Official storage of contaminated soil begins in Fukushima
Sprawling radioactive waste storage facility opens for business in Fukushima
Work to store tainted soil at Fukushima facility begins
An official from the Agency for Natural Resources and the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan shows a model of a proposed underground burial facility for nuclear waste during a town hall meeting in Toyama on May 20
TOYAMA – More than six years after the March 11, 2011, Tohoku quake, tsunami, and triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Japan is accelerating efforts to restart as many reactors as it possibly can. Four have been revived so far, and Kansai Electric Power Co. plans to restart the Takahama No. 3 unit soon.
But the rush to restart them has only highlighted the fact that Japan still has no final repository for its high-level radioactive waste. Original plans to first reprocess spent fuel at the Rokkasho facility in Aomori Prefecture before final disposal somewhere else have long been stalled. After 17 years asking prefectures and municipalities around the country to host such a site, no takers have been found.
So the government has changed its approach, saying it will draw up a map by this summer of “scientifically appropriate” candidate sites around the country.
To explain what that means, a series of town hall meetings are taking place at select locations this month and next month.
On May 20, officials from the Agency for Natural Resources and the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan (NUMO) were in Toyama, which is less than 50 km from the Shika nuclear power plant in neighboring Ishikawa Prefecture.
At present, there are about 18,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel stored in about 40,000 canisters at Japan’s nuclear power plants, said NUMO Executive Director Shinichi Ito. A final disposal site for high-level waste produced when, or if, the fuel is reprocessed would need to be quite large. Most of it would be underground, with an elaborate tunnel system of transport vehicles to deliver and store the waste.
“In terms of scale, above-ground facilities at a final depository would be between 1 to 2 sq. km, and the underground portion would be 6 to 10 sq. km in area, located at a depth of more than 300 meters from the surface. There would be some 200 km of tunnels in total for the storage facilities,” Ito said.
Waste would be stored at the site for around a half century. The basic cost for building a final depository is ¥3.7 trillion.
In drawing up the map of what constitutes a scientifically appropriate site, the government has a list of conditions and standards based on what it does not want.
A site should not be built within a 15-km radius of a volcano, and not near active fault lines at least 10 km long. In addition, it should not be situated in area where there is a lot of geothermal activity.
The government is also seeking a site that is within 20 km of a port where ships carrying the waste could dock, since transporting waste by ship, the government says, is the most appropriate method.
Iwao Miyamoto, director of the public relations office of the Agency for Natural Resources’ Radioactive Waste Management Office, said that, after the map is publicized and dialogue takes place with authorities deemed to have appropriate sites, a three-stage survey process would be carried out.
“The first stage would be to research the seismological and geological history of a potential site, checking to see how frequently earthquakes and volcanoes in and around the area have occurred,” Miyamoto said. “The second stage would be on-site drilling to determine how porous the rock bed is, and the third step is a precision survey to determine if the site can handle an underground storage facility.
“The first survey stage is expected to take two years, the second stage four years, and the final stage around 14 years,” he added.
In an attempt to entice the authorities at a chosen site, the central government will offer funding and economic incentives that the municipalities hosting nuclear power plants have long enjoyed.
“NUMO will work with a government that accepts a final storage facility to renovate and expand its roads, ports, and information systems,” Ito said. “There will also be donations for revitalizing the local economy via support for locally produced goods and for local culture.”
However, overcoming local political resistance in an area judged appropriate for a final depository is likely to be a long, difficult road. Nobody wants to be known as the town or village with a nuclear waste dump, and questions remain about the safety of transporting toxic waste by land or by sea.
Some governors in prefectures with many reactors have made it clear they will oppose any effort by the central government or utilities to bury nuclear waste on site or beside the plant that generated it.
“Fukui has accepted nuclear power plants. But it has no obligation to accept final disposal of nuclear waste,” Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa said in 2015. Fukui is home to 13 commercial reactors.
“We have our hands full just dealing with the nuclear reactors we have now,” Saga Gov. Yoshinori Yamaguchi said last year, indicating his prefecture would not accept being the site of a final repository. Saga hosts the four reactors at the Genkai plant run by Kyushu Electric. Yamaguchi approved the restart of Genkai units 3 and 4 in April.
Once the map is published, it is sure to galvanize opinion in those places judged appropriate and become a politically delicate topic. Yet with Agency for Natural Resources estimates showing the spent fuel pools of 17 power plants will run out of space within the next 15 years, if run continuously, the problem of final disposal grows more acute with each passing day. Pressure on those areas that fit the requirements for final disposal is likely to be intense.
At this point, though, the central government says that if a local government with a site deemed appropriate by the map still refuses once the survey begins, that will be the end of it.
“If there is official opposition at the local level at any stage of a survey, there would be no advancement to the next stage,” Miyamoto said.
However, given all of the problems Japan has had trying to make its reprocessing program work, critics say that attempting to draw up a plan for a final repository is a pipe dream.
” The Japanese government knows the current final nuclear waste repository program will never materialize. The whole project depends upon the creation of high-level vitrified waste canisters, i.e. the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. But the program also depends on Japan recovering and consuming tons and tons of plutonium
” The Rokkasho reprocessing plant’s commercial operation has been delayed 23 times, and the fast reactor program to consume the plutonium is at square one despite over a half century of effort,” said Aileen Mioko Smith of Kyoto-based Green Action.
Solidified nuclear waste mixed with glass is placed in canisters at a reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, in 2012
The government has set the criteria for a map meant to identify potential final disposal sites for high-level radioactive nuclear waste, paving the way for its release as early as this summer.
The process of finding a host for nuclear waste could face challenges amid public concerns over safety.
Based on the map, the government will approach select municipalities to allow research to be conducted for suitable sites to store waste from nuclear power generation.
For permanent disposal, high-level nuclear waste needs to be stored at a final depository more than 300 meters underground for up to about 100,000 years until radiation levels fall and there is no longer potential harm to humans and the environment.
The government plans to create a permanent underground repository somewhere in stable bedrock so the canisters can be stored for tens of thousands of years.
The map is likely to classify which areas are geologically suitable for such a structure to be built deep enough underground. This would rule out areas near active faults and volcanoes as well as oil and coal fields.
Based on waste transport criteria, the map is likely to show that zones within 20 km of the coastline are favorable to host final disposal sites.
The government hopes other municipalities — not just the ones located near nuclear power plants — may also become interested in hosting the disposal facilities. It also wants to show that a variety of places nationwide are suitable for nuclear waste management.
The map was originally planned for a 2016 release but the publication date was later postponed, as some local governments were wary that disposal sites would be imposed on them.
About 18,000 tons of spent fuel currently exist in Japan. Including spent fuel that has already been reprocessed, the country’s total jumps to about 25,000 canisters of vitrified high-level waste, all of which needs to be managed.
The process to find local governments willing to host final storage started in 2002, but little progress was made due mainly to opposition from local residents.
In May 2015, the central government introduced a plan announcing that final depository site selection would be based on scientific grounds, rather than waiting for municipalities to volunteer.
Before presenting the map, the government will hold symposiums between mid-May and June at nine cities to explain the map criteria to the public. The cities include Tokyo, Nagoya and Fukuoka.
Radioactive waste is classified into two categories: The high-level type is generated from reprocessing spent fuel by separating the plutonium and uranium for recycling, while the low level type refers to all other waste.
High-level waste is a byproduct of fission in the reactor core, which is very hot and dangerous. It is mixed with glass and solidified before being placed in robust heat-resistant stainless steel canisters that are 130 cm high, 40 cm in diameter and weigh 500 kg each.
A full canister emits about 1,500 sieverts per hour — an extremely lethal biological level — and has a surface temperature in excess of 200 degrees.
Its radioactivity starts at 20,000 trillion becquerels. It will take about 1,000 years to fall to one-thousandth of that level, and tens of thousands of years to weaken to the same intensity as natural uranium ore, the Natural Resources and Energy Agency says.
Worldwide, only Finland and Sweden have been able to successfully decide on a final depository site for nuclear waste, while many other countries with nuclear plants face difficulties in doing so.
The United States decided in 2009 to call off a plan to build a site to dispose spent fuel in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain due to local opposition, but President Donald Trump earmarked funds to revive the plan in the budget proposal for fiscal 2018 unveiled in March.
In Japan, the selection process is also a touchy issue and has triggered conflicts in the communities around which prospective depository sites have been considered.
In one example, Minamiosumi Mayor Toshihiko Morita in Kagoshima Prefecture filed a criminal complaint against a 65-year-old resident for libel, claiming that his allegations that the rural town office had been actively inviting such a facility was not only groundless but also defamation.
The resident handed out flyers to about 500 households in the town in January which said Morita went to Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, and Horonobe in Hokkaido at the invitation of the private sector involved in the construction of nuclear waste disposal facilities. Both municipalities host nuclear-related facilities.
Morita flatly denied the allegations, telling Kyodo News in writing that he has heard “rumors” that there have been moves aimed at hosting a nuclear waste disposal facility but “I myself haven’t gone anywhere and been treated to anything.”
“I would reject any request from the central government” to host one, Morita said. The town approved an ordinance to reject a plan to host a nuclear waste disposal facility the year after the 2011 nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
A supporter of the mayor, however, did visit nuclear-related facilities in locations including Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, several years ago, according to the supporter’s admission, and a Tokyo company covered the expenses of the trip.
Spent nuclear fuel is stored in a pool at the La Hague reprocessing facility in northwestern France in October. It is one of the most dangerous sites in the world, with its 10,000 tons of spent fuel. We were afraid of the Fukushima Daiichi fuel pool 4 but it was nothing: The whole fuel of the Hague corresponds to radiotoxicity 360 times greater than Chernobyl.
About 610 tons of spent nuclear fuel stored at seven of the 17 reactors in Japan that are set to be decommissioned have no fixed transfer destination, it was learned Sunday, threatening to hold up the decommissioning process.
If it remains undecided where to transfer the spent nuclear fuel, work to dismantle reactor buildings and other structures may not be carried out as planned.
The tally excludes the six reactors at Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant, which was heavily damaged by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
The seven reactors are the Japan Atomic Energy Agency’s Fugen advanced converter reactor, the agency’s Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor, Japan Atomic Power Co.’s reactor 1 at its Tsuruga plant, reactors 1 and 2 of Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Mihama plant, reactor 1 of Chugoku Electric Power Co.’s Shimane plant and reactor 1 of Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Genkai plant, according to the companies and the agency.
The Fugen reactor has 70 tons of spent mixed-oxide, or MOX, fuel, a blend of uranium and plutonium recycled from spent nuclear fuel.
The agency has abandoned its plans to move the MOX fuel out of the reactor site in the current fiscal year to March 2018. It has considered consigning the reprocessing of the fuel overseas but a contract has not been signed yet.
The agency’s schedule to finish the decommissioning work by fiscal 2033 has remained unchanged, but an official admitted that the timetable will be affected if a decision on where to transfer the spent fuel is not made.
As for the trouble-prone Monju reactor, the agency has yet to submit a decommissioning program to authorities. How to deal with 22 tons of spent MOX fuel at the reactor is a major issue.
The Mihama No. 1 reactor has 75.7 tons of spent conventional nuclear fuel and 1.3 tons of spent MOX fuel, while the No. 2 reactor has 202 tons of spent nuclear fuel. Kansai Electric plans to take them out of Fukui Prefecture, which hosts the power plant, by fiscal 2035, but the transfer location has not yet been selected.
At the Tsuruga plant’s reactor 1, Japan Atomic Power plans to transfer 31.1 tons of the reactor’s 50-ton spent nuclear fuel to the fuel pool of reactor 2, with the rest to be transported by fiscal 2026 to a Japan Nuclear Fuel reprocessing plant under construction in the village of Rokkasho in Aomori Prefecture.
After being postponed more than 20 times, the completion of the reprocessing plant is currently slated for the first half of fiscal 2018 and the blueprint is undergoing screenings by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, a nuclear watchdog.
As nuclear fuel cannot be brought into the reprocessing plant until it starts operations after receiving all necessary regulatory approval, it is uncertain whether the Tsuruga reactor fuel can be transferred as planned.
Chugoku Electric aims to transfer 122.7 tons of spent nuclear fuel at its Shimane plant’s reactor 1 to the Rokkasho reprocessing plant by fiscal 2029.
Kyushu Electric hopes to take 97.2 tons of spent nuclear fuel at the Genkai reactor 1 out of its fuel pool by fiscal 2029, but the destination has not been fixed.
At three other nuclear plants with reactors set to be decommissioned, spent nuclear fuel is mostly planned to be moved out of the current pools to other pools within the same plant.
In the case of Tepco’s disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 plant, the site of the 2011 triple meltdown accident, where the 2,130 tons of spent nuclear fuel will be transferred to has yet to be decided.
Still, the decommissioning work for the six reactors there will not be affected in any significant way for the time being, as more urgent tasks, such as a survey of melted fuel, have been given higher priority, officials said.
In Fukushima Projecture, large quantities of contaminated soil and waste have been generated from decontamination activities. Currently, it is difficult to clarify methods of final disposal of such soil and waste. Until final disposal becomes available, it is necessary to establish an Interim Storage Facility (ISF) in order to manage and store soil and waste safely.
The only solution proposed is a storage facility of 16 km2 around the Fukushima plant for a period of 30 years. After that, time will tell, because the problems are endless.
The following materials generated in Fukushima Prefecture will be stored in the ISF.
1. Soil and waste (such as fallen leaves and branches) generated from decontamination activities, which have been stored at the Temporary Storage Sites.
2. Incineration ash with radioactive concentration more than 100,000 Bq/kg.
It is estimated that generated soil from decontamination will be approx. 16 ~22 mil. m3 after the volume reduction incineration, estimated value based on the decontamination implementation plan of July 2013. (Ref: approximately 13~18 times as much as the volume of Tokyo Dome (1.24 mil. m3) .
Transportation to Stock Yards
In order to confirm safe and secure delivery towards the transportation of a large amount of decontamination soil, MOE implemented the transportation approx. 1,000m3 each from 43 municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture from 2015-2016.
Actual achievement in 2016 as of July 30, 2016
Stored volume: 13,384m3 (58,766m3 in total)
Stock yards in Okuma: 4,883m3; stock yards in Futaba: 8,501m3
* Calculated on the assumption that the volume of a large bag is 1m3
Total number of trucks used: 2,279 (9,808 in total)
Stock yards in Okuma: 815 trucks; stock yards in Futaba:1,464 trucks
To construct facilities, it will need comprehensive area and 2/3 will be assumed to be used for facilitation. The possible volume for installation is to be 10,000m3/ha and 140,000m3/5ha for a storage facility, and will be installed from TSS to ISF sequentially.
Approximate period from contract with operators to ISF operation: 3months for TSS, 6months for delivery & classification, 12months for storage, 18months for incineration.
On the premise that infrastructure construction on roads for Okuma and Futaba IC would proceed as planned, the maximum volume of possible transportation is estimated: 2millions m3 /y before the operation of both IC, 4millions m3/y after Okuma IC & before Futaba IC, 6 millions m3/y after the both ICs operation.
Landowners are still reluctant to sell their land to put the waste. In late September 2016, according to the official data of the Ministry of Environment, only 379 owners out of 2360 had signed a contract. This represents an area of 144 ha, or about 9% of the total project.
The town of Okuma, is almost entirely classified as “difficult to return”zone, therefore it intends to offer all its municipal land to put the waste. This represents 95 hectares, or about 10% of land considered in the town. This includes schools, the Fureai Park with some sports grounds … The town has not yet decided whether it would sell or would lease its land.
Meanwhile, it is an abandoned village:
The Joban railway line was partially destroyed by the tsunami, as here in Tomioka:
Destroyed Tomioka train station and sorting facility for radioactive waste
Some parts have reopened, but not in the most contaminated areas; between Tatsuta and Namie. Japan Railway wants to fully reopen the railway before 2020, avoiding the coast. Decontamination should produce 300,000 m3 of radioactive waste. The radioactive waste bags are along the railway, but they will need to be take them away. The Environment Ministry is negotiating with landowners owning the land beside the railway, but this is not enough because few responded favorably. So it’s a game of musical chairs that is planned: use the lands where some waste is right now after they’ll freed by the transfer of the waste to the storage center located around the Fukushima Dai-ichi.
Meanwhile, the waste is piling up everywhere:
Radioactive waste in Iitate
Valley of radioactive waste in Iitate mura
This storage was not expected to last as long, which is not without causing problems because the bags do not hold. Here in Tomioka, weeds grow back:
The equivalent of the Court of Accounts of Japan went to inspect some of these sites and found other problems, according to the Asahi. Those who receive contaminated soil, are elevated in the center so that the water flows over the edges where it can be harvested and controlled because the bags are not waterproof. There are up to 5 levels. With time and the weight of waste, a hollow that may appear in the center, and contaminated water accumulates there. Monitoring is difficult or impossible. See diagram of Asahi:
It is not normal that the Nuclear Regulatory Authority, the NRA does not control these storage sites for radioactive waste.
Regarding the waste from the decommissioning of nuclear power plants, the NRA wants to bury the most contaminated within 70 meters for 100 000 years. This is essentially reactor control rods. Utilities would bear responsibility for 300 to 400 years. They have not yet found where to have the sites … Read Asahi for more. http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201609020034.html
The government relies on the radioactive decay for these wastes to pass below the 8000 Bq / kg to be downgraded and utilized …
Cartoon credit: www.sanonofresafety.org/nuclear-waste/
Highly radioactive waste, dangerous for as long as 200,000 years, has to be isolated and guarded in every country that has dabbled in nuclear energy.
Japan is a place where not two, not three, but four plates meet with no geographical stability. Volcanoes are erupting all the time, new islands pop up in the sea and there are daily earthquakes. Forty thousand years ago, the coast line was totally different and nuclear waste storage is supposed to be safe there?
The issue of transparency
there seems to be a lack of information on the Japanese plans to bury their nuclear High Level waste. Very little has been discussed on this latest OECD report from May, However, on the JAIF website it has been given a brief mention in a very recent report from JAIF (10 August, 2016)
“When completing its report, the group also took into consideration an international peer review by the OECD/NEA in May of this year, as well as opinions and comments from relevant academic societies and other bodies.” – http://www.jaif.or.jp/en/report-completed-on-criteria-for-scientifically-promising-hlw-disposal-sites/
The issue of definition
It would appear that the Japanese Government is trying to play down the adverse comments from the OECD/NEA report from May 2016. Awkwardly enough, The NUMO report came out in March 2016 and seemed to rely on earlier findings in an older OECD/NEA report.
Well, moving on, The main issue found was with the definition and clarity of the Japanese experts terminology in making points within the report. This issue was brought up in the earlier OECD/NEA report and the March 2016 NUMO report had it had tackled the problem. This was not true as the May 2016 OECD/NEA report still mentions issues of clarity in definition.
The issue of democracy
Another issue includes allowing the public to have a say (in the NUMO, JAIF and the OECD/NEA reports) whilst at the same time, denying the public choice and instead allowing scientists to make the decisions to choose a suitable site for the geological repository. The option to self determination of local communities is being sidelined because the most of the Prefectures have resoundingly declared that they do not want to have a nuclear waste dump near their homes. But that hasnt stopped NUMO;
“In May 2015 NUMO abandoned the idea of waiting for a volunteer[Prefecture]. Instead, scientists will nominate suitable regions. According to NUMO, Japan wants to start construction of a repository in 2025 and have the facility operational by between 2033 and 2037”. – http://www.nucnet.org/all-the-news/2016/08/12/japan-plans-to-identify-multiple-candidate-sits-for-repository
The issues of Research and being thorough
Nestled some 500 meters underground are Japans existing deep Underground research Laboratories;
Mizunami Underground Research Laboratory Granite opened in 2004- Run by Jaea JAEA
Horonobe Underground Research Center opened in 2005- Run by JAEA
It might be worth noting that these two deep research labs will be initially used for research and then later will be kept open because they can do things in the underground research laboratories that they will not be able to do in the final disposal facilities. So will there be an ongoing hidden cost (to the tax payer) when the repositories are being priced for costs, perhaps?
