Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Sunday Fukushima Report: The Good, The Bad, The Sad, The Hopeful.

The Sunday Fukushima Report: The Good, The Bad, The Sad, The Hopeful.

By JUN HONGO : Staff writer

Farmers from Fukushima Prefecture affected by the nuclear disaster held an open-air market Saturday in Tokyo amid the spread of unfounded rumors over the safety of their fresh produce.

"It is not justifiable that products from Fukushima, which haven't been banned from the market, are being affected" by the crisis, said JA Touzai Shirakawa's Masaichi Mimura, executive director of the agricultural cooperative in southern Fukushima.

In an attempt to prove the safety of their products, Mimura used a Geiger counter in front of the crowd and tested the buckets of rice, strawberries, cucumbers and tomatoes that were being sold.

"See? The counter shows no irregularities. Everything is safe," Mimura said.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan on March 21 placed an indefinite ban on sales of spinach and "kakina" from Fukushima and neighboring prefectures after samples were found to be abnormally radioactive. Milk produced in the region is also prohibited from being sold for human consumption.

The announcement was followed later that week with test results by the health ministry that saw 25 of the 35 sampled vegetables from Fukushima and surrounding areas exceeding the government's limit of cesium of 500 becquerels per kilogram. Twenty-one of those also surpassed the iodine limit of 2,000 becquerels.

Alarmed consumers were quick to shun products that were being shipped out of the area, while the list of economies that have restricted imports has grown to include the United States, Australia, South Korea and Taiwan.

But JA's Mimura expressed concern that in some places Fukushima produce — even items certified as safe — has been kept out of reach of consumers.

"We've had cases in which we were told by some markets that our produce can't be circulated just because of where it was coming from," he said.

The farmers' market, which opened Friday in Yurakucho and runs until Monday, is an attempt to provide evidence that Fukushima produce is safe to consume.

Customers were convinced and appear willing to support the farmers.

Sasaki, a Tokyo housewife who refused to give her first name, said she had no issue with purchasing Fukushima strawberries.

"I don't want to overreact and avoid buying food that is completely safe," she said. "It is the least I can do here in Tokyo, in order to help out those in Fukushima who were hit by this crisis."

JA Touzai Shirakawa brought in 10 tons of rice from Fukushima for the occasion.

"We were worried how things will turn out, but it looks like it will be sold out by Monday if we keep up the pace," Mimura said.

But what happens afterward is still unclear.

Mimura, who grows rice and vegetables in Shirakawa, said preparations for the summer growing season should be in full swing at this time, but this year, everything has been put on hold.

The Japan Agricultural Cooperative released a statement Thursday saying it will seek advance payment of damages from Tokyo Electric Power Co. on behalf of the farmers, but nothing has been settled yet.

"We've been told to put off preparations (for the summer)," Mimura said. "I'm not quite sure what happens next."

Papers of origin : Kyodo News

The government will issue certificates to identify where farm products were grown before they are shipped overseas to allay safety concerns over radiation from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

The plan was endorsed at a meeting of senior vice ministers of various ministries and agencies.

They also agreed on a plan to convey accurate information to foreign governments via Japanese embassies and other diplomatic missions to keep foreign consumers from overreacting.

The European Union has been calling on Japan to issue certificates of origin for its agricultural products.

Although the impact on sales of manufactured products has been limited, the government is preparing to issue certificates of origin for those products as well.

Kyodo News

A worker involved in the battle to regain control of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant's stricken reactors has questioned the safety precautions for workers taken by Tokyo Electric Power Co.

The man, who was hired by a sub-subcontractor of plant operator Tepco, cited the lack of supervision of radiation monitoring when two workers were injured and a third exposed March 24 after wading into highly contaminated water.

"We don't normally work in water," said the man, who was tasked with laying cables to restore power at the No. 2 reactor and wished to remain anonymous.

He said a lack of radiation monitors was at least partly to blame for the amount of radiation the three workers were exposed to. In his case, a radiation monitor constantly provides safety instructions, he said.

The three workers, dispatched by a subcontractor and a sub-subcontractor, suffered a high dose of radiation in the basement of the turbine building next to the No. 3 reactor while trying to lay cables. The three were taken to a hospital and discharged March 28.

As of Wednesday morning, there were around 300 workers at the Fukushima plant, of which about 250 were Tepco staff and the remainder employees of subcontractors and sub-subcontractors.

Meanwhile, the worker rejected one newspaper report that Tepco is paying workers several hundred thousand yen a day, saying: "That's not happening. The work takes years and a large number of people are required for it. Who would pay such an amount of money?"

Given the extent of the damage, reactors 1 to 4 are likely to be decommissioned, but the man, who has worked at Fukushima No. 1 for years, said he is planning to return to the plant. "I think it will probably take around 50 years until work to decommission the reactors ends. I hope to continue working until the end," he said.

