Three Japanese corporations have confirmed the construction of one of the world’s largest hydrogen power plants, which will be built in Fukushima Prefecture on land that includes the site of a previously planned nuclear power plant.
Toshiba Corp., Tohoku Electric Power Co. and Iwatani Corp. will join forces for the 10,000-kilowatt-class facility in the Tanashio and Ukedo districts of Namie Town — one of the municipalities that was worst-hit by the March 2011 nuclear accident at the nearby Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant.
The companies aim to further expand the use of renewable energy in Japan’s energy mix in order to balance supply and demand that has been distabilised since the nuclear accident, which saw multiple reactor meltdowns and explosions and forced the evacuation of 160,000 residents and the closure of the nation’s 54 nuclear reactors, which had previously generated around one-third of Japan’s electricity.
Following the 2011 nuclear accident the Fukushima government said it would end its dependence on nuclear energy and the H2 plant is part of a governmental new energy program, called the “Fukushima New Energy-Oriented Society Scheme,” which is designed to make Fukushima Prefecture a major supplier of H2 gas and other new energies. Dozens of solar farms as well as other new energy projects have already been established in the prefecture.
Construction of the 169-hectare hydrogen plant will start in 2018 with a portion of that built on a site once proposed for the now scrapped Namie-Odaka nuclear power station.
That site lies on land that fell within an evacuation zone that was ordered following the 2011 nuclear accident, but that order has recently been lifted. According to one local report, Tohoku Electric Power Co., the utility that had planned the a Namie-Odaka nuclear plant, will transfer ownership of the land to the Namie Town without charge.
According to the Fukushima Minpo newspaper, while priority will be given to the construction of a hydrogen production plant that will primarily supply energy to the Tokyo metropolitan area, plans are also under consideration for the development of solar and other renewable energy facilities to generate electricity for hydrogen production as well.
The aim is to have the facility supplying power to the grid before the opening of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic games.
At a Fukushima reconstruction promotion headquarters meeting, Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori said that hydrogen manufactured at the plant “will be used at the Olympics and Paralympics, showing at home and abroad that reconstruction has progressed in Fukushima.”
The Namie-Odaka plant was first proposed in 1968 on a site about 15 km north of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 plant. Construction of the 825 MWe boiling water reactor had been slated to commence this year, with energy production to start in 2023.
However, in 2013 Tohoku Electric announced in that it had ended plans for the plant due to local opposition that had placed the project in "a very difficult situation" and that it was "not appropriate to continue to promote the location as it is." Both Namie and neighbouring Minamisoma, under whose jurisdiction part of the proposed plant would have fallen, demanded the plant project be scrapped.
The company has also planned the expansion of its Higashi-dori nuclear power plant further north in Aomori though at present that site, and another in Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture that withstood the 2011 disasters, remain offline.
A bomb has been unearthed at the Fukushima nuclear power plant that was hit by multiple explosions and reactor meltdowns in March 2011.
TEPCO, the operator of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant about 150 miles north of Tokyo, said the undetonated explosive, which measures about 1 meter in length, was excavated from a car park near to the No. 1 and No. 4 nuclear reactors, both of which were destroyed by the 2011 accident.
The accident was was triggered by a Magnitide 9 earthquake and mega-tsunami and caused the evacuation of around 160,000 residents, the majority of whom are unable to return to their homes, which have been contaminated by radioactive materials that spewed from the plant.
Japanese media is reporting that US air force planes launched airstrikes in the area around the plant during World War II and that the unexploded ordnance may date back to that time. There has been no comment made by TEPCO or other officials about the danger posed to the nuclear power plant, though local police are looking into its safe removal from the plant.
The find is unusual in that the land on which the nuclear power facility was built would not have existed at the time of any WW II air strikes. As discussed in "Yoshida's Dilemma" the nuclear plant was built on land that was once a 30-meter bluff that in the early 1960s had its upper 20-meter mass lopped off to accommodate the facility. Before the war, the hilltop area had served as the Iwaki Air Strip, where Japan's infamous kamikaze pilots were trained. After the war, it was turned into fields producing salt, of which there was a shortage.
Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant operator TEPCO says it estimates that each of the three melted reactors at the plant contains around 364 tons of nuclear fuel debris and that the utility may need to reassess how that fuel is removed in its troubled quest to decommission the plant.
The change in approach is a result of images that have been recorded by the Little Sunfish underwater robot that last month was sent into reactor 3, one of the reactors that experienced explosions and meltdowns following the megaquake and tsunami that struck northern Japan in March 2011.
Contrary to the popular belief that the reactor core had melted and fallen to the bottom of the reactor vessel, TEPCO spokesman Takahiro Kimoto said the images taken by the Little Sunfish in fact indicate the pressure vessel probably withstood the heat of the molten fuel, which appeared instead to have seeped through holes involved in insertion of the reactor’s control rods.
“We do not presume that the vessel, which is 14 cm thick, melted and collapsed together with the fuel, but that part of the fuel instead made its way down through holes,” Kimoto said.
Experts say that the control rods, which are used to moderate the nuclear chain reaction and are made of zirconium alloy, would have melted as the reactors overheated and are almost certainly a component of the clumps of debris that were captured on camera by the robot between July 19 and July 21.
Also captured were pictures of rubble around the fuel debris, such as maintenance work scaffolding and apparatus for holding the rods in place, which could further complicate the fuel removal process.
It is estimated that the removal of the highly radioactive debris, which is a mixture of melted nuclear fuel and reactor debris often referred to as corium, could start in 2021 and would be a crucial step in the 40-year decommissioning process. It is estimated to cost as much as US$72 billion.
First, however, a concrete plan of how exactly that rubble will be removed will need to be thrashed out, with the recent findings inside reactor 3 probably leading to a new approach.
One new method already proposed was brought to public attention as early as June and confirmed by the Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corporation (NDF) on July 31.
The NDF, which is a corporation that has been providing technical support in the three-part decommissioning road map, has reportedly come up with a plan to remove the melted fuel from the side of a partially submerged primary containment vessel (PCV) by keeping air in the upper part.
As reported in my book, Yoshida’s Dilemma, according to one senior official of the International Research Institute for commissioning (IRID), the accepted and safest method to remove such debris would be to completely fill the vessel with water, this reducing the radiation risk.
However, with the huge number of holes and cracks in the reactors would mean highly toxic water would simply leak out, meaning management of radioactive water would also complicate the proceedings. Furthermore, unless some kind of specialist sealant could be applied first, repairing such damage would be a laborious, and dangerous process the IRID official told me.
Indeed, plans to undertake such repairs in order to prevent leakage of the radioactive water were jettisoned due to there being "too many issues" involved.
At a meeting held in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture to discuss countermeasures for the decommissioning and handling of the contaminated water, NDF chief Hajimu Yamana explained the organization's fuel debris removal method, which would employ robotic arms and other remote devices while flushing water over the debris to reduce radiation risk.
However, effective ways to solve issues such as how to block radiation and prevent the scattering of airborne radioactive dust have yet to be found.
“Special tools and techniques will have to be developed to undertake such a task that has never been attempted before anywhere in the world,” former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman and TEPCO advisor Dale Klein was reported as saying in a Bloomberg report on NDF’s proposed fuel removal method. “Once Tepco has identified the characteristics of this material, then they can develop a plan to remove this material in a safe manner.”
The Bloomberg report also mentions that the "defueling" process at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in the U.S., where a nuclear accident took place in 1979, took six years to complete and involved the removal of the partially melted fuel core from inside the pressure vessel of the No. 2 reactor, which remained intact. "Fukushima offers a more complex challenge since three reactors suffered total meltdowns, with melted fuel rupturing pressure vessels and falling to the bottom of the units," the report says.
Sources: TEPCO, Mainichi, NHK, Bloomberg, Japan Times.
U.S. scientists have developed a filter that they claim is powerful enough to clean up radiation-contaminated water resulting from a nuclear disaster.
Researchers at Rice University in Texas added carbon nanotubes to plain quartz fibres to create a reusable fibre that they claim can filter contaminated water to a standard acceptable by the World Health Organisation.
The filter removed 99 percent of metals from samples contaminated with cadmium, cobalt, copper, mercury, nickel, and lead, according to a ResearchGate report.
"The researchers calculated that 1 gram of the fibre developed could get 83,000 liters of water to World Health Organisation standards," the report states adding that the filter can be washed with household vinegar and reused.
Andrew R. Barron, a nanotechnology expert at Rice university's chemistry department said the original idea for the research came from a high school student named Perry Alagappan and had a twofold objective: “First, was the desire to be able to remove toxic metals from drinking water in remote locations that didn’t have power. The second was the Fukushima disaster, where there was a need to remove complex radioactive metal waste.”
According to Barron, the wiry wool-like fibre has been tested on highly polluted water in Guatemala City where it removed hazardous metals such as mercury and cadmium.
The researchers are also hoping to develop the technology to remove metals from waste water from abandoned coal mines for a European Union program called DE-MINE.
Alagappan, who was the lead author on the study, has spent several years developing the the filter and is now an undergraduate student at Stanford University.
