Jeffrey LewisRokkasho Visit

Greetings from the land of the earthquake!  Yesterday’s visit to Rokkasho was earth-shaking – literally.  Well, the earth did shake, although I know correlation is not causation.

During lunch at the Rokkasho site, we felt an earthquake.  Then another large earthquake woke me up last night.  Now, we are getting hit by a third as I write this.   That’s three earthquakes in less than 24 hours.

The purpose of the visit was demonstrate to nongovernmental types the overall level of IAEA access at Rokkasho.  I have to say it was pretty effective.  It is pretty clear that the Japanese have decided that the best way to manage local anxiety about the danger from radiation and international concerns about proliferation is to be as transparent as possible.  I think that is a pretty sensible strategy.  We were discussing IAEA access to the facility that produces Japan’s centrifuges  and I said, “Maybe you can convince the Iranians that it isn’t such a burden.”  That is, I suspect, the point.  Whatever you think about how other countries will use the activities of Rokkasho to justify their own enrichment and reprocessing effort , the Japanese are at least trying to be a model of close collaboration with IAEA.

I have signed a confidentiality agreement, so I will need to ask before I share details.  But I can at least give you the schedule.  As I noted, the tour emphasized elements of IAEA access at Rokkasho, so the tour focused areas where the IAEA implements safeguards rather than a straight tour of the facilities.

The tour was divided into two parts — in the morning, we toured the Rokkasho Enrichment Plant. The cascades have been shut down, as Japan is replacing its current generation of centrifuges. But not all the cascades have been removed (right).

In the afternoon, we toured the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, including the the On-site Safeguards Laboratory.  (See also, Quality Control in the OSL Rokkasho: Status after Four Years of Operation.  Several of the authors were present during our visit.)

Today, we visit Japan Steel Works to see them forge pressure vessels, which is going to be awesome.  Very manly, what with fire and steel and all.  (I spent about ten minutes looking the video of Homer Simpson taking Bart to the Ajax Steel Mill, but to no avail.)

We’ll see if there are anymore earthquakes.


  1. George William Herbert (History)

    When you finally relocate to California, you will look back on this trip as training.

    We don’t usually have 3 quakes a day, though.

    Thanks for the report, it is interesting.

    • John Schilling (History)

      George is generally correct, but should acknowledge that some parts of California have a substantially enhanced level of seismic activity. Though the level of testing has dropped off recently; I haven’t had to replace a window win weeks now…

  2. Reader (History)

    When you have a moment please let us know you are ok.

  3. George William Herbert (History)

    Uh. Eek. Rokkasho was north, but not that far north, of the big quake. Hope you’re ok, Jeffrey…

  4. FSB (History)

    BBC says there’s a radiation leak:

    Japan is facing an unprecedented nuclear emergency after a major uranium leak.

    Radiation levels at the Tokaimura nuclear fuel-processing plant in north-east Japan are 15,000 times higher than normal.

    The authorities have warned thousands of residents near the site of the accident to stay indoors and to wash off any rain that falls on them.

    [ image: ]
    “There is a strong possibility that abnormal reactions are continuing within the facility,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka told an emergency news conference. “There are concerns about radiation in the surrounding areas.”

    He said that it was very likely that there had been a “criticality incident” at the plant.

    Criticality is the point at which a nuclear chain reaction becomes self-sustaining.

    “The situation is one our country has never experienced,” Mr Nonaka said.

    Three workers from the plant have been taken to hospital and hundreds have been forced to leave their homes.

    One of the three workers in hospital is reported to be in a serious condition, suffering from continuous vomiting.

    Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi has set up an emergency task force to tackle the accident.

    A government request for help from US military forces in Japan for help was turned down. The US said its forces were not equipped to handle such accidents.

    Blue smoke

    The cause of the leak – detected at 1035 local time (0135GMT) – was not immediately known.

    The head of the company’s Tokyo office, Makoto Ujihara, said the workers told other staff at the plant that “they saw a blue flame rising from the fuel” and complained of nausea.

    [ image: Plant manager Makoto Ujihara briefed the press about the accident]
    Plant manager Makoto Ujihara briefed the press about the accident
    “We are still trying to find what exactly happened but we believe the uranium reached the critical point”, the spokesman for JCO was quoted as saying.

    Local schools were ordered to close their windows and keep pupils indoors.

    The Prime Minister postponed a cabinet reshuffle planned for Friday because of the accident.

    “Forbidden zone”

    BBC Tokyo correspondent Juliet Hindell: “Nobody has accepted responsibility yet.”
    At a distance of two kilometers (1.24 miles) from the accident, radiation was still 10 times the normal level said Tatsuo Shimada, an official of Ibaraki Prefecture.

    Police cordoned off a 6km “forbidden zone” around the uranium processing plant.

    The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that initial reports suggested a radiation leak in Japan was not a “major incident,” although it was waiting for more data.

    Early estimates suggested the incident was serious but would not rank above three on a seven-level scale of nuclear incidents, said an IAEA spokesman in Vienna.

    The environmental organisation Greenpeace criticised the accident as a symptom of a safety “crisis” in Japan’s nuclear industry.

    [ image: ]
    “Today’s accident at Tokaimura confirms our fears – the entire safety culture in Japan is in crisis and the use of dangerous plutonium in reactors here will only increase the probablity of a nuclear catastrophe,”


    what up?

    • Alex (History)

      I think that would be the wrong nuclear plant, the wrong prime minister, and generally the wrong story.

      I hope all at ACW have come through the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident OK!

    • FSB (History)

      you are right — I ought to have checked. I picked it up from an email distribution. This refers to a 1999 incident. apologies all.

  5. FSB (History)

    From someone on the ground in Japan:

    “Fukushima nuclear power plant, it doesn’t
    look good. It seems that one of the reactors may have lost cooling
    capability. It is still not certain what happened, but the fact that
    Fukushima government issued an evacuation notice to local residents
    within 3km of nuclear power plant itself is an unprecedented
    situation. I am really concerned.”

  6. narender sangwan (History)

    I am really concerned about Mr. Jeffery Lewis and hopes he is fine amidst an earth quake. READ about nuclear radiation fallout in some nuclear facilities in Japan.IAEA should be more strict in its inspections and should monitor such irresponsible behaviour of authorities anywhere in the world.Enviornmental disasters like tsunami seems to be the byproducts of these activities.

  7. Gump (History)

    I’m watching NHK in Japanese. I thought they said they found a “clump of water” outside of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant.

  8. Spruce (History)

    TEPCO has surprisingly good information on its press releases:

    And the good thing is that they are not distorted as a result of passing several layers of non-expert media people.

    The situation seems to be worst and Fukushima Daiichi 1 and 2, where there seems to be real trouble dealing with the decay heat. Apparently the low requirements for emergency batteries (US and Japan mandate battery capacity for 8 hours of emergency operation on a complete power loss while most European countries require 24-48 hours) is coming to bite them…