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Eight years on, water woes threaten Fukushima cleanup

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Eight years after the Fukushima nuclear crisis, a fresh obstacle threatens to undermine the massive clean-up: 1 million tons of contaminated water must be stored, possibly for years, at the power plant.

Last year, Tokyo Electric Power Co said a system meant to purify contaminated water had failed to remove dangerous radioactive contaminants.

That means most of that water – stored in 1,000 tanks around the plant – will need to be reprocessed before it is released into the ocean, the most likely scenario for disposal.

Reprocessing could take nearly two years and divert personnel and energy from dismantling the tsunami-wrecked reactors, a project that will take up to 40 years.

It is unclear how much that would delay decommissioning. But any delay could be pricey; the government estimated in 2016 that the total cost of plant dismantling, decontamination of affected areas, and compensation, would amount to 21.5 trillion yen ($192.5 billion), roughly 20 percent of the country’s annual budget.

Tepco is already running out of space to store treated water. And should another big quake strike, experts say tanks could crack, unleashing tainted liquid and washing highly radioactive debris into the ocean.

Fishermen struggling to win back the confidence of consumers are vehemently opposed to releasing reprocessed water – deemed largely harmless by Japan’s nuclear watchdog, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) – into the ocean.

“That would destroy what we’ve been building over the past eight years,” said Tetsu Nozaki, head of the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations. Last year’s catch was just 15 percent of pre-crisis levels, partly because of consumer reluctance to eat fish caught off Fukushima.

SLOW PROGRESS
On a visit to the wrecked Fukushima Dai-ichi plant last month, huge cranes hovered over the four reactor buildings that hug the coast. Workers could be seen atop the No. 3 building getting equipment ready to lift spent fuel rods out of a storage pool, a process that could start next month.

In most areas around the plant, workers no longer need to wear face masks and full body suits to protect against radiation. Only the reactor buildings or other restricted areas require special equipment.

Fanning out across the plant’s property are enough tanks to fill 400 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Machines called Advanced Liquid Processing Systems, or ALPS, had treated the water inside them.

Tepco said the equipment could remove all radionuclides except tritium, a relatively harmless hydrogen isotope that is hard to separate from water. Tritium-laced water is released into the environment at nuclear sites around the world.

But after newspaper reports last year questioned the effectiveness of ALPS-processed water, Tepco acknowledged that strontium-90 and other radioactive elements remained in many of the tanks.

Tepco said the problems occurred because absorbent materials in the equipment had not been changed frequently enough.

The utility has promised to re-purify the water if the government decides that releasing it into the ocean is the best solution. It is the cheapest of five options a government task force considered in 2016; others included evaporation and burial.

Tepco and the government are now waiting for another panel of experts to issue recommendations. The head of the panel declined an interview request. No deadline has been set.

NRA chief Toyoshi Fuketa believes ocean release after dilution is the only feasible way to handle the water problem. He has warned that postponing the decision indefinitely could derail the decommissioning project.

STORING INDEFINITELY
Another option is to store the water for decades in enormous tanks normally used for crude oil. The tanks have been tested for durability, said Yasuro Kawai, a plant engineer and a member of Citizens’ Commission on Nuclear Energy, a group advocating abandoning nuclear energy.

Each tank holds 100,000 tons, so 10 such tanks could store the roughly 1 million tons of water processed by ALPS so far, he said.

The commission proposes holding the tritium-laced water, which has a half life of 12.3 years, in tanks for 123 years. After that, it will be one thousandth as radioactive as it was when it went into storage.

Although experts caution that tanks would be vulnerable to major quakes, Japan’s trade and industry minister, Hiroshige Seko, said the committee would consider them anyway.

“Long-term storage … has an upside as radiation levels come down while it is in storage. But there is a risk of leakage,” Seko told Reuters. “It is difficult to hold the water indefinitely, so the panel will also look into how it should be disposed of eventually.”

