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

source

Fishermen express fury as Fukushima plant set to release radioactive material into ocean — The Telegraph

” Local residents and environmental groups have condemned a plan to release radioactive tritium from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean.

Officials of Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the plant, say tritium poses little risk to human health and is quickly diluted by the ocean.

In an interview with local media, Takashi Kawamura, chairman of TEPCO, said: “The decision has already been made.” He added, however, that the utility is waiting for approval from the Japanese government before going ahead with the plan and is seeking the understanding of local residents.

The tritium is building up in water that has been used to cool three reactors that suffered fuel melt-downs after cooling equipment was destroyed in the magnitude 9 earthquake and tsunami that struck north-east Japan in March 2011.

Around 770,000 tons of highly radioactive water is being stored in 580 tanks at the site. Many of the contaminants can be filtered out, but the technology does not presently exist to remove tritium from water.

“This accident happened more than six years ago and the authorities should have been able to devise a way to remove the tritium instead of simply announcing that they are going to dump it into the ocean”, said Aileen Mioko-Smith, an anti-nuclear campaigner with Kyoto-based Green Action Japan.

“They say that it will be safe because the ocean is large so it will be diluted, but that sets a precedent that can be copied, essentially permitting anyone to dump nuclear waste into our seas”, she told The Telegraph.

Fishermen who operate in waters off the plant say any release of radioactive material will devastate an industry that is still struggling to recover from the initial nuclear disaster.

“Releasing [tritium] into the sea will create a new wave of unfounded rumours, making all our efforts for naught”, Kanji Tachiya, head of a local fishing cooperative, told Kyodo News. ”

by Julian Ryall, The Telegraph

source

US sailors who ‘fell sick from Fukushima radiation’ allowed to sue Japan, nuclear plant operator — The Telegraph

” A US appeals court has ruled that hundreds of American navy personnel can pursue a compensation suit against the government of Japan and Tokyo Electric Power Co. for illnesses allegedly caused by exposure to radioactivity in the aftermath of the 2011 accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.

The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled on Thursday that the 318 sailors who have so far joined the $1 billion (£787 million) class action lawsuit do not need to file their case in Japan.

Most of the plaintiffs were aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, an aircraft carrier that was dispatched to waters off north-east Japan after the March 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima plant. Three reactors suffered catastrophic meltdowns and released large amounts of radiation into the atmosphere after their cooling units were destroyed by a magnitude-9 earthquake and a series of tsunami.

The plaintiffs claim that they were healthy and physically fit before they were exposed to the radiation plume, with some personnel reporting the air on the flight deck tasting “metallic”.

The California-based law firm representing the plaintiffs say they have been affected by a range of complaints, ranging from leukaemia to ulcers, brain cancer, brain tumours, testicular cancer, thyroid illnesses and stomach complaints.

The suit claims that TEPCO is financially responsible for the sailors’ medial treatment because it failed to accurately inform the Japanese government of the scale of the problem.

The Japanese government, the suit alleges, also failed to inform the US that radiation leaking from the plant posed a threat to the crew of the USS Ronald Reagan and other US assets dispatched to assist in “Operation Tomodachi”, meaning “friend” in Japanese.

The case was originally filed in San Diego in 2012, but has been delayed over the question of where it should be heard. The US government has also vehemently denied that any personnel were exposed to levels of radiation that would have had an impact on their health during the Fukushima recovery mission.

Interviewed for the San Diego City Beat newspaper in February, William Zeller said: “Right now, I know I have problems but I’m afraid of actually finding out how bad they really are.”

Formerly a martial arts instructor, he now uses a breathing machine when he goes to sleep due to respiratory problems he blames on his exposure aboard the USS Ronald Reagan in 2011.

“I literally just go to work and go home now”, he said. “I don’t have the energy or pain threshold to deal with anything else”. ”

by Julian Ryall

source

Former chief of Fukushima probe criticizes reactor restarts — The Asahi Shimbun

” The leader of the Diet investigation into the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster blasted the Abe administration’s policies on restarting reactors, noting that proper evacuation plans are not in place.

“What are you going to do if a tsunami comes?” Kiyoshi Kurokawa, former chairman of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, said at a June 12 meeting of the Lower House ad hoc committee for research of nuclear power issues. “How can you go (there) to rescue people if cars cannot move forward on roads?”

Kurokawa was referring to the restarts of the No. 4 and No. 3 reactors of the Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture in May and June.

The reactors cleared the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s safety standards that were established after the accident unfolded at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said these standards are the strictest in the world.

But Kurokawa said, “I cannot accept such rhetoric.”

Kurokawa, also a professor emeritus of medical science at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, was selected as chairman of a third-party advisory body established by the ad hoc committee in May.

He and other experts of the advisory body responded to questions at the meeting of the ad hoc committee on June 12.

Kurokawa also raised questions about the rules for personnel at the NRA, the country’s nuclear watchdog.

In January, Masaya Yasui, an official of the Ministry of the Economy, Trade and Industry, assumed the post of secretary-general of the NRA’s secretariat.

Kurokawa said he was concerned that an official of the economy ministry, which has promoted nuclear power generation, is now at the top of the secretariat.

Previously, a “no-return rule” was in place that prohibited employees of the NRA secretariat from returning to the economy ministry.

However, the Abe administration changed the rule to allow them to return to the ministry at bureaus not directly related to nuclear power generation.

