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OM in the News: The Nuclear Waste Challenge at Fukushima 6 Years Later

March 21, 2017

Six years after the largest nuclear disaster this century, reports The New York Times (March 13, 2017), Japanese officials have still not solved a basic problem: what to do with an ever-growing pile of radioactive waste. Each form of waste at the Nuclear Power Station presents its own challenges. It is a massive OM issue worthy of class discussion when you cover the chapters on Project Management and Sustainability. Here is a rundown on the complexity of this $188 billion project:

400 Tons of Contaminated Water per day. Japan is pumping water nonstop through the reactors to cool melted fuel that remains too hot and radioactive to remove. The 1,000 storage tanks already hold 962,000 tons of contaminated water, but the plant is running out of room to store it.

3,519 Containers of Radioactive Sludge. The process of decontaminating the water leaves radioactive sludge trapped in filters, which are being held in thousands of containers.

64,700 Cubic Meters of Discarded Clothes. The 6,000 cleanup workers put on new protective gear every day. These hazmat suits, face masks, etc., are thrown out at the end of each shift. The clothing is stored in 1,000 steel boxes stacked around the site.

Branches from 220 Acres of Deforested Land. The plant’s grounds were once dotted with trees, and a portion was even designated as a bird sanctuary.

200,400 Cubic Meters of Radioactive Rubble have been removed so far and stored in the equivalent of about 3,000 standard 40-foot shipping containers.

3.5 Billion Gallons of Soil Have Been Bagged. Japan will eventually incinerate some of the soil, but that will only reduce the volume of the radioactive waste, not eliminate it.

1,573 Nuclear Fuel Rods. The condition and location of this molten fuel debris are still largely unknown. The plan is to use robots to find and remove it. But the rubble, the lethal levels of radiation and the risk of letting radiation escape make this exceedingly difficult. A robot inserted into one of the reactors detected radiation levels high enough to kill a person in less than a minute.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. How does this cleanup project compare to other massive ones like those discussed in Chapter 3?
  2. Why is this a sustainability issue?
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