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

Fukushima’s ¥8 trillion cleanup leaves foreign firms in the cold — The Japan Times

” Cleaning up the Fukushima nuclear plant — a task predicted to cost 86 times the amount earmarked for decommissioning Japan’s first commercial reactor — is the mother of all salvage jobs. Still, foreign firms with decades of experience are seeing little of the spoils.

Safely dismantling the Japanese power plant, wrecked by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, will cost about ¥8 trillion ($70 billion), the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said on Dec. 9, quadrupling the previous estimate. While a contract to help clean up the facility would be a windfall for any firm with specialized technology, the lion’s share of the work has gone to local companies that designed and built most of Japan’s atomic infrastructure.

The bidding process for Fukushima contracts should be more open to foreigners, as Japan has never finished decommissioning a commercial nuclear plant, let alone one that experienced a triple meltdown, according to Lake Barrett, an independent adviser at Japan’s International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning. While the Fukushima cleanup is unlike any nuclear disaster in history, foreign firms that have experience decommissioning regular facilities could provide much-needed support, according to Barrett, and even the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc.

‘Cultural Resistance’

“Internationally, there is a lot more decontamination and decommissioning knowledge than you have in Japan,” Barrett, a former official at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said in an interview in Tokyo. “I hope the Japanese contracting system improves to get this job done safely. There is this cultural resistance — it is almost like there is an isolated nuclear village still.”

An opaque bidding process plays to the heart of criticisms put forward by independent investigators, who said in a 2012 report that collusion between the government, regulators and the plant’s operator contributed to the scale of the disaster.

Of 44 subsidized projects publicly awarded by the trade and economy ministry since 2014, about 80 percent went to the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning. The group, known as IRID, was established in the wake of the Fukushima disaster and is comprised entirely of Japanese corporations, according to the ministry’s website.

Japan’s trade and industry ministry awarded funds directly to only two foreign firms during the same period. Many of the contracts had only one or two bidders.

Of about 70 contracts awarded since the March 2011 disaster, nine have gone to foreign companies, according to an official in the ministry’s Agency of Natural Resources and Energy who asked not be named, citing internal policy.

To provide opportunities for foreign companies, the ministry has created an English website for bids and also provides English information sessions to explain the contracts, the official said.

Toshiba, Hitachi

IRID’s contracts are given to its members, including Toshiba Corp., Hitachi Ltd. and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., which have partnerships and joint ventures with foreign firms, spokesman Yoshio Haruyama said by phone. While it doesn’t directly contract work to companies overseas, IRID taps foreign experts as advisers and participates in international collaborative projects, he said.

Mitsubishi Heavy has about five or six contracts through IRID, but can’t share how many partnerships it has with foreign firms, spokesman Shimon Ikeya said by phone. Hitachi has sub-contracts with foreign suppliers related to the Fukushima cleanup, but can’t provide details about these agreements because they aren’t public, a spokesperson said by email.

As of March, IRID had about ¥30 billion worth of ongoing contracts primarily related to research and development of fuel removal and waste treatment. IRID, which aims to “gather knowledge and ideas from around the world” for the purpose of nuclear decommissioning, doesn’t disclose how much of their money ultimately goes to foreign businesses, according to its spokesman. Barrett, its adviser, said he thinks it’s “very low,” but should ideally be 5 percent to 10 percent.

‘Nuclear Village’

Japan’s biggest nuclear disaster isn’t void of foreign technology. Toshiba, which owns Pennsylvania-based Westinghouse Electric Co., and Hitachi, which has a joint venture with General Electric Co., are tapping American expertise. A giant crane and pulley system supplied by Toshiba to remove spent fuel from the wrecked reactors employs technology developed by Westinghouse.

“We bring in knowledge from foreign companies, organizations and specialists in order to safely decommission the reactors,” Tatsuhiro Yamagishi, spokesman for Tepco, said by email. While the company can’t say the exact number of foreign firms involved in the Fukushima cleanup, companies including Paris-based Areva SA, California-based Kurion Inc. and Massachusetts-based Endeavor Robotics are engaged in work at the site, according to Yamagishi.

For foreign firms, however, independently securing contracts is still a tall order.

“When it comes to Japan’s nuclear industry, the bidding system is completely unclear,” Hiroaki Koide, a former assistant professor at Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute, said in an email. “The system is designed to strengthen the profits of Japan’s nuclear village,” he added, referring to the alliance of pro-nuclear politicians, bureaucrats and power companies that promote reactors.

Tepco’s annual cost to decommission its Fukushima plant may blow out to several hundred billion yen a year, up from the current estimate of ¥80 billion, the trade and industry ministry said in October. As of June, almost ¥1 trillion has been allocated for decommissioning and treating water at Fukushima, according to Tepco’s Yamagishi.

‘Ripe for Corruption’

With that much money at stake, Japan has become ground zero for a plethora of companies looking to benefit from the cleanup work. The structure of Japan’s nuclear industry and the closed procurement preferred by the utilities that operate atomic plants means that the most lucrative opportunities for foreign companies are in the area of subcontracting, according to a report by the EU-Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation released in March.

“Foreign firms have long argued that the Japanese bidding process is one that is ripe for corruption due to a lack of openness and transparency,” Daniel Aldrich, professor and director of the security and resilience studies program at Northeastern University in Boston, said in an email. For nuclear decommissioning “there is even less clarity and transparency due to security and proliferation concerns,” he said.

Rigging Bids

The Japan Fair Trade Commission raided the offices of five companies last year in relation to rigged bids for maintenance contracts from Tepco, according to Jiji Press. Eleven road-paving companies were fined in September on projects to repair roads following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Jiji reported.

Andrew DeWit, a political economy professor at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, agrees that the contract-awarding process isn’t transparent. A lot of foreign companies seek Japanese partners to better their chances, he said.

Purolite Corp., a closely held water purifying company, spent millions of dollars developing and testing a system that could be used to treat radioactive water at Fukushima. Pennsylvania-based Purolite partnered with Hitachi to help win a contract to use its technology at the wrecked facility.

Those plans didn’t pan out. Purolite is suing Hitachi in New York and Tokyo, alleging that Hitachi is using its technology at Fukushima in breach of agreements made in 2011, shutting it out of more than $1 billion in contracts, according to court documents filed in September.

Hitachi doesn’t comment on ongoing legal matters, a spokesperson said by email.

“With a smaller pool of competitors, firms can expand their profit margins,” said Northeastern University’s Aldrich. “There are French and Russian firms that have the technical expertise to participate in nuclear decommissioning processes, but it is unclear if they will be able to compete on a level playing field with Japanese firms, which have far more experience with Japanese regulations and expectations.” ”

by Stephen Stapczynski, Bloomberg

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Former senator pledges to support vets in Fukushima lawsuit — Stars and Stripes

” Former Sen. John Edwards has pledged to support hundreds of U.S. sailors, Marines and airmen who say they were sickened by radioactive fallout from the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

U.S. forces participated in relief efforts after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami that battered swaths of northeastern Japan, including the plant.

Edwards — the 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president who ran for president that year and in 2008 — has offered his “legal and personal assistance” to the plaintiffs after hearing about their lawsuit against the Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the plant, according to a statement from the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

The lawsuit against TEPCO and several other co-defendants, including General Electric, EBASCO, Toshiba Corp. and Hitachi, is scheduled to proceed to trial pending appeals. Oral arguments in the appeals case are due to begin Thursday in the 9th Circuit Federal Court in Pasadena, Calif. The plaintiffs’ lawyers don’t expect a ruling before November.

The plaintiffs maintain that TEPCO lied about the risk of radiation exposure, luring American forces closer to the affected areas and lulling others at bases across Japan into disregarding safety measures. The other defendants are accused of making faulty parts for reactors that contributed to Fukushima’s meltdown in March 2011.

The plaintiffs allege they have developed cancers, ulcers, uterine bleeding and thyroid issues as a result of radiation exposure. The U.S. government has said the radiation levels servicemembers encountered were too low to cause any maladies.

Edwards is now a partner at Edwards Kirby, a Raleigh law firm specializing in personal injury, economic justice and property rights. He could not be immediately be reached for comment.

News of Edwards’ support comes just months after another ex-politician, former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, pledged his support after meeting with several of the plaintiffs during a visit to the United States.

In July, he called on his countrymen to donate to a fund for the plaintiffs, saying “it is not the kind of issue we can dismiss with just sympathy,” according to the Asahi Shimbun. “

by Matthew M. Burke

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Koizumi appeals for help for U.S. vets who assisted in Fukushima — The Asahi Shimbun; Stars and Stripes

The Asahi Shimbun:

” Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi sheds tears at a news conference in Carlsbad, Calif., on May 17, after visiting U.S. veterans who are plantiffs in a suit filed against Tokyo Electric Power Co. in connection with the 2011 nuclear accident. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is calling for donations to the relief fund he founded for U.S. veterans who claim their health problems resulted from radioactive fallout after the 2011 nuclear disaster.

