Fukushima treatment system being built, designed in Tri-Cities

A system designed and built in the Tri-Cities will be shipped to the damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan next month to remove radioactive strontium from contaminated water.

Kurion was awarded a contract by the Tokyo Electric Power Co., or TEPCO, to help it reduce the amount of strontium in hundreds of tanks storing wastewater near the reactor. Some of the water has leaked or spilled into the ground.

The contract requires that Kurion move rapidly to set up a system that can process up to 300 tons of contaminated water per day.

The new system builds on the company’s successful work to strip radioactive cesium from water at the Japanese plant after a tsunami three years ago caused the meltdown of three reactors.

Initially, cesium presented the greatest immediate threat to human safety and the environment, said John Raymont, Kurion founder and president. But with cesium being removed from contaminated water, strontium, which also is present in large quantities, presents the next most serious radioactive threat.

It is one of the contaminants in more than 400 tanks storing about 400,000 tons of contaminated water near the reactor. Each day about 400 tons of water are added to the tanks. The water comes from groundwater that continues to flood through the cracked basement of the turbine building and water used to cool fuel in the damaged reactors.

Kurion has developed a system of five skids — treatment units contained in boxes about the size and shape of commercial shipping containers — that can be moved from one group of five tanks to another to provide treatment.

“It’s highly mobile, portable and shippable,” said Troy Stokes, the owner of HiLine in Richland, which is building the system for Kurion.

At the HiLine yard, a generator hums to power the skids with the same voltage and power phase that will be used at the Fukushima plant.

The skids are lined up there as they are fabricated to be put through their paces and tested, labeled with signs in both Japanese and English.

They include units for operating the system and performing chemistry work with the contaminated water before sending it through a series of filters. They start by removing solids suspended in the water. The final unit holds ion exchange systems with a proprietary material to strip dissolved strontium from the water, similar to the system used to strip cesium from the water.

A smaller-scale prototype system was shipped to Japan two months ago to be used for testing and training workers.

A complete integrated test of the full-size system will be conducted in the next two or three weeks, said Kurion engineer Ja-Kael Luey, and then it will be shipped to Japan.

The units will be trucked to Seattle, where they will be loaded onto a Soviet-era Antonov An-225 Mriya, the largest cargo aircraft in the world, for the trip overseas.

Then Kurion plans a full-tilt effort to get the system up and operating as soon as possible, Raymont said.

Ultimately, TEPCO is planning to use a larger and more complex EnergySolutions system to remove a large number of the radioisotopes from the water held in tanks.

The cooling water already has been treated to remove cesium and then to produce a clean stream of water to be reused for cooling.

The second waste stream containing contaminants in concentrated volumes goes to the storage tanks.

But the Kurion system to remove strontium from the tanks is part of what Raymont calls a prudent, defense-in-depth policy by TEPCO to operate multiple treatment systems.

It will help meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pledge to have the contaminated water treated by March 2015, a step toward having significant cleanup completed by the 2020 summer Olympics in Tokyo.

There could be other uses for the strontium-removal system on the Fukushima power plant site after the spring 2015 deadline is met, Raymont said.

— Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews


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