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Here’s How Much The Government Shutdown Cost The Economy

Swampland

$24 billion.

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Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors are now idle but for how long

Earlier this month, the last 2 of Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors were shutdown for routine inspection with no schedule for if or when they would be restarted. This marked just the second time in decades that Japan was without nuclear power. The first was in 2011, when all the country’s reactors were shutdown for inspection after the nuclear accident at Tepco’s Dai-Ichi Nuclear Plant in Fukushima.

On Friday, Tepco applied to Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority for safety checks at 2 of its reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power plant in Niigata Prefecture. This brings the number of reactors seeking safety checks from the NRA to 14.

Tepco spent more than 2 months seeking local support for the move. On Thursday Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida gave the utility the go ahead to apply for the safety checks.

Economic and fiscal policy minister, Akira Amari, welcomed the news, saying,”It is a good thing for nuclear power safety, for the stable supply of electricity and for the local economy.”

Tepco hopes bringing the reactors back online will help bring the utility back into the black and show its creditors it is making progress in improving its business. The utility hopes to restart more of its reactors in the future.

The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant is the largest in the world. It also has a history of trouble. After a 6.8 earthquake struck the area in 2007, the plant experienced leaks and other malfunctions and was shutdown for inspection and repair. It has since undergone seismic upgrades that Tepco believes will allow the plant to withstand future earthquakes.

Excuse me while I strike my palm to my forehead. This plant is located on the coast of the Sea of Japan in a very active earthquake zone. How does Tepco choose their locations to build plants? 1) In an active earthquake zone- check 2) Located near the sea-check

I’m appalled that the government of Japan is applauding the possibility of restarting reactors at the plant. The plant might be vital to Tepco’s finances, but it is a menace to the people of Japan. With Fukushima still contaminating the environment more than 2 and a half years after the accident, you would think Japan would have learned its lesson by now.

Japan Agrees To French Help In Dealing With Fukushima

According to ABC News, Japan has made an agreement with France, accepting French help in the process of decommissioning and dismantling the Dai-Ichi Nuclear Plant in Fukushima. After 2 and a half years of refusing foreign assistance, this marks a change in Japanese policy.

The agreement was struck between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and French President Francois Hollande after they met on the sidelines of the United Nations meeting in New York. No details as to exactly how the French will help have yet to be disclosed. However France is a leader in nuclear power technology and certainly will bring expertise to the situation.

I believe this is welcome news. The Russians have said that any nuclear accident is an international not national problem. They have also offered to help but no agreement has yet been reached. I think with their experience in dealing with Chernobyl, Japan would be well served to bring the Russians on board. In any event, let’s hope that the agreement between Japan and France marks the start of international cooperation in finding solutions to the many challenges Fukushima poses. This situation affects the whole world and the brightest minds on the planet should be brought in to address it.

Japanese Government Spent Only 40% of Funds Allocated For Fukushima Cleanup

According to an article in the Asahi Shimbun, the Japanese central government in fiscal 2012 withheld more than 60 per cent of the ¥255 billion ($2.57 billion) allocated for radioactive cleanup projects overseen by 36 municipal governments in Fukushima Prefecture.

The central government deposits fund with the prefectural government, which pays for the cost of the work and then sends the bill to Tepco, the operator of the Dai-Ichi Nuclear Plant.

Documents from the prefectural government showed that only 40 per cent of the allocated funds were used. 32 municipal governments carried over unused funds with 17 of them using less than half.

Apparently the main reason for these unused funds is taking Tepco’s ability to pay into account. Officials in the municipalities also say that the Environment Ministry often rejects the clean up methods proposed. There has also been delays in finding land for temporarily storing waste. Another issue is a shortage of workers to do the cleanup.

The Environment Ministry holds meetings with municipal government officials to decide on clean up methods. Discussions were held on 284 cleanup issues in fiscal 2012. It can take up to 6 months for a decision to be reached.

Asahi spoke with an official from the Environment Ministry’s Fukushima Office For Environmental Restoration, who said Tepco’s opinion must be taken into account when making decisions. “We cannot approve methods that TEPCO does not approve,” the official explained.

The paper also spoke to a senior official in the central government who agreed with the Environment Ministry’s position. “It’s only natural to negotiate matters so that TEPCO would not refuse payments,” the senior official said.

Tepco has so far refused to pay 15.9 billion yen of the 21.2 billion yen in bills from the central government, citing ambiguities in the decontamination methods. The central government will likely end up picking up the tab for the unpaid bills.

One official from the Fukushima city government was quoted as saying, “The cleanup processes will speed up only if the municipal governments are given the authority to make decisions.”

There is distrust of the central government among municipal government officials who feel the government is being overly strict in regulating the cleanup to lessen the use of funds.

So once again we see Tepco as a hindrance to the decontamination work in Fukushima. And again we see the lack of urgency on the part of the central government. So what if there’s “a bit” of radioactive stuff lying around, we’ll get around to it eventually. Such a blatant disregard towards the public health is both irresponsible and reprehensible.

As far as Tepco’s ability or willingness to pay the expenses of the cleanup, that is completely irrelevant. The responsibility of protecting its citizens from threats to the public health rest squarely on the shoulders of the Japanese government. Does not the government have the authority to force Tepco to pay seizing its assets if necessary?

Why does the central government show more deference towards Tepco than it does towards victims of the accident?Tens of thousands of evacuees are still living in evacuation centers, while the government callously drags its heels on decontamination work that might allow their return. The government can find billions of dollars for building olympic facilities while it scrimps on spending money for the important decontamination work.

It is long past time for the Japanese government to make resolving the issued surrounding the nuclear accident its number one priority. The full resources of the Japanese government must be made available for dealing with the numerous problems in Fukushima. And after more than 2 and a half years, the Japanese government needs to wake up and approach Fukushima with the sense of urgency the situation deserves.

Japanese town protests against Prime Minister Abe’s assertions

Namie is a small town in Fukushima prefecture. After the Dai-Ichi Nuclear Plant suffered meltdowns in 3 of its reactors, the entire town of 21,000 people were forced to evacuate. Half the town sits within the mandatory 20 km evacuation zone which surrounds the crippled nuclear plant.

After Prime Minister Abe toured the plant and stated the contaminated water is perfectly blocked by the plant’s artificial bay, the town’s council decided to protest Abe’s statements. The council unanimously adopted a resolution stating Abe’s remarks conflicted with facts on the ground and that the 300 tons of contaminated water leaking from the plant daily was a “serious problem”. The statement also said radioactive water is “far from being controlled or blocked completely.” The statement went on to voice its anger saying, “Members of the town cannot help feeling furious at the government and TEPCO which neglected Fukushima,”

It would appear that people living in the area, whose lives are more directly affected by the situation at the plant hold a much different point of view from Abe’s. As stated previously in this blog, the member of Japan’s upper house who represents Fukushima Prefecture in the country’s Diet, Teruhiko Mashiko, went so far as to say Abe lied in his presentation to the Olympic committee. I have yet to see any evidence that contradicts Mr.Mashiko’s statement.

Japanese Lawmaker says Abe lied to Olympic committee

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared before the International Olympic Committee that the situation at Fukushima was “under control” and that “effects from the contaminated water have been perfectly blocked within the (man made) bay” adjacent to the nuclear plant.

After touring the plant on Thursday, Abe repeated his assurances. He told reporters, “effects from cintaminated water have been perfectly blocked within the bay. By stating this clearly, I want to bring to an end harmful rumors about Fukushima.”

Other government officials have backed Abe’s claims, pointing to monitoring results which show radiation levels within the bay within safety limits set by the government. However, some experts say the levels only remain low because seawater entering the bay is diluting its contents.

In fact Tepco itself admitted that a large volume of water was escaping the bay and entering the ocean. According to a simulation Tepco ran, a maximum of 10 trillion becquerels of radioactive strontium-90 and 20 trillion becquerels of cesium-137 may have already reached the ocean. That doesn’t sound “perfectly contained” to me.

Teruhiko Mashiko, a member of Japan’s diet’s upper house and vice president of the opposition party. The Democratic Party of Japan, said in an interview with The Japan Times, “During the presentation for the Olympic Games, Prime Minister Abe told a lie. This is a big problem. The government should invest more people, money and technologies to turn their lies into truths.” Mr. Mashiko represents Fukushima Prefecture in the diet.

Mashiko has voiced his concerns about the storage tanks holding contaminated water at the plant. Of the more than 1000 tanks at the site, 350 are of the less sturdy flange type instead of the more durable welded tanks. Of the 350, 5 have already sprung leaks. Mashiko also claimed that last spring, a local tank manufactured warned that the tanks were not very good quality and could start linking within 2 years. Tepco approached the tank maker, asking for 6 low cost tanks to be made within a month. The company refused because the quality would have been poor and the contract conditions were bad.

At recent news conferences, a Tepco spokesman has repeatedly refused to comment on Mashiko’s remarks or give any information about storage tank contracts. He stated Tepco does not disclose information about private contracts. Many believe Tepco has been using the cheaper tanks to try and save money on the growing costs of the operation.

Instead of making blanket statements and giving empty reassurances, the Japanese government should be taking action. The area of the plant has been hit by an earthquake and a typhoon in the past week alone. Every single one of those 350 cheaply built tanks should be replaced immediately. The Japanese government needs to stop relying on Tepco to manage the situation. It is abundantly clear that Tepco is not up to the job, nor does it have the confidence or trust of the public.

As far as Mr. Abe is concerned, I think we should start calling him “Dishonest Abe”. (For non Americans “Honest Abe” was a title given to American President Abraham Lincoln.) We need to see actions not just words from Dishonest Abe. Declaring dangerous situations safe and under control is not just dishonest, it is dangerous. It is time for Dishonest Abe to come up with real solutions and not empty platitudes.
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First International Expert Appointed By Tepco

More than 2 years after the Great Hanshin Earthquake and Tsunami devestated the Tohoku region of Japan and caused the triple meltdown of 3 reactors at the Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant, Tepco has appointed an international expert as an outside advisor.

Lake Barrett led the clean up effort after the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident. He will now work as an advisor to Tepco in the clean up and decommissioning process. Mr. Barrett is not without controversy. He recently wrote an article for atomic scientists, where he expressed the opinion that water stored at the site should be released into the ocean after it has been filtered to bring the radiation down to safe levels. He is of ghe opinion that the current tanks cannot permanently store the water and building more permanent structures would just be a waste of resources and counterproductive.

In other words, Tepco’s only effort at seeking international help is to find someone who endorses what they already wish to do. I am not impressed. My idea of an international assistance would be an international panel of experts who would review the situation and make recommendations. It seems to me like Mr. Barrett’s appointment is just another in a series of moves to try and manipulate opinion without offering anything new.

The Pacific Ocean belongs to all of mankind. One Japanese fisherman opposed to the dumping put it like this, “They tell us the dumping is safe, but they also told us nuclear power is safe.” Dumping into the Pacific may be the most convenient and economical way to dispose of the thousands of tons of contaminated water being stored at the site, but that does not mean it is the wise one. The decision should not be left up to the Japanese alone, the international community should oppose the further dumping of any radioactive products into the Pacific and come up with a safer alternative. Mr. Barrett is just one man and does not represent the rest of the world regardless of his expertise or credentials.

Japanese government voices outrage over French cartoons

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed outrage over 2 cartoons published in a French satirical magazine, Le Canard Enchaine.

One cartoon depicts multi-limbed sumo wrestling in front of the wrecked nuclear plant as an announcer in radiation protective gear says, “How wonderful! Thanks to Fukushima sumo is now an olympic sport!”

In the second cartoon 2 people in protective suits, one holding a geiger counter. The caption reads, “The pool for the Olympics is already constructed in Fukushima.

Suga said the cartoons were hurtful to victims and gave the wrong impression of the water problems at Fukushima. The Japanese government formally protested to the magazine.

This is not the first such incident between Japan and France. Last year the French TV channel, France-2 showed an altered picture of Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima with 4 arms. The program said it was the “Fukushima effect” that allowed Kawashima to block goals so effectively in Japan’s 1-0 defeat over France. The station later apologized for the incident.

I have to say I too find such gallows humor highly offensive. Japanese culture has no tradition of black humor and their outrage is understandable. Unfortunately, in a democracy, French satirists have the freedom to be insensitive jerks if they wish to be.

Japanese Prime Minister offers reassurances on Fukushima situation

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sought to address concerns about the situation at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.  Speaking in Buenos Aires at a news conference after Tokyo was chosen to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, he said, “I would like to state clearly that there has not been, is not now and will not be any health problems whatsoever,” In additional remarks he said, “Furthermore, the government has already decided a program to make sure there is absolutely no problem, and we have already started.”
 
I find these remarks hard to believe. Many unresolved problems and questions still remain at the Fukushima plant. Here are just a few that have yet to be addressed:
 
1) What is the true status of the melted fuel within reactors 1,2 and 3?  It is believed that the fuel may have breeched the primary containment chambers of one or more reactors and is now leaking into the secondary containment chambers. However, it is unknown whether any of the secondary chambers have been breeched. If so the highly radioactive fuel could be seeping into the ground and into the ground water. 
 
2) What is the plan for the disposal of the millions of gallons of radioactive water now being stored at over 1000 storage tanks at the site?
 
3) Removal of the more than 1300 fuel rods sitting in the spent fuel pool atop of reactor 4. This is to begin in the next few months, but is hardly a routine operation. Under normal operations, the fuel would be removed using computer guided equipment, but that equipment is now unusable. The fuel will have to be manually removed. This has never been done before. If the assemblies should break, be exposed to air, or even come into wrong contact with each other, radiation could be released. In a worst case scenario, the fuel could ignite, releasing massive amounts of radiation. 
 
Those are just a few issues that have to be worked through. An earthquake in the area could compound things dramatically. If the buildings on which the spent fuel pools were to collapse, there would be a massive amount of radiation released, dwarfing anything seen thus far.
 
With that said, it hardly seems prudent to say there will be no health or other problems. Mr. Abe’s words may sound reassuring, but I don’t believe they match realities on the ground. 
 
As to the program he mentions. I believe he is referring to increased decontamination equipment and the building of an ice wall to stop the contaminated water currently flowing into the Pacific at the rate of 300 tons a day. It is by no means sure that this plan will work. Similar ice walls have been used effectively, but they were not used long term as this plan envisions. Also an earthquake which cut off electricity to the plant would cause the wall to melt. And even if the wall works as planned, it will take 1.5 years to put in place. Up until then, the Pacific would continue to be polluted. 
 
Mr. Abe’s reassurances may make for good politics, but also may prove to be overly optimistic.

Russian official critical of Tepco’s approach to cooling reactor

In an article published last month in the Japan Times,  a Russian official stated that Tepco’s approach to cooling the reactors  and decommissioning the plant needed to change to be successful. 

 
Vladimir Asmolov is first deputy director general of Rosenergoatom, Russia’s state-owned nuclear utility. He was quoted as saying the pumping of water for cooling was never going to work and would only serve to create a “machine for generating radioactive water”. He suggested instead that more complex methods needed to be used, such as the use of special absorbents like thermoxide to clean decontaminated water and the use of air cooling. 
 
Rosatom, a Russian nuclear company sent a 5 kg sample of an absorbent that could be used at Fukushima 3 years ago, according to Asmolov. It also formed working groups to assist Japan with management of fuel, decontamination and health effect assessment. Sadly, none of the offered help was ever used.  He did say the new Abe government showed a different attitude and that there have been talks on a diplomatic level. 
 
It seems obvious to me Mr.Asmolov is right. The current approach is only creating a massive stockpile of radioactive water that is growing every day and that no one seems to know what to do with it. Carrying on talks with the Russians? The Russian help should have been accepted 3 years ago! This is not just a Japanese accident. The contamination of the Pacific affects the entire world. It is long past time for Japan to seek the assistance of experts in the field from around the globe and deal with the situation in the urgent fashion it deserves. 
 
Japan has high hopes of hosting the summer Olympic Games in 2020. If that’s the case, Japan needs to allow a more international approach to the problems at Fukushima. Japan’s current insular attitude towards Fukushima shows no respect for the concerns of the international community and is unworthy of a country wishing to host the Olympic Games. 
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