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Extreme makeover: Fukushima nuclear plant tries image overhaul

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Officials have been gradually trying to rebrand the Fukushima nuclear plant, bringing in school groups, diplomats and other visitors
 
August 3, 2018
Call it an extreme makeover: In Japan’s Fukushima, officials are attempting what might seem impossible, an image overhaul at the site of the worst nuclear meltdown in decades.
At the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, there’s a flashy new administrative building, debris has been moved and covered, and officials tout the “light” radioactive security measures now possible.
“You see people moving around on foot, just in their uniforms. Before that was banned,” an official from the plant’s operator TEPCO says.
“These cherry blossoms bloom in the spring,” he adds, gesturing to nearby foliage.
If it sounds like a hard sell, that might be because the task of rehabilitating the plant’s reputation is justifiably Herculean.
In 2011, a massive earthquake triggered a devastating tsunami that killed thousands and prompted the meltdown of several reactors.
It was the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, and has had devastating psychological and financial effects on the region.
But TEPCO officials have been gradually trying to rebrand the plant, bringing in school groups, diplomats and other visitors, and touting a plan to attract 20,000 people a year by 2020, when Tokyo hosts the Summer Olympics.
 
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Upbeat messaging from Fukushima’s operator TEPCO belies the enormity of the challenge to decommission the plant
 
Officials point out that protective gear is no longer needed in most of the plant, except for a small area, where some 3,000 to 4,000 workers are still decontaminating the facility.
Since May, visitors have been able to move around near the reactors on foot, rather than only in vehicles, and they can wear “very light equipment,” insists TEPCO spokesman Kenji Abe.
That ensemble includes trousers, long sleeves, a disposable face mask, glasses, gloves, special shoes and two pairs of socks, with the top pair pulled up over the trouser hem to seal the legs underneath.
And of course there’s a geiger counter.
The charm offensive extends beyond the plant, with TEPCO in July resuming television and billboard adverts for the first time since 2011, featuring a rabbit mascot with electrical bolt whiskers called “Tepcon”.
But the upbeat messaging belies the enormity of the task TEPCO faces to decommission the plant.
It has installed an “icewall” that extends deep into the ground around the plant in a bid to prevent groundwater seeping in and becoming decontaminated, or radioactive water from inside flowing out to the sea.
 
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About 100,000 litres of water still seeps into the plant each day, which requires extensive treatment to reduce its radioactivity
 
But about 100,000 litres (26,400 gallons) of water still seeps into the plant each day, some of which is used for cooling. It requires extensive treatment to reduce its radioactivity.
Once treated, the water is stored in tanks, which have multiplied around the plant as officials wrangle over what to do with the contaminated liquid.
There are already nearly 900 tanks containing a million cubic metres of water—equal to about 400 Olympic swimming pools.
And the last stage of decommissioning involves the unprecedented task of extracting molten nuclear fuel from the reactors.
“There was the Chernobyl accident, but they didn’t remove the debris,” said Katsuyoshi Oyama, who holds the title of TEPCO’s “risk communicator”.
“So for what we have to do here, there is no reference.”
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August 6, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

NRA OKs plan to bury radioactive waste from nuke plant decommissioning for 100,000 yrs

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The Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant is seen in this file photo taken from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter on July 17, 2018.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) plans to require that highly radioactive waste generated when nuclear reactors are decommissioned be buried underground at least 70 meters deep for about 100,000 years until the waste becomes no longer hazardous.
Moreover, disposal sites for such waste should not be built in areas that could be affected by active faults or volcanoes.
The plan is part of the proposed regulatory standards on disposal sites for radioactive waste from dismantled nuclear reactors, which the NRA approved on Aug. 1. The NRA will hear opinions from power companies operating nuclear plants and other entities before finalizing the regulatory standards.
Low-level radioactive waste generated when reactors are dismantled is graded by three ranks in descending order from L1 to L3.
The proposed regulatory standards cover L1 waste, such as containers for control rods and fuel assemblies.
There have been no regulatory standards for L1 radioactive waste even though a growing number of nuclear reactors are bound to be decommissioned under the regulatory standards for nuclear plants that have been stiffened following the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear crisis in March 2011.
Under the proposed regulatory standards for L1 waste, electric power companies would be required to build disposal sites on stable ground. Such facilities should not be built near faults at least 5 kilometers in length. Moreover, utilities would be mandated to confirm from records or geological surveys that there has been no volcanic activity over the past 2.6 million years or so near where they plan to build the disposal sites.
Power companies would also be obligated to avoid building disposal sites near oil or mineral deposits because areas with such natural resources may be excavated in the future.
Such radioactive waste must be regularly monitored over a roughly 300- to 400-year period following its disposal to see if the waste contaminates nearby groundwater. The owners of disposal sites would then be banned from digging areas surrounding the facilities without permission from the central government.
The proposed standards also require that additional radiation exposure dosages from disposal sites be limited to 0.3 millisieverts or less a year in accordance with international standards. It is also required to confirm whether radiation doses would be below that limit even if the functions for shielding radiation were partially lost, such as the container holding radioactive waste being broken, by analyzing doses under such scenarios.

August 6, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima Unit 2 Refueling Floor Work Poses Risks

Work has begun on the unit 2 refueling floor at Fukushima Daiichi. Previously, TEPCO installed a controlled building on the side of unit 2. This building provides filtered ventilation and a staging area. It will allow workers to send equipment into the reactor building refueling floor. The wall between the two buildings was opened earlier this spring.
After the initial disaster it that unit 2 was creating the most significant radiation releases to the environment.  The highest of the three units that melted down. In 2012 an obvious steam leak from the reactor well was discovered via TEPCO images.
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TEPCO eventually put a filtration system on the building. This prevented radiation releases to the environment. The future plans for this unit include removing the entire refueling floor level. The roof and walls down to the refueling floor deck are to be removed. Then a new cover building with replacement systems will be installed. Workers are still unable to enter the refueling floor area. High radiation levels prevent human entry. Only robots have entered. TEPCO has not addressed this radiation risk during the demolition and construction phase. Earlier reporting mentioned the planned use of dust suppressants during the demolition work. There is no management plan for potential radiation releases from the reactor well.
TEPCO’s schedule shows they may begin removing equipment from inside unit 2’s refueling floor as early as mid-July. The building demolition and spent fuel removal schedule is still somewhat vague. This is dependent on other work completion.

