US Offers Aid in Dangerous Clean Up of Fukushima's Reactor 4 Fuel Rods
November 11, 2013
Jacob Chamberlain / Common Dreams & John Hofilena / Japan Daily Press
Preparations to begin the potentially catastrophic decommissioning of the crippled Reactor 4 at the Fukushima nuclear power plant will begin this week with a test run. The recommended test run is the first step before Japan embarks on a high-risk operation that has been called 'humankind's most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis' -- moving a "protective fuel cask" out of the No. 4 storage pool with a crane prior to removing thousands of hot fuel rods.
Fukushima Trial Run Begins
Dangerous Reactor 4 Clean-Up
Jacob Chamberlain / Common Dreams
(November 5, 2013) -- Preparations to begin the potentially catastrophic decommissioning of the crippled Reactor 4 at the Fukushima nuclear power plant will begin this week with a test run.
The test, which could push back the beginning stages of fuel rod removal by two weeks, includes moving a "protective fuel cask" into and out of the No. 4 storage pool with a crane -- before attempts are made to move the spent fuel rods, the Japan Times reports.
Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority gave the final go-ahead last week for TEPCO to begin the decommissioning process, the entirety of which watchdogs say could take decades.
The most dangerous step in the process will include the removal of the 1300 "bent, damaged and embrittled" spent fuel rods from the unstable Unit 4 pool. The fuel rod removal, which has never been done before on this scale, could take up to one year, and has been described by anti-nuclear expert and activist Harvey Wasserman as "humankind's most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis."
While the fuel removal at reactor 4 presents possible dangers, there is also urgency to complete the task. Natural disasters such as earthquakes remain a major threat to the stability the damaged building, and should it be damaged further before it is decommissioned, there could be a global catastrophe, many experts have warned.
This week's practice run comes per the request of the Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organization, a government-affiliated nuclear safety agency.
According to Japan Daily, the agency also urged plant operator TEPCO to have the test evaluated by a group of Japanese and overseas experts recommended by the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning, "a Tokyo-based organization founded by Japanese government agencies, nuclear facility manufacturers and electric power companies."
However, pressure has been mounting on the Japanese Government and TEPCO to allow an international task force made up of nuclear experts, who are independent of the nuclear power industry, to monitor and assist throughout the entirety of the highly hazardous decommissioning process.
This coming Thursday, Moveon.org and affiliated organizations are presenting a petition of over 150,000 signatures to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Barack Obama, asking for global intervention at Fukushima. The campaign, organized by Wasserman, argues TEPCO does not have the capability to safely go it alone.
TEPCO president Naomi Hirose agreed last week to accept the help of the United States Department of Energy with the fuel rod removal process.
US to Help TEPCO with Dangerous
Fukushima Fuel Rods Removal
John Hofilena / Japan Daily Press
TOKTO (November 4, 2013) -- removal of the nuclear fuel rods from the cooling pool of the disaster-stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant is touted to be one of the most dangerous processes in the decommissioning of the nuclear facility -- dangerous enough that it could spark a whole new nuclear disaster if done wrong.
It must come as a small relief that Naomi Hirose, president of Fukushima operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), has announced that he has agreed to accept the help of the United States Department of Energy with the fuel rod removal process.
Hirose revealed that he had agreed to accept the offer of help during talks with US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz when they visited Fukushima No. 1 on Friday to inspect preparations to remove fuel rods from the reactor 4 storage pool. TEPCO has had to endure a long string of highly-publicized gaffes -- with power issues and radioactive waste water leaks -- that the Japanese public has questioned the operator's capability to undergo the highly risky process on their own.
Following huge public criticism of the country's reluctance to accept foreign assistance, Japan has recently begun to show more willingness to do so.
"As Japan continues to chart its sovereign path forward on the cleanup at the Fukushima site and works to determine the future of energy economy, the United States stands ready to continue assisting our partners in this daunting yet indispensable task," Moniz said in a statement late Friday.
Hirose also said in an interview that, "We will work together to tackle many challenges toward decommissioning. I have high hopes that we will be able to benefit from US experience and expertise at Fukushima No. 1."
Moniz revealed that a Japan-US commission will meet in Washington this week to strengthen cooperation in civil nuclear research and development, as well as the Fukushima cleanup and decommissioning, including the evaluation of emergency response and regulatory issues.
Moniz also added that he expects atomic power to remain a crucial part of the energy mix around the world as nations try to battle global warming. In a speech Thursday in Tokyo, he said "the success of the cleanup also has global significance. So we all have a direct interest in seeing that the next steps are taken well, efficiently and safely."
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