Fukushima cleanup chief urges better use of probe robot — The Seattle Times

” TOKYO (AP) — The head of decommissioning for the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant said Thursday that more creativity is needed in developing robots to locate and assess the condition of melted fuel rods.

A robot sent inside the Unit 2 containment vessel last month could not reach as close to the core area as was hoped for because it was blocked by deposits, believed to be a mixture of melted fuel and broken pieces of structures inside. Naohiro Masuda, president of Fukushima Dai-ichi Decommissioning, said he wants another probe sent in before deciding on methods to remove the reactor’s debris.

Unit 2 is one of the Fukushima reactors that melted down following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., needs to know the melted fuel’s exact location as well as structural damage in each of the three wrecked reactors to figure out the best and safest ways to remove the fuel. Probes must rely on remote-controlled robots because radiation levels are too high for humans to survive.

Despite the incomplete probe missions, officials have said they want to stick to their schedule to determine the removal methods this summer and start work in 2021.

Earlier probes have suggested worse-than-anticipated challenges for the plant’s cleanup, which is expected to take decades. During the Unit 2 probe in early February, the “scorpion” robot crawler stalled after its total radiation exposure reached its limit in two hours, one-fifth of what was anticipated.

“We should think out of the box so we can examine the bottom of the core and how melted fuel debris spread out,” Masuda told reporters.

Probes are also being planned for the other two reactors. A tiny waterproof robot will be sent into Unit 1 in coming weeks, while experts are still trying to figure out a way to access the badly damaged Unit 3.

TEPCO is struggling with the plant’s decommissioning. The 2011 meltdown forced tens of thousands of nearby residents to evacuate their homes, and many have still not been able to return home due to high radiation levels.

Cleanup of communities outside of the plant is also a challenge. The cost has reportedly almost doubled to 4 trillion yen ($35 billion) from an earlier estimate. On Thursday, police arrested an Environment Ministry employee for allegedly taking bribes from a local construction firm president, media reports said. ”

by Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press

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Fukushima’s ¥8 trillion cleanup leaves foreign firms in the cold — The Japan Times

” Cleaning up the Fukushima nuclear plant — a task predicted to cost 86 times the amount earmarked for decommissioning Japan’s first commercial reactor — is the mother of all salvage jobs. Still, foreign firms with decades of experience are seeing little of the spoils.

Safely dismantling the Japanese power plant, wrecked by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, will cost about ¥8 trillion ($70 billion), the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said on Dec. 9, quadrupling the previous estimate. While a contract to help clean up the facility would be a windfall for any firm with specialized technology, the lion’s share of the work has gone to local companies that designed and built most of Japan’s atomic infrastructure.

The bidding process for Fukushima contracts should be more open to foreigners, as Japan has never finished decommissioning a commercial nuclear plant, let alone one that experienced a triple meltdown, according to Lake Barrett, an independent adviser at Japan’s International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning. While the Fukushima cleanup is unlike any nuclear disaster in history, foreign firms that have experience decommissioning regular facilities could provide much-needed support, according to Barrett, and even the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc.

‘Cultural Resistance’

“Internationally, there is a lot more decontamination and decommissioning knowledge than you have in Japan,” Barrett, a former official at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said in an interview in Tokyo. “I hope the Japanese contracting system improves to get this job done safely. There is this cultural resistance — it is almost like there is an isolated nuclear village still.”

An opaque bidding process plays to the heart of criticisms put forward by independent investigators, who said in a 2012 report that collusion between the government, regulators and the plant’s operator contributed to the scale of the disaster.

Of 44 subsidized projects publicly awarded by the trade and economy ministry since 2014, about 80 percent went to the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning. The group, known as IRID, was established in the wake of the Fukushima disaster and is comprised entirely of Japanese corporations, according to the ministry’s website.

Japan’s trade and industry ministry awarded funds directly to only two foreign firms during the same period. Many of the contracts had only one or two bidders.

Of about 70 contracts awarded since the March 2011 disaster, nine have gone to foreign companies, according to an official in the ministry’s Agency of Natural Resources and Energy who asked not be named, citing internal policy.

To provide opportunities for foreign companies, the ministry has created an English website for bids and also provides English information sessions to explain the contracts, the official said.

