Worker dies at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant — The Guardian

” A worker at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has died after falling into an empty water storage tank, in the latest of a series of accidents at the site of the worst nuclear disaster for a quarter of a century.

The death was the second at Fukushima Daiichi in less than a year, but the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), insisted that it was doing everything possible to prevent accidents.

Almost 7,000 workers are involved in decommissioning Fukushima Daiichi, which suffered a triple meltdown after it was struck by a powerful earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

Removing melted fuel and dismantling the ruined facility is expected to take four decades.

The latest death there, of an unnamed man in his 50s, comes days after inspectors visited the plant and ordered Tepco to address the rising number of accidents. Last March, a worker died after being buried by gravel while digging a ditch.

In a separate incident on Tuesday, a worker in his 40s died in hospital after equipment fell on him at a facility storing radioactive waste at the nearby Fukushima Daini plant, Kyodo News said. The plant, which escaped serious damage from the tsunami, is being used as a hub for companies involved in decommissioning.

The number of injuries, excluding cases of heatstroke, has almost doubled in the past two years. In fiscal 2013 Tepco recorded 23 injuries, while the number between April and November last year had already reached 40.

The firm attributed the rise to an increase in the average number of workers at the site during weekdays, from 3,000 early last year to almost 7,000 today.

“We are taking all sorts of measures to prevent accidents,” a Tepco spokeswoman said. They include training sessions for Tepco employees and workers hired by the firm’s many contractors on how to spot potentially dangerous situations at the plant, which now resembles a huge construction site.

The Fukushima Daiichi worker died after falling into a 10-metre-tall storage tank he was inspecting on Monday. He was taken to hospital but died early on Tuesday.

“We are deeply sorry for the death of the worker and express our deepest condolences to the family. We promise to implement measures to ensure that such tragedy does not occur again,” Akira Ono, the manager of Fukushima Daiichi, said in a statement.

The man’s employer, the construction firm Hazama Ando, had no immediate comment.

In response to concerns that lack of proper rest was making Fukushima Daiichi workers more susceptible to lapses in concentration, Tepco will open a new facility in March where up to 1,200 workers at a time can rest and have meals.

Several firms recently created a new company that will provide nutritious meals for about 3,000 workers a day from April.

Most Fukushima Daiichi workers belong to a vast network of contractors in the construction industry that are helping Tepco decommission the facility.

Amid accusations that some unscrupulous firms were withholding mandatory hazard allowances from their employees, four former and current workers last September took Tepco and several of its partner firms to court seeking $600,000 in unpaid wages.

“It’s not just the number of accidents that has been on the rise. It’s the serious cases, including deaths and serious injuries that have risen, so we asked Tokyo Electric to improve the situation,” Katsuyoshi Ito, a local labour standards inspector told Reuters. ”

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Fukushima watch: Regulator calls on Tepco to discharge tritium water — The Wall Street Journal; Regulators approve Fukushima wastewater drainage — NHK World

The Wall Street Journal: ” Japan’s nuclear regulator has officially called on Tokyo Electric Power to work toward discharging low-level contaminated water into the ocean from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

The call on Wednesday comes just two days after a worker fell into one of the hundreds of tanks used to store contaminated water at the plant during an inspection, a fatal accident that has refocused attention on the need for improved safety measures and a longer term solution for the huge amounts of water in storage.

“Tokyo Electric Power must consider whether it (storing the water) is really necessary,” said Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, at a regular board meeting Wednesday. “It is surely harmful if it leads to the death of workers.”

The regulator discussed Wednesday a draft timetable for action by Tepco to address risks at the plant that sets out a 2017 start for discharging the water. The draft is likely to be approved next week.

The International Atomic Energy Agency already recommended more than a year ago that Tepco consider releasing water with low level tritium contamination in a controlled way so that it could focus on other issues.

A Tepco spokesman, speaking after Mr. Tanaka’s remarks, said the company wasn’t currently considering releasing the water into the ocean.

Contaminated water has been a constant headache for the operator of the plant since the triple meltdowns in March 2011. A large amount of groundwater is flowing into the site, adding 300 to 400 tons to the amount of highly contaminated water at the plant on a daily basis.

Tepco is using a processing system to remove radioactive material from the highly contaminated water, but the system is unable to take out the tritium. Tepco has been storing the tritium-contaminated water in about 1,000 tanks, but is reluctant to release it into the ocean to avoid adding to tension with local communities and criticism from neighboring countries and some nations with a Pacific Ocean coastline.

But the power company is close to running out of space to build new tanks at the plant and workers are increasingly under pressure to juggle their other duties with the ever-increasing workload of tank management, prompting the IAEA call in late 2013.

Tritium is considered one of the least harmful radioactive materials at nuclear plants. Water contaminated with tritium is discharged from plants elsewhere in the world after dilution.

However, there is no detailed study about tritium’s long-time effect on animal genes. Mamoru Takata, a Kyoto University professor and expert on radiation’s long-term effects, said monitoring would be necessary to detect any worrisome signals. ”

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NHK World: ” Japan’s nuclear regulator has approved a plan by Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, to drain filtered wastewater from the firm’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant into the sea.

TEPCO officials plan to pump up contaminated groundwater through wells built around structures housing the plant’s damaged reactors. The firm also plans to reduce the level of radioactive material in the water before releasing it into the nearby Pacific.

On Wednesday, the Nuclear Regulation Authority approved TEPCO’s plan to install drainpipes and a pumping system and to reduce the level of radioactive cesium-137 to less than one becquerel per liter. It also agreed with the firm’s policy of starting the drainage system gradually.

The regulator asked the utility to ensure that no wastewater leaks and to fully disclose measurements for radioactive material.

Tokyo Electric said it will not drain filtered wastewater until local residents agree to the plan.

The timing of such agreement is unclear, as local fishermen are worried that rumors of tainted seawater would affect their business. ”

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