Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Reuters: Japan nuclear body says radioactive water at Fukushima an "emergency", water could breach surface

OK, it may be an emergency after all.

From Reuters Japan, who regularly sends reporters to press conferences by TEPCO and Nuclear Regulatory Authority, on the groundwater contamination along the embankment of Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant (8/5/2013):

EXCLUSIVE-Japan nuclear body says radioactive water at Fukushima an "emergency"

* Fukushima radioactive groundwater could breach surface, regulator says

* Watchdog panel head says Tepco's 'sense of crisis is weak'

* Official says leaks into ocean exceed legal limits

* Tepco apologises, says taking steps to block further leaks into ocean (Adds comments