Nuclear Fuel Removal Continues at Fukushima

Tuesday marked the 2nd day of nuclear fuel removal from a damaged reactor building at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The storage pool at the Number 4 reactor building holds 1,533 units of nuclear fuel. 1,331 of them are highly radioactive spent fuel and the rest are unused.

It took workers about 3-and-a-half hours to transfer 4 units of unused fuel into a special fuel transport container placed into the pool.

Tokyo Electric Power Company officials say the units are being hoisted slowly from their racks to avoid small bits of debris.

It says underwater cameras monitor the process when the fuel units are placed in the container.

Fukushima Nuclear Plant – Leaky Tank Disassembled Once

Three storage tanks, including the one that has leaked water contaminated with radioactive substances, had been disassembled before being moved to the current area at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, TEPCO said Saturday.

TEPCO said the three tanks were disassembled due to land subsidence in the area where they were initially installed within the premises of the plant, heavily damaged in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The tanks underwent checks for water leaks before they were transferred to the current area, and it is unclear whether there is a causal connection between the tainted water leaks and the reuse of the tank in question, TEPCO said.

No water leaks have been detected for the other two tanks, but TEPCO will start transferring contaminated water in them to other tanks on Sunday, it said.   In June 2011, TEPCO started installing tanks of the same type as the leaky one at the plant.

IAEA Inspector Backs Pumping Fukushima Groundwater into Ocean

A possible solution to the increasing amount of contaminated water inside the crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant could be to pump groundwater into the sea before it gets into the reactor buildings, as planned by the plant operator, the head of international inspectors has said.

“It will be very nice if they really get to bypass the main building through these systems — through this direct pumping of the water to the sea or whatever it is. Because it is clean water,” Juan Carlos Lentijo, head of a 13-member team of the International Atomic Energy Agency that inspected the plant last month, told Kyodo News in a recent interview.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. has created a system to direct part of the groundwater into the sea before it flows and seeps into the reactor buildings and mixes with highly radioactive water accumulating inside, increasing the amount by 400 tons a day, but has yet to win approval from local fishermen to discharge the water.

Nuclear Regulation Authority Drafts New Safety Rules

The Nuclear Regulation Authority presented a draft outline Monday of new safety measures to prevent or minimize the consequences of severe atomic plant crises.

Among other features, the NRA said utilities will be required to build a special safety facility housing a secondary control room for reactor operations to protect reactors against natural disasters and acts of terrorism, such as the intentional crashing of an aircraft into a nuclear plant.

The new safety standards are expected to come into force in July, replacing the current ones, which the triple-meltdown disaster that erupted in March 2011 at the Fukushima No. 1 plant proved were insufficient.

Read the rest of the story: NRA drafts tightened nuke plant safety rules.

Abe Visits Fukushima Nuclear Plant

The clean-up at Fukushima after its tsunami-sparked nuclear meltdowns is unlike anything humanity has ever tried, Japan’s prime minister said Saturday during a tour of the plant.

“The massive work toward decommissioning is an unprecedented challenge in human history,” the newly-elected Shinzo Abe said. “Success in the decommissioning will lead to the reconstruction of Fukushima and Japan.”

Dressed in a protective suit and wearing a face mask, Abe was taken by bus to see two of the damaged reactors.

Thanking workers for their efforts at this time of year, when many people are celebrating New Year at home with their families, he said: “Decommissioning work is hard work, but it is progressing. We owe it all to you. We, the government, will give full support.”

Read the rest of the story: Abe visits Fukushima plant; pledges full support for clean-up effort.

Fault Line Under Japan Nuke Plant May Be Active According to Scienctists

A team of Japanese geologists says a seismic fault running underneath a nuclear plant in western Japan is likely to be active, which could force the scrapping of one of its two reactors.

The five-member panel commissioned by the Nuclear Regulation Authority announced Monday that the structure underneath the Tsuruga plant showed signs of seismic movement around 100,000 years ago, recent enough to still be active.

Read the rest of the story: Scientists: Fault Under Japan Nuke May Be Active.

Illegal Hiring Practices Uncovered at Fukushima Nuclear Plant

In a survey conducted by Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), it has been discovered that nearly half of the subcontract workers at Fukushima No 1 Nuclear Power Plant have been hired illegally. They received work assignments from companies that are different from those that hired them.

The Employment Security Act clearly states that “deceptive work contracts” are illegal. The Labor Standards Act also requires employers to state working conditions clearly in the contracts. However, the results of the survey show that the subcontract workers did not receive any written documents from those who hired them. 3,974 people working for companies that were hired by 27 prime contractors from Sept. 20 to Oct. 18 were the target of the poll and 80.2% of them responded. Of the 2.423 workers who were asked whether they received work assignments from the same companies who hired them, 47.9% or 1,160 of them said no.

158 workers said that they were told by the original company that hired them to “work on the spot as instructed by other companies.” while 125 were explicitly told to write the name of a different company in documents submitted to contractors or TEPCO. What is more disturbing is that 36% of all respondents did not receive documents that state the working conditions they will be working in, including nature of the work and wages information. This fact is critical for people working in highly dangerous areas like nuclear power plants. As to what punishment these violations will receive, there is no word yet. Masayuki Ono, a TEPCO official just said that clearly, there are working conditions that need to be improved.

Hopes of Home Fade Among Those Displaced in Japan

The mayor of Okuma, a town near the Fukushima Daiichi plant that was hastily evacuated when a huge earthquake and tsunami crippled the reactors’ cooling systems on March 11, 2011, has vowed to lead residents back home as soon as radiation levels are low enough. But the slow pace of the government’s cleanup efforts, and the risk of another leak from the plant’s reactors, forced local officials to admit in September that it might be at least a decade before the town could be resettled.

A growing number of evacuees from Okuma have become pessimistic about ever living there again. At a temporary housing complex here in Aizu-Wakamatsu, a city 60 miles west of the plant, the mostly elderly residents say they do not have that much time or energy left to rebuild their town.

Many said they preferred plans that got them out of temporary housing but helped them maintain the friendships and communal bonds built over a lifetime, like rebuilding the town farther away from the plant.

Read the rest of the story: Hopes of Home Fade Among Japan’s Displaced.

Survey Balloon Flown Inside Fukushima Reactor

The operator of the defunct Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has flown a balloon inside the No.1 reactor building to check the upper part of the structure.

Tokyo Electric Power Company on Wednesday launched a balloon from the first floor, to about 30 meters up inside the building.

The 2 meter wide balloon was equipped with 4 cameras and a device to monitor radiation.

Photos showed concrete debris from a hydrogen explosion scattered on the upper floors. But the crane for pulling out fuel rods, and a device for exchanging them, remained intact and had not fallen into the pool for spent fuel rods, as had been feared.

Radiation levels registered at 150 millisieverts an hour around the building’s second floor and 54 millisieverts an hour around the topmost fifth floor.

Noda Visits Fukushima Nuclear Plant

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda toured the crippled Fukushima power station on Sunday in a show of resolve over the nuclear disaster there, amid strong public scepticism about his energy policy. Noda, who reshuffled his cabinet last week before a possible snap general election, encouraged the crews who worked to contain the plants dangerous molten reactors after last years earthquake and tsunami, TV footage showed. “I believe that Japan has survived as we see it now thanks to your dedicated work,” the premier told about a dozen people who carried on working inside the power station after the catastrophe struck on March 11, 2011.

Read the rest of the story: Noda visits Fukushima nuclear plant.