11 March 2011
Almost five years have passed since the massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan. According to figures from the IAEA, some 15,000 people were killed, over 6,000 injured, while around 2,500 are still missing.
The tsunami also destroyed much of the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant’s infrastructure. Despite the best efforts of the TEPCO operators, the fuel in 3 reactor units melted and their containments were breached. The release of hydrogen gas led to explosions. Radioactive material escaped into the atmosphere and the sea, and 80,000 people were evacuated from within 20km of the site and other areas.
The international response was overwhelming. Nuclear organisations and companies rushed to offer support in the immediate aftermath. Offers of help came from 163 countries and regions, and 43 international organisations. None of the 6 Fukushima-Dai-ichi reactors will operate again, even though 2 units were relatively undamaged.
How the UK is providing support
The UK support is being led by the UK Embassy in Tokyo, supported by colleagues in INS Japan (INSJ), the NDA and Sellafield Ltd. This support builds on existing relationships which began with construction of the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plan (THORP) at Sellafield and the establishment of a UK Nuclear Office in Tokyo during the 1970s.
Following the accident in 2011, the Embassy arranged international and UK-specific seminars in Japan. This allowed the UK to share our expertise in areas ranging from strategic planning to the technical challenges of dealing with some very difficult wastes.
UK support to Japan is backed at the political level with Prime Minister David Cameron signing the UK-Japan Joint Declaration on Civil Nuclear Co-operation during his visit in April 2012. This led to an ongoing exchange of information through meetings and other interactions involving the NDA, Site Licence Companies and the supply chain.
Since then, an information exchange agreement has been signed between TEPCO and Sellafield Ltd in May 2014, and between NDA and the Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Organisation of Japan (NDF) in February 2015. Signing agreements is one thing, but making these materialise into tangible outcomes is another. So we have been working with colleagues in INSJ and the Embassy to provide impartial support to companies in our supply chain who wish to access the Japanese market.
Adrian Simper, NDA's Strategy and Technology Director, heads the NDA’s support to Japan. He sits on the international advisory panels of TEPCO and the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning (IRID), and works closely with Prof Yamana, the President of NDF.
Of the situation at the site, Adrian says:
The Fukushima Dai-ichi site is no long a reactor site having a very bad day – it is a decommissioning site having a normal day! The decommissioning challenge isn’t a short term one that will soon be over, is a long term one, that is the next stage of the site’s life. It is a completely different job that that needs a different approach than was needed in electricity generation – different skills, different technologies, different infrastructure, different procedures and a different approach to permitting.
UK expertise to support this approach has been recognised by Japan which is evident from the companies which have benefited from NDA’s and INS Japan’s assistance.
UKTI are hosting a 3-day Civil Nuclear Showcase event on 19 January 2016 in London covering trade and investment opportunities within the full range of the UK nuclear lifecycle.
For businesses interested in working in Japan see the following guidance:
- Export to Japan: helping your company do business in Japan which gives an insight into cultural differences and potential misunderstandings
- Exporting is Great this UKTI website provides expert international trade advice and practical support to UK-based companies wanting to grow their business overseas