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9 février 2016 2 09 /02 /février /2016 10:58

February 8, 2016

External radiation doses in Fukushima comparable to those of Europe: study



by Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writer

The external radiation exposure levels of high school students in Fukushima Prefecture are within the same range of those living in France, Poland and Belarus, a scientist and a high school student said Monday in Tokyo.

Both were among members of a research group that conducted a study on individual radiation levels.

Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, Ryugo Hayano, a professor in the University of Tokyo’s physics department, said that while the effect of the 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant definitely remains, radiation levels have fortunately lowered over the past five years.

Because natural background radiation levels in Fukushima are lower than the world’s average, even when the extra radiation dose from the nuclear disaster is added, the external exposure of Fukushima residents did not differ significantly from those measured in other parts of the world, they said.

The study does not include the evacuation zone around the crippled plant.

Initiated by a group of students at Fukushima High School, the study examined 216 students and teachers in 12 high schools — six in Fukushima and six in other prefectures such as Kanagawa and Nara — and compared the results with eight schools in Poland, four in France and two in Belarus for two weeks in 2014.

Each participant wore a personal electronic dosimeter and kept a journal of their activities.

According to the study, published in the Journal of Radiological Protection last November, the external doses received by participants in Fukushima during the two-week period were “well within the terrestrial background radiation levels of other regions or countries.”

The median annual external radiation exposure of students in Fukushima was estimated to be 0.63 to 0.97 millisieverts, compared with 0.51 to 1.10 in Poland, France and Belarus, according to the study.

“I wanted to know how high my exposure dose was and wanted to compare that with people in other places,” said Haruka Onodera, a student at Fukushima High School.

Although she knew nothing about external radiation at the start of the examination, through analyzing and collecting data, Onodera said she was able to deepen her understanding and realized the importance of evaluating risk based on objective scientific facts.

The International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) sets recommended annual radiation exposure limits under normal situations at 1 millisievert. A cumulative dose of 100 millisieverts over a lifetime would increase the chance of developing cancer by 0.5 percent, according to the ICRP.

The average terrestrial natural radiation level in Japan is around 0.33 millisieverts per year, the report said, which is lower than the world average of 0.48 millisieverts.


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8 février 2016 1 08 /02 /février /2016 19:19

February 8, 2016

Tepco looks overseas as shake-up, competition loom at home




Tokyo Electric Power Co. is seeking to expand operations abroad to diversify amid a power market shake-up at home.

Japan’s biggest utility faces a fully liberalized power market from April and the prospect of new entrants encroaching on its base of about 29 million customers. Tepco expects to make up for lost customers by expanding into Japan’s other regions and considering opportunities abroad, according to President Naomi Hirose.

“We have 100 percent of the market share in our area, so when it liberalizes, we can’t go to 101 percent,” Hirose said at a press briefing in Tokyo on Friday. “We must expand the overseas business.”

Tepco has another reason for looking overseas. Japan’s electricity use is falling as the population declines and customers cut usage. The nation consumed about 806 terawatt-hours of electricity from its 10 regional power utilities in 2015, the lowest since 1998, according to data from the Federation of Electricity Power Companies of Japan.

Tepco’s sales will probably fall 18 percent between the fiscal years ending March 31, 2015, and 2017, according to the average estimate of five analysts compiled by Bloomberg. The company also hopes to boost revenue by entering the gas-retail market when it liberalizes in April, 2017.

Tepco has investments in power projects in countries including Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia. Revenue from Tepco’s overseas power-producing business increased to about ¥100 billion in the last fiscal year ended March 31, a threefold expansion from a decade earlier, according to a company presentation dated April 28.

The company also consults on overseas projects, ranging from technical support to assisting with electricity savings, according to its website. Revenue from its overseas consulting services was ¥1.11 billion last fiscal year.

8 février 2016 1 08 /02 /février /2016 19:15

February 8, 2016


‘Voluntary’ Fukushima evacuees denounce end of free housing, new assistance plan



By JUN SATO/ Staff Writer

The Fukushima prefectural government is maintaining its plan to terminate the free housing program for “voluntary” evacuees from the nuclear disaster despite a barrage of criticism and complaints expressed during an explanatory meeting.

Fukushima officials told the briefing session in Tokyo’s Nakano Ward on Feb. 7 that in April 2017, free housing will no longer be available to people who fled from homes located outside government-designated evacuation zones around the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Instead, the officials said, new assistance measures, including subsidies for moving and rent, will be offered.