August 1, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Gov’t, TEPCO consider starting removal of debris from 2nd reactor at Fukushima nuke plant

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The inside of the containment vessel of the No. 2 reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant is seen in this frame grab from video provided by the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning (IRID).
TOKYO — The government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) are considering starting the removal of molten nuclear fuel from the No. 2 reactor of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, people familiar with the matter have told the Mainichi Shimbun.
Three of the four reactors at the plant in the northern Japanese prefecture of Fukushima suffered core meltdowns after the reactors’ cooling systems shut down due to tsunami triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011.
According to the sources, an on-site inspection of molten fuel debris inside the reactor’s containment vessel using remote control equipment will be conducted this fiscal year. Data from the test, such as the hardness of the debris and whether it is movable, will be used to develop equipment to remove and store the highly radioactive materials.
Under the road map for decommissioning the power plant revised in September last year, the government and TEPCO are to decide on a reactor on which to start debris removal and determine how to carry out the procedure by March 2020, the end of next fiscal year. Actual removal is scheduled to begin in 2021.
In January of this year, the government and TEPCO managed to insert a pipe with a camera into the No. 2 reactor’s containment vessel and captured the image of gravel- or clay-like deposits believed to be fuel debris on the floor.
According to the people familiar with the matter, the government and TEPCO have judged that it is necessary to further examine the conditions of the No. 2 reactor as a possible starting point for fuel debris removal, since inspections needed for such an operation have progressed further on the No. 2 unit more than on the other two reactors that suffered core meltdowns in 2011.
The government and TEPCO will carry out the new probe in the fall or later of this year by inserting a camera-equipped pipe attached with a device capable of directly touching the debris, which will gather data on the reactor’s current conditions. The debris is not taken out of the containment vessel at any point of this survey. In the next fiscal year starting April 2019, they will consider examining wider areas inside the containment vessel and recovering a small sample of molten fuel for analysis ahead of full-fledged extraction in 2021.
As for the other reactors, the No. 3 unit has water inside the containment vessel, the removal of which is difficult, although images of what appeared to be fuel debris were captured inside the reactor in July 2017. The No. 1 reactor, meanwhile, will receive another probe to determine the existence of molten fuel inside because an inspection carried out in March last year failed to spot any debris.
TEPCO will shortly submit a plan for the examination of the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors’ interior for fiscal 2019 and later to the Nuclear Regulation Authority.
(Japanese original by Toshiyuki Suzuki and Ei Okada, Science & Environment News Department)

August 1, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

TEPCO’s Plan For Some Of The More Dangerous Work At Daiichi

Soon after the disaster workers at the plant discovered that their dosimeters would high radiation alarm then be unable to give a reading when they approached the unit 1-2 shared vent tower. This was an indication that radiation levels near the tower were so high that their dosimeters were unable to accurately read the level. One of the most dangerous places at Fukushima Daiichi may undergo work to reduce the ongoing risk.

One of the two units connected to this vent tower ejected considerable amounts of radioactive materials via the tower during the initial disaster. The area has been declared off limits with shielding walls installed. Closer inspection with cameras and drones showed that the tower had suffered structural damage and was at risk of collapse or further damage. Since then TEPCO and the research agencies tasked with disaster clean up at the site have been working on a plan to dismantle the tower.

The current plan includes a complex series of machines and equipment designed specifically for this task. The work would remove the upper portions of the vent tower then install a cap on the top of the remaining pipe. This is assumed to be used to prevent further release of radioactive materials or inflow of rainwater into the highly radioactive area. The actual demolition work is scheduled for fall of 2018 and could take a year to complete.

The graphic below shows the steps towards cutting down the tower in sections.

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August 1, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

No Long Term Storage Location for Fukushima Daiichi Spent Fuel

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July 23, 2018

TEPCO’s most recent update on the decommissioning work at Fukushima Daiichi included an update on the movement and storage of the spent fuel on site.

Currently dry cask storage only has space for 50 spent fuel casks. According to TEPCO’s documentation 58 fuel assemblies can be placed into each storage cask.

There are currently 13137 spent and unused fuel assemblies on site that require removal to long term storage. This would indicate that 227 casks and storage locations will be needed to handle all of the on site fuel assemblies.

Those 50 cask slots can hold a total of 2930 fuel assemblies. 10207 fuel assemblies remain in need of a long term storage location.

Currently the cask storage has 33 of the 50 cask slots occupied, this leaves space for 17 more casks. TEPCO has not provided any specific plan for adding additional spent fuel storage on site beyond the current 50 cask storage unit.

The common pool on site has been used as a way point for spent fuel before being sent to dry cask storage. It is currently at 93.9% of capacity.

Some of unit 4’s spent fuel was sent to unit 6’s spent fuel pool for storage due to space constraints. Currently unit 4 is the only reactor to have the spent fuel stored there removed to a safer location.

Unit 3 is the next to begin offloading spent fuel. It has 566 assemblies, 148 more than the available room in the common pool. Dry storage has enough space to accept a few more casks from the common pool. Once unit 3 is offloaded, storage will be tight.

Dry cask storage can be used for long term storage but this is not a permanent solution. Most dry casks have a life span of 20 years before the cask gaskets are no longer considered viable. This requires fuel to be moved to permanent storage or the fuel would need to be transferred to a new cask. A fuel transfer can only take place in a spent fuel pool or similar facility to provide the needed shielding and radiation control for the work. Japan currently has no permanent nuclear repository.

This does not include storage of any melted fuel debris from the damaged reactors.

August 1, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Foreign Trainees for Fukushima Clean-Up

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Japanese firms used foreign trainees for Fukushima clean-up

13 July, 2018
Vietnamese in Japan for professional training were among those picking up soil as part of decontamination work at the crippled nuclear power plant
Four Japanese companies made foreign trainees who were in the country to learn professional skills take part in decontamination work after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the government said on Friday.
The discovery is likely to revive criticism of the Technical Intern Training Programme, which has been accused of placing workers in substandard conditions and jobs that provide few opportunities for learning.
The misconduct was uncovered in a probe by the Justice Ministry conducted after three Vietnamese trainees were found in March to have taken part in clean-up work in Fukushima.
The Vietnamese were supposed to do work using construction machines according to plans submitted by the company.
“But they joined simple clean-up work such as removing soil without machines,” an official said.
A powerful earthquake in March 2011 spawned a huge tsunami that led to meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant, causing the world’s worst such accident since Chernobyl in 1986.
One of the four companies has been slapped with a five-year ban on accepting new foreign trainees as it was found to have paid only 2,000 yen (US$18) per day to the trainees out of the 6,600 yen provided by the state as a special allowance for decontamination work.
The ministry is still investigating how many trainees in the other three firms were involved.
The four companies cited in the interim report no longer send foreign trainees to help with the radiation clean-up. It did not name the four firms.
The ministry has finished its investigation into 182 construction companies that hire foreign trainees, and will look into another 820 firms by the end of September.
Japan has been accepting foreign trainees under the government programme since 1993 and there were just over 250,000 in the country in late 2017.
But critics say the trainees often face poor working conditions including excessive hours and harassment.
The number of foreign trainees who ran away from their employers jumped from 2,005 in 2012 to 7,089 in 2017, according to the ministry’s survey. Many cited low pay as the main reason for running away.
The investigation comes as Japan’s government moves to bring more foreign workers into the country to tackle a labour shortage caused by the country’s ageing, shrinking population.
The government in June said it wanted to create a new visa status to bring in foreign workers, with priority given to those looking for jobs in sectors such as agriculture that have been hardest hit by the labour shortage.
The workers would be able to stay for up to five years, but would not be allowed to bring their family members.
The government put the number of foreign workers in Japan in 2017 at 1.28 million people.
But more than 450,000 of those are foreign spouses of Japanese citizens, ethnic Koreans long settled in Japan, or foreigners of Japanese descent, rather than workers coming to Japan simply for jobs. Another nearly 300,000 are students.
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Japan firms used Vietnamese, foreign trainees at Fukushima cleanup