Toshiba, Hitachi

IRID’s contracts are given to its members, including Toshiba Corp., Hitachi Ltd. and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., which have partnerships and joint ventures with foreign firms, spokesman Yoshio Haruyama said by phone. While it doesn’t directly contract work to companies overseas, IRID taps foreign experts as advisers and participates in international collaborative projects, he said.

Mitsubishi Heavy has about five or six contracts through IRID, but can’t share how many partnerships it has with foreign firms, spokesman Shimon Ikeya said by phone. Hitachi has sub-contracts with foreign suppliers related to the Fukushima cleanup, but can’t provide details about these agreements because they aren’t public, a spokesperson said by email.

As of March, IRID had about ¥30 billion worth of ongoing contracts primarily related to research and development of fuel removal and waste treatment. IRID, which aims to “gather knowledge and ideas from around the world” for the purpose of nuclear decommissioning, doesn’t disclose how much of their money ultimately goes to foreign businesses, according to its spokesman. Barrett, its adviser, said he thinks it’s “very low,” but should ideally be 5 percent to 10 percent.

‘Nuclear Village’

Japan’s biggest nuclear disaster isn’t void of foreign technology. Toshiba, which owns Pennsylvania-based Westinghouse Electric Co., and Hitachi, which has a joint venture with General Electric Co., are tapping American expertise. A giant crane and pulley system supplied by Toshiba to remove spent fuel from the wrecked reactors employs technology developed by Westinghouse.

“We bring in knowledge from foreign companies, organizations and specialists in order to safely decommission the reactors,” Tatsuhiro Yamagishi, spokesman for Tepco, said by email. While the company can’t say the exact number of foreign firms involved in the Fukushima cleanup, companies including Paris-based Areva SA, California-based Kurion Inc. and Massachusetts-based Endeavor Robotics are engaged in work at the site, according to Yamagishi.

For foreign firms, however, independently securing contracts is still a tall order.

“When it comes to Japan’s nuclear industry, the bidding system is completely unclear,” Hiroaki Koide, a former assistant professor at Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute, said in an email. “The system is designed to strengthen the profits of Japan’s nuclear village,” he added, referring to the alliance of pro-nuclear politicians, bureaucrats and power companies that promote reactors.

Tepco’s annual cost to decommission its Fukushima plant may blow out to several hundred billion yen a year, up from the current estimate of ¥80 billion, the trade and industry ministry said in October. As of June, almost ¥1 trillion has been allocated for decommissioning and treating water at Fukushima, according to Tepco’s Yamagishi.

‘Ripe for Corruption’

With that much money at stake, Japan has become ground zero for a plethora of companies looking to benefit from the cleanup work. The structure of Japan’s nuclear industry and the closed procurement preferred by the utilities that operate atomic plants means that the most lucrative opportunities for foreign companies are in the area of subcontracting, according to a report by the EU-Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation released in March.

“Foreign firms have long argued that the Japanese bidding process is one that is ripe for corruption due to a lack of openness and transparency,” Daniel Aldrich, professor and director of the security and resilience studies program at Northeastern University in Boston, said in an email. For nuclear decommissioning “there is even less clarity and transparency due to security and proliferation concerns,” he said.

Rigging Bids

The Japan Fair Trade Commission raided the offices of five companies last year in relation to rigged bids for maintenance contracts from Tepco, according to Jiji Press. Eleven road-paving companies were fined in September on projects to repair roads following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Jiji reported.

Andrew DeWit, a political economy professor at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, agrees that the contract-awarding process isn’t transparent. A lot of foreign companies seek Japanese partners to better their chances, he said.

Purolite Corp., a closely held water purifying company, spent millions of dollars developing and testing a system that could be used to treat radioactive water at Fukushima. Pennsylvania-based Purolite partnered with Hitachi to help win a contract to use its technology at the wrecked facility.

Those plans didn’t pan out. Purolite is suing Hitachi in New York and Tokyo, alleging that Hitachi is using its technology at Fukushima in breach of agreements made in 2011, shutting it out of more than $1 billion in contracts, according to court documents filed in September.

Hitachi doesn’t comment on ongoing legal matters, a spokesperson said by email.

“With a smaller pool of competitors, firms can expand their profit margins,” said Northeastern University’s Aldrich. “There are French and Russian firms that have the technical expertise to participate in nuclear decommissioning processes, but it is unclear if they will be able to compete on a level playing field with Japanese firms, which have far more experience with Japanese regulations and expectations.” ”

by Stephen Stapczynski, Bloomberg

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Fukushima nuclear clean-up may rise to several billion dollars a year: government — Reuters

” The cost of cleaning up Tokyo Electric Power’s wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant may rise to several billion dollars a year, the Japanese government said on Tuesday, adding that it would look into a possible separation of the nuclear business from the utility.

A possible move to spin off Tepco’s nuclear business into a subsidiary could make it easier to sell or merge it with other companies in the future.

Government officials said the possible move, discussed at a panel meeting on Tuesday, is in line with Tepco’s plan to look into all possibilities for its businesses.

The decommissioning costs for Fukushima plant may rise significantly from less $800 million per year now, as works to remove nuclear fuel debris push up costs, the industry ministry said in documents prepared for the panel tasked with devising a viable financial plan for Tepco.

Surging costs are being addressed by the panel but it is also looking into options including a break up of Tepco, which is under state control after an earthquake and tsunami sparked meltdowns at the Fukushima reactors in March 2011.

“A combination among nuclear operators is one possibility,” Yojiro Hatakeyama, a director at the industry ministry overseeing the electricity and gas industries, told reporters.

Experts say any move to merge atomic operations is likely to meet strong resistance from Japan’s other nuclear operators.

Tepco has been struggling with rising costs at its Fukushima plant nearly six years after the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, Hiroshige Seko, told reporters after the panel’s second meeting the government will provide a firmer estimate for decommissioning costs for the nuclear plant by the end of the year.

Japan has 10 nuclear operators and all have been hit by the political fallout from the disaster, which has undermined public faith in atomic energy. All but two of Japan’s 42 reactors are in shut-down mode.

Tepco shares ended up 0.7 percent, in line with the general market.

The briefing material for the panel said the clean-up may require several hundred billion yen per year, or several billion U.S. dollars, compared with 80 billion yen ($766 million) now.

Hatakeyama did not elaborate on the government’s estimate for total decommissioning costs.

The estimates are likely to surge when it is decided how to extract melted uranium fuel debris at the plant in 2018 or 2019, a person with direct knowledge of discussions on restructuring Tepco said earlier this month.

The meltdown of the three reactors released radiation over a wide area, contaminating water, food and air, and forcing more than 160,000 people to be evacuated.

Dismantling the reactors is expected to take about 40 years, but Tepco is still struggling to contain radioactive water from the plant and has said it cannot predict the eventual total costs of the clean-up and decommissioning.

Tepco wants the government to consider introducing rules to avoid having to book a single huge exceptional loss as soon as cost estimates for decommissioning become clearer, a person familiar with the situation said earlier. ”

by Kentaro Hamada and Osamu Tsukimori

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Residents who fled Fukushima meltdown fear return to ghost town — Bloomberg

” Weed-engulfed buildings and shuttered businesses paint an eerie picture of a coastal Japanese town abandoned after a monstrous earthquake and tsunami triggered meltdowns in the Fukushima nuclear plant.

Namie, one of the communities hardest hit by the 2011 disaster, had 21,000 residents before they fled radiation spewing from the reactors eight kilometers (five miles) away. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is now looking to repopulate the town as early as next year, a symbolic step toward recovery that might also help soften opposition to his government’s plan to restart Japan’s mostly mothballed nuclear industry.

“The national and local governments are trying to send us back,” said Yasuo Fujita, 64, a sushi chef who lives alongside hundreds of other Fukushima evacuees in a modern high rise in Tokyo more than 200 kilometers away. “We do want to return — we were born and raised there. But can we make a living? Can we live next to the radioactive waste?”

So far few evacuees are making plans to go back even as clean-up costs top $30 billion and Abe’s government restores infrastructure. That reluctance mirrors a national skepticism toward nuclear power that threatens to erode the prime minister’s positive approval ratings, particularly in areas with atomic reactors.

Mothballed Reactors

Officials in his government are calling for nuclear power to account for as much as 22 percent of Japan’s electricity supply by 2030, nearly the same percentage as before the Fukushima meltdown, in part to help meet climate goals. Only two of the nation’s 42 operable nuclear plants are currently running, leaving the country even more heavily reliant on imports of oil and gas.

