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International decommissioning for Fuskushima Daiichi

February 27, 2013

IAEA mulls multilateral efforts to retire Fukushima nuclear reactors



VIENNA (Kyodo) -- The International Atomic Energy Agency is considering the option of an international undertaking to decommission reactors at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, a challenge that will need to be tackled in full swing in the years to come.

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano told Kyodo News on Thursday, "Safe decommissioning (of the accident-hit nuclear reactors) should be undertaken not just by Japan but should draw on wisdom and the most advanced technologies from around the world."

The U.N. nuclear watchdog is planning to send an international team of experts to Japan in April to consult with local authorities about retiring the reactors.

An initiative to involve other advanced countries in the decommissioning efforts could lead to the further development of technology needed for retiring reactors around the world as more and more equipment reaches the end of its service life.

The idea of a multilateral undertaking could also address concern in some quarters in the international community that Japan may monopolize know-how for reactor decommissioning, an area which will likely offer major business opportunities.

Next Wednesday, the IAEA will dispatch experts to Fukushima Prefecture for a project being jointly implemented with the prefectural government to promote decontamination of the areas affected by the nuclear disaster resulting from the major earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

These IAEA experts are also expected to engage in preliminary consultations with relevant prefectural and other officials ahead of the international team's tour in April.

According to an IAEA official, the proposed multilateral project will be based in an office in Fukushima city with a resident staffer.

Amano also suggested the option of creating a task force on decommissioning technology at the IAEA at a time when the world has more than 400 reactors waiting to be retired. "It may be necessary to establish an advisory council, or something similar, concerning decommissioning at the IAEA," he said.

"We hope to see experiences in Fukushima made the best use of by the world and the experiences of the world by Fukushima," Amano said.

On the decontamination work, Amano said, "We will make use of the experiences of experts involved in the Chernobyl nuclear accident and other incidents."

Residents in the affected areas "have anxiety about whether or not it is all right to return home," he said. "We hope to cooperate in explaining global standards and disseminating information about health issues."

IAEA chief Amano signed a memorandum of understanding concerning project cooperation with the prefecture when the Fukushima ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety was held in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture late last year.

The agreement covers projects such as cleaning up contaminated land to allow the early return of affected residents, health care and the establishment of a human resources training center to respond to emergency situations.

The IAEA action of sending an international team of experts in April to Japan could dispel concern in the international community that Japan will end up controlling the market for reactor decommissioning -- large-scale projects loaded with vested interests.

The nuclear watchdog may also be assuming that using technologies from around the world will help in undertaking reactor decommissioning in a sustainable manner.

Fukushima was an unprecedented disaster where three reactors experienced meltdowns. It will likely need several decades to finish the process of unwinding the nuclear complex.

The centerpiece of that process is the decommissioning of reactors, which will also require huge costs. Using the best available technology will likely be essential in ensuring safety and security for residents in nearby areas.

The plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry have been taking the initiative in devising decommissioning plans but there appears to be a limit to what Japan alone can do, given its lack of substantial decommissioning experience.

The IAEA apparently believes that a reasonable decontamination process can be worked out in terms of technology and costs by seeking support from Russia, which has experienced nuclear power plant accidents.

An IAEA source said a major nuclear-power state has filed a request with the organization for ensuring fair businesses chances from reactor decommissioning.

A top Japanese government official, meanwhile, said, "There is suspicion in the international community that Japan may be aiming to secure interests in decommissioning work that will be needed in various parts of the world by monopolizing technology attained in Fukshima."

Amano, the IAEA chief, has long argued that Japan alone should not be undertaking reactor decommissioning.

Japan may be called on to pass on its lessons and experiences from Fukushima to the world not just in securing the safety of nuclear power plants but also in reactor decommissioning.

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