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May Fukushima Updates

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)
said the use of remote controlled machinery is believed to have caused an oxygen cylinder to explode near reactor 4 at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility. The explosion occurred outside of the building that houses reactors at the facility and did not change conditions at the site, the company said.

Workers reported the explosion at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday local time in Japan. TEPCO said workers were using unmanned heavy machinery to remove debris at the site when the machinery damaged the cylinder, causing it to burst. There were no changes in radiation levels within the plant site and no injuries were reported.

Plant Status

  • Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) continues working toward a solution for managing radioactive water at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility. The company has suspended transferring water from the reactor turbine buildings to a centralized radiation waste treatment facility because that complex has reached its capacity. The company also reported a leak in the water treatment facility that must be fixed before the transfer of water from the turbine buildings can continue. A new water treatment facility is expected to begin service June 15 at the plant.
  • TEPCO began spraying a synthetic resin dust inhibitor onto the walls and roof of the reactor 1 turbine building and other areas at the site as one way of reducing the release of radioactive material. Plans are to spray the resin onto the reactor and turbine buildings of reactors 1-4.
  • A minor electrical fire in the basement of a building at Fukushima Daini reactor 1 was quickly extinguished with no injuries. The reactors at the Daini plant have been safely shut down since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues

  • NEI President and CEO Marvin Fertel, Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Poneman, Institute of Nuclear Power Operations President and CEO Jim Ellis, and NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko will speak at a May 31 conference sponsored by the Center for Transatlantic Relations and The Atlantic Council, “After Fukushima: The Future of Nuclear Energy in the United States and Europe.” Also speaking at the Washington, D.C., event are former Congressman Lee Hamilton and the ambassadors of France, Germany and the European Union.
  • At the G8 summit May 26, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan proposed that Japan host an international nuclear safety summit later this year. He said Japan would fully support International Atomic Energy Agency safety standards and would work to strengthen the Convention on Nuclear Safety. “Many among the G8 think that there is no alternative to nuclear power, even if we are convinced of the need to develop alternative energy, renewable energy,” said French President Nicolas Sarkozy. “But we all want to give ourselves a very high level of regulation on nuclear safety that applies to all countries wishing to use civilian nuclear power to make the safety levels the highest ever known,” he said.
  • The Japanese government announced plans to reduce radiation levels at school grounds in Fukushima prefecture to below 100 millirem per year, shifting from its previous limit of 20 times that amount after local parents protested. Possible measures include removing topsoil at the schools and individual monitoring of radiation for students.
  • Fukushima prefecture has conducted full-body radioactive screenings of more than 190,000 people since March 13-about one-tenth of the prefecture’s population. In addition, Japan’s science ministry will survey radiation levels at more than 2,200 locations within Fukushima prefecture and will draw up a map of soil contamination.

Media Highlights

  • NEI sent 10 tweets to the news media from Thursday’s meeting of the National Academies of Sciences’ Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board. The featured remarks from NEI’s president and chief executive officer Marvin Fertel and NRC Commissioner George Apostolakis can be found on NEI’s @NEI_media Twitter account.
  • NEI participated in a live interview about the implications of the Fukushima accident on NTN24 TV broadcast in South America.

Upcoming Events

  • The International Atomic Energy Agency’s 10-day fact-finding mission in Japan began May 25 and ends June 2. Team leader Mike Weightman, the United Kingdom’s chief nuclear safety inspector, is to present a report at the IAEA’s ministerial conference on nuclear safety June 20 in Vienna. The United States has one representative on the IAEA team.

Plant Status

  • Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) continues to deal with water management issues at the Fukushima Daiichi site. The company is plugging concrete enclosures at the plant to retain contaminated water and is studying the feasibility of building a system to purify seawater. The Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has ordered TEPCO to complete a plan for storing and treating contaminated water at the Fukushima Daiichi site by June 1.
  • TEPCO has begun to build a concrete structure to provide additional support to the spent fuel storage pool for reactor 4 at the Fukushima Daiichi facility. Work is planned for completion by the end of July.

Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues

  • The Japanese government announced plans to appoint a panel to investigate the accident at Fukushima Daiichi. The head of the committee will be Yotaro Hatamura, a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo.
  • A delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency has arrived in Japan for a fact-finding mission on the nuclear accident. Its objective is to make a preliminary assessment of safety issues at the facility and identify areas that need further study. The team is composed of 20 international and IAEA experts for a dozen countries and is to complete its work June 2. Leading the team is the United Kingdom’s chief nuclear inspector, Mike Weigtman, who will present a report on the mission at IAEA’s Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety June 22-24.
  • NEI President and CEO Marvin Fertel will speak at a public meeting of the Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board of the National Academy of Sciences on the aftermath of Fukushima, beginning at 12:45 p.m. EDT on May 26 in Washington, D.C. Other speakers include the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Thomas Cochrane and the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Ed Lyman.
  • NEI Senior Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer Tony Pietrangelo will participate in a briefing for NRC’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards on events at Fukushima, beginning at 1 p.m. EDT on May 26 at NRC headquarters in Rockville, Md.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)
said today that fuel damage likely occurred in reactors 2 and 3 of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility in the first few days after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Both reactors are now reported to be stable and at relatively low temperatures. The extent of the fuel damage is unknown. If the water gauges inside the two reactors are accurate, there was sufficient water in the reactors to prevent damage to all the fuel, the company said.

Most of the fuel damage that occurred in reactor 2 is believed to have taken place within 100 hours of the earthquake. TEPCO believes fuel was damaged in reactor 3 within 60 hours. The company previously confirmed that fuel was damaged in reactor 1.

TEPCO plans to install two heat exchangers today to lower the temperature of the used reactor fuel at reactor 2.

Below is a round-up of noteworthy news that happened this week with regard to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and the U.S. nuclear industry’s response.

Plant Status

  • Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) workers entered reactor buildings 2 and 3 Wednesday for the first time since explosions at the facility. Radiation levels in building 2 peaked at 5 rem per hour. Facing high heat and humidity, the workers remained in the building for only 15 minutes. In reactor 3, radiation peaked at 17 rem per hour near a pipe connected to the reactor. TEPCO employees first entered the reactor 1 building on May 5.
  • TEPCO is looking at how to begin nitrogen injection into reactors 2 and 3 to further stabilize them. The company has been injecting nitrogen into reactor 1 for several weeks. High humidity in building 2 is hampering operations. In building 3, high radiation levels must be reduced before workers can begin efforts to inject nitrogen. TEPCO announced plans to install new cooling systems for fuel pools in four of the six reactors at the site. It is believed the new systems will reduce the high humidity in the reactor buildings.
  • TEPCO provided a new timeline for recovery of the damaged reactors, recognizing challenges the company has encountered are slowing progress on certain activities. The company reaffirmed that the target timeframe for stabilizing the plant-between October and January-remains unchanged.
  • Radiation levels in the ocean near the Fukushima Daiichi facility increased again on Thursday, but overall radiation is decreasing in seawater and other areas around the facility.
  • Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has created two radiation-proof forklifts to assist TEPCO workers in removing debris from the Fukushima Daiichi site. TEPCO has been using robotic and remote-controlled equipment for clean-up activities. The forklifts, with cabins sealed by 10 centimeter-thick steel plates and more than 20 centimeter-thick lead-glass, have filters that keep out radioactive dust.

Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues

  • A blue ribbon commission studying U.S. used fuel policies heard briefings May 13 on the Fukushima Daiichi accident from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Energy Department. The NRC representative summarized agency activities since the earthquake and tsunami damaged the facility. The DOE spokesman also discussed his agency’s activities, including a workshop scheduled for June 6-7 that will bring the nuclear energy community together to discuss lessons learned from the Japan event and potential actions that could further enhance nuclear safety.

Media Highlights

  • TEPCO had a net loss of $15.4 billion for the fiscal year that ended March 31, and the company’s president has announced his resignation, CNN reports.
  • Japan will continue to use nuclear power plants “that are deemed safe,” Prime Minister Naoto Kan said in a Reuters report, but “we need to fully consider what needs to be done to enhance the safety of nuclear power.”
  • TEPCO said the earthquake that struck Fukushima Daiichi March 11 exceeded design specifications at three of the site’s six reactors, Reuters reported. “This was clearly a larger earthquake than we had forecast,” said Junichi Matsumoto, a TEPCO spokesman. “It would have been hard to anticipate this.”
  • Operators of nuclear energy facilities have fixed or scheduled for correction all the issues NRC inspections found in post-Fukushima inspections, The New York Times reports.
  • Five tons of seawater may have flooded a reactor at the Hamaoka nuclear energy site, Japan Today reports. The site closed last week at the request of Japan’s prime minister for fears of a possible earthquake.
  • Japan’s utilities could have trouble meeting summer electricity demand, unless nuclear reactors-including those unaffected by the earthquake and tsunami but were shut down for maintenance at the time-are restarted, Reuters reports.

The Week Ahead

  • The Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board of the National Academy of Sciences will discuss the aftermath of Fukushima, beginning at 12:30 p.m. EDT May 26 at the Keck Center, 500 5th St., NW, Washington, D.C.

Below is a round-up of noteworthy news that happened this week with regard to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and the U.S. nuclear industry’s response.

Plant Status

  • Japan’s nuclear safety agency has suggested that significant damage to fuel at Fukushima Daiichi 1 means that filling the reactor containment vessel with water may be meaningless. The agency’s Hidehiko Nishiyama said on Friday that melted fuel rods at the bottom of reactor 1 are being cooled by a small amount of water. He said he doubts that it is necessary to flood the containment vessel entirely, as workers have been trying to do. Tokyo Electric Power Co. said on Thursday that most of the fuel rods in the reactor are believed to be damaged and are at the bottom of the reactor’s pressure vessel. Based on the temperature of the reactor vessel surface temperature, the company says the fuel apparently has cooled.
  • TEPCO announced this week delays in its schedule to contain the reactors. The company noted that while its work to restore reactor 1 is in progress, it had not begun these measures at the other reactors at the sites. It said that high levels of radiation in the reactor 1 building could force a change in plans.
  • TEPCO has accepted terms established by the Japanese government for state support to compensate those affected by the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Under the framework, a new state-backed institution will be set up to facilitate quick payments to those affected by the Fukushima events. The body would receive financial contributions from electric power companies that own nuclear power plants in Japan. The government will inject public funds by allocating to the institution special bonds that can be cashed whenever necessary. The institution would strengthen TEPCO’s capital base by making use of these funds to pay compensation claims and make business investments. The institution would annually return a certain amount of money from TEPCO to the treasury to offset the use of the bonds. The government must pass the necessary legislation in the Diet to establish this framework, which is expected to be difficult given that the amount of compensation needed is not yet known.
  • TEPCO released a video this week of the reactor 3 spent fuel pool that shows debris and other material atop fuel racks in the pool. To see the video, click here for TEPCO’s Japanese-language website. A video of the reactor 4 spent fuel pool showed no debris.
  • The Japanese government plans to advise schools near the Fukushima facility that burying soil contaminated by radiation reduces its radiation level. The government said that burying topsoil 20 inches underground reduced its radiation level by 90 percent.
  • Chubu Electric Power Co. has agreed to the Japanese government’s request to shut down reactors at its Hamaoka nuclear power plant, about 200 miles southwest of Tokyo. The government had asked Chubu to implement safeguards against possible earthquakes and tsunamis. The company began shutdown of Hamaoka 4 on Friday.

Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues

  • The nuclear energy industry is “going to be held accountable for learning the lessons from Fukushima and for applying them accordingly. I know that we can meet that standard,” NEI President and CEO Marvin Fertel said at NEI’s annual Nuclear Energy Assembly this week in Washington, D.C. At the same meeting, James Ellis Jr., president and CEO of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, called on the industry to seize the opportunity presented by the Fukushima accident and take a leadership position in ensuring safety enhancements are adopted at nuclear energy facilities worldwide.
  • A U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission task force studying lessons learned from Fukushima reported to the commission May 12 that it “has not identified any issues that we think undermine our confidence in the continued safety and emergency planning of U.S. plants.” The three-month review likely will result in recommendations to enhance safety and preparedness at nuclear energy facilities, the task force reported. “That said, we do expect we will have findings and recommendations that will further enhance safety,” said Charles Miller, who leads the post-Fukushima task force. A longer-term review is scheduled to begin by the time the short-term study is complete.
  • The NRC has issued a bulletin to U.S. nuclear energy facility operators requesting information on how the plants are complying with requirements to manage the potential loss of large areas of the plant after extreme events. The agency wants to know how the plants ensure their strategies have remained effective over time. “The NRC continues to conclude these strategies can effectively cool down reactor cores and spent fuel pools even if a plant’s normal safety systems are damaged or unavailable,” the agency said in a press release. “The U.S. nuclear energy industry recognizes that we are accountable to independent oversight authorities and to the American people. We must demonstrate that our facilities are fully prepared to maintain safety, even in cases where we have made protective enhancements that go beyond the NRC’s regulatory requirements,” said Tony Pietrangelo, NEI’s chief nuclear officer and senior vice president. See NEI’s press release.
  • The NRC issued a second temporary instruction (TI 2515/184) requiring the inspection of the availability and readiness of severe accident management guidelines. NRC resident inspectors at each U.S. nuclear energy facility will conduct the inspections over the next three weeks, with support from the agency’s regional offices.
  • Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) yesterday announced the release of a report, “Fukushima Fallout: Regulatory Loopholes at U.S. Nuclear Power Plants.” Markey’s website describes the report as “a summary of Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulatory inadequacies, practices and decisions that impair effective nuclear safety oversight in the United States.”
  • Japan will reconsider its energy policy following the accident at Fukushima Daiichi, the prime minister said. Nuclear energy is considered important to Japan’s energy plans, but the government will take new looks at renewable sources and efficiency measures.
  • A forum held by The Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment and Women in Nuclear yesterday in Washington, D.C., addressed the future of nuclear power in the wake of events at Fukushima Daiichi. Panelists included NEI’s Leslie Kass, senior director of business and policy programs; Annie Caputo, professional staff member of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee; and Ed Lyman, senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Media Highlights

