Japan: Crews Start Process of Removing Fukushima Fuel Rods
FukushimaThe 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami rocked Japan, causing catastrophic damage to the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant. The outcome was a meltdown of the plant's number four reactor, causing an environmental disaster not seen since Chernobyl. Now, after two years of careful planning, crews are ready to start the delicate process of removing the reactor's roughly 1500 fuel rods. Once again, here's NHK.

Reporter:
The media entered the Fukushima-Daiichi plant on Wednesday to see the number four reactor building. The building contains more than 1500 fuel units. Most of them have been used. They're extremely hot, highly radioactive, and experts say they need to be kept cool for 30-40 years. The rods are stored in a pool about 20 meters above ground, the water traps radiation and keeps the rods cool. But a hydrogen explosion in 2011 weakened the building's structure. Experts say the rods must be moved to a safer place. Managers of Tokyo Electric Power Company have been preparing to start the job for the last two-and-a-half years. They planned to lift the rods out with a crane, but the building was too weak to support it. So workers built a steel frame. They will transfer the rods to containers that can seal in radiation. They will then move these to a storage facility within the compound and put them back into water. The job is far from straightforward. The workers have to maneuver the rods underwater to prevent any radiation from escaping. And they will have to cope with the high levels of radiation, up to 200 Microsieverts per hour.

Akira Ono:
The working environment here is more difficult and stressful than usual. Therefore, I want to devote every effort to safely transfer all the fuel rods.

Reporter:
TEPCO officials say it will take more than a year to remove all the rods from reactor number four. Then they will have to do it all over again at the three other reactors. They haven't said when they expect to finish. The operation will start this month. It's the latest hurdle in the long process of decommissioning the plant, a project that's expected to take up to 40 years.
 
 

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Japan: Nuclear Disaster Fallout Still Felt in Power Industry
FukushimaAs Japan's citizens prepare for the next disaster, the fallout from the last one continues to influence Japan's nuclear power industry. The operators of four power plants want permission to restart their reactors in July. The units have been kept offline because of the accident at Fukushima-Daiichi. On May 28th, Japan's public broadcaster NHK reported on the latest in the struggle over Japanese nuclear power.

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Reporter:
Officials at Kansai Electric power Company and Kyushu Electric Power Company say they want to restart two reactors each. Executives with Hokkaido Electric Power Company say they hope to bring three back online. And those with Chikoko Electric Power Company are planning to restart one.

Makoto Yagi:
We hope to restart reactors as soon as their safety is confirmed.

Reporter:
Operators will be required to introduce tougher measures against accidents and natural disasters. They have to study the potential height of tsunami and the possibility of a volcanic eruption. And they'll have to present safety measures to deal with the risks. Officials from the nuclear regulation authority will study their applications and decide whether to permit any restarts. All but two of Japan's reactors are offline following the accident in Fukushima.

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Of the 50 commercial reactors in Japan, only two are currently online amid safety concerns after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi plant disaster.
 
 

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New Japanese Prime Minister Looks to Revive Nuclear Industry
(LinkAsia: February 1, 2013)
Thuy Vu:
After a major meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi two years ago, Japan shut down the country's nuclear power plants. The government of the day promised to make the country nuke free. But the newly elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made it a top priority to reverse that policy saying Japan needs energy. In preparation for getting Japan's nuclear reactors up and running again, new safety measures have been announced. For more on the story, here's Japan's public broadcaster NHK.

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NHK World NEWSLINE
Airdate: January 29, 2012

Reporter:
An expert panel within the authority finalized the guidelines to be passed into law by July. The new regulations will define active faults as formations that have moved in the past 120,000 to 130,000 years. But that could be extended to 400,000 years ago if faults are hard to identify. The guidelines will force plant operators to prepare for the highest possible tsunami for all of the reactors. The operators will have to implement safety measures like sea walls to protect the plant from tsunamis and minimize flooding.