Speaking at a news conference on July 5 alongside another former prime minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, Koizumi said of the U.S. veterans: “They went so far to do their utmost to help Japan. It is not the kind of issue we can dismiss with just sympathy.”

More than 400 veterans who were part of the Operation Tomodachi mission to provide humanitarian relief after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami have filed a mass lawsuit in California against Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. They are seeking compensation and an explanation for their health problems.

However, in a 2014 report released by the U.S. Defense Department, no link was established between radiation exposure and their ill health. The reason cited was that only a low level of radiation exposure occurred.

Koizumi, 74, visited some of the plaintiffs in the United States in mid-May. Although Koizumi was a supporter of nuclear power when he was prime minister between 2001 and 2006, he became an outspoken opponent after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima plant. ”

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Stars and Stripes:

” YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — A former Japanese prime minister is calling on his countrymen to donate to a fund for U.S. veterans who say they were sickened by radioactive fallout from the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

“They went so far to do their utmost to help Japan,” Junichiro Koizumi told a news conference Tuesday in Tokyo alongside fellow former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, according to Asahi Shimbun. “It is not the kind of issue we can dismiss with just sympathy.”

Hundreds of veterans, claiming a host of medical conditions they say are related to radiation exposure after participating in Operation Tomodachi relief efforts, have filed suit against the nuclear plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. A massive earthquake caused a tsunami that swamped a large stretch of northeastern Japan and inundated the power plant. Experts are still dealing with continuing leaks from the reactors.

The suit asserts that TEPCO lied, coaxing the Navy closer to the plant even though it knew the situation was dire. General Electric, EBASCO, Toshiba Corp. and Hitachi were later added as defendants for allegations of faulty parts for the reactors.

Illnesses listed in the lawsuit, which is making its way through the courts, include genetic immune system diseases, headaches, difficulty concentrating, thyroid problems, bloody noses, rectal and gynecological bleeding, weakness in sides of the body accompanied by the shrinking of muscle mass, memory loss, leukemia, testicular cancer, problems with vision, high-pitch ringing in the ears and anxiety.

People can donate to the fund, called the Operation Tomodachi Victims Foundation, at Japanese credit union Jonan Shinyo Kinko, Eigyobu honten branch, account No. 844688.

Donations, accepted through March 31, 2017, will be transferred to a U.S. bank and used, under the management of a judge, to support the veterans, according to a news release from the credit union. “

by Aaron Kidd, contributions from Hana Kusumoto

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Tepco turns to ‘Toy Story’ claw to inspire Fukushima cleanup — Bloomberg Business; IEEE Spectrum; MIT Technology Review

Read a similar articles by IEEE Spectrum and the MIT Technology Review.

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Bloomberg Business:

” Tokyo Electric Power Co. and partner Toshiba Corp. have a new twist in mind to pluck out the debris and spent fuel in one of the buildings at the wrecked Fukushima atomic plant north of Tokyo.

They’ll use a collection of robotic arms and pulleys weighing nearly 200 metric tons that resemble the claw game featured in the Pixar-animated movie “Toy Story” when in motion.

The system, which was invented to deal with the Fukushima aftermath and has never been used at a nuclear power plant, is the latest example of the advanced technology Tokyo Electric and partners will need to tap over the course of the site’s cleanup.

Toshiba designed the new system to be controlled offsite, allowing employees to use joysticks to remotely grab debris, cut wires and move fuel.

“With the current radiation levels, it would be impossible to send people into the building to do any cleanup work,” Isao Shirai, an official at Tokyo Electric, told reporters Monday in Yokohama where the partners demonstrated the retrieval system.

Installation of the Toshiba-designed equipment will begin this year, with an eye to start up in fiscal 2017. The removal process is expected to take two years, according to Tokyo Electric’s Shirai. ”

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AP interview: Fukushima chief says ‘no textbook’ for cleanup — ABC News

” The man leading the daunting task of dealing with the Fukushima nuclear plant that sank into meltdowns in northeastern Japan warns with surprising candor: Nothing can be promised.

How long will it take to decommission the three breached reactors, and how will it be accomplished, when not even robots have been able to enter the main fuel-debris areas so far? How much will it ultimately cost? Naohiro Masuda, tapped last year as chief of decontamination and decommissioning for plant owner Tokyo Electric Power Co., acknowledges he is a long way from answering those questions definitively.

“This is something that has never been experienced. A textbook doesn’t exist for something like this,” Masuda told The Associated Press in an interview at TEPCO’s Tokyo headquarters Monday.

