The Fukushima nuclear plant crisis continues unresolved in a bad way. Two reports in the last week indicate that the cheery face that plant
mismanager operator Tepco has been trying to put on the aftermath of the disaster is not in line with conditions at the plant.
If I parse these English language accounts correctly, there are two separate problems that Tepco has been forced to confess to in the last week (corrections and amplifications from those who can read Japanese appreciated; even in the days when Japan was heavily covered by the business press, there were large gaps between what was common knowledge in Tokyo v. what you’d see in the Western press).
One outstanding problem got a nasty update over the weekend. Tepco admitted some time ago that radioactive water was getting into the Pacific, but has been at a loss to explain how that was happening. The Japan Times (hat tip Deontos) tells us that Tepco announced this past weekend that they think they’ve figured it out:
Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Saturday that the trench problem at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant has cropped up again and is sending highly radioactive water into the sea.
The water in the underground passage, which runs under the turbine building of reactor 2, contains 2.35 billion becquerels of cesium per liter, roughly the same as that measured right after the crisis began in spring 2011…
The trench is believed to be the source of the groundwater problem that’s been baffling Tepco’s experts for months. Their current theory is that the highly radioactive water found and left in the trench in 2011 is now leaking directly into the groundwater, which is seeping into the sea.
Tepco finally admitted Monday that contaminated water was getting into the Pacific. The admission came after the Nuclear Regulation Authority pointed out that highly radioactive water was “strongly suspected” to be seeping into the ground under the site and making its way to the sea.
Yves here. This sort of thing is above my pay grade, but as a layperson, I find several things to be troubling. First is that the radioactivity is apparently getting into the ocean via groundwater. Have there been any reports on the extent of the groundwater contamination? Even if Tepco could wave a magic wand and stop the leaking now, you’d still have continuing effects from the contaminated groundwater then contaminating the ocean (yes the main effects will be local, such as on local fish, but still…).
Second is that the concentration of radioactivity in the trench water has not fallen much in two years despite the leakage. Shouldn’t the impact of the leak be to reduce the level of radioactivity in the trench water? If this was an osmotic type-process, you’d expect to see the radioactivity of water in the trench fall as the radioactivity of the water on the other side rose. And if this is a straight leak (radioactive water goes into clean water, no flowback), wouldn’t you see pressure and/or water levels in the trench falling (as in why would it take these guys so long to figure this out?)
Third is that Tepco “hopes” to fix the problem by (per the Japan Times) by “building a wall out of liquid glass between the reactors and the sea” to isolate the radioactive water and then removing it. “Hopes” is one of those formulations in Japanese that often refers to aspirations rather than plans. Does anyone know if a process like this has ever been implemented successfully?
The second problem came to light last week, but appears to have gone largely unnoticed in the West. Tepco has been using water to cool the No. 1 reactor. It’s running out of storage space for the contaminated water. It promises to clean it up some before discharging it into the ocean.
If you read this article from OilPrice carefully, I believe it has some elements of the story that was updated over the weekend (the confession about groundwater leakage) conflated with the other issue (what to do about ever-increasing amounts of water contaminated by cooling the plant that eventually has to go…somewhere). This conflation may not be OilPrice’s doing. Japanese allows speakers to be very vague, and if I were Tepco, I’d be as vague and confusing as possible.
The 11 March 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that devastated Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has left TEPCO struggling with a potential public relations disaster ever since.
Since the onset of the incident TEPCO used massive sprays of water to cool the damaged reactor complex.
The debacle ignited concerns worldwide about the release into the environment of radioactive debris from the stricken nuclear facility, a topic that both TEPCO and the Japanese government worked to downplay.
Relentlessly upbeat and optimistic information has been sparingly released by TEPCO ever since, but on July 25 the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbum reported that Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority chairman Shunichi Tanaka told journalists that “The Fukushima No. 1 (nuclear reactor) plant is filling up with water. Inevitably the contaminated water will have to be discharged into the sea after TEPCO processes it properly and lowers (its radioactivity levels) below the standards.”
Since the incident TEPCO has been pouring water over the damaged complex reactors to cool them for more than two years, but contaminated water has been building up at the rate of an Olympic-size swimming pool each week since then. Three months ago TEPCO stated that the space to store the irradiated water was limited and asked for government approval to shift groundwater with “low levels of radiation” from the stricken facility to the Pacific via a “bypass.”
Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority head Shunichi Tanaka cautiously told journalists, that he believed that the maritime leakages since Fukushima were ongoing, stating, “I think contamination of the sea is continuing to a greater or lesser extent. It was contaminated at the time of the accident, but I think it has been continuing for the last two years. Coming up with countermeasures against all possible (contamination) scenarios is a top priority.”