Japan pictures likely show melted Fukushima fuel for first time — Bloomberg

” New images show what is likely to be melted nuclear fuel hanging from inside one of Japan’s wrecked Fukushima reactors, a potential milestone in the cleanup of one of the worst atomic disasters in history.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc., Japan’s biggest utility, released images on Friday showing a hardened black, grey and orange substance that dripped from the bottom of the No. 3 reactor pressure vessel at Fukushima, which is likely to contain melted fuel, according to Takahiro Kimoto, an official at the company. The company sent a Toshiba-designed robot, which can swim and resembles a submarine, to explore the inside of the reactor for the first time on July 19.

“Never before have we taken such clear pictures of what could be melted fuel,” Kimoto said at a press briefing that began at 9 p.m. Friday in Tokyo, noting that it would take time to analyze and confirm whether it is actually fuel. “We believe that the fuel melted and mixed with the metal directly underneath it. And it is highly likely that we have filmed that on Friday.”

If confirmed, the substance — which has the appearance of icicles — would be the first discovery of the fuel that melted during the triple reactor accident at Fukushima six years ago. For Tokyo Electric, which bears most of the clean-up costs, the discovery would help the utility design a way to remove the highly-radioactive material.

The robot, which is about 30 centimeters (12 inches) long, will search for melted fuel at the bottom of the reactor on Saturday. It is possible that the company will take more pictures of what could be melted fuel spread across the floor and lower levels, according to Tokyo Electric’s Kimoto. Fuel from a nuclear meltdown is known as corium, which is a mixture of the atomic fuel rods and other structural materials.

Early Signs

“It is important to know the exact locations and the physical, chemical, radiological forms of the corium to develop the necessary engineering defueling plans for the safe removal of the radioactive materials,” said Lake Barrett, a former official at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission who was involved with the cleanup at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in the U.S. “The recent investigation results are significant early signs of progress on the long road ahead.”

Because of the high radioactivity levels inside the reactor, only specially designed robots can probe the unit. And the unprecedented nature of the Fukushima disaster means that Tepco, as the utility is known, is pinning its efforts on technology not yet invented to get the melted fuel out of the reactors.

Removal Plans

The company aims to decide on the procedure to remove the melted fuel from each unit as soon as this summer. And it will confirm the procedure for the first reactor during the fiscal year ending March 2019, with fuel removal slated to begin in 2021.

Decommissioning the reactors will cost 8 trillion yen ($72 billion), according to an estimate in December from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Removing the fuel is one of the most important steps in a cleanup that may take as long as 40 years.

Similar to the latest findings on Friday, Tepco took photographs in January of what appeared to be black residue covering a grate under the Fukushima Dai-Ichi No. 2 reactor, which was speculated to have been melted fuel. However, a follow-up survey by another Toshiba-designed robot in February failed to confirm the location of any melted fuel in the reactor after it got stuck in debris.

A robot designed by Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy Ltd. also failed to find any melted fuel during its probe of the No. 1 reactor in March.

The significance of Friday’s finding “might be evidence that the robots used by Tepco can now deal with the higher radiation levels, at least for periods of time that allow them to search parts of the reactor that are more likely to contain fuel debris,” M.V. Ramana, professor at the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia, said by email.

“If some of these fragments can be brought out of the reactor and studied, it would allow nuclear engineers and scientists to better model what happened during the accident.” ”

by Stephen Stapczynski, Bloomberg

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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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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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Japan’s power industry at crossroads as Fukushima decommissioning costs rise – The Mainichi

” The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry’s plan to add the increased costs of decommissioning the tsunami-hit Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant was scrapped before the end of the year due to a public backlash.

It is estimated that the costs of decommissioning the crippled power station would snowball from 2 trillion yen to 8 trillion yen. An internal document that the ministry had compiled by September last year stated that the costs of compensation payments as well as the decommissioning expenses should be added to power transmission fees that new power companies pay for the use of major utilities’ power grids.

If the decommissioning costs that are expected to increase by trillions of yen were regarded as TEPCO’s debts, the utility would fall into a state of capital deficit — in which the company’s debts surpass its assets. It could force TEPCO to delist its stock on stock markets and make it difficult for banks to continue loaning to the firm.

