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Fukushima Commentary

These postings generally address four questions. What Japanese decisions border on the irrational? Is the Fukushima accident ongoing? Does Fukushima have the potential for world-wide apocalyptic disaster? Are the Fukushima radiation levels health-threatening? To find the possible answers, one can begin by reading these posts.

"Fukushima : The First Five Days"...is a book taken from the records kept by the operating staff at Fukushima Daiichi during the first crucial days of the crisis. It is now available at most E-book outlets, including Amazon, Barnes&Noble and Koble.  For the PDF and bundle, click here... http://www.hiroshimasyndrome.com/fukushima-the-first-five-days.html

August 24, 2013

Japan’s Disastrous Flirtation with Worst-Case Scenarios

On July 26, Tepco’s president Naomi Hirose vowed to improve Tepco’s public disclosure policy, saying “even if the evaluations do not show enough evidence, we will swiftly and honestly mention risks and worst-case scenarios without fearing the impact.” Following Tepco’s admission that there was contamination found in a groundwater observation well at Fukushima Daiichi, the company was immediately hit with a barrage of “non-transparency” criticisms in the Press, by the Tokyo government’s watchdog (NRA) and even their own in-house PR consultants from abroad, Dale Klein and Lady Barbara Judge. In effect, Hirose was saying that if everyone wants worst-case scenarios, that’s what they will get. It seems the NRA has decided to join Tepco in bringing worst-case speculations to the Press as well, spawning shocking news articles world-wide.

Although extreme Tepco and NRA speculations have been tempered with terms like “might”, “may” and/or “possibly”, the Japanese Press reported them as statements of certainty. In turn, the historically-nuclear-adverse Press outlets outside Japan have taken these news reports, added a few scary “spins” of their own, and have created an international nuclear brou-ha-ha. Both inside and outside Japan, most of the news-hungry public has no idea of the realities involved. In many ways, it’s as bad as the first week’s Press concerning the Fukushima accident. Speculations wrapped in embellishment abound, and it can be traced back to Hirose’s worst-case scenario promise.

Let’s look at the record since July 26. We begin with August 7th when the NRA estimated that as much as 300 tons per day of radioactive contamination may be flowing into the Pacific Ocean due to groundwater flow. Subsequently, the Press reported that 300 tons of toxic, highly-contaminated groundwater is pouring into the ocean daily. However, there was and still is no evidence of the Pacific actually being polluted. If contamination were coming out with the groundwater, the only place it could be happening is inside the station’s quay (F. Daiichi’s inner port). The radioactive isotopic concentrations in the quay’s salt water have remained essentially constant for a year-and-one-half. One of the many sampling points in the quay…just one…showed an increase of one isotope (Tritium) three weeks ago. It has since dissipated. In hindsight, it was probably a singular event. Regardless, this statistical outlier has been used as proof that the Pacific-itself is being polluted. The exception should never be taken as a rule. In this case it is especially true.

Here’s why.

The quay is completely barricaded from the station’s outer harbor area. Although often called “makeshift” by the Japanese Press, the barricading has worked extremely well. The water-proofing of the quay’s stone break-walls was completed and the quay’s access-opening was closed by a silt dam in January, 2012. The silt dam was briefly opened a few times through the early spring of 2012 to allow equipment barges to be brought in, but has remained shut since. The quay has been isolated from the open sea by these barricades for about a year and a half. Thus, it is likely that any Cesium or Strontium that may have leaked into the quay since the spring of 2012 has remained in there and naturally precipitated onto the mud bottom. Beyond the quay, samples have been routinely taken within the outer port’s break-wall, at 5 kilometers distance, and as far away as 15 kilometers. Tepco records of sea-sampling at all these locations date back to mid-December, 2011. There has been no detectible contamination at any of these sampling points over the 20 month period.

In other words, there is no evidence supporting the headlines purporting that the Pacific Ocean is being polluted with huge amounts of toxic, highly radioactive contamination. On August 11, Japan’s Industry Ministry (home-base of the NRA, for all administrative intents and purposes) admitted the statement of highly-contaminated groundwater flowing into the sea was an assumption. The Ministry official who made the announcement further qualified the Ministry’s position when he said, “But, we’re not certain if the water is highly contaminated.” In addition, yesterday the NRA said the contamination might be moving toward the shoreline at a rate of four meters per month and it may reach the sea the next month…but it hasn’t reached there yet. Both statements show the government watchdog knows that, up to this point, the Pacific has not been “tainted” with groundwater contamination. The only Japanese Press outlets to point this out have been NHK World and The Japan News (nee Yomiuri Shimbun).

Next, on August 6th, the head of the NRA’s Fukushima Task Force, Shinji Kinjo, said that in his estimation the F. Daiichi station was in a “state of emergency”. He based this on the “rather high possibility” that contaminated groundwater was entering the station’s quay. Kinjo’s personal speculation was spun by the Japanese Press into a firm conclusion issued by the NRA-itself. But, it wasn’t. Back in Tokyo the NRA’s response was…nothing! I was stunned. How could such a sensational, headline-spawning statement made by anyone other than an NRA commissioner result in no comment by the home office?