Another man, who worked at the No. 6 reactor for a Tepco subcontractor before the March 11 disaster, said he has heard some of his colleagues have returned to the plant on condition they are paid ¥80,000 a day.

But the man, who is in his 40s, said he declined the offer because of the concerns of his wife and two children. He said he was also worried about being exposed to high doses of radiation. "I may not be able to take up any work at all if I go," he said.

Irradiated Water Swamps Tepco

Restarting Cooling Systems Takes A Back Seat To Storage, Disposal

By KAZUAKI NAGATA : Staff writer 

The highest priority is to extract the Contaminated water in the flooded basements of some of the reactor turbine buildings, whose electric systems must be checked in order to cool fuel rods inside the reactors and spent fuel pools.

But little progress appears to have been made in the last few days, with Tepco continuing to transfer contaminated water from tank to tank to store it.

Experts said this is difficult and time-consuming, and new measures are needed quickly because the existing tanks will reach capacity.

Tsuyoshi Misawa, a reactor physics and engineering professor at Kyoto University's Research Reactor Institute, said it is unclear when the water removal will be completed, especially as the water in the No. 2 reactor turbine building is possibly leaking from its pressure vessel.

As for the flooded No. 1 turbine building, Tepco was pumping the water into a condenser tank but was forced to transfer it to another vessel after the tank got full. The work reduced the water in the basement from a depth of 40 cm to about 20 cm.

Work to remove contaminated water from reactors 2 and 3, however, has yet to start. The crucial task of restoring electricity for the reactor cooling systems has meanwhile been delayed.

Experts warned that condenser tanks won't be able to hold all the water.

"I think some facility to store a massive amount of water will be needed," Kyoto University's Misawa said, adding it will be a huge task to properly dispose of the vast amounts of contaminated water.

While the government has mulled anchoring tankers by the plant to store the water and building a facility to properly dispose of it, the city of Shizuoka announced Friday it will provide its mega-float, a huge barge, to Tepco for storing the water.

Tepco estimates the vessel can store about 10,000 tons of water, while the amount of water detected in the plant has reached around 13,000 tons.

While removing the water is expected to take time, possible damage to pressure vessels might mean radioactive substances will keep leaking.

Misawa said it is highly possible the No. 2 reactor's pressure vessel is damaged, since the water in its turbine building is extremely contaminated, showing surface-level radiation in excess of 1,000 millisieverts per hour.

Radionuclide analysis of that water showed it contains not only volatile iodine-131 and cesium-134, but also the more stable lanthanum-140 and barium-140. All four substances are believed to have come from atomic fission, meaning "some part of the pressure vessel is probably damaged," Misawa said.

But at the same time, the reactor does not appear to be in a dangerous enough state to cause another hydrogen explosion because its temperature is hovering around 180 degrees, he said. Hydrogen only emerges when the temperature rises high enough to start the fuel rods' zirconium casings burning, allowing them to react with the water in the pressure vessel.

Meanwhile, experts welcomed France's support, given the country's experience and knowledge of nuclear power.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Thursday and promised its support, while Anne Lauvergeon, CEO of French nuclear power company Areva SA, also pledged support when she met with Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda.

"The knowledge and experience of Tepco and people engaged in domestic nuclear-related fields are limited amid the crisis," said Hiromi Ogawa, a former engineer at Toshiba Corp. who managed the company's nuclear power generation project.

Areva has experience of handling previous nuclear accidents, including Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

Assuming the situation at Fukushima No. 1 is eventually brought under control, the challenge of decommissioning reactor Nos. 1 through 4, which Tepco Chairman Tsuneyoshi Katsumata has said is probably unavoidable, awaits. But decommissioning damaged nuclear power plants is a very lengthy, tricky and expensive project.

Even shutting down a regular nuclear plant requires time and money. At the nation's first nuclear power plant in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, which ended operations in 1998, it took three years just to remove spent fuel rods. Work to complete the process is slated to end in 2020 and cost a total of ¥89 billion, according to some media reports.

Ex-Toshiba engineer Ogawa said that when decommissioning a normal plant there are a limited number of places where the radiation level is high, so even though the work is time-consuming, it can advance according to plan.

But "it is going to be very different in the case of Fukushima," he said, as places that are not supposed to have high levels of radiation have been contaminated, such as the basement floor of the No. 2 turbine building.

The fact that the quake and tsunami damaged machines such as cranes that are vital to remove spent fuel will increase the level of difficulty and require considerably more time and funds, Ogawa said.

New York – Japan's nuclear heroes are credited with protecting their nation from a catastrophic meltdown. 

