“March for Life” from Fukushima to Hiroshima, as Japan revives reactors

After six weeks without generating any nuclear power, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda this week succeeded in lobbying local authorities in Fukui prefecture to approve the restart of two reactors at the Ohi nuclear complex, raising the specter of widespread power shortages over the summer. The archipelago nation got more than 30% of its electrical energy from nuclear generation before the Fukushima disaster that gradually shut down the whole nuclear production network was shut for safety checks and upgrades after last year’s Fukushima disaster. Activists opposing the return to nuclear power are holding a cross-country “March for Life” from Fukushima to Hiroshima—where they will meet with hibakusha, survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings of August 1945. The dwindling hibakusha have re-emerged as a voice warning of the dangers of radiation since the Fukushima disaster. (LAT, 命の行進-2012, June 15)

Ironically—and contrary to popular perceptions, outside Japan at least—the disaster at Fukushima is far from over. Some nuclear experts are warning that spent fuel rods at the crippled plant could trigger a major catastrophe, despite the government’s declaration in December that the emergency phase of the disaster was over. Fears about reactor No. 4 have grown, as its building holds a storage pool filled with 1,535 nuclear fuel rod assemblies. The pool, which is 30 meters above ground, has been left uncovered since a hydrogen blast last March blew off the upper part of the outer wall of the containment building.

The “assemblies” have a total amount of radioactive caesium equal to 5,000 atomic bombs of the kind that destroyed Hiroshima, said Hiroaki Koide, assistant professor at the Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute. The government has estimated the amount of caesium—137 already released by the Fukushima disaster as equal to that of 168 Hiroshima bombs. If a large quake or other event were to cause the pool to crack and drain, it could lead to a new catastrophe, Koide said. “We just all have to pray that an earthquake does not happen before that fuel is removed,” Arnie Gundersen, nuclear engineer of US-based Fairewinds Energy Education, added on his website. (DPA, June 13)

See our last post on Japan and the nuclear threat.

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  1. Anti-nuclear hunger strike in Japan?
    Kyodo News reported May 3 that novelist and Buddhist nun Jakucho Setouchi had joined a hunger strike in front of the industry ministry METI in Tokyo in protest the government’s moves to restart idled reactors at the Oi (Ohi?) nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture. But we haven’t seen any updates. Can anyone tell us how this ended?

  2. “Highest levels of radiation” yet at Fukushima
    More typically confused reportage on the (ongoing) Fukushima disaster. This from RTT News, June 28 (we couldn’t find another source):

    Highest Radiation Detected In Japan’s Fukushima Reactor
    The highest level of radiation to date has been detected inside the No.1 reactor at the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan.

    The plant’s operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) said on Thursday it used endoscopes and dosimeters to examine the interior of the reactor. A record level of 10,300 millisieverts per hour was detected in the internal measurement carried out for the first time since the March, 2011 accident. The measurement was taken 20 centimeters above the surface of a contaminated water puddle in the reactor’s suppression chamber. This high level of radiation would be fatal for humans within 50 minutes.

    Very comforting news (sarcasm). But what do they mean by “for the first time since the March 2011 accident”? Does this imply that there have been no tests of radiation levels in the reactor since the disaster began? Doesn’t this make nonsense of the headline? Why can’t anyone write clearly about this stuff?

    A measurement of 1,000 millisieverts per hour was detected about four meters above the water surface, which is ten times higher than measured in the No.2 and No.3 reactors, Japanese media reported.

    TEPCO official Junichi Matsumoto said he suspected that a higher radiation level in the No.1 reactor was caused by more fuel rods melting down than in other reactors.

    He said robots would be used for damage assessment because it was unsafe for humans to work on the site.

    Meanwhile, Officials from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency apologized to Kawauchi village mayor Yuko Endo and communities around the plant for failing to release maps showing dangerous radiation areas. Residents of the village were forced to evacuate after the government designated 20-kilometer radius of the plant as no-entry zone.

    Japan Today and Japan Focus inform us that the country saw its biggest demonstration since the 1960s on June 29, with some 100,000 gathering outside the official residence of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, chanting “Saikado hantai,” or “No to nuclear restarts.” To no avail. Kansai Electric Power restarted reactor No. 3 at the Ohi nuclear plant the next day. Some 200 protesters blocked the road to the Ohi plant. Kansai Electric said it had enough staff in the plant to restart the reactor, but a vice minister from “the ministry in charge of nuclear power” (presumably METI) had to be ferried to the plant by boat, the New York Times reports.

  3. More comforting news from Fukushima
    Kyodo news agency reports July 1 that there has been a failure of the cooling system at the spent-fuel pool in reactor No. 4 of the Fukushima complex. A back-up cooling system has also failed, and temperatures are rising. If TEPCO remains unable to start up the system or its backup, the temperature could reach 65 degrees Celsius within 48 hours—the maximum limit allowed by safety regulations.