I remained incredulous until a few days ago. On August 21, the NRA said they might declare a level-3 state of emergency (on the INES scale) at Fukushima Daiichi because of the recent discovery of a tank leak, plus the possibility that some of the other several hundred similar water-laden tanks might also be leaking. Regardless, the Japanese Press took the NRA’s statement to mean that they have actually done it. It has subsequently been reported as a “fact” in many international news reports. As of this posting, F. Daiichi officially remains at INES level-1 (an “anomaly”).

INES level-3 means “severe incident”, define as the contamination of an area not expected by design, with a low probability of ­significant public exposure. Groundwater never flows inland along the ocean’s coast, so there is no risk of public exposure in Fukushima Prefecture. Further, actual Pacific Ocean contamination seems unlikely given the barricading of the quay, if Fukushima’s contamination ever actually gets there. The Pacific is currently as clean as it gets. Unless any future contamination gets into the quay and then somehow spreads into the open sea, there will be no rational reason to go to INES level-3. If the NRA must upgrade, a level-2 declaration (classified as an “incident”) makes much more sense at this point in time.

The most recent use of a worst-case scenario occurred on August 22nd when Tepco announced that 30 trillion Becquerels of radioactive Cesium and Strontium may have leaked into the Pacific Ocean since May 2011. The company has not posted a record of these release estimates during the last 20 months in order to show the trends involved. I think it is because no such record exists. It seems Tepco assumed that the persistent, albeit very low levels of Cesium and Strontium detected inside the Fukushima Daiichi quay since late 2011 are not due to residuals from the accident itself, suspended in the stagnant water. Rather, it appears the company assumed there has been a perpetual flow of contamination into the quay for the past 20 months, with the quantities of invading radioactive isotopes unwavering from day-to-day, in order to keep the inner port’s concentration astonishingly constant for more than a year-and-a-half. This would be a record of relentless constancy within the ever-changing natural environment which defies words to describe. In fact, Tepco admited they are literally grasping at straws. Tepco spokesman Yoshimi Hitosugi says, “So far, we don’t have convincing data that confirm a leak from the turbine buildings. But we are open to consider any possible path of contamination.” Thus, Tepco is reporting another worst-case scenario, based on assumption taken to the extreme.

Cleverly-cereated worst-case scenarios relative to nukes have historically been the domain of hardened nuclear critics. To date, none of their tacit “guarantees” have come to fruition. Regardless, the Tokyo Electric Company and Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority have joined them in waltzing with the worst-case scenario. Transparency means “telling it like it is” in a timely fashion. The “official” creation of worst-case scenarios makes a mockery of transparency.

August 17, 2013

A Suggested Answer to Fukushima’s Wastewater Question

The build-up of stored wastewater at Fukushima Daiichi is a serious problem, at least as far as the Japanese press is concerned. Currently, there is almost 360,000 tons of Cesium-stripped water being stored in above-ground tanks. The rate of build-up is about 400 tons per day. Eventually, at some point in the future Tepco will run out of room for more tanks and fill them all. I would like to suggest a way to possibly stop the build-up of stored waters, and not diminish the rate of decontamination in the process. Why not set up a closed loop through the Cesium-stripping system?

Let me explain. Currently, about 770 tons per day is pumped out of the highly-contaminated waters in the basements of units #1 through #4, and run through the Cesium absorption system. About 370 tons of the Cesium-stripped water is sent into the three damaged reactor cores to keep them cooled, and subsequently finds its way back into the basement volume through as-yet-unidentified pathways from the Reactor Pressure Vessels. The remaining 400 tons is pumped into available above-ground tanks. The basement water levels ought to be dropping at a rate of about 400 tons per day. But to the contrary, the water levels remain constant. It means that groundwater is somehow leaking into the basements, keeping the water levels from changing. Why not put the 400 tons per day of Cesium-stripped water back into the basements from where it originated? By sending the cleansed waters back into the basements, Tepco would be utilizing what is known (in the vernacular) as a “closed loop”.

It is likely the top of the water in the basements is parallel to the top of the groundwater in the earth outside the basements. There are several reasons why this is likely. For one thing, Tepco did not discover the groundwater in-leakage until they lowered the basement waters down to the now-existent levels, and could not get them to reduce further. Not only does this indicate at point of internal/external equilibrium had been reached, but it also suggests that the in-leakage is significant and would accelerate if Tepco increased the rate of flow to the Cesium absorbers. Next, water naturally “seeks its own level”. Finally, groundwater level in the earth remains relatively constant over time and levels in the basements have been relatively constant since late 2011. It thus seems that sending the same volume of cleansed waters back to the basements as the volume now being supplied by groundwater in-leakage should keep the system in equilibrium. In other words, sending the cleansed waters back to their source will not cause the water levels in the basements to increase above where they have been for more than 18 months.

