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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Is it safe to dump Fukushima waste into the sea? — The Guardian; Inquisitr

” More than 1,000 tanks brimming with irradiated water stand inland from the Fukushima nuclear plant. Each day 300 tonnes of water are pumped through Fukushima’s ruined reactors to keep them cool. As the water washes through the plant it collects a slew of radioactive particles.

The company that owns the plant – The Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) – has deployed filtration devices that have stripped very dangerous isotopes of strontium and caesium from the flow.

But the water being stored in the tanks still contains tritium, an isotope of hydrogen with two neutrons. Tritium is a major by-product of nuclear reactions and is difficult and expensive to remove from water.

Now, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has launched a campaign to convince a sceptical world that dumping up to 800,000 tonnes of contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean is a safe and responsible thing to do.

NRA chairman Shunichi Tanaka has officially called on Tepco to work towards a release. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last year also issued a call for a release to be considered and for Tepco to perform an assessment of the potential impacts. For its part, Tepco has said there are no current plans to release the water. But the Associated Press (AP) reported that company officials are saying in private that they may have no choice.

According to Tanaka, Tritium is “so weak in its radioactivity it won’t penetrate plastic wrapping”. The substance can be harmful if ingested. According to AP, Tanaka had demonstrated the relatively tiny amount of tritium present in the combined Fukushima standing tanks – 57ml in total – by holding a small bottle half full of blue liquid in front of reporters.

A more useful measure of the amount of tritium is its radioactivity, which is measured in becquerels. According to the NRA, the tanks at Fukushima contain 3.4 peta becquerels (PBq) of tritium.

Despite the number of zeros in this measurement (there are 14), this is not a big number, said Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

To put it in context, the natural global accumulation of tritium is a relatively tiny 2,200 PBq. The isotope has a half life of 12.3 years and is only created naturally on Earth by a rare reaction between cosmic rays and the atmosphere. By far the largest source of tritium in our environment is the nuclear weapons testing program of last century, which dumped a total of 186,000 PBq into the world’s oceans. Over time this has decayed to roughly 8,000 PBq. Another significant source of tritium are nuclear power stations, which have long dumped tritium-contaminated water into the ocean.

“I would think more has been put into the Irish Sea [from the UK’s Sellafield plant] than would ever be released off Japan,” said Buesseler. So far, the Fukushima disaster has seen 0.1-0.5 PBq leaked or released into the Pacific.

Even if all of the contaminated water were released into the ocean, it would not contain enough tritium to be detectable by the time it dispersed and reached the US west coast about four years later, said Simon Boxall, an oceanographer at the University of Southampton.

“In the broad scale of things, if they do end up putting the material in the Pacific, it will have minimal effect on an ocean basin scale,” said Boxall. “In an ideal world, we wouldn’t be in this situation. But the question is, what is the safest way forward? In many ways this is a pragmatic solution.”

But Boxall said there may be local effects – especially on the already heavily impacted fishing industry – as the contaminated water would take time to disperse.

International maritime law prohibits the building of a pipeline to send the waste offshore. Therefore any release would need to be slow. Tepco did not respond to questions regarding the environmental impact study called for by the IAEA.

Despite harbouring few prima facie fears about the 3.4PBq of tritium stored at Fukushima, Buesseler said the lack of transparency surrounding much of the post-tsunami decommissioning process made it impossible to be definitive about the safety of any course of action.

“Until you get the hard data, it’s hard to say if it’s a good idea or not. I want to have independent confirmation of what’s in every tank, which isotopes, how much they want to release per day. You get more of ‘don’t worry, trust us’,” said Buesseler

He notes that there have been minor differences between the official Tepco line that all leaks have stopped and Buesseler’s own measurements of very low levels of caesium and strontium still entering the ocean from the plant.

“It’s easy to have conspiracy theories when no-one is independently assessing what is going on,” he said.

The push for release will also be a blow to the hopes of US start-up Kurion, and their new parent company Veolia, which was awarded a $10m (£7m) grant from the Japanese government in 2014 to demonstrate that its tritium scrubbing technology could be scaled to meet the challenge of the Fukushima problem. The plan would create 90,000 tonnes of hydrogen gas, which Kurion said could be used to power vehicles.

Neither Tepco, nor Kurion, responded to requests for cost estimates of implementing this technology at the site. Kurion’s website calls it “cost-effective” and has said it could have its demonstration plant running within 18 months.

These costs are fundamental to the question of whether to release the material, because whatever they are, it is the price Japan seems unwilling to pay to fully clean up the lingering mess at Fukushima. ”

by Karl Mathiesen

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Here’s another perspective on the dumping of tritiated water in the Pacific by Inquisitr.

