Intake canal seawater of unit 3 still radioactive

The three graphs below show that recent levels of Cesium 137 are still elevated, at radioactive densities that have not been seen in the last six months.   Note the dates on each graph… Recent data and graphs can be found on  this page, which points out that older data is available  here for the archives from Dec.23, 2011 to June.30, 2012, and here for the archives before Dec.22, 2011. Looking at those pages indicates  that the groundwater in subdrains round Unit 2 appears to be the main source of this ongoing contamination.

I believe TEPCO is still running a machine to pump seawater out of the intake canal, run it through a filter to remove cesium, and replace it in the ocean, so you would expect that this water would become less and less radioactive, if there were no new leaks.



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Mongolian nuke deal included reactors in desert in exchange for waste dump

Mainichi further investigates Japanese (Toshiba/Westinghouse?) talks with Mongolia for a deal involving a waste dump for waste that Toshiba reactors will generate in future overseas sales, in exchange for mining and nuclear power plant extpertise.   Mongolia has apparently denied any such plan at the UN in Sept 2011.

One of the candidate sites for a nuclear power plant in Mongolia is pictured in April 2011. There is no source of water needed to cool down reactors as the lake in the center of the photo has dried up. (Mainichi)    One of the candidate sites for a nuclear power plant in Mongolia is pictured in April 2011. There is no source of water needed to cool down reactors as the lake in the center of the photo has dried up. (Mainichi)


Mainichi scoop on Mongolia’s nuclear plans highlights problems in dealing with waste   March 13, 2012 Coverage on a secret document detailing an international nuclear waste disposal site that Japan and the United States had planned to build in Mongolia, for which I won the Vaughan-Ueda Memorial Prize for 2011, has highlighted the difficulties in dealing with radioactive waste. The secret plan surfaced as the crisis at the tsunami-hit Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant has stirred controversy over the pros and cons of nuclear power. I learned that the Japanese Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry and the U.S. Department of Energy had been secretly negotiating the plan with Mongolia since the autumn of 2010 when I interviewed a U.S. nuclear expert on the phone on April 9, 2011. “Would you please help the Mongolian people who know nothing about the plan. Mongolia is friendly to Japan, Japanese media certainly has influence on the country,” the expert said. I flew to Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia, on April 22, and met with then Ambassador Undraa Agvaanluvsan with the Mongolian Foreign Ministry in charge of negotiations on the plan, at the VIP room of a cafe. Before I asked the ambassador some questions getting to the heart of the plan, we asked my interpreter to leave the room just as we had agreed in advance. The way the ambassador talked suddenly became more flexible after I stopped the recorder and began asking her questions in English. She explained the process and the aim of the negotiations and even mentioned candidate sites for the disposal facility. After the interview that lasted for more than two hours, the ambassador said she heard of a similar plan in Australia and asked me to provide Mongolia with any information on it, highlighting the Mongolian government’s enthusiasm about overcoming competition with Australia in hosting the disposal facility. I subsequently visited three areas where the Mongolian government was planning to build nuclear power stations. Japan and the United States were to provide nuclear power technology to Mongolia in return for hosting the disposal facility. I relied on a global positioning system for driving in the vast, grassy land to head to the sites. All the three candidate sites, including a former air force base about 200 kilometers southeast of Ulan Bator, are all dry land. No source of water indispensable for cooling down nuclear reactors, was found at any of these sites and a lake at one of the sites had dried up. Experts share the view that nuclear plants cannot be built in areas without water. I repeatedly asked Mongolian officials responsible for nuclear power policy how they can build nuclear plants at the sites without water. However, they only emphasized that all the three sites meet the safety standards for nuclear plants set by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). An Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry official, who is familiar with Mongolian affairs, said, “Mongolians are smart but their knowledge of atomic energy isn’t that good …” In other words, Japan and the United States proposed to build a spent nuclear waste disposal facility in Mongolia, a country that has little knowledge of nuclear energy. In 2010, the administration of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan released a new growth strategy with special emphasis on exports of nuclear power plants. However, there is no facility in Japan that can accept spent nuclear fuel, putting itself at a disadvantage in its competition with Russia, France and other countries that have offered to sell nuclear plants and accept radioactive waste as a package. A Japanese negotiator said, “The plan to build a disposal facility in Mongolia was aimed at making up for our disadvantage in selling nuclear power stations.” The United States wanted to find another country that will accept spent nuclear fuel that can be converted to materials to develop nuclear weapons in a bid to promote its nuclear non-proliferation policy. Both the Japanese and U.S. ideas are understandable. However, as Mongolia has just begun developing uranium mines and has not benefited from atomic energy, I felt that it would be unreasonable to shift radioactive waste to Mongolia without explaining the plan to the Mongolian people. During my stay in Mongolia, I learned that many people there donated money equal to their daily wages to victims of the March 11, 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. I was also present when the Mongolian people invited disaster evacuees from Miyagi Prefecture to their country. I could not help but shed tears when seeing the Mongolian people’s goodwill. My interpreter even joked, “You cry too much.” I did not feel a sense of exaltation from learning the details of the secret negotiations on the disposal site. I rather felt ashamed of being a citizen of Japan, which was promoting the plan. The Fukushima nuclear crisis that broke out following the March 11, 2011 quake and tsunami has sparked debate on overall energy policy. Some call for an immediate halt to nuclear plants while others insist that such power stations are indispensable for Japan’s overall energy, industrial and security policies. “The matter isn’t limited to nuclear energy. Our generations have consumed massive amounts of oil and coal,” a Finish government official said. The Mainichi scoop on the secret plan sparked campaigns in Mongolia to demand that the plan on a spent nuclear fuel disposal facility be scrapped and that relevant information be fully disclosed. Bowing to the opposition, Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj declared in the U.N. General Assembly session in September last year that the country can never host a radioactive waste disposal facility. Yukiya Amano, director general of the IAEA, which is dubbed a “nuclear watchdog,” says, “Those who generate radioactive waste must take responsibility for disposing of it. It’s unfair to expect someone else to take care of it.” However, human beings have yet to find a solution to problems involving nuclear waste. (By Haruyuki Aikawa, Europe General Bureau)

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60 mill Bq released to air, over 200 mill Bq leak to sea each hour

On December 16 it was reported  that

Levels of radioactive materials released outside the plant have declined to 60 million becquerels per hour, one-13 millionth of the levels at the time when the accident occurred. Additional radiation levels at the plant borders have fallen to a maximum of 0.1 millisievert per year, below the government target of 1 millisievert.

Currently, the water in the harbour has a radioactive density averaging at least 150 Bq/L, and every day about 35,000 tons of water enter and leave the port on the tides, carrying about 5 GigaBq of Cs137 and Cs134 with it…. see the data here



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Fukushima could take 30 years to clean up – official report

the Japanese Atomic Commmission urged TEPCO to begin removal of fuel within 10 years. The 30-year timescale has been suggested by foreign experts before.

Fukushima nuclear plant could take 30 years to clean up

Guardian, Justin McCurry Oct 31 2011

Removal of fuel rods and decommissioning of reactors could take decades, warns Japan’s atomic commission

Experts in Japan have warned it could take more than 30 years to clean up the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

A panel set up by the country’s nuclear energy commission said the severity of the accident meant it would take decades to remove melted fuel rods and decommission the plant, located 150 miles north of Tokyo.

The commission called on the facility’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), to begin removing the fuel rods within 10 years. The damage to Fukushima is more difficult to repair than that sustained at Three Mile Island, where fuel removal began six years after an accident in 1979.

Work to decommission four of Fukushima’s six reactors could start this year if Tepco brings the plant to a safe state known as cold shutdown.

The utility will begin by removing spent fuel from storage pools within three years of making the reactors safe, before beginning the more difficult task of removing melted fuel from the three reactors that suffered meltdown.

While radiation emissions have dropped significantly since the 11 March earthquake and tsunami, workers continue to operate in highly dangerous conditions.

Towns near Fukushima have responded cautiously to plans to build temporary storage sites for massive quantities of radioactive debris generated by the accident.

Almost eight months after the start of the crisis the government says the facilities will not be ready for at least another three years. In the meantime, towns will have to store the contaminated waste locally, despite health concerns.

To reach its target of halving radiation levels within two years the government will have to remove large quantities of soil. Scraping 4cm of topsoil from contaminated farmland in Fukushima prefecture would create more than 3m tonnes of waste, says the agriculture ministry, enough to fill 20 football stadiums.

Once completed, the storage facilities would hold soil and other contaminated waste for up to 30 years, local reports said.

“We have been aiming to start cleaning up as soon as possible,” Toshiaki Kusano, an official in Fukushima city, told Reuters. “To do so we need to talk about where to store the waste, but we have not been able to answer the question residents are asking: how long it was going to stay there?”

Fukushima city, 35 miles from the nuclear plant, contained enough radioactive waste to fill 10 baseball stadiums, he said.

The government has so far earmarked 220bn yen (£1.75bn) for decontamination work, with an additional 460bn yen requested for next year. But according to one estimate the operation could end up costing 1.5tn yen.

Much of the early decontamination work has been performed by local authorities and volunteers, although neither has found a satisfactory means of storing the waste. The central government is not expected to take control of the cleanup operation until a decontamination law is passed in January.

The decommissioning report was released as another government panel set up to determine the cause of the accident said it would invite opinions from three overseas experts early next year.

The panel has already come under fire after it emerged that of the 340 people it has interviewed so far, not one was a politician involved in the handling of the crisis.

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Biggest ever nuclear spill to ocean – 27 petaBq of Cs-137 is 20 times TEPCO’s estimate says IRSN

TEPCO earlier estimated that Cs-137  in the sea totalled  about 1 petaBq, and the JAEA earlier estimated 4 petaBq, compared to this estimate of 27 petaBq (see Table 1 here).  The major difference is that TEPCO counted only water leaks,  this IRSN report includes deposition from the air into the sea, and is the bigget ever nuclear contamination of the ocean.

Fukushima disaster caused world’s biggest nuclear sea spill

27 Oct 2011

PARIS – France’s nuclear monitor said on Thursday that the amount of caesium 137 that leaked into the Pacific from the Fukushima disaster was the greatest single nuclear contamination of the sea ever seen.

But, confirming previous assessments, it said caesium levels had been hugely diluted by ocean currents and, except for near-shore species, posed no discernible threat.

From March 21 to mid-July, 27.1 peta becquerels of caesium 137 entered the sea, the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) said.

One peta becquerel is a million billion bequerels, or 10 to the power of 15.

Of the total, 82 percent entered the sea before April 8, through water that was pumped into the Fukushima’s damaged reactor units in a bid to cool them down, it said.

“This is the biggest single outflow of man-made radionuclides to the marine environment ever observed,” the agency said in a press release.

Caesium is a slow-decaying element, taking 30 years to lose half of its radioactivity.

The IRSN said large quantities of iodine 131 also entered the sea as a result of the disaster, caused by the March 11 9.0-magnitude quake that occurred off northeastern Japan.

But iodine 131 decays quickly, having a half-life of eight days, and the contamination “swiftly diminished,” the report said.

The IRSN said that, for the Pacific generally, caesium levels would ultimately stabilise at 0.004 becquerels per litre thanks to the diluting effect of powerful ocean currents.

This is twice the concentration that prevailed during atmospheric nuclear testing in the 1960s.

“These levels should not have an impact in terms of radiological safety,” the IRSN said.

However, “significant pollution of seawater on the coast near the damaged plant could persist,” because of continuing runoff of contaminated rainwater from the land, it said.

“Maintaining monitoring of marine species taken in Fukushima’s coastal waters is justified,” it said.

The IRSN cited deep-water fish, fish at the top of the marine food chain and molluscs and other filtrating organisms as “the species that are the most sensitive” to caesium pollution.

© Copyright (c) AFP

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Fukushima release more than Chernobyl, C-137 double govt estimates, says new study of global data

The new model shows that Fukushima released 3.5 × 10^16  Bq caesium-137, roughly twice the official government figure, and half the release from Chernobyl.    Xenon-133 release was around 1.7 × 10^19 Bq, greater than the estimated total radioactive release of 1.4 × 10^19  Bq from Chernobyl, although Xenon is less dangerous.

Following article from Nature Oct 25, 2011

Fallout forensics hike radiation toll

Global data on Fukushima challenge Japanese estimates.

Geoff Brumfiel

The disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in March released far more radiation than the Japanese government has claimed. So concludes a study1 that combines radioactivity data from across the globe to estimate the scale and fate of emissions from the shattered plant.

The study also suggests that, contrary to government claims, pools used to store spent nuclear fuel played a significant part in the release of the long-lived environmental contaminant caesium-137, which could have been prevented by prompt action. The analysis has been posted online for open peer review by the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

Andreas Stohl, an atmospheric scientist with the Norwegian Institute for Air Research in Kjeller, who led the research, believes that the analysis is the most comprehensive effort yet to understand how much radiation was released from Fukushima Daiichi. “It’s a very valuable contribution,” says Lars-Erik De Geer, an atmospheric modeller with the Swedish Defense Research Agency in Stockholm, who was not involved with the study.

The reconstruction relies on data from dozens of radiation monitoring stations in Japan and around the world. Many are part of a global network to watch for tests of nuclear weapons that is run by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization in Vienna. The scientists added data from independent stations in Canada, Japan and Europe, and then combined those with large European and American caches of global meteorological data.

Stohl cautions that the resulting model is far from perfect. Measurements were scarce in the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima accident, and some monitoring posts were too contaminated by radioactivity to provide reliable data. More importantly, exactly what happened inside the reactors — a crucial part of understanding what they emitted — remains a mystery that may never be solved. “If you look at the estimates for Chernobyl, you still have a large uncertainty 25 years later,” says Stohl.

Nevertheless, the study provides a sweeping view of the accident. “They really took a global view and used all the data available,” says De Geer.

Challenging numbers

Japanese investigators had already developed a detailed timeline of events following the 11 March earthquake that precipitated the disaster. Hours after the quake rocked the six reactors at Fukushima Daiichi, the tsunami arrived, knocking out crucial diesel back-up generators designed to cool the reactors in an emergency. Within days, the three reactors operating at the time of the accident overheated and released hydrogen gas, leading to massive explosions. Radioactive fuel recently removed from a fourth reactor was being held in a storage pool at the time of the quake, and on 14 March the pool overheated, possibly sparking fires in the building over the next few days.

Click for larger image

But accounting for the radiation that came from the plants has proved much harder than reconstructing this chain of events. The latest report from the Japanese government, published in June, says that the plant released 1.5 × 1016 bequerels of caesium-137, an isotope with a 30-year half-life that is responsible for most of the long-term contamination from the plant2. A far larger amount of xenon-133, 1.1 × 1019 Bq, was released, according to official government estimates.

The new study challenges those numbers. On the basis of its reconstructions, the team claims that the accident released around 1.7 × 1019 Bq of xenon-133, greater than the estimated total radioactive release of 1.4 × 1019  Bq from Chernobyl. The fact that three reactors exploded in the Fukushima accident accounts for the huge xenon tally, says De Geer.

Xenon-133 does not pose serious health risks because it is not absorbed by the body or the environment. Caesium-137 fallout, however, is a much greater concern because it will linger in the environment for decades. The new model shows that Fukushima released 3.5 × 1016  Bq caesium-137, roughly twice the official government figure, and half the release from Chernobyl. The higher number is obviously worrying, says De Geer, although ongoing ground surveys are the only way to truly establish the public-health risk.

Stohl believes that the discrepancy between the team’s results and those of the Japanese government can be partly explained by the larger data set used. Japanese estimates rely primarily on data from monitoring posts inside Japan3, which never recorded the large quantities of radioactivity that blew out over the Pacific Ocean, and eventually reached North America and Europe. “Taking account of the radiation that has drifted out to the Pacific is essential for getting a real picture of the size and character of the accident,” says Tomoya Yamauchi, a radiation physicist at Kobe University who has been measuring radioisotope contamination in soil around Fukushima.

Click for full image

Stohl adds that he is sympathetic to the Japanese teams responsible for the official estimate. “They wanted to get something out quickly,” he says. The differences between the two studies may seem large, notes Yukio Hayakawa, a volcanologist at Gunma University who has also modelled the accident, but uncertainties in the models mean that the estimates are actually quite similar.

The new analysis also claims that the spent fuel being stored in the unit 4 pool emitted copious quantities of caesium-137. Japanese officials have maintained that virtually no radioactivity leaked from the pool. Yet Stohl’s model clearly shows that dousing the pool with water caused the plant’s caesium-137 emissions to drop markedly (see ‘Radiation crisis’). The finding implies that much of the fallout could have been prevented by flooding the pool earlier.

The Japanese authorities continue to maintain that the spent fuel was not a significant source of contamination, because the pool itself did not seem to suffer major damage. “I think the release from unit 4 is not important,” says Masamichi Chino, a scientist with the Japanese Atomic Energy Authority in Ibaraki, who helped to develop the Japanese official estimate. But De Geer says the new analysis implicating the fuel pool “looks convincing”.

The latest analysis also presents evidence that xenon-133 began to vent from Fukushima Daiichi immediately after the quake, and before the tsunami swamped the area. This implies that even without the devastating flood, the earthquake alone was sufficient to cause damage at the plant.

The Japanese government’s report has already acknowledged that the shaking at Fukushima Daiichi exceeded the plant’s design specifications. Anti-nuclear activists have long been concerned that the government has failed to adequately address geological hazards when licensing nuclear plants (see Nature 448, 392–393; 2007), and the whiff of xenon could prompt a major rethink of reactor safety assessments, says Yamauchi.

The model also shows that the accident could easily have had a much more devastating impact on the people of Tokyo. In the first days after the accident the wind was blowing out to sea, but on the afternoon of 14 March it turned back towards shore, bringing clouds of radioactive caesium-137 over a huge swathe of the country (see ‘Radioisotope reconstruction’). Where precipitation fell, along the country’s central mountain ranges and to the northwest of the plant, higher levels of radioactivity were later recorded in the soil; thankfully, the capital and other densely populated areas had dry weather. “There was a period when quite a high concentration went over Tokyo, but it didn’t rain,” says Stohl. “It could have been much worse.”

Additional reporting by David Cyranoski and Rina Nozawa.


  1. Stohl, A. et al. Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss. 11, 28319-28394 (2011). | Article |
  3. Chino, M. et al. J. Nucl. Sci. Technol. 48, 1129-1134 (2011).
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Cesium levels off Fukushima Prefecture 58 times higher than before quake

Levels of radioactive cesium 137 in waters off Fukushima Prefecture are 58 times higher than before the March 11 quake that crippled a nuclear power plant there, a government survey shows.
The science ministry conducted sophisticated sensitive analysis of seawater sampled in 11 locations, mostly about 45-320 kilometers off the coasts of Fukushima, Miyagi, Ibaraki and Chiba prefectures, in late August.
Cesium 137 levels about 140 kilometers east of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant came to 0.11 becquerel per liter, or 58 times more than in 2009, the ministry said Oct. 5.
Still, the figures for all locations were less than 1 percent of the legal standard of 90 becquerels for ocean waters. It was the first sensitive analysis covering large areas.
In a 2009 ministry survey off the four prefectures, maximum readings were between 0.0015 and 0.0023 becquerel per liter.
The latest survey detected 0.10 becquerel about 215 kilometers southeast of the Fukushima No. 1 plant, 50 times more than in 2009, and 0.076 becquerel about 200 kilometers northeast of the plant, 33 times more.
Seawater sampled off Chiba Prefecture contained 0.0012-0.0023 becquerel, roughly unchanged from 2009.

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Mongolia nuclear waste dump: US official denies personal talks

This story has a  misleading headline… one US official says he personally has never spoken to Mongolia about a dump for US waste, apparently contradicting another US official.   But the other official was referring to documented talks of a Mongolian waste dump for Asian clients of  who had burnt nuclear fuel from Toshiba/Westinghouse (as mentioned in the article).

Senior U.S. official denies talk of putting nuclear waste site in Mongolia

WASHINGTON — A senior U.S. Energy Department official on Wednesday disputed reports that the Obama administration has sought Mongolian support for construction of a storage site for international spent nuclear fuel in the Central Asian nation.

The assertion — made by a high-ranking official who asked not to be named in addressing a diplomatically sensitive issue — directly countered remarks offered last spring by a veteran State Department official who leads U.S. nuclear trade pact negotiations.

The diplomat, Richard Stratford, told a Washington audience in March that Energy Department leaders had made initial contacts with their counterparts in Ulaanbaatar about potential cooperation on a range of nuclear fuel services that Mongolia would like to develop for international buyers.

Among the possible features of a joint project, Stratford said, could be the creation of a repository for U.S.-origin fuel that has been used by Washington’s partners in the region, potentially including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

If brought to fruition, the proposal would be “a very positive step forward,” he said at the time, because no nation around the globe thus far has successfully built a long-term storage facility for dangerous nuclear waste.

The Obama administration in 2009 shuttered plans for a U.S. storage site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada — which would have been the world’s only permanent repository — after prolonged debate over potential environmental and health hazards.

In an interview this week with Global Security Newswire, the high-level Energy Department official said that discussions have focused on an array of potential nuclear energy market roles for Mongolia, from mining its substantial uranium reserves to fabricating fuel and more.

However, the unofficial talks have not broached the idea of Mongolia becoming a recipient of foreign-origin spent fuel, the senior figure said.

“I never thought about U.S. spent fuel. Never,” the Energy official said. “I never even thought about it, much less discussed it.”

The Obama administration generally supports the idea of creating international operations for waste storage and other fuel-cycle functions that might help stem global nuclear proliferation, but “what the Mongolian government and the Mongolian people end up deciding they want to do is completely their decision and I would not dream of imposing our views on that,” the senior official said.

“There’s no discussion of an international spent-fuel repository,” added a second Energy Department official who participated in the same interview. “What has been included as part of the comprehensive fuel services discussions are potential long-term storage of Mongolian-origin used fuel that has Mongolian uranium [in it].”

Adding Value

An evolving concept of nuclear fuel “leasing” would have the Mongolians build on their existing uranium ore resources to ultimately provide reactor-ready fuel to foreign nations and, additionally, stand ready to take back used uranium fuel rods once they are depleted, according to reports.

The idea, said the more junior Energy official, is that Mongolia could “potentially add long-term storage as part of the value of that uranium resource to potential buyers.”

Even if foreign-origin spent fuel cannot be stored in Mongolia, the nation’s talks with its international partners might yet allow for U.S., Japanese or other companies to build facilities in the Central Asian nation to produce Mongolian fuel for sale abroad, which could later be returned to Ulaanbaatar for storage after it is used.

The Mongolian Embassy in Washington on Thursday declined comment.

The senior official chalked up the seeming disconnect between Energy and State to a simple misunderstanding, noting that the U.S. Embassy in Mongolia also initially denied Stratford’s assertions about a potential international repository in an April statement.

The Mongolian foreign minister went a step further the following month, denying that talks with the United States and Japan had touched on the disposition of atomic waste of any national origin, according to a report by China’s Xinhua News Agency.

As a developing nation, Mongolia might derive substantial economic benefit if it agreed to accept foreign spent fuel. However, the idea has become a political lightning rod, with the opposition Green Party charging that a waste facility could become an environmental and safety nightmare.

A number of quiet steps toward international collaboration, though, have already taken place.

Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman in September 2010 signed a memorandum of understanding with Mongolian Foreign Minister Gombojav Zandanshatar, pledging future cooperation on civil nuclear power. Japan was also a party to the draft agreement, which has not been released but reportedly included a passage referring to Mongolia as a future destination for spent fuel.

In Ulaanbaatar to ink the document, Poneman is said to have participated in a long discussion about Mongolia’s nuclear trade aspirations with Undraa Agvaanluvsan, an ambassador-at-large at the nation’s Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry.

In that conversation, the notion of Mongolia potentially accepting foreign-origin spent fuel “didn’t come up,” and “Dick Stratford wasn’t there,” the senior Energy Department official said in the interview.

The official acknowledged, though, that in the course of these bilateral discussions, the U.S. side raised a number of ideas with the Mongolians, but some were quickly dismissed.

“We were brainstorming these ideas, but they were just ideas that we were brainstorming,” the Energy official said. “And it was not anything that, frankly, got beyond that.”

A State Department spokeswoman this week directed a reporter to the Energy Department for any comment.

Changing Landscape

“I happen to think the Mongolians are just teasing a very excitable bureaucracy, until the U.S. is too committed to a ‘123’ agreement to back out even without the waste dump,” nuclear expert Jeffrey Lewis, referring to the possibility of a bilateral nuclear trade pact, wrote in an April blog post.

“Certain people at the Department of Energy do believe Mongolia will agree to host a waste repository and are having relevant discussions,” he stated in another post the following month. Lewis directs the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

Mongolian officials traveled to Washington for Energy Department meetings in February and again in August, U.S. government sources confirmed. Just prior to arriving in Washington for the August meetings, a group of working-level Mongolian officials visited the Idaho National Laboratory, where the Energy Department maintains wet and dry spent-fuel storage facilities.

“The discussions began a year ago and the whole scene looked a little bit different from [how] it looks now,” the senior U.S. Energy official noted.

The disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility in Japan, triggered March 11 by a major earthquake and tsunami, heightened concern about the safety of civil nuclear power facilities worldwide.

The crisis in Japan was mounting just as word began to leak in the news media that Ulaanbaatar was in the midst of closed-door discussions about jumping headlong into the nuclear energy market, a prospect that took many Mongolians by surprise. Revelations that the nation might construct a storage site somewhere in its expansive territory for foreign nuclear fuel further stoked public anxiety there.

In July, Kyodo News reported that the head of Toshiba — the Japanese parent company to U.S. nuclear energy firm Westinghouse — had written to Poneman to voice his company’s continued support for the largely secret “Comprehensive Fuel Supply” or “CFS” effort in Mongolia, despite industry setbacks posed by the Fukushima disaster.

“We must recognize that the CFS project has now been publicized around the world,” Norio Sasaki, Toshiba’s president and chief executive officer, wrote in the letter, obtained by GSN. “As anti-CFS opposition can be anticipated, it is essential for the parties to the project to promote closer coordination in order to secure continued progress.”

This disclosure and others prompted some in the public to “doubt the integrity of the Mongolian state,” Dangaasuren Enkhbat, a Green Party member of parliament, said earlier this month at a government meeting on the matter.

“I think these external talks were no mere talks,” he said. “In order to stop these talks, the people who participated in these external talks must be called to responsibility.”

“Mongolia is not an awfully democratic state,” said one U.S. expert who asked not to be named, citing controversy over the issue. “The ways in which they are engaging in this [discussion] shows how they are not fully democratic.”

Growing political outcry and public protests forced the Mongolian president, Tsakhia Elbegdorj, to address in greater detail exactly what Ulaanbaatar was discussing with foreign capitals.

On Sept. 9 he issued a decree prohibiting formal talks about “cooperation on nuclear disposal with any country or international organization,” unless such negotiations are authorized by the country’s national security council, Kyodo News reported.

Speaking at the government meeting four days later, Elbegdorj said the new presidential order “clearly” dictates that public officials “refrain from participation on behalf of Mongolia in any talks or negotiations held under pressure of a foreign country.”

Several issue experts interpreted his released remarks as a signal that Ulaanbaatar was effectively ruling out — at least for now — the creation of a repository for foreign spent fuel, regardless of whether the option had been earlier left open in private discussions with his U.S. or Japanese interlocutors.

In Mongolia, there is a search for “political cover and some amount of political consensus” on the issue, Mark Hibbs, a Berlin-based senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment’s Nuclear Policy Program, said in an interview.

Limits on Mongolia’s Nuclear Activities?

Meanwhile, it remains uncertain whether Mongolian leaders plan to develop a capability to enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium as part of their fuel-services menu. These capabilities can be useful for either civil atomic energy needs or for the development of nuclear weapons.

“I’ve heard zero interest expressed by any Mongolian in any fuel-cycle activity like enrichment or reprocessing,” the senior Energy official said on Wednesday.

By the same token, though, the official could not offer assurances that Mongolia has ruled out the notion of enriching uranium or reprocessing plutonium on its own soil, as its capabilities to handle nuclear materials develop.

“Unless I were with them 24 hours a day, I have never heard them say a thing about it. I’ve never heard anything about it,” the Obama administration official said. “But I don’t know what anybody has said to third parties.”

A bipartisan bill pending in the House would potentially make it more difficult for the White House to gain congressional approval for any pending nuclear cooperation agreement unless the trading partner has, among other things, relinquished a right to enrich or reprocess nuclear fuel on its territory.

The Obama administration included this so-called “gold standard” provision in a 2009 nuclear trade agreement with the United Arab Emirates, but has not yet said publicly whether or how it might apply the policy to other nations.

A so-called “123” agreement — a type of trade accord governed by the 1954 Atomic Energy Act — would be required before Washington could assist Mongolia with nuclear technologies or know-how, even if U.S.-fabricated fuel never enters that nation for storage.

Depending on the level of U.S. assistance permitted by a trade pact, Washington could conceivably exert a great amount of leverage over how Mongolia proceeds in entering the nuclear energy market.

Mongolian-origin fuel could actually become regarded as U.S.-origin material “if it is enriched or fabricated into fuel on U.S. soil,” said Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist in the Global Security program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Another way it could occur is if the fuel is irradiated in a reactor that has used any U.S. technologies or equipment.”

That designation could allow Washington a so-called “right of return” of its atomic materials or equipment if it determines that Ulaanbaatar has exceeded its rights under any future nuclear trade pact — for example, by opting to domestically enrich or reprocess nuclear fuel contrary to the accord.

Leading up to possible negotiations on a nuclear trade agreement with Mongolia, Hibbs said a future pact could encounter some political opposition in Washington if Ulaanbaatar insists on keeping its enrichment and reprocessing options open.

“Some people in Washington have been a little apprehensive about whether Mongolia would want to enrich uranium or reprocess spent fuel, especially if the U.S. at some point agreed to support a multilateral fuel-cycle project in that country,” he told GSN.

The senior Energy official would not speculate about how the Obama administration would react if Mongolia at some point refuses to renounce this type of nuclear processing, noting that the Asian nation has a long way to go before its atomic energy plans solidify.

“The U.S. holds all the cards really,” Lyman said. “A ‘123’ agreement with Mongolia should be seen as a privilege to Mongolia and not something in which they can dictate all the terms.”

Calling nuclear trade pacts “one of the most potent tools the U.S. has” in helping restrict global proliferation, he added, “The administration should not lose sight of the original goal, which is to stop the spread of fuel-cycle facilities to countries that don’t have them.”

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High radiation dose readings marked in spots in Tokyo, Chiba – 3.35 uSv/hr (17 mSv/yr)

High radiation dose readings marked in spots in Tokyo, Chiba

TOKYO (Kyodo) — High radiation doses were reported Thursday in spots in Tokyo and neighboring Chiba Prefecture, both over 200 kilometers away from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, with their readings found to exceed current dose levels in some evacuation zones around the plant.

Airborne radiation of up to 3.35 microsieverts per hour was recorded Thursday along a sidewalk in a residential area in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward in an inspection commissioned by the ward, and a citizens’ group detected up to 5.82 microsieverts close to the ground at a children’s theme park in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, local officials said.

While officials are still investigating whether the radiation resulted from the nuclear accident, the levels detected were both higher than the 2.17 microsieverts per hour measured Wednesday at the village office in Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture. The village is 45 kilometers from the plant and designated as an evacuation zone due to the relatively high radiation.

Funabashi is about 210 km from the Fukushima plant, while Setagaya is about 230 km away.

In an apparent attempt to calm public concerns over the recent spate of discoveries of contaminated spots in the Kanto area, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Thursday morning the government will continue to step up nationwide monitoring as well as consider more necessary measures.

After learning of the findings at the H.C. Andersen Park, officials in Funabashi began checking radiation levels in the park and the affected area was made off limits by its operator. The contaminated spot is located where accumulated rain water flows into and is not normally accessed by park visitors.

In Setagaya, radiation of up to 3.35 microsieverts per hour was recorded Thursday at a height of 1 meter along the sidewalk in the Tsurumaki district, ward officials said.

The ward officials took samples of tree leaves over a home’s board fence in the area concerned to investigate what type of radioactive material is involved.

They are also trying to work out how to decontaminate the sidewalk, which is regularly used by pupils at a primary school. The area has been cordoned off as a precautionary measure.

The finding comes following Wednesday’s media reports that a high reading of 2.71 microsieverts per hour was detected there earlier this month and that radioactive strontium exceeding normal quantities has been found in sediment atop an apartment building in Yokohama City’s Kohoku Ward, some 250 km away from the nuclear plant.

The reading of 3.35 microsieverts means that if a person were to stay close to the contaminated spot for an entire year, spending eight hours each day outdoors and the rest inside a wooden house, their cumulative annual radiation dose could reach about 17 millisieverts, compared with the government-set allowable limit of 20 millisieverts a year.

A government map displaying radiation levels in 10 prefectures relatively close to the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. Areas in red show over 3 million becquerels of cesium per square meter, whereas those in light brown show less than 10,000. (Data as of Sept. 18. Image courtesy of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology)

A government map displaying radiation levels in 10 prefectures relatively close to the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. Areas in red show over 3 million becquerels of cesium per square meter, whereas those in light brown show less than 10,000. (Data as of Sept. 18. Image courtesy of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology)

Setagaya officials said the higher radiation level could have resulted from an accumulation of rainwater due to the location’s sunken geological formation. But they could not explain why radiation readings taken at a height further above the ground were higher than close to the surface where mud and dust gather.

Research on Oct. 4 and 6 found radiation levels varied widely even along the same sidewalk, with the lowest reading at only 0.088 microsievert and the highest at 2.707 microsieverts near the fence.

More detailed checks Thursday concentrating on the section along the fence detected as little as 0.15 microsievert. At the point with the highest reading, it was 1.34 microsieverts near the ground but 3.35 microsieverts at 1 meter above surface.

The officials said they have used water and other methods in attempt to decontaminate the spot, which was discovered after a resident alerted authorities, but radiation levels have shown little improvement even after the cleaning.

Michikuni Shimo, a professor in environmental radiation at the Fujita Health University, called on the public to remain calm, noting that the amount of radiation detected is not at a level regarded as dangerous.

(Mainichi Japan) October 13, 2011

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Moody’s says: Taxpayers, not banks, should pay for TEPCO debts

Moody’s says it will downgrade TEPCO if banks waive debt.  TEPCO is the biggest corporate bond holder in Japan, and any downgrading of it will affect the bond market greatly… so Moody’s wants taxpayers to pay for TEPCOs debt,  rather than the banks that took the risk of lending TEPCO the money in the first place.

 Moody’s says may view any Tepco loan waiver as default

7.10.2011 –

Oct 7 (Reuters) – Moody’s Investors Service said on Friday it would likely view any agreement forced on lenders to waive part of Tokyo Electric Power’s (Tepco) debt a default that would prompt it to cut the utility’s credit rating by several notches.
The credit agency agreed with most recommendations on cost cutting at the power company in the wake of the disaster at its nuclear plant in Fukushima, but not with the possibility that banks may be asked to forgive some loans, it said in a report.
A government panel reviewing restructuring efforts at the utility, commonly known as Tepco, recommended this month cost cuts of 2.5 trillion yen ($33 billion) over a decade and left open the possibility that the company may seek more cooperation from lenders.
Tepco must submit a business plan by the end of October, which the government will review before it releases funding to help pay compensation to residents and businesses forced to evacuate from around the Fukushima plant.
The cost of that, a nuclear contamination clean-up and other expenses may leave the utility in need of more than $110 billion of funding, the government panel estimated.
To lessen the burden on taxpayers the utility has come under pressure to ask banks to waive a portion of their loans.
Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group , Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and Mizuho Financial Group , were among lenders that provided about 2 trillion yen ($26 billion) in emergency loans to Tepco in the immediate aftermath of the nuclear meltdown.
Japan’s Trade Minister Yukio Edano, who has the power to reject or approve Tepco’s business plan, last month suggested banks be do more to buttress Tepco’s finances.
Moody’s cut Tepco’s credit rating to junk status in June lowering its senior secured credit rating to Ba2 from Baa2 and its long-term rating to B1 from Baa3. In its report on Friday the agency said it continues to have a negative outlook on the utility.

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