Space is also a problem, said Akira Ono, Tepco’s chief decommissioning officer. By 2020, the utility will expand tank storage capacity by 10 percent to 1.37 million tons, and about 95 percent of total capacity will probably be used by the end of that year, he said.

“Tanks are now being built on flat, elevated spots in stable locations,” Ono said. But such ideal space is getting scarce, he added.

Many local residents hope Tepco will just keep storing the water. If it does get released into the ocean, “everyone would sink into depression,” said fishing trawler captain Koichi Matsumoto.

Fukushima was once popular with surfers. But young people in the area do not go surfing any more because they’ve been repeatedly warned about suspected radioactivity in the water, said surf shop owner Yuichiro Kobayashi.

Releasing treated water from the plant “could end up chasing the next generation of children away from the sea as well,” he said.

Ono says dealing with contaminated water is one of many complex issues involved in decommissioning.

A year ago, when he took over leading the effort, it felt like the project had just “entered the trailhead,” he said. “Now, it feels like we’re really starting to climb.”

Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Malcolm Foster and Gerry Doyle

Report typos and corrections to [email protected].
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Fox News audience erupts in applause after Pete Buttigieg issues perfect 3-word response to Trump’s ‘grotesque’ Twitter attacks

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South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a Democratic candidate for president, on Sunday received a rousing applause from the Fox News town hall audience when asked about Donald Trump’s Twitter attacks, saying simply, “I don’t care.”

Host Chris Wallace followed up on a question about the Democratic Party “possibly impeaching Trump” by asking Buttigieg how he would “deal with” the president — and his Twitter handle — in the general election.

“Let’s talk less about policies than dynamic of running again Donald Trump,” Wallace began. “As we see in 2016, he is a formidable and unconventional candidate, he is already making fun of your name, and your looks— comparing you to Alfred Newman. How would you deal with him … How would you handle insults and attacks and Tweets and that?”

“Tweets are — I don’t care,” Buttigieg replied as the audience roared.

“That gets a lot of applause,” Wallace observed.

“It is an effective way to command the attention of media,” Buttigieg continued. “We need to change the channel from the show he created. I get it, it is mesmerizing. It is hard to look away. It is the nature of grotesque things you can’t look away.”

Watch below:

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Why Mike Pompeo smirked when asked if North Korea executed negotiators

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“Suffer me that I may speak, and after I have spoken, mock on.”
The Book of Job, 21:3

No wonder Mike Pompeo awkwardly laughed or, as it was described by some observers, “smirked,” when asked about the reports of the execution of four of the people with whom Mr. Trump and Mr. Pompeo had been negotiating a few shorts months ago. Their roles might have been reversed.

The smirk made its appearance when Mr. Pompeo was being interviewed on a Sunday news show, and was asked for his reaction to reports that life had not gone well for four of the people he had gotten to know during the two sessions North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump had conducted over the preceding 12 months.

The first session had been a phenomenal success and the second, although cut short, did not extinguish the flame of love that warmed Mr. Trumps’ heart whenever he thought of Mr. Kim.

After the first meeting in Singapore in June 2018, Mr. Trump said at a news conference that he and Mr. Kim had “developed a very special bond. People are going to be very impressed. People are going to be very happy… I think our whole relationship with North Korea and the Korean Peninsula is going to be a very much different situation than it has in the past.” Describing Mr. Kim, Mr. Trump said he was “a very talented man.”

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly in September 2018 and making reference to the historic meeting, Mr. Trump said in the manner of a child explaining the child’s affection for a person of whom the child’s parents disapprove: “He likes me, I like him. We get along. He wrote me two of the most beautiful letters. When I showed one of the letters—just one—to [Japanese] Prime Minister Abe, he said: ‘This is actually a groundbreaking letter.’”

