Japan will dump radioactive wastewater into the Pacific


Eugene Hoshiko/AP

Japan’s government announced a decision to begin dumping more than a million tons of treated but still radioactive wastewater from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean in two years.

The plant was severely damaged in a 2011 magnitude 9.0 quake and tsunami that left about 20,000 people in northeast Japan dead or missing.

Despite Tokyo’s assurances that discharging wastewater will not pose a threat to people or the environment, the decision was roundly criticized by the local fishing community, environmental groups and Japan’s neighbors. Within hours of the announcement, protesters rallied outside government offices in Tokyo and Fukushima…

The damaged Fukushima plant will take at least decades to decommission. A swath of land around the plant remains uninhabitable, thousands of residents remain displaced, and the wastewater issue is another example of the 2011 disaster’s complex, long-term effects.

So, which are we to understand? That every aspect of this dump of radioactive material will work out well for everyone … in the end? Or this is just another group of bureaucrats anxious to return to business as usual. Screw the consequences!

Fukushima: robot finds massive deposits thought to be melted nuclear fuel


Click to enlargeInt’l Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning/Kyodo News

❝ Images captured by an underwater robot on Saturday showed massive deposits believed to be melted nuclear fuel covering the floor of a damaged reactor at Japan’s destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant.

The robot found large amounts of solidified lava-like rocks and lumps in layers as thick as 1m on the bottom inside a main structure called the pedestal that sits underneath the core inside the primary containment vessel of Fukushima’s Unit 3 reactor, said the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co.

❝ On Friday, the robot spotted suspected debris of melted fuel for the first time since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused multiple meltdowns and destroyed the plant. The three-day investigation of Unit 3 ended on Saturday.

Locating and analysing the fuel debris and damage in each of the plant’s three wrecked reactors is crucial for decommissioning the plant. The search for melted fuel in the two other reactors has so far been unsuccessful because of damage and extremely high radiation levels…

When you screw-up a nuclear-fueled power plant the sort of damage you produce is generational in scope.

Japanese electric utility admits to coverup during Fukushima nuclear meltdown


Warning sign on the road to Fukushima

The utility that ran the Fukushima nuclear plant acknowledged Tuesday its delayed disclosure of the meltdowns at three reactors was tantamount to a coverup and apologized for it.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) president Naomi Hirose’s apology followed the revelation last week that an investigation had found Hirose’s predecessor instructed officials during the 2011 disaster to avoid using the word “meltdown.”

I would say it was a coverup,” Hirose told a news conference. “It’s extremely regrettable.”…

And it only took five years and information released in an investigation to prompt a moment of honesty.

TEPCO instead described the reactors’ condition as less serious “core damage” for two months after the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, wrecked the plant, even though utility officials knew and computer simulations suggested meltdowns had occurred.

An investigative report released last Thursday by three company-appointed lawyers said TEPCO’s then-President Masataka Shimizu instructed officials not to use the specific description under alleged pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office, though the investigators found no proof of such pressure.

The report said TEPCO officials, who had suggested possible meltdowns, stopped using the description after March 14, 2011…Shimizu had a company official show Muto his memo and tell him the Prime Minister’s Office has banned the specific words.

Government officials also softened their language on the reactor conditions around the same time, the report said…Former officials at the Prime Minister’s Office have denied the allegation…

Deny, deny, deny. Political hacks, corporate hacks, still rely on the Big Lie to cover their tracks. If you do a crappy job at preserving the safety of ordinary citizens, you lie and deny – unless you can find someone else to blame.

Reporter takes a guided tour of Fukushima


Click to enlargeTomohiro Ohsumi/AFP

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.”

They sent robots in to clean up Fukushima – it was too dangerous for humans. The robots died!

The robots who went into Fukushima’s no-man’s land have not returned after radiation levels in the power plant proved too strong for their circuit boards to handle.

The clean-up continues almost five years to the day after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station experienced three meltdowns after a tsunami crashed into the coastal power plant in 2011. The deathly high levels of radiation means it’s impossible for humans to go into areas of the plant to dispose of or contain the radioactivite materials. And it turns out, robots don’t fare much better either.

TEPCO and Toshiba developed a series of robots that were able to go underwater in the plant’s damaged cooling pools to remove the radioactive nuclear rods.

Five of the custom-built robots have been sent into the plant to work their magic. So far, none of them have returned. As soon as they get close to the reactors, their wiring becomes destroyed by the high levels of radioactivity and they are unable to move.

❝ “It is extremely difficult to access the inside of the nuclear plant,” said Naohiro Masuda, TEPCo’s head of decommissioning. “The biggest obstacle is the radiation.”

Yup. No one at TEPCo figured that out before they spent five years and lots of money on 5 custom robots.

Anyone surprised their safety systems failed during the tsunami?

Scenes from the disaster — Fukushima

Five years since the meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant, progress has been made to rebuild much of the prefecture. Yet within evacuation zones designated by the Japanese government, scars are still obvious. Many evacuees who fled are unwilling to return. Thousands still live in temporary housing outside these zones.

Photographs by Ko Sasaki and Tomohiro Ohsumi…

A house stands in an area damaged by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami

A fishing boat swept inland by the tsunami is still left in Namie.

Click through to see more photos. The fifth anniversary of the Fukushima disaster.

Kyocera begins work on world’s largest floating solar farm


Click to enlarge – one of Kyocera’s smaller projects

The Japanese electronics multinational Kyocera has begun work on what it says will be the world’s biggest floating solar farm.

The power plant is being built on a reservoir in Japan’s Chiba prefecture and is anticipated to supply enough electricity for nearly 5,000 households when it is completed in early 2018.

Space-starved Japan has already seen several floating solar farms built as part of the country’s drive to exploit more renewable energy in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster. The shutdown of nuclear plants has seen Japan increasingly reliant on fossil fuel imports that have hit its emissions-cutting ambitions.

The Yamakura dam power plant will see more than 50,000 solar photovoltaic panels cover a 180,000 m sq area, but compared to other land-based plants it is relatively small. At 13.7MW when finished, it would not make the top 100 of the world’s largest solar photovoltaic farms…

Kyocera has already built three floating solar farms, which are much smaller than the new one…

Context is everything. Space constraints have made Japan a world leader in many space efficiencies. Americans are just discovering tiny house living. It’s a way of life for millions in Japan. The same is true for reuse, repurposing technology. It’s already not unusual to find large battery packs designed for electric cars or plug-in hybrids being reused as backups and storage for home solar panel arrays. They’re already used beyond flexible storage requirements for mobile use – and perfectly fine for such a repurposing.

First nuclear reactor restarted – in Sendai – since Fukushima meltdown


Beginning of the end

A Japanese utility company said Tuesday it restarted a nuclear reactor, the first to do so since the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown in 2011.

“We hereby announce that as of today, Sendai Nuclear Power Unit No.1 has extracted control rods from the reactor and started up at 10:30 a.m.,” Kyushu Electric Power Co. said…”We see this startup as one of the important steps on restart process of the nuclear reactor.”

Japan has been working to reshape its energy sector since the 2011 meltdown of the Fukushima Daicchi nuclear reactor by focusing on energy efficiency, conservation and an increased use of cleaner-burning natural gas to help keep emissions in check…

Japan decommissioned 50 reactors after the 2011 meltdown, forcing it to re-examine its energy mix. Prior to the Fukushima disaster, nuclear had provided about 30 percent of Japan’s electricity, with renewable energy accounting for less than 3 percent, excluding hydropower. The country relied heavily in imports of liquefied natural gas in the wake of the disaster.

Kyushu in its statement said it would “never” allow a repeat of the 2011 disaster.

“We will continue to make sincerely an all-out effort to deal with the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s inspections, and carry out carefully remaining process, putting utmost priority to safety, with a sense of alertness more than ever,” it said.

A magnitude-9 earthquake and resulting tsunami 2011 led to a meltdown at the Fukushima facility, the worst nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986.

Not much of an article – deliberately. I’ll offer more in-depth discussion as the process of restart proceeds.

Japan hasn’t much of a choice at present. They have this capacity in place. The nation has been making do – which means spending a lot more to provide electricity than anyone has been accustomed to. The citizens of Japan are – unfortunately – used to going along with whatever decisions their politicians make. So, they’ve been absorbing the price hikes flowing from a kludged-together system of electricity production since the disaster.

Though a lifetime advocate for nuclear-generated power, I’ve had to change that position in the last year or two. China’s subsidized development of solar-generated electricity, wind-generated electricity [along with parallel development in northern Europe] has qualitatively changed the picture…for the better, I believe. Regardless of all the hollering, trade sanctions, whining from Congress, the result has been legitimate cuts in the cost of establishing alternative power generation both on a large-scale and home-based.

A win for nations and individuals. A win for the environment.

DARPA contest sends robots into mock-up nuclear reactor

On Friday and Saturday, the Darpa Robotics Challenge – the “Robolympics”, unofficially…completes its final competition, with 25 teams of engineers and scientists giving orders to huge machines trundling across a landscape designed to simulate the impassible environment that greeted aid workers after the Fukushima Daiichi reactor in Japan melted down multiple times in 2011.

Engineers tried to help, but no robots could navigate the hazardous terrain and disaster ensued, rendering a huge area around the plant uninhabitable after toxic steam exploded into the skies. The radioactive leftovers are still emitting a million watts of heat.

If a Darpa contestant is able to navigate the terrain successfully, and in a short amount of time (each team has an hour to run the course) it will become the richest robot in town: first prize is $2m, second prize is $1m, and third gets $500,000.

The public event is a cross between the Consumer Electronics Show and an episode of Mythbusters. Inside the Fairplex, the stands were filled on Friday with people cheering for their favorite androids. Outside was a big expo with kids running around playing with (or staring terrified at) all kinds of robots: some dancing, some playing music, some swimming in a giant tank where they can be piloted with a video game controller. One company, Ekso, makes robotic trousers that make it easier to carry a backpack.

The purpose of the main event, however, is deadly serious.

“The idea, inspired by Fukushima, is to come up with a simulation of a disaster that is like [that],” said Dr Gill Pratt, the avuncular, eloquent director of the Tactical Technology Office (TTO) program at Darpa that oversees the project.

Darpa is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the arm of the US Defense Department that is responsible in large part for the creation of the computer network, Arpanet, that became the internet.

“The teams will not have any human help for the robots themselves, and the key element, again, between the human controllers and the robot is a very degraded communication link,” Pratt explained.,,

“Particularly when you need to improvise, the environment you’re going into is a human environment, and a humanoid robot is designed to take on a human environment and we can adapt to it like humans,” Darwin Caldwell said.

“If you’ve got a quadruped robot, or a robot with wheels, it’s not really designed for that environment, so it might be able to adapt. But we know humans can go in there. We know humans can do that. That’s one thing we’re certain of.”

Some DARPA competitions don’t come close to succeeding in the first year of trials. Or more. But, unlike many extremely narrow experimental targets proposed for military trials, DARPA projects often have a broad framework and move sooner rather than later into civilian-focused experimentation, potentially global adoption.

Like autonomous automobiles or the Internet.