Tag Archives: Japan nuclear waste

Japan and Nuclear Power: Fukushima to 2013

fukushima fuel rods

[T]he building [Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant,] is still unstable, and its spent-fuel storage pool highly dangerous. This month (Nov. 2013) Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) will start plucking out over 1,500 radioactive rods from the pool in order to store them more safely. Over the pool a crane waits to start the procedure, and a yellow radiation alarm stands at the ready. Experts call the operation the riskiest stage of the plant’s clean-up so far… Engineers will have to take out each fuel assembly one by one without mishap, and overcome the risks of fire, earthquake and the pool boiling dry. The fuel rods can ignite if they lose coolant, or explode if they collide.

The rods are being moved just when trust in the utility that owns Fukushima Dai-ichi is at a low point. A series of leaks of highly radioactive water this year, and other dangerous accidents including a power cut in March—a rat chewed through the wiring—has brought it under fierce attack. In August the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) said leaks of contaminated water were a level-three or “serious” incident on an international scale that goes up to seven. Now some are calling for the removal of spent-fuel rods from reactor four to be closely monitored by foreign experts.

Even the pro-nuclear ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) wants to take TEPCO in its current form out of the decommissioning process, which will take 40 or more years. A new entity, including the utility’s staff but separate from its commercial side, would take charge. Finding a solution to the problem of TEPCO’s structure (among other things, the company is financially precarious) would help the government’s efforts to switch nuclear power back on.

At the moment Japan is entirely without nuclear energy, but that is unlikely to last for long. Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, is pushing for as many of the country’s 50 usable reactors to restart as soon as possible after passing safety checks by the NRA. The need to import energy has pushed up the price of electricity and added to a series of trade deficits since 2011. In September TEPCO won approval from the governor of Niigata prefecture to apply for a safety check in order to restart two reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, the world’s biggest… Junichiro Koizumi, a popular LDP former prime minister, has stepped in, calling for an immediate end to nuclear power. After he broadcast his views at a press conference, a poll showed that three-fifths of those who were surveyed backed his plan.

Japan and nuclear power: High alert, Economist, Nov. 16, 2013, at 47

Nuclear Wastes from Japan make their Way to China

Chinese customs officials have intercepted 1,127 tonnes of imported waste metals from Japan with excessive gamma rays in the coastal city of Ningbo in east China, local authorities said Tuesday (June 5, 2012).  The radiation levels of the waste metals, imported by a recycled metal company in Ningbo, was twice the national standard and hazardous to the human body and the environment, according to Ningbo customs.  The metals contained caesium-137, a radioactive isotope of caesium. Small amounts of caesium-137 were released into the environment during nuclear weapon tests and nuclear accidents, most notably the Chernobyl disaster.  Ningbo customs has ordered the cargo to be returned and has handed the case over to the anti-smuggling department for further investigations.  Ningbo customs has intercepted a total of 8,544 tonnes of waste imported metals with excessive radiation from Japan since the Japanese nuclear disaster of March 2011, said Wang Lingbao, a logistics control department official with the customs.

Chinese customs intercept radioactive waste metals from Japan,Xinhua, June 5, 2012

Who is Afraid of the Media; Fukushima’s nuclear waste

The [Japanese] government, for the first time, has allowed the media to cover operations to move waste contaminated by radioactive substances to a baseball stadium being used for temporary storage in the Ottozawa district in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture.  The contaminated waste was collected in the government-led model decontamination project conducted in the town.  The bags containing the waste were moved to the site and piled in two designated areas at the town-run stadium, about three kilometers away from the power plant. Radiation levels exceeded 70 microsieverts per hour in certain areas of the Ottozawa district, the highest level among the government-monitored locations.

Workers in protective clothing and masks used cranes to pile up bags with the contaminated soil and grass, each weighing about a ton.  A worker said, “Protective clothing hampers our breathing and it’s tough to work because my hands are freezing in these rubber gloves.”

Before placing the bags, four layers of sheeting, including a water-resistant sheet, were spread on the ground to block radiation leaks.  Later, the pile will be covered by three layers of sheets and soil.  An official at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, which handled the operation, said, “It’s possible to block 98 percent of radiation [using this system].”

Yasushi Kaneko ,Radioactive waste site opened to media in Okuma, Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer, Feb. 11, 2012