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Fukushima disaster: Is TEPCO nuclear plant still a safety risk?

Ten years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. has been criticized for failing to learn safety lessons.

A seismograph at the Fukushima Daiichi plant malfunctioned during a recent earthquake

Februay 26, 2021

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operator of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, is facing renewed criticism that it has failed to learn the lessons of the 2011 disaster there. 

Next month marks the 10-year anniversary of the massive earthquake and tsunami that caused meltdowns in three nuclear reactors. 

Opponents of nuclear power and other civic groups are calling for greater transparency in TEPCO’s operations. They cite a number of issues as evidence that TEPCO is still falling short of its responsibilities, including a significant security breach recently at one of the company’s plants.

It was discovered in early February that an employee at TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in northern Japan had used a colleague’s identity card to enter the central control room after misplacing his own pass.

The incident, which happened five months earlier, was not reported to the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) until a quarterly meeting in late January on the grounds that it was not considered a major breach of security.

The NRA disagreed and concluded that the unauthorized entry by the worker into the nerve center of the plant “affected security.” TEPCO was ordered to make improvements. 

Fukushima’s earthquake problem

The fallout from that incident was worsened after a serious earthquake on February 13 shook northeast Japan, including the Fukushima nuclear plant.

Seismologists said the magnitude 7.3 tremor was the largest to strike Japan since April 2011 and was actually the latest aftershock from the Great East Japan Earthquake nearly a decade ago.

TEPCO admitted a short while later that seismometers installed in two of the reactor buildings broke down last year and had not been repaired.

In addition, a report to the NRA confirmed that the earthquake caused radioactive water to slosh over the edges of containment tanks at the site, while the water level around two of the reactors has fallen.

That could indicate that the tremor enlarged existing fissures in the surrounding concrete or created new ones, enabling the escape of water that is needed to keep the reactors cool and prevent the release of more radioactivity into the atmosphere.

A hard-hitting editorial in the Asahi newspaper after the security breach at the Niigata plant said the incident “raised doubts” about TEPCO’s “fitness to operate nuclear power plants.”

“The utility must thoroughly reexamine every conceivable issue and raise its workers’ safety awareness to prevent missteps, once and for all,” it added.

In a statement issued to DW, TEPCO said it was “addressing” the issue of the malfunctioning seismometers, which may have failed in July due to heavy rain.

“We are now working to restore the system as soon as we can,” the company said.

TEPCO excuses ‘not acceptable’

Hajime Matsukubo, secretary general of the Tokyo-based Citizens’ Nuclear Information Centre, said the excuses of a company charged with decommissioning four damaged reactors that caused the second-worst nuclear disaster in history are “not acceptable.”

“The way that the company is managing things suggests to me that they have not learned their lessons from the March 2011 disaster,” he said.

This 2011 TV image shows the aftermath of an explosion at the plant

“TEPCO says it is ready, for example, to resume operations at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, but now we have this very serious security breach,” he added.

“I agree that the company has made great strides with the technology that is being developed to contain the situation at the Fukushima plant and to decommission those damaged reactors, but there are too many human errors creeping into their operations,” said Matsukubo.

“They cannot fully manage these sites and, I would say, they do not have the capabilities to manage nuclear facilities.”

Azby Brown, lead researcher for the nuclear monitoring organization Safecast Japan, agrees that the company has made progress in the decommissioning work, but says that errors keep cropping up.

“A lot of things they are doing very well, because this is a hugely challenging operation, so we have to give them credit for that, but there are still some gaping holes that management really needs to plug if they want to begin to rebuild public trust,” he said.

“They have all the appropriate security regulations in place, but then we see things like this happening,” he said. “It’s almost as if there is an institutional allergy to transparency and informing the regulators immediately a problem occurs and then addressing that problem. And that is not helping their reputation at all.”

Increase in radiation

The company’s errors have immediate implications, he says, as monitoring equipment installed at sea off the plant detected a small increase in highly radioactive caesium in the days after the earthquake, indicating that water had indeed escaped from the site and was dispersing into the ocean.

And that coincided with the announcement that a black rockfish caught off the prefecture by a fishermen’s collective had caesium levels five times above the government’s permitted levels.

Local fishermen, whose livelihoods were devastated by the nuclear accident, have been carrying out limited test fishing since June 2012 and had been hoping this year to resume small-scale shipments of fish to market if they were able to prove to inspectors that all the fish being caught were safe to consume.

The revelations surrounding TEPCO’s latest problems is unlikely to reassure the public that produce from much of northeast Japan is safe to buy.

February 28, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , | Leave a comment

Quake shifts 53 water tanks at Fukushima plant

February 26, 2021

The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says it has found that 53 tanks storing radioactive wastewater were shifted from their original locations by a powerful earthquake earlier this month. But it says there have been no leaks from the tanks.

Tokyo Electric Power Company inspected 1,074 tanks after a magnitude-7.3 quake struck off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture on February 13.

TEPCO discovered that 53 tanks had moved from their original locations by 3 to 19 centimeters.

