New Problems & Challenges Plague Fukushima

As June wanes we find more delays, more problems and new admissions about the extent of the disaster.

TEPCO introduced a new roadmap plan. In this they declared they would now focus on safety over speed. At the same time they announced that spent fuel removal work for units 1-3 would be delayed again. Currently they are attempting to remove the cover on unit 1 but this process has not actually begun based on visual evidence at the plant. TEPCO has not been forthcoming what is delaying this work again. Work at unit 3 had been underway in early spring to remove parts of the crane that fell into the fuel pool. An oil leak was found as they attempted to remove a portion of the crane. This stopped the removal work as they cleaned the oil out of the pool water and investigated a cause. Around the same time they discovered damage to the metal gate that connects the spent fuel pool to the reactor well. After this discovery, removal work at unit 3 appeared to cease.

Newer reports also showed that the earlier concept of flooding the reactor containments to remove damaged fuel debris is being phased out. This will require research to be focused on ways to remove fuel without doing so under water. Asahi Shimbun criticized the government and TEPCO for ignoring experts urging that they research the challenge in a broader way. Something that has not been done is to drill under the reactor buildings to check for fuel debris that may have burned through the basement of the reactor buildings. After Chernobyl this was done within a few months and with 1980’s technology. Horizontal drilling under the reactor buildings would give a considerable amount of information that could help refine decommissioning plans. At this point the melted fuel at units 1-3 has not been located. Delays in investigation efforts and denial of the potential extent of the damage will only drive up costs and create years of additional delay.

Bags of contaminated soil stored at sites around Japan and in Fukushima prefecture have began to fail. The bags have a limited life span of about 3 years. Failed bags were found at 78 sites. It was not mentioned how they would remediate the damaged bags or what precautions would be used to prevent bags from failing during the transportation process. Contaminated soil is to be moved to two new storage facilities near Fukushima Daiichi.

The government has decided to allow businesses back into the evacuation zone. Businesses could operate in no entry zones if they provide a needed service such as waste removal. They would also allow the growing and distribution of farm produce if the national or local governments permit it.

The town of Naraha south of Fukushima Daiichi is scheduled to reopen in August. A local representative claimed people would not be forced to return and would continue to receive compensation. What he failed to mention was that the national government has already said they would end compensation payments between March 2016 and March 2017. Naraha is also a location where reactor debris was discovered. Concrete pieces and wood from trees at the plant were discovered in a hot spot in Naraha. There has been no publicly announced effort to specifically search for more of this kind of debris in Naraha. Areas that have not been actively decontaminated could still harbor dangerous debris.

In May 16 more children were found to have thyroid cancer. Four of these children were determined to be negative on earlier screenings but then showed with thyroid cancer on the second screening. This is raising more doubts about the government claims that these cancers are not caused by radiation exposure. There were also 9 more cases that are under suspicion of being thyroid cancer. This brings the total thyroid cancers confirmed to 103 and the group of suspected cases to 127. Fukushima Voice has a deeper analysis and details on the screenings.

Even years after the disaster information keeps coming out. A group of shareholders seeking to hold TEPCO accountable for the nuclear disaster uncovered a 2008 document where TEPCO admits the tsunami risk and that something must be done. Somehow after that 2008 report was discussed by TEPCO executives they managed to bury the document and do nothing to prevent what happened in 2011.

In a recent Mainichi interview, new details of the chaotic evacuations during the nuclear disaster were revealed. On March 12 as the situation became worse many of the evacuation screening centers themselves had to flee the disaster as radiation levels rose. Officials raised the contamination level where they would attempt to decontaminate someone from 13,000 CPM to 100,000 CPM. Even at these higher levels they found 102 people who were over 100,000 CPM and required treatment. It was admitted that there were likely many more as not everyone was screened or recorded. NRA’s new standard would be 40,000 CPM that would require decontamination. All parties acknowledged that removing people from the unsafe areas was a larger priority than decontaminating them.

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