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Removal of spent nuclear fuel at Fukushima No. 1 delayed up to five years

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Dec 27, 2019
The government decided Friday to delay the removal of spent fuel from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant’s Nos. 1 and 2 reactors by up to five years, casting doubt on whether it can stick to its time frame for dismantling the crippled complex.
The process of removing the spent fuel from the units’ pools had previously been scheduled to begin in fiscal 2023.
In its latest decommissioning plan, the government said the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., will not begin the roughly two-year process at the No. 1 unit at least until fiscal 2027 and may wait until fiscal 2028.
Work at the No. 2 unit is now slated to start between fiscal 2024 and fiscal 2026, it said.
The delay is necessary to take further safety precautions, such as the construction of an enclosure around the No. 1 unit to prevent the spread of radioactive dust and the decontamination of the No. 2 unit, the government said. It is the fourth time it has revised its schedule for removing the spent fuel rods.
“It’s a very difficult process and it’s hard to know what to expect. The most important thing is the safety of the workers and the surrounding area,” industry minister Hiroshi Kajiyama told a news conference.
The government set a new goal of finishing the removal of the 4,741 spent fuel rods across all six of the plant’s reactors by fiscal 2031.
Tepco has started the process at the No. 3 unit and already finished at the No. 4 unit, which was off-line for regular maintenance at the time of the disaster. A schedule has yet to be set for the Nos. 5 and 6 reactors.
While the government maintained its overarching time frame of finishing the decommissioning of the plant 30 to 40 years from the 2011 crisis triggered by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami, there may be further delays.
The government said it will begin removing fuel debris in fiscal 2021 from the three reactors that experienced core meltdowns, starting with the No. 2 unit.
The process, considered the most difficult part of the decommissioning plan, will involve using a robot arm to initially remove small amounts of debris, and later take out larger amounts.
The government also said it will aim to reduce the pace at which contaminated water at the plant increases. Water for cooling the melted cores, mixed with underground water, amounts to around 170 tons per day. That number will be reduced to 100 tons by 2025, it said.
The water is being treated to remove the most radioactive materials and stored in tanks on the plant’s grounds, but already more than 1 million tons have been collected and space is expected to run out by the summer of 2022.

December 30, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , | Leave a comment

