Tepco Progress Inadequate on Radioactive Water, Adviser Says

Tokyo Electric Power Co. is making inadequate progress in managing radioactive water at its wrecked Fukushima atomic plant, which is distracting it from other important challenges, an adviser to the company said.

There’s a lack of a long-term plan for disposing of contaminated water stored in tanks at the site, Dale Klein, who chairs the utility’s Nuclear Reform Monitoring Committee, said in a prepared speech to mark today’s three-year anniversary of the March 11, 2011, disaster at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant.

The company known as Tepco, which has been forced to store thousands of metric tons of radioactive water, says decommissioning the plant could take four decades and cost as much as 11 trillion yen ($106 billion). Dismantling the plant will involve the removal of molten fuel from three reactors that melted down after the plant was disabled by an earthquake and tsunami. Such a removal has never been attempted, Klein said.

“They are making progress, though not yet enough, on the long-term challenge posed by groundwater,” he said. “There is a tendency to divert attention -– and resources -– from addressing and solving the main challenge posed at Fukushima: How do we keep the molten fuel and the spent fuel cooled and how do we safely remove molten fuel from damaged containment vessels?”

Safety Push

The Fukushima site had more than 431,000 tons of radioactive water stored in more than 1,100 tanks as of Feb. 25. Those levels are rising at a rate of 400 tons a day as groundwater seeping into basements mixes with cooling water that has been in contact with the melted reactors.

Klein, who has led the committee since its start in September 2012, has used his position to push for greater attention to safety by Tepco and has criticized what he’s seen as failings by the utility, Japan’s biggest.

Mayumi Yoshida, a Tepco spokeswoman, said the company is working with the government on a plan to deal with contaminated water at the site.

In his prepared remarks, Klein said the company has made “great progress on many fronts,” including the system it’s implemented for keeping melted reactor fuel from overheating in reactor Nos. 1, 2 and 3 and its removal of spent fuel bundles from a cooling pool in reactor No. 4.

It would be “logical” to release irradiated water stored at the plant after treating it to remove most contaminants so only some tritium remains, Klein said in Tokyo, following his prepared remarks.

While Tepco has had treatment systems in place for removing the contaminant cesium since shortly after the March 2011 disaster, and is testing a filter for the radioactive element strontium, it has no means of removing the tritium.

“It is safer to release that water in a controlled manner, proper dilution, than it is to keep it in tanks,” Klein said.

Tepco hasn’t yet decided whether to release the stored water into the ocean and wouldn’t do so without government approval, Yoshida said.

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