More disturbing news out of Japan? I think not!

The Press, fueled by the Japanese news media, has been focusing on the faulty temperature monitor inside the PCV (Primary Containment Vessel) of Fukushima Daiichi unit #2.  Early Sunday morning, the indication rose to ~82oC, which is above the national guideline of 80oC for maintaining a state of cold shutdown. At 2:20pm, TEPCO informed NISA that the temperature guideline for unit #2 was “no longer satisfied” as stipulated in the “Reactor Facility safety Regulation” as a “condition for Operation”. A ton of liquid boric acid was injected into the RPV, followed by a 3-ton-per-hour increase in cooling water flow. Total injection rose to 17.5 tons per hour. Within a few minutes, the indicated temperature began to decrease. By 3pm, the monitor indicated 79OC, once again below the guideline. But this morning (Monday), the monitor rose to 94oC. Looking at this trend in isolation is being widely purported as “more disturbing news from Japan”.

However, two other detectors in close proximity to the problematic one have been steadily decreasing in temperature the entire weekend. Both of them now read about 33oC, down from about 42oC before this all started. As TEPCO has been increasing cooling water flow, the two temperature decreases have followed completely in-step. While this fact has not been completely ignored by the Press, it has been reported at the very end of each article we have seen, making it a relative “ho-hum” adjunct to the “real story”. In any other industrial facility, if one instrument provides an unexpected change and the others show either nothing or the opposite trend, the problem monitor’s reading is rejected due to obvious malfunction. That is, any industrial realm other than nuclear. Everything in nuclear energy gets exaggerated by the Press to the negative extreme…everything! This is perhaps the most obvious example in Japan since March 11, 2011. By all rational thought, TEPCO’s judgment of a faulty device is correct. At least one sensible voice can be found…”It is unlikely the one showing 91.2 degrees is correct and the other two are incorrect because the other two show almost the same temperature,” Toshihiro Yamamoto, a specialist in reactor safety management at Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute, told The Japan Times Monday. But, the international Press neglects to mention Yamamoto’s statement.

What makes matters worse, and borders precipitously on the absurd, is the speculation that the materials inside the reactor have moved, creating a localized hot spot. We’re talking about temperatures below 100oC, for crying out loud! That’s not hot enough for any “movement”. However, in the news media’s unquenchable thirst for “balance”, nay-saying voices have been found. “Because we haven’t been able to grasp how the nuclear fuel in the cores has been distributed, it’s impossible to rule out localized high temperature spots,” says Kazuhiko Kudo, a special professor of nuclear engineering at Kyushu University. (Mainichi Shimbun) So, why hasn’t this hot spot been detected over the past 10 months? Probably because there is no hot spot! All this sort of reporting does is feed the anxiety of a public already paralyzed by the double-whammy of radiophobia and The Hiroshima Syndrome.

Which brings us to a final informational issue…The international Press calls everything inside of or attached to the reactor building “the reactor”. This is as incorrect and misleading as saying your entire house is your kitchen. The reactor is the steel vessel that contains the uranium core, and everything inside the vessel. All structures and material outside the steel container are not the reactor. Just like my kitchen is not my house, the reactor is not the entire power plant!

