Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to become training center

September 21, 2013

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Tokyo Electric Power Co., resigned to never restarting its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant as concerns grow over radioactive leaks, will turn the facility into a training base for decommissioning reactors.

The plant operator has begun considering turning the 42-year-old plant into what would be called a "decommissioning center," sources said Sept. 20. The new role for the plant will be included in the utility's rebuilding plan that is to be revised before the end of the year.

The move comes a day after TEPCO agreed to a request from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to decommission the No. 5 and 6 reactors at the Fukushima plant that were not damaged by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

Abe told reporters that he made the request to decommission the two remaining reactors because he wanted to place priority on dealing with the nuclear accident and the problem of radiation-contaminated water.

The decision to decommission means TEPCO will no longer need the manpower to maintain the equipment that would be used if the reactors were to resume power generation sometime in the future. By switching the plant site from a power generation facility to one handling decommissioning, TEPCO will also be able to demonstrate that it is concentrating its resources on the contaminated water issue as a means of bringing the accident under control.

The No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 plant began commercial operations in 1971. The newer No. 5 and 6 reactors went into operation in 1978 and 1979, respectively. After the nuclear accident in 2011, the No. 1 to 4 reactors ended their roles as power generators officially in April 2012.

Even after the formal decision is made to decommission the No. 5 and 6 reactors, the utility will not immediately begin decommissioning work. TEPCO officials intend to maintain the major facilities, such as the reactor buildings, as is.

A major reason is that those two reactors, which are similar in structure to the No. 1 to 4 reactors, could be used as training centers. Workers who would decommission the No. 1 to 4 reactors would train in the No. 5 and 6 reactors. Since melted nuclear fuel sits in the No. 1 to 3 reactors, new decommissioning techniques will have to be developed. The No. 5 and 6 reactors would also be used for that development process.

Once the two reactors are retrofitted, they could be used to conduct experiments and training using remote-controlled robots that would remove melted fuel from the reactor cores. The reactors could also be used for training exercises to repair core containment vessels and check on the situation within the core.

The area in the vicinity of the No. 5 and 6 reactors could also be used to hold storage tanks for the contaminated water that continues to increase in volume as well as to store the equipment and materials that would be needed for decommissioning work.

At a Sept. 20 news conference, Toshimitsu Motegi, the economy, trade and industry minister, said about the No. 5 and 6 reactors, "We will consider various possibilities for the future."

He indicated those two reactors would be utilized to proceed with the decommissioning of the No. 1 to 4 reactors.

(This article was written by Yuriko Suzuki and Takashi Ebuchi.)

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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The No. 5 and 6 reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant can be seen in the foreground. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The No. 5 and 6 reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant can be seen in the foreground. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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  • The No. 5 and 6 reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant can be seen in the foreground. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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