 July 14, 2018
Four Japanese companies have been found to made foreign trainees take part in decontamination work after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The discovery is likely to revive criticism of the foreign trainee program, which has been accused of placing workers in substandard conditions and jobs that provide few opportunities for learning, the government said Friday.
The misconduct was uncovered in a probe by the Justice Ministry conducted after three Vietnamese trainees, who were in the country to learn professional skills, were found in March to have participated in cleanup work in Fukushima.
The Vietnamese were supposed to do work using construction machines according to plans submitted by the company.
“But they joined simple cleanup work such as removing soil without machines,” an official told AFP.
A powerful earthquake in March 2011 spawned a huge tsunami that led to meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant, causing the world’s worst such accident since Chernobyl in 1986.
The justice ministry said after the discovery this March that decontamination work was not appropriate for foreign trainees.
One of the four companies has been slapped with a five-year ban on accepting new foreign trainees, and the ministry is still investigating how many trainees in the other three firms were involved.
The ministry has finished its investigation into 182 construction companies that hire foreign trainees, and will look into another 820 firms by the end of September.
Japan has been accepting foreign trainees under the government program since 1993 and there were just over 250,000 in the country in late 2017.
But critics say the trainees often face poor work conditions including excessive hours and harassment.
The number of foreign trainees who ran away from their employers jumped from 2,005 in 2012 to 7,089 in 2017, according to the ministry survey. Many cited low pay as the main reason for running away.
The investigation comes as Japan’s government moves to bring more foreign workers into the country to tackle a labor shortage caused by the country’s aging, shrinking population.
The government in June said it wanted to create a new visa status to bring in foreign workers, with priority given to those looking for jobs in sectors such as agriculture that have been hardest hit by the labor shortage.
The workers would be able to stay for up to five years, but would not be allowed to bring their family members.
The government put the number of foreign workers in Japan in 2017 at 1.28 million people.
But more than 450,000 of those are foreign spouses of Japanese citizens, ethnic Koreans long settled in Japan, or foreigners of Japanese descent, rather than workers coming to Japan simply for jobs. Another nearly 300,000 are students.

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July 19, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , , | Leave a comment

Radiation still too high in reactor# 2 building

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July 2, 2018
A robotic probe has found that radiation levels remain too high for humans to work inside one of the reactor buildings at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
 
Tokyo Electric Power Company, the operator of the plant, plans to relocate 615 units of nuclear fuel from the spent fuel pool, which is located on the top floor of the No. 2 reactor building and is separate from the reactor itself.
 
TEPCO says the relocation will help reduce risks, including possible damage caused by earthquakes.
 
The No. 2 reactor underwent a meltdown, but did not experience a hydrogen explosion in the 2011 nuclear accident. The building is likely to still have a high concentration of radioactive materials.
 
Last month, TEPCO drilled a hole in the wall of the building in order to use a camera-equipped robot to create a detailed map of the radiation on the top floor.
 
On Monday, workers started the survey and measured radiation levels at 19 points, mainly near the opening. Up to 59 millisieverts were detected per hour.
 
That’s above workers’ allowable annual exposure of 50 millisieverts and more than half of their 5-year exposure limit. TEPCO has concluded it cannot let humans work inside the building.
 
TEPCO will use the results to determine specific ways to remove the fuel from the pool. It plans to start the work in fiscal 2023.

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July 8, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Fuel removal from Fukushima reactor may be delayed

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June 29, 2018
The operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says work to remove spent nuclear fuel from a cooling pool at one of its reactors may be delayed.
 
A total of 566 fuel units remain in the cooling pool at the No.3 reactor, which suffered a meltdown in 2011. Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, planned to start removing the fuel as early as this autumn, as part of the decommissioning of the nuclear complex.
 
But on Thursday, TEPCO revealed the control board of a crane used in the removal malfunctioned during a test run last month. It blamed a voltage error and said the board will be replaced.
 
The company said the test run may be delayed by one or 2 months, pushing back the start date for fuel removal.
 
TEPCO’s chief decommissioning officer, Akira Ono, says he takes the glitch seriously as it shows key equipment was not handled properly.
 
He says that although safety must come first, his team still aims to stick to the original timetable and start the removal of nuclear fuel by around the middle of the current fiscal year, which ends in March next year.
 

July 1, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

‘Green Lawn’: Pundit Suggests Fukushima Prefecture May Remain Without NPP

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24 June, 2018
Following the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant core meltdown, the Fukushima No. 2 plant, which survived the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, may be decommissioned. The president of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), Tomoaki Kobayakawa, announced this in an interview with the governor of Fukushima Prefecture, Masao Uchibori.
The statement that the company is considering this option was made for the first time the Janapese Times (Nihon Keizai) reported.
Before the accident, Fukushima No. 1, with its six power units with a total generation capacity of 4.7GW, was considered one of the 25 largest nuclear power plants in the world. While there are only four power units at Fukushima No. 2, they were all shut down after March 2011.
Although there were serious problems with the emergency cooling system after they were shut down, the temperature of the reactors and the situation at the nuclear power plant could be quickly brought under control. The emergency situation at the power plant was lifted on December 26, 2011. However, since then, it has not resumed work.
According to TEPCO estimates, the closure of the Fukushima No. 2 power plant will require approximately 280 billion yen. In addition, another 22 trillion yen will go to the ongoing cleanup of the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
Japanese media have reported that the company was forced to take such a radical step because of the concerns of residents of the prefecture and the demands of local authorities. The potential dangers caused by natural disasters on the Japanese islands were also taken into consideration.
Just this week, after an earthquake in Osaka, all the nuclear power plants located in relative proximity to the epicenter were inspected.
Expert Mikhail Rylov from the Center for Nuclear and Radiation Safety told Sputnik that it would be difficult to relaunch the Fukushima No. 2 plant.
“I think this is, first of all, a business issue. For several years the equipment at the NPP [nuclear power plant] hasn’t been in use, and if it worked, it was not in the normal operational mode. To restart the power plant after so many years is troublesome and time consuming. Having estimated the technical condition and residual life of the power units, the company realized that even after restarting the nuclear power plant, in a few years the resource will need to be extended. And this is a very expensive task, requiring considerable intellectual and monetary costs. Surely they also took into account the issues of infrastructure, logistics, potential natural disasters, highly qualified personnel, etc. Like other nuclear power plants in Japan, [they] have already been tired of inspections after the Fukushima No. 1 disaster.”
Mr. Rylov noted that the decommissioning of the power plant is the best option in the current situation despite the fact that dismantling the plant is also a hard process.
“It takes several years to dismantle a nuclear power plant to the state of a ‘brown lawn,’ when not only equipment that was not intended for further use, but all the radioactive waste is removed from the site. The site can be used for other purposes, including for the needs of nuclear energy. But to bring the site of the former nuclear power plant to the state of a ‘green lawn’ will take several decades. ‘Green Lawn’ is a complete dismantling of reactor facilities, buildings, and disposal of radioactive waste with the complete elimination of all traces of NPP activities. Ideally, the final stage of the decommissioning process of a reactor should be a ‘green lawn,’ which means it would be safe for a public park or to build a kindergarten. How far will the Japanese company go, it’s hard to say. After all, there was still no official notification about the closure of the station,” the expert concluded.
The  No. 4  unit at the Genkai nuclear power plant in Saga Prefecture restarted operations last week after it met all the requirements imposed after the Fukushima No. 1 plant accident. It became the ninth nuclear reactor to be restarted after new tougher requirements were introduced. A demonstration was held against the resumption of operations and people demanded that the country’s energy policy be changed.

June 26, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

TEPCO to gauge radiation in reactor building

 

June 21, 2018
The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant intends to send a robot into the No.2 reactor building as early as next week to measure interior radiation levels in detail.
 
