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Japan PM Abe demands end to Fukushima leaks
by Staff Writers
Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, Japan (AFP) Sept 19, 2013

Status of Fukushima nuclear plant
Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, Japan (AFP) Sept 19, 2013 - Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant Thursday, less than two weeks after telling the world the situation there was "under control".

Experts agree that it is likely to take around four decades completely to clean up the site.

Here are some key facts about the still-unresolved situation more than two-and-a-half years after the tsunami-sparked disaster.

State of the reactors

-- Reactors 1, 2 and 3 went into meltdown after their cooling systems were knocked out. The temperature of the cores and spent fuel pools at all units is now stable and water is being used to keep them cool.

-- Reactor 1: Workers have constructed an outer cover on the broken building to contain radioactive material. The original building was ruptured in a hydrogen explosion.

-- Reactor 2: Hindered by high levels of radiation, workers have used endoscopes to inspect the inside of the reactor and robots to examine damage to the housing and radiation levels.

-- Reactor 3: Workers are still removing highly radioactive rubble from the building, which was damaged by a hydrogen explosion. They plan to construct a crane and an outer cover, in preparation for removing used fuel rods from the pool.

-- Reactor 4 has an empty core but around 1,500 spent fuel rods are in its storage pool. The outer building was damaged by fires and an explosion. Work to remove the fuel rods will start in November.

Contaminated cooling water

Much of the work done to stabilise the plant has been temporary and there is no permanent solution for the water used to cool overheating reactors.

-- Some 400,000 cubic metres of toxic water is being stored at the site, including that filling the basements of the reactor and turbine buildings. That also includes around 11,000 cubic metres of highly contaminated water in a system of trenches leading from the buildings.

-- A further 400 cubic metres of this water is generated every day in the cooling process.

-- The water is mostly stored in about 1,000 tanks at the site. There are four different kinds of tanks. One type -- the cylindrical flange -- has leaked.

-- Many experts say that at some point this water will have to be released into the sea after being decontaminated. They say it will pose negligible risk to marine life or people. However, local fishermen and neighbouring countries are fiercly opposed.


-- Water that originally fell as rain flows from the west under the plant at a rate of around 400 cubic metres per day, according to Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority in a report to the International Atomic Energy Agency this month. Some 300 cubic metres of groundwater seeps into the ocean every day, according to plant operator TEPCO. This is a completely natural process.

-- Water used to cool the reactors has seeped into the soil and mixes with this water. This means 400 cubic metres of natural groundwater becomes mildly polluted on its way under the plant and out into the sea. Experts agree this water will cause no ill effects in the Pacific Ocean.

What's next?

-- The next major step towards decommissioning is to start removing fuel rods from the spent fuel pools. This is expected to begin at Reactor 4 in November and Reactor 3 in 2015 at the earliest.

-- The government has agreed to fund a plan to freeze the ground underneath the reactors to divert groundwater. This is part of a nearly $500 million plan that will take two years.

Japan's prime minister told Fukushima's operator to fix radioactive water leaks as he toured the crippled nuclear plant Thursday, less than two weeks after assuring the world the situation was under control.

Shinzo Abe also said he stood by assertions he made at a meeting of Olympic chiefs that the effect of contaminated water was contained.

Those reassurances, given at a meeting of the International Olympic Committee in Buenos Aires, were seen as key to Tokyo's successful bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games.

Thursday's visit came as it emerged that just months after the March 2011 disaster, authorities allowed operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) to shelve costly plans to deal with groundwater over fears it would push the massive utility into bankruptcy.

Hundreds of tonnes of groundwater are becoming contaminated daily as they mix with highly polluted water used to cool the broken reactors. The water then flows out to sea.

Abe wore a full face mask and an orange helmet for the tour, along with a white Tyvek protective suit that had the words "Prime Minister Shinzo Abe" emblazoned on the back in black. He was escorted around the site by TEPCO executives, including president Naomi Hirose.

The visit is part of a campaign aimed at reassuring the world about the state of the plant, more than two-and-a-half years after it was battered by a huge tsunami.

Speaking to Olympic chiefs in Buenos Aires just ahead of a decision to award the Games to Tokyo, Abe said of the plant: "Let me assure you, the situation is under control."

But some critics and experts say Abe's gloss on the disaster is bordering on the dishonest -- a senior TEPCO executive flatly contradicted the PM earlier this month.

"I think the current situation is that it is not under control," he told opposition lawmakers.

Counter rumours

TEPCO has poured thousands of tonnes of water onto the Fukushima reactors to tame meltdowns sparked by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The utility says they are now stable but need more water every day to keep them cool and to prevent them running out of control again.

Much of that now-contaminated water is being stored in temporary tanks at the plant, and TEPCO has so far revealed no clear plan for its disposal.

The problem has been worsened by leaks from some of those tanks that are believed to have seeped into groundwater or begun to make their way out to sea.

But Abe was bullish Thursday, pledging to "work hard to counter rumours questioning the safety of the Fukushima plant".

"One of the main purposes of this visit was to see it for myself, after I made those remarks on how the contaminated water has been handled," he told reporters.

"I am convinced the impact of waste water is completely blocked within 0.3 square kilometres inside the bay, as I said in Buenos Aires," he said.

He said he had demanded TEPCO allocate more cash to ensure it had the means to carry out urgently-needed work, and told Hirose that Reactors 5 and 6, which were undamaged by the tsunami, should be decommissioned.

He also said TEPCO had "to resolve the leaky water problem by setting a timeline".

TEPCO has come under fresh pressure after the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which governed the nation when the crisis occurred, admitted having acceded to the utility's request to shelve plans for a costly underground barrier to block subterranean water.

Sumio Mabuchi, a DPJ lawmaker who was then in charge of the disaster management, told a party committee on Wednesday that the government shared concerns that the construction would plunge the utility deeper into debt and could force it into bankruptcy.

The revelations will add to the impression that TEPCO is more concerned with its bottom line than with fixing the mess at its leaking plant.


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Japan to boost surveys off Fukushima: report
Tokyo (AFP) Sept 14, 2013
Japan's nuclear authority plans to conduct radiation contamination surveys at 600,000 points on the seabed off the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, up from 200 places so far, a report said Saturday. The Nuclear Regulation Authority is to survey the spots in a 1,000 square-kilometre (about 385 square-mile) area stretching 50 kilometres north-south and 20 kilometres east-west off Fukushima, t ... read more

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