Category Archives: Fukushima

The Final Entrant – Last Nuclear Utility in Japan Applies for Restart

Shika NPP Unit 2.  Courtesy Hokuriku Electric Power Co.

Shika NPP Unit 2. Courtesy Hokuriku Electric Power Co.

by Will Davis

Yesterday, the saga of nuclear energy in post-Fukushima Japan reached an important milestone as the final utility that owns nuclear power plants in that country applied to the regulator for restart, in an event that snuck under the radar of most news venues.

Hokuriku Electric Power Company yesterday submitted its application to have Shika Nuclear Power Plant Unit 2 examined by the Nuclear Regulation Authority under the revised guidelines for nuclear plant safety. Hokuriku owns only one nuclear power station, Shika, which has two units; Unit 1 is a BWR-5, while Unit 2 is an ABWR that went into commercial operation in March 2006. This application for Unit 2 means a number of things; it marks the end of the final holdout, if you will, by a nuclear utility; it shows that all utilities with nuclear plants will attempt to restart at least one unit; and it answers the question once and for all whether the Japanese utilities unanimously want to continue to include nuclear in their fuel mixes for the future.

Hokuriku has stated that work at the site (which mirrors heavy site work underway at most nuclear plants in post-Fukushima Japan) is not yet complete and that it does not have a specific restart date for this nuclear plant.

Shika Unit 2 had some press before this; this plant, along with Chubu Electric Power Company’s Hamaoka Unit 5, made some notoriety in 2006 when both were shut down for some time due to turbine generator problems. Hamaoka-5 shut down first in June 2006, actually on a turbine trip due to high vibration; this was quickly discovered to be a result of broken blades in the “B” or center (of three) of the low pressure turbines on its Hitachi TC6F-52 turbine generator. Because Shika Unit 2 had the same model turbine generator, it was ordered shut down in July 2006 for inspection; this revealed similar, if not as extensive, damage.

Hitachi paid for repairs to the Hamaoka and Shika turbine generators; the Hamaoka unit was back on-line in February 2007, eight months after the event. Shika Unit 2 however was saddled with a reduced power rating, and was also delayed in its restart while NISA (the former nuclear regulator) dealt with systemic problems at the site. Shika Unit 2 finally restarted in June 2008, rated at 1108 MWe instead of its original designed 1358 MWe. Hokuriku detailed plans to modify the turbine in 2010 and return the plant to its original full rating, but the only increase allowed was to 1206 MWe, which is where the official plant rating lies at the moment according to Nuclear Regulation Authority records. Hitachi has since modified its designs to eliminate the problems that originally caused these failures, which have not recurred in any other Hitachi turbine generators.

The restart applications, as they came

It is now appropriate to briefly detail the nuclear plant restart applications in a neat bunch as we find ourselves at a convenient historical point from which to look back.

The initial applications for restart actually came in a rush; on July 8, 2013, four utilities applied for restart examination for no fewer than 10 reactors at five sites. Quite interestingly, all of these were Mitsubishi pressurized water reactors); their ages varied, with commercial operation starting dates ranging from 1984 to 2009, in two, three, and four loop configurations. These were Hokkaido Electric Power’s Tomari NPP Units 1, 2 and 3; Kansai Electric Power’s Ohi NPP Units 3 and 4 and Takahama NPP Units 3 and 4; Shikoku Electric Power’s Ikata Unit 3; and Kyushu Electric Power’s Sendai Units 1 and 2.

Just four days later on July 12, 2013, Kyushu Electric Power also applied for its Genkai NPP Units 3 and 4. These are also Mitsubishi PWR plants.

As had long been expected, on September 27, 2013, Tokyo Electric Power applied to restart two units at its massive Kashiwazaki-Kariwa NPP—and these, Units 6 and 7, were the first boiling water reactors of any kind to apply to restart. These units are Hitachi-GE-Toshiba ABWRs, and are the newest TEPCO nuclear units.

Chugoku Electric Power applied to restart Shimane NPP Unit 2, a Hitachi BWR-5, on December 25, 2013. Two days later on December 27th, Tohoku Electric Power applied to restart Onagawa NPP Unit 2—another BWR-5, but of Toshiba heritage.

The first application of 2014 was February 14, when Chubu Electric Power applied to restart Hamaoka Unit 4, a Toshiba-Hitachi BWR-5.

Japan Atomic Power Company (JAPC) applied to restart its Tokai Daini NPP, a GE BWR-5, on May 20, 2014. With a commercial operation date in November 1978, this is by far the oldest reactor applied for restart in Japan; the next closest date is Sendai Unit 1, commercially operational in 1984.

It was June before another application was made; on the 10th, Tohoku Electric Power applied to restart Higashidori 1, a BWR-5 of rather recent vintage, having entered commercial service in 2005.

And, of course, as we now know Shika Unit 2 applied yesterday (August 12, 2014,) marking only the third ABWR to apply for restart.

In total, the restart applications include 12 Mitsubishi PWRs, three ABWRs, and a total of five BWR-5 reactors of various heritage, making 20 reactors overall.

Hamaoka NPP: Courtesy Chubu Electric Power Co.

Hamaoka NPP: Courtesy Chubu Electric Power Co.

Kashiwazaki-Kariwa (TEPCO, two units applied), Tomari (Hokkaido, three units), Shika (Hokuriku, one unit applied), Shimane (Chugoku, one unit applied), Ikata (Shikoku, one unit applied), Takahama and Oi (both Kansai, four units total), and Genkai and Sendai (both Kyushu, four units applied) are on the West coast of Japan or on coasts facing west, making a total of 16 of the 20 units that are not subjected to future tsunami from the same fault that triggered the Great East Japan/Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami. The majority of these 16 units (12) are the Mitsubishi PWR units; three more of these 16 units are the ABWRs applied for restart.

The results of these restart applications are, of course, expected to be an exceedingly mixed bag. Anti-nuclear court rulings, mistrust among prefectural governments, environmental groups, and anti-nuclear activists are already having a major impact on the processes to restart the nuclear plants. It is certain that we will look back on this historical point as a mere footnote; the hard work of both preparing the plants for future events and regaining the public trust all lies mainly ahead, and it is likely to take many years to bottle those results as conveniently as we bottle the applications here.

For more information:

Japanese Utilities Lining Up to Restart Reactors

Preparing to Restart:  Tsunami Safety Measures at Japanese Nuclear Power Plants

Japan’s Nuclear Restarts:  Abe says “Will See To It;” Courts Differ; Plants Prepare


WillDavisNewBioPicWill Davis is the Communications Director for the N/S Savannah Association, Inc. where he also serves as historian, newsletter editor and member of the board of directors. Davis has recently been engaged by the Global America Business Institute as a consultant.  He is also a consultant to, and writer for, the American Nuclear Society; an active ANS member, he is serving on the ANS Communications Committee 2013–2016. In addition, he is a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, and writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is a former US Navy reactor operator, qualified on S8G and S5W plants.

Japan Nuclear Restarts: Abe Says “Will See To It,” Courts Differ, Plants Prepare

By Will Davis

HamaokaChubuElectric“I will see to it by some means or other. I will properly deal with it.” So go the reported words of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe regarding the restart of nuclear power plants in Japan, as printed recently in the Japanese press. At the present time, while the Japanese government and courts seem to be at odds on restarting plants—with the public left in the middle—those at the nuclear plants themselves must count on eventual approval to restart and must ensure required measures are completed properly. Those preparing for restart continue to work toward that end while facing an improving, but not yet by any means certain, situation in the public and legal arenas.

Abe says yes, court says no

Those wishing for nuclear plant restarts in Japan, and especially power companies and large manufacturers (which consider their businesses in great peril), were bolstered by the continued support for nuclear restarts expressed by Abe, although it’s now becoming clear that a one-man fight isn’t what lies ahead. Abe’s recent statement, specifically about Sendai Nuclear Power Plant (NPP), comes on the heels of a public presentation to the Prime Minister of produce from the governor of Fukushima Prefecture—a sure sign that life indeed continues in the prefecture. That rosy picture of recovery stands opposed by courts, however.

Just last May, the Fukui Court issued an order to Kansai Electric barring the restart of reactors at the Oi NPP. The language of the order has more recently been translated into English, and the finding is troubling—the court basically saying that no person or establishment is capable of predicting the maximum severity and effect of prospective natural disasters; and that since the people of Japan generally derive their welfare and well-being from the land, it can be ruled illegal to operate nuclear plants that could in theory lead to the loss of the land and well-being of the people.

Residents in the immediate vicinity of Sendai NPP in Kagoshima Prefecture were this week issued iodine pills as part of a disaster preparedness plan, along with access to pharmacists who could answer questions, according to NHK World. One resident interviewed said that he indeed felt better because of this “ounce of prevention” approach. In some regions, public opinion appears to sway toward the return of nuclear energy, as utilities and prefectural governments make advance preparations and keep the public “in the loop.”

Preparing by building and training

KashiwazakiKariwaAs scenes of quite public debate continue, the utilities meanwhile have long recognized the need to restart their nuclear plants, if at all possible, to begin to recoup some of the massive losses they’re incurring—as a result of having to buy large amounts of fossil fuel and having to build temporary fossil-fired power plants to make up for the loss of generation from nuclear plants. And lest there be any doubt, overall power generation is still far, far short of what it had been with all nuclear plants available.

Some plants have experienced setbacks. This week, Shikoku Electric Power Company announed that its Ikata NPP would delay restarting by up to a year because its on-site emergency control center didn’t meet required revised seismic standards.

Others continue apace. We’ve reported here on the massive amount of time and money that Tokyo Electric Power Company (owner of Fukushima Daiichi) has put into its Kashiwazaki–Kariwa nuclear plant on the opposite coast of Japan; these safety measures continue with further massive construction. A recently published video displays the continued wide effort underway to meet all the required precautions and standards, and is worth viewing in its entirety for anyone interested in the preparations at nuclear plants in Japan:

Click here to watch the TEPCO Kashiwazaki-Kariwa video

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) released a report stating that the triggering event for the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident was in fact the tsunami, and not the earthquake itself, lending support to safety actions taken at Kashiwazaki–Kariwa and other nuclear plant sites around Japan (including Chubu Electric’s Hamaoka NPP and Kyushu Electric Power’s Genkai and Sendai NPP’s) in the sense that the majority of expenditure lies in prevention of damaging effects from tsunami. A previous Japanese government panel had implicated the quake as the cause, but the NRA’s investigation has resulted in little or no evidence that the quake itself caused any damage to the plants that would have led to core melt. For example, the summary of the NRA report states that any small leaks caused by the quake would not have caused a threat to core integrity within 10 hours, and that there were no detectable signs of any serious breach of primary plant integrity during the time between the quake and the arrival of the tsunami.

It seems assured now—given the work required, the recent court position, and the overall sensitivity of the issue—that none of the nuclear plants in Japan will restart before autumn. As that original hope slips, the public and industry continue to forge a new understanding of the importance of safety in the Japanese nuclear power industry.

For more information:

Hamaoka NPP – 19 minute video of preparations, training entitled “Amassing Our Full Strength in Pursuit of Greater Safety

Nuclear Regulation Authority (Japan) – Overview of Regulatory Requirements

New Regulatory Requirements for Light Water Nuclear Plants (Earthquakes and Tsunami.)  Nuclear Regulation Agency


SavannahWillinControlRoomWill Davis is the Communications Director for the N/S Savannah Association, Inc. where he also serves as historian and as a member of the board of directors. Davis has recently been engaged by the Global America Business Institute as a consultant.  He is also a consultant to, and writer for, the American Nuclear Society; an active ANS member, he is serving on the ANS Communications Committee 2013–2016. In addition, he is a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, and writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is a former US Navy reactor operator, qualified on S8G and S5W plants.

Nuclear Energy in Japan Steps into the Chasm

by Will Davis

Recent developments in Japan concerning the Fukushima Daiichi plant recovery specifically, and nuclear energy generally, have not been exceedingly positive. The difficult recovery efforts at the crippled nuclear plant are not all proceeding smoothly; delays and technical problems continue to abound and confound. Meanwhile, on a broader scale, the national pullback from nuclear may be even more serious and have longer term effects than anyone realizes.

Fukushima Daiichi Units 5 and 6, courtesy TEPCO

Fukushima Daiichi Units 5 and 6, courtesy TEPCO

Fukushima Daiichi—Where is the ice wall?

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) reported that efforts to block the flow of water through below-grade piping conduits have failed, largely because the currents in these conduits are fast enough that the water cannot freeze. Sealing these “trenches”—a separate issue from the “ice wall” discussed below—is a major part of the contaminated water mitigation process; it is what will, ultimately, prevent contaminated water that is inside the nuclear plant buildings (reactor buildings and turbine buildings) from getting out into the general grounds near the plants. At this writing, no solution has been devised, although TEPCO hopes to better control the currents and/or add more coolant pipes if needed.

Similarly, TEPCO also repeatedly delayed the expected completion date for the “frozen earth” ice wall that will surround Units 1 through 4 underground, which will prevent groundwater from intruding into the buildings. Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has publicly expressed concern over the delay in this process, urging TEPCO to attack the problem with utmost vigor. According to reporting from NHK (Japan’s national public broadcasting organization), the NRA has urged TEPCO to come up with definite steps by the end of July to ensure a timely completion of the ice wall.

Click here to see a video covering the ice wall verification test

TEPCO continues to have the “to be expected” occasional system problem here and there, but since the general public’s attitude toward TEPCO is definitely not one of trust and understanding, all events make for wide and negative press. Early this week, TEPCO temporarily lost cooling to the spent fuel pool at Unit 5 on the Fukushima Daiichi site. To make matters worse in the public eye, original statements made to NHK/NHK World (which have now been removed from their sites) indicated that TEPCO had no clue when cooling could be restored, and that the pool would hit its operating temperature limit in a few weeks.

The truth of the matter is that the very next day, the residual heat removal system was placed in service to restore spent fuel pool cooling. But the shaky initial message had already gone out, with a seemingly powerless undertone that certainly didn’t underscore the ability of those at site to deal with the situations they encounter (TEPCO has since released a detailed account of this incident).

On the positive side, as of this writing 1188 out of the 1533 fuel elements in the spent fuel pool at Unit 4 have been transferred to the site’s common fuel pool. Future operations will see some of this fuel also transferred to the Unit 5 spent fuel pool.

Fukushima Daiichi site common spent fuel pool; courtesy TEPCO

Fukushima Daiichi site common spent fuel pool; courtesy TEPCO

Restarting plants might be slow

In a completely separate development, a Fukui court has blocked the restart of two units at Kansai Electric Power Company’s Ohi Nuclear Power Plant, citing in part that the plant had operated from July 2012 to September 2013 without incorporating new or revised safety standards. What relevance this has to the restarting of a plant now completely meeting the revised NRA standards is unclear, but the precedent is set: Courts are ready and willing to act to counter the Japanese government’s mission to restore the Japanese economy by restarting nuclear plants.

Eventually, it does seem certain that many of the nuclear plants in Japan will restart, as the need becomes increasingly critical to improve Japan’s import-export ratio and drive down the cost of energy. The Japanese government, the utilities, and most major corporations (and their lobbying groups) have expressed the desire to restart the plants; at the same time, however, local and highly vocal groups are speaking out and taking legal action.

Separately, Japan’s NRA has publicly made some severe comments after finding a number of inadequacies in early applications to restart plants submitted by a number of owner-operators. According to the NRA, further requests for information and clarification will be necessary—driving the potential restart dates for even the earliest expected plant restart (Sendai) beyond the high demand period of the summer heat. Sendai is still expected to be the first to restart, though—perhaps as soon as the autumn months.

Conceptual illustration, Ohma Nuclear Power Plant; courtesy J-Power

Conceptual illustration, Ohma Nuclear Power Plant; courtesy J-Power

The “chasm”

At the tip of Aomori Prefecture lies the site of what is now the only nuclear power plant actively under construction in Japan—the Ohma Nuclear Plant, owned by Electric Power Development Company, Ltd., commonly known as “J-Power.”

That’s right—this is the only nuclear plant in Japan actively under construction. After the earthquake and tsunami in 2011, all nuclear plant construction was effectively halted in Japan. Of the three that were under construction, two were deferred indefinitely; of the 12 announced or proposed, all were deferred indefinitely or cancelled.

The plant near Ohma—an Hitachi advanced boiling water reactor—has been “on the drawing boards” for many years and was several times deferred. First planned in the early 1980s (the site survey was accomplished in 1983), the plant’s site preparation didn’t begin until 2008, with actual plant construction beginning in 2010, but suspended from the time of the 2011 quake until October 2012 when it was resumed. As might have been expected, anti-nuclear opponents have taken the Fukui court finding as a precedent and have now acted to block completion of the Ohma nuclear plant as well. It appears an extended court battle may now be in the offing.

This portends a “nuclear chasm,” similar to what we now face in the United States. The cessation of new nuclear plant orders in the U.S. in 1978, coupled with a flood of nuclear plant cancellations that followed, means there will come a time when nuclear plants in the United States are shutting down and decommissioning—even including life extensions—faster than new nuclear plants come on-line.  The nuclear industry has long known this would occur; but it is being accelerated in some quarters by economic conditions (e.g., Kewaunee) or unanticipated material conditions (e.g., Crystal River, San Onofre-2 and -3.)

The result in the case of Japan will be that there too will come a time when, assuming that many plants restart, there will be no new plants in the wings to take the place of the older plants when they shut down. The present social environment in Japan now approaches the atmosphere in the United States during the 1970s and ’80s, with continuous anti-nuclear “environmentalist” opposition that can kill a nuclear energy project. This does not bode well for a nation that imports more than two-thirds of its energy needs; it requires a careful and sober analysis of the nation’s energy needs—and the place that nuclear power plays in those needs—now before the chasm cannot be escaped. Japan, unlike the United States, cannot fall back on indigenous coal or gas—it has neither.

The actions of the Japanese utilities lately have done little to steer away from the road to the chasm; harsh words from the NRA about inadequacies in the initial round of restart applications bears witness to this. Public trust is key, and if it is perceived that utilities wish to simply “slide by and play along” until they get their nuclear plants back—they won’t get them back.

Time will tell what plays out for Japan’s nuclear energy enterprise, but at the moment a great deal of work needs to be done to swing the course away from an abyss.


SavannahWillinControlRoomWill Davis is the Communications Director for the N/S Savannah Association, Inc. where he also serves as historian and as a member of the board of directors. Davis has recently been engaged by the Global America Business Institute as a consultant.  He is also a consultant to, and writer for, the American Nuclear Society; an active ANS member, he is serving on the ANS Communications Committee 2013–2016. In addition, he is a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, and writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is a former US Navy reactor operator, qualified on S8G and S5W plants.

Nuclear Video Matinee: Fukushima Health Effects in North America (?)

Studies by Janette Sherman and Joseph Mangano purporting to link radiation from Fukushima to health effects in the United States have made for alarming headlines in news outlets on occasion, and have come under fire by critics who charge flawed methodology (for example, What Can We Do About Junk Science and Researchers Trumpet Another Flawed Fukushima Study).

When the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation assesses the health effects of Fukushima in Japan and concludes that we are unlikely to see any increase in cancer rates or birth defects—ever, let alone  months or a few years later—well, somebody seems likely to be wrong.

Could it be Mangano and Sherman? For a careful and thorough examination, see the following—and for much more in detail and discussion, visit Mangano and Sherman Take Down at Atomic Insights.

Thanks to GoddardsJournal on YouTube and Atomic Insights.

sagan extraordinary claims 412x201

Three years of available lessons from Fukushima

By Rod Adams

During the three years since March 11, 2011, the world has had the opportunity to learn a number of challenging but necessary lessons about the commercial use of nuclear energy. Without diminishing the seriousness of the events in any way, Fukushima should also be considered a teachable moment that continues to be open for thought and consideration.

As a long time member of the learning community of nuclear professionals, I thought it would be worthwhile to start a conversation that will allow us to document some of the “take-aways” from the accident and the costly efforts to begin the recovery process.

Since there are many people who are more qualified than I am to discuss the specific design details of the reactors that were destroyed and the specific site on which they were installed, I will shy away from those topics. Feel free, however, to add your expert views in the comment thread.

Before Fukushima

fukushima 216x144The overriding lesson for me is a recognition that people who favor the use of nuclear technology were quite unprepared for an event like Fukushima. Our technology had been working so well, for so long, that we had become complacent perfectionists.

In some ways, we were collectively similar to perennial honor roll students who prefer doing homework to engaging in risky sports. We have been “grinds” who studied hard, followed the rules, became the teachers’ pets, scored high marks on all of the routine tests, and were utterly devastated the first time we moved to a new level and encountered a test so difficult that our first attempt to pass resulted in a D-.

Many of us—and I will freely include myself in this category—had become so confident in our ability to earn outstanding grades that we did not pay attention to the boundaries of the box in which our confidence was justified.

We confidently accepted the fact that our technology was safe, had numerous layers of defense-in-depth, and was designed to be able to withstand external events, but we forgot that those statements were only true within a certain set of bounding parameters we normally call the “design basis.” Because we had only rarely approached those boundaries, we had no real concept for what might happen once we found ourselves outside of our expected conditions without most of the expected supporting tools.

An extended period of exceptional performance not only made us over-confident, it raised expectations to an unsustainable level. Corporate executives, the media, and government leaders played roles similar to the parents, teachers, and administrators associated with precocious straight A students. They were used to dealing with serious mistakes and outright failures among the rest of the student body, but were surprised and flustered when one of us let them down.

We also failed to understand that we were in the same vulnerable and unpopular position as the geeks who continuously break the curve and make others look bad, year after year. As the excellent report cards kept coming, we did not pay attention to the effect those high grades were having on our peers. We did not see other students gathering into groups after the grades were posted. We did not sense their anger or overhear their plans to be ready to take advantage the first time we gave them an opportunity.

We had no similar plans prepared in case we failed; we expected we would keep performing exceptionally well.

The Fukushima test

fukushima tsunamiWhen the nearly impossible test came, our technology performed as designed, but that was not good enough. Our technology was not designed to match a natural disaster that destroyed all available sources of electrical power. The loss of vital power at a large, multi-unit facility interfered with the ability to understand plant conditions and to put water into the places that desperately needed it.

Aside: That is not to say that it could not have been designed to handle the imposed conditions. As the performance of Onagawa and Fukushima Daini demonstrate, it is possible through better design or more fortuitous operational decisions to improve the chances of avoiding the consequences seen at Fukushima Daiichi, but there is never a guarantee of perfection. End Aside.

Without water flow, the rate of heating inside the cores was determined by inescapable laws of physics. As nuclear energy and materials experts have been predicting for nearly 50 years, once the temperatures inside the water-cooled cores reached a certain point, the zirconium cladding of the fuel rods began reacting with the water (H2O) to chemically capture the oxygen and release the hydrogen.

Fukushima Daiichi plant designers expected that human operators would pay attention to the pressure building inside the primary containment and release some of the steam before breaking the containment. They apparently neglected to consider that operators would not be able to monitor pressure using their installed systems without any available electrical power.

For valid reasons, the designers did not make containment relief an automatic function or even an easy process. They probably did not expect that the operators would wait for a politician located at the end of a tenuous communications link to make the decision to release that pressure, expect that they might feel the need to wait for a report that evacuations had been completed or realize that the time delay could allow pressure to rise so high that it would be almost impossible to open the necessary valves.

The operators performed their tasks with dedication and tenacity, but their efforts fell a little short of the heroically successful similar efforts at Fukushima Daini. It’s worth mentioning one particular example of unfortunate timing; the Daiichi operators invested dozens of back-breaking man hours to install a mobile generator and run heavy cables across 200 obstacle-filled meters in order to provide emergency power. They completed the hook up at 1530 on March 12. At 1536, the first hydrogen explosion injured five workers, spread contamination, and damaged the just-installed equipment enough to prevent it from functioning. (See page 8-9 of INPO Special Report on the Nuclear Accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.)

The excessive pressures in the primary containments did what excessive pressure almost always does; it eventually found weak points that would open to release the pressure. The separated hydrogen left the containments, found some available oxygen and did what comes naturally; it exploded to further complicate the event and provide a terrific visual tool for the jealous competitors who were ready to take advantage of our failure.

The lesson available from that sequence of events were not design-specific. More foresight in the design process, solid understanding of basic materials and thermodynamic principles, and, if all else fails, empowered operators with the ability to resist political pressure can further reduce the potential for core damage and radioactive material release.

Once one of us encountered a test we could not pass, we were dazed and confused, obviously unsure what to do next. That period of uncertainty provided a wonderful opening for the opponents and competitors to take charge of the narrative, emphasize our failure under our own mantra of “an accident anywhere is an accident everywhere” and spread the word that we should not be allowed to get up anytime soon. They reminded formerly disinterested observers that we had fallen far short of our claimed perfection, took the opportunity to land a few blows while we were down, and made arrangements to ensure that our recovery was as difficult and expensive as possible.

Fears of radiation

As a group, nuclear technologists have often emphasized our cleanliness, our ability to operate reliably, and our improving cost structure.

radiationsafetyWe overlooked the efforts over the years by opponents and competitors to raise special fears about the materials that might be released in the event of an accident that breaks our multiple barriers. Though we all recognize that exposure to radioactive material at certain doses is dangerous, our opponents—sometimes aided by our own perfectionist tendencies—have instilled the myth that exposure to the tiniest quantities also carries unacceptable risk.

We had become so good at keeping those materials tightly locked up that we accepted ever-tightening standards, because they were easy enough to meet under routine conditions. Even under the “beyond design basis” conditions at Fukushima, our multiple barriers did a good enough job of retaining dangerous materials so that there were no immediate radiation-related injuries or deaths, but that isn’t good enough.

There were dangerous radiation levels on site; workers only avoided injury and fatalities by paying attention and minimizing exposure times. The myth of “no safe dose” and the reality that any possible effects may occur in the distant future has continued to result in fear that effects are uncertain and will probably get worse.

The no-safe-dose assumption has made us terribly vulnerable to an effort to force us to continue meeting the expectation of zero discharges. Our stuff does “stink” on occasion; in this case if we try to hold it all in we are going to eventually suffer severe distress. The tank farm at Fukushima, with its millions of gallons of tritiated water cannot expand forever, but our opponents will prevent controlled releases as long as they can to make the pain as large as possible.

It’s worth quoting the International Atomic Energy Agency’s recent report about its late 2013 visit to Japan to provide an independent peer review of recovery actions. This passage comes in the context of a carefully-phrased “advisory point” that strongly recommends that Japan prepare to discharge water where most isotopes other than tritium have been removed.

… the IAEA team encourages the Government of Japan, TEPCO and the NRA to hold constructive discussions with the relevant stakeholders on the implications of such authorized discharges, taking into account that they could involve tritiated water. Because tritium in tritiated water (HTO) is practically not accumulated by marine biota and shows a very low dose conversion factor, it therefore has an almost negligible contribution to radiation exposure to individuals.

Reliability and perfection

Not only did the accident destroy the ability of four plants to ever operate again, it has reminded us that reliability is not just a matter of technology and operational excellence. If the powers-that-be refuse permission to operate, the best technology in the world will fail at the task of providing reliable power. Our competitors are perfectly content to take over the markets that we are failing to serve. The longer they perform the easier it is for people to assert that we are not needed.

We have also been taught that we have no real control over cost. The aftermath of Fukushima has shown that it’s possible to establish conditions in which even the most dire prediction of economic cost is an underestimate. There is no upper bound under conditions where perfection is the only available standard.

If we do not learn how to occasionally fail, how to make reasonable peace with our powerful opposition, and continue to help everyone understand that a search for perfection does not mean that its achievement is actually possible, nuclear energy does not have much hope for rapid growth in the near future.

That would be a tragic situation for the long term health and prosperity of humanity. The wealthy portions of our current world population can probably do okay for a while without much nuclear fission power. However, that choice would harm the underpowered people who are already living and innumerable future generations who will not live as well as they could if we shy away from improving and using nuclear fission technology.

Fission technology is not perfect and poses a certain level of risk, but it is pretty darned good and the risks are well within the range of those that we accept for many other technologies that can perform similar tasks.


INPO 11-005 Special Report on the Nuclear Accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station





Rod Adams is a nuclear advocate with extensive small nuclear plant operating experience. Adams is a former engineer officer, USS Von Steuben. He is the host and producer of The Atomic Show Podcast. Adams has been an ANS member since 2005. He writes about nuclear technology at his own blog, Atomic Insights.

Fukushima Three Years Later


Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Station; Units 6 and 7 were submitted for safety screening in September 2013.

By Will Davis

In our collective memory, disturbing images played out on video around the world in the days following the apocalyptic Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami have somewhat receded, even if they haven’t lost their impact—images of rushing waters, floating vehicles, buildings and debris, massive (and unstoppable) outbreaks of fire, and implications of lives lost and lives ruined.

Peculiar among these images, however, are those refreshed by their association with the nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station; peculiar because people remain out of their homes, because the cleanup at the plant has been protracted and troublesome and failure-prone, peculiar because a seemingly insidious enemy of people and life—ionizing radiation—is completely invisible in our images and films, quite unlike the rushing and thundering waters.

Indeed, what is not seen can be frightening, and what is not known can be daunting; what is happening is that the public, both evacuated Fukushima refugees and other peoples around the world, are beginning to grasp the realities of the present in addition to focusing on the days of the tsunami, the nuclear accident, and the evacuation—and the world is starting to respond.

The plant

In the past several months, the story at Fukushima Daiichi has had one parallel with the original disaster—the problem, quite plainly, is water. Lots of water. Millions of gallons of it, coming onto the site at a rate of several hundred tons per day, in the form of runoff and precipitation, and millions of gallons of water that have been used to cool the damaged reactor cores at Units 1, 2, and 3. This water is being both cleaned up and stored in a dizzying array of onsite tanks, and unfortunately occasionally is escaping out of the nuclear plant buildings and tanks and into places onsite where it should not be.

Personnel patrols among the giant, fabricated tanks now beginning to fill the entire hillside behind the nuclear plant (the shore side) have been stepped up to ensure tanks that overflow do not continue to; however, exposure rates can be high in areas around these tanks and failures have been missed. The news continues to be of struggles with these systems, and with those systems purifying the water.

What has received less press has been occasions of positive news—perhaps foremost of which is the continued, methodical removal of fuel elements from the spent fuel pool at Unit 4. As of now, 462 of the 1533 fuel elements stored there have been moved safely to the site’s common fuel pool. None of the dire predictions made by numerous anti-nuclear prognosticators concerning this spent fuel pool and its contents have come to pass, and TEPCO’s continued methodical removal of the elements emphasizes the fact that nuclear energy is a practice of procedure, of care, of attention to detail, and that this environment does indeed exist at the Fukushima Daiichi site.

Progress is in fact taking place on the water issues as well; the plant site is fairly well sealed from the harbor, and the harbor from the ocean. The mechanisms behind the spread of contaminated water around the site are known and preparations are underway to stop it using means both tried and new. The TEPCO video below demonstrates just one of the “small victories” that can be checked off in the massive effort to first contain the water and then decommission the nuclear plants.

The actual moment-to-moment actions that were taken during the progression of the accident—indeed, even the natural events such as the exact timing of the arrival of the first tsunami wave—continue to be debated, questioned, and analyzed by expert panels worldwide. Just this week, an analysis was released by the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, backing up the theory that the earthquake itself did no critical plant damage, and that the tsunami was the triggering event for the accident. This theory is espoused by a large number of experts and was backed up by evidence presented at the American Nuclear Society’s 2013 Fukushima Daiichi embedded topical meeting in November.

Questions about the operation of the isolation condenser systems at Unit 1, and the high pressure core injection system at the other units, remain at the forefront of discussion, as does the question of containment venting. Only the full decommissioning and teardown of the nuclear plants, piece by piece, will finally yield all the answers about what happened and when. For now what matters is preventing anything like it from happening again—anywhere.

Hokuriku Electric Power Company's Tomari Nuclear Station.

Hokuriku Electric Power Company’s Tomari Nuclear Station.

