Posted by: coastlinesproject | November 12, 2011

First Look Inside the Fukushima Nuclear Plant.

A Reminder that the Nuclear Crisis in Japan is far from over. TEPCO is still several months away from acheiving a cold shut-down. This is attached from the Wall Street Journal. It is the first time since March that the press has been allowed inside the damaged facility:

A Look Inside Fukushima Daiichi

By a WSJ Staff Reporter

In the atmosphere near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors, the radiation readings hit 300 microsieverts per hour Saturday afternoon, or about 100 times the level that generally triggers an evacuation.

It had all the markings of a disaster scene: Crumpled trucks, twisted metal girders and pipes, a huge storage tank dented and bent. Three white cars with markings of Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant operator, were crushed together. Twisted trucks remained in empty pools. An office building was left gutted by tsunami.

Three cranes were cleaning up the rubble at the building of Reactor No. 3, which was just a skeletal concrete frame, preparing to cap it with a new superstructure. At Reactor No. 4, the entire south side of the building was blown out.

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The crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant’s upper part of the No.3 reactor building is seen from a bus window in Fukushima on Saturday.

Eight months after the March 11 tsunami triggered one of the world’s worst nuclear accidents, the Japanese government opened the complex to the press Saturday for the first time. This account is based on a pool report of the tour, made available to the foreign press.

Before going in, the three dozen journalists donned Tyvek protective suits, double gloves, a double layer of clear plastic booties over their shoes, hair covers, respirator masks, and radiation detectors. Heading toward the Fukushima Daiichi complex, the two buses passed through the abandoned towns within the evacuation zone of the 20 kilometers surrounding the complex. In one, a plant store had plants still on display outside, but withered and dead. Inside one office, there were papers scattered in piles on the floor, apparently untouched since earthquake. A gas station had been taken over by crows.

The buses passed the former Tepco welcome center: a small collection of Bavarian-style gingerbread buildings. Nearby was a campaign poster for Naoto Kan, who was prime minister at the time of the accident and was forced to step down in late August, in part due to criticism of his handling of the disaster.

Upon entering the plant, the first things visible were a half dozen large cranes dominating the skyline, then a field filled with blue train-car-like tanks for water contaminated during the months of trying to keep the damaged fuel cool. According to Tepco, there are 90,000 tons of water stored here, and more storage is being built. At the entrance of the water decontamination facility were American, French, and Japanese flags. In the pine forest near the reactors, the main signs of life were crows and dragonflies.

Next to the reactors themselves, Tepco had built a makeshift tsunami defense, a four-meter high sea wall built with rocks in black nets. There were two blue trucks with heavy equipment on them – the pumps for the new cooling system, used to cool all three of the damaged reactors.

After driving around the reactors, the reporters were taken to the “seismic safety building” – the plant’s disaster headquarters. On the way, there was evidence of the earthquake’s damage: big cracks in the earth, buckled metal shutters on buildings, windows with blinds out of shape. On the roof of the disaster headquarters were small sheds that were toppled, also by earthquake.

Inside the center were long strings of paper cranes, posters, and even hand towels with messages of support for plant workers sent from around Japan. A few had come from the U.S. One wall was filled with screens, most showing live images from around plant. Around the room, there were a dozen tables, each with about a dozen men tapping at laptops. Nearby was a whiteboard listing the temperatures, hydrogen readings and other data for the reactors. On one wall was a small, plain wood Shinto shrine.

Goshi Hosono, the cabinet minister responsible for handling the crisis, told workers and reporters that he hopes to reach the condition of cold shutdown by year’s end, but noted that, beyond that, it would take another 30 years to complete the work of fully dismantling the reactors.

Plant manager Masao Yoshida assured reporters that the reactors were stabilized. “From the data at the plant that I have seen, there is no doubt that the reactors have been stabilized,” he said. But, he added: “even saying it’s stabilized doesn’t mean that it is extremely safe. When working, the radiation remains high, so when it comes to working every day, there is still danger.”

Mr. Yoshida’s remarks were the latest reminder of how unsettled the situation at Fukushima Daiichi remains. Tepco believes three of the reactor cores experienced partial meltdowns, and that in at least one case, the fuel may have leaked outside the pressure vessel where it is normally contained and into the surrounding containment vessel. Nobody is sure where the fuel is, what state it’s in and what is really going on inside the reactors. Two weeks ago, Japan’s nuclear regulator said a small amount of radioactive xenon had been detected near one reactor, raising the possibility that a bit of fuel could still be active.

Mr. Yoshida, a long-time Tepco employee, has been managing the on-the-ground response to the accident since the day the earthquake and tsunami slammed the plant. As he struggled to help bring the plant under control in the early days after the disasters, Mr. Yoshida famously tangled with top company officials over how to respond. Mr. Yoshida insisted on using seawater to cool the reactors quickly, even though others worried the saltwater could actually make the problems worse. He was later reprimanded for defying orders, though he kept his job.

Mr. Yoshida has rarely spoken to the press since March, and appears to have spent most of the past eight months helping lead the shutdown efforts. Asked by reporters how he felt early in the crisis, Mr. Yoshida said he couldn’t provide details because of a pending investigation by the government-appointed accident probe panel. He said, however, he was afraid that he and his fellow workers might die. He said he remembered hearing the first explosion on March 12. His first reaction to that was “What was that?”

Read more in “Fukushima; Nuclear Crisis on the Pacific Ring of Fire,” available as an E-book through Strawberry Hill Press tab at the top of this page.

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