It is a key step toward removing all 615 nuclear fuel rod units that remain in a storage pool in the building, and eventually decommissioning the reactor.
 
The pool is located on the top floor of the building. The No.2 reactor experienced a meltdown after the major earthquake and tsunami that hit eastern Japan in 2011.
 
Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, plans to transfer the fuel units to reduce the risks posed by possible earthquakes and other factors.
 
TEPCO needs to map radiation levels and other detailed conditions inside the building before retrieving the fuel units.
 
The utility on Thursday finished breaching a wall of the building to allow entry to a robot and heavy machinery. Work on the 5-meter wide and 7-meter high hole started last month.
 
TEPCO plans to send a robot fitted with a camera and a radiation measurement device through the opening as early as next week.
 
And TEPCO could start removing the fuel around fiscal 2023 based upon the survey results.
 
TEPCO also seeks to begin retrieving nuclear fuel from the No.1 reactor around fiscal 2023 and from the No.3 reactor as soon as this autumn. Both reactors had a meltdown following the natural disaster.

 

June 26, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | 1 Comment

TEPCO employee dies working inside Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant

The employee working inside the power plant began vomiting suddenly Wednesday morning, and was declared dead in the afternoon
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June 7, 2018
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – A worker involved in the clean-up and maintenance of the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, died suddenly on Wednesday June 6, according to local media.
 
A 50 year-old male employee of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) was working on dismantling scaffolding within the damaged nuclear plant when he began vomiting inside his protective suit at approximately 10:40 a.m.
 
He reportedly continued to work until a second round of vomiting began around 12:45 p.m, which caused him to collapse.
 
He was immediately rushed out of the radioactive zone to a nearby hospital, but was unresponsive. Doctors declared him dead at 4:00 p.m.
 
Liberty Times reports that the man was wearing the proper protective clothing, and that there had been no signs of illness or problems during the pre-work check. However, TEPCO did report that the man had suffered from an unspecified medical condition prior to his employment with the company.
 
The man had been employed to work at the facility since March 2016. 
 
On March 11, 2011, a catastrophic tsunami struck the northeast coast of Honshu, Japan, resulting in the failure of the Fukushima nuclear fuel storage facilities. The radioactive fallout from the incident has been a continual concern for the Japanese government and global safety and energy organizations. TEPCO has been tasked with cleaning up and managing the hazardous facility. 

June 9, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , | 3 Comments

PART 2: Radioactive water at Fukushima Daiichi: What should be done?

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DOES THE PUBLIC HAVE A SAY?

For their part, representatives of the government and TEPCO I have spoken with invariably stress how important it is to them to reach understand and agreement with all stakeholders, the Fukushima fisheries coops in particular, and to respond to their concerns in the decision-making process. They say they are fully prepared to accommodate the fishermen’s desires regarding the quantity and timing of releases, how they will be monitored, and how to adjust the release parameters in response to what is found after the system begins operation. And although when I point out that concern is not limited to fishermen in Fukushima, but that coops in Miyagi and Iwate, as well as Ibaragi and Chiba also consider themselves stakeholders, and that in fact residents internationally along the entire Pacific rim have already expressed concern, officials voice agreement but cannot point to any concrete efforts to communicate with or include anyone outside of Fukushima or the Tokyo power centers. In the same way, the concerns of major food distributors such as supermarket chains, who ultimately make the decision whether or not to purchase and sell Fukushima marine products nationwide, do not seem to be being addressed.

Shuji Okuda, METI’s Director for Decommissioning and Contaminated Water Management, Nuclear Accident Response Office, Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, stressed that no decision has yet been made which of the five options for dealing with the tritiated water detailed in the 2016 Task Force report will be chosen. In other words, although TEPCO, government ministries, and stakeholders are proceeding as if it’s a done deal, no-one with decision-making power has yet made a decision. “It will be a decision of the Japanese Government as a whole,” Okuda explains, “not one made by any single agency. And it will be based on ample discussions with all stakeholders.” Since the release of the Task Force Report in 2016, METI has been discussing the social impacts quite a lot, he noted. They are particularly concerned about “damaging rumors”- fuhyo higai – that will result from any tritiated water release, and have been discussing how to counter them. He continues, “Because the risks have been demonstrated to be very low, it’s less a question of safety, and more one of potential public reaction and reputational damage. We plan to hold further discussions with stakeholders and the general public to increase understanding.” Regarding international communication efforts, he points to English-language materials and reports the ministry releases, but says that since any impacts will involve primarily Japanese local area, information dissemination overseas is limited to experts, administrative officials and some media.”

METI recently announced that meetings will be held where the public can hear explanations of proposed solutions and comment on them. The Subcommittee on Handling Water Treated by the Polynuclide Removal Facility is one of several Japanese government committees organized by METI tasked with formulating a response to the problem of the radioactive water. The planned public sessions were announced at its eighth meeting, on Friday, May 18th. This is a step in the right direction, and is long overdue. Nevertheless it may well be a case of “too little, too late.”

METI, Subcommittee on handling water treated by the polynuclide removal facility, 8th meeting May 18, 2018 (Report regarding upcoming public hearings on tritiated water problem – in Japanese)

Good public communication about the release plan, the ocean science it involves, and what the expected risks are and why, cannot by themselves guarantee public acceptance. But this kind of communication is essential, particularly with such a globally contentious and high-profile issue like releasing radiation into the ocean. The public needs to know the environmental effects, health effects, how it will be monitored, what transparency measures are in place, what the process for adjustment and revision will be. Almost two years have elapsed since the Tritiated Water task Force released its recommendations, and a broad and energetic stakeholder engagement and information effort should have been ongoing since then. But such efforts are now only in the planning stage. It seems that METI and other ministries have been paralyzed, faced with taking responsibility for a politically damaging decision, forced to acknowledge that they support the plan but unable to take concrete steps to implement it or prepare the public. TEPCO, while it accepts its responsibility for the decision, seeks full government support, including robust public communication efforts. It seems extremely unlikely to act without a clear government decision in favor of the release and stipulating its timing. We should be prepared for the government to remain paralyzed until the last possible moment, when crisis is imminent, and then to announce a decision suddenly, justifying it by saying that time has run out and that it “can’t be helped.” As a colleague pointed out, this is, unfortunately, the Kasumigaseki way.*

When asked what the official position of TEPCO was regarding the plan to release the water, Kohta Seto of TEPCO’s Communication Development, Fukushima Daiichi Decontamination and Decommissioning Engineering Company, replied, “We recognize that comprehensive examination of technical and social factors is ongoing currently at the national subcommittee. Our response policy will be made in consultation with the government and related stakeholders based on the subcommittee’s discussions.” This echoes METI’s assertion that no decision has actually been made. But in fact the Tritiated Water Task Force, the subcommittee referred to, has been dormant for over a year, and any further recommendations will come from the higher-level METI Contaminated Water Countermeasures Committee and from the NRA.

