State of Nuclear Politics in Japan
Yukio Edano, head of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) announced that for the first time, critics of the nuclear industry would be included on the nation’s long-term energy policy panel. There are no representatives from the nuclear industry. The panel resumed work for the first time since the March nuclear disaster, and expects to deliver a report by next summer. Some members are reported to be pushing for shutting down all nuclear reactors around the country, while others say a decision cannot be made until the Fukushima disaster is under control. Minutes from the meetings will be posted online, in an effort to promote transparency.
The Japanese Diet will vote on a bill to establish a 10-member independent investigative panel that will explore the causes of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The panel will be separate from the third-party panel currently doing investigative work, and will be authorized to call witnesses and demand documents. The bill is expected to pass both houses of parliament.
METI minister Yokio Edano said that he would give ‘serious consideration’ to the Makinohara Assembly’s decision to shut down the Hamaoka plant in Shizuoka prefecture. A recent survey of residents showed that over 50 percent of respondents support closing the plant.
Japan will delay testing of the Monju fast-breeder reactor, in light of uncertainty about the country’s energy policy. Earlier in the week, the Science Ministry announced that funding for the reactor would be cut by 80 to 90 percent. The reactor, considered the model for Japan’s next generation of reactors, has been fraught with technical issues. It was shut down for over 14 years because of a coolant leak.
The government panel investigating the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis has declared Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) was negligent in containing damage from the disaster and protecting the plant from the ensuing tsunami. An interim report is expected by year’s end.
The panel reviewing TEPCO’s financial status said it would demand that the company’s management resign en masse at the end of the year, as a prerequisite for receiving government funding for compensation due to victims of the disaster. In addition, management will be asked to return stocks and forfeit retirement pay. The panel has advised that the company may need to cut 7,400 jobs by March 2014, and has warned banks that loans made to TEPCO may never be repaid.
The same panel said it will take control of the utility and put it under public control when it runs out of capital, which is sure to happen. TEPCO currently has only JY1 trillion in its coffers. The panel also said it will not allow an increase in electricity rates for this fiscal year, which ends in March.
In a turnaround from last week, TEPCO said it would shorten the application required for compensation for victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The company was criticized for requiring completion of a 160-page form. By comparison, one of TEPCO’s nuclear emergency handbooks is three pages in length—another is six pages. The new form will be available within two weeks.
TEPCO has begun the compensation process for self-employed workers across Japan, sending out claim forms this week. Compensation will be based on the previous year’s sales, minus costs of raw materials. The process for farmers will begin next month.
Status of the Fukushima Daiichi Reactors
As of Sept. 29, the temperatures in Reactors 1, 2, and 3 have all fallen below 100ºC. The most recent reactor to reach that status, 2, is currently at 99.4ºC. However, TEPCO cautions that cold-shutdown status cannot be declared until temperatures are stable and assuming that cooling systems continue to work.
TEPCO found high levels of hydrogen in pipes connecting to Reactor 1, measuring between 61 to 63 percent, after last week’s discovery that hydrogen was present. The company says that since there is no oxygen in the pipes, an explosion is unlikely, but has begun to drain the gas. The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has also ordered TEPCO to measure hydrogen levels in pipes connected to Reactors 2 and 3.
Contamination (Including Human Exposure)
Government documents reveal that although large amounts of potassium iodide pills were available for residents in areas affected by the March explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, they were not distributed at all or until it was too late. Potassium iodide, when taken within a few hours of radiation exposure, can prevent thyroid cancer. Children are at especially high risk of this disease. Japan’s central government did not issue an order to distribute the pills until five days after the explosion, by which time they were no longer effective, and many people had already evacuated. NISA is investigating.
Japan’s Science Ministry announced that high levels of radioactive cesium-137 have been found in Gunma Prefecture, over 250 km from the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Cesium-137 has a half-life of 30 years. In response, Russia’s Hermitage Museum cancelled a planned exhibit of glassworks at the Museum of Modern Art in Gunma, citing fears of contaminating the art.
Scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute say that radiation levels in the ocean off the coast of the Fukushima Daiichi plant show that contaminated water continues to actively leak into the sea. Ocean currents have concentrated radiation levels, rather than allowing them to dissipate. The Woods Hole researchers are analyzing the effects of radiation on sea life.
Decontamination and Waste Disposal
Goshi Hosono, Nuclear Crisis Minister, said that Japan will announce plans to deal with storing and disposing of nuclear waste and other contaminated substances by next month.
The Environment Ministry announced it will decontaminate areas in Fukushima, Miyagi, Yamagata and Ibaraki Prefectures where contamination levels are 5 millisieverts or more per year. The move, which will involve removing 5 cm of topsoil and leaves from over 17 percent of Fukushima prefecture alone, is expected to produce almost 29 million cubic meters of radioactive debris—enough to fill 23 separate Tokyo Domes. The Tokyo Dome has a seating capacity of 55,000.
To accommodate the resulting debris, the Environment Ministry announced a plan to build temporary storage facilities in Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi, Tokyo, Chiba, Tochigi, Ibaraki, and Gunma Prefectures, but first needs to obtain permission from local governments. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Osamu Fujimura, said that no decisions have been made, and the issue is still open for discussion.
Tokyo will accept half a million tons of trash, rubble, and debris from Iiwate and Miyagi through 2013. The move is designed to ease cleanup and rebuilding in the prefectures, which were hit hard by the March earthquake and tsunami. However, local residents have expressed concern that the rubble will be radioactive. Tokyo’s municipal government said that radiation levels are low, and residents should not be concerned.
Residents in the Ota neighborhood of Minamisoma are decontaminating their section of the city, rather than relying on government help. After purchasing radiation measuring tools with government subsidies, and enlisting nuclear experts to teach them how to use them, they created a radiation map twice as accurate as that provided by the central government. A copy was distributed to all 1,000 households. So far, they have decontaminated 800 meters of sidewalks within the city.
The panel tasked with overseeing Fukushima-related compensation issues estimates that TEPCO’s liability could top JY4 trillion, not including the costs of decommissioning the damaged reactors. That number could increase if voluntary evacuees are also compensated.
Iitate Village in Fukushima Prefecture has warned residents against signing compensation agreements with TEPCO. Village officials are concerned that damage has not yet been fully assessed, and warn once residents receive payment, they have no right to file additional claims. Warning letters will be sent to 2,500 households within the prefecture.
Power Company Scandals
As of the end of August, more than 50 former government bureaucrats were still holding lucrative positions at TEPCO. Japan has a long history of allowing officials to leave government service and move to high-paying positions at utilities, where they have little or no responsibility. Critics blame the close ties between utilities and the government for the lax oversight that led to the Fukushima disaster.
The president of Kyushu Power Company, Toshio Manabe, who previously announced he would resign in the midst of a scandal, said he will await the decision of the company’s board of directors. Manabe originally said he would step down after Kyushu executives admitted that they tried to sway public opinion toward nuclear power at a town hall meeting.
Other Nuclear News
Switzerland announced that it will gradually phase out nuclear energy over the next 20 years, citing concerns about nuclear safety in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. The Swiss government said it will increase renewable power, including hydro-power, and may import some electricity, pointing out that nuclear power is becoming more expensive because of rising safety costs.
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Environmental officials and members of the U.S. Coast Guard are racing to clean up a mysterious oil spill that has spread to 11 miles of Delaware coastline.
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By Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie
Of all the plastic we've ever produced, only 9% has been recycled. So what happened to all that plastic you've put in the recycling bin over the years?
Triangle of Mistruths<p>The myth created around plastic recycling has been one of simplicity. We look for the familiar triangle arrows, then pop the waste in the recycling bin so it can be reused.</p><p>But the true purpose of those triangles has been misunderstood by the general public ever since their invention in the 1980s.</p><p>These triangles were actually created by the plastics industry and, according to a report provided to them in July 1993, <a href="https://www.npr.org/transcripts/912150085" target="_blank">were creating "unrealistic expectations"</a> about what could be recycled. But they decided to keep using the codes.</p><p>Which is why many people still believe that these triangular symbols (also known as a <a href="https://sustainablepackaging.org/101-resin-identification-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">resin identifier code</a> or RIC) means something is recyclable.</p><p>But according to the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) – which controls the RIC system – the numbered triangles "<a href="https://www.astm.org/Standards/D7611.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are not recycle codes</a>." In fact, they weren't created for the general public at all. They were made for the post-consumer plastic industry.</p><p>In other words, the symbols make it easier to sort the different types of plastics, some of which cannot be recycled – <a href="https://www.ecobin.com.au/understand-recycling-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">depending on the recycling facility</a>.</p><p>"Unfortunately, just placing your plastic into the recycling bin doesn't mean it will get recycled," says Lara Camilla Pinho. She is an architect and lecturer at the UWA School of Design who is researching novel uses of plastic waste.</p><p>"The recycling system is complicated and often dictated by market demand. Not all plastic is recyclable. We cannot recycle plastic bags or straws for example."</p>
Behind the Scenes<p>So, what makes recycling plastics so difficult?</p><p>"Essentially, there are two types of plastics – thermoplastics and thermosets. While thermoplastics can be re-melted and re-molded, thermosets contain cross-linked polymers that cannot be separated meaning they cannot be recycled," says Lara.</p><p>"Even thermoplastics have a limit to the amount of times we can recycle them, as each time they are recycled they downgrade in quality."</p><p>Even when plastics are recyclable, it is <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/13/war-on-plastic-waste-faces-setback-as-cost-of-recycled-material-soars" target="_blank">often more costly</a> than simply making new plastics.</p>
Sugar, Seaweed and Mushrooms<p>If the conventional recycling system isn't working, what else can we do with all the plastic we've created?</p><p>Lara is looking for ways to add value to recycled plastics such as using it in the design and development of architectural products. She hopes to use these architectural products to help underserved communities that are disproportionately affected by plastic waste.</p><p>In addition to recycling, we also need to find ways to reduce our use of virgin petroleum-based plastics.</p><p>Bioplastic is one such product that has been getting a lot of hype over the last few years. And although they're better than petroleum-based plastics, bioplastics also come with their own <a href="https://phys.org/news/2017-12-truth-bioplastics.html" target="_blank">set of challenges</a>.</p><p>"There are already a lot of bio-based alternatives to plastic, such as bagasse – a byproduct of sugar cane processing," says Lara.</p><p><a href="https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-mycelium-revolution-is-upon-us/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mycelium</a>, a type of fungi we most often associate with mushrooms, are also providing an interesting plastic alternative.</p><p>"In the field of architecture, mycelium is starting to be used as an alternative to plastic insulation, but also as compostable packaging and bricks," says Lara.</p><p>"The bricks take around five days to make and are strong, durable, water resistant and compostable at the end of their use."</p><p><a href="https://www.arup.com/news-and-events/hyfi-reinvents-the-brick" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hy-Fi Tower</a>, created by <a href="http://www.thelivingnewyork.com/living_about.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Living</a>, is an example of a building made from these bricks.</p><p>And finally, there's seaweed.</p><p>"[Seaweed is] cheap and can reproduce itself quickly without fertilizers. In architecture, there is use for seaweed as an alternative to plastic insulation but also as cladding," says Lara.</p>
More Money, More Problems<p>While all these alternatives are great, the main cause of our plastic dilemma is not scientific or technological, but economic.</p><p>As long as it remains <a href="https://engineering.mit.edu/engage/ask-an-engineer/why-is-it-cheaper-to-make-new-plastic-bottles-than-to-recycle-old-ones/" target="_blank">cheaper to create new plastics</a> from fossil fuels rather than from bioplastics or from recycling, we're going to be stuck with plastic garbage islands floating in our oceans.</p><p>The true cost to our health and our environment has yet to be included in the equation. But once it is, maybe that is when the real shift will happen.</p>
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Plain Naturals is making waves in the CBD space with a new product line for retail customers looking for high potency CBD products at industry-low prices.
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Towards the end of the final presidential debate of the 2020 election season, the moderator asked both candidates how they would address both the climate crisis and job growth, leading to a nearly 12-minute discussion where Donald Trump did not acknowledge that the climate is changing and Joe Biden called the climate crisis an existential threat.
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By Zheng Chen and Darren H. S. Tan
As concern mounts over the impacts of climate change, many experts are calling for greater use of electricity as a substitute for fossil fuels. Powered by advancements in battery technology, the number of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles on U.S. roads is increasing. And utilities are generating a growing share of their power from renewable fuels, supported by large-scale battery storage systems.