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Fukushima Fallout: Updates from Japan

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Compiled by Nuclear Monitor

Reactor restarts

There were five reactor restarts in Japan in 2018, but the number of permanent reactor shut-downs continues to grow even faster. Nuclear Monitor noted in May 2018 that of Japan's pre-Fukushima fleet of 54 reactors (55 including the Monju fast breeder reactor), eight reactors were operating and 16 had been permanently shut down.1 As of December 2018, nine reactors are operating and 20 have been permanently shut down.

1. Nuclear Monitor #861, 28 May 2018, 'Reactor restarts and energy policy in Japan',

2. US Energy Information Administration, 28 Nov 2018, 'Japan Has Restarted Five Nuclear Power Reactors in 2018',

Japan's nuclear export industry facing extinction

Japan's nuclear export industry could be dealt a fatal blow if Mitsubishi Heavy Industries pulls out of a massive project to build four large power plants on Turkey's Black Sea coast, as reports have suggested. The Sinop plant project in Turkey was seen as Japan's best chance for an industry – battered and bruised after the 2011 tsunami and triple meltdown at Fukushima – to put together a workable export strategy that did not break the bank of potential international customers.

Meanwhile, it is not just Mitsubishi that may have doubts about the sector. Japan's nuclear export industry has suffered plenty of setbacks in the seven years since Fukushima. Questions about the future of the sector hang over all three main players in the sector ‒ Mitsubishi, Toshiba and Hitachi.

Toshiba, one of Japan's big-three nuclear constructors, recently pulled out of the nuclear power business overseas after incurring huge losses in the United States.

If the export program is to remain viable, it may be in Wales, where the British government is seeking to build a two-reactor nuclear power plant on the island of Anglesey. Among those bidding for the project is Japan's third nuclear constructor, Hitachi, through a subsidiary called Horizon Nuclear. Now, there are worries that Hitachi might pull out of the British project. Chairman Hiroaka Nakanishi was quoted in the Times of London saying his company was "facing an extreme situation," and that a final decision on whether to stay with the project or leave it will be made next year.

Abridged from Todd Crowell / Asia Times, 16 Dec 2018, 'Sun setting on Japan's nuclear export sector',

Japan must halt returns to Fukushima, says UN rights expert

In March, the Japanese government announced that it had accepted the recommendations made at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on the rights of evacuees from the Fukushima accident.1 But the government has been slow to act.

In a report released in October, the UN Special Rapporteur on hazardous substances and wastes, Baskut Tuncak, has urged the Japanese Government to halt the ongoing relocation of evacuees who are children and women of reproductive age to areas of Fukushima where radiation levels remain higher than what was considered safe or healthy before the nuclear disaster in 2011.2

Tuncak said the Japanese Government's decision to raise by 20 times what it considered to be an acceptable level of radiation exposure was deeply troubling, highlighting in particular the potentially grave impact of excessive radiation on the health and wellbeing of children.

"It is disappointing to see Japan appear to all but ignore the 2017 recommendation of the UN human rights monitoring mechanism (UPR) to return back to what it considered an acceptable dose of radiation before the nuclear disaster," he said.

A representative from the Japanese delegation to the UN said that "the government continues its effort to attain the long-term target for individual additional dose of exposure to radiation per year to within 1 millisievert".3

In response, Tuncak reminded the Japanese delegate that the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council issued a recommendation in 2017 to lower the acceptable level of radiation back down from 20 mSv/yr to 1 mSv, and noted "concerns that the pace at which that recommendation is being implemented is far too slow, and perhaps not at all."

Following the nuclear disaster in 2011, Japan raised the acceptable level of radiation for residents in Fukushima from 1 mSv/year to 20 mSv/year. The recommendation to lower acceptable levels of exposure to back to 1 mSv/yr was proposed by the Government of Germany and the Government of Japan 'accepted to follow up' on it. But in Tuncak's view, the recommendation is not being implemented.

Japan has a duty to prevent and minimise childhood exposure to radiation, Tuncak said. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Japan is a Party, contains a clear obligation on States to respect, protect and fulfil the right of the child to life, to maximum development and to the highest attainable standard of health, taking their best interests into account. This, Tuncak said, requires State parties such as Japan to prevent and minimise avoidable exposure to radiation and other hazardous substances.