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Thuy Vu:
There's still a lot of work to be done to safeguard the country's nuclear reactors from another disaster. And researchers have just discovered that one reactor in central Japan may be resting directly over an active fault. Once again, here's NHK.

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NHK World NEWSLINE
Airdate: January 28, 2012

Reporter:
The experts drafted a report on the newly found fault under Tsuruga plant site in Fukui prefecture at a meeting on Monday. They said it might have moved after 120,000 to 130,000 years ago. The draft says that fractures direction and other  factors suggest that another fault could be directly under the plant's number 2 reactor. And could be active. Authority official Kunihiko Shimazaki expressed readiness to hear opinions on the matter from other experts and the plant's operator. Japan autonomic power company. He said learning from others would be helpful in compiling a thorough report. Government guidelines prohibit building key nuclear facilities directly above active faults.
 
 

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Japanese Business, Government At Odds Over Nuclear Energy
(LinkAsia: September 21, 2012)
Yul Kwon:
Turning to Japan, not everyone supports the government's promise to halt the nation's dependence on nuclear energy by the year 2030. Japanese businesses are adamantly opposed. They say that electricity would just be too expensive without nuclear power. Here's Japanese broadcaster NHK with more.

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NHK World NEWSLINE
Airdate: September 18, 2012

Hiromasa Yonekura:
We are united in opposing the idea of ending the reliance on nuclear power generation. It's extremely regrettable that our view has been completely ignored.

Reporter:
The three officials spoke with one voice against the government policy. Hiromasa Yonekura who heads the Japan Business Federation, or Keidandren, said pursuing the policy would hurt employment.

Yasuchika Hasegawa of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives noted that it would hamper the country's energy security and people's lives.

Tadashi Okamura, Chairman of the Japan Chamber of Commerce Industry, said shutting down all nuclear reactors would boost bills and lower national strength.
 
 

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Paying the Price of a Nuclear-Free Japan
(LinkAsia: September 7, 2012)
Yul Kwon:
In Japan, public opinion is turning toward a complete "build-down" of nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima-Daiichi meltdown. Polls show half the population wants to shut-down all the country's reactors within 15 years. Now, the government's put a price tag on a non-nuclear future. Japanese public broadcaster, NHK, reports that the industry minister says it'll cost 600 billion dollars.

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NHK World NEWSLINE
Airdate: September 4, 2012

Reporter:
Yukio Edano spoke at a meeting of cabinet ministers in charge of energy policy. He said the cost of building renewable energy infrastructure would add up. He pointed to the expense of constructing generating facilities and power lines. Edano warned that immediately shutting down reactors would cut the power supply by 30 percent. He said going non-nuclear would weaken the countries bargaining position when buying oil and natural gas. The government has promised to draft a new energy policy. Ministers are working on scenarios for ending nuclear dependence while compensating for lost power generation. 

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Yul Kwon:
The disaster at Fukushima has rippled through other countries in Asia. South Koreans are nervous about building more reactors to add to the 21 already in operation. And in Taiwan, the government just held a big drill to show its readiness in case of an accident with one of the country's six reactors. Here's NHK with the story.

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Reporter:
Workers played out an emergency scenario at the nuclear complex near Taipei. They assumed a natural disaster knocked out all power at the plant and disabled its cooling system.  Firefighters sprayed water to practice bringing a fire under control. Then helicopters, military vehicles and patrol ships moved in.

Helicopter teams are measuring radiation levels around the nuclear power plant just as crews did following the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear accident. 

Participants practiced measuring radiation on land and sea too. The exercise follows a decision to expunge the area around the nuclear plant subject to radioactive monitoring.  Most reactors are located in the vicinity of densely populated Taipei, and the residents have been increasingly worried after the disaster in Fukushima. Officials at Taiwan's nuclear power regulator say they want to minimize the damage in the event of an accident.  They plan to reinforce the evacuation plans to ensure residents are safe. Naoki Makita, NHK World, Taipei.
 