The filter, which has won several awards including the Stockholm Junior Water Prize, has yet to be used at th stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, whose operator TEPCO recently announced its intention to release contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean.
This is not the first material to be developed by US researchers hoping to find a solution to the water problem in Fukushima, which is the result of groundwater mixing with radiation that leaked from the three reactors that went into meltdown following the 2011 disasters in northern Japan.
In 2012 other US researchers at Oklahoma State University developed pellets that were capable of removing radioactive isotopes and heavy metals from milk, juice, and other beverages. The pellets were reported to be usable by consumers in emergency situations to remove heavy metals out of juices and other foodstuffs. It could also decontaminate radioactive liquids in the event of a nuclear accident, such as the one that took place at the Fukushima nuclear plant in 2011, according to one report in Chemical & Engineering News.
Video footage has been released of the swimming robot Little Sunfish's finds inside reactor 3 of Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear power Plant. Three separate videos showing short portions over the three-day investigation can be seen below. In the first, the robot can be seen entering the reactor while the second and third contain imagery of the branch-like matter that is believed to contain the solidified remnants of the melted nuclear fuel debris.
Images captured by the Little Sunfish robot between July 19 and July 21 of the inside of reactor 3 at Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Plant. The branchlike structures at upper left of the lower, larger image (and the lower left corner of the 4th image in the gallery) is thought by plant operator TEPCO to be nuclear fuel debris that melted to the bottom of the reactor following the March 2011 nuclear disasters at the plant. Other materials in the photos are thought to be various components of the reactor that melted and collected at the bottom of the reactor vessel - a solidified melted mush sometimes referred to as corium. The oval dial-like component pictured top left, is said to be a part of the reactor's control rod mechanism. All images: TEPCO
Stricken Fukushima nuclear plant operator TEPCO is now claiming that recent images captured by the swimming robot that entered the plant's No. 3 reactor may well show huge deposits at the bottom of the reactor that include clumps of melted nuclear fuel.
TEPCO official Takahiro Kimoto announced late Friday that some of the images taken by the Little Sunfish robot, which began investigations inside reactor 3 at Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear power plant on July 19, showed clumps resembling solidified lava-like rock that may prove to be remnants of the nuclear fuel.
Kimoto said at a press conference in Tokyo that this is the first time "such clear images of what could be melted fuel” have been taken. “We believe that the fuel melted and mixed with the metal directly underneath it," he added. "It is highly likely that we have filmed that on Friday.”
The fragments pictured are thought to be located among rubble collected at the bottom go the reactor that measure as much as 2 meters in depth. The rubble is located at the base of a structure called the pedestal, which sits underneath the core inside the reactor's primary containment vessel.
Images of what was thought to be melted fuel debris were first noticed on Friday and the search for confirmation continued Saturday, the final day of the Little Sunfish's three-day probe inside reactor 3. There was, however, some confusion in reports about how the pictured nuclear fuel appeared, some saying it was in large clumps, others that it was hanging in icicle-like shards.
Previous searches for melted fuel debris inside two of the other destroyed reactors, (reactors 1 and 2), produced inconclusive results, and further analysis of the imagery collected this time will be required to gain conclusive evidence that it is in fact melted fuel. At present it remains little more than speculation by TEPCO that it is in fact fuel debris.
Locating the fuel debris in the plant’s three wrecked reactors is said to be a crucial step in the decommissioning of the Fukushima plant, a process that is estimated to take up to 40 years. Without such location and analysis the removal of the highly radioactive fuel will be hazardous, especially as the reactors are in such a damaged, treacherous state only accessible by robots. A novel method to remove the fuel debris was recently reported as being presented by a company helping with the decommissioning process.
One thing that has become clear from this recent find is that, should indeed the fuel debris be a part of the matter shown in the pictures, extracting it from the reactor could be an even more complex process than originally thought. Shown among the items that have ended up in the bottom of the vessel and are mixed up with what is claimed to be the fuel debris are metal components of the grid used to keep the reactor's control rods in position.
In other Fukushima related news, TEPCO's announcement last week that it plans to dump more than huge amounts of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean has caused a stir among residents.
Fishermen and other residents in Fukushima have expressed concern about the planned dumping of 770,000 tons of contaminated water into the sea, saying the announcement is premature and first requires the green light from government and other official bodies.
Source: TEPCO, NHK, Mainichi
Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant operator TEPCO has announced that the 30 cm long, 2 kg underwater robot "Little Sunfish" has been deployed inside Fukushima Daiichi’s No. 3 reactor.
It's mission is to inspect the damage inside the reactor and locate parts of melted fuel believed to have fallen to the bottom of the chamber following the meltdown that occurred there in March 2011.
So far nothing of note has been found, though spokesperson said the robot had captured views of the underwater damage that had not been previously seen.
More to follow
TechCrunch features an interesting article about an ever-evolving robot that can "save lives" and has new features that were developed with the Fukushima nuclear crisis in mind. MIT's Cheetah is described as a four-legged robot that can run, autonomously, at speeds of up to 14 miles per hour, jump over obstacles and respond to instructions when performing search and rescue operations. In its latest iteration, the Cheetah 3, it can also help in a nuclear crisis. “Our vision changed to wanting to use this in a real situation, to dispatch it to Fukushima,” professor Sang-bae Kim of MIT's Biometrics Lab told TechCrunch. “We want to use this in a place where we don’t want to use humans." Full article here. Meanwhile, the MIT video below shows the Cheetah 2 in full flight.
Let's hope it has more success than some of the robotics developed to deal with the Fukushima crisis to date.
Video: Haewon Park, Patrick Wensing and Sangbae Kim
Stricken Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant operator TEPCO has confirmed its intentions to dump hundreds of thousands of tons of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean, despite protests from local fisheries groups, residents and other opposition groups.
More than three-quarters of a million tons of contaminated water will be dumped into the Pacific in an attempt to move ahead in the faltering three-stage, 40-year decommissioning road map of the Fukushima plant, which experienced multiple explosions and meltdowns following the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan.
Since the disasters, when radiation emitting from the plant forced the evacuation of more than 150,000 residents, the plant has been plagued by ground water and other technical problems, which has led to contaminated water being stored onsite in tens of thousands of tanks.
Nuclear Regulation Authority chairman Shunichi Tanaka recently questioned the utility's commitment in decommissioning the plant, calling for a controlled release of the water, which now exceeds 770,000 metric tons. While TEPCO had rejected this proposal due to fears of a public backlash, chairman Takeshi Kawamura said it was now felt that the dumping of the contaminated water was a necessary step to show the kind of positive intent by the utility that had previously been lacking.
"Technically, we fully support the (NRA) chairman's proposal," Kawamura said yesterday, adding that there is still strong resistance from local residents, especially fishermen. "I think we should have acted sooner. ... We should start moving faster."
The contaminated water, some of which has been recycled to continue cooling the stricken reactors, has been filtered via a processing system known as ALPS, a $150-million system that reportedly strips the water of cesium and 61 other dangerous isotopes to reduce contamination to levels considered safe enough to dump into the sea. A myriad of technical problems meant this system has largely been offline since the disasters, and TEPCO has been forced to employ other more established filtering systems, such as one developed in the US that only removes strontium from contaminated water.
As of early, 2017, more than 1 million tons of contaminated water was being stored at the plant. Some of it has been recycled to be re-circulated through the reactors in an effort to maintain cooling, while the rest has been left standing in massive tanks.
While researching “Yoshida’s Dilemma,” Lake Barrett, a former head of the US Department of Energy’s Office of Civilian Nuclear Waste Management who was part of the early mitigation efforts following the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the US, said as early as 2013 that storage of contaminated water onsite was “unsustainable,” meaning it would ultimately need to be dumped into the Pacific.
“There needs to be a better focus starting with TEPCO in explaining things … because I think the psychological worry is real and people have already been traumatized, and in my view do not deserve to be traumatized any more,” said Barrett, who was taken on by TEPCO as a groundwater specialist to fill a significant gap among the utility’s 40,000 employees. However, he played down the significance of the contaminated water issue. “In my scientific view, much of the concern (about the contaminated water) is overstated.”
One of the problems faced by the utility in the dumping process, which Barrett and other nuclear experts say is not unusual at nuclear plants, is that one contaminant, tritium, is impossible to filter out by the ALPS system.
As early as March 2016, TEPCO inferred it would start releasing the water into the ocean during that year. Even then, Barrett and other pro-nuclear commentators, backed up by a Canadian academic study, claimed that levels of the only isotope remaining in the stored water after treatment, tritium, “are not a meaningful health risk.”
Indeed, the NRA’s Tanaka also commented that year that the levels of tritium in Fukushima's tanks was so weak that its radioactivity “won’t penetrate plastic wrapping."
Today TEPCO commented on its website that it agreed with Tanaka that "in light of the current scientific and technically based regulations and standards, the release of tritium into the Ocean would not be a problem."
However, Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace, disagrees, saying tritium is a “relatively hazardous” isotope, whose beta particles inside the human body are more harmful than most X-rays and gamma rays. Furthermore, organically bound tritium absorbed by marine life and humans presents “an additional risk,” Burnie says, adding “major uncertainties” in the long-term effects posed by radioactive tritium means “the planned release of billions of becquerels by TEPCO cannot be considered an action without risk to the marine environment and human health.”
Burnie also claims that the ALPS treatment has not completely eliminated all of the other radionuclides, such as strontium and cesium.
It is such concerns that have led to widespread objections to the release of the water by local residents, especially fishermen, who say their industry has suffered enough from the nuclear accident, which has had a multi-billion dollar impact on the local economy. The dumping of the water and negative publicity it would generate would devastate the economy still further, they say.
Nonetheless Kawamura says “the decision has already been made" to dump the contaminated water, according to a report in The Japan Times. Despite that claim, Kawamura suggested that TEPCO will wait for the government investigation panel’s final decision before going ahead with the water dumping.
“We cannot keep going if we do not have the support of the state,” he said.
In its release on Friday, TEPCO also stated that it needed the understanding of people. The dumping was not a final decision and that the safety and recovery of the Fukushima people would first need to be "carefully considered."
Since the 2011 nuclear disasters, tens of thousands of tons of contaminated water has already leaked into the Pacific, something that TEPCO at first covered up but since 2013 even Fukushima power plant chief Masao Yoshida has admitted to. Traces of radiation, including caesium, from the plant have been found as far away as California. In that same year typhoons inundated the plant causing the operator to release around 1,100 tons of contaminated water that could now be contained into the ground.
Even since the construction of the tanks to keep the water a catalog of mishaps have occurred at the plant, including leaks from the tanks themselves, leaks that even the subcontractor charged with building them had warned was destined to happen. The first of those leaks amounted to 100 tons of highly radioactive water that was eventually shown to have overflowed after a valve was left open by mistake, while a second leakage was down to workers overfilling a tank with contaminated water.
During a March 2014 visit to the Fukushima No. 1 plant, which I attended, former US Nuclear Regulatory Commission chair Dale Klein said such indiscretions by TEPCO have not helped with the all-important mission of disposing of the water. “There is progress being made … (but) one of the frustrating things that happens is that TEPCO will take five steps forward and then two steps back.”
Sources: Tokyo Shimbun, TEPCO, Yoshida's Dilemma
Renewables company Infini last week marked the completion of a new solar panel manufacturing plant in Fukushima, whose capacity could rise to 300 MW and reportedly increasing clean energy investment in the second quarter (Q2) of 2017 in Japan to US $2.9 billion.
Infini will produce crystalline silicon solar photovoltaic panels for the domestic market at the new factory, which is located in Naraha Town, one of the municipalities most seriously affected by the March 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima Prefecture. The facility will have an initial capacity of 100 MW though Infini plans to triple that capacity at a later stage and export the products to other markets.
Meanwhile Yamaka Electric Construction Co. has also announced the completion of three solar power plants, all of which are located in the Tohoku region that was devastated by the March 11 2011 megaquake and tsunami, which triggered the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The plants, in Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima prefectures, have a combined capacity of 46 MW.
Additionally, NTT Facilities Inc. in conjunction with Kitashiba Electric Co. will build a 14 MW solar plant that will commence operations next fall in Minamisoma, a city also in Fukushima.
Japan plans to add 28 Gigawatts of solar capacity by 2020 — the year it hosts the Tokyo Olympic Games. This is a part of efforts to promote use of renewable energy sources, though the country has been sending out mixed signals regarding this intent in recent years. A notable change for the better is the increasing and significant presence of PV panels within the grounds of Japan’s regional airports and other public facilities with large areas of dead space.
Also making the news over the past couple of days is Japanese trading firm Marubeni Corp., which commenced commercial operations of a 37-MW biomass plant running on imported wood chips in Tsuruga City, western Japan.
The energy generated generate will be sufficient to power some 70,000 local homes and is one of Marubeni’s 18 renewable energy projects in Japan.
Global clean energy investment in Q2 of 2017 rose 21% over Q1 to USD 64.8 billion, down 12% over 2016 Q2. Japan’s 12% rise in the quarter was modest compared with Mexico (up 261% to $1.8 billion) and Sweden (213% to $887 million) though significantly better than others, including the UK (down 93% to $407 million), Germany ( down 34% to $3.2 billion) and China (-16% to $23.3 billion).
The Japanese government's aim is to have renewable energy account for 22-24% of Japan's total power mix by fiscal 2030. At present, that figure stands at roughly 7.5%, according to Japan for Sustainability data. The top renewable energy source in the country is solar power (with a 3.3% share of the total mix) and should the 2030 target be met, Japan’s installed PV capacity will hit 64 GW. .Japan's current solar power production is around 30 GW.