Eight years on, water woes threaten Fukushima cleanup — Reuters

” OKUMA, Japan (Reuters) – Eight years after the Fukushima nuclear crisis, a fresh obstacle threatens to undermine the massive clean-up: 1 million tons of contaminated water must be stored, possibly for years, at the power plant.

Last year, Tokyo Electric Power Co said a system meant to purify contaminated water had failed to remove dangerous radioactive contaminants.

That means most of that water – stored in 1,000 tanks around the plant – will need to be reprocessed before it is released into the ocean, the most likely scenario for disposal.

Reprocessing could take nearly two years and divert personnel and energy from dismantling the tsunami-wrecked reactors, a project that will take up to 40 years.

It is unclear how much that would delay decommissioning. But any delay could be pricey; the government estimated in 2016 that the total cost of plant dismantling, decontamination of affected areas, and compensation, would amount to 21.5 trillion yen ($192.5 billion), roughly 20 percent of the country’s annual budget.

Tepco is already running out of space to store treated water. And should another big quake strike, experts say tanks could crack, unleashing tainted liquid and washing highly radioactive debris into the ocean.

Fishermen struggling to win back the confidence of consumers are vehemently opposed to releasing reprocessed water – deemed largely harmless by Japan’s nuclear watchdog, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) – into the ocean.

“That would destroy what we’ve been building over the past eight years,” said Tetsu Nozaki, head of the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations. Last year’s catch was just 15 percent of pre-crisis levels, partly because of consumer reluctance to eat fish caught off Fukushima.

SLOW PROGRESS

On a visit to the wrecked Fukushima Dai-ichi plant last month, huge cranes hovered over the four reactor buildings that hug the coast. Workers could be seen atop the No. 3 building getting equipment ready to lift spent fuel rods out of a storage pool, a process that could start next month.

In most areas around the plant, workers no longer need to wear face masks and full body suits to protect against radiation. Only the reactor buildings or other restricted areas require special equipment.

Fanning out across the plant’s property are enough tanks to fill 400 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Machines called Advanced Liquid Processing Systems, or ALPS, had treated the water inside them.

Tepco said the equipment could remove all radionuclides except tritium, a relatively harmless hydrogen isotope that is hard to separate from water. Tritium-laced water is released into the environment at nuclear sites around the world.

But after newspaper reports last year questioned the effectiveness of ALPS-processed water, Tepco acknowledged that strontium-90 and other radioactive elements remained in many of the tanks.

Tepco said the problems occurred because absorbent materials in the equipment had not been changed frequently enough.

The utility has promised to re-purify the water if the government decides that releasing it into the ocean is the best solution. It is the cheapest of five options a government task force considered in 2016; others included evaporation and burial.

Tepco and the government are now waiting for another panel of experts to issue recommendations. The head of the panel declined an interview request. No deadline has been set.

NRA chief Toyoshi Fuketa believes ocean release after dilution is the only feasible way to handle the water problem. He has warned that postponing the decision indefinitely could derail the decommissioning project.

STORING INDEFINITELY

Another option is to store the water for decades in enormous tanks normally used for crude oil. The tanks have been tested for durability, said Yasuro Kawai, a plant engineer and a member of Citizens’ Commission on Nuclear Energy, a group advocating abandoning nuclear energy.

Each tank holds 100,000 tons, so 10 such tanks could store the roughly 1 million tons of water processed by ALPS so far, he said.

The commission proposes holding the tritium-laced water, which has a half life of 12.3 years, in tanks for 123 years. After that, it will be one thousandth as radioactive as it was when it went into storage.

Although experts caution that tanks would be vulnerable to major quakes, Japan’s trade and industry minister, Hiroshige Seko, said the committee would consider them anyway.

“Long-term storage … has an upside as radiation levels come down while it is in storage. But there is a risk of leakage,” Seko told Reuters. “It is difficult to hold the water indefinitely, so the panel will also look into how it should be disposed of eventually.”

Space is also a problem, said Akira Ono, Tepco’s chief decommissioning officer. By 2020, the utility will expand tank storage capacity by 10 percent to 1.37 million tons, and about 95 percent of total capacity will probably be used by the end of that year, he said.

“Tanks are now being built on flat, elevated spots in stable locations,” Ono said. But such ideal space is getting scarce, he added.

Many local residents hope Tepco will just keep storing the water. If it does get released into the ocean, “everyone would sink into depression,” said fishing trawler captain Koichi Matsumoto.

Fukushima was once popular with surfers. But young people in the area do not go surfing any more because they’ve been repeatedly warned about suspected radioactivity in the water, said surf shop owner Yuichiro Kobayashi.

Releasing treated water from the plant “could end up chasing the next generation of children away from the sea as well,” he said.

