‘Cold Shutdown’ refers to global perception of Fukushima – Not crippled plant

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The real battle starts from here

Once again this week the Japanese Government declared the crippled Fukushima nuclear station under ‘cold shutdown‘, a insignificant step in what promises to be a disaster that will span 50 years.  Salthough many uncertainties remain regarding how the next decade will unfold, let alone the next 30 years.

The plant still leaks radiation into the sea. Its makeshift cooling system is vulnerable to earthquakes. And the cleanup work remains dangerous.

“We can’t see the whole picture when it comes to the cost of decommissioning the nuclear reactors. We can’t imagine expenses spanning 30 to 40 years from now,” said a senior official of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the nuclear power plant.

The utility has yet to clearly show how to deal with what a senor official of the Federation of Electric Power Companies has described as “work no one on earth has ever done before,” and how it would finance this work. Such being the case, pessimism about the future prevails within the company.

The Nikkei and others also took issue with the government’s characterisation of the reactor’s status as “cold shutdown”, given that there was no way of directly measuring the temperature of the melted fuel inside the reactors.

“It is like guessing the shape of a foot from the outside of the shoe,” the Nikkei said.

The Mainichi newspaper agreed, saying efforts should be made to ascertain the condition of the melted fuel. ”It’s true that the situation is more stable than at the time of the accident,” the paper said. “But the term ‘cold shutdown’ refers to the suspension of a sound reactor.”

The fact that the government is attempting to apply this term in a severe accident in which three reactors have suffered core meltdowns should be called into question. The government should rather explain in detail the possibility of any additional explosions and whether a recriticality accident has been ruled out.

The treatment of contaminated water, which has been accumulating due to an influx of underground water into reactor buildings, has been another source of concern.  The ongoing nuclear crisis has shown that secondary and even tertiary safety devices could fail simultaneously.

The  chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Gregory Jaczko says said he is interested in the next steps the Japanese authorities will take.

He said cleaning up radioactive material is difficult and may take several decades.

He said everyone in the nuclear power industry is interested in getting more detailed information about the condition of the reactors.

The Mainichi Daily News out of Japan ran an editorial that begged the government to reconsider.

“We urge the utility and the government to find a way to ascertain the precise condition of the fuel.”


While the controversy has dominated news headlines from around the world.  One comment seems to be agreed upon the world over,

It’s not impossible that the declaration is a deliberate lie, but if not, it is optimistic to the point of folly.


While officials scramble to douse PR fires, highly radioactive water continues to leak from the compromised containment buildings, and while radiation levels are supposed to have been dropped for months, no actual figures have been released.

The Nikkei business daily described efforts so far as “first aid treatment.”

“The world has no previous experience of dismantling a nuclear power plant with fuel that has melted this much,” it said.

“What the world is watching is how Japan will act from here to bring the accident to a final settlement.”

The Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese news publication summarized the governments claims as ‘easy on the ears’, but noted that it does not allow optimism.  “It is as if a patient came out of a life-or-death condition, but remains hospitalized.

Molten fuel is still in reactors and its cooling depends on tentatively-built facilities. There is no change to the situation in which the normal cooling systems do not work.

A panel established by the government has repeatedly said no existing technology is capable of recovering fuel which has melted through a reactor pressure vessel and is accumulating at the outer primary container.

Tadahiro Katsuta, an associate professor at Meiji University specializing in nuclear engineering and nuclear policy, warns that the government and TEPCO should not rush toward actual decommissioning work without grasping more accurately the conditions of the melted fuel.

“I feel there is a view within the government to ‘put a lid on stinky things’ (by moving ahead with the process of scrapping)…But much time is needed for preparation, possibly more than 10 years, to get to know where the fuel is located and think about how work can proceed with minimum radiation exposure,” he said.

“It is fine that the facility to clean radioactive water (created by cooling the melted fuel) is moving smoothly. But I must mention that the water treatment process is creating massive amounts of highly radioactive waste, left in places such as filters. It is just moving a problem from one place to another,” he said.

The fact remains there is still a long list of questions the government should respond to, including how to dispose of high-level radioactive waste, what would be the long-term impact of radioactive substances released into the environment, and whether nuclear power generation is truly as cheap an energy source as thought earlier.

Seven black buoys have been found on the northern shores of Washington state in the past two weeks and a local scientist believes they could be the first debris to arrive in the United States from the tsunami that hit northeastern Japan on March 11.

Similar buoys have washed up in the area over the years but never have so many been discovered at once, Curtis Ebbesmeyer, a retired oceanographer, said recently.

Yuuki Watanabe, a senior official of a fisheries cooperative association in the northeastern Japan prefecture of Miyagi, examined a photograph of one of the seven buoys and confirmed it looks like the type commonly used in oyster cultivation in the Miyagi area.

“I wish the buoys would be given back to us if it is confirmed that they belonged to members of our association. But we know it may be difficult given transportation costs,” Watanabe said.

Japan on Friday finally declared a state of cold shutdown at the crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, only to find itself facing a long and thorny road toward the goal of scrapping the stricken reactors and restoring shattered public confidence in the government’s nuclear policies.


“A prolonged and enduring effort will be necessary for the decommissioning, along with work that requires an extremely flexible mind. The government will act responsibly in such medium- to long-term measures,” nuclear disaster minister Goshi Hosono told a press conference.


It took about 11 years to defuel the Three Mile Island Unit 2, which suffered severe damage to the reactor core. In the case of the Fukushima Daiichi plant disaster, a panel of experts set up under Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission said in a recent report the plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. should aim to start taking out the fuel within 10 years after the shutdown.

The task will be more challenging than in the U.S. case because the fuel is believed to have melted through the base of the reactor pressure vessels. Workers are expected to start within two years removing spent nuclear fuel stored in pools inside the Nos. 1 to 4 reactor buildings.

Simulations suggest that nuclear fuel has melted inside the reactor containment vessels, eroding their concrete floors. Although Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the stricken nuclear plant, has indicated that melted fuel has also been cooled down by water, this is nothing but speculation.

According to estimates by a government third party panel, it will cost about 1.151 trillion yen to decommission the No. 1 to 4 reactors. If decontamination costs were added to this amount, the total cost would likely reach several trillion yen. Furthermore, if the costs of decommissioning the Nos. 5 and 6 reactors were included, the financial burden on the utility would become even heavier.

Since the crisis far surpasses a magnitude that Japan can deal with on its own, it will be beneficial to both Japan and the rest of the world to carry out the work as an international project.

Source: SF Gate

Source: Mainichi

Source: NHK News

Source: Mainichi

Source: Business Week

Source: Japan Today

Source: Mainichi

Source: First Post

Source: Mainichi

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