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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AP Interview: Fukushima plant’s new ice wall not watertight — AP via ABC News

” Coping with the vast amounts of ground water flowing into the broken Fukushima nuclear plant — which then becomes radiated and seeps back out — has become such a problem that Japan is building a 35 billion yen ($312 million) “ice wall” into the earth around it.

But even if the frozen barrier built with taxpayers’ money works as envisioned, it won’t completely block all water from reaching the damaged reactors because of gaps in the wall and rainfall, creating as much as 50 tons of contaminated water each day, said Yuichi Okamura, a chief architect of the massive project.

“It’s not zero,” Okamura said of the amount of water reaching the reactors in an interview with The Associated Press earlier this week. He is a general manager at Tokyo Electric Power Co., or TEPCO, which operates the facility that melted down after it was hit by a tsunami in 2011, prompting 150,000 people to evacuate.

Workers have rigged pipes that constantly spray water into the reactors to keep the nuclear debris inside from overheating, but coping with what to do with the resulting radiated water has been a major headache. So far, the company has stored the water in nearly 1,000 huge tanks around the plant, with more being built each week.

TEPCO resorted to devising the 1.5-kilometer (1-mile)-long ice wall around the facility after it became clear it had to do something drastic to stem the flow of groundwater into the facility’s basement and keep contaminated water from flowing back out.

“It’s a vicious cycle, like a cat-and-mouse game,” Okamura said of the water-related issues. “We have come up against many unexpected problems.”

The water woes are just part of the many obstacles involved in controlling and dismantling the Fukushima Dai-chi plant, a huge task that will take 40 years. No one has even seen the nuclear debris. Robots are being created to capture images of the debris. The radiation is so high no human being can do that job.

The ice wall, built by construction company Kajima Corp., is being turned on in sections for tests, and the entire freezing process will take eight months since it was first switched on in late March. The entire wall requires as much electricity as would power 13,000 Japanese households.

Edward Yarmak, president of Arctic Foundations, based in Anchorage, Alaska, which designs and installs ground freezing systems and made an ice wall for the Oak Ridge reactor site, says the solution should work at Fukushima.

“The refrigeration system has just been turned on, and it takes time to form the wall. First, the soil freezes concentrically around the pipes and when the frozen cylinders are large enough, they coalesce and form a continuous wall. After time, the wall increases in thickness,” he said in an email.

But critics say the problem of the groundwater reaching the reactors was a no-brainer that should have been projected.

Building a concrete wall into the hill near the plant right after the disaster would have minimized the contaminated water problem considerably, says Shigeaki Tsunoyama, honorary professor and former president of University of Aizu in Fukushima.

Even at the reduced amount of 50 tons a day, the contaminated water produced at Fukushima will equal what came out of Three Mile Island’s total in just eight months because of the prevalence of groundwater in Fukushima, he said.

Although TEPCO has set 2020 as the goal for ending the water problems, Tsunoyama believes that’s too optimistic.

“The groundwater coming up from below can never become zero,” he said in a telephone interview. “There is no perfect answer.”

Okamura acknowledged the option to build a barrier in the higher elevation near the plant was considered in the early days after the disaster. But he defended his company’s actions.

The priority was on preventing contaminated water from escaping into the Pacific Ocean, he said. Various walls were built along the coastline, and radiation monitors show leaks have tapered off over the last five years.

Opponents of nuclear power say the ice wall is a waste of taxpayers’ money and that it may not work.

“From the perspective of regular people, we have serious questions about this piece of research that’s awarded a construction giant,” says Kanna Mitsuta, director of ecology group Friends of the Earth Japan. “Our reaction is: Why an ice wall?” ”

by Yuri Kageyama and Mari Yamaguchi

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Fukushima cleanup described by Tepco chief as ‘like working in a field hospital in a warzone’ — ABC News

” Fukushima power plant operators’ recent update on the nuclear accident clean-up makes it clear there is still a long way to go to remediate the area.