A closed loop would provide several positive benefits. First, the build-up of tank-stored water at Fukushima Daiichi would effectively cease, possibly ending concerns of Tepco running out of space in the future. This has been a concern of nuclear critics and antinuclear politicians for more than a year. Ridding themselves of this constant news story would do Tepco’s public information staff a world of good. Next, once the new decontamination system for the ~60 remaining isotopes (ALPS) is in full operation, there will be more than enough tanks to hold the Tritiated effluvia until the ocean discharge issue is resolved. After a currently-filled tank is emptied, it could be flushed of any residuals that remain and re-filled with water that has had all radioactive isotopes removed, other than Tritium, by ALPS.

In addition, a closed loop would continue diluting of the Cesium concentration in the basement waters at about the same rate as with the groundwater in-leakage. The Cesium absorption system is actually working better than initially expected. Tepco estimated (in 2011) that the system would lower the Cesium content by a factor of up to 1,000. It’s actually lowering Cesium content by about a factor of 10,000 (from 55,000 Becquerels per milliliter down to 5.5 Bq/ml). That’s 10-times better than its design. Not bad for a “makeshift” technology, eh? In fact, if the groundwater outside the basement walls is as Cesium-contaminated as a few recently-discovered-to-be-contaminated test wells indicate, the Cesium-stripped water would be lower in concentration than the groundwater now entering through the basement walls! If this is the case, then the Cesium-cleansed waters from the “makeshift” system will actually reduce the Cesium content in the basements faster than the current groundwater in-leakage.

This not-so-immodest proposal puts Tepco into a Pascalean dilemma. Should they recycle the cleansed waters back to the turbine building basements or should they not? They have nothing to lose and everything to gain by switching to a Cesium-stripping closed loop. However, they have nothing to gain and (inevitably) everything to lose by maintaining the status quo. It seems to me that the answer is a virtual slam-dunk.

August 9, 2013

Fukushima Groundwater Contamination is Not an Actual Emergency

This past Monday, a Nuclear Regulatory Authority inspector at F. Daiichi told the Press that the contaminated groundwater problem places the station in a “state of emergency”. The official, Shinji Kinjo, admitted his personal opinion was based on a “rather high possibility” that contaminated groundwater is leaching into the barricaded inner port (quay) at F. Daiichi, and his estimate was not based on NRA calculations! Regardless, his “state of emergency” declaration is being treated like a serious nuclear crisis at Fukushima. It doesn’t matter that the NRA-itself has not made a formal emergency declaration. It doesn’t matter that there is no evidence of the actual leakage of Cesium and Strontium into the quay. All that matters is Kinjo’s assertion.

The explanation of the situation is complicated. A month ago, some elevated levels of Cesium, Strontium and Tritium (an isotope of Hydrogen) were discovered inside a groundwater testing well. To stop the possible flow into the quay, Tepco drilled a large number of holes deep into the earth and injected a chemical to solidify the ground along the shoreline. This was designed to block groundwater flow to the quay. Over a period of 20 days, the water level in another testing well rose 70 centimeters (approx.. 28 inches). This spawned speculation that the water had risen a bit above the solidified earth below and was flowing into the quay. When Tepco announced the solitary well’s rising water level, the NRA sent a team to F. Daiichi to investigate, headed by Kinjo. Meanwhile, Tepco tested the essentially stagnant water inside two sets of cabling and piping tunnels between the basements of units #2 and #3 and their seawater intake structures, and found quite high Cesium, Strontium and a mix of some 60-other isotopes. The concentrations were similar to the highly radioactive water now in the four damaged unit’s basements.


Contaminated tunnels (Asahi Shimbun)

Tepco speculated that some of the waters had seeped through the tunnel’s gravel floors and into the nearby soil, plus some had possibly made it into the quay directly from the tunnels through the water intakes. These worst-case speculations have generated extremely heavy Press coverage inside Japan, and it has gained considerable traction in the international press. But, at this point it’s all based on speculation…swathed in assumption and wrapped in exaggeration. There are a number of reasons why I say this!

To begin, only one of the dozen sampling locations inside the quay has shown an elevated level of radioactivity. Also, it’s just one specific isotope…Tritium…and not Cesium or Strontium or any of the other ~60 isotopes of concern. The rest of the quay’s sampling locations show no discernible. We’ll come back to Tritium-itself later. What’s most important is that that the quay is completely barricaded from the rest of the F. Daiichi station’s seaport.


F. Daiichi quay (Kyodo News)

In the above picture, please note the thin red line snaking across the quay’s opening. This is a “silt dam” that drops all the way to the floor of the quay, intended for opening and closure to admit equipment barges into and out of the inner port. It has not been opened for more than a year. It keeps the inner and outer waters from mixing when closed. Nothing, not even Tritium, has been detected outside the quay. This includes sampling as far as 10 kilometers beyond the outer break-wall of the entire port area (part of this can be seen stretching beyond the quay at the top-left of the picture).

