In remarks made to NHK World late Tuesday, American NRC Chairman Robert Jaczko said something we have been saying for several months…sort of said it, anyway. Jaczko told NHK that if Japan had adopted safety rules similar to those implemented in the Unites States over the past decade, the “damage at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant could have been smaller”. Largely due to the World Trade Center terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001, the NRC mandated terrorist-based safety improvements which included protecting and upgrading the reliability of emergency power sources. Parallel Japanese emergency power upgrades could have saved Fukushima. On one hand, we are pleased that someone with international respect and tacit authority has finally stated the obvious. On the other hand, saying the accident at Fukushima “could have been smaller” falls short of what seems intuitively obvious to the informed observer. It could have been avoided altogether. Of course, if Jaczko said this, it would make his recent push for new Fukushima-inspired American nuclear regulations seem empty, at best.

Now for other Fukushima news…

  • Mainichi Shimbun reports TEPCO’s public information announcements in March concerning the venting (depressurization) of unit #1 during the first two days of the accident were false. The newspaper uses TEPCO’s official report submitted to NISA on May 23 as their evidence. And, they are correct. However, the unit #1 control room records from March 11 and 12 provide almost conclusive evidence that TEPCO was not providing full disclosure through March 15 on several accounts, not just unit #1 venting. With the unit #1 venting issue, control room records show that initial efforts to vent failed, and subsequent efforts were partially successful, at best. The partial success caused containment pressure to drop, and radiation monitors to increase at the plant’s property boundary. Within an hour, the radiation monitors readings dropped considerably, indicating that venting had stopped. TEPCO’s news releases in mid-March cast a very different picture. Mainichi Shimbun’s report hits this specific nail on the head, but it’s literally the tip of a considerable iceberg.
  • The Japanese news media has widely reported the discovery of “high radiation” in places as far from Fukushima as 150 kilometers. The exposure levels reported vary between 0.2 and 0.5 microsieverts/hr. These levels are similar to levels monitored in Iwaki City, only 50 km. from Fukushima. What the news reports fail to include…and we blame this on the government agencies releasing the information…these exposures are within the natural background levels in these and other parts of inland Japan prior to Fukushima happening. Please keep in mind that the current intensive nation-wide monitoring program inspired by Fukushima is looking at radiation levels in areas never examined before. Are the new readings typical natural levels for the geographic location, or not? Are there academic institution records for the regions that can be used for comparison? Clearly, more work needs to be done before blaming the radiation readings on Fukushima. Besides, are these reported levels actually health-impacting “high radiation”? Not even close.
  • JAIF and TEPCO report the first sturdy barriers to prevent any future contaminated water reaching the Pacific Ocean are now in place. They have fabricated thick, steel-coated, concrete-filled “sheets” which have been slid into place to completely seal off the water intake structure’s openings to the sea. We cannot copy the pictures of what they have done, but a quick click on the following URL will let you see for yourself…
  • The Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station owner, Chubu Electric Company, has announced that an 18 meter-high tsunami embankment will be built to protect the power complex from 14-15 meter high tsunamis like the one that devastated Fukushima Daiichi. NHK World reports Chubu Electric will make the embankment as much as 1.5 kilometers in length (1 mile). Chubu also says they will build a water-proof structure for a emergency sea water pumps to supply the three reactors at the station in case a Fukushima-type accident strikes the facility. They believe these upgrades will improve local public opinion, allowing local governments to permit restarting all three units. They plan to finish the upgrades by December, 2012.Once again we find Japanese tsunami upgrade plans that completely miss the point. They should move their emergency diesels from their present locations and put them in seismic, water-tight structures. The added embankment protection might work, but moving the diesels probably will work.
  • JAIF reports that currently 37 of Japan’s nuclear power plants are not operating, mostly due to Prime Minister Kan’s de-facto moratorium on restarting them. 11 of them will qualify to be considered for restart following the still-ambiguous first phase of safety stress tests. The four damaged Fukushima units will never be restarted. Thus as many as 22 of the currently idled nukes will remain in operational limbo after phase one stress testing. Every nuke shutting down hereafter will only add to the in-limbo list. It is planned that 5 will shut down by autumn, six more by winter, and the other two by next spring. It’s unlikely any of the nukes planned for phase one of the stress test will be operating by autumn. However, if all of them are operating by next spring, they will merely maintain the current power shortage in Japan.
  • Since a couple Emailers have asked…although still not working up to optimal design level, the waste water treatment system is decontaminating between 37 and 39 tons of water per hour, when it’s operating. It has been running about 85% of the time, this past week. That’s where the ~800 tons per day comes from.
  • Japan’s Prime Minister may be politicking for a nation-wide nuclear phase-out, but the minority Liberal Party of Japan says they will not support it. They feel Kan’s position is overly hasty and poorly thought-out. They feel adding new electrical capacity through renewables, and maintaining Japan’s current nuclear generating capacity, makes much more sense. Further, in order to meet Japan’s promised CO2 reductions on time, adding “thermal” (fossil-fueled) plants to fill the gap will make compliance essentially impossible. Minister of the Environment Satsuki Eda says Japan will meet their promised 25% CO2 emission reductions by 2020 using renewables such as numerous small hydroelectric generation from streams and creeks, and be able to remove nuclear from the mix. But, this is quite misleading. No such technology exists for hydro generation on water flows this small. Clearly, Kan’s cabinet is grasping at straws by supporting his personal anti-nuclear stance, trying to save their boss’ job …and their own jobs, as well.