Prior to the February 2019 meeting in Singapore, Mr. Trump said of his relationship with Mr. Kim: “It’s a very interesting thing to say, but I’ve developed a very, very good relationship. We’ll see what that means. But he’s never had a relationship with anybody from this country and hasn’t had lots of relationships anywhere.”

Notwithstanding Mr. Trump’s ardor, the February 2019 summit was cut short by Mr. Trump because he and Mr. Kim could not come to an agreement on the United States lifting economic sanctions and on North Korea cutting back its nuclear arsenal. Mr. Trump explained that “I’d much rather do it [a deal] right than do it fast.”

Mr. Pompeo, the secretary of state who accompanied Mr. Trump on the trip, commented on the early termination of the summit, saying, “We are certainly closer today [to an agreement] than we were 36 hours ago, and we were closer then, than we were a month or two before that.”

Success in negotiations with North Korea is a bit like beauty—it is in the eye of the beholder. What unconfirmed reports say happened in North Korea following the second meeting suggests that Mr. Kim was not quite as pleased with its results as Mr. Pompeo had been. If reports are accurate, Mr. Kim attributed the failure of the talks to four of his representatives and to make sure such an embarrassing failure would not happen again, the negotiators were lined up in front of a firing squad and executed.

During an interview on an ABC News program, Mr. Pompeo was asked about the reported execution and in response, he simply smiled or, as some described it, smirked, while declining to add anything to the reports but saying, “It does appear that the next time we have serious conversations, my counterpart will be someone else.” Here is why Mr. Pompeo smirked.

He is mildly amused by the fact that those negotiators were working for a man whose retributive actions towards his negotiators was so violent. Mr. Pompeo knows that those negotiators work for the same kind of manipulative, corrupt, and unpredictable tyrant as he. Mr. Pompeo smirked because he knows that it was only luck of the draw that he works for Mr. Trump, who lacks the ability, if not the wish, to have those who displease him shot. If he could, he would. He can’t. Mr. Trump’s remedies for dealing with those who displease him is to utter the famous two-word phrase: “You’re fired.”

Mr. Pompeo smirked because he knows how much those who were shot would have preferred to be part of the corrupt Trump White House team rather than the corrupt North Korean entourage, and he knows how lucky he is to be working for his nut job instead of the other one.

There is in truth, little to smirk about when the person who is smirking works for Trump instead of Kim. Both men are beneath contempt.

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Trump says he’ll give Americans the ‘best healthcare ever’ — but only if Republicans win in 2020

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President Donald Trump appears to be holding a healthcare plan hostage unless Americans vote for Republicans in 2020.

In a Fox News interview Sunday with Steve Hilton, Trump said he’s developing a plan that will be far better than the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare). But that bill will never become law in the next two years because he wants Republicans to be elected first.

He began by saying that the 80 million Americans who have health care through their employer are “happy” and Democrats want to take it away. As a fact-check, the “Medicare for All” plan would give free health care to people instead of their employer paying for their health insurance.

“What I want to do, Obamacare is a disaster,” Trump said. “I got rid of the individual mandate, which was the worst part of Obamacare. Frankly, except for the one gentleman who decided after campaigning for eight years to repeal and replace at 2:00 A.M., he walked out on the on the floor and went thumbs, we would have healthcare repealed and replaced, but I’m doing it a different way.”

As another fact-check, the bill Republicans put up was a repeal without a replacement. It’s unclear if McCain voted against it for that reason, but many Republicans suggest it was the major problem with the GOP proposal.

“We get rid of the individual mandate as part of the tax cuts and that’s most we are now coming up with a much better plan than Obamacare if we take the House back, keep the Senate, keep the presidency, they will have phenomenal healthcare at a fraction of the cost,” Trump pledged.

If Trump was interested in actually fixing health care, he could work with Democrats to develop a law that both parties could pass. Instead, he’s hoping to take back both chambers of Congress so he can pass the bill he wants without bipartisan agreement.

Watch the interview with Trump below:

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 30, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts