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Fukushima Fallout: Updates from Japan

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Cabinet accepts nuclear policy guidance document

Decommissioning plans for Tokai Reprocessing Plant
Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant

Japan's intentional plutonium surplus

Slow progress on high-level waste disposal

Trial begins for children of Hibakusha
First court day of TEPCO executives criminal trial

More Fukushima law suits

Mental health afflictions for Fukushima first responders

Radioactive particles in northern Japan

Japan rates severity of Oarai nuclear exposure accident as level 2

Cabinet accepts nuclear policy guidance document

Japan's cabinet approved a draft Basic Concept on Nuclear Energy Use developed by the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) in mid-July.1 The policy derives from expert consultations stretching back two years, and a public consultation phase earlier this year which resulted in 728 comments.1 The draft Basic Concept describes "the need to use nuclear energy in an appropriate manner by thoroughly managing risk under a responsible system", according to the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum.1

The process was a sham. A JAEC committee met on 18 July to discuss the public 728 comments, completed the draft Basic Concept on July 20, and Cabinet approved it the following day.

Meanwhile, the industry ministry has opened discussions on a review of Japan's Strategic Energy Plan.2 And again, it seems the outcome has been predetermined. Industry minister Hiroshige Seko said the plan will remain basically unchanged.2 An overwhelming majority of the members of two bodies considering the Strategic Energy Plan are supportive of current government policy whereas advocates of a shift away from nuclear power and of intensive development of renewable energy account for "a mere handful of their members" according to a recent Asahi Shimbun editorial.2

The current Strategic Energy Plan, approved by the Cabinet in 2014, contains a "deceptive aspect", the Asahi Shimbun editorial noted ‒ the plan says that "Japan will minimize its dependency on nuclear power" but it also defines nuclear power as an "important base-load power source."2 The Abe government is doing its best to promote nuclear power, not to minimize its use.

The Long-Term Energy Supply and Demand Outlook, a document produced by the industry ministry in 2015, is more openly pro-nuclear and assumes that nuclear power will account for about 20‒22% percent of Japan's total electricity supply by 2030.2 That figure translates to around 30 operating reactors.

Only five power reactors are currently operating ‒ Sendai 1 and 2, Takahama 3 and 4, and Ikata 3.3 Another five will restart by March 2019 according to the latest estimate by Japan's Institute of Energy Economics.3 The Institute has dramatically lowered its expectations for reactor restarts: in its previous outlook, it anticipated that 19 reactors would be operating by March 2018.3

The 20‒22% target by 2030 may not be attainable, no matter how hard the government pushes.

1. World Nuclear News, 25 July 2017, 'Japan accepts nuclear policy guidance document',

2. Asahi Shimbun, 14 Aug 2017, 'Editorial: Phasing out nuclear power a must for Japan's new energy plan',

3. World Nuclear News, 3 Aug 2017, 'Japan to benefit from reactor restarts, says IEEJ',

Decommissioning plans for Tokai Reprocessing Plant

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency applied to the Nuclear Regulation Authority on June 30 for approval of its plans for decommissioning the Tokai Reprocessing Plant. The plant is located in Tokai Village, Ibaraki Prefecture. It was test operated in 1977, and began full operation in 1981, but its utilization rate stagnated. It processed a total of 1,140 tons of spent nuclear fuel (equal to 5.4 years of its claimed processing capacity). The decision to decommission the plant was made in 2014.

The decommissioning will take about 70 years to complete, at a total cost of about ¥1 trillion (US$9.1 billion; €7.8 billion) plus additional costs for waste disposal. That is over five times the cost of its construction, which was about ¥190 billion.

Furthermore, the vitrification of high-level wastes has continued to be fraught with problems, resulting in delays. In addition, the plant is storing 265 spent fuel assemblies from the Fugen Prototype Advanced Thermal Reactor in a pool. Those are to be shipped to France, but that has yet to be actualized.

