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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Finding and removing melted fuel rods at Fukushima No. 1 — Nikkei Asian Review, The Japan Times

Nikkei Asian Review, “Survey fails to find melted rods at Fukushima reactors”:

” TOKYO — A remote survey of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant’s No. 1 reactor was unable to locate and photograph melted nuclear fuel, Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings said Thursday, complicating efforts to remove that material as part of an extensive cleanup.

Tepco on Saturday sent a robot equipped with a camera into the containment vessel for the No. 1 unit. The majority of fuel rods have melted through the unit’s pressure vessel since the plant was struck by the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami. The prevailing view has been that those melted fuel rods are now sitting under 2.5m of water at the bottom of the containment vessel.

The plan was to explore the bottom section by dipping a camera into the pool of water for the first time. But unexpected barriers such as pipes kept the camera around 1 meter from the bottom in most of the 10 positions surveyed instead of the intended depth of about 40cm from the bottom. While the camera was able to capture sand-like sediment, there was no trace of the melted fuel rods. Adding a fifth day to the investigation turned up no further evidence.

Yuichi Okamura, acting general manager of Tepco’s onsite nuclear power division, offered few comments at the utility’s Thursday news conference, saying only that “photographs and radiation data will need to be evaluated in conjunction with one another.”

The timeline set by Tepco and the government for decommissioning the Fukushima plant aims to begin extraction of melted-down material from the No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 reactor in 2021 or earlier. An extraction plan is to be decided this summer. But the fact that the status of the melted rods still remains unknown underscores the seriousness of the accident.

The results of the robot survey were “limited,” according to Masanori Naitoh, director of nuclear safety analysis at the Institute of Applied Energy’s Nuclear Power Engineering Center. “It would be difficult to set a plan for extraction based on the information from this survey alone.”

An investigation of the No. 2 reactor also fell short, with the survey robot unable to reach the targeted spot right under the unit’s pressure vessel. ”

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The Japan Times, “Tepco’s biggest hurdle: How to remove melted fuel from crippled Fukushima reactors”:

” Six years after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, recent investigations underneath the damaged reactor 2 using cameras and robots came close to identifying melted fuel rods for the first time.

Experts say getting a peek inside the containment vessel of reactor 2 was an accomplishment. But it also highlighted how tough it will be to further pinpoint the exact location of the melted fuel, let alone remove it some time in the future.

The biggest hurdle is the extremely lethal levels of radiation inside the containment vessel that not only prevent humans from getting near but have also crippled robots and other mechanical devices.

Safely removing the melted fuel would be a best-case scenario but the risks and costs should be weighed against the option of leaving the melted fuel in the crippled reactors, some experts said.

“The work to probe inside the containment vessels and remove the fuel debris will be extremely tough because of the high radiation levels,” said Hiroshi Miyano, who heads a panel of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, which is discussing ways to decommission the Fukushima plant and making recommendations to the government.

The government and Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. are trying to find a way to remedy the situation but existing methods and technologies may not be sufficient, Miyano said.

In search of melted fuel

The world’s attention turned to the melted fuel rods in late January when Tepco inserted a 10-meter-plus tube equipped with a camera into the containment vessel of reactor 2 to capture images under the pressure vessel that housed the fuel rods.

The images showed black lumps scattered beneath the pressure vessel.

When the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake and monstrous tsunami hit, the plant suffered a blackout and lost its key cooling system, triggering meltdowns in reactors 1, 2 and 3. The melted nuclear fuel rods penetrated the pressure vessels and fell into the containment vessels.

Tepco had put cameras inside the containment vessels several times in the past six years but January’s probe was the first to apparently find melted fuel debris.

“We understand that this is a big milestone. We could finally get to see what it was like underneath the pressure vessel,” said Yuichi Okamura, general manager of Tepco’s nuclear power and plant siting division.

“This is critical information in order to remove the fuel debris.”

Radiation barrier

But Tepco hasn’t confirmed that the black lumps are melted fuel, saying they could be paint or cable wrappings, and further investigation is needed.

Capturing the images may be progress but the robot and camera forays have not provided enough information about how to deal with the melted fuel.

Last month, Tepco sent a remote-controlled, scorpion-shaped robot in to further probe inside the reactor 2 containment vessel. But the robot failed before it reached under the pressure vessel after a tire became stuck.