Prevention—machines and manpower

An approach to prevention underway in Japan is similar to that of the United States in one respect; it is recognized that preparation for cataclysmic events that could cause interactions among nuclear units on the same site is of utmost importance (e.g., a hydrogen explosion at Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1 stopped efforts for a time at all other units). To that end, Japanese nuclear plant owners and the Nuclear Energy Institute in the United States recognize that a massive array of stand-by generating trucks (for electric power), fire engines (for water pumping) and other vehicles, as well as personnel and the ability to get all of this to a plant site in short order are necessary developments. And the progress to this end is remarkable in both countries.

In Japan, there is a growing desire to get nuclear plants restarted so that they can provide energy at far lower cost than the fossil fuels that are now being imported. However, no nuclear plants can be started back up until they’ve passed new safety inspections mandated by the new Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) in Japan. Not surprisingly, the plants at which the most upgrade work has been completed are those that have already applied to restart. Seventeen units have applied as of now—see the NRA graphic below.


The efforts underway to allow restart are well known; this link details the work done at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s giant Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant and at Chubu Electric Power Company’s Hamaoka plant. Since that article was written, the containment vent filters have been delivered to and installed at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Units 6 and 7. Other plant owners have begun to take steps as well, including Hokkaido Electric Power Company at its three-unit Tomari Nuclear Station, as seen in the graphics below excerpted from an official company report.


The steps above concerning plant additions to adapt to use of portable power and water supplies, in addition to the mobile supplies themselves, are typical of provisions being made throughout the country.

In the United States, similar work is also in process and showing real progress. By the end of this year, two regional centers, each with five full sets of mobile backup emergency equipment, will be opened. This backs up equipment already bought by and stationed near the nuclear plants themselves; NEI informs us that 20 nuclear plants will complete their FLEX preparations by the third quarter of 2014 in the area of mobile electric power. Twenty plants will also have installed spent fuel pool water level monitoring equipment. Already completed are plant-specific seismic walkdowns and flooding walkdowns; actions resulting from these are all forthcoming. In all, over 1500 pieces of equipment (such as generator trucks and water pump trucks) have been purchased for this FLEX effort, or are on order. NEI reports that all FLEX modifications at all nuclear plants in the United States will be complete by 2016.

In Japan, it’s expected that at some plants the modifications and provision of equipment will occur much sooner so that plants can be restarted in the near-term. The NRA has recently bolstered its staff significantly after having merged in an outside professional organization, and with the help of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the safety reviews (delineated in the table above) are now well underway. However, it may not in fact be the final safety reviews that hold up restarts. For example, TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant is assumed in TEPCO’s business plan to restart after July this year, but a revisit of the seismic conditions under the plant may take as much as six months by itself. This would push the safety review out at least that long; further, TEPCO may not finish all of the physical upgrades by July either. In a similar fashion, some of the other operators may not complete some large construction projects such as seawalls by summer. What’s important to realize is that operators now have safety squarely in mind, and not only do not wish to attempt to restart until it’s nearly assured as possible, but cannot do so anyway without NRA approval.

Public 0pinion shifting, people moving

According to a recent Kyodo News poll, 37 local governments in Japan (out of 156 total) would today allow restarts of nuclear plants when the NRA safety checks are passed. This is a surprise, given a continuous flood of negative press covering anti-nuclear sentiment in Japan. This follows the election of a government in Tokyo that is, at the very least, not anti-nuclear, and of course the exploits of Prime Minister Abe who is pushing for the restart of nuclear plants. Abe is also pushing to repatriate displaced families back to areas where safe return is assured.

As reported by NHK World, Abe visited Fukushima Prefecture last week, and held a meeting with persons displaced from Miyajoki District who will be allowed to return home April 1. This step is the first in the real recovery of Fukushima; the “real recovery” isn’t just about the nuclear plant, and “Fukushima” isn’t a nuclear plant, but a giant prefecture that was and again will be the home to many thousands of people, and the site of farms and villages and fishing ports—just as it was before March 2011. Prime Minister Abe was quoted as saying that the recovery of Japan cannot begin until the recovery of Fukushima is underway, and the progress seen so far as well as the ongoing efforts to ensure future nuclear safety (and thus reliable energy supply, safe living, commerce, and prosperity) are absolute sign posts on the road to a recovery that we all know is coming, and we can just see dawning on the horizon.

For more information:

NEI has very recently published a new resource entitled “Fukushima Daiichi Recovery:  The Facts,” which addresses many issues both in Japan and the US

Utilities Service Alliance: USA Fukushima team ensuring plants can respond

Events and Highlights on the progress related to recovery operations at Fukushima Daiichi NPS. IAEA February 2014.

Events and Highlights on the progress related to recovery operations at Fukushima Daiichi NPS. IAEA March 2014.

(Above two links contain information provided to International Atomic Energy Agency by the Japanese government.)

OECD/Nuclear Energy Agency: Accident Management Insights after the Fukushima Daiichi NPP Accident

June 2012 TEPCO handout on tsunami protection, other measures being installed at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa

Kyushu Electric Power Company – Initiatives for Ensuring Safety in Nuclear Power Stations. (Sendai NPP and Genkai NPP)

Kyushu Electric Power Company – Application for compatibility check to New Regulatory Requirements (Sendai NPP and Genkai NPP)


WillDavisNewBioPicWill Davis is the communications director for the N/S Savannah Association, Inc. where he also serves as historian and as a member of the board of directors. He is also a consultant to, and writer for, the American Nuclear Society; an active ANS member, he is serving on the ANS Communications Committee 2013-2016. In addition, he is a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, is secretary of the board of directors of PopAtomic Studios, and writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is a former US Navy reactor operator, qualified on S8G and S5W plants. 

Carnival of Nuclear Energy 187

ferris wheel 202x201The 187th Carnival of Nuclear Energy is here – the weekly compilation of the best of the internet’s pro-nuclear authors and bloggers.  This time-honored feature appears on a rotating variety of the top English-language pro-nuclear blogs every weekend, and is a great way for readers of any persuasion or approach to find out what the people who write about nuclear energy all the time think are the most important or most resonant issues for that week.  With that, here are this week’s entries!


Nuclear News Wire from Michele Kearney

Michele has pointed up this blog post on The Hill, which is really a result of the earlier announcement by the Obama administration that Federal agencies will be targeting a 20% share of renewable energy for their use, but which didn’t mention nuclear.  That announcement prompted this response from the Nuclear Energy Institute, and that was the trigger for the post on The Hill.


Nuke Power Talk – Gail Marcus

Nuclear Liability – The Logic of Liability Regimes

At Nuke Power Talk, Gail Marcus reacts to an article from Japan arguing that Japan should not adopt the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, but rather should go after GE, where the author of the article believes the blame lies.  Gail recounts the logic that has led the authors of all the major liability regimes to limit financial responsibility to the operator, and points out how that provides much faster and more certain compensation than an endless series of lawsuits.  She takes on some of the arguments about GE’s liability by the author of the article and points out how a counterargument can be made about the responsibility of the operator.


Canadian Energy Issues – Steve Aplin

How to tell if electricity decarbonization is working: replace renewable energy standards with a simple carbon standard.

There is no shortage of advice out there about how to decarbonize the economy. A lot of it focuses on electricity, and power generation especially. However, too many jurisdictions have opted for the so-called Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) approach to decarbonizing electric power generation—these mandate a certain percentage of renewable energy like wind and solar. Steve Aplin of Canadian Energy Issues suggests an alternative: a simple carbon emission standard. He holds up spectacular examples that illustrate why the carbon standard approach is far more effective at actually reducing carbon.”


The Hiroshima Syndrome – Les Corrice

Fukushima Evacuees Get More and More Money, but not Tsunami Victims

An objective comparison between tsunami refugees and Fukushima evacuees paints a very disturbing, and downright infuriating picture. The Fukushima evacuees are far, far better off than tsunami refugees.  Fukushima evacuees have been given many times more temporary housing and a lot more subsistence money.  The world’s press wants everyone to think all is going great with the tsunami victims and horribly with the Fukushima evacuees.  How long will this smoke screen be permitted to exist?


Next Big Future – Brian Wang

American Physical Society recommends 80 year operating licenses for US nuclear reactors; there are no technical show stoppers.

Senior researchers give a major endorsement to the Lawrenceville plasma physics dense plasma fusion project.

All electric cars would mean 20-50% more electricity generation would be needed in the US and a moderate boost in nuclear energy from uprating and new reactors could be a part of that clean energy and clean transportation future.


ANS Nuclear Cafe – Mark Reed

The ‘I’m a Nuke’ Project: The Epic Saga of Tim the Vagabond Nuclear

After Tim Lucas completed his PhD in nuclear engineering at MIT, his
insatiable wanderlust compelled him to sail around the world. He shows
and tells the story of his world travels in this video from the ‘I’m A
Nuke’ series – an integral part of the ‘Public Image of the Nuclear
Engineer’ theme at the 2013 ANS Student Conference.


Yes Vermont Yankee – Meredith Angwin

Vermont Yankee’s Closing Will Hurt Vermont

In this op-ed, Meredith Angwin reviews power contracts, power availability, and Vermont’s relationship with Canadian suppliers and oil-fired plants.  Without Vermont Yankee, electricity will be more expensive, more dependent on fossil fuels, and less reliable.

Reference list about effects of closing Vermont Yankee

The op-ed above was dense with information—perhaps too dense.  In this post, Angwin backs up her op-ed statements with links to FERC reports, newspaper articles, ISO-NE statements and more.  Hopefully, this blog post will also stand alone as a reference list on the electricity outlook in New England.



In Remembrance Of…

A brief piece about the end of the Fast Flux Test Reactor and fuel reprocessing.


That’s it for this week!  Thanks to all of the authors, and submitters, for a highly informative and relevant set of posts.  (Carnival post for ANS Nuclear Cafe assembled by Will Davis.)

Nuclear Matinee: Removal of Spent Fuel from Fukushima Pool No. 4

News out of Fukushima-Daiichi this week is encouraging:  TEPCO successfully transferred the first batch of fuel rod assemblies from the reactor unit No. 4 spent fuel pool to a common fuel pool building offering longer-term stable storage conditions. Completing the process for the more than 1,000 fuel rod assemblies that remain at No. 4 is projected to take a year, and will be a first major step toward decommissioning of the site.

The following video may be of interest to those who are watching and following events at Fukushima closely, as it shows the removal of one of the fuel rod assemblies via underwater camera. Much ink has been spilled over the past year concerning perils and hazards of this stage of decommissioning—so one might as well see part of how it’s done.


Cask with 22 fuel rod assemblies headed toward common fuel pool building (Kyodo News)

Cask with 22 fuel rod assemblies heads to common fuel pool building (Kyodo News)


Decommissioning of Private Assets is Public Matter in Japan; TEPCO Forges Ahead


Fukushima Daiichi Units 5 (left) and 6 (right) seen in October 2012 behind the newly completed breakwall.

by Will Davis

Earlier this month, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe conducted a visit to Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station to examine conditions at the site and to gauge TEPCO’s response to numerous ongoing problems. When Abe spoke to reporters after the visit, he mentioned (for reasons still unknown) that he had suggested to TEPCO that it decommission Unit 5 and Unit 6 on the site, so that it could focus its efforts squarely on the work required to recover from the nuclear accidents at Units 1, 2, and 3. This was reported with some surprise in many quarters.

Fukushima Units 5 and 6

At the time of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, Units 5 and 6, which are sited several hundred feet to the north of the other four units, were already shut down for their periodic detailed inspections—a normal practice in Japan. Both units’ reactors had fuel installed, with the reactor vessels closed and bolted and all control rods fully inserted; Unit 5 was undergoing a pressure test at the time of the earthquake. Because the units were not at power, no nuclear accident occurred at either plant, although decay heat from the fuel did have to be dealt with. The plants suffered some damage from the tsunami, but it was less serious generally with these units because they sit three meters higher than the other four units on the site.

The emergency diesel generators at these two units were not flooded out, but did lose their cooling when plant service water went down, and so were unavailable for providing electricity. Three diesel generators on site (one each at Units 2, 4, and 6) were “air cooled,” meaning that they had self-contained radiators that didn’t require the plant’s seawater systems to be operable. Flooding damage to electrical switchgear rendered these engines at Units 2 and 4 useless, but the Unit 6 equipment remained fully operable throughout the event; this was the only installed plant diesel generator at any location on the Fukushima Daiichi site to remain operable. All others were disabled by direct flooding, or by flooding of switchgear used to distribute power, or by loss of seawater cooling pumps required for their operation, or loss of fuel supply, or a combination of these factors.

Emergency cooling restoration methods such as were being attempted at the other four units were successful at Units 5 and 6, for both the reactors and the spent fuel pools; a condition of “cold shutdown” was declared on March 20, 2011, for Units 5 and 6.

Because these two units weren’t damaged nearly as seriously by the tsunami, or even by the explosions at the reactor buildings of Units 1 and 3, they were more or less wrapped up and put in stasis—that is to say, while TEPCO initially included references to these units in its timeline plans for the site, reference was dropped some time ago and the units were essentially left out of all official announcements.

Perhaps Abe questioned efforts (whatever they might be) being put into the units on site, or it occurred to him to ask whether TEPCO had any plan at all for them. This remains unknown. What seems clear, judging by TEPCO’s response, is that TEPCO did in fact have plans to operate the units at some time in the future, because it says that it will decide their fate by the end of the year.

At least one Japanese government official has floated the concept that demolition of these two units could serve as valuable training for personnel that will have to dismantle the damaged units on the site—and this would add the option that once the units are gone, extra space for contaminated water storage on site would be available. TEPCO has made no response to this suggestion.

Fukushima prefectural government

What stands (and has stood) in TEPCO’s path, of course, is the adamant refusal of the Fukushima prefecture’s local government to allow any future nuclear plant operation on its soil. This situation is somewhat analogous to what we’ve recently seen in Vermont, where the Vermont state government has continually (and unsuccessfully) tried to insert itself into what is really the scope of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s authority.

In Japan, the prefectural governments do absolutely have a say in the operation of nuclear plants within their borders, and ever since the Great East Japan Earthquake, utility companies have been deeply engaging these governments around Japan to attempt to restore trust lost after the Fukushima accident. Consideration has also been made in some prefectures that neighboring prefectures, potentially affected in case of an accident, might also be included in the decision-making—rendering the process more regional than local.

What Abe’s statement to the press might actually mean is that TEPCO and the Fukushima prefecture could get forced into a discussion that TEPCO likely does not want to have—that is, a discussion about what the eventual fate of not only Fukushima Daiichi 5 and 6 is, but also the fate of all four units at the distant Fukushima Daini nuclear station will be. Fukushima prefecture has publicly and clearly said “never again” many times to every press agency and outlet in Japan, so its stance could not be more clear. TEPCO would have to get permission from this government first before even thinking of petitioning the new nuclear regulator in Japan for checks in advance of operation. This seems extremely unlikely at best.


TEPCO does have one piece of good news to embrace, coming not from the east coast of Japan where Fukushima is located, but from the west; TEPCO’s president has twice visited with the government of Niigata prefecture, wherein is located the gigantic Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear station, in order to get permission for safety checks of this plant. Stress tests for Unit 1 (oldest) and Unit 7 (newest) were completed some time back, but permission for operation now depends on the new Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) checks and inspections.

Niigata prefecture previously rebuffed TEPCO’s efforts at permission for these checks for Unit 6 and Unit 7 on the site, since TEPCO had made overture to the NRA prior to making overture to Niigata. In fact, Niigata’s governor refused to accept a report from TEPCO in a public display of displeasure. However, just this week the same report was accepted by Niigata’s governor, and it has just been announced that Niigata prefecture has approved TEPCO’s application. TEPCO will apply for checks on Kashiwazaki-Kariwa tomorrow (September 27.)

The checks will be conducted only for Units 6 and 7 at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa. These two units are the only Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR) units at any TEPCO site, and are among the most modern in Japan—having entered service in the mid 1990s. TEPCO however certainly expects, eventually, to operate all seven units at the site and has, as we have reported on this site before, been pouring massive amounts of money and material into the entire site.

It may be inaccurate to say in astronomical terms, but it appears for the moment that in the case of TEPCO and nuclear energy, the sun is rising in the west, and potentially setting forever in the east.

Background and News Links

Abe tells TEPCO to scrap remaining reactors

Preparing to Restart:  New Tsunami Safety Measures at Japanese Nuclear Power Stations

TEPCO report on new equipment at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Units 6 and 7 to comply with latest NRA requirements

ANS Nuclear Cafe’s most recent previous post on the ongoing Fukushima Daiichi recovery and remediation can be found here.


WillDavisNewBioPicWill Davis is a consultant to, and writer for, the American Nuclear Society; an active ANS member, he is serving on the ANS Communications Committee 2013-2016.  In addition, he is a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, is Secretary of the Board of Directors of PopAtomic Studios, and writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is a former US Navy Reactor Operator, qualified on S8G and S5W plants.  He’s also an avid typewriter collector in his spare time.

Fukushima Daiichi: Bolted tanks, blast from NRA

by Will Davis

Developments this week at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station have been relatively few—but they’ve made headlines.

The recent announcements concerning leakage of contaminated water from bolted tanks (that is to say, fabricated with bolted joints as opposed to welded joints) has caused the Tokyo Electric Power Company to announce an inspection plan and to then publish the initial results of the findings. As might have been expected, two small areas of high level were noted in the tank farm (one was 100 mSv/hr, the other less than this) and cleaned up—hinting at some small, but very controlled, leakage from just two of the hundreds of such tanks built hurriedly on site to house the vast volumes of water that requires isolated storage.

As has been reported before at this site, the spread of any highly contaminated water into the ocean seems unlikely, even though China and South Korea have expressed a desire to get further information about the possibility of such having occurred from the Japanese government. This does not by any chance mean that TEPCO is idle; it has begun a pumping process that might see up to 15,000 tons of highly contaminated water get moved out of piping and wiring tunnels on the site into protected storage (after filtration, which is proving somewhat effective in removing radionuclides, according to initial TEPCO test results from filtering ground water).

A further visit to the site this week by Toyoshi Fuketa, a commissioner on Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), has however not necessarily fully endorsed TEPCO’s actions—and has resulted in another suggestion that TEPCO might need outside help. Fuketa is on record as having said, after the inspection of Fukushima Daiichi, that TEPCO was remiss in not having considered the chance of leakage from the bolted-joint tanks, was “ill prepared,” and noted that TEPCO didn’t keep survey records (of radiation levels) from walkdowns of the tank farm area. When TEPCO officials told Fuketa that they would need four times the number of personnel on site that they have now to properly handle the situation, apparently Fuketa told them “they should ask for help if they need it.”

This sentiment—that TEPCO might, or will, need outside help of large magnitude—echoes concepts previously reported here at ANS Nuclear Cafe, and which are also being heard elsewhere on the news wires. What seems significant here is that this feeling has now been expressed by the Fukushima prefectural government, the prime minister of Japan, and one of the commissioners of Japan’s NRA. To paraphrase Fuketa as quoted by NHK, TEPCO cannot just “continue saying it is doing its utmost” if the situation is not under control, and it is not making proper and timely admissions and requests for funding, technical assistance, and (if required) oversight.

The biggest story this week, it would seem, was the announcement that the NRA had decided that it was necessary to declare an International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) 3 level event upon discovering the information about the bolted tank leakage and a 10,000 mr/hr dose rate near the surface of an adjacent ground puddle. The revelation of the INES designation took the lead in news all over the world, in many cases drowning out the actual facts (an important one being that an INES designation is kind of like the speedometer in your car—it tells you how fast you’re already going). It’s also important to understand that no public indicator such as the INES level scale is perfect—we need only to look at the various iterations of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Terror Threat Levels to tell us this. What the scale does do is simply let everyone know that something happened with enough impact (real or perceived) that “business as usual” somewhere has to stop to fix the problem; the higher the level, the more people and wider area affected. If anything, the INES level declaration is just another symptom of the growing problem of management and manpower at the site—a part of the larger picture proving that TEPCO needs more manpower, more money, and more oversight. Or, in the case of the latter point, perhaps even a new contractor with total control of the process.

More Information:

We last posted about Fukushima Daiichi on August 15; that post had many background and information links included for reference.

Japan Times:  TEPCO testing tainted earth at No. 1 plant

NHK: TEPCO to begin removal of soil from tank area

Kyodo:  Regulator calls TEPCO “sloppy” in record keeping

More details on the INES scale at IAEA REGNET

(We continue to provide occasional updates on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant situation, as the story continues to make headlines all over the world.)


WillDavisNewBioPicWill Davis is a consultant to, and writer for, the American Nuclear Society; an active ANS member, he is serving on the ANS Communications Committee 2013-2016.  In addition, he is a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, is Secretary of the Board of Directors of PopAtomic Studios, and writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is a former US Navy Reactor Operator, qualified on S8G and S5W plants.  He’s also an avid typewriter collector in his spare time.

Scaremonger Week in the mainstream media

By Paul Bowersox

An unusual number of unusually ill-founded nuclear headlines appeared in the mainstream media last week. Among the more prominent:

  • The Opinion Pages at the New York Times lit up with A Nuclear Submariner Challenges a Pro-Nuclear Film, wherein John Dudley Miller espoused his disbelief of the pronuclear climate change film “Pandora’s Promise” and of climatologist James Hansen. More than 440 comments later (as of this writing) the debate goes on—click the ‘NYT Picks’ link above the comments section to save some time and see which way things are going.
  • But let’s get back to the serious scaremongering. “Apocalypse!” “Millions of Deaths!” So screams a headline at RT:  Fukushima Apocalypse: Years of ‘Duct Tape Fixes’ Could Result in ‘Millions of Deaths’ (Note: the headline got it wrong—not apocalyptic enough. The interview subject, fallout researcher Christina Consolo, says that “millions of people will probably die even if things stay exactly as they are, and billions could die if things get any worse…”)

Take a click and come back—if you are not so unnerved as to immediately take to the hills in a vain attempt to escape.

