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

Video Analysts: Beijing Parade a 'Bazaar' of Stolen Technology

Show commemorating victory over Japan in World War II involved long, medium and short range missiles, a range of tanks and 200 fighter aircraft More

Bernie Sanders Surge Reflects US Shift on Socialism

Although most analysts say it is unlikely he will get the Democratic nomination, Sanders' campaign opens up questions and issues that are otherwise marginalized More

Video On IS Frontline, Kurdish Fighters Ready for Offensive

Peshmerga soldiers say although they need more heavy artillery, they are poised to take the fight to the Islamic State extremists on their turf More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outragei
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 04, 2015 11:36 AM
The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outrage

The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Russians Observe 11th Anniversary of Beslan School Attack

This week, Russians have been observing the 11th anniversary of the attack by Islamic militants on a school in Russia's North Caucasus region that killed more than 330 hostages, including 186 children. The three-day siege and massacre that started on September 1, 2004 took place in Beslan, a town in the republic of North Ossetia, and is one of the bloodiest terrorist acts ever in Russia. VOA's Mike Richman reports.
Video

Video Native Americans Debate: Father Serra, Saint or Sinner?

Pope Francis will canonize an 18th century missionary to Spanish California during a papal visit to the United States this month.  But some Native Americans have criticized the elevation to sainthood of the missionary priest, Junipero Serra. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video China Announces Troop Cuts at WWII Parade

Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday announced plans to cut the world’s largest military force by 300,000 troops. The announcement was made during a massive military parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War II. The event was shunned by most Western leaders and for some is raising fresh concerns about China’s military ambitions. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.

VOA Blogs