Japan revises Fukushima cleanup plan, delays key steps

Japan revises Fukushima cleanup plan, delays key steps

TOKYO — Japan on Friday revised a roadmap for the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant cleanup, further delaying the removal of thousands of spent fuel units that remain in cooling pools since the 2011 disaster. It’s a key step in the decadeslong process, underscoring high radiation and other risks. The government and the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., still keep a 30- to 40-year completion target.

A look at some of the challenges:

___

MORE THAN 4,700 UNITS OF FUEL IN POOLS

More than 4,700 units of fuel rods remain inside the three melted reactors and two others that survived the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. They pose a high risk because their storage pools are uncovered and a loss of water in case of another major disaster could cause fuel rods to melt, releasing massive radiation. Their removal at Units 1 and 2, after repeated delays, is now delayed by up to 10 years from the initial target of 2018, with more preparation needed to reduce radiation and clear debris and other risks.

Fuel rods removal at No. 1 reactor pool will begin sometime in 2027-2028, after debris is cleaned up and a huge rooftop cover installed to contain radioactive dust. Fuel removal at Unit 2 pool is to begin in 2024-2026. Work at No. 3 reactor pool began in April 2019 and all 566 units will be removed by March 2021. TEPCO has emptied the pool at Unit 4, which was offline and only suffered building damage, and aims to have all remaining rods in reactor pools removed by 2031 for safer storage in dry casks.

___

1.2 MILLION TONS OF RADIOACTIVE WATER

TEPCO has been unable to release the 1.2 million tons of treated but radioactive water kept in nearly 1,000 tanks at the plant, fearing public repercussions and impact on the area’s struggling fishing and farming. The water keeps growing by 170 tons daily because it is used to cool the melted fuel.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry recently drafted a proposal to release the water to the sea or the air, or a combination of both. TEPCO says it can only store up to 1.37 million tons until the summer of 2022. Time is limited because preparation is needed before any water release. TEPCO and the government say the tanks pose risks if they were to spill out the contents in another major earthquake, tsunami or flood. They also need to free up space to build storage for melted fuel removed from reactors beginning 2021.

The water is still somewhat contaminated, but TEPCO says further treatment can remove all but radioactive tritium to levels allowed for release. Experts say tritium is not harmful to humans in small amounts and has been routinely released from nuclear plants around the world.

___

880 TONS OF MELTED FUEL

Removing an estimated 880 tons of molten fuel from Fukushima’s three melted reactors is the toughest and unprecedented challenge. It’s six times the amount dealt with in the aftermath of the 1979 Three Mile Island partial core melt.

A removal is to begin in 2021 at Unit 2, where robotic probes have made bigger progress than at Units 1 and 3. A robotic arm was developed to enter the reactor from the side to reach the melted fuel that has largely fallen to the bottom of the primary containment vessel. A side entry would allow a simultaneous removal of fuel rods in the pool from the reactor’s top. A melted fuel removal will begin with just a spoonful, which will be carefully measured and analyzed per International Atomic Energy Agency instructions. The government hopes to gradually expand the scale of removal, though further expertise and robotic development is needed. The first decade through 2031 is a crucial phase that would affect future progress. Units 1 and 3 fell behind due to high radiation and water levels respectively, requiring more investigation.

___

770,000 TONS OF RADIOACTIVE WASTE

Japan has yet to develop a plan to dispose of the highly radioactive melted fuel and other debris that come out of the reactors. TEPCO will compile a plan for those after the first decade of melted fuel removal. Managing the waste will require new technologies to reduce its volume and toxicity. TEPCO and the government say they plan to build a site to store the waste and debris removed from the reactors, but finding one and getting public consent would be difficult.

Additionally, there will be an estimated 770,000 tons of solid radioactive waste by 2030, including contaminated debris and soil, sludge from water treatment, scrapped tanks and other waste. They will be sorted out, treated, compacted for safe storage under a plan to be compiled by 2028.

