Five years after nuclear meltdown, no one knows what to do with Fukushima

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http://www.theage.com.au/world/five-years-after-nuclear-meltdown-no-one-knows-what-to-do-with-fukushima-20160211-gmr5sv.html?google_editors_picks=true

Seen from the road below, the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station looks much as it may have right after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that caused a triple meltdown here almost five years ago.

The No. 3 reactor building, which exploded in a hydrogen fireball during the disaster, remains a tangle of broken concrete and twisted metal. A smashed crane sits exactly where it was on March 11, 2011. To the side of the reactor units, a building that once housed boilers stands open to the shore, its rusted, warped tanks exposed.

The scene is a testament to the chaos that was unleashed when the tsunami engulfed these buildings, triggering the world’s worst nuclear disaster since the one in Chernobyl, in Ukraine, in 1986. Almost 16,000 people were killed along Japan’s northeastern coast in the tsunami, and 160,000 more lost their homes and livelihoods.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), the utility company that runs the site and drew fierce criticism for its handling of the disaster, says the situation has improved greatly.

“In the last five years, radiation levels have been reduced substantially, and we can say that the plant is stable now,” said Akira Ono, the Tepco plant superintendent.

Efforts to contain the contamination have progressed, according to Tepco, including the completion on Tuesday of a subterranean ice wall around the plant that, once operational, will literally freeze the ground and stop leakage. Moves to decommission the plant – a process that could take 30 or 40 years, Ono estimated – are underway.

People will be allowed to return to their homes in the nearby town of Naraha next month, and to Tomioka, even closer to the plant, next year. For now, Tomioka and neighbouring Okuma remain ghost towns, lined with convenience stores, fast-food restaurants and gambling parlours that haven’t had a customer in five years. Bicycles lean near front doors, and flower pots sit empty on window sills.

A sign on the road to the plant showed a radiation reading of 3.37 microsieverts per hour, at the upper end of safe. At a viewing spot overlooking the reactor buildings, it shot past 200. Both readings are hundreds of times lower than they were a couple of years ago.

But one huge question remains: What is to be done with all the radioactive material?

There’s the groundwater that is flowing into the reactor buildings, where it becomes contaminated. It has been treated – Tepco says it can remove 62 nuclides from the water, including strontium, which can burrow into bones and irradiate tissue. It cannot filter out tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that can be used to make nuclear bombs but is not considered especially harmful to humans.

The water initially was stored in huge bolted tanks in the aftermath of the disaster, but the tanks have leaked highly contaminated radioactive water into the sea on an alarming number of occasions.

Now Tepco is building more secure welded tanks to hold the water, theoretically for up to 20 years. There are now about 1000 tanks holding 750,000 tons of contaminated water, with space for 100,000 tons more. The company says it hopes to increase capacity to 950,000 tons within a year or two, as well as halve the amount of water that needs to be stored from the current 300 tons per day.

As part of those efforts, Tepco has built a 1500-metre-long “ice wall” around the four reactor buildings to freeze the soil and keep groundwater from getting in and becoming radioactive. Company officials hoped to have the just-completed wall working next month; on Wednesday, though, Japan’s nuclear watchdog blocked the plan, saying the risk of leakage was still too high.

The options for getting rid of the contaminated water include trying to remove the tritium from it before letting it run into the sea; evaporating it, as was done at Three Mile Island, the Pennsylvania plant that melted down in 1979; and injecting it deep into the ground, using technology similar to that used to extract shale gas. A government task force is considering which option to choose.

“These all have different advantages and disadvantages; they have different costs and different social acceptance,” said Seiichi Suzuki, manager of tank construction at the plant.

Then there’s the radioactive soil that has been collected from areas around the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant during clean-up efforts. Nearly 20 million cubic metres of soil — enough to fill 8000 Olympic-size swimming pools — has been packed into large black plastic bags and is being stored, row upon row, in local fields.

More than 700 of the bags, which contain radioactive cesium isotopes, were swept away during floods last year, some ending up in rivers 160 kilometres away. The government has said that 99.8 percent of the soil can be recycled.

Finally, and most problematically, there’s the nuclear fuel from the plant itself.

The fuel that melted down remains in containment vessels in its reactors, and this part of the plant is so dangerous to humans that robots are used to work there. Getting to this fuel and removing it safely is a task that will take decades.

Asked about the decommissioning process, Ono of Tepco said the work was about 10 per cent done.

“The biggest challenge is going to be the removal of the nuclear fuel debris,” he said. “We don’t even know what state the debris is in at the moment.”

Japan does not have a nuclear waste dump, and there is vehement resistance to disposing of contaminated material on land.

As a result, one of the options the government is considering is building a nuclear waste dump under the seabed, about 13 kilometres off the Fukushima coast. It would be connected to the land by a tunnel so it would not contravene international regulations on disposing of nuclear waste into the sea. A government study group is set to report on that proposal by the end of the summer.

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its is as bad as it was on the first day..nothing has changed..nothing will change..they cant touch this stuff..

“one of the options the government is considering is building a nuclear waste dump under the seabed, about 13 kilometres off the Fukushima coast.”

sounds like a recipe for a disaster..

“Nearly 20 million cubic metres of soil — enough to fill 8000 Olympic-size swimming pools — has been packed into large black plastic bags and is being stored, row upon row, in local fields.”

and what about the dirty water? growing daily..

“Tepco is building more secure welded tanks to hold the water, theoretically for up to 20 years. There are now about 1000 tanks holding 750,000 tons of contaminated water, with space for 100,000 tons more. The company says it hopes to increase capacity to 950,000 tons within a year or two, as well as halve the amount of water that needs to be stored from the current 300 tons per day.”

401

~ by seeker401 on February 17, 2016.

4 Responses to “Five years after nuclear meltdown, no one knows what to do with Fukushima”

  1. The fuel rods which remain on top of the wrecked reactor buildings are the biggest concern. The containment they’re in is corroding, and those fuel rods cannot touch each other, or you run the risk of a radiological fire that would burn through the other containment walls, starting a chain reaction that would boil away the coolant & expose the fire to the atmosphere, pumping an unstoppable plume of radioactive fallout into the upper atmosphere which would come down all over the northern hemisphere.
    It is a priority that they find some way to move those rods off of those buildings, and yet the radiation is too great for a crane operator to withstand any more than about 7 minutes operating a crane…after that, they’ve absorbed a lifetime’s worth of radiation, and must be replaced with another operator. And if they drop or break any of these rods, you also have the chance of a radiological fire.
    The cranes they normally use for this operation are computer controlled, but they’re all demolished, and I believe one of them is even laying on top of the rods inside one of the coolant tanks. How are they going to get around that?

  2. Release of Tritium from Fukushima Planned

    http://drsircus.com/world-news/release-of-tritium-from-fukushima-planned/?utm_source=Dr+Sircus+Newsletter&utm_campaign=fa03e638b1-Weekly+Compilation+Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_ea98c09673-fa03e638b1-10710369&mc_cid=fa03e638b1&mc_eid=5c52f30692

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