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100 specialists sent to help decommissioning

December 25, 2014

Japan Atomic Power set to deploy 100 specialists to help with Fukushima dismantling




Japan Atomic Power Co. is working on plans to send a team of more than 100 specialists, backed up by robotic technology, to the beleaguered Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to accelerate decommissioning work there.

With more than a decade of experience in dismantling its Tokai power plant in Ibaraki Prefecture from 2001, the nuclear energy firm is expected to make up for delays in decommissioning the Fukushima complex, which went into triple meltdown after towering tsunami generated by the Great East Japan Earthquake swamped the plant in March 2011.

While Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the crippled plant, has 300 to 400 employees at the site, there are just 20 workers from outside companies to help safely scrap reactors.

The plant operator finished removing nuclear fuel at the No. 4 reactor on Dec. 20 and is expected to start full-scale dismantling of the more problematic Nos. 1 to 3 reactors soon.

However, due to difficulties in preventing the spread of radioactive substances and removing debris around the reactor, the removal of fuel at the No. 1 reactor is estimated to start two to five years later than originally planned.

Some of the procedures are likely too difficult for TEPCO to undertake on its own, as the utility does not have sufficient experience in decommissioning nuclear reactors.

Workers in protective suits undertook the removal of fuel from the No. 4 reactor in rotation, as radiation levels were relatively low there. However, as radiation levels are much higher at the No. 3 reactor, the removal of fuel from its storage pool has to be conducted using remote-controlled robots.

Such technology requires not only time to develop, but special skills to operate. Japan Atomic Power, which undertook the decommissioning of a commercial nuclear power plant for the first time in Japan, has been using remote-controlled robots to dismantle its Tokai facility. The company believes its experience in the field would be useful in helping TEPCO decommission the Fukushima reactors.

If Japan Atomic Power decides to dispatch a team of experts, it would be the first time for TEPCO to accept about 100 workers from a third-party company.

The nuclear energy company set up an in-house preparation team for the dispatch plan on Dec. 24, sources said, and talks with TEPCO are already under way.

The company plans to flesh out details, including the size of the workforce and what type of support they will provide, by the end of this fiscal year, with the aim of dispatching the team from next fiscal year.

Under the current plan devised by the central government and TEPCO, the decommissioning of the Fukushima reactors is estimated to be completed between fiscal 2041 and fiscal 2051.

(This article was written by Daiki Koga and Tsuyoshi Nagano.)


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