Botched gauge settings might have contaminated Fukushima groundwater from April onward: Tepco — The Japan Times

” The discovery of falsely configured monitoring equipment at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant means the groundwater flowing underneath it might have gotten contaminated from April onward, Tokyo Electric said Friday.

The utility said incorrect gauge settings were used to measure groundwater levels in six of the wells near reactors 1 and 4. This resulted in groundwater readings about 70 cm higher than reality, which means the beleaguered power utility has been mismanaging the groundwater there for months.

To prevent tainted water from leaking from the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. installed water gauges so it could keep the groundwater levels in the wells a meter higher than the contaminated water in the buildings.

Tepco adjusts the amount of water in wells called subdrains around the buildings to keep the groundwater higher than the tainted water inside them, which prevents it from flowing out. If the groundwater levels sink below the level of the radioactive water, it might leak out.

On Friday, Tepco said the estimated groundwater level in one of the six subdrain wells close to reactor 1 fell below the level in the reactor building at least eight times during the five-day period to May 21 because the gauges were set incorrectly.

Groundwater levels were 2 mm to 19 mm lower than the level in the buildings, Tepco said, adding that it does not know precisely how long each of these problematic situations lasted because water level data is collected by the hour.

Tepco said groundwater levels in five other wells affected by the incorrect settings did not fall below the levels in the nearby reactor buildings.

All six are in the area surrounded by an underground ice wall designed to prevent groundwater leakage.

According to Tepco, the incorrect settings date as far back as April 19. The earliest error affected the gauge in a well where groundwater fell to hazardous levels.

In the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, reactors 1, 2 and 3 at the plant experienced core meltdowns and reactors 1, 3 and 4 were severely damaged by hydrogen explosions following a massive offshore earthquake that spawned large tsunami in March 2011. ”

by Jiji, Kyodo via The Japan Times

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Fukushima’s decommissioning delays, challenges and unknowns remain roadblocks to cleanup — Beyond Nuclear

” Six and a half years after the Fukushima Daiichi triple meltdown, Japan’s government, the nuclear regulator and Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) most rudimentary plan of attack for recovery from radioactive catastrophe is delayed again. The first steps of decommissioning cannot legitimately begin until undamaged but highly radioactive “spent” fuel assemblies are removed from vulnerable reactor storage ponds, sufficiently cooled and re-contained in qualified dry storage casks.  Then, there are the three melted fuel cores that still must be located, retrieved and somehow re-contained. Where all of the massive radioactive contamination will go is a mystery.  In fact, there are an alarming number of challenges, continuing delays and unknowns that remain before securing the destroyed nuclear power station site and halting the ongoing release of radioactivity to the land, water and air.

Among the most immediate concerns is the management of 1007 highly radioactive and thermally hot irradiated nuclear fuel assemblies still in the two cooling pools perched atop the destroyed Units 1 and 2 outside of any containment structure. Each of the site’s six-units has an elevated nuclear waste storage pond. The site has a large common pool located near Unit 4. The government recently admitted that previously unknown, possibly undisclosed, damage in these irradiated fuel storage ponds and radioactive contamination has again delayed the plan to move the dangerous fuel assemblies by at least another three years, now 2023. Unit 3 remains on schedule in 2018 to begin the two-year transfer of 514 irradiated fuel assemblies from its rooftop storage pool to a jam-packed common onsite pool located at ground level. This common pool and its massive radioactive inventory requires reliable cooling power.  Unit 4 completed a three-year project to transfer its irradiated fuel into the common pool in 2014. The common pool now has 6,726 irrradiated fuel assemblies with a maximum design capacity of 6,840. As this common pool is already densely packed, it is ever more critical that Japan expedite the transfer of the sufficiently cooled irradiated nuclear fuel into qualified, individualized dry storage casks that can passively cool the hot nuclear waste without the need for water and electrical power. Currently, only 1,412 irradiated assemblies have been secured in onsite dry cask storage. These dry casks further need to be hardened against another natural disaster and possible terrorism.

The recurring delays at securing the irradiated fuel currently in wet pool storage (individual units to the common pool) and then into scientifically-qualified and hardened dry cask storage systems raises concern for public health, safety and the environment given the prospect of another large nearby earthquake causing a loss of cooling with the risk of a nuclear waste fire and radioactive releases. A 6.9 magnitude offshore earthquake on November 21, 2016 caused a temporary loss of cooling to wet storage systems at Fukushima Daiichi. Significant earthquakes of 6.0 to 6.9 magnitude occur in Japan on average 17 times per year, roughly one-tenth of all large earthquakes in the world. More severe earthquakes must be anticipated. The loss of cooling power and water to some or all of the more than 11,577 hot nuclear waste assemblies onsite outside of containment remains a significant public health, safety and environmental concern.

Japan is still technologically conceptualizing the “most challenging part” of Fukushima Daiichi’s decommissioning and the recovery of three missing melted reactor cores if and when they can be located. The unprecedented operation has now been delayed until 2019.  A viable technology for scooping up melted nuclear fuel does not yet exist. Re-containment and removal of the melted fuel cores is key to addressing the ongoing massive buildup of radioactive water now estimated at 800,000 tons that is being stored in growing onsite tank farms.  Groundwater flowing down into the reactor wreckage must be constantly pumped out, partially filtered of radioactivity and stored onsite in the large tanks. The tank farms themselves represent an additional environmental threat in the event of another severe earthquake that could rupture the structures with a radioactive flood into the ocean. ”

by Beyond Nuclear

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Tepco to delay emptying fuel storage pools at Fukushima plant — The Asahi Shimbun

” Plans to remove fuel rods from two spent fuel pools at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant will be delayed by up to three years because of difficulties in clearing debris and reducing radiation levels.

The government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. originally expected to start emptying the storage pools at the No. 1 and No. 2 reactor buildings in fiscal 2020.

But they plan to move the starting time to fiscal 2023 in their first review in two years of the roadmap for decommissioning the stricken nuclear plant, sources said Sept. 20.

They are expected to announce the revised roadmap later this month.

A survey of the upper levels of the two reactor buildings, where the storage pools are located, found debris piled up in a much more complicated way than initially envisaged.

That will lengthen the time needed to clear the debris, thus delaying the removal of the fuel rods, the sources said.

In addition, radiation levels remain extremely high inside the buildings.

The No. 1 reactor’s storage pool holds 392 nuclear fuel assemblies, while the No. 2 reactor’s pool has 615 assemblies.

Work to remove the 566 assemblies from the No. 3 reactor’s pool is scheduled to begin in the middle of fiscal 2018 as originally planned.

The three reactors melted down in the 2011 disaster, triggered by the magnitude-9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

The review of the decommissioning roadmap is also expected to revise the target of “starting the removal” of melted nuclear fuel and debris in the three reactors in 2021 to “aiming to start the removal” in 2021.

But the government and TEPCO will maintain the goal of completing the decommissioning in “30 to 40 years,” the sources said. ”

by Chikako Kawahara, The Asahi Shimbun

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Work to finish ice wall at crippled plant to begin — NHK World

” The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant will begin the final phase of creating an underground ice wall on Tuesday.

Tokyo Electric Power Company started the work 17 months ago, with the aim of preventing groundwater from entering reactor buildings and getting contaminated with radioactive substances.

The 1.5-kilometer ice barrier is deemed a key step to curb the buildup of tainted water at the plant.

The soil is frozen by sending liquid at minus 30 degrees Celsius into pipes buried around the buildings. But the utility has left a 7-meter section unfrozen, fearing the sudden fall in groundwater levels around the buildings.

There were concerns that the difference of water levels in and outside the reactor buildings would cause tainted water inside to leak out.

But last Tuesday, the Nuclear Regulation Authority said safety measures are ready and gave its approval to freeze of the final section.

Officials of the utility say they will carefully monitor the freezing process of the remaining section.

They say it may take longer to fully freeze than other areas, because the flow of groundwater has been concentrated in that section.

The officials expect that the wall, when completed, will reduce the inflow of groundwater to the buildings from 140 tons a day to less than 100 tons. ”

by NHK World

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High-priced Fukushima ice wall nears completion, but effectiveness doubtful — The Mainichi

” A subterranean ice wall surrounding the nuclear reactors at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant to block groundwater from flowing in and out of the plant buildings has approached completion.