Ono says dealing with contaminated water is one of many complex issues involved in decommissioning.

A year ago, when he took over leading the effort, it felt like the project had just “entered the trailhead,” he said. “Now, it feels like we’re really starting to climb.” ”

Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Malcolm Foster and Gerry Doyle, Reuters

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Is Fukushima doomed to become a dumping ground for toxic waste? — The Guardian

” This month, seven years after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi reactor meltdowns and explosions that blanketed hundreds of square kilometres of northeastern Japan with radioactive debris, government officials and politicians spoke in hopeful terms about Fukushima’s prosperous future. Nevertheless, perhaps the single most important element of Fukushima’s future remains unspoken: the exclusion zone seems destined to host a repository for Japan’s most hazardous nuclear waste.

No Japanese government official will admit this, at least not publicly. A secure repository for nuclear waste has remained a long-elusive goal on the archipelago. But, given that Japan possesses approximately 17,000 tonnes of spent fuel from nuclear power operations, such a development is vital. Most spent fuel rods are still stored precariously above ground, in pools, in a highly earthquake-prone nation.

Japanese officialdom relentlessly emphasises positive messages regarding Fukushima’s short- and medium-term future, prioritizing economic development and the gradual return of skeptical evacuees to their newly “remediated” communities. Yet the return rate for the least hard-hit communities is only about 15%. Government proclamations regarding revitalisation of the area in and around the exclusion zone intone about jobs but seem geared ominously toward a future with relatively few humans.

The Fukushima prefecture government is currently promoting a plan, dubbed The Innovation Coast, that would transform the unwelcoming region into a thriving sweep of high-tech innovation. Much of the development would be directed towards a “robot-related industrial cluster” and experimental zones like a robot test field.

The test field would develop robots tailored for disaster response and for other purposes on a course simulating a wide range of hurdles and challenges already well represented in Fukushima itself. Large water tanks would contain an array of underwater hazards to navigate, mirroring the wreckage-strewn waters beneath the Fukushima Daiichi plant, where a number of meltdown-remediating underwater robots have met a premature demise in recent years.

Elsewhere on the robot test field, dilapidated buildings and other ruins would serve as a proving ground for land-based disaster-response robots, which must navigate twisted steel rods, broken concrete and other rubble. Engineered runways and surrounding radiation-hit areas would serve as prime territory for testing parlous aerial drones for a range of purposes in various weather conditions – which would be difficult or impossible to achieve elsewhere in relatively densely populated Japan.

The planned site for the test field would link with a secluded test area about 13km south along the coast to coordinate test flights over the exclusion zone’s more or less posthuman terrain.

Naturally, unlike Fukushima’s human residents, robots would be oblivious to the elevated radiation levels found outside the Fukushima Daiichi facility. In addition, prefectural officials have suggested that the exclusion zone environs could play host to a range of other services that don’t require much human intervention, such as long-term archive facilities.

Proud long-time residents of Fukushima, for their part, see all this development as a continued “colonisation” of the home prefecture by Tokyo – a well-worn pattern of outsiders using the zone for their own purposes, as were the utility representatives and officials who built the ill-fated plant in the first place.

Years of colossal decontamination measures have scraped irradiated material from seemingly every forest, park, farm, roadside, and school ground. This 16 million cubic metres of radioactive soil is now stored in provisional sites in and around the exclusion zone, waiting to be moved to an interim storage facility that has hardly been started and for which nearly half of the land has not yet even been leased.

The state has promised to remove all the contaminated soil from Fukushima after 30 years, and government officials have been scrupulous in insisting that this will be the case – for soil. Yet in a nation with about 17,000 tonnes of highly radioactive spent fuel rods and no willing candidates for secure repositories, it is only a matter of time before it becomes possible for politicians to publicly back the idea of transforming the area around Fukushima Daiichi into a secure repository.

Government officials, including those tasked with nuclear waste storage, describe the quintessentially Japanese strategy of saki-okuri, or calculated postponement, in the context of nuclear waste storage. Such perception management is a subtle business, but by quietly and unrelentingly pushing back the day of reckoning – slowly changing the terms of debate – the broadly distasteful prospect of storing Japan’s most dangerous material in its most tragically maltreated region would become gradually less intolerable to Japanese sensibilities.

The expanse of Fukushima in and around the exclusion zone represents an already contaminated area with, since 2011, far fewer residents to protest against such plans. Such a rare opportunity for relatively unopposed intervention in a struggling area will surely prove irresistible to the nuclear lobby.

