The Yomiuri ShimbunAll the nuclear power plants that had operated in Fukushima Prefecture will be decommissioned. This should mark the end of one chapter and promote progress in the area’s reconstruction from the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.
At a board meeting, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. formally decided to scrap all four reactors at the utility’s Fukushima No. 2 nuclear power plant.
Although the power plant was damaged in the 2011 catastrophe, it escaped the kind of major accident that befell the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. After the disaster, the No. 2 plant served as a rear support base for the No. 1 plant.
TEPCO probably intended to restart operations at the No. 2 plant to help lift its profitability. However, the prefecture and local authorities passed a string of resolutions calling on TEPCO to retire the nuclear plant, so the decision to decommission the reactors can be described as unavoidable.
Decommissioning of the No. 2 plant will be done at the same time as the No. 1 plant is being scrapped. Nuclear fuel at the No. 1 plant melted, so decommissioning work there will be considerably more difficult than it would at undamaged reactors. People are unable to approach the reactor cores because of high radiation levels, so removing the melted fuel will be done by remote control. This is a special situation without precedent anywhere in the world.
Sophisticated technology will be needed to carry out decommissioning work under such extreme conditions. Perhaps this should be considered from the perspective of being an opportunity to make the surrounding area a central hub for decommissioning technologies.
Major domestic manufacturers have been developing technologies such as robots that can enter and inspect the reactor cores. Foreign companies keen to acquire knowledge about decommissioning technologies also are interested in this process.
Treated water still problem
A local plant construction company will be involved in some of the demolition work that has started at the Fukushima No. 1 plant. The company plans to use special cutting equipment it developed to steadily dismantle a 120-meter-tall exhaust stack next to a reactor building.
If more orders for work like this were placed with local companies, it would create new industries and jobs and give impetus to the region’s recovery.
Decommissioning the reactors will take 40 years. Continually securing the required human resources also will be a challenging task.
For the time being, the biggest problem will be disposing of contaminated water that has been generated ever since the nuclear accident.
More than 1 million tons of treated water — contaminated water that has undergone purification — is being stored in more than 900 huge tanks. These tanks occupy much of the ground at the Fukushima No. 1 plant and are becoming an impediment to decommissioning work.
There is a limit to the storage space available for this water. Fishing cooperatives and other groups oppose the option of discharging into the sea treated water containing amounts of the radioactive substance tritium diluted to below the government’s standard. If the sea discharge is to go ahead, the government must carefully explain the situation to gain the understanding of local residents and groups.
The decision to scrap the Fukushima No. 2 plant brings the number of nuclear reactors locked in for decommissioning to 24 — almost half of the reactors in Japan. From the viewpoint of ensuring a stable supply of energy, it is necessary to seek the restart of the remaining nuclear plants after making sure they are safe to operate.