Fukushima cleanup must not be marred by misinformation

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Collecting fuel debris — nuclear fuel that has melted and fallen down from its original position — is cited as the most difficult hurdle to decommissioning Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

For the first time, the Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corporation, known as the NDF, has unveiled a basic policy regarding how to recover the debris.

A TEPCO analysis shows that a considerable amount of nuclear fuel has melted and dropped to the bottom of a reactor containment vessel at each of the Nos. 1 to 3 reactors at the plant. Recovery efforts require advanced remote control technology. It is also indispensable to implement measures aimed at preventing a leak of nuclear materials. TEPCO is scheduled to start actual recovery operations in 2021 at the latest.

NDF's fundamental policy would entail operations to insert a robot arm and other devices into each reactor vessel through an opening in its side, remotely controlling these devices to collect the debris. Earlier, the NDF considered the idea of conducting similar operations going in through the upper part of the container. However, it has decided to try collecting the fuel debris through the side of the vessel, as the container's upper part is distant from its bottom.

The condition of the reactors is still unclear in many respects. It is also feared that damaged equipment inside the reactors could block a robot as it moves forward. The inner parts of the reactors should be further inspected until the start of planned operations.

Any errors committed in the decommissioning operation could further add reputational damage to Fukushima Prefecture. It is reasonable that the prefectural government and others have called for ensuring the safety of decommissioning and smooth advancement in that task as well as disclosing accurate and pertinent information.

A number of requests were submitted at a meeting of an Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry council on decommissioning and measures against contaminated water in the prefecture, in which the basic policy was shown. Participants in the meeting, including those from local fishery cooperatives and a commerce and industry association, demanded measures be taken to address the damage caused by rumors about polluted water generated through the use of water to cool the reactors.

The amount of contaminated water stored at the nuclear plant has continued to increase, reaching about 1 million tons now. There are about 900 tanks of such water at the site of the facility. About 80 percent of the total is to be disposed of by purification equipment. The only radioactive substance contained in the treated water is tritium, a substance that exists in the natural world.

A remark made by TEPCO Chairman Takashi Kawamura last month has been regarded by local residents and others as a problem. "My judgment has already been made," he said in light of the fact that tritiated water is discharged into the sea from other nuclear facilities. The remark has triggered an outpouring of criticisms from people who argue the discharge will adversely affect the local fishing and tourist industries.

Sooner or later, there will be a limit to the the number of tanks to be built. There is also a risk that an earthquake could topple these tanks. Although Kawamura's remark is scientifically understandable in some respects, there is no denying that he made the comment too abruptly. He lacked consideration for the impact felt by the public about the remark.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority has urged TEPCO to discharge treated water into the sea so the risks involved in decommissioning can be decreased.

By carefully explaining the safety and necessity of releasing such water into the sea, the government and TEPCO should do their utmost to eliminate the damage caused by misinformation.



— Yomiuri Shimbun

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