(For today’s Commentary – Chernobyl Wildlife Thriving: It’s Possible Impact on Japan (or not?) – click here)

  • The politically-embattled mayor of Futaba Town, adjacent to the Fukushima Daiichi station, has decided to resign. Mayor Katsutaka Idogawa announced his intent at the town’s Municipal Assembly on Jan. 23. “I felt I wasn’t gaining understanding during resident hearings and on other occasions. I was also targeted with no-confidence motions three times,” Idogawa said. He believed a storage facility in Futaba will make it impossible to repopulate the town due to radiation fears, but the town assembly disagrees. Idogawa also feels the municipality’s cooperation with Tokyo is being done too quickly, stating, “Because the former administration was pressing forward with the issue in a hasty manner, I wanted to put my life on the line to block the move. The new administration is going to proceed with the issue while listening to dialogue.” The town assembly has been meeting in-abstentia in Saitama Prefecture near Tokyo, but they have been lobbying strongly to return to Fukushima Prefecture. Idogawa has been against this from the start. A Few Futaba refuges agree with the mayor. One, Taeko Yokoyama, said she has been a staunch Idogawa supporter and is saddened by the news, “We town residents have been left without any explanations (about the storage facility). We are always forced to reluctantly concede. Is it right to mindlessly follow the central government? Mr. Idogawa was always on the side of town residents. I wanted him to hold out and continue.” Idogawa is the first mayor from the Fukushima evacuation zone to have resigned. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • The first of several lawsuits relative to the Fukushima accident is being heard. Two executives from Tepco’s home office, former chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and former president Masataka Shimizu, have been brought in to testify in Tokyo. The suit was filed last year by citizens from Tokyo and Fukushima who said they wanted the two Tepco leaders and 38 others prosecuted for what the citizens feel were illegal acts. The Tepco officials and 38 others are accused of professional negligence and believed to be criminally responsible for the accident. Many legal experts admit it will be difficult to hold individuals legally accountable for an industrial accident spawned by a natural disaster beyond anyone’s expectations. The prosecutors need to prove the earthquake and tsunami were predictable, show that the accident caused actual health impacts due to the radiological releases and caused the premature deaths of those who were lost during the evacuation. Actual criminal charges have not been filed, but if sufficient culpability is established the charges will ensue. If guilty of criminal negligence, a person can be sent to jail for up to 5 years and be fined for over $100,000. (NHK World; Japan Today)
  • Another proposed new nuclear regulation has been released. The Nuclear Regulatory Authority will require nukes to be “terror-proofed”. NRA chair Shunichi Tanaka says the plants must be able to survive a direct hit from a hijacked jetliner, such as the World Trade Center scenario of 9/11/01. Tanaka believes “Japan will have the world’s toughest standards in terms of earthquakes and tsunami.” The Authority wants nuclear plants to also prepare for “external human-caused events” including “flying objects such as falling planes, the collapse of a dam, explosions, fire at nearby plants, toxic gas, a ship crashing into a facility and the interruption of communication systems.” The NRA says that the new safety regulations will mirror America’s standards for the first time in the history of Japan’s nuclear program. (Japan Today)
  • Another geologic anomaly has been identified as being possibly seismic. The new anomaly of concern runs under the Tepco’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear station in Niigata Prefecture. An anomaly that has been known for decades to have not moved within the current 120,000 year criteria for defining seismicity, may have moved 240,000 years ago. The proposed 400,000-year-movement criteria could potentially impact the station’s operation, if it is judged as seismic. There are several suspect seams in the bedrock underlying the nuke station, but the one named “beta” might fail the new criteria. It runs under units #1&2 of the seven unit station. The anomaly contains volcanic ash dating back 240,000 years, indicating the possibility of the seam moving at that time. Tepco made the discovery and now the NRA’s team of seismic experts must look at the data and try to decide whether or not the anomaly is actually a seismic seam. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • Nine industrial groups in Japan have called on the Tokyo government for swift restarts of Japan’s currently-idled nukes. The nine include the Japan Iron and Steel Federation and the Japan Mining Industry Association. Their petition was jointly submitted to the Industry Ministry. It says that prolonged restarts will effect a “hollowing out of the Japanese economy” due to increased electricity costs. Since their group’s member companies consume vast amounts of electricity, many will find it “extremely difficult to continue business in Japan.” In a closely related announcement, the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan (IEEJ) said,“It is important to steadily restart those nuclear power stations that are shown to be safe by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.” If only half of the 50 currently-idled nukes were restarted, Japan’s energy crunch, and its severe impact on the economy, would be effectively eliminated. One IEEJ associate, Nobuo Tanaka, warned recently that the country faces potential economic catastrophe if it does not return to nuclear. Japan has doubled its fossil fuel imports due to the nuclear moratorium, increasing the fuel costs of electricity by nearly $35 billion per year. Tom O’Sullivan, a Tokyo-based energy consultant said, “It is unlikely that any of the idled reactors will re-start prior to September due to ongoing investigations of seismic issues at certain plants and due to the fact that safety standards have still not been finalized by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.” Will that be soon enough for the IEEJ? (Kyodo News Service; Japan Daily Press; Reuters)
  • Tepco says they will eventually release fully decontaminated F. Daiichi waters to the sea. The company says this will not be done until the isotopic concentrations of all radionuclides are below legal limits. The volume of the low-level decontaminated waters now in storage at F. Daiichi threatens to become unmanageable as long as 400 tons per day of groundwater flow into the turbine building basements. Until the groundwater problem is resolved, the volume of low level radioactive water build-up will continue. Tepco has been adding large storage tanks to the plant site for more than a year, but they will eventually run out of space on their property. The company plans on running the low level decontaminated water through a new filtration facility that will remove the trace amounts of about 60 isotopes that remain in solution. The currently operating decon system is highly effective in capturing Cesium-134 and 137, but less efficient with many other isotopes. After the secondary filtration occurs, the waters will still not be released because of detectible levels of Tritium, a naturally-occurring isotope of Hydrogen. This will also have to be removed to meet Japan’s unwieldy radiation standards. (Kyodo News Service; Japan Times)
  • A new feature-length documentary on nuclear energy issues is creating considerable interest at the Sundance Film Festival. “Pandora’s Promise” focuses on a new breed of scientists and environmentalists who were once ardent foes of nuclear power, but now think there is no better option. An openly antinuclear writer for Slate saw the movie and…read what he says for yourself… http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2013/01/24/pandora_s_promise_review_nuclear_power_documentary_is_persuasive_and_timely.html