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
The contaminated water crisis continued at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant this week as the much troubled Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) that removes radioactive isotopes from contained water stopped working. According to report, the system’s crane has malfunctioned and officials for TEPCO, Fukushima’s operator, could not say when the system would be operational again. The ALPS at Fukushima has a long history of failures. Two of the three ALPS units at the site had be stopped to undergo repairs earlier last year when it was found they were being corroded by the water they were supposed to decontaminate. In December, it was found that one of the systems was leaking hydrochloric and had to be shut down.
The removal of nuclear fuel assemblies in the storage pool inside Fukushima’s reactor 4 building resumed this week after the New Year holidays. The slow and painstaking process involves a crane transferring 22 fuel assemblies into a cask one at a time. The cask is them transported to a different storage pool. The work to move all 1,533 fuel assemblies is expected to take until the end of 2014.
Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported this week that TEPCO withheld 140 measurements of radioactive strontium found in groundwater and in the plant’s harbor between June and November 2013. Strontium is a beta-ray emitter which accumulates in human bones and has been linked to cancer. TEPCO decided readings were “wrong” and so did not publish them. Officials say there was no attempt at concealment and expect to release the figures this month when errors have been identified.
TEPCO announced this week that former president of steelmaker JFE Holdings Inc, Fumio Sudo, will replace outgoing Kazuhiko Shimokobe as the company’s new chairman. Mr Sudo will take up his new role on April 1. Mr Shimokobe’s resignation is seen as part of a package of measures designed to attempt to rebuild TEPCO’s fortunes after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. "Mr. Sudo is highly skilled as a business manager...we expect him to exercise his leadership...to deal with the Fukushima plant's decommissioning and conduct bold company reforms," said Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi.
This package of measures, known as the Comprehensive Special Business Plan, also details plans for TEPCO to boost its profits by selling electricity across Japan under a new brand name. It is reported the company believes the TEPCO name has been tainted by the Fukushima nuclear crisis and it will find it easier to sell electricity under a new name. However, TEPCO’s electricity prices are the second highest in Japan and as now of now are not competitive. The company hopes that restarting the currently idle reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, if it is given permission by Japan’s nuclear watchdog the Nuclear Regulation Authority, it will be able to reduce its prices.
Dutch pension fund ABP announced this week that it had sold its shares in TEPCO, citing the utilities handling of the Fukushima crisis as the reason. “During and after the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, the Japanese company structurally violated our standards [of responsible investing]. They have little regard for public safety. Repeated efforts by ABP have not led to a change of behavior in TEPCO and we have therefore decided to close TEPCO from the investment list,” said ABP. A spokesman for the fund said it had repeatedly tried to contact TEPCO about its concerns but received no response. The move follows Norwegian fund KLP which sold its own shares in TEPCO last December, also stating TEPCO’s handling of the Fukushima crisis as a reason.
Other Nuclear News in Japan
Despite the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Tokyo this week to discuss finalizing a deal allowing Japan to export nuclear technology to Turkey. The nuclear accord between the will now be subject to approval by lawmakers in both countries.
The Japan Atomic Energy Agency has announced plans to melt a small nuclear fuel rod in its research centre in order to analyze how the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi reactors occurred. "We hope to use the data obtained through the experiment to improve the accuracy of the analysis of the Fukushima accident," said a JAEA official.