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



Koizumi’s nuclear power questions – The Japan Times editorial

” While political repercussions continue over former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s surprise calls for ending nuclear power generation in Japan, what the once popular leader points out are all sensible and legitimate questions about Japan’s energy policy that remain unanswered by members of the Abe administration. Any energy policy that fails to squarely answer the questions posed by Koizumi will not have any credibility.

Koizumi, who kept largely out of the media spotlight after retiring as lawmaker in 2009, has been speaking out in recent months that Japan should end its reliance on nuclear power. He says the Fukushima nuclear disaster changed his perception of nuclear power as a low-cost and safe source of energy and now says, “There is nothing more costly than nuclear power.” He urges the government to divert the massive energy and money needed to maintain nuclear power in Japan into more investments in the development and promotion of renewable energy sources.

Many of his former Liberal Democratic Party colleagues initially tried to dismiss Koizumi as a retired politician who has nothing to do with the party today. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who served in key Cabinet and LDP positions during Koizumi’s 2001-2006 rule, said it is “irresponsible” to commit to ending nuclear energy at this point. Meanwhile, hopes have emerged within the opposition camp that an alliance with Koizumi — who drew strong popular support while in office — on the zero nuclear agenda could provide them with ammunition against the LDP’s dominance in the Diet.

The political ripple effects — and some criticism over his flip-flop after promoting nuclear power while in office — aside, what seems missing in the controversy are discussions on the very real and pressing issues highlighted by Koizumi. He points to poor prospects for finding a permanent storage site for highly radioactive waste after spent fuel is reprocessed. This problem — for which Japan’s nuclear power industry has long been likened to a “condominium without a toilet” — has been set aside since well before the Fukushima crisis.

Abe has told the Diet that a technology has been established to store such waste in geological layers deep underground. Koizumi says the problem is that despite the existence of this technology, the government has been unable for more than a decade to find a candidate site anywhere in Japan. And this technology, Koizumi says, might be problematic in this quake-prone country — a point that Abe conveniently neglects to mention. Given the safety concerns over nuclear power following the triple meltdowns at the Fukushima plant, it is even more doubtful that a candidate site will ever be found, Koizumi says. Thus radioactive waste will continue to pile up as long as nuclear power plants are operated.

Japan’s nuclear fuel cycle program is at a standstill. Completion of a fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, has been delayed for years, and the Monju fast-breeder reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, has been idled for much of the time since a sodium leak and fire in 1995. Meanwhile, storage space for spent nuclear fuel from reactors around the country, and in the Rokkasho complex, is nearly 70 percent full.

As Koizumi points out, the myth that nuclear power is cheaper than other sources of energy is thrown in doubt when the expenses for siting nuclear plants, their future decommissioning and waste disposal are included. And on top of this there is the massive cost of dealing with the aftermath of the Fukushima No. 1 meltdowns, including compensation, which far exceeds the financial capacity of its operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. This is necessitating the injection of a huge amount of taxpayer money.

Abe’s rebuttal is that increased fossil fuel imports for thermal power generation to make up for the nuclear plant shutdowns is costing the nation trillions of yen a year. But his rhetoric does not answer the question whether nuclear power is really the affordable source of energy — as it has long been touted to be by the government — especially after the costs of compensation and decontamination in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis are taken into account.

Abe has vowed to scrap the nuclear phaseout policy of the Democratic Party of Japan-led administration that his LDP ousted from power last year. But the prime minister has yet to present a new vision for the nation’s energy policy — except to say that he would reduce as much as possible Japan’s reliance on nuclear power while maximizing energy-saving efforts and development of alternative energy.

While the future of Japan’s energy policy remains elusive and the Fukushima nuclear crisis is continuing, Abe has been pushing for the sale of Japanese nuclear power plant technology overseas as part of his bid to boost infrastructure exports. When Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and France’s Areva clinched a joint-venture deal in October to build a nuclear power plant with four advanced reactors in Turkey, Abe said Japan “is responsible for helping improve the safety of atomic power in the world by sharing the experience and lessons” from the disaster at the Fukushima plant — whose situation he has described as “under control.”

At home the Abe administration and the LDP are pushing for the restart of some idled nuclear reactors once they have cleared a new set of safety criteria, even though radiation-contaminated water continues to leak from the Fukushima compound nearly 2½ years after the meltdowns.

Abe should lay out a new energy vision that will fully address the doubts about nuclear power raised by Koizumi. His legitimate concerns are likely shared by a large part of the public — a majority of whom, according to media surveys, oppose restart of the idled nuclear reactors. As Koizumi says, only Japan’s political leaders can set the direction for the nation’s energy policy. The Abe administration has an obligation to choose a path that ensures Japan will not have to contend with another nuclear power plant disaster in the future. ”

by The Japan Times


Plan to end rent subsidies for some Fukushima evacuees under fresh fire — The Mainichi

” A plan to end rent subsidies for some evacuees from the Fukushima nuclear disaster has come under fresh fire, as it emerged that those subsidies are costing at most 8.09 billion yen this fiscal year.

