Stricken Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant operator TEPCO revealed yesterday that it has been hit with yet another lawsuit over the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, with US residents asking for US$5 billion in compensation.
The class lawsuit reportedly has been filed in a California court by 157 "US residents"* who were helping in relief operations at the time of the March 2011 nuclear accident at Fukushima No. 1, which was triggered by a Magnitude 9 quake and mega-tsunami that inundated the plant.
The devastation resulted in multiple reactor meltdowns and explosions, which scattered radiation on land and sea during the globe’s worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl nuclear accident in the Ukraine in 1986.
The plaintiffs were reportedly among those US residents who leant their support to the US military’s “Operation Tomodachi (Friend)" relief operations in the aftermath of the disasters. They claim that they were exposed to radiation as a result of improper design and management of the Fukushima No. 1 plant that ultimately led to the meltdowns and radioactive releases.
According to some reports, the suit was filed against TEPCO "and other parties" on Aug. 18 in the Southern District Court in California. The plaintiffs, who also include US sailors, are demanding US$5 billion to cover medical costs and treatment needed to recover from physical and mental damage brought about by the the disaster.
The plaintiffs are also hoping to combine their lawsuit with another that was filed in 2012 with a U.S. federal court in San Diego by a group of more than 400 former U.S. sailors, who were onboard ships, such as the nuclear-powered USS Ronald Regan, which lay offshore when a radioactive plume passed over them, causing extensive contamination to the vessels.
The sailors are suing the utility and nuclear reactor maker General Electric for up to $10 billion for a range of health problems, such as leukaemia, that they believe were caused by that radiation exposure. The ships were anchored off Japan’s Pacific Coast during the Operation Tomodachi relief operations.
The sailor’s lawyer, Charles Bonner, told me that servicemen and women believe TEPCO misled them about the scale of the nuclear disaster, and that subsequently the amount of radiation exposure had been far greater than they were led to believe, resulting in debilitating injuries and seven deaths, to date.
According to the docket report listed on legal information site Justia only US sailors who were on the USS Ronald Regan are included in this most recent lawsuit, which the report states has been filed against TEPCO and GE. The report also includes Charles Bonner's name.
*When I interviewed Bonner recently he told me that the lawsuits filed are on behalf of 70,000 US service people and their families who could eventually be shown to have been affected by the Fukushima accident. Presumably this is the reason why reports in are claiming the suit has been filed by "residents".
I will be publishing an interview with Charles Bonner over the next few days. Watch this space!
Image shows the government's map of places thought to be suitable for nuclear waste disposal. Dark green = favourable conditions. Light green = moderately favourable. Orange = geologically problematic (due to presence of active volcanoes and geological faults, etc). Silver = least favourable due to possible mineral resources, including oil/gas fields.
Municipalities across Japan look set to reject a Japanese government nuclear waste map indicating places throughout the country that it believes are potential sites for disposing of nuclear waste, such as spent fuel and other waste such as that produced in the aftermath of the March 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima.
The color-coded map, which is ambiguously titled a "Scientific, Specialised Map," indicates areas where highly radioactive nuclear waste could be entombed underground for an estimated 100,000 years.
Of Japan's 1,750 municipalities, around 900, all of them coastal or within 20 km of the coast, were labelled as favourable. Among those labelled as unfavourable are places where active volcanoes exist, or active geological faults have been confirmed -- 600 of which are indicated on the map. Not included in the "favourable" areas are places where there may be, but have yet to be scientifically confirmed, other geological faults.
Fukushima was deemed unfavourable, but only because it was thought a nuclear waste disposal site would to be too heavy a burden for a populace still reeling from the 2011 disasters, where multiple reactor meltdowns and explosions resulted in the evacuation of around 160,000 residents.
According to an article in the Japan Times, the general response to the map and the proposed sites from municipalities in Hokkaido in the far north to Okinawa in the South was "not in my backyard."
According to notes accompanying the map, which was announced by the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan (NUMO) yesterday, any nuclear spent fuel sent to the sites would first be stripped of its plutonium and uranium content before being mixed with glass and solidified. It would then be placed in metal casks and buried underground at depths of 300 meters. The sites themselves are estimated to take 100 years to complete.
Any nuclear waste would be transported to the new sites, once approved and built, by road and ship. Municipalities agreeing to house the dump sites would receive compensation payments of 10 billion yen per year for the initial land surveys and 20 billion yen per year for further followup surveys.
As mentioned in "Yoshida's Dilemma," Japan commenced its nuclear energy policy without having any facilities to deal with nuclear waste, which mostly results from "spent" nuclear fuel from nuclear power plants. Plutonium and uranium extracted from that spent fuel was originally targeted for reprocessing, and an early facility to do just that was built in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, which was the site of a nuclear disaster in 1999 that killed 2 people. Tokai's successor, Rokkasho, has hit numerous snags since its scheduled start in 2013 and remains inactive.
In addition to Fukushima, Aomori has also been excluded from the favourable list due to the northern Japanese prefecture's hosting of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant.
It measures 1.5 km in length and 30 meters in height, taking 260,000 people to construct at a cost of ¥34.5 billion — so far.
The subterranean ice wall that surrounds the four stricken reactors at Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, where multiple explosions and meltdowns occurred in March 2011, is nearing completion, but the efficacy of its proposed function is coming under increased scrutiny.
When construction of the wall was announced in mid 2013, it was proposed that over 1,500 pipes would be inserted into the ground around the reactors and then filled with coolant frozen to a temperature of minus 30 C to freeze the earth and form a barrier of permafrost extending 30 meters underground that would prevent groundwater from flowing into the reactor buildings and keep radioactively contaminated water from leaking out into the Pacific Ocean.
As mentioned in “Yoshida’s Dilemma,” the project was unprecedented and unproven in the nuclear industry, and its rationale and efficacy were questioned even by the most staunchly nuclear of experts. Former US Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Dale Klein, said during a tour of the nuclear plant in 2014 he was “not convinced the freeze wall was the best option.”
There was, from the outset, a sense of the “experimental” about the project, with even Prime Minister Shinzo Abe admitting that funding for such a wall could pass smoothly through legislative channels due to its unprecedented nature. Although smaller scale ice walls had been built in the past, they were nothing on the scale of the 1.5 km monster being proposed for Fukushima. Either way, a tried and tested measure would be far more difficult to sell.
This was highlighted by another wall project presented in 2012 by former Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Sumio Mabuchi, who was drafted in by one of Abe's predecessors, Naoto Kan, during the disasters to serve as a special advisor in charge of handling the Fukushima accident.
Mabuchi’s research had shown that groundwater had been entering the plant’s reactors since 1971 – a natural consequence of the plant being built on land that had been made lower than the water table by cutting down the 35-meter cliff that had previously stood there.
TEPCO subsequently had sunk wells to mitigate the problem, but computer simulations, Mabuchi claimed, had shown this to be ineffective and that some contaminated water had been flowing into the ocean.
Determined to prevent another environmental catastrophe, Mabuchi suggested the construction of a four-sided, 30-meter-deep Bentonite slurry wall, “like a square bathtub” around the four reactors to prevent the groundwater water entering the site and mingling with radioactive contaminants.
Initially, Fukushima No. 1 plant operator TEPCO balked at the estimated $1 billion plan, telling Mabuchi it would bankrupt them, but he eventually managed to persuade then TEPCO vice-president Sakae Muto by highlighting the wide-reaching implications should no action be taken.
Yet, a day before making the project public, Muto requested the announcement be delayed until after a shareholders’ meeting two weeks later. The reason was included in a memo to the government, when TEPCO said such an announcement could cause the market to conclude that TEPCO was “moving a step closer toward insolvency.”
In the end, the announcement was never made and two years later, Abe took the plaudits when he announced the start of the publicly funded ice wall project.
Three years on, the frequently troubled and delayed project is approaching completion, with a 7-meter section all that remains to join the four-sides of the rectangular wall together. If the “Mabuchi Plan” had gone ahead, the slurry wall would have been up and running four years ago. Once again the tax payer was being asked to shoulder the burden for plant operator TEPCO, while the globe’s waters were contaminated further as the new plan crawled into motion.
Now, some experts are not only expressing doubts about the ice wall’s efficacy, but its necessity, also. At the very least, there is a sense of it being too little, too late.
Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority has commented that the wall's effectiveness was difficult to gauge until independent analysis had been carried out. However, there were still doubts.
“We doubt the ice wall is going to be as effective as TEPCO claims it will be,” an NRA official told AFP on condition of anonymity. Moreover, in June NRA acting chief Toyoshi Fuketa publicly accused TEPCO of lying about the wall’s effectiveness.
Even those managing the wall's construction seem unsure. In a news conference at the end of July, the president of Fukushima Daiichi Decontamination & Decommissioning Engineering Co., Naohiro Masuda, described the ice wall as “becoming quite effective,” but was unable to give concrete details why, saying, "I can't say how effective."
Perhaps one reason is that other countermeasures have been introduced in the interim. In the aftermath of the nuclear disaster, about 400 tons of contaminated ground water was being produced each day, most of it stored in giant containers on the grounds of the stricken Fukushima plant. That figure has reportedly now fallen to roughly 130 tons per day, largely due to a subdrain system that draws water from about 40 wells sunk around the reactor buildings.
According to an article in the Mainichi Shinbun, an official of the secretariat of Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority commented that the subdrain system “performs the primary role” in solving the groundwater problem, while the ice wall “will probably be effective enough to supplement that."
The inference is clear: the ice wall is no longer viewed, even by those who planned and created it, as an effective, or imperative/leading, means of battling the contaminated water issue.
Some have argued that the wall was in fact nothing more than a show right from outset.
First, the timing of TEPCO's announcement of the ice wall, in May 2013, is of note: It fell just a few months before Tokyo made its bid to host the 2020 Olympics. Many felt that the wall was simply a front to quash global fears and convince the international community that -- as PM Abe put it -- Fukushima was "under control" (a claim that was subsequently labeled "a lie" by former PM Junichiro Koizumi).
Mabuchi, meanwhile, suggested that other forces were at play. “I am filled with tremendous regret” that the slurry wall plan was rejected, Mabuchi said, adding that politicians and industry alike are well aware of utilities companies’ leverage when it comes to garnering votes.
What’s more, Mabuchi says that not even the government was convinced the wall could succeed. In the fine print of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party’s plan for the wall there is a caveat stating that should the ice wall plan fail, a clay wall would be built in its place, he says.
Interestingly, there was virtually no public outcry at the announcement of the ice wall. Not even when it was revealed that the cost of maintaining it will exceed 1 billion yen a year, and that those involved with undertaking that maintenance would be in danger of being exposed to high levels of radiation.
Furthermore, a TEPCO spokesperson told me that the wall would require 45 million kWh of electricity per year to run – that’s roughly the equivalent energy used by 5,000 households over 12 months.
Nagoya University professor emeritus Akira Asaoka commented in the Mainichi that "The way things stand, we'll have to keep maintaining an ice wall that isn't very effective," and adding "We should consider a different type of wall."
Another expert told me in an off-the-record interview that one reason the "ice wall experiment" had been pushed through was to gain kudos among the globe's nuclear fraternity, while its success, though not guaranteed, might prove handy in exporting the technology in the event of other nuclear emergencies and recouping some of the extraordinary cost of building yet another of what writer Alex Kerr has termed Japan's "useless monuments."
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.