In March 2017 housing subsidies stopped for self-evacuees, who fled from areas other than the government-designated evacuation zones. Tuncak said: "The combination of the Government's decision to lift evacuation orders and the prefectural authorities' decision to cease the provision of housing subsidies, places a large number of self-evacuees under immense pressure to return. The gradual lifting of evacuation orders has created enormous strains on people whose lives have already been affected by the worst nuclear disaster of this century. Many feel they are being forced to return to areas that are unsafe, including those with radiation levels above what the Government previously considered safe."

In August 2018, Tuncak and two other UN Special Rapporteurs argued that Japan must act urgently to protect tens of thousands of workers who are reportedly being exploited and exposed to toxic nuclear radiation in efforts to clean up the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant.4

"Workers hired to decontaminate Fukushima reportedly include migrant workers, asylum seekers and people who are homeless," said the rapporteurs. "We are deeply concerned about possible exploitation by deception regarding the risks of exposure to radiation, possible coercion into accepting hazardous working conditions because of economic hardships, and the adequacy of training and protective measures. We are equally concerned about the impact that exposure to radiation may have on their physical and mental health."

1. Greenpeace, 8 March 2018, 'Japanese government accepts United Nations Fukushima recommendations - current policies now must change to stop violation of evacuee human rights',

2. Baskut Tuncak, 18 Oct 2018, 'Report of the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes',

See also UN OHCHR, 25 Oct 2018, 'Japan must halt returns to Fukushima, radiation remains a concern, says UN rights expert',

3. Ariana King, 26 Oct 2018, 'Japan should not push residents back to Fukushima: UN expert',

4. Nuclear Monitor #866, 21 Sept 2018, 'Fukushima clean-up workers, including homeless, at grave risk of exploitation, say UN experts',

Compensation for Nuclear Damage Act

On November 2, a bill for the partial amendment of the Compensation for Nuclear Damage Act (CND) was submitted to the Diet.

The Asahi Shimbun editorialized:1

"The government is trying to wriggle out of overhauling the way compensation should be paid out for damages caused by a nuclear accident. A working group of the government's Atomic Energy Commission had been considering ways to bolster the system, including raising the amount of losses covered by insurance, but failed to produce a formal proposal. The commission apparently failed to obtain support for these ideas from the electric power and insurance industries.

"The panel started reviewing the system in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Nearly eight years have passed since the catastrophic triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, yet serious problems and flaws remain unaddressed with the current system. The government clearly has no intention of tackling them anytime soon."

The Tokyo-based Citizens Nuclear Information Center said:2

"The main points of the draft amendment are: 1) Nuclear power plant (NPP) operators are mandated to prepare and publish a new damage compensation implementation policy, 2) Creation of a system for the government to lend funds to the operator for early compensation (provisional payments) to affected persons before the start of the main compensation payments, 3) In the case that alternative dispute resolution (ADR) by the Nuclear Damage Dispute Reconciliation Committee is terminated, it will be deemed that an appeal has been submitted at the time of the request for settlement mediation if the appeal is brought before the court within one month after the notification of termination of ADR, and 4) The compensatory fund is to be left unchanged at 120 billion yen.

"It is surprising that 1) is not already being carried out by NPP operators. At the time of the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident the government had already devised measures similar to 2) for provisional compensation in the Act on Emergency Measures for Damage due to Nuclear Accidents. 3) can be said to be rational since there has been a series of cases in which the nuclear business side has rejected settlement proposals. On the other hand, the content of 4) is strikingly problematic since it does nothing to adjust the astoundingly miserly current compensatory fund of 120 billion yen in the face of the estimated 22 trillion yen in damages for the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident.

"Originally, CND began as an exemption of makers from liability due to nuclear accidents in order to encourage the construction of nuclear power plants. The discussions in the latest series of reviews have progressed with no mention of this point, but in fact we believe the specialist committee should have taken one step further and questioned the liability of nuclear reactor makers. …

"CND is directly linked with the problem of the interests of citizens regarding how nuclear energy risks are distributed under the unlimited liability of nuclear business operators. If NPPs are to be operated on just a very small burden, the risk of "cheap NPPs" is essentially borne by the citizens. The bill for the amendment utterly fails to resolve this problem and would allow NPPs to be operated with the citizenry, as ever, bearing the huge risk involved. Implementing deregulation of the power industry while accepting that it is fine to push this enormous risk onto the citizens greatly alleviates the burden on nuclear business operators and will lead to a serious deterioration in the competitive environment."

1. Asahi Shimbun, 1 Nov 2018, 'Editorial: So who will foot the bill if another nuclear disaster strikes Japan?',

2. Citizens Nuclear Information Center, Nov/Dec 2018, 'CNIC Statement: Don't push the risk onto citizens with the amendment of the Compensation for Nuclear Damage Act', Nuke Info Tokyo No. 187,

Workers' accident compensation insurance payment

The labor ministry said on 12 December 2018 that the thyroid cancer of a male worker, exposed to radiation after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, has been recognized as a work-related disease. Following the decision by a labor ministry panel of experts, the labor standards inspection office of Hitachi, Ibaraki Prefecture, reached the conclusion on Monday. The man in his 50s became the sixth person to be granted a workers' accident compensation insurance payment over cancer caused by the March 2011 nuclear disaster at the plant operated by TEPCO. He is the second person to be compensated due to thyroid cancer.

Japan Times, 13 Dec 2018, ' Tepco-linked firm employee's thyroid cancer caused by work after Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown, labor ministry admits',

Treatment and disposal of contaminated soil

Millions of cubic metres of contaminated soil (and other debris) are accumulating in the Fukushima off-site clean-up zone with little hope of a resolution to the problem.

Hideyuki Ban, co-director of the Citizens Nuclear Information Center, discusses changes in the government's 'basic thinking' about the problem:

"The first "basic thinking" was announced by the Ministry of the Environment (MoE) on June 30, 2016 and has been added to twice since then. The latest version was announced on June 1, 2018 and is available on the MoE website. The official title is "Basic Thinking on the Safe Use of Reclaimed Materials from Removed Soil." 'Removed soil' refers to soil derived from decontamination work. The original plan was to transport this soil to the interim storage facility scheduled to be constructed in the surroundings of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and then transport it outside Fukushima Prefecture after 30 years.

"When it became clear that contaminated soil in Fukushima Prefecture would reach 22 million cubic metres (m3), however, it was thought that "final disposal of the total amount would be unrealistic from the viewpoint of securing, etc. the necessary final disposal sites," and the "basic thinking" turned to recycling. Since the outlook for attaining agreements to construct final disposal sites outside Fukushima Prefecture is bleak, this was a makeshift plan to reduce, as far as possible, the volume of contaminated soil.

"Transport of the soil outside Fukushima Prefecture after 30 years was already enshrined in law, but considering that it was nigh on impossible to agree on where it should go, we can therefore say that reducing the amount to be disposed of through recycling is simply a means for straightening out the official story. The "Technological Development Strategy for Volume Reduction and Recycling of Removed Soil in Interim Storage," announced in April, ahead of the "basic thinking," clearly stated the target of reducing the volume of contaminated soil to be transported outside Fukushima Prefecture after 30 years to about 10% of the original amount. …

"[T]he technological development for soil treatment is thought to consist of 1) grading sand and gravel from the fine-grain component of the soil (silt and clay) that easily adsorbs cesium and then separating the cesium adhering to the sand and gravel, 2) a chemical treatment method whereby cesium is firstly eluted from the soil by a strong acid, etc., after which the cesium is recovered by an adsorbing agent, and 3) heat treatment, where cesium is volatilized by heating, then cooled and trapped. Each of these has problems and a technological development roadmap has been produced, according to which the basic technological development for all methods is to be completed over a period of ten years. Of these, the grading treatment is a technology that is already available and is positioned as the technological development that will be undertaken first.

"The general idea is that the amount of soil of 8,000 Bq/kg and below will be increased using the technologies developed and then recycled. The use of the removed soil for recycling, at or less than 8,000 Bq/kg, is to be "limited to embanking materials, etc. as component materials for structural foundations in public works, etc."