Citizens Nuclear Information Center, July/August 2017, Nuke Info Tokyo No. 179,

Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant

The 800 tons/year Rokkasho reprocessing plant has been repeatedly delayed and cost estimates have been repeatedly revised upwards. Currently, the cost estimate is ¥2.94 trillion (US$26.8 billion; €22.8 billion) and start-up is anticipated in 2018.

World Nuclear Association, 31 July 2017, 'Japan's Nuclear Fuel Cycle',

Japan's intentional plutonium surplus

Alan J. Kuperman ‒ associate professor and coordinator of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project ( at the University of Texas, Austin ‒ writes in an opinion piece published by Kyodo News:

"Japan owns nearly 50 tons of separated plutonium. That is enough for over 5,000 nuclear weapons. Yet Japan has no feasible peaceful use for most of this material. This raises an obvious question: How did a country that forswears nuclear arms come to possess more weapons-usable plutonium than most countries that do have nuclear arsenals?

"Some argue it is the unforeseen consequence of unexpected events, such as the failure of Japan's experimental Monju breeder reactor, or the Fukushima accident that compelled Japan to shut down traditional nuclear power plants. ...

"But that is false. Japan's massive accumulation of nuclear weapons-usable plutonium was foreseen three decades ago. In testimony submitted to the U.S. Congress in March 1988, and published that year, Dr. Milton Hoenig of the Nuclear Control Institute ‒ where I worked at the time ‒ documented how Japan's planned separation of plutonium from spent fuel greatly exceeded its planned recycling of such plutonium in fresh fuel. The inevitable result, he predicted, was that Japan would accumulate enormous amounts of separated plutonium. ...

"The hard truth is that creation of a plutonium surplus was not an accident but the inevitable consequence of Japanese nuclear policy that the U.S. government acquiesced to in 1988. Why did Japan intentionally acquire a stockpile of plutonium sufficient for thousands of nuclear weapons? Neighboring countries suspect it is to provide Japan the option of quickly assembling a large nuclear arsenal. Not surprisingly, both China and South Korea are now pursuing options to separate more plutonium from their own spent nuclear fuel.

"Three urgent steps are necessary to avert this latent regional arms race. First, Japan should terminate its Rokkasho plant, which is an economic, environmental, and security disaster. The last thing Japan needs is more surplus plutonium. Second, the United States and Japan should seize the opportunity of their expiring 1988 deal to renegotiate new terms restricting plutonium separation, which could also serve as a model for ongoing U.S.-South Korea nuclear negotiations.

"Finally, innovative thinking is needed to shrink Japan's plutonium stockpile. In light of the worldwide failure of breeder reactors, and post-Fukushima constraints on traditional reactors, most of Japan's plutonium will never become fuel. Instead, it should be disposed of as waste. The U.S. government has recently made a similar decision, abandoning plans to use recovered weapons plutonium in fuel and instead intending to bury it. U.S.-Japan collaboration to dispose of surplus plutonium in a safe, secure and economical manner could help make up for the misguided bilateral decisions that created this problem 30 years ago."

Alan J. Kuperman, 17 Aug 2017, 'Opinion: Japan's intentional plutonium surplus',

Slow progress on high-level waste disposal

On 28 July 2017, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan (NUMO) published a 'Nationwide Map of Scientific Features for Geological Disposal' of high-level nuclear waste, categorizing all areas in Japan into four categories: (1) areas with unfavorable geological features such as volcanoes and active geological faults, (2) unfavorable areas endowed with natural resources, (3) areas with a good chance of having favorable characteristics and (4) areas with a good chance of having favorable characteristics and also favorable from the viewpoint of transportation.1

Areas that might be suitable account for roughly 65% percent of the nation's land and cover more than 80% of the nation's 1,800 municipalities. Areas that might be suitable and also lie within 20 km from a coastline (thus facilitating transportation) cover 30% percent of Japan's land and about 900 municipalities.2

