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In Brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Fukushima second anniversary

Fukushima survivors launch class action. Hundreds of survivors of the Fukushima nuclear crisis in Japan have filed a class action lawsuit seeking restitution of the region contaminated by radioactive materials. Lawyers for about 800 plaintiffs say the case has been filed with the Fukushima District Court. The plaintiffs are demanding around US$540 a month from the government and TEPCO until the area is restored. "Through this case, we seek restitution of the region to the condition before radioactive materials contaminated the area, and demand compensation for psychological pains until the restitution is finished," the plaintiff lawyers' statement said. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 'Hundreds of Fukushima survivors launch class action', 11 March 2013.)

How to clean a reactor site subject to multiple explosions, fires and meltdowns? "It's like going to war with bamboo sticks," said Takuya Hattori, president of the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum and a 36-year TEPCO veteran. "It's a pipe dream," Michio Ishikawa, chief adviser at the Japan Nuclear Technology Institute, said of the 40-year target for cleaning up the site. "It's like the fog of war," said John Raymont, president of U.S.-based Kurion Inc, which supplied a water treatment system briefly used to filter contaminated water at the plant. Keiro Kitagami, a former lawmaker who headed a government task force overseeing R&D for the project, said: "This kind of job has never been done ... The technology, the wherewithal, has never been developed. Basically, we are groping in the dark." (Reuters, 8 March 2013, 'Insight: Japan's "Long War" to shut down Fukushima'.)

Nuclear fuel rods at Fukushima. TEPCO is planning to move undamaged fuel rods from reactor #4 to a common fuel pool in an operation that is expected to start in November and take a year to complete. The rods will remain in the common pool for 4−5 years before being placed in safer dry casks being built further away from the sea-front. (Asia Times Online, 8 March 2013, 'Reality of Fukushima cleanup hits Japan'.)

Radioactive water. TEPCO is again considering releasing radioactive water into the ocean. The water has been used to cool the Fukushima Daiichi reactors, and is being stored in 930 tanks, each capable of storing 1,000 tons of water. Each tank fills within two and a half days. TEPCO plans to test new purification equipment to remove radioactive substances from the contaminated water. But with the local fisheries industry firmly against any move to release the water into the ocean, the situation remains unresolved. (The Mainichi, 6 March 2013.)

Highly radioactive fish. A record concentration of radioactive cesium − 5,100 times the government's food safety standard − was detected in a fish caught near the Fukushima plant, TEPCO said on February 28. (Asahi Shimbun, 'Record cesium level found in Fukushima fish', 1 March 2013.)

Food and drink testing. According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, central and local governments carried out about 230,000 tests of food and drink between April 2012 and January 2013. About 2,000, or 0.9 percent, had cesium levels exceeding government standards. Marine products, wild meat and mushrooms accounted for 80% of the contaminated items. Fifty-five percent of the samples with higher cesium levels were detected in Fukushima Prefecture, while Iwate, Tochigi, Miyagi, Ibaraki and Gunma prefectures each had more than 100 samples that exceeded the limit. (Asahi Shimbun, 6 March 2013.)

80% of evacuees may never return home. Eighty percent of those who have evacuated from Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures are unlikely to return to their home-towns, a survey has found. Of the 118 evacuees surveyed by the Mainichi Shimbun recently, 58% said they are considering settling down elsewhere and 22% have already done so. The 80% figure is up from 54% in September 2011. Nearly 60% of the evacuees surveyed said they are in financial distress. (The Mainichi, 5 March 2013.)

Half of disaster-hit communities need 6−10 more years to rebuild. Of the 42 local governments devastated by the triple-disaster, just over half say they will need 6−10 more years to completely rebuild their communities, an Asahi Shimbun survey found. Most of the other local governments cited a period of 3−5 years. (Asahi Shimbun, 1 March 2013.)

Environmental radiation near Fukushima falling. A radiation survey conducted by the Japanese government found that radiation levels near the Fukushima Daiichi plant fell by 40% in the year to November 2012. Government officials attributed the decline in roughly equal measure to radioactive decay, and to wind and rain moving radioactive material elsewhere. The study used helicopters to measure radiation levels one metre from the ground at approximately 140,000 locations within an 80 km radius of the plant. (Asahi Shimbun, 2 March 2013, 'Declining radiation measured near Fukushima plant, some blown elsewhere'.)

Radioactive forests. The Japanese government has not yet decided what to do about contaminated mixed deciduous forests and evergreen timber plantations that cover the majority of the Fukushima prefecture near the ruined nuclear plant. Last year, a committee established by the Ministry of Environment concluded that extensive decontamination efforts could lead to erosion and undermine tree health, while tree thinning would likely reduce air dose rates only slightly. Numerous local and prefectural officials and forestry industry representatives registered opposition for a variety of reasons − wanting greater human access to forested areas and greater availability of forest foods; concern about contamination spreading from forests to inhabited areas; and commercial interests in plantation forestry and the potential for biomass power plants. There are no good solutions. Extensive decontamination would generate many millions of tonnes of radioactive waste. (Environmental Health Perspectives, 1 March 2013, 'A Tale of Two Forests',

