Here’s the latest of our news bulletins from the ongoing crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
State of the Fukushima Reactors
Radiation measurements taken from an observation well at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant are increasing, according to reports. Groundwater in the well measured 2.4 million Becquerels per liter for strontium-90 and other emitting beta particles. Strontium accumulates in human bones and has been linked to cancer. The well is close to the building of reactor #2, which suffered a meltdown in the aftermath of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and 40 meters from the ocean. Readings from the well have been increasing since last autumn.
Meanwhile, the plant’s operator TEPCO has removed 10 percent of the nuclear fuel assemblies from the unstable reactor #4 building at the site and transferred them to a more secure storage pool. Of the 1,533 fuel assemblies, 154 have been moved. The work is expected to take until the end of the year to complete. TEPCO is keeping a running total of transferred fuel assemblies on its website ands explains the process involved:
(1)Relocate the fuel assemblies stored in the fuel rack inside the spent fuel pool, one by one, into a transportation container (cask) underwater using a fuel handling machine.
(2)Lift up the cask from the spent fuel pool using a crane.
(3)Conduct, on the floor as high as the operating floor, such works as closing the lid of the cask and decontaminating the cask.
(4)Lift down the cask toward the ground using the crane to lay it on a trailer.
(5)Transport the cask to the common pool using the trailer.
The Japanese government this week approved a 10-year business plan it is hoped will turn around the fortunes of Fukushima Daiichi’s beleaguered operator TEPCO. The plan sees four reactors being restarted at the company’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant this year. TEPCO say that restarting just one reactor would cut its operating costs by between 100 billion and 145 billion yen. "This new plan is a promise with the nation. You are being given the opportunity to remain operating so that you can complete paying compensation, decommissioning the facility and providing a stable electricity supply," industry minister Toshimitsu Motegi told TEPCO president Naomi Hirose. The plan will also see an additional 4 trillion yen in government funds given to the company.
|However, the plan has met with criticism from some quarters and may hit a snag with opposition to the restarting of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa reactors. Hirohiko Izumida, the governor of Niigata Prefecture which hosts the power plant, called TEPCO’s plan “pie in the sky”. At a meeting with TEPCO president Naomi Hirose, Mr Izumida said: “Shareholders and banks have not taken responsibility (for the accident), and it is a ridiculous plan from a safety standpoint.” He has said that he would only give permission for restarts at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa after the completion of an investigation into the Fukushima disaster. “A major point of the review of the accident is to determine if (TEPCO) is a company that can be trusted,” he said. The mayors of two municipalities close to the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant have also expressed concerns. “A major precondition will be the implementation of measures to secure the safety of the plant,” said Kashiwazaki Mayor Hiroshi Aida. “The rebuilding plan is the basis for injecting public funds by the central government, while the resumption of operations at the plant is a completely different issue,” Kariwa Mayor Hiroo Shinada.
Other Nuclear News in Japan
Japan’s government has delayed unveiling its long-term energy strategy as public concerns over nuclear power continue to grow, according to the Wall Street Journal. “We are hoping to proceed as soon as possible, but we have received about 19,000 public comments. We shouldn’t decide on it too hastily. We also have to think more about nuclear waste,” said industry minister Toshimitsu Motegi. A poll taken earlier this month by the Fuji television broadcaster found 60 percent of 1,000 respondents opposed restarting any of Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors.
This opposition to nuclear power has found a focus with former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa who this week announced his candidacy in the race to become Tokyo’s next governor. His platform will include a call for Japan to abandon nuclear power. "I have a sense of crisis myself that the country's various problems, especially nuclear power plants, are matters of survival for the country," said Mr Hosokawa. His announcement was endorsed by another former Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, who has also spoken out against nuclear power in recent months. "The election will be a battle between a group of people who say Japan cannot advance without nuclear power plants and another group of people who say Japan can," he said.
Mr Hosokawa’s announcement has been met with a lukewarm response from some of the evacuees from Fukushima currently living in Tokyo. “Honestly, I'd prefer the candidates in the gubernatorial race to talk about what they'll do for evacuees, rather than about nuclear power plants," said one evacuee. However, another said: "Until now, Tokyo used as much electricity from the Fukushima power plant as it liked. This (gubernatorial race, in which nuclear power is an issue) will provide a good chance for people in Tokyo to think about their responsibility for having used that power and the dangers of nuclear plants."
Elsewhere, the sit-in protest outside the head office of Kyushu Electric Power Co in Fukuoka has marked its 1,000th day. “Humans cannot live side by side with nuclear energy. Never again should lives be threatened and livelihoods deprived. Human dignity is important to me,” said the protest’s organizer Yukinobu Aoyagi.
A study by Kankyo Keizai Kenkyujo, the research institute on environmental economics, has found at least 12 hours would be needed to complete an evacuation of everyone living within 30 kilometers of a nuclear power plant suffering an accident. People within 30 kilometers of the Tokai No. 2 Power Station would need five and a half days, whereas people within 30 kilometers of the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station would need six. The study shows “that it is almost impossible for all of the residents near a nuclear power station to evacuate fast enough to avoid radiation exposure in the event of an accident,” Head of the research institute, Naomi Kamioka, said: "Although activities aimed at restarting nuclear reactors are shifting into high gear, road conditions around the nuclear power plants have not been drastically improved even after the Fukushima nuclear accident."
Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has begun safety screening of a reactor at the Onagawa nuclear power plant with a view to the reactor being restarted. Power switchboards and emergency generators at the plant were damaged in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The plant’s operator, Tohoku Electric Power Company, is building seawalls to defend against tsunamis 10 meters higher than previously expected. The NRA is also reviewing an application for safety screening by Chugoku Electric Power Company for one of its reactors at the Shimane nuclear plant. Both the Shimane and Onagawa reactors share the same design as those that suffered meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi. All of Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors are currently idle. (Source: NHK)