Saturday, May 28, 2011

#Fukushima #Radioactive Debris to Be Disposed of As Regular Debris

Radioactive sewage sludge sold as cement, radioactive teas sold unchecked. Now radioactive debris in the middle section of Fukushima Prefecture to be burned and buried like normal debris, because the radiation level is "low", according to the Ministry of Environment.

The Ministry of Environment has just given an OK sign to 10 towns and villages in the middle section of Fukushima Prefecture called "Naka-dori" region to burn, bury, or recycle the debris from the disaster (earthquake/tsunami) contaminated with radioactive materials, because the air radiation levels in these cities and villages were less than that of the city in the "Aizu" region (western third of Fukushima) with the highest level of air radiation.

Does that make sense? I don't know any more, but that's what the Ministry is saying in its press release (original in Japanese). To roughly summarize:

1. Debris from the earthquake/tsunami in Fukushima's "Hama-dori" (ocean 1/3) and "Naka-dori" (middle 1/3) have been stored in temporary storage depots, but now in ten towns and villages [they are all in the south-eastern corner of "Naka-dori", the middle 1/3 of Fukushima, adjacent to "Hama-dori", the ocean 1/3] they can be processed as regular debris.

However, just in case, they are to be processed within Fukushima Prefecture for the time being. As for shipping them and processing outside Fukushima, it is to be decided after the experts discuss in the meeting.

2. The reasons for resuming the processing in these 10 towns and villages:

1) These towns and villages have their air radiation levels less than that of "Aizu" region [western 1/3 of Fukushima Prefecture], considered least affected by the Fukushima I Nuke Plant accident in terms of radiation contamination. Specifically, their air radiation levels are the same as or less than that of Sakashita-machi in the Aizu region that has the highest air radiation level in Aizu and also has a large amount of the disaster debris.

2) Air radiation levels at the debris depots were not much different from the background air radiation. In some cases, the air radiation level at the depot was lower than the level in the town.

These 10 towns and villages have total of 6,155 tons of debris, which they can now burn, bury, or recycle.

The page 5 of the Ministry of Environment release shows the air radiation levels in those cities (I added the labels in English):

At the highest depot, the air radiation level at a distance of 1 meter from the debris was 0.31 microsievert/hour. That would be 2.7 millisieverts per year.

In a post-nuke disaster Japan, that is totally OK and acceptable.

The Ministry's release does mention the "clearance level" in passing (in page 2), which is one-hundredth of the annual allowable radiation dosage of 1 millisievert. The clearance level therefore is 10 microsieverts per year, or 0.001 microsievert/hour. Debris at the depots in these towns and villages, needless to say, exceeds this clearance level by a big fat margin.

My questions:

1. Why does the Ministry ignore the clearance level, which is specified by law? The debris exceed the clearance level.

I guess I know the answer to my own question. The Ministry of Education did it, and upped the radiation for kids to 20 millisieverts per year because "this is an emergency", with a promise to keep the actual exposure as low as possible without saying how. If the Ministry of Education can do it, so can the Ministry of Environment! Everybody's doing it!

(Hey that's like the "foreclosuregate" in the US! All the banks do it - robo-signing, foreclosing without the clear title, issuing mortgage-backed securities without any mortgage in the pool - so what's the big deal?)

2. How is it possible that the depots that have piles of debris with radioactive materials test lower in air radiation than background radiation? It just defies the common sense. You put the radioactive debris in one place, and the radiation measures lower?

3. Why is a town in Aizu region with the HIGHEST air radiation level chosen as a reference, instead of picking a town with the LOWEST radiation level, if the Ministry wants to ensure safety?

I think I know the answer to my own question No.3. If the Ministry had picked the town with the lowest radiation level in Aizu, none of the debris in the "Naka-dori" region could be burned, buried, or recycled.

4. What is the point of deciding by the air radiation level at the debris depot, to begin with?

These are some numbers from TEPCO's latest contamination map of Fukushima I Nuke Plant. Notice that the air radiation level is much lower than the radiation on the debris themselves:

  • Water transfer pipe: surface 130 millisieverts/hr, airborne 25 millisieverts/h

  • Dropped rubble: surface 160 millisieverts/hr, airborne 40 millisieverts/hr

So these debris in these towns and villages could have much higher radiation if the radiation were measured on the surface.

But now the Ministry of Environment has given the permission for the debris to be burned without special filters or system to capture the radioactive materials, buried without consideration for groundwater or soil contamination, or recycled. Soon, the Ministry will allow the debris to be shipped outside Fukushima to be burned, buried, and recycled.

Share the pain. Share the radioactivity. Let everyone suffer the consequence of TEPCO's and the government's mismanagement and pollute the entire country. That seems to be the Japanese way.


Anonymous said...

Privatize profits, socialize losses. Isn't that how it works?

But really, where are the reporters? Where is Greenpeace Japan? Where are the concerned citizens with counters who should be traveling all over, getting readings to find hotspots?

Is there no health physicist with a conscience left in Japan? No civil defense organization? I thought those were very well organized, to deal with quakes and tsunamis and typhoons. They just need a bit more training and some equipment.

Your blog is doing its bit in getting people off their asses, I am sure... everyone in Japan needs to understand that this problem is bigger than even their big fat government can handle.

Anonymous said...

> Where are the concerned citizens with counters who should be traveling all over, getting readings to find hotspots?

Anonymous said...

Robbie001 sez:

Burning unfiltered radioactive waste is a huge no,no. This is crazy, even the Soviets had enough sense not to burn the "red forest" they buried their radioactive wood. Judging from the radiation levels detected burning this material could be another disaster. I'll have to change the sign over the Fukushima nuclear dump from "Drop it anywhere" to "Hold Your Breath & Drop it Anywhere

@ Anon 5:34 all members of the general public are legally barred from entering the disaster zone this includes "safecast" and Greenpeace members. Barring people from the exclusion zone makes it a lot easier to control the information leaking from the region.

Anonymous said...

Currently it is of greater value to measure where the people are, i.e. not in the zone IMO.

But asking citizens to travel around and measure is not trivial. This is an expert task. Granted, universities are on the job but there are too many conflicts of interests (academic institutions sponsored by power companies for one) and we have seen how academics are put under pressure to not release data.

Secular said...

...."But really, where are the reporters? "...
I suspect they understood that after 11th Sept 2001 it would be career limiting to investigate and report anything that challenged the official line.
Radioactive debris should be treated in-situ. I am from the UK and local authorities are being encouraged to accept nuclear waste even if they had no nuclear facilities in the first place.
Keep up the good work on this excellent website.

Anonymous said...

Robbie001 sez:

Oh, BTW this isn't just the "Japanese way" it is the nuclear industry's "way" as a whole. The nuclear industry couldn't survived actual transparent regulation that didn't change with the situation. Regulatory agencies should only be allowed to hire well known critics of the industries they regulate the industry already has enough undue political influence. Instead we allow a revolving door policy between industry and regulator and wonder why our cable bill keeps rising and nuclear plants explode.

Until TMI happened as far as the world was concerned the US was a world leader in nuclear technology. The USSR actually trumpeted the incredible safety record of their nuclear program after TMI. The Soviets assured themselves that their "superior" designs made an accident impossible until 7 years later. After the world industry was chilled by Chernobyl the world nuclear industry closed ranks and produced a flurry of happy data to justify their existence. After 25 years of minimizing and obfuscating the fallout effects of Chernobyl everything was looking good for the nuclear industry then Fukushima happened.

You'll notice each of these nuclear accident happened to technological giants. What troubles me the most is when TMI happened it chilled nuclear ambitions in the US. Chernobyl chilled most world interest but Fukushima is a mixed bag. Germany seems to be the only country willing to look at both side of the nuclear coin and toss it away. Most countries are still plowing full steam ahead ignoring Fukushima all the way.

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