An instant guide

Employees at Japan's stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant have been hailed as heroes for subjecting themselves to dangerous levels of radiation while they desperately labor to prevent a massive meltdown. Now, details of the conditions and fears of the so-called Fukushima 50 — the small group that stayed behind when most of the plant's workers were evacuated after the March 11 tsunami — have begun to emerge. Here, a glimpse of the life-threatening ordeal of the Fukushima 50:

Are their lives in danger?

Yes. Distraught relatives say that many of the plant's workers assume they are undertaking a suicide mission. They have been exposed to extremely high doses of radiation, and several have been treated for radiation burns. Through tears, the mother of a 32-year-old worker told Fox News by phone that her son and his colleagues know they are probably sacrificing their lives, and could have only weeks or months to live. "They have accepted they will all probably die from radiation sickness in the short term or cancer in the long-term," she said. "They know it is impossible for them not to have been exposed to lethal doses of radiation."

Can they protect themselves?

The Fukushima 50 wear protective suits, and those working in highly radioactive areas, such as the fuel rod containment chambers, can only stay there for 15 minutes at a time. They sleep in conference rooms, hallways, and stairwells, where each worker gets one blanket, and a lead mat to shield them from radiation. "My son has been sleeping on a desk because he is afraid to lie on the floor," said the woman who spoke toFox News. "But they say high radioactivity is everywhere and I think this will not save him."

How bad are conditions at Fukushima?

Horrendous. The Fukushima 50 aren't on their own anymore — there are now about 400 Tokyo Electric Power Co. employees inside the plant. They work in rotating 12-hour shifts. The high levels of contamination make it hard to get supplies to them, so food and water are scarce. They get two meals a day: Typically, vegetable juice and 30 crackers each for breakfast, and instant rice for dinner. "I just wanted people to understand that there are many people fighting under harsh circumstances in the nuclear plants," one worker wrote in an email. "That is all I want. Crying is useless. If we're in hell now all we can do is to crawl up towards heaven."

Is the pressure getting to them?

Yes. In a note thanking fellow TEPCO employees for their hard work, one Fukushima supervisor broke down. "My parents were washed away by the tsunami and I still don't know where they are," he wrote. "I'm engaged in extremely tough work under this kind of mental condition. ... I can't take this any more!" Another worker, named Emiko Ueno wrote in an email quoted in The New York Times: "My town is gone,. My parents are still missing. I still cannot get in the area because of the evacuation order. I still have to work in such a mental state. This is my limit."

Low Levels of Fukushima Radiation Fallout Detected Worldwide

The Fukushima nuclear plant damaged on March 11 by the massive9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami has leaked radiation into the air. Now, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) officials say seawater is contaminated around the Fukushima Daiichi power plant drainage canals, initially stating levels rose to 10 million times normal at Reactor 2, forcing the workers to evacuate. TEPCO later retracted the statement, saying that they were mistaken, and levels were "only" 100,000 times normal.

Because of the new reports, countries worldwide are screening vigilantly, and at least six have detected radiation in small amounts in the air, water, and soil.

China Contaminated

Over the March 25-27 weekend, China announced food and water contamination checks for 14 provinces in the northeastern and southeastern coastal areas. Low levels of Iodine-131 contamination was detected in the northeastern Heilongjiang province, but it is so little that Chinese Ministry of Health officials says it "is harmless," and residents of the affected counties are "staying calm."

The southeastern coastal areas also show small amounts of Iodine-131; however, National Nuclear Emergency Coordination Committee officials state that no extra protection is needed, as it is "not harmful to humans.

South Korea Contaminated

The Korean Institute of Nuclear Safety (KINS) reported today that it had detected trace amounts of radiation in Gangwon the week before and had traced it to Fukushima. A detection center in the northeastern region of South Korea found the Xenon 133 contaminants, but officials stated that it would not harm humans because the amount was so little. However, because of the findings, KINS stated that it would initiate daily contamination testing of the nation's air and water.

Iceland Contaminated

The Icelandic Radiation Safety Authority (IRSA) reported March 22 that it found Iodine-131 in the Reykjavik radiation detection center's air filter. IRSA's head, Sigurdur Emil Palsson, stated the radiation came from the Japanese fallout.

Iceland was the first European nation to detect the radiation after the initial Fukushima explosion. An official from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation's (CTBTO) Vienna branch, stated the radiation found was "extremely small amounts," so it does not pose any risks.

Canada Contaminated

Numerous areas in British Columbia reported that on March 19, 20 and 23, researchers from Simon Fraser University found Iodine-131. Samples of rainwater collected from the university and from seaweed collected from North Vancouver showed the contamination. Kris Starosta, a SFU nuclear scientist stated that the amounts are so small that it is not harmful to humans. Traces of the same radiation have also been found in Newfoundland, but again, they are also too small to harm humans.