To avoid such a situation, the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry has decided to change the accounting rules to allow TEPCO to book the decommissioning costs in separate years. To do so, however, it is necessary to guarantee that the costs can be recovered from TEPCO every year. Two plans surfaced to enable this.

One is to accumulate money to be saved through TEPCO’s cost-cutting measures and management reform at the Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corp. (NFD), which would control the decommissioning costs. The other is to add part of the decommissioning costs to transmission fees.

In October, a senior ministry official told LDP legislators behind closed doors, “It’s safer to add the costs to the transmission fees than relying on TEPCO’s management reform.”

However, experts as well as the general public intensified their criticism of the plan to add decommissioning expenses to the transmission fees despite the earlier plan to make sure that TEPCO fully secured funds for decommissioning the plant.

In response, the ministry changed its policy. In a Nov. 8 document that the ministry released when briefing LDP members, it stated the two plans as ways to certainly secure enough funds for decommissioning the plant. However, in its Dec. 1 document, the plan to add the costs to transmission fees was dropped.

“We considered the use of transmission fees but we can’t implement it because of mounting criticism of the plan,” said a ministry official in charge of the matter.

On the other hand, major power suppliers besides TEPCO have footed the costs of paying compensation to those affected by the Fukushima nuclear crisis. An expert committee dealing with the matter proposed at the end of the year that the increase in the amount of compensation payments should be raised by adding the amount to transmissions fees.

Saying that power companies that own nuclear plants should have saved money to respond to nuclear accidents, the panel recommended that new power companies should shoulder part of the costs because their customers had previously benefited from nuclear power run by major utilities.

The committee also proposed that major power suppliers be obligated to supply less expensive electricity, such as power generated at nuclear plants, to new power companies. In other words, the panel attempted to take the carrot-and-stick approach to convince new market entrants.

In response to the recommendations, the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry will implement the proposals after soliciting public comments. As a result of the implementation of the plan, the monthly electric power bill for a standard household in Japan, excluding Okinawa Prefecture where there are no nuclear plants, would rise an average of 18 yen over a 40-year period from 2020.

The ministry patiently and carefully formed consensus among legislators over the plan. The committee’s conclusion was based on its explanatory document that the panel presented to the LDP shortly before.

House of Representatives member Taro Kono and a few other LDP legislators calling for an end to Japan’s reliance on atomic power voiced opposition, but they fell far short of a majority.

Minako Oishi, an adviser on consumer affairs who sits at the experts’ panel, repeatedly voiced opposition to adding compensation costs to transmission fees on the grounds that it would run counter to the purpose of liberalizing the power market. She also released a written statement to that effect. However, she was unable to overwhelm the firm alliance between politicians and bureaucrats.

“I have the impression that the conclusion had been drawn in advance. Such a serious matter as the additional financial burden of dealing with the Fukushima accident should’ve been discussed at the Diet,” Oishi said.

On Dec. 20, 2016, the ministry’s expert committee compiled its recommendations estimating that TEPCO needs to shoulder 16 trillion yen of the cost of dealing with the Fukushima nuclear crisis. The recommendations urged TEPCO to merge each of its divisions, including nuclear power and power transmission, with those of other companies — effectively leading to a split of the utility — and advance into the global market.

On the same day, a message by TEPCO President Naomi Hirose was released through the company’s in-house computer network. “If we steadily continue our work without hesitation, we can open up new opportunities. This is something that only TEPCO can do,” the message said.

However, the message reflects Hirose’s anxiety. Hirose told TEPCO executives the following day at the headquarters, “I’m worried whether employees can maintain their morale. Please try not to make them feel weak.”

TEPCO failed to achieve its goal of getting out of state control as early as fiscal 2017 by improving its business performance — because there are no prospects that its idled Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Niigata Prefecture can be reactivated in the foreseeable future.

TEPCO Director Keita Nishiyama sat at the news conference on July 28 with Chairman Fumio Sudo and President Hirose, and read a statement saying that “the government needs to clarify its policy” on how to shoulder the costs of dealing with the nuclear crisis, which is expected to worsen. Nishiyama is a bureaucrat that the ministry loaned to TEPCO as a board member after placing the utility under state control.

His tough statement indirectly asks the government for assistance. A TEPCO executive said, “It’s not a type of statement written by a private company insider.”

At the news conference, the ministry suggested that it would take the opportunity of discussions on how to shoulder the costs of dealing with the Fukushima nuclear crisis to embark on its long-cherished goal of restructuring the electric power and atomic energy industries.