Others at TEPCO have acknowledged that the company feels ultimately responsible, and is confronted with a decision that could further damage others. Takahiro Kimoto, General Manager, Nuclear Power & Plant Siting Division, Fukushima Daiichi D&D Engineering Company, notes that under the existing plan and at the current rate, by 2020 there will be no more space to store additional tritiated water onsite at Daiichi. Constructing the dilution facilities and pipelines that the release would require is expected to require almost a year of preparation after any decision is made. At the current rate, that means the “go” signal must be given by early 2019 at the latest. Though TEPCO expects that measures such as the frozen wall and subdrain pumps will continue to reduce the amount of treated water that needs to be stored, nevertheless they recognize that there is a narrowing window for decision and action. The company has no plans to try to obtain land offsite to further expand tank space, which could provide an additional margin of time. Though feasible technically and cost-wise, this would be a stopgap measure that merely delays the decision to deal with the tritium more permanently by the other means already being considered. Kimoto explained that the company does not want to act independently. “The policies can’t and shouldn’t be determined by TEPCO alone, but we continue discussing the available options with government and other stakeholders. How much to empty the tanks, how that should be done to minimize environmental consequences, how to maintain trust and transparency, who we need to engage with on this matter, these are all issues we seek stakeholder engagement on. These discussions are taking a long time, but we consider them essential.” Put bluntly, TEPCO knows they will be the bad guys in this scenario no matter what, and prefer to have as broad support as possible.

TRANSPARENCY

I initially approached this issue as one of transparency and the need to include a broadly-defined base of stakeholders in the decision-making process and subsequent monitoring of the results. That has been experience of SAFECAST, which prioritizes transparency and impartiality, and tries to get as many people involved in environmental monitoring and decision-making as possible, with unprecedented positive results. We have seen similar benefits where citizen groups in Japan monitor food and their own environments, and seek and often gain a vital voice in decisions that affect them. The Fukushima fisheries coops, TEPCO, and METI all said they would welcome transparent, independent, ongoing third-party monitoring of seawater and marine life if and when the tritiated is released. TEPCO and METI say they understand the need for transparency, and are prepared to change their institutional cultures in order to better accommodate it. Okuda of METI observed, “Having accurate data available to the public won’t by itself ensure adequate understanding, but in the end it is essential.”

Based on many conversations, however, I’m not sure enough people in these organizations fully grasp what true transparency means. Dr. Ken Buesseler of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who has been monitoring Fukushima radiation effects in the ocean since immediately after the start of the disaster, started a very effective crowdsourced program to monitor radiation in the Pacific Ocean along the North American coast. He has long complained of the difficulty of getting adequate access to ocean zones close to Daiichi for scientific research. Regarding the need for transparency and independent monitoring he says, “When I talk about independent monitoring, I don’t mean JAEA or IAEA, or other big government-connected institutions, but universities, NGO’s, and other independent research labs.” He adds, “Even before the decision to release the water is made, someone should get a detailed accounting for what is in each tank for all of the radionuclides of concern, not just that they are below detection (using high thresholds), as the large volume of water means even seemingly small amounts add up. This needs to be independent of TEPCO or whoever is in charge of dumping.”

Buesseler and others share my opinion that robust and effective communication is essential, not to persuade the public that official plans are acceptable, but to better equip them to participate in the debate in an informed way, and to push back where they feel it is necessary. More effort should be made in communicating in general, and this requires a better-educated and more scientifically literate public, which means ongoing efforts that begin years before crisis renders it necessary. Independent groups should be involved in interpreting data and presenting the results in a way which does not damage their independence. It may be necessary to set funds for this aside where they cannot be controlled by government or industry. In the case of the tritiated water at Daiichi, though this kind of transparency and engagement will be essential, it will need to be accompanied by appropriate communication efforts. Those responsible for this should not underestimate the challenge or think it can effectively be rolled out in a short period of time.

According to METI, the content, location, and timing of the upcoming public sessions will be discussed at the next subcommitee meeting in July. People unable to attend in person will be able to submit comments and questions via email. Though hastily-planned events could possibly be held before the end of this year, it seems likely they will need to happen in 2019, bumping up against the decision deadline. While some fishermen are likely to attend, the cooperatives themselves will likely refuse. This situation requires the actual involvement of citizens in the decision making process, but it is difficult to find instances of that actually happening in Fukushima since the accident in 2011. At the central government level in particular, it has almost always been DAD — “Decide, Announce, Defend.” Government planners must think seriously about how prevent this from becoming just another clumsy photo-op, a fig leaf that will allow the government to claim it has adequately consulted the public.

A FINAL WORD

Regardless of whether one trusts scientific opinion or TEPCO, the tritiated water cannot be left in the tanks at Daiichi indefinitely, and releasing it to the ocean, though not without risk, is the least objectionable of the available options. As it stands now, given the depth of public mistrust and the nature of misinformation in our current era, the situation is ripe for the maximum misunderstanding and negative social impact to occur if and when this tritiated water is finally released. Unfortunately, I think we should be prepared for things to be done the “Kasumigaseki way,” with much insincere hand-wringing and expressions of regret. There will be negative social impact no matter what, but unless responsible government officials step up soon, own the decision, and ensure that public engagement is genuine, broad, and effective, these negative impacts will be unnecessarily magnified.

* Kasumigaseki is the part of Tokyo where central government functions are located.  It’s similar to Capitol Hill.

Azby Brown

Azby Brown is Safecast’s lead researcher and primary author of the Safecast Report. A widely published authority in the fields of design, architecture, and the environment, he has lived in Japan for over 30 years, and founded the KIT Future Design Institute in 2003. He joined Safecast in mid-2011, and frequently represents the group at international expert conferences.

https://blog.safecast.org/2018/06/part-2-radioactive-water-at-fukushima-daiichi-what-should-be-done/

June 7, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

PART 1: Radioactive water at Fukushima Daiichi: What should be done?

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850,000 TONS

Of all the conflicts and consequences of the Fukushima Daiichi NPP disaster, the contaminated water issue is one of the most complicated, contentious, and potentially long-term. It’s a multifaceted problem ultimately rooted in the influx of groundwater into the damaged reactor buildings. A large volume of water is pumped into and out of the damaged reactors each day to keep them cool. This is treated to remove salt and most radionuclides and recirculated back into the reactors. If there were no additional water leaking into the reactor basements, this could function as an essentially closed loop. But a volume equal to the additional groundwater inflow needs to be removed from recirculation. It too is treated to remove all radionuclides except tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen known as H-3, and is being stored in the now familiar rows of tanks onsite at Daiichi. A partially effective underground dam of frozen earth, together with a system of subdrain pumps, has reduced the volume necessary to be removed from about 400 cubic meters per day to about 150-200 cubic meters (though appreciably more when it rains heavily). About 850 large tanks now hold 850,000 tons of tritiated water, and TEPCO says that it will run out of space to store additional water onsite by 2020, so something must be done soon. As far back as 2014, the IAEA recommended a controlled release of this water to the ocean as the safest course of action, and Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Agency (NRA) has made similar recommendations. A Tritiated Water Task Force convened by METI in 2013 examined five options in detail, including evaporating it and releasing it into the atmosphere, releasing it into the atmosphere as hydrogen gas, injecting it into deep geologic strata, storing it underground, and diluting it and discharging it into the ocean. For reasons of cost, available technology, time required, and safety, in its final report issued in June, 2016, the task force concluded that ocean discharge was the least objectionable approach. TEPCO has made it clear that this is its preference as well, and in July of last year Takashi Kawamura, chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc., said publicly that the decision to release the tritiated water had already been made. Many people were alarmed, particularly Fukushima fishermen who expected to be consulted, and the company backpedalled immediately. So far no decision has been officially announced. The reason for the delay in the decision is the very reasonable expectation of a strong public backlash. Meanwhile the window for the decision to be made is rapidly closing.

