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Japan feared Fukushima could 'finish' Tokyo: panel
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) Feb 28, 2012

A worst-case scenario sketched out by the Japanese government foresaw the end of Tokyo in a chain of nuclear explosions that would mean evacuating the city, an independent panel said Tuesday.

Plans were drawn up for the mass withdrawal from the capital as at least one senior minister fretted that meltdowns at Fukushima might spark crises at reactors all along the coast and engulf the city of 13 million people.

The revelations came in a 400-page report published by a panel of experts who were given free rein to probe the events surrounding the world's worst nuclear crisis in a generation.

"I had this demonic scenario in my head" that nuclear reactors could break down one after another, then chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano told the panel.

"If that happens Tokyo will be finished," he said, according to the report.

The panel said as the situation on Japan's tsunami-wrecked coast worsened, Fukushima operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) had wanted to abandon the plant and evacuate its workers.

But the utility, which refused to co-operate with the study, was ordered to keep men on site by then prime minister Naoto Kan.

Experts concluded that if the premier had not stuck to his guns, Fukushima would have spiralled further out of control, with catastrophic consequences.

"When the prime minister's office was aware of the risk the country may not survive (the crisis)...TEPCO's president (Masataka) Shimizu....frantically called" to tell the premier he wanted his staff to leave the crippled nuclear reactor, panel head Koichi Kitazawa told a news conference.

Kitazawa said Kan threatened to break up the powerful utility if the company insisted on pulling its men out.

He said Kan's refusal to bow to TEPCO's demand had averted a worse crisis.

Kan told Shimizu: "It's impossible. If you withdraw staff, TEPCO will be demolished," according to Kitazawa.

"Consequently, it's Mr Kan's biggest contribution that the Fukushima 50 remained at the site," added Kitazawa, referring to dozens of operatives who worked to contain the accident and were feted as heroes.

Respected academics, engineers and journalists were drafted in by the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation after public demands for an independent probe into the meltdowns at Fukushima in the aftermath of the monster tsunami of March 2011.

The six-member panel led a team that interviewed more than 300 people central to the disaster response and was given access to data and documents used in the days and weeks after disaster struck.

The panel said Kan had instructed experts to draft a plan to evacuate a huge swathe of the country, based on the worst case scenario.

Planners worked on the assumption that if the nuclear crisis were to worsen "it is possible that a compulsory evacuation zone will spread to 170 kilometres (105 miles)... and a voluntary evacuation zone will spread to 250 kilometres and beyond".

Tokyo lies around 220 kilometres from the stricken plant.

The panel found that while some of Kan's actions in the aftermath of the disaster had been helpful, a tendency to micro-manage events had hampered the emergency response.

"Direct interventions" by Kan and his aides that ignored the distinctions in roles between politicians and bureaucrats "proved ineffective" in defusing the widening crisis, it said.

Those in Kan's office spent a lot of time trying to understand the minutiae of the situation, which meant they tried to intervene in the day-to-day detail in a way that was not helpful.

The report said the delay in the use of seawater as a coolant for overheating reactors was a prime example and came about because the prime minister's office had insisted on the use of freshwater.

Experts later said the use of seawater -- which was available in plentiful supply -- had probably averted a worse disaster.

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Fukushima contamination 'chronic and lasting': French agency
Paris (AFP) Feb 28, 2012 - Radioactive contamination levels from Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant have fallen sharply since the accident but will be "chronic and lasting" for many years, a French watchdog said Tuesday.

"The initial contamination linked to the accident has greatly declined," Didier Champion, crisis manager at the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), told reporters almost a year after the disaster.

"That doesn't mean that there won't be any more, far from it. Today, and for many years to come, we will have a situation of chronic and lasting contamination of the environment."

It was essential for Japan to maintain vigilant monitoring of fruit, milk, mushrooms, game and fish, Champion said.

"There are risks of chronic exposure at low dosage, and without care this can build up over time," he warned.

The March 11 catastrophe saw the plant swamped by a quake-generated tsunami that knocked out coolant pumps, triggered hydrogen explosions and caused three of its six reactors to suffer meltdowns of nuclear fuel.

Radioactive elements were spewed into the air by the blast and into the sea by cooling water that was pumped in in a desperate attempt to keep the overheated reactors under control.

The IRSN said the main radioactivity leaks occurred between March 12-25 in about 15 incidents, "of which the biggest probably took place before March 15".

It gave a provisional estimate that 408 peta-becquerels, or 408 million billion becquerels, of radioactive iodine had been emitted into the air.

This was 10 times lower than in the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine, the world's worst nuclear accident.

The iodine releases posed a sharp but temporary hazard as the element quickly decays. A bigger problem, the IRSN said, was caesium-137, a long-lasting element which takes around 30 years to decay to half its level of radioactivity.

Caesium of all kinds released at Fukushima was estimated by the agency at 58 peta-becquerels, or three times less than Chernobyl. Caesium 137 accounted for 21 peta-becquerels.

Of around 24,000 square kilometers (9,200 square miles) of land contaminated by caesium 137, only 600 sq. kms (230 sq. miles) breached a safety threshold of 600,000 becquerels per square metre, the IRSN said.

This, again, was only a fraction of the territory contaminated by caesium after Chernobyl.

However, there remained "hot spots" of contamination, up to 250 kilometres (156 miles) away, where radioactive particles had been deposited by the weather.

So far, no death or cases of sickness have been directly linked to the disaster, IRSN said, stressing however that the impact on the civilian population over the long term, and on emergency workers and plant employees, remained unclear.


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Fukushima contamination 'chronic and lasting': French agency
Paris (AFP) Feb 28, 2012
Radioactive contamination levels from Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant have fallen sharply since the accident but will be "chronic and lasting" for many years, a French watchdog said Tuesday. "The initial contamination linked to the accident has greatly declined," Didier Champion, crisis manager at the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), told reporters al ... read more

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