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‘Duct tape, wire nets’ were used to mend Fukushima water tanks - worker

Published time: January 04, 2014 19:47
Edited time: January 05, 2014 17:11
AFP Photo / Kimmasa Mayama

AFP Photo / Kimmasa Mayama

As TEPCO began preparations for the cleaning of the drainage system with tons of leaked radioactive water at the Fukushima power plant,a former employee reveals the reason for so many leaks was cost cutting measures such as using duct tape,Asahi reported.

Yoshitatsu Uechi, auto mechanic and tour-bus driver, worked at the devastated nuclear power plant between July 2 and Dec. 6, 2012, according to Asahi Shimbun report. He was one of the 17 workers from Okinawa Prefecture sent to work at the crippled nuclear plant in 2012 to create new places to store contaminated water.

The earthquake in March 2011 triggered a tsunami that hit Japan’s coast, damaging the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The catastrophe caused the meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the facility, leading to the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

The water used to cool the reactors has been leaking into the soil and contaminating the ground water on the premises of the nuclear facility, with some escaping into the Pacific Ocean.

The 48 year old Japanese man said that workers were sent to various places in Fukushima, including an area called H3 with high radiation levels.

In one of those cases in October 2012, Uechi was given a task to cover five or six storage tanks without lids in the “E” area close to H3 as it was raining, the Japanese paper reported. When he climbed to the top of the 10-meter-high tank Uechi found white adhesive tape covering an opening of about 30 centimeters. After using a blade to remove the tape he applied a sealing agent on the opening and fit a steel lid fastening it with bolts. According to instructions he was to use four bolts, though the lid had eight bolt holes.

According to the employee, his colleagues later told him that the use of adhesive tape was a usual practice to deal with the problem of sealing in radioactive water.

“I couldn’t believe that such slipshod work was being done, even if it was part of stopgap measures,” Uechi told The Asahi Shimbun.

Among other makeshift cost-cutting measures was the use of second-hand materials. Uechi also said that wire nets were used instead of reinforcing bars during the placement of concrete for storage tank foundations. In addition, waterproof sheets were applied along the joints inside flange-type cylindrical tanks to save on the sealing agent used to join metal sheets of the storage tanks. Rain and snow had washed away the anti-corrosive agent applied around clamping bolts, reducing the sealing effect, Uechi added. According to the Fukushima worker, many of the tanks were later found to be leaking contaminated water.

On Saturday, workers at Fukushima Daiichi began preparations for cleaning the plant’s drainage system that contains more than 20,000 tons of water with high levels of radioactive substances, according to Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the plant’s operator responsible for the clean-up.

In August, TEPCO detected 2.35 billion becquerels of cesium per liter in the water located in underground passages which is leaking into the groundwater through cracks in the drainage tunnels. The normal level is estimated at 150 becquerels of cesium per liter, according to EU.

The workers are to set up the special equipment to freeze the ground around the reactors, according to TEPCO. The plan includes plunging tubes carrying a coolant liquid deep into the ground that would freeze the ground solid so that no groundwater could pass through it.

Fallout researcher Christina Consolo told RT that the contaminated water issue at the plant is a very difficult problem to solve.

“The water build-up is an extraordinarily difficult problem in and of itself, and as anyone with a leaky basement knows, water always 'finds a way.’

She added that as “the site has been propped up with duct tape and a kick-stand for over two years. Many of their 'fixes' are only temporary, as there are so many issues to address, and cost always seems to be an enormous factor in what gets implemented and what doesn't.”