Switzerland Contaminated

The Federal Health Office of Switzerland has reported that its radiation sensor equipped plane had detected a small amount of radiation attributed to the Japanese nuclear fallout, and determined it to be Iodine-131. However, the office also reported that the radiation detected is so little that it will not harm the nation's citizens. The plane conducts regular checks for radiation and is equipped with a radiation sensor for the job.

François Byrde from Swiss government-run Spiez Laboratory stated that the amount of radiation found from the Japanese Fukuishima fallout is much less than what Swiss people are exposed to daily. The Fukushima problems mixed with the nation's fear of further contamination, Swiss voters ousted the sitting minister of the Swiss People's Party because the party is "pro-nuclear" in favor of the "Green Party."

United States Contaminated

Iodine-131 has been detected in various states in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which has increased its normal radiation monitoring to compensate for the Japanese nuclear fallout. The EPA reported that on March 22, Massachusetts, California, and Hawaii, showed elevated levels of radiation in its rainwater, and on March 23, Oregon and Washington state detected elevated radiation in its rainwater as well. Radiation was detected in Pennsylvania's rainwater on March 28, and the EPA is conducting more tests to confirm the state's findings. In all cases, he EPA reported that the radiation levels were so low that it posed no health risks.

Fukushima Turning Point May Lift Secrecy of Nuclear Safety Group

Japan’s Fukushima meltdown may force nuclear powers to change secrecy rules that have cloaked companies and regulators from scrutiny about the measures they take to ensure atomic reactors don’t threaten public safety.

The Convention on Nuclear Safety, drafted after the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown in Ukraine, must be updated to reflect changes to the industry and availability of open-source information about atomic emergencies, said nuclear law specialists including two lawyers who helped write the accord.

“After such a long passage of time since Chernobyl and the changes in technology, it may well be appropriate to revisit the basic structure of how information is shared under the convention,” Carlton Stoiber wrote from Washington in an e- mailed answer to questions. He helped the U.S. State Department draft the treaty, which was adopted in 1994.

The 72 countries that have signed the treaty convene next week for their triennial meeting in Vienna. The 10-day closed- door event, during which Ukraine and Japan are scheduled to provide safety assessments, is hosted by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Measurement networks showing how radiation plumes move globally, along with commercial satellite imagery and Internet communication, mean the public has more information than ever before about the consequences of nuclear breakdowns. Policy makers will have to adapt, said Odette Jankowitsch-Prevor, an international nuclear-law specialist in Vienna who helped write the treaty as a senior legal officer with the IAEA.

‘Light Years’

There are “light years” of difference between the way people understood Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima today, Jankowitsch-Prevor said. The “internationalization” of nuclear companies such as Areva SA (CEI), Toshiba Corp. (6502)’s Westinghouse Electric Co. unit and Rosatom Corp. also underscores the need for the treaty to be updated, she said.

Nuclear industry representatives will join next week’s meeting as part of their national delegations, according to a preliminary list of people registered for the conference. Groups of countries will meet over four days and then present written confidential reports during three more days of private sessions.
“I now see the country groups as perhaps necessary during past phases of the process but something of an impediment to a thorough and objective review, given the current circumstances,” Stoiber said. “This is not merely a matter of opening the review process to the public, media, NGOs and others. It involves how the review is conducted and by whom.”


When the treaty was being drafted, some IAEA members wanted the agency to conduct safety checks of atomic reactors in a way similar to how the United Nations watchdog accounts for nuclear materials worldwide, Jankowitsch-Prevor said. The proposals were scuttled because some nations would never agree, she said.

“You have a great deal of secrecy in the nuclear industry,” she said. “There are issues of industrial protection and patents that countries will not automatically share with everybody else.”
Both lawyers said the IAEA must improve its international response to nuclear-safety issues. Member states attending the conference also expect the agency to enhance its role.
“China’s government attaches great importance to nuclear safety and supports the IAEA in promoting international cooperation on nuclear safety,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang Yu said yesterday in a briefing. China is “in close communication with IAEA” about the agency’s plans for a “high level” safety meeting in June, Jiang said.

Falsified Documents

“The dimensions of the Japanese accident are so large that no single entity has exclusive domain,” said David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer for the Union of Concerned Scientists who is a former safety instructor for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “Parallel reviews” by different groups would help spot safety weaknesses, he said.

Greater public scrutiny may have uncovered decades of falsified safety reports in Japan before the Fukushima accident was triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Reactors at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant continue to emit radiation, contaminating the surrounding water, food and soil and sending plumes of radionuclides around the Earth’s atmosphere.
“After Chernobyl, it is the first case where we can show that we are not yet prepared to face a disaster of that dimension,” said Carvalho Soares from Portugal’s Nuclear Physics Center, who will be attending the Vienna meeting.