What does this tell us? Contrary to the implications common to all Press reports and NRA statements, the Pacific Ocean is obviously not being polluted! Whether or not the quay-itself is being polluted is a matter of opinion.

Next, let’s look at what is happening with the groundwater that is allegedly flowing into the sea, speculated at 300 tons per day (the NRA’s most recent estimate). Tepco has filtered at least one sample from the contaminated testing well that started everything. After filtering the sample water, the level of Tritium did not change, which should come as no surprise. Tritium is hydrogen and is thus part of the water molecule which passes through any type of filter. But, the activity of Cesium, Strontium and the ~60 other isotopes dropped to pre-emergency levels. This means the Cesium and the other non-Tritium isotopes are most likely being filtered out by the soil the groundwater is flowing through. Quay water tests confirm this. None of the non-Tritium materials are detected in the quay. The only isotope detected in the quay, at but one location near the unit #1 seawater intake structure, is Tritium.

As said before, Tritium is the radioactive isotope of Hydrogen. It is also one of the numerous radioactive isotopes produced by Mother Nature, in this case caused by upper atmospheric collisions between energetic molecules and cosmic rays. Tritium has one proton in its nucleus, like all Hydrogen. But, it also has two neutrons attached to the proton, which is symbolized as H-3. The two neutrons cause the nucleus to be a bit unstable. It may be counter-intuitive to some, but here’s what happens next. One of the neutrons spits out an electron and the Tritium instantly becomes Helium, which harmlessly goes its own gaseous way. The electron is called a Beta particle, incorrectly called a “Beta ray” by the Press. Microwave and X-ray are “rays” because they are a continual flow of energy. Betas are sub-atomic particles. Betas are also about the weakest of all the various forms of radiation. The most energetic Beta’s known to man cannot penetrate thin cellophane. Tritium’s Betas are among the weakest of the lot (~6 KeV)…the weakest of the weak, if you will. Tritium’s Betas are relatively ineffectual. That’s why the annual release limits for Tritium sound enormous.

Japan’s Tritium limit is the lowest in the world at 22 trillion Becquerels* per year. Tepco’s estimate of the maximum amount of leakage to the sea over the past 27 months is 40 trillion Becquerels. That’s less than the limit, folks. It should be noted that 40 trillion Becquerels should be compared to the ~million-trillion Becquerels of naturally occurring Tritium already in the Pacific. What Tepco says is the upper bound of their Tritium releases is million times less than what Mother Nature has put in the Pacific.

However, the sheer magnitude of the Tritium estimate…in the trillions…sounds like we have something extremely serious going on…something worthy of speculating that an actual “state of emergency” exists at Fukushima Daiichi. Is the Pacific Ocean actually being polluted? It doesn’t seem that it is. Is F. Daiichi actually in a “state of emergency”? It’s a speculative state of emergency, to be sure, but not actual.

* A Becquerel is one radioactive release from the nucleus of an atom every second. The human body contains a constant activity of 5,000 Becquerels due to naturally-occurring Potassium-40 and 4,000 Becquerels from Carbon-14. Each person also contains about 25 Becquerels of natural Tritium activity…just for the record.

August 3, 2013

168th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

The Hiroshima Syndrome’s Fukushima Commentary is proudly hosting the 168th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers. For the full reports, please click on the individual links. Blog topics include – why nuke plants are a compelling option, whether or not former anti-nukes are trustworthy pro-nukes, the potential for robotics with nuclear energy, why more nuclear energy would be beneficial, and the latest news about the groundwater contamination problem at Fukushima Daiichi.

From NewsOK: Science and Technology –

Why would anyone consider nuclear power for making electricity?

Dr. Robert Hayes argues that since nuclear science is used in medicine and manufacturing, it should all be defined as nuclear technology along with nuke power plants. The case for nuclear power is truly compelling from a scientific point of view, but politically it is viewed quite poorly. http://newsok.com/why-would-anyone-consider-nuclear-power-for-making-electricity/article/3868619

From American Thinker –

Nuclear Power’s New Friends?

Joseph Somsel addresses the message transmitted by the new documentary “Pandora’s Promise”, and asks if former foes of nuclear energy can become the technology’s new best friends. After more than four decades of environmentalists condemning all things nuclear, Somsel finds the notion of them suddenly embracing nuclear power to be personally unsettling.. http://www.americanthinker.com/2013/08/nuclear_powers_new_friends.html

From ANS Nuclear Café –

Robotics, Remote Systems, and Radiation

Reid L. Kress discusses the use of robotics and remote systems in nuclear environments, with examples of past applications and radiation levels typically encountered. http://ansnuclearcafe.org/2013/07/30/robotics-remote-systems-radiation/

From Next Big Future (4) –

What is “Business as Usual” in terms of now to 2030? 2050?