Japan revises Fukushima cleanup plan, delays key steps

By MARI YAMAGUCHI
December 27, 2019
TOKYO (AP) — Japan on Friday revised a roadmap for the cleanup of the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant, further delaying the removal of thousands of spent fuel units that remain in cooling pools since the 2011 disaster. It’s a key step in the decadeslong process, complicated by high radiation and other risks. The government and the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., are keeping a 30- to 40-year completion target.
A look at some of the challenges:
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MORE THAN 4,700 UNITS OF FUEL IN POOLS
More than 4,700 units of fuel rods remain at the three melted reactors and two others that survived the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. They pose a high risk because their storage pools are uncovered and a loss of water in case of another major disaster could cause the fuel rods to melt, releasing massive radiation. Their removal at Units 1 and 2, after repeated delays, is now postponed by up to 10 years from the initial target of 2018, with more preparation needed to reduce radiation and clear debris and other risks.
Fuel rod removal at the Unit 1 reactor pool will begin sometime in 2027-2028, after debris is cleaned up and a huge rooftop cover installed to contain radioactive dust. Fuel removal at Unit 2 pool is to begin in 2024-2026. Work at the Unit 3 reactor pool began in April 2019 and all 566 units will be removed by March 2021. TEPCO has emptied the pool at Unit 4, which was offline and only suffered building damage, and aims to have all remaining rods in reactor pools removed by 2031 for safer storage in dry casks.
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1.2 MILLION TONS OF RADIOACTIVE WATER
TEPCO has been unable to release the 1.2 million tons of treated but still radioactive water kept in nearly 1,000 tanks at the plant, fearing public repercussions and the impact on the area’s struggling fishing and agriculture. The amount of water is growing by 170 tons daily because it is used to cool the melted fuel inside the reactors.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry recently drafted a proposal to release the water to the sea or the air, or a combination of both. TEPCO says it can only store up to 1.37 million tons, or until the summer of 2022. Time is limited because preparation is needed before any water release. TEPCO and the government say the tanks pose risks if they were to spill their contents in another major earthquake, tsunami or flood. They also need to free up space to build storage for melted fuel removed from reactors beginning 2021.
The water is still somewhat contaminated, but TEPCO says further treatment can remove all but radioactive tritium to levels allowed for release. Experts say tritium is not harmful to humans in small amounts and has been routinely released from nuclear plants around the world.
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880 TONS OF MELTED FUEL
Removing an estimated 880 tons of molten fuel from Fukushima’s three melted reactors is the toughest and unprecedented challenge. It’s six times the amount dealt with in the aftermath of the 1979 Three Mile Island partial core melt in the United States.
Removal is to begin in 2021 at Unit 2, where robotic probes have made more progress than at Units 1 and 3. A robotic arm was developed to enter the reactor from the side to reach the melted fuel, which has largely fallen to the bottom of the primary containment vessel. A side entry would allow the simultaneous removal of fuel rods in the pool from the reactor’s top. The removal of melted fuel will begin with just a spoonful, which will be carefully measured and analyzed under International Atomic Energy Agency instructions. The government hopes to gradually expand the scale of the removal, though further expertise and robotic development is needed. The first decade through 2031 is a crucial phase that will affect future progress. Units 1 and 3 fell behind due to high radiation and water levels respectively, requiring more investigation.
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770,000 TONS OF RADIOACTIVE WASTE
Japan has yet to develop a plan to dispose of the highly radioactive melted fuel and other debris that come out of the reactors. TEPCO will compile a plan for those after the first decade of melted fuel removal. Managing the waste will require new technologies to reduce its volume and toxicity. TEPCO and the government say they plan to build a site to store waste and debris removed from the reactors, but finding one and obtaining public consent will be difficult.