 

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'Four Options' for the Future of Japanese Nuclear Power
(LinkAsia: June 1, 2012)
Yul Kwon:
Over in Japan, the country is still grappling with the effects of last year's enormous earthquake and tsunami. The ensuing disaster at Fukushima-Daiichi shook many peoples' faith in nuclear power.

Now, a government advisory panel has articulated four options regarding the future of the nuclear power industry. These options range from completely abandoning nuclear power to allowing the market to decide how much to produce. Here's NHK with the details of the plan.

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NHK World NEWSLINE
Airdate: May 29, 2012

Chie Yamagishi:
The de-reliance option is aimed at preventing another nuclear accident in Japan, where earthquakes occur frequently. It would also stop nuclear waste from building up. But Japan's utilities would have to increase electricity output by using thermal power generation for the time being, meaning carbon dioxide emission would rise. Japan would need to quickly switch to renewable energy sources for this option to succeed.

The second option is in line with the Noda administration's policy of decommissioning nuclear plants within 40 years of operation and holding off on building new ones. This plan delays the decision of whether to abolish atomic energy and through sufficient efforts have been made to promote renewable alternatives and improve nuclear safety. Some committee members criticize this proposal saying it lacks direction and postpones a critical decision.

The third option reflects the fact that Japan has limited natural resources and keeps nuclear power in the energy portfolio along with other sources. However, there are challenges. Safe power generation and the disposal of nuclear waste are just a couple of them. Japanese leaders also need to convince the general public that atomic energy is safe in the wake of the Fukushima-Daiichi accident.

The fourth option demands utility companies include the social costs of power generation in their pricing. Subsidies for nuclear plants would be abolished. Consumers would be able to decide what kind of energy they want based on their electricity bills. But opponents of this option say if government officials don't draw up Japan's energy policy and leave it up to the market, the country won't be able to secure a stable power supply.

Cabinet members will look at the proposals. The Noda administration is also promising to get input from the public. Some members of the committee are demanding the government listen sincerely to citizens.

Junko Edahiro, Environmental Journalist:
The government should think about how to reflect public discussion in its policy. It is also important to explain the options in a fair way and to set the stage for discussion.

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Yul Kwon:
Right now, all of Japan's 50 functional nuclear reactors are offline, which is making some officials nervous about power shortages this summer.
 
 

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Earth Focus Plus: A Storify Supplement to Earth Focus Episode 32

 
 

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Japan Fears Power Shortage, May Restart Nuclear Plants
(LinkAsia: May 4, 2012)
Yul Kwon:
Over in Japan, power company officials are looking ahead to the summer, and they're already sweating. If this summer is anything like the record one from 2010, they say electricity shortages will be inevitable unless they can restart a number of nuclear reactors that have been shut down for maintenance this past year. NHK explains what's going on.

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NHK World NEWSLINE
Airdate: May 1, 2012

Reporter:
They are currently 50 nuclear reactors in Japan. Over the last year, those that were still in service were taken offline for inspections one after another. The only one still in operation is Hokkaido Electric's Tomari plant, but it too will be shut down for regular inspection this coming Saturday. Japan's nine power companies have released their estimates for supply and demand this summer. They assume temperatures this year would reach the record highs of 2010. The estimates suggest Hokkaido, Kansai and Kyushu electric power companies will all face shortages. The situation is especially serious for Kansai Electric, which is the most dependent on nuclear power.

Kansai Electric Power Company Official:
A summer as hot as in 2010 will generate a power demand of 30.3 kilowatts, but we will be 16.3 percent short.

Reporter:
The analysts predicted corporations and consumers would contribute to efforts to save power, including the Cool Biz campaign. Demand could exceed supply if the summer turns out to be hotter than expected, resulting in blackouts. Utilities imposed planned blackouts last year to prevent such a situation. That forced many factories to curb production and had a significant impact on peoples' lives.

