Friday’s restart of Takahama unit #3 resulted in numerous fear-mongering, FUD-filled articles in the Japanese Press. We have updated our Saturday posting about the restart, including reports in today’s Press. The fraction of the core made of recycled (used/spent) fuel – i.e. MOX – is a common focus of the reports. Clearly, fear of plutonium is being exploited to the extreme.

Now, back to Fukushima…

  • Fukushima’s “ice wall” is fully installed. The last segment of the 1.5km-long structure is finished, and filling the in-ground piping with coolant/refrigerant has begun. Once the system is filled, all that remains will be approval by the Nuclear Regulation Authority to put the system into operation. The NRA has concerns about the ice wall causing groundwater level to drop below the contaminated water level inside the four unit’s basements, which could possibly result in “unintended consequences”. Regardless, once in operation, the frozen barrier should reduce groundwater flow inside the wall to less than 10 tons per day. The total cost of the project is just below $300 million USD. (Comment – This is another “good news” story largely ignored by Japan’s Press. Only NHK World carried it.)
  • The last remaining exclusion areas in Kawauchi City will be re-opened this spring. Fukushima Prefecture announced that the Ogi and Kainosake districts will have their evacuation orders lifted.  Fukushima’s office of the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters shared the plan with residents in the districts at a support center in the village. Eight of the 52 residents from the two districts attended. Some complained that their homes need repairs, while others said they remain concerned about lingering effects of low level radiation exposure. Both districts have been opened for “temporary” habitation for nearly three months.
  • Fukushima police say 1,613 residents died in the quake/tsunami of March 11. 2011. Once the remains of one person were officially identified, the book could be closed on the horrific data. Hidekatsu Suzuki’s remains were recovered on March 14, 2011, in wreckage removed by workers in Iwaki City. The long, macabre process of identification used false teeth, the victim’s past x-rays, and other such data. On January 19th, his name was released to the Press. Mr. Suzuki was a resident of the city’s Hisanohama District. Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures still have unidentified remains to analyze before they can end their investigations.
  • Tepco continues preparations for a robotic incursion inside unit#2 Primary Containment (PCV). Earlier attempts were stymied by imbedded concrete blocks that were located in the robot’s intended path. The blocks have been removed, so planning for the PCV examination can move forward. The main obstacle, at this point, is the relatively high radiation field around the point of insertion for the robot. Humans must make the insertion through the thick PCV walls, and the radiation field is too great to allow it, at this point. Decontamination efforts have lowered the radiation field, but not enough to suit Tepco and the NRA.  A graphic Press handout of the planned robotic inspection can be found here…
  • The restart of Takahama #3 upsets neighboring prefectural governors. Two prefectures overlap the 30km Emergency Planning Zone and they feel they should have had the right of approval on the restart. Shiga Governor Taizo Mikazuki says he would not have approved the restart because he feels no in-depth protection plan for handling a nuclear emergency has been established. He also wants the plant owner, Kansai Electric Co., to provide more safety measures at Takahama station. Kyoto Governor Keiji Yamada finds the restart regrettable because he had no say in the matter. Part of Kyoto Prefecture is about 5 kilometers from Takahama station.
  • Fuel loading for Takahama unit#4 quietly begins. Four of the 157 fuel bundles are MOX; the first time recycled fuel bundles have been used in this unit. Kansai Electric Co. plans to have to core fully loaded by the end of the day on Wednesday. Only one major news outlet ran an article on this.
  • Another petition to stop a nuke restart is shot down. Yawatahama City Assembly, Ehime Prefecture, rejected the petition calling for a popular referendum on whether to allow restart of Ikata unit #3. The restart is expected in late spring. Yawatahama lies some thirty kilometers from Ikata station, at the edge of the EPZ. Although the Ehime governor and Ikata Town mayor have approved the restart, die-hard antinuclear groups from the region created the petition and got nearly 10,000 of the City residents to sign it. The petition claims that the Local Autonomy Law allows for such a referendum. To the contrary, Yawatahama Mayor Ichiro Oshiro said, “There is no framework for considering such a result or implementing it under the current system, even if citizens express their opposition to the matter.”
  • Japan’s largest newspaper lauds the Takahama restart. The Yomiuri Shimbun says, “It is highly significant that the power supply system will be bolstered in the Kansai economic zone, the nation’s second-biggest such zone after the Tokyo metropolitan area.” The two Takahama units will provide 7% of the Kansai’s expected demand and lower the company’s expenditure on expensive imported fossil fuels during the lengthy nuke moratorium. In fact, Kepco is anticipating a rate reduction for customers as early as April.  In addition, the Yomiuri says the use of some MOX fuel in the core of unit #3 can only “contribute to the progress of the nuclear fuel cycle.” The newspaper also makes a statement about the NRA’s safety regulations this writer has not seen before in the Japanese Press (or the international Press, for that matter), “Safety measures at the Takahama plant have been reinforced based on the assumption that natural disasters of an unprecedented scale may happen.” (Emphasis added) Finally, the Yomiuri bemoans the tiresome slowness of the NRA in clearing nukes for restart, “The NRA’s screening of other plants has been delayed, making it uncertain when they can be reactivated. The restart of these reactors will be indispensable to a stable power supply. A large-scale power outage has not occurred because utilities have managed to maintain full operation of their aged thermal power plants. To find a way out of this situation, which is like walking a tightrope, the NRA must conduct screening swiftly.”
  • Fukushima InFORM says no detectible Fukushima Cesium has reached the western Canada coastline. It is getting closer, to be sure, but has not happened yet. On the other hand, the increase in Cesium 137 in coastal waters has increased by an average of 0.5 Becquerels per liter over the past year. (Aside – The banana I eat with breakfast every day has at least 30 times more radioactivity from Potassium-40, at a much higher energy level for each emission relative to Cs-137. – End aside) Fukushima InFORM explains that the miniscule increase in Cs-137 indicates that a tiny concentration of Fukushima’s fingerprint isotope Cs-134 is probably existent, but in concentrations too little to be detected by the most sensitive monitoring devices in Canada.