R&D center for dismantling Fukushima No. 1 plant opens

Kyodo, JIJI

In a ceremony Monday, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency marked the opening of a research center in Ibaraki Prefecture to promote the decommissioning process for the heavily damaged Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

At the ceremony for the state-funded Collaborative Laboratories for Advanced Decommissioning Science, science minister Hakubun Shimomura described the center’s mission.

“We cannot achieve decommissioning without bringing together the world’s expertise,” he said. “I hope this center will produce research results that will largely contribute to scrapping the Fukushima No. 1 plant,” he added.

The event was attended by about 60 officials from the Fukushima Prefectural Government, the U.S. Embassy and other organizations.

The research center was set up on April 1 as part of the JAEA, which is based in the village of Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture. Its full-fledged research and development facility is expected to be built in fiscal 2016 near Fukushima No. 1, which is operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co.

In the future, the JAEA expects up to around 150 researchers from Japan and abroad to join the institution and plans to carry out personnel training on the decommissioning process.

Decommissioning the Fukushima plant, ruined by a triple meltdown triggered by the massive March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, remains a huge challenge. With all its power gone and its cooling systems unable to function, reactors 1, 2 and 3 suffered core meltdowns that led to hydrogen explosions that gutted the buildings for units 1, 3 and 4.On March 17, Kansai Electric Power Co. said it will decommission reactors Nos. 1 and 2 at its Mihama plant, while Japan Atomic Power Co. said it would decommission the No. 1 reactor at its Tsuruga power station. Both are in Fukui Prefecture.

A day later, Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s board decided to scrap the No. 1 reactor at the Genkai plant in Saga Prefecture, and Chugoku Electric Power Co. decided to decommission the No. 1 reactor at the Shimane plant in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture.

A regulation brought in following the Fukushima disaster forbids nuclear reactors from operating for more than 40 years in principle, but they may be allowed to continue operating for another 20 years if the operators make safety upgrades and the unit passes the regulator’s screening.