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Fukushima — A litany of failures costing hundreds of millions

Fukushima — A litany of failures costing hundreds of millions thumbnail
Four years after the earthquake and resulting tsunami that killed 18,000 people and destroyed the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plan in Japan, the tragedy is far from being over. Despite the litany of failures in cleaning up the mess, Japan carries on.

The daunting task of cleanup at the Fukushima nuclear power plant site, where three of six reactors melted down, and one other is badly damaged, has been an ongoing chore that seems to have no end. And to add insult to injury, Japanese government auditors revealed this past week that over one-third of the $2.0 billion of taxpayer money earmarked for the cleanup has been wasted.

But believe it or not, tourists are beginning to return to the area as radiation fears have faded, perhaps due to positive information being issued to the public by government officials, and there are plans to host events in the Fukushima area for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But overshadowing all this good news is a pervasive and depressing litany of failures and screw-ups.

Radioactive rainwater

Radioactivity around the plant still remains above acceptable levels because no one has been able to bring it under control. This is because of the daily flood of 300 tons of rainwater that flows through the site. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) officials know all that rainwater becomes contaminated, and they have been attempting to put a stop to the flow.

TEPCO spent 2.1 billion Yen, US$22 million on seven huge underground pools to contain the water, but within a few weeks, they started leaking. So TEPCO spent another 16 billion Yen on above-ground storage tanks, filling them with 500,000 tons of radioactive water. The tanks were made using rubber seals, and made by unskilled laborers. They turned out to be shoddy, at best. They started leaking, sending the contaminated water into the ground and the ocean. According to Gizmodo, it took TEPCO almost a year to even report those leaking tanks.

The bad ideas brigade was not discouraged

I suppose having bad ideas is far better than having no ideas at all, and when 18.1 billion Yen was poured down the drain with the underground pools and leaky storage tanks, a 100 million Yen project was started that would supposedly contain the contaminated water in a maintenance tunnel by freezing the water. Sadly, even after throwing chunks of ice into the slush, the water never did completely freeze. So after pouring cement into the corridor, back they went to the drawing board.

The bad idea brigade finally came up with the ultimate brain blow-out. They would build a 1.5 kilometer (1640 yards)-long sunken “ice wall” of frozen soil all around the reactors. While the idea had never been attempted before in human history, it sparked people’s imagination. But that didn’t last for long because last week, TEPCO announced the plan had been postponed indefinitely.

Technical errors following the meltdown lead to damage control

Most of us remember that seawater was used to cool the reactor cores after the initial crisis in March 2011, when the normal cooling systems failed. A tremendous amount of money was spent on machines from companies, including Hitachi GE Nuclear Energy, Toshiba Corp. and Areva, to remove the salt from the contaminated water. One machine lasted five days before breaking down and another actually lasted for six weeks.

James Corbett from Fukushima Update told last October, “The cores are still there and highly radioactive. The technology to approach the cores does not exist yet. Just last week (October 2014) they had a typhoon and in the wake of that they found 10 times the radioactivity in the groundwater than in the week before.”

Corbett added, “There really isn’t the technology to even begin approaching the core of these reactors yet,’’ he said. “[They’re] the fundamental cause of the problem. That is going to go on for potentially years, potentially decades. At this stage, it’s more damage control and trying to take care of things like the radioactive water.”

With an expected 20 million visitors, the Japanese government is also doing a great deal of damage control, leading up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. With cheap prices for food and lodging near the exclusion zone, tourism has started rising. But plant workers would like to tell a different story, of poor wages and dangerous work conditions, but open discussion of the disaster is now frowned upon, with authorities focused on displaying a harmonious public face.

Fukushima food products being sold all over Japan

On Wednesday, officials seized over 283 food products imported from the Fukushima region and found to have been relabeled as having come from other areas of the country. This was just the latest in an ongoing attempt to sell products from those areas still under export restrictions because of the Fukushima disaster. Further investigation by the health department found that a number of well-known Japanese supermarkets had imported and were selling the restricted products.

Japan’s Food and Drug Administration chief Chiang Yu-mei pointed out there has been a rise in reports of products from the five areas that were affected by the Fukushima crisis. From March 19 to 21, over 3,000 products were found to be mislabeled with the point of origin, most coming from the five prefectures exposed to radiation.

