News Watch (NIT No. 171)
Preparations for Ice Wall Completed at Fukushima Daiichi
Construction of equipment for creating a wall of frozen soil to prevent groundwater influx into Fukushima Daiichi units 1 to 4 (no longer operating) was completed on February 9. TEPCO submitted an application to the Nuclear Regulation Authority on February 22 for authorization of its operational plans, including a revised freezing order, with the ice wall on the sea side created first, followed in stages by those inland. Previously, TEPCO had planned to begin freezing from the inland side. The regulator pointed out, however, that if the water table around the reactor buildings were to fall too low as a result of freezing the inland side, there were concerns that it might drop below the level of the contaminated water inside the buildings, allowing the contaminated water to leak into the ground, so the plans were changed accordingly.
TEPCO explained that it planned to initiate freezing immediately after obtaining approval, but because the plan for freezing in stages from the inland side first had been changed, it would take about eight months for the freezing to be completed. The government and TEPCO’s goal of completing the ice wall by the end of March has become unattainable.
Former TEPCO Chairman and Others to Face Criminal Trial in Court
Three former TEPCO officials were indicted on February 29 by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office on charges of professional negligence resulting in injury or death. The indictment was not at the request of the public prosecutor, but by five lawyers appointed by the court to perform as public prosecutors. Although the Tokyo District Court had ruled twice to exempt the men from prosecution, the Committee for Inquest of Prosecution called for a mandatory indictment because it judged them deserving of prosecution from the citizens’ point of view. Indicted were former chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and two former vice presidents who served as local general managers of nuclear energy (Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro). The appointed lawyers noted that the three men could have foreseen the possibility of the arrival of a tsunami exceeding the Fukushima Daiichi NPP site elevation of 10 meters and that its incursion would result in a major accident, but by failing to take appropriate preventative steps and incautiously allowing operations to continue they neglected their professional responsibilities.
The indictment states that because of their professional negligence, the Fukushima nuclear accident occurred at the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake disaster, forcing evacuation involving long periods of transportation and waiting, resulting in 43 fatalities. Furthermore, because doctors and other staff also had to be evacuated from hospitals, they were unable to provide medical services, resulting in one more fatality. In addition, 13 people sustained injuries from flying debris scattered by the hydrogen explosions.
Residents Revolt at Lifting of Evacuation Orders
There has been a push for a directive rescinding the evacuation orders for areas in Fukushima Prefecture that were ordered evacuated by the government due to radioactive contamination resulting from the Fukushima nuclear accident. The evacuated areas are currently categorized as “areas where it is expected that residents will face difficulties in returning for a long time,” “areas in which residents are not permitted to live” and “areas from which evacuation orders are ready to be lifted.” The evacuation orders are being rescinded place by place for the “areas from which evacuation orders are ready to be lifted.” Furthermore, an attempt is being made to rescind the evacuation orders in April for “areas in which residents are not permitted to live” in Minamisoma. The criterion for rescinding these evacuation orders is an annual dose rate of 20 mSv, which is extremely high. A succession of residents has expressed opposition to this at residents’ briefing sessions held by the government’s Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters. On April 17, 2015, 808 residents of an area in Minamisoma for which evacuation orders were rescinded at the end of 2014 filed a suit in the Tokyo District Court seeking annulment of the rescinding, saying it had been unwarranted.
The government intends to rescind evacuation orders for all but the “areas where it is expected that residents will face difficulties returning for a long time” by March 2017.
Ten members of former fishing boat crews or their bereaved families from Kochi Prefecture that were working in the South Pacific in 1954 in the vicinity of the Bikini Atoll at the time of hydrogen bomb tests conducted by the U.S. applied on February 26 to the Japan Health Insurance Association for seamen’s insurance coverage for cancer and other diseases resulting from their exposure to radiation. During the Bikini hydrogen bomb tests, 23 crew members of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru, a fishing boat from Shizuoka Prefecture, who were exposed to radiation, with one member dying a little more than a half year later, received seamen’s insurance compensation. There were about 550 Japanese boats in the seas near the Bikini Atoll at the time of the testing, and about 10,000 crew members were affected, but no investigations of the circumstances regarding damage to other vessels have gone forward. If their request is recognized, it will mark the first time for crew on a boat other than the Daigo Fukuryu Maru to be recognized.
A “National Team to Study Bikini Disaster-affected Seamen’s Relief” was organized on February 28 to expand the movement seeking compensation further throughout Japan. In addition to teaming up with former crew members and their supporters in each region to seek relief, it is promoting investigations into the circumstances of the disaster, including a request to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare for a detailed follow-up study.
Forced Restarts of Takahama Units 3 and 4
The Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) restarted the Unit 3 reactor at the Takahama NPP (PWR, 870 MW) on January 19 and began electric power generation and transmission on February 1. Commercial operation was resumed on the 26th, and on the same day, KEPCO restarted the Unit 4 reactor at the plant (PWR, 870 MW), but when it tried to start electric power generation and transmission on the 29th, the generator equipment malfunctioned, and the reactor underwent an automatic emergency shutdown. The company announced on March 1 that the sensor guarding the main transformer that raises the voltage of the generated electricity had detected an abnormally large electric current. Whether the sensor’s setting at the time was appropriate or not is under investigation. KEPCO had been aiming to resume commercial operations in late March, but considers that “difficult,” so it says it is thinking of rescheduling it to April or later.
STOP PRESS: On March 9, the Otsu District Court issued a provisional injunction ordering Kansai Electric Power Co. to shut down Takahama Units 3 and 4. KEPCO is expected to appeal the judgment, but for the moment commercial operation of both these reactors has been ruled out by the court. The judgment emphasized technical problems and raised concerns over emergency protocols including evacuation. It also recognised the plaintiff’s concerns about the contamination of Lake Biwa in case of a major accident at Takahama, as it is the water source for large areas of the Kansai region. KEPCO filed an objection against the injuction on March 14.
TEPCO Reveals Unawareness of Meltdown Criterion
TEPCO revealed on February 24 that although there was an in-house criterion available at the time of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident for determining reactor core meltdowns, in which the core fuel melts and drops down, it had not been aware of its existence. If they had relied on that criterion, they would have been able to determine the molten state of the reactor cores three days after the accident. They did not officially acknowledge the extremely serious situation until about two months later, saying they lacked a basis for determination at the time.
The press release from TEPCO reads, “Our company was questioned by the Niigata Prefecture Technical Committee regarding sharing of information at the time of the Fukushima accident. Our attempts to obtain a comprehensive overview and verification of the accident were not limited to a technical analysis into the causes, but we included information in our reports to the national and local municipal governments at the time of the accident and went ahead with our own investigations. While proceeding with these investigations, we became aware that a standard for determining reactor core meltdowns, i.e., damage to more than 5% of a reactor core, had been clearly specified in our internal operation manuals at that time. When explaining the situation to the Niigata Prefecture Technical Committee at the time of the accident, we failed to consult sufficiently with those manuals and gave an erroneous explanation that no basis existed for determining a reactor core meltdown. For this we deeply apologize.”
The Niigata Prefecture Technical Committee is a council of experts established by the prefecture. It has increased the number researchers critical of nuclear power in the wake of the disaster at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant (5 BWR reactors, 2 ABWR reactors, totaling 8221 MW) caused by the Chuetsu-Oki Earthquake in 2007, actively promoting discussions. Since the time of the Fukushima nuclear accident it has directed its efforts toward verifying the conditions of the accident.