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8 YEARS SINCE DISASTER: Gov’t to mull long-term storage of tritium-tainted water

4 August 2019

A government subcommittee will launch full-fledged discussions based on the premise of long-term storage of tritium-contaminated wastewater from Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, panel chairman Ichiro Yamamoto said Aug. 3. It is tasked with examining how to dispose of water containing tritium, a radioactive substance which remains intact in the current process of purification.

Yamamoto, vice president of Nagoya University of Arts and Sciences, made the comment after inspecting the plant. He showed sympathy for calls for long-term storage but pointed out that it is not a permanent solution because of the limit to the capacity of tritium-containing water tanks which can be installed on the plant premises. He thus indicated the panel's continuation of arguments over methods of permanent disposal.

The visit by the subcommittee's delegation was the first in about two years since July 2017. Its nine members toured part of an area set aside for the installation of additional tritium-tainted water tanks and a site for the planned construction of facilities for storing waste materials, among other places.

"We have to consider storing tritium-containing water," Yamamoto told reporters after the tour, showing his intention to sort out conditions for realizing long-term storage on the plant premises. "Various equipment and storage space are necessary," he said. "We will discuss how to make storage space available while allowing for these factors," he added, indicating that the panel will scrutinize how to make available land which can be used for storage.

On the other hand, Yamamoto referred to the need for determining a future disposal method, saying, "We cannot store wastewater eternally. When this area is cleaned up (after completion of plant decommissioning), we would like to eliminate (tritium-tainted) water as well."

At a public hearing held in August last year, one participant after another called for long-term storage of tritium-containing water instead of releasing it into the Pacific Ocean. At the next subcommittee session on Aug. 9 based on the outcome of the inspection, discussions are expected to focus on whether the plant premises can accommodate additional tanks exceeding the maximum capacity of 1.37 million tons currently planned by the utility and on how long the storage can be continued, among other topics.

Tetsu Nozaki, head of the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations opposing the dumping of tritium-tainted water into the sea, appreciated Yamamoto's view. "We are grateful to see the subcommittee discuss long-term storage on land while heeding fishermen's calls," Nozaki said. "But we remain opposed to the ocean release as an ultimate method of disposal."

In a report drawn up in 2016, a government working party listed five alternative methods of treating tritium-tainted water: geological injection, release into the ocean, atmospheric release as vapor, atmospheric release after conversion to hydrogen, and underground burial. The subcommittee had held 12 meetings as of last December on the basis of the report.

■Deciding disposal method inevitable
Tritium-contaminated wastewater arises at nuclear reactors at home and abroad, and is released into the sea after dilution in many cases. Toyoshi Fuketa, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, sees ocean release as "the sole choice" but, in reality, it has not won the understanding of residents in Fukushima Prefecture.

About 1.15 million tons of treated wastewater, including tritium-containing water, are kept at the plant. The utility plans to increase total tank capacity to 1.37 million tons by the end of next year. If newly contaminated water stemming from the inflow of underground water stands at the fiscal 2018 level of 170 tons per day, additionally installed tanks will theoretically be full within 2022. Even if wastewater is to be stored for a long period, discussions over an ultimate disposal method cannot be postponed.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

23 July 2019

8 YEARS SINCE QUAKE: All fishing ports in Fukushima now operating as Tomioka reopens

Tomioka fishing port in the Fukushima Prefecture town of Tomioka reopened on July 26 after a hiatus of eight years and four months since it was hit hard by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant. Thus all 10 affected fishing ports in the prefecture have now been brought back into operation.

In Tomioka, a ceremony was held at the port the same day to mark the return of evacuated fishing boats. The prefectural government, Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations and other parties concerned intend to make it an impetus to spur the expansion of test fishing operations and the launch of full operations. They will also redouble efforts to dispel concerns stemming from the disaster and restore the lost brand power of local marine resources, both challenging issues facing the local fisheries industry.