The world should shift to a lot more usage of nuclear energy, and would also benefit from more solar and wind generation. It would be better to shift to non-carbon based energy production than remain in “Business as Usual”. http://nextbigfuture.com/2013/08/what-is-business-as-usual-in-terms-of.html

Energy Return for Nuclear Energy

The recent Lenzen paper on energy return has many problems with its approach to nuclear. The report more than doubles the actual cost of enrichment, underestimates the lifetime of nuclear plants and often references the biased van Leeuwen and Smith which is littered with agenda. http://nextbigfuture.com/2013/08/energy-return-for-nuclear-energy.html

Molten Salt Reactor review with benefits…

A German court has overturned the Greentec Awards disqualification of a dual fuel molten salt reactor. The DFR was winning the German public voting for the Aug 30 2013 awards. Now an appeals court has overturned that disqualification. http://nextbigfuture.com/2013/08/molten-salt-reactor-review-with.html

Greentec Awards could not handle the truth that Molten Salt Reactors would be good for the environment…

MSR technology is winning German public opinion on best green technology. Green group could not handle it and disqualified them. German court overrules the disqualification.

From Atomic Insights –

Nuclear less risky than natural gas – for customers

People who get most of their electricity-related economic analysis from the current executives at companies like Exelon, EDF, Dominion, Duke Energy, or SCE would be shocked to learn that nuclear power plants produce electricity for approximately the same long term cost as natural gas-fired, combined cycle gas-turbine power plants. On a fair comparison basis, the natural gas option creates “significantly higher long-term investment risk”. http://atomicinsights.com/nuclear-less-risky-than-natural-gas/

From Nuke Power Talk –

Nuclear Power and regulation, Part 2: Is Regulation Needed in the First place?

Dr. Gail Marcus responds to a comment posted on an earlier blog by an anonymous reader who questioned the need for regulation. This time, Gail points out that most regulations were initially promulgated because of problems or abuses.  What is needed is not a lack of regulation, but rather a smarter breed of regulation. http://www.nukepowertalk.blogspot.com/2013/08/nuclear-power-and-regulation-part-2.html

From James Conca (Forbes.com) –

Who’s Gonna Pay for Global Warming?

Implementing a new energy mix of 45% gas, 35% nuclear and 20% renewable by 2040 would reduce CO2 emissions by 40% and only cost $7.4 trillion over the next 30 years. $3.4 trillion would be infrastructure and construction, and the rest fuel and operations, a major advantage over the present mix. http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2013/08/04/whos-going-to-pay-for-global-warming/

From Hiroshima Syndrome/Fukushima Updates –

Fukushima Accident Updates (7/29 and 8/1/13)

A webpage that posts summaries of each week’s nuclear news articles from Japan with source links. This past week’s Japanese news reports focus on the continuing groundwater contamination saga, Tepco’s efforts to keep radioactive material out of the sea, and criticisms of their efforts. http://www.hiroshimasyndrome.com/fukushima-accident-updates.html

July 27, 2013

Fukushima Groundwater Issue Poses Many Questions

On July 23, Tepco revealed that contamination is leaching into their inner port (quay) at Fukushima Daiichi. Tepco and the Nuclear Regulatory Authority make it seem as if the contamination is going into the Pacific Ocean. There are many unanswered questions with the groundwater issue, but one thing seems certain…the material is not reaching the open sea, at least not yet. Tepco’s recent revelation validates the NRA conjecture of 10 days ago. Tepco’s bases their belief on the water level in the near-shore sampling wells fluctuating with the tide. However, the data Tepco has posted over the past four months raises a considerable number of questions.

First we might ask…what is the source of the contamination? Since the groundwater contains Cesium isotopes 134 and 137, it cannot be coming from any of the waste water storage tanks or underground reservoirs at F. Daiichi. This is because those waters have been effectively stripped of their Cesium content by the station’s “makeshift” filtration system. There are several possible sources. (1) The radioactivity may be coming from basements of the four units holding 70,000 tons of water literally loaded with Cesium. (2) It could be what Tepco has said for more than a month and be residual isotopes already in the plant’s soil from a rather significant leak into a trench between unit #1 and unit #2 reactor buildings in April, 2011. (3) Could it have something to do with another trench from unit #3? Tepco quietly posted a Press handout concerning the possibility of a unit #3 leak on July 11. (http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/nu/fukushima-np/handouts/2013/images/handouts_130711_04-e.pdf ) Or, could it be a combination of all three?