Fukushima has been marginalised, disenfranchised, and outmanoeuvred for decades. After all, the electricity from Fukushima Daiichi went straight to the capital, not to Fukushima itself, which bore the risks. Since 2011, Fukushima has been saddled with the staggering burden of the meltdown’s aftermath that, despite government PR, will encumber and stigmatise its citizens for at least several decades. ”

by Peter Wynn Kirby, The Guardian

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*Joint appeal opposing the Indo-Japan Nuclear Cooperation Deal — Change.org

This petition was delivered to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe  and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

” We strongly oppose the signing of the India-Japan Nuclear Cooperation Agreement (hereafter: ‘the Agreement’) during the Indian Prime Minister Mr. Modi’s upcoming visit to Japan, expected to be in mid November this year.

The purpose of this Agreement is to allow Japan to export nuclear technology to India, a country that has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and in fact possesses nuclear weapons. With the cooperation of Japan, the only country that has experienced wartime nuclear attack, this Agreement will enable India to build nuclear reactors and it is believed it will also allow India to extract plutonium from spent fuel rods used in these reactors. With no effective international safeguards, there is a possibility that this plutonium could be used for military purposes. The already weak international non-proliferation regime, with NPT at its center, will be severely undermined with the legitimization of India’s nuclear weapons, which is, in effect what Japan is doing by signing this Agreement.

It is clear that by signing the Agreement, Japan will negate all its efforts towards global nuclear disarmament and abolition of nuclear weapons, based on its experiences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since September this year, tensions between nuclear-armed Pakistan and India over Kashmir have been boiling over, and the danger of a nuclear war erupting is escalating. It is clear that signing the Agreement this November will only increase the military tensions in South Asia.

Furthermore, the nuclear accident which shock the world at Fukushima Daiichi, is by no means over. The moral integrity of the Japanese government is being called into question globally as it tries to peddle its nuclear technology, not just to India, but around the world, when the victims of Fukushima have not even been compensated.

In India, citizens who are concerned about the dangers of nuclear power have mounted large-scale protests, which have been met with brutal repression. Compensation for land acquisition, safety measures in case of accidents, evacuation plans and general compensation is woefully inadequate.

The Japanese government, which has refused to release contents of the Agreement for the reason that it was under negotiation, is now preparing to force through the signing of the Agreement. This Agreement is highly problematic, as we have described above.

We strongly urge both governments not to sign the Agreement and to stop negotiations immediately.

Request

Not to sign the India-Japan Nuclear Cooperation Agreement and to stop negotiations immediately.

Campaign Opposing the India-Japan Nuclear Cooperation Agreement 2016  “

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**Time has come for an ‘honorable retreat’ from Tokyo 2020 over Fukushima — Dr. Brian Victoria, The Japan Times

” Dear Olympics minister Toshiaki Endo,

Let me begin this message by offering you my sincerest condolences. Condolences for what? For the death of the belief that a trouble-free 2020 Tokyo Olympics would serve to showcase Japan’s economic revival.

Up to this point, the exact opposite has been the case, due to the scrapping of plans for a very expensive new National Stadium, the scuttling of the Olympic logo amid charges of plagiarism and newspaper headlines alleging, for example, that “Japan’s Olympics fiascoes point to outmoded, opaque decision-making.” Even more recently, Japan sports minister Hakubun Shimomura offered to resign over the Olympic stadium row.

Among these developments, the charge alleging “outmoded, opaque decision-making” is perhaps the most troubling of all, because it suggests that both of the major setbacks the 2020 Olympics has encountered are systemic in nature, not merely one-off phenomena. If correct, this indicates that similar setbacks are likely to occur in the future. But how many setbacks can the 2020 Olympics endure?

At this point it may be apt to recall the warning of 13th-century Zen master Dogen: “If there is the slightest difference in the beginning, the result will be a distance greater than heaven is from Earth.”

One lesson to be learned from Dogen’s words is that in order to understand the mess you are in now, you should reflect on how you got into it in the first place. When this is done, the “beginning” becomes clear, i.e., Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s 2013 statement to the International Olympic Committee that the situation at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant was “under control.” The prime minister went on to tell the Diet, “The effect of radioactive substances in the nearby waters is blocked within 0.3 sq. km of the plant’s harbor.”

One needs only to look at recent stories describing the torrential downpours in the Fukushima area to know that this claim, if it were ever true, is clearly no longer valid. Even Tepco stated: “On Sept. 9 and 11, due to typhoon No. 18 (Etau), heavy rain caused Fukushima No. 1 drainage rainwater to overflow to the sea.” This is not to mention the high probability that relatively decontaminated areas have been contaminated once again by the heavy rains carrying radioactive particles lodged in the nearby mountains down onto the plains. Nor does it take into account that no one knows the location or condition of the melted fuel in reactors 1, 2 and 3.

