The government-backed Riken research institute is set to launch experiments on converting radioactive substances contained in high-level nuclear waste generated at atomic power stations into precious metals starting fiscal 2018, it has been learned.
The method, which is dubbed “modern alchemy,” is said to be theoretically viable but hasn’t been put into practical use. If realized, the formula is expected to contribute to trimming nuclear waste and even making effective use of it.
The experiment will be part of the Cabinet Office’s program to promote innovative research and development, called “Impulsing Paradigm Change through Disruptive Technologies (ImPACT)” program. In the initial stage of the demonstration experiment, palladium-107, a radioactive material contained in nuclear waste and whose half-life is 6.5 million years, will be turned into nontoxic palladium-106, which is commonly used in dental therapy, jewelry goods and exhaust gas purification catalysts.
Using an accelerator at the Riken Nishina Center for Accelerator-Based Science in Wako, Saitama Prefecture, the scientists will attempt to convert palladium-107 into palladium-106 by irradiating the former with deuteron beams, in what is called the “nuclear transformation” process. The experiment is set to be the world’s first of its kind on nuclear transformation of palladium, according to Riken officials.
The researchers will compile the outcome of the experiment as early as the fall of 2018 after confirming the ratio of palladium successfully transformed and other results.
As nuclear waste is highly radioactive, the government is currently looking into methods to isolate such waste deep into the ground after sealing it in specially designed containers. If the nuclear transformation process proves viable, it could contribute to reducing nuclear waste and making efficient use of it.
It remains to be seen whether nuclear transformation will prove successful just as in theory and if the process can be turned into practical use at a low cost. In the past, a nuclear transformation experiment was carried out on minor actinides, or “heavy” nuclear waste, at the Joyo experimental fast reactor in Oarai, Ibaraki Prefecture, but the upcoming experiment will be the country’s first using fission products, or “light” nuclear waste.
ImPACT program manager Reiko Fujita said, “We are still at the basic research stage and are far from putting it into practical use. We will, however, move a step forward if we manage to obtain data through our experiment.”
Bags containing contaminated soil and other materials produced through decontamination work are seen at a provisional storage site in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has raised questions about the Environment Ministry’s proposal to reuse radioactive soil resulting from decontamination work around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant due to the insufficiency of information on how such material would be managed, it has been learned.
As the ministry has not provided a sufficient amount of information, the nuclear watchdog has not allowed the ministry to seek advice from its Radiation Council — a necessary step in determining standards for radiation exposure associated with the reuse of contaminated materials.
The Ministry of the Environment discussed the reuse of contaminated soil in closed-door meetings with radiation experts between January and May last year. The standard for the reuse of such materials as metal produced in the process of decommissioning nuclear reactors is set at 100 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram. Materials with a contamination level topping 8,000 becquerels are handled as “designated waste” requiring special treatment. In examining the reuse of contaminated soil, the ministry in June decided on a policy of reusing soil containing up to 8,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram as a base for roads with concrete coverings.
According to sources close to the matter, the ministry sounded the NRA out on consulting with the Radiation Council over the upper limit of 8,000 becquerels and other issues. An official from the NRA requested the ministry to provide a detailed explanation on how such soil would be handled, including the prospect of when the ministry would end its management of the reused soil, and how it would prevent illegal dumping. The official then told the ministry that the rule of 100-becquerel-per-kilogram rule would need to be guaranteed if contaminated soil were reused without ministry oversight.
The official is also said to have expressed concerns over the ministry plan, questioning the possibility of contaminated soil being used in somebody’s yard in a regular neighborhood. Since the ministry failed to respond with a detailed explanation, the NRA did not allow the ministry to consult with the Radiation Council.
Government bodies are required to consult with the council under law when establishing standards for prevention of radiation hazards. It was the Radiation Council that set up the 8,000-becquerel rule for designated waste.
An official from the NRA’s Radiation Protection and Safeguards Division told the Mainichi Shimbun, “We told the ministry that unless it provides a detailed explanation on how contaminated soil would be used and on how it will manage such material, we cannot judge if its plan would be safe.”
