August 11, 2013

Government steps in to stabilize Fukushima "state of emergency"

A worker walking near water tanks at the
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan.
TOKYO — The Japanese prime minister directed his government on Wednesday to step in to help stabilize the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, after continuing radiation leaks exposed the failure of the plant's operator to contain the problem more than two years after a triple meltdown.

Calling recent revelations of new contamination flowing into the Pacific Ocean an "urgent issue," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the national government had to use its resources to help the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, bring the leaks under control. In a recognition of the magnitude of the problem, a government official said Wednesday that some 300 tons, or about 75,000 gallons, of contaminated groundwater is now believed to be flowing daily into the man-made harbor at the Fukushima plant.

The plan calls for freezing the soil around the buildings to shut off the flow of contamination into nearby groundwater, and thus end the leaks into the sea. Doing this would require an ice wall nearly a mile in length that would reach almost 100 feet, or 30 meters, into the ground. Officials said that an ice wall of such a scale had never been attempted before, making it unlikely that Tepco could pull off the feat alone.
"There is no precedent in the world to create a water-shielding wall with frozen soil on such a large scale," the government's main spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, told a news conference. [NY Times]

This contaminated groundwater is likely seeping into the sea, exceeding legal limits of radioactive discharge, and a workaround planned by Tokyo Electric Power Co will only forestall the growing problem temporarily, Shinji Kinjo, head of a Nuclear Regulatory Authority task force, told Reuters.

"Right now we have a state of emergency," Kinjo said, saying there is a "rather high possibility" that the radioactive wastewater has breached the barrier and is rising towards the ground's surface, Kinjo said. [Reuters]



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