TEPCO treats the water used to cool molten nuclear fuel at the damaged reactors before storing it in tanks. But the water still contains radioactive substances.

The company says it also found that five sections of piping connecting the tanks shifted more than the limit recommended by the manufacturer.

But it says it has so far found no cracks or other abnormalities in the piping. It plans to conduct further examinations.

TEPCO also laid out a plan to repair two seismometers at the No.3 reactor building next month.

It came to light on Monday that the devices went out of order partly because of heavy rain last July. As a result, they were unable to collect data when the quake struck.

February 28, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , | Leave a comment

Broken devices at Fukushima plant fail to record vital quake data

Either not replaced by negligence or claimed to be broken so as to not have to share disturbing data outside of Tepco….

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga visits the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in September. The No. 3 reactor building is seen in the background.

February 23, 2021

Two broken seismometers at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant failed to record data from a powerful earthquake that struck off the coast of the prefecture on Feb. 13, according to the plant operator.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. became aware last year that the seismometers installed at the No. 3 reactor building were on the blink but didn’t repair them, company officials told a meeting of the Nuclear Regulation Authority on Feb. 22.

The company installed the seismometers in March last year after the NRA said they would be useful in evaluating the degree of deterioration of the structure. One was placed on the top floor, and the other was set on the ground floor.

But one was broken in July and the other in October due to heavy rain and other reasons.

The seismometers at the No. 3 reactor building were not required under laws or regulations.

The NRA plans to call on TEPCO to report on how it will deal with the issue. It will also consider requiring the company to properly manage and maintain seismometers.

The magnitude-7.3 earthquake on Feb. 13 registered an upper 6 on the Japanese seismic scale of 7 in Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures.

TEPCO said the following day that cooling water had overflowed from pools storing spent nuclear fuel at the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 nuclear power plants due to the temblor.

The overflow, totaling three liters, was wiped off and did not escape the plant compounds. No changes in radioactivity were detected in nearby areas.

TEPCO also said Feb. 19 that contaminated water had leaked from the containment vessels of the No. 1 and No. 3 reactors of the Fukushima No. 1 plant apparently because the parts damaged by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami were subjected to strong shaking from the temblor.

The company said the leakage has remained within the plant premises, and nuclear fuel debris has continued to be cooled in the containment vessels.

February 25, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , | Leave a comment

6.0 Plus Magnitude Earthquake Damages Radioactive Waste Incineration Facilities at 3 Sites in Fukushima

February 23, 2021

 The Fukushima Regional Environment Office announced on Tuesday that three temporary incineration facilities for radioactive waste from the accident at the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant were damaged in an earthquake that registered a seismic intensity of 6.0 on the Japanese scale late on February 13. None of the facilities have leaked radioactive waste, but it is expected to take about a month to recover.

 According to the Environment Office, as a result of post-earthquake inspections at the Adachi temporary incineration facility (Nihonmatsu City) and the Futaba temporary treatment facilities No. 1 and No. 2 (Futaba Town), damage was found in the piping and ceiling. There was no change in the air dose rate at the site boundary. There was no damage caused by the earthquake at the other five facilities operating in Fukushima Prefecture.

February 25, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , | Leave a comment

Pressure drops inside vessel at Fukushima plant

February 13 earthquake could have exposed damaged part

February 22, 2021

Tokyo Electric Power Company has found that the pressure inside one of the reactor containment vessels at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has dropped.

The utility said the earthquake that hit the area on February 13 may have been to blame. TEPCO said no radioactive material has leaked.

The nuclear plant in Fukushima Prefecture in northeastern Japan is now undergoing decommissioning.

TEPCO said it confirmed at around 6 p.m. on Sunday that pressure inside the vessel of the No.1 reactor dropped to 0.9 kilopascals from the usual 1.2 kilopascals. Nitrogen is being added to the vessel to raise the pressure and reduce the risk of a hydrogen explosion.

TEPCO found that after the quake the level of water in the containment vessel had dropped.

It said the part damaged in the 2011 nuclear accident may have been exposed after the water level dropped, possibly causing an air leakage and the drop in pressure.

TEPCO said it is continuing to pump water into the vessel and there should be no safety problem.

It said there have been no abnormality in the measurements at radioactivity monitoring posts in the compound.

The utility said it will keep watching the data at the vessel and other facilities

February 25, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , , | Leave a comment

Water levels at Fukushima reactor containers falling after quake

A Tepco employee wearing a protective suit and mask gives lectures in front of No. 3 reactor building at the tsunami-crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, in February 2019.

February 20, 2021

Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc. has said that the water levels in the containment vessels for the No. 1 and No. 3 reactors at its disaster-crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant have fallen by tens of centimeters.

The water levels are continuing to drop by several centimeters each day, Tepco said Friday.

The event has had no radiation impact outside of the plant’s premises, the company said, noting that the injection of water into the reactors, as well as operations to cool melted nuclear fuel debris at the bottom of the containment vessels, are continuing.