Many of the 30 or so people in attendance, including evacuees, blasted the planned measures as insufficient.

“It just sounds like the prefectural government wants to make us return to the area as soon as possible and terminate the assistance,” one of them said. “Even though the nuclear accident has not yet come to an end, how can they say we should go back there?”

According to the prefectural government, about 6,000 households voluntarily evacuated to areas outside Fukushima Prefecture after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in March 2011. An estimated 5,700 voluntary evacuees were living in Tokyo in January this year.

Based on the Disaster Relief Law, the prefectural government has offered public housing and other free accommodations to nuclear evacuees regardless of whether their original homes were in state-designated evacuation zones.

The government is now moving to lift all evacuation orders around the nuclear plant except for certain areas where radiation levels are expected to remain high.

“We held discussions with the central government while taking the situation into consideration, and the central government agreed to extend the program to March next year,” a prefectural government official told the meeting. “It would be difficult to further extend the period.”

The new measures include up to 100,000 yen ($853) in subsidies for moving expenses, as well as preferential treatment in relocating to prefectural government-run housing.

For low-income households who continue to live in private apartments and other housing as evacuees, the prefecture will cover half the monthly rent up to 30,000 yen for the first year and one-third of the rent up to 20,000 yen for the second year.

“We cannot live with a subsidy of 30,000 yen,” one of the evacuees said at the meeting. “Do they understand the rent in Tokyo?”

A representative of Hinan Seikatsu o Mamoru Kai (group that protects evacuation life), which comprises evacuees living in areas around Tokyo, indicated that the proposed measures would put too much of a financial burden on many of the voluntary evacuees.

“Our biggest difficulty is the housing issue,” he said. “We strongly demand that the prefectural government withdraw the termination of the free housing program.”

Masaaki Matsumoto, chief of the prefectural government’s Evacuees Support Division, defended the plan and said the government does not intend to force evacuees to return home.

“The environment in Fukushima is being prepared for people to live in,” Matsumoto said. “By setting up the subsidy system, we also responded to those who want to continue their evacuation.”


8 février 2016 1 08 /02 /février /2016 19:13

 February 5, 2016

Emperor, Empress to visit 2011 disaster-hit Fukushima, Miyagi in March




Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko are planning to visit Miyagi and Fukushima, two of the three prefectures worst damaged by the massive earthquake and tsunami about five years ago, on March 16-18, sources said Thursday.

The Imperial Couple plan to travel to the two northeastern prefectures after attending a government-sponsored memorial ceremony in Tokyo on March 11 to mark the fifth anniversary of the disasters.

The Emperor and Empress will arrive in Fukushima on March 16 and have talks with those who experienced the disasters and move on to Miyagi within the day, the sources said. During their stay in Miyagi, the couple will visit a fisheries product firm in the town of Onagawa.

The couple are slated to attend the 2016 national athletic meet in Iwate, the remaining hardest-hit prefecture. It will be the first time since 2011 for the Imperial Couple to visit the three prefectures within a year.


6 février 2016 6 06 /02 /février /2016 18:28

February 6, 2016


Defiant to the end, last of Group of Six anti-nuclear scientists about to retire



By HISASHI HATTORI/ Senior Staff Writer

KUMATORI, Osaka Prefecture--Tetsuji Imanaka is the last of the so-called Kumatori Group of Six, a maverick band of nuclear scientists at an elite university here that spent decades speaking out against nuclear energy.

At 65, Imanaka is now ready to collect his pension and part company with Kyoto University’s Research Reactor Institute--and he remains as steadfast as ever in his beliefs.

Imanaka cannot have found it easy to go against the government’s policy of promoting nuclear power, yet that's what he's done since he joined the institute in 1976.

He says he never experienced harassment, but then again he never got promoted beyond the post of research associate.

“Many people have commented that I must have been bullied because I banded together with my colleagues under the banner of building a nuclear-free Japan,” Imanaka told a 60-strong audience gathered here Jan. 28 for a lecture to mark his retirement in March. “But that was not the case. It is also true, though, that nobody has praised me for being anti-nuclear,” he added, drawing guffaws.

Imanaka's other colleagues in the group with the exception of one are all retired. They are: Toru Ebisawa, 77; Keiji Kobayashi, 76; Takeshi Seo, who died in 1994 at the age of 53; Shinji Kawano, 74; and Hiroaki Koide, 66.

The group's moniker came from the name of the town that hosts the research center.

