Fukushima Ice Wall Construction Taxes Workers

June 26, 2014

Construction on the underground ice wall around Fukushima is now underway.  its aim is to prevent water that’s been contaminated with radioactive materials from escaping and entering the broader water supply. The ambitious government funded project project intends to freeze the ground around four reactors, as well as other related buildings,  to a depth of 30 meters. In total, the frozen wall of earth will stretch for 1.5km and will reach temperatures of minus 40 degrees Celsius. A series of pipes carrying coolant will be used to freeze the land. Beyond preventing water from escaping the area, the AFP reports that the hope is that it will also prevent contamination of the huge volume of groundwater that flows into the plant from nearby hillsides daily. Construction is expected to finish in March of 2015 with an expected cost of about 32 billion yen ($314 million).

In Japan ground freezing projects have already been used in the construction of tunnels and subways for short periods of time. An underground ice wall has also been used to isolate radioactive waste at the U.S. Department of Energy’s former site of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee that produced plutonium, but only for six years, according to the MIT Technology Review magazine.

Some experts are still skeptical about the technology and say the running costs will be a huge burden. Atsunao Marui, an underground water expert at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, said a frozen wall could be water-tight but is normally intended for use for a few years and is not proven for long-term use as planned in the outline. The decommissioning process is expected to take about 40 years.

A group of reporters were permitted into the Fukushima plant last Friday to visit key working areas to tackle the radioactive water. They were accompanied by Masato Kino the Natural Resources and Energy Agency’s director for management of the contaminated water at the plant and Tokyo Electric Power Co. officials.

Kino emphasized the importance of improving working conditions for the roughly 6,000 workers at the crippled nuclear plant during the tour.

“I sincerely felt the hardships workers have experienced, as what’s going on here is different from ordinary construction work in terms of the severe heat due to protective suits and high radiation level,” he said.

The water buildup is a major headache for TEPCO  and the government as they work toward decommissioning all six reactors at the complex. The contaminated water is increasing at a rate of around 400 tons per day as groundwater flows into the damaged buildings for reactors 1 through 4.

Tepco began constructing the huge underground ice wall early this month. It will surround reactor buildings 1 through 4 in an attempt to prevent more groundwater from seeping into their basements and mixing with heavily contaminated water. Under the unprecedented government-funded project, 1,550 pipes will be inserted deep into the ground to circulate coolant and freeze the nearby soil. However, the work is taking place in conditions of high radiation. “A worker is permitted to continue to do his job for about three hours a day due to legal limits on radiation exposure,” said Kino.

The scale of the project is immense. “Look at that crane! Three out of only six or seven of that supergiant kind existing in Japan are operating here,” Kino said. “The current work is dominated by construction.” In addition to the huge cranes, various kinds of heavy machinery and trucks are operating in the area, which is now a large-scale construction site. Everyone on site has to wear white protective suits and full face masks. A signboard reads “Highly contaminated water here.”

Since May, Tepco has employed a “groundwater bypass system” in which it has dumped thousands of tons of groundwater into the Pacific Ocean collected from wells dug near the reactor buildings. The utility claims the water’s radiation level meets safety guidelines.The system is designed to pump out the groundwater before it reaches the heavily contaminated area near the reactors. “We will not be sure whether this measure is working effectively until one or two months have passed,” said Kino.

An Advanced Liquid Processing System, or ALPS, has been developed to reduce the radiation level of the highly contaminated water accumulating at the plant.ALPS is reportedly capable of removing 62 different types of radioactive substances from the contaminated water, but not tritium. The system has been plagued by glitches and is still in the trial stage, with all three of its lines resuming Sunday for the first time in about three months.

TEPCO is also constructing an offshore wall of steel panels to keep contaminants from spreading further into the sea. The utility says radioactive elements have mostly remained near the embankment inside the bay, but experts have reported offshore “hot spots” of sediments contaminated with high levels of cesium.

Sources:The Japan Times,The Huffington Post, The Verge.com

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Japan to increase number of foreign and female construction workers

April 4, 2014

The Japanese government has decided to allow more foreign workers to work in the construction industry following the growing demand for manpower in Japan, reported Kyodo News Network.

The building of facilities for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and planned reconstruction of areas hit by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, are drivers behind the ever increasing demand for workers in this sector, officials said.

The country has experienced a general labour shortage since spending on public projects was increased under President Shinzo Abe. 

Measures to create a new resident status, allowing apprentices from emerging economies working in the construction industry to remain in Japan longer than the current period of three years, will be introduced in April 2015. These measures will also permit previous trainees in Japan to return to the country.

The news comes at the same time as plans by The Japan Federation of Construction Contractors to double the number of skilled female construction workers in Japan to some 180,000 within the next five years to help ease the industry’s labor shortage.

“I hope more and more young people and women will enter the industry to help it remain attractive,” Mitsuyoshi Nakamura, chairman of the federation, said in February.

Sources include: Kyodo News Network; The Japan Times

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Japan’s foreign tourism statistics released

November 1, 2013

Last year, the number of tourists worldwide reached an astonishing 1.035 billion arrivals, according to an annual survey by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Despite worldwide economic uncertainty, more people than ever before traveled to other countries.

The survey found that tourism around the world increased by 4 percent overall from 2011 to 2012. Europe is still the most visited area, with 535 million visitors, but visitor arrivals continued to increase in every region of the world except the Middle East.

The last 6 months has seen a month on month rise in the number of foreign tourists visiting Japan.  In September the number of visitors surged 31.7 percent over the previous year to 867,000, breaking the record for the month, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization. Reasons for the increase can be ascribed to the cheaper yen exchange rate and Japan’s higher profile with the announcement of Tokyo winning the 2020 Olympic bid.

Part of that upsurge reflects a recovery from the rapid and massive drop in tourism following the earthquake, tsunami and radiation fears in 2011, but it also supports the understanding that Japan is still an untapped tourist destination. Developing a larger tourist market can contribute to a healthy, diversified economy and serve as one source of economic vitality.

Japan has not yet developed its tourist market fully, but given the ongoing economic depression, it should be considered more seriously as an important industry. Though some Japanese are fearful of the result of a huge influx of tourists here after witnessing the impact of international tourism in some South Asian countries.

However, a more developed tourist industry would leave Japanese culture intact and unharmed since the Japanese economy is not as vulnerable to fluctuations as developing economies might be. It is unlikely that huge numbers of tourists will have negative effects on the already mature and established culture, or produce a tourism-addicted economy, in the way it might have once done in more fragile cultures and developing economies.

In the reporting month, the highest number of tourists came from Taiwan at 206,800, an all-time high for the month, leaving South Korean visitors second overall. China came in third with 156,300 visitors, up 28.5 percent for another all-time high for the month. Visitors from the UK showed a year on year increase of 20% with 17,800 visitors in July alone.

The Chinese number marked the first rebound in a year since last October, when year-on-year numbers fell because of the bilateral clash over the Japanese government’s effective nationalization in September 2012 of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. China and Taiwan also claim sovereignty over the isles.

Visitors from Hong Kong and Thailand came to 55,400 and 29,300, respectively, also setting all-time highs for the reporting month.

But the number of South Korean visitors fell below 200,000 for the first time this year, apparently due to concern over the reported leaks of radioactive water at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, JNTO officials said Wednesday.

While the September total for South Korean visitors came to 164,500, up 12.9 percent, the growth marks a slowdown from the year-on-year growth rates in the period from January to July, which ranged between 28.6 and 45.5 percent.

In the previous month, South Korean visitors grew 6.9 percent — the slowest rate of the year.

The Japanese government is worried that radiation concerns harbored by the South Koreans may hamper efforts to achieve its goal of 10 million foreign visitors a year.

The tally for the first nine months was 7,731,000, with South Koreans accounting for 25 percent. Since no sharp recovery is expected in South Korean visitors, the organization plans to encourage people in Southeast Asia to visit Japan for the Christmas holidays.

Meanwhile the estimated number of Japanese overseas travelers in August 2013 was 1,842,000, a 6.2% decrease over August 2012. The outbound figure decreased over the same month of the previous year as it has for seven straight months.

The number of travelers to East Asian destinations such as Korea (-22.0%) is still decreasing but the ratio of decrease shrank in  comparison with the recent four months. On the other hand, number of travelers to Vietnam, Thailand and Hawaii all showed small increases.

Sources:  Japan Tourism Marketing Co, The Japan Times

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The future looks bright for Fukushima farmers

June 27, 2013

Farmers in Fukushima are turning to “solar sharing,” a process by which they can generate solar power on the same land as they already grow crops. This process will allow them to sell solar power for use on the national grid, via utility companies.

This is certainly a novel enterprise. Fukushima’s farming industry was badly affected by last year’s nuclear accident. The regions farmers are hoping to sell the power to help cover the losses they have suffered due to the nuclear accident at the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima nuclear plant. It is believed that most of the farmers will invest the money generated from the sale of the electric power into improving their existing arable land. The ‘solar sharing’ process is in principle really rather simple: solar panels are erected on poles over existing arable land. In order to ensure a sufficient volume of light reaches the crops underneath, the amount of light that reaches the soil is carefully controlled by tilting the position of the solar panels according to the position of the daytime sun. It is, to put it simply, a sort of mechanical ‘sunflower effect.’

Solar sharing was first used in 2004, in Chiba prefecture, and then spread to other prefectures, including Aichi, Mie and Ibaraki. Due to a government scheme introduced last July, electric power companies are now obliged to buy power generated by renewable energy sources at fixed prices. However, the government have set conditions for farmers wanting to participate in the scheme. Importantly, they must continue to cultivate the land itself, and the annual crop yield of the arable land must not fall below 80% of the regional average. This is to prevent farmers from abandoning farming and using the government scheme as their primary source of income instead. Rather the scheme is intended as a ‘stop-gap’ for farmers affected by the Fukushima nuclear accident. Ichiro Hirata, a farmer, whose land is being used for the project, said: “Even if shipments from this area resume someday, my crops will not sell for the time being due to groundless rumours of contamination. Until prices recover, I can now cover the loss by selling electric power.”

However, a local government official did counsel caution: “While solar sharing could help our farmers, damage caused by rumours relating to the nuclear accident could drive them out of business before they even get a chance to try it.”

Yet the notion of solar sharing is gaining ground in Japan. The town government of Aizubange is also considering introducing solar sharing. Moreover, farmers in Sendai have also proposed introducing a block solar sharing scheme. Even in Iwate, a local government official said that they had received numerous inquiries from farmers and local agricultural committees enquiring about how to introduce solar sharing.

Michio Sakemoto, Director of Solar Sharing Kyokai, said: “If the projects in Fukushima prefecture prove successful, we want to encourage farmers in all of the disaster-hit areas to introduce the solar sharing method as a way to keep using their farmland in the most effective and productive way.”

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Sources used include: The Japan News and Japan Times

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Fukushima – 2 years on

March 9, 2013

Two years after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami led to the triple-meltdown catastrophe at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant in 2011, the entire population of Okuma remains evacuated. The town, which is inside the no-go zone designated by the central government, has relocated its administrative operations to the city of Aizuwakamatsu.

No one will be able to return home for at least six years due to the radioactive fallout. The mayor of Okuma, Toshitsuna Watanabe, said this is unavoidable as the annual dose exceeds 50 millisieverts in 95 percent of the town.

The decommissioning of the crippled Tepco plant, areas of which are still too deadly to get near, is still expected to take decades.

In order to improve the evacuees living environment, Watanabe has called for the building of “temporary towns” for evacuees to be accelerated, with younger generations living close to public housing used mainly by elderly people.

However local people are concerned that any temporary site may become final if it is built before final sites are decided. “It would be ideal for the eight municipalities of the prefecture’s Futaba district (including Okuma) to present a grand design for a future together,” Watanabe said, noting such a merger only seems natural, “although this is not realistic at present because the municipalities don’t see eye to eye.”

A major problem is to find both temporary and permanent storage solutions for radioactive soil. The lack of agreement on temporary storage sites is being compounded by the total absence of final disposal sites.“Legislation should be passed to ensure the tainted soil is removed from the prefecture,” he said.

The mayor urged the central government and Tepco to take responsibility for decontamination and enable people to live in the town again. “Basically, the residents hope to return home,” he said.

In other Fukushima related news a new report from the World Health Organization estimates that for Fukushima residents exposed to the radiation leak, the risk of developing cancer has increased only slightly. In fact catching a flight out of Fukushima in the wake of the nuclear disaster two years ago would have given you a larger dose of radiation than staying put.

People had been most worried about an increase in thyroid cancer, due to exposure to radioactive iodine. The report says the risk has increased by 70 per cent, but in practice this only adds 0.5 per cent to the existing risk. This would mean that a woman’s lifetime risk of getting thyroid cancer might rise from 0.75 to 1.25 if she had been exposed as an infant. The margin of increase for other cancers was much lower.

In January it was announced that two people who were 18 or younger when the triple-meltdown crisis started at the Fukushima No. 1 atomic complex in March 2011 have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, bringing the total cases to three. However, professor Shinichi Suzuki of Fukushima Medical University said it was too early to link the cases to the nuclear disaster, because it took at least four to five years for thyroid cancer to be detected after the Chernobyl meltdown calamity that started in 1986.

Radioactive iodine released in fallout tends to accumulate in thyroid glands, particularly in young people. In the Chernobyl disaster, a noticeable increase in thyroid cancer cases was detected among children in the affected area.

According to a research team at the National Institute of Radiological Sciences Radiation levels in the thyroid glands of 1-year-old children living around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant are estimated to be less than 30 millisieverts in most cases.This is lower than the 50 millisievert threshold set by the International Atomic Energy Agency in calling for iodine to be taken to prevent thyroid exposure.

“The finding is a relief for the residents around the complex, but the data do not reflect the actions of each resident” when the plant was damaged on March 11, 2011, said Osamu Kurihara, senior researcher at the institute.

Sources The Japan Times, WHO

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Japan enters recession as election draws near

December 11, 2012

Japan has fallen into recession just days before the impending election on December 16th. It seems that the world’s third largest economy is suffering the effects of the Eurozone crisis and a diplomatic row with China.

Yesterday, Monday 10th December, the Japanese government released revised fiscal reports showing that the economy shrank by 0.03% during the April- June quarter, in contradiction to previous reports which claimed a 0.1% growth. Coupled with growth figures revealing a 0.9% contraction in the third quarter of the year, with analysts expecting little to no improvement in this final quarter, this means that Japan is technically in recession, despite hopes for a strong economic recovery after 2011’s devastating earthquake and tsunami.

Japan has been hit hard by a sharp loss in trade figures with major trading partner China since a diplomatic territorial row between the two countries. Trade has also slowed between Japan and other key traders such as the US and Eurozone, resulting in reduced exports from Japan (one of the biggest drivers of Japanese economic growth), and revealing just how vulnerable Japan is to external demand conditions in Europe and Asia.

Added to this, the Eurozone crisis, which saw both Greece and Italy enter a state of recession, has caused many to look to Japan for financial investment, which has resulted in the Japanese yen strengthening against the dollar and the euro.

These factors combined do little to inspire hope of a strong, rapid recovery after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the clean-up cost of which has been estimated at around 150 billion pounds.

With these figures arriving so close to the Japanese election, it is understandable that the recession has become a political affair. Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party (LDP), Mr. Shinzo Abe, whose party is widely expected to oust the current government from power this week for the first time since 2009, has promised to spend heavily on public works should he be elected, and will fight hard to make the Bank of Japan push through measures to boost economic growth. Current Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, has rejected such suggestions, saying that Mr. Abe’s proposed policies represent a dangerous attack on central bank independence.

Japan’s general election takes place this Sunday, 16th December.

Sources: The Guardian, BBC, Financial Times

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Nuclear plant on fault line causes fears of Fukushima repeat

November 13, 2012

The last remaining nuclear power plant still in operation in Japan since March 2011 could be situated above an active fault line in the earth’s crust, warns a Japanese geologist, risking a Fukushima-scale disaster.

Mitsuhisa Watanabe is a tectonic geomorphologist and one-fifth of a five man team charged by the Nuclear Regulation Authority with the task of investigating the tectonic landscape beneath the nuclear plant in Oi, Fukui Prefecture, the only plant to have resumed operation since last year’s nuclear disaster in Fukushima.

Watanabe’s research strongly suggests that the plant, including important water pipe equipment for half of the plant’s nuclear reactors, is located above an active seismic fault.

The geologist, along with other experts on the panel, have determined that the underground structure on which the plant stands has showed movement as long ago as 125,000 years. Watanabe suggests that this underground movement is due to faultline activity, and has called for the plant to cease operation immediately until further research has been carried out, concerned that failure to do so could result in a repeat of Fukushima, the tsunami-triggered nuclear meltdown that left hundreds of thousands of people without homes. “We are not seeking to decommission the plant,” Watanabe said. “We should first stop operation and then carry out underground investigation thoroughly before reaching a conclusion.”

Whilst it is against government regulations to run a nuclear plant under an active fault line (where ‘active’ is classed as any seismic fault that has shifted in the past 130,000 years), the plant is still in operation. Watanabe claims that the line has showed activity in the past 130,000 years, though other members of the team are reluctant to close the plant, suggesting instead that the land scarring is due to nothing more than a past landslide, rather than any seismic activity. National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology researcher Norio Shigematsu has cautioned jumping to any conclusion until more experts are consulted.

The experts may remain in disagreement, but the several thousand protesters that joined together in Tokyo’s government district this Sunday spoke with a different voice, as shouts of “No need to wait for the panel’s finding! We must stop the Oi plant now!” could be heard outside parliament. After the Japanese government’s declaration in September of their plans to phase out nuclear power in Japan by 2040, the issue of nuclear power and public safety has never been so important.

Watanabe is keen that seismologists do not underestimate the possible effects of future earthquakes. “We have to sound the alarm as soon as we find the possibility of active faults,” he said. “The accident in Fukushima had really never been imagined. Scientists must learn from that.”

Sources include Japan Today

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