The robot’s dosimeter measured radiation levels of 210 sieverts per hour — enough to kill humans instantly.

While 210 sieverts per hour indicate the melted fuel was nearby, the radiation crippled the robot’s electronics, including its semiconductors and cameras, indicating that the further use of robots to pinpoint the melted fuel will be difficult, robotics experts said.

There are computer chips “designed to withstand a certain level of radiation, but the level inside the containment vessel is totally different,” said Satoshi Tadokoro, a professor at Tohoku University who is an expert on disasters and rescue robots.

The radiation can damage a robot’s chips that serve as their brains, causing the devices to lose control, said Tadokoro, whose robots have also been used at the Fukushima plant.

“On top of the high level of radiation, the entrance (to the containment vessel) for the robot is very small,” restricting what types of robots can be used to hunt for the melted fuel, he said.

Tepco said the opening it created on the side of the reactor 2 containment vessel is about 11 cm in diameter.

Fuel removal strategy

Tepco is set to conduct internal probes of the reactor 1 containment vessel this month and is preparing similar missions for reactor 3.

The government and utility then plan to adopt a basic fuel removal strategy this summer and fine-tune the plan next year, with the actual fuel removal taking place in or after 2021.

There are essentially three options for the strategy, according to the Tokyo-based International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning (IRID), which is developing technologies for the Fukushima plant decommission.

One option is to flood the containment vessels with water and use a crane above the reactors to hoist up the melted fuel. The second option is to carry out the same process but without water. The third is to install removal equipment through the side of the containment vessel.

There are merits and drawbacks to each option, said Shoji Yamamoto, who heads the team developing technologies to create the fuel removal devices at IRID.

The flooding option can block radiation using water, but if the fuel melts into the water, it could pose a risk of recriticality. The debris may need to be cut into pieces for removal, but this process would enable water to get between multiple pieces, creating the condition for recriticality. For nuclear chain reactions to happen there needs to be a certain distance between nuclear fuel and water.

If there is no water, the recriticality risk is minimal but the massive radiation levels cannot be blocked, Yamamoto said.

Tepco’s Okamura said being able to block radiation with water is a huge plus, but noted the reactor 2 containment vessel had cracks and holes that could let injected coolant water escape.

With the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the U.S., the flooding option was used to retrieve the melted fuel in the 1980s. But the key difference was that all of the melted fuel stayed inside the pressure vessel, so it was easier to flood the reactor.

Because the melted fuel in reactors 1, 2 and 3 at the Fukushima plant all penetrated the pressure vessels and fell into the containment vessels, extracting it from the top or the side was a tough call, Yamamoto said, noting it was important to know the exact location of the melted fuel.

The distance between the top of the pressure vessel and the bottom of the containment vessel is about 45 meters and some parts inside the pressure vessels will need to be removed if Tepco tries to remove the debris inside the containment vessels from the top.

“If we know that the melted fuel is concentrated in the containment vessels, it will be more efficient to remove it from the side” because the entry point is closer, Yamamoto said.

Whatever option is decided, Yamamoto stressed that maintaining the fuel removal device will be difficult because the radiation will probably cripple it.

“The fuel removal device will be controlled remotely … it will be broken somewhere down the line and the parts will have to be replaced, considering its (ability to withstand) radiation,” he said.

“Given that, maintenance will have to be done remotely, too, and that will be a big challenge.”

To remove or not

Another option altogether is for Tepco to leave the melted fuel where it is.

During a media tour of the Fukushima No. 1 plant last month, Okamura of Tepco said the utility intended to collect the melted fuel because leaving it was “not an appropriate way” to manage nuclear fuel.

Miyano of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan said the debris must be removed because radioactive materials, including nuclear fuel, must be strictly controlled under international rules requiring strict monitoring.

Domestic nuclear power plant operators have to report the amount of nuclear fuel they have to the Nuclear Regulation Authority, which then reports to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“There is the question of whether the government and Tepco decide not to remove the fuel debris. That would be an international issue,” said Miyano, adding that a consensus from the international community would be needed.

At the same time, Miyano said debate and analysis will be required to decide which choice would be best by looking at various factors, including how much it will cost to pick up all the melted fuel and where to store it. ”

by Kazuaki Nagata

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Nuclear fuel debris that penetrated reactor pressure vessel possibly found at Fukushima No. 1 — The Japan Times

” Tepco on Monday found what may be melted nuclear fuel debris that penetrated the reactor 2 pressure vessel at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. said more analysis and investigation is needed to confirm that the black lumps detected in the reactor’s containment vessel are indeed fuel debris.

