Abe’s assurance to IOC on nuclear plant called into question

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

One question that emerged among the public immediately after Tokyo won the right to host the 2020 Olympics was whether Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made an incorrect statement, or told an outright lie, about the contaminated water issue at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

During the Tokyo bid delegation’s final presentation before the International Olympic Committee in Buenos Aires on Saturday, Abe stressed that the “effects from the contaminated water have been perfectly blocked within the (artificial) bay” of the wrecked nuclear complex, and said “the situation is under control.”

Experts have long pointed out that irradiated water from the plant has kept gushing into the Pacific far beyond the man-made bay, although the government continues to claim that most radioactive materials have been contained within a silt fence that forms a barrier directly in front of reactor units 1 through 4. Reactors 1, 2 and 3 suffered core meltdowns in March 2011.

The silt fence was deliberately set up with many openings so it can withstand waves and tidal movements.

When disclosing the results of a simulation last month, Tokyo Electric Power Co. admitted that a lot of water — and probably radioactive materials — was penetrating the fence and pouring into the wider ocean. The simulation assumed that 50 percent of the water inside the fence becomes mixed with seawater daily due to tides and other factors.

Tepco, based on the findings, concluded that a maximum of 10 trillion becquerels of radioactive strontium-90 and a further 20 trillion becquerels of cesium-137 may have reached the ocean.

At a news conference Tuesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga admitted that contaminated water has escaped through the silt fence. But at the same time, he stressed that surveys have shown that the levels of radioactive materials in coastal waters around the nation, including off Fukushima Prefecture, are far lower than international safety thresholds.

“Even at the maximum, the density of (radioactive) cesium is less than one-five hundredth of the World Health Organization standards for drinking water, which poses no (health) problems at all,” Suga said.

“So (based on this, Abe) said (in Buenos Aires that) the effect has been totally blocked” within the bay of Fukushima No. 1, Suga said.

However, Suga did not answer repeated questions on the possibility that the density readings might be lower simply because tainted water is being diluted with massive amounts of seawater, and not because Tepco or the government has the situation “under control” as Abe claimed.

Jota Kanda, a professor at Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, pointed out that densities of radioactive materials within the artificial bay have stopped falling recently, despite the huge amounts of seawater that flow in and out every day.

This indicates a certain amount of new radioactive materials are flowing nonstop from the plant’s wrecked reactor buildings into the sea, he said.

Kanda, however, also noted that the total amount of radioactive materials detected in contaminated water samples has been so low that it is unlikely to pose any danger to human health.

Surveys of fish caught around Japan’s shores have shown no alarming concentrations of radioactive materials in recent months.

  • Sam Gilman

    This article is comical. All the scientific opinion cited in the article supports the idea that the leaks will have a negligible effect beyond the immediate area.

    This section is marvellously silly:

    However, Suga did not answer repeated questions on the possibility that the density readings might be lower simply because tainted water is being diluted with massive amounts of seawater, and not because Tepco or the government has the situation “under control” as Abe claimed.

    That’s the point. The amount of radioactive water going beyond the barrier is insignificant in terms of the effect on the wider environment.

    We should be worried for the people at the plant, not worried about nonexistent threats to people elsewhere made up to attack Abe. Why not pick on him for things that are a genuine problem: the reconstruction of Tohoku, removing barriers to immigration to help the population and care crises, improving the position of women in the economy, the pension system…

    I know it’s less sexy than radiation, but these things are important and you will feel better in yourself for pursuing them rather than mouseclicks.

    • douglas black

      The point is: “under control” is a ridiculous thing to say. It is far from it. They have few real solutions, if any. It is an ongoing crisis with potential to get far worse, esp. in the event of one L earthquake, which is more probable than not.

      • Sam Gilman

        Douglas,

        Read the article carefully. It’s written to mislead the reader. The artificial bay is not supposed to be hermetically sealed. It allows for a little water to flow in and out to cope with tides. The amount of radioactive water getting outside the bay is so small as to make no difference precisely because of dilution. It’s entirely tolerable in terms of human health and the environment. It is working how it should, as far as I can see.

        Here’s a tip: whenever you read about Fukushima in the newspapers ignore every and any assessment of the dangers that isn’t by a properly trained and professional scientist.

        You might find it quite a revelation. I understand you live close to the plant, and have been understandably traumatised by the whole affair. This kind of thing makes people vulnerable to those who for whatever reason, need to scare them.

        This article is a good example. All the named scientists are saying is that there is no danger. The journalist and the subeditor have spun that into a tale of lies and heavily implied danger.

        It can be tempting to take a balance of all views and opinions, but this is a mistake. Cut out the opinions of journalists, TEPCO officials and anti-nuclear activists so that you’re left with proper experts and then take a balance. It’ll be good for your nerves.

        It’s also a good way of managing the flow of information.

      • Starviking

        Really? The actual meat of the article is this:

        “Kanda, however, also noted that the total amount of radioactive materials detected in contaminated water samples has been so low that it is unlikely to pose any danger to human health.

        Surveys of fish caught around Japan’s shores have shown no alarming concentrations of radioactive materials in recent months.”
        So much for an ongoing crisis!

      • Mike Wyckoff

        I think before we start accepting Kanda’s opinions at face value, as well as others, we need to figure out their agendas and who their friends with. In Japan, Things aren’t always as they appear

      • Starviking

        Before we start cracking open the big book of conspiracy theories, I think we should crack open a few science books. Kanda’s statements are not opinions, but observations on recent data.

      • Mike Wyckoff

        Can I ask how long you’ve lived a sheltered life in Japan? Because even facts can be skewed here.

    • Steve Novosel

      That section is exactly what I noticed first. “density readings might be lower simply because tainted water is being diluted with massive amounts of seawater” – great! That’s what we hope to hear. It’s not the absolute amount of radioactive matter that is dangerous, it’s high concentrations of radioactive matter that’s dangerous (yes, an oversimplification, but you know what I mean).

  • El Anon

    Amazing that Abe and Suga conveniently forget that fishing is banned in Fukushima, and that South Korea and other countries have banned all seafood products from eastern Japan. They’ve been finding tuna in California with cesium from Fukushima. I think that’s a little bit farther away than 0.3 miles, right? Do they really think that water won’t flow through a hole? The utter lack of science knowledge on the part of these politicians is more than a little disconcerting. Now they want to take-over from TEPCO? How about a UN security council resolution on this.

    • Sam Gilman

      Given that you don’t even understand the difference between detectable levels and harmful levels of a radioactive substance, I’m really not sure it’s a good idea to mock others for their alleged scientific deficiencies. I’m not sure you’re in a position to judge.

    • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

      “The utter lack of science knowledge on the part of these politicians”

      You’re talking about the South Korean ones, right?

  • John Grey

    Dear Sam,

    first of all, you have no idea if that is true or not, and the article asked precisely that question. I do not believe that your assurances changes anything about that?
    And also, the point is: What will that all look like in 7 years?
    Chances of another huge earthquake near Fukushima in that period are statistically slim, but…

    It is great for Japan, that the Olympics will come here, but the plain truth is, that there was no other option.

    • Sam Gilman

      No, John, the point is that the article deliberately tries to mis-frame the situation. It highlights how a small amount – in accordance with the design of the artificial bay in order to cope with tides – of radioactive water will get into the wider ocean. Experts confirm that the radioactive water escaping the bay is at harmless levels. In terms of keeping the problem to within a small area, at the moment things are not out of control.

      You’re willingly being taken in by the writer’s sleight of hand.

      I don’t know how things will be in seven years time, but out of curiosity, what do you think would happen if there was another quake? I ask, because there has been a lot of scientifically illiterate and factually inaccurate scaremongering about things like the spent fuel pools.

      I try to keep up with the science of what’s going on, and the amount of made-up rumour is breathtaking.

  • abinico

    No alarming amount? Any amount is alarming.

  • FX ofTruth

    Water is poured on to a melting core at 30,000 gallons per minute – (scientific estimation during an emergency meltdown)
    – 8.3 pounds is the weight of one gallon of water (variations in weight can happen because of elements in the water)
    – 30,000 gallons of water weight 249,000 pounds
    – A short TON, commonly used in the US, is equal to 2000 pounds

    ONE MINUTE – of water flowing over a SINGLE melted core is 124.5 TONS of water. (All based on 30,000 gallons per minute)
    ONE HOUR – of water flowing over a SINGLE melted core is 7,470 TONS of water.
    24 HOURS – of water flowing over a SINGLE melted core is 79,280 TONS of water.
    1 WEEK – of water flowing over a SINGLE melted core is 1,254,960 TONS of water.
    ONE YEAR – of water flowing over a SINGLE melted core is 65,257,920 TONS of water.
    50 YEARS – of water flowing over a SINGLE melted core is 3,262,896,000 TONS of water.
    100 YEARS – of water flowing over a SINGLE melted core is 6,525,792,000 TONS of water.

    The question is, “How long does core cooling water stay in the melted core’s area?”
    At the rate of 30,000 gallons a minute…minutes I would venture to say!
    If the water sat too long it would boil off.
    The above numbers are related to cooling off ONE melted core.
    These numbers will need to be multiplied times 3x melted cores.

    If water is flowing over a single core for ONE YEAR at the rate of 65, 257,920 tons.
    Then, in gallons that equals 130,515,840,000 billion through a single melted core.
    For 3 melted cores it is 391,547,520,000 billion gallons of water in ONE YEAR.

    There are – 1,101,117,147,428 trillion gallons of water in a cubic mile of ocean.
    The contamination of 100′s of cubic miles of ocean is determined by the radiation concentration of the contaminated core(s)
    water being released into the ocean; the speed of the currents; the direction of the currents; the weather; etc.

    Containment of highly irradiated water for long periods of time is…impossible.
    The water flow rates have to be so fast in order to cool the melted cores that, tanks would fill up very fast.
    The OCEAN is TEPCO’s water supply and cooling pool all in one!

    TEPCO is standing on the 400 tons of water released daily into the Pacific Ocean theory.
    With the “duck tape and paper-clip solutions” they have to deal with their contamination problems,
    you can see by just doing simple math…there is no way their numbers are right!

    • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

      How much water is 300 tons? 300,000 liters. Still sounds like a lot. Let’s continue.The typical Olympic-sized swimming pool contains 2,500,000 liters of water. Thus, the daily leakage is equivalent to one-eighth that of an Olympic-sized swimming pool. That’s not too bad.

      If we assume the rate of flow has been constant, then the total of amount of water which has flown into the Pacific Ocean amounts to 0.000000000492% of the total volume of the Ocean. If the rate of flow continues unabated, it would take 5 trillion years to fill the Pacific Ocean with radioactive water. That is more than 338 times the presently known age of the entire universe. Okay, that’s a ridiculously small amount.

      To make matters even more awesome, Cs-134 has a half-life of 2 years, Cs-137 has a half-life of 30 years and Sr-90 has a half-life of 29 years. It’ll all long dissipate before it can fill the Pacific Ocean.

      OMG! We’re all going to live.

  • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

    The United States pounds a testing ground in Nevada with nuclear weapons, including an extremely controversial series of 29 detonations in 1957 that releases more radiation into the atmosphere than any previous series. This is then followed by 37 detonations in 1958. Then in 1960 the Winter Olympics is held in Squaw Valley, California, some 350-400 kms as the crow flies from the testing ground, and as far as I can tell, nobody raises an eyebrow about the health of the athletes.

    Britain was conducting above ground tests on the Australian continent (admittedly quite a distance away from Melbourne) the same year as the 1956 Olympics. There was no concern about the athletes’ health.

    The first Chinese nuclear test set off at Lop Nor in 1964 was probably designed to spoil everyone’s fun at the Tokyo Olympics that were being staged at the time, but, perhaps reasonably given the distance, people did not think of the effect of radiation on the ceremonies. However, the United States had been testing its weapons willy nilly around and over the Pacific throughout the 1960s, Japanese people had been irradiated by these tests, there was concern in both the popular Japanese media and the popular culture (Godzilla!) about the effect of these tests on the health of Japanese, and yet no one seemed to care about the poor athletes then either.

    The 1979 Three Mile Island accident prompted widespread fears about radiation that were not assuaged for some time. The following year the Winter Olympics were held at Lake Placid, NY, some 350-400 kms away. Again, scant, if any, concern.

    No Olympics in 1986, but the sporting tournaments that took place in Europe were not cancelled due to fears, which were rife, of radiation in the immediate aftermath of Chernobyl. Moreover, the team that won the 1986 European (football) Cup Winners Cup was FC Dinamo Kiev, a rather ironic testimonial of the health of Ukrainian athletes.

    Moreover, there haven’t been any reports of Olympians suffering from the diseases one might associate with radiation sickness in any of these cases.

    And suddenly, when Japan wins an Olympics almost ten years out from a nuclear accident which, according to a major UN report, is “unlikely” to have any health risks for even those poor souls who lived near the plant during the disaster and even who worked within it, we are supposed to assume that all the athletes are going to sprout extra limbs, keel over, coughing up blood, or, in years to come, pay for the horrible decision to hold the Olympics in radiation central, Japan, with their health and/or their lives.

    How does that work again?

    • Moonraker

      As far as I can see, the article seems to be about whether Abe lied about whether “the situation is under control” and whether the contamination is actually “perfectly blocked.” There is at least room for doubt. I suppose the wider point is again about how much we can really believe from agents with vested interests and face to lose. I wonder if those who think everything is just dandy can tell me where the cores of these damaged reactors are right now and whether they will remain “under control” when incompetence or natural disaster or rat strikes again. I wanna believe you and Abe and Tepco but it is hard.

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        Well I am not one of those those who think everything is “just dandy”. Actually, I don’t know anyone who thinks that, but I see a too many people who interpret a “we haven’t killed the planet yet” comment as “everything is fine!”, which is a strawman.

        However I can tell you where the cores are: held within secondary containment inside the reactors. Primary containment has been compromised. That’s not good, but “not good” in the sense that it makes cooling and cleanup much more difficult. Not impossible, but difficult, as well as introducing new problems such as containing all the water that is being pumped in.

        On the other hand, secondary containment is intact. That is good, in that it means the cores are not in direct contact with the outside environment. It also means that by now they are quite cool, not as cool as they need to be for removal to begin but they are getting there. The cooler they become the longer it would take them to heat back up again if disaster strikes again, which in turn means the more time people have to get the water turned back on.

        It is an extremely nasty, and extremely local, disaster. Will be for decades. But it won’t kill us all, or even make the vast majority of us sick.