Thursday, December 17, 2015 by Greg White
The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has a history of undermining the severity of the Fukushima disaster and making exaggerated claims about cleanup efforts. With surprising candor and honesty, however, the man in charge of decommissioning the power plant warns Japan that “nothing can be promised.”
Questions continue to circulate about how long it will take to decommission the power plant, how much it will cost and how such a task could be achieved, given robots cannot even withstand the radiation inside the reactors. Naohiro Masuda, chief of decontamination and decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, told the Associated Press in an interview that he cannot provide definitive answers to these questions.
“This is something that has never been experienced. A textbook doesn’t exist for something like this,” he said in an interview Monday at TEPCO’s Tokyo headquarters.
Masuda has worked for TEPCO for more than 30 years. He was adulated for preventing a similar disaster from unfolding at Fukushima Daiichi’s sister power plant, Fukushima Dai-ni. By acting quickly and decisively, he was able to thwart another nuclear meltdown by connecting the reactors to active power sources. He was appointed as chief of decontamination and decommissioning by TEPCO last year.
It’s only recently that officials at the Fukushima site have gotten a grip on the disaster, and it’s by no means a firm grip. Since the 2011 catastrophe, TEPCO has faced huge hurdles, one after another, including storing contaminated water used to keep the reactors cool, pinpointing the location of the missing nuclear fuel, cleaning up debris, removing fuel rods and erecting a barrier made of frozen soil to isolate the debacle, to name just a few.
“Before, it was a war zone,” Masuda told sources somberly.
Masuda’s remarks stand in contrast to false promises and exaggerated claims purported by the Japanese government, which declared the disaster was “under control” just months after an earthquake triggered a massive tsunami that completely entombed the reactors. Such a declaration had no more weight than President Bush declaring “mission accomplished” just months after the beginning of the Iraq war.
In June, however, TEPCO and the Japanese government admitted that the time estimated to decommission the power plant was shortsighted, and that a “roadmap” for cleaning up the power plant had to be pushed back two years. Now, the most optimistic estimates suggest it will take half a century to cleanup the power plant.
Masuda said without missing a beat that more delays could be in order. Authorities have yet to locate the missing nuclear fuel in the reactors, which is necessary to decommission the power plant. All authorities have to go by are computer simulations and conjectural images. To make matters worse, the science necessary to cleanup the power plant doesn’t even exist yet. New technologies will have to developed before TEPCO can even begin thinking about decommissioning the site.
The bulk of the work is going to the Japanese manufacturers that built the power plant, including Toshiba Corp. and Hitachi Inc., which are under long-term contracts. Other international and foreign companies are involved, some of which have signed off on water decontamination and alternative contracts.
Masuda also acknowledged that TEPCO and the Japanese government have not done a good job in relaying the severity of the disaster. He says his mission is to relay all information, both good and bad, to the public.
“When I took this job, I promised to work as an interpreter, to relay our work in a way that’s understandable to regular people, and to communicate within the company what people are interested in and worried about,” he said.
“If the interpreter is good, the conversation will be lively. If the interpreter is good, dialogue will follow.”