Australian news, and some related international items

The huge and long job, of cleaning up Fukushima Daiichi’s high radiation

Robots come to the rescue after Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, CBS News, CORRESPONDENTLesley Stahl, Produced by Richard Bonin and Ayesha Siddiqi , 28 July 19

Eight years after a powerful earthquake and tsunami caused a massive nuclear meltdown in the Daiichi Power Plant, Lesley Stahl reports on the unprecedented cleanup effort

More than eight years have passed since a monster earthquake and tsunami struck Northeast Japan and triggered what became, after Chernobyl, the worst nuclear disaster in history at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. 

As we first reported last fall, when three of the plant’s six reactors melted down, hot fuel turned to molten lava and burned through steel walls and concrete floors. To this day, no one knows exactly where inside the reactor buildings the fuel is. And it is so deadly, no human can go inside to look for it. So the Japanese company that owns the crippled plant has turned to robots.

There are four-legged robots, robots that climb stairs and even robots that can swim into reactors flooded with water. They’re equipped with 3D scanners, sensors and cameras that map the terrain, measure radiation levels and look for the missing fuel.

This is part of a massive clean up that’s expected to cost nearly $200 billion and take decades.

Lesley Stahl: Has anything like this cleanup, in terms of the scope, ever happened before?

Lake Barrett:  No, this is a unique situation here.  It’s never happened in human history. It’s a challenge we’ve never had before………..

Lesley Stahl: Why not just bury this place? Why not do what they did at Chernobyl? Just cover it up, bury it, and just leave it here all– you know, enclosed?

Lake Barrett: Number one this is right next to the sea. We’re 100 yards from the ocean. We have typhoons here in Japan. This is also a high earthquake zone. And there’s gonna be future earthquakes. So these are unknowns that the Japanese and no one wants to deal with………

Lesley Stahl: How many tons of radioactive waste was developed here?

Lake Barrett: Probably 500 to 1,000 tons in each building.

Lesley Stahl: So how long will it be lethal?

Lake Barrett: It will be lethal for thousands of years.

Lesley Stahl: What we’re talking about really is three meltdowns?

Lake Barrett: Yes. It was truly Hell on Earth.

No one is gonna send a worker in there because they’d be overexposed in just a matter of seconds.”

The meltdowns triggered huge explosions that sent plumes of radioactive debris into the atmosphere, forcing the evacuation of everyone within a 12-mile radius – about 160,000 people in all. Weeks later, TEPCO officials engaged in so-called kowtow diplomacy – allowing townspeople to berate them as they prostrated themselves in apology.

Thousands of workers were sent to the countryside to decontaminate everything touched by radiation including digging up dirt and putting it in bags – lots of bags.

But while much of the evacuation zone has been decontaminated, there are still entire neighborhoods that are like ghost towns, silent and lifeless with radiation levels that remain too high.

At the plant they’re capturing contaminated groundwater, about 150 tons a day, and storing it in tanks, as far as the eye can see.

Lake Barrett: Water is always the major challenge here. And it’s going to remain a major challenge until the entire cores are removed.

The closer workers get to the reactors, the more protective gear they have to wear, as we discovered………..

In the years since the accident, much of the damage to the building has been repaired.

But it’s still dangerous to spend a lot of time here. We could stay only 15 minutes.

Lesley Stahl: There’s this number I’ve been seeing, 566.

Lake Barrett: Right. That’s telling you the radiation level that we’re in. It’s fairly high here. That’s why we’re gonna be here a short time.

Lesley Stahl: How close are you and I, right this minute, to the core?

Lake Barrett: The– the melted cores are about 70 feet that way.

Lesley Stahl: Seventy from here–

Lake Barrett: From here.

Lesley Stahl: –is the melted core?

Lake Barrett: Correct, that’s right over in here. We don’t know quite where other than it fell down into the floor.

Lesley Stahl: So if you sent a worker in right now to find it, how long would they survive?

Lake Barrett: No one is gonna send a worker in there because they’d be overexposed in just a matter of seconds.

Enter the robots.

Lesley Stahl: This is the robot research center.

Dr. Kuniaki Kawabata: Yes. This is for remote control technology development.

In 2016, the Japanese government opened this $100 million research center near the plant where a new generation of robots is being developed by teams of engineers and scientists from the nation’s top universities and tech companies………

But even with all the high-tech training and know-how, the robots have run into problems. For the early models, it was the intense levels of radiation – that fried their electronics and cameras.

Lake Barrett: Their lifetime was hours. We hoped it would be days, but it was for hours………

when Scorpion went inside, it hit some debris and got stuck after traveling less than 10 feet. ……

Finally, in 2017, the swimming robot [Little Sunfish] made its foray into the heart of the reactor.  ………. It beamed back images reveali ng clumps of debris, fuel rods, half-destroyed equipment and murky glimpses of what looks like solidified lava — the first signs, TEPCO officials say, of the missing fuel.  

Lake Barrett: These robotic steps so far have been significant steps. But it is only a small step on a very, very long journey.

Lesley Stahl: This is gonna take you said decades with an “S.” How many decades?

Lake Barrett: We don’t know for sure. The goal here is 40– 30– 40 years. You know, I personally think it may be even 50– 60, but it’s–

Lesley Stahl: Oh, maybe longer……….

July 30, 2019 - Posted by | General News

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