NUMO said that publication of the map is the "first step on the long road toward the decision of the site."1 NUMO expects site selection from about 2025, with repository operation from about 2035.3 Of course, that timeline is unrealistic. Japan Times suggested a timeframe of 50 years and said that the METI bureaucrats and nuclear industry executives will be long dead before the project reaches fruition.4

Getting local governments to offer land for disposal sites is going to be "very difficult" as Japan Times noted, even though participation comes with rewards: ¥2 billion for an initial two-year data study and ¥7 billion for a follow-up study.4 Previous attempts to bribe local communities to offer land for evaluation for a dump failed ‒ one mayor expressed interest in 2007, and was removed from office in the next election.5

The total cost of the waste repository project is estimated at approximately ¥3.7 trillion (US$34 bn; €28.5 bn), excluding financial compensation paid to local communities.3,6 This will be met by funds accumulated at 0.2 yen/kWh from electricity utilities and paid to NUMO, World Nuclear News reported.3 But by 2015, only ¥1 trillion had been collected ‒ a little more than a quarter of the estimated requirement.3

There has been little public discussion about what happens to spent nuclear fuel if reprocessing is abandoned, though a "feasibility study" reportedly began in April 2017.5

1. Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan (NUMO), 28 July 2017, 'On the publication of the "Nationwide Map of Scientific Features for Geological Disposal"',

2. Japan Times, 3 Aug 2017, 'Finding sites to bury high-level radioactive waste',

3. World Nuclear News, 28 July 2017, 'Japan maps potential repository areas',

4. Philip Brasor, 12 Aug 2017, 'METI seeks to pass nuclear buck with release of waste disposal map',

5. Mari Yamaguchi / AP, 15 July 2017, 'Underground lab tackles trouble-plagued nuclear waste issue',

6. Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan (NUMO), 'Questions and Answers for NUMO's Geological Disposal Program',, accessed 30 Aug 2017

Trial begins for children of Hibakusha

The first round of oral proceedings got underway in the Class Action Suit Seeking Assistance for Second Generation Hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) on May 9 in the Hiroshima District Court and on June 5 in the Nagasaki District Court. The suit, lodged by 47 plaintiffs, seeks a token payment as compensation for mental suffering incurred by second-generation hibakusha. This sum is not intended as compensation for damages, but to make it clear to society through the lawsuit that the problem exists. There are 300,000 to 500,000 second-generation hibakusha living throughout Japan, and they have to live with uncertainty over the genetic effects of atomic bomb radiation. In the first round of oral proceedings in both district courts, the plaintiffs described their health concerns and actual health damage, seeking a ruling that would lead to legal assistance, while the state sought to have their request dismissed.

Citizens Nuclear Information Center, July/August 2017, Nuke Info Tokyo No. 179,

First court day of TEPCO executives criminal trial

The first day of the court case against former TEPCO executives Tsunehisa Katsumata, Ichiro Takekuro and Sakae Muto for professional negligence leading to fatalities was held on 30 June 2017 in Tokyo District Court.

Prosecutors had twice decided against charges against any TEPCO executives but a citizen's panel ‒ which has the power to review judicial decisions ‒ overturned the decision and charges were laid early last year.

Prosecutors will argue that before the March 2011 Fukushima disaster, the executives had seen internal reports and simulations warning of the risk of a major earthquake in the region triggering a massive tsunami.

Kazuki Homori, lawyer for the Fukushima plaintiffs, said: "Through this trial, several of TEPCO's internal documents regarding tsunami countermeasures that had not been released before will be made public. It is amazing and disgraceful that while so much important evidence on TEPCO's tsunami countermeasures exists and moreover that they agreed to have it examined at a criminal trial, this evidence has thus far been hidden at all costs from civil trials."

He said the "future direction of this trial will be noteworthy if only as an important case regarding how the judiciary can fulfil its function of acting as a restraining influence on the national government's pro-nuclear policies."

Kazuki Homori, July/August 2017, 'First court day of TEPCO executives criminal trial', Nuke Info Tokyo No. 179,

Rachel Mealey, 30 June 2017, 'Former TEPCO bosses to face trial over deadly Fukushima nuclear disaster',

More Fukushima law suits

TEPCO said on 24 August 2017 that it has been sued by 157 individuals in a court in the US for US$5 billion in damages over the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.1 The plaintiffs include crew members on board the USS Ronald Reagan during the 2011 disaster. The suit, filed on August 18 with the Southern District Court in California, was the second one lodged in the US following a similar suit filed in 2013 which currently has 239 registered plaintiffs.

As reported in Nuclear Monitor #840, a local court in central Japan ruled in March 2017 that the Japanese government and TEPCO were liable for negligence in the Fukushima disaster and shall pay a total of ¥38.6m (US$351,000) to 62 Fukushima evacuees.2 The court ruling sets an important precedent. It is the first of about 30 lawsuits to be brought by almost 12,000 Fukushima evacuees in 18 prefectures.

1. Xinhua, 24 Aug 2017, 'Japan's TEPCO sued by U.S. residents over Fukushima nuclear disaster',

2. Nuclear Monitor #840, 21 March 2017, 'One step forward, one step back for Fukushima evacuees',

Mental health afflictions for Fukushima first responders

Japan Times on 2 September 2017 published a detailed report on the mental health problems facing first responders to the March 2011 Fukushima disaster. A study of some 1,500 workers found that all had experienced a variety of stressors relating to their direct experiences of the disasters, losses of loved ones and the backlash from a disgruntled public, in particular from the 160,000 Fukushima evacuees (reflecting a tendency in Japan to associate both CEOs and their foot soldiers alike with the company they work for, making them collectively responsible).

According to the study's lead researcher Jun Shigemura, 29.5% of workers at the Fukushima plant subsequently displayed symptoms of high post-traumatic stress responses, including flashbacks and avoidance of reminders of the events they went through.

If the Chernobyl experience is repeated, mental health problems will afflict Fukushima first responders for decades to come. Studies have shown that mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicide ideation, were still high and remained the most prevalent problem for the Chernobyl cleanup workers even 20 years after the disaster. "So I think we can say with some confidence that the Fukushima workers also carry a very high risk of developing long-term mental health issues," Shigemura said.

Fukushima plant worker stressors:

Work-related experience:

‒ Earthquakes and tsunami

‒ Plant explosions

‒ Radiation exposure

‒ Extreme overwork

‒ Worker shortage

Survivor experience:

‒ Mandatory evacuation

‒ Property loss

‒ Family dispersion

Grief — loss of:

‒ Colleagues

‒ Family members

‒ Friends

Social backlash:

‒ Public criticism

‒ Discrimination

‒ Harassment

‒ Guilt as "perpetrators" of a nuclear accident

Rob Gilhooly, 2 Sept 2017, 'Battling nuclear demons: Mental health issues haunt those who were the first line of defense after 3/11',


Radioactive particles in northern Japan

The scientific journal Science of the Total Environment has published a peer-reviewed article entitled co-authored by Dr. Marco Kaltofen, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), and Arnie Gundersen, Fairewinds Energy Education. The article details the analysis of radioactively hot particles collected in Japan following the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns. Based on 415 samples of radioactive dust from Japan, the US, and Canada, the study identified a statistically meaningful number of samples that were considerably more radioactive than current radiation models anticipated. If ingested, these more radioactive particles increase the risk of suffering future health problems.

Fairewinds, 27 July 2017,

Japan rates severity of Oarai nuclear exposure accident as INES Level 2

Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority has provisionally assessed the severity of a 6 June 2017 accident as level 2 on the zero-to-seven International Nuclear Events Scale.1,2 The accident at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency's (JAEA) Oarai Research and Development Center in Ibaraki Prefecture left five workers internally exposed to radiation.

On June 6, a worker opened a container in a storage room at the facility and a plastic bag inside the container ruptured, releasing plutonium and uranium powder samples. Tests found small amounts of radioactive materials ‒ plutonium and americium ‒ in the urine of five workers, confirming they suffered internal radiation exposure. It was estimated that one of the workers will be internally exposed to a radiation dose of 100‒200 millisieverts over 50 years as a result of the accident1 ‒ but other reports suggest a far greater dose of 12,000 mSv over 50 years for the most heavily contaminated worker.3

JAEA said the release was of "Pu oxide, U oxide and others used in experiments, etc. for developing fast reactor nuclear fuel".4 Curiously, JAEA said it would "like to refrain from public disclosure" of other substances "from the viewpoint of nuclear non-proliferation."4

The ruptured container wasn't the only inappropriately stored material. According to information submitted to the Nuclear Regulation Authority by the JAEA Oarai Research and Development Center, nuclear materials cited as being inappropriately stored in cells and gloveboxes etc. comprised 2,207 samples ‒ some stored for several decades.4

The Citizens Nuclear Information Center said:4

"An important reason for the implementation of this task is found in the problems uncovered for the first time by a safety inspection last year. In the safety inspection carried out with respect to JAEA's Nuclear Science Research Institute (Tokai Village) in the third quarter of fiscal year 2016, it was discovered that, in violation of classifications provided in the safety regulations, nuclear fuel materials had been cited as being "in use" and stored in cells and gloveboxes for long periods of time.

"As a result, NRA instigated checks through safety inspections on the possibility that there might be similar violations at other nuclear-related facilities, including other JAEA facilities. According to NRA materials of February 2017, a total of ten facilities engaging in reprocessing, processing and use of nuclear fuels had been carrying out inappropriate long-term storage of nuclear fuel materials ..."

"This inappropriate long-term storage problem clearly shows, if one looks back at the historical series of organizations – the Nuclear Safety Commission, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and the NRA, that for 30 years or more none of these organizations made any public announcements on the issue, or knew what was happening and simply turned a blind eye. The regulatory organizations' neglect thus far and the defensive awareness that they do not want this to be aired in public has undoubtedly been one of the remote causes of the accident at Oarai."

Japan Times listed some other accidents:3

  • March 1997: Radioactive material leaked after a fire and explosion at the Ibaraki branch of now-defunct Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corp., later absorbed by Japan Atomic Energy Agency. Thirty-seven employees were exposed.
  • September 1999: A self-sustaining chain reaction was triggered by the use of mixing buckets at uranium processing firm JCO Co. in the village of Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture. The accident eventually killed two of three exposed employees, after tainting more than 600 residents.
  • June 2006: A suspected case of plutonium inhalation occurred at Japan Nuclear Fuel's reprocessing plant in the village of Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, but a check for internal exposure turns out negative.
  • July 2008: A worker at Global Nuclear Fuel Japan Co. was exposed to uranium in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, followed by the exposure of four workers to a uranium-tainted liquid a month later.
  • March 2011: Three workers stepped into a puddle during the meltdown crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, exposing two to high radiation doses.
  • May 2013: Thirty-four researchers at JAEA's Japan Proton Accelerator Research Complex in Tokai were exposed to an exotic soup of isotopes during an experiment.

1. 2 Aug 2017, 'Japan rates severity of June nuclear exposure accident as level 2',

2. Ed Lyman, 9 June 2017, 'Increase in Cancer Risk for Japanese Workers Accidentally Exposed to Plutonium',

3. 8 June 2017, 'Ibaraki plutonium exposures baffle Japanese nuclear experts',

4. CNIC, July/August 2017, 'Disturbing Plutonium Exposure Accident', Nuke Info Tokyo No. 179,