The evacuees under consideration for having their subsidies cut — at the end of fiscal 2016 — are voluntary evacuees living in homes other than temporary housing structures built for evacuees. The total Fukushima Prefecture relief budget for disaster evacuees this fiscal year, including non-voluntary evacuees, is over 28.8 billion yen, so the subsidies being considered for being cut account for less than 30 percent of the relief budget.

One expert knowledgeable about evacuees says, “The reason that a plan to end these subsidies has arisen even though the financial burden is not large may be that government officials want to try and force voluntary evacuees to return to their homes, without respecting evacuees’ own judgments on the matter.”

Voluntary evacuees are people who evacuated from areas outside of those where the government ordered evacuations. Until November 2012, Fukushima Prefecture did not allow them to use emergency temporary housing set up for evacuees in the prefecture, and many voluntary evacuees moved outside of the prefecture.

According to the Fukushima Prefectural Government, for this fiscal year it allocated about 20.73 billion yen for the temporary homes of non-voluntary evacuees within the prefecture, and 8.09 billion yen for those of evacuees outside the prefecture. The evacuees outside the prefecture include non-voluntary evacuees, but the exact numbers are not known. A Fukushima Prefectural Government official says, “Non-voluntary evacuees have been using compensation for their lost real-estate to buy homes, and most of the people getting rent subsidies outside of Fukushima Prefecture are probably voluntary evacuees.”

Within the prefecture, voluntary evacuees live in around 300 homes, which are not temporary housing structures, but subsidies for their rent are included in the “out-of-prefecture” budget, so the 8.09 billion yen covers all voluntary evacuees from the prefecture.

According to the Cabinet Office, as of April 1 this year, there were evacuees living in 18,742 homes in Fukushima Prefecture other than temporary housing structures, and according to the Fukushima Prefectural Government, evacuees were living in around 10,000 such homes outside of the prefecture. Both numbers include voluntary and non-voluntary evacuees. Neither the Fukushima Prefectural Government nor the central government has yet released exact figures on the number of homes for voluntary evacuees other than temporary housing built after the disaster, nor have they released exact numbers for the total rent paid for them.

Currently, evacuee homes are set to be subsidized until the end of March 2016, with a decision on whether to extend this to be made soon after discussions between the Fukushima Prefectural Government and the Cabinet Office. A plan to end subsidies for voluntary evacuees would extend the deadline for one more year, to the end of March 2017, after which voluntary evacuees would no longer receive them. Although Fukushima Prefecture has money budgeted for subsidizing voluntary evacuees, this money is in effect all paid for by the central government. Tokyo Electric Power Co. has expressed reluctance to pay for voluntary evacuees’ rent, and so far the central government has not billed them for such.

Meanwhile, this fiscal year’s Fukushima Prefecture budget for radiation decontamination measures is 64.39 billion yen, up 13.35 billion yen from the previous fiscal year. The Ministry of the Environment released an estimate in December 2013 that the total costs for decontamination and mid-term storage for radioactive waste would be 3.6 trillion yen. ”


Japan to start Fukushima fuel debris retrieval in 2021 — World Nuclear News

” Japan expects to start the retrieval of fuel debris from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2021, the executive director of the Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corporation (NDF) said yesterday. Three of the plant’s six reactors suffered core meltdowns in the March 2011 accident, leaving melted nuclear fuel debris on the floor of their containment vessels.

NDF was established in September 2011 by the Japanese government and the country’s nuclear power plant operators to manage a fund to support operators in providing compensation to victims of nuclear accidents. Although established following the Fukushima Daiichi accident, NDF will continue to be maintained in the future as part of the Japanese nuclear liability regime.

“We expect to select the retrieval method within the next few years, after which detailed design and mock-up tests will follow,” NDF executive director Yasuharu Igarashi told delegates at the VII Atomexpo conference in Moscow. The event was hosted by Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom. “For the start of retrieval of fuel debris, we are now thinking 2021,” Igarashi said.

NDF has identified three “priority methods” for retrieving highly radioactive nuclear fuel debris in three reactors at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (Tepco’s) Fukushima Daiichi plant. They are: submersion; partial submersion top access; and partial submersion side access. The first two rely on the removal first of core internals above fuel debris, while the third requires that the reactor pressure vessel pedestal exterior component inside the primary containment vessel (PCV) and interference have first been removed.

The submersion method would remove the debris in a submerged condition, with the containment vessel filled with water to shield against radiation and prevent the spread of radioactive materials during the retrieval process. The reactor damage would need to be accurately identified and repaired before water is poured in. Partial submersion means that water would only be used when the debris has been separated from the vessel floor. The debris would be removed from either the top or the side of the vessel. This method would require continuous cooling of the retrieved debris and measures to prevent radioactive materials from scattering.

Tepco started inspections of unit 1 of the plant in April using robots mounted with cameras and radiation-measuring equipment. The shape-changing robot began surveying conditions within the PCV of the damaged unit on 10 April. However, the robot stopped working before completing its mission. The robot was developed by the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning and Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy to investigate hard-to-access areas of the plant. Tepco later sent in a second robot On April 20. The company said that it had decided not to try to retrieve a second robot dispatched inside the unit to avoid it becoming blocked and impeding future missions.

Igarashi said that NDF is following five “guiding principles” for risk reduction in its strategic plan for decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi plant. They are that the plan is safe, proven, efficient, timely and “field-oriented”, meaning it is based on the actual conditions of the site and structures.

“The decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is a continuous risk reduction activity to protect people and the environment from the risk of radioactive materials resulting from the severe accident,” he said. “A risk reduction strategy along a mid- to long-term timeline will be designed in NDF’s strategic plan.”

The structure of NDF’s risk management strategy is to be completed by 2017, he said.

In addition to fuel debris retrieval, the strategic plan will also include a policy for waste management involving storage, processing and disposal methods, he said.

NDF has reviewed international standards for waste management, he said, and the International Atomic Energy Agency’s General Safety Requirements Part 5 and Specific Safety Requirements-5 are “important references”. ”


Incineration disposal of agricultural and forestry radioactive waste in Fukushima Prefecture — Toshikazu Fujiwara, Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center

” The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station accident released radioactive substances across a wide area of the environment. Currently, not only decontamination operations but also people’s everyday lives generate wastes that include high concentrations of radioactive substances. The Japanese government terms radioactive wastes from 8,000 to 100,000 becquerel per kilogram (Bq/kg) designated wastes. They are today stored temporarily at various locations, while at some point in the future, after reducing their volumes, the government plans to bury them in the prefectures where they were generated. In this article, Toshikazu Fujiwara, who is well-versed in the volume reduction of these contaminated designated wastes, discusses the issue. (Nobuko Tanimura)


In Fukushima Prefecture, the Japanese Ministry of the Environment is promoting the Waste Volume Reduction Project, which, by means of makeshift incineration facilities, incinerates the combustible wastes that are specifically designated according to the level of contamination (at or over 8,000 Bq/kg) attributed to the radioactive substances emitted from the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The combustible designated wastes include agricultural and forestry byproducts such as paddy straw, feed crops, fallen leaves, and manure; sewage sludge; and wastes from home cleaning.

According to the project, the construction of 24 makeshift incinerators is being carried out in 19 municipalities in the prefecture, most of which are already in service.

The first of these incinerators to be constructed is located in Samegawa Village, Fukushima Prefecture. Having been built as a demonstration incinerator, it has the following formal purposes: 1) reducing volumes of wastes; 2) checking safety and associated factors as well as accumulating knowledge concerning the incineration of radioactive contaminated wastes exceeding 8,000 Bq/kg; and 3) determining the environmental impacts of radioactive cesium and other substances after incineration. However, the incinerator constructed in Samegawa was presumably a preliminary project in preparation for subsequent large-scale waste incineration projects.

Problems of the waste volume reduction project

(1) Deceitfulness concerning the project’s purpose

The waste volume reduction project states as its purposes improvement of the living environment for the restoration of the region and for the encouragement of the return of the people who used to live there, and making contributions to the progress of decontamination programs and the recovery of Fukushima Prefecture. Nevertheless, the waste volume reduction project totally ignores the risk of accidents, such as explosions associated with the incineration of radioactive contaminated wastes (the Samegawa makeshift incineration facilities exploded on the ninth day after the commencement of full-scale incineration services), environmental contamination, and health impacts on the people living in the neighborhood.

(2) Defects and procedural contraventions in the Special Measures Act

The legislation on which the wastes are designated and waste volume reduction programs are promoted is the Act on Special Measures Concerning the Handling of Environment Pollution by Radioactive Materials Discharged by the Nuclear Power Station Accident, established on August 30, 2011. This Act has the following fundamental defects: 1) while the procedure for designating wastes is stipulated, the procedure for removing wastes from the designation is not included; 2) the Act specifies that wastes exceeding 8,000 Bq/kg should be treated as designated wastes and wastes exceeding 100,000 Bq/kg should be stored in interim storage, but these radioactivity criteria are not scientifically persuasive; 3) the amounts of the designated wastes are overestimated because they were not determined by proper investigation; 4) the Act does not oblige Tokyo Electric Power Company, the company responsible for the emissions, to perform countermeasures, such as the prevention of radioactive substance discharge and the collection, disposal, and storage of contaminated wastes; and 5) the Act includes no procedural stipulation for information disclosure and accountability to, or the agreement of, local residents, all of which should be preconditions for waste incineration.