Japan will come under strong pressure at next week’s conference to provide a detailed account of what happened at Fukushima, said Trevor Findlay, Director of the Canadian Centre for Treaty Compliance.
“Japan has repeatedly been criticized for the alleged non- independence of its nuclear regulator, so there will be strong pressure on it to reform its national safety governance, including this aspect,” Findlay wrote in an e-mail from the Waterloo, Ontario-based institute. Treaty signatories should use the meeting to “strengthen the peer review process,” he said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Tirone in Vienna at
To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at

Sin Chew Jit Poh

Press TV


The Fukushima nuclear plant will be scrapped, while pressure grows for the evacuation zone to be expanded.
BigPond News - Mar 31 11:58am

Radiation leaking from Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant has been detected in nearby water, beef and even dead bodies left behind by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami disasters.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company, which operates the plant, said radioactive iodine was detected in the groundwater beneath one of the reactors at levels 10,000 times above normal.

Japan's Kyodo news agency said this is the first time radiation has been found in groundwater.

Kyodo also reports health officials for the first time have detected radioactive material in beef from Fukushima prefecture that is above the legal limit. Vegetables and milk from farms in the area also have been contaminated, prompting several governments to ban imports from the region.  

Radioactive material has spread as far as the United States, where officials report finding very low amounts of radioactive material in milk from the west coast.

Elevated radiation levels also have been detected in sea water near the plant, and in areas as far as 40 kilometers away, prompting the government to consider expanding a 20-kilometer evacuation zone around the facility.

Authorities say they are unable to collect up to 1,000 dead bodies near the plant because of fears the corpses are too contaminated with radiation.  

Police sources warn that if the families of the victims cremate the bodies, as is the tradition in Japan, it could release more radioactivity into the environment.

The confirmed death toll from the natural disasters is above 11,400, with more than 16,500 still missing.

Meantime, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for the world's nations to establish common nuclear safety standards to make sure there is never a repetition of the Japanese nuclear crisis.

Appearing alongside Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan in Tokyo Thursday, Sarkozy said there is no viable alternative to nuclear power at this time, but that improved safety standards must be negotiated by the end of this year.

Kan said his priority at the moment is to stabilize the situation at the nuclear plant, which has been spewing various forms of radiation since its cooling systems were knocked out.

Officials at Japan's nuclear safety agency said radiation in the latest sampling from the ocean near the Fukushima plant's discharge pipes was at 4,385 times the legal limit.

Expanding the evacuation zone to 30 kilometers would require moving another 136,000 people - adding to pressures on a government that already has almost 200,000 earthquake victims living in temporary shelters.

Operators of the plant reported some progress in pumping highly contaminated water out of the basements and adjacent utility tunnels at three of the plant's reactors. The water must be removed before workers can complete repairs to the pumps that run the plant's vital cooling systems.

Inside the Danger Zone

Japanese authorities are telling people to stay away. Not everybody is listening. 

NEWSWEEK heads toward Fukushima.

Silence hangs over the town of Minamisoma, 32 kilometers north of the earthquake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Here in the so-called buffer zone on Japan’s northeastern coast, three weeks after the quake, the government’s warning for residents to stay indoors still stands. Most of the locals can’t avoid leaving their homes occasionally to pick up food packets at government-run distribution centers, to search the handful of open shops for other supplies, and to check on friends and neighbors. In an atmosphere of growing uncertainty, the Fukushima Prefecture Social Health and Welfare Office, on the town’s deserted main street, serves as an information clearinghouse—and a focal point of fear.

On Wednesday morning last week, it was temperate and clear. A brisk wind blew from the north, toward Fukushima. A dozen members of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces manned a mobile shower unit used to decontaminate victims of high doses of radiation. In the parking lot, government officials in white hazmat suits swept Geiger counters over anxious residents who waited patiently in line. Kenji Sasahara, 45, a public-health physician, explained that the town’s 9,783 remaining residents—perhaps one third of the pre-earthquake population—had voluntarily come forward to be screened. In return, the government issued all but three of them a certificate stating that their radiation level was below 0.0001 millisievers, indicating no detrimental impact to the human body. Three, who worked near the plant, registered higher levels and were given high-pressure hot showers to remove iodine. Then they, too, were released.

The certificate is important, Sasahara said, because people living near the damaged reactor have already begun to face discrimination. They have been barred from staying in inns outside Fukushima prefecture. Angry motorists in Tokyo and other cities have complained that Fukushima-plate-bearing cars were “contaminated.” Some Minamisoma citizens have sought treatment at medical clinics in cities beyond the buffer zone, only to be turned away because they didn’t have “radiation-free” certificates.

Sasahara says the harsh treatment worryingly echoes the stigma endured for decades by hibakusha—survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. “We want to prove that these people are not contaminated, so they won’t be discriminated against because they come from Fukushima,” says Sasahara.

