Entries in nuclear crisis (9)


Japan's Nuclear Disaster Was ‘Man-Made,’ Investigation Finds

STR/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- The Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan was a “man-made” accident caused by a utility and government regulators who put self-interest before the interest of the public, an independent parliamentary commission reported Thursday after a six-month investigation into the crisis.

The 641-page report, the first of its kind with wide-ranging subpoena powers in Japan’s constitutional history, is the result of more than 900 hours of hearings and 1,100 interviews with officials, including the former president of operator Tokyo Electric Power Co., or TEPCO, Masataka Shimizu, and former Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

The findings by the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission detail a scathing indictment of TEPCO and the nuclear regulatory agencies that coddled the utility, despite knowing the risks of their purported inaction.  It also criticizes Japanese leadership, saying Kan’s cabinet “lacked the preparation and mindset to efficiently operate an emergency response to an accident of this scope.”

The panel writes the direct causes of the Fukushima accident could have been prevented.  Nuclear regulators and TEPCO were aware since 2006 that a large scale tsunami would lead to a power outage at the plant.  They also knew the risk of reactor-core damage from the loss of seawater pumps.  

TEPCO “intentionally postponed putting safety measures in place,” while the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and Nuclear Safety Commission essentially looked the other way, according to the investigation.

“We found evidence the regulatory agencies would explicitly ask about the operators’ intentions whenever a new regulation was to be implemented,” the commission writes.  “From TEPCO’s perspective, new regulations would have interfered with plant operations and weakened their stance in potential lawsuits.”

Three of the plant’s six nuclear reactors suffered meltdowns, after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami knocked out power to the cooling systems last year.  More than 80,000 people were displaced as a result of the radiation fallout.

Contrary to TEPCO’s own investigation, which cites the tsunami as the main cause of the nuclear accident, the parliamentary report says the quake might have significantly damaged equipment necessary to ensuring safety.  TEPCO was quick to blame the “unexpected” tsunami for the accident, not the “foreseeable earthquake” in order to avoid responsibility, the panel writes.

“This was a disaster ‘Made in Japan,'” commission chairman Kiyoshi Kurokawa said in the report’s introduction.  “Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program,’ our groupism, and our insularity.”

The report was issued on the same day a nuclear reactor went back on the power grid in western Japan, for the first time since the Fukushima accident in March 2011.

All 50 of Japan’s reactors have been offline since May for maintenance and safety checks, but Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has aggressively pushed to bring them back online to avoid power outages during the peak summer months, despite widespread opposition to nuclear power.

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


Monkeys to Track Fallout from Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Plant

STR/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Wild monkeys have been enlisted by Japanese researchers to obtain detailed readings of radiation levels in forests near the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Professor Takayuki Takahashi and his team of scientists at Fukushima University are fitting nearly 1,000 animals with radiation meters and GPS transmitters in order to track the spread of radiation leaked from March’s nuclear accident -- the worst in Japan’s history.

Until now, radiation monitoring has been conducted primarily by air, using helicopters equipped with testing devices.  Takahashi says aerial monitoring can track radiation across a wide area, but it only gives a general idea of radiation levels on the ground, not specifics on its movement.

“The monkeys can help us get more accurate readings in areas that aren’t so accessible,” Takahashi said.  “We’ll get a better idea of how radiation is spread by rain, by plants, by rivers in the forest.”

Researchers also hope to monitor the amount of radiation exposure in wild animals.

The project is being launched in partnership with Minamisoma, one of the cities hardest hit by the nuclear disaster.  Radiation fears prompted more than half of its 67,000 residents to evacuate in Fukushima’s aftermath.  A third of the city sits inside the 12-mile government mandated exclusion zone deemed too dangerous for people to live in.  In the larger Fukushima prefecture, more than 80,000 residents have been displaced by the nuclear disaster.

With 14 monkey colonies in Minamisoma’s forests alone, Takahashi is hopeful his researchers will get a broad spectrum of readings, from the ground level to the highest trees.  The collars equipped with radiation meters and GPS transmitters will be detachable by remote control, but the plan is to keep the devices on the animals for decades.

Takahashi says his team will begin monitoring levels next spring.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Japanese Government Lifts Power Usage Restrictions

STR/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Japan's nuclear disaster earlier this year badly strained the country's power grid. But Tokyo says efforts to conserve energy have been so effective they're lifting restrictions on power consumption a month earlier than expected. The Japanese government mandated a 15-percent cut in energy usage earlier this summer.

The Trade Ministry says power supply has been able to keep up with demand, thanks to Japanese residents who have dimmed the lights and turned off the air conditioning.

Nearly six months after the Fukushima accident, more than half of Japan's nuclear power plants remain idle because of safety concerns.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Japan's Ruling Party Selects Finance Minister as New PM

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg via Getty Images (TOKYO) -- Just days after Naoto Kan stepped down as Japan's prime minister, the country's ruling party voted on Monday to select its new leader.

The Democratic Party of Japan chose Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who was considered a favorite to win, to step in as Kan's successor.

Noda will become the country's sixth prime minister in five years.  Parliament will vote on Tuesday to make the transition official.

Last Friday, Kan officially resigned after facing mounting criticism over the government's slow response to Japan's triple disasters -- the March earthquake and tsunami, and the nuclear crisis that ensued when the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was crippled.

Kan had announced his intention to step down in June but held off on the resignation until parliament passed a renewable energy bill that reduces the country's reliance on nuclear energy and a budget financing bill.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Japanese Prime Minister Officially Steps Down

Sankei via Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan officially stepped down from his post Friday, setting up the country to elect its sixth prime minister in five years.

Kan announced his intention to resign in June amid mounting criticism over the government's slow response to Japan's triple disasters -- the March earthquake and tsunami, and the nuclear crisis that ensued when the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was crippled.

He held off on the resignation until parliament passed a renewable energy bill that reduces the country's reliance on nuclear energy and a budget financing bill.  Both were passed earlier, paving the way for him to leave office.

Kan steps down as Japan's prime minister after being in office for just over a year.  Despite his short term, he held the leadership post longer than any of the previous four prime ministers.

Japan's ruling party, the Democratic Party of Japan, is expected to vote for its sixth leader on Monday.  Former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and current Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda are considered the favorites to win.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Japanese Retirees Volunteer for Fukushima Duty

DigitalGlobe via Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Yasuteru Yamada cringes at any comparison to the kamikaze pilots who flew suicide missions during World War II.

The retired engineer has rallied more than 200 aging workers who have volunteered to tackle the nuclear crises at Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi power plant.  But he says, this is no suicide mission.

"We don't want to die," says the 72-year old, a former engineer for Sumitomo Metal Industries Ltd.  "We just want to stabilize the nuclear plant, nothing more."

The team of volunteers call themselves the Skilled Veteran Corps.  The group is made up of former engineers, doctors, cooks and even singers.  The common thread is that they are all over the age of 60.

Yamada says he decided to establish the group shortly after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami shut down cooling systems at Fukushima's reactors in March, triggering the world's worst nuclear crises since Chernobyl.  Yamada watched on television, as younger workers dressed in hazmat suits, braved radiation fears to bring the damaged reactors under control.

Nearly three months after the accident, the reactors continue to spew radiation into the air, while contaminated water leaks into the ocean.

Yamada worries about the health of current Fukushima workers, and says the nuclear burden should be tasked to an older generation that has "consciously or unconsciously" supported the plant, and reaped the benefits of the electricity it's generated.  He often jokes that he has just 15 years to live, not long enough for cancer -- a common side-effect of radiation exposure -- to develop.

The Skilled Veteran Corps's cause, has piqued the interest of plant operator Tokyo Electric, commonly known as TEPCO, and Japanese politicians.  In talks with TEPCO, Yamada says the utility has expressed enthusiasm in teaming up, though neither has a "concrete idea on how we can work together."