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19 Comments on "Fukushima — A litany of failures costing hundreds of millions"

  1. penury on Sat, 28th Mar 2015 8:25 pm 

    Perfectly safe and the electricity will be too cheap to meter. And before I forget, no one has ever died due to a radiation accident.

  2. Glenn on Sun, 29th Mar 2015 2:40 am 

    If thousands of years ago, they can build the great wall of china. There is no reason they can’t make a cement wall that go’s below the water line around the site. Then use a massive boring machine, like the one’s they used to tunnel all over the planet. Starting at a 30/45 degree angle from the wall, and tunnel to the center of the reactor. At the reactor angle the tunnel straight down toward the center of the Earth. Then let the melting core burn down and drop into the hole. When done then KILL everyone that tries to build another reactor on this planet.

  3. Kenz300 on Sun, 29th Mar 2015 5:46 am 

    The Fukishima and Chernobyl disasters continue today with no end in sight.

    Quote — James Corbett from Fukushima Update told last October, “The cores are still there and highly radioactive. The technology to approach the cores does not exist yet. Just last week (October 2014) they had a typhoon and in the wake of that they found 10 times the radioactivity in the groundwater than in the week before.”

    Corbett added, “There really isn’t the technology to even begin approaching the core of these reactors yet,’’ he said. “[They’re] the fundamental cause of the problem. That is going to go on for potentially years, potentially decades. At this stage, it’s more damage control and trying to take care of things like the radioactive water.”

    Nuclear energy is the technological equivalent of snake oil sold by hucksters…….. dangerous and too costly.

  4. dave on Sun, 29th Mar 2015 7:27 am 

    South Carolina and Georgia have bought right into the nuclear mantra. The political fallout will be real with cost overruns.

  5. TemplarMyst on Sun, 29th Mar 2015 9:21 am 

    While I can’t speak to the specifics of what the plan is for the reactors at this point, I can point out the melted core at Three Mile Island was successfully removed and transported to the Idaho Research Facility without incident.

    So I’m not sure where James Corbett is getting his information from, but I do commend Fukushima Update much of the time for not simply spreading fear, as some other sites have a wont to do.

    And the folks returning to the area will, in all likelihood, experience what the folks who returned to Chernobyl have experienced.

    Basically, nothing.

    Well, yes, there’s a lot of construction they will have to undertake. There is that. But that tends to happen after an earthquake and a tsunami.

  6. Hugh Culliton on Sun, 29th Mar 2015 10:05 am 

    TM: from what I understand as a history teacher who got 54% in Gr 12 Physics, 3 Mile Island was ‘just’ venting of radioactive steam from a partial melt, and nowhere near the 3 total, lost-containment meltdowns we are currently enjoying at Fukushima. And then there are all those spent fuel rods that need to be kept cool until the sun goes nova. Fukushima is 3-Mile Island raised to the tenth power. The only reason TEPCO’s signature dog funk hasn’t gotten even worse is that we’ve been both far luckier and we deserve, and TEPCO is probably hiding some of the more frightening data so that their senior staff aren’t lynched or thrown into the caldera of Mount Fuji.
    This gong show isn’t done with us yet. Another tsunami or, even better, major earthquake and tsunami and all bets are off.

  7. TemplarMyst on Sun, 29th Mar 2015 12:20 pm 


    Unfortunately I have to agree TEPCO has been less than helpful throughout this entire process. As someone who advocates the use of nuclear power to assist in the effort to combat climate change, I’m constantly irritated with their behavior.

    If you have followed any of my previous comments on Fukushima you will have seen the broader set of issues I’ve raised in the discussion. If not and you’d like me to address other specific issues I have some time today. I am thankful to have a good job, but it does take a lot of time, I admit.

    To the issue of the severity of the meltdowns and their ultimate disposition, TEPCO has not been helpful there either. However, Reactor 4 at Chernobyl actually caught fire, exploded, and burned for days, without any containment vessel at all.

    Thirty years later nature has returned with a vengeance. The debate appears to me to be around the health effects of low levels of radioactivity. No serious individual questions high levels are dangerous. The question, at the end of the day, is what impact will Fukushima’s melted cores have on the environment and on us.

    Base on Chernobyl, effort will have to be made to encase or remove the cores when they are cool enough, but that otherwise the health effects will be minimal.

    This runs counter to a great deal of information perpetrated by some folks out there. When I get a chance I try to point out their perspective may be flawed.

    You can visit Chernobyl now, if you’d like. Many of the original residents returned years ago. They’re doing fine. So is nature.

    It may not seem possible, but that is what appears to have actually happened. It’s not the wasteland I was, in my youth, lead to believe it would be.

  8. peakyeast on Sun, 29th Mar 2015 3:00 pm 

    Now if we had listenede to the happy atom people we would have had 10x as many power plants.

    With that follows we would have had 10 chernobyls and 10 fukushimas.

    Now that seems like a really good plan…

    But now – today everything is, of course, completely different. Today we know all we need to know to make it safe – unlike before where we only postulated it was safe.

  9. TemplarMyst on Sun, 29th Mar 2015 4:44 pm 


    Well, I suppose there may have been 10 Chernobyls and 10 Fukushimas. Anything may have been possible.

    It also seems at least possible there would have been 10 times less CO2 and CH4 in the atmosphere at this point too.

  10. peakyeast on Sun, 29th Mar 2015 5:21 pm 

    @TemplarMyst: Absolutely.

    And possibly countless millions without lungcancer, chronic respiratory problems.

    In Denmark alone about 15000 people are estimated to be chronically ill from air polution.

  11. TemplarMyst on Sun, 29th Mar 2015 6:11 pm 


    Indeed. 60 Minutes had a report on present day Chernobyl not long ago. I think it is still available on their web site.

    Though I thought the general tenor of the piece was pretty much the run of the mill fear job, it was interesting to listen to the folks actually interviewed.

    One elderly couple tried to point out to the interviewer they were far better off in Chernobyl than in the city where they had previously lived, for precisely the reason you stated. The air in that city was so foul they were sick there all the time. Since going back to Chernobyl their health had improved significantly.

    I don’t recall the city at this point, but it wouldn’t take long to look it up, I’m sure.

  12. Kenz300 on Sun, 29th Mar 2015 6:50 pm 

    Had Chernoblyl or Fukishima been a wind or solar energy plant there would be no need for an evacuation and the clean up and movement of people back home would already be complete.

    Instead another billion dollars has been spent on ANOTHER roof over Chernobyl and we have a 40 year plan from TEPCO to clean up Fukishima that they admit in the plan they do not have the technology to do the clean up.

    There are safer, cleaner and cheaper ways to generate electricity.

  13. TemplarMyst on Sun, 29th Mar 2015 7:19 pm 


    And if Chernobyl or Fukushima had been a wind or solar energy plant they would not have produced anything even vaguely close to the amount of energy those two plants produced.

    It is a question of energy density, risk, and land area. I’ve asked, as politely as I can, for you to produce the data on what it would take to replace either of those two plants with renewable energy.

    How many wind turbines? Solar panels? New smart grid infrastructure components to manage the intermittent energy being generated? Back up natural gas plants (or you can provide numbers for coal if you like too)? How many new high voltage lines (AC or DC)? And at the end of the day what would the return on investment be for the new infrastructure?

    I’m not being flippant. I’ve tried very hard to make the renewable numbers work. I follow the Fraunhofer Institute on how Germany is doing. Germany has built out a massive amount of renewable energy, but have a small return to show for it. Yes, when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing on a given day they can throw up an impressive number.

    But the next day things don’t look so good. Nature of the renewable beast.

    I tried to do a back of the envelope calculation on how many wind turbines would be needed to replace Sizewell B in England.

    I came up with enough wind turbines to cover all of greater London. And that’s assuming the wind blows nice and steady, all the time.

    Honestly, I don’t see how any of this winds up working, but I’m open, guy. Throw some numbers out there for discussion.

    Start with Chernobyl. An old, antiquated, cold war relic. How much would it take to replace it’s generating capacity?

    Or pick another nuclear plant of your choice, in a location of your choice.

    I’m open. Very seriously open. It’d be nice to be able to do what needs to be done with a much reduced risk profile. It really, really would.

  14. Davy on Sun, 29th Mar 2015 8:22 pm 

    Temp, I am with you. Some of these guys have these illusions of a shiny green world without carbon or NUK but they fail to show a blue print for their alternative. BAU can’t be reformed. It can only be adapted to as it decays. We need every built out energy source out there to buy us time for BAU to help us transition out of BAU. We will need BAU to adapt and mitigate the coming crisis when BAU decay begins. How fast that descent is will depend on the soundness of our policies and decisions today. Eliminating NUK or fossil fuels without a sound alternative plan is dangerous.

    I am personally looking for a crisis to force change but that crisis will also be the end of BAU and that end will be ugly and painful. A crisis will end BAU because BAU must grow and cannot be disturbed in that growth. This is not our daddy’s BAU of WWII and post war BAU. This is the culmination of complexity, energy intensity with 3 times the population. We are in another world from that time and this world can’t be disturbed like previous times. Any crisis of today’s BAU will be the last crisis.

  15. Kenz300 on Mon, 30th Mar 2015 9:19 am 

    Wind and solar are much better options than wasting more money on dangerous and costly nuclear power plants.

    Quote — “Germany’s renewable energy sector is among the most innovative and successful worldwide. Net-generation from renewable energy sources in the German electricity sector has increased from 6.3% in 2000 to about 30% in 2014.[1][2] For the first time ever, wind, biogas, and solar combined accounted for a larger portion of net electricity production than brown coal.[3] While peak-generation from combined wind and solar reached a new all-time high of 74% in April 2014,[4] wind power saw its best day ever on December 12, 2014, generating 562 GWh.[5] Germany has been called “the world’s first major renewable energy economy”.[

    Renewable energy in Germany – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


    What Country Powered Itself Entirely On Renewable Energy For 75 Days?


    Wind Project Adds 200 Megawatts to Texas Grid

  16. Kenz300 on Mon, 30th Mar 2015 9:29 am 

    Too dangerous and too costly … Nuclear energy is still being sold by nuclear hucksters to the gullible and uninformed.

    Disastrous Nuclear Accident In Chernobyl Ukraine – What Really Happened? – YouTube


  17. TemplarMyst on Mon, 30th Mar 2015 10:34 am 

    Well Kenz, at least you’re posting a few links.

    Please note without Biogas (I think they meant biomass, but I could be wrong) the German figures would be substantially less: Fraunhofer Institute.

    (And the Fraunhofer Institute is fiercely pro-renewable.)

    The country that ran on renewables for 75 days? Costa Rica. Which received most of that from it’s hydroelectric power plants. In other words, dams. Still the greatest form of renewable energy on the planet.

    (Unless, of course, you’re in a drought and not getting the flow you had hoped for).

    Now, on the flip side, the Texas wind deployment looks pretty solid. It appears to be able to provide peaking and backup power when the fossil infrastructure is having issues. ROCKMAN has pointed that out before. So serious kudos there.

    The YouTube link on Chernobyl is pure fear mongering. Suggest Radioactive Wolves on PBS to see how Chernobyl is doing today.

    It’d still be nice to have some numbers on nuclear plant replacement, Kenz. A very cool replacement scenario would be for the closed San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant in Southern California.

    How many wind turbines, solar panels/plants, etc. Cost. Where do we put em.

    Right now it looks like Imperial County and one part of the Mojave Desert might work, but it also looks like there will be a need for a lot of natural gas to back it up.

    One group does think SONGS can be replaced with demand management, conservation, and renewables. Couldn’t get enough details just yet, but I’ll keep looking.

    Come on Kenz. Help me replace SONGS with renewables and do it in something vaguely approaching a reasonable cost.

  18. Kenz300 on Mon, 30th Mar 2015 2:32 pm 

    Safety for people and the environment out way any benefit of nuclear power…….. and then let’s talk about cost.

    Without limits on liability no nuclear power plant would ever be built.

  19. TemplarMyst on Mon, 30th Mar 2015 8:51 pm 

    Kenz, I’ve spent a not insignificant amount of time presenting the evidence that the low level releases which are the legacy of Chernobyl, TMI, and now Fukushima have, and will have, minimal health impacts.

    I’ve also pointed out the tailing ponds in China which are part of mining the rare earth metals which go into the manufacture of both wind turbines and solar panels.

    These tailing ponds contain not insignificant amount of low level radioactive minerals, principally Thorium.

    If safety is the primary concern, and low level radiation is the source of the concern, I’m not understanding how the two technologies differ.

    Incidentally limits on liability are part of any and all industrial, medical, and civil activities.

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