Six years after Fukushima, much of Japan has lost faith in nuclear power — The Conversation

” Six years have passed since the Fukushima nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011, but Japan is still dealing with its impacts. Decommissioning the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant poses unprecedented technical challenges. More than 100,000 people were evacuated but only about 13 percent have returned home, although the government has announced that it is safe to return to some evacuation zones.

In late 2016 the government estimated total costs from the nuclear accident at about 22 trillion yen, or about US$188 billion – approximately twice as high as its previous estimate. The government is developing a plan under which consumers and citizens will bear some of those costs through higher electric rates, taxes or both.

The Japanese public has lost faith in nuclear safety regulation, and a majority favors phasing out nuclear power. However, Japan’s current energy policy assumes nuclear power will play a role. To move forward, Japan needs to find a new way of making decisions about its energy future.

Uncertainty over nuclear power

When the earthquake and tsunami struck in 2011, Japan had 54 operating nuclear reactors which produced about one-third of its electricity supply. After the meltdowns at Fukushima, Japanese utilities shut down their 50 intact reactors one by one. In 2012 then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s government announced that it would try to phase out all nuclear power by 2040, after existing plants reached the end of their 40-year licensed operating lives.

Now, however, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office at the end of 2012, says that Japan “cannot do without” nuclear power. Three reactors have started back up under new standards issued by Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, which was created in 2012 to regulate nuclear safety. One was shut down again due to legal challenges by citizens groups. Another 21 restart applications are under review.

In April 2014 the government released its first post-Fukushima strategic energy plan, which called for keeping some nuclear plants as baseload power sources – stations that run consistently around the clock. The plan did not rule out building new nuclear plants. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which is responsible for national energy policy, published a long-term plan in 2015 which suggested that nuclear power should produce 20 to 22 percent of Japan’s electricity by 2030.

Meanwhile, thanks mainly to strong energy conservation efforts and increased energy efficiency, total electricity demand has been falling since 2011. There has been no power shortage even without nuclear power plants. The price of electricity rose by more than 20 percent in 2012 and 2013, but then stabilized and even declined slightly as consumers reduced fossil fuel use.

Japan’s Basic Energy Law requires the government to release a strategic energy plan every three years, so debate over the new plan is expected to start sometime this year.

Public mistrust

The most serious challenge that policymakers and the nuclear industry face in Japan is a loss of public trust, which remains low six years after the meltdowns. In a 2015 poll by the pro-nuclear Japan Atomic Energy Relations Organization, 47.9 percent of respondents said that nuclear energy should be abolished gradually and 14.8 percent said that it should be abolished immediately. Only 10.1 percent said that the use of nuclear energy should be maintained, and a mere 1.7 percent said that it should be increased.

Another survey by the newspaper Asahi Shimbun in 2016 was even more negative. Fifty-seven percent of the public opposed restarting existing nuclear power plants even if they satisfied new regulatory standards, and 73 percent supported a phaseout of nuclear power, with 14 percent advocating an immediate shutdown of all nuclear plants.

Who should pay to clean up Fukushima?

METI’s 22 trillion yen estimate for total damages from the Fukushima meltdowns is equivalent to about one-fifth of Japan’s annual general accounting budget. About 40 percent of this sum will cover decommissioning the crippled nuclear reactors. Compensation expenses account for another 40 percent, and the remainder will pay for decontaminating affected areas for residents.

Under a special financing scheme enacted after the Fukushima disaster, Tepco, the utility responsible for the accident, is expected to pay cleanup costs, aided by favorable government-backed financing. However, with cost estimates rising, the government has proposed to have Tepco bear roughly 70 percent of the cost, with other electricity companies contributing about 20 percent and the government – that is, taxpayers – paying about 10 percent.

This decision has generated criticism both from experts and consumers. In a December 2016 poll by the business newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun, one-third of respondents (the largest group) said that Tepco should bear all costs and no additional charges should be added to electricity rates. Without greater transparency and accountability, the government will have trouble convincing the public to share in cleanup costs.

