News Watch 157 Nov./Dec. 2013 Nuke Info Tokyo No. 157
– TEPCO drained contaminated water out of the barriers surrounding water tanks at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, failing to follow standardized procedure
– Japan speeding up the planned export of nuclear power plants to Turkey
– Removal of spent fuel from Unit 4 of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station started
– Inauguration of Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant and Mutsu Interim Spent Fuel Storage Facilities postponed
– Japan signs the joint statement on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons for the first time
– First comprehensive nuclear disaster drill exercise since the Fukushima disaster organized at Sendai Nuclear Power Plant, Kagoshima
Contaminated-water tanks at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station are divided into groups, each group being surrounded by a barrier to prevent contaminated water from overflowing in case of tank leakages. Rainwater that accumulates inside the barriers is drained after being checked for contamination. On September 16, 2013, when a typhoon was approaching the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the owner of the plant, was concerned that the rainwater might flood over the barriers due to heavy rain and drained the water that had accumulated inside the barriers at seven positions as an emergency measure. The rainwater, contaminated with radioactivity, was drained to the ocean by way of the drain ditch, and TEPCO was exposed to strong criticism as a result.
Accordingly, TEPCO requested a working group of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) to establish a standardized procedure for the drainage of water accumulated within the barriers. On October 15, the working group decided to settle the request immediately because another typhoon was approaching the crippled nuclear power plant, and approved the water drainage procedure that had been presented by TEPCO, with some procedural steps replaced with stricter ones. On the next day, however, TEPCO neglected to follow the standardized procedure by draining water at nine positions along the barriers after measuring radioactivity concentration only onsite and finding that the contamination was below the maximum acceptable level for drainage, although the water was supposed to be measured after being transferred to a tank used exclusively for this purpose, as stated in the procedure. At two positions water was contaminated in excess of the acceptable level and urgently transferred to an unused underground reservoir because other underground reservoirs were leaking.
Without responding to criticism from the NRA and the Fukushima prefectural government, TEPCO failed to take measures during the following days when it did not rain, and kept the nearly overflowing rainwater as it was. On the 20th, there was heavy rain in the area, resulting in water flooding over the barriers at eleven positions. At five positions out of the eleven, and at one position where water was nearly overflowing, TEPCO drained water without following the standardized procedure. Flood water from two positions was transferred to an underground reservoir. The flood water included Strontium 90 at a level higher than the acceptable level for drainage out of the barriers, and water at four positions out of the eleven included Strontium 90 at a level higher than the legally established acceptable level for drainage out of the facilities. On the 24th, to be prepared for the next typhoon, TEPCO started to transfer water inside the barriers into even the underground reservoirs that were leaking and no longer used.
On October 29, 2013, the international consortium in which Mitsubishi Heavy Industries participates (along with Japanese company Itochu and French company GDF Suez), agreed with the government of the Republic of Turkey on the outline of the commercial contract concerning the Sinop nuclear power plant project, which the Turkish government is promoting. On the same day, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan welcomed this agreement and signed a joint declaration of cooperation between Japan and Turkey in the fields of nuclear energy and technology.
The Sinop Nuclear Power Plant project calls for the construction of four nuclear power reactors in the Sinop area near the Black Sea. This commercial contract, called a Host Government Agreement, specifies the range of cooperation and the framework of a feasibility study to implement the project. It is scheduled to be officially signed between the consortium and the Turkish Government after approval by the national assembly of Turkey. Details on such issues as the financial framework and electric power sales agreement will be decided in future negotiations.
On October 25, immediately before Japan and Turkey signed the agreement, the Japan–Turkey nuclear cooperation agreement signed in May was submitted to Japan’s House of Representatives for approval, along with the Japan–UAE Agreement, which was also signed in May.
On October 30, 2013, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority approved Tokyo Electric Power Company’s plan to transfer fuel from the spent fuel pool of the Unit 4 building of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station to a common pool in another building. TEPCO started to remove the fuel on November 18. According to the plan, the transfer of all the fuel in the pool is scheduled to be completed at the end of 2014.
The inauguration of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant (Rokkasho Village, Aomori Prefecture), owned by Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited, and the Mutsu interim spent fuel storage facilities (Mutsu City, Aomori Prefecture), owned by Recyclable-Fuel Storage Company, was scheduled for October 2013 but was postponed. On October 29, 2013, the two companies explained the postponement to the Aomori prefectural government and assembly. The notice for Rokkasho preprocessing plant was submitted to Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) on November 1, 2013. That of the Mutsu interim spent fuel storage facilities was submitted to NRA on November 5. The establishment of new regulations for these facilities by the NRA is expected in December, but according to the owners, since it is unknown how long it might take to investigate whether or not the two facilities satisfy the requirements of the standards, their future schedule is unknown.
At the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, on October 21, a joint statement on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, signed by 125 countries, was announced. The Japanese government formerly refused to sign it because signing it would not be consistent with the fact that the nation is under the nuclear umbrella, but became a party to the joint statement for the first time, judging that the phrase contained in the statement that “all approaches and efforts toward nuclear disarmament” would be compatible with the the retention of a nuclear deterrent. The government has been strongly criticized by a large number of people for not having signed the statement, especially by atomic bomb survivors, and had little option but to change its stance and sign this time.
On October 11 and 12, 2013, the first comprehensive nuclear disaster drill exercise was organized by the national government since the Fukushima disaster. The exercise simulated a full-scale emergency condition at the Sendai nuclear plant, owned by Kyushu Electric Power and situated in Satsumasendai, Kagoshima Prefecture. Roughly 2,500 officials from about 130 organizations participated in the exercise, along with 750 local residents (including 178 Satsumasendai locals). On day 1, those who reside in the five-kilometer precautionary action zone (PAZ) and need support at the time of a disaster evacuated, and on day 2 all residents in the PAZ and a part of the population living in the 30-kilometer urgent protective action planning zone (UPZ) evacuated. It was stressed that this exercise was different from past exercises before the Fukushima disaster in that participants were not informed of what would unfold during the exercise and would be trained about how to assess and deal with the situation. However, because the exercise simulated the real-time development of the disaster, idle time occurred frequently; many participants were observed to be smoking outdoors while an emergency meeting was supposed to be in progress.
While the air dose was supposed to be about 400 times as high as a normal dose, local residents participated in everyday clothes. Some waited for an evacuation bus at the designated bus stop, which was, of course, outdoors. “I was told to be here at two o’clock,” said a local resident, who appeared to be participating in the exercise according to a prearranged schedule.
Generally, this exercise remained the same as past exercises in that it belittled internal exposure and lacked a sense of emergency.