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

    Russian-speaking Muslim Exiles Fear Possible Russia-Turkey Thaw

    Exiled from Russia as Islamic radicals and extremists, thousands found asylum in Turkey

    US Presidential Election Ends at Conventions for Territorial Citizens

    Citizens of US territories like Guam or Puerto Rico enjoy participation in US political process but are denied right to vote for president

    UN Syria Envoy: 'Devil Is in the Details' of Russian Aleppo Proposal

    UN uncertain about the possible humanitarian impact of Russian proposal to establish escape corridors in Aleppo

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Busi
    X
    July 28, 2016 4:16 AM
    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora