Archives for : nuclear power plant

High radiation levels detected on school grounds near Tokyo

Reports emerged yesterday that radiation levels exceeding the safety limits set by the Japanese government were recorded at school playgrounds near Tokyo.

Schoolchildren walk across the playground at Oyama Primary School in Otama Village, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan on May 27, 2011. New government regulations regarding the acceptable radiation doses for children led to the school removing the top soil of the playground and burying it around 1 meter below the surface. Photo: Rob Gilhooly

Schoolchildren walk across the playground at Oyama Primary School in Otama Village, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan on May 27, 2011. New government regulations regarding the acceptable radiation doses for children led to the school removing the top soil of the playground and burying it around 1 meter below the surface. Photo: Rob Gilhooly

Officials of the educational board in Chiba Prefecture, which neighbours Tokyo, reported that five schools in the Chiba city of Kashiwa had detected radiation levels of up to 0.72 microsieverts per hour in areas of the schools, including playgrounds and near swimming pools, more than triple the government-set limit.

Meanwhile, the man who headed the parliamentary investigation into the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster has voiced criticisms of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his administration’s policies on restarting reactors, saying that proper evacuation plans are still to be effectuated at plants that have been restarted or where restarts are imminent.

You can find more information on these stories here (http://www.yoshidas-dilemma.com/blog/high-radiation-levels-found-on-school-grounds-near-tokyo)

More thyroid cancers found in Fukushima

Last week the Fukushima prefectural government announced that seven more cases of thyroid cancer had been discovered among residents who had lived near the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power plant at the time of  the multiple explosions and meltdowns there in March 2011.

The new cases were announced during a meeting of an expert panel, and brought the total of confirmed thyroid cases to 152, it was reported. However, the panel, which is headed by Hokuto Hoshi, vice-chair of Fukushima’s medical association, believed it was “unlikely” that the new cases were connected to the radiation that spewed from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the air and sea for weeks and months after the disaster.

A nuclear plant worker, one of the so-called "Fukushima 50," is scanned for radiation at Onahama Port, Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture on 23 March 2011. Rob Gilhooly photo

A nuclear plant worker, one of the so-called “Fukushima 50,” is scanned for radiation at Onahama Port, Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture on 23 March 2011. Rob Gilhooly photo

To quote one famous US baseball player, it was like déjà vu all over again, and it is worth revisiting the issue to understand why panelists and other scientists are unwilling to state categorically why cancers can or cannot be tied to radiation exposure.

According to some experts it is almost impossible to prove the medical relation between radiation exposure and cancers. Geraldine Thomas, a professor of molecular pathology at Imperial College London, says that proving a nuclear accident such as Fukushima will categorically not cause cancers or other illnesses “is incredibly difficult.”  However, she adds that while it is easy to blame radiation exposure, it is almost impossible to prove there is a connection, either, as there are no biomarkers that can be used to distinguish between different aetiologies.

“There’s no way of distinguishing between the radiation from nuclear power plants and radiation in the background (i.e. naturally occurring in the environment),” says Thomas, who also runs the Chernobyl Tissue Bank, which analyzes samples of tissue from people exposed to radiation after Chernobyl in order to monitor the impact of iodine exposure in children. “Everyone hoped we would find … a (genetic) marker for radiation-induced cancer, but there isn’t one.”

Other experts, such as Hisako Kakiyama, a medical doctor who is also a former head researcher at Japan’s national radiological research institute, disagrees, saying research has shown that even low levels of radiation have led directly to cancers such as thyroid cancer.

The debate over the impact of radiation on health is discussed at length in “Yoshida’s Dilemma,” as indeed is the issue of the credibility of Fukushima’s surveys and studies examining the thyroid cancer issue.

In the wake of the worst nuclear disaster in 25 years, the Fukushima Prefectural government in cooperation with Fukushima Medical University (FMU) began monitoring the health of residents who were under 18 at the time of the incident at the plant. FMU has since been is overseeing thyroid-cancer all screening and surgeries. By April 2014, 380,000 children, including those who were in utero on 11 March 2011, had been tested in the prefectural government checks, of which around 75 were confirmed as having malignant nodules, while a similar number were suspected of having nodules, but malignancy had yet to be confirmed – high compared to other known international statistics.

However, the lead researcher at FMU at the time, Shunichi Yamashita, a former president of the Japan Thyroid Association,  claimed (you guessed it) that it was highly unlikely that the cancers uncovered in Fukushima were connected to radiation.

Yet, shortly after, Yamashita, along with three other leading researchers, resigned from the study after it was revealed in a Mainichi Shimbun investigation that lengthy secret meetings had been instigated among researchers and prefectural officials to pre-determine a line of argument during official deliberation sessions that would emphasize the view of a non-causal relationship between cancer cases and the nuclear disaster.

Shortly after it came to light that the data required to confirm this assertion was not available and that one scientist, Hirosaki University’s Shinji Tokonami, who had tried to obtain independent verification of how much radiation residents had been exposed to in the immediate aftermath of the disasters, was prevented from completing his research by prefectural officials.

According to radiation expert Sakiyama, without such data it becomes impossible to say conclusively that any cancers discovered among residents was caused by radiation from the nuclear power plant.

Still more problems with the FMU study have since come to light.  On March 31, 2017, Sakiyama  who is also a representative of the 3.11 Fund for Children With Thyroid Cancer, announced that a 4-year-old child who had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer after the Fukushima nuclear accident was missing from government checkup records. The toddler’s case was omitted from data taken by FMU, which had treated the child. This seeming clerical error raised still more questions about the thoroughness and transparency of the thyroid screenings. Sakiyama stated that any missing case was “a problem” and brought about suspicions that there could be still more such cases missing from the data.

Katsutaka Idogawa, who was the mayor of Futaba, one of the two towns hosting the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, believes this was the outcome of a deliberate and carefully planned strategy by the government to prevent accurate information about radiation doses being disseminated.

The reason, he says, is clear: To ensure compensation claims are kept to an absolute minimum. “That was a deliberate policy by the government because if they had [provided accurate data] it would have caused a massive problem to the extent of national economic collapse. So right from the start, they made the radiation problem a non-problem.”

With regard to the surveys of residents undertaken by the FMU, Imperial College’s Thomas said such a practice of screening for thyroid or any other cancers is highly debatable. “Although it has the obvious advantage of finding cancers early, it also finds more of them when testing on such an unusually large scale using high-tech equipment to look for them,” she said, adding that such an outcome is often  referred to as the “screening effect”.

Many cancers found are too small to require the treatment they almost certainly will get, whether or not such treatment at that stage is actually necessary, she adds. “If you operate on these, there is always a danger, so there is a risk and a benefit of doing these kinds of survey.”

Yet, Idogawa is among those who are critical of the likes of Thomas who, he says, have a microscopic perspective when it comes to the health impacts of radiation exposure. Indeed, Idogawa believes there are almost certainly many many more cancer cases that have yet to come to light quite simply because of the stigma that is still associated with radiation-induced cancers and other illnesses. This was prevalent following the A-bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki where hibakusha (literally “nuked person”) would conceal their condition — where possible — for fear of being ostracised. That fear not only applied to them, but their children and other relatives. Even today, there are hibakusha and relatives of hibakusha who will not speak to journalists on the record — if at all.

This has already been shown to be a problem in Fukushima.  Children who were forced to relocate to other parts of the country have been subjected to bullying purely because they are from Fukushima. A couple I interviewed for Yoshida’s Dilemma told of how on a 2012 coach trip to western Japan they had decided not to tell fellow travellers they were from Fukushima. When their identity was eventually betrayed, those same fellow travellers would not talk to them or sit near them.

Another unusual situation that did not make it into the book involved one young Fukushima man having his engagement nullified by his future parents-in-law purely because he was from Fukushima. The irony was — so were his bride-to-be and her parents.

“My guess is there are dozens, maybe hundreds more Fukushima residents who have been diagnosed with cancer,” says Idogawa. “But they won’t risk coming forward for fear of similar treatment to themselves and their families.”

If that is the case, there seems to be an even greater need to get them to come forward, but also for there to be greater transparency with the data being collected.  Without such accurate monitoring and dissemination of results scientists will be unable to reach a clear consensus about the connection between radiation  and various cancers.

You can find out more about this and other issues at my blog site dedicated to my book Yoshida’s Dilemma, which contains many entries relating to the Fukushima nuclear accident and nuclear and other types of energy. It also includes a sample chapter from the book and information about where to order it. Please take a look: www.yoshidas-dilemma.com

The true cost of nuclear power

The photo shows pages of a 2001 report purportedly outlining a breakdown of the cost of nuclear power. It was provided by Kenichi Oshima, a

PHOTO shows documents relating to the calculations made in 2001 by the Japanese government's cost analysis committee regarding  the cost efficiency of nuclear power. Almost the entire document has been blacked out. The figures, which were originally submitted to the committee by the Federation of Electric Utilities, simply show that nuclear power is cheap. Nonetheless, the committee approved the report as an official report about the cost of generating electricity by nuclear power.

PHOTO shows documents relating to the calculations made in 2001 by the Japanese government’s cost analysis committee regarding the cost efficiency of nuclear power. Almost the entire document has been redacted. The figures, which were originally submitted to the committee by the Federation of Electric Utilities, simply show that nuclear power is cheap. Nonetheless, the committee approved the report as an official report about the cost of generating electricity by nuclear power. PHOTO COURTESY OF KENICHI OSHIMA

Ritsumeikan University professor of environmental economics, who was among lawmakers and researchers who had requested from the government a breakdown of how the cost of nuclear power had been calculated.

Clearly, even after being furnished with the report they would have been none the wiser. Oshima says that a similarly redacted dossier was released following the original assessment of the costs of various energy over 50 years ago. The popular PR slogan used in the early days was that nuclear power was “too cheap to meter,” perhaps because the meters, too, had been covered in black ink.

The Japanese government has always said that nuclear was the cheapest power, it was a method used to sell nuclear power right from the start,” Oshima told me. “But the figures submitted were accepted without question and were the subject of huge criticism. Nobody was allowed to access the actual data, not even Parliament members.”

According to Oshima, the figures submitted to the government’s cost analysis committee by the federation of electric utilities placed nuclear energy at ¥5.3 per kilowatt hour (kWh) compared with ¥13.6 per kWh for hydro; ¥10.2 per kWh for oil; ¥6.5 per kWh for coal; and ¥6.4 per kWh for LNG.

Following the Fukushima nuclear accident, however, the data was reappraised by a governmental “cost verification committee” that included Oshima among its expert analysts. The committee revealed that in addition to the much-publicized “safety myth” attached to nuclear power, there was a “cost myth” that had been covered up for decades, Oshima says.

The committee determined that nuclear power had two related costs: first, the cost incurred by generating electricity and back-end fuel cycle costs, such as costs incurred by the disposal of radioactive waste; and second, societal costs, such as research and development and accident costs.

They used a model power plant representing the Japanese average for nuclear power plants to calculate a new Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE). The results were revealing. When societal costs were included, nuclear rose to ¥9 (based on accident costs of ¥5 trillion) as opposed to coal (¥9.4); LNG (¥10.7) and hydro (¥10.6).

Oshima was still doubtful that this was a true reflection of the cost of nuclear power, especially as a far greater proportion of public expenditure, such as R&D, goes to nuclear. Indeed, according to some reports, nuclear receives 64 percent of Japan’s total energy R&D budget, compared to renewables’ 8 percent.

Oshima also believes that the final cost of the Fukushima accident could be upwards of ¥15 trillion. Taking those factors into account, his final calculations put nuclear at ¥12.5 per kWh, though he insists that other “invisible” societal costs, such as damage to the environment and loss of human dignity associated with loss of homes and jobs, if calculable, would up the unit price further.

Interestingly, other researchers and industry officials think even this figure is conservative. One of them is Masayoshi Son, CEO and founder of telecommunications giant SoftBank. Admittedly, Son’s company has invested heavily in solar power both in both Japan and India since the 2011 disasters, which may influence his perspective. But using Oshima’s data and other research undertaken by the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies as a base, Son’s research led to the conclusion that the real cost of nuclear could be as high as ¥15 per kWh.

The cost of energies is covered in more detail in my book, “Yoshida’s Dilemma: One Man’s Struggle to Avert Nuclear Catastrophe. Fukushima – March 2011.”

For more information visit www.yoshidas-dilemma.com

My book on the Fukushima nuclear crisis is now available

Following the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident in northern Japan I began researching a book. The focus was on the meltdowns and YOSHIDA COVERexplosions that had occurred at the Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Plant and in particular the people who had battled to ensure an even bigger catastrophe was averted.

That research culminated in a book titled “Yoshida’s Dilemma: One Man’s Struggle to Avert Nuclear catastrophe – Fukushima, March 2011” and I am delighted to announce that on March 11, 2017 — exactly six years since the day of the Great Tohoku Earthquake, that book was published.

There is a website about the book here. It includes an overview of the book and an eight-page extract.

The book is now available through the publisher’s website here and also on Amazon here

It was never my intention to offer my own personal views on the important issue regarding nuclear power, only to try and find out what exactly had caused the triple meltdowns and to try and find an answer to a fundamental question: Should a country like Japan, which experiences one-tenth of the world’s biggest quakes, really be housing so many nuclear reactors.

Below are some comments about the book. I hope they will inspire you to check it out.

“Rob Gilhooly has written what is probably the most comprehensive English-language account yet of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown.  Gilhooly is among the best-informed foreign reporters on this issue in Japan, having travelled to Fukushima several dozen times since being one of the first journalists to arrive in the prefecture on a freezing night in March 2011.  He gives the story of Masao Yoshida, perhaps the key figure in the disaster, all the detail, sympathy and pathos it demands.  His remarkable pictures throughout the book are a bonus.  Highly recommended. “

— David McNeil, The Economist.

“A powerful synthesis of the technical and the personal, Gilhooly succeeds in conveying the events of March 2011, its aftermath and the dramatic impact on the people of Fukushima and wider Japan. Six years after the start of the accident, Yoshida’s Dilemma is a necessary reminder of how through the actions of heroic individuals and luck Japan avoided an even greater catastrophe.”  
— S. David  Freeman, former Tennessee Valley Authority chairman, engineer, energy expert and author of Energy: The New Era and Winning Our Energy Independence

“As one of the few journalists to have covered the Fukushima story from the very start, Rob Gilhooly is perfectly placed to discuss the disaster’s causes and aftermath, and its wider ramifications for the future of nuclear power. From the chaotic scenes as the plant went into triple meltdown, to the plight of evacuated residents and Japan’s long and troubled relationship with atomic energy, Gilhooly combines fine story-telling with journalistic integrity to produce a book that is admirably free of hyperbole.” 
— Justin McCurry, The Guardian.

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