First, there’s some international good and bad news. The bad news first…Italy has passed a public referendum and their people have overwhelmingly said “NO!” to the country’s development of nuclear energy. However, they had already pulled out of the nuclear picture with a similar referendum after Chernobyl’s disaster 25 years ago. All Italian plants in operation before Chernobyl have been in the process of sequential decommissioning for several years. Their closure and decommissioning was called a “50 billion Euro mistake” by then-economic minister Claudio Skajola. It seems Italy has joined into the Fukushima-fueled no-nukes-bandwagon in Europe. Sweden and the Netherlands have already shied away from nuclear development. The Swedish plan to expand their hydro-electric and renewables programs, and Netherlands with renewables alone. In May, Switzerland decided to phase out their 5 nuclear plants and replace them with hydro and renewables, too. But Germany…they plan to replace their nukes with coal-burners. Deplorable, to say the least.

Now the good news. China is moving ahead with its nuclear energy program undaunted. 12 new pressurized water reactor systems (PWR) are either under construction or firmly planned. The first two units at Yangjaing are more than two weeks ahead of schedule, with the second steel containment dome, more than 100 feet in diameter, put in place in early May. (See “Chernobyl Disaster” page for description of a domed containment) The first unit’s containment outer concrete shield building is nearly finished, with heavy equipment installation of reactor system components in full swing. There will be six PWRs at Yangjaing planned for operation by 2017. In addition, the first two domed containment buildings at Haiyang are well under-way, with the tall, more than 100 ft. in diameter containment rings being put in place. The first two units are planned for operation by 2015. Units 3 & 4 have been approved by the government and will start construction soon. The final two units are expected to be approved by the end of the year and construction will begin soon there-after.

Mean while, with the three RPVs at Fukushima remaining in a relatively stable condition…

  • The number of reported high worker exposures at Fukushima continues to grow. The total is now over thirty. Eight workers are in excess of the 250 millisievert emergency worker exposure limit, and 23 others at greater than 100 msv exposure. All exposures combine internal and external measurements. The Health Ministry has ordered TEPCO to release the workers from duty and send them for a health exam. The Health Ministry has again admonished TEPCO for the unnecessary delay in having the workers examined, since all of them were exposed and/or internally contaminated during the hectic mid-March period at the plant complex. Giving them whole body scans more than 45 days after the fact, and delaying the reporting of their results another month is “unacceptable.” The Ministry further ordered TEPCO to scan all workers who have yet to be examined with the whole body counters (some 600 out of 3,700) by June 20. In addition, NISA has ordered TEPCO to check the exposures of the more than 4,000 others who spent some time at the plant complex since March 11 but are not company or contracted employees.The record TEPCO is establishing relative to exposure mitigation is disappointing and inexcusable. This will be addressed in full with a future update, after all evidence is in.
  • JAIF and IAEA report that the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) needs to be removed from the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, given full independence, and have legal jurisdiction over the Japanese nuclear utilities, similar to America’s NRC. If and when this will happen is currently unknown. Japan’s existing nuclear safety standards are woefully inadequate for extreme accidents, and do not measure up to international standards. They need a major nuclear safety over-haul. It’s not only with earthquake/tsunami protection, either. Regulatory upgrades need to be created to cover all Beyond Design Basis Accident (BDBA) scenarios, especially those that can possibly lead to a prolonged loss of power.To speed up the political process, Prefectural governments in Japan that have nuclear plants are putting some heavy pressure on the government. First, it must be mentioned that the Saga governor has eased his stand on not re-starting Genkai units 2 & 3. He now says “I have no timetable (on the issue). Though we are also discussing about the necessity (of electricity), we want to put top priority on the confirmation of safety.” Asahi Shimbun reports many other Prefectural governors are also holding back on giving permission for nuclear plant restarts until the government upgrades safety standards and has all nuclear plants meet the new standards. New mobile power generators and portable back-up pumps mandated at the end of March are not enough. Prefectural governors can legally block re-starting of operational units coming out of refueling and maintenance outages, as well as stop the initial start-up of new units. They cannot order shutdowns of currently operating units. But, presently only 19 of Japan’s 54 nukes are operating, with the rest shut down due to planned outage, automatic shutdown due to the earthquake, and (of course) the six Fukushima Daiichi units. Five more are scheduled for regular outages by mid-summer. Unless the regulatory situation in Japan takes a major positive turn, there will be nation-wide power shortages through-out the summer.

    While we still feel denying Japan the electricity critically needed for earthquake and tsunami recovery is a mistake, we also sympathize with what Japan’s Prefectural governors are trying to do. Japan must upgrade their nuclear safety program, from the bottom up. Occasionally one must fight fire with fire, and it seems this is what the governors are doing. They do not want the plants shut down permanently, but they do want the government to do act now, and not whenever political expediency dictates.

  • TEPCO’s decontamination device designed to strip water-borne isotopes from the liquid wastes building up in the four reactor and turbine buildings, is testing quite well. Preliminary operation using only American absorptive material reduced concentrations by a factor of 3,000. Next, a French removal process, using “special chemicals” will begin testing today. The two processes will be run in series, one after the other, to remove the maximum levels possible.
  • Japan Today reports that Fukushima City, the Prefectural capital, will be issuing all children dosimeters to wear to school beginning in September. This will number more than 34,000 pre-school, primary and secondary students. Parents with children under 3 years old (too young for pre-school) will be supplied dosimeters upon request. There will not be enough time to get this huge number of dosimeters for the summer because of the exceptional sales of personal dosimetry since March 11. The dosimetric cup-board is literally bare! The nearby city of Date has immediately followed suit, which will stretch the dosimetric short-fall even more.Does this mean the children are in danger before September? Of course not. The Iodine is essentially gone due to its relatively short half-life. The levels of Cesium and Strontium would not hurt anyone, including newborns. But, the parents don’t know who to believe with the biological effects of radiation. The Hiroshima Syndrome emerges once again.
  • JAIF reports one of the workers at Fukushima forgot to put a contamination filter on his mask before going to work last Friday. TEPCO reports the worker, in his 60s, worked outside Reactor Building #2 for two hours before he noticed he was missing his necessary filter. TEPCO says they will look into whether or not bad management caused this error.WHAT? Sound Health Physics practices eliminate the possibility of this happening in the first place! Before anyone enters a radiologically controlled area, a detailed examination of personnel safety attire must be performed. Obviously it wasn’t, in this case. Of course it’s mismanagement! Who’s TEPCO trying to fool?
  • Radioactive hot spots in the city of Date are becoming a grave concern. JAIF reports numerous locations showing radiation fields which could (if someone were there 24/7) exceed the 20 msv/yr public exposure limit. Local residents might more reasonably exceed the 1 msv/yr level recommended by the International Commission on Radiation Protection (ICRP).The ICRP limits are conservative estimates based entirely on the fictional Linear, No Threshold Hypothesis (i.e. no-safe level). While the possible levels of exposure in Date are greater than the ICRP limits, they pale in comparison to natural background levels experienced by millions around the world, which have never hurt anyone.
  • More than 40 lawyers across Japan are forming a group to file a lawsuit against their government demanding they abandon nuclear energy. They plan to become a legally recognized organization by mid-July, and will file their suit soon there-after.
  • NHK world reports 47% of the Japanese public now want fewer nuclear plants for Japan, 18% percent want to abandon nuclear energy entirely, but 27% want to maintain the present nuclear energy supply system. One percent say they want nuclear energy expanded. NHK says the main reason for all the nuclear anxiety is dissatisfaction with the government concerning nuclear energy, with 74% saying they disapprove of their government’s handling of the Fukushima emergency.