CH2M Hill Sees Business in Decommissioning Japan Atomic Plants

Decommissioning Japan’s nuclear plants is a business opportunity for CH2M Hill Cos., which is overseeing cleanup at the Hanford atomic weapons site in the U.S., a vice president at the engineering company said.

Japan will probably retire its reactors of similar age and design to those at the wrecked Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear station within the next decade, said Robert Kury, CH2M Hill’s vice president for nuclear liabilities decommissioning and dismantling program management. That will provide an opening for the company, which has managed nuclear decontamination projects for the U.S. and U.K. governments.

“The big market is the decommissioning,” he said. “It may not be in the next five years, but it will be in the next ten years.”

The 30,000-employee company doesn’t expect immediate work at the Fukushima site, since the project-management role it usually plays is being done by plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co., Kury said in a phone interview on Feb. 21. He was in Tokyo to attend a forum on business opportunities at the damaged plant.

Hanford stretches over 586 square miles of scrub land southeast of Seattle where thousands of technicians are decommissioning nine reactors in operation from 1944 to 1987. Its laboratories and plutonium facilities were integral to the Manhattan Project to make the first atomic bomb.

Hanford Lessons

CH2M Hill has hosted Japanese delegations connected to the Fukushima cleanup at the Hanford Engineer Works weapons lab in Washington state, where the U.S. Energy Department has spent more than $16 billion since 1989 on decommissioning. Cleaning up the Fukushima site could take four decades and cost as much as 11 trillion yen ($108 billion).

An earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 caused the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima plant, the worst civilian atomic disaster since Chernobyl in 1986. About 160,000 people were forced to evacuate because of radiation fallout.

Four of Japan’s 48 operable nuclear reactors are Mark I-model boiling water reactors, the same design as the three melted Fukushima units.

The four are the No. 1 reactor at Tohoku Electric’s Onagawa plant; the No. 1 reactor at Hokuriku Electric Power Co.’s Shika plant; and reactor Nos. 1 and 2 at Chugoku Electric Power Co.’s Shimane plant.

Those utilities will likely retire the reactors because it would be prohibitively expensive to upgrade them to meet tougher regulations set in June, Kury said.

Treaty Obstacle

One obstacle for CH2M Hill and other foreign companies is liability for damage or injury if they are involved in an accident at a nuclear plant in Japan. Kury said he is optimistic Japan will this year join an international treaty that assigns accident liability to plant operators rather than equipment and technology vendors such as CH2M Hill.

“Small companies will take that risk because you can’t get blood out of a turnip,” he said. “We’re a multibillion dollar company.”

Such companies with specialized technology and equipment may find work at the Fukushima plant as subcontractors to Toshiba Corp., Hitachi Ltd. and Obayashi Corp., the main contractors in the project, Kury said.

CH2M Hill may consider acquiring companies that make equipment or technology that would be of use at the Fukushima plant, he said.

“We don’t make widgets, we don’t make machines, we don’t make detectors,” Kury said. “So we’ll go back and think. We’re a big company we can go and buy a valve company, we could go buy this, we could go buy that, so it really helps me convince my senior management of a future strategic plan.”

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