Media freedom plummets in Japan. Japan fell from 22nd to 53rd place in the Reporters Without Borders' most recent ranking of media freedom. This was attributed to a single factor − the lack of access to information related to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Many reporters have met with restricted access, lack of transparency and even lawsuits. TEPCO has consistently barred access to documents and to people. When freelance and independent reporters were finally allowed into the plant, TEPCO demanded final say over their video and images. An investigative reporter was sued by one of TEPCO's subsidiaries. Freelance journalists and magazines were sued after publishing articles on the collusion between politicians, nuclear construction companies and TEPCO. (Japan Times, 10 Feb 2013, 'Nuclear power and press freedom' / RWB 2013 World Press Freedom Index,,1054.html)

Workers sent in to reactor building without proper protection. A worker told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he was ordered in to tackle the meltdowns wearing insufficient protection gear. Two of his ill-equipped colleagues suffered beta-ray burns after they had to wade through radioactive water. The team leader told workers to ignore warnings from their radiation monitors, saying they must be broken. Three of the team were exposed to 180 mSv of radiation. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 7 March 2013, 'Fukushima worker sent in despite the radiation, without proper protection'.)

Last July, a subcontracting company admitted that an executive told 14 workers to cover their radiation dosimeters in an effort to give false readings. Workers were told that if they did not comply, they would rapidly exceed the one-year legal limit of 50 mSv and they would have to stop working. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 22 July 2012, 'Fukushima workers told to lie about radiation exposure'.)

Life as a clean-up worker. Around 3,000 people work at the Fukushima Daiichi plant every day. Clean-up workers employed by the many subcontractors complain of the discomfort of long days spent in stifling protective masks, the stress of the job, and the relatively low pay. The health ministry has revealed that at least 63 Fukushima Daiichi workers were exposed to radiation levels higher than those registered in their personal records between November 2011 and October 2012. The number will grow as the ministry continues to investigate records of workers exposed to radiation between March and October 2011, when radiation levels were higher. By the end of 2012, 146 TEPCO workers and 21 contract workers had exceeded the limit of 100 mSv over five years, TEPCO said. (The Guardian, 6 March 2013, 'Life as a Fukushima clean-up worker' / Asahi Shimbun, 2 March 2013, '63 workers exposed to higher radiation than logged in their records'.)

Radioactive waste disposal and decontamination. Three workers have come forward to confirm illegal dumping practices of radioactive materials by subcontractors. Earlier this year, a series of articles in Asahi Shimbun highlighted numerous similar incidents, but this is the first time that workers themselves have reported being ordered to improperly dispose of waste. The workers said that they were told to dump radioactive branches and leaves into a river in a forest in Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture. (Asahi Shimbun, 1 March 2013, 'Workers break silence to allege boss ordered corner-cutting'.)

Pacific coast clean-up controversies. Two years after the triple-disaster, Japan's Pacific coast is littered with debris containing asbestos, lead, PCBs and radioactive waste. Researchers are only beginning to analyse environmental samples for potential health implications, said Shoji Nakayama of the government-affiliated National Institute for Environmental Studies. A probe by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry found violations − such as inadequate education and protection from radiation exposure, a lack of medical checks and unpaid salaries and hazard pay − at nearly half of the clean-up operations in Fukushima. About half of the 242 contractors have been reprimanded for violations. (Associated Press, 11 March 2013, 'Japan's Clean-Up from 2011 Tsunami, Nuclear Accident Lagging'.)

Mafia accused of cashing in. A member of the Sumiyoshi-kai yakuza group has been arrested after sending three workers to perform decontamination work in Fukushima and taking one-third of their wages. He reportedly told police it was a good way of cashing in on the disaster. Police have launched a series of investigations into the yakuza's attempts to earn money from the Fukushima clean-up, fearing it has become a major income source for organised crime. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 31 Jan 2013, 'Gangster accused of cashing in on Fukushima disaster'.)

Fukushima plant 'set to collapse' from another quake or tsunami. The Fukushima plant remains critically vulnerable to a new earthquake or tsunami two years after the tragedy, according to senior workers at the plant including members of the so-called Fukushima 50. These nuclear workers, who battled to resolve the initial crisis at the plant and have remained largely silent until now, said they had received massive undocumented exposures to radiation, and the danger money supposed to flow to workers was being creamed off by unscrupulous companies. (The Australian, 9 March 2013, 'Fukushima plant 'set to collapse' from another quake or tsunami'.)

Rally in solidarity with Fukushima workers. Around 480 people, including members of National Union of General Workers, participated in a February 15 rally in Tokyo to protest against poor conditions and poor pay for Fukushima clean-up workers. One of the companies profiting from the clean-up is OZE Corporation − a fully-owned subsidiary of TEPCO. (LaborNet Japan, 23 Feb 2013.)

"Nuclear power, for a rich life on correct understanding." Pro-nuclear signboards erected in Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, in the 1980s have taken on deeply ironical meaning since the nuclear disaster. "Nuclear power, energy for a bright future," one reads, and on the reverse side: "Nuclear power, for a rich life on correct understanding." Former resident Hiroyuki Endo said: "This signboard has become famous since the accident." Futaba is now a ghost-town, with 7,000 former residents scattered across Japan. Endo says he has little hope of returning permanently to his home. (Asahi Shimbun, 13 March 2013, 'Empty streets, menacing crows and little hope in towns co-hosting Fukushima plant'.)

Decades of corruption and collusion. A report produced by Friends of the Earth, Australia last year details the decades of corruption and collusion in Japan's nuclear industry in the lead-up to the Fukushima disaster. It covers the following topics: safety breaches and cover-ups; corruption and collusion; nuclear accidents in Japan: earthquake and tsunami risks; and responsibility for the Fukushima disaster. (