Compared to this years measly 50 page report on Geological nuclear waste disposal in Japan written by the OECD/NEA, we can compare it with this years Swedish report (Some 170 pages long) for the same thing;
“In other words, the reactor company itself does not have the long-term capability to fulfil the obligations defined by the Nuclear Activities Act regarding safe decommissioning and dismantling of the facilities and management and disposal of spent nuclear fuel and nuclear waste” http://www.karnavfallsradet.se/sites/default/files/sou_2016_16_eng_webb.pdf
It is worth noting, that unlike the lengthy and inclusive Swedish report, that there are many areas that have seemingly not been addressed in the latest OECD/NEA report and we shall have to wait for JAIF to make public the full report in the near or distant future. So far as this article is showing that even the limited remit of the OECD/NEA report is showing signs of cracks appearing in the plan.
The issue of spontaneous volcano creation and Magma intrusion
Image source; http://www.jma.go.jp/jma/en/Activities/earthquake.html
Japan had to act after the Fukushima Prefecture suffered the nuclear catastrophe. The worlds best minds were brought to bare on this disaster and a newly formed Nuclear Regulation Association (NRA) was born. However, the only expert on geology was soon ejected from the committee because of differences in opinion. He was not replaced by another Geologist as it as found that Geologists did not know enough about Nuclear Physics. Then the worry of Pyroplastic flows blew away and Japan was able to restart a couple of reactors (but both have since been re-shut down ).
Hidden deep in the OECD/NEA report though, is this slightly worrying sentence;
“The Interim Summary acknowledges that the current understanding of magmatic processes indicates that future volcanic hazards to a repository may be present even in areas with no known Quaternary eruptive centres “
Meaning that Magma could move through previously safe areas. Surely, like Japans Tsunamis, however rare, this should be taken into account? As an example we can see the arrogance of Japans Nuclear Regulatory Association (NRA) in relation to volcanic threats as seen here;
“The NRA ruled out a major eruption over the next 30 years until the reactors reach the end of their usable life span. The surprise eruption of Mount Ontake on the border of Gifu and Nagano prefectures on Sept. 27 has renewed concerns about the volcanoes in the region. “It is simply impossible to predict an eruption over the next 30 to 40 years,” Fujii said. “The level of predictability is extremely limited.” https://nuclear-news.net/2014/10/19/sendai-reactors-vulnerable-to-eruptions-state-picked-volcanologist-warns/
And apart from the nuclear lobby and groups getting the science wrong we see basic data not being added to the report and we can only wait to see if this issue is addressed in any later JAIF reports.
“ It would be informative to provide more explanation of the data uncertainty regarding the geothermal gradients, given that relevant maps appear to be available for Japan, such as the cited Geothermal Gradient and Heat Flow Datareport (AIST, 2004). This would help explain the lack of a prescribed value to assess the thermal “areas to be avoided”.”
The issue of practicality
The definitions are important and will lay down the exact routes that need to be decided. And after Fukushima we would think that the “best” sites would be the safest sites but this is not exactly the case.
“The intent to select a site that meets Japan’s current safety standards, but not necessarily selecting the “most suitable (best) site”, is considered practical and consistent with international best practices and recommendations.”
Cost before Safety perhaps? Or are there any “best” sites in Japan?
The issue of belief in the atom
In the OECD/NEA report it talks of the need for long term protection of the deep vault by generations of specialists that could look after the vault and stop human intrusion and deal with any pollution threats. The best comparison is from Planet of the Apes that showed people worshipping a nuclear bomb many generations after a nuclear war.
It might be worth noting that because of a shortage of nuclear engineers that it would be very difficult to maintain a work force in a fixed location for some 200,00 years. However, the reports generally talk about the vague term “Mid-term” storage (maybe some hundreds/thousands of years?) concerning the expected time needed for manning the location. Without a doubt there are huge fences to hurdle in how Japan deals with its High level nuclear waste and of course the so called “lesser” contaminated waste as well, but, well… thats a whole other story.
Source to NUMO March 2016 report; https://www.numo.or.jp/en/reports/pdf/TR-15-02.pdf
The JAIF report is in the article (2 links)
Posted by Shaun McGee aka Arclight
Posted to www.europeannewsweekly.wordpress.com