❝ A 50-foot wall of water spawned by the quake exploded over Daiichi’s seawall, swamping backup diesel generators. Four of six nuclear reactors on site experienced a total blackout. Three of them melted down, spewing enormous amounts of radiation into the air and sea in what became the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
The Japanese government never considered abandoning Fukushima, as the Soviet Union did with Chernobyl. It made the unprecedented decision to clean up the contaminated areas — in the process, generating a projected 22 million cubic meters of low-level radioactive waste — and return some 80,000 nuclear refugees to their homes.
This past September, the first of 11 towns in Fukushima’s mandatory evacuation zone reopened after extensive decontamination, but fewer than 2 percent of evacuees returned that month. More will follow, but surveys indicate that the majority don’t want to go back.
❝ While the Japanese government rebuilds Fukushima prefecture, the Tokyo Electric Power Company is slowly dismantling the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, a process that’s expected to cost at least $15 billion. On a recent tour of the site, several other journalists and I were taken to a building where TEPCO had a special viewing room outfitted with thick, radiation-proof portholes. Carved from a 115-foot-high coastal bluff in the late 1960s, the Fukushima Daiichi complex has two main terraces separated by a steep slope. From my vantage point seven stories above the upper terrace, I could see the entire 860-acre site, a bustling city of 7,000 workers garbed in white Tyvek suits…
“At Fukushima Daiichi, there’s no textbook,” said the chief decommissioning officer, Naohiro Masuda, when I spoke to him at TEPCO’s headquarters. “There are three reactors, and each has a different manner in which the fuel melted. So we need to think of three different methods to solve this problem.” In other words, Fukushima Daiichi has three separate decommissioning projects, not just one…
❝ Masuda estimates that decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi site — removing all nuclear and radiological hazards — will take three to four decades, although he acknowledged that the technologies required to scoop melted fuel out of the damaged reactors don’t even exist yet. “Engineers are studying the problem,” he says, “but we don’t think that there’s no way to remove the fuel. There’s huge risk involved. If you make one small mistake, it might cause a huge problem for the local people, or even worldwide.”
Reassuring, eh? RTFA for all the details, what’s being tried, what might work, what TEPCO hopes will work.
As for Steve Featherstone, I doubt he’ll want to visit many more radioactive sites. Radiation effects are cumulative. You don’t have them disappear after 17 washings or anything like that. “In two hours on-site, most of it riding on a bus, [he] received a radiation dose equivalent to at least four chest X-rays.”