2019 kicked off with a very unique opportunity for five YCAPS members to receive a guided tour of the Fukashima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power plant on January 12th. Severe damage to the plant’s cooling water systems caused giant tsunami generated by the March 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, lead to reactor core damage and release of radioactive material. The area was evacuated and the Government of Japan and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) have been working to secure the site and clean-up the damage since that day. Recently, due to extensive efforts to clean-up and contain the radioactive contamination, TEPCO has been allowing highly controlled education visit in order to demonstrate the progress that has been made to recover from this disaster
The YCAPS professionals started from Tokyo Station in the early hours of January 12th and proceeded north to the Decommissioning Archives Building in Tomioka, the site of TEPCO’s former Energy Museum, about 10 km from the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. This building now serves as kind of ‘recovery’ museum and has state-of-the art displays and depictions of the accident and the road to recovery- past, present, and future.
At the Decommissioning Archives Building, the YCAPS team was given a brief on the history of the plant and accident as well as the safety precautions and controls we would have to follow on the tour itself. After security and radiological protocols were established, the tour boarded a TEPCO bus and proceeded to the site itself
It was difficult to gage progress based on only one visit, at one point in time, but several items were noted by the team. One, there was a lot of activity in the form of teams, equipment, and people working on the site. It was an encouraging sight to see that the exclusion zones were being shrunk down to the point that most of the workers we saw did not require the full radiological protective suits that we understood to have been used until quite recently. Two, there is still lots of work to do. The pace of work is such that the workers are focused on the most critical tasks, securing the reactor vessels and fuel, and controlling contamination. The rest of the site, acres of industrial equipment, parking lots full of cars, turbines, pipes, and equipment that hasn’t moved since 2011, has been mostly untouched. The recovery team has delivered a herculean effort to date, but the journey to recover has really only begun.
Overall, the YCAPS group is extremely grateful for the very informative and eye-opening tour provided by TEPCO and our tour lead, Saitama University. We thoroughly enjoyed the tour and were encouraged by the dedication and commitment to recovery that we observed from our TEPCO hosts.