We are honored to have been chosen to work alongside Toshiba and TEPCO in tackling this complex problem on behalf of the Japanese people. —Val Christensen, EnergySolutions
SALT LAKE CITY — EnergySolutions, which operates a landfill in Tooele County for low-level nuclear waste, will design and install the system to clean up more than 160,000 tons of contaminated water from Japan's crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Plant.
The announcement came Wednesday and was timed with the Salt Lake City-based company's quarterly conference call with investors, where the company reported fourth quarter revenue of $468 million, but a loss of $39 million for the same period.
The Toshiba Corp. selected EnergySolutions to be its "technology provider" in the design and installation of a system to decontaminate water in more than 1,000 tanks.
The tsunami-hit plant remains vulnerable more than a year after the devastating disaster left three of its reactors on a multi-meltdown cycle. The plant's extensive and vital cooling system remains a patchwork of fixes, in addition to equipment installed to process the massive amounts of water that have leaked from the impaired reactors.
"We are honored to have been chosen to work alongside Toshiba and (the plant operator) in tackling this complex problem on behalf to the Japanese people," said Val Christensen, chief executive officer and president.
"It is an unprecedented challenge, but we are confident that by applying our proven technology and decades of waste experience, EnergySolutions can deliver the uniquely high levels of decontamination demanded and take the site a step closer to its ultimate remediation."
Company officials stressed that none of the contaminated waste will come to Utah, but instead will be managed in Japan. The technology to be used — the Advanced Liquid Processing System — will remove radionuclides and and high concentrations of certain elements.
The amount of contaminated water that has to be handled is the equivalent of 60 Olympic-sized swimming pools — or nearly 40 million gallons. Two operating treatment systems will enable EnergySolutions to process up to 130,000 gallons of contaminated water per day under a contract that will support water-decontamination activities through fall of this year.
Christensen said the proprietary three-step cross filtration process will swap harmless ions with the 60-plus radionuclides in the "very, very contaminated water" that has been used to cool spent fuel rods. Some of the radioactive contaminants are so volatile they can explode or if released into the environment can last hundreds of years. The contaminants can also can be taken up in the life cycle of healthy organisms because they mimic or can be mistaken for elements like potassium or calcium.
"This is very, very dangerous material," Christensen said, "and not even close to what we take in Utah."
When the filtration process is complete, Christensen said the remaining 800 gallons of concentrated, contaminated water will be evaporated and heated into solid waste for disposal under the purview of the Japanese government.
Christensen said he envisions this first stage of the contract — only disclosed by a mandated confidentiality agreement as being in the tens of millions of dollars — as an initial partnership in the cleanup of Fukushima that will involve other decontamination contracts in the years to come.
That prospect of more involvement in stabilizing the nuclear aftermath of the disaster fits in with the company's direction to become more dominant in the global market for helping countries solve their own radioactive waste problems, Christensen said.
He added that the cleanup contract begins after six months of lab demonstrations of the technology EnergySolutions uses on a smaller scale.
The fragile Fukushima facility operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) was opened up a tour late last month in advance of March 11 — the one-year anniversary of the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years.
Although no one has died from radiation exposure, a 12-mile area around the plant remains off limits and it will take decades to decommission the plant.
An independent report released by a private foundation in Japan said the nuclear meltdown was downplayed by the Japanese government, even as secret discussions were happening about possible evacuations that would have extended a far as Tokyo.
In response to the Fukushima disaster, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission this month ordered a major safety overhaul of existing U.S. nuclear reactors and improvements that will have to be incorporated in plants under construction. Those mandates include new safeguards to handle prolonged power-blackouts or the simultaneous failure of multiple reactors.
Both of those were components of the Japanese nuclear crisis.
Fukushima cleanup by the numbers:
• 60 Olympic-sized swimming pools or nearly 40 million gallons: amount of Fukushima water to be treated
• 60-plus radionuclides: number of contaminants present in water.
• 130,000 gallons per day: amount of water that EnergySolutions is capable of treating per day
• 800 gallons or less: the amount of water to be converted to solid waste for disposal
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