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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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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New proposal suggests removing Fukushima plant’s melted nuclear fuel from side — The Mainichi

” A method to remove melted nuclear fuel debris on the bottom of the containment vessels of Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant’s first, second and third reactors from the side was proposed by the Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corporation (NDF) on July 31.

Hajimu Yamana, head of the NDF, which is tasked with considering how to remove fuel debris from the reactors, for the first time explained the organization’s specific method proposal to the heads of local governments at a countermeasures for the decommissioning and handling of the contaminated water council meeting held in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture.

The method would focus on prioritizing the removal of debris from the bottom of the vessels from the side, using robotic arms and other remote devices while flushing water over the debris. However, ways to block radiation and countermeasures against the scattering of airborne radioactive dust still remain unsolved. The central government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) plan to finalize their policy to remove the debris and amend the decommission schedule in September.

In all three of the reactors, contaminated water has collected at the bottom of the containment vessels. The NDF had previously considered a “flooding method” that would fill the containment vessels completely with water to block radiation from leaking. However, measures to repair the containment vessels and prevent leakage of the radioactive water would be difficult, so the plan was put aside for having “too many issues.” “

by The Mainichi

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Nuclear authority chief raps Tepco’s attitude toward Fukushima — The Mainichi

” TOKYO (Kyodo) — The head of Japan’s nuclear safety watchdog on Monday criticized the attitude of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. toward decommissioning of the crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and questioned the company’s ability to resume operation of other reactors.

 “I feel a sense of danger,” Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said during a special meeting with the company’s top management, adding that Tokyo Electric does “not seem to have a will to take initiative” toward decommissioning of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Takashi Kawamura, the chairman of the power company known as Tepco, and its president, Tomoaki Kobayakawa, attended the meeting. The authority felt it is necessary to hear from the top executives before it could make a decision on whether to approve Tepco’s plan to resume operation of the Nos. 6 and 7 reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture.

Tepco filed for state safety assessment of the two reactors in September 2013 to reactivate them, hoping to restore its financial condition as it needed massive funds to pay compensation related to the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, triggered by a huge earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, and to scrap the plant that suffered meltdowns.

The watchdog’s safety screening has found Tepco’s failure to report insufficient earthquake resistance of a facility built to serve as the base to deal with a possible nuclear accident at the Niigata complex although it had acknowledged the insufficiency for three years.

In June, Tepco submitted to the watchdog its revised safety measures for the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa complex.

“An operator lacking will to take initiative does not have the right to resume operation of nuclear reactors,” Tanaka said.

Tepco’s chairman responded by saying, “There are citizens who believe nuclear power is necessary. Operating reactors is our responsibility.”

But he also admitted there is room for only two more years’ worth of space in the tanks to accommodate contaminated water stemming from the Fukushima complex.

At Monday’s meeting, the watchdog asked Tepco’s top management about the company’s safety measures for the Niigata complex on the Sea of Japan coast as well as its safety awareness.

Tanaka said the authority does not view that it received sufficient responses from Tepco at the meeting and requested that the company submit more explanation on its plan to decommission the Fukushima complex and resume operation of the two reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.

Tanaka plans to conduct on-site checkups at the two reactors of the plant in Niigata, saying, “Tepco, which caused the (Fukushima) accident, is not an ordinary operator.”

The two boiling water reactors at the Niigata plant are the same type as those that suffered core meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi complex, and no such reactors have cleared the authority’s safety screening since the Fukushima disaster. “

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Nuclear taxes get new lease on life after Fukushima — Nikkei Asian Review

” OSAKA — Japanese prefectures with nuclear power plants are moving to ensure that utilities continue to shoulder a tax burden on reactors even as they are being decommissioned, dramatically raising the cost of cleanup efforts that can last 30 to 40 years.

Five nuclear reactors have been approved for decommissioning since the 2011 meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings’ Fukushima Daiichi plant. In each case, the host prefectural government has received approval from the ministry of internal affairs to apply a nuclear tax during decommissioning.

Ehime Prefecture in western Japan, home to Shikoku Electric Power’s Ikata nuclear power plant, has decided to change its ordinances by the fall to enable it to collect taxes on the plant’s No. 1 reactor. Shikoku Electric decided last May to decommission the reactor and has applied to the Nuclear Regulation Authority for approval.

The continued stream of tax revenue will help the Ehime government maintain evacuation routes and other facilities and safety measures until the reactor is fully dismantled and nuclear contamination risks eliminated.

Revenue generator

Of the 13 prefectures that host reactors, only Fukushima does not levy a nuclear fuel tax. Prior to the disaster, most prefectures did not collect these taxes during periods when reactors were shut down for periodic inspections or other reasons. The handful of reactors marked for decommissioning before the disaster have not had their taxes extended.

However, prolonged nuclear power plant shutdowns since Fukushima have prompted local governments to tax reactors based on output capacity even when they are idle to try to wring revenue out of idle units. The moves to extend taxes into decommissioning mark a further step.

Ehime Prefecture’s nuclear fuel tax generated 1.46 billion yen ($13.1 million) in revenues to the government in fiscal 2016, 264 million yen of which came from the inactive No. 1 unit at the Ikata power plant. The government seeks to collect at least half of the full amount during decommissioning.

Fukui Prefecture, home to three reactors approved for decommissioning, expects to collect an annual 370 million yen in revenues from its revised nuclear tax, which comes to half of the standard level.

With the country’s nuclear regulator imposing an in-principle 40-year operating limit on reactors, decommissionings are expected to continue at a pace of one to two units a year. The costs of taking a reactor out of service and rendering the site safe are generally estimated at tens of billions of yen. The tax burden could add up to billions of yen per reactor over the course of decommissioning.

“While the taxes may have benefits for communities, if electric rates go up as utilities’ costs rise, residents will also feel the burden,” said Tatsujiro Suzuki, an authority on nuclear energy policy at Nagasaki University. ”

by Nikkei Asian Review

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