Remote-controlled probe picks up radioactive debris at Fukushima for the first time — Gizmodo

” Tepco, the state-owned operator of the badly damaged Fukushima nuclear plant, has conducted an important test in which a remote-controlled probe managed to grasp several small grains of radioactive debris, AFP reports. The successful operation marked an important achievement for the company as it prepares for a cleanup operation that could take decades.

In March 2011, the devastating Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami triggered the core meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Eight years later, the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (Tepco), is still in the formative stages of devising a clean-up plan.

The primary challenge, of course, is dealing with the intense radiation emanating from the melted fuel. Two years ago, for example, a robot became unresponsive after just two hours in reactor No. 2; there’s enough radiation down there—approximately 650 sieverts per hour—to fry a person within a few seconds. The episode showed that technical advancements will be required to make robots more resilient to radiation near the core, and that the cleanup will likely take longer than expected.

Early last year, a camera attached to a remote-controlled probe was sent into reactor No. 2. Images confirmed that fuel debris had melted through the reactor pressure vessel (RPV), also known as the reactor core, dripping down into a collection chamber known as the primary containment vessel (PCV). Images of the chamber showed pebble- and clay-like deposits covering the entire bottom of the PCV pedestal. This accumulated waste, along with similar piles at reactors No. 1 and 3, needs to be cleaned up, and Tepco is currently trying to determine the best way of doing so.

To that end, the state-owned company devised an operation to see what that material is like and determine if it can be moved. On Wednesday February 13, Tepco sent a probe equipped with a remotely operated robotic hand down into the No. 2 lower chamber, Japan Times reports. Using its tong-like fingers, the probe picked up five grain-sized pieces of radioactive melted fuel. AFP reported that the pieces were moved to a maximum height of 2 inches (5 centimeters) above the bottom of the chamber. In addition to taking images with a camera, the probe measured radiation and temperature during the investigation, according to a Tepco release.

No radioactive debris was removed from the chamber, but the eight-hour-long operation showed that some of the melted fuel can be moved—an important bit of evidence that will inform future plans to clean up the plant. But as the Japan Times noted, one of the six areas explored by the probe contained debris that had solidified into a clay-like substance, which the robotic hand was unable to grasp. Future robots will need to slice or saw through this material such that it can be removed. That won’t be easy.

A future test, planned for April, will see some debris removed from the chamber, according to the Japan Times. Tepco has yet to disclose how and where this radioactive waste will be stored.

The company is hoping to start removing radioactive fuel in earnest by 2021, but the clean-up is expected to take decades, with some estimates suggesting it won’t be done until the 2050s. Many other technological hurdles still exist, such as determining the full extent of structural damage at the Fukushima plant, locating all the melted fuel in the three damaged reactors, and figuring out a way to remove the large quantities of contaminated water stored at the site.

If that all sounds overwhelming, well, it is. As we’ve said before, when nuclear power goes wrong, it really goes wrong. ”

by George Dvorsky, Gizmodo

source with images and internal links

Here is a related article by Bloomberg.

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Executives In Fukushima nuclear disaster deserve 5-year prison terms, prosecutors say — NPR

” The former chairman and two vice presidents of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. should spend five years in prison over the 2011 flooding and meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, Japanese prosecutors say, accusing the executives of failing to prevent a foreseeable catastrophe.

Prosecutors say the TEPCO executives didn’t do enough to protect the nuclear plant, despite being told in 2002 that the Fukushima facility was vulnerable to a tsunami. In March of 2011, it suffered meltdowns at three of its reactors, along with powerful hydrogen explosions.

“It was easy to safeguard the plant against tsunami, but they kept operating the plant heedlessly,” prosecutors said on Wednesday, according to The Asahi Shimbun. “That led to the deaths of many people.”

Former TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 78; former Vice President Ichiro Takekuro, 72; and former Vice President Sakae Muto, 68, face charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury. Muto and Takekuro once led the utility’s nuclear division. All three have pleaded not guilty in Tokyo District Court, saying they could not have predicted the tsunami.

The stricken plant triggered mandatory evacuations for thousands of people. Prosecutors link 44 deaths to the incident, including a number of hospital patients who were forced to leave their facilities.