Other nuclear burdens: Spent fuel and separated plutonium

Japanese nuclear operators and governments also must find safe and secure ways to manage growing stockpiles of irradiated nuclear fuel and weapon-usable separated plutonium.

At the end of 2016 Japan had 14,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel stored at nuclear power plants, filling about 70 percent of its onsite storage capacity. Government policy calls for reprocessing spent fuel to recover its plutonium and uranium content. But the fuel storage pool at Rokkasho, Japan’s only commercial reprocessing plant, is nearly full, and a planned interim storage facility at Mutsu has not started up yet.

The best option would be to move spent fuel to dry cask storage, which withstood the earthquake and tsunami at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Dry cask storage is widely used in many countries, but Japan currently has it at only a few nuclear sites. In my view, increasing this capacity and finding a candidate site for final disposal of spent fuel are urgent priorities.

Japan also has nearly 48 tons of separated plutonium, of which 10.8 tons are stored in Japan and 37.1 tons are in France and the United Kingdom. Just one ton of separated plutonium is enough material to make more than 120 crude nuclear weapons.

Many countries have expressed concerns about Japan’s plans to store plutonium and use it in nuclear fuel. Some, such as China, worry that Japan could use the material to quickly produce nuclear weapons.

Now, when Japan has only two reactors operating and its future nuclear capacity is uncertain, there is less rationale than ever to continue separating plutonium. Maintaining this policy could increase security concerns and regional tensions, and might spur a “plutonium race” in the region.

As a close observer of Japanese nuclear policy decisions from both inside and outside of the government, I know that change in this sector does not happen quickly. But in my view, the Abe government should consider fundamental shifts in nuclear energy policy to recover public trust. Staying on the current path may undermine Japan’s economic and political security. The top priority should be to initiate a national debate and a comprehensive assessment of Japan’s nuclear policy. ”

by The Conversation

source with graphics and internal links

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6 Years after Fukushima disaster, robots continue search for radioactive fuel — Bloomberg, Insurance Journal; The Japan Times

” The latest robot seeking to find the 600 tons of nuclear fuel and debris that melted down six years ago in Japan’s wrecked Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant met its end in less than a day.

The scorpion-shaped machine, built by Toshiba Corp., entered the No. 2 reactor core [on Thursday, Feb. 16] and stopped 3 meters (9.8 feet) short of a grate that would have provided a view of where fuel residue is suspected to have gathered. Two previous robots aborted similar missions after one got stuck in a gap and another was abandoned after finding no fuel in six days.

After spending most of the time since the 2011 disaster containing radiation and limiting ground water contamination, scientists still don’t have all the information they need for a cleanup that the Japanese government estimates will take four decades and cost 8 trillion yen ($70.6 billion). It’s not yet known if the fuel melted into or through the containment vessel’s concrete floor, and determining the fuel’s radioactivity and location is crucial to inventing the technology needed to remove it.

“The roadmap for removing the fuel is going to be long, 2020 and beyond,” Jacopo Buongiorno, a professor of nuclear science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in an e-mail. “The re-solidified fuel is likely stuck to the vessel wall and vessel internal structures. So the debris have to be cut, scooped, put into a sealed and shielded container and then extracted from the containment vessel. All done by robots.” … ”

Continue reading about the fuel-removal status of Fukushima No. 1’s Units 1 through 3.

by Emi Urabe and Stephen Stapczynski, Bloomerg via Insurance Journal

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Read a similar article by The Japan Times

Japan’s $25 billion nuclear recycling quest enters 28th year — Bloomberg Business

Spent-nuclear fuel issues plague restarts — The Japan Times

” Spent fuel at the Hamaoka nuclear power station in Shizuoka Prefecture could exceed the capacity of storage pools some two years after the plant is restarted — much sooner than the previously assumed eight years, according to sources.

The faster pace is because the storage pools for reactors 1 and 2 at the Chubu Electric Power Co. plant will be removed from the complex’s total storage capacity following the decommissioning of the two units.