Although all six scientists harbored doubts about promoting nuclear energy, Imanaka said, “We did not set out to become activists or form a clique.”

Rather, “We acted according to our own beliefs as individuals.”

The group was relatively unknown before the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

But in the aftermath of the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the “rebels” increasingly came under the spotlight as civic groups scrambled to seek their expertise to grasp the ramifications of the nuclear accident and the potential dangers of nuclear energy.

Koide, who retired last year, has addressed 300 or so gatherings across the country since the catastrophe.

But the group's efforts to educate the public about the potential danger of, and challenges facing nuclear energy, date back to 1980 when it initiated a series of seminars at the institute.

“Experts have a responsibility to explain science and technology in lay language to citizens,” Imanaka said of the endeavor.

With Imanaka’s departure, those seminars are about to end. After more than 35 years, the final 112nd session will be held on Feb. 10.

The group's commitment to continue sounding the warning against nuclear power has been widely appreciated by the public at large.

But the members have all had to pay a price for openly defying the “nuclear village,” as the program involving the government, powerful utilities enjoying regional monopolies and academia is called.

None of the six ever got promoted to beyond the level of assistant professor.

Still, Koide, who finished his career also as a research associate, recalled his academic life fondly.

In his lowly position, he was able to focus on his research free from pressure and harassment.

The catalyst for the group's anti-nuclear activities was a lawsuit filed in 1973 by a citizens group over a license issued to Shikoku Electric Power Co. to build the Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture.

In the suit, the plaintiffs demanded nullification of the license on grounds that safety screening of the plant by the government was insufficient. It was the nation's first lawsuit involving the safety of a nuclear reactor.

The researchers stood by the plaintiffs over 19 years of court battles, offering their technical expertise and testimony, right up until the Supreme Court finalized the verdict against them.

Kobayashi, an expert on reactors, also helped residents who sought to shut down the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor in Fukui Prefecture.

The money-guzzling, problem-plagued project is the centerpiece of the government’s vision to recycle spent nuclear fuel. But the reactor has rarely operated since it went online in 1995.

Imanaka specialized in assessing the spread of radioactive contamination. He traveled to Ukraine more than 20 times to examine the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident site for contamination.

He, along with Seo, also estimated how much radiation was released in the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in the United States.

After the Fukushima disaster, Imanaka embarked on a project to detect radiation levels in Iitate, a village to the northwest of the plant whose residents are still living as evacuees due to high radiation levels.

Keiji Miyazaki, professor emeritus of nuclear energy at Osaka University, was of two minds about the goals of the Kumatori Group of Six.

“We, as a promoter of nuclear power, could learn from the argument they made on scientific grounds,” said Miyazaki, 78, who assisted in the development of the Monju fast-breeder reactor. “But at times, they rather seemed to be activists than researchers.”

The Fukushima disaster showed that a nuclear accident far exceeding anyone's expectations can happen in Japan, which is what the Kumatori Group of Six had been saying all along, despite the pro-nuclear power bloc always ruling it out as improbable.

Still, Koide said he was left with a “sense of defeat” because he and his peers failed to prevent it after all.

Five years on, the toll from the disaster continues.

Some 100,000 evacuees in Fukushima Prefecture are still displaced.

Kobayashi is pushing for a nationwide debate over whether Japan should embrace nuclear energy.

“It has been established that an accident can take place,” he said. “All of society, not just some officials and experts, should discuss whether we should continue to accept the risks involved in nuclear energy.”

The final session of the seminar will bring together Imanaka and the surviving members of the group together for the first time in a long while.

They will pose for a picture with the photo of the late Seo in the background and renew their resolve to carry on their mission to serve the public with their technical knowledge.

“The next seminar will be the last one at the institute, but we are ready to come together and fulfill our responsibility as nuclear scientists if an accident like Fukushima recurs,” Imanaka said.


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5 février 2016 5 05 /02 /février /2016 19:57

 February 5, 2016

Govt. to bolster role in nuclear fuel recycling



Feb. 5, 2016 - Updated 08:19 UTC+1


Japan's Cabinet has approved a bill on increasing government involvement in the nuclear fuel recycling program.

The bill approved on Friday would replace Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited with a state-authorized corporation as the main player in the program.

Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited is a private company funded by major electricity suppliers.

The government has looked for secure ways to sustain the program due to concern that the suppliers could withdraw if their business worsens after the retail market for electricity is fully opened up this April.

State-authorized bodies won't be dissolved without government permission.

