Delivery of radioactive soil to interim storage begins in Fukushima — The Japan Times

” FUKUSHIMA – Workers on Friday began delivering soil and other radiation-tainted waste generated by the decontamination work following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis to a makeshift storage yard at a storage facility in the prefecture.

The government plans to build depositories on around 16 sq. km of land in the towns of Okuma and Futaba, which host the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power plant, to eventually store massive amounts of radioactive waste. But the plan remains highly uncertain amid slow progress in negotiations with landowners.

Contaminated waste was delivered Friday to a section of the site in Okuma, but shipments to the Futaba section were delayed until March 25 at the request of local authorities.

The Environment Ministry decided to move the waste — still being stored near residents’ homes and other places across the prefecture four years after the crisis began — to the temporary storage yard.

“The start of delivery marks a major step forward for the rebirth and reconstruction of Fukushima. I’d like to thank local communities for accepting it,” Environment Minister Yoshio Mochizuki told a news conference Friday.

Over the next year, around 43,000 cu. meters of waste — equivalent to less than 1 percent of the estimated total of 22 million cu. meters created by the Fukushima No. 1 reactor meltdowns — will be delivered, the ministry said.

The government is negotiating with about 2,400 landowners to secure the land needed for the facilities, but many people have voiced strong concern that the storage could end up being permanent if the land is acquired by the state. Others are refusing to sell because the land was owned by their families for generations. ”


Expected surge in workers hitting radiation limit leaves No. 1 plant’s decommissioning in jeopardy — The Japan Times

” The decommissioning crew at the defunct Fukushima No. 1 power plant is losing 174 members who have reached the legal limit for radiation exposure.

As of January, the 174 had topped the limit of 100 millisieverts in five years spelled out under the Industrial Safety and Health Act, which also limits nuclear power plant workers to a maximum exposure rate of 50 millisieverts per year.

The plant has about 14,000 registered workers, but 2,081 have already received 50 to 100 millisieverts of exposure.

Since most of the heavy lifting in the most highly radioactive areas has yet to be done, experts say the country and Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant’s operator, must find a way to consistently secure enough labor to finish the job.

As of January, a total of 41,170 people had worked at the plant since the crisis began in March 2011, and only the 174 who reached maximum exposure had left.

But many companies that send staff to the plant move them to other positions with lower exposure before they reach the legal limit. So a majority of the 2,081 workers between 50 and 100 millisieverts have already been transferred. As time passes, however, more and more are expected to test the limit.

The International Commission on Radiological Protection sets the average radiation dose for nuclear workers over five years at 20 millisieverts per year.

“Firms tend to transfer workers whose radiation exposure exceeds 20 millisieverts per year from their posts at the nuclear power plant,” said a 57-year-old employee at one of the companies that have managed radiation exposure at the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 plants for about 20 years.

Tepco claims it is not facing a shortage at Fukushima No. 1 because its worker list averaged about 14,200 between January and December last year, or about 3,000 more than the number who actually did decommissioning work there during the same period.

In response to projections that more employees will be unable to work due to radiation exposure, Tepco “will respond to the situation by reducing the level of radiation at the plant,” the utility said.

Meanwhile, an official at the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy came clean on the uncertainty of the situation.

“It is unclear to some extent whether it will be possible to secure enough labor until the decommissioning process is completed,” he said, adding the agency will urge Tepco to improve the working environment.

Four years have passed since the triple meltdown, and radiation has declined. But the decommissioning work will only get more onerous as the number of operations around the reactors grows.

In fiscal 2015, which began this month, Tepco plans to remove fuel rods from the spent-fuel pool at reactor 3, which saw its core melt just like units 1 and 2.

To keep exposure down, most of the operations will be conducted remotely. But setting up the equipment means getting close will be inevitable.

According to various scenarios, a long-term labor system is needed to ensure the project’s continuity 30 to 40 years down the line, when it is supposed to be finished, said Shigeaki Tsunoyama, head of the Fukushima Prefectural Government’s safety advisory group for nuclear power plants.

“If experienced workers leave the plant due to their radiation exposure levels, decommissioning will stall. The government and Tepco have to take some steps as early as possible,” he said. ”


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Also read The Asahi Shimbun article, “Health ministry proposes more than doubling radiation exposure limit.”

Health ministry proposes more than doubling radiation exposure limit — The Asahi Shimbun

” The health ministry recommends raising the maximum radiation-exposure limit for nuclear plant workers during an emergency from the current 100 millisieverts to 250 millisieverts.

The proposed figure, contained in a report completed April 17 by a panel of experts at the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, would then be precisely half that of the 500-millisievert limit set by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

After the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, the maximum limit of exposure in emergencies was temporarily raised to 250 millisieverts for workers at the plant as an exceptional measure. Nine months later it was returned to 100 millisieverts.

