Sunday, November 3, 2013

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to Japanese Government: "Ratify the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, and We Will Send Kurion to Help TEPCO"


So what's the trick?

Reading the Bloomberg article linked below, the trick seems to be that Kurion wouldn't be liable under the ratified treaty even if Kurion's patented system to remove TRITIUM (really?) doesn't work or fails to deliver or causes damage. Only the plant operator, in this case TEPCO, would be held liable.

Kurion's cesium absorption system was sold by then-US Energy Secretary and Nobel Prize winner Steven Chu in 2011, right after the start of the Fukushima nuclear accident. As with any system installed at the plant after the accident, Kurion's cesium absorption system was plagued with problems from the beginning (too many to list here, but browse through these posts) and sub-par performance. TEPCO stopped using it when Toshiba's SARRY came online in October 2011.

A quick check on Kurion's website shows the current CEO of the company from France's AREVA with close ties with the US Department of Energy, and two people whose career was with the Department of Energy, and one former researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The company was founded by a venture capital in 2008.

Now the new Secretary of Energy is trying to peddle a new system from the same company - tritium removal system. Just like the cesium absorption system, Kurion and the US Department of Energy probably want to use Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant as a test site for unproven or prototype technology, with liability safely on TEPCO, a clueless, technologically-blind plant operator.

From Bloomberg News (11/3/2013; emphasis is mine):

U.S. Says Japan Signing Liability Pact Would Aid Nuclear Cleanup

Japan will receive international help with the cleanup at the Fukushima atomic station once it joins an existing treaty that defines liability for accidents at nuclear plants, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said.

The treaty, known as the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, assigns accident liability to plant operators rather than equipment and technology vendors, Moniz said in a Nov. 2 interview in Tokyo. The treaty includes setting up a fund for victims of nuclear accidents and a standard for compensation claims.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Trade Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and other officials showed an “eagerness” during meetings last week for expertise from abroad to decommission the Fukushima plant, Moniz said. Such help will be easier to secure once Japan ratifies the treaty, he said.

“As one gets into the real work, then these liability conventions become quite important,” Moniz said. “Certainly Prime Minster Abe and Minster Motegi both emphasize that the importance of moving on this in 2014 is to a large extent driven by their openness and their desire to get as much international help as they can.”


The Compensation for Nuclear Damage treaty was adopted in 1997 under the International Atomic Energy Agency and had 16 signatories as of June 24 this year, including the U.S., India and Italy.

At least five signatories must ratify the treaty to enact it. So far, the U.S., Romania, Morocco and Argentina have ratified. So Japan joining would bring it into force, Moniz said.

Legislation ratifying the convention could be introduced to parliament early next year, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters on Nov. 1, Kyodo news reported.

Under the pact, a company such a Irvine, California-based Kurion Inc., which possesses technology for removing the radioactive isotope tritium from contaminated water, could deploy its technology at the Fukushima plant, Moniz said.

Liability would rest with Tepco, as the plant’s operator is known, he said.

(Full article at the link)

If the Abe administration is indeed "eager" for the international (read United States here) expertise that will come by ratifying the treaty, it will probably be not particularly for the expertise, as far as I see it.

It will be for the fund to be set up for the victims and a set standard for compensation, I think, which must be more advantageous to the government than what (sort of) exists currently (i.e. saving tons of money for the government).

It would be amazing, to me, if the countries who have already ratified the treaty actually allows Japan to join them, after the fact (=nuclear accident).

Kurion's press release on their tritium-removing technology is copied below. (Please let me know if there is more to it than meets the eye, as I cannot picture a system from the press release that will treat over 100,000 tonnes of water that are in the storage tanks and turbine building basements at Fukushima I Nuke Plant...)

