The removal of the nuclear fuel rods from the cooling pool of the disaster-stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant is touted to be one of the most dangerous processes in the decommissioning of the nuclear facility – dangerous enough that it could spark a whole new nuclear disaster if done wrong. It must come as a small relief that Naomi Hirose, president of Fukushima operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), has announced that he has agreed to accept the help of the United States Department of Energy with the fuel rod removal process.
Hirose revealed that he had agreed to accept the offer of help during talks with U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz when they visited Fukushima No. 1 on Friday to inspect preparations to remove fuel rods from the reactor 4 storage pool. TEPCO has had to endure a long string of highly-publicized gaffes – with power issues and radioactive waste water leaks – that the Japanese public has questioned the operator’s capability to undergo the highly risky process on their own. Following huge public criticism of the country’s reluctance to accept foreign assistance, Japan has recently begun to show more willingness to do so. “As Japan continues to chart its sovereign path forward on the cleanup at the Fukushima site and works to determine the future of energy economy, the United States stands ready to continue assisting our partners in this daunting yet indispensable task,” Moniz said in a statement late Friday. Hirose also said in an interview that, “We will work together to tackle many challenges toward decommissioning. I have high hopes that we will be able to benefit from U.S. experience and expertise at Fukushima No. 1.”
Moniz revealed that a Japan-U.S. commission will meet in Washington this week to strengthen cooperation in civil nuclear research and development, as well as the Fukushima cleanup and decommissioning, including the evaluation of emergency response and regulatory issues. Moniz also added that he expects atomic power to remain a crucial part of the energy mix around the world as nations try to battle global warming. In a speech Thursday in Tokyo, he said “the success of the cleanup also has global significance. So we all have a direct interest in seeing that the next steps are taken well, efficiently and safely.”