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 first batch of 22 nuclear fuel assemblies removed from the reactor #4 storage pool at the Fukushima Daiichi plant have been placed in a more secure storage pool 100 meters away. “All of the fuel assemblies have been placed in the storage rack (inside the common pool), meaning the first fuel transfer work effectively ended,” said Tepco official Noriyuki Imaizumi. The assemblies moved to the new location were unused. The next 22 to be removed, however, will be spent fuel. The fuel assemblies are the first of over 1,500 to be removed from the storage pool in work that is expected to take around a year.
As the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) began its second review of the decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors this week, inspection team leader Juan Carlos Lentijo called the start of the fuel transfer as "promising" at a meeting with government and TEPCO officials. The removal of the nuclear fuel from reactor #4's building will be the main focus of the 19-strong IAEA team. “The removal of the spent fuel is an essential activity toward decommissioning. Our idea is to review the full process that Tepco has developed for the purpose and all the precautions adopted to develop these activities in a safe way,” said the director of the IAEA Division of Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Waste Technology. Speaking of the IAEA review, retired Toshiba' nuclear engineer Masashi Goto said: "They must look into TEPCO's overall management of the site. They shouldn't just look at each little issue. They should look at the organizational challenges at TEPCO that have created the recent string of incidents."
All three contaminated water processing machines (known as ALPS) are now operating simultaneously again in a test phase after two were shut down earlier this year when it was found that parts of them were being corroded by water. The systems which remove radioactive contamination except tritium from water, can process approximately 750 tons of water between them a day. TEPCO say they currently deal with 1,300 tons a week but cannot yet say when the test phase will end and normal operations will recommence. TEPCO also hopes to add three more ALPS systems with the government paying for an additional one, which would allow the company to process 2,000 tons of water a day.
TEPCO announced in a press release this week that it has received a further 119.2 billion yen from the Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund. This was the company's 22nd request to the fund, the body that overseas compensation for the victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. In the words of the release, the request was made "in order to cover the compensation payouts to be completed by the end of December 2013, as the sum of the compensation received in accordance with the "Act on Contract for Indemnification of Nuclear Damage Compensation" (120 billion yen) and the financial support provided by the Fund (3.0964 trillion yen) will not be sufficient for the total amount of payouts."
Meanwhile, TEPCO and three Mitsubishi companies have announced plans to build "a new type of energy-efficient coal-fired power plants" in Fukushima. The two plants which are planned to be operating by 2020 will be largely owned by Mitsubishi and operated by TEPCO.
Other Nuclear News in Japan
Residents of Fukushima Prefecture expressed their fears about the Japanese government's proposed new secrecy law this week. At a public meeting held by the House of Representatives' special committee for national security, Tamotsu Baba, mayor of Namie, said: "If information concerning the nuclear plant was categorized as special secrets against terrorism, the government could hide it under the bill." However, after the session, he said: "Fukushima residents' voices didn't seem to reach the committee members."
These concerns were echoed by the chairman of a company that supplies workers to the damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant for cleanup and decommissioning work. Yukiteru Naka said the new legislation may deter whistleblowers from divulging what they might witness at nuclear power plants, adding that it may make recruiting workers for the 40-year task of decommissioning the Fukushima reactors more difficult. He also said that nuclear safety could be jeopardized without disclosure of information.
Meanwhile, it has been reported that Japan's nuclear accords drawn up with Turkey and the United Arab Emirates designed to allow Japan to export nuclear technology to those countries are unlikely to be passed by the Japanese parliament before the current session ends on December 6. Lack of parliamentary time has been blamed. The accords are not expected to be examined until early next year or later. It is the government's proposed new secrecy bill which has dominated debating time thus pushing out the nuclear accords.
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has said Japan "now needs to be even more aggressive in finding ways of using renewable sources" after the country abandoned its greenhouse gas emission targets last week. Avoiding criticism of Japan's decision, Mr Kim said: "“We don’t think this is the Japanese government saying they are not concerned about climate change. It is very difficult in Japan right now, mostly because with the political decision to move away from nuclear energy, they have to quickly provide energy and they are doing it through fossil fuel."
Radioactive Waste Disposal
Government sources told the Japan Times this week that plans are being drawn up to purchase 15 square kilometers of land around the Fukushima Daiichi plant to use store radioactive waste from cleanup and decontamination operations. The lack of storage facilities for the waste has meant decontamination efforts have not progressed as quickly as the government would have liked. However, the purchase of the land is expected to affect landowners and may prevent evacuees from eventually returning to their homes. The plan is expected to cost one trillion yen which includes 200 million to buy the land, and the waste will have to be stored for up to 20 years. According to reports, the government expects the areas hosting the storage facilities will be uninhabitable.