The government plans to set up a new bureau in the Environment Ministry to unify the handling of radioactive waste generated by the 2011 Fukushima disaster, informed sources said.
The bureau, which will also take on recycling management, will have around 200 staff and be created through a ministry reorganization in fiscal 2017 starting in April that will change the size of its workforce.
The reorganization will also abolish the Environmental Policy Bureau.
The government hopes the move will improve cooperation with municipalities damaged by the triple meltdown triggered at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in Fukushima Prefecture during the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Thus far, measures to deal with radioactive waste, including decontamination, have been handled by three sections — the Waste Management and Recycling Department, the Environmental Management Bureau and the Director-General for Decontamination Technology of Radioactive Materials.
The ruling parties’ task forces on accelerating reconstruction from March 2011 are requesting the integration move in response to complaints from the affected municipalities.
In Fukushima Prefecture, large quantities of contaminated soil and waste have been generated from decontamination activities. Currently, it is difficult to clarify methods of final disposal of such soil and waste. Until final disposal becomes available, it is necessary to establish an Interim Storage Facility (ISF) in order to manage and store soil and waste safely.
The only solution proposed is a storage facility of 16 km2 around the Fukushima plant for a period of 30 years. After that, time will tell, because the problems are endless.
The following materials generated in Fukushima Prefecture will be stored in the ISF.
1. Soil and waste (such as fallen leaves and branches) generated from decontamination activities, which have been stored at the Temporary Storage Sites.
2. Incineration ash with radioactive concentration more than 100,000 Bq/kg.
It is estimated that generated soil from decontamination will be approx. 16 ~22 mil. m3 after the volume reduction incineration, estimated value based on the decontamination implementation plan of July 2013. (Ref: approximately 13~18 times as much as the volume of Tokyo Dome (1.24 mil. m3) .
Transportation to Stock Yards
In order to confirm safe and secure delivery towards the transportation of a large amount of decontamination soil, MOE implemented the transportation approx. 1,000m3 each from 43 municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture from 2015-2016.
Actual achievement in 2016 as of July 30, 2016
Stored volume: 13,384m3 (58,766m3 in total)
Stock yards in Okuma: 4,883m3; stock yards in Futaba: 8,501m3
* Calculated on the assumption that the volume of a large bag is 1m3
Total number of trucks used: 2,279 (9,808 in total)
Stock yards in Okuma: 815 trucks; stock yards in Futaba:1,464 trucks
To construct facilities, it will need comprehensive area and 2/3 will be assumed to be used for facilitation. The possible volume for installation is to be 10,000m3/ha and 140,000m3/5ha for a storage facility, and will be installed from TSS to ISF sequentially.
Approximate period from contract with operators to ISF operation: 3months for TSS, 6months for delivery & classification, 12months for storage, 18months for incineration.
On the premise that infrastructure construction on roads for Okuma and Futaba IC would proceed as planned, the maximum volume of possible transportation is estimated: 2millions m3 /y before the operation of both IC, 4millions m3/y after Okuma IC & before Futaba IC, 6 millions m3/y after the both ICs operation.
Landowners are still reluctant to sell their land to put the waste. In late September 2016, according to the official data of the Ministry of Environment, only 379 owners out of 2360 had signed a contract. This represents an area of 144 ha, or about 9% of the total project.
The town of Okuma, is almost entirely classified as “difficult to return”zone, therefore it intends to offer all its municipal land to put the waste. This represents 95 hectares, or about 10% of land considered in the town. This includes schools, the Fureai Park with some sports grounds … The town has not yet decided whether it would sell or would lease its land.
Meanwhile, it is an abandoned village:
The Joban railway line was partially destroyed by the tsunami, as here in Tomioka:
Destroyed Tomioka train station and sorting facility for radioactive waste
Some parts have reopened, but not in the most contaminated areas; between Tatsuta and Namie. Japan Railway wants to fully reopen the railway before 2020, avoiding the coast. Decontamination should produce 300,000 m3 of radioactive waste. The radioactive waste bags are along the railway, but they will need to be take them away. The Environment Ministry is negotiating with landowners owning the land beside the railway, but this is not enough because few responded favorably. So it’s a game of musical chairs that is planned: use the lands where some waste is right now after they’ll freed by the transfer of the waste to the storage center located around the Fukushima Dai-ichi.