Press Releases
Kurion Introduces Tritium Removal Technology to Limit Release of Radionuclides into Environment

Originally Published on 09/30/2013

Patent-pending Modular Detritiation System™ Strengthens Clean, Safe Value of Nuclear Power

Kurion, Inc., an innovator in nuclear and hazardous waste management, announced a breakthrough in the treatment of the historically difficult to capture isotope with the introduction of its patent-pending Modular Detritiation System™ (MDS™) to decontaminate tritiated water. The ability to perform light water detritiation (i.e., the removal of tritium from water) enables the safe release of purified water into the environment or recycling of reactor cooling water. The technology has applications for light water reactors, which are the dominant nuclear plant designs worldwide.

The decontamination of tritium (T) is particularly problematic: it is a special form of hydrogen that forms tritiated water (HTO vs. H2O), which does not lend itself to removal by conventional technologies. This is because instead of the contaminant being carried along in water in suspended or dissolved form, the water molecule itself is modified. As a result, tritiated water is particularly difficult to treat and can spread easily if it escapes into the environment.

“Preventing the release of tritium into the environment represents one of the last remaining environmental challenges for nuclear energy,” said Bill Gallo, chief executive officer of Kurion. “The key value of Kurion’s patent-pending detritiation technology is that it offers an economical alternative to releasing tritium into the environment and bolsters the appeal of nuclear power as a clean, safe energy source.”

John Raymont, Kurion founder and president of international operations, added, “Historically, nuclear power plants were forced to release tritium into the environment because there was no method to remove it economically. Kurion’s new detritiation system now offers a technology-based alternative with the benefit of addressing the public's concern over environmental release.”

The industrial process of removing tritium from water has historically focused on cleaning highly contaminated “heavy water” for recycling back into nuclear reactors, such as for the CANDU design. However, this technology is prohibitively expensive for use with light water reactors. The Kurion MDS™ builds upon proven heavy water solutions and makes advances in throughput and efficiency where the tritium removal occurs. Kurion has developed an economical solution that – for the first time – would allow for recycling or clean release of reactor cooling water for light pressurized water reactors.


Anonymous said...

And the collected contaminates go WHERE??? Storage? Where? Tail chasing dog! And if this technology is so great..where is it being used in USA. If Tritium, which is vented and dumped all the time from reactor plants, is so very volitile, why are we being told we are 'safe'..when we live near these plants??? The government just put in a fancy R/O water system for an entire few counties near one of said 'nuclear plants'.I wonder if due to Tritium in the groundwater.....

Anonymous said...

I looked at the text of the convention ( as well as the more important Annex at the end that covers the liability issue within each signing state. I don't see where it relieves Kurion from liability towards TEPCO. While TEPCO would be liable towards the public, it wouldn't prevent TEPCO from suing Kurion if their system didn't work as promised, would it?

Be that as it may, there is one paragraph in the Annex of this convention that I find very concerning:

"No liability shall attach to an operator for nuclear damage caused by a nuclear incident directly due to an act of armed conflict, hostilities, civil war or insurrection.
Except insofar as the law of the Installation State may provide to the contrary, the operator shall not be liable for nuclear damage caused by a nuclear incident caused directly due to a grave natural disaster of an exceptional character."


The Installation State may provide by legislation that, in accordance with such terms as may be specified in that legislation, a carrier of nuclear material or a person handling radioactive waste may, at such carrier or such person´s request and with the consent of the operator concerned, be designated or recognized as operator in the place of that operator in respect of such nuclear material or radioactive waste respectively. In this case such carrier or such person shall be considered, for all the purposes of this Convention, as an operator of a nuclear installation situated within the territory of that State.
The liability of the operator for nuclear damage shall be absolute.

Anonymous said...

Oops, please disregard the paragraph starting with "The Installation ...". I forgot to delete that text prior to posting.

netudiant said...

Nice catch, mscharisma!
That little paragraph seems to absolve operators from any siting/natural disaster liability.

Separately, the Kurion tritium removal idea is intriguing.
The liability issue is hardly a concern, imho. Specifically, we are three years into this disaster, with massive liability an extant fact. Any additional liability from tritium extraction would be minuscule by comparison. Moreover, TEPCO does have a tritium release budget for the site during normal operations, so if Kurion can indeed capture that, it would be a real improvement in the environmental impact of reactors everywhere.

