Japan struggling to decommission Fukushima nuclear reactors

2017.06.13 16:53:52 | 2017.06.13 16:54:20

A Tokyo Electric Power official explains ongoing clean-up efforts to limit radioactive contamination from the nuclear reactors in front of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant where hydrogen explosions damaged the buildings after the earthquake and tsunami on 11 March 2011. [Photo by Fukushima Joint Coverage Team]이미지 확대

A Tokyo Electric Power official explains ongoing clean-up efforts to limit radioactive contamination from the nuclear reactors in front of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant where hydrogen explosions damaged the buildings after the earthquake and tsunami on 11 March 2011. [Photo by Fukushima Joint Coverage Team]

It appears that much has changed at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan since the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl six years ago. The ongoing restoration work evidently made progress, but decommissioning is still an uphill battle - posing as a lesson for South Korea as it has recently decided to retire the country’s first nuclear reactor and phase out of commercial nuclear power.

All ordinary visitors, including reporters, must wear a protective gear such as two layers of socks, gloves, a helmet, a filter mask covering the mouth and nose, a safety vest and rubber shoes before approaching a point just 80 meters away from the crippled power station. A hazmat suit which had been required just six months ago was no longer recommended as the radiation level was lowered.

The passage route to the first reactor was flanked by gigantic storage tanks that hold contaminated water.

Reactors still showing skeletal steel frames and roof debris remind a 17-meter-high tsunami which flooded the facility on March 11 in 2011 and caused a hydrogen explosion, bringing the plant to a complete standstill.

Molten fuel rods were completely retrieved from the reactor Unit 4, but progress is much slow in Unit 2, where an internal survey is not even started. The six-year clean-up work for the four nuclear reactors was only a fraction of time.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), the operator of the plant, has deployed 7,000 workers including its own staff to the site. Their first priority is to tackle the influx of contaminated groundwater. Workers erected a cutoff wall and pumped out upstream groundwater, but still, about 100 to 150 tons of contaminated water is generated every day, according to Tepco. The amount of the contaminated water in storage tanks reaches nearly 1 million tons. It has not yet been decided how to treat the water.

The operation for complete decommissioning is a long way to go. It will take 30 years to finish the job, including the treatment of contaminated water, said Yuichi Okamura, Tepco communication manager.

The Japanese government is going all out to develop advanced robot and drone technology to accurately grasp the internal situation of the reactors to support decommissioning.

By Hwang Hyung-gyu

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