• A radiological incident at a particle accelerator in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, has dominated the Japanese press. Last Thursday, a proton beam was directed into a piece of gold at the Japan Proton Accelerator Research Complex (J-PARC). The experiment was being run inside the Hadron Building at the sprawling science complex. It was roughly noon when, suddenly, the beam’s intensity jumped severely…one source says more than 400 times its set-point. A tiny portion of the gold “target” evaporated, releasing several types of radioactive isotopes into the room’s air. Nearby monitors detected the increased radioactivity and automatically stopped the beam’s operation. There was no visual damage to the target material and the beam technology looked OK, so the researchers restarted the beam. In about 90 minutes, airborne monitors inside the “controlled area” (the room where the experiment was held) alarmed. The experiment was shut down until the monitors no longer alarmed. Then, they restarted the beam again. At 4pm, the airborne monitors alarmed once more, so the experiment was terminated. Some of the airborne material escaped outside the controlled area when the staff incorrectly turned on a ventilation fan. A spokesperson for the facility operator, Japan Atomic Energy Agency, said “We don’t know why they switched on the fan. We suspect some wrong decisions were made by workers concerned.” The J-PARC official in charge of the experiment has taken full responsibility for all staff actions. The laboratory staff analyzed the contamination level in an outer hallway to be ~30 Becquerels per cubic centimeter. The specific isotopes involved have not been listed. The longest half-life of any possible isotope is~2.7 days (Au-198). Nearly all other isotopes have half-lives measured in hours, minutes and seconds. One newspaper speculated that the short half-lives caused the J_PARC staff to be unconcerned even if there were a release outside the controlled area. Regardless, 33 of the building’s staff of 55 received detectible internal isotopic deposition while the other 22 showed none. The estimated internal dose per exposed person is calculated to be no more than 1.7 millisieverts….roughly the same as the region’s natural background level. No-one was in need of medical attention. No radiation was released to the environment outside the Hadron Building. JAEA says the leak was stopped after an airborne monitor outside the controlled area alarmed at ten times normal. The incident was not immediately reported on the assumption that all radioactive isotopes had been contained inside the controlled area. Friday night, it was discovered that one of the external monitors at a neighboring building recorded a small radioactive increase at the same time as the incident and an unusual event was reported per procedure. On Saturday, an NRA spokesperson said, “An investigation will be launched into the cause of the incident and prevention measures will be considered.”On Monday, the NRA rated the incident as a “level 1 accident” on the INES scale because of “the lack of a safety culture” with JAEA. Ibaraki governor Masaru Hashimoto said, “It [JAEA] must be taking the matter lightly”. Shunichi Matsumotoof Ibaraki’s nuclear safety group said, “The prefecture is taking the incident seriously. People living nearby are feeling very anxious about the external radiation leak and the internal exposure (of the researchers).” None of the seven monitors run by Ibaraki Prefecture have recorded an increase in radiation level. (Jiji Press; NHK World; Japan Today; Japan Times; Asahi Shimbun; Mainichi Shimbun, The Japan News; Kyodo News)
  • Japan’s Press, politicians and the Science Ministry are treating J_PARC like another nuclear accident. Many of the criticisms recall the statements following 3/11/11. For example The Japan News, “The case thus seems to illustrate a deterioration in the safety culture developed by the nation’s nuclear industry.” In parallel, Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura said, “They lacked a sense of urgency and crisis when the public is harboring strong feelings of distrust toward nuclear power.” (comment – J-PARC is not a nuclear power plant and is not part of the so-called nuclear industry. It is a high energy Physics research facility.) Hiroaki Koide of Kyoto University evoked a common criticism following the Fukushima accident, “It was a result of designing the facility under the assumption that an accident would never happen.” An anonymous official at the Education Ministry said, “I can’t believe they failed to report the incident (immediately) when the public is so sensitive to such matters.” Prominent antinuclear journalist Mitsuhiko Tanaka speculated that the researchers were unfamiliar with handling radioactive substances, “Either the researchers saw the need to take further measures but felt they couldn’t say anything out loud, or they simply thought that nothing more needed to be done.” Akihiko Kawasaki, of the Tokai municipal government, said he was concerned about JAEA’s lax attitude toward the handling of nuclear substances and demanded the agency confirm the safety of the environment around the facility. When told J-PARC was not a nuclear power plant, Kawasaki said, “That’s why we want them to be more sensitive and show local residents that they can make good use of their new technologies [in various fields].” (Japan Times; Japan Today; The Japan News)
  • Japan’s Science Ministry formed a special team to discuss overhaul of JAEA’s safety program. JAEA has been under fire due to year-long issues involved with its Monju fast breeder reactor project. The J-PARC incident and its Press coverage seem to have forced the ministry to take firm action. The team of ministry officials and independent experts is expected to draft reform measures by the end of July. The ministry will also urge all of Japan’s 22 accelerator operators, including universities, to upgrade their emergency procedures and safety management systems. (Jiji Press)

Now for the other Fukushima updates…

  • The last “no-go” restriction inside the Fukushima exclusion zone has been lifted in part. Futaba town, adjacent to F. Daiichi, has been reorganized into two zones. 96% of the town will remain barricaded with residency indefinitely restricted. The other 4%, along the ocean front south of F. Daiichi, is to be prepared for repopulation and clean-up of the tsunami debris that has been untouched since 3/11/11. (NHLK World; Mainichi Shimbun)
  • The World Health Organization says there will be no measurable health effects from Fukushima. For the full report, see http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/78218/1/9789241505130_eng.pdf
  • The new wastewater decontamination system (ALPS) at F. Daiichi is expected to be in full operation this coming fall. Three ALPS systems will operate in concert with each one expected to process 250 tons of water per day. ALPS will be used to strip 62 radioactive isotopes from the waters cleansed of radioactive Cesium. Tepco says the final operation has been delayed because new storage tanks for the ALPS system effluent have to be built and tested for leak integrity. (NHK World)
  • The NRA admits they are forging new ground in their efforts to improve nuclear plant safety in Japan and some seismic panel members are dissatisfied with how the group studied the Tsuruga station fault. Koichiro Fujimoto, professor at Tokyo Gakugei University, said, “At first, I was expecting this to end in some three months, but I got quite anxious because the prospects became unclear.” Panel head Kunihiko Shimazaki blames the affected nuclear utilities for what he called a “sluggish” process. He said the NRA has neither the funds nor the expertise to run their own on-site investigations, so they are forced to rely on what they get from the utilities. Shunji Matsuoka of Waseda University said, “The NRA secretariat still does not have enough human resources with technical knowledge to support the organization’s independence. . . . And simply preparing documents for (outside) experts and asking them to make a decision is unlikely to help improve expertise.” Panel members also said the stress of constant public scrutiny and scientific criticism weigh heavily on them, and if they had known this was going to happen they would not have taken the job. (Japan Times)
  • The NRA says they will have three teams to establish the efficacy of nuke restarts. It is expected that four utilities with Pressurized Water Reactor systems will apply for restarts soon after the new safety regulations are issued on July 18th. The inspection teams will check all safety system upgrades and equipment changes for viability so that the NRA commissioners can decide whether or not to grant restart authorization. Before restarts, plant operators will also have to obtain consent from host municipalities. (NHK World)
  • The Press also continues to cover the recent UN report by Anand Glover. Here are some specific quotes now in the Press… “Evacuees should be recommended to return only when the radiation dose has been reduced as far as possible and to levels below 1 millisievert per year”  and epidemiological studies “conclude that there is no low-threshold limit for excess radiation risk to non-solid cancers such as leukemia.” (Japan Times) Glover criticizes the handling of the crisis, including the process for seeking financial compensation, a lack of openness about health risks from radiation and inadequate protection for nuclear plant workers. He urges the government to involve affected communities in decisions and do more to protect children, pregnant women, the disabled and the elderly. Finally, Glover says the Tokyo government bailout of Tepco “has arguably helped TEPCO to effectively avoid accountability and liability for damages,” and the complex process for filing compensation claims is designed to “reduce compensation levels and delay settlement.” Further, compensation should be given to the tens of thousands of evacuees outside Fukushima Prefecture who fled on their own out of fear and have not returned. (Mainichi Shimbun)