If we assume the contamination is coming from the basements, it poses a pair of over-lapping questions. To begin, Tepco knows that 400 tons of groundwater is seeping into the basements every day. How’s the groundwater getting in there? Cracks in the concrete walls? Broken piping penetrations? The flowpath into the basements has not been stated. Whatever the path of seepage, groundwater is leaking into the basements and there’s no reason to think the contaminated waters are not leaking out via the same pathways. The Nuclear Regulatory Authority wants to freeze the ground surrounding the turbine buildings using an earth-freezing technology that does not yet exist. While the mere suggestion puts the technical competence to the NRA in question, if it works it will merely lower the in-flow of groundwater by 100 tons per day. Tepco already has what seems to be a better methodology to stanch the groundwater influx. They are drilling holes deep in the ground along the shoreline and inserting a chemical to harden the soil itself. ( ) Why not do the same thing around the basements of the turbine buildings, too? If it is good enough to keep contaminated groundwater from getting into the station’s near-shore quay, it will surely be better than the NRA’s pie-in-the-sky concoction to freeze the soil. Water-proofing the soils surrounding the basements, and around the suspect cable trench coming out of unit #2 should eliminate it as a source of possible leaks. Then there’s the unit #3 trench, but we’ll come back to it later.

Next, how bad is the groundwater contamination? Is it really “highly radioactive”? The highest groundwater Cesium reading to date is 11,000 Becquerels per liter inside one of the now-numerous sampling wells at F. Daiichi. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it. Want to know what’s actually highly radioactive? The water in one of the trenches connected to the unit #2 turbine basement! The Press reports Tepco has found it to contain 2.35 billion Bq/liter of Cesium. That can be called “highly radioactive” by any standard. If 11,000 Bq/liter is “highly radioactive”, then what descriptive term should the Press use for 2.35 billion Bq/liter?

To continue, three of the groundwater sampling wells have elevated levels of Tritium (more on this later), but only one has shown increases in both Cesium isotopes over the past 2 weeks. (see the Tepco handout, above, for well locations). Well no. 1-2has readings of 11,000 Becquerel per liter for Cs-137 and 5,400 Bq/liter for Cs-134. (http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/nu/fukushima-np/f1/smp/2013/images/2tb-east_13072301-e.pdf ) These are the contamination levels that are always cited in the Press, both inside and outside of Japan, even though the Cesium in the rest of the wells is about 100 times lower. But here’s the important point…when the sample water from well #1-2 has the suspended solids filtered out, the cleansed water has readings of 50 Bq/liter of Cs-134 and 71 Bq/liter of Cs-137. (http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/nu/fukushima-np/f1/smp/2013/images/2tb-east_13072303-e.pdf ) These readings are higher than the other four near-shore sampling wells, but more than 99% lower than unfiltered. This demonstrates that the vast majority of the Cesium in the unfiltered sample is contained in the suspended sediment, probably stirred up by the fluctuating water level in the well. So, why doesn’t Tepco post the filtered sample data along with the unfiltered for well #1-2? It seems they only posted the unfiltered data only once on July 22nd. Further, has Tepco attempted to filter the sample waters taken from the other near-shore wells? If not, why not? This could be significant.

Here’s why it is important. Since the filtering of suspended solids removes more than 99% of the radioactivity, the Cesium is clearly bonded with the soil. The only way the high levels of Cesium in the groundwater can get into the station’s quay would be if the soil itself is being spilled into the seawater. Is it? With the station’s quay effectively isolated from the outer port area, and the outer port surrounded by some massive break-walls, there is no shore erosion. There might be a tiny loss of Cesium-impregnated soil leaving the shore, but the vast majority is staying put. We can say this with confidence when we look at the Cesium level inside the essentially stagnant quay. We find that all sampling points have not demonstrably changed in Cs-134 and Cs-137 concentrations since early April. (http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/nu/fukushima-np/f1/smp/2013/images/intake_canal_130726-e.pdf ) The levels have fluctuated over the past four months, but that is to be expected with activity levels as low as these in full liter samples. The range of upper and lower fluctuation points has stayed quite constant for all 12 sampling points along the quay’s shoreline. If there is a “highly radioactive” leak coming out of unit #3, there does not seem to be an increased Cesium level to prove it. It should be noted that the Cesium levels inside the quay have not changed significantly since March, 2012, but the above link back to April 2013 should suffice for this commentary.

Next we have the detected Tritium (H3), which raises more questions. Well number 1-2 has an H3 level of 350,000 Bq/liter, well number 1-3 is at 270,000 Bq/liter, and well #1 has 420,000 Bq/liter. (Wells 1-2 and 1-3 are between units 2&3 reactor buildings, and well #1 is next to reactor building #1) The Cs-134 levels in both well #1 and well 1-3 are…undetectable! The Cs-137 in both is less than 1Bq/liter. Why is the well with the highest level of Tritium not showing any Cesium? There is no correlation between H3 concentrations and the Cesium concentrations. There ought to be a correlation, but there isn’t. Why is there no correlation between isotopic concentrations? On a related note, why is there an elevated level of H3 (1,100 Bq/liter) at the unit #1 near-shore sampling point, but less than 400 Bq/liter everywhere else in the quay? If there is a leak to the quay is out of the unit #3 trench, why isn’t the quay water adjacent to unit #3 showing an increase over the levels detected in April?