  • Events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan are not expected to “have a major impact on new nuclear plant licensing,” NEI President and CEO, Marvin Fertel said May 10 at the Nuclear Energy Assembly in Washington, D.C. Fertel anticipates that four to eight new reactors will be built in the U.S. by 2020. Bloomberg covered the speech.
  • James Ellis, president and CEO of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, called for the creation of a rapid response team that would be dispatched to major nuclear accidents in the United States and other countries. The creation of such a team is one of the lessons of the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, said Ellis in a Platts report on Wednesday.
  • The Associated Press published a report May 10 on Japan’s long-term energy policy. Naoto Kan, Japan’s prime minister, said the nation will need to “start from scratch,” indicating the country will likely reassess a plan to obtain half the country’s electricity from nuclear power and will instead promote renewable energy and conservation as a result of its ongoing nuclear crisis.
  • Reuters reported May 12 that a leak confirmed at Fukushima Daiichi reactor 1 may be an indicator of failed or melted fuel in the reactor and will likely complicate the cleanup of the facility. The exact location of the leak at reactor 1 remains unclear.

New NEI Products

  • NEI developed several videos this week with industry executives and energy thought leaders on steps that should be taken to enhance nuclear plant safety and finance new nuclear energy projects, as well as the outlook for nuclear energy after Fukushima. To see a list of the video clips, visit NEI’s Web page for Nuclear Energy Assembly news coverage or NEI’s YouTube channel.

The Week Ahead

  • The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future begins its meeting today with updates on Fukushima from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Energy Department. The co-chairs of the commission’s three subcommittees will present their draft recommendations. View the webcast here.
  • Subcommittees of the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology are conducting a joint hearing today on nuclear energy risk management in view of events at Fukushima Daiichi. Witnesses include Lake Barrett, principal with L. Barrett Consulting LLC; Brian Sherrod, director of the NRC Office of Regulatory Research; John Boice, scientific director of the International Epidemiology Institute; and David Lochbaum, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Nuclear Safety Project.
  • NEI will conduct a webinar on the aftermath of Fukushima for the National League of Cities on May 17.

Below is a round-up of noteworthy news that happened this week with regard to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and the U.S. nuclear industry’s response.

Plant Status:

  • Workers entered the Fukushima Daiichi reactor 1 building for the first time since March 11 and installed ventilation equipment that will remove radioactive particles from the air. The plan is to reduce the level of radiation to allow for installation of a permanent reactor cooling system. The planned system, to be integrated with components already in place, includes a heat exchanger to be installed near a reactor building entrance.
  • Japan is working with both China and South Korea to remove restrictions on Japanese food imports in those countries.
  • Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) plans to bring 2,000 more workers to the Daiichi site. The plant work force now numbers 1,000. The new workers would replace those who have been on the job and are reaching their permissible limit of radiation exposure.
  • Overall, site radiation dose rates continue to stabilize or decrease. The most recent radiation readings reported at the plant site gates ranged from 4.6 millirem per hour to 1.8 millirem per hour.
  • According to media reports, the Japanese government has asked Chubu Electric Power Co. to shut down reactors at its Hamaoka nuclear power plant, about 200 miles southwest of Tokyo. The government asked Chubu to implement safeguards against possible earthquakes and tsunamis.

Regulatory/Political Issues:

  • The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will continue the licensing process for new nuclear energy plants as it reviews the current fleet of reactors following events at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said May 4 before a joint subcommittee joint subcommittee hearing of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee. Much of the hearing focused on the NRC’s cancellation of work on the license application for the Yucca Mountain used fuel repository.
  • The activist group Green Action released an international petition May 2 protesting the Japanese government’s April modifications of the radiation safety standard for schools near Fukushima.

Media Highlights:

  • The New York Times published an article on May 2 in its Science section under the headline: “Drumbeat of Nuclear Fallout Fear Doesn’t Resound With Experts.” Various authorities interviewed in the article explained that radiation fears beyond Japan’s borders “are unwarranted” and that “humans are bombarded by so much radiation from so many other sources, including natural ones, that the uptick from Japan disappears as a cause of concern (when) the big picture is considered.”
  • The Associated Press reported May 3 on a briefing by NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko to the policy group Public Citizen. “I suspect we will look at external flood risk” as part of the agency’s reviews of reactors in the United States in response to flooding issues at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, he said. (See Chairman Jaczko’s prepared remarks.)
  • The Washington Post editorialized on April 30 in a piece headlined, “A future for nuclear,” that the United States should keep nuclear energy “on the table” as an important low-carbon energy technology. “The only reason nuclear is attractive, some insist, is concern over global warming. Yet, even if that is the only cause, it is compelling,” The Post opined.


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