- Mainichi Shimbun and NHK World report TEPCO’s staff never anticipated the possibility of hydrogen explosions during the nuclear emergency at Fukushima. The reports come from interviews with Fukushima’s operation’s officials being held by the government’s fact-finding panel on the accident. As part of its investigation into the crisis, the fact-finding panel is questioning TEPCO operators as well as officials with government regulators in order to try and resolve the confusions concerning what happened. The Mainichi quotes the Fukushima Daiichi plant manager, Masao Yoshida, as saying, “We made a serious mistake as we failed to grasp important information on the power station.” He then added, “Nobody was able to predict the explosion [for unit #1]”. Later on, Yoshida told the panel his staff never imagined that hydrogen would enter the outer reactor building spaces and explode because they were preoccupied with protecting the reactor fuel cell and the building’s internal containment vessel.The Mainichi further reports unit #1 had no instruction manual on venting, thus workers were forced to create a procedure for venting by studying a blueprint of the system. In addition, when the plant manager requested that the off-site emergency support teams find batteries and temporary lighting for the unit #1 control room, the communication resulted in confusion between off-site TEPCO officials. Some of the materials were mistakenly sent to Fukushima Daini, 10km south of Daiichi, and some others to an emergency personnel assembly area 20km from the plant. This forced Yoshida to send some of his plant staff to the two incorrect locations and retrieve the equipment. Mainichi also says some of the plant’s crew stated that TEPCO’s home office didn’t provide enough assistance during the early days of the emergency. One un-named operator said, “The TEPCO headquarters didn’t extend sufficient support to us.”
NHK World adds that the Fukushima staff discussed possible ways to prevent explosions at the other reactor buildings after the unit #1 blast, but execution was limited by debris caused by the first detonation and elevated radiation levels. NHK also says Fukushima’s operators were aware that a core meltdown could cause a hydrogen explosion, but had never considered the possibility of a detonation outside a containment vessel.
- NHK World reports the completion of the second waste water decontamination system at Fukushima Daiichi. Curiously, the new system is being touted as having “all-Japanese components” versus the sometimes problematic “foreign-made components” previously used in the first de-con system. Regardless, a test run on the system began Tuesday and is planned to continue until late Wednesday (today). If all goes well, it will be put into immediate operation.
- TEPCO is planning to use a portable desalination system to remove salt and other impurities from the spent fuel pools (SPF) at Fukushima. Salt water can corrode the stainless steel sheets that line the SPF’s concrete walls and floors, as well as other steel components in the pools. The three SPFs of most concern are units 2, 3 & 4, because large volumes of salt water were used for make-shift cooling over several days. Desalination of unit #1 SPF is not mentioned. The system will be used first on #4 SPF because it has the largest number of spent fuel bundles in it. If successful, the system will then be used to desalinate the unit 2 & 3 SPFs.
- NHK World reports a new subject in the national Junior High science curriculum is being taught to teachers in Tokyo. The subject is radiation…what it is, its practical uses, and its effects on the human body. The article explains, “Japan’s education ministry requires in its new curriculum guidelines that radiation be covered in Junior High science classes starting in April. This is the first time in 30 years for the ministry to set such a requirement.” The teacher training is not compulsory, however. It is designed for teachers who have no background on the subject.We applaud this program, since it seems the most critical issue producing public anxiety with respect to Fukushima’s is wide-spread ignorance concerning radiation. We suggest the training be offered to the news media, as well.
- The problem of Cesium-contaminated sewage sludge continues to get worse. Nearly 55,000 tons of the Cesium-laced material is now sitting in sewage and water treatment facilities across northern Japan, waiting for something to happen. 75% of it is below national Cesium contamination limits for burial, but the sewage treatment operators won’t touch it because it has detectable radiation coming from it. The 25% with radioactive Cesium concentrations above the national limit must be handled differently, by law, but there seems to be no government guidelines for its disposition.One thing that could help would be to train the waste and water treatment staffs about radiation, just like the Junior High teachers. Free-floating fears can only be resolved through knowledge.
- The Japanese government and TEPCO announced they will develop a system to curtail what they believe to be continuing airborne releases from damaged reactor buildings. The system will use existing piping to draw gasses from the containment structures and filter out radioactive isotopes. The system(s) will be added to the heavy-duty plastic enclosures that will encase reactor buildings 1, 3 & 4. The government believes the current rate of airborne releases is in the order of a 100 million Becquerels per hour. TEPCO says the release rate was a billion Bq/hr at this time last month, thus airborne activity on-site is dropping.
- This past Monday marked the 66th anniversary of Japan’s surrender which ended WWII. Anti-nuclear groups in Japan used the occasion to once again demand a complete abandonment of the production of electricity from nuclear energy. In addition to their use of the false reactor-bomb connection during the Hiroshima anniversary earlier this month, the groups say the government employed the same tactics to deceive people into supporting pro-nuclear policies as it did during the war to gain national support. They purport WWII only benefited the powerful few at the cost of millions of lives, and similarly nuclear energy only benefits a small group of people at the potential cost of thousands of lives. Japan Times cites Yoshinobu Koizumi, of the Tokyo-based People’s Research Institute on Energy and Environment, “Although some did voice their concern over the safety of nuclear energy — in the same manner that some believed the war was wrong — the government silenced them all.”
While the connection between bombs and reactors is based on a near-universal misconception, this new tactic employs a kernel of truth. The government did actively promote nuclear energy, and its tactics did distantly resemble the WWII government’s propaganda machine. However, to say nuclear opposition was silenced the same as WWII critics is wrong.