(For today’s Commentary – Should Japanese Nukes Be Scrapped Because of NRA Seismic Judgments? – please click here)

  • It appears that any return to a nuclear “revival” in Japan must proceed with socio-political caution. While many pundits outside of Japan hailed the Liberal Democratic Party landslide victory as something decidedly pronuclear, the view from within is different. Takuya Hattori, president of the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum says the government and the nuclear community will lose even more public trust if it becomes business as usual, “The LDP won (the Dec. 16 general election), so will nuclear power be pursued? I don’t think things are as simple as that. The point is whether the nuclear industry can show how deeply it regrets the Fukushima accident and how far it will change itself.” Public opinion continues to lean in the antinuclear direction, plus it appears that the Nuclear Regulatory Authority is taking a strict, independent watchdog role. Meiji University professor Tadahiro Katsuka, a member of the NRA regulation-setting group, said that “high bars” will be created for the nuclear utilities. He believes the nuke operators will meet the new requirements at all costs, but there are no guarantees in Japan’s socio-political climate, “You don’t know in what form pressure could be (exerted) on the NRA commissioners. Public opinion (skeptical about nuclear power) could also be a factor that is affecting them now, so if people start to become mum on the issue, the NRA’s stance could change.” Political science professor Koichi Nakano of Sophia University stresses that restraint on the part of the LDP will be critical, “They could still take a cautious approach until they win the Upper House election, opting to do what they really want to after that.” (Japan Times)
  • The NRA says their screenings of nukes for restarts will not begin until July, at the earliest. Their timetable for finishing the new nuclear plant regulations is July, so they cannot initiate site-specific assessments before then. NRA chairman Shunichi Tanaka stresses that the authority will not begin answering the restart question until the new regulations are confirmed. He added, however, the lack of political reaction to the watchdog’s conclusions of possible seismic anomalies under and/or near two Japanese nuclear stations has caused much less hesitation about making rules based on scientific objectivity. Tanaka said that until now various other factors had to be considered, but not any longer. (NHK World)
  • The Fukushima Office for Environmental Restoration is concerned that decontamination contractors may have illegally dumped some of the waste material. The Environment Ministry will summon senior officials from the contractors in question to find out how contaminated materials are being managed. The allegations include open dumping of contaminated soil, vegetation and waters into rivers and “other places”. The concerns have come from three Fukushima Prefecture communities: Tamura City, Nahara Town, and Iitate Village. (Mainichi Shimbun; Kyodo News)
  • The Potassium Iodide (KI) tablet controversy has come to Japan. KI is used in most of the world for overactive thyroid gland treatment (hyperthyroidism), as well as asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema. It is also considered to be protective against radioactive Iodine (I-131) up-take in the event of a large nuclear power plant atmospheric release…but not in Japan. No Japanese pharmaceutical company has ever applied for approval to dispense the medication for prevention of radiological exposure, so victims of side effects of the drug have no legal right to receive compensatory damages. In Japan, this means it will not be distributed by local governments – at least not yet. The Nuclear Regulatory Authority has recommended distribution to all residents living within 8 kilometers of a nuclear station, but to be taken only if a radiological release is imminent. Until Japanese law allows for the public’s legal protection against side effects, the NRA’s suggestion will not happen. Possible side effects are (medicine.net) nausea, vomiting, stomach ache, diarrhea, metallic taste, fever, headache, and acne, plus a number of more severe rare-but-not-impossible effects including irregular heartbeat, granular vomiting and a number of allergic reactions. Most of the time, side effects occur briefly then dissipate. Some of the time, the effects can be long-term. KI reduces radiation exposure to the Thyroid in two parallel processes: it saturates the Thyroid with Iodine so that it cannot absorb I-131 and it concurrently shrinks the size of the gland which further inhibits I-131 uptake. It is to be taken once every 24 hours. Taking larger, more frequent doses adds no additional protection against I-131 uptake, but it will increase the risks of exhibiting side effects. The NRA will seek legal approval from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry so that local governments can distribute tablets within an 8km radius. The NRA says they will consider expanding the radius in the future. The KI medical issue adds to the delay in restarting of the idle nuclear plants, since one condition for the approval of the restarting is more than adequate protection for residents living in the area. (Japan Daily Press)
  • Tepco says they will begin the tedious process of removing the fuel bundles from Fukushima Daiichi Spent Fuel Pool #4 this year. There are 1,533 bundles currently in the pool, although about 200 of them have not been used in the reactor. Tepco plans to start removal in November. Critics say they worry about the utility’s plans for the job because of concerns about the building’s stability and its ability to withstand another quake like the one experienced on 3/11/11. Tepco dismisses these fears and says the building’s stability is at least as good as it was before the hydrogen explosion of March 15, 2011. (NHK World)
  • Blogging colleague Rod Adams, of Atomic Insights, says that the current exclusion zones around F. Daiichi should be removed, allowing for repopulation. He made this statement in response to an article posted by Wired.co.uk. He points to the abundance of healthy animals that remain inside the F. Daiichi exclusion zone, the robust health of “stubborn babushkas” that refused to evacuate from around Chernobyl and the higher-than-Fukushima backgrounds found around the world. Adams concludes, “There is no reason to maintain the exclusion area outside of the gates of the Fukushima nuclear station. Radiation dose rates there are already lower than those found in many places where humans have been living healthy lives for many centuries.” Here’s the link to the full blog… http://atomicinsights.com/2013/01/wired-uk-seems-surprised-that-japans-abe-is-considering-new-nuclear.html