The steel pressure vessel houses the nuclear fuel rods and is set up inside the surrounding containment vessel.

“At this point, it’s difficult to clearly identify what they are,” said Yuichi Okamura, general manager of Tepco’s nuclear power and plant siting division, during an evening news conference at the utility’s Tokyo headquarters.

Video footage from Monday’s probe showed black lumps that looked like something that had melted and then congealed, sticking to parts of a steel grating area at the base of the containment vessel.

The material could be melted paint, cable covers or pipe wrappings, Okamura said.

Still, this is the first time Tepco has detected anything in any of the facility’s three wrecked reactors that might be melted fuel rods since the outbreak of the crisis in March 2011. Okamura described the finding as “valuable information.”

The location of the debris and what form it is in are critical to eventually recovering the fuel.

Tepco plans next month to send in a remote-controlled robot equipped with a thermometer and dosimeter. Analyzing the temperature and radiation level will help identify whether the lumps are fuel debris, Okamura said.

The fuel melted after the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami knocked out Fukushima No. 1’s power supply, including the vital cooling functions.

It is believed that reactor No. 2’s fuel rods melted and penetrated the bottom of the 20-cm-thick pressure vessel and fell in to the containment vessel.

Tepco has been conducting an investigation to check the interior of the containment vessel since last week.

In a previous try, workers inserted a rod equipped with a small camera as a precursor to sending in the remote-controlled robot.

The first attempt turned up nothing of note, but the utility then tried a longer rod — 10.5 meters long — on Monday that could capture images of the area beneath the pressure vessel.

The video footage also showed that water droplets were falling, which Tepco said must be cooling water being injected into the damaged pressure vessel.

Reactor 2 is one of three reactors, including 1 and 3, that experienced fuel meltdowns. ”

by Kazuaki Nagata

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Small robot to probe Fukushima Daiichi — NHK World

Read the latest technical updates on the robot’s ability to probe Unit 2 for a estimated limit of 2 hours, down from its originally estimated 10-hour lifespan.

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” Engineers at Tokyo Electric Power Company decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant are hoping a tiny camera will show them where melted fuel is located inside the crippled No. 2 reactor.

The camera is the latest bit of technology TEPCO engineers are pinning their hopes on. They want to insert it inside Fukushima Daiichi’s No.2 reactor containment vessel for the first time, and they can finally learn whether the fuel is inside, or whether it has penetrated through.

It’s a question they’ve been asking since 2011. Three of the plant’s reactors melted down that March, following a powerful earthquake and tsunami. High radiation levels have prevented anyone from going inside to find the molten fuel.

Experts believe it may have mixed with structures at the bottom of the containment vessels and formed “fuel debris” and on Tuesday, they hoped to catch a glimpse inside. But early on, they ran into trouble and had to reschedule.

Over the years, various remote-controlled robots have been sent inside the 3 reactors, but they haven’t gotten any clear pictures yet of fuel debris.

TEPCO plans to send in another robot to Reactor 2 next month. The utility hopes to be able to analyze results from this research, and create a plan for removing debris by summer.

But it will be a long road — they’ve estimated it will take as long as 4 decades to dismantle the plant, and this first step is the most difficult. ”

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Bulk of melted fuel in No. 2 reactor at damaged Fukushima plant at bottom of pressure vessel: Tepco — The Japan Times

” Most of the melted nuclear fuel inside the No. 2 reactor at the disaster-hit Fukushima No. 1 power plant is likely located at the bottom of its pressure vessel, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. has revealed.

According to a study that used a cosmic ray imaging system, an estimated 130 tons of the so-called fuel debris remains at the bottom of the vessel, the first time the location and amount of the melted fuel have been estimated.

The finding, announced on Thursday, is important as the data could help the operator to narrow down methods to remove the fuel debris, the most challenging task in decommissioning the plant’s Nos. 1 to 3 reactors that experienced meltdowns in the nuclear crisis that began in March 2011.

Tepco plans to decide how to start removing the debris in two years, with work to start in 2021.

The cosmic-ray study was carried out by a team involving Tokyo Electric and the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization in Ibaraki Prefecture.

As high radiation levels are continuing to hamper direct access to the reactors, researchers have tracked muon elementary particles, which are produced as cosmic rays collide with atmospheric particles and change course when coming into contact with nuclear fuel.

The No. 2 reactor was in operation when the nuclear crisis was triggered by a powerful earthquake and subsequent tsunami that devastated Japan’s northeast.

About 160 tons of fuel assemblies are estimated to have been present inside the reactor vessel prior to the crisis. Most of the fuel is believed to have fallen to the bottom of the pressure vessel and mixed with nearby structures to form the debris.

In the nuclear crisis, massive amounts of radioactive substances were released into the environment, with the Nos. 1, 3 and 4 reactor buildings damaged by hydrogen explosions.

The No. 4 reactor was offline for routine maintenance work and all of its fuel was stored in the spent fuel pool, avoiding a meltdown. The utility removed all fuel rod assemblies from the pool and transported them to a more stable building in 2014.

Also on Thursday, Tepco said it plans to seek additional financial support from the government to cover soaring costs for dealing with the disaster.

Tepco specifically asked the government to clarify its views on how the costs for providing compensation to affected residents and the decommissioning of the plant should be shouldered.

Each request for additional aid will be carefully scrutinized by the government out of concern it could come under fire from taxpayers, sources said.

The government has already agreed to provide up to ¥9 trillion in loans to Tepco to cover ¥5.4 trillion in compensation to be paid to affected residents and ¥2.5 trillion in decontamination costs that were projected in January 2014.

But Tepco said compensation payments have already topped ¥6 trillion and that decontamination costs are increasingly likely to exceed estimates.

The utility also said it is concerned about massive costs to be incurred when it starts full-fledged decommissioning work at the damaged nuclear plant.

If the situation is left unaddressed, Tepco’s market value will suffer, Executive Officer Keita Nishiyama said.

Tepco President Naomi Hirose said that although overall compensation costs have not been fixed, his company will consult with the government on how those costs will be funded. ”

by Kyodo, Jiji

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Five years after the meltdown, is it safe to live near Fukushima? — Science

” A  long, grinding struggle back to normal is underway at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan. As workers make progress in cleaning up contaminated land surrounding its infamous reactor, evacuees are grappling with whether to return to homes sealed off since the accident there 5 years ago. The power plant itself remains a dangerous disaster zone, with workers just beginning the complex, risky job of locating the melted fuel and figuring out how to remove it.

The magnitude 9.0 earthquake that struck northeastern Japan on 11 March 2011 and the 40-meter tsunami that followed left 15,893 dead and 2572 missing, destroyed 127,290 buildings, and damaged more than a million more. It also triggered the meltdowns at Fukushima and the evacuation of 150,000 people from within 20 kilometers of the nuclear plant as well as from areas beyond that were hard hit by fallout.

Now, the nuclear refugees face a dilemma: How much radiation in their former homes is safe? In a herculean effort, authorities have so far scooped up some 9 million cubic meters of contaminated soil and leaves and washed down buildings and roadways with the goal of reducing outdoor radiation exposure to 0.23 microsieverts per hour. Last September, the government began lifting evacuation orders for the seven municipalities wholly or partly within 20 kilometers of the plant. As the work progresses, authorities expect that 70% of the evacuees will be allowed to return home by spring 2017.

But evacuees are torn over safety and compensation issues. Many claim they are being compelled to go home, even though radiation exposure levels, they feel, are still too high. “There has been no education regarding radiation,” says Katsunobu Sakurai, the mayor of Minamisoma, where 14,000 people were evacuated after the accident. “It’s difficult for many people to make the decision to return without knowing what these radiation levels mean and what is safe,” he says. Some citizen groups are suing the national government and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the Fukushima plant’s owner, over plans to end compensation payments for those who choose not to return home. Highly contaminated areas close to the nuclear plant will remain off limits indefinitely.

Conditions at the plant are “really stable,” the plant manager, Akira Ono, recently told reporters. Radioactivity and heat from the nuclear fuel have fallen substantially in the past 5 years, he says. But cleanup is off to a slow start, hampered by sketchy knowledge of where the nuclear fuel is located. Last year managers agreed to a road map for decommissioning the site over the next 30 to 40 years that calls for removing melted nuclear fuel masses and demolishing the plant’s four reactor halls at a cost that could top $9 billion. TEPCO intends to start removing nuclear debris from the reactors in 2021.

Ono puts the decommissioning at “around 10%” complete. One big hurdle was cleared in December 2014, when crews removed the last of 1535 fuel rods stored in the Unit 4 spent fuel pool. At the time of the accident, some feared that cooling water had drained out of the pool and exposed the fuel to air, which might have led to overheating and melting. It hadn’t, but the fuel remained a threat.

The biggest challenge at present, Ono says, is contaminated water. Cooling water is continuously poured over the melted cores of units 1, 2, and 3 to keep the fuel from overheating and melting again. The water drains into building basements, where it mixes with groundwater. To reduce the amount of contaminated water seeping into the ocean, TEPCO collects and stores it in 10-meter-tall steel tanks. They now fill nearly every corner of the grounds, holding some 750,000 tons of water. The government is evaluating experimental techniques for cleansing the water of a key radioisotope, tritium. Ono says a solution is sorely needed before the plant runs out of room for more tanks.

TEPCO has found ways to divert groundwater from the site, cutting infiltration to about 150 tons per day. Now it’s about to freeze out the rest. Borrowing a technique for making temporary subsurface barriers during tunnel construction, a contractor has driven 1500 pipes 30 meters down to bedrock, creating something akin to an underground picket fence encircling the four crippled reactor units. Brine chilled to –30°C circulating in the pipes will freeze the soil between the pipes; the frozen wall should keep groundwater out and contaminated water in. TEPCO was planning to start the operation shortly after Science went to press.

The most daunting task is recovering the fuel debris. TEPCO modeling and analyses suggest that most, if not all, of the fuel in the Unit 1 reactor melted, burned through the reactor pressure vessel, dropped to the bottom of the containment vessel, and perhaps ate into the concrete base. Units 2 and 3 suffered partial meltdowns, and some fuel may remain in the cores.

To try to confirm the location and condition of the melted fuel, the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning, set up by TEPCO and other entities, has been probing the reactors’ innards with muons. Wispy cousins of the electron, muons are generated by the trillions each minute when cosmic rays slam into the upper atmosphere. A few muons are absorbed or scattered, at a rate that depends on a material’s density. Because uranium is denser than steel or concrete, muon imaging can potentially locate the fuel debris.

In February 2015, a group at Japan’s High Energy Accelerator Research Organization in Tsukuba supplied two van-sized muon detectors, which TEPCO placed adjacent to the Unit 1 reactor at ground level. After a month of collecting muons, the detectors confirmed there was no fuel left in the core. Because they were positioned at ground level, the devices could not image the reactor building basements and so could not pin down where the fuel is or its condition. TEPCO plans to use robots to map the location of the fuel debris so it can develop a strategy for removing it (see story, right).

A second team has developed detectors that observe muons before and after they pass through an object of interest, promising a more precise picture of reactor interiors. For Fukushima, the researchers—from Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and Japan’s Toshiba Corp.—built mammoth detectors, 7 meters across, which they intended to place outside Unit 2. That work has been postponed because TEPCO decided to first send a robot into the containment vessel; high radiation levels have delayed that plan. “Our current task is to reduce that exposure,” Ono says, using robotic floor and wall scrubbers in the area workers need to access to deploy the robot.

While the authorities struggle to clean up the site and resettle residents, some locals are judging safety for themselves. In 2014, a group of enterprising high school students in Fukushima city, outside the evacuation zone, launched an international radiation-dosimetry project. Some 216 students and teachers at six schools in Fukushima Prefecture, six elsewhere in Japan, four in France, eight in Poland, and two in Belarus wore dosimeters for 2 weeks while keeping detailed diaries of their whereabouts and activities. “I wanted to know how high my exposure dose was and I wanted to compare that dose with people living in other places,” explains Haruka Onodera, a member of Fukushima High School’s Super Science Club, which conceived the project. The students published their findings last November in the Journal of Radiological Protection. Their conclusion: “High school students in Fukushima [Prefecture] do not suffer from significantly higher levels of radiation” than those living elsewhere, Onodera says.

That’s good news for Fukushima city residents, perhaps, but cold comfort to displaced people now weighing the prospect of moving back to homes closer to the shattered nuclear plant. ”

by Dennis Normile

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