Friday, March 8, 2013

Fukushima Two Years Later

FUKUSHIMA  March 2013

Two years after the earthquake, tsunami, and catastrophic accident at the four reactors in Fukushima, things remain grim.  Here is a synopsis…

“Radioactive contamination levels on site remain extremely high, making the decommissioning of the plant a Herculean task for plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco). The conditions at reactors 1, 2 and 3 remain too severe for workers to enter.  After surveying inside the containment vessels of reactors 1 and 2, the company found radiation levels high enough to kill a human within one hour.”

"What we need to do is isolate, remove and store the damaged and broken nuclear fuel safely," said the 56-year-old plant manager Takeshi Takahashi. "This work will take 30 to 40 years to complete."  This is just to deal with the fuel.  The demolition of the remaining components, structures, and buildings will take many more years after that.

“Tepco is planning to move the undamaged fuel rods from the Reactor # 4 pool to a newly constructed common fuel pool in an operation that is expected to start in November and take a year to complete. The nuclear rods will remain in the common pool for four or five years before being placed in safer dry casks being built at a site further away from the sea front. The common pool, capacity 6,800, already holds 6,300 rods. Therefore Tepco is planning to move out some of these rods once the construction of the dry casks is finished to make space for the rods from the pool in reactor 4.”

“Tepco faces the unprecedented job of having to remove the melted nuclear fuel - including the highly toxic MOX fuel (a mix of plutonium and uranium) from reactor #3 - from the other three damaged reactors as part of the decommissioning. This work is expected to begin around 2022. The exact location inside the reactors of the melted fuel remains unclear, according to Asahi Shimbun. It is expected to be scattered within the pressure vessel, containment vessel and piping system of the reactors.”

“The process of keeping the fuel cool, both inside and outside of the reactors, is yielding roughly 440 tons of water every day, raising the issue of what to do with the contaminated liquid.  Over 700,000 tons are already stored in tanks, and slowly being treated.”  Also, there is approximately 400 metric tons of groundwater leaking into the reactor buildings, and they are building a bypass system to try to stop the groundwater flowing from high ground into the buildings.”  The concern, of course, is contamination of the ocean and fisheries.

This “cleanup” will cost many, many billions of dollars (yen), and as in Chernobyl and Hanford, will probably never really be completely cleaned up.  Add to that the toll to tens of thousands of people who have lost their homes and livelihood, and the impact on the environment, and one has to question the benefits of nuclear power. 

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