Entries in Fukushima (24)


Fukushima School in Limbo, Two Years After Nuclear Disaster

Akiko Fujita/ABC News(NAMIE, Japan) -- Two years since taking over at Ukedo Elementary School in the town of Namie, the 54-year-old school principal Michie Niikawa has yet to welcome her first class of students, greet teachers or visit classrooms.

Most days, she works in a cramped corner on the second floor of a prefabricated structure that houses city hall, 50 miles from the town.

The school's structure still stands along Namie's waterfront, inside the government mandated nuclear exclusion zone.

The school itself is a skeleton of the structure Niikawa remembers. Windows are smashed, classrooms cleared out. A graduation sign from March 11, the day the tsunami hit, still hangs above badly cracked floors in the school gym.

Like so many towns inside the 12-mile no-go zone, Namie was struck by a tragic trifecta: earthquake, tsunami, and radiation leak.

Ukedo Elementary's 92 students evacuated thinking they would return once the massive waves receded. But two years on, radiation fallout from the nuclear disaster has left them in perpetual limbo.

Town officials say there are some hot spots that are still four times the legal limit for nuclear workers in the United States. The officials have imposed a 10-year deadline to bring Namie back, but red tape has already stalled the nuclear decontamination process, delaying reconstruction.

Across Fukushima Prefecture, more than 8,000 students have moved outside the region, concerned about potential health risks, and frustrated by the slow pace of recovery, according to the board of education.

Niikawa is aware that declining enrollment could lead to the consolidation of schools and the loss of Ukedo Elementary school.

"If we just say good luck, you're on your own, they will never come back," she says. "If we continue to remind them of their hometown, maybe they will consider returning to Namie, one day."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Did Japanese Disaster Cause 'Abnormalities' in Butterflies?

DigitalGlobe via Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Japanese scientists say “abnormalities” detected in the country’s butterflies may be a result of radioactive fallout from the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year.

In a study published in Scientific Reports, an online journal, researchers say “artificial radionuclides” from the Fukushima Daiichi power plant caused “physiological and genetic damage” to pale grass blue butterflies.

Scientists first began tracking common butterflies around the nuclear plant two months after the disaster. They collected 121 insects, and found 12 percent of them had unusually small wings. That number jumped more than 5 percent when butterflies collected from the plant site had offspring of their own.

In another group of butterflies collected six months after the disaster, scientists found 28 percent had “abnormal” traits. That number nearly doubled among the second generation born.

“At the time of the accident, the populations of this species were overwintering as larvae and were externally exposed to artificial radiation,” the researchers wrote in their study. “It is possible that they ate contaminated leaves during the spring and were thus also exposed to internal radiation.”

It has been 17 months after the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, and its effects on human health have largely been considered minimal, with no radiation-related deaths or illnesses reported so far. But traces of radioactive cesium exceeding government safety levels have been detected in seafood off the Fukushima coast, limiting the catch for fisherman there.

Tiny amounts of cesium of 137 and cesium 134 were detected in more than a dozen bluefin tuna caught near San Diego in August last year. The levels were 10 times higher than tuna found in previous years, but well below those the Japanese and U.S. governments considered harmful to human health.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Japan Restarts Nuclear Reactor Amid Protests

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg via Getty Images(TOKYO) -- The operator of the Ohi Power Plant in western Japan restarted one of its reactors late Sunday night, ending Japan’s temporary freeze on nuclear power for the first time since the Fukushima nuclear disaster 15 months ago, despite widespread protests.

Kansai Electric Power Company, also known as KEPCO, began removing control rods from reactor no. 3 at 9 p.m. local time, and hoped to achieve criticality, a sustained nuclear fission chain reaction, by early Monday morning. The reactor is expected to begin transmitting power Wednesday, and could be operating at capacity in a week.

The country has been without nuclear power since May when the last of Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors was taken offline for scheduled maintenance.

The restart today came despite widespread opposition to nuclear power, in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011, when an earthquake and tsunami triggered meltdowns at 3 reactors. Radiation fallout from the accident forced more than 80,000 from their homes.

Saturday night, hundreds of protesters began gathering outside the gates of the Ohi Power plant in a last ditch effort to try and stop the reactor from going back online. Demonstrators blocked a road leading to the entrance to prevent workers from getting in, holding banners that read “Stop the restart.” They remained late Sunday night, even as word came that KEPCO had turned the switch back on.

In Tokyo, tens of thousands gathered outside the Prime Minister’s residence Friday night, in the biggest anti-nuclear protest to date.

Prime Minister Noda has aggressively pushed to restart idle reactors, saying that Japan faces a serious power shortage without them. While he favors reducing the country’s reliance on nuclear power over time, he has said eliminating them altogether would hurt the economy.

Yet, critics have questioned whether the government is acting too quickly, and ignoring the lessons of Fukushima. Earlier this week, 2 prominent seismologists said the government failed to take into account active fault lines near the Oi reactors, before giving the green light to bring them back online.

KEPCO, which provides power to Kansai, Japan’s second biggest urban region, plans to reactivate its No. 4 reactor at Ohi on July 14.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Seafood Caught in Fukushima Back on Sale in Japan

Sankei via Getty Images(TOKYO) -- For the first time since last year's nuclear disaster in Japan, people in Fukushima Prefecture are once again getting a taste of seafood caught in their own backyard.

Fisherman in Fukushima began selling their catch at local grocery stores on Monday, 15 months after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami struck the country.  The catch was limited to octopus and marine snails, largely because of radiation concerns.  The government banned the sale of 36 other fish, saying they tested for radiation that exceeded acceptable levels.

According to Japan's national broadcaster NHK, the seafood is going for about 70 percent of what it went for in stores before the disasters hit.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Japan Restarts Nuclear Reactors

STR/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda ordered the restart of two idle nuclear reactors Saturday amid widespread public opposition, more than a year after a powerful earthquake and tsunami triggered three nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Power Plant, and halted all 50 reactors in Japan.

The decision to reactivate the Ohi reactors in western Japan marks the first time the government has turned nuclear power back on since the Fukushima accident, the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Japan was rocked by a series of powerful earthquakes and a tsunami in March 2011.

Operator Kansai Electric Power or KEPCO said it would take several weeks to restart its reactors. They could be fully operational by late July.

"We will increase our efforts to restore the public's trust over nuclear safety regulation and atomic energy administration," Noda said, following a meeting with ministers.

Saturday's decision comes as the government scrambles to shore up its energy supply, to avert power shortages during the summer months, when usage is at its peak.

KEPCO provides power to Kansai, the area around Osaka, Japan's third-largest city. Without the Ohi reactors, the utility has said the region would see a 15 percent electricity shortfall in July and August.

Japan relied on nuclear power for a third of its energy prior to the Fukushima disaster, but all 50 reactors have been taken offline since, for maintenance and safety checks.

Noda, who favors reducing Japan's reliance on nuclear power overtime, has aggressively pushed to turn existing reactors back on, saying the country's economy depended on it. But the Japanese public remains largely opposed to the idea.

Recent polls show a majority of the public opposes the restart of the Ohi reactors, and think Japan should reduce its reliance on nuclear power.

In a sign of how polarizing the issue has become, crowds of demonstrators protested outside the Prime Minister's residence in the rain, as Noda met with ministers.

In Koriyama city, where many of the 80,000 evacuees displaced by the nuclear disaster now live, residents said the government was acting too quickly, just 15 months after the Fukushima accident.

"[The politicians] don't care because it doesn't affect them," one man told broadcaster NHK. "They act as if they're taking responsibility but they're not. Nothing has been resolved."

The focus will now shift to the remaining 48 reactors, and how quickly the government moves to resume operations.

Officials will likely hold off on any decision until a new, more independent nuclear regulatory agency is created, to replace the old one.

The Japanese parliament is expected to pass a bill calling for that change, as early as next week.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


More Radioactive Water Spotted Leaking from Japan's Fukushima Plant

STR/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Radioactive water from Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has leaked into the Pacific, yet again.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) says workers spotted water spilling out of a broken pipe connected to the wastewater treatment system on Thursday.

The water contained high levels of the radioactive material strontium, and TEPCO estimates tons have already leaked into the ocean.

The company has struggled to control contaminated water leaks at the Fukushima plant since a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami triggered nuclear meltdowns last March.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Radioactive Concrete Is Latest Scare for Fukushima Survivors

STR/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- The Japanese government is investigating how radioactive concrete ended up in a new apartment complex in the Fukushima Prefecture, housing evacuees from a town near the crippled nuclear plant.

The contamination was first discovered when dosimeter readings of children in the city of Nihonmatsu, roughly 40 miles from the reactors at Fuksuhima Dai-ichi, revealed a high school student had been exposed to 1.62 millisieverts in a span of three months, well above the annual 1 millisievert limit the government has established for safety reasons. Further investigation traced the radiation back to the student’s three-story apartment building, where officials detected radioactive cesium inside the concrete.

Radiation levels at the 6-month-old apartment were higher inside the building than outside. A dozen families live in the new apartment complex.

The gravel used in the cement came from a quarry in the town of Namie, located just miles from the Fukushima plant. While Namie sits inside the government mandated 12-mile “no-go” zone because of radiation concerns, it wasn’t completely closed off until the end of April, meaning the gravel was exposed to radiation spewing from the Fukushima plant during that time.

The owner of the quarry said he shipped 5,200 tons of gravel to 19 different companies, two of which now say they sold the material to 200 construction firms. The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry has launched an investigation to determine where the gravel was used.

The contaminated concrete is the latest radiation scare that has plagued Japan more than 10 months after a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami triggered the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. 80,000 people have been displaced by the Fukushima disaster, many of whom may never return home.

“We thought we could finally settle here. I have no words,” said a resident, who told broadcaster NHK  she moved to the apartment with her husband and young children, to escape radiation. “I just feel so awful for my kids. I feel like I’ve failed as a parent.”

NHK reports government officials brushed off initial inquiries about the contaminated concrete in December, saying they had conducted thorough checks.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Worker at Japan's Crippled Nuke Plant Collapses, Falls into Coma

TR/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Since a 9.0-magnitude earthquake crippled Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant last March, spurring a nuclear crisis, three workers have died.  Now, a man in his 60s is the latest plant worker to have fallen victim.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operator of the plant, says the worker is in a coma after collapsing on the job Monday.  According to the operator, the man was pouring concrete for a tank to hold radioactive materials, when he complained of sickness and later passed out.

TEPCO is trying to confirm just how long the man had been working at nuclear plants and how much radiation to which he'd been exposed.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Could New Nuclear Reactor Have Prevented Fukushima?

STR/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The first new nuclear reactor to be built in the U.S. in three decades is one step away from breaking ground. Federal regulators approved the design for the AP1000 reactor, which Westinghouse Electric Co. developed over 20 years. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission unanimously approved the design, a key certification that will be valid for 15 years.

On the day of the approval, CEO of Westinghouse Aris Candris was interviewed by ABC News Now. “Everyone has heard of what happened at the Fukushima Daiichi plant,” said Candris. “Had an AP1000 been on that site we would have got no nuclear news post-tsunami.”

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant suffered major damage in the 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami, which hit Japan on March 11, 2011. The tsunami disabled emergency power generators that are critical to cooling the reactor, setting up a dire situation that led to multiple partial meltdown, radiation leaks, and a massive evacuation of surrounding areas. The plant still hasn’t reopened.

The AP1000 was designed prior to the Fukushima disaster, but unlike the GE-manufactured reactors at Fukushima, the new AP1000 doesn’t rely on AC power for its systems. “We decided we needed to have a design that relied exclusively on natural forces,” said Candris. “Things like gravity, convection, and the like...." Candris says that aspect of the AP1000′s design makes it safer. “It’s the same basic concept, fission of uranium. But how that’s being done in the system and the fact that eventually you end up with a much safer design than we’ve had in the past. Not that designs that are out there are not safe.”

"We don’t think the AP1000 is clearly safer than the currently operating reactors for a number of reasons,” said Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist at the nuclear watchdog group Union of Concerned Citizens. “The reliance on passive systems have larger uncertainties in the way they function.”  For example, Lyman says, in the event of an accident, the AP1000 could only continue to cool the reactor without AC power for a few days, after which it would need powered pumps to continue to operate, just like existing reactors. Lyman’s group argues the nation would be better served if the NRC evaluated the AP1000′s design in light of the flaws that became evident at Fukushima.

"There were a lot of lessons from Fukushima and in spite of the fact that nuclear has been around for fifty years, it’s still a learning industry,” said Candris. “There’s no question Fukushima had a significant impact on public opinion even though, especially in the U.S., that is turning around."

But images of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island still linger in the collective consciousness in the U.S., even though more than 100 nuclear power plants around the U.S. now supply almost 20 percent of the nation’s electricity. The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, done in April after the Fukushima disaster, found that 64 percent of people oppose new nuclear plant construction, a spike in opposition from previous years.

One selling point: The new reactors would bring thousands of jobs to the communities they’re located in. Westinghouse already has orders for six reactors; four of them are already in “prenuclear” construction. The reactors would be added to existing nuclear power plants in Georgia and South Carolina — communities that Candris says “are very much in favor of more.” Fourteen other utility companies in the U.S. have also expressed interest in AP1000s. China has four AP1000s already in the works.

Nuclear power remains a lightning-rod issue among U.S. scientists and environmentalists. On the one hand, nuclear offers affordable, clean (if you don’t count the waste) energy, mitigating U.S. dependence on fossil fuels. On the other hand, any potential nuclear accident could be catastrophic, as evidenced at Fukushima.

The next and last regulatory hurdle for Westinghouse before nuclear construction can begin is a combined operating license from the NRC, which Candris expects to obtain in a month.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Japan's Fukushima Plant Director Stepping Down After Falling Ill

STR/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- The director of Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, has been hospitalized for an undisclosed illness and will step down later this week, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) said Monday.

TEPCO has not said whether the illness is related to radiation, and has refused to release the amount of Masao Yoshida’s radiation exposure, citing privacy issues -- though they’ve revealed numbers for previous employees.

According to the newspaper Sankei, Yoshida sent a letter to workers saying doctors detected an illness at a recent checkup and advised him to seek treatment right away.

The 56-year-old has headed the nuclear plant since the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami struck Japan in March, triggering the country's worst nuclear disaster.  Yoshida led the effort to stabilize the reactors that were damaged as a result.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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