Well, perhaps you are not an online subscriber to RT. Mainstream media? Sure.  RT is the 2nd-most-watched foreign news channel in the United States, with 1 billion views on YouTube (more than Fox News). The article above has 23,000 Facebook ‘likes’. Articles such as this are linked all over the internet, diaries are written about them at political blogs, journalists become aware of them, social media spreads them to all corners…

ANS Nuclear Cafe readers will be familiar with Howard Shaffer’s contributions in promoting the benefits of nuclear technology and energy in Vermont. On the Social Media listserv hosted by ANS, he responded to the RT article by writing:

“This article is a wonderful piece of writing. It is a good example of the class of ‘Overblown SCARE STORY’ to promote a political agenda. It is not even good science fiction. Science fiction gets the basic science right. This article deals with the here and now, known science.

The writer does not understand the basic physics and engineering of nuclear chain reactions. Since the first controlled chain reaction in 1942, scientists, designers, builders, fuel processors, and operators have all known of the possibility of an unintended critical reaction. Every effort is always made at every step to prevent this. Still, human beings have made mistakes and there have been a few unintended criticalities.

The statement that the tiniest mistake in moving fuel BUNDLES (not rods) can cause a reaction is wrong. The entire process, beginning with manufacture, has been designed to prevent just this.

Pools were designed for storage for at least 5 years in the United States. Long enough so the fuel BUNDLES need only air cooling, as is being done now in dry casks. They can and are holding fuel much longer.

The discussion of the work conditions in protective suits degrading technician performance is silly. Cooled suits have been used for years.

At the end the writer refers to “reactor 4.” In unit 4, the reactor vessel—the “tea pot”—is empty. All the fuel had been removed to the unit 4 pool. It was of the most concern since the fuel just out of the reactor generates the most heat. Now that 3 years have passed, the heat generation is way down. It will probably be almost 5 years after the fuel was removed from the reactor before it is taken out of the fuel pool. At that point it needs only air cooling. Water is still needed for shielding.

The concern about fires at abandoned plants is silly too. After the 5 years or less of cooling, the plants can be walked away from, and the fuel will not be creating enough heat to cause melting and fires.

The writer says Russian help and an international effort should be used in the Fukushima-Daiichi site cleanup. Is the writer aware of the international effort going on at the Chernobyl site?

The writer has a good career— in fiction—ahead.”


china syndrome




Paul Bowersox manages social media at the American Nuclear Society

Carnival of Nuclear Energy 170

ferris wheel 202x201ANS Nuclear Cafe is proud to host the 170th edition of the Carnival of Nuclear Energy – a rotating feature that showcases the best pro-nuclear blogs and authors each week in a single, easy to access compilation.  Contributions are volunteered by the authors, with the exception of “Captain’s Choice” picks that the Carnival host makes from time to time.  With that, let’s get to this week’s posts!

This week, a paper was published that was authored by a graduate student – studying policy – detailing supposed dire security concerns at US nuclear plants.  There was even some misleading information that could have led casual readers to believe the paper was sponsored by the Department of Energy.  Professionals in the nuclear field who read the paper saw right through it, but James Conca stepped up to the plate and provided an excellent and much-needed public rebuttal.

Forbes – James Conca

Anyone Can Write a Story About Nuclear Terrorism

Jim Conca responds to a widely reproduced and quoted paper which at first take portrays the security situation at US nuclear plants as risky, but which falls apart very quickly upon examination.

Canadian Energy Issues – Steve Aplin

Keystone fight approaches criticality: TransCanada’s biggest clean asset stays critical

TransCanada Inc., the favourite pinata of green fashionistas because of its proposal to build the Keystone XL pipeline, is a partner in running the Bruce nuclear plant—the biggest clean energy centre in the western hemisphere. As the fight over Keystone gains intensity, Steve Aplin of Canadian Energy Issues comments on the spectacle of Keystone opponents encouraging greater use of natural gas, a carbon-heavy fossil fuel, in electric power generation. Aplin notes that many of the same Keystone opponents would celebrate if not just the Bruce plant but all nuclear plants were running on natural gas instead of nuclear—even though this would put far more carbon pollution into the air than the pipeline.”

The Hiroshima Syndrome – Leslie Corrice

A Suggested Answer to Fukushima’s Wastewater Question

The wastewater buildup problem at F. Daiichi could be solved by setting up a closed loop.  The decontaminated turbine building waters could be sent back to the basements rather than to above-ground storage tanks.  This would provide several benefits and cause no additional problems.

Nuke Power Talk – Gail Marcus

Irradiated Food:  The Case for More

At Nuke Power Talk, Gail Marcus comments on a recent NRC blog, which in turn used the latest large-scale case of food poisoning (from lettuce imported from Mexico) to point out the safety and value of food irradiation.  Gail repeats some of the health statistics associated with food contamination, which are truly startling, and goes on to make the case for the use of irradiation in our food processing.  She does strike a cautionary note when she recounts the long history of efforts to increase the use of irradiation (including an ANS-centered effort), and hopes that incidents like the latest one will help some people see the light.

ANS Nuclear Cafe

Court Finally Rules on Yucca Mountain’s NRC License Review

After a year-long wait, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on
August 13 to grant a writ of mandamus on behalf of petitioners, ordering
the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to resume a review of the Yucca
Mountain nuclear waste repository.

Robert L. Ferguson, one of the citizen petitioners in the case, writes
on the ruling and what it means for the future of high-level waste
policy in the United States.

Power Play: People, Politics, Electricity, Nuclear

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled on August 14 that
Vermont legislators acted improperly in efforts to close the Vermont
Yankee nuclear power plant.

Howard Shaffer provides an overview and update of a busy summer of
energy-related activism, political maneuverings, grid and energy issues,
and of course events related to the Vermont Yankee plant – which
continues to go on providing most of the clean energy in the Green
Mountain State through it all.

Fukushima Daiichi:  Current Hurdles, Options, and Future Expectations

News coming out of Japan continues to be bad concerning the Fukushima Daiichi site – although much of the news is really hyperbolic and erroneous.  The bigger story is the Japanese people’s increasing mistrust of, and lack of faith in, TEPCO.

Will Davis provides the best and latest information on efforts at the site to halt the inflow and outflow of contaminated water as well as whether it’s getting into the ocean (it isn’t.) He also covers the decommissioning of the plant, and future options for this major project.

Yes Vermont Yankee – Meredith Angwin

Vermont Yankee Wins in Federal Appeals Court

Did the Vermont legislature try to regulate nuclear safety? Well, they did write a law that specifies how the fuel rods must be arranged in the fuel pool. Background, quotes, and more.

Next Big Future – Brian Wang

Husab Uranium Mine

Update on uranium mines.  Husab is gearing up for full 7500 ton per year production in 2017.  The Haggan mine is still pushing forward, and Tanzania is heading toward 14000 tons per year.

Nuclear Energy Roundup:  Russia has Big Ambitions

More nuclear power will allow Russia to export more oil and gas, and government plans call for nuclear energy to amount to 25 percent of the domestic energy market by 2030, up from 16 percent (currently produced by 33 reactors.)  Russia has nine reactors under construction, making it the world’s second busiest market behind China.  ROSATOM head Sergey Kiriyenko has predicted that China will soon become Russia’s main competitor on the global nuclear energy market.

NewsOK Science and Technology – Robert Hayes

Environmental Radiological Contamination

Robert Hayes explains radiological contamination, varied levels of risk, and points out that if it weren’t for potassium, which is radioactive, we’d all be dead.  A solid, brief, no-hype look at our radioactive world.

NEI Nuclear Notes

(ANS Cafe note:  Will Davis, in assembling the Carnival for ANS this week, has made a “Captain’s Choice” and included posts from NEI Nuclear Notes, with the blessing of Eric McErlain of NEI.)

The recent publication of a paper questioning the security of nuclear plants in the United States has already been mentioned at the top of this Carnival posting.  Not surprisingly, the Nuclear Energy Institute has also responded in an official capacity as representing the US nuclear industry, with both a descriptive blog post (first link) and also a post that links to an official NEI Statement on the topic.

A Fresh Perspective on Nuclear Plant Security

NEI responds to NPPP Report on Security at U.S. Nuclear Power Plants

Atomic Power Review – Will Davis

Russian Nuclear Sub Decommissioning – Sayda Bay

In what has developed into a brief series covering decommissioning of nuclear submarines, Will Davis takes a look at the massive improvements that have been made in the situation regarding Russian nuclear submarine decommissioning and notes similarities to the US Navy’s long-running program.

That’s it for this week’s Carnival.  Thanks to all of the authors who submitted posts in this very busy week for nuclear advocates!


Fukushima Daiichi: Current Hurdles, Options, and Future Expectations

by Will Davis

This week, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station’s long history was further appended by the approval of decommissioning plans for the site by Japan’s nuclear regulator, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA). This approval both clearly sets guidelines for safety at the site, and puts the government stamp of approval on Tokyo Electric Power Company’s highly complicated timeline for the complete decommissioning and removal of Units 1 through 4 at the site.  This announcement follows closely the order by Prime Minister Abe to increase government oversight of cleanup efforts on site. What remains to be seen is whether or not the Japanese public has any more faith in their government regarding decommissioning of the site than it has with TEPCO, which by all accounts in the Japanese press is no longer considered trustworthy.

These developments, however, are largely underplayed in the media compared to reporting on the situation regarding contaminated water on the Fukushima Daiichi site. Indeed, the situation appeared so troubling, and the site itself so jumbled, that a recent tour of the site by Fukushima prefectural officials resulted in an immediate request to the NRA by the prefecture that the Japanese government completely take over the site—even though the Japanese government has no more experience in handling a nuclear accident site than TEPCO does. The realities of the situation are much less urgent than has been speculated in the press; less threatening to the public in the short-term, but indicative of a trend of continued nagging problems that incessantly hinder full remediation of the site.

Groundwater contamination

The biggest question surrounding the news of contaminated groundwater on the site, and leakage of some of this ground water into the waters off the shore of the power plant, is whether or not this contaminated water is affecting the food chain. “No, there’s no evidence of that,” said Leslie Corrice, a former Navy Nuclear Power Engineering Laboratory technician, and former commercial nuclear plant worker, who performed groundwater sampling at the Perry nuclear station in Ohio and has been writing about the Fukushima accident continuously since it occurred. “The contaminated water isn’t getting outside the inner harbor, the quay, which is sealed off.” Corrice also noted that there are indeed plans, speculative at the moment, to seal off the further or outer harbor area, and that land surrounding the station is unaffected “since water seeks the lowest level, and there, that’s the ocean.”

