Because of the international Press hullabaloo prior to the start of the spent fuel transfer from F. Daiichi unit #4, we will post what has happened each day of the process as part of the regular updates until Press interest wanes.

Fukushima Daiichi Unit #4 Spent Fuel Transfer Diary

Day 2 – 18 fuel bundles were safely removed from their pool storage racks and placed in the submerged transfer cask. This is in addition to the four bundles loaded in the cask on Day 1. The cask is now filled to capacity. Work began at 9am (Japan Time) and finished at around 6:30pm. The process of sealing the cask, lifting it from the pool, and loading it onto a truck at ground level is planned to start tomorrow. The attached Tepco link contains a video-link for the first day’s safe movement of four fuel bundles, found in the body of the Press statement.

Day 3 – The transfer cask filled on Day 2 was sealed and lifted out of the storage pit. The cask was inspected for leakage and subsequently washed-down to remove any traces of pool contamination that might have been on the outside of the cask. The plan for Day 4 was to lower the cask onto its transport truck and move it to the common spent fuel storage facility located about 100 meters from the unit #4 structure.

Day 4 – The truck-borne transfer of 22 F. Daiichi fuel bundles from unit #4 to the nearby common storage facility has occurred without a hitch. After off-loading the 22 bundles into their common-pool racks on Friday, there will be a “pause” in the process for procedural review and technology inspection. When the next transfer will occur has not been announced.  Tepco has also posted pictures and a video of yesterday’s cask-lifting procedure…

Now, for some other Fukushima updates…

  • In what seems to be an ongoing attempt to continue the proliferation of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) in parallel with the unit #4 fuel transfer, Japan Times says the Fukushima job is “too perilous” to be left up to Tepco. First, the Times cites a month-old quote from Nuclear Regulation Authority Chair Shunichi Tanaka saying he is more concerned about the spent fuel movement than about the water contamination issues at F. Daiichi. But in this latest report, The Times dubs a Japanese anti-nuclear protest organizer an “expert” before posting his paranoiac fears. Hideyuki Ban, co-director of the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center, says, “It is quite certain that various kinds of troubles will occur, but I don’t think Tepco has prepared enough safety measures.” He added that he is very worried about lowering the fuel-filled cask 32 meters to the ground and having it dropped. Ban believes that when this occurs (in fact, he virtually guarantees it) workers will not be able to come near the cask to make repairs because it will be releasing too much radiation. He says there must be other, safer options. The Times subsequently follows Ban’s fear-mongering with a rehash of prior issues including the reports of wastewater issues at the nuke station, Tepco’s financial woes, and news articles about low F. Daiichi worker morale. It appears The Times is going overboard to keep FUD over the spent fuel transfer in the headlines, while most other news outlets in Japan have not.
  • Future concern over the de-fueling of unit #1 through #3 has begun, although none of the work will begin before 2015. The radiation levels with units #1 and #3 are higher than with unit #4 and much of the explosion-based debris remains in their fuel pools, thus it is reported that the work in removing fuel from the pools will be a more arduous and time-consuming task. Doubts of the two building’s ability to safely support the cranes used to transfer the fuel bundles have already been raised. Further, the more-difficult process of recovering the melted fuels of units #1 through #3 is receiving attention. Further, while Tepco estimates the total cost of de-fueling the three units is roughly $2 billion, The Times says there are reports that it could be as much as $5 billion.
  • Tepco’s new wastewater decontamination system (ALPS) is in a full test mode. The third of the three parallel processing lines was started this morning. The third line’s test operation was halted this past summer due to an unanticipated corrosion build-up in one of the line’s tanks. All three lines were shut down and anti-corrosion measures were taken. Now, all three are back in test mode. However, one new glitch has emerged. ALPS is designed to remove all radioactive isotopes except Tritium after the wastewaters are run through the highly-efficient Cesium removal process. However, tests on the ALPS effluent show detectable levels of four isotopes including Cobalt and Antimony. Tepco says they will study the glitch and do what is needed to remove the four isotopic residuals. Because of the problems confronted in the ALPS test run, the full start-up schedule has been moved back until early in 2014. Subsequently, Tepco wants to add as many as three more process lines.
  • The Nuclear Regulation Authority has expanded seawater monitoring off-shore of F. Daiichi. They already run testing outside the 30km radius and as far away as Miyagi and Ibaraki Prefectures. Now, they will also monitor inside the 30km radius to as close as 1 kilometer from the station. It should be noted that the NRA’s analytical technology is more sensitive than that used by Tepco. Tepco’s less-sensitive analytical technology allows for relatively quick data acquisition, in most cases within a few hours of taking their samples. The technology used by the NRA takes longer to provide its data, but the minimum detectable concentrations can be as much as 100 times lower than what Tepco can provide. The radionuclides to be analyzed by the NRA (with minimum detectability) are Cesium-134 and Cs-137 (0.001 Becquerels per liter), Strontium-90 (0.01 Bq/liter), Tritium (0.5 Bq/liter), and Potassium-40 (1 Bq/liter). It must be noted that K-40 is not a fission product, but is a naturally-occurring radioactive isotope found in water and soils all over the world. Why the NRA is including K-40 in their program is a mystery.