The agony and the lessons of Fukushima intensify

The Guardian reports, 1st September 2013: “Radiation levels 18 times higher than previously reported have been found near a water storage tank at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, prompting fresh concern over safety at the wrecked facility. The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), said radiation near the bottom of the tank measured 1,800 millisieverts an hour — high enough to kill an exposed person in four hours.

Tepco said water levels inside the tank had not changed, indicating there had not been a leak. But the firm said it had yet to discover the cause of the radiation spike. Last month Tepco said another storage tank of the same design as the container causing concern this weekend had leaked 300 tonnes of radioactive water, possibly into the sea.

water tanks at the Fukushima nuclear power plant leak

A Tepco employee in protective clothing works around water tanks at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in June.
Photograph: Noboru Hashimoto/EPA

Japan’s nuclear watchdog confirmed last week it had raised the severity of that leak from level 1, an “anomaly”, to level 3, a “serious incident”, on an eight-point scale used by the International Atomic Energy Agency for radiological releases. Earlier, the utility belatedly confirmed reports that a toxic mixture of groundwater and water being used to cool melted fuel lying deep inside the damaged reactors was seeping into the sea at a rate of about 300 tonnes a day.

The firm’s inability to safely store contaminated water and prevent more damage to the environment has prompted doubts about its ability to lead the Fukushima Daiichi clean-up. Decommissioning the plant is expected to cost tens of billions of dollars and last around 40 years.

Tepco recently set up a committee to focus on the water leaks and said it would seek advice from foreign decommissioning experts. The prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has said the government will play a bigger role in preventing water contamination.

The chairman of the country’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, Shunichi Tanaka, said: “We cannot fully stop contaminated water leaks right away. That’s the reality. The water is still leaking in to the sea, and we should better assess its environmental impact.”

Tepco’s handling of the leaks has drawn an angry response from local fishermen, who had to abandon plans to conduct a trial catch at the end of August. Fishermen south of Fukushima Daiichi have not been able to fish commercially since the disaster, while those north of the plant can catch only octopus and whelks.

“We think that contaminated water management by your company has completely fallen apart,” Hiroshi Kishi, chairman of the Japan Fisheries Co-operative, told Tepco’s president, Naomi Hirose, during a meeting in Tokyo last week. “This has dealt an immeasurable blow to the future of Japan’s fishing industry, and we are extremely concerned.”

Source: The Guardian, 1st September 2013. For the full text, see www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/sep/01/fukushima-radiation-levels-higher-japan

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