Additionally, there will be an estimated 770,000 tons of solid radioactive waste by 2030, including contaminated debris and soil, sludge from water treatment, scrapped tanks and other waste. They will be sorted, treated and compacted for safe storage under a plan to be compiled by 2028.
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8 TRILLION YEN
The government says Fukushima’s decommissioning cost is estimated at 8 trillion yen ($73 billion), though adding compensation, decontamination of surrounding areas and medium-term storage facilities would bring the total to an estimated 22 trillion yen ($200 billion). The Japan Center for Economic Research, a think tank, estimates that decommissioning alone would cost 51 trillion yen ($470 billion) if the water is not released and tritium removal technology is pursued.
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10,000 WORKERS
More than 10,000 workers will be needed annually in coming years, about one third assigned to work related to the radioactive water. Securing experienced workforce for the decadeslong cleanup is a challenge in a country with rapidly aging and declining population. Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Toyoshi Fuketa raised concerns about a possible labor shortage following recent minor mishaps at the plant. TEPCO has expressed intention of hiring workers for the decommissioning under Japan’s new policy allowing more unskilled foreign labor, but the plan is on hold following government instructions to address language and safety concerns.
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This March 11, 2012, file photo, shows three melted reactors, from left, Unit 1, Unit 2 and Unit 3 at Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture, Japan. Japan revised a roadmap on Friday, Dec. 27, 2019, for the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant cleanup, further delaying the removal of thousands of spent fuel units that remain in cooling pools since the 2011 disaster.
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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. Japan revised a roadmap on Friday, Dec. 27, 2019, for the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant cleanup, further delaying the removal of thousands of spent fuel units that remain in cooling pools since the 2011 disaster. It’s a key step in the decadeslong process, underscoring high radiation and other risks.
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In this Oct. 12, 2017, file photo, ever-growing amount of contaminated, treated but still slightly radioactive, water at the wrecked Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant is stored in about 900 huge tanks, including those seen in this photo taken during a plant tour at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture, northeast of Tokyo. Japan revised a roadmap on Friday, Dec. 27, 2019, for the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant cleanup, further delaying the removal of thousands of spent fuel units that remain in cooling pools since the 2011 disaster. It’s a key step in the decadeslong process, underscoring high radiation and other risks.
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In this Jan. 25, 2018, file photo, a cooling pool where a total of mostly used 566 sets of fuel rods are stored underwater and covered by a protective net, waits to be removed in a step to empty the pool at Unit 3 of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant ahead of a fuel removal from its storage pool in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, northeast Japan. Japan revised a roadmap on Friday, Dec. 27, 2019, for the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant cleanup, further delaying the removal of thousands of spent fuel units that remain in cooling pools since the 2011 disaster. More than 4,700 units of fuel rods remain inside the three melted reactors and two others that survived the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
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In this Nov. 12, 2014, file photo, a Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) official wearing a radioactive protective gear stands in front of Advanced Liquid Processing Systems during a press tour at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan. Japan revised a roadmap on Friday, Dec. 27, 2019, for the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant cleanup, further delaying the removal of thousands of spent fuel units that remain in cooling pools since the 2011 disaster.
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Japan has revised a roadmap for the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant cleanup, further delaying the removal of thousands of spent fuel units that remain in cooling pools since the 2011 disaster.

December 30, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | 6 Comments

Media reports de-romanticize the cleanup work on the Fukushima nuclear power plant

p17-brasor-fukushima-a-20180218-870x579.jpgFront-line fight: Workers remove protective clothing after a shift at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in November 2011.

 
Most of the reliable reporting about the clean-up of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant since it suffered three meltdowns in March 2011 has been from on-site workers. Even when articles appear in major media outlets about the situation at the crippled reactor, it’s usually presented through the anonymous or pseudonymous firsthand experiences of the men on the front lines.
Some have become famous. The public would not know much about the situation without Kazuto Tatsuta’s manga series, “Ichiefu” (or “1F” — shorthand for “Fukushima No. 1”), the writings of former letter carrier and cleanup worker Minoru Ikeda, or the books and tweets of a man known as “Happy” who has been working as an employee at the plant.
Because these individuals directly address what they and their colleagues have gone through on a daily basis, the work they do has been de-romanticized. It’s not as heroic as initial foreign media reports made it out to be. If anything, it’s tedious and uncomplicated.
Workers are concerned about those matters that all blue-collar laborers worry about — pay and benefits — which isn’t to suggest they don’t think about the possible health risks of radiation exposure. Last October, Ikeda talked to the comedy duo-cum-nuclear power reporters Oshidori Mako & Ken on the web channel Jiyu-na Radio about potential false reports on radiation levels around Fukushima, although also touching on health issues that have not been reported by the mainstream media. His main point was that serious illnesses may not manifest themselves until years after workers quit the site and thus no longer qualify for worker’s compensation. In other words, the workers understand the risk. They just want to be fairly compensated for it.
In that regard, one of the most common gripes from on-site reporters is the “hazard compensation” (kiken teate) workers are supposed to receive. Recently, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. (Tepco), which is both responsible for the accident and in charge of the cleanup, announced a reduction in outlay associated with the hazard compensation, which is paid as a supplement to wages. This compensation can add as much as ¥20,000 a day to a worker’s pay, but now that Tepco says radiation levels have dropped, they will no longer provide the compensation, or, at least, not as much as they have been paying.
A special report in the Jan. 22 Tokyo Shimbun attempted to explain how this change will affect workers and the work itself. In March 2016, Tepco divided the work area into three zones: red, for high radiation levels; yellow, for some radioactivity; and green, for areas that had no appreciable radioactivity. Workers interviewed by Tokyo Shimbun say they’ve never liked this system because they feel it “has no meaning.” Rubble from the red zone is routinely transferred to the green zone, where heavy machinery kicks up a lot of dust, so there’s no physical delineation between zones when it comes to radiation levels. On the ground, this reality is addressed by subcontractors who make their employees in the green zone — which constitutes 95 percent of the work site — wear extra protective gear, even though Tepco doesn’t require it.
But the workers’ main gripe about the zone system is that most of them ended up being paid less and, as on-site workers have often explained, they weren’t getting paid as much as people thought they were. Contractors advertise high wages to attract workers, but then subtract things like room and board, utility fees, clothing and equipment. And it’s been known for years that the hazard compensation was more or less a racket gamed by the contractors standing between Tepco, which distributes the compensation, and the workers, who are supposed to be the beneficiaries. There can be up to six layers of contractors between Tepco and a worker, and each layer may take a cut of the compensation. In 2014, four workers sued Tepco for ¥62 million, saying they worked at the site but received none of the promised hazard compensation.
That situation still seems to be in play, according to Tokyo Shimbun. Several subcontractors told the newspaper they receive the compensation for their workers not from Tepco directly but from the contractor that hired them, and in most cases the compensation has been reduced, sometimes by more than half. One subcontractor said that a company above them actually apologized for the paucity of the compensation they were handing down because their “revenues had decreased.” The man known as Happy told Tokyo Shimbun that Tepco is ordering less work at the site, which means existing subcontractors may cut wages in order to compete for these dwindling jobs. Some contractors have even invested in the robots that are used to inspect the reactor, because they want the work to continue without interruption.
It was common practice to rotate out workers toiling in the highly radioactive areas regularly and quickly and then re-assign them to low-radiation areas. After some time they may have been rotated back into the high-radiation area, where pay is more. The man known as Happy says this sort of system now seems to be on the way out, and that makes sense if radiation is actually decreasing. However, he’s afraid that if there is another emergency that requires a sudden influx of workers, they won’t be available.
Tepco is obviously thinking of its bottom line, and the man known as Happy thinks the work should be managed by the government, which is contributing tax money to the cleanup. However, it seems only the Japan Communist Party is reading the dispatches from the plant. Last May, Japanese Communist Party lawmaker Taku Yamazoe questioned Tepco President Naomi Hirose about the hazard compensation in the Diet, and why the structure of payments to workers wasn’t clear.
Hirose said that while his company intends that the money goes to workers, he cannot say for sure that is the case because of the circumstances surrounding Tepco’s relationships with contractors. With work on the wane, it seems unlikely that those workers will see any of the money that’s owed to them, retroactively or otherwise.

February 18, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Japan to start nuclear cleanup of Fukushima town, Namie, around May

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In this July 27, 2017 file photo, contaminated water storage tanks are seen on the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant grounds, in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture.
 
TOKYO (Kyodo) — Nuclear decontamination work using state funds will begin around May in Namie, a town in northeastern Japan hit hard by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, to make some of its most-contaminated areas habitable again, the government said Thursday.
The government is seeking to lift an evacuation order for three areas in the town, covering about 660 hectares, by March 2023.
The order currently covers about 80 percent of Namie in Fukushima Prefecture, and the areas to be decontaminated make up some 3.7 percent of it where entry is prohibited in principle.
On Dec. 22, the government approved a plan submitted by the town to rebuild the areas affected by meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Similar rebuilding efforts have been underway in the neighboring town of Futaba since December and are also scheduled to begin in the town of Okuma in March.
For Namie, the first round of work covers some 30 hectares of land.
On March 11, 2011, a tsunami inundated the six-reactor plant located in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, and flooded the power supply facilities.
Reactor cooling systems were crippled and the Nos. 1 to 3 reactors suffered fuel meltdowns in the world’s worst nuclear catastrophe since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

February 18, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment