Before addressing recent Fukushima updates, we want everyone to be aware of the preliminary findings on Fukushima’s long and short-term health effects from one of the oldest and most prestigious scientific organizations in the world; United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR). Japan Times reports on a press conference in Vienna, held by UNSCEAR on May 23. Wolfgang Weiss, chairman of UNSCEAR, said, “So far, what we have seen in the population, what we have seen in children, what we have seen in workers . . . we would not expect to see (short term) health effects,. We cannot identify and attribute health effects to these doses.” He added that this short term assessment can be applied to the next two year period. If no further releases of radioactive materials come from Fukushima, the same can be said of long term health effects. However, the emergency has not ended, and the possibility of future, significant releases is not zero, so UNSCEAR will delay it’s long term health effects estimate for two years. Work on the final report will probably begin this summer, with a preliminary assessment coming next May. UNSCEAR estimates are primarily based on the historically understood 1000 millisievert threshold of curable radiation sickness, which is many times higher than any actual dose to Fukushima plant workers or any member of the public. The threshold for Acute Radiation Sickness (to less than 1% of those exposed) of 1500 millisievert is even more inapplicable.
Now, back to Fukushima…
- Japan Times also reports that one of the pipes for the Emergency Core Cooling System (ECCS) for Unit #3, may have been critically damaged by the earthquake, and not the tsunami, and may be the reason for the unit #3 meltdown. The Times says an anonymous TEPCO official “admitted” that if there was damage to the piping, it would have been due to the earthquake and not the tsunami, adding “We can not deny the possibility.” Later in the article, the Times alleges TEPCO is trying to downplay the possibility, plus the possibility of RPV “holes” reported earlier in the week. TEPCO points out the above possibilities are based on instrument read-outs that were probably damaged during the peak of the accident, thus no one should take the possibilities as indisputable fact. Asahi Shimbun quotes TEPCO’s Junichi Matsumoto (May 24), “We suspect a malfunctioning of pressure instruments.” For “balance”, Asahi Shimbun refers to Kyoto University professor Keigi Myazaki who speculates that if the piping were indeed compromised, it could not have been due to the tsunami, so it had to be the earthquake.Later in the article, we find the reason behind this speculative uproar is due to a slow, unexpected pressure decrease hours after the core was uncovered and ECCS injections started. The pressure drop occurred over a 6 hour period. When the cold sea water suddenly contacted the extremely hot ECCS piping, considerable thermal shock must have happened. We at this site feel cracking (not complete failure) of attached piping due to thermal shock is a more realistic explanation for the slow decrease in pressure. Also, the progression of the situation does not indicate the pipe breaking off or having some other kind of severe compromise. A catastrophic break on pipes as big as ECCS would cause something like a rapid depressurization, not a partial loss of pressure over a six hour period, regardless of the accuracy of the indicated pressures. Lastly, suggesting this ECCS piping issue is a significant cause of the unit #1 meltdown is literally making a mountain out of a mole hill.
That is, if the pressure indications from the heat damaged, albeit unreliable pressure instruments is in fact the case…which it probably isn’t. It’s starting to seem like a dark, confuddled (confused and befuddled) comedy of wild speculations based on bad information!
- The TEPCO operating personnel at Unit #1 say they never shut off the sea water flow to the reactor on March 12, even though they reported compliance with Prime Minister Kan’s “suggestion” to shut it down. Kyodo News reports TEPCO’s ranking officers told the plant’s operators to follow Kan’s wishes. The control room “head” said they would do so, but then he ordered the operators to ignore the order and continue the water injection.The control room supervisor gets a “shout out” and “well done” from this writer for doing the right thing! Never let a politician compromise the safety of the core. Never!
- Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) has formally “admonished” (reprimanded) TEPCO for allowing worker over-exposures and skin contamination incidents which have occured since March 11. The admonishment also extends to TEPCO’s not implementing any and/or all possible measures to keep worker exposures as low as reasonably achievable and eliminate potential contaminations, until April 3.TEPCO deserves to be reprimanded, but this writer wonders what has taken NISA so long to actually do it?
- There is a possible loss of 57 tons of water from one of the waste facility storage tanks at Fukushima Daiichi. If the loss is confirmed to be a leak, water will no longer be transferred there from unit #3, which could delay start of recovery work in the turbine building.
- Decontamination (purification) of the stored contaminated waste waters could start in about two weeks, “on an experimental basis”.
- Prime Minister Kan has announced Japan will reduce it’s reliance on both nuclear and fossil fueled electricity, and replace them with renewable sources. He says Japan will be producing 20% of its electricity from renewables by 2020. One key aspect of the plan is installing solar panels on the roofs of 10 million homes. In addition, Kan says the cost of solar will drop by one third of the present level by 2020. How? Government cost controls.
- Because of a large public anti-nuclear rally estimated at 20,000 people last Sunday, the government of Switzerland will consider shutting down its five nuclear power stations. The proposed shutdowns will be in 2034, at the end of their current operating licenses. They will instead turn to renewables to replace the 40% of the country’s electricity currently coming from the nuclear plants. The Swiss Parliament will begin debate on the issue next month. The reason given for this sudden move is, of course, Fukushima.
- The Japanese government recently announced it would “cull” all cattle remaining in the 20-kilometer, no-entry zone. That is, have them euthanized. This is because many of the cattle have already died of malnutrition, and the survivors are malnourished as well. Plus, milk and meat from the cattle would be virtually worthless because of radiation fears. Now, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) wants some of the surviving cattle spared, if they are owned by people who protest the government’s “culling” plans. DPJ says numerous veterinary groups want the animals saved and studied because there is no Japanese record of the effects of increased low level radiation exposure on lactating (milk producing) animals.The veterinary notion makes sense because there can never be enough reputable data on biological radiation-effects in the natural world outside the laboratory. But, if the animals are already past the biological point of no return, then maybe they should be put out of their misery.
- The Japanese Ministry of Education says the 20 millisievert/year limit on radiation exposure to school children has been an emergency regulation since its inception. It is not something that is customary. They have also adopted a 1 millisievert “benchmark” which, when approached, will result in exposure mitigating actions like removal of top-soils. Both exposure levels fall in line with the standards recommended by the International Commission for Radiation Protection (ICRP).
- Finally, there has been some media pop about Greenpeace claiming to be finding more fish contamination above “safe limits” than the Japanese government has reported. They also claim the government’s monitoring of fish has been superficial. The local prefectural government of Fukushima countered by saying the fish sampled by Greenpeace came from waters where all fishing has been banned. We should also keep in mind that Greenpeace’s definition of “safe limits” for radioactive contamination are based on unverified modeling which is not internationally recognized. Greenpeace also claims to have found contamination on floating seaweed 50km out to sea, but neglects to mention that radiation detection equipment is ultra sensitive and can measure vanishingly tiny levels. Just because something is measurable with sensitive equipment does not mean it is hazardous. Clearly, Greenpeace is once again misrepresenting data for the purpose of amplifying public phobic fears, and trying to discredit everyone but themselves.