July 10, 2013 – TOKYO – The former boss of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, who stayed at his post to try to tame runaway reactors after the 2011 tsunami, died of cancer yesterday, the operator said. Masao Yoshida, 58, was at the power station on March 11, 2011, when waves swamped cooling systems and sparked meltdowns that released plumes of radiation. Yoshida led the subsequent effort to get the crippled complex under control, as workers battled frequent aftershocks to try to prevent the disaster worsening. Government contingency plans revealed after the event showed how scientists feared a chain reaction if Fukushima spiraled out of control, a scenario that could have meant evacuating Tokyo. Yoshida’s selfless work is contrasted in the public mind with the attitude of his employers, who seemed willing to abandon the complex and are popularly believed to have shirked their responsibility. “He died of esophageal cancer at 11:32am today at a Tokyo hospital,” said a spokesman for plant operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) yesterday. Yoshida left the plant soon after being suddenly hospitalized in late November 2011. TEPCO has said his cancer was unlikely to be linked to radiation exposure in the months after the disaster. The company has said it would take at least five years and normally 10 years to develop this particular condition if radiation exposure were to blame. Following surgery for cancer, Yoshida suffered a brain hemorrhage and had another operation in July 2012, TEPCO said. Yoshida was still employed by TEPCO at the time of his death. The disaster saw three reactors go into meltdown, spewing radiation into the air, sea and food chain. No deaths have been directly attributed to the radiation released by the accident, but it has left large areas of land uninhabitable. The plant itself remains fragile. TEPCO said yesterday radioactive substances in groundwater have rocketed over the past three days and engineers did not know where the leak was coming from. Scientists say decommissioning the plant could take 40 years. –China.org
Dangerous leak reported at crippled plant: Highly radioactive groundwater recently discovered in test wells at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is likely spreading at the site and leaking into adjoining ocean waters, Japan’s nuclear regulator said, raising worries about the plant operator’s efforts to clean up the disaster site. The tests by Tokyo Electric Power Co. 9501.TO -0.90% have found a recent increase in radiation levels in wells meant to monitor water safety, with some radioactive levels around 200 times the allowed limits. Experts say the findings raise concerns of widening environmental damage but pose no broader threats to health given the location of the plant on the oceanfront and the lack of any residents living nearby. TEPCO said that samples taken from a test well on Tuesday showed the highest levels they have so far recorded of cesium 134 and cesium 137. Both are considered health risks if consumed since they can accumulate in muscles and contribute to higher rates of cancer. The irradiated water is believed to be leaking from the heavily damaged cores at the three reactors that were operating when a massive quake and tsunami struck the plant in March 2011, causing Japan’s worst-ever nuclear plant accident. In addition, runoff rainwater entering the plant site is flowing into heavily contaminated areas, picking up nuclear debris. TEPCO says that it hasn’t seen any evidence that the problem is spreading beyond the plant, with no significant increase in radioactive levels at the 16 sampling points it has in waters located just off the plant.
But the Nuclear Regulation Authority, created in September 2012 in the aftermath of the Fukushima accident, believes the contamination is spreading. “We strongly suspect that high concentrations of contaminated water are leaking to the ground, and spreading to the sea,” the agency said Wednesday. Commenting on the report, agency chairman Shunichi Tanaka also expressed concerns about the reliability of TEPCO’s data. “We need to consider whether we should be relying only on data provided by TEPCO, and check for ourselves the level of contamination in seawater,” he said at a meeting releasing the report. The new leaks are especially problematic for TEPCO since it is trying to show that it has learned the lessons from the Fukushima accident and is seeking approval to resume operations at part of its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in northwestern Japan, the world’s largest in terms of capacity. Health experts say that it is highly difficult to gauge the potential broader health impact from the leaks, and stressed the importance of long-term monitoring that may need to go on for decades or longer. “Underground water moves through layers and eventually goes to the sea. The process sometimes takes a thousand years, during the time, it will be necessary to keep monitoring,” said Manabu Fukumoto, professor of Tohoku University’s Medical School who leads a study on the health effects in the nuclear accident-hit area. “There won’t be immediate impacts unless you go near the reactors. But for the longer term, radiation could cause higher rates of cancer,’ said Minoru Takata, director of the Radiation Biology Center at Kyoto University. –WSJ