Initially, the ice wall was lauded as a trump card in controlling radioactively contaminated water at the plant in Fukushima Prefecture, which was crippled by meltdowns in the wake of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. But while 34.5 billion yen from government coffers has already been invested in the wall, doubts remain about its effectiveness. Meanwhile, the issue of water contamination looms over decommissioning work.

In a news conference at the end of July, Naohiro Masuda, president and chief decommissioning officer of Fukushima Daiichi Decontamination & Decommissioning Engineering Co., stated, “We feel that the ice wall is becoming quite effective.” However, he had no articulate answer when pressed for concrete details, stating, “I can’t say how effective.”

The ice wall is created by circulating a coolant with a temperature of minus 30 degrees Celsius through 1,568 pipes that extend to a depth of 30 meters below the surface around the plant’s reactors. The soil around the pipes freezes to form a wall, which is supposed to stop groundwater from flowing into the reactor buildings where it becomes contaminated. A total of 260,000 people have worked on creating the wall. The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) began freezing soil in March last year, and as of Aug. 15, at least 99 percent of the wall had been completed, leaving just a 7-meter section to be frozen.

Soon after the outbreak of the nuclear disaster, about 400 tons of contaminated water was being produced each day. That figure has now dropped to roughly 130 tons. This is largely due to the introduction of a subdrain system in which water is drawn from about 40 wells around the reactor buildings. As for the ice wall, TEPCO has not provided any concrete information on its effectiveness. An official of the Secretariat of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) commented, “The subdrain performs the primary role, and the ice wall will probably be effective enough to supplement that.” This indicates that officials have largely backtracked from their designation of the ice wall as an effective means of battling contaminated water, and suggests there is unlikely to be a dramatic decrease in the amount of decontaminated groundwater once the ice wall is fully operational.

TEPCO ordered construction of the ice wall in May 2013 as one of several plans proposed by major construction firms that was selected by the government’s Committee on Countermeasures for Contaminated Water Treatment. In autumn of that year Tokyo was bidding to host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and the government sought to come to the fore and underscore its measures to deal with contaminated water on the global stage.

Using taxpayers’ money to cover an incident at a private company raised the possibility of a public backlash. But one official connected with the Committee on Countermeasures for Contaminated Water Treatment commented, “It was accepted that public funds could be spent if those funds were for the ice wall, which was a challenging project that had not been undertaken before.” Small-scale ice walls had been created in the past, but the scale of this one — extending 1.5 kilometers and taking years to complete — was unprecedented.

At first, the government and TEPCO explained that an ice wall could be created more quickly than a wall of clay and other barriers, and that if anything went wrong, the wall could be melted, returning the soil to its original state. However, fears emerged that if the level of groundwater around the reactor buildings drops as a result of the ice wall blocking the groundwater, then tainted water inside the reactor buildings could end up at a higher level, causing it to leak outside the building. Officials decided to freeze the soil in stages to measure the effects and effectiveness of the ice wall. As a result, full-scale operation of the wall — originally slated for fiscal 2015 — has been significantly delayed.

Furthermore, during screening by the NRA, which had approved the project, experts raised doubts about how effective the ice wall would be in blocking groundwater. The ironic reason for approving its full-scale operation, in the words of NRA acting head Toyoshi Fuketa, was that, “It has not been effective in blocking water, so we can go ahead with freezing with peace of mind” — without worrying that the level of groundwater surrounding the reactor buildings will decrease, causing the contaminated water inside to flow out.

Maintaining the ice wall will cost over a billion yen a year, and the radiation exposure of workers involved in its maintenance is high. Meanwhile, there are no immediate prospects of being able to repair the basement damage in the reactor buildings at the crippled nuclear plant.

Nagoya University professor emeritus Akira Asaoka commented, “The way things stand, we’ll have to keep maintaining an ice wall that isn’t very effective. We should consider a different type of wall.”