METI Tritiated Water Task Force Report, June 2016 (English version)

Preliminary Summary Report: IAEA International Peer Review Mission On Mid-And-Long-Term Roadmap Towards The Decommissioning Of Tepco’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station Units 1-4
(Third Mission), Feb. 2015

Japan Times: Regulator urges Tepco to release treated radioactive water from damaged Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant into the sea, Jan. 11, 2018

Japan Times: Fukushima’s tritiated water to be dumped into sea, TEPCO chief says, July 14, 2017

TEPCO: Response to the article about the release of tritiated water into the ocean, July 14, 2017

Asahi Shimbun: New TEPCO executives tripping over their tongues, July 20, 2017

 

OPPOSITION

The strongest and most meaningful opposition comes from Fukushima’s fisheries cooperatives, which have suffered tremendously due to the disaster. Not only were their ports and fishing fleets destroyed by the tsunami, but the market for their fish collapsed after the sale of 44 marine species was prohibited by the Japanese government in 2011 due to radioactive contamination. The public seems largely unaware that in the years since the bans were initiated, the percentage of Fukushima marine products exceeding the 100 Bq/kg allowable level of radioactive cesium has decreased rapidly, and has actually been zero since 2015. People are right to be skeptical of this, perhaps, but it has been confirmed by official testing, by independent researchers, and by testing done by independent citizen groups. Testing is done for each marine variety on a fishing ground-by-fishing ground basis, and as they have gradually been demonstrated to meet the requirements, 34 of the 44 initially banned seafood varieties have been allowed back on the market. Thanks to incrementally improving consumer confidence, the market for Fukushima seafood has slowly improved. The Fukushima fisheries coops justifiably fear that if the tritiated water is released to the ocean, the resulting consumer backlash will totally destroy their livelihoods once again.

Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations

Japan Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF): Results of the monitoring on radioactivity level in fisheries products: Summary of Monitoring on fishery products (As of Mar. 31, 2018)

METI has jurisdiction over contaminated water releases from nuclear reactors like Daiichi because it is responsible for overseeing energy production systems as a whole, including accident consequences. The NRA, which is part of the Environment Ministry, has specific jurisdiction for nuclear power, and its evaluations and guidance are also important. But ultimately the decision of whether or not to release the tritiated water is TEPCO’s. A company spokesman explained to me recently that government guidelines and recommendations are taken very seriously, and that the company goes to great lengths to meet government expectations. But ultimately these recommendations are non-binding. TEPCO hopes to get the green light from METI and the NRA, and all of them have been delaying their decisions in the hopes that the approval of the fisheries coops can be obtained as well.

On the face of it, this hope is not totally unfounded, as there is an important precedent. The fisheries coops have been approving the release of water from two specific sources onsite at Daiichi for several years. One is a bypass system uphill of the reactors that intercepts groundwater before it reaches the reactor area. The other is a subdrain system that pumps water from the area around the reactors. In both cases, the water has relatively low levels of radioactive contamination, and is treated to remove radionuclides and then tested by TEPCO and third-parties (JAEA and the Japan Chemical Analysis Center). If the radioactivity is lower than TEPCO’s self-imposed target levels of 1 Bq/L each for Cs137 and Cs134, 5 Bq/L for Gross beta (including strontium), and 1500 Bq/L for tritium — all of which are many times lower than the limits for drinking water set by the WHO — the fisheries coops agree to its release. This agreement has been in place since 2014 for the bypass water, and since 2015 for the subdrain water. It appears to have been functioning smoothly, with over 350,000 tons of bypass water and about 500,000 tons of subdrain water released so far. The participation of third-parties in the monitoring has been the key to gaining trust in the measurements.

TEPCO – Water Discharge Criteria for Groundwater Bypass, February 3, 2014

TEPCO – Groundwater pump-up by Subdrain or Groundwater drain

WE’VE BEEN HERE BEFORE

The tritium in the tanks at Daiichi is much more radioactive than the subdrain or bypass water, however. The concentration levels of tritium in the tanks ranges from about 0.5 to 4 million Bq/L, a total of about 0.76 PBq (trillion Bq) in all. No decision has been made about how much is likely to be released per day, but technical and cost estimates have been based on 400 cubic meters (tons) per day, roughly equal to the maximum daily inflow of groundwater. It is expected that releases would continue for about five years. Under the scenarios being discussed, the water would be diluted to 60,000 Bq/L before being released to the ocean. This number alone seems alarming, but is the concentration level that has been legally allowed to be released from Japanese nuclear power plants and reprocessing facilities such as Tokaimura for decades. The science regarding what is likely to happen to the tritium in terms of dispersal by ocean currents and effects on fish and other biota is fairly well understood, primarily because of decades of monitoring done in Japan and near similar facilities abroad, such as Sellafield in the UK and LaHague in France. Data from the French government shows that the LaHague reprocessing plant releases about 12PBq (12 trillion Bq) per year, and the maximum concentration of tritium in the surrounding ocean has been about 7Bq/L. This means that the amount released yearly from LaHague is over 12 times the total being stored at Daiichi, and the daily release rate is over 20,000 times that expected in Fukushima. Dr. Jota Kanda, a professor at the Department of Ocean Sciences, Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, observed that the dispersal and further dilution of tritium is rapid, and says, “Based on what we’ve seen at La Hague, it seems likely that under the ocean release scenario being considered now, tritium concentrations in the ocean off Fukushima will not exceed a few Bq/L and will likely remain close to the background level.” Globally, the background levels of tritium in water currently range between 1 and 4 Bq/L, which includes 0.1 to 0.6 Bq/L that is naturally-occurring and more than doubled by tritium remaining from nuclear testing. In oceans, tritium concentration levels at the surface are around 0.1 to 0.2 Bq/L. For comparison, naturally occurring tritium in rainwater in Japan between 1980-1995 was between 0.5- 1.5 Bq/L, and prior to 2011 in Fukushima rivers and tap water was generally between 0.5-1.5 Bq/L. In the US, the EPA standard for tritium in drinking water is 740 Bq/liter, while the EU imposes a limit of 100Bq/L.

Fujita et al, Environmental Tritium in the Vicinity of Tokai Reprocessing Plant. Journal of Nuclear Science and Technology, 44:11, 1474-1480

Matsuura, et al, Levels of tritium concentration in the environmental samples around JAERI TOKAI. Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry, Articles, Vol. 197, No. 2 (1995)295-307

METI Task Force Report supplement: About the physical properties of tritium,
Yamanishi Toshihiko, 2013

LaHague tritium release data, cited in METI Task Force Report supplement, p6

Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII): A survey of tritium in Irish seawater, July 2013

IRSN factsheet: Tritium and the environment

Michio Aoyama: Long-term behavior of 137Cs and 3H activities from TEPCO Fukushima NPP1 accident in the coastal region off Fukushima, Japan. Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry, 2018

Tsumune et al: Distribution of oceanic 137Cs from the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant simulated numerically by a regional ocean model. Journal of Environmental Radioactivity 111 (2012) 100-108

Povinec, et al, Cesium, iodine and tritium in NW Pacific waters – a comparison of the Fukushima impact with global fallout. Biogeosciences Discuss., 10, 6377–6416, 2013

Dr. Kanda further explains that biological organisms such as fish have different concentration factors for different radionuclides. When the ambient level of Cs137 in seawater is 1 Bq/L, for instance, some fish species may show values approaching 100 Bq/kg. But for tritium (H3) the ratio is 1:1, and 1 Bq/L in seawater will result in 1Bq/kg in fish. Again, at La Hague, which has had a much higher release of tritium for decades, the concentrations in marine wildlife near the point of release between 1997-2006 has ranged from 4.0 – 19.0 Bq/kg, with a mean of 11.1 Bq/kg. Using this as a guideline, Kanda estimates that even with an ongoing release of 60,000 Bq/L of tritium offshore of Daiichi, the fish a short distance away are unlikely to exceed 1 Bq/kg. This can, and must be, confirmed by conscientious monitoring.

What about health effects to humans? Though the release from Daiichi would be many times smaller than what is ongoing from LaHague or Sellafield, and the levels in the ocean after release seem likely to be close to that in normal rivers and rainwater, it is understandable that people would be concerned about risk. The scientific consensus is that tritium presents a much lower risk than radionuclides such as radioactive cesium, radioactive iodine, or strontium. This is reflected in allowable limits in drinking water which are generally tens or hundreds of times higher for tritium than for these others, ranging from 100 Bq/L in the European Union, 740 Bq/L in the US, 7000 Bq/L in Canada, 30,000 Bq/L in Finland, and 76,103 Bq/L in Australia. The WHO limit for tritium in drinking water is 10,000 Bq/L. Allowable limits in food have in most cases not been established. While these limits reflect a general scientific consensus that tritium presents a very low risk, the wide range of official values suggests scientific uncertainty about how it actually affects the human body.

Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC): Standards and Guidelines for Tritium in Drinking Water, 2008

SCIENTIFIC UNCERTAINTY

Because in its most common form, known as HTO, tritiated water behaves almost identically to water, it is eliminated from the human body with a biological half-life of 10 days, the same as for water. But when it is incorporated into living things or organic matter, a fraction of it binds with organic molecules to become organically bound tritium, known as OBT. In this form it can stay in the body for years, and its risks, while assumed to be fairly low, are not fully understood. Dr. Ian Fairlie, a UK-based researcher who has published widely on the risks of tritium exposure, believes that current guidelines underestimate the nuclide’s true risk. Fairlie points out that there is a long-running controversy among experts regarding the risks of OBT, which many believe are higher than official guidelines currently recognize. Many official agencies, like France’s IRSN, have issued reports that recognize these uncertainties, and Fairlie believes that the research findings indicate that the dose from OBT should be increased by a factor of 5 compared to HTO.

Fairlie: Tritium: Comments on Annex C of UNSCEAR 2016 Report, March 14, 2017

IRSN factsheet: Tritium and the environment

In the ocean release scenarios being considered in Fukushima, Fairlie agrees that there will be high levels of dilution. Nevertheless, as the tritium disperses, he says, “It will be found throughout the entire ocean food chain.” The ICRP suggests that 3% of the tritium metabolized from water by marine life becomes potentially riskier OBT, while the IAEA estimates the fraction at 50%. IRSN and others caution that the biological exchange of tritium and other aspects of its action in organisms, such as the effects of exposure on embryos and foetuses, is incomplete. The METI Tritiated Water Task Force report of June 2016 explains that, “When standard values pertaining to radioactive material in food were established [in Japan] in 2012, it was concluded that “it is difficult to conceive of the concentration of tritium in food reaching a dose that would require attention.” This must not be assumed to be the case. Any estimate of risks to humans from tritium exposure should take the uncertainties as well as the possibility of higher risk from OBT fully into account. That said, the roughly 1Bq/kg maximum expected by experts to be found in fish off Fukushima after release is roughly from 100 to 70,000 times lower than drinking water limits around the world. Assuming that 3%-50% of that 1 Bq/kg is OBT, with a potentially higher risk factor, the human exposure risks from this scenario nevertheless appear to be extremely low, close to those of normal background radiation. The Japanese Gov’t is arguing that it is negligible.

FUKUSHIMA FISHERIES COOPS

TEPCO, METI, and other government bodies which share the mandate for dealing with contaminated water from Fukushima Daiichi believe there is no scientific reason to prevent releasing the tritiated water into the Pacific. For them, the largest stumbling bock is the lack of approval from the Fukushima fisheries cooperatives. As described above, these coops agreed to other releases of treated water from Daiichi as long as it’s compliance with safety regulations could be independently confirmed. Since the science indicates similarly minimal risk from releasing the water from the tanks after considerable dilution, what is their objection now? “We are totally opposed to the planned release,” explained Mr Takaaki Sawada of the Iwaki Office of the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations, known as FS Gyoren. “It’s not a question of money or compensation,” he continued, “nor of any level of concentration we might accept as safe. There aren’t any conditions we would set, saying ‘If you satisfy these conditions then we will agree.’ We do not think it should be our responsibility to decide whether or not to release it. That entire discussion is inappropriate.”

Over the course of our long conversation, Sawada frankly acknowledged that the scientific consensus indicates very low risk if the water is released. “It’s not a question of scientific understanding,” he said. “We understand that tritiated water is released from other nuclear power plants in Japan and around the world. But we think it will be impossible for the public in general to understand why tritium is considered low risk, and expect there will be a large new backlash against Fukushima marine products no matter how scientifically it is explained.” I pointed out that the coops agreed to the release of the subdrain and bypass water from Daiichi, and asked what was different about this. He pointed out that in those cases, the water is pumped out before it is contaminated, and the public seems to understand that the contamination levels are already very low.

Fisheries coops, or kumai, are organized at each fishing port, of which there are 14 in Fukushima, only 2 of which, in Soma and Iwaki, are now operating commercially. The Fukushima coops have a total of about 1400 members at present. FS Gyoren is a prefectural federation, or rengo kumiai, that exists to facilitate communication and cooperation among the individual coops. There is a national rengo kumiai as well, called Zengyoren. These are not companies, and are not top-down organizations. Rather, each local port kumiai maintains independence. And though in meetings with Tepco or the government FS Gyoren communicates the concerns of members based on the kumai’s own meetings, no real full consensus has been reached regarding the proposed releases. It is a difficult situation with many possibilities for dissatisfaction and dissent. As an outside observer, I expected that some trust-building conditions, such as more transparent and conscientious monitoring, or further limits to the concentration and quantities released, could be satisfied which would allow the coops to agree to the ocean discharge. But now I think they won’t budge, particularly after TEPCO chairman Kawamura’s surprise announcement last summer that the decision had already been made without their approval. The kumiai will, I think, force the decision to be made against their strong opposition. I think they’re right that Japanese society is primed for a large backlash against Fukushima seafood no matter what the science and measurement shows.

Azby Brown

Azby Brown is Safecast’s lead researcher and primary author of the Safecast Report. A widely published authority in the fields of design, architecture, and the environment, he has lived in Japan for over 30 years, and founded the KIT Future Design Institute in 2003. He joined Safecast in mid-2011, and frequently represents the group at international expert conferences.

https://blog.safecast.org/2018/06/part-1-radioactive-water-at-fukushima-daiichi-what-should-be-done/

June 7, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

About that tritiated water: Who will decide and when?

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Storage tanks of contaminated water stand at Tepco’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Tepco estimates that at the current rate it will run out of tank space in 2020, and a decision must be made on what to do with the water well before then.
 
June 5, 2018
Virtually every news story about the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant acknowledges the tremendous ongoing problem of contaminated water that is accumulating in approximately 850 large tanks on-site. There are about 850,000 tons of water in the tanks at present, from which all radionuclides of concern except tritium — radioactive hydrogen — have been effectively removed. More water accumulates each day, in quantities roughly equal to the amount of groundwater that seeps into the damaged reactor buildings. Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings estimates that at the current rate it will run out of tank space in 2020. Something needs to be done well before then, and the decision should address the concerns of all stakeholders, public and private.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry recently announced that meetings will be held where the public can hear explanations of proposed solutions and comment on them. Unless they think seriously about how to prevent this from becoming yet another clumsy exercise in DAD — “decide, announce, defend” — these meetings will be a mere fig leaf that will allow the government to claim it has adequately consulted the public.
As it is, the government’s decision-making process itself appears to be dysfunctional, and we have reason to be skeptical that it will be possible to avert very bad domestic and international public reactions if and when this water is disposed of.
The Subcommittee on Handling Water Treated by the Polynuclide Removal Facility is one of several Japanese government committees organized by METI tasked with formulating a response to the problem of the radioactive water. The planned public sessions were announced at its eighth meeting, on May 18.
This is a step in the right direction, and is long overdue. Nevertheless it may well be a case of “too little, too late.” The decision, delayed for years, will almost certainly be to dilute the water and release it to the ocean, and meanwhile, public opposition to this idea has hardened. The issue hinges on both scientific understanding and public perception.
What is tritium?
Tritium, scientifically indicated as “H3,” occurs both naturally and through man-made processes. Tritiated water (HTO), like that accumulating at the No. 1 nuclear power plant, behaves almost identically to normal water, and can be taken up easily by living organisms. The scientific consensus is that the health risks from exposure to tritium are several orders of magnitude lower than those from radionuclides like cesium, radioactive iodine or strontium. This is reflected in allowable limits in drinking water, which are generally tens or hundreds of times higher for tritium than for these others, ranging from 100 Bq/L in the European Union to 76,103 Bq/L in Australia. Nevertheless, the scientific community acknowledges some uncertainty about these risks.
Leaving the tritiated water in the tanks at No. 1 is the riskiest thing to do, due to the possibility of ruptures or uncontrolled leaks. As far back as 2014, the International Atomic Energy Agency recommended a controlled release to the ocean as the safest course of action, and Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Agency concurred.
A Tritiated Water Task Force convened by METI in 2013 examined five options in detail, and in 2016 concluded that for reasons of cost, available technology, time required, and safety, diluting and discharging it to the ocean was the least objectionable approach. The task force presented relevant monitoring data from decades of similar releases of tritium to the ocean from nuclear facilities in Japan and abroad, noting that the quantities from the No. 1 plant would be many times smaller and the tritium levels in ocean life too low to be of real concern.
Tepco has made it clear that ocean release is its preference as well. The company says that it strives to meet government recommendations, and does not intend to act without government support, but is ultimately responsible for any actual decision.
In July 2017 Takashi Kawamura, chairman of Tepco, said publicly that the decision to release the tritiated water had already been made, and the public outcry was immediate, particularly from Fukushima fishermen who expected to be consulted. The company quickly backpedaled.
Constructing the dilution facilities and pipelines that an ocean release would require is expected to require almost a year after any decision is made. At the current rate, that means the “go” signal must be given by early 2019 at the latest. That no decision has been officially announced to date can be ascribed to the very reasonable expectation of a strong public backlash, and, I believe, the reluctance of any responsible government officials to be associated with such an unpopular decision.
Fishermen’s opposition
The strongest and most meaningful opposition comes from Fukushima’s fisheries cooperatives, which have suffered tremendously due to the 2011 disaster. Representatives of Tepco, METI and other government bodies that share the mandate for dealing with the contaminated water invariably stress how important it is to them to reach understanding and agreement with all stakeholders, the fisheries cooperatives in particular.
Takahiro Kimoto, a general manager in Tepco’s nuclear power division, explained, “The policies can’t and shouldn’t be determined by Tepco alone, but we continue discussing the available options with government and other stakeholders. These discussions are taking a long time, but we consider them essential.” Put bluntly, Tepco knows they will be pilloried no matter what, and seeks broad support.
Shuji Okuda, METI’s director for decommissioning and contaminated water management, stressed that no decision has yet been made regarding which of the five options for dealing with the tritiated water will be chosen. “It will be a decision of the Japanese government as a whole,” Okuda explains, “not one made by any single agency. And it will be based on ample discussions with all stakeholders.”
Although Tepco and METI indicate that they are prepared to accommodate the fishermen’s conditions regarding the release, the cooperatives are adamant. “We are totally opposed to the planned release,” explained Takaaki Sawada of the Iwaki Office of the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations, known as FS Gyoren. “It’s not a question of money or compensation,” he continued, “nor of any level of concentration we might accept as safe. We do not think it should be our responsibility to decide whether or not to release it. We think it will be impossible for the public in general to understand why tritium is considered low risk,” he continued, “and expect there will be a large new backlash against Fukushima marine products no matter how scientifically it is explained.”
Much hinges on public understanding of the risks, and therefore on transparency. Robust and effective two-way communication is essential, not to persuade the public that official plans are acceptable, but to better equip them to participate in the debate in an informed way, and to push back where they feel it is necessary. It is the public’s right to demand this kind of inclusion.
Communication should be aimed not only at fishermen and Japanese consumers, but internationally to all who are concerned about what the effect on the Pacific will be. The government has been sitting on the Task Force recommendations for almost two years without taking action. That it has taken this long to even begin planning to engage the public on this issue is, again, because no one in a governmental decision-making position wants to be politically associated with the consequences of a tritium release.
According to METI, the content, location and timing of the public sessions will be discussed at the next subcommitee meeting in July. People unable to attend in person will be able to submit comments and questions via email. Though hastily planned events could possibly be held before the end of this year, it seems likely they will need to happen in 2019, bumping up against the decision deadline.
While some fishermen are likely to attend, the cooperatives themselves will likely refuse. This situation requires the actual involvement of citizens in the decision making process, but it is difficult to find instances of that actually happening in Fukushima since the accident in 2011. At the central government level in particular, it has almost always been DAD.
Regardless of whether one trusts scientific opinion or Tepco, the tritiated water cannot be left in the tanks at No. 1 indefinitely, and releasing it to the ocean, though not without risk, is the least objectionable of the available options. As it stands now, given the depth of public mistrust and the nature of misinformation in our current era, the situation is ripe for the maximum misunderstanding and negative social impact to occur if and when this tritiated water is finally released.
Unfortunately, I think we should be prepared for things to be done the “Kasumigaseki way”: for the decision to be avoided until the last possible moment, and for government officials to claim then that an unavoidable emergency had arisen and it couldn’t be helped.
There will be negative social impact no matter what, but unless responsible government officials step up soon, own the decision and ensure that public engagement is genuine, broad, and effective, these negative impacts will be unnecessarily magnified.
Azby Brown is the lead researcher for Safecast, a volunteer-based NPO that conducts open, independent, citizen-run monitoring of radiation and other environmental hazards worldwide. http://www.safecast.org

June 7, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima continuing | , , | Leave a comment