About two months later, the ministry set up two expert panels — one on TEPCO reform and the other on the reform of the electric power system.

“In Japan, the demand for power has stagnated. In particular, regulations on the atomic energy business are stiff. Therefore, the power industry is a declining industry. There’s no time to lose in promoting business tie-ups and overseas expansion. Discussions shouldn’t be limited to TEPCO reform,” said a ministry official.

However, some TEPCO officials have expressed displeasure at the move. “Infrastructure companies like us are different from manufacturers. It’s important to ensure stable power supply. It’s not true that we should just increase our profits,” one of them said.

At the same time, executives of other major power companies reacted coolly to TEPCO.

“We don’t know how much of the costs of dealing with the Fukushima accident we’ll be required to shoulder,” one of them said.

“TEPCO’s arrogance that stood out in the industry is still fresh in our memory,” another commented.

The ministry and the expert panel on TEPCO reform share the view that TEPCO needs to carry out the largest-scale reforms since Yasuzaemon Matsunaga, the “king of the power industry” who established major power companies’ regional monopolies in order to ensure stable power supply.

However, Japanese semiconductor and liquid crystal manufacturers and other companies that were integrated on the initiative of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry have not grown as the ministry had aimed.

As such, it remains to be seen whether TEPCO will join hands with other power companies and gain entry into the global market as the ministry envisages. “

by The Mainichi

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VOX POPULI: There’s no end to Fukushima crisis while melted fuel remains — The Asahi Shimbun

” A massive concrete structure encases the wrecked No. 4 reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, site of the catastrophic 1986 accident.

Dubbed the “sarcophagus,” it was erected to contain the fuel that could not be extracted from the crippled reactor.

I never expected this word (“sekkan” in Japanese) to crop up in connection with the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis.

Local governments raised objections to the use of this word in a report compiled by a government organ that supports the decommissioning of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

While the report discusses the extraction of melted fuel as a requirement, it is written in such a way as to suggest that the construction of a sarcophagus is an option that should not be dismissed out of hand.

This outraged the governor of Fukushima, Masao Uchibori, who lashed out, “Containing (the melted fuel) in a sarcophagus spells giving up hope for post-disaster reconstruction and for returning home.”

The government organ has since deleted the word from the report, admitting that it was misleading and that constructing a sarcophagus is not under consideration.

The report lacked any consideration for the feelings of local citizens. But more to the point, just deleting the word does not settle this case.

Even though five years have passed since the disaster, nothing has been decided yet on how to extract the melted fuel. How, then, can anyone guarantee that the fuel will never be “entombed”?

I am reminded anew of the sheer difficulty of decommissioning nuclear reactors. The Fukushima edition of The Asahi Shimbun runs a weekly report on the work being done at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

The report portrays the harsh realities at the site, such as leaks of contaminated water and accidents involving workers. Efforts to decommission the crippled reactors continue day after day, but the task is expected to take several decades.

Elsewhere in Japan, the rule that requires nuclear reactors to be decommissioned after 40 years is becoming toothless, and preparations are proceeding steadily for restarting reactors that have remained offline.

“Normalcy” appears to be returning, but there is a huge gap between that and the unending hardships in the disaster-affected areas. ”

by Vox Populi.

“Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.”

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Russia offers to help Japan shut down Fukushima reactors — RT

” Russia’s state nuclear energy company Rosatom is ready to help Japan shut down the reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. A huge earthquake and a resulting tsunami hit the plant in March 2011, causing three nuclear meltdowns and a massive radiation leak.

Japan has been struggling in its cleanup effort in the aftermath of the nuclear accident. As of March 2015, about 600,000 tons of contaminated water was contained within tanks at the site, with the cleanup estimated to take up to 40 years.

The cooperation could involve Russia shutting down other nuclear power plants Japan won’t use in the future.

“We are glad to offer Rosatom services, including our German subsidiary Nukem Technologies,” Komarov said adding that negotiations are in progress.

“Nukem has already returned to a greenfield site Kahl and Philippsburg nuclear power stations in Germany,” he said.

Earlier on Thursday Russian media reported that Japan was planning to ask for Russian help in shutting down Fukushima.

The Fukushima disaster is considered the second worst nuclear accident after Chernobyl. ”

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