Yul Kwon:
Now in an effort to produce more energy, Japanese government officials are planning to restart two nuclear reactors at the Ohi plant in central Japan. But ever since last year's nuclear disaster in Fukushima-Daiichi, Japanese consumers have been concerned about nuclear safety, and so are local officials, who are pushing back on the national government's plan to restart the reactors.

Reporter:
Kiyoshi Yamada heads Tokyo's crisis management team. He met with Tetsui Yamamoto, a senior representative of the government's nuclear and industrial safety agency. Yamamoto explained that the government is dedicated to putting new safety standards in place following the accident at Fukushima-Daiichi. That explanation wasn't enough for Yamada.

Kiyoshi Yamada, Kyoto Official:
Your explanations are inconsistent with our demands.

Reporter:
Government officials decided last month that the Ohi reactors need to be restarted to provide sufficient power to the region during the summer. The reactors are now offline for regular checkups.
 
 

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Japanese Government Takes Heat in Fukushima Report
(LinkAsia: March 2, 2012)
Yul Kwon:
An independent report slams the Japanese government's handling of the Fukushima-Daiichi disaster. It also concludes that the reactor's owner, Tokyo Electric Power, as well as the agency that's supposed to regulate it, failed in their responsibilities both before and after the accident. Here's NHK with the story.

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NHK World NEWSLINE
Airdate: February 29, 2012

Reporter:
They spent months studying the response to the Fukushima accident, which happened after last year's March 11th earthquake and tsunami. They tried to interview authorities at Tokyo Electric Power Company, the operator of the plant, but TEPCO turned down their request.

Koichi Kitazawa, Committee Chairman:
The direct causes of the nuclear accident were the unpreparedness of Tokyo Electric Power for a serious accident and the government's lack of a sense of responsibility.

Reporter:
The report blames the government's response on its failure to anticipate the combined impact of a quake and tsunami. That rendered its crisis management manual useless. The report says the problem was compounded by politicians' lack of basic legal knowledge. The document also points to delays in providing the prime minister's office with accurate information, as well as insufficient support by advisors. It urges immediate debate on improving the situation. The report condemns the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency for failing to give professionals proper safety training. It says the agency could not draw up plans to put the Fukushima plant under control because of a lack of skill and personnel. The report blames TEPCO for initially making things worse at the facility, not better. TEPCO workers did not immediately switch to an alternative cooling system after realizing the emergency condenser was not working. Then, they took too long to start the venting procedure to avert a major crisis. The committee chairman says the investigation has revealed what was going on inside the prime minister's office and elsewhere at the time of the accident. The chairman also says Japan's organizations are ill-prepared to deal with a crisis, a problem that needs to be fixed as soon as possible.

Yul Kwon: 
The report also details some other failures. For example, bureaucrats never told politicians about a monitoring system that had been set up to predict the spread of radiation after the accident.
 
 

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In a Post-Fukushima Japan, Municipalities Hesistant to Restart Reactors

(LinkAsia: February 10, 2012)
Yul Kwon:
We continue our series of Fukushima-related stories this week. NHK says that more than 70 percent of Japanese municipalities that host nuclear power plants are cautious about restarting their reactors. The Japanese broadcaster surveyed 29 municipalities that host nuclear facilities, excluding those in Fukushima Prefecture.

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NHK World NEWSLINE

Airdate: February 7, 2012

Reporter:
Fifty-one of Japan's fifty-four nuclear reactors are currently out of operation. Restarting them would require the approval of local municipalities.

Five of them, or 17 percent, said they would give the go-ahead for the reactors to resume operation. But 21 municipalities, or 72 percent, said that they would not or that they could not yet decide.

Municipalities that expressed caution said they cannot be sure whether the reactors are really safe and cited the difficulty of persuading residents while the government has yet to decide on its nuclear policy.

Asked what is needed beside stress tests to restart the reactors, 48 percent said a satisfactory investigation into the accident at Fukushima Daiichi plant and the understanding of local residents. Thirty-eight percent cited new government safety regulations.

The municipalities stressed their concern over reactor safety and demanded more government accountability.

 
 

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