Progress at Fukushima Dai-ichi

March 3, 2016

On February 3, 2016, the BCCJ hosted the members-only lunchtime seminar, "Progress at Fukushima Dai-ichi", led by Dr Keith Franklin, First Secretary (Nuclear), British Embassy Tokyo.

Dr. Franklin began his presentation by providing a brief overview of the current state of decommissioning at Fukushima Dai-ichi, explaining in simple terms the clean-up measures taken so far which include the task of clearing up the debris and the port area, cleaning the drainage system, tidying-up the entire site, and sealing the ground with concrete in order to minimize the radiation dosage for workers.

Stability and Safety

The speaker then briefly addressed issues often picked up by the press and public, such as water management, fuel and debris removal, and radiation levels. He explained that the continuous circulation of water ensures that the temperature of the fuel debris in the reactors is cooled. Approximately 300m³ of ground water flows into the buildings every day and the contaminated water is meticulously filtered using different cartridges - the only contaminated substance that remains (and is safely stored) is tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen. Dr. Franklin explained that scientists are currently working on the further development of tritium removal technology globally.

The speaker assured that over the five years since the earthquake, the melted content in the reactors has cooled considerably so even if there was an interruption in the cooling due to another earthquake, there is no cause for concern. 

With regard to radiation levels, Dr. Franklin revealed that after visiting the site of reactor number four shortly after the incident, his radiation dose measured 96 microsieverts. Without entering the reactor, his levels measured 27. Upon a follow-up visit in 2015, his dose measured only 2. To put these figures into perspective, exposure to radiation on a flight from Tokyo to London amounts to 140 microsieverts.

There is a lot of evidence that the health effects caused by worry and stress about radiation were greater than the negligible effects of the radiation itself.

UK-Japan Collaboration

Dr. Franklin continued to explain how the UK is supporting the decommissioning and clean-up progress at Fukushima Dai-ichi:

The UK’s civil nuclear industry is the oldest in the world. Calder Hall, the world's first nuclear power plant, opened in 1956 and was shut down in 2003 after 47 years of operation. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) oversees the clean-up and decommissioning of numerous civil public sector nuclear sites spread across the UK, from the first generation of Magnox power stations to the large site at Sellafield in Cumbria. 

Recognising the depth of UK experience, the Chief Decommissioning Officer of TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) signed an MoU with Sellafield Ltd. during the visit of Prime Minister Abe to the UK in May 2014. Additionally on 24 February 2015 the relationship between the NDA (Nuclear Decommissioning Authority) and NDF (Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corporation of Japan) was cemented with the signing of a five year cooperation agreement.

Sellafield and Fukushima Dai-ichi, Dr. Franklin says, share many common challenges which have played a significant role in the agreements reached between the UK and Japan. Fukushima Dai-ichi was a sudden event, and Sellafield is clearing up the legacy of the very early days of the nuclear industry, however the technical challenges are very similar and both sites require many years of action until remediation is complete.

The current exchange between the UK and Japan through the TEPCO/Sellafield Cooperation Agreement focuses on issues including site management and operations, waste management, radiation protection, environmental management, and design engineering - areas in which the UK has specialist expertise and technologies. 

Decommissioning and Perception

Dr. Franklin emphasised the importance of stakeholder engagement in the decommissioning process: "Decommissioning is a lengthy process and far from the sight of the public, which can lead to misconceptions that no progress is being made." The significance of visible changes, says Dr. Franklin, cannot be underestimated.

The speaker then gave the example of the Calder Hall Power Station at Sellafield, when the plant’s massive cooling towers were demolished. This was a big and very palpable change in the skyline that the public immediately registered. This visible progress resulted in a more positive public perception of the decommissioning project.

Dr. Franklin also emphasised that stakeholders must be fully engaged in the process of decommissioning: "It isn't just about robots" - clear communication is key. After the Fukushima incident, criticism came from the public, politicians and the media, not just in Japan, but from all over the world. In such a situation, said Dr. Franklin, it is paramount that the operators communicate openly. Public awareness can only be raised by presenting the big picture (not the problem) with the message (and solutions) being conveyed in an understandable manner. All stakeholders (public, politicians, media) needs to understand what decisions are being made and why these decisions are being taken. Everyone has the same goal in mind, and openness and transparency is needed in order to get the trust and understanding of all those involved. 

International Cooperation and Public Dialogue

Dr. Franklin highlighted the cooperation taking place on an international level with experts from the UK, Ukraine, France, Russia, and the US sharing best practices and increasing efficiency in a sometimes highly bureaucratic environment. It has been a good opportunity for TEPCO to gain experience in communicating with overseas corporations and to overcome their concern of dealing with new procedures.

International cooperation has also improved relations with the companies that built the power stations Fukushima Dai-ichi (Hitachi and Toshiba), but lack the decommissioning expertise. Dr. Franklin emphasised that team effort is the key to progress.

In response to a question from the audience regarding French vs. UK expertise, Dr. Franklin explained that while France has the bigger nuclear industry (80% of French energy is nuclear,19% in the UK), and was the first to work with Fukushima Dai-ichi, France is most experienced at decommissioning clean sites that have reached the end of their lifespan. The expertise of the UK on the other hand lies in decommissioning contaminated sites.

In conclusion, Dr. Franklin highlighted once again the importance of public dialogue. After many public awareness campaigns and "listening exercises", the public in the UK has grown much more acceptance for nuclear power than in the past. Japan, says Dr. Franklin, needs to do the same.

This can only be achieved by listening and sharing, not through the dissemination of excess information and "death by Powerpoint". A relationship of trust must be built with stakeholders and this must be a long-term relationship with "real people" doing the talking. 

For more detailed information about the progress that has been made at Fukushima Dai-ichi, Dr. Franklin recommends the video on the TEPCO website HERE.

About the speaker: Dr. Keith Franklin has been on secondment from the UK National Nuclear Laboratory to the British Embassy since 2011, helping the UK provide support to the decommissioning operation at Fukushima Dai-ichi. He has worked in the nuclear industry for nearly 20 years and was awarded the MBE in the 2015 Queens Birthday Honours for services to UK/Japan relations in the field of nuclear energy.