Unfortunately, Zen master Dogen didn’t explain what to do when you find yourself in a spot where heaven is already far removed from Earth — or the truth, in this instance. Fortunately, the former Japanese ambassador to Switzerland, Mitsuhei Murata, recently proposed an eminently reasonable solution. It is time, he says, for Japan to stage an “honorable retreat” from hosting the 2020 Olympics while there is still time to select and prepare an alternative site.

In an article in the September issue of Gekkan Nippon, Murata buttressed his proposal by pointing out another misstatement in Abe’s IOC testimony, namely, “(Fukushima) has never done and will never do any damage to Tokyo.” In response, Murata pointed to a number of incidents showing that Tokyo was affected by Fukushima radioactive fallout, including the discovery on March 23, 2011, that water from the purification plant in the Kanemachi district of Tokyo contained more than 200 becquerels per liter of radioactive iodine, double the recommended limit for young infants stipulated in the Food Sanitation Act.

Murata’s major concern, however, was not about the past but the present and future. He noted the danger still posed by large numbers of spent fuel rods suspended in spent fuel pools in reactors 1, 2 and 3. Unlike the spent fuel rods in reactor building 4 successfully removed by the end of 2014, the remaining rods can’t be removed from the damaged reactor buildings due to the high levels of radioactivity surrounding these reactors, all three of which suffered meltdowns.

Murata’s gravest concern is a number of troubling indications of recurring criticality in one or more of the reactors at Fukushima No. 1. For example, he notes that in December 2014, both radioactive iodine-131 and tellurium-132 were reported as having been detected in Takasaki city, Gunma Prefecture. Given the short half-lives of these radioactive particles, their presence could not be the result of the original meltdowns at Fukushima.

Murata is not opposed to the Tokyo Olympic Games per se, but finds them a major distraction to what needs to be done immediately — namely, gathering the best minds and expertise from around the world and, with the full support of the Japanese government, doing everything humanly possible to bring Fukushima No. 1 truly “under control.” This will help to ensure the Pacific Ocean is no longer used as an open sewer for Fukushima-produced radiation, and also address the ongoing pain and distress of the residents of Fukushima Prefecture and beyond.

As Murata noted in the conclusion of his article, “Heaven and Earth will not long countenance immoral conduct.” Recognizing this, Minister Endo, will you join the call for an “honorable retreat”?

BRIAN VICTORIA
Kyoto ”

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Fukushima operator says 20 tons of rubble lifted from reactor — Yahoo! News

” The operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant said it has removed a 20-ton piece of rubble from a destroyed reactor in what it called a “major step forward” in decommissioning.

After months of planning, Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) said it used giant cranes on Sunday to lift one fuel handling machine, which was destroyed when a quake-sparked tsunami sent some of the plant’s reactors into meltdown in March 2011.

The company described the delicate operation as a critical step toward clearing highly radioactive spent fuel rods from the cooling pool inside its badly damaged Reactor number 3.

The fuel handling machine was a key part of the process that transferred nuclear fuel assemblies into the reactor core.

“It paves the way for continued progress and is a milestone in reducing the risk of removing spent fuel assemblies,” said the company’s chief decommissioning officer Naohiro Masuda.

Removing fuel from the pool at the site’s reactors is scheduled to last until the second half of 2021.

However, decommissioning efforts to clean up the debris at the shattered plant are expected to last some four decades.

The announcement comes several days after the government said compensation costs from the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986 are expected to be more than $57 billion.

Tokyo has poured billions of dollars into the embattled company to keep it afloat as it stumps up cash for decommissioning the reactors, cleaning up the mess from the disaster and paying compensation. ”

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Fukushima operator prepares to lift 20-ton debris from fuel pool — The Wall Street Journal

” The latest challenge at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is to remove a 20-ton piece of debris from a pool holding over 500 spent fuel rods.

More than four years after the plant was hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami, Fukushima Daiichi’s operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said it would start work on the critical task this week using a specially designed crane.

“The debris will be pulled out using two cranes, but we had to create a specially designed hook with a unique shape for it to securely hold on to the object,” a Tepco spokesman told Japan Real Time on Monday.

The object is what remains of a fuel handling machine originally located above the surface of the water. The debris is preventing Tepco from removing the spent fuel rods to a safer location. It is the largest object requiring removal inside the power plant’s reactor No. 3, according to the company.

The removal will be conducted at the slowest possible speed to ensure safety. The pool’s water level, as well as any signs of a jump in radiation levels, will be monitored closely with multiple cameras during the procedure. The debris must be lifted so that it won’t swing or cause damage to the spent fuel pool’s gates.

While it is unlikely that any water from the pool will leak even if the object comes into contact with the gate, Tepco said it will be ready to add water in case of a drawdown. Reduced water levels or exposure to air could cause the radioactive fuel rods to heat up.

All other procedures at Fukushima Daiichi will be halted while the debris is being removed, according to the company. ”

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