The health ministry began considering raising the maximum radiation exposure limit for workers at all nuclear plants to 250 millisieverts following a suggestion by the Nuclear Regulation Authority in December. The new limit will be rubber-stamped after being examined by two ministry committees.

Currently, the health ministry also sets the upper limit of cumulative radiation exposure at 100 millisieverts over a five-year period in nonemergency cases.

It instructs plant operators not to exceed this limit for workers even when the accumulated exposures in emergency and nonemergency cases are combined. ”


Determined sake brewer seeks to revive Fukushima with renewable energy — The Asahi Shimbun

” KITAKATA, Fukushima Prefecture–Yauemon Sato’s determination to forge ahead with his ideas, no matter how unorthodox, has led fellow workers to describe him as “a dump truck with broken brakes.”

This way of thinking has apparently helped to keep his family’s sake brewery in business since 1790. It could also be the reason why local governments are investing in the 64-year-old’s plan to revitalize Fukushima Prefecture.

After the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011, Sato decided that the only way the prefecture could be revived was through renewable energy sources.

In August 2013, he established Aizu Denryoku, an electric power company, and brought together individuals with diverse backgrounds to serve as executives and advisers. One was a special adviser of the Japanese subsidiary of a major U.S. semiconductor manufacturer, while another once headed the Fukushima prefectural board of education.

Another member of the group was an ethnologist who promoted Tohoku area studies.

They were all impressed by Sato’s fortitude.

Sato is the ninth-generation chief of the Yamatogawa Shuzoten sake brewery in Kitakata of the Aizu region in western Fukushima Prefecture. When explosions rocked the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co., Sato thought the 200-year old family business was done for.

However, radiation levels in the Aizu region never reached alarming levels.

Sato felt somewhat guilty because he continued with his life and business while compatriots in other areas of Fukushima Prefecture were evacuating by the thousands.

“All I thought about was what the Aizu region could do,” Sato said. “Nothing will begin as long as all we say is, ‘The central government is to blame and TEPCO is to blame.’”

Sato took note of the many power plants already established in the Aizu region, which boasts a bountiful water supply that has helped foster a vast expanse of forest.

Construction of hydraulic power plants in the area started in the Meiji Era (1868-1912), and those plants today have a total generation capacity of about 4 gigawatts.

Much like the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, most of the power generated at those hydraulic plants has gone to the greater Tokyo metropolitan area.

“The water used in hydraulic power plants originally was the rain and snow that fell in the great outdoors of Fukushima,” Sato said.

He felt that bringing back such resources would allow Fukushima to generate all the electricity it needed without relying on outside sources.

He also believed that such a move would be important to allow Fukushima to move away from being “a colony” of sorts to the Tokyo area.

Sato started with solar power because installation was much easier than constructing hydraulic power plants.

As a first step, Aizu Denryoku built the Oguni solar power plant in Kitakata with an output capacity of 1 megawatt. Smaller facilities were then set up in 23 locations.

By fiscal 2014, Aizu Denryoku and its subsidiaries were operating plants with a combined capacity of 2.54 megawatts and selling the electricity to Tohoku Electric Power Co., which is in charge of supplying all of Fukushima Prefecture.

Aizu Denryoku plans to increase its generating capacity to 5 megawatts by the end of fiscal 2015.

But even at that level, the capacity would only be 0.1 percent of the capacity of the existing hydraulic power plants in the Aizu region.

Moreover, Tohoku Electric in late 2014 introduced a maximum limit on the volume of electricity it would purchase from renewable energy sources.

Such moves are not enough to stop the “dump truck with broken brakes.”

“We will move to our next stage,” Sato said.

By focusing on the initial target of the bountiful water and forests of the Aizu region, Sato plans to start micro-hydro power generation and the use of woody biomass.

Thinking outside the box is in Sato’s genes.

In the late 1970s, his father opposed the redevelopment plan put together by the Kitakata municipal government. Instead, he wanted to promote Kitakata as a “town of warehouses” by capitalizing on the heritage of numerous old warehouses remaining in the city.

On one occasion, he spent 70 million yen to move and restore old warehouses. That led some to speculate that the older Sato had lost his mind.

However, there was huge untapped interest in viewing those old warehouses, and the tourism business took off in Kitakata.

The popularity of Kitakata ramen shops also helped to increase the number of tourists from about 50,000 in 1975 to about 1.2 million today.

The younger Sato says his battle with major utilities will require his own financial resources combined with the power of local communities.

