Tuesday 20 February 2018

Desperate nuclear chiefs to bury plant in concrete 'tomb'

An aerial view taken from a helicopter from Japan's Self- Defence Force shows damage sustained to the No. 4 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex. Photo: Reuters
An aerial view taken from a helicopter from Japan's Self- Defence Force shows damage sustained to the No. 4 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex. Photo: Reuters

Richard Alleyne in Tokyo

JAPANESE authorities are considering a "Chernobyl solution" for the stricken nuclear power plant at Fukushima by burying it in a concrete and sand.

As the team of 300 workers continue to try to douse the reactors with water, engineers said they had not ruled out the drastic measure.

But the "messy fix" would only be considered as a last-ditch attempt as it would leave the plant and its surroundings off limits for decades.

"It is not impossible to encase the reactors in concrete, but our priority right now is to try and cool them down first," a spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power said.

At Chernobyl, authorities literally "threw everything" at the reactor to try to cool it down including lead, boric acid and liquid nitrogen.

When they finally extinguished the fires, an army of workers conscripted by the then Soviet government buried the reactor in thousands of tons of sand, then threw together a concrete container known as the "sarcophagus".

Despite costing hundreds of millions of pounds, it is already falling apart -- and fears are growing that it is leaking radiation again.

Now they want to spend a further €750m building an even bigger containment building, to finally put the lid on the Ukraine leak.

The situation at the Fukushima plant is likely to be even more complex and expensive as it is not just one reactor but six.

Public awareness of the dangers of radioactivity is also higher and so it is likely to be harder to get willing workers to help with the construction.

Professor Murray Jennex, an expert at San Diego State University in California, said: "They (reactors) are kind of like a coffee maker. If you leave it on the heat, they boil dry and then they crack.

"Putting concrete on that wouldn't help keep your coffee maker safe. But eventually, yes, you could build a concrete shield and be done with it."

The nuclear disaster that followed the earthquake and tsunami has triggered alarm and reviews of safety at atomic power plants around the world.

"This is something that will take some time to work through, possibly weeks, as you eventually remove the majority of the heat from the reactors and then the spent-fuel pools," Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told a news conference at the White House.


Millions of people in Tokyo continued to work from home, some fearing a blast of radioactive material from the complex, 150 miles to the north, although the International Atomic Energy Agency said radiation levels in the capital were not harmful.

That is little solace for about 300 nuclear plant workers toiling in the radioactive wreckage.

"My eyes well with tears at the thought of the work they are doing," said one safety official.

Even if engineers restore power at the plant, the pumps that cool the reactors with seawater may be too damaged to work. The first step is to restore electricity to pumps for reactors No. 1 and 2 today.

By tomorrow, the government expects cooling pumps for badly damaged reactors No.3 and No.4 to have power, said Hidehiko Nishiyama, Japan's nuclear agency spokesman.

Asked about burying the reactors in sand and concrete, he said: "That solution is in the back of our minds, but we are focused on cooling the reactors down."

Some experts said dumping water from helicopters to try to cool spent-fuel pools would have little impact. Gennady Pshakin, a Russian nuclear expert said: "It is not clear where this water is falling. There is no control."

(©Daily Telegraph, London)

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