The Kurion technology remains murky. Their site suggests that they are using a derivative of the technology used in Canada to remove tritium from the heavy water that moderates the CANDU reactors used there.
That technology involves fractionally distilling the source material to separate the heavier tritium. A similar approach here seems iffy, simply because the Canadian approach is designed to work on tons of heavy water, whereas TEPCO needs to process over a third of a million tons of contaminated material. The scale of the plant needed would be enormous.

BloomingTom said...

According To What IsSstated Above, RO Will Not Clean It Out Of Water, As It Actually Modifies The H Molecule in H2O.

Anonymous said...

Reportedly, the treaty will protect Kurion from being sued outside Japan (in the US for example). The case of Union Carbide in Bhopal springs to mind.


Anonymous said...

I don't get out of the treaty text why it would prevent TEPCO from suing Kurion if need be, but I have to take everyone's word for it since I know nothing about it.

So, assuming that as a given, could it be a good thing on some level, though? Wouldn't that ensure that TEPCO has to think twice before haphazardly conducting experimental processes and force them to insist on proof of operational safety and effectiveness?

Anonymous said...

mscharisma, I don't think TEPCO would have a choice of refusing Kurion. They didn't have a choice refusing AREVA, either. French President's top sell to Naoto Kan, and AREVA was in. The US government pushed Kurion back then, and is pushing again now.

Anonymous said...

At anon 12:09: I get your point. Thanks.

As a whole, however, I can twist and turn this any way I want, the liability issue is not making sense to me, especially not combined with Japan having to ratify the treaty before Kurion can help and the US government pushing it.

Let's say the system does NOT work. What are the worst consequences for the public that anyone could be held liable for? Some water still contaminated with tritium gets accidentally released before the error is caught? That hardly sounds like a major issue in the overall scheme of things (according to the EPA, "tritium is one of the least dangerous radionuclides"), especially in the light of the fact that actual damage as a result of this would be hard or impossible to prove.

If this presumption is correct, that then leaves the cost for setting up and operating the facilities. That should be covered by contractual liability, which has - as I see it - nothing to do with the treaty which is about compensation for nuclear damages.

If we were talking about a US company building another NPP in Japan, I could see the US pushing for the treaty as well that US company's interest in having it in place prior to doing anything. Obviously, an NPP that blows up causes substantial and to some degree monetarily measurable "nuclear damage." But the nuclear damage a failed tritium removal could cause?

And if TEPCO doesn't have a choice anyway and Kurion is so eager to help, nothing stops them from making a contract NOW that relieves Kurion from contractual damages. Why do the Japaese and US government have to be involved, why wait for the treaty etc. to come into effect?

I'm sorry, but non of this adds up for me.


Michel Bodenheimer said...

With the disaster at Fukushima I am surprised at several points referred to in the Blog article above (U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to Japanese Government: …).
1. Why go with a company who has already proven that it can not solve the problem?
2. Why start with preconditions and lengthy bureaucratic/legal issues, when help is needed NOW.
Especially, when there is a solution available which by all signs of it, has the technology and the know-how to tackle the contaminated water issue at Fukushima.
I am referring to WoW Technology SPA from Padova, Italy.
They have a new patented method: WoW – Wonderful Water ™ an innovative technology in water purification which they are willing to deploy in Fukushima.
They have passed several independently supervised tests, including test which simulated the challenges of Fukushima and have demonstrated the validity of their invention among others in LENA - Laboratorio Energia Nucleare Applicata (Applied Nuclear Energy Laboratory) at the University of Pavia, Italy.
Furthermore, the WoW solution was presented at RemTech 2013 the Nuclear Decommissioning Conference in Ferrara, Italy (18-20/09/2013) and received a lot of attention.
WoW Technology may well have a solution for the water challenges TEPCO is facing at Fukushima.
Give WoW a chance:

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