Regarding the change, Kurokawa said, “The most important thing is to protect the no-return rule.” ”

by Shinichi Sekine, The Asahi Shimbun

source

Tepco mandated to create fund for scrapping Fukushima plant — The Japan Times

” The Diet passed a bill Wednesday requiring Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. to put aside extra funds to decommission its crisis-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant, as the state seeks to gain more financial control over the utility.

Under the revised law, the state-backed Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corp. will also be involved in the decommissioning process.

Currently, Tepco has been using profits to pay for scrapping the Fukushima No. 1 plant, which was destroyed after a 2011 earthquake and tsunami triggered a triple meltdown.

The revised law is expected to take effect later this year. With the estimated cost of the decommissioning work already surging to ¥8 trillion from the previously forecast ¥2 trillion, a government panel has called for setting up a funding system that is not dependent on the company’s financial health.

The government projects the total cost to deal with the Fukushima nuclear disaster will reach ¥21.5 trillion, including decommissioning costs, compensation and decontamination work.

Under the new program, the state-backed organization will decide on the amount Tepco should store away each business year and the industry minister must approve it.

The utility must also formulate a financial plan and obtain the minister’s approval when it uses the reserve fund for its decommissioning work.

The new law will strengthen the monitoring power of authorities as well, enabling the industry ministry and the organization to conduct on-site inspections to check whether Tepco is putting aside the money.

The government has a major say in the utility’s operations after acquiring 50.1 percent of the company’s voting rights. Tepco faces huge compensation payments and decommissioning costs among other problems due to the 2011 disaster.

The industry ministry has projected roughly ¥300 billion will be needed annually for the next 30 years to complete the scrapping of the power plant, which involves the difficult procedure of extracting nuclear debris.

The costs could grow further. A study by a Tokyo-based private think tank has shown the bill for the decommissioning could balloon to between ¥11 trillion and ¥32 trillion assuming materials from the No. 1 to 3 reactors, which suffered core meltdowns, need to be specially treated for radioactive waste.

The Japan Center for Economic Research estimated the total cost of managing the disaster could reach ¥70 trillion, more than three times the government calculation. ”

by Kyodo, The Japan Times

source

Japan seeks final resting place for highly radioactive nuclear waste — Deutsche Welle

” With communities refusing to come forward to host the by-product of Japan’s nuclear energy industry, the Japanese government is drawing up a map of the most suitable locations for underground repositories.

The Japanese government is putting the finishing touches to a map of the country identifying what its experts consider to be the safest location for a repository for 18,000 tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste for the next 100,000 years. The map is expected to be released next month and will coincide with the government holding a series of symposiums across the country designed to explain why the repository is needed and to win support for the project.

Given that the disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in March 2011 is still fresh in the memory of the Japanese public, the government’s plan is not expected to win much understanding or support.

The original proposal for a repository for the waste from the nation’s nuclear energy sector was first put forward in 2002, but even then there were few communities that were willing to be associated with the dump. Fifteen years later, and with a number of Japan’s nuclear reactors closed down for good in the wake of the Fukushima accident, the need for a permanent storage site is more pressing than ever.

Radioactivity release

The disaster, in which a 13-meter tsunami triggered by an off-shore earthquake crippled four reactors at the plant and caused massive amounts of radioactivity to escape into the atmosphere, also underlined just how seismically unstable the Japanese archipelago is and the need for the repository to be completely safe for 100,000 years.

Aileen Mioko-Smith, an anti-nuclear campaigner with Kyoto-based Green Action Japan, does not believe the government can deliver that guarantee.

“You only have to look at what happened in 2011 to realize that nowhere in Japan is safe from this sort of natural disaster and it is crazy to think otherwise,” she told DW.

Given the degree of public hostility, Mioko-Smith believes that the government will fall back on the tried-and-trusted tactic of offering ever-increasing amounts of money until a community gives in.

Government funds

“They have been trying to get this plan of the ground for years and one thing they tried was to offer money to any town or village that agreed to even undergo a survey to see if their location was suitable,” she said.

“There were a number of mayors who accepted the proposal because they wanted the money – even though they had no intention of ever agreeing to host the storage site – but the backlash from their constituents was fast and it was furious,” Smith added.

“In every case, those mayors reversed their decisions and the government has got nowhere,” she said. “But I fear that means that sooner or later they are just going to make a decision on a site and order the community to accept it.”

The security requirements of the facility will be exacting, the government has stated, and the site will need to be at least 300 meters beneath the surface in a part of the country that is not subject to seismic activity from active faults or volcanoes. It must also be safe from the effects of erosion and away from oil and coal fields. Another consideration is access and sites within 20 km of the coast are preferred.

High-level waste

The facility will need to be able to hold 25,000 canisters of vitrified high-level waste, while more waste will be produced as the nation’s nuclear reactors are slowly brought back online after being mothballed since 2011 for extensive assessments of their safety and ability to withstand a natural disaster on the same scale as the magnitude-9 earthquake that struck Fukushima.

Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor of international relations at Tokyo’s International Christian University, agrees that the government will have to pay to convince any community to host the facility.

“They will probably peddle it as subsidies for rural revitalization, which is a tactic that all governments use, but there are going to be some significant protests because Fukushima has created a nuclear allergy in most people in Japan,” he said.

“I expect that the government would also very much like to be able to phase out nuclear energy, but that is simply not realistic at the moment,” he said.

When it is released, the government’s list is likely to include places in Tohoku and Hokkaido as among the most suitable sites, because both are relatively less populated than central areas of the country and are in need of revitalization efforts. Parts of Tohoku close to the Fukushima plant may eventually be chosen because they are still heavily contaminated with radiation from the accident. ”

by Deutsche Welle

source