Tomioka port is located about 10 kilometers south of the crippled nuclear power plant. Before the disaster, it had an annual haul of about 48 tons of fish, including “hirame” left-eyed founder, “karei” right-eyed flounder and “shirauo” icefish. They used to be traded at high prices in the Tokyo metropolitan region and other areas.

Tsunami caused by the quake, rising as high as 21 meters, destroyed Tomioka port facilities, including breakwaters, a wharf for berthing boats and seawalls. Disaster assessment had been delayed as the port area was inside an evacuation zone affected by the nuclear accident until 2017. But work to restore the breakwaters and wharf was completed by last March as was construction of joint facilities, including a warehouse for storing fishing equipment and a facility to land boats for washing and other works.

According to the Tomioka town office, a total of eight fishing boats, including five which entered the port at the homecoming ceremony, are scheduled to return from evacuation elsewhere, including fishing ports in Iwaki city and Namie town’s Ukedo.

The prefectural government began reconstruction work at the 10 fishing ports in fiscal 2011 and completed it at nine of them, including Tomioka port, by fiscal 2018 that ended last March. Restoration work will continue at Ukedo port until the next fiscal year but it became possible for boats to dock there in 2017. With Tomioka port reopened, ships can now come alongside the pier at all 10 ports.

Fish catches from test operations in waters off the prefectural coast have been increasing year after year. In fiscal 2018, 4,010 tons of fish were hauled, up about 20% from the previous year. Fish species covered have increased sharply, numbering 198 (as of July 26). The federation believes the resumption of all 10 ports will boost the motivation of fishermen, leading to greater catches.

But shipment restrictions remain on five species -- cherry salmon, “murasoi” spotbelly rockfish, “kasago” marbled rockfish, “binosugai” quahogs (chowder clams) and “komonkasube” common skate -- because they differ in their range of habitat and fishing seasons, making it difficult to secure a given catch of samples necessary to conduct radioactive checks to remove such curbs. The prefecture, the federation and other parties concerned hope to resume full fishing operations as soon as possible by catching these marine species in a planned manner in suitable areas.

The Fukushima government plans to promote acquisition of the “Marine Eco-label (MEL),” a domestic certificate awarded to seafood hauled while giving due consideration to the management of maritime resources, in an effort to dissipate reputational damage and restore brand power.

Following the resumption of operations at all the fishing ports in Fukushima, an official of the local government’s fisheries section said the prefecture “will continue supporting efforts to resume full-fledged operations while listening to fishermen’s views in an attentive manner.”

Tetsu Nozaki, head of the federation, said he expects the relaunch of Tomioka port “will be bright news in the disaster-affected areas where difficulties continue” and that it “will accelerate post-disaster recovery.”

Kanji Tachiai, chairman of the Soma-Futaba Fisheries Cooperative Association, said he was “glad to see the long awaited reopening of Tomioka fishing port,” adding that he “will seek the start of full operations on a new note.”

【Photo】 Fishing boats running up big-catch flags leave Tomioka fishing port which has reopened for the first time in eight years and four months.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

17 July 2019

Dairy farmers resume raising calves in Iitate, 1st time since nuclear mishap

Dairy calves are being raised in the Fukushima Prefecture village of Iitate for the first time since the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant. Feliz Latte, a “reconstruction farm” in Fukushima city run mainly by dairy farmers affected by the disaster, began raising calves there from July 16.

Feliz Latte employees and other people concerned brought a herd of 22 calves, about eight months old, to a cowshed in the Kusano district owned by a village-run agricultural development corporation.

The calves, not yet old enough to be milked, will be raised until they reach about 20 months old, when they will be returned to the Fukushima farm. The group plans to raise about 100 calves in the village by the end of the year.

Feliz Latte used to have some calves raised by farmers in Hokkaido. Now that a facility is in place in Iitate, the farm can reduce costs, such as transport expenses.

Besides calf breeding, compost production will also be undertaken at the village cowshed, among other projects. The group hopes these moves will help other villagers resume farming and make other contributions to local development.

【Photo】Workers bring dairy calves to a cowshed in Iitate village.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

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