Meanwhile, the waste is piling up everywhere:
Radioactive waste in Iitate
Valley of radioactive waste in Iitate mura
This storage was not expected to last as long, which is not without causing problems because the bags do not hold. Here in Tomioka, weeds grow back:
The equivalent of the Court of Accounts of Japan went to inspect some of these sites and found other problems, according to the Asahi. Those who receive contaminated soil, are elevated in the center so that the water flows over the edges where it can be harvested and controlled because the bags are not waterproof. There are up to 5 levels. With time and the weight of waste, a hollow that may appear in the center, and contaminated water accumulates there. Monitoring is difficult or impossible. See diagram of Asahi:
It is not normal that the Nuclear Regulatory Authority, the NRA does not control these storage sites for radioactive waste.
Regarding the waste from the decommissioning of nuclear power plants, the NRA wants to bury the most contaminated within 70 meters for 100 000 years. This is essentially reactor control rods. Utilities would bear responsibility for 300 to 400 years. They have not yet found where to have the sites … Read Asahi for more. http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201609020034.html
The government relies on the radioactive decay for these wastes to pass below the 8000 Bq / kg to be downgraded and utilized …
Ministry of the environment to decide to reuse contaminated soil for road and coastal levee nationwide
On 6/7/2016, the experts study group of MOE (Ministry of the Environment) admitted to reuse the contaminated soil to public works.
The contaminated soil is from decontamination. Cesium density is supposed to be 5,000 ~ 8,000 Bq/Kg to be recycled. It will be reused for road and coastal levee all around Japan.
The government of Japan decontaminated the ground and spreads it to the entire country.
The ministry is planned to make an official announcement soon.
This March, MOE was stating they would reduce the radiation level with the technology that they didn’t have yet. It is not clear if they developed the technology already.
Normalizing radiation. Distributing it.
The Environment Ministry on Tuesday drew up a basic plan to use soil contaminated with radioactive substances from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant to build roads.
Under the basic plan, tainted soil with relatively low radioactive cesium concentrations of up to 5,000 to 8,000 becquerels per kilogram will be used to form the base layer of roads.
This level will then be covered with uncontaminated soil, asphalt and other material with at a thickness of at least 50 to 100 cm.
By covering radioactive soil with untainted material, the health risk for residents living in nearby areas will be minimized as their annual radiation dose will be kept to 0.01 millisievert or less, according to the ministry.
The ministry plans to launch a verification project in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, as early as this summer to test the use of contaminated soil as the base material for road construction.
Tainted soil in the prefecture, generated from decontamination work following the March 2011 accident at the Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. nuclear power station, will be kept in an interim storage facility near the nuclear plant for final disposal at a site outside the prefecture within 30 years.
The interim facility, located in an area that straddles the towns of Okuma and Futaba, is believed to store up to 22 million cubic meters of contaminated soil. The latest plan will help the ministry facilitate the reuse of contaminated soil within and outside the prefecture to reduce the amount to be transferred to the final disposal site.
Japan to Recycle Waste Collected during Fukushima Decontamination
TOKYO – The Japanese government announced Wednesday it will recycle the material collected during the decontamination of the Fukushima nuclear plant for construction purposes if radiation levels are found to be sufficiently low.
The government plans to store the waste collected from the radiation-affected region and use it as construction material in places outside the prefecture in northeastern Japan, within 30 years, reported state broadcaster NHK.
According to the country’s environment ministry, residue showing less than 8,000 becquerel per kg could be used in future to pave roads, build anti-tsunami walls and in other public works.
Over 90 percent of the material, accumulated since the 2011 disaster, could be re-used if the contaminated elements are removed, according to the authorities, who are, however, yet to develop the technology to separate waste with high radiation levels.