In the meantime, TEPCO continues to be plagued over what to do with treated water at the plant. Tainted water is treated using TEPCO’s multi-nuclide removal equipment to remove 62 types of radioactive substances, but in principle, tritium cannot be removed during this process. Tritium is produced in nature through cosmic rays, and nuclear facilities around the world release it into the sea. The NRA takes the view that there is no problem with releasing treated water into the sea, but there is strong resistance to such a move, mainly from local fishing workers who are concerned about consumer fears that could damage their businesses. TEPCO has built tanks on the grounds of the Fukushima No. 1 plant to hold treated water, and the amount they hold is approaching 800,000 metric tons.

In mid-July, TEPCO Chairman Takashi Kawamura said in an interview with several news organizations that a decision to release the treated water into the sea had “already been made.” A Kyodo News report on his comment stirred a backlash from members of the fishing industry. TEPCO responded with an explanation that the chairman was not stating a course of action, but was merely agreeing with the view of the NRA that there were no problems scientifically with releasing the treated water. However, the anger from his comment has not subsided.

Critical opinions emerged in a subsequent meeting that the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry held in the Fukushima Prefecture city of Iwaki at the end of July regarding the decontamination of reactors and the handling of contaminated water. It was pointed out that prefectural residents had united to combat consumer fears and that they wanted officials to act with care. One participant asked whether the TEPCO chairman really knew about Fukushima.

The ministry has been considering ways to handle the treated water, setting up a committee in November last year that includes experts on risk evaluation and sociology. As of Aug. 15, five meetings had been held, but officials have yet to converge on a single opinion. “It’s not that easy for us to say, ‘Please let us release it.’ It will probably take some time to reach a conclusion,” a government official commented. “

by The Mainichi

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The comic strip journalist who reports on the fallout from Fukushima — The Spinoff

” On the eve of his appearance at a Victoria University event in Wellington, comic book author Fumio Obata talks to Guy Somerset about his ongoing project chronicling the aftermath of the Fukushima tsunami and nuclear disaster.

At art school, Fumio Obata was taught the importance of “the theme, having something of your own, something only you can do”. The theme that has preoccupied Obata for the past five years is one he has truly made his own. He has been chronicling, through striking comic book reportage, the devastating consequences of the magnitude 9.1 earthquake that struck off the northeast Pacific coast of Japan in March 2011, causing a tsunami and meltdowns and radioactive contamination at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Published in Italian magazine Internazionale and on his website, Obata’s comic strips capture the long-term effects of Fukushima and explore some of the knotty social, political and environmental issues raised by the disaster and its aftermath. The strips are destined to become his second book, his first being 2014’s internationally successful graphic novel Just So Happens, for which The Observer reviewer Rachel Cooke praised his “crazily accomplished” storytelling and described him as “a talent to watch”.

Reviews like that – and there were plenty more where it came from – can bring a writer a lot of opportunities and Obata was no exception, but he laughs: “I haven’t used them very well. Terrible, isn’t it? The good guys who had their debuts the same time as me, they are already on to their third or fourth book. Whereas me, I’m just caught up in this massive theme. Strategy-wise, I’m not very good!”

Obata is at Victoria University of Wellington this week as a visiting scholar in its School of Design. While he’s there, he’s taking part in a four-day international symposium on cultural sustainability, including a free public event with fellow writers Australian Ellen van Neerven and New Zealander Pip Adam.

His trip from the UK, where he has lived since 1991, when his Anglophile parents sent him to boarding school there from Japan, was broken with a stop-off in Tokyo and more reporting from the region around Fukushima, where 19,416 people died as a result of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. There are still 2553 people listed as missing and 123,000 evacuees scattered around the country.

A YouTube video on Obata’s website gives a sense of what such reporting can entail. In it, dressed in a white protective suit, he walks through an eerily desolate ghost town that is about two kilometres from Fukushima and part of the designated exclusion zone.

“If you become friends with a resident, they have a pass and you can go there with them,” he says. He and his friend wore protective suits, but clear-up and other workers don’t. “They don’t become ill. They say it is fine. Even in the exclusion zone, it’s not all equally radioactive. Because particles are not going to be evenly dispersed. When you walk around with the Geiger counter, you notice that sometimes the figure is very low, then you go several feet away from that spot and the figure jumps up. Even outside the exclusion zone, if you go to the bits closest to the zone you find the figures are very high.”

Obata’s reporting, which he describes as “a kind of journalism, but I’m more doing my philosophical take on it”, begins with him taking photographs and recording interviews.

“Because I’m trying to structure a narrative, usually it’s the words I start with. I listen to the interviews I did and write down as much as I can. Then I take out the key words, the phrases I think are important, simplifying it. It’s very important simplifying the information. Because what I’m making is a comic strip. It’s not an article, which allows you to have I don’t know how many words: 2000, 3000. I need the space for pictures so I can’t have 3000 words.

“After that, I look at the photographs. Again, I may have about 200 photographs. I have to go through them and use about 10 out of 200. Those photographs are going to be my visual sources. Then I start sketching. All those sketches and rough pictures, they are like pieces of the puzzle. I’ve got a dozen pieces of puzzle with words and phrases and I’ve got the other side of the puzzle with the photographs, and I basically put them together.”

One of the most affecting stories Obata tells is that of Norio Kimura, whose father, wife and seven-year-old youngest daughter Yūna were lost in the tsunami. While the bodies of his father and wife were found in April 2011, Yūna’s remained missing. After the official search for her ended, Kimura continued looking, taking 1000km round trips to do so. After five years and nine months, a piece of bone was discovered that DNA testing proved was one of Yūna’s.

“Yūna was torn apart into small pieces, taken away with contaminated debris, now stored around anonymously,” reads one of the story’s panels. “Had they done the search longer and more carefully from the start, she could have been found a lot earlier, with her body almost intact too.”

The story ends with a panel reading: “A child has been left out alone in the shadow of the reconstruction. And her presence now poses a lot of questions to us.”

This is emotionally momentous material, very different to some of Obata’s other work, be it his 2004 anime of Duran Duran’s song Careless Memories for their then stage show or the short comic about the art of pencil sharpening you’ll find on his website.

Getting it right must weigh upon him, one imagines: these are hugely significant events and he’s almost certainly the only person who’s going to approach them in this form.

“Yeah, big pressure,” he says. “It’s very difficult to do. I appreciate people allow me to talk to them. Some say no, of course. I’ve heard tragic stories but they’ve asked me not to write about it. It’s interesting because they wanted to share that with somebody, somebody who’s not shared the same experience they have.

“The father I met is very vocal because he’s angry. He’s just full of anger. He’s trying to change something about the law, for the love of his daughter. It’s very moving. That’s why he basically opened up to me. His story is still developing and he’s still searching for the remains of his daughter.”

Another panel in the same story is of a city skyline at night and reads: “The nuclear plant was built to provide electricity to the capital region. By knowing Fukushima today, Tokyo could look arrogant, with all the excess of lights and luxury.”

It’s a point elegantly distilled – even poetically so.

But Obata is not one to cast simplistic blame. “It is something I have to tell people, especially my students [at the University of Gloucester and other universities around the UK where he teaches as a guest lecturer] when they try to do something about the world. They are angry young men, angry young people, but there are layers to things. There’s no right or wrong; the people are goodies and the people are baddies as well.

“When a tragedy happens, we tend to think there’s a victim and there’s an offender. There’s going to be people who get accused and there are victims who get all the sympathy from the public. But sometimes it’s not like that. Sometimes you can’t make things black and white.

“What’s happening with nuclear is one of these things. If you start reading just a short history of the nuclear industry, or nuclear technology, you see a lot of people believe in the technology and I can’t blame them, because I can’t prove them wrong. They get accused and the people who accuse them have right things to say and I can’t blame them either.

“So basically there are no answers to it and it’s very uncomfortable for the human mind not to have answers. You need a bit of patience and courage to accept that. This is one of the things I am going to say at the end, I think: it’s difficult to accept an open ending but you’ve got to have the courage.”

As for Tokyo: “The consumption of energy really helped to establish today’s Japan’s reputation. And I’m part of it. I can’t really criticise it. I just have to take in the contradiction and try to respond.”

Responding to this and the other contradictions he’s encountered in the past five years still has a way to run for Obata. Asked if he’s going to make the 2018 publication date his website gives for his book, he laughs: “Nah, of course not. I just have to put a lot of energy into it and hope the pictures can deliver the intensity of what I’ve seen.” “

by Guy Somerset, The Spinoff

source with comic strip photos