TEPCO’s recent release of its interim report on Fukushima has literally turned into a bad soap opera.  Most of the Japanese news media are lambasting TEPCO for stating the obvious. For example, there is no doubt that regulatory overconfidence in tsunami protection for nuclear plants is the root cause of the Fukushima accident. The degree of regulatory control of nuclear operations in Japan is essentially dictatorial. The owners and operators of nuclear power stations do what the government tells them, and avoids doing more than what is required. The TEPCO report correctly identifies regulatory overconfidence as the reason why the accident was possible, in the first place. Adequate beyond-design-basis safety upgrades would probably have averted the accident. However, the Press is now pointing a guilty finger at TEPCO as the fundamental culprit. For example in an Asahi Shimbun article, “Genki Yagawa, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, said the disaster had happened because the company’s mind-set was that no serious accident would ever occur.” It’s as if the news media wants to absolve their government of culpability and lay all blame of TEPCO. Not that TEPCO is merely an innocent child of the system, for they had sufficient reason to make upgrades independent of their regulatory bodies. But, the clear attempt at government absolution is a deplorably misleading direction on the part of the Japanese Press, but recommendations for such upgrades from IAEA in the mid-1990s  and 2002 were rejected by Tokyo as too unlikely to warrant the costs.

Across the Japanese news realm, the TEPCO report is being widely criticized for telling it like it is. It sounds like the accident’s progression is given in great detail. (The report remains in Japanese only) It is almost entirely devoid of speculations, which we feel is a credit to the writers of the report. However, the Press is saying the report leaves questions unanswered and should be summarily condemned, if you will. Tadashi Narabayashi, a professor of nuclear reactor engineering at Hokkaido University, said, “I do not see any evidence of new knowledge. What sticks out is the inclusion of only the facts without giving the cause.” This sort of attack is groundless. The report was obviously intended to give the facts and avoid speculation as to cause. This is one time TEPCO should be praised for their informational effort, and the Press should be severely admonished.

Now for today’s updates…

  • Miyagi Prefecture has begun testing children near the Fukushima Prefecture border for possible thyroid damage. The children are from the two Miyagi locations that have whole body exposures of more than 1 millisievert per year. Both locations are below 5 msv/yr, many times less than the 100 msv exposure the news media tells everyone is the threshold of possible cancer. However, some residents are taking rational advantage of the opportunity, “As it borders Fukushima Prefecture and the radiation level is high, I hope to get rid of my worries. I want test opportunities to be offered regularly,” said Toru Sakuma, a 28-year-old self-employed resident who took his 1-year-old boy Haruki for the test.
  • The TEPCO interim report also addresses the feelings of the plant operating staff during the days March 11 – March 15. The over-riding emotion was one of helplessness. The station blackout effectively eliminated all operator–initiated recovery efforts, although some cooling systems running off the batteries started automatically. However, the magnitude of the loss of control and the total loss of lighting in the control rooms caused the people to feel that there was no hope. This section of the report also identifies the efforts plant operators made in the attempt to recover cooling functions. Some efforts were temporarily successful, while others completely failed. Finally, we find for the first time in the news media, an explanation of what the staff evacuation announcements during the early days of the accident meant. Aftershocks were so severe that workers not in anti-seismic structures were sent to outdoor assembly areas to take roll-call and find out if anyone had been hurt. Those in seismic structures stayed at their posts through-out. There was never an abandonment of the site. (Japan Times)
  • In addition, the so-called “Fukushima Fifty” who allegedly braved life and limb by staying at their posts while others fled in mortal terror, were also those inside seismic structures during aftershock assemblies. The term additionally refers to the men who did not move to Fukushima Daini on March 14 (after the #3 refueling deck explosion) to minimize radiation exposure while the plant manager and staff tried to figure out what to do next. Again, there was no plant abandonment. (Japan Today)
  • TEPCO reports that ~45 tons of water has leaked from their Fukushima Daiichi desalinization system. The source of the system’s leak has been found and repaired. The desalinization system has been returned to full operation. The water had been stripped of radioactive Cesium down to a level of 45 bq/cc, which is well below health concern if the leak somehow found its way out of the plant. But, radioactive Strontium remained at 13,000 bq/cc. Although unverified, some of the Strontium-rich water may have reached an external ditch. The ditch runs 600 meters from the desalination system to the sea. The possible (but unverified) leak into the ditch seems to be through a crack in the desalinization building’s wall. TEPCO staff has blocked the ditch’s outlet to the sea. There is no evidence of the contaminated water having actually reached the sea off Fukushima Daiichi. (JAIF)
  • Although TEPCO has filed the above report, Japan’s nuclear agency (NISA) has ordered the TEPCO to explain the cause of the latest leakage of radioactive water into the ocean, and what measures will be taken to prevent a recurrence. In addition, the fisheries cooperative associations in Fukushima lodged a protest with TEPCO over the leakage. (NHK World) Obviously, NISA has a better grasp of the leak situation from Tokyo, some 240km from Fukushima, than TEPCO. The fisheries associations simply don’t trust anything TEPCO says.
  • Japan’s Minister in charge of the nuclear crisis has apologized for the government’s slow response in the aftermath of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Goshi Hosono told an assembly in Iwaki City he would do everything he could to decontaminate the area around the plant. (JAIF) Once again, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Millions of tons of tsunami debris lies moldering outside the no-go zone around Fukushima, but there seems to be no one apologizing for what the tsunami did there, nor is anyone promising quick clean-up. Just saying…