The toll from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami continues to mount. As many as 18,000 people were killed. Hundreds of thousands remain homeless. Estimates vary, but the World Bank and Japanese government say that there’s somewhere between $122 billion and $235 billion worth of damage to clean up.

The disaster did something else, too: it revived the specter of nuclear catastrophe in a nation that has been, for the better part of three generations, haunted by the lethal power of radiation. Nobody has yet died as a result of the radiation, though much attention has been focused on the possible fate of the “Fukushima 50”—the workers who heroically remained behind to fend off leakage from the shattered units.

As the tragedy has worn on, by last week the riveted and frightened nation, already appalled by scenes of human misery and massive destruction from the wave that washed away thousands of square kilometers of coastline, now had to deal with growing uncertainty about the safety of their dietary staples—fish, produce, drinking water—and the possibility of a nuclear meltdown.

I ventured into the heart of the exclusion zone, the no-go area within 20 kilometers of the Fukushima Daiichi reactor—where radiation emissions have been registered at four times the level considered safe for human beings.

The day after my trip, the Japanese government would announce plans to tighten its enforcement of the zone by arresting and fining anybody who set foot inside it.

But on Wednesday, despite roadblocks and frequent patrols by police and soldiers in radiation-proof suits, passage proved relatively easy. The dozen villages and towns in this death zone were chillingly deserted, as if time had ceased to pass since the moment the earthquake struck. It was like an episode of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone crossed with The Day After—an apocalyptic vision of life in the nuclear age.

Just weeks ago, some 13,000 people lived in Odaka. The town sits between the Abukuma mountain range and the Pacific Ocean, 16 kilometers due north of Fukushima. Today it lies in the heart of the exclusion zone. From Minamisoma, a two-lane highway rolls past fallow rice fields and terminates in orange cones, white tape, and a red sign that warns:

“Prohibited Entry Due to Nuclear Power Hazard Special Law.” Just past the empty highway—its stillness periodically broken by a convoy of police and Army vehicles racing along from the exclusion zone with red lights flashing—a series of smaller roads unmonitored by the police lead past scattered houses and through forested hills, then straight into downtown Odaka.

At 10 o’clock, the brisk northerly wind was picking up, and the town stood utterly silent. 

Evidence of the devastating power of the quake was everywhere: a pink-concrete boutique had toppled on its foundations and lay at a 45-degree angle to the street; a traditional two-story house had collapsed, roofing tiles and wooden planks lying in a shapeless heap. 

Motorcycle shops, noodle parlors, barber shops, boutiques, and a Japanese inn, or ryokan, stood open and deserted, their contents available for the taking (if there had been any takers). 

A lone taxi was parked at a stand in front of Odaka’s railroad station. The keys hung in the ignition. Farther out, in the devastated coastal strip that was washed over by the tsunami, a pink flag marked a decomposed corpse that lay face down in the mud. 

Inside a ruined convenience store not far away, a woman’s recorded voice played in an endless loop, cheerfully urging phantom customers to “collect your bonus points now.”

(Although I was certainly taking a risk by entering the zone without a lead-lined suit or any other protection, I was reassured somewhat by reports that the radiation leakage into the atmosphere had been contained, at least for now, and by the near-constant wind that cleared the air and blew any lingering particles back toward Fukushima.)

About 15 minutes after arriving in Odaka, I came across the first sign of life: Eiji Furuuchi, a 59-year-old supermarket owner. A small man wearing a white face protector and a blue warmup jacket, Furuuchi had been staying at a relocation center, then with his sister in the buffer-zone town of Haramachi, about 30 kilometers away.

But food was scarce. They had run out of cash. Banks were closed. And ATMs had stopped working.

Furuuchi decided on a quick trip with his sister back to Odaka to salvage whatever they could from their market.

Furuuchi had been up watching television late into the previous night, riveted by the latest news about the escalating nuclear crisis: the hospitalization of Masataka Shimizu, president of the Tokyo Electric Power Co., or TEPCO, the operator of the crippled reactor, who had come under heavy criticism for his slow response to the radiation spillage.

“I know it’s not safe, but the wind is blowing in the right direction, and I won’t be here long,” he said, setting off on foot. His cell phone rang and his face brightened with surprise—phone service, as well as electricity, had been spotty in the exclusion zone. His sister was calling from the market, telling him to move it.

“Let’s just pack up the car and get out of here,” she said.

Furuuchi turned into a darkened warehouse where his sister, Masako Kowata, was briskly filling shopping bags and plastic crates with tea bags, biscuits, cans of whale meat, orange nectar, canned coffee, processed cheese spread, margarine, and eggs that had long passed their sell-by date. “The radiation levels are so high, and I’ve seen nobody here the whole day,” she said. “It’s making me nervous.”

Kowata nodded when I asked her if she was worried that the food might be radioactive, but she said that shortages left them little choice.

Kowata finished packing and made one last inspection of the supermarket. She’d fled the moment the earthquake hit and hadn’t been back since. She reeled from the overpowering stench. “There’s been no electricity here in three weeks.” She pointed at buckets of clams and display cases packed with rotting fish. Her brother surveyed the mess, stepped back into the deserted street, and shook his head grimly.

“I don’t think people will ever want to live in this town again,” he said.

Kowata suddenly remembered something: she had heard rumors that Mrs. Watanabe, an elderly neighbor who was suffering from cancer, was still living in Odaka, defying orders to evacuate. She threw some packages of soba noodles and laundry soap into her Subaru, got behind the wheel, and sped off toward the edge of town. At a two-story cement house with a brown-tile roof where the drapes were pulled shut on all the windows, Kowata knocked lightly on the front door.

“Yoriko-chan?” she called.

“Is that Masako?” came a weak voice.

“You’re there!” Kowata exclaimed.

The door opened and an elderly woman, bald head wrapped in a beige knit cap, hobbled out. “I’m sick,” she rasped. “I can’t leave.”

The woman’s husband, a lean septuagenarian wearing tinted glasses and a burgundy sweater, came to the door. His wife’s health had been deteriorating since January, he explained. Nausea and other side effects from the medication made it impossible for her to be moved. So the pair had decided to hunker down in Odaka and wait for the crisis to pass.

Of Odaka’s original population, the Watanabes are two of perhaps only a half-dozen people still living there.

The situation wasn’t so bad, Mr. Watanabe insisted. The power and water on their side of town were still functioning, “so we can take a hot bath.” He fetched bottled water and other supplies twice a week from a market in Soma, an hour away by car. “I’ve been watching the news, and it seems like they’ve got the situation contained,” he said. “I got myself tested in Minamisoma, and my radiation level wasn’t so high. 

Besides, I’d rather be here than at the evacuation center. There’s no privacy.” The police had come by twice and asked them to leave, but after hearing the couple’s explanation, “they said they understood, and they left us alone.”

In fact, Mr. Watanabe was taking a grave risk by ignoring the warnings of health officials and scientists and electing to remain permanently inside the exclusion zone; he seemed to be rationalizing a situation—his wife’s immobility—that he was helpless to change.

Back in Tokyo Thursday night, the impact of the catastrophe 240 kilometers to the north was beginning to fade. True, electricity shortages dimmed the lights of Shinjuku, Akihabara, and other commercial districts; traffic moved smoothly through even the most densely populated corners of the city, reflecting concerns about gasoline distribution and generalized anxiety.

There were still runs on bottled mineral water and packaged foods, and shelves stood empty in many convenience stores. Giant television screens at intersections in Shibuya continued to broadcast updates around the clock. Still, in contrast to the atmosphere of abandonment, creepiness, and fear that characterized the buffer and exclusion zones, the city was bustling, getting back to normal. And, after the initial outpouring of concern for the victims of the earthquake, darker feelings had begun to surface.

 One factory owner I had spoken to in the exclusion zone had told me that children evacuated from Fukushima prefecture—especially from the exclusion and buffer zones—and sent to centers in Tokyo and other cities were now being singled out for rough treatment in elementary schools. Their classmates were shunning them and taunting them as being “irradiated.” He worried that his own 2-year-old daughter would face similar problems. “These disaster victims need help not only physically but psychologically,” he told me. As Japan reckons with its latest nuclear tragedy, the suffering endured by the hibakushas still weighs heavy on the land. With Chiaki Kitada

Status Report: Reactor-By-Reactor At The Fukushima Daiichi Plant

Press TV interviewed Former US Senator Mike Gravel regarding the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. 

Press TV: Mike Gravel, we are talking about leaked radiation into the air, the ground and the ocean. Still even though at best we are getting some news that may be factual, but there's consistent reports coming out from Japan's Epicenter where this has happened. Wonder why that is?

Gravel: Well, it's the human nature. The political establishment tries to cover up the inadequacies of their prior leadership. Thus existing leaders are just bound by those same criteria from one generation to the other. Politicians act in a normal way so they won't bring discredit on themselves because they want to continue to hold office. I agree with the short term difficulties they have been described thus far on your program. The long term difficulties are the ones I'm more concerned with, and that is with the whole nuclear proliferation in the world.

Keep in mind this all began in the mid-fifties when Dwight Eisenhower made his UN speech about the peaceful atom. Well there is no such thing as the peaceful atom. Scientists have tried to cover it up. We've created international organizations with the job to safeguard nuclear facilities. That is the IAEA, but also its mission is to expand the use of nuclear powered generation. I started in this area in 1969, 70 and 71. We recognized then (a small group of Americans) that it was a disaster waiting to happen.

