Death in seconds: Radiation pockets found at Fukushima

Pockets of lethal levels of radiation have been detected at Japan’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in a reminder of the risks faced by workers battling to contain the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) reported on Monday that radiation exceeding 10 sieverts (10,000 millisieverts) per hour was found at the bottom of a ventilation stack standing between two reactors.
Tepco said Tuesday it found another spot on the ventilation stack itself where radiation exceeded 10 sieverts per hour, a level that could lead to incapacitation or death after just several seconds of exposure.
The company used equipment to measure radiation from a distance and was unable to ascertain the exact level because the device’s maximum reading is 10 sieverts.
While Tepco said the readings would not hinder its goal of stabilizing the Fukushima reactors by January, experts warned that worker safety could be at risk if the operator prioritized hitting the deadline over radiation risks.
“Radiation leakage at the plant may have been contained or slowed but it has not been sealed off completely. The utility is likely to continue finding these spots of high radiation,” said Kenji Sumita, a professor at Osaka University who specializes in nuclear engineering.
“Considering this, recovery work at the plant should not be rushed to meet schedules and goals as that could put workers in harm’s way. We are past the immediate crisis phase and some delays should be permissible.”
Workers at Daiichi are only allowed to be exposed to 250 millisieverts of radiation per year.
Tepco, which provides power to Tokyo and neighboring areas, said it had not detected a sharp rise in overall radiation levels at the compound.
“The high dose was discovered in an area that doesn’t hamper recovery efforts at the plant,” Tepco spokesman Junichi Matsumoto told reporters on Tuesday.
Although it is still investigating the matter, Tepco said the spots of high radiation could stem from debris left behind by emergency venting conducted days after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that crippled the plant.
Currently, 35 of Japan’s 54 reactors are idle, causing electricity shortages amid sweltering heat. The government has ordered safety checks on all reactors.
Meanwhile, more than a dozen regional governments in Japan announced Monday that they would conduct tests to determine whether locally grown rice contains too much radioactive caesium.
Excessive levels of radiation have already been found in beef, vegetables, tea, milk, seafood and water.

Fukushima cattle under shipment ban

Note from Doug: I can’t believe it took the government over 4 months to do this! 

Fukushima cattle under shipment ban

Staff writer

The government banned beef cattle shipments from Fukushima Prefecture on Tuesday, more than a week after meat from the prefecture showed high levels of radioactive cesium, including some already sold and consumed.

Alarm has spread nationwide over the estimated 650 cows from Fukushima, Niigata and Yamagata prefectures that have been shipped throughout Japan after being fed straw contaminated by the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which has been spewing radioactive material since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

The government did not include Niigata or Yamagata in the ban because no cesium had been found in their beef.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said during a news conference Tuesday afternoon that the government was making sure no other contaminated food products get distributed.

“Because (the government) had not firmly grasped the situation, we caused a lot of concern and trouble, including for consumers,” Edano said. The government “is confirming that there are no similar cases, but at the moment, I don’t think there is anything to be worried about.”

Blanket tests will be conducted on cattle from areas around the crippled Fukushima plant where residents have been asked to evacuate or are obliged to prepare for a possible evacuation, he said.

The ban will be lifted if the test results show the level of contamination is below the government limit. Farmers who have been affected by the shipment ban will receive compensation, Edano said.

The problem came to light more than a week ago, but Edano stressed that Fukushima Prefecture had already been voluntarily refraining from shipping its beef.

“No new (contaminated beef) has been circulated,” Edano said. The government’s instructions “came out today, but the shipments have been halted since the problem was brought to light.”

Edano also said the government was carefully checking to make sure other meat, including chickens, have not been fed contaminated feed, but “basically” believed they were safe.

Separately Tuesday, agriculture minister Michihiko Kano said the government will expand its emergency checks of rice straw feed to cover all cattle farmers nationwide, after radioactive cesium at elevated levels was found in straw farther afield than Fukushima and 10 other prefectures currently being probed.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan apologized Tuesday for the spreading fears over beef. “I feel responsible for not being able to prevent this from happening, and I am extremely sorry,” he said.

In the morning news conference, Edano apologized for the government’s failure to ensure that all farmers were informed of an official notice to refrain from using livestock feed that was stored outdoors.

Edano said affected farmers will be compensated for the economic and psychological damage they suffer from the latest developments, and the government will also pay for losses resulting from the fall in beef prices.

The health ministry has said eating beef a few times with levels of radioactive cesium greater than the government-set limit wouldn’t be dangerous.

84 more Fukushima cows found shipped

Cattle fed contaminated hay sent to five prefectures


A further 84 cows shipped from five beef cattle farms in Fukushima Prefecture were fed with hay containing high levels of radioactive cesium, the prefectural government said Saturday.

Hay buffet: Cattle are fed Saturday at a farm in the town of Miharu, Fukushima Prefecture, after checks confirmed the hay was not contaminated with radioactive cesium. KYODO PHOTO

The cows were shipped between March 28 and July 13 to slaughterhouses in five prefectures — Miyagi, Fukushima, Yamagata, Saitama and Tokyo — and the Fukushima Prefectural Government has asked municipalities to check whether that meat has been distributed.

Fifty-three of the cows were sent to Tokyo, 19 to Fukushima Prefecture, eight to Kawaguchi in Saitama Prefecture, two to Yamagata Prefecture and two to Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture.

The latest findings surfaced during a survey of farms the prefecture started July 11, after a farm in Minamisoma was found to have fed cows with hay containing radioactive cesium far above the government’s limit of 500 becquerels per kg.

According to the prefectural government, the 84 cows were raised at five farms in the cities of Koriyama, Kitakata and Soma, and were fed with hay that farmers cut from rice paddies after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami triggered the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

Hay remaining at a Koriyama farm was found to be contaminated with a level of cesium measuring 500,000 becquerels per kg.

The farmers involved told Fukushima authorities that they were unaware of the central government’s instruction issued March 19 that farm animals should not eat feed kept outdoors during the nuclear crisis.

An official from the Fukushima Prefectural Government’s farm department said at a news conference that the local municipality failed to properly convey the instructions to farmers. “We will reflect on it,” the official said.

Meanwhile, the survey also found that meat from 42 cows shipped from a farm in Asakawa, Fukushima Prefecture, where hay fed to cows was also found to be contaminated with high levels of radioactive cesium, has been distributed to at least 30 prefectures.

Of the 30, the meat was sold to consumers and likely eaten in 13 prefectures, including Akita, Ibaraki, Nagano, Aichi and Kagawa.

Officials of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said tests conducted by local governments on meat from six of the 42 cows that did not reach the market revealed levels of radioactive cesium below the maximum limit in four of the cows.

However, meat from the other two cows, which had reached wholesalers in Tokyo and Yamagata Prefecture, contained 650 and 694 becquerels per kg, the officials said.

Fukushima cattle shipments banned

Note from Doug: This is unbelievable. I thought cattle from Fukushima had been banned for months already!

Cesium in beef, straw prompts closer scrutiny


The government’s nuclear disaster task force said Friday that shipments of beef cattle from Fukushima Prefecture will be suspended, amid concern that cows from there may be contaminated with radioactive cesium.

The Fukushima Prefectural Government has already begun inspecting all local beef cattle farms and requested they voluntarily refrain from shipping cows until at least next Monday when the inspections are to be concluded.

The central government reached its own decision regarding beef cattle shipments from Fukushima after consulting with prefectural authorities, government sources said.

Concern over tainted meat reaching the market was heightened Friday by a Tokyo Metropolitan Government announcement that it detected radioactive cesium at levels exceeding the safety limit in beef from cattle transported from a farm in Asakawa, Fukushima Prefecture, to a slaughterhouse in Sendai.

Levels of radioactive cesium reached 650 becquerels per kg, exceeding the government-set limit of 500 becquerels per kg.

That beef was withheld by meat processors in Tokyo and did not reach consumers, according to the metropolitan government.

A farm near the town of Asakawa, 70 km from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, shipped 42 cows that may have eaten straw contaminated with radioactive cesium to meat processors in Tokyo, Sendai, Chiba Prefecture and Yokohama.

Local governments in those areas are now investigating where the meat was later shipped, officials said.

Of the 42 cows shipped, 10 were slaughtered in Sendai, and their meat distributed to wholesalers and agents in the city as well as Iwate and Yamagata prefectures and Tokyo, according to the Sendai Municipal Government.

Five of the cows were transported to Chiba Prefecture, and their meat distributed through a Tokyo facility after processing.

Another 14 cows were shipped to Yokohama and their meat sold to eight agents in Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture.

The meat of two of those cows remains, and was found to have radioactive cesium levels below the government-fixed limit, the Yokohama Municipal Government said Friday.

Tainted beef was also shipped to western regions.

The Kagawa Prefectural Government said Friday evening that a 124 kg portion of beef from Asakawa cows was sold at five meet shops in Kagawa and Ehime prefectures.

In a related development, Miyagi Prefecture said Friday it detected radioactive cesium in straw for beef cattle at three farms, at levels up to 2.7 times the state-set safety limit.

Two of the farms had not fed the straw to cows, while the third had — but had not shipped any cows to market, according to the prefectural government.

In Fukushima Prefecture, the straw was found to contain up to 97,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kg.

The farm ministry said it will launch an emergency survey of rice straw covering rice and cattle farms in Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Chiba, Gunma and Saitama prefectures.