The bill calls for requiring utility companies to continue their financial contribution after the new body is launched.

Industry minister Motoo Hayashi told reporters that outside experts will be involved along with the government in managing the new organization.

He added that governance in nuclear fuel recycling will be strengthened.




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5 février 2016 5 05 /02 /février /2016 19:52

February 5, 2016


Editorial: KEPCO's altered stance on nuclear plant emergency building breaches trust



Is Kyushu Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) really taking nuclear safety seriously? Such misgivings arise when we consider the utility's decision to scrap plans to build a seismically isolated facility at its Sendai Nuclear Power Plant in Kagoshima Prefecture.

When it applied for safety screening for the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at the plant, KEPCO promised to build a seismically isolated emergency response center that was to serve as a frontline base in the event of a nuclear accident. Later, however, the company decided it would make do with an existing quake-resistant facility, and it applied to the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) at the end of last year to alter its plans.

KEPCO has no experience obtaining government permission and building a seismically isolated nuclear power facility, and told the NRA that if it were to instead use a quake-resistant facility with which it has plenty of experience, it would be possible to begin operations at an early date, thereby enhancing safety. Yet it has not actually stated when it would be able to begin operating the quake-resistant facility.

The NRA views the power company's turnabout negatively, and has asked KEPCO to resubmit its application, on the basis that it lacks grounds for its claim.

In August last year, the No. 1 reactor at the Sendai Nuclear Power plant was reactivated, becoming the first to be restarted after passing new safety standards implemented in the wake of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster. The plant's No. 2 reactor was similarly reactivated in October. When KEPCO applied to the NRA for safety screening, the utility had promised that it would build an important base-isolated structure, aiming to complete it sometime around this fiscal year. Inside the structure, it was to establish an emergency response center with a floor space of about 620 square meters. It said it would temporarily use a substitute quake-resistant facility with a floor space of about 170 square meters while the base-isolated structure was being built.

Quake-resistant structures are built to withstand the shaking of temblors. Seismically isolated buildings, on the other hand, use buffers to absorb the shaking. This system makes it harder for equipment inside to be damaged and has the advantage of allowing workers to move smoothly even if aftershocks occur. When the Fukushima nuclear disaster occurred, a seismically isolated structure became a base for handling the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, and its importance became widely recognized.

Under KEPCO's new plan, the substitute response center would be upgraded to a regular response center, and a quake-resistant facility that could provide support with a rest facility and medical office would be set up alongside it.

KEPCO stresses that it would be able to secure a level of safety at least on par with a seismically isolated building. But changing its plans after restarting the reactors represents a breach of faith toward the NRA. It's like putting one's hand out in a game of rock, paper, scissors after the other player has already revealed their move. KEPCO has similarly declared that it will take its plan to build a seismically isolated structure at its Genkai Nuclear Power Plant back to the drawing board, sparking a backlash from a local municipality.

Under new standards, there is admittedly no regulation requiring emergency response centers to be seismically isolated -- as long as the functions of a quake-resistant structure can be maintained in an earthquake.

However, utilities have a responsibility to constantly work at improving safety -- not being satisfied with merely passing the standard. Saying, "We have no experience so we can't do it" is no excuse.

It would appear in this case, that safety is taking a back seat to costs and ease of construction. KEPCO needs to carefully respond to these kinds of misgivings and state in concrete terms why safety would improve under the changed plans. If it can't do that, then it should give up on changing the original plans.


5 février 2016 5 05 /02 /février /2016 19:51

February 4, 2016

Kansai business leaders hail nuclear power plant restarts, urge TPP ratification




by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

KYOTO – The annual meeting of Kansai area corporate leaders opened Thursday in Kyoto with declarations of support for a recently restarted nuclear power plant and calls for the swift ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The two-day Kansai Economic Seminar brought together over 500 participants including heads of companies. Tabled for discussion were local and national economic, social, and political issues ranging from developing a more diverse and skilled young workforce in the face of a rapidly aging society to tourism promotion.

Kansai Economic Federation chairman Shosuke Mori, who also serves as chairman and director of Kansai Electric Power Co., opened the meeting by touching on local and national energy issues. He said Japan’s energy policy has taken a new turn with the restart of Kepco’s Takahama No. 3 reactor last week and the restart of two reactors at Kyushu Electric’s Sendai plant last August.

“The restart of these reactors means the situation since September 2013, where Japan had no nuclear plants operating, has been eliminated,” Mori said. “This is a very significant development. Kepco will also restart the Takahama No. 4 reactor in about a month, and we’re talking about reducing electricity rates after April 1.”

