Today’s Fukushima updates begin with a stark example of news media “spin-doctoring”. The following summaries are from two separate sources, both of which are among the most widely-read newspapers in Japan. The juxtaposing of the two shows how one news event can be spun into two differing conceptions.

  • Environment Minister Goshi Hosono has asked Fukushima Prefecture to allow a temporary contaminated waste storage facility to be built in Futaba County, home of Fukushima Daiichi. Hosono met with Fukushima Gov. Yuhei Sato and the mayors of eight towns and villages in the county. Sato told Hosono he would respect opinions of local residents on whether or not to accept the request. Hosono cited two reasons for the government’s plan. First, several locations in Futaba county have radiation levels of 100 millisieverts per year or more, which will make relocation of the population unreasonable even if the locations were fully decontaminated. Second, the prospective sites are close to the areas of highest contamination levels, so transport of the waste material will pose little or no risk. After the meeting, Hosono said, “I received some positive opinions.” The government hopes to buy up all the possible properties before building the facilities. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • On the other hand, another news source put it this way…Hosono’s request is reported to have, “…sent ripples of concern through local governments and residents in Fukushima Prefecture.” Evacuees of Futaba County who hope to eventually return home are firmly against the request, while those who are resigned to permanent relocation support it. The negative responses took the lead. Namie Mayor Tamotsu Baba feels the facility will keep everyone away and said, “Residents will not be able to return because the negative image is so strong.” Kawauchi Mayor Yuko Endo doesn’t trust the Tokyo government and fears the waste facility will be used permanently, “We want the government to legally guarantee (that the facility will be used only for 30 years).” A 60-year-old farmer said, “Is it fair that we send electricity to Tokyo but waste will be put in Futaba county? If we accept it, no one will be able to live here.” The one positive response posted at the end of the report is a woman who has given up hope of ever returning to Futaba and says the government might as well put their waste facility there. (Mainichi Shimbun)

Other updates…

  • An unidentified “nuclear expert” has said that design flaws in the depressurization (venting) piping between unit’s #3 and #4 caused their hydrogen explosions. There are interconnections in the common discharge ducting between the units that lead directly to the fourth floor air conditioning ductwork of both units. The air conditioning system interconnects to the refueling deck in each reactor building. The expert said, “Under that structure, venting could turn into a self-bomb.” In unit #3, a “back-flow prevention valve” designed to keep exhaust gasses out of the air conditioning system may have been forced partially open by high flow during the several venting episodes of March 13th and 14th. The expert said this could have been the invasive pathway for the hydrogen which exploded and demolished the unit #3 refueling deck. He further said system diagrams show no such back-flow prevention on unit #4’s interconnection to its air conditioning system. Since units #3 and #4 have common ductwork leading to the external exhaust stack, the venting of unit #3 could have sent hydrogen gas into the unit #4 reactor building and caused its hydrogen explosion. NISA, Tokyo’s nuclear “watchdog”, cannot deny the possibility. On Dec. 22nd TEPCO says they found “traces” of gas inflow in the unit #3 air conditioning ductwork, but not enough to cause the hydrogen explosion. NISA says they are now developing new regulations requiring all primary containments to have an independent venting pathway separate from other neighboring units. They also say they will require hydrogen back-flow protection for all interconnections to venting pathways. (Asahi Shimbun)
  • The membership of Tokyo government’s Fukushima investigative panel is as follows, with summary credentials… Yotaro Hatamura (chairman and professor emeritus of the University of Tokyo), Kazuo Oike (former president of KyotoUniversity), Shizuko Kakinuma (National Institute of Radiological Sciences’
    Research Center for Radiation Protection), Yukio Takasu (former ambassador to the United Nations), Toshio Takano (former prosecutor, Nagoya High Public Prosecutors Office), Yasuro Tanaka (former chief judge of the Sapporo High Court), Yoko Hayashi (lawyer), Michio Furukawa (mayor of Kawamatamachi,
    Fukushima Prefecture), Kunio Yanagida (writer), Hitoshi Yoshioka (vice president of Kyushu University). (Yomiuri Shimbun) As we have said previously, the panel is devoid of anyone with nuclear operating experience. Thus, any conclusions drawn concerning operator actions are open to criticism.
  • One of the points open to criticism concerns the unit #1 Isolation Condenser (IC). Whether or not it was fully operational just after the station blackout struck, without the knowledge of control room staff and plant management, is not the issue here. The panel concluded that if plant staff had realized the loss of IC cooling function, alternative cooling could have been started and the meltdown prevented. (Yomiuri Shimbun via michele Kearney) However, for unit #1 the only alternative would have beeen depressurizing the RPV and using low pressure diesel-driven fire pumps to maintain water level in the core. What the
    panel failed to consider (for political reasons?) was even if the situation with IC was instantly discovered, there was no way for them to quickly depressurize long enough to get low pressure flow to the core. Depressurization of the RPV would dump steam into the primary containment’s torus, which would have to be vented to the outside atmosphere after continual RPV depressurization was occurring. By law, venting could not begin until local evacuations had been verified. The plant manager and local officials initially decided to evacuate a 2 kilometer radius. As it turns out, the Prime Minister unilaterally expanded
    the radius to 3 kilometers, effectively doubling the number of people who had to be removed from the surrounding area. In addition, the P.M. ordered venting to be delayed until his staff held a Press Conference at 3am, March 12th. By 3am, the meltdown was unquestionably in full progression. The mandated evacuation itself was not completed until 9am, March 12th,some six hours after the press conference in Tokyo. In other words, rapid identification if IC dysfunction and preparations for alternative low pressure pumping supply would have in no way stopped the progression to meltdown! If there’s a primary culprit in the meltdown of unit #1, it’s politics. Is the panel missing something here, or are they protecting the man who assembled them…Prime Minister Naoto Kan?
  • TEPCO has reported that one of the several operational temperature detectors inside unit #1 is malfunctioning. It’s indicated temperature has swung back and forth more than 20 oC since December 22nd. The other detectors have indicated no such changes, so the one monitor in-question must be indicating incorrectly.