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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.

High levels of radiation found in new well at Fukushima plant

The Asahi Shimbun is reporting that high levels of radiation were found in a recently dug well on the seaward side of the plant between reactors 1 and 2. Radiation levels of 400,000 becquerels per liter were found in samples taken from the well Tepco reported on Friday. Contaminants found in the water included strontium.

Strontium is known for being carcinogenic. It tends to mimic calcium and is stored in the bones where it can lead to leukemia or bone cancer.

Readings of 900,000 becquerels per liter were detected in a different well in the same area on July 5.

These two incidents appear to indicate that highly radioactive water flowing thru the basements of the reactors and underground tunnels are escaping into the groundwater.

These findings belie Prime Minister Abe’s continued assurances that the situation is “under control” and effects of radioactive contamination are “perfectly blocked”. The truth of the matter appears that little or nothing has changed since the leakage of radioactive water was first disclosed back in July.

The public realizes this is a difficult problem to solve and may take time to do so. But the public also expects accurate information and assessment of the situation, not meaningless reassurances from Japan’s “Dishonest Abe”.

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 Prime Minister Abe’s Meaningless Publicity Stunt

Last Thursday Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe donned a protective suit and toured the crippled Dai-Ichi Nuclear Plant in Fukushima. While touring the plant he asked Tepco to present him with a timeline for solving the problem of leaking radioactively contaminated water and suggested that all 6 reactors be eventually decommissioned.

There are 6 reactors at the plant. 1,2,3,and 4 have been heavily damaged but 5 and 6 are still in tact. Abe urged that 5 and 6 also be scrapped. Tepco responded that it would respond to Abe’s requests by the end of the year.

After finishing the tour, Mr. Abe then repeated reassurances that “effects from cintaminated water have been perfectly blocked within the bay.”

Is this the Japanese government taking a lead in solving the problems? Mr. Abe offered absolutely nothing new. All he did was order Tepco to come up with a timeline for solving the mess. The same Tepco that has botched the cleanup process from the beginning.

Abe’s tour of the plant was nothing but a publicity stunt designed to make people think he is actually doing something. In reality he demonstrated no leadership whatsoever and just passed the buck to Tepco which has demonstrated it is not up to job.

Mr. Abe, the Japanese government is ultimately responsible for the safety of its citizens and others worldwide affected by the situation in Fukushima. So tell us what is your plan for dealing with the contaminated water and what is your timetable for implementing a solution. No one was impressed by your publicity stunt. We want real solutions not photo ops.

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.

Tepco Scrambles at Damage Control

Tepco was scrambling Friday to do damage control after one of its senior executives contradicted the Prime Minister’s assurances that the situation was “under control”.

The executive, Kazuhiko Yamashita was speaking at a hearing in Fukushima prefecture. When asked about Prime Minister Abe’s remarks to the International Olympic Committee, he said, “I think the current situation is that it is not under control.”

Tepco later issued a statement that read :“It is our understanding that the Prime Minister intended his statement ‘the situation is under control’ to mean that the impact of radioactive materials is limited to the area within the port of the power station, and that the densities of radioactive materials on the surrounding waters are far below the referential densities and have not been on continuous upward trends. According to this understanding, we share the same views.” The company also said that Yamashita was aware that the contaminated water was only affecting the inner part of the harbor.

It seems Tepco and the Japanese government are more concerned about appearances than substance. When someone comes forward and speaks honestly, it is downplayed and spun to mean something else. It is long past time for word games and subtleties. The people of Japan and the entire international community deserve a frank assessment of the situation. It is natural for any government to try and reassure its people in the face of difficulty, but when those reassurances veer from the truth, it only causes more anxiety. I hope Mr.Abe will stop playing politics and be more open and honest when he addresses this issue. Not only Japan, but the whole world is listening.

Lessons from Fukushima

Hindsight is always 20-20. And the past cannot be changed. What is tragic is not learning from past mistakes. And the Fukushima nuclear accident provides ample material to learn from.

The Fukushima plant was built to withstand a large earthquake, and Indeed it appears that the plant came thru the massive 3/11 quake relatively in tact. And its systems acted as they should. The plant began a shutdown of its reactors. The main power lines that provided electricity to the plant were badly damaged, but again the back up generators kicked in and provided the necessary electricity for the plant to continue the shutdown process.

That is when the tsunami hit. There was a 6 meter high sea wall built to protect the plant. The massive tsunami easily flowed over the seawall, flooded the plant and knocked out the back up generators. The plant had taken great precautions against possible earthquakes, but had woefully inadequate protection from tsunamis. In fact Tepco (Tokyo Electric Power Company) had ignored all warnings about the dire consequences if a tsunami were to hit the plant.

Lesson one: Scenarios that appear highly unlikely do occur. Mother nature is a force of great power and unpredictability. Man builds an “unsinkable” boat, the Titanic and it sinks on its maiden voyage. Our lack of preparedness is often due to our lack of imagination.

With the back up generators knocked out, the cooling system critical for preventing a meltdown no longer worked. Workers at the plant in desperation used car batteries in order to try and get some of the plants’ systems back online. Tepco headquarters in Tokyo received requests for all kinds of supplies for Fukushima as the crisis began to unfold, but when batteries to supply power to the plant were delivered by the Japanese Self Defense Forces, they were 2 volt batteries, not the 12 volt batteries the plant required. Sadly as three of the reactors experienced meltdown, 1000 12 volt batteries sat in storage a mere 55 km away.

Lesson two: After you’ve prepared for the worse, and disaster strikes, what is your plan to deal with disaster. Tepco seems to have had no plan on what materials would be crucial in a crisis and how they could be quickly delivered in an emergency. Since Tepco couldn’t imagine a situation where both their main power and their back up system failed, there was no planning on what could be done to provide power to the plant in such an event. Again the lack of belief in worse case scenarios, led to lack of preparation when they occurred.

The reactors were equipped with safety relief valves to vent steam if the pressure in a reactor got too high. These valves were very difficult to open without electricity. The workers were finally driven to venting off some of the contents of the reactors in a desperate move to avoid a full meltdown. However, some of the piping used in the process may have been damaged in the quake, as the venting didn’t work properly. The reactor’s containment chambers were built to withstand a large earthquake, but the piping was built to a lower standard.

Lesson three: The containment chamber is usually given the most attention in regards to safety, but the systems that are used to regulate its pressure and maintain its integrity must also be built to high standards.

The tragedy of Fukushima is that it was avoidable. It was the lack of imagination and preparation for what are extremely low probability events that led to the disaster. The higher the cost of failure, the more necessary it is to prepare for low probability events. Reactors are in use for decades, and over longer periods of time, improbable events can and do occur.

Many of the reactors online throughout the world are decades old. How prepared are they for these kinds of worst case scenarios? Or will we find out their unpreparedness only after the next disaster?

Fukushima Update

It appears the Japanese government is going to take a more leading role in dealing with the ongoing nuclear crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power complex.“We’ve allowed Tokyo Electric to deal with the contaminated water situation on its own and they’ve essentially turned it into a game of ‘Whack-a-Mole’.From now on, the government will move to the forefront.”  Trade Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters Monday night in Fukushima. 
 
The decision to take a more active role in managing the crisis came after  300 tons of highly radioactive water leaked from a storage tank at the No.1 nuclear reactor. Each day 400 tons of radioactive water is added to storage tanks at the plant.  There are roughly 350 tanks of similiar design to the tank that leaked on site. The Japanese government is asking Tepco to regularly inspect the tanks and to replace any that appear susceptible to leakage. 
 
In addition to the problem of storing this massive amount of contaminated water, as I said in an earlier post, 300 tons of radioactive water is flowing into the Pacific Ocean every day. The government is now planning to dig deep into the earth and place pipes that will be used to freeze the soil, creating an “ice wall” between the plant and the ocean. 
 
The above raises several important questions:
 
1) What does the Japanese government or Tepco plan to do with these thousands of tons of contaminated water currently being stored at the plant? How sturdy are these structures? Can these tanks handle another large earthquake?
 
2) If the ice wall is successful in preventing the contaminated water from leaking into the ocean, where is the water going to go? If 300 tons of radioactive water is leaking daily from the plant, stopping it from going into the ocean is no real solution. Something has to be done to stop the leakage. Flooding the Fukushima countryside with radioactive water doesn’t seem to solve anything. 
 
Japan needs the expertise of the entire international community to find real solutions to this whole mess. This needs to become a global priority. No one knows when another aftershock could hit the area, escalating the crisis and further damaging the environment. Massive resources need to be directed to finding viable solutions before it is too late.

 

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