Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant Weekly Review

Japan's prime minister has announced that the country's reactors will be allowed to restart once they meet new safety standards. Meanwhile, a recent study by the World Health Organization concluded that health risks to the general public from the Fukushima Daiichi crisis are very low.

Developments over the last week related to the Tokyo Electric Power Co. nuclear plant blacked out by Japan's 2011 earthquake and tsunami include:

Abe: Compliant Reactors Will Be Allowed to Restart

Emergency training at Fukushima Saturday. Source: TEPCOOn Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that his administration plans to approve the restart of reactors that meet standards under development by the country's new Nuclear Regulation Authority, the Mainichi Daily News reported. Overhauled safety regulations are slated to go into effect in July, and the country's nuclear utilities have been installing enhanced seawalls, filtered containment vents and emergency equipment to bring their reactors into compliance.

Only two of the 50 reactors that once provided a substantial portion of Japan's electricity are currently operating. When the other plants will return to service, though, will remain an open question while the rules are finalized and the costs to implement them become clear. According to the Asahi Shimbun, none of the reactors have yet met all the requirements in the draft rules. The utilities indicated that adding the new safety enhancements will cost the industry nearly $11 billion, possibly more depending on the final rules.

WHO: Fukushima Health Impacts Low for General Public

In a two-year study released Thursday, World Health Organization researchers predicted low health risks and no observable increase in cancer rates among the general population of Japan stemming from the nuclear accidents. In a release, WHO Director for Public Health and Environment Dr. Maria Neira said, “A breakdown of data, based on age, gender and proximity to the nuclear plant, does show a higher cancer risk for those located in the most contaminated parts. Outside these parts - even in locations inside Fukushima Prefecture - no observable increases in cancer incidence are expected.”

The research estimated that female infants in the most contaminated location would have a 70 percent increase in risk for thyroid cancer, a 6 percent increase in risk for breast_cancer and a 4 percent increase in risk for all solid cancers. Male infants in the most contaminated area are expected to have a 7 percent increase in risk for leukemia.

A separate study released Tuesday by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, though, estimated that internal thyroid doses of year-old infants living within 30 kilometers of the plant averaged less than 50 millisieverts. That level is considered safe and is lower than earlier, more conservative WHO estimates, which factored in a wider range of contamination sources and different assumptions about evacuations.

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