May 25, 2019

Japan's nuclear cleanup stymied by water woes

OKUMA, Japan (AP) — More than three years into the massive cleanup of Japan’s tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant, only a tiny fraction of the workers are focused on key tasks such as preparing for the dismantling of the broken reactors and removing radioactive fuel rods.

Instead, nearly all the workers at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant are devoted to an enormously distracting problem: a still-growing amount of contaminated water used to keep the damaged reactors from overheating. The amount has been swelled further by groundwater entering the reactor buildings.

Hundreds of huge blue and gray tanks to store the radioactive water, and buildings holding water treatment equipment are rapidly taking over the plant, where the cores of three reactors melted following a 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Workers were building more tanks during a visit to the complex Wednesday by foreign media, including The Associated Press.

“The contaminated water is a most pressing issue that we must tackle. There is no doubt about that,” said Akira Ono, head of the plant. “Our effort to mitigate the problem is at its peak now. Though I cannot say exactly when, I hope things start getting better when the measures start taking effect.”

The numbers tell the story.



Every day, about 6,000 workers pass through the guarded gate of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant on the Pacific coast — two to three times more than when it was actually producing electricity.

On a recent work day, about 100 workers were dismantling a makeshift roof over one of the reactor buildings, and about a dozen others were removing fuel rods from a cooling pool. Most of the rest were dealing with the contaminated water, said Tatsuhiro Yamagishi, a spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power Co., or TEPCO, the utility that owns the plant.

The work threatens to exhaust the supply of workers for other tasks, since employees must stop working when they reach annual radiation exposure limits. Experts say it is crucial to reduce the amount and radioactivity of the contaminated water to decrease the risk of exposure to workers and the environmental impact before the decommissioning work gets closer to the highly contaminated core areas.



The plant has six reactors, three of which were offline when disaster struck on March 11, 2011. A magnitude-9.0 earthquake triggered a huge tsunami which swept into the plant and knocked out its backup power and cooling systems, leading to meltdowns at the three active reactors.

Decommissioning and dismantling all six reactors is a delicate, time-consuming process that includes removing the melted fuel from a highly radioactive environment, as well as all the extra fuel rods, which sit in cooling pools at the top of the reactor buildings. Workers must determine the exact condition of the melted fuel debris and develop remote-controlled and radiation-resistant robotics to deal with it.

Troubles and delays in preparatory stages, including the water problem and additional measures needed to address environmental and health concerns in removing highly radioactive debris from atop reactor buildings that exploded during meltdowns, have pushed back schedules on the decommissioning roadmap. Recently, officials said the government and TEPCO plan to delay the planned start of fuel removal from Units 1 and 2 by about 5 years.

The process of decommissioning the four reactors is expected to take at least 40 years.


500,000 TONS

The flow of underground water is doubling the amount of contaminated water and spreading it to vast areas of the compound.

Exposure to the radioactive fuel contaminates the water used to cool the melted fuel from inside, and much of it leaks and pours into the basements of the reactors and turbines, and into maintenance trenches that extend to the Pacific Ocean. Plans to freeze some of the most toxic water inside the trench near the reactors have been delayed for at least 8 months due to technical challenges.

The plant reuses some of the contaminated water for cooling after partially treating it, but the additional groundwater creates a huge excess that must be pumped out.

Currently, more than 500,000 tons of radioactive water is being stored in nearly 1,000 large tanks which now cover large areas of the sprawling plant. After a series of leaks last year, the tanks are being replaced with costlier welded ones.

That amount dwarfs the 9,000 tons of contaminated water produced during the 1979 partial meltdown of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in the United States. At Three Mile Island, it took 14 years for the water to evaporate, said Lake Barrett, a retired U.S. nuclear regulatory official who was part of the early mitigation team there and has visited the Fukushima plant.

“This is a much more complex, much more difficult water management problem,” Barrett said.



An estimated 2 trillion yen ($18 billion) will be needed just for decontamination and other mitigation of the water problem. Altogether, the entire decommissioning process, including compensation for area residents, reportedly will cost about 10 trillion yen, or about $90 billion.

All this for a plant that will never produce a kilowatt of energy again.

About 500 workers are digging deep holes in preparation for a taxpayer-funded 32 billion yen ($290 million) underground “frozen wall” around four reactors and their turbine buildings to try to keep the contaminated water from seeping out.

TEPCO is developing systems to try to remove most radioactive elements from the water. One, known as ALPS, has been trouble-plagued, but utility officials hope to achieve its daily capacity of 2,000 tons when they enter full operation next month following a final inspection by regulators.

Officials hope to treat all contaminated water by the end of March, but that is far from certain.

This article:  

Japan's nuclear cleanup stymied by water woes

Shaheen Denies Flip-Flopping On Nuclear Power

Incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen claimed in Tuesday’s New Hampshire U.S. Senate debate that she has never opposed using nuclear power as an energy source, though her past statements tell a different story.