When you produce an element that has to be protected from human beings for a thousand years, there is no way you can count out the cost of producing energy from nuclear to society when the rest of the society has to pay for the storing of that facility for a thousand years. I'll give you one example. The United States today, which does not have the same dependency as Japan or France are two major countries with gross dependencies on nuclear. The United States stores 71 thousand tons of spent fuel waste, and none of it is stored in what would be considered a safe environment. They are scattered all over the United States.

Now that is our problem here, and that is the problem at Fukushima. That is the problem caused by General Electric who designed that plant. I could go on but let me just tell you will the world continue to rely upon nuclear, or will it put it aside. This is the challenge that Japan faces. They are going to have a disruptive situation for one or five or even ten years. What they can do is to take the opportunity to go renewable.

If we had started in the mid-fifties with wind energy and solar tech, we would be totally dependent on that source of energy to generate the power human beings needed in the world today. But no the decision was made and backed up by the chief gainers' interests, and that was two major global companies of General Electric and Western House, and then of course the large French company and companies in Japan. Other countries are making the same stupid mistakes of planning to build nuclear power plants for whatever reason.

Press TV: You touched on something that was very interesting and that's basically the nuclear industry. I want to look at the cover up that has taken place. You touch on GE. I mean GE, according to the reports, built the Fukushima power plant, but interestingly they were the ones that were subcontracted for the safety standards for which they don't have a good record, and have a lot of cover up there. The reprocessed fuel is something that is actually sold to other countries. I believe India is one of the countries that buys this. So there is too much money involved in the nuclear industry in order not to be cover ups and not to dampen the spirit behind. I'm not trying to promote the abolishment of nuclear power, but how will we move forward? 

Gravel: I hope it does lead to the abandonment of nuclear power generations, and a concentration on renewable powered generation. Until we do that, this problem is going to be revisited every 25 years, every 10 years and every 15 years. We had Chernobyl, we had 3 Mile Island, and we had a whole host of accidents that had been underreported for obvious reasons. So it's the industry that is heavily invested in this. All they care about is of course the profit that this brings. So it may turn around and be a disaster in global policy. That is what the whole nuclear undertaking is. Its global policy disaster where the only solution can be is to get off of its dependency.

For a second day, workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant were unable to plug a leak of radioactive water. Meanwhile, Japan's prime minister says it will take months to resolve the problems at the plant.

Reporting from Tokyo and Los Angeles—

Workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant failed for a second day to stem the flow of radioactive water into the ocean as plastic injected into the leak Sunday failed to form a plug.

Workers had discovered an 8-inch crack in a concrete channel at the lower levels of reactor No. 2 where radioactive water had been accumulating after it had been sprayed onto the reactor to cool it. The crack was spewing the contaminated water into the ocean, which may explain the high levels of radioactivity detected offshore near the plant.

On Saturday, workers attempted to pump concrete into the crack to seal it, but the concrete would not set before it was washed away by the flow of seawater.

On Sunday, engineers attempted to plug the leak with a mixture of sawdust, shredded paper and a polymer or plastic that expanded to 500 times its normal size when exposed to water. They had then hoped to pour concrete on top of the polymer to form a permanent seal, but the polymer did not form a plug either, and as of Sunday night, water was continuing to flow into the ocean.

Radiation levels in the water are an estimated 1,000 millisieverts per hour, a high but not immediately lethal dose.

On Monday, engineers plan to begin injecting nitrogen gas into reactors Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in an attempt to prevent possible explosions from the buildup of hydrogen gas. The nonflammable nitrogen would dilute both oxygen levels and any hydrogen that accumulated from deterioration of the uranium fuel cladding. The zirconium cladding on the fuel rods becomes oxidized when it is exposed to hot water, releasing hydrogen gas.

Explosions at the three reactors in the first four days after the magnitude 9 Tohoku earthquake and the accompanying tsunami badly damaged the reactor buildings and destroyed the cooling pumps that provided water to the reactors.

An aide to Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and a spokesman for the country's nuclear safety agency both said Sunday that they expected it would take months to resolve the situation at the power plant. "It would take a few months until we get things under control and have a better idea about the future," Hidehiko Nishiyama of the safety agency said in a news conference.

Officials of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Sunday that they had retrieved two bodies from the power plant last Wednesday. The men had rushed into the control room during the earthquake and were killed in the tsunami that followed.

The announcement of their recovery was not made until Sunday so that the families could be notified first.

A search by Japanese and U.S. military authorities on Sunday led to the discovery of 70 more bodies of people who died in the tsunami, bringing the official death total to 12,087, with more than 15,500 still missing or unaccounted for.

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