International Experts Join Tepco in Grappling With Fukushima Wall Street Journal
TOKYO—Two and a half years after the disastrous nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan is finally reaching out to the international community for help in grappling with a challenging cleanup operation and improving its response to global fears over contaminated water leaking from the stricken power plant.
Tokyo Electric Power Co., 9501.TO +1.37% the operator of the heavily damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, invited a U.S. nuclear expert this week as outside adviser for the decommissioning process. That followed criticism the utility wasn’t reaching out to international experts as much as they could have been.
“A lot of progress has happened. We wish it was more, they wish it was more, everybody does. There’s progress, but there’s a lot left to do,” said Lake Barrett, who directed cleanup operations at Three Mile Island for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission after the 1979 accident at the U.S. plant.
Mr. Barrett’s appointment comes as growing dismay over water contamination at Fukushima Daiichi prompts a long-delayed effort to get Tepco help in dealing with the problem, from outside the country as well as inside. Some critics have suggested many of the current troubles at Fukushima Daiichi could have been avoided with proper support.
In the most recent developments, Tepco says it is highly likely the leak of 300 metric tons of highly radioactive water from a storage tank has tainted groundwater. This follows an admission in July that radioactive water was likely flowing from the site into the sea, provoking a public outcry.
Mr. Barrett, who visited the Fukushima plant Thursday, said he was confident of Tepco’s technical abilities in moving forward with decommissioning the plant, and that the risk to public health from radiation-contaminated water was minimal.
“But I’m not so confident on their social and political ability to do it,” he said, urging the utility to engage with the public to ease health and environmental worries.
Dale Klein, former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission who now heads a panel of experts advising Tepco, also played down health risks. But speaking to reporters during a joint news conference with Mr. Barrett on Friday, he said Tepco’s handling the of the water leakage “does demonstrate concern over Tepco’s overall management capabilities.”
In response to the leaks, Tepco last month said it would form a special division devoted solely to controlling contaminated water. One of the division’s goals was to aggressively seek know-how and advice from international and domestic experts.
The government’s own strategy for containing the contamination, announced Sept. 3, also called for bringing together “technology and knowledge from inside and out” of the country.
Also last month, a public-private institute was launched to develop the technologies needed to dismantle Fukushima Daiichi over the next 30 or 40 years.
Called the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning, or IRID, its mandate explicitly includes having a foreign adviser give overall suggestions on how it should operate, as well as a group of experts from the U.S., U.K., France, Russia and the Ukraine to provide technical consulting.
The government and Tepco need more global outreach to solve the water-contamination problems as well, said the man tapped to lead IRID, Kyoto University nuclear engineering professor Hajimu Yamana. “I hope they increase cooperation globally.”
To be sure, the government and Tepco have reached outside the country before for help following the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. Two of the three plants inside Fukushima that process radioactive water were made by international companies. Another filtration system for removing radioactive elements was made by Japan’s Toshiba Corp. 6502.TO -0.98% in cooperation with U.S. company EnergySolutions Inc.
But Mr. Barrett said “there is no magic bullet solution that some foreigner is going to come and tell you.”
“No American company is going to come in here and ‘fix it.’ There is no savior who is going to come and do it. It has to be done the Japanese way with Japanese leadership and Japanese people adapting things from around the world,” he said. end quote
The problem is Mr Barrett, the Japanese people have been told nothing for 40 years but the myth of invulnerable nuclear safety. And those that did stick their heads up and ask questions and proposed alternative views, got their heads kicked from nuclear experts entrenched in their towers. You have a tough job – to reverse that 40 year old lie. Best of luck.