The plant was heavily damaged in the powerful March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

On Feb. 13, an earthquake measuring a strong 6 — the second-highest level on the Japanese seismic intensity scale — rocked the Tohoku region, which includes Fukushima Prefecture. Existing damage to piping and other parts of the containment vessels may have expanded as a result of the temblor, Tepco officials said.

The utility is continuing to pump 3 tons of water per hour into the reactor containers to cool the fuel debris.

While water continues leaking to the reactor buildings through the damaged areas of the containment vessels, the water levels in the No. 1 and No. 3 reactor containers had been kept at some 1.9 meters and 6.3 meters from the bottom, respectively, before Saturday’s earthquake.

According to the officials, workers detected a fall in the water level in the No. 1 reactor container around 11 p.m. Thursday.

The water level is seen to have dropped by 40-70 centimeters in the No. 1 reactor container and by some 30 centimeters in the No. 3 reactor container, the officials said.

Drops in the water levels are believed to have started around Monday in the No. 1 reactor vessel and around Sunday in the No. 3 reactor vessel, they said.

The sizes of the falls in the water levels are almost the same as those observed during an experiment conducted last year to suspend water injection, the officials said.

The company will take measures, such as increasing water injection, as needed while continuing to monitor the water levels, the officials said.

Ramping up water injection will lead to an increase in the amount of radioactive water, possibly affecting the quantity of water that is kept in tanks at the premises of the nuclear power station after being treated to remove some radioactive substances.

February 21, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , , , | Leave a comment

Water leaks indicate new damage at Fukushima nuclear plant

Radioactive cooling water levels inside the wreckage of Fukushima Daiichi units is falling in a least two units. This indicates that new damage from the recent 7.3 M earthquake has created drainage routes for more radioactive contamination to escape to the offsite environment.

This Sept. 4, 2017, aerial file photo shows Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant’s reactors, from bottom at right, Unit 1, Unit 2 and Unit 3, in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan. The utility operating a wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant said Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, it has detected cooling water levels at two of its three melted reactors have fallen over the past few days apparently due to additional damage done to its reactors from a powerful earthquake that shook the area last weekend.

February 19, 2021

TOKYO (AP) — Cooling water levels have fallen in two reactors at the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant since a powerful earthquake hit the area last weekend, indicating possible additional damage, its operator said Friday.

New damage could further complicate the plant’s already difficult decommissioning process, which is expected to take decades.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. spokesman Keisuke Matsuo said the drop in water levels in the Unit 1 and 3 reactors indicates that the existing damage to their primary containment chambers was worsened by Saturday’s magnitude 7.3 quake, allowing more water to leak.

The leaked water is believed to have remained inside the reactor buildings and there is no sign of any outside impact, he said.

In 2011, a powerful magnitude 9.1 earthquake and tsunami damaged the Fukushima plant’s cooling systems, causing three reactor cores to melt and nuclear fuel to fall to the bottom of their primary containment vessels.

TEPCO will monitor the water and temperatures at the bottom of the containment vessels, Matsuo said.

Since the 2011 disaster, cooling water has been escaping constantly from the damaged primary containment vessels into the basements of the reactor buildings. To make up for the loss, additional cooling water has been pumped into the reactors to cool the melted fuel remaining inside them. The recent decline in the water levels indicates that more water than before is leaking out, TEPCO said.

More than 180 people received mostly minor injuries from Saturday’s earthquake, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency. The quake also triggered landslides, damaged homes and a high-speed train line, and caused widespread power and water supply disruptions.

TEPCO initially reported that there was no abnormality at the plant from Saturday’s quake.

Matsuo said the cooling water level fell as much as 70 centimeters (27 inches) in the primary containment chamber of the Unit 1 reactor and about 30 centimeters (11 inches) in Unit 3. TEPCO wasn’t able to determine any decline in Unit 2 because indicators have been taken out to prepare for the removal of melted debris, it said.

Increased leakage could require more cooling water to be pumped into the reactors, which would result in more contaminated water that is treated and stored in huge tanks at the plant. TEPCO says its storage capacity of 1.37 million tons will be full next summer. A government panel’s recommendation that it be gradually released into the sea has faced fierce opposition from local residents and a decision is still pending.

Meanwhile, the Tokyo High Court on Friday held the government as well as TEPCO accountable for the 2011 nuclear disaster, ordering both to pay about 280 million yen ($2.6 million) in compensation to more than 40 plaintiffs forced to evacuate to Chiba, near Tokyo, for their lost livelihoods and homes.

Friday’s decision reverses an earlier ruling by the Chiba district court that excluded the government from responsibility. Judge Yukio Shirai said the government could have foreseen the risk of a massive tsunami and taken measures after a long-term assessment in 2002 of seismic activities.

Lawyers representing the plaintiffs welcomed the decision and said it would affect other pending cases.

“The case raises the question of whether we should tolerate a society that prioritizes economic activities over people’s lives and health,” said Izutaro Mangi, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs.

February 21, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , | Leave a comment