The sentencing recommendation came as prosecutors made their closing arguments on WedneTsday, more than two years after the executives were initially indicted.

The next step in the case will see a lawyer for victims and their families speak in court on Thursday. But it won’t be until March of 2019 that defense lawyers will deliver their closing arguments, according to Japan’s NHK News.

Hinting at what the defense’s argument might be, NHK cites the prosecutors saying, “the former executives later claimed that they had not been informed, and that the executives put all the blame on their subordinates.”

The case has taken a twisting journey to arrive at this point. In two instances, public prosecutors opted not to seek indictments against the three TEPCO executives. But an independent citizen’s panel disagreed, and in early 2016, prosecutors in the case — all court-appointed lawyers — secured indictments against the three former TEPCO leaders.

Both TEPCO and the Japanese government lost a class-action lawsuit in late 2017, when a court found that officials had not prepared enough for potential disaster at the Fukushima power plant. In that case, the Fukushima district court ordered payments totaling nearly $4.5 million to about 3,800 plaintiffs.

All told, around 19,000 people are estimated to have died in eastern Japan’s triple disaster that included a powerful earthquake off the coast of Tohoku, a devastating tsunami, and the worst nuclear meltdown since the Chernobyl catastrophe of 1986.

In September, Japan’s government announced the first death due to radiation that was released at the Fukushima plant.

The region is still sharply feeling the results of the calamity. As of late November, more than 30,000 people who fled the area had still not returned, Kyodo News reports. ”

by Bill Chappell, NPR

source with internal links

Remodeling Japan’s climate policy — East Asia Forum

“Unusually strong typhoons, heavy rainfall and damaging floods tested the resilience of Japan’s famous urban infrastructure throughout 2018. Rather than freak weather events, these phenomena are increasingly the norm. They will only get worse as temperatures rise. Despite this, Japan remains the fifth largest greenhouse gas polluter in the world. It is barely doing its share to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

With energy-related greenhouse gas emissions making up the bulk of Japan’s emissions, reducing these is key to furthering Japan’s climate policy. While renewable energy generation is expanding, it still falls short of filling the gap created by disappearing nuclear power generation capacities. Instead, gas and coal-fired thermal power plants currently compensate for discontinued nuclear power plants.

In 2016, Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions were only 1.6 per cent below 2005 levels, far from the 25 per cent by 2030 target that Japan has committed to. The worst source of these emissions — coal — accounted for 33 per cent of Japanese electricity generation, while natural gas accounted for 38 per cent. These levels are 7 per cent and 11 per cent more, respectively, than envisaged in Japan’s Energy Mix 2030 document.

Recently, the Japanese government launched a Basic Hydrogen Strategy to decarbonise the electricity and transport sector. But hydrogen is not actually an energy source. Rather, it is an energy carrier that requires green electricity to reduce emissions. This means the strategy will require a much greater share of renewable energy than currently envisaged. The Japanese government needs to not only push renewables, which have become much cheaper in the last few years, but also consider other policy options.

Tokyo does not look like a success story at first glance. But it provides a noteworthy model.

According to the Tokyo metropolitan government’s Final Energy Consumption and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Tokyo report, Tokyo metropolitan area’s emissions stood at almost 66 billion metric tons in 2014, an increase of 9.2 per cent on 2005 levels. Yet, over the same period, Tokyo’s population increased 6.4 per cent.

This number comes very close to the 65 billion metric tons that Tokyo emitted in 2010, just before the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Despite all of TEPCO’s nuclear power plants being shut down since, Tokyo’s emissions have fallen to almost pre-disaster levels and sit below the 2002 and 2007 yearly levels when TEPCO had to shut down some of its nuclear power plants. Tokyo’s policies have allowed the city to control emissions despite population increases and discontinued nuclear power plants.

The Tokyo metropolitan government has introduced bolder and wider-ranging climate protection measures than the national government. In 2010, it put in place the world’s first carbon dioxide emissions cap and trade program at the city level, the Emissions Trading System (ETS). As a market-based policy measure, Tokyo’s ETS falls short of the carbon dioxide tax that Japan’s Ministry of Environment is calling for. But it goes beyond the national government’s voluntary emissions reductions.

