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FUKUSHIMA DAIICHI – CONSIDERABLE ACHIEVEMENTS AND MAJOR CHALLENGES AHEAD

An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team of experts completed a two-month review today of Japan’s plans and activities to decommission the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, highlighting considerable achievements over the past decade as well as major challenges ahead. Conducted at the request of the Government of Japan, it followed four previous such IAEA missions since the 2011 accident.
The fifth International Peer Review of Japan’s Mid-and-Long-Term Roadmap Towards the Decommissioning of TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station took place from 30 June to 27 August, with a combination of online discussions, face to face meetings in Vienna and Tokyo and a visit to the site of the plant in eastern Japan.
The 12-member IAEA team said Japan had made significant progress since the accident in moving from an emergency to a stable situation, managing daily activities at the site, reducing risks to the workforce and the environment, and planning for decommissioning with a systematic industrial approach.
Site conditions have improved further since the previous IAEA review in 2018, with a decline in the generation of contaminated water, the safe emptying of a spent fuel pool, better understanding of the reactor fuel debris, new waste management facilities, and measures against extreme tsunamis and earthquakes. But the decommissioning environment remains complex and challenging, the team added.
The 2011 accident – triggered by a massive earthquake followed by a huge tsunami – was the worst emergency at a nuclear power plant since the Chernobyl accident a quarter of a century earlier.
“The decommissioning of Fukushima Daiichi is a uniquely complex and demanding undertaking that requires substantial technical skills and expertise as well as large scale management and project experience. Japan has continued to make impressive progress since our previous review mission three years ago,” said leader of the team Christophe Xerri, Director of the IAEA’s Division of Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Waste Technology.
“However, many challenges remain to be tackled, requiring research and technology development, continuous dedication to safety, and a thorough assessment of technical options to complete the decommissioning project,”
Xerri said.
One of the main remaining decommissioning tasks involves retrieving and managing n In its report delivered to Japanese authorities today, the team acknowledged a number of accomplishments since the 2018 mission, including:
Strengthening of project management.
Risk reduction measures, such as completing the emptying of the spent fuel pool of reactor unit 3 in February this year.
Better understanding of the presence of fuel debris in reactor units 1-3 and the development, with UK support, of a one-of-a-kind robotic arm for a trial fuel debris retrieval from unit 2 in 2022.
The IAEA review team comprised 12 senior experts, including nine from the IAEA Secretariat and three from the United Kingdom, Indonesia, and the United States of America, respectively.
(Source: IAEA – Image: Fukushima nuclear waste)