It has been almost five years since the nuclear accident at Fukushima, where three reactors experienced core meltdowns and the plant spewed radioactivity across a huge area, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to leave their homes and livelihoods.

The operators said they have picked up the debris from the accident and built some new protective structures on the site but the trickiest job of finding and removing the nuclear fuel in the reactors have not yet started.

Naohiro Masuda, the man tasked with the job of decommissioning the plant, said “in the first couple of years it was like working in a field hospital in a warzone”.

“It was like running through flames,” he said.

Tokyo will host the Olympics in four years and many in the Government would prefer the message from Fukushima to be a lot more positive.

Mr Masuda said there was still melted fuel in reactors one, two and three.

“But honestly we don’t know about the situation, we don’t know where it’s fallen,” he said.

In the five years since the nuclear accident, work at the plant has focused on a physical clean-up of the site, debris from earthquake and tsunami damage to the buildings has been removed.

But the most difficult and complex work has yet to begin and was not known where the melted nuclear debris is inside the reactors.

In the wake of the nuclear disaster, Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors were switched off and a safety review carried out.

The three reactors are operating again — with plans to switch on many more as soon as they meet the requirements of a new, stricter safety code.

Buddhist monk says Government has not ‘learnt its lesson’

The Buddhist monk Tokuo Hayakawa, who resides in the 600-year-old Hokyoji temple in the hills behind the Fukushima power plant, said that Japan has not learnt its lesson from the nuclear accident.

“It’s clear that it’ll happen again,” he said.

He and his community were forced to flee in the aftermath of the nuclear accident.

Dressed in his black prayer robes, adorned with anti-nuclear badges, monk Hayakawa said the Government had let the people down and he believed the situation at the plant was far from under control.

The evacuation order has been lifted in a nearby town, but young people were not returning.

Mr Hayakawa said he believed as the decommission progresses in the area will disappear.

He said the Government should abandon its nuclear energy policy.

“They must stop using nuclear power because safety can’t be guaranteed,” Mr Hayakawa said.

“I feel sad and angry, even more than I did at the time of the accident.”

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Workers sue Tepco over hazard pay — NHK World; Fukushima fallout continues: now cleanup workers claim unpaid wages — The Guardian

NHK World reports, workers at Fukushima Daiichi are suing Tokyo Electric and sixteen other companies for not receiving promised additional pay for working in hazardous conditions. Their paychecks are shaved down as TEPCO compensation descends through a hierarchy of subcontractors. Watch NHK video.

* * *

The Guardian:

” The legal net has started to tighten around the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, as victims of the accident, and those responsible for clearing it up, take their grievances to the courts.

Last week, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) said it would not contend a court ruling ordering it to pay almost $500,000 in compensation to the family of a woman who killed herself two months after being forced to flee her home near the plant.

That claim, which could pave the way for similar suits, has been followed by a unprecedented attempt by four Fukushima Daiichi workers to sue the utility for unpaid wages.

The two former and two current workers, aged in their 30s to 60s, claim that Tepco and its contractors failed to ensure they were paid mandatory hazard allowances, on top of their regular wages.

In the first legal challenge of its kind against Tepco, the four men, who are not named and wore masks in court for fear of reprisals from their employers, are seeking $600,000 in unpaid wages from Tepco and several of its partner firms.

The men’s lawyer said he believed more could follow among the 6,000 workers – most of whom work for contractors – involved in the dangerous 40-year operation to decommission the plant.

“A year ago, the prime minister told the world that Fukushima was under control. But that’s not the case,” Tsuguo Hirota told Reuters. “Workers are not getting promised hazard pay and skilled workers are leaving. It’s becoming a place for amateurs only, and that has to worry anyone who lives near the plant.”

The hazardous nature of work to control the flow of radioactive water, and to prepare damaged reactors for the removal of melted nuclear fuel prompted Tepco to announce late last year that it would double daily danger money payments to $200 per worker.

But labourers employed by some of the 800 firms involved in decommissioning Fukushima Daiichi say the extra cash is being withheld by contractors and subcontractors, which claim they need the extra cash to keep their businesses afloat.

“My health could suffer one day … I believe there are many people who can’t speak out about this kind of problem,” one of the workers told public broadcaster NHK. “I may get fired or may be given no more work. But I hope people will take this as an opportunity to speak up and get paid.”

The suits have opened a new front in the legal battle against Tepco, which is expected to pay more than $48bn in compensation to residents affected by the March 2011 disaster, and billions more on decontamination and decommissioning.

Last month, a citizens’ judicial panel ruled that three former Tepco executives should face criminal charges over the disaster. Prosecutors must respond to the panel by next month. ”

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*To prevent Fukushima from causing the ultimate global catastrophe — letter from Mitsuhei Murata via solartopia.org

The following is a letter by Mitsuhei Murata, former ambassador to Switzerland and executive director of the Japan Society for Global System and Ethics, published on solartopia.org on Aug. 23, 2014.

” (Preface)

Fukushima constitutes a global security issue. Fukushima is out of control and the situation at the site is dangerously worsening. The Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Company(Tepco) have lost credibility both at home and abroad. Nearly 3 and half years after the Accident, Japan is at a loss how best to cope with the current situation. The crisis of Japan as a nation is being tackled with as a crisis of the management of Tepco!

The drastic change of the present faulty system is urgently needed by dint of powerful international cooperation. The time limit has been attained.

Global security issue

Fukushima has shown that the presence of nuclear reactors itself constitute a security problem, because, if the cooling system of the pool containing used fuel rods gets out of order for more than 3 days, a meltdown could start. This applies to more than 440 nuclear reactors in the world. There is no doubt that Fukushima constitutes a global security issue. Suffice it to say that we can only pray that no mega earthquake happens at the site to cause the collapse of the unit 4 reactor that could lead to a global catastrophe.

You will be surprised to know how precarious Japan’s future is, in view of the fatal defects of the current system under the leadership of the government and Tokyo Electric Company (TEPCO).

The basic nuclear law does not prescribe clearly where lies the responsibility of assuring the safety of the population. The restart of nuclear reactors is being delayed by the surfacing of this basic problem.

After the Accident, a new nuclear regulatory commission was created to secure its independence from the Ministries concerned. Recently, such rules as that of no return for the staff of the secretariat, are being neglected.

The members of the commission are no longer chosen from those having no prior link with electric companies. The Commission has publicly denied its responsibility as regards the safety of the residents. It is criticized by the public for concentrating its efforts to realize the restart of nuclear reactors. Under such circumstances, how can nuclear security be assured ?

There is no guarantee that another severe accident will not take place. The next one could be much more destructive. We should remember that, only 20 percent of Fukushima’s airborne radiation leases blew inland, while 80 percent streamed out to sea. If the wind had blown in the opposite direction, Tokyo would have been evacuated.

The problem of contaminated water

The problem of contaminated water has no solution in sight. The situation is worsening. Decommissioning the plant will be impossible until Tepco surmounts the contaminated water crisis. The plant’s water-treatment facility, which can remove all radioactive nuclides except tritium, has been suspended several times and remains problematic.

It has been confirmed that the recently completed bypass that reroutes clean groundwater directly into the Pacific, and underground wells does not contribute to reducing the flow of ground water into the sea.

The attempt to freeze the water in the trenches has been unsuccessful. The water inside the trenches isn’t freezing properly because it is circulating inside at higher speeds than the groundwater.

The groundwater bypass project to reduce the inflow of the groundwater into the reactors underground has not worked. The amount of the inflow of groundwater from the mountain side is so enormous. The groundwater is thus massively contaminated.

Reliable experts estimate that the daily inflow of contaminated water into the sea amounts to 1000 tons, of which 600 is groundwater. In addition to this, frequent torrential rain falls wash away into the sea radiogenic materials heavily accumulated at the site.

To make the matter worse, global warming seems to have brought about the climate change in Japan. Local downpours of rain causing landslides or mudslides are now so frequent. The latest typhoon has given rise to more than 90 victimes in Hiroshima. Enormous amount of rain washes away radioactive materials of numerous hot spots at the site into the sea.

A year ago, when Tepco removed the debris and rubble of the unit 3, the wind scattered radiogenic materials all around. According to Tepco, the amount of radiation amounted to 400 million becquerels. Some experts suspect the number is diminished by 10 times.

As it enters a critical phase of the Fukushima Daiichi clean-up, Tepco is contending with low morale among employees, about 3,000 of whom have quit or taken early retirement since the March 2011 disaster. Many have turned their back on nuclear power to take better-paid, less stressful jobs in other parts of the energy industry.

The serious problems of procuring workers and financial resources would be decisively affected by Tokyo Olympic Games that will mobilize a great deal of labor and funds.

Effects of Fukushima crossing the Pacific Ocean

Last January, a renowned peace pacifist sent me an article she had received from someone in California. It refers to a paper attributed to be a “Russian Ministry of Defense Report”. The following excerpt deserves serious attention.

“With experts now estimating that the wave of radiation from Fukushima will be 10-times bigger than all of the radiation from the entire world’s nuclear tests throughout history combined, and with new reports stating that dangerous radiation levels have been detected in snows found in Texas, Colorado and Missouri, this report warns the US, indeed, is going to face the severest consequences of this historic, and seemingly unstoppable, nuclear disaster. And not just to human beings either is this nuclear disaster unfolding either, this report grimly warns, but also to all biological systems as new reports coming from the United States western coastal areas are now detailing the mass deaths of seals, sea lions, polar bears, bald eagles, sea stars, turtles, king and sockeye salmon, herring, anchovies, and sardines due to Fukushima radiation.”

The report also points out that large amounts of fish, seaweeds, and everything in ocean has been already been polluted, and that these products are the main danger for mankind as they can end up being eaten by people on a massive scale.

What is stated above certainly needs serious verification. In this connection, a survey is being made by an American expert on the consequences of Fukushima being suffered by the West Coast of the United States. It is said that “NATURE” is to publish it next autumn. Its impact will be great.

This report further writes that two “low-level” underground atomic explosions occurred in the Fukushima disaster zone on 31 December, 2013, the first measuring 5.1 magnitude in intensity, followed by a smaller 3.6 magnitude explosion moments later.

When I read it, I just shivered. Fortunately, I could immediately clarify the situation, by contacting the responsible director of the relevant Ministry. It was earthquakes that had happened nearby, but not at the site, and that, on 31 December, no accident had taken place. If not, it would have been a too shocking news.

Japan is laboring under the consequences of the Accident never experienced by humanity. It is now obvious that Japan is seriously in need of an international help.

You can see how vulnerable is Tokyo Olympic Games, being prepared, ignoring the deteriorating situation at the Fukushima Daiichi.

New international system

A new international system is needed to minimize the consequences of nuclear accidents. Fukushima is revealing the limitations of a government facing a national crisis, its longevity being but of a few years. Nuclear accidents have shown the necessity of coping with their consequences quasi- permanently.

By dint of procrastination, the government of a country where a severe nuclear accident has broken out, could avert the crucial duty to make maximum efforts to cope with the accident by an operation of diversion with the collaboration of the media. I would like to urge the international community to take up this new problem. Since Fukushima is a global security issue, we need a new system to cope with it.

We need a special international system that that obliges governments to carry out certain prescribed duties. I would like to propose the following two minimum requirements.

1. To make maximum efforts to bring the consequences of the accident under control.
2. To concretize international cooperation to mobilize human wisdom on the widest possible scope.

Conclusion

It is the responsibility of the international community to prevent Fukushima from causing the ultimate global catastrophe. The Japanese current system of coping with the consequences of Fukushima is faulty and needs a drastic change. Japan is in need of international solidarity and powerful international cooperation. ”

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