The ETS covers over 1000 large facilities, including industrial, public and educational facilities, as well as commercial buildings. From 2010–2014, these facilities reduced emissions by 6–8 per cent, depending on the type of facility. Tokyo is also on track to meet the 15–17 per cent reduction requirement for the 2015–2019 period.

After the Fukushima accident, the Tokyo metropolitan government went even further in promoting energy conservation and efficiency. It turned off heated toilet seats, removed unnecessary lights, put in energy efficient LED light bulbs and installed more efficient heating systems in Tokyo’s public buildings. Using a so-called ‘Cool Biz’ campaign, it called on companies to allow for higher temperatures in offices by relaxing office dress codes.

Government leaders also brought public transport operators on board, extending energy-reducing measures to Tokyo’s many trains and stations. These included removing unnecessary lights, switching off lights during the day and reducing air-conditioning in train cars. As a result, electricity consumption in Tokyo has fallen 10–15 per cent since 2010.

The Tokyo metropolitan government has illustrated how to reduce emissions without restarting nuclear power plants. It offers a model for Japan’s national climate policy. The Japanese government should take the December 2018 ‘COP24’ climate conference — the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — in Poland as an opportunity to review the country’s climate policy.

It is time for Japan to follow Tokyo’s lead and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by combining energy efficiency, conservation measures and an ETS with a push for more renewable energy use. Lowering energy demand — while simultaneously greening the electricity supply — will put Japan’s climate policy back on track.

Florentine Koppenborg is a post-doctoral researcher at the Chair of Environmental and Climate Policy, School of Governance, Technical University Munich. “

by Florentine Koppenborg, Technical University Munich via East Asia Forum

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Fukushima evacuees forced back into unacceptably high radiation zones — Beyond Nuclear International

” A UN Special Rapporteur who last August joined two colleagues in sounding an urgent alarm about the plight of Fukushima workers, has now roundly criticized the Japanese government for returning citizens to the Fukushima region under exposure levels 20 times higher than considered “acceptable” under international standards.

He urged the Japanese government to “halt the ongoing relocation of evacuees who are children and women of reproductive age to areas of Fukushima where radiation levels remain higher than what was considered safe or healthy before the nuclear disaster seven years ago.”

Baskut Tuncak, UN Special Rapporteur on hazardous substances and wastes, noted during a October 25, 2018 presentation at the UN in New York, as well at a press conference, that the Japan Government was compelling Fukushima evacuees to return to areas where “the level of acceptable exposure to radiation was raised from 1 to 20 mSv/yr, with potentially grave impacts on the rights of young children returning to or born in contaminated areas.”

He described exposure to toxic substances in general as “a particularly vicious form of exploitation.”

In August, Tuncak, along with Urmila Bhoola and Dainius Puras, expressed deep concern about the Fukushima “cleanup” workers, who include migrants, asylum seekers and the homeless. They feared “possible exploitation by deception regarding the risks of exposure to radiation, possible coercion into accepting hazardous working conditions because of economic hardships, and the adequacy of training and protective measures.

We are equally concerned about the impact that exposure to radiation may have on their physical and mental health.”

Now, Tuncak is urging Japan to return to the 1 millisievert a year allowable radiation exposure levels in place before the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster.

In a revealing response to Tuncak’s presentation at the UN, the delegate from Japan claimed that 20 msv “is in conformity with the recommendation given in 2007 by the International Commission on Radiological Protection.” He also claimed that Tuncak’s press release would cause people in Fukushima to suffer “an inaccurate negative reputation” that was “further aggravating their suffering,” and that the government and people of Japan were “making effort with a view to dissipating this negative reputation and restoring life back to normal.”

This view is deeply characteristic of the Abe government which is desperately attempting to “normalize” radiation among the population to create a public veneer that everything is as it was. This is motivated at least in part by an effort to dissipate fears about radiation exposure levels that will still be present during the 2020 Summer Olympics there, with events held not only in Tokyo but also in the Fukushima prefecture.