Currently, Fukushima authorities store the radioactive waste at two depots close to the plant, which can store up to 30 million tons.
The waste will remain at these storage sites for the next 30 years, to be later transferred to a definitive storage place, whose location remains to be determined, and to be used in public works if cleared of high radiation levels.
The Fukushima crisis has been the worst nuclear accident in history after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine.
The nuclear plant, which suffered a meltdown in the aftermath of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck the country on March 11, 2011, is now being dismantled, a task that will take at least four decades to complete.
Vice President of the European Parliament Rodi Kratsa said in a letter to the chamber last week that there are “serious risks” of radiation reaching Europe and asked her fellow deputies to find out whether Russia has a “prevention plan … to avoid the release of radioactive particles into the atmosphere.”
Fallout from Russia’s Fires – the ashes of Chernobyl, TIME, Simon Shuster , 20 Aug 2010, – “……. On Aug. 18, it [the Russian government] organized a trip to Bryansk for observers and environmentalists. Ivan Blokov, who went on behalf of Greenpeace, says the trip left some of the most crucial questions unanswered and convinced him only that the region’s firefighting infrastructure is “in a state of collapse” and would be unable to contain a major fire in the radioactive forests. Continue reading
Washington has so far been reluctant to permit it since the process results in the production of weapons-grade plutonium.
Korea, U.S. to Discuss Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing This Fall, The Chosun Ilbo, 3 Aug 2010, Korea and the United States have agreed to start talks about the revision of a bilateral atomic energy agreement this fall, it emerged on Monday. Seoul is keen to reprocess its own spent fuel rods, which it is barred from doing under the agreement, Continue reading
The Civil Nuclear Cooperation Initiative has facilitated significant new commercial opportunities across India’s multi-billion dollar nuclear energy market, including the designation of two nuclear reactor park sites for U.S. technology
India Gets US Nod To Reprocess Spent Nuclear Fuel, GantDaily.com, August 1, 2010 Tejinder Singh –Washington, D.C., United States (AHN) – The United States on Friday gave India a go-ahead on reprocessing of American nuclear spent fuel by India, marking the final steps in terms of implementation of the landmark civil nuclear deal between the two countries. Continue reading
Washington is concerned that allowing the country to process the fuel for reuse may discourage North Korea from giving up its weapons programme,
South Korea seeks US accord to reprocess spent nuclear fuel, Industrial Fuels and Power, July 23rd, 2010 Continue reading
levels of residual radiation at the site AFTER the structure itself was removed and buried in Piketon, Ohio, were used to approximate radiation doses of workers when it was in operation…..“there’s no reason to believe that host decontamination measurements would be meaningful to reconstruct doses 18 years earlier during operations.”
Panel Discussing Raising Huntington Radiation Exposure Levels at Atomic Plant Some Could Jump Ten Fold By Tony Rutherford, Huntingtonnews.net, 21 July 2010, Continue reading
Rosatom Agrees to First Asset Sale to Foreign Investor, The Moscow Times, 09 June 2010By Anatoly Medetsky “…..Kiriyenko (pictured) announced that Russia and Iran would jointly run Iran’s first nuclear power plant that Rosatom plans to launch in August. Iran agreed to establish a joint venture with Rosatom to operate the plant because the country doesn’t have enough experience in maintaining such facilities, he said.In other news, Rosatom signed an agreement with the French Atomic Energy Commission to expand cooperation on reprocessing, decommissioning and isotopes technology.
In what could further extend Rosatom’s international reach, the State Duma is scheduled to ratify an accord between Russia and Australia on peaceful nuclear cooperation on Wednesday. Continue reading
Nuclear waste reprocessing not viable for United States: study, Solid Waste & Recycling Magazine, 4/19/2010 Reprocessing of nuclear waste is neither an affordable remedy for future waste disposal in the United States nor will it eliminate the need for a deep geologic repository to replace Yucca Mountain, according to a recent study released by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER), a nonprofit and nonpartisan research group. Continue reading
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