The need for workers is expected to increase.  TEPCO has already said the company is unlikely to meet its self-imposed deadline of bringing the reactors to a cold-shutdown by the end of the year.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


US: No New Guidelines for Americans in Japan after Nuke Level Elevated

Stockbyte/Thinkstock (WASHINGTON) -- The State Department said Tuesday that the U.S. is not changing its advice to Americans in Japan after authorities there elevated the level of the nuclear crisis there from 5 to 7.
“There is no change to the U.S. recommendation, that as a precaution, U.S. citizens within that 50-mile zone that we've talked about, 80 kilometers of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, should evacuate the area or take shelter indoors if safe evacuation is not practical,” spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Tuesday.
A senior State Department official says the new level will not alter Clinton’s plans to visit Tokyo on Sunday.
Toner was asked if the change led to any concerns about how Japanese authorities have handled the situation.
“On the contrary, I think we feel that they're monitoring it closely.  And as appropriate, they're changing their posture,” he replied.
Toner said he wasn’t sure if there are any Americans remaining within that 50-mile radius around the troubled reactors, but was checking to be sure.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Japan Nuclear Crisis: Helicopter Operation Suspended

STR/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Japanese officials have suspended helicopter flights spraying water over Japan's troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant due to high radiation levels, the latest foiled attempt to contain the nuclear crisis.

The two helicopters had dropped about 30 tons of water on the plant overnight Thursday. In addition, 11 water cannon trucks arrived at the Fukushima Daiichi plant though they were too far from the plant to be effective.

"It's like a squirt gun, using a squirt gun against a raging forest fire. They're overwhelmed, they're floundering, they don't know what to do" Dr. Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist, said.

The water trucks and helicopters were used in part because radiation levels are dangerously high for workers to be directly in the plant for extended periods.

"At a certain point, they're going to have to abandon ship, they're committing a suicide mission to go in there. The radiation levels are near lethal right now…you're committing suicide to spend large amount of time there," Kaku said.

Even the helicopter pilots were in danger by flying over the plant, Kaku said. During the Chernobyl crisis, Kaku said that helicopter pilots that helped sandbag the reactors had lead underneath their helicopters to help avoid radiation contamination.

U.S. government officials are still concerned over water levels that keep the nuclear fuel rods from overheating at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

America's top nuclear official told Congress Wednesday the pool cooling spent fuel rods at the crippled Japanese nuclear plant had lost most or all of its water, a potentially catastrophic situation.

"We believe at this point that unit 4 may have lost a significant inventory, if not lost all of its water," Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko told a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "What we know at unit three, and again our information is limited, what we believe is that there is a crack in the spent fuel pool for unit three as well, which could lead to a loss of water in that pool."

The Japanese quickly challenged that statement, but gave few details saying only that the situation at the holding pool was "stable."

"It is my great hope that the information that we have is not accurate. I would hope for the sake of everyone that the situation is not at the stake that we think it is," Jaczko said.

Experts say that the spent fuel ponds might be more dangerous than the core reactors. Fuel ponds hold old fuel rods and must be covered in water at all times. Of particular concern is the fuel pond in unit 4.

"Hollywood likes to focus in on the meltdown, the melted core exposed uranium. But old fuel is actually more dangerous than the meltdown because there's more radiation in an unguarded spent fuel pond than the reactors," Kaku said. "You could have a fire. It would go up like fireworks, like Roman Candles."

The spent fuel rods are kept in pools of water to prevent them from overheating and ultimately melting down. The outer shell of the rods could also ignite with enough force to propel the radioactive fuel inside over a wide area.

Overnight, President Obama spoke with the Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and expressed his sympathy and offered assistance.

"The president expressed his extraordinary admiration for the character and resolve of the Japanese people, and his confidence that Japan will make a full recovery from this disaster," according to a White House statement.

Shortly after, the U.S. State Department authorized the first evacuations of Americans out of Japan.

Chartered planes will begin assisting American citizens wishing to leave the country.

It also issued a warning to Americans to avoid traveling to the quake and tsunami-ravaged nation at this time.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio