• A new Fukushima investigative panel will begin its work this month. The panel was assembled by Japan’s Parliament (Diet) and is designed to work independent of the government itself. The prior investigative panel, which issued its preliminary report recently, was not designed to be politically independent. The new panel will interview all “interim” reports that have been issued by the government and TEPCO, as well as
    hold extensive interviews with all persons involved. One key area of focus will be the accident response of Prime Minister Naoto Kan and senior cabinet officials who influenced Kan’s decisions during the crisis. Panel Chairman Kiyoshi Kurokawa says that the panel will also focus on problems the government
    and TEPCO were unable to address. (NHK World)
  • The new panel is designed to verify the facts concerning the information available on Fukushima. In addition to Chair Kurokawa, the panel’s nine other members include Nobel Laureate Koichi Tanaka (Chemistry) and experts on nuclear reactors, a seismologist, a specialist in radiation treatment, a former prosecutor and a representative from areas affected by the nuclear crisis. At least one antinuclear proponent is on the panel. Excluded were bureaucrats and other individuals previously involved with nuclear administration. In addition to the above, the panel is required by law to make proposals on how to prevent nuclear accidents from happening again and steps to reduce damage caused by contamination. It will also have the right to ask the Diet to exert its legal power of investigation on governmental affairs. Further, the panel will investigate the direct causes of the crisis, and whether anyone failed to take proper measures to resolve the crisis or prevent it from worsening. This is the first time the government has assembled an investigative panel based on Japanese law. All ruling parties have formally agreed that this investigation will embrace political neutrality. (Yomiuri Shimbun) The prior investigative panel was assembled by Prime Minister Kan and his Cabinet, with no legal power and no promise of political neutrality. There will surely be divergent views that will result from the two team’s work. How that will be handled will be very interesting, to say the least.
  • On Sunday, Japan’s new radiological decontamination law went into effect. The law requires decontamination for 108 municipalities that have locations measuring radiation exposure above 1 millisievert per year beyond natural background level. The cleanup costs will be covered by the Tokyo government. The municipalities reside across eight prefectures including Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Saitama and Chiba. In conjunction with the law going into effect, the Environment Ministry opened an office in Fukushima City, with a staff of ~60, to focus specifically on Fukushima Prefecture cleanup. This winter, the office’s teams will decontaminate infrastructure inside the two evacuation zones. This will allow low-exposure access for teams to begin full-scale decontamination work by the end of March. However, fears of waste material storage and local officials playing on these fears could extend the delay far into the future. (Mainichi Shimbun) It’s about time! Radiophobic fears have
    delayed the beginning of cleanup work for far too long. It has taken the passage of law to get the work started after nine months of stagnancy.
  • An earthquake reported to be 7 on the Richter scale shook Japan Sunday afternoon. The epicenter was some 370 miles southeast of Tokyo near uninhabited Torishima Island in the Pacific. Tremors were detected the entire length of the Japanese main islands causing no damage and very little infrastructure interruption anywhere. However, all news outlets focused on damaged Fukushima Daiichi power station, as well as all nukes along the Eastern coast. There was no damage to any of them. (NHK World)
  • 46% of the residents who left the Evacuation Preparation Zone (EPZ) have returned home. The EPZ lies outside the 20km no-go zone and the northwest evacuation corridor of between 20 and 30 kilometers. The EPZ was designated as a “just in case things get worse” evacuation area. The government announced it had lifted the evacuation order three months ago. Of the 59,000 residents who fled, more than 28,000 are back at home. Many of the 54% who remain in temporary shelters come from seaside communities that were swept away by the tsunami. Others who have not returned to the EPZ say lack of local jobs in their former communities and radiation fears are their greatest concerns. In Minamisoma City, ~25km north-northwest of Fukushima Daiichi, 52% have returned (24,000 out of 46,000). (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion says there is a 30% chance of a Richter scale-9 earthquake in the next 30 years. This is the first time the probability on such a severe earthquake has been run in Japan. Prior to march 11, 2011, it was felt that a Richter scale-9 earthquake was too improbable to consider. The government says the type of quake they are pointing to is not the type experienced on March 11, which was a subduction-zone quake producing a massive tsunami. Another March 11-type quake has a zero probability over the next 30 years because all the energy which was built up along the subduction fault has been released. The new prediction concerns a massive “slip-zone” quake along the Japan Trench which runs parallel to the length of the island nation under the Pacific Ocean. (Asahi Shimbun) Slip-zone earthquakes are not known to be tsunami inducers because there is no uplifting of the sea floor.
  • Citizen’s groups and the local government of Kashiwa are working together on decontamination efforts. This marks a significant milestone for the city. Back in June, the city announced “The radiation [from Fukushima] is at a non-problematic level,” and citizens grew frustrated with a lack of action. Largely due to internet sources saying radiation in Kashiwa was high and the city was lying, residents circulated a petition to try and force the government to remove any detectable Fukushima contamination from schools and public facilities. They got over 10,000 signatures. This shocked the city officials, resulting in formal actions to comply with the resident’s wishes. A cooperative effort to decontaminate schools has begun. However, public distrust continues. In addition to city monitoring teams, a group of around 10 people are radiation measurements in parks using the same methods as city employees. They send the data to the city at the same time as the government monitors. Representative Teruo Kawada, 36, said, “We want to continue living in Kashiwa with our children. We won’t depend only on the government, and we want to do the work cheerfully, not solemnly.” It is expected the cooperative effort will take three years and cost 3.3 billion yen. (Mainichi Shimbun) Kashiwa is ~190 kilometers from Fukushima Daiichi and located in the less-than-10 becquerels per square centimeter zone. Even the most concentrated areas of contamination are many times less than anything warranting decontamination efforts. Back in June, the most fear-inducing internet source was a You-Tube posting of someone using a hand-held monitor which showed higher than expected radiation levels (~5 microsieverts) coming from road gratings near schools. In each case, roads were
    made of material containing crushed granite and other naturally radioactive materials. Some school rooftops made of the same material showed the same readings. While the levels were mostly due to the construction materials, the You-Tube video voice-over said it all came from Fukushima. Once again,
    radiophobia has caused unnecessary fear and a local government a lot of money.
  • In what might become a common sight across Japan, a “Cesium scanning facility” was opened in Kashiwa City in October. It has become a profitable business. More than 3,000 residents have had groceries, garden materials, and other commodities scanned as of the end of 2011. Motohiro Takamatsu, a software ngineer, saw the opportunity to make some money off of radiation fears, and it has worked, “To have Kashiwa become contaminated with radiation, that was a big deal for me,” He imported several gamma spectroscopy machines from Germany to equip the shop. Customers can check items themselves at a price of 980 yen per 20 minutes. (Japan Times)