As has been reported elsewhere recently, TEPCO estimates that 1000 tons of water are coming onto the site every day from surrounding hillsides. Of that, 300 tons makes its way to the ocean uncontaminated; 300 tons is mixing with contaminated groundwater on the nuclear plant site and is moved occasionally to the waters off the plant, but inside the harbor area, when the tides move in and out; and 400 tons per day is making its way into the reactor, turbine, and other building basements. The leakage of groundwater into these buildings is increasing the amount of water that TEPCO has to pump, clean up, and store.

Corrice added that “the only isotopic increase found inside the quay has been tritium, and only at one location more than 100 meters north (next to Unit 1) of the suspected inflow point at the Unit 2 and 3 intake structures and the embankment in between, with no cesium in the quay. The current levels of non-tritium isotopes in the quay at all locations are within the range of testing data going back to April… in other words, no discernible increases.” He also noted that the area outside the quay shows nothing, not even tritium, and that samples in the Pacific Ocean on a 10 km radius show no detected radionuclides.

Water mitigation

“Right now, TEPCO is pumping groundwater from the area near the solidified soil by the harbor, and by the end of this weekend with 30 more pump locations will achieve 70 tons per day,” said Corrice. He added that the level of water in sample wells near this area has dropped 5 centimeters already. Eventually, TEPCO plans to solidify (chemically, using a glass-like material) the soil along the entire waterfront, which will reduce to an estimated maximum of 35 tons per day the water outflow from plant premises to the harbor area.

Of course, TEPCO needs to completely contain the highly contaminated water that is being generated on the site. This water is generated when cooling water, pumped into the three damaged reactors, leaks out into the primary containment vessels inside the reactor buildings, then into the reactor buildings, and finally into the turbine buildings. It was found in the past that this water was also in communication with piping and wiring tunnels that criss-cross the site; TEPCO has been working to seal off known leaking areas for some time.

A major new step under technical assessment by Kajima Corporation (original constructor of the nuclear station) would create an artificially frozen zone of soil around the plants, impermeable to water. Deep wells would be used to house refrigerant tubes that would freeze the surrounding soil, with frozen zones around each shaft spreading and eventually being conjoined. The depth of frozen soil could be up to 40 meters—this should be enough to prevent any water flow under an impenetrable wall. Kajima is tasked with studying the problem, and is due to issue a report on the concept March 2014. The soil would be kept frozen for a number of years while the reactor plants are defueled; the defueling of the reactors is scheduled to occur within 10 years after removal of all fuel from all spent fuel pools is completed, which may take up to two years.

This soil freezing technology has actually been employed previously at nuclear plants. “We did it at Midland,” said Glenn Williams, today a financial consultant in the energy field who has worked in energy for over 30 years, and in separate employments with Bechtel Corporation and Stone & Webster was involved with roughly half the nuclear plants in the United States. “We had a problem with soil liquefaction—you know, when what should be a solid acts like a liquid—under the nuclear plant, and it was decided to perform the soil freezing to allow the ground to be solidified where it needed to be. It’s actually an older technology than most people realize—we did this back in the ’80s.” The Midland plant, then under construction for Consumers Power Company in Michigan, was eventually cancelled without ever having started up. Williams recalled the use of the technique at another nuclear plant site in the United States as well, in addition to many non-nuclear applications.

Midland nuclear plant under construction, May 1978.  Wirephoto, Will Davis collection.

Midland nuclear plant under construction, May 1978. Wirephoto, Will Davis collection.

The freezing process (if employed, and if successful) would keep highly contaminated water within the immediate nuclear reactor plant area, and keep clean groundwater outside, but it won’t stop leakage of water from damaged reactors into adjacent buildings inside the ice shield perimeter. At present, TEPCO’s best guess is that nearly the entire reactor core of Unit 1, and parts of Units 2 and 3 have exited (melted out of) their reactor pressure vessels and fallen into the containments. The damaged pressure vessels are leaking water into the primary containments; the exact paths water is taking out of the containments into the reactor buildings are still under study and a source of wide debate.

In a recent presentation to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Shunichi Suzuki of TEPCO listed challenges in finding these leaks, including high radiation dose rate inside the buildings, the fact that a majority of suspected leak locations are underwater with poor visibility, and that repair work must be done in the midst of highly radioactive moving water while continuous core cooling is maintained. TEPCO and its contractors have been experimenting with a material it calls a “plastic grout” that can seal penetrations, even in locations where water is flowing, and has had promising results so far. Whether or not this can be used in the volumes required remains unproven, but tests with double concentric pipes have shown that the material can seal both annular spaces. Sealing of the lower portion of the primary containment, known as the suppression chamber, would finally halt the leaking of highly contaminated water, and would allow for a highly desirable “closed loop” system pumping water into and out of the primary containments to keep the reactor cores cool.


Flow path of water used to cool damaged reactors at Fukushima Daiichi. From TEPCO “Mid and Long Term Roadmap,” Information Portal for Fukushima Daiichi Accident Analysis and Decommissioning Activities.

Once the flow of water has been halted, cleaning up the contaminated water on the site will be needed—TEPCO intends to have storage capacity on the order of 700,000 tons by 2015. For that purpose, a system conceived by EnergySolutions and manufactured by Toshiba, called the MRRS (Multi Radionuclide Removal System) has been constructed on site and is being moved to readiness. This system will take water that has been processed by systems built very rapidly on site after the accident (the “SARRY,” “KURION” and “AREVA” systems) and after desalination will remove residual radioactivity to a quality below detectable levels, according to Toshiba materials. In the most recent orders given TEPCO by the NRA, operation of this equipment is to be expedited.

Installation of MRRS equipment; photo courtesy Tokyo Electric Power Company

Installation of MRRS equipment; photo courtesy Tokyo Electric Power Company

Site decommissioning

TEPCO—and now the Japanese government, as well—face many obstacles in the full decommissioning of the damaged reactor plants, in a process expected to extend four decades. Some of these could be described as self-imposed. It was recently revealed that the rather quickly constructed enclosure around the Unit 1 reactor building will need to be totally taken down to permit removal of debris from the top of the damaged building and prepare for installation of equipment required to defuel the reactor. This will nullify the protection of the building, set up to halt atmospheric release of radionuclides, but TEPCO expects that emissions from the building will be managed during the process by the gas handling system, already in operation at all three damaged reactors.

News came out soon after the accident in 2011 that two U.S. consortiums were offering to bid on a complete contract to decommission the entire site (a group consisting of Toshiba, the Shaw group, and four additional firms; and a consortium of Hitachi, General Electric, Exelon, and Bechtel; AREVA was also occasionally reported to have been in this mix). Nothing like this came to fruition; it is not known how far negotiations, if any, were carried out on these original offerings.

Would any major firms, particularly experienced architect-engineer firms like Bechtel, conceivably take on such a project today, given what we have learned since the early days? Glenn Williams said, “Yes, I think they might if the terms were okay. The big questions are which firms are qualified to do the work… and would they be sure they would get paid?” Williams noted, “The terms and conditions of such a contract would drive everything,” and that he’s “not sure the Japanese government or TEPCO are prepared to write a contract anyone would sign because they don’t know the scope, scale, and cost of the entire project. The best arrangement for now, for both buyer and contractor, is continuing agreements for commercial services and systems… agreements that can be changed, rather than an overreaching agreement.”

Indeed, the early days when an endpoint seemed perhaps a contract away have now given way to a reality of day-to-day operations, challenges, advances and setbacks, and mutually achieved, unexpected solutions. At Three Mile Island, for example, the condition of the damaged reactor core was not even known for approximately two years; the condition of the three damaged Fukushima reactors is far worse, and early plans have been superseded many times by modified or completely new plans as knowledge about the actual state of the plants improves.

Given this information, it seems unlikely that the recent further imposition of Japanese government control over the work at Fukushima Daiichi will materialize into a solid outsourced contract, although it’s clear that the prefectural government would lean that way. Instead, it might be more sensible to predict that the operations at the site will continue to involve a wide and mixed array of various government entities and contractors engaged in separate but co-mingled projects as has been the case until now, with more thorough government oversight and control.

The people of Japan have expressed all too clearly their distrust of TEPCO, made worse by the recent revelation that TEPCO officials didn’t report the facts about contaminated groundwater on the site (and potential leakage to the sea, possibly continuously since the accident) immediately as soon as they were known. TEPCO management has expressed deep regret over this, with TEPCO’s chairman saying that he “felt we (TEPCO) had improved our ability to be honest with the public, but in fact we have not.” However, the public trust might be broken. This is the larger story surrounding the revelation about groundwater at the site. While contaminated water leaking to the ocean makes headlines and is a major (and expensive) engineering headache, the fact that TEPCO hid information about it will have lasting repurcussions.

Background and more information

Information Portal for Fukushima Daiichi Accident Analysis and Decommissioning Activities (joint Government-TEPCO site)

TEPCO’s storehouse of information on the decommissioning process and the Road Map to Recovery is located here.

Recent News Links

Japanese Government will take on more responsibility for Fukushima Clean-up.

TEPCO faces new setbacks at Fukushima Daiichi (ANS Nuclear Cafe) July 25

Fukushima Daiichi update (Atomic Power Review) August 6

NRA approves TEPCO decommissioning plan, urges solution for water problem

TEPCO begins pumping up contaminated ground water

Fukushima Accident updates – Leslie Corrice

Other news sources continue to report on conditions at Unit 4 and its spent fuel pool. The most recent soundness inspection by TEPCO can be found here. In addition, background can be found here. More can be found here.


WillDavisNewBioPicWill Davis is a consultant to, and writer for, the American Nuclear Society; an active ANS member, he is serving on the ANS Communications Committee 2013-2016.  In addition, he is a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, is Secretary of the Board of Directors of PopAtomic Studios, and writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is a former US Navy Reactor Operator, qualified on S8G and S5W plants.  He’s also an avid typewriter collector in his spare time.

Carnival of Nuclear Energy 168

ferris wheel 202x201The 168th Carnival of Nuclear Energy has been posted at The Hiroshima Syndrome.  You can click here to see this latest edition of a long-running tradition.

Leslie Corrice, host of this week’s extravaganza, notes that this week features coverage of “why nuke plants are a compelling option, whether or not former anti-nukes are trustworthy pro-nukes, the potential for robotics with nuclear energy, why more nuclear energy would be beneficial, and the latest news about the groundwater contamination problem at Fukushima Daiichi.”

Each week, a new edition of the Carnival is hosted at one of the top English-language nuclear blogs. This rotating feature of nuclear “posts of the week” represents the dedication of those who are working toward a future of energy abundance through nuclear science and technology.

Past editions of the carnival have been hosted at Yes Vermont Yankee, Atomic Power Review, ANS Nuclear Cafe, NEI Nuclear Notes, Next Big Future, Atomic Insights, Hiroshima Syndrome, Things Worse Than Nuclear Power, EntrepreNuke, and Deregulate the Atom.

This is a great collaborative effort that deserves your support.  If you have a pro-nuclear energy blog and would like to host an edition of the carnival, please contact Brain Wang at Next Big Future to get on the rotation.

TEPCO Faces New Setbacks at Fukushima Daiichi

By Will Davis

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has found itself thrust into the spotlight again over the last two weeks as a series of events at and around the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station have triggered a large volume of negative press, government commentary, and regulatory backlash. The embattled utility clearly has its hands full on more than one front.


Contamination Detected at Sea

On Monday, July 22, after a number of reports had circulated for some time, TEPCO admitted that it believed that highly contaminated water was again being admitted into the sea—specifically, the inner harbor area just outside the nuclear plant. In fact, elevated contamination levels had been detected in onsite sampling wells since May; TEPCO said that leakage into the ocean may have begun as early as April.

The revelations expanded to include the fact that as early as January, it had been noted that the water level in sampling wells on the site was fluctuating in concert with the rising and lowering tide—meaning that the ground water was in communication with the sea.

Of course, similar events had happened before—and triggered a plan, still underway, to construct impermeable walls in front of the station outside the present temporary silt fences and inside the harbor. Completion of this steel barrier wall was originally not planned until mid 2014; until that time, the temporary adsorbent towers (the “circulating sea water purification system”) as well as absorbent material placed inside the silt fences would have to suffice to reduce contamination levels outside the plant. Continuing with the same plan is not nearly enough for officials who expressed anger on Monday after the revelations by TEPCO.

Water leakage in cable trench at Fukushima Daiichi, May 2011.  Photo courtesy TEPCO.

Water leakage in cable trench at Fukushima Daiichi, May 2011. Photo courtesy TEPCO.

On Monday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga was quoted by NHK as saying that the Japanese government “would instruct [TEPCO] to do a quick and secure job in preventing … further leaks,” adding that the government views this development as a “grave matter.” Hideki Moremoto, of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, was quoted on Japanese television saying “it is extremely regrettable that TEPCO was slow in announcing this problem.” On a site tour on Monday, Senior Vice Minister of the Industry Ministry Kazuyoshi Akaba described the plant site conditions as deplorable, and said that “TEPCO always seems to be one step behind the problems,” according to NHK.

That same day, government officials of Fukushima Prefecture called TEPCO representatives to their offices and rebuked them for having not publicly released the information as soon as it was discovered, and for not having done more to stop leakage into the sea in the interim. According to the Asahi Shimbun, prefectural official Tetsuya Hasegawa told TEPCO’s personnel that “the people of Fukushima become more anxious every time they hear of more safety failures; please put that thought at the center of your mind as you try to fix this situation.” Representatives of the local fishermen, who have been both vocal and important in local decision-making, also expressed shock and disappointment at the revelation, according to both NHK and AJW Japan.

In response to the immediate backlash, TEPCO invited reporters to the site to see the work being done between the damaged nuclear reactors and the sea on Monday evening. It was reported that completion of the inner barrier walls and cement improved (solidified) soil might be completed as early as the middle of next month; this providing an inner barrier between the nuclear plants and the sea, while the aforementioned steel beam and plate barrier will essentially wall off the inner harbor area. TEPCO revealed that this work was stepped up in May, after the first detection of increased levels in onsite sampling wells.

The source of the contaminated water is of course fairly obvious; TEPCO is presently injecting a total of roughly 364 cubic meters of water each and every day into the three damaged reactors altogether—or about 96,000 gallons. Some, but not all, is cleaned and recovered after having cooled the reactors (or if some theories are correct, bypassed the reactors) and then leaked into the reactor building, and then the turbine building basements. The water has long been known to have pathways into what the Japanese call “trenches,” which are the piping and cable runs at and below ground level that criss-cross the entire site relaying power, control and monitoring signals and water (in normal plant operations) all over the site for many functions. It was determined long ago that these tunnels were a prime conduit for movement of highly contaminated water, and some were sealed off with concrete relatively early (within months) after the accident.

It seems clear, given recent events, that two things are occurring at once:  First, that water from the reactor buildings or the turbine buildings is in communication with ground water and/or water in the tunnel systems; and second, that the tunnel systems have communication with sea water. In fact, water level in at least one of the turbine buildings is also following tidal variations as is water in some of the trenches/tunnels (TEPCO July 11 handout). This makes the completion of the multiple barriers (“cement improved soil,” steel inner barriers, steel outer harbor barrier) a top priority, in addition to further sealing of the tunnels, since TEPCO has continuously attempted to reduce the cooling water injected to the three damaged reactors to as low a volumetric flow rate as possible in order to maintain effective cooling. In other words, the amount of water being injected to the reactors and thus essentially supplying the driving force for contamination of water and one of the driving forces for its movement to various other areas can’t be reduced further; the effluent must be blocked, and the contaminated water either stored or treated.

Illustration showing pipe and power ducts at Fukushima Daiichi Units 3 and 4.  Illustration from Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) (now disbanded.)

Illustration showing pipe and power ducts at Fukushima Daiichi Units 3 and 4 and flow path to sea from previous leakages; new paths expected similar. Illustration from Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (now disbanded.)

TEPCO has stated at a number of times that at some point it believes that it will have no choice but to discharge very low-level “treated” water to the sea; the total amount of water on site in tankage will only increase more rapidly as the sources of leakage to the sea are found and capped. Discharge of the low-level contaminated water to the sea may be the lesser of two evils and a better option—a choice that TEPCO and Japan may have to make sooner rather than later.

Steam Emissions from Unit 3 Reactor Building

Less than a week before the news of the contaminated water leakage broke, TEPCO had already found itself the focus of scrutiny after a contractor investigating debris removal on the top of the Unit 3 reactor building filmed what was referred to at the time as steam (actually, vapor would be the correct term) coming from openings in the structure; the initial discovery occurred on July 18. Since that time, the company has spotted this emission multiple times—most recently as early as the morning of July 24. The Japanese press quickly published and republished pieces about these events.

TEPCO has repeatedly sampled the air around the plant, assuring the Japanese people that no increased emissions of any sort (gaseous or particulate) are concurrent with this discovery. In addition, TEPCO performed radiation monitoring over the top of the building, and while it did find that there was a slight increase in dose rate near the area of the vaporous emissions, the dose rate, although high, was roughly 1/4 that found at some other areas on the same roof level during the survey.

The working assumption after having found no radioactive emissions increase and no zone increase in rad level has been stated by TEPCO as follows: “Given the result and the status of the plant, we assume that the steam was generated as a result of rain having leaked through gaps near the cover and has heated at the head of the primary containment vessel.”

Press on this issue has fallen off given that no outward effect is occurring, and given that the story of the actual contamination discovered in the trenches and seawater is far more significant in terms of impact.

What’s important to understand about both of these events—even given the extremely difficult situation on site (there are still wrecked vehicles and smashed equipment that have never been touched)—is that both of these events tend to violate important rules developed by NISA (now NRA) and TEPCO in the “Road Map to Recovery” of the site. The halting of any further spread of contamination was, and is, a major part of this plan; as readers following the story for any period of time will know, massive effort and many millions of yen have gone into various provisions toward this end, including covering of the No. 1 reactor building with a new structure, the closure of the blowout panel in the No. 2 reactor building, the installation of silt fences at the harbor, installation of active and passive filtration at the harbor, sealing of tunnels and trenches, provision of massive amounts of onsite added tankage, and more. At this stage of the recovery from the accident, both are setbacks—one simply a sort of thing that generates good news video and bad press (the vaporous emissions) but the other a very serious blow to the overall plan. And, it must be said, another serious blow to TEPCO’s image with the Japanese people.

Two lesser events have also made the news in Japan. First, it is being reported by several media outlets that plant site workers whose thyroid gland dose exceeds 100 millisieverts number almost 2000 people; second, that radioactively contaminated materials with a high dose rate have been discovered 15 kilometers away from the plant site—most probably having been blown there after the explosion in either the No. 1 or the No. 3 reactor buildings while the accident’s active phase was in progress. While these events have not made large news outside of Japan, they are becoming well known inside Japan this week.

A Work in Progress

TEPCO was unable to capitalize on a positive announcement it made during this same time frame—on July 20, the spent fuel removal structure for Unit 4’s spent fuel pool was officially declared completed. (An illustration of this structure opens this article.) The internal working parts, which constitute mainly a crane structure and fuel bundle handling equipment, began assembly even before the structure was completed. TEPCO now believes it will begin to remove the fuel from Unit 4’s spent fuel pool in November of this year. While this is probably the easiest task on site involving nuclear fuel in any way, the rapid and in fact ahead-of-original-schedule completion is itself notable, and is proof that at least some of the projects on site are being managed successfully.

Recovery work continues steadily outside the plant site as well. July 20 marks the start of the summer vacation for children in Minami-Soma, a city whose name became known world-wide after the Fukushima Daiichi accident. On that day, a new water attraction was opened for the children to play in, within a park that has been completely decontaminated. Photos of children playing in the new, modern fountain look for all the world as if nothing had ever happened. It’s clearly the prefecture and national government plan that this kind of experience will spread until all of the region has been decontaminated and reoccupied and life returned to normalcy. It’s also clearly obvious that positive news items such as this will continue to be ignored while it still appears to the Japanese that TEPCO and the Japanese government do not have the Fukushima Daiichi site under complete control.

It remains to be seen in the critical upcoming weeks how TEPCO responds to the primary problem of contaminated seawater, and further how the new nuclear regulator responds to this first very serious test after its formation. Indeed, NRA must act aggressively to ensure that further spread of contamination is halted as quickly as possible both to protect the environment and to ensure that the regulator earns the public trust.

For more information:

Click here to see a video from TEPCO showing “ground improvement” on the Fukushima Daiichi site on July 7, 2013.

Click here for a second video on “ground improvement” from July 17.

Click here to see a TEPCO press handout describing and mapping the recent findings of contaminated water on site, including mention of the fluctuation of water levels in trenches and buildings with the tide.

Click here for the most recent TEPCO report on the storage and treatment of accumulated water on the site, including water treatment system diagrams.

Click here for the latest NHK report on leakage of contaminated water to sea.


WillDavisNewBioPicWill Davis is a consultant to, and writer for, the American Nuclear Society; an active ANS member, he is serving on the ANS Communications Committee 2013-2016.  In addition, he is a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, is Secretary of the Board of Directors of PopAtomic Studios, and writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is a former US Navy Reactor Operator, qualified on S8G and S5W plants.  He’s also an avid typewriter collector in his spare time.