Fukushima boss hailed as hero dies
Justin McCurry, The Guardian
Wednesday 10 July 2013 00.47 EDT
Masao Yoshida – whose actions as manager of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant during its triple meltdown averted an even greater disaster – has died.
Yoshida, 58, took early retirement from the plant’s operator, Tepco, in late 2011 after being diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. He died in a Tokyo hospital on Tuesday, reports said.
Tepco and Yoshida, a heavy smoker, said the cancer was not related to the nuclear accident caused by the March 2011 tsunami that hit Japan.
Yoshida, who had been manager of the plant for just nine months when the tsunami knocked out its regular and emergency power supplies, was reprimanded but later hailed as a hero as it became clear that his actions had saved the plant from a nuclear fission chain reaction – a potentially far more devastating scenario than a fuel meltdown.
Despite his largely calm demeanour at the time, Yoshida would later admit that he feared he and his colleagues would perish inside the plant. “During the first week of the accident I thought several times that we were all going to die,” he told journalists shortly before he retired.
The company’s president, Naomi Hirose, paid tribute to Yoshida’s contribution and his ability to encourage the other engineers and emergency workers – nicknamed the Fukushima 50 – who braved high levels of radiation in the early days of the crisis.
Masao Yoshida, Nuclear Engineer and Chief at Fukushima Plant, Dies at 58
By HIROKO TABUCHI, The New York Times
Published: July 9, 2013
Mr. Yoshida had been chief manager at Fukushima Daiichi for just nine months when a 42-foot tsunami inundated the site on March 11, 2011, knocking out vital cooling systems to the plant’s six reactors. Eventually hydrogen explosions and fuel meltdowns occurred at three reactors, releasing vast amounts of radioactive matter into the environment.
When the tsunami hit, Mr. Yoshida took command from inside a fortified bunker at the plant. In video footage of the command room released by Tokyo Electric last year, Mr. Yoshida can be seen at times pushing his workers to hook up water hoses or procure fuel, at times tearfully apologizing to teams he sent out to check on the stricken reactors.
He later offers to lead a “suicide mission” with other older officials to try pumping water into another reactor, but is dissuaded. And as officials warn that core meltdowns have most likely started, he directs men to leave the reactors but stays put in the bunker. Mr. Yoshida later said that the thought of abandoning the plant never occurred to him.
Japan: Radioactive water likely leaking to Pacific
By MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press
July 10, 2013
Japan’s nuclear regulator says radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima power plant is probably leaking into the Pacific Ocean, a problem long suspected by experts but denied by the plant’s operator.
The watchdog’s findings underscore TEPCO’s delayed response in dealing with a problem that experts have long said existed. On Wednesday, the company continued to raise doubts about whether a leak exists.
TEPCO spokesman Noriyuki Imaizumi said the increase in cesium levels in monitoring well water samples does not necessarily mean contaminated water from the plant is leaking to the ocean. TEPCO was running another test on water samples and suspects earlier spikes might have been caused by cesium-laced dust slipping into the samples, he said. But he said TEPCO is open to the watchdog’s suggestions to take safety steps.
Japanese Nuclear Plant May Have Been Leaking for Two Years
By HIROKO TABUCHI, The New York Times
Published: July 10, 2013
The stricken nuclear power plant at Fukushima has probably been leaking contaminated water into the ocean for two years, ever since an earthquake and tsunami badly damaged the plant, Japan’s chief nuclear regulator said on Wednesday.
Mr. Tanaka said that the evidence was overwhelming.
“We’ve seen for a fact that levels of radioactivity in the seawater remain high, and contamination continues – I don’t think anyone can deny that,” he said Wednesday at a briefing after a meeting of the authority’s top regulators. “We must take action as soon as possible.
The struggle to seal the plant has raised questions about the government’s push to restart Japan’s other nuclear power stations, which were shut down in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. Some critics have said that the work of certifying and reopening other plants will distract from the cleanup at Fukushima. To allay public fears, the government has promised that restarts will be authorized only for reactors that pass rigid new standards that took effect this month.
Four utilities across Japan have applied to restart a total of 10 reactors, applications that must now be assessed by the nuclear regulator with a staff of just 80 people. Tokyo Electric has said that it intends to apply to restart two of the seven reactors at a power plant on the coast of the Sea of Japan. That workload may leave the agency with few resources to devote to monitoring the messy cleanup at Fukushima.
Fukushima Plant Operator Intends to Restart Reactors Elsewhere
By HIROKO TABUCHI, The New York Times
Published: July 2, 2013
The operator of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant said Tuesday that it would ask regulators to allow it to restart two reactors at a separate site in eastern Japan, even as problems with the company’s cleanup in Fukushima continue to multiply.
The Tokyo Electric Power Company, known as Tepco, said it would soon apply to restart two of the seven reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, the world’s biggest nuclear power station by capacity. That plant, about 140 miles northeast of Tokyo, was not affected by the earthquake and tsunami that wreaked havoc at Fukushima Daiichi, but Kashiwazaki-Kariwa does sit atop fault lines and was damaged in a 2007 quake caused by another fault.
The company says it needs to get the reactors back online to stem the losses it has suffered since the reactor meltdowns at Fukushima.
It is unclear if Tepco will face more scrutiny than other utilities; some experts have warned that Tepco is overwhelmed by the difficult cleanup at Fukushima. Recent leaks of contaminated water revealed major flaws in the company’s storage of the tons of radioactive water that is generated daily as groundwater flows into damaged reactor buildings, adding to a string of mishaps.
Fresh trouble on Tuesday underscored the precarious cleanup efforts. A small fire broke out in a waste pile near plant incinerators, the company said. Firefighters extinguished the flames an hour later, and Tepco said there were no injuries and no increase in radiation levels, but the cause of the fire, which damaged an area of about 45 square feet, was under investigation.
The seismic faults running underneath the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa site could be a hurdle in winning local approval. Tepco has not said when it might apply to restart the plant’s other five reactors.Tepco says the faults have not been active for at least 120,000 years, and that it has made the necessary fortifications at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant to withstand quakes.
Tepco also says its finances have been crippled by the compensation it is paying to the victims of the Fukushima disaster, which at one point had displaced more than 100,000 people. The power company was effectively nationalized last year to help pay for the mounting claims.
Tepco’s bottom line has also been damaged by the costs of the cleanup, as well as by expensive imports of fuel for the conventional power stations that now provide most of the power to the Tokyo region.
Steam Detected at Damaged Fukushima Reactor
By HIROKO TABUCHI, The New York Times
Published: July 18, 2013
A damaged reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant suddenly began releasing steam again, but the operator of the plant said Thursday it did not appear to be a result of renewed nuclear reactions – a worst-case situation that could lead to a large new release of radioactive materials.
Tepco said it based its conclusion that there was no new chain reaction at Reactor No. 3 on its failure to find xenon, a byproduct of fission that lingers for only a few hours and would be an indication of new nuclear activity. Tepco also said the temperature remained stable.
Video images seemed to show less steam on Thursday evening, but after sundown it became too dark to accurately check for any vapor, Masayuki Ono, acting general manager of Tepco’s nuclear power and plant siting division, said at a news conference.
The No. 3 reactor’s damaged core, like the cores of two other crippled reactors at the site, is being cooled by water that is pumped into the reactor, filtered and recycled. Among the recent mishaps at the site, the cooling system for the reactor shut down for hours in April. Tepco later said a rat had somehow short-circuited a vital switchboard, possibly by gnawing on cables.
Fukushima Plant Admits Radioactive Water Leaked To Sea
By MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associate Press
07/22/13 12:29 PM ET EDT
Company spokesman Masayuki Ono told a regular news conference that plant officials have come to believe that radioactive water that leaked from the wrecked reactors is likely to have seeped into the underground water system and escaped into sea.
TEPCO had persistently denied contaminated water reached the sea, despite spikes in radiation levels in underground and sea water samples taken at the plant. The utility first acknowledged an abnormal increase in radioactive cesium levels in an observation well near the coast in May and has since monitored water samples.
Ono said that an estimated 1,972 plant workers, or 10 percent of those checked, had thyroid exposure doses exceeding 100 millisieverts – a threshold for increased risk of developing cancer – instead of the 178 based on checks of 522 workers reported to the World Health Organization last year.
Fukushima Problems Escalating, Radioactive Water Going into Pacific
Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism
Monday, July 29, 2013
I find several things to be troubling. First is that the radioactivity is apparently getting into the ocean via groundwater. Have there been any reports on the extent of the groundwater contamination? Even if Tepco could wave a magic wand and stop the leaking now, you’d still have continuing effects from the contaminated groundwater then contaminating the ocean (yes the main effects will be local, such as on local fish, but still…).
Second is that the concentration of radioactivity in the trench water has not fallen much in two years despite the leakage. Shouldn’t the impact of the leak be to reduce the level of radioactivity in the trench water? If this was an osmotic type-process, you’d expect to see the radioactivity of water in the trench fall as the radioactivity of the water on the other side rose. And if this is a straight leak (radioactive water goes into clean water, no flowback), wouldn’t you see pressure and/or water levels in the trench falling (as in why would it take these guys so long to figure this out?)
Third is that Tepco “hopes” to fix the problem by (per the Japan Times) by “building a wall out of liquid glass between the reactors and the sea” to isolate the radioactive water and then removing it. “Hopes” is one of those formulations in Japanese that often refers to aspirations rather than plans. Does anyone know if a process like this has ever been implemented successfully?
The second problem came to light last week, but appears to have gone largely unnoticed in the West. Tepco has been using water to cool the No. 1 reactor. It’s running out of storage space for the contaminated water. It promises to clean it up some before discharging it into the ocean.
Fukushima clean-up turns toxic for Japan’s Tepco
By Antoni Slodkowski and Mari Saito, Reuters
Tue Jul 30, 2013 5:12pm EDT
The inability of the utility, known as Tepco, to get to grips with the situation raises questions over whether it can successfully decommission the Fukushima Daiichi plant, say industry experts and analysts.
“They let people know about the good things and hide the bad things. This culture of cover up hasn’t changed since the disaster,” said Atsushi Kasai, a former researcher at the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute.
“They had said it wouldn’t reach the ocean, that they didn’t have the data to show that it was going into the ocean,” said Masashi Goto, a former nuclear engineer for Toshiba Corp who has worked at plants run by Tepco and other utilities.
A worker on the site spotted steam rising from the No. 3 reactor building, but Tepco has only been able to speculate on its cause. In March, a rat shorted a temporary switchboard and cut power for 29 hours that was used to cool spent uranium fuel rods in pools.
Workers have built more than 1,000 tanks to store the mixed water, which accumulates at the rate of an Olympic swimming pool each week.
With more than 85 percent of the 380,000 metric tons of storage capacity filled, Tepco has said it could run out of space.
The tanks are built from parts of disassembled old containers brought from defunct factories and put together with new parts, workers from the plant told Reuters. They say steel bolts in the tanks will corrode in a few years.
Tepco says it does not know how long the tanks will hold. It reckons it would need to more than double the current capacity over the next three years to contain all the water. It has no plan for after that.
Japan Admits Radioactive Water At Fukushima Plant Is An ‘Emergency’
By: DSWright, Firedog Lake
Monday August 5, 2013 9:28 am
Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority has admitted, despite earlier obfuscations, that it can no longer contain radioactive waste from the troubled Fukushima nuclear power plant. Radioactive water is seeping into the ocean and providers and regulators can only come up with temporary solutions to the contamination problem.
This is yet another mark against Tepco’s and the Japanese government’s secretive practices. The Japanese government’s and Tepco’s refusal to brief their partners, notably the United States, during the Fukushima nuclear crisis contributed to the failure of the plant, and since then the government has played misdirection games with journalists and concerned citizens seeking more information.
So now that the contaminated water has breached the barrier will Tepco finally come clean on the situation in Fukushima? Or should the world go back to taking Tepco’s word that everything is being handled without incident? What could possibly go wrong?
Exclusive: Japan nuclear body says radioactive water at Fukushima an ’emergency’
By Antoni Slodkowski and Mari Saito, Reuters
Mon Aug 5, 2013 1:38pm EDT
This contaminated groundwater has breached an underground barrier, is rising toward the surface and is exceeding legal limits of radioactive discharge, Shinji Kinjo, head of a Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) task force, told Reuters.
“If you build a wall, of course the water is going to accumulate there. And there is no other way for the water to go but up or sideways and eventually lead to the ocean,” said Masashi Goto, a retired Toshiba Corp nuclear engineer who worked on several Tepco plants. “So now, the question is how long do we have?”
The admission on the long-term tritium leaks, as well as renewed criticism from the regulator, show the precarious state of the $11 billion cleanup and Tepco’s challenge to fix a fundamental problem: How to prevent water, tainted with radioactive elements like cesium, from flowing into the ocean.