To bring about that goal, Sato contacted all 17 municipalities in the Aizu region about investing in Aizu Denryoku. In March 2015, four towns and villages decided to inject capital.

“Things are looking more interesting now,” Sato said. ”


Updated 4/20/2015: Kepco appeals injunction blocking restart of Takahama reactors; Fukui court forbids Takahama nuclear plant restart– The Japan Times

Posted April 20, 2015, The Japan Times, “Kepco appeals injunction blocking restart of Takahama reactors“:

” The operator of a Japanese nuclear plant whose restart was blocked this week by a court injunction said Friday it would appeal the ruling.

Kansai Electric Power has submitted “a motion of complaint to Fukui district court” over Tuesday’s injunction banning the refiring of the Takahama nuclear plant’s No. 3 and 4 reactors, a company spokesman said.

In its ruling, the court said the safety of the reactors at Takahama had not been proved, despite a green light from the Nuclear Regulation Authority, whose guidelines, the court said, were “too loose” and “lacking in rationality.”

“We genuinely regret that the court did not understand our argument,” the spokesman said, adding that the temporary court order “includes significant factual errors.”

Kepco also warned of huge economic damage if the reactors are not restarted.

The utility had been aiming to begin operating the facilities as early as November, but it cannot restart them unless the ban is removed or suspended. … ”

continue reading

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Posted April 17, 2015, The Japan Times, “Takahama nuclear restart injunction polarizing“:

” A provisional injunction handed down Tuesday by the Fukui District Court against the restarting of Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama No. 3 and 4 reactors is a boost to opponents of nuclear power, even as the decision draws criticism from senior politicians, nuclear regulators, Kepco, and pro-nuclear Japanese media.

A panel of three judges led by Hideaki Higuchi handed down a provisional injunction banning the restart of the two Takahama reactors, saying that the earthquake-risk prediction method used by the Nuclear Regulation Authority in approving the reactors’ restart was flawed.

“It is hard to find, for a nuclear power station that must be prepared for a remotely possible accident, the rationale for establishing a basic earthquake ground motion that is based upon the foundation of the image of a mean earthquake,” the ruling said.

“This signifies that basic earthquake ground motion has lost its reliability (as an assessment method) not only based upon the track record but also, logic.”

The text was welcomed widely by the anti-nuclear camp.

“The great thing about the Fukui court’s ruling is that it’s written in relatively easy-to-understand Japanese. The NRA and Kepco are saying they don’t understand the ruling, but the fact that they don’t understand is strange,” said Yuji Kano, a lawyer who supported those seeking the provisional injunction.

The question now is whether the decision will influence efforts to block the restart of reactors elsewhere.

Whether it becomes an important precedent rests on two factors, one political and one legal.

While not legally required, precedent demands that the utilities seek the “understanding” of local governments hosting the reactors before any restart. Fukui’s local governments are pro-nuclear and anxious to have the reactors restart for economic reasons, but some other localities greeted the news about the provisional injunction with more caution.

In Hokkaido, where Hokkaido Electric is seeking the restart the Tomari nuclear plant, Gov. Harumi Takahashi, who was re-elected on April 12 and has indicated she favored a restart, said Wednesday that she was now unsure if the Fukui decision would effect Tomari.

Those involved in seeking the provisional injunction of the Takahama reactors said Friday that they hoped the decision would spur local governments to think more seriously about evaluating the safety of nuclear plants in their midst rather than just waiting for experts in Tokyo to tell them what to do.

“Here in Kansai, the (seven prefecture, four city) Union of Kansai Governments has said that as far as the safety of nuclear reactors is concerned, not only specialists from the central government but also local safety specialists appointed by local governments should be relied upon to evaluate a broad range of issues like local evacuation plans and to talk about problems related to the overall safety issues affecting the restart of reactors,” said Hidenori Takahashi, one of those involved in seeking the court injunction.

But the legal issue starts with how other courts hearing appeals for provisional injunctions might rule. Tadashi Matsuda, also one of the nine plaintiffs, said he worries the Fukui court ruling could be the exception rather than the precedent.

“The Fukui court judge’s ruling was based on the people’s right to human dignity. But the government and probably most Japanese are living lives based on economic values, and making judgments based on economics,” he said.

“Even if we don’t want judges elsewhere to rule on reactor restarts based on economic values, there’s a possibility the results will be influenced by a priority on economics,” Matsuda said. ”


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Posted April 16, 2015, The Japan Times, “Nuclear watchdog hits out at injunction against restart of Takahama reactors“:

” The head of the nation’s nuclear watchdog said Wednesday a landmark court provisional injunction banning the restart of two atomic reactors was based on a judicial “misunderstanding” of basic facts.

“Although I haven’t studied it in detail, many things that are based on misunderstandings are written in the verdict,” Shunichi Tanaka told reporters, when asked about the court injunction that was issued on Tuesday.

“It is internationally recognized that our new regulatory regime is one of the strictest . . . but that was apparently not understood (by the judge),” the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) told reporters.

Tanaka’s damning comments came a day after a district court in Fukui Prefecture granted a temporary stop order in response to a bid by local residents to halt the restart of the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Takahama nuclear power plant.

That came after the NRA said last December that Takahama’s reactors met tougher safety standards introduced after a powerful earthquake and tsunami triggered a triple meltdown at Tepco’s Fukushima No. 1 plant in 2011. … ”

continue reading

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Posted April 15, 2015, The Japan Times, “Fukui court forbids Takahama nuclear plant restart”:

” Plans to bring Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama No. 3 and 4 nuclear reactors back online were dealt a severe setback Tuesday when the Fukui District Court ordered that they not be restarted, citing safety concerns.

It marks the first time in Japan’s nearly half-century of commercial atomic power operations that a court has approved a provisional injunction against firing up reactors.

The decision comes despite the Nuclear Regulation Authority appraising the reactors against technical and safety criteria and clearing them for restart last November.

The provisional injunction, unlike civil suit rulings, took effect immediately and remains valid until it is suspended or a request for a stay of execution is approved. Kepco plans to appeal the order and request a stay of execution.

The injunction is expected to push back Kepco’s schedule — it originally envisaged restarting the reactors this November — but the longer term impact is unclear.

For Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, resuming nuclear power is key to domestic revitalization, particularly the success of his “Abenomics” policy mix.

In its ruling, the court challenged Kepco’s assertion that the reactors were safe. Presiding Judge Hideaki Higuchi, who in a regular lawsuit last year ruled that the Oi No. 3 and 4 units not be restarted, said Kepco had not shown evidence its earthquake simulation data, which were used to conduct the safety evaluation, could be relied upon.

“This ruling is a giant step for efforts to abolish nuclear power, and, in practice, stops the restart of the reactors,” said lawyers representing nine people seeking the injunction.

“I was not that surprised, as we had indications that the court would rule in our favor,” said Atsuko Nishimura, one of the nine.

Part of the reason for the lack of complete surprise was that Nishimura and those seeking the injunctions felt that Higuchi, at least, might be on their side. So did Kepco, which undertook legal efforts to remove him. Those attempts failed last week when a high court rejected an appeal to overturn a lower court’s dismissal of a move to unseat them.

In a statement, Kepco expressed regret over the decision but said it remained determined to restart the Takahama reactors.

“We’re preparing to file the necessary papers to get the injunction lifted at the earliest possible date and will make efforts to stress the safety of the reactors,” the utility said.

Pro-nuclear Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa, who was elected to a fourth term on Sunday, had no comment on the ruling and only addressed the safety issue in a written statement.

“The government is pursuing the restart of those reactors whose safety has been confirmed by the NRA. Fukui will respond to the ruling by sufficiently confirming the central government’s and Kepco’s response, and by making safety the top priority,” Nishikawa said.

Kyoto-based anti-nuclear activist Aileen Mioko Smith said the ruling would likely have a huge political impact on restart plans elsewhere. But she added that she hoped the injunction will also influence nuclear safety policy at the NRA.

“The (injunction) ruling is a preventative measure. Seismologists have warned this area could see another big earthquake. To have an injunction will, hopefully, prevent another nuclear disaster like Fukushima, or worse,” she said. ”


Tepco likely to set ‘autumn restart’ for Niigata N-plant — The Yomiuri Shimbun

” Tokyo Electric Power Co. is likely to set autumn as its target to restart the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture, according to sources.

TEPCO will present to its main banks, as early as this month, a new funding plan to improve its critical cash flow situation. The utility intends to stipulate the target for restarting the plant in its reconstruction plan, which is scheduled to be reviewed in June.

TEPCO applied to the Nuclear Regulation Authority in September 2013 for permission to reactivate the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant. It believes the safety screenings of the Nos. 6 and 7 reactors are going smoothly, the sources said.

TEPCO is preparing to restart the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in October or later, and plans to complete safety measures against fires and tsunami, currently underway, by autumn.

However, the smooth progress TEPCO ancitipates also depends on whether the NRA asks TEPCO to implement additional safety measures following the screenings, or if the NRA delays screenings of other nuclear plants that are being undertaken ahead of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.

In addition, Niigata Gov. Hirohiko Izumida remains cautious about the restart.

TEPCO established a new office in Niigata as a regional headquarters in April to seek the understanding of local residents on the plan to reactivate the plant. ”