It’s only recently the daily situation at Fukushima Dai-ichi has even started to approach “normal,” he said. Since the March 2011 meltdowns, TEPCO has had to face one huge challenge after another, including storing masses of leaking radioactive water, clearing up rubble and removing fuel rods from a crumbled building.

“Before, it was a war zone,” Masuda said quietly.

Masuda’s approach contrasts with the sometimes ambitious, sometimes wishful announcements by the Japanese government, which pronounced the disaster “under control” as early as late 2011, just months after a devastating tsunami knocked out power to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, setting off the meltdowns.

But in June, the government and TEPCO acknowledged the target dates in the official “roadmap” for decommissioning had to be pushed back by about two years. Now even the most optimistic projections estimate the work will take about half a century.

Masuda said without hesitation that more delays could be in order. No one knows exactly where the melted nuclear debris is sitting in the reactors, let alone how exactly the debris might be taken out. Computer simulation and speculative images are all he has so far.

New science will have to be invented for the plant to be cleaned up. Each step of the way, safety and consequences must be weighed, for workers and for the environment alike, Masuda added.

Under the latest plan, the removal of the fuel debris is expected to start within a decade. Still, Masuda likened such goals to reminders not to slack off, rather than hard deadlines based on real-life assessments.

The March 2011 catastrophe is unprecedented. Unlike the 1979 partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in the U.S., the containment, where the morass of fuel lies, has been breached at Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. Radioactive water is piling up: 300 tons a day by the latest count. And as devastating as the 1986 Chernobyl disaster was in what is now Ukraine, that involved one reactor, not three.

When asked about what he wanted to tell the people worried about contaminated fish, such as on the West Coast of North and South America, Masuda said the radiation leak into the Pacific Ocean has been reduced to a level one-millionth of what it was in 2011.

That’s equivalent to what is deemed safe for drinking water, he said. Some radiation will continue to leak through rainfall, because rainwater will pick up radiation from the plant grounds, and some of it will eventually fall into the ocean.

“They don’t need to worry, and, if there is anything to worry about, we will be out with that information,” he said.

Masuda, who has worked for TEPCO for more than 30 years, won praise for preventing meltdowns or explosions at Fukushima Dai-ni, a sister plant that also lost electricity after the 2011 tsunami. As then head of Dai-ni, Masuda acted quickly and decisively, leading his team, despite the chaos unfolding, to connect the reactors to surviving power sources.

His company’s image is much different. TEPCO’s reputation in the Japanese public eye was badly tarnished because of its bumbling response in the early days of the disaster.

The utility has undergone a public bailout and has readied 2 trillion yen ($17 billion) for decommissioning. The Japanese government has earmarked 54 billion yen ($446 million) of public funds for researching decommissioning technology through this fiscal year.

Such money doesn’t include compensation or damage lawsuits. The Fukushima catastrophe spewed radiation into the air, ocean and surrounding areas through hydrogen explosions, and displaced some 100,000 people.

The way TEPCO is spending money has drawn some criticism from experts abroad. Unlike the U.S. system, there is no open bid or escrow fund in Japan to dole out the massive decommissioning funds.

Much of the work is going to the Japanese manufacturers that constructed the plants, such as Toshiba Corp. and Hitachi Inc., under long-term contracts. Some outside international consultants are involved, and some foreign companies have gotten water-decontamination and other contracts.

Akira Tokuhiro, an American and nuclear expert who teaches at the University of Idaho, supports an open bidding process that invites more international expertise. He noted that Japan has no, or very little, decommissioning experience, compared to the Americans, the French and the Russians.

“An international effort has the potential to reduce both time and cost, while maintaining safety, transparency and cost,” he said.

Douglas Chapin, of MPR, a U.S. nuclear engineering organization that has advised the American and Japanese nuclear industries, was less critical, defending the Japanese method as simply different.

Masuda said awarding contracts without opening bidding is what’s best for Fukushima, and that TEPCO needs to take primary responsibility.

“We don’t think competition is beneficial as that will mean people doing the work will keep changing,” he said. “The system we have is better.”

But Masuda also acknowledged that Japan has not done as good a job as it should have on relaying the harsh realities at the plant. He said it’s his mission to relay all information, the good and the bad.

“When I took this job, I promised to work as an interpreter, to relay our work in a way that’s understandable to regular people, and to communicate within the company what people are interested in and worried about,” he said.

“If the interpreter is good, the conversation will be lively. If the interpreter is good, dialogue will follow.” ”

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