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Fukushima radioactive groundwater leak an ‘emergency’ – Japan’s nuclear watchdog

Published time: August 05, 2013 18:32
Edited time: August 06, 2013 15:06
This aerial view shows Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant at Okuma town in Fukushima prefecture (AFP Photo)

This aerial view shows Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant at Okuma town in Fukushima prefecture (AFP Photo)

Embattled Fukushima operator Tepco has been accused of a “weak sense of crisis”, as its failing battle to prevent radioactive water from seeping into the seawater near the plant has become an “emergency”, according to the country’s nuclear watchdog.

“You can't just leave it [disposing of radioactive waste at the plant] up to Tepco," Shinji Kinjo, head of a Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) told Reuters. "Right now, we have an emergency."

Daily, 400 tons of groundwater percolates into the basements of the plant, which was decimated by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. The seepage mixes with water used to cool down the damaged reactors, before accumulating, and escaping out into the Pacific Ocean.

For the past two years, Tepco claimed that it managed to siphon off the excess water into specially built storage tanks, but late last month admitted that toxic water was not contained.

The energy company, which is under financial pressure after being handed an $11 billion clean-up bill for Fukushima, has simultaneously hardened the earth around the plant with a special chemical, creating an impenetrable barrier on the side of the plant adjacent to the ocean.

But the shell is not complete: the technique only works 1.8 meters below the ground and further down.

So, water continues to build up inside the plant vaults, and will eventually reach the unprotected subsoil and topsoil, as more water goes in each day than is pumped out.

"If you build a wall, of course the water is going to accumulate there. And there is no other way for the water to go but up or sideways and eventually lead to the ocean," Masashi Goto, a nuclear engineer who has worked at several Tepco plants, told Reuters. "So now, the question is how long do we have?"

Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported that the toxic water could begin spilling over within three weeks.

Kinjo refused to speculate about the exact timing, but said that any radioactive water that escapes that way “will flow extremely fast”.

Tepco is constructing a bypass that should decrease the groundwater inflows into the plant.

It has also promised to begin pumping enough radioactive seepage by the end of the week to stop the water level from rising. But the company faces limitations, as its radioactive liquid storage tanks are 85 percent full, and it has no clear plans to construct more, or to turn the current makeshift facilities into permanent ones.

“New measures are needed to stop the water from flowing into the sea," emphasized Kinjo, who accused the energy giant of failing to implement long-term solutions for a crisis that has been going on for more than two years.

The impact of the radioactive water that has and will be released into the Pacific is hard to estimate, as Tepco has been slow to conduct studies and reluctant to release results to the public.

Last week, the company announced that it tested the release of radioactive isotope tritium, and said that it was within the legal limit. It now plans to test the sea water for cesium and strontium, which are considered much more dangerous for humans and the environment.

Comments (14)

 

Christina Pollock 19.08.2013 15:43

Everyone involved in this fiasco seems to have an astounding and profound lack of uinderstanding of geology and hydrogeology. Aren't there any hydrogeologists in Japan? Anyone with even junior level experience could have told them that everything they have done and the money they have spent to control the spread of contaminated groundwater is useless because they don't understand the most basic concepts of how groundwater works.

 

Michael Bonnault 06.08.2013 22:32

RockyFjord 06.08.2013 14:06

...Man's faith in Scientism, the hubris of technology. Where are those responsible for building a nuclear plant over earthquake prone Japan and so near the ocean?

  

Man's faith in scientism? Or man's faith in statism?

Re gardless, Japan is poor in natural resources. It relies on the ocean to sustain it's people and economy. They've been itching to expand for a long while and now it seems their survival depends on it.

For better or worse, great changes are on the horizon. How worse will things get before we realize the same 'ol same BS won't ever start working?

 

John Fox 06.08.2013 16:49

RockyFjord 06.08.2013 14:06

Where are those responsible for building a nuclear plant over earthquake prone Japan and so near the ocean? Whr NRC?

  


GE

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