Japan lawyer wants no-nukes after Fukushima — The Associated Press via Phys.org

” Lawyer Hiroyuki Kawai stands out in Japan, a nation dominated by somber dark suits: When not in a courtroom, he often wears colorful shirts and crystal-covered animal pins. He is a Noh dancer, a tenor and, of late, a filmmaker. His ride is a Harley.

Some of it is just for fun, but much of the flamboyance is meant to draw attention to his cause: shutting down all nuclear plants in Japan. His more than two-decade-long legal battle is gaining momentum after the multiple meltdowns in Fukushima five years ago led to all plants being idled for safety checks.

In March, Kawai helped set up an organization to support Fukushima residents whose children have developed thyroid cancer since the 2011 disaster—166 among 380,000 people 18 years and under who were tested, including suspected cases. That’s up to 50 times higher than on average, according to Toshihide Tsuda, a professor at Okayama University.

The Japanese government denies any link, saying the increase reflects more rigorous screening. Thyroid cancer, rare among children at two or three in a million, soared after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Also last month, Kawai’s won a court injunction to stop two nuclear reactors in western Japan that had recently restarted. The district court cited concerns about safety, emergency planning and environmental contamination. One of the reactors was shut down shortly after its restart because of glitches. Both had met stricter standards upgraded after the 2011 disaster.

Kawai’s team is pursuing damage compensation for those evacuated from Fukushima, and criminal charges against former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the Fukushima plant. His ultimate goal is to banish nuclear power.

“If another nuclear accident ever happens in Japan, everything will be destroyed—turning upside down our politics, our economy, our education, our culture, our love, our law,” Kawai told The Associated Press, sitting at a desk overflowing with files and papers in his Tokyo office.

Born in 1944 in Manchuria, northeastern China, Kawaii has built a reputation as a champion of humanitarian causes, helping out Japanese abandoned as children in China after World War II, and Filipinos of Japanese descent in the Philippines. His compassion is driven partly by his own experience: A baby brother died of starvation during his family’s perilous journey back to Japan.

After graduating from prestigious Tokyo University, Kawai represented major corporations as a lawyer during the “bubble era” of the 1980s. In the mid-1990s he began taking on lawsuits against nuclear power.

Until 2011, he was fighting a losing battle.

To win over regular people after the Fukushima accident Kawai started making movies, which are sometimes entered as evidence for his court cases. In “Nuclear Japan,” he points out how precariously quake- and tsunami-prone Japan is, and how densely populated. He interviews scientists, former Fukushima residents, a fire fighter who could not go back to save lives because of radiation.

“Imagine remembering this film in an evacuation center after the next nuclear disaster,” Kawai narrates in the movie.

Since Japan imports almost all its energy, many in government and business view nuclear power as the cheapest option, and the best way to curb pollution and counter global warming.

Kawai’s stance angers many in the powerful business community. Hiroshi Sato, a senior adviser at Kobe Steel, lambasted Kawai’s position as “emotional” and “unscientific.”

“What I’m really worried about is the idea of similar lawsuits being filed one after another. That would lead to uncertainty about a stable electricity supply,” he told reporters recently.

Even those who insist nuclear power is safe—including top government regulator Shunichi Tanaka and Gerry Thomas, a professor at the Imperial College of London who advises Japan—say the choice of whether to keep or abandon nuclear energy should be left to the Japanese people.

Kawai believes policy shifts, like the turn against nuclear in Germany, begin in the courtroom.

“For 50 years, Japan had a campaign that we need nuclear power, and how it is reliable and safe, and 99 percent of Japanese believed this,” he said.

“But we thought we could finally win, and about 300 lawyers came together to start a new fight against nuclear power,” he said with a zeal making him appear younger than his 71 years.

Financially independent thanks to his corporate law days, Kawai invested 35 million yen ($350,000) in his first movie, which turned a profit from screenings and DVD sales. He is now working on his third film.

“I think he is fantastic,” said Yurika Ayukawa, a professor of policy at Chiba University of Commerce. She attended at a recent screening where Kawai spoke and surprised the crowd by breaking into a song on Iitate, one of rural Fukushima’s most radiated areas.

Radiation is a sensitive issue in Japan, the only country to suffer atomic bomb attacks, and the Fukushima thyroid cancer patients and their families mostly have kept silent, fearing a social backlash. They face pressure from the hospital treating their children not to speak to media or to question the official view that the illnesses are unrelated to radiation.

Two of the patients’ families appeared recently with Kawai before reporters, although in a video-call with their faces not shown. They said they felt doubtful, afraid and isolated. Kawai believes they are entitled to compensation, though they have not yet filed a lawsuit.

George Fujita, an attorney who specializes in environmental issues, says Kawai is Japan’s top lawyer on nuclear lawsuits. … ”

by Yuri Kageyama And Mari Yamaguchi

read full article

‘Ice wall’ is Japan’s last-ditch effort to contain Fukushima radiation — Huffpost Green; NHK World video

Huffpost Green:

” • The nearly mile-long structure consists of underground pipes designed to form a frozen barrier around the crippled reactors.
• The $312 million system was completed last month, more than a year behind schedule.
• Nearly 800,000 tons of radioactive water are already being stored onsite.

Japanese authorities have activated a large subterranean “ice wall” in a desperate attempt to stop radiation that’s been leaking from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant for five years.

The wall consists of a series of underground refrigeration pipes meant to form a frozen soil barrier around the four reactors that were crippled during the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

Construction of the $312 million government-funded structure was completed last month, more than a year behind schedule, the Associated Press reports. The nearly mile-long barrier is intended to block groundwater from entering the facility and becoming contaminated.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., or TEPCO, which owns the plant, activated the system Thursday, a day after obtaining approval from Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority.

In a video detailing the ice wall’s design, TEPCO said the technology has been successfully used to prevent water intrusion during the construction of tunnels, but this is the first time it has been used to block water from entering a nuclear facility.

“We will create an impermeable barrier,” the company said, “by freezing the soil itself all the way down to the bedrock that exists below the plant. When groundwater flowing downhill reaches this frozen barrier it will flow around the reactor buildings, reaching the sea just as it always has, but without contacting the contaminated water within the reactor buildings.”

TEPCO says the ice wall will be activated in stages over the next several months and is one of several measures the company is taking to reduce the amount of water being contaminated on the site.

Nearly 800,000 tons of radioactive water are already being stored in more than 1,000 industrial tanks at the nuclear plant, according to the AP.

While hopes are high that the ice wall will prove successful in stopping additional radioactive water from seeping into the Pacific Ocean, Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, urged caution.

“It would be best to think that natural phenomena don’t work the way you would expect,” he told reporters Wednesday, according to the AP report.

The activation of the ice wall comes just weeks after a TEPCO official reported that robots designed to access the dangerous interior of the plant and seek out the melted fuel rods were “dying” from the high levels of radiation. ”

by Chris D’Angelo

source with photos and several videos explaining how the ice wall works and showing Tepco workers initiating the frozen barrier

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Here is also a good video by NHK World that shows the spatial layout of the ice wall and how it works.

Japan regulators OK costly ice wall at Fukushima plant — AP via ABC News

” Japanese regulators on Wednesday approved the use of a giant refrigeration system to create an unprecedented underground frozen barrier around buildings at the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant in an attempt to contain leaking radioactive water.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority said the structure, which was completed last month, can now be activated.

The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., said it plans to turn on the ice wall on Thursday, starting with the portion near the sea to prevent more contaminated water from escaping into the Pacific Ocean. The system will be started up in phases to allow close monitoring and adjustment.

Nearly 800,000 tons of radioactive water that is already being stored in 1,000 industrial tanks at the plant has been hampering the decontamination and decommissioning of the nuclear facility, which was damaged by a massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

The success of the ice wall is believed to be key to resolving the plant’s water woes.

The 35 billion yen ($312 million) government-funded project, proposed by construction giant Kajima Corp., is more than a year behind schedule because of technical uncertainties. Some experts are still skeptical of the technology and question whether it’s worth the huge cost.

The project consists of refrigeration pipes dug 30 meters (100 feet) underground that are designed to freeze the soil around them. They are supposed to form a 1.5-kilometer (0.9-mile) wall around the reactor and turbine buildings to contain radioactive water and keep out groundwater.

At a meeting Wednesday of the nuclear agency, Chairman Shunichi Tanaka cautioned against high expectations because the success of the project depends in part on nature. “It would be best to think that natural phenomena don’t work the way you would expect,” he later told reporters.

Similar methods have been used to block water from parts of tunnels and subways, but a structure large enough to surround four buildings and related facilities is untested. A smaller wall was used to isolate radioactive waste at an U.S. Department of Energy laboratory in Tennessee but only for six years. The decommissioning of the Fukushima plant is expected to take decades.

Three damaged reactors at the plant must be continually cooled with water to keep their melted cores from overheating. The water, which becomes radioactive, leaks out through cracks and other damaged areas into the reactor basements, where it mixes with groundwater, increasing the volume of contaminated water.

Many experts including Tanaka say a “controlled release” of treated water is the only solution to the water woes, but concerns about ocean health make it a contentious subject.

A test of part of the ice wall successfully froze the ground around it, and officials hope the entire wall can be formed within several months, according to Shinichi Nakakuki, a spokesman for the utility, TEPCO.

TEPCO officials say they hope the ice wall will stop most of the flow of groundwater into the area and allow the turbine basements to be dried by 2020, confining the contamination to the three melted reactors.

Asked at the meeting if the ice wall is worth the cost, TEPCO accident response official Toshihiro Imai replied, “Its effect is still unknown, because the expected outcome is based on simulations.” ”

by Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press

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Problems with prototype reactor threaten Japan’s nuclear fuel recycling plan — The Japan Times

” Japan’s energy policy is facing major obstacles this year, as problems surrounding an experimental reactor threaten to foil long-laid plans to recycle nuclear fuel.

The government is trying to develop a commercial fast-breeder nuclear reactor to recycle nuclear fuel and raise the energy self-sufficiency rate, currently at about 6 percent, of the world’s fifth-largest energy consuming country.

Resource-poor Japan imports all of its uranium for nuclear power generation — one of its core power sources — from Canada and other countries, but it seeks to make fuel on its own using an advanced fast-breeder reactor capable of producing more plutonium than it consumes.

Plutonium can be used as nuclear fuel for conventional and fast-breeder reactors by mixing it with uranium. Japan currently uses overseas companies to reprocess its spent fuel into uranium-plutonium mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel, with a view to homegrown reprocessing in the future.

The fast-breeder reactor development project recently hit a major stumbling block, however, that put the entire project at risk of shutting down.

The regulator instructed the government in November to consider steps to guarantee the safety of the trouble-prone Monju reactor, including an option to close it down if a new operator cannot be found within six months.

The government has spent more than ¥1 trillion ($8.27 billion) on Monju, a prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor that remains under development.

But ongoing safety problems have left the reactor idled for much of the time since it first achieved criticality in 1994.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority has criticized the current operator, the government-backed Japan Atomic Energy Agency, for having made little progress in enhancing safety management even after a slew of safety problems led to a protracted halt in operations.

Hiroshi Hase, the science minister in charge of the project, set up a panel to discuss a possible successor to operate the reactor.

But the regulator’s warning sparked concerns over the fate of the project, as many industry observers think it would be tough to find a replacement.

Establishing yet another government body is no longer a solution after the government’s repeated attempts to create new entities to run Monju failed to realize safe operation, an NRA official said.

The JAEA, established in 2005 by the government through a merger of two former national nuclear research institutions, is already the Monju plant’s third operator.

It would be too risky to let a private company take charge of the prototype reactor, which generates electricity in a more complex way than light-water reactors that many utilities run at present, experts said.

“A (private) power company doesn’t have the technical expertise” to run a fast-breeder nuclear reactor, Makoto Yagi, chairman of the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan (FEPC), told reporters when asked about replacements for the JAEA.

The Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, a pro-nuclear activist group, criticized the NRA’s decision as a move that could lead to the closure of Monju and a drastic overhaul of the country’s nuclear energy policy.

The government should “correct the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s excessive” behavior, the institute said in a newspaper advertisement in December, arguing that the NRA has no jurisdiction over the nation’s energy policy.

Shunichi Tanaka, the head of the NRA, has repeatedly said his body wants the science minister, who is in charge of the Monju project, to ensure the experimental reactor’s safety and has no intention to push the ministry to discontinue it.

“It is up to the ministry to decide” whether to close it, Tanaka said at a news conference.

Hideyuki Ban, co-director of the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center, an independent anti-nuclear advocacy group, said no power companies and government bodies have the ability to carry out the project safely.

“I think (closing it) is really what the government should do,” he said.

Monju has a long track record of problems, starting with a major fire caused by a sodium leak in 1995 that resulted in the project being suspended until May 2010.

It was halted again in August of the same year after a fuel replacement device for the reactor was accidentally dropped, leaving it inoperable until now.

Shutting down the reactor due to safety issues would be tantamount to Japan giving up on development of a commercial fast-breeder reactor, Ban said.

However, terminating the project could create a new headache: the stockpiling of plutonium with no fast-breeder reactor running on MOX fuel to use it. Such a decision would reinforce international fears that the nuclear fuel could be put to military use.

Chinese envoy Fu Cong said in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly’s First Committee in October that Japan’s fissile materials inventory is already large enough to make more than 1,000 nuclear warheads.

The FEPC had planned to use such MOX fuel at 15 conventional reactors by the end of March 2016. That plan, however, has been stalled since the Fukushima meltdowns of 2011 left most reactors in Japan suspended for safety reviews under newly tightened regulations.

If abandoning the fast-breeder reactor project derails Japan’s plan to launch its own reprocessing of spent fuel, concerns are likely to grow over what to do with spent fuel.

“If the Monju project falls through, there is no doubt that calls for reviewing the energy policy will grow louder,” Ban said. ”

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