Hideyuki Ban goes on to note that 100 Bq/kg is the clearance level for recycling materials from the demolition of nuclear power facilities, 80 times lower than the 8,000 Bq/kg proposed for contaminated soil in Fukushima Prefecture. The higher figure had been used as a clearance level for waste disposal, not recycling, but it "has been slowly turned on its head until 8,000 Bq/kg has become the standard for reuse. … These measures to straighten out the official story are making double standards the normality. In fact, there is the fear that the current clearance standards will be relaxed for certain uses. This creeping relaxation is totally unacceptable."

Three 'demonstration projects' have been proposed in Fukushima Prefecture. One ‒ a contaminated soil recycling project in Nihonmatsu City ‒ has already been cancelled due to local opposition. There are still two demonstration projects being implemented in Fukushima Prefecture, one in Minamisoma City (soil grading) and one in Iitate Village (an unpromising proposal to lay down contaminated soil on farmland and cover it over with 50 cm of uncontaminated soil).

Outside Fukushima Prefecture, projects are positioned as burial demonstration projects, and these are to take place at two locations, Nasu Town, Tochigi Prefecture and Tokai Village, Ibaraki Prefecture.

Hideyuki Ban, 2 Oct 2018, 'Treatment and Disposal of Contaminated Soil',

Contaminated water continues to accumulate at Fukushima

Still no solution to the problem of what to do with contaminated groundwater, reactor cooling water and rainwater at the Fukushima nuclear plant. The volume continues to grow, albeit at a slower rate than in previous years. The government's preferred plan ‒ diluting contaminated water then dumping it into the ocean ‒ continues to be strongly resisted.

As of March 2018, about 1.05 million cubic metres (m3) of water were being stored in over 1,000 tanks, with an annual rate of increase of about 50,000 to 80,000 m3.1 Currently, the storage tanks have a capacity of about 1.13 million tons and TEPCO plans to secure 1.37 million tons of storage capacity by the end of 2020.2

The 'Advanced Liquid Processing System' (ALPS) supposedly removes all radionuclides other than tritium. However, as the Citizens Nuclear Information Center noted in October, many citizens were surprised and angered when it was reported that other nuclides besides tritium were also present, sometimes at concentrations exceeding the notification concentration.1

The Telegraph reported on October 16:3

"Water that the Japanese government is planning to release into the Pacific Ocean from the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant contains radioactive material well above legally permitted levels, according to the plant's operator and documents seen by The Telegraph.

"The government has promised that all other radioactive material is being reduced to "non-detect" levels by the sophisticated Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) operated by the nuclear arm of Hitachi Ltd. Documents provided to The Telegraph by a source in the Japanese government suggest, however, that the ALPS has consistently failed to eliminate a cocktail of other radioactive elements, including iodine, ruthenium, rhodium, antimony, tellurium, cobalt and strontium. ...

"A restricted document also passed to The Telegraph from the Japanese government arm responsible for responding to the Fukushima collapse indicates that the authorities were aware that the ALPS facility was not eliminating radionuclides to "non-detect" levels. That adds to reports of a study by the regional Kahoko Shinpo newspaper which it said confirmed that levels of iodine 129 and ruthenium 106 exceeded acceptable levels in 45 samples out of 84 in 2017. ...

"Tepco has now admitted that levels of strontium 90, for example, are more than 100 times above legally permitted levels in 65,000 tons of water that has been through the ALPS cleansing system and are 20,000 times above levels set by the government in several storage tanks at the site.

"Dr Ken Buesseler, a marine chemistry scientist with the US Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said it was vital to confirm precisely what radionuclides are present in each of the tanks and their amounts. "Until we know what is in each tank for the different radionuclides, it is hard to evaluate any plan for the release of the water and expected impacts on the ocean", he told The Telegraph. ...

"Shaun Burnie, a nuclear specialist with Greenpeace, also disputes Tepco's claims that tritium is effectively harmless. "Its beta particles inside the human body are more harmful than most X-rays and gamma rays", he said, adding that there "are major uncertainties over the long-term effects posed by radioactive tritium that is absorbed by marine life and, through the food chain, humans.""

Aileen Mioko-Smith from Kyoto-based Green Action Japan said last year: "This accident happened more than six years ago and the authorities should have been able to devise a way to remove the tritium instead of simply announcing that they are going to dump it into the ocean. They say that it will be safe because the ocean is large so it will be diluted, but that sets a precedent that can be copied, essentially permitting anyone to dump nuclear waste into our seas."4

To determine what to do with ALPS-treated water, the Japanese government created the Tritiated Water Task Force in December 2013 and it operated until June 2016.1 The Task Force evaluated five options: geological disposal, land burial (solidified in concrete), oceanic release, atmospheric release (as steam) and a second type of atmospheric release (as hydrogen). It held public hearings in August 2018 to get a broad overview of the views of Japan's citizens on the problem of reputational damage.

Nobuko Tanimura from the Citizens Nuclear Information Center argues that it would not be possible to force through oceanic releases right away.1 A firm decision may be some time away and a final resolution to the problem even further away. If a decision is made to proceed with ocean dumping, it would take another 2‒3 years to prepare for the water's release into the ocean according to Nuclear Regulation Authority chair Toyoshi Fuketa.5

Nikkei Asian Review summarized the situation facing fishers in a November 2018 article:6

"Since a catastrophic nuclear accident seven years ago, Fukushima fishermen have made painstaking efforts to rebuild their livelihood, assiduously testing the radioactivity levels of their catches to ensure safety. Now, rapidly accumulating wastewater from the crippled power plant is again threatening this hard-won business recovery.

"Faced with the prospect that there will be no more space to store tanks containing radioactive water leaking from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings and the Japanese government are considering diluting the water and dumping it into the ocean.

"Even though Fukushima's fishery has been recovering, the haul throughout the entire prefecture amounted to about 3,300 tons last year, just 10% of the average prior to the 2011 disaster. And even reaching there has not been easy. Fish markets in the prefecture now house testing rooms filled with equipment. Staff members mince seafood caught every morning to screen for radioactivity. Such painstaking efforts gradually enabled fishermen to return to the sea, with all fishing and farming operations resuming in February this year. But the trend could reverse if the government goes through with plans to release nuclear wastewater into the sea. ...

"Resolving the wastewater issue is a key step in achieving a sustainable fishing revival in Fukushima, according to Shuji Okuda, an official in charge of decommissioning and wastewater management at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry's Agency for Natural Resources and Energy.

"I understand that we should cooperate for revival," one Fukushima fisher said. "But I'm afraid of the damage to our reputation," this fisher said. "I don't want them to dump anything into the ocean." ...

"At Tokyo's Toyosu market, wholesale prices for fish caught in the prefecture sell for about 30% cheaper than product from neighboring areas, according to a major wholesaler. Some distributors do not stock up on the prefecture's seafood for fear of driving away customers. ...

"In turn, domestic lobbying groups are resisting plans to discharge nuclear wastewater into the ocean ‒ at least not until there is consensus at home and abroad that the practice is safe. "As a national representative of fishers, we oppose it," said JF Zengyoren, the nationwide federation of fishing cooperatives. "The reputational risk is still at hand," said Tetsuji Suzuki, managing director at the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations."

1. Nobuko Tanimura, 2 Oct 2018, 'The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident: Current State of Contaminated Water Treatment Issues and Citizens' Reactions',

2. The Yomiuri Shimbun, 19 May 2018, 'Storage capacity for radioactive water at Fukushima power plant nears limit',

3. Julian Ryall, 16 Oct 2018, 'Japan plans to flush Fukushima water 'containing radioactive material above permitted levels' into the ocean',

4. The Telegraph, 14 July 2017, 'Fishermen express fury as Fukushima plant set to release radioactive material into ocean',

5. Japan Times, 11 Jan 2018, 'Regulator urges Tepco to release treated radioactive water from damaged Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant into the sea',

Takumi Sasaki, 4 Nov 2018, 'Radioactive water threatens Fukushima fishery's fragile gains',