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information about Fukushima published in English in Japanese media info publiée en anglais dans la presse japonaise

Hard road ahead

Hard road ahead

March 7, 2018



SEVEN YEARS AFTER: Robotic probes of Fukushima reactors show tough task ahead







Locating all the nuclear fuel debris and ascertaining the precise chain of events that led to the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant was never going to be easy.


And just what a hard road lies ahead is becoming more apparent as plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. prepares for the day when decommissioning will start.


Over the past year, TEPCO has used remote-controlled robots to investigate the facility's wrecked interior. But the images sent back offer only a partial picture of the melted nuclear fuel and numerous obstacles to be overcome.


Of the three meltdowns in 2011, the one in the No. 1 reactor was the most severe, according to TEPCO.


It said almost all of the nuclear fuel in the No. 1 reactor likely melted through the bottom of its pressure vessel.


Images sent by a robotic probe in March 2017 showed numerous deposits in sandy condition submerged in water at the base of the reactor’s containment vessel. But no nuclear fuel debris that may lie below was visible.


More progress was made during investigations into the No. 2 reactor over the past year.

In January 2017, a remote-controlled camera hanging from a pole snapped images of dark chunks scattered in the area beneath the reactor’s pressure vessel.


It was the first confirmation of conditions in that area of any of the three reactors. Gaping holes were seen in a platform used by plant workers. The following month, a robotic probe called Scorpion was deployed, but it got stuck and was unable to transmit data.


A further probe by a remote-controlled camera in January turned up images of a nuclear fuel assembly handle near the bottom of the containment vessel. Given that fuel assemblies are about 4 meters long and the handle is mounted on the top, TEPCO said most of the nuclear fuel assemblies must have melted through the pressure vessel to land at the bottom of the containment vessel. Pebbly deposits strewn around the handle are believed to be the nuclear fuel debris, officials said.


An underwater robot used to explore the No. 3 reactor in July showed that the unit lies submerged in more water than the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors.


Images taken by the robot showed clusters of brown icicles hanging from a structure at a lower part of the pressure vessel. Similar icicles that resembled melted rocks could also be seen below.


TEPCO said this is the first time for nuclear fuel debris to be confirmed at the plant.

The government and TEPCO have set a goal of starting a test project in 2021 to retrieve nuclear fuel debris at one of the reactors.


But sticking to that plan is proving to be increasingly difficult. The robotic probes drove home the extent of damage inside the reactors. It is more serious than initially thought.


The probes also revealed a puzzling situation about the No. 2 reactor: Radiation levels at a site away from deposits of nuclear fuel debris are higher than those at a site close to them.

The government and the utility have yet to figure out how to remove the debris while keeping workers safe from radiation exposure when full-scale decommissioning starts. Also not decided is where to store the debris.


Fukushima prefectural authorities insist that the debris and other waste from the plant should be permanently stored outside of the prefecture.


But there has been no discussion to date on how to find municipalities that may agree to take the waste.

(This article was written by Chikako Kawahara and Yusuke Ogawa.)



 March 8, 2018



Long Road Ahead for Fukushima Nuclear Plant Decommissioning




Sunday marks 7 years since the earthquake and tsunami caused massive devastation in northeastern Japan, and triggered a nuclear disaster. More than 18,000 people died or are still missing, and over 3,600 have died from disaster-related causes. 


After the worst nuclear accident in Japan's history, workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant are still battling radiation and contaminated water in the decommissioning process. They've made progress, but there is still a long way to go.


The plant's 3 reactors suffered meltdowns following the earthquake and tsunami. It's believed nuclear fuel rods melted and fell to the bottom of containment vessels. Removing that fuel debris remains the most difficult part of decommissioning.


Engineers have found what appears to be fuel debris in 2 of the reactors using robots and cameras. But figuring out how much there is and how to remove it remain big questions. Still, Japan's government and the operator Tokyo Electric Power Company say they want to begin removing the debris from one of the reactors in about 3 years.


Radiation levels are so high near the reactors that workers can't spend much time there. But outside the buildings, levels have gone down through decontamination measures.


Another big problem is contaminated water. Groundwater continues to seep into the reactor buildings, getting contaminated. Although it is processed and stored, there's still no decision on what to do with more than 800 tanks.


The operator has built an underground wall of frozen soil to prevent some groundwater from getting in the buildings. TEPCO says it is not the only answer and is also trying other methods. The decommissioning process is expected to take decades, with the government estimating it will cost more than US$70 billion. Adding in costs for the broader

decontamination of surrounding areas and compensation for affected residents, the bill could reach about US$200 billion.





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