“I’m glad we’re talking about energy. As you know many people have received their electric notices,” said Republican challenger Scott Brown. “They’re going up 50 to 100 percent right now.”

“As a result of the efforts, not only of President Obama, but Senator Shaheen to curtail not only oil but natural gas. She’s against nuclear,” said Brown.

At that point Shaheen interjected and said Brown was wrong about her stance on nuclear power.

“Where did you get that?” asked a bewildered Shaheen.

“When the Seabrook nuclear power plan was in effect you made an effort to stop it,” said Brown. The construction of the Seabrook plant became a hot-button issue in the 1986 New Hampshire gubernatorial race. Two plants were planned, but the first plant was completed around the time of the Chernobyl accident in April 1986.

Shaheen denied opposing Seabrook in Tuesday’s debate.

“I was not in office at the time,” she said to Brown to raucous applause.

But while Shaheen was not in a position to pass or block laws related to Seabrook or nuclear power, she did advocate strongly against building the second plant when she worked as campaign manager for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Paul McEachern.

McEachern was challenging the pro-nuclear incumbent Republican governor John Sununu.

“What Chernobyl and Three Mile Island have shown us is nuclear power is not a safe way to generate power,” said Shaheen, according to an Oct. 11, 1986 dispatch from United Press International.

According to that article, McEachern considered the election a “single issue race” with nuclear power being the focal point.

Other reports from that election show that Shaheen went past mere campaign rhetoric to fight the second Seabrook facility.

“[Shaheen] is lining up the anti-nuclear forces, which have kept Seabrook at bay for 10 years, to go door to door for McEachern – as they would for anyone breathing who tries to stop the plant,” reads a Sept. 14, 1986 Washington Post article. “She will emphasize phone calls and house calls to counter the huge television war-chest amassed by Sununu.”

Sununu defeated McEachern in that election.

A Youtube clip circulating on Twitter shortly after Tuesday’s debate provides video evidence that Shaheen opposed nuclear power in the past. During a television debate – which is from 1987, according to the Youtube page – in response to a comment that forgoing nuclear power leaves the U.S. reliant on the Middle East for oil, Shaheen responded “That argument just doesn’t wash, sir.”

The Shaheen campaign did not immediately respond to The Daily Caller’s request for comment. (RELATED: Liens Filed Against Dem Senator Jeanne Shaheen And Her Husband For Failure To Pay Creditors)


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Shaheen Denies Flip-Flopping On Nuclear Power

History And Controversy Of Nuclear Power Plants

Nuclear power has always been contentious due to its very nature. Uranium creates a high burst of energy as it decays, and that energy can be captured for power use. However, it also creates a radioactive waste that must be dealt with, and the possibility of nuclear accidents shadows all of the potential good that they may do. Because of this, there have been few reactors built, and all 100 were built built between 1974 and 1977. Since then, four have been decommissioned due to age, while there have been plans to build five more to replace them. As countries look for means to replace failing petroleum reserves, nuclear power plants may be worth taking a looking at.

Three Mile Island

The possibilities of nuclear power were first debated even as early as 1938. Project Manhattan showed that there was a lot of potential power in splitting the atom for power. However, there were problems capturing that power, making it ideal at first for only weapons. There were additional issues as radiation had debuted only a few decades ago, but its effects were only starting to be really felt. Radiation was already proving to be a fickle servant, as it held tremendous power for good but also created a number of problems as well that needed to be dealt with before it could be truly useful.

History And Controversy Of Nuclear Power Plants

It was not until after World War II that the government decided to look into nuclear power as an energy source. Although radiation was being used to find and deal with diseases, it also caused them as well; exposure to radiation could lead to cancer. However, as the cost for building nuclear power plants was prohibitive, the government had problems justifying the amount. Although the private sector was approached, it was not until the Price-Anderson Act of 1957 that the private sector would even touch nuclear power. That act limited the liability companies could face for even catastrophic accidents involving nuclear power.

Three Mile Island

The Argonne National Laboratory was assigned to the United States Atomic Energy Commission to develop nuclear power. Over the next, decade 52 reactors were built for experimentation, and these would eventually lead to the building of the first nuclear power plants in the 1960s. It is worth noting that the United States Navy contributed; they wanted to take advantage of nuclear power’s ability to use limited fuel for almost unlimited duration, seeing a tactical advantage for its ships and especially its submarines.

Nonetheless, nuclear power plants did not take off until the 1970s. Between 1974 and 1979, almost all of the current reactors would be built, and only recently have any new plants gone past the planning stages. A nuclear power plant represents a massive investment, and there need to a number of safeguards in place before it can go online. Also, it needs to be built where it can get a lot of water for cooling down. It must also be a reasonable distance from any cities in case of even the slightest mishap, while at the same time, near the area it will serve. With this limitation in mind, it makes building nuclear power plants an interesting planning problem.

