Tepco feeling heat over fuel removal

Doubtful of utility's aptitude, experts urge help for dangerous operation

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

With Tepco due to begin removing more than 1,300 spent-fuel rod assemblies and nearly 200 fresh ones from the reactor 4 pool at the Fukushima No. 1 plant this month, global pressure is mounting to allow an international task force to monitor and assist the highly hazardous operation.

A former Japanese ambassador to Switzerland, anti-nuclear groups in Japan and abroad, nuclear engineers, doctors and radiologists are warning of the dangers of the operation Tokyo Electric Power Co. plans to carry out and are calling for pressure on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration to be more globally transparent.

“It is urgently needed to set up an international task force to assist Japan by deploying all possible means to reduce the risks of the imminent first unloading of spent fuel from unit 4,” ex-Ambassador to Switzerland Mitsuhei Murata said in a recent letter to U.S. President Barack Obama.

Journalist and activist Harvey Wasserman, writing for Global Research, an independent research and media organization based in Montreal, claims Tepco does not have the scientific, engineering or financial resources to extract the fuel on its own.

The extraction “may be humankind’s most dangerous moment since the Cuban missile crisis. We are petitioning the United Nations and Obama to mobilize the global scientific community to take charge of the nuclear power plant and the job of moving these fuel roads to safety,” he wrote in September.

Separately, 17 internationally prominent physicians, nuclear engineers and scientists, radiation experts, and policymakers have written to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, asking that he appoint experts independent of both Tepco and the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has a mandate to both monitor and promote nuclear energy, to formulate a viable disaster-mitigation plan.

The operation to remove the fuel rods is also heightening fears in the U.S. over food safety, especially on the West Coast. More than 12,000 people have signed an online petition on Change.org to 10 senators, calling on them to conduct an investigation into possible environmental damage to the U.S. Pacific coast.

“This would include a detailed inspection of the (Fukushima No. 1) facility by a team of experts who are independent of the nuclear industry, as well as ongoing monitoring of West Coast and Hawaii water, air and food for radiation,” the petition reads.

At a meeting of largely pro-nuclear Japanese and international scientific experts in Kyoto last month, Abe said the government is open to receiving the most advanced knowledge from abroad to contain the Fukushima woes.

He also told the International Olympic Committee in September that Japan needs international assistance. But in neither case did he specify what kind of advice from abroad he would welcome.

  • Starviking

    So, the experts we have quoted in this article are:

    Harvey Wasserman – MA Arts.


    Mitsuhei Murata – Law Graduate.

    As for the “17 internationally prominent physicians, nuclear engineers and scientists, radiation experts, and policy-makers” who have written to the UN Secretary General we have:

    Another ambassador, a self-appointed “Chief Engineer”, a Consultant with a BSc in Civil Engineering, one long Anti-Nuclear Epidemiologist, a Medical Technician, a chairperson of a virtually unknown Ukrainian charity, a lawyer, and a few doctors long-associated with anti-nuclear organisations.

    It would be notable if the letter had included any heavyweights in Epidemiology or Radiation Protection – especially if they were new converts to the “cause”, but there aren’t – just the same old names.

    So in summary: some people complain about Spent Fuel Pool 4, but lack expertise in the area or have a long-known bias.


  • Steve_I_Am

    Doing a “dry run,” and bringing in outside experts, are probably pretty good ideas, given that TEPCO, which has proven itself to be inept in just about every other respect, is going to have to do it flawlessly 1,500 times in a row after that.

  • Marushka France

    Abe’s ‘openness’ is not so very genuine, I think. Japan struggles to make a choice. Since the ‘Nuclear Village’ in Japan is both government and industry, they must make a real choice – and stop obfuscation.
    July 13, 2012 – “Research and Development on Decommissioning in Fukushima should be an International Project”
    byTakuya Hattori, President, Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, Inc.
    “In the immediate wake of the accident, insufficient information was provided by Japan to other countries and, as a result, many suspected that Japan was concealing something. Thereafter, also, although multiple countries have offered help or made suggestions on handling the accident and toward decommissioning, Japan has not been prepared to properly respond – frankly, has not been organized to receive such input; have not known internally who should be responsible – bringing further criticism that Japan is less than enthusiastic about cooperating internationally and that transparency is lacking.
    “…expected to take 30 to 40 years and
    require new research and development..
    “Support and cooperation have been offered… from countries including the U.S., the U.K., France, Russia and Canada. Holding an international symposium, and publicly inviting proposals on element technologies, Japan has made efforts to understand and respond to such offers and suggestions. Unfortunately, Japan is not yet ready to make use of them effectively
    in an open arena.”

  • how true Bill, notice how he launches an attack on credentials as opposed to responding to the actual concerns about TEPCO’s credibility and capacity to flawlessly remove the fuel rods?

    • Starviking

      Well, when the cornerstone of the piece is the opinion of “experts”, I think it is fair to focus on their qualifications.

      On the question of TEPCO’s ability to “flawlessly” remove the fuel rods, first I don’t think it has to be flawless. TEPCO have been moving an removing fuel rods since they opened their first nuclear plant. Secondly, the idea being promoted by “experts” – like those mentioned in the article – that one mistake and it’s doom for the Northern Hemisphere is silly.

      However, it would have been nice if TEPCO had been allowed to stick to its original schedule of removing the rods next year. By that time it would have been near-certain that any dropped rods would be capable of being cooled by air – due to the extra year’s residual heat loss.

      • Bill Smith

        Of course it will air cool… but how much radiation and for how long? I mean if its not that big of a deal why even bother with these cooling pools, just ship it all to the local landfill

      • Starviking

        The radiation would be an issue, of course, but the point is that rods which are capable of being air-cooled will not burst, go up in flames, and so not release significant amounts of radionuclides into the environment.

      • greenthinker2012

        Speaking of experts…
        Lake Barrett, formerly with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, says he found preparations for the fuel removal to be thorough and has “confidence” the effort will succeed safely.
        Barrett said, “While removal of the fuel is usually a routine procedure in operating a power plant, the damage to the reactor building has made the job more complex. TEPCO and its partners have made extensive preparations and are employing specialized technology designed to meet the particular needs of extracting the fuel from the damaged building and safely moving it to more secure storage. I am genuinely impressed by the thoroughness of the effort and TEPCO’s contingency planning. Beginning this work shifts the focus from site stabilization to real progress. When the work is done, and the fuel is brought to an undamaged storage facility, the site will be safer for workers, for the community, for Japan, and for the world.”
        His favourable remarks came the day after the Nuclear Regulation Authority gave TEPCO approval for the removal and transfer of the fuel. http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/pres

  • Steve Novosel

    “The extraction “may be humankind’s most dangerous moment since the Cuban missile crisis.”

    Does this guy actually believe that nonsense? What does he think could possibly happen?

    Articles like this are indicative of the extremely poor state of basic science education these days.