Challenges ahead for debris removal at Fukushima — NHK World

” This year will mark the 7th anniversary of the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant that occurred in March, 2011. The plant’s operator is hoping to eventually remove fuel debris from the damaged reactors.

Fuel debris is a mixture of melted nuclear fuel and broken reactor parts. Removing the debris is considered to be the biggest hurdle to the decommissioning of the reactors.

Last year, Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, investigated the inside of the containment vessels of 3 reactors and confirmed, for the first time, the existence of lumps that are believed to be fuel debris in the No.3 reactor.

TEPCO plans to conduct a fresh probe of the No.2 reactor this month to confirm whether a mass on the floor under the reactor, observed last year, is actually fuel debris.

The government and TEPCO aim to begin removing debris in 2021. They are planning to determine which reactor to start with, and how to conduct the procedure, during fiscal 2019.

Workers will try this year to figure out which details need to be considered in order to make the decision.

Removing the debris requires thorough safety measures. For example, radioactive materials must be prevented from spreading and workers must be protected from exposure to radiation.

This autumn, the operator also plans to start removing spent nuclear fuel rods from the storage pool of the No.3 reactor building. ”

by NHK World


AP interview: Fukushima chief says ‘no textbook’ for cleanup — ABC News

” The man leading the daunting task of dealing with the Fukushima nuclear plant that sank into meltdowns in northeastern Japan warns with surprising candor: Nothing can be promised.

How long will it take to decommission the three breached reactors, and how will it be accomplished, when not even robots have been able to enter the main fuel-debris areas so far? How much will it ultimately cost? Naohiro Masuda, tapped last year as chief of decontamination and decommissioning for plant owner Tokyo Electric Power Co., acknowledges he is a long way from answering those questions definitively.

“This is something that has never been experienced. A textbook doesn’t exist for something like this,” Masuda told The Associated Press in an interview at TEPCO’s Tokyo headquarters Monday.

It’s only recently the daily situation at Fukushima Dai-ichi has even started to approach “normal,” he said. Since the March 2011 meltdowns, TEPCO has had to face one huge challenge after another, including storing masses of leaking radioactive water, clearing up rubble and removing fuel rods from a crumbled building.

“Before, it was a war zone,” Masuda said quietly.

Masuda’s approach contrasts with the sometimes ambitious, sometimes wishful announcements by the Japanese government, which pronounced the disaster “under control” as early as late 2011, just months after a devastating tsunami knocked out power to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, setting off the meltdowns.

But in June, the government and TEPCO acknowledged the target dates in the official “roadmap” for decommissioning had to be pushed back by about two years. Now even the most optimistic projections estimate the work will take about half a century.

Masuda said without hesitation that more delays could be in order. No one knows exactly where the melted nuclear debris is sitting in the reactors, let alone how exactly the debris might be taken out. Computer simulation and speculative images are all he has so far.

New science will have to be invented for the plant to be cleaned up. Each step of the way, safety and consequences must be weighed, for workers and for the environment alike, Masuda added.

Under the latest plan, the removal of the fuel debris is expected to start within a decade. Still, Masuda likened such goals to reminders not to slack off, rather than hard deadlines based on real-life assessments.

The March 2011 catastrophe is unprecedented. Unlike the 1979 partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in the U.S., the containment, where the morass of fuel lies, has been breached at Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. Radioactive water is piling up: 300 tons a day by the latest count. And as devastating as the 1986 Chernobyl disaster was in what is now Ukraine, that involved one reactor, not three.

When asked about what he wanted to tell the people worried about contaminated fish, such as on the West Coast of North and South America, Masuda said the radiation leak into the Pacific Ocean has been reduced to a level one-millionth of what it was in 2011.

That’s equivalent to what is deemed safe for drinking water, he said. Some radiation will continue to leak through rainfall, because rainwater will pick up radiation from the plant grounds, and some of it will eventually fall into the ocean.

“They don’t need to worry, and, if there is anything to worry about, we will be out with that information,” he said.

Masuda, who has worked for TEPCO for more than 30 years, won praise for preventing meltdowns or explosions at Fukushima Dai-ni, a sister plant that also lost electricity after the 2011 tsunami. As then head of Dai-ni, Masuda acted quickly and decisively, leading his team, despite the chaos unfolding, to connect the reactors to surviving power sources.

His company’s image is much different. TEPCO’s reputation in the Japanese public eye was badly tarnished because of its bumbling response in the early days of the disaster.

The utility has undergone a public bailout and has readied 2 trillion yen ($17 billion) for decommissioning. The Japanese government has earmarked 54 billion yen ($446 million) of public funds for researching decommissioning technology through this fiscal year.

Such money doesn’t include compensation or damage lawsuits. The Fukushima catastrophe spewed radiation into the air, ocean and surrounding areas through hydrogen explosions, and displaced some 100,000 people.

The way TEPCO is spending money has drawn some criticism from experts abroad. Unlike the U.S. system, there is no open bid or escrow fund in Japan to dole out the massive decommissioning funds.

Much of the work is going to the Japanese manufacturers that constructed the plants, such as Toshiba Corp. and Hitachi Inc., under long-term contracts. Some outside international consultants are involved, and some foreign companies have gotten water-decontamination and other contracts.

Akira Tokuhiro, an American and nuclear expert who teaches at the University of Idaho, supports an open bidding process that invites more international expertise. He noted that Japan has no, or very little, decommissioning experience, compared to the Americans, the French and the Russians.

“An international effort has the potential to reduce both time and cost, while maintaining safety, transparency and cost,” he said.

Douglas Chapin, of MPR, a U.S. nuclear engineering organization that has advised the American and Japanese nuclear industries, was less critical, defending the Japanese method as simply different.

Masuda said awarding contracts without opening bidding is what’s best for Fukushima, and that TEPCO needs to take primary responsibility.

“We don’t think competition is beneficial as that will mean people doing the work will keep changing,” he said. “The system we have is better.”

But Masuda also acknowledged that Japan has not done as good a job as it should have on relaying the harsh realities at the plant. He said it’s his mission to relay all information, the good and the bad.

“When I took this job, I promised to work as an interpreter, to relay our work in a way that’s understandable to regular people, and to communicate within the company what people are interested in and worried about,” he said.

“If the interpreter is good, the conversation will be lively. If the interpreter is good, dialogue will follow.” ”


Fukushima Reactor 1 dismantling to be delayed — The Japan Times

” In the first-ever delay in the plans to dismantle reactor 1 at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the government and the utility have agreed to postpone the removal of fuel rods from the spent-fuel pool by two years from the initial plans, NHK reported Thursday.

The date of extracting the melted fuel rods from the reactor core, which suffered a meltdown in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, will also be delayed by five years, the network said, without naming the source.

NHK attributed the delays to an unexpectedly time-consuming process of removal, which was to start in 2017 for fuel rods that are intact and in 2020 for melted ones.

In the ongoing plant dismantling process, removal of rubble, a necessary step to get at the spent-fuel pools, has taken longer than expected, with the plan to start full-fledged work to expose the reactor building by removing its covering delayed by half a year from the originally planned start in March. ”


*Miles O’Brien returns to the site of Japan’s nuclear disaster three years later — PBS Newshour

This 33-minute PBS documentary with Miles O’Brien is an excellent comprehensive look at many of the problems at Fukushima Daiichi; the safety measures being taken at Fukushima Daini; and the politics and prospects of restarting Japan’s 48 idle nuclear power plants, including the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, despite public opinion tolls that tell of 80 percent opposition to nuclear energy.

This program also addresses the ongoing contamination of the Pacific Ocean, with interviews with a local Fukushima fisherman and scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. Finally, Miles interviews former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who has been pushing for the permanent phase out of all nuclear reactors in Japan and the use of alternative energy sources like solar and wind power.

watch documentary

Tepco to transfer unused fuel rods to new location — NHK World

” The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant will alter its plan to transfer the fuel rods from the number 4 damaged reactor building. Some fuel rods will be stored at a new location in the plant.

Tokyo Electric Power Company says it will apply for approval for the change of plan to the Nuclear Regulation Authority shortly.

As part of the decommissioning efforts of the reactor, work has been underway since last November at the damaged reactor building to transfer more than 1,500 assemblies of spent and unused fuel rods from its pool to a common fuel storage pool in the compound.

In the run-up to the transfer, TEPCO planned to make space in the common pool by removing fuel rods which had already been stored there. It decided to place them in casks.

But the utility says delayed confirmation of the casks’ safety has prevented it from preparing the rods in time for the planned transfer.

The company says that with the common pool remaining partially occupied, it will be obliged to transfer and store part of the fuel rods from the number 4 building in the number 6 reactor building instead. Specifically, it will transfer the 180 assemblies of unused fuel rods that are emitting comparatively lower levels of radiation.

The number 6 reactor was offline at the time of the 2011 disaster and escaped serious damage.

TEPCO officials say they hope to begin the transfer to the number 6 building in November. They plan to remove all rods from the number 4 building by the end of this year as scheduled. ”


A closer look at curious anomalies in the Pacific Ocean — The Inertia

This article was published on Dec. 17, 2013, but it includes one of the best collections of “curious anomalies” of sick, dying and migrating animals and marine life in the Pacific Ocean and United States since the Fukushima disaster. It sites independent studies regarding blue fun tuna, starfish, sharks, dolphins, orcas and sea lions, as well as increased shark attacks in Hawaii and dying moose and other animals in Minnesota. As they say, “Correlation does not equal causation,” but from what we know, there are a lot of coincidences of dying organisms in the Pacific Ocean whose causes of death have not been thoroughly investigated.

” Curious anomalies are taking place in the Pacific Ocean. Shark attacks in Hawaii are at a record setting high—13 this year and two fatal—more than three times the annual average for the area. Marine life along California’s shores has increased to an unprecedented presence in recent months, with sightings in Monterey Bay and Santa Cruz of more than 200 humpback whales, a pod of 19 orcas, countless sea lions, and so many anchovies corralled into Santa Cruz Harbor that the water ran out of oxygen and caused a massive anchovy die-off, as reported by the NY Times. In even weirder news, sea stars off the North American coastline, healthy to the point of overpopulation a few months ago, are currently suffering from a wasting-syndrome of unidentified origins, causing them to mutilate and melt in masses from Canada to Mexico in the largest and least explainable sea star die-off in history.

As of now, these incidents are generally unexplained and unconnected in public claims of the scientific community. But there’s one underlying precedent that might explain them all. Fukushima Daiichi.

Nearly three years ago now, on March 11, 2011, the magnitude 9.0 Tohoku Oki Earthquake rocked Japan and wiped out power sources for the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant. After a first, second, and then third failure of backup coolant systems caused by the earthquake’s subsequent tsunami that easily overwhelmed the plant’s sea walls, fuel rods melted in their reactors, the buildings that housed those reactors were crippled by massive explosions, and by March 15, 2011, unknown amounts of radioactive matter flooded irrepressibly into the surrounding environment. It is the largest nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl incident of 1986. Possibly larger. For two months after the earthquake, the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operators of Fukushima I, denied that any meltdowns had occurred at the plant.

Fast forward two years and change to July 22, 2013 to when TEPCO finally announced its estimation that 400 tons of radioactive wastewater have been draining into the Pacific Ocean each day since the incident. The Japanese government took hold of the situation upon this announcement, and later revealed that an additional 300 metric tons of highly contaminated radioactive wastewater had spilled from a storage tank into the groundwater, and in turn, into the Pacific.

A team at the Radioisotope Center at the University of Tokyo, lead by Dr. Tatsuhiko Kodama, recently conducted a study to measure the amount of radioactive contamination caused by the meltdown at Fukushima I. They concluded, “The total amount of leakage to be about 29.6 times the amount of radiation caused by the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Assuming the source material to be Uranium, we think the total amount of leakage is about 20 times the contamination caused by the Hiroshima bomb.”

So, where’s the connection to the anomalies of sea life, and why such a delayed reaction?

A few variables appear to be at hand. First, the reaction of the ocean hasn’t been delayed. It’s public acknowledgement that’s been slow to catch up. In the summer of 2012, scientists at Stanford University caught 15 Pacific Bluefin tuna off the California coast for research. Of those 15 tuna, 100 percent tested positive for the radioisotopes cesium-137 and cesium-134, the same toxic matter found in fish from Swedish lakes following the Chernobyl disaster. Follow-up research from the study reveals that Pacific Bluefin tuna, which are born many miles offshore from Japan and surrounding areas and migrate eastward toward California, continue to show up on the North American coastline with traceable amounts of the radioactive byproducts. Yet the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) refuses to test fish on the West Coast for radiation.

In August 2013, an independent fisheries scientist in British Columbia, Alexandra Morton, discovered fish off the west coast of British Columbia [Canada] suffering from a mysterious disease that’s causing them to hemorrhage. Of the herring she encountered during a beach seine on Malcolm Island, north of Vancouver Island, Morton noted, “I’ve never seen fish looking this bad[…]These little herring[…]were not only bleeding from their fins, but from their bellies, their chins, their eyeballs[…]It was 100 percent. I couldn’t find any that weren’t bleeding to some degree. And they were schooling with young sockeye salmon.” Four months later, sea stars along the North American coastline are being wiped out by similar, unexplainable symptoms. Radiation poisoning is a viable cause, though its relation hasn’t been confirmed publicly. … ”

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