___

8 TRILLION YEN

The government says Fukushima’s decommissioning cost is estimated at 8 trillion yen ($73 billion), though adding compensation, decontamination of the surrounding areas and medium-term storage facilities would bring the total to an estimated 22 trillion yen ($200 billion). Japan Center for Economic Research, a think-tank , estimates that decommissioning alone would cost 51 trillion yen ($470 billion) if the water is not released and a tritium removal technology is pursued.

___

10,000 WORKERS

More than 10,000 workers will be needed annually in coming years, about one third assigned to work related to the radioactive water. Securing experienced workforce for the decadeslong cleanup is a challenge in a country with rapidly aging and declining population. Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Toyoshi Fuketa raised concerns about a possible labour shortage following recent minor mishaps at the plant. TEPCO has expressed intention of hiring workers for the decommissioning under Japan’s new policy allowing more unskilled foreign labour, but the plan is on hold following government instructions to address language and safety concerns.

___

Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sarah Tittemore, interim chair of the city’s systems leadership team, announces the start-up of a one-year pilot project. A Social Diversion team will be dispatched to deal with non-emergency disturbances in the city through making a 211 call. (Screenshot by Advocate staff).
New Social Diversion team starts up in Red Deer to deal with non-emergency disturbances

A nurse and social services expert will be deployed to assist after calling 211

Sgt. Andrew Harnett, 37, of the Calgary Police Service is shown inthis undated handout image provided by the police service. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Calgary Police Service
Bail hearing continues today for teen accused in Calgary officer’s hit-and-run death

CALGARY — A bail hearing for a teen accused in the hit-and-run… Continue reading

President Donald Trump speaks near a section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, in Alamo, Texas. (Delcia Lopez/The Monitor via AP)
Trump bids farewell to Washington, hints of comeback

‘We will be back in some form’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday, January 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada in touch with Biden admin about disputed oil pipeline

Premier Jason Kenney says ‘rescinding the Keystone XL border crossing permit would damage the Canada-US bilateral relationship’

.
B.C. to still administer second doses despite loss of Pfizer shipment next week: Dix

VANCOUVER — British Columbia’s health minister says the province is still on… Continue reading

A view of the stage on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, ahead of the 59th Presidential Inauguration on Wednesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Susan Walsh, Pool
Canadians tune in to Joe Biden inauguration amid pandemic threat, violence concerns

TORONTO — Canadians tuned in Wednesday with a mixture of relief and… Continue reading

The constituency office of Derek Sloan, Conservative MP for Hastings-Lennox and Addington is show in Belleville, Ont., on Tuesday Jan. 19, 2021. Sloan says he’ll fight efforts by his party’s leader to boot him from caucus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg
Expelling Derek Sloan from Conservative caucus not entirely up to Erin O’Toole

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole wants Derek Sloan booted out of… Continue reading

Early morning fire destroys grocery and retail store in Igloolik, Nunavut

A fire has destroyed a grocery and retail store in Igloolik, Nunavut.… Continue reading

Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux waits to appear before the Commons finance committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday March 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
PBO says reformed fiscal stabilization program to cost Ottawa $4.5 billion

OTTAWA — Reforms to a federal support program for provinces will nearly… Continue reading

Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem takes part in a news conference at the Bank of Canada in Ottawa on December 15, 2020. Canada’s central bank will update its economic forecast for the country that will offer a window when it expects a recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic to take hold. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Bank of Canada keeps key rate at 0.25 per cent, warns of economic decline in 2021

OTTAWA — The Bank of Canada says the national economy will go… Continue reading

President-elect Joe Biden speaks during a COVID-19 memorial, with lights placed around the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Sighs of relief accompany a sense of unease as Biden takes oath, Trump departs D.C.

WASHINGTON — Relief, apprehension and a touch of pandemic-tinged festivity washed over… Continue reading

FIL - In this Nov. 7, 2020, file photo Vice President-elect Kamala Harris speaks in Wilmington, Del. Harris will make history Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, when she becomes the nation’s first Black, South Asian and female vice president. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
Vice-President Harris: A new chapter opens in US politics

Harris moves into the vice presidency just four years after arriving in Washington as a California senator

Most Read