(For today’s Commentary – How Hazardous is Cesium-137? – please click here)

  • Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) has begun their investigation into the geological seam running under the Oi nuclear power station. Commissioner Kunihiko Shimazaki, Tokyo University professor Mitsuhisa Watanabe, and three seismic/geological experts comprise the investigative team. Today, the group was initially briefed on Kepco’s recent findings, then inspected the locations where borings and samples had been taken by Kepco, followed by an examination of the soil layers in a boring removed from the ground just above the seam itself. During the physical examination, samples of soil and stone were taken by the NRA team. After the lengthy inspection, Shimazaki said they had learned a great deal and that the NRA will meet on Sunday to assess their findings. The team plans on posting their independent assessment at some point in the near future. The team pointed out the geologic zone cannot cause an earthquake by itself, but there is concern that it could move as a result of other seismic faults in the area causing an earthquake severe enough to damage a major seawater intake structure at Oi. If the seawater intake were to fail, it would inhibit emergency cooling functions for any reactor at Oi that had been operating at the time of the earthquake. The team would not say if their inspection indicated whether or not the Oi seam is thus seismic. However, Shimazaki left the door ajar for further studies, “It is one possibility that there will be some talks about reinvestigation.” (NHK World; Mainichi Shimbun; Kyodo News Service)
  • The NRA hopes their new emergency planning guidelines will begin to restore public trust in Tokyo’s nuclear authorities. Chairman Shunichi Tanaka says the new strategies for public protection should also dispel the idea of absolute nuclear safety, which was one of the underlying causes of the Fukushima accident. Instead, they believe the new guidelines should send the message that “a nuclear accident could happen”. The new plans call for a 5 kilometer Precautionary Action Zone (PAZ) around each nuke where all residents would be required to immediately evacuate at the outbreak of a nuclear crisis, long before radioactive releases should begin. The PAZ existed in a different form prior to F. Daiichi whereby each plant’s management made an agreement with local authorities on how wide a PAZ should be. From operator records, it seems the F. Daiichi PAZ was two kilometers wide. Next, an Urgent Protective Action Planning Zone (UPZ) will extend from 5km out to 30km. This is an extension of the former 10 km EPZ contained in existing Japanese disaster law. UPZ and PAZ designations now meet or exceed international standards. Tanaka optimistically said, “We’ve made safety the top priority and will rebuild the public’s trust.” Meanwhile, local municipalities affected by the new NRA guidelines are taking this sort of emergency planning seriously, many for the first time. The so-called “nuclear safety myth” was embraced by much more than the “nuclear village” and the Tokyo government. The expanded planning zones also affect much larger populations than before. Prior to 3/11/11, the Tokai nuclear station, the nuke nearest to Tokyo, had plans covering 220,000 people. The expanded plans relative to Tokai now encompass 930,000 people. Ibaraki prefecture, home of the Tokai plant, fears they will be left to do all the planning themselves. One official said, “It’s problematic if the NRA only decides on an outline and then leaves the details up to the respective local governments.” In addition, there’s the issue of the distribution of thyroid-blocking Potassium Iodide (KI) tablets. Currently, there are no guidelines as to who would be responsible for administering disbursement, how it would happen, and when it should occur. Some municipalities want exemption from any possible side effects for ingesting the KI tablets. However, everyone agrees that implementation of emergency planning is the shortest path to local approval of reactor restarts. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • Japan’s moratorium on operating nukes is costing a lot of money. Eight of Japan’s ten leading electric companies have posted huge financial losses due to increased buying of oil and natural gas to fuel the “thermal” plants that have replaced the nation’s nukes. The total impact is about 40 billion dollars in fuel costs over the past six months, which would not have happened if Japan had not shuttered all their nukes. Five companies were forced to eliminate mid-term dividends to their shareholders in order to pay for the imported fuels. In addition, six companies face considerable consumer rate increases. Tepco already raised rates in September because each shuttered nuke resulted in about a billion dollars per year in added fuel costs. Two other companies say they will similarly raise their rates this spring. Three more companies say they are considering rate hikes, as well. Many utilities are hoping to be able to begin nuke restarts in April in order to ease the nation’s economic burden. But, the Nuclear Regulatory Authority says they will not have new regulations in place before next summer. Without the NRA’s consent, getting necessary local consent for restarts will be almost impossible. (Asahi Shimbun)
  • Futaba mayor, Katsutaka Idogawa, has told the United Nations that the Fukushima Crisis is far from over. He told this to the UN’s European Headquarters in Geneva. Futaba is one of the two municipalities immediately adjacent to F. Daiichi, which may take as long as 50 years to repopulate. Idogawa explained that despite repeated government assurances that the three melted reactors at F. Daiichi have been stabilized, he doesn’t believe it. He criticized Tokyo for not fully disclosing information relative to how much radiation exposure his constituents received. Idogawa boldly asked, “Don’t we have human rights?” (Japan Times)