Previously, Chubu Electric planned to continue using the two reactors’ storage pools. The operations of the two reactors ended in 2009.

Last month, four power suppliers, including Kansai Electric Power Co., decommissioned a combined five aging reactors, significantly reducing storage pool capacity.

As of the end of March, the Hamaoka plant’s storage capacity fell by 440 tons in the past six months to 1,300 tons, reflecting the exclusion of the reactor 1 and 2 pools, according to Chubu Electric’s semiannual report to the Federation of Electric Power Companies. Meanwhile, the amount of spent fuel stored at the plant stood at 1,130 tons.

If the remaining three reactors at the plant are brought back online, the amount of spent fuel would exceed the storage capacity in 2.3 years, compared with the eight years estimated before the company’s decision not to use the reactor 1 and 2 pools.

Of all 15 domestic nuclear plants that operators are seeking to restart, storage space capacity appears to be lowest at the Hamaoka plant.

Only four of the plants have more than 10 years before they run short of capacity, including Hokkaido Electric Power Co.’s Tomari plant, which has the longest time, at 16.5 years. The three others are Tohoku Electric Power Co.’s Higashidori plant, with 15.1 years, Hokuriku Electric Power Co.’s Shika plant, with 14.4 years, and Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai plant, with 10.7 years.

All nuclear reactors in Japan are now offline.

Some nuclear plant operators are working to increase their spent-fuel storage capacities while pinning hopes on fuel recycling at Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd.’s facilities in the village of Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture.

Chubu Electric has applied to build a dry-cooling storage facility at the Hamaoka plant to boost its total capacity to store spent fuel. It hopes to put the facility into operation in fiscal 2018 if the plan is approved by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

A Chubu Electric official said storage capacity prospects remain unclear at the plant because it is uncertain if any reactors will be allowed to restart. ”

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​Fukushima has 9 days to prevent ‘unsafe’ overheating — RT

” Fukushima operator TEPCO has been forced to switch off the cooling system at mothballed Reactor Unit 5, after it was discovered that it had been leaking water. In nine days, if the system is not repaired, temperatures will exceed dangerous levels.

Engineers have discovered that 1,300 liters of water leaked from a cooling system intended to stabilize the temperature of the spent fuel at the Reactor Unit 5, which was offline but loaded with fuel rods when the plant was damaged by the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

The source of the leak was a 3 mm-diameter hole near a flow valve, a statement published by the Japanese energy giant on Sunday asserts. However it is unclear from company data if the location of the opening has been discovered, or whether it was calculated with flow measurements.

At the time when the cooling system was switched off at around 12pm on Sunday, the temperature in the pool in which the rods are submerged was 23C but started increasing by 0.193 degrees per hour, TEPCO says.

If no new cold water is pumped in at such rate it will reach the dangerous threshold of 65C by the midpoint of the month in roughly 9 days.

Such temperatures, which have not been routinely seen at the plant since the failing of the cooling system in the immediate aftermath, would increase the possibility of dangerous reactions and further radiation leaks in the plant.

TEPCO however says that currently, there have been no abnormal readings anywhere in the plant.

Since TEPCO is using seawater for many of its cooling needs at the power plant, it has previously encountered heightened levels of corrosion, in sensitive equipment. The cooling system at various reactors has also been beset by calamities – from rats short circuiting the control panel and forcing a blackout, to an employee “accidentally” switching it off, though all were resolved before rod pools overheated.

At the same time, TEPCO is struggling to deal with ever-increasing volumes of contaminated water which is being stored in hundreds of tanks at the facility and frequently leaking and contaminating the soil beneath it. And the much publicized plan to stop contaminated water from leaking into the sea by building an ‘ice-wall’ and freezing soil and water around the facility is not working as well as Japanese officials had hoped. ”

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Fukushima news 4/25/14: Tepco pleads for help; Is Fuku radiation a “state secret”? — multiple sources, NHK World

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