However, Tuncak corrected the delegate’s information, responding that:

“In 2007, the ICRP recommended deployment of “the justification principle. And one of the requests I would make for the Japanese government is to rigorously apply that principle in the case of Fukushima in terms of exposure levels, particularly by children, as well as women of reproductive age to ensure that no unnecessary radiation exposure and accompanying health risk is resulting.” Tuncak said Japan should “expeditiously implement that recommendation.”

He also reminded the delegate that “the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council last year, did issue a recommendation to lower the acceptable level of radiation back down from 20 millisieverts per year to one millisievert per year. And the concerns articulated in the press release today were concerns that the pace at which that recommendation is being implemented is far too slow, and perhaps not at all.”

During the press conference Tuncak noted that Japan is a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and that forcing evacuees back into areas contaminated to 20 mSv/yr was against the standards contained in that Convention. “We are quite concerned in particular for the health and well-being of children who may be raised or born in Fukushima,” he said.

Earlier, Japan had sounded tacit agreement to reducing allowable exposure levels back down from 20 mSv/yr to 1 mSv/yr. But few believed they would carry this out given that it is virtually impossible to clean up severely contaminated areas in the Fukushima region back to those levels.

Bruno Chareyron, the director of the CRIIRAD lab (Commission de Recherche et d’Information Indépendentes sur la RADioactivité), noted in an August 17, 2018 Truthout article that:

“It is important to understand that the Fukushima disaster is actually an ongoing disaster. The radioactive particles deposited on the ground in March 2011 are still there, and in Japan, millions of people are living on territories that received significant contamination.”

Of the cleanup process, Chareyron told Truthout: “The ground and most contaminated tree leaves are removed only in the immediate vicinity of the houses, but a comprehensive decontamination is impossible.” He said in the article that the powerful gamma rays emitted by Cesium 137 could travel dozens of meters in the air. Therefore, the contaminated soil and trees located around the houses, which have not been removed, are still irradiating the inhabitants.

While the UN delegate from Japan claimed that no one was being forced to return and the decision rested with the evacuees alone, Tuncak expressed concern about coercion. “The gradual lifting of evacuation orders has created enormous strains on people whose lives have already been affected by the worst nuclear disaster of this century. Many feel they are being forced to return to areas that are unsafe, including those with radiation levels above what the Government previously considered safe.”

Recalling his efforts to protect Fukushima workers, Tuncak observed the irony that Japan had admitted that the death of a Fukushima worker from lung cancer was directly related to exposure to radiation at the stricken plant and “quite interestingly, the level of radiation that he was exposed to in the past five years was below the international community’s recommendation for acceptable exposure to radiation by workers.”

Tuncak’s report did not focus solely on Fukushima. It also included exploitation and abuse of Roma people, South Koreans exposed to a toxic commercial product and air pollution in London. During his UN presentation, he observed that “over two million workers die every year from occupational diseases, nearly one million from toxic exposures alone. Approximately 20 workers will have died, prematurely, from such exposures at work by the time I finish my opening remarks to you.”

Before addressing the plight of Fukushima evacuees, he pointed out how “exposure to toxic pollution is now estimated to be the largest source or premature death in the developing world, killing more people than HIV AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined.” While noting that this problem exists to a greater or lesser degree the world over, he added that “pediatricians today describe children as born ‘pre-polluted,’ exposed to a cocktail of unquestionably toxic substances many of which have no safe levels of exposure.”

Japan’s decision to ignore pleas to halt repatriation of evacuees into high radiation exposure levels usually deemed unavoidable (but not safe) for nuclear workers, not ordinary citizens, will now tragically contribute to these numbers. ”

by Linda Pentz Gunter, Beyond Nuclear International

source with photos and internal links

Local Fury and Health Concerns as Japan plans to dump a million tons of radioactive Fukushima water into ocean — Common Dreams

” In a move that has sparked outrage from local residents and dire health warnings from environmentalists, the Japanese government is reportedly planning to release 1.09 million tons of water from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean despite evidence that it contains “radioactive material well above legally permitted levels.”

While both the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco)—the company that runs the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant—have claimed that radioactive material in the water has been reduced to undetectable amounts and that only “safe levels of tritium” remain, documents obtained by the London-based Telegraph suggest that the cleaning system being used to decontaminate the water “has consistently failed to eliminate a cocktail of other radioactive elements, including iodine, ruthenium, rhodium, antimony, tellurium, cobalt, and strontium.”