A poll published by the Asahi newspaper this week found 57 percent of respondents were opposed to restarting nuclear reactors, compared with 29 percent in favor. One of Abe’s ministers lost his seat in Fukushima in an upper house election in July, and the government suffered another setback when an anti-nuclear candidate won Sunday’s election for governor of Niigata prefecture, home to the world’s largest nuclear plant.

Some 726 square kilometers — roughly the size of New York City — of Fukushima prefecture remain under evacuation orders, divided by level of radioactivity. While the government is looking to reopen part of Namie next year, most of the town is designated as “difficult to return to” and won’t be ready for people to move back until at least 2022.

“We must make the area attractive, so that people want to return there,” Reconstruction Minister Masahiro Imamura said this week. “I want to do everything I can to make it easy to go back.”

Workers are cleaning by scraping up soil, moss and leaves from contaminated surfaces and sealing them in containers. Still, the operation has skipped most of the prefecture’s hilly areas, leading to fears that rain will simply wash more contamination down into residential zones. Decommissioning of the stricken plant itself is set to take as many as 40 years.

The bill for cleaning up the environment is ballooning, with the government estimating the cost through March 2018 at $3.3 trillion yen ($32 billion). That’s weighing on Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc., which is already struggling to avoid default over decommissioning costs.

“They are spending money in the name of returning things to how they were” without having had a proper debate on whether this is actually possible, said Yutaka Okada, senior researcher at Mizuho Research Institute in Tokyo. “Was it really right to spend this enormous amount of money?”

Namie officials, operating from temporary premises 100 kilometers away in the city of Nihonmatsu, are plowing ahead with preparations. A middle school in the town is scheduled for remodeling to add facilities for elementary pupils — even though they expect only about 20 children to attend. Similar efforts in nearby communities have had limited success.

Only 18 percent of former Namie residents surveyed by the government last year said they wanted to return, compared with 48 percent who did not. The remainder were undecided.

Staying Put

Fujita, the sushi chef, has joined the ranks of those starting afresh elsewhere. He opened a seafood restaurant near his temporary home last year, and is buying an apartment in the area. In a sign the move will be permanent, he even plans to squeeze the Buddhist altar commemorating his Fukushima ancestors into his Tokyo home.

For those that do return, finding work will be a headache in a town that was heavily dependent on the plant for jobs and money.

Haruka Hoshi, 27, was working inside the nuclear facility when the earthquake struck, and she fled with just her handbag. Months later she married another former employee at the plant, and they built a house down the coast in the city of Iwaki, where they live with their three-year-old son. They have no plans to return.

“It would be difficult to recreate the life we had before,” she said. “The government wants to show it’s achieved something, to say: ‘Fukushima’s all right, there was a terrible incident, but people are able to return after five years.’ That goal doesn’t correspond with the reality.” ”

by Isabel Reynolds and Emi Nobuhiro

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*Lowball nuclear pitch is fooling no one — The Japan Times

” Earlier this month, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) announced the results of a review of energy production costs, which concluded that nuclear will remain the cheapest alternative for Japan over the next 15 years while pointing out that the calculations took into consideration the government’s new safety measures. By 2030, the cost of producing a kilowatt hour of electricity in a nuclear plant is expected to increase from ¥8.9 to ¥10.1. This estimate also incorporates the presumed savings resulting from those new safety measures, which, METI assumes, will reduce the “frequency” of reactor accidents.

In comparison, energy derived from coal will cost ¥12.9 per kilowatt hour and from LNG ¥13.4, though these figures are based on price increases predicted in 2011. More significantly, the cost of solar will rise from ¥12.4 to ¥16, and wind from ¥13.9 to ¥33.1. Geothermal comes in at ¥19.2. METI said these high costs will “affect development” of renewables, implying that there isn’t much of a future for them.

A few days later, Shukan Asahi ran an article assessing these calculations, pointing out that the figure of ¥10.1 per kW/hour for nuclear is, in the ministry’s statement, followed by the word ijō, meaning “at least,” while figures for other energy sources are not. The Asahi suggests that METI is trying to assure deniability because it’s almost certain that nuclear-related costs will increase in the future. According to Kenichi Oshima, professor of environmental economics at Ritsumeikan University, the ¥9.1 trillion needed to clean up the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and pay compensation to locals affected by the accident was not factored into the estimate; nor was the cost of decommissioning not only Fukushima No. 1 but other reactors scheduled to go out of service in the next 15 years, and Tokyo Electric Power Co. hasn’t even set a budget for decommissioning Fukushima, a separate procedure from the cleanup. To put matters into perspective, the estimated amount of radioactive material at Fukushima that needs to be processed is equivalent to the amount of radioactive material that would need to be processed from the normal decommissioning of 54 nuclear reactors.

Decommissioning involves removing the spent fuel from the reactor and then disassembling the containment vessel and tearing down the facility. Tepco maintains it has expertise in this area, based on its decommissioning of a test reactor in Tokaimura, Ibaraki Prefecture. The group that carried out that work says 99 percent of the radiation in the plant was in the fuel rods, so that was the only waste that required special handling.

But Japan still lacks facilities for storing high-level radioactive waste. At present, spent fuel rods are kept on-site at the nuclear plants from which they’re removed, whether these plants are in operation or not, and high-level waste stays radioactive for hundreds of years. Even low-level irradiated waste, such as the discarded containment vessel, has to be isolated for 30 to 50 years. Tokaimura’s decommissioning was supposed to be completed by 2017, but there is still no solution to the waste problem, so the timetable has been extended to 2025.

But this “easy” scenario for decommissioning doesn’t apply to Fukushima, because Tepco doesn’t know exactly how much high-level radioactive material has to be removed — or even where it is. NHK World elicited a frank evaluation of the situation from Naohiro Masuda, the man in charge of decommissioning Fukushima No. 1, on “Newsline,” its English-language news program. Masuda doesn’t believe decommissioning can start before 2020, and betrays doubt as to whether a proper cleanup of the plant “is even possible.”

The public broadcaster went further last week with a documentary in its series “Decommissioning Fukushima,” a process that, under the most favorable circumstances, won’t be completed until 2051.

There are few examples to follow for the people trying to clean up the crippled reactors. It took workers at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island nuclear plant three years to find the radioactive debris after the 1979 meltdown, and another 11 years to remove it, and that was only one reactor. Fukushima has three damaged reactors, within which the radiation is lethal, so Tepco and its affiliates designed a ¥1.5 billion robot to enter the reactor and look around. It got stuck mid-inspection.

NHK shows how Tepco has sought advice from experts in France and South Korea to facilitate the cleanup, and while these consultations yield useful ideas, as the program points out, all accidents are unique, which means cleaning up after them is invariably complicated.

Meanwhile, expenses are accumulating at a rate that makes them difficult to project, but according to a different Shukan Asahi article, Japan’s nuclear industry has set the cost of decommissioning at between ¥55 billion and ¥70 billion per reactor. Germany and the U.K., which have each decommissioned a number of reactors, spent the equivalent of between ¥250 billion and ¥300 billion.

The online magazine Business Journal recently explained the matter in bookkeeping terms. Kansai Electric and other power companies plan to decommission at least five superannuated reactors rather than apply for extensions because their respective output isn’t enough to pay for the government’s new safety measures, which cost about ¥10 billion per reactor. The problem is that once a reactor is shut down permanently, in addition to the cost of decommissioning, the company’s revenue for that plant drops to zero, thus hurting its bottom line even more and making it difficult to borrow money or issue bonds. Consequently, METI is thinking of changing the accounting system so that companies can spread this loss over 10 years, during which they can add a surcharge to every customer’s bill for decommissioning.

Obviously, when METI says nuclear is the cheapest form of energy, they’re not thinking about the user. ”

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*New data of radiation contamination in Japan, World Uranium Symposium 2015 Fukushima Workshop — Arnie Gundersen via Fairewinds Energy Education

Fairewinds Energy Education: ” In April of 2015, Fairewinds’ Chief Engineer, Arnie Gundersen and the Fairewinds crew headed to Quebec City for the World Uranium Symposium. Attended by more than 300 delegates from 20 countries that produce uranium for nuclear power and weapons, the symposium brought together experts who are calling on governments throughout the world to end all uranium mining. In this speech about the Fukushima Daiichi Disaster, Fairewinds Arnie Gundersen introduces new scientific evidence to prove high radiation exposures in Japan. Enjoy the World Uranium Symposium 2015 Fukushima Workshop here! ”

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