Now, for the real news…

  • Fears of radiation are stopping the massive amount of debris due to the March 2011 tsunami from being sent to other areas for processing. Even those local officials who wish to help are politically restrained from providing assistance. Keisuke Hiwatashi, mayor of Takeo, Saga Prefecture, feels the need to help processing debris. On Nov. 28 he announced that Takeo would take some of the material for disposal. However, over 1,000 phone calls and e-mails came in over the next two days, including one that could be considered a threat. Hiwatashi withdrew his decision because of these complaints. The mayor says he wants to use naturally occurring radiation as a standard, but Hiroki Nonaka, a representative of a local citizen’s group, opposes bringing in debris under any circumstances. “We should not spread contamination. We can help in other ways, like receiving evacuees or sending safe crops,” he said.  Koichi Toyoshima, professor of physics at Saga University, commented, “Radiation levels differ across the different parts of debris. The plan to use the maximum limit of naturally occurring radiation would be hard, as the volume (of debris to measure) is large.” Hiwatashi is considering holding a referendum on the issue. Elsewhere, in Kanagawa Prefecture where the government has said they want to help, most residents at meetings have been opposed to the idea and the receipt of debris is indefinitely delayed. In Niigata Prefecture, although cities have expressed willingness to consider taking on debris, the prefectural governor is reluctant to do so because of widespread fears of radiation. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • A last-minute push by the Tokyo-based anti-nuke petition drive may have succeeded. The Tokyo branch of the Let’s Decide Together/Citizen-initiated National Referendum on Nuclear Power claims to have garnered about 250,000 signatures just before the February 10th statute deadline, which is a bit more than the 214,000 that was needed. Before the petition can be formally considered by the Tokyo metropolitan assembly, the signatures must be officially verified by the city. Undaunted, the Let’s Decide group leaders have begun a news media blitz designed to gain support, as if they already have the petition verified. On Saturday, the group attacked Tokyo Governor Ishihara’s December statement that the group’s agenda is “sentimental and hysteric”. The group believes the governor’s considerable political influence will prevent their intended referendum from happening, despite their petition. Eiko Nakamura, head of the group, said, “I think that assembly members can’t make entirely independent decisions because they have to vote in line with the policies of their political parties. So we must press each member to find out their own opinion, and lobbying them will be crucial.” Clearly, their lobbying efforts include using the news media. She added, “A plebiscite is a way for all citizens to express their opinions on an equal footing, regardless of their beliefs…I believe that’s very important.” Another signature drive for a nuclear referendum is planned by the group in Shizuoka Prefecture, to start around the end of March. (Japan Times)
  • On Sunday, Tokyo’s Governor Ishihara confirmed his opposition to “Let’s Decide Together”. The governor criticized activity against nuclear power, saying: “It’s impossible to create such an ordinance, and I have no intention of doing so…The most troublesome thing among humans is sentiment. Because Japanese have the trauma of atomic bombs, people speak [against nuclear power plants] out of fear.” However, if the group submits a legal, verified petition to the governor then he must bring the demands before the Metropolitan Assembly so they can deliberate on it. (Yomiuri Shimbun) At least one Japanese governor seems aware of The Hiroshima Syndrome.
  • The Ibaraki governor has been presented a demand to never allow restart of the Tokai Nuclear Power Station. A petition has been circulated around the prefecture and has garnered more than 51,000 signatures. The document was given to Governor Masaru Hashimoto on Saturday. The petition states, in part, “We should not allow a recurrence of the irretrievable sacrifice and loss as experienced in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident.” Crisis management head Katsuyoshi Tan responded to the submittal, “The (central) government has not yet announced its decision on resuming operations (of idled nuclear reactors), so we are undecided.” The head of the petition drive wants a decision made independent of the Tokyo government. This petition is the second given to the Governor since November. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • Japanese radiophobia has spilled over into neighboring China. Wangjiang district’s local government in Anhui province has demanded that the construction of a new nuclear power station be halted immediately because “residents in the quake-prone region are in terrible danger if the nuke complex is completed.” They cite Fukushima’s accident as their evidence that earthquakes cause radiation leaks. The Wangjiang officials state that “gas and toxic liquids emitted by the plant will severely affect residents downstream. The Fukushima nuclear power plant accident in Japan last year represents a big warning.” The two most recent temblors were 5.7 and 4.9 on the Richter scale. The 5.7 quake was more than 1,000 times less severe than the 9.0 quake in Japan’s Tohoku region on March 11, 2011. This seems to mean nothing to the locals. The Chinese central government has correctly said that the claims are “baseless”. (Nuclear Power Daily)