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Japan Power News Science

Japan Re-Opens Some Towns Near Fukushima 178

Posted by Soulskill
from the going-home dept.
JSBiff writes "Bloomberg, among others, is reporting that the Japanese government has partially lifted the Fukushima evacuation order, allowing residents to return to five towns previously in the evacuation zone. Additionally, a key milestone has been reached in achieving a full 'cold shutdown' of the damaged reactors — the temperature of all three reactors has dropped below 100 deg. C. It's a shame these people were unable to return home for six months. For people who lived closer to the plant, they might never be allowed to return home. Now, the question is: will residents actually want to return, other than to maybe retrieve stuff they left behind?"
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Japan Re-Opens Some Towns Near Fukushima

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  • "Re-Opens"? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 03, 2011 @06:06PM (#37594468)

    Having read the article, it seems the summary is completely inaccurate, as the five towns in question were not evacuated. The government is just lifting a "be prepared for evacuation" warning.

    • Re:"Re-Opens"? (Score:5, Informative)

      by khallow (566160) on Monday October 03, 2011 @06:16PM (#37594522)
      To be a bit more accurate, these were apparently voluntary evacuation zones where people were asked to evacuate or stay indoors. The NEI Nuclear Notes link says that around 28,500 were evacuated from that zone.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by EdZ (755139)
      Ssh, we can't have accuracy enter into our nuclear hysteria!

      Now, the question is: will residents actually want to return, other than to maybe retrieve stuff they left behind?

      Some of the residents of Pripyat and other town inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone have returned to their homes, against the wishes of the Ukrainian government, as unless you're eating food grown from the soil there (or regularly bathing in groundwater) the health dangers are minimal. And that was a for worse incident than in Fukushima, albeit one where many decay products have already decayed, and the majority of the remaining danger is from heav

      • Re:"Re-Opens"? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Cryacin (657549) on Monday October 03, 2011 @06:42PM (#37594668)
        The really neat thing about living in the UK is the BBC. Just today I watched "Bang goes the Theory" on nuclear power. They didn't treat it with hysteria, and they put into perspective the death tolls from Chernobyl, and the Fukoshima reactor etc. They also pointed out that most active nuclear tech is from the 70's, and modern tech is safer still.

        Hopefully, enough of the populace here in Britain will become more educated on the topic, and be able to make a rational decision. And hey, even if you don't want it, please, for the love of whatever, base it on scientific knowledge, and not the hysteria saying that you don't want those naughty neutrons in your backyard.
        • by amorsen (7485)

          Once 30 years have passed without incident, the industry and the regulators get complacent. The same thing happens in e.g. finance.

          We have the technology to make nuclear power perfectly safe. It is just too tempting to cut a corner here or there when nothing bad has happened for a long time.

          • Regulation is what got us in the financial mess to begin with.

            As for Japan, when nature decides to deliver the fifth largest earthquake next to a nuclear power plant, there isn't much you can do. Yes, I know hindsight is 20/20, but really, Fukushima was designed to withstand the vast majority of earthquakes, it was only a freak disaster that caused this. Yes, it could have been handled better, but nothing can be perfectly safe or perfectly foolproof.
            • by microbox (704317)

              Regulation is what got us in the financial mess to begin with.

              Alan Greenspan and co pushed for deregulation in financial markets to the point that even /fraud/ was not investigated, since that would be an inefficiency. "Let the market sort it out." Greenspan even got emergency legislation pushed through congress in order to prevent Brooksley Born [wikipedia.org] from carrying out her federal mandate in investigating fraud in derivative markets. It was *specifically* this policy that enabled the wide-spread fraud that almost brought down the entire world economy in 2008.

              But I am su

              • by stdarg (456557)

                Alan Greenspan and co pushed for deregulation in financial markets to the point that even /fraud/ was not investigated, since that would be an inefficiency.

                Financial fraud is subjective (as it's used today), do you have any concrete examples that were so widespread they could have caused a financial crisis?

                Alan Greenspan and co pushed for deregulation in financial markets to the point that even /fraud/ was not investigated, since that would be an inefficiency. "Let the market sort it out." Greenspan even got emergency legislation pushed through congress in order to prevent Brooksley Born [wikipedia.org] from carrying out her federal mandate in investigating fraud in derivative markets.

                That was interesting to read about but...

                It was *specifically* this policy that enabled the wide-spread fraud that almost brought down the entire world economy in 2008.

                ... that was maybe overstated. In the Wikipedia article you linked to:

                Born declined to publicly comment on the unfolding 2008 crisis until March 2009, when she said: "The market grew so enormously, with so little oversight and regulation, that it made the financial crisis much deeper and more pervasive than it otherwise would have been."

                So even she is saying the lack of regulation may have exacerbated the crisis but it certainly didn't enable the entire thing. You are ignoring major trends like offshoring, foreign wars, the price of oil and food, and changing values of homeownershi

                • by microbox (704317)

                  Financial fraud is subjective (as it's used today), do you have any concrete examples that were so widespread they could have caused a financial crisis?

                  Yes. Read about Brooksley Born. There were other whistle blowers who also brought evidence to bear, but were shut down for interfering in the free markets.

            • Regulation is what got us in the financial mess to begin with.

              Yes, never let the facts get in the way of an ideology!

              Yes, I know hindsight is 20/20, but really, Fukushima was designed to withstand the vast majority of earthquakes, it was only a freak disaster that caused this.

              But it was not hindsight. Prior to the tsunami there were already experts warning about safety [japanfocus.org] of nuclear power plants in Japan and of the type of plant used at Fukushima specifically [telegraph.co.uk]. A freak disaster was exactly the thing that you should be planning for.

            • Regulation is what got us in the financial mess to begin with.....Taxation is legalized theft, no more, no less.

              Proof that the invisible hand will eagerly provide a whip for your self flagellation.

            • by syousef (465911)

              Regulation is what got us in the financial mess to begin with.

              Yes we'd clearly be better off with a law of the jungle type situation. Instead of this civilized post on a blog we could fight to the death dressed like gladiators.

              Find my statement ridiculous? I like to reciprocate.

            • Take your copy of Atlas Shrugged and shove it up your anus.
            • by ultranova (717540)

              Regulation is what got us in the financial mess to begin with.

              Well, insofar as there was an economy to destroy, it did.

              As for Japan, when nature decides to deliver the fifth largest earthquake next to a nuclear power plant, there isn't much you can do. Yes, I know hindsight is 20/20, but really, Fukushima was designed to withstand the vast majority of earthquakes, it was only a freak disaster that caused this. Yes, it could have been handled better, but nothing can be perfectly safe or perfectly foolproof.

            • by jbengt (874751)

              . . . it was only a freak disaster that caused this.

              It was a known risk, not some freak that could not be foreseen.

          • The parent comment deserves to be modded way up. It isn't that Nuclear tech is unsafe inherently, it is that we need to ensure the companies building and maintaining the plants are not cutting costs at the expense of safety. That is the lesson of Fukushima.
            • by amorsen (7485)

              My claim is also that it is impossible to ensure a sufficient level of regulation. After 30 years, society forgets why the rules were put in place.

              One of the few exceptions are religious prohibitions, but I am not sure that letting monks run the nuclear power plants is the right answer.

        • However deaths that are actually alowed to happen are only one side of the story, the other thing that keeps getting brought up with nuclear disasters (see this article for instance) is the areas of land that are rendered unsuitable for their previous use (be that habitation, farming or whatever) because the way we prevent deaths is to avoid consuming food from contaminated areas and removing people completely from the most contaminated ones or (in the case of an ongoing incident) ones that may suddenly bec

          • Re:"Re-Opens"? (Score:4, Insightful)

            by quenda (644621) on Monday October 03, 2011 @08:12PM (#37595184)

            My suspicion is in terms of overall "land area rendered unusable for it's previous purpose" nuclear power is fairly low down the scale but it would be nice to actually see the comparison with other accidents

            You don't need accidents. Hydroelectric, solar and wind power all render a larger area uninhabitable when they are working normally, than the Fukushima accident did, per MW.
            Numbers from Solandri: http://news.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2439490&cid=37474650 [slashdot.org]

            • IMO accidents (and possiblly eminent domain uses) are the correct think to compare against. Not people voluntarily using the land they own to build windfarms.

            • by beelsebob (529313)

              However... Now consider land area * time... The wind turbines will probably be mothballed in 50 years, the land around Chernobyl will be un-farmable for millennia.

              • by quenda (644621)

                Since the more unstable isotopes like iodine decayed, most of the radiation comes from cesium-137, which has a half-life of 30 years. Millennia is a bit of an exaggeration. They could be farming lots of things soon, just not food or tobacco for a while.
                If traces of alpha emitters get into the tobacco, it could give you cancer.

            • by AmiMoJo (196126)

              Solar thermal perhaps, but solar panels are ideal for micro generation on the roofs of buildings. Wind turbines are safe to live near and the land can be used for farming, or you can put them offshore. Also living near a wind or solar farm does not devalue the property or the land like living next to a nuclear or fossil fuel station does.

              • by quenda (644621)

                Offshore wind is hideously expensive. Rooftop PVs will be good, especially when they are integrated in roofing panels.
                Wind farm not affecting property values!? I suspect you have never seen one up close in real life to make such a comment.

                • by AmiMoJo (196126)

                  Some people like wind farms. Personally I think they look good and would not mind being near one.

                  • by quenda (644621)

                    Some people like wind farms. Personally I think they look good and would not mind being near one.

                    You might change your mind when you discover they are each bigger than a jumbo jet, (the turbine, not the farm) and almost as loud.
                    I'm talking about real non-token wind farms. I'd much rather live next to a nuclear power station.

                    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

                      I have been next to full scale wind farms, they are nothing like as loud as a jet engine. A jet engine compresses and accelerates air, and then burns it as part of a fuel-air mix while propelling a large aircraft that is using displacement to generate lift. A wind turbine merely allows existing air movement to push its blades so there is a little but of noise from the diversion of air and a little from the mechanical gearing. I live next to a main road and the traffic noise is far more than the turbines wer

                    • by quenda (644621)

                      a large aircraft that is using displacement to generate lift. A wind turbine merely allows existing air movement to push its blades so there is a little but of noise from the diversion of air and a little from the mechanical gearing.

                      OK, no jet engine, but the turbine blades are bigger than a 747 wing and move at hundred of km/hr. (6-7 x wind speed) The aerofoil principle is exactly the same as on an aircraft. And they go "whoosh ... whoosh ... whoosh ... " all night.

                      On the other hand nuclear power in the UK has a very poor record for releasing radiative material into the air,...

                      You mean the nuclear weapons industry? Modern reactors that were designed for power, not plutonium generation, have a good record.
                      Despite the press jumping on every little thing, it has a far better safety record than coal. Orders of magnitude better.

            • by evalhalla (581819) *

              One difference is that the area used for solar and wind plants can be easily recovered for other uses after the plant is no longer in use, while cleaning areas from a nuclear incident is way more expensive, when possible at all.

              It is true that the same is true for most chemical industries, and there isn't the same widespread panic about those, but it is also true that those don't have as alternative methods to get the same product as there are with the production of electricity.

              Also, at least in the case of

          • Re:"Re-Opens"? (Score:4, Informative)

            by wvmarle (1070040) on Monday October 03, 2011 @09:02PM (#37595396)
            Fossil fuel consumption is contaminating the whole planet, and threatening to make the whole world inhabitable. Or at least, thanks to rising sea levels, swamping complete nations. And don't forget the huge swathes of grassland that have become desert now.

            It's not that the alternatives are so much better; it's more that nuclear issues are located around and easily directly attributed to the nuclear plant. All those deaths from air pollution caused by burning coal are generally not directly linked to that coal fired power plant 20 km away.

            • Fossil fuels aren't causing desertification. If anything, global warming would INCREASE water, not decrease it, since heat drives the water cycle. Just like when you step on the gas in a car, there is more heat in the cylinders and ultimately more power, not less.

              Now if you said hurricanes, that would make more sense.

              The worst risk is when the fuel runs out.

              Mass starvation and deaths due to disease from lack of sanitation and lack of medicine could kill billions.

              Hundreds of millions would die from cholera a

              • by wvmarle (1070040)

                It is not clear what global warming may cause exactly. The system is too big, too complex for us to fully understand and model.

                One of the interesting effects may be that Europe - at a fairly high latitude but still having a moderate climate - may actually cool down considerably, if the Gulf Stream stops bringing warm tropical waters to the area. A totally opposite effect than the name "global warming" or "greenhouse effect" suggest.

                Some areas will get wetter, other areas may get dryer. Large parts of Chin

        • by AmiMoJo (196126)

          I didn't see that programme but did see the recent Horizon episode about the safety of nuclear power, and it missed two very important points.

          Firstly the majority of children living near Chernobyl got cancer and had to have their thyroids removed. Sure, most of them didn't die but they are all now incapable of absorbing calcium, which causes problems with bones and teeth among other things. Few people may have died but who wants to risk getting cancer? If you have children the knowledge that they might beco

        • until the second and third generation of bean counters and suits inevitably cut back on maintenence and zero out equipment upgrades. Then - as has happened at nearly every plant - as the plant nears the end of its DESIGN life, they file extension after extension after extension to squeeze out a few more pennies in profits -- and more importantly to delay the expensive decommissioning until after the deployment of their personal golden parachutes.
  • So the really big question is how long the primary evacuation zone is going to be left open. At this point it looks like it won't be that terribly long, maybe 50 years or so. However, Japan's history of negative attitudes about nuclear power (for quite understandable reasons) makes it likely that the zone will stay for longer than necessary. Even when we people are let in, it is likely that few people will actively want to return for a while. Since Japan is so small and has such population density issues t

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tibit (1762298)

      Holy crap, that greenpeace press release reads like something scribbled on a napkin by someone half-drunk (of half-asleep). I guess it must be really bad there if even their PR {person|department} can't polish the turd...

    • by wvmarle (1070040)
      Yet Hiroshima and Nagasaki are inhabited to this day. The people that survived the bombing never left, and the cities clearly managed to repopulate well.
  • by TUOggy (1253848) on Monday October 03, 2011 @08:09PM (#37595172)
    As someone living in Japan (about 50 miles away from the reactor), I can tell you that most of the "Voluntary Evacuation Areas" (the places that they are "reopening") were never actually evacuated. They saw the complications with what was happening to those from the mandatory evac areas, and decided against it. Having said that, almost everyone with children took of to Tokyo or further south.

    I talk to a lot of people here, and everyone seems to say the same thing. "It sucks, but what can we do?" People don't know what is and isn't safe. Different government agencies give different, and more often than not, contradictory reports. People aren't necessarily afraid of the radiation. They're afraid because they don't know what to believe. They don't evac because one report says they're safe, but then they think they should because another one says they're not.

    Talking to people here about the alternatives to nuclear power, and what is feasible, I find that they all seem to agree. They'd like to see it go away, but they understand that there's only one way to get rid of it right now, and that would put Japan back in the stone age. Having said that, it seems that the market for household solar panels has increased dramatically for those who have houses and can afford it, but the majority of people here live in apartment buildings or condos. With most people living in the cities, they know there's no way they're going to get rid of nuclear power anytime soon, unless some magical new energy source appears that can produce enough power for everyone while taking up very little land.

    • by NeoTron (6020) <kevin@scaryglid e r s . n et> on Monday October 03, 2011 @09:56PM (#37595654) Homepage
      I too live in Japan. I'm 33 miles due west of Fukushima Daiichi, on the far eastern fringes of Koriyama city. My family and I also have access to my wife's parent's second house which is located on a mountain and is about 1km from Miyakoji village in Tamura city, and where we lived for over a year before moving to Koriyama. That mountain house is roughly 21.5km due west of Fukushima Daiichi, the centre of the village is about 20.5km, and parts of Tamura city area further east are within the 20km "Stay out" zone.

      After the March 11th quake, most if not all the villagers around there evacuated the area at first. It is my understanding some returned a couple of months after the event. A friend of ours decided to stay at her house nearby and has done so ever since.

      Myself and my wife and son stayed at our house after the March 11th quake (apart from the night of that incident because a sizeable fissure had appeared on the ground at the rear of my house and we didn't know if it was safe to stay there after consultation with a local fireman, so we stayed overnight at the local community centre).

      Since then, I have visited Miyakoji town and the mountain house, with my Geiger counter, and have taken measurements there, and at those locations the levels are around 0.5 uSv/hr - some spots much higher (1.2 uSv/hr), some much lower, depending on what the wind was doing the days after the nuclear plant accident.

      People do want to move back to their homes there, I know that much. The various Municipal governments are making or are currently already implementing decontamination plans - at first removing top-soil from schools and government buildings and then presumably from other areas after that. Water supplies in Miyakoji are most often supplied via deep water wells (the water has always been extremely high quality there), and from what I've read, because of this, water supplies should be safe from contamination because any radioactive material will have been filtered out by tens of meters of soil layers above the water extraction point, and by the time any caesium etc. reaches that level, the radioactivity will have gone down to background or safe levels anyway.

      I have a map of radiation levels on my personal website, which clearly shows that the radiation plume was mostly blown away from that area towards the north north-west and which agrees with the measurements I personally have taken around where I live and around Tamura.

      Lastly, I want people to remember that there has been more widespread devastation, disruption, and death from the magnitude 9 quake and subsequent tsunamis, than there has been even from the nuclear disaster (and I just know someone's going to play the "but what about future deaths from radiation exposure which haven't and can't be counted yet" card - my answer to them is there still will have been more widespread devastation, disruption, and death from the magnitude 9 quake and subsequent tsunamis, than there has been even from the nuclear disaster").
      • BTW it's slightly weird to give one distance in miles and all the other distances in km.

        • by NeoTron (6020)
          Nit-picking, much? :)

          I'm from Scotland and hence I'm used to miles. The Japanese use the metric system and hence use km for distance. I'm kind of used to thinking my house is 33 miles away from Fukushima Daiichi genpatsu rather than 54km.
      • by rastos1 (601318)

        I have a map of radiation levels on my personal website

        Care to provide the link? (because I don't see any map on http://127.0.0.1/ [127.0.0.1] , which is what /. lists as your homepage ;-) )

      • by tp1024 (2409684)
        Could you provide a link to your website? Thanks.
      • it depends ont he area where you lvie, but in japan it should be around ~2 mV per year from natural radiation ; 4 if you count all sources including medicals (which don't interest us). There are about 8.8K hours in a year so the average from natural radiation here is ~ 0.2 micro SV per hour in average. If the mountain you are speaking of is granitic/volcanic, that can even go up to much more ~0.8 Micro Sv per hour (I speaks from experience here being force to measure my old home basement near the amcif cent
        • by NeoTron (6020)
          Agreed. And in fact my house in Koriyama's particular location (very eastern outskirts of the city) basically escaped the plume as it was blown north north-west from the nuclear plant, over Iitate town, reached Fukushima city, then got blown south south-west down towards Koriyama city. The plume mostly missed my location by a kilometer or three, and radiation levels around my house are around 0.25 uSv/hr , which I believe is about 0.02 uSv/hr below the world average background radiation dose rate.

          I've measu
    • by Doc Ruby (173196)

      Of course they all seem to agree. That's the main reason Japan is in this position: dissent against the official "nukes are the only way" has never been taken seriously there, even less than in many other countries with nukes.

    • by Solandri (704621)

      People don't know what is and isn't safe. Different government agencies give different, and more often than not, contradictory reports. People aren't necessarily afraid of the radiation. They're afraid because they don't know what to believe. They don't evac because one report says they're safe, but then they think they should because another one says they're not.

      This is a consequence of ethical restrictions on biomedical research. Not saying those are bad to have, just saying that this is one of the con

      • If you assume the LNT (theory A) the cumulative effects of the dose at Fukushima on the surrounding population might be a 0.1% increase in cancer deaths over what would be expected. Given that there are 100,000 people in the vicinity, that might be 100 extra deaths (pulling numbers out of my backside here, but they are plausible to within an order of magnitude). The trouble is that a sample size of 100,000 isn't enough to reliably demonstrate a 0.1% increase in cancer rates, in the same way that tossing a
    • by hvm2hvm (1208954)
      Dumb question: why can't they just buy a geiger counter and check whether the radiation is higher than the safe limit? And only drink and eat stuff from the market.
    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      they understand that there's only one way to get rid of it right now, and that would put Japan back in the stone age

      Until recently 90% of reactors in Japan have been offline. The country did not go back to the stone age, they just had to reduce their consumption significantly. I'm not saying they should get rid of all nuclear tomorrow, but the idea that without it any modern civilisation cannot exist is nonsense.

  • The cores are under 100C but only as long as they spray extra amounts of water on them from above?

    I think the idea of cold shutdown is the reactor is shut down and even if left alone it wouldn't overheat. But this doesn't sound like the case here.

    Normally you'd shove the control rods in and slow the reactions until not enough heat is generated to overheat even without special cooling (perhaps just immersed). But the cores are too melted for that I presume. They're going to have to chip the slag into smaller

    • Normally you'd shove the control rods in and slow the reactions until not enough heat is generated to overheat even without special cooling (perhaps just immersed). But the cores are too melted for that I presume.

      Shutdown: Reactivity is some safety margin below critical. The thermal power level will gradually fall.

      Cold shutdown: The power level has fallen low enough that the cooling water doesn't boil even when depressurized. Active cooling may still be required.

      Nuclear reaction: chain reactions where neutrons split atoms releasing more neutrons.

      Decay heat: When the reactor is running shot-half-life nuclides are formed. After shutdown these continue to decay for a long time, releasing heat. There is no chain r

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