    Coolant within Unit 3 is covering about half of the fuel rods in the reactor, and Japanese authorities believe the core has been damaged. High pressure within the reactor’s containment led operators to vent gas from the containment. Later, an explosion destroyed the outer shell of the reactor building above the containment on 14 March. Indicated containment pressure has stabilized over the past 24 hours.

    Following the explosion, Japanese officials expressed concerns that the reactor’s containment may not be fully intact. White smoke has been seen emerging from the reactor, but on 19 March it appeared to be less intense than in previous days. Grey smoke was observed on 21 March in the southeast corner of Unit 3 from 6:55 UTC. After two hours this smoke turned to a white color and gradually diminished. By 22:11 21 March, the smoke was observed to be ‘ceasing.’ As reported under the Unit 2 update, during the time of smoke emission, an increase in radiation dose rates was reported at 9:30 UTC 21 March. TEPCO then ordered an evacuation of plant personnel, though workers returned as of 00:00 UTC 22 March.

    Efforts to pump seawater into the reactor core are continuing. Of additional concern at Unit 3 is the condition of the spent fuel pool in the building. There are indications that there is inadequate cooling water level in the pool, and Japanese authorities have addressed the problem by dropping water from helicopters into the building and spraying water from trucks. Spraying from trucks continued on 20 March. There is no data on the temperature of the water in the pool.

    On 18 March, Japan assigned an INES rating of 5 to this unit.

    Unit 4

    All fuel from Unit 4 had been removed from the reactor core for routine maintenance before the earthquake and placed into the spent fuel pool. The building’s outer shell was damaged on 14 March, and there have been two reported fires — possibly including one in the area of the spent fuel pool on 15 March — that were extinguished spontaneously.

    Authorities remain concerned about the condition of the spent fuel pool, and Japanese Self Defence Forces began spraying water into the building on 20 March. As of 8:17 UTC on 22 March, a concrete pump was pumping water into the spent fuel pool at a rate of 50 tonnes per hour. The reported plan was to pump water at this rate for 3 hours.

    On 18 March, Japan assigned an INES rating of 3 to this site.

    Units 5 and 6

    Shut down for routine maintenance before the earthquake, both reactors achieved cold shutdown on 20 March. The reactors are now in a safe mode, with cooling systems stable and under control, and with low temperature and pressure within the reactor.

    Instrumentation from both spent fuel pools had shown gradually increasing temperatures over the past few days. Officials configured two diesel generators at Unit 6 to power cooling and fresh-water replenishment systems in the spent fuel pools and cores of Units 5 and 6. As of 20 March, temperatures in both pools had decreased significantly.

    Workers have opened holes in the roofs of both buildings to prevent the possible accumulation of hydrogen, which is suspected of causing explosions at other units.

    Fukushima Nuclear Accident Update (22 March 2011, 18:00 UTC)
    Spent Fuel Pools at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant – Updated

    Spent fuel removed from a nuclear reactor is highly radioactive and generates intense heat. This irradiated fuel needs to be actively cooled for one to three years in pools that cool the fuel, shield the radioactivity, and keep the fuel in the proper position to avoid fission reactions. If the cooling is lost, the water can boil and fuel rods can be exposed to the air, possibly leading to severe damage and a large release of radiation.

    Nuclear power plants must replace fuel every one to two years, and the Fukushima Daiichi reactors typically remove about 25 percent of the reactor’s fuel – to be replaced with fresh, or unirradiated, fuel – during each refuelling outage. The spent fuel, which is hottest immediately after it is removed from the reactor, is placed in the spent fuel pool until it is cool enough to be moved to longer-term storage.

    The concern about the spent fuel pools at Fukushima Daiichi is that the capability to cool the pools has been compromised. See diagram below for location of the pool in each reactor building.

    Elevated radiation measurements at the site may be partially of the result of uncovered or overheated spent fuel.

