News / Asia

TEPCO Seeks to Reassure Public Over Nuclear Fuel Removal at Fukushima

Members of the media and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) employees wearing protective suits and masks walk down the steps of a fuel handling machine on the spent fuel pool inside the No.4 reactor building at the tsunami-crippled TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi
Members of the media and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) employees wearing protective suits and masks walk down the steps of a fuel handling machine on the spent fuel pool inside the No.4 reactor building at the tsunami-crippled TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi
Daniel Schearf
The company struggling to clean up Japan's crippled nuclear power plant has invited foreign experts and journalists to the site in a bid to reassure the world it has the situation under control. However, as Tokyo Electric Power Company prepares for the delicate task of removing spent fuel rods, it continues to face questions about its competence. 
 
Workers at Japan's quake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station this month are expected to begin removing 1,500 spent fuel assemblies, to be placed in safe storage.  Spent nuclear fuel is extremely hot and very radioactive. During the removal process, if the assemblies are damaged or the rods overheat, large amounts of radioactive material could be released into the air.
 
TEPCO says that despite the continuing struggles to stabilize the situation at the troubled plant, it can safely manage the dangerous transfer. To that end, the company released a video to explain the process and reassure the public, saying they have safely removed spent fuel more than 1,200 times.
 
“The machinery used for the extraction has also been modified to meet this unique challenge. Failsafe wiring and redundant braking systems are used, along with censors to prevent weight overloads and excess stresses. And all the removal equipment has been made strong enough to withstand even the unlikely event of another earthquake as strong as the March 2011 quake,” a company spokesman said in the video.
 
Hydrogen explosions during the Fukushima disaster, caused by overheated fuel rods, blew roofs and walls off reactor buildings and sent debris into cooling tanks.  Most large pieces have been removed.
 
The fuel assemblies are in reactor number four, one of six reactors at the damaged plant, which is located 250 kilometers northeast of Tokyo.
 
Reactor four is the biggest immediate concern because it has the most spent fuel; it will take more than a year to store the fuel away safely.
 
As part of a public relations outreach to build public confidence, this week the company took groups of journalists on a tour of the damaged plant, including a rare look at reactor four.
 
Chico Harlan, the Washington Post's East Asia Bureau Chief, was at the plant Thursday along with about 18 other foreign journalists. 
 
“The question I think for a lot of the media was whether to take TEPCO at its word or whether to look at some of the other comments that are easy to find elsewhere, including from Japan's regulators, that there are some pretty serious dangers here,” said Harlan.
 
TEPCO has been heavily criticized for the plant's failure to withstand the quake and its slow and clumsy release of information to the public.
 
The company lost much of its credibility when, after months of denials, it admitted hundreds of tons of contaminated water is leaking from the plant into the ocean.
 
In August, Japan's government announced it would take a more direct role in the cleanup. Plans are in place to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to stop the leaks.
 
Tokyo is also consulting with international experts on how to deal with the ongoing problem. Scientists from the International Atomic Energy Agency were invited to collect seawater samples from areas around the plant this week to analyze for radioactivity. 
 
IAEA Ecologist David Osborn said they will have a more robust mission to Fukushima later this month, but for now it is up to Tokyo to decide their degree of assistance.
 
"If the government of Japan feels it is appropriate for independent authorities, whether it's the IAEA or other countries, other laboratories to come, that will be their decision. But this is something we will most likely be discussing with them," said Osborn.
 
Another growing problem is what to do with the growing stock of radioactive water used to cool the plant's nuclear rods. More than 1,000 storage tanks are filling up fast and efforts to decontaminate the water are behind schedule.
 
Reactors 1, 2 and 3, which suffered meltdowns, pose the most difficult problem and will take decades to solve.
 
Their fuel overheated, melted together, and fell to the bottom of the cooling tanks.  The resulting radiation makes it too dangerous for workers to remove them; technology to safely complete the job does not yet exist.

You May Like

Sydney Hostage-taker Failed to Manipulate Social Media

Gunman forced captives to use personal Facebook, YouTube accounts to issue his demands; online community helped flag messages, urged others not to share them More

UN Seeks $8.4 Billion to Help War-Hit Syrians

Effort aimed at helping Syrians displaced within their own country and those who've fled to neighboring ones More

Who Are the Pakistani Taliban?

It's an umbrella group of militant organizations whose objective is enforcement of Sharia in Pakistan 'whether through peace or war' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?i
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
December 17, 2014 11:54 AM
The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US-China Year in Review: Hong Kong to Climate Change

The United States is pushing for a code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it works to improve commercial ties with Beijing. VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a year of U.S. policy toward China from Hong Kong to climate change.
Video

Video Japanese Leader’s Election Win Raises Potential for Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in parliament Sunday, even though the country has slipped into recession under his conservative policies. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul, that the prime minister’s victory will empower him to continue economic reforms but also pursue a nationalist agenda that will likely increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
Video

Video Nuba Mountain Families Hide in Caves to Escape Aerial Bombings

Despite ongoing peace talks between Sudan's government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, daily aerial attacks continue in South Kordofan province’s Nuba Mountains. Adam Bailes was there and reports for VOA that government forces are targeting civilian areas, rather than military positions, with their daily bombardments.

All About America

AppleAndroid