Hanford Engineer Works produced the 20 pounds of plutonium for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. It’s among the most toxic nuclear waste sites and the place Japan is turning to for help dealing with melted reactors in Fukushima.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501) has sent engineers on visits to the Hanford site in Washington state this year to learn from decades of work treating millions of gallons of radioactive waste. Hanford also has a method to seal off reactors known as concrete cocooning that could reduce the 11 trillion yen ($112 billion) estimated cost for cleaning up Fukushima.
“The U.S. has vast experience in nuclear technology with their military activity, including decontaminating soil and managing river contamination,” Masumi Ishikawa, general manager of Tokyo Electric’s radioactive waste management, said in an interview. “There’s a lot we can learn from them.”
There are three ways to decommission nuclear reactors, said Ishikawa. One is immediate dismantling. Another, used at the wrecked Chernobyl plant in Ukraine, entombed the whole building in concrete. The third is cocooning used at Hanford. Entombing and cocooning cost less than immediate dismantling as it reduces the expense for handling and moving highly radiated material, Ishikawa said.
Tepco is talking with the DOE on whether cocooning could work for the crippled reactors in Fukushima. Sealing them off in concrete for 75 years would allow more focus on cleaning up surrounding areas so that residents could return, said Ishikawa.
Around 160,000 people were forced to evacuate from towns and villages when the Dai-Ichi plant released clouds of radiation after it was hit by an earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.
“Decommissioning is vital for the areas around Fukushima Dai-Ichi to move ahead with restoration,” Ishikawa said.
Ishikawa said in his visits to Hanford he’s seen decontaminated areas coming back to life, noting for example a winery that’s been built. That, he said, is what he wants to see in Fukushima.