Mori did not address the deregulation of the electricity market in April to allow for competition in the household market and how it might impact the Kansai economy.

This move opens up Kepco to a range of competitors, many of which hope to sell electricity derived from renewable energy or natural gas. As Japan’s regional utilities have a monopoly and control access to their transmission lines, it remains unclear what the impact on Kepco will be.

The seminar took place on the day that 12 nations, including Japan, signed the TPP agreement in New Zealand. Mori said the TPP nations account for nearly 40 percent of the world’s GDP and called for early ratification of the treaty by members’ legislatures.

However, some participants noted factors which could delay implementation of the TPP, including the facts that leading figures in the U.S. race oppose the deal and U.S. Congress remains skeptical. Another factor, they said, is the resignation last week of economy minister Akira Amari, who negotiated the TPP for Japan.



5 février 2016 5 05 /02 /février /2016 19:48

February 5, 2016


EDITORIAL: Japan should lead U.N. talks to establish nuclear ban treaty



The Japanese government has decided to join a new working group on nuclear disarmament that the United Nations will set up later this month.

Non-nuclear weapon states are deepening their recognition in recent years of the dangerous and inhumane nature of nuclear arms. A momentum is picking up for a ban on nuclear weapons under international law.

The working group will be established in the context of that new trend. It is only too natural for Japan, the only country that has suffered atomic bombings during war, to join the undertaking. A key question facing Japan is what role it will play at that venue.

We hope Tokyo will live up to the remarks made by Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who said that Japan should “lead the international community in working toward a world without nuclear weapons.”

More than a quarter-century after the end of the Cold War, the five major nuclear weapon states--the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China--still possess large arsenals of nuclear arms.

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) obligates those five nations to pursue nuclear disarmament in exchange for granting them, and no other country, the status of nuclear weapon states. But efforts to shrink their arsenals have stalled in recent years amid ongoing upgrades, including in the accuracy of attack capabilities.

With the spread of nuclear technology, in addition, there is no end to the list of nations, such as North Korea, which are challenging the NPT in pursuing the development of nuclear arms.

The rift between the non-nuclear weapon states, which are calling for disarmament and abolition of nuclear arms for fear of nightmarish scenarios, in which nuclear missiles are launched by mistake or are obtained by terrorists, and the nuclear weapon states, which do not want to part with their atomic power, is widening more than ever.

The NPT Review Conferences and the Conference on Disarmament, both of which are operated on a consensus basis, are not enough on their own to overcome the resistance of nuclear weapon states to move the discussion forward.

That was why the momentum has rapidly spread for initially signing a treaty or taking other legal measures to ban nuclear arms, which will be labeled as inhumane and unethical, and thereafter seeking their abolition on the basis of that global standard.

The new working group will be set up for that objective.

During the U.N. General Assembly last autumn, 12 countries, including the five major nuclear weapon states, opposed the resolution for setting up the working group, whereas 34 others, including Japan and NATO member countries, both under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, abstained from voting. The resolution, notwithstanding, was approved by an overwhelming majority of 138 nations, which account for some two-thirds of all U.N. member states.

During an organizational session held informally last week, Tokyo, which remained noncommittal on whether it would join the working group, argued in support of a consensus-based approach.

Efforts are certainly necessary for seeking broad-based approvals, including from nuclear weapon states. But being inflexible on reaching a consensus will never help break the current stalemate over nuclear disarmament.

Japan should make constructive contributions to a prospective ban on nuclear arms.

It could study concrete subjects, including, for example, the coverage and order of prospective bans that could draw nuclear weapon states into discussions, and measures for a safe departure from the nuclear umbrella.

More than a few citizens of nuclear weapon states, including the United States, are calling for nuclear arms to be abolished. In-depth views should be exchanged both at home and abroad.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 1


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5 février 2016 5 05 /02 /février /2016 19:47

February 5, 2016


M4.6 quake jolts eastern Japan, no tsunami warning issued



TOKYO (Kyodo) -- An earthquake registering a preliminary magnitude of 4.6 shook eastern Japan including Tokyo on Friday morning, the weather agency said, but no tsunami warning was issued.

The 7:41 a.m. quake registered 4 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7 in Machida, western Tokyo, and Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

The quake, originating at a depth of some 30 kilometers in eastern Kanagawa, briefly disrupted sections of bullet train operations of the Tokaido Shinkansen Line.


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