Finally we get to the ultimate question. Is any of this contamination going out to sea? The inner Quay is sealed off from the waters which are inside the heavy stone break-walls that surround the station. The break-wall has a single opening to the open sea. Seawater sampling outside the quay, but inside the break-wall shows nothing. No detectible Tritium…no detectible Cesium. It appears the contamination in the quay is not getting into the outer port area. The silt dam that seals the entrance to the quay seems to be doing its job quite well. In addition, samples taken from the open sea surrounding F. Daiichi also show nothing. In other words, there seems to be no groundwater-borne contamination going into the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima Daiichi. So, why do the Nuclear Regulatory Authority and Tepco both make it sound like the Pacific Ocean is being “tainted”?

Many might question the veracity of the data posted by Tepco’s staff at F. Daiichi, given the general level of distrust relative to the company. But, there is no-one else’s data to analyze. Keep in mind that Tepco discovered the problem with groundwater contamination. No-one else did. They are the ones who have reported it to the world, albeit belatedly…and there-in lies the problem. The company’s level of transparency relative to public disclosure is not perfect, and some of their statements may be tainted with paranoiac twists, but their radiological data should not be distrusted. We have no other data to go on.


July 20, 2013

Naoto Kan: Japan’s Pinocchio

This past Tuesday, Naoto Kan submitted a defamation suit against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. It is very unusual for a former prime minister to sue an incumbent. The suit is because Abe posted an Email on March 20, 2011, saying Kan fabricated his part in the infamous seawater cooling dispute during the Fukushima accident. Abe also said Kan’s trying to stop Tepco from cooling with seawater is a case of severe mismanagement and that he should resign. Kan charges Abe with keeping “erroneous” information on his website and ignoring Kan’s repeated entreaties to remove the Email from archives. Kan also charges Abe with making a “false accusation” that defames the former PM. Since the Email has not been deleted, Kan has filed the suit, along with $110,000 in damages. In response…well…there is no response from Mr. Abe. He refuses to comment.

On March 12, 2011, Kan did in-fact order Tepco and plant manager Yoshido to stop cooling with seawater because it contained some natural uranium and he feared it might cause a recriticality. Yoshida ignored Kan’s orders, which was the correct thing to do. It is a prime example of Kan meddling in F. Daiichi’s emergency operations during the hectic early days of the crisis. Kan is suing because Abe’s Email makes him look bad and negatively impacts the Democratic Party of Japan’s chances in the upcoming national election. It is also yet another example of Kan trying to manipulate the facts and possibly shed responsibility for the mistakes he made during the nuclear accident. If he were Pinocchio, Kan’s nose would be growing.

This is not the first time Kan has besmirched the truth. Remember that this is the man who says he single-handedly saved Tokyo from evacuation because he kept Tepco from abandoning F. Daiichi. All government investigations into the accident conclude that Kan did no such thing. Oh, there’s no doubt that he descended on Tepco’s home office and commanded them to not abandon the stricken plant-site. However, there was no actual reason for him to have done such a thing. Tepco never intended abandonment. Never! (For a detailed explanation of what happened, see my book “Fukushima: the First Five days”.)

After Kan resigned , he told the Press his non-abandonment order was based on his nightmare of evacuating Tokyo, predicated on a phantasmagorical what-if scenario which he-himself ordered to be formulated by his emergency staff’s nuclear representative from NISA! It went something like this… If all six units at F. Daiichi melted away (only three were operating at the time), and if all six spent fuel pools suddenly collapsed and the more than 2,500 all-metal fuel bundles somehow burned themselves to a crisp (an assumption of exceptional improbability, at best), and if the wind blew directly towards Tokyo (250 kilometers distant) for several days with minimal dispersion, then it might be possible that Tokyo would have to be abandoned. All of this, of course, was dependent on the entire staff at F. Daiichi fleeing the plant-site and never returning.

Now, here’s the most ridiculous part. Kan believed every bit of the science-fiction fantasy that he literally created for himself. Kan never saved Tokyo! But, in his warped way of thinking, it seems he believed he did. He has been preaching this ridiculous gospel of fantasy for the last two years.

Should we take the lawsuit seriously? I’ve been scanning the Japanese Press every day for more than two years, and I’ve come to understand that lawsuits of questionable substance are not uncommon in Japan. For example, an elderly man recently filed a suit against NHK World because they are using more and more foreign jargon in their reports and he could not understand much of what was being reported. The man filed for psychological damage due to NHK’s use of jargon. I kid you not! Personally, I’m filing Kan’s lawsuit in the drawer labeled “Believe it or Not”. 

Kan is not above twisting the truth for personal gain. He is a political opportunist who has lost face with the people of Japan. It seems he is trying to regain some modicum of respect with his former party, the DPJ. His is not a lawsuit of material substance and should be dismissed by every court in Japan. What frightens me is that the courts might find in Kan’s favor or a settlement might be negotiated. Both thoughts give me nightmares.