    Number of Fuel Assemblies in Cooling Pools at Fukushima Daiichi
    (Reported 17 March by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry)

    Here is a summary of spent fuel conditions at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, based on documents and confirmed by Japanese officials (new information in bold):

    Unit 1

    Unit 1 experienced an explosion on 12 March that destroyed the outer shell of the building’s upper floors. No precise information has been available on the status of the spent fuel pool.

    Unit 2

    Precise information on the status of the spent fuel pool was unavailable in the days following the earthquake, but Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency began to release temperature data on 20 March:

    20 March, 23:00 UTC: 49 °C
    21 March, 05:25 UTC: 50 °C
    21 March, 21:20 UTC: 51 °C
    22 March, 02:20 UTC: 53 °C
    22 March, 06:30 UTC: 50 °C

    Workers conducted an operation to spray 40 tonnes of seawater to the spent fuel pool on 20 March.

    Unit 3

    Unit 3 experienced an explosion on 14 March that destroyed the outer shell of the building’s upper floors. The blast may have damaged the primary containment vessel and the spent fuel pool. Concerned by possible loss of water in the pool, authorities began spraying water into the building in an effort to replenish water levels. First, helicopters dropped seawater on 17 March, and every day since then, including 21 March, emergency workers have sprayed water from fire trucks and other vehicles, so far spraying at least 3,742 tonnes.

    Unit 4

    This reactor was shut down 30 November 2010 for routine maintenance, and all the fuel assemblies were transferred from the reactor to the spent fuel pool, before the 11 March earthquake. The heat load in this pool is therefore larger than the others.

    On 14 March, the building’s upper floors were severely damaged, possibly causing a reduction of cooling capability in the spent fuel pool. Emergency workers began spraying water into the building on 20 March, and have continued daily since then, so far spraying at least 255 tonnes.

    Units 5 and 6

    Instrumentation at these reactors began to indicate rising temperatures at their spent fuel pools starting on 14 March. Three days later, Japanese technicians successfully started an emergency diesel generator at Unit 6, which they used to provide power to basic cooling and fresh-water replenishment systems. Workers created holes in the rooftops of both buildings to prevent any hydrogen accumulation, which is suspected of causing earlier explosions at Units 1 and 3.

    A second generator came online on 18 March, and the next day, the higher-capability Residual Heat Removal system recovered full function. Temperatures in the spent fuel pools of Units 5 and 6 have gradually returned to significantly lower temperatures (See graph below).

    Common Use Spent Fuel Pool

    In addition to pools in each of the plant’s reactor buildings, there is another facility – the Common Use Spent Fuel Pool – where spent fuel is stored after cooling at least 18 months in the reactor buildings. This fuel is much cooler than the assemblies stored in the reactor buildings. Japanese authorities confirmed as of 18 March that fuel assemblies there were fully covered by water, and the temperature was 57 °C as of 20 March, 00:00 UTC. Workers sprayed water over the pool on 21 March for nearly five hours, and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency reported that the pool temperature had risen to 61 °C as of 21 March, 07:30 UTC.

    **End Live Updates**

    01.19 Great article in the Japan Times about NHK and its ability to cover the news in a way few other broadcasters can match.

    00.50 Just a few short updates right now.

    Power lines have been connected to the central control room from units 3 and 4. Power will be supplied once spraying water has finished in the spent fuel pool. By getting power back to the control room, TEPCO will be able to take measurements from inside the reactor unit. Work has now been completed on installing external power sources to draw electricity to all units 1-6.

    Radioactive iodine and cesium has been detected several dozen kilometers from shore in ocean water, TEPCO has revealed. Radioactive iodine has a short half-life of 8 days so it will not be a problem, but radioactive cesium has a much longer half-life and closer monitoring of seawater and marine life will be necessary.

    TEPCO is forecasting that controlled blackouts will end temporarily by Golden Week in May once the thermal power plant is back online and electricity supply increases. However, they added that air conditioning units being heavily used throughout the summer will increase demand for power and further blackouts may yet be necessary. There is likely to be a shortage of 10,000,000KW and supplying this shortage will be difficult, TEPCO Vice President Fujimoto said.

    March 23rd, 2011

    (**Continue reading and view Part 4 here**)

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