“The government is running out of space to store contaminated water that has come into contact with fuel that escaped from three nuclear reactors after the plant was destroyed in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck northeast Japan,” the Telegraph reported. “Its plan to release the approximately 1.09 million tons of water currently stored in 900 tanks into the Pacific has triggered a fierce backlash from local residents and environmental organizations, as well as groups in South Korea and Taiwan fearful that radioactivity from the second-worst nuclear disaster in history might wash up on their shores.”

One document the Telegraph obtained from the government body charged with responding to the 2011 Fukushima disaster reportedly indicates that the Japanese government is perfectly aware that the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) is failing to eliminate radioactive materials from the water stored at the Fukushima site, despite its claims to the contrary.

Last September, the Telegraph notes, “Tepco was forced to admit that around 80 percent of the water stored at the Fukushima site still contains radioactive substances above legal levels after the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry held public hearings in Tokyo and Fukushima at which local residents and fishermen protested against the plans.”

Shaun Burnie, a nuclear specialist with Greenpeace, argued that even so-called “safe” levels of tritium are harmful to humans and marine life.

“Its beta particles inside the human body are more harmful than most X-rays and gamma rays,” Burnie told the Telegraph, adding that there “are major uncertainties over the long-term effects posed by radioactive tritium that is absorbed by marine life and, through the food chain, humans.”

The Japanese government’s reported plans to release the water into the Pacific despite these warnings “cannot be considered an action without risk to the marine environment and human health,” Burnie concluded. ”

by Jake Johnson, Common Dreams

source

Stop sending women & children back to Fukushima fallout zone, UN expert tells Japan — RT

” A UN human rights expert has urged Japan to reconsider its policy of returning women and children to areas still high in radiation after they were displaced by the Fukushima meltdown.

Baskut Tuncak, the UN’s special rapporteur on hazardous substances, criticized the Japanese government’s decision to resettle citizens in areas with radiation levels above one millisievert per year, the threshold of health risk to groups particularly sensitive to radiation, including children and women of childbearing age.

“The gradual lifting of evacuation orders has created enormous strains on people whose lives have already been affected by the worst nuclear disaster of this century,” he said.

Tuncak presented his findings to a General Assembly committee meeting in New York. “Many feel they are being forced to return to areas that are unsafe, including those with radiation levels above what the government previously considered safe,” he added in a news release.

The Japanese government dismissed his concerns, blaming one-sided information and expressing concern that the statement could stoke “unnecessary fears” about the site of the March 2011 nuclear disaster.

After the earthquake and subsequent power plant meltdown, the Japanese government raised its acceptable radiation levels to 20 millisieverts. The UN last year issued a recommendation to return the level to pre-meltdown standards, but Japan ignored the request.

Over seven years later, radiation levels around Fukushima remain high, as has the apparent level of denial within the Japanese government. They recently announced plans to release about a million tons of wastewater contaminated with radioactive elements into the Pacific Ocean, claiming high-tech processing had reduced the contaminants to safe levels, but was forced to admit that 80 percent of the water remained contaminated after local residents protested the dumping plans.

The government has been removing evacuation orders gradually and plans to repeal all of them within five years, regardless of the contamination level in the areas. Japan was slow to enact the evacuation orders initially – only residents within a 3km radius of the meltdown were told to evacuate immediately after the accident, and four days later, residents 30km away were still being told to shelter in place. However, it was already allowing resettlement in areas within 20km of the plant by 2014.

Tuncak has clashed with the Japanese government before. In August, he and two other UN human rights experts criticized them for putting at risk the lives of those involved in the Fukushima clean-up. An earlier UN report showed that 167 plant workers had received radiation doses that increased their cancer risk.

Only last month did the Japanese government admit that even a single plant worker had died as a result of radiation exposure. The unnamed man, whose job included measuring radiation levels immediately after the meltdown, was exposed to about 195 millisieverts of radiation and developed lung cancer after leaving his job in 2015. ”

by RT

source