However, it has not been a smooth road. There have been accidents even since the beginning, although they have been mostly relatively minor. There has even been some controversy, as a proposed plant in Bodega Bay, just north of San Francisco California, was the first plant shut down due to environmental protest, which was just getting really started in the 1960s. Eventually, the environmental movement would be responsible for virtually shutting down the building of new nuclear power plants until recently.

Three Mile Island
It does not help that there have been problems with nuclear power plants. Almost all nuclear power plants have had some problem, however minor, and 27% of those built have had to shut down for more than a year, while most of the remainder have had to shut down at times. It does not help that nuclear power plants need to be shut down periodically for maintenance, approximately 39 days every 17 months, making them hardly reliable sources of power. Combined with the environmental issues of nuclear waste, and there is some some to doubt the management of the America nuclear program.

There have been three nuclear power plant accidents that have helped serve as rallying points that have made the public uneasy when it comes to nuclear power plants. The Three-Mile Island Power Plant suffered a mishap that while it did not result in any immediate deaths, it did increase cancer rates for years. The Chernobyl Accident, while eventually found out to be gross operator error, demonstrated that a nuclear power plant accident could be dangerous. The Fukushima Incident, although demonstrating that safety features usually worked, had enough leakage to make people cautious. Overall this creates a certain nervousness when it comes to nuclear energy.

Three Mile Island

Given all of these problems it is hardly surprising that a number of people are against nuclear power plants. However, their one saving grace also happens to one that makes them worth the debate: their power output. All of the reactors currently in operation provided 790 terawatts of power in 2011, or enough power to provide 19.2% of total energy needs of the United States. Given that people in general are trying to find ways of weaning themselves from petroleum, and that petroleum is one of the major sources of power, it is understandable that nuclear power is back on the table.

It helps that new designs for nuclear plants may eliminate a number of the maintenance problems, so that plants do not shut down completely for maintenance, and that meltdowns may be a thing of the past. Engineers have taken apart the old designs, looking for any and all possible flaws, and have rebuilt the plants with a number of new safety features. The newer plants look to have all of the safety issues of older designs solved. Even the waste issue has been addressed to at least some degree, making the new designs a lot more environmentally sound.

Nuclear has become part of the new debate over which direction to turn to as the go-to alternative. Although solar power is quickly becoming the environmental favorite, there is still some debate over whether or not nuclear power will be making a comeback in the following years. It is just a matter of making sure all bases are covered; if that can happen then nuclear power plants may just be the part of the future.

History And Controversy Of Nuclear Power Plants

History And Controversy Of Nuclear Power Plants

Japanese get anti-radiation pills ahead of nuclear restart

Tokyo (AFP) – Japanese officials are handing out radiation-blocking iodine tablets to people living in the shadow of two nuclear reactors slated to restart this year, underscoring concerns about atomic power after the Fukushima crisis.

The move to distribute the pills — which help to reduce radiation buildup in the body — started Sunday for those living within a five-kilometre (three-mile) radius of the Sendai nuclear plant.

The site, roughly 1,000 kilometres from Tokyo on the southern island of Kyushu, recently cleared new safety standards and could start operations in a few months.

It comes despite vocal opposition to the plan, three years after the worst atomic crisis in a generation.

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority said earlier this month that two atomic reactors at the Sendai plant were safe enough to switch back on, marking a big step towards restarting nuclear plants which were shuttered after Fukushima.

Officials in Satsumasendai city and the Kagoshima prefecture said they were handing out iodine tablets to about 4,700 people in the area, some as young as three years old.

Several dozen people have refused the free pills, which were part of stricter central government guidelines aimed at preparing for another accident.

The pills are used to protect the human thyroid gland in the event of airborne radiation, although there is some debate about their effectiveness.

“The affected residents came to five designated locations yesterday to pick up the tablets,” a Kagoshima prefecture official said Monday.

“The central government has guidelines for distributing iodine pills and we asked the affected residents to keep them in easy to remember places, such as medicine cabinets,” he added.

Despite the likely restart of the two Sendai reactors in the autumn, switching on dozens more reactors could prove to be a major challenge for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Abe has been trying to persuade a wary public that the world’s third largest economy must return to an energy source which once supplied more than a quarter of its power.

Widespread anti-nuclear sentiment has simmered in Japan ever since a quake-sparked tsunami in March 2011 slammed into the Fukushima power plant and sent reactors into meltdown — the worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl.

The area remains a no-go zone and cleaning up the crippled site could take decades. Tens of thousands of area residents may never be able to return to their homes near the plant.

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Japanese get anti-radiation pills ahead of nuclear restart