Before today’s updates, it might help many readers to further explain the Becquerel, with respect to some of the reports coming out of Japan. Please recall the Becquerel’s definition of one radioactive disintegration per second. One other way to look at it (in a very, very general sense) is one click per second on a Geiger counter. You will get dozens of “Geiger clicks” per second off a low-grade granite counter-top due to its containing low concentrations of natural Uranium, Radium, and Thorium. The same sort of thing happens with an adobe brick. The point is that a Becquerel is a tiny, tiny unit of measurement. On January 20th, TEPCO announced they had discovered contaminated water inside a vertical pit near unit #1. The news media said the water in the pit was highly radioactive. However, the actual activity of the water has been analyzed and found to contain 0.2 Becquerels/cc. That is, one would have to wait some 5 seconds between “Geiger clicks” when monitoring a cubic centimeter sample. Is that really “highly radioactive”? Of course not. Why did the Press call this essentially innocuous activity “highly radioactive”? Two possibilities come to mind. Either they don’t know any better, or they are intentionally exaggerating. I hope it’s the first because education will eventually correct the error. If it’s the second, then the Press is purposefully exacerbating the mental damage caused by radiophobia.

Updates from this past weekend…

  • Makoto Yagi, chair of the Japanese Federation of Electric Power Companies, is asking the government to explain the scientific basis behind the recently established 40-year limit on a nuclear plant’s operation. He also wants to know the scientific rationale for the one-time-only 20 year extension. (JAIF) Is the 40 year limit based on real-world evidence or is it merely a politically-appropriate decision without scientific substance? It seems the limit is the second case, and not the first.
  • The Tokyo nuclear disaster task force has discovered that the Prime Minister had no records kept of his staff meetings concerning the Fukushima accident. P.M. Kan’s emergency taskforce was assembled on March 11, including all cabinet members, to combat the emergency and control public protective actions in accordance with law. They made critical decisions over a period of months regarding evacuations, decontamination plans, and food restrictions. But, no record of what actually went on in the meetings exists. The NISA representative in the P.M.’s taskforce said everyone was too busy to keep records during the meetings. However, the public records management act requires that minutes of all important official meetings be kept for public accountability. Sources say NISA’s taskforce representative was supposed to act as secretary and keep the minutes, and he is currently being interviewed in the hope of filling the informational void. In addition, there is no record of the government/TEPCO taskforce meetings held concurrently in the same building as the P.M.’s taskforce. (JAIF) I want to know if several months of meetings with no written record is merely an “oops!” or a cover-up?
  • Industry Minister Yukio Edano said that TEPCO is responsible for the financial impacts of the recently discovered radioactive cement and gravel used since April, 2011. He will ask TEPCO to begin compensatory measures as soon as possible. Edano is reacting to Nihonmatsu Mayor Keiichi Miho’s request concerning the apartment building in his city which is built on a base-mat made of the cement. Actually, there are no national standards on contaminated building materials, so it is probable that TEPCO will refrain from compliance with Edano’s request until such standards are created. On Sunday, the government stated that as many as 80 more homes and apartment buildings have been either built or repaired using the contaminated concrete since April. One home in Fukushima City measures 0.85 microsieverts/hr, which is about the same as the natural radiation field around a granite counter-top. Since the reading is slightly higher than the general area outside the home, the government says clean-up is being considered although no adverse health effects are expected. (JAIF)
  • The Fukushima Office for Environmental Restoration is the government’s center for Fukushima decontamination work. Nuclear Disaster Minister Goshi Hosono has announced there will be five branch offices in Fukushima Prefecture, in addition to the central office in Fukushima City, to coordinate decontamination efforts across the area. The total number of persons working between the six locations will be about 200. Hosono added the actual work could begin as early as March, but could be delayed due to local opposition with plans for establishing a waste storage center in Futaba, adjacent to Fukushima Daiichi. (NHK World)
  • A full, catastrophic meltdown could occur at the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station (NPS) if it suffers a Fukushima-level blackout for three days. The estimate, supplied by the NPS’s owner Chubu Electric Power Company, has been drawn up to expedite local nuclear emergency drills and facilitate the efforts of local officials and emergency teams within the 30km radius. Chubu Electric also estimates that the spent fuel storage pools would take 25 days to dry out and potentially have all stored fuel cells melt. The NPS, which has five nuclear power plants, has been shut down since May by then-P.M. Naoto Kan due to his fears of a severe earthquake in the area sometime in the next 30 years. Kan also feared units 1 and 2 were too old, more than 40 years, to be trusted if such an earthquake happened. At Kan’s insistence, Chubu Electric agreed to decommission both nuclear plants. (Asahi Shimbun)
  • The government’s working group on risk with respect to low-dose exposures has reported on their findings. They conclude that (1) a 20 millisievert annual exposure is justifiable when compared to other cancer-causing factors found in daily life, (2) it is appropriate to set separate safety measures for children due to the assumption that they have a greater cancer risk, and (3) risk communication is necessary for the sake of the public so that radiological activities can be made with the participation of residents. With respect to children, decontamination should bring their annual exposure levels to one millisievert or less. The group recommends that evacuation orders should not be lifted until schools and play areas meet the one millisievert standard. In addition, food restrictions for children should be less than those for adults. Finally, the group says the goal should be set to make Fukushima Prefecture the lowest cancer mortality rate location in all of Japan. (JAIF)
  • The Tokyo Occupational Safety and Health Center believes nuclear worker’s exposures in both work and personal life experiences should be totaled together. Center secretariat worker Katsuyasu Iida says, “No matter where they are exposed to radiation, it’s the same thing for an individual.” Currently, the Health Ministry only records on-the-job exposure histories because the situations and measurement methods differ greatly from every-day life. On the job, workers exposures are constantly measured using individual dosimeters. Off the job, exposures are estimated. Iita maintains that workers’ total radiation doses “should be strictly controlled by adding up doses received when they are not at work.” (Mainichi Shimbun) If this happens, Japan will be the only country in the world to do such a thing and potentially bring natural background exposures into the “detectable is dangerous” notion that has engulfed Japan.