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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Editorial: New technology to help resolve Fukushima nuclear crisis needs gov’t backing — The Mainichi; South China Morning Post

” The Japanese government has once again revised the work schedule for decommissioning reactors at the triple-meltdown-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. The last major change was in June 2013, and this one pushes back the removal of spent fuel rods from the fuel pools of the No. 1-3 reactors by as much as three years. The delay is due to unexpected difficulties preventing the escape of airborne radioactive contaminants during decontamination and wreckage clearing work.
Decommissioning reactors at the heart of one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters is of course bound to be extremely difficult, and this reality is coming into sharp relief.

Progress on dismantling the Fukushima reactors has a direct bearing on both overall regional disaster recovery and when local residents will be able to finally return home. As such, we call on both the government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. to develop a reactor decommissioning strategy with a solid strategic foundation, and to thoroughly release information on the process.
The latest revisions to the decommissioning work schedule were based on the basic principle of putting the safety of locals and plant workers first. The first version of the work schedule was obsessed with speed. The result was a rash of worker injuries and deaths and other problems that ended up causing progress to be delayed. Rather than making speed top priority, it’s more important to carefully and surely reduce the various risks related to the Fukushima plant.

The jobs with the highest priority under the work plan’s latest iteration are the recovery of nuclear fuel rods from the fuel pools, and dealing with the vast quantities of radioactively contaminated water produced at the plant. Though these tasks are certainly important, the most difficult hurdle in the decommissioning process will be extracting the melted fuel from inside the stricken reactor vessels. Under the new schedule, this is set to start on just one of the reactors sometime in the year 2021.

That’s some six years away, but the path from here to there remains foggy at best. First of all, no one knows for sure exactly what state the fuel is in or even where it is in the reactor housings.

The method for getting the fuel out is also up in the air. At first, planners thought it best to fill the reactor vessels with water to suppress the intense radiation when the operation began. This fell by the wayside, however, when it turned out to be difficult to identify damaged spots on the reactor vessels and stop water from escaping. Now, an in-air removal method is being considered, though entirely new equipment will need to be developed to perform the operation in the highly radioactive environment while at the same time preventing contaminants from getting airborne.

There are a number of research institutes and universities across Japan that are receiving government support to invent the technology needed for this reactor decommissioning work. The “control tower” for these efforts is the Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corp. (NDF), created by the government in August last year. The corporation is tasked with overseeing each project from basic research through to practical application, and to optimize the development process.

The NDF, however, has just 35 or so technical staff. It’s an open question whether the NDF can exercise effective oversight for such a wide program with so few people. The government is trying to enhance the corporation’s functions, but there have been no concrete measures forthcoming so far. At this rate, might the 30-40 year target to decommission the Fukushima reactors come under serious pressure?

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said more than once that “the national government stands on the front lines” of the efforts to deal with the decommissioning work. Then more than ever, the government must create a system to provide full and complete support for the technology research and development projects needed to finally bring the nuclear crisis to an end. ”

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Also read a similar article by the South China Morning Post: “Scale of Fukushima clean-up revealed as decommissioning ‘road map’ is revised