(3) Probability of environmental pollution and health risks

I assume that no country has so boldly promoted the incineration of radioactive wastes attributed to a nuclear power plant accident as in the Fukushima case presented in this article. Furthermore, the Ministry of the Environment has been mixing the designated wastes exceeding 8,000 Bq/kg with less contaminated wastes before incineration in order to reduce ash contamination per unit volume and thus prevent the ashes from exceeding 100,000 Bq/kg, over which they would need to be stored in interim storage facilities. The Ministry has repeatedly explained that the incineration of designated wastes exceeding 8,000 Bq/kg by means of the makeshift incineration facilities is safe, because the facilities are provided with bag filters that capture 99.99% of radioactive substances (mainly radioactive cesium particles) in the exhaust gas emitted through the incinerator funnels, reducing them to an undetectable level. However, gaseous substances and microparticles such as particulate matter 1.0 are known to be emitted through the filters, and bag-filter applications in conventional incinerators confirm that the filters break down easily. According to the makeshift incineration facilities test project commissioned by the Ministry of the Environment and performed by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) in Okuma Town and Iitate Village, Fukushima Prefecture, the mass balance analysis that compared the amounts of cesium in the wastes loaded into the incinerators and those in the output indicated that the whereabouts of 30% to 40% of radioactive cesium were unknown. The missing amounts of cesium may reside in the incinerator, ducts or funnels, or may be leaking from seals and other leak-susceptible locations in the facilities. If this is the case, incineration is highly likely to cause the spread of radioactive substances in a radius of several kilometers around the facilities, resulting in ground fallout and thus contamination of the land, increasing the health risks to locals. The Ministry of the Environment has performed no risk assessment in this regard.

(4) Financial unhealthiness

The budget the Japanese government has appropriated for this series of waste volume reduction projects is abnormally large. Overseas observers have previously regarded the huge spending by Japanese municipalities on the construction and maintenance of waste incineration facilities as extraordinary. The total cost of just the construction projects for makeshift incineration facilities that we know about, and which are planned to be used for as little as three months to three years, amounts to 400 billion yen. This amount does not include most of the cost of incinerator dismantling or site decontamination. The entire waste volume reduction project is an abuse of an enormous amount of tax revenue. If methods other than incineration were used, a considerable amount of expenses could undoubtedly be saved.

Let’s stop incineration and burial by proposing alternative methods, and establish a Fundamental Law on Radioactive Contamination Prevention!

In consideration of environmental loads and accident risks, the incineration and ash burial of radioactive wastes cannot be the optimal disposal system, no matter if the wastes are those generated anew by the Fukushima nuclear plant accident or the high-level radioactive wastes resulting from conventional nuclear power facilities such as reactors. We must come up with and propose alternative systems to put an end to incineration as quickly as possible. ”

Toshikazu Fujiwara is Adviser, Fukushima Network to Consider Radioactive Waste Incineration


Fukushima accepts ‘temporary’ radioactive waste storage — Channel NewsAsia

” TOKYO: The governor of disaster-struck Fukushima agreed on Monday (Sep 1) to accept the “temporary” storage of nuclear waste from the Japanese accident, paving the way for an end to a years-long standoff.

Yuhei Sato has been cajoled and lavished with the promises of subsidies if he accepts a central government plan to build a depot on land near the battered Fukushima Daiichi plant.

“I have made an agonising decision to accept plans to construct temporary storage facilities in order to achieve recovery in the environment as soon as possible,” Sato told central government ministers in Tokyo.

The worst nuclear accident in a generation erupted in March 2011 when a huge tsunami swamped the plant on Japan’s northeast coast, flooding cooling systems and sending reactors into meltdown.

The resulting plumes of radiation contaminated areas far and wide, rendering a swathe of Fukushima uninhabitable, perhaps for generations, and forcing tens of thousands of people from their homes.

Tokyo’s solution has been to try to scrub the radiation from the affected areas, often by lifting topsoil in the hope that contamination levels will go down. This has left the thorny problem of what to do with all the waste, with no community in Japan prepared to accept its permanent storage.

The government’s answer has been to seek a temporary fix while it works on getting a long-term plan in place. While observers have long said the area around Fukushima is the only viable option, people already displaced have seen it as unacceptable because it would in effect finalise the abandonment of their communities.

Sato’s acquiescence came after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government offered subsidies worth more than ¥300 billion (US$2.9 billion), including land rent for the facility location. Under the plan, the government will build storage units on an area of 16 square kilometres near the still-fragile power plant. ”