July 12, 2013

Japan’s nuke watchdog is blatantly biased

This week, The Japan News criticized the Nuclear Regulatory Authority for being “blatantly biased”, while holding a “self-righteous mind-set” in its dealings with nuclear utilities. (1) The News takes the new watchdog to task for “hastily concluding that topographic strains under some facilities are active faults”, ignoring the scientific data of the affected companies. In addition, the editorial says the NRA has “often lacked fairness in making decisions” and it must “shed its self-righteous mind-set and hold constructive and repeated dialogue with the utilities” in the forthcoming review of applications for restarts. Unfortunately, it seems the newspaper’s wish for fairness and objectivity will be unfulfilled, as this week’s F. Daiichi groundwater issue demonstrates.  

To place the situation in perspective, Tepco discovered elevated contamination levels in one, solitary well used to sample groundwater. There are more than 20 other such wells at F. Daiichi, and all showed no increasing contamination. At the station’s seaport, one of the four near-shore sampling points has had an increased level of but one isotope…Tritium… but not any others. The port has several barriers installed to prevent any contamination reaching the sea. The inner “quay” is about 300 meters long by roughly 75 meters wide. It is totally enclosed on the east and south sides with thick walls of heavy stone and clay. The northern side of the quay is closed by a “silt dam”. The floor of the quay is “paved” with several layers of impervious material. How good are these barriers? Samples of seawater taken outside the quay show no detectible activity. There is also an outer break-wall which runs the length of the F. Daiichi property which is roughly a kilometer in length and connects to the shore at either end. Outside the break-wall, no contamination has been detectible for nearly two years.

Getting back to the sampling well in question…the location is quite close to the cabling trench which had a considerable leak pour into it from the unit #2 turbine building basement back in April, 2011. After several failed attempts, the leak was plugged by the end of that month. Regardless, many tons of raw, contaminated water had poured into the trench. Most of it found its way directly into the sea, but a goodly amount also drenched the surrounding soil. Tepco says the source of the one well’s contamination is likely residual from the April, 2011 leak. When pressured by the Press, Tepco said they cannot say with absolute certainty that the contamination is totally due to residuals in the soil. Clearly, Tepco is embracing Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. Regardless, it all sounds reasonable, right? Case closed?

Absolutely not! The NRA says they believe the contamination is also coming from somewhere else. The NRA also “strongly suspects” the contamination is finding its way to the ocean, even though the suspect sampling point is 25-30 meters from the sea… even though none of the other groundwater sampling points show parallel increases in radioactivity. Also, the NRA fails to consider that groundwater flow is extremely slow. It has taken more than two years for the trench contamination to move a few meters, with the exception of one isotope…Tritium. A small amount of the hydrogen isotope has reached one location in the quay, shows up in none of the other quay sampling locations and has been steadily decreasing since last Friday…nearly a week. It is possible the elevated Tritium was a spurious spike.

The NRA’s believes the sea is being contaminated because Tepco because there is no absolute assurance of no other sources and the Tritium detected inside the quay.  NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka told a press conference, "TEPCO's explanation is open to question. I think the contamination of seawater is continuing to a greater or lesser extent.” The NRA’s proof is essentially rhetorical and not based of the data at hand. Further, they obviously believe that Tepco cannot be trusted. As far as the Press is concerned, the NRA guarantees that the sea is being contaminated. This is abject use of pure speculation and adds further proof to the NRA’s blatant bias.

In addition, the NRA ordered Tepco to install barriers to keep the contamination from reaching the sea. No credit was given for the quay and break-wall barriers already in place. No credit was given to Tepco’s current work; drilling holes deep in the soil every 80 centimeters along the shoreline and injecting chemicals solidifying the dirt and clay. It doesn’t matter that Tepco may have found that the reason for the high sample activity being dirt dissolved in the water. Simple filtering before analysis brings the level back to what it was a week ago. The NRA acts like the staff at F. Daiichi is doing nothing. Further, Tepco’s plan for burying steel and glass barriers along the shoreline, to be completed in 2015, isn’t good enough. The NRA has concocted the bizarre idea of freezing the ground around the reactor and turbine buildings, using a technology that does not yet exist and will not insure zero leakage even if it works! All of this shows a self-righteous mindset with the NRA. It in no way demonstrates a constructive dialogue with the utility. It’s the NRA’s way, or the highway.

The bottom line is this… the NRA thinks contamination is leaking to the sea, and they are unabashedly trumpeting their claim in the face of considerable evidence to the contrary. It’s blatant, arrogant and hasty. The NRA was created to be an independent watchdog making decisions based on science and logic. To date, the agency has failed miserably in meeting this mandate. They leave science and logic at the door and base their decisions based speculation and negativism.  

1. http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0000367823





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