Tag Archive for fukushima

POTW 11 March 2013: Targata Fertility Festival & Nuclear Spring

I know today is significant (the second anniversary of the 11th March 2011, earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster), and so today is a double dose of Photo of the Week (POTW). One photo is a cultural event that is something to now especially look forward to and enjoy, and the other is commemorative.

The Tagata Fertility Festival photo below was taken just days after the actual disaster, and it shows people determined to try and enjoy life, despite the horror witnessed days before. Also on the day the photo was taken one of the nuclear reactors exploded. I didn’t know at the time, so I hoped that the wind was blowing away, and I really did have the feeling that being outside, photographing this event, might have been dangerous. I think I only learnt about the reactor explosion when I got home. I now have Reuters and other news outlets in my Twitter feed.

The Tagata Fertility Festival (or ‘Tagata Penis Festival’) attracts a small gathering of about 100,000 people (the old and the young alike), most of whom hope for good fertile fortunes (they are indeed hoping for children or grandchildren for themselves or on the behalf of friends). I have written a fairly detailed summary of the event including cultural comparison, see the Tagata blog tags for the 15th March 2011 blog post, video, and more. More photos are available at my PhotoShelter portfolio, Tagata Fertility Festival Gallery, and at my agents website, Asian Photo Connection.

For information about the earthquake, tsunami, nuclear crisis, nuclear disaster (15th Mar), Fukushima, contaminated food, and nuclear disaster, click on each of those words for a review of blog posts beginning on the 11th March 2011.

Below is a photo from the Nuclear Spring Collection I made just weeks after the actual disaster, see the Nuclear Spring blog search for previous posts. The title “Nuclear Spring” is significant, in that it amalgamates the concepts of Nuclear Winter, Silent Spring, and the time of year the Fukushima disaster occurred. Nuclear Winter is the supposed effect on the weather systems of the world after a nuclear war. Silent Spring is a book written by Rachel Carson in 1962 that describes the effect on the environment after farmers sprayed and killed all the insects. This book is regarded as the birth of the modern environmental movement. Still today, thousands of people are protesting against the continuance of nuclear power in Japan (Japan TodayReuters), and there is a wonderful blog that aims to provide information that the media does not, the Fukushima Diary.

Anti nuclear protests in Japan

I don’t want to get political, but nearly EVERYbody is against nuclear power in Japan, yet politicians and big businesses are ignoring democratic demands. A member on Google+ posted this picture and message:

Tens of thousands protesting in front of the Prime Minister of Japan’s office – protesting NO NUKES!!! Yet there isnt any disclosure of this in any of the media and press throughout all of Japan.  Please share..
首相官邸前に多くの人が集まり、原発反対と訴えています。これが​報道されていないとは。メディア・コントロールって言うの (G+)

My reply was, “when popular media fails, we have Google+“. At the same time, there are extremely dangerous levels of radioactive water in the basement of reactor four at Fukushima, which is located by the sea (Japan Today). Furthermore, Fukushima seafood is back on the menu (BBC). Also see the New York Times article on that 10,000’s protested (some claims of up to 150,000), claiming it’s the largest protests in Japan since the 1960’s (NYTimes).

Radiation in Tokyo

It’s the last 25 minutes of September for 2011, and the only thing on my mind is radiation in Japan. The last week on the newly opened Google+ has been amazing. On it I’ve come across people who’ve posted bilingually articles about the on-going radiation crisis happening in Tohoku (special thanks to sai, ありがとう). Here in central Japan the nuclear accident feels like a distant memory, something that happened far, far away, and whilst concerning, isn’t going to drive us nuts. The opposite should be true. Articles posted by people on Google+ suggest that the Japanese government is doing everything possible to avoid hysteria in Tokyo and other places (ABC). The British nuclear expert, Professor Christopher Busby, describes the Fukushima situation as, “…probably the greatest catastrophe in the whole of human history” (ZDF). Within weeks of the crisis beginning, mustard spinach grown in Tokyo was found to have been contaminated with radiation (Apr 2011). There are areas outside of the 30km exclusion zone that have been contaminated with plutonium (NHK 29 Sep 2011). Apparently, after Chernobyl, the north sea saw a radiation contamination peak at 1,000 Becquerels, but off Fukushima was over 100,000 (NYTimes). In addition to this, at the height of the crisis, a lot of people were ready and waiting to be told to take iodine pills to protect us against radiated iodine exposure. These pills saturate the thyroid so that any ingestion of radioactive iodine cannot accumulate and is immediately flushed out of the body. However, despite the advice, the national government never ordered the administration of these (Wall Street Journal), which also would have triggered embassies in Tokyo to distribute them to their nationals, too. Furthermore, local governments did not have the nous to act in the absence of direction. The oceans have been massively contaminated (ScienceBlogs.Com), affecting fish, a staple of Japanese diet.

Finally, still in Tokyo, there were elevated levels of radiation in Tokyo itself as late as July. The map below comes from SafeCast.Org. Also see the government map dated 29th Sept, 2011 (METI). The government announced the thirty kilometre exclusion zone, and declared everywhere else safe. The map plainly shows that this is not the case. Foreign governments have advised their residents within 80kms to move away, and this seems to be why. The final morbid fact I’ll pass on is that there are residents who believe they can return to their homes within a year or so, and there are politicians who say they are working towards that goal. The reality is that even after 30 years, there are no plans to re-populate the Chernobyl township.

Areas with radiation from Fukushima

Fukushima and Tokyo affected by the nuclear crisis.

Propaganda Land

Even if this is true, it’s either too much of a coincidence or they’re too optimistic.

Last night on NHK it was announced that Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the owners and operators of the troubled Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Plants, had on 7th March 2011 submitted their first ever revisions to tsunami estimates to the appropriate government office. The same office that has been publicly accused of failing to fulfil their oversight safety duties of nuclear power plants. TEPCO admits that the Fukushima plants were designed to withstand a 5.7m wave (tidal, storm surge, or tsunami), but last year a revision to this estimate suggested that they should prepare for a 10 meter wave, so they claim to have submitted this revision four days before the Tohuku earthquake and tsunami struck. Thus, it is possible that both the government and TEPCO had not neglected their duties, just unfortunate timing… very suspicious to me.

Secondly, a German documentary was aired in Japan, which was about how a German contractor is dismantling the Russian unwanted nuclear powered submarines leftover from the cold war. Interestingly, the company had no immediate plans on dismantling the some 300 nuclear reactors, instead pulling apart the submarines, cleaning off any radioactive material, and selling the metal to scrap. The reactors are being stored in a sarcophagus (their own hulls with some extra lining added), and will be left for 100 years to when it is hoped that the next generation of nuclear-reactor disposal experts will know what to do. The reactor cores will still be dangerous, but less dangerous. In contrast, the Japanese government and TEPCO seem confident that they can solve the Fukushima problem in only a few decades. It should also be pointed out that the reactors are far bigger than a submarine reactor core. They seem very optimistic.

Fukushima residents have no rights?

I just saw the most shocking video on YouTube. Safecast recently posted on Twitter a link to a video uploaded by Perjorativeglut on YouTube. Essentially, bureaucrats attended a meeting with local residents and seemed to have made a promise that they weren’t willing to keep. The video starts with the most important question, “…people in Fukushima have the right to avoid radiation exposure and live a healthy life, too. Don’t you think so?” The bureaucrat refused to answer. This is in stark contrast to the messages that NHK the national news broadcaster has been saying. Apparently all the Fukushima residents want nothing more than to return home. I think I smell propaganda.

Please get the word out and share this YouTube video.

Radioactive beef & Future of Fukushima

It was reported today that beef at 2,300 Becquerel of radiation, the legal limit is 500, was found in Tokyo. The beef came from cattle raised and fed within 40km of the TEPCO Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Plants, which is beyond the government declared evacuation zones. The radioactivity in beef, could only be possible when the cattle fed on radioactive feed, which is then absorbed into the animal.

This follows French authorities finding radioactive green tea from Shizuoka (far south from both Tokyo and the troubled nuclear reactors).

Reported tonight, a timetable for the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant clean up was released. It is expected that any existing nuclear rods would be removed within five years. Molten / melted rods that collapsed and is at the bottom of the reactor-core containment vessel may take 10 years to remove, and the complete dismantlement of the buildings will take decades. All of these estimates are dependent on the development of technology and engineering devices that can be used to achieve these goals. Currently, there are no devices or technology to decontaminate buildings to allow workers entry. There are no devices to remove melted and re-cooled radioactive material from the base of reactor cores, adding to the costs and difficulties TEPCO will face.

nuclear disaster at no.1 reactor

I’m not too clear on the details, but it was reported on NHK (now known for not being reliable and independent) that the nuclear material in the number 1 reactor at Fukushima had in fact gone through melt down within the first 16 hours of the disaster beginning on 11th March, and had indeed breached the floor of the reactor. It would seem that this may explain why there was an inexplicable amount of radioactive material released into the atmosphere, and why adding water for cooling to the reactor failed to see water levels rise sufficiently, and why there is highly radioactive water in the basement. It seems that TEPCO is unable to locate the precise location of the molten (or melted) nuclear material. If this is indeed the case, we’ve experienced a China Syndrome and didn’t even know it until today: sixty-six days after the start of the nuclear disaster. Of course, my understanding of NHK’s report could be wrong, so if there is a correction, or an update, I’ll do my best to publish it here as soon as possible. For the time being, this is the most up-to-date report published on the English section of NHK’s website: http://www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/15_04.html.

UPDATE (16th May): No melt through, just a blob of molten mess, apparently: http://www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/16_17.html

Nuclear Spring. A play on the words ‘Nuclear Winter‘ and ‘Silent Spring‘.

Seals are more popular than Julian Gillard and nuclear crisis

The Australian Prime Minister gets an honourable mention, but the seals get pride of place. The nuclear crisis becomes more cryptic, and adds unstable fuel to the fire.

Julian Gillard is Australia’s Prime Minister. She is currently in Japan and is visiting the tsunami hit regions. As mentioned in an earlier blog post, Japan’s NHK news service has neglected to inform its viewership the extent of international support provided to Japan following the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis. Australia’s Prime Minister is here, and it was not announced why. Consequently, I’m sure many Japanese people must be wondering ‘why?’. Obviously she is very well trained for the media. NHK showed a picture of her squatting before a Japanese child with a Koala toy held out for him to take. The face of the koala was plain to see for NHK viewers at home, but the child receiving the toy would have been looking at the back of the koala’s head. Gillard had perhaps one minute of news time dedicated to her posthumous visit. The very next news story was about children from the tsunami hit region visiting a zoo (one minute), and viewing a seal show (two minutes). Australia apparently provided support, according to Yahoo news, and Australia Helps.com.

Nuclear Crisis

Rumours about the true extent of the crisis don’t provide comfort. Apparently within a week of the crisis beginning, it was known to TEPCO that it was in fact a level seven (highest rating) of nuclear disaster, but perhaps not revealed the true extent of the crisis to the government, and so the public by the government that this was a level three event. This was later upgraded to five, and set to level seven about a week ago. Furthermore, it is being learnt that the TEPCO workers in Fukushima saw water spewing out of one of the reactors soon after the first M9.0 earthquake, before the tsunami hit. This is despite the nuclear disaster being blamed on the tsunami swamping the diesel generator that was providing electricity keeping the cooling systems running. Furthermore, the extent of radiation leak was not reported, and NHK did not do their own independent investigation. Consequently, it was only when people began to do their own measurements was their doubt being cast on the credibility and reliability of the governments and TEPCO’s reassurances. Admittedly now, there is now better modelling and understanding of radioactive particle drift that is occurring in the skies in Fukushima.

Nuclear Crisis: Fear for the worst?

NHK, citing government media releases, has stated that the mandatory evacuation zone has expanded from ten kilometre radius to twenty, and includes some up-wind regions thirty kilometres from the Fukushima plant. Though, this is not because of any immediate danger, but staying there for a prolonged length of time might prove detrimental. However, these reports have the added tag, “and in case of unforseen events” (imprecise paraphrasing). Essentially, if feels like the government and TEPCO know that there is a high risk of a disaster occurring, but they don’t want to alarm the public, though hedging their statements. The government has been criticised for not properly informing the public about what is occurring, what their risks are, and what to do about it. Tonight, NHK reports that the fuel storage tank in the number 4 reactor building has water at ninety degree Celsius, which is about 50 degrees higher than normal. Also, direct injection of water to the tank has caused damage to the storage vessel, and the addition of water in the future needs to be done carefully. Again, it feels like hedging statements. What if the vessel breaks? Will the public know what to do? Is this the chief concern and the reason for some towns being evacuated 30 kilometres away? Simply too many unanswered questions.

The Fukushima Post Nuclear Disaster Analysis

I do wish I had photos of the Fukushima plant, both before and after, though I won’t be going too soon. No pun intended, but there won’t be much fall out from the Fukushima crisis, and it’s no coincidence of little tangible fallout both literally and metaphorically. The worlds’ media is saying that there will be earth-shifting consequences, as already seen with Germany their re-thinking their nuclear energy policies. Fukushima has apparently put nuclear power back decades in the UK and the US, and undoubtedly here, too. However, the ramifications in Japan are not going to be as large and paradigm shifting as they should be. Undoubtedly there will be few if any new nuclear power plants to be built in the next twenty plus years in Japan, but still the full ramifications of the Fukushima disaster are not going to experienced and felt. Why? Culture.

It is innate in all humans to avoid being seen as the culprit of any disaster. Whether it is the loss of data in an office, or when cars bump into each other at busy intersections, we humans tend to blame others for our mistakes. In contrast, Japanese Prime Ministers don’t have a good reputation for political grit. The BBC uses the term ‘revolving door‘ to describe the Japanese national political culture (see Japan’s Political Revolving Door and What led Shinzo Abe to Resign?). That is to say, at the slightest hint of smoke, at the slightest sign of problems, at the first chink in the armour, the opposition and the PM’s own party demands the leader steps down to ‘take responsibility’, which seems a contradiction. However, it might appear that it’s not so much a revolving door system, but a take-a-number-and-wait-your-turn system of Prime Ministership. Prior to the previous national election in 2009, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which had ruled Japan for 54 years until the first election which voted them out, over saw many political disasters. In the electoral term until 2009, there were four Prime Ministers, one elected, Junichro Koizumi, and the unelected Shinzo Abe, Yasuo Fukuda, and then Taro Aso respectively, with the first retiring, and the middle two extricating themselves for a variety of scandals that were not their fault. The biggest scandal that rocked the public’s confidence in the LDP was the pension system, where many people made sometimes large voluntary premium payments, of which many were not recorded and pocketed by pension-office bureaucrats. Though, the whole pension problem came to light when it was realised that hundreds of thousands of pension records were lost in the computerisation of the pension system. Probably, many were computerised but not matched to the proper owner, but many uncomputerised files (pieces of paper) were destroyed, perhaps mistakenly with computerised counterparts. So far, nobody has been found responsible for the wrongful destruction of so many records, nor was anybody held to account for the decision not to store them for the long term. Furthermore, there hasn’t been a search for, enquiry, nor attempt to prosecute anyone for the pension bungling. The usual fall-guy for such a scandal is the Prime Minister, and the PM of the day was the first one in 54 years not to step down: Taro Aso, who lost the 2009 election, and handed political leadership to a non-LDP lead cabinet, the first since democratisation after world war two. So this shows that there is not a culture of looking for the fundamental root and cause of a problem in Japan. This has been shown in non-political situations, too.

MacFarlane and Saitoh wrote an academic article for an academic journal. The sort of journal that undergrad’s are supposed to read. In their article they focused on the cultural perception of ethics in research in Japanese universities. Since world war II, research subjects (now known as ‘participants’) have internationally recognised rights in human research stemming from the Declaration of Helsinki, in addition to the normal human rights treaty. The problem with the Helsinki declaration is that it is based on Euro-Catholic-Aristotelian principles, and is expected to be applicable in African, Muslim, and Buddhist-Confucianist  countries et al. So it was of great interest to see what and if there are any incompatibilities. As it turns out there are. The European Helsinki declaration favours human rights, but the Japanese favour financial integrity.

What background is there to this? During the pre-war Japanese military expansion, the infamous Unit 731 conducted horrible experiments on prisoners, testing chemical and biological weapons. After the war, it was claimed that the scientists were permitted by the Americans to go free in return for their data. These scientists got jobs teaching and researching in some of the top Japanese universities, eventually getting promoted to the most senior positions. Consequently, whenever the subject of human rights in research is broached, it was always briefly, in fear of causing particular members of faculty to lose face. Consequently, in the mid 1950’s, early 1960’s, and early 1970’s when there were other abhorrent medical projects done in Japanese psychiatric wards (on the people with the least protection), which resulted in deaths, the researchers conducting the experiments were convicted for their crimes under local laws, but the root of the matter was never investigated. Interestingly, hospitals including doctors, nurses, ward staff, assistants, research supervisors, and hospital attendants were implicated nor berated for allowing these experiments to proceed; the research cultures where these researchers worked were never investigated.

So, today with the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plants, owned by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCo), it is almost without a doubt that those who are truly responsible for the root cause and origin of the problems that occurred will never be held to account. I would expect that the current Prime Minister Naoto Kan will be crucified by the media and the opposition parties for his apparent bungling of the nuclear situation, and there will surely be a new unelected Japanese Prime Minister before summer has ended. In fact, if there was anything like a British or Australian Royal Commissions in a moderately open and transparent society it would certainly find that there may have been improper dealings between previous TEPCo executives and  LDP politicians & nuclear regulators. An in-depth enquiry may find that there may have been fundamental failures to ensure adequate protection and updates of these reactors. This is not without precedent. According to the BBC, former TEPCo executives had apparently falsified safety records. In 1999 the Tsuruga nuclear plant of Japan Atomic Power leaked radioactive water and lied about the quantity. People were hospitalised at the Tokaimura incident, and that BBC page lists previous known incidents that occurred in the 1990’s.

During the magnitude 9 Tohoku Earthquake the reactors immediately stopped, as they were meant to, critically cutting off power for their own cooling. This meant that the primary backup was a diesel generator that would provide electricity to maintain the cooling system of the nuclear reactors. The secondary backup were batteries, and the plant was apparently without a tertiary backup system. Critically, it is not clear why there was not a tertiary backup system installed. One guest expert on the BBC commented that earthquake-tsunami proof water vats that could have gravity fed water into the reactors to provide backup cooling. It should not be a surprise that the primary backup for the Fukushima plants would not survive a seawater tsunami, and that the secondary backup batteries would eventually run out. A problem that seems not to have been foreseen is that after a tsunami, roads into the plant might become temporarily impassable, making repairs to the diesel generators impossible to achieve before the batteries ran out. Without a doubt, the engineers and architects who designed Fukushima in the 1960’s did a brilliant job. The Fukushima disaster could have been as bad as the poorly designed Chernobyl plant. It is unfortunate that modern safety management of Fukushima remained in the paradigm of the 1960’s. This begs the question, how many other nuclear plants in Japan are susceptible to fundamental breakdowns? How many other plants are in dire need of updating. How many articles in legislation needs updating. I am not opposed to nuclear power, but only if it is properly managed, if there is adequate oversight, and there is continual and incremental improvements to all aspects of the plants, construction, maintenance, regulatory oversight, updating, and in management paradigms.

The real culprits, those who let lax standards and the non-compulsory updating of safety systems, will not be held to account. The Prime Minister will sure be replaced by the end of summer, and TEPCO will lose its executive directors (second time in five years). However, probably none of the other nuclear power plants will be updated. Regulators will give the appearance of action, but it will be just for show; nobody wants to lose face.

If you visit Tokyo, don’t drink the tap water.


  • (Also see the website references embedded in text)
  • MacFarlane, B., and Saitoh, Y. (2008) Research ethics in Japanese higher education: Faculty attitudes and cultural mediation. Journal of Academic Ethics, 6, p181-195.