News / Asia

Under Fire, TEPCO Prepares for Critical Phase of Fukushima Cleanup

Japan Braces as TEPCO Prepares for Critical Phase of Fukushima Clean-Upi
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October 15, 2013 6:09 PM
Workers at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan are about to embark on one of the most critical aspects of the clean-up: removing the fuel rods from one of the worst-hit reactors. Critics say that the plant’s owners, TEPCO, should not be trusted to carry out the operation - and warn of the consequences of an accident could be dire. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from Tokyo.

Japan Braces as TEPCO Prepares for Critical Phase of Fukushima Clean-Up

Henry Ridgwell
Workers at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan are about to embark on one of the most critical aspects of the clean-up: removing the fuel rods from one of the worst-hit reactors. Critics say the plant’s owners, TEPCO, should not be trusted to carry out the operation and warn the consequences of any accident would be unprecedented.

Over 1500 fuel rods sit in a damaged storage pool 30 meters above the ground inside the shell of the reactor 4 building at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Safely removing them is the next big challenge for the plant’s owner, TEPCO.

General Manager Masayuki Ono said the operation has been carefully planned.

He explained that because the entire reactor 4 building was destroyed by a hydrogen explosion, TEPCO had to reinforce the structure. This happened during the first year and that new building is now strong enough to stand another earthquake, he added.

That hydrogen explosion - one of the iconic images of the Fukushima accident - left the inside of the pool littered with debris.

Debris, fuel rod removal

TEPCO’s first task is to remove the debris. And then, one by one, the fuel rods will be removed manually using a crane suspended above the crippled reactor building.

Ono explained that a fuel extraction cover was built over Unit 4 and installed at the fuel handling facility. This structure does not put any weight on the Reactor 4 building, and can be used to remove the fuel without adding any additional weight.

The fuel rods must be kept submerged and must not touch each other or break. Nuclear experts warn any mishaps could cause an explosion many times worse than in March 2011.

Mitsuhei Murata, Japan’s former ambassador to Switzerland and an anti-nuclear campaigner, said a series of incidents over the past 30 months - including radioactive water leaks - have called into question TEPCO’s ability to carry out this critical operation.

“The Unit 4 contains 10 times more Cesium-137 than Chernobyl. So in case the worst occurs, a total withdrawal [from the site] will be imposed, which means this can be considered as the beginning of the ultimate catastrophe of the world and the planet,” said Murata.

International help

Murata said the Fukushima crisis requires the world’s best scientific minds. “The two-and-a-half years of struggling by the state and by TEPCO have proven that nuclear accidents cannot be coped with by electric companies or by a single state. That’s why Japan should ask for international cooperation.”

Hironori Nakanishi, Director-General for Energy Policy at the government's Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, said Japan is engaging foreign expertise.

“The sole responsibility in managing the situation safely is still on TEPCO corporation. But still we are in the same boat and we have to support their activity," said Nakanishi. "So in order to achieve that goal we asked specialists from all over the world, which consists of six people, from the United States, the UK, France, Russia and Ukraine.”

Inspectors from Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority have approved TEPCO’s planned operation to remove the fuel from Reactor 4. The process is scheduled to begin in November and will take up to 18 months.

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by: Godwin from: Nigeria
October 21, 2013 8:41 AM
The real challenge of Fukushima leak has not been addressed. Fukushima leaks not because it had to contend with an earthquake and tsunami, it leaks because it wants the world to be awake and prepare for a colossal radioactive radiation that will be about to confront it in the wake of a leak in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty which the likes of Iran entering the race will produce. China, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Turkey, Libya, Egypt, and many more countries want nuclear program for one purpose or another, and some of these countries cannot ensure its safety not to end up in the hands of terrorists. So the challenge is not the minor problem it presently poses, but for the scientists - chemical, biological, neuritic etc. - to find ways of fighting a massive and global leak of this dangerous fumes on humans.

Giving prizes to scientists for hypothesis proffered as theories is not helping humanity. Trying to disprove the existence of God when there is bedeviling, nagging question of safety from nuclear outburst, is in the least counterproductive, diversionary, evil and devilish. Let humanity find ways of sustaining, maintaining and enhancing life rather than go for those abstracts of looking for ways of taking away man's peace of mind and relationships by trying to say there is no God. For as long as man continues in that direction, the more stupid man's existence and quest for knowledge becomes, just as it has shown in creating trouble with fables to attack peoples' peace of mind and religion instead of concentrating on finding solution to man's problems - like diseases and man-made disasters of NUCLEAR fume and toxicity. In my opinion, Nobel organization should stop giving out further prizes yearly until there is a breakthrough to this solution of nuclear fumes threat. Any other prize is just a way to keep going in the face of nothing.


by: bj from: CA
October 20, 2013 9:29 PM
I think we need to give our savior Obama a couple more Peace prizes just in case this operation goes tits up... at least then we know we have looked after the important issues


by: luc de waen from: spain
October 19, 2013 2:21 AM
it is a good thing they never tell a lie, and really know what they are doing.....


by: Hiroshi Suzuki from: Tokyo
October 15, 2013 1:43 PM
Fukushima radiation worse than feared – experts 14 October 2013 Voice of Russia
The radioactive water leaks into the ocean have never stopped, because the plant molten corium is continuously cooled. A state of emergency should now be declared throughout the world community. Japan needs international control, Tokyo can’t manage it on its own. As of today, the radiation levels around the plant are so high that staying there for four hours would be lethal for a person. Neither Japan, nor the International Atomic Energy Agency is capable of controlling the situation. Background radiation is 400 times the normal levels in towns just 10 kilometers away from the crippled nuclear plant.

In Response

by: GW from: USA
October 16, 2013 3:41 PM
I agree in regards to the corium, I was under the impression that we are dealing with at least two coriums not just one, am I not correct on that? Also this corium compared to the Chernobyl plant is just sitting in bare ground, who knows if h2o is even getting down into the corium in order to cool if down properly. What I think is happening from reading all of these news reports is that the molten corium is lose in the soil and coming back up through the ocean creating a "misting" of the ocean itself, I think that this is actually heat from one of the coriums.... god help us all!


by: Perry from: Washington
October 15, 2013 12:17 PM
Maybe they should practice more button pushing and pipe disconnection first.

In Response

by: PC from: Australia
November 05, 2013 7:29 PM
I think that you are all fatalists, Nuclear power is the only way to go as far as no pollution, extremely efficient & a source of clean power.
The reason that we have had all of these nuclear accidents is not due to the reactor processes but due to human incompetence. The problem is/and has been operators not knowing how to correctly operate the equipment and by passing safety requirements ie Chernobyl is a prime example, they shut down the cooling system accidentally when the standby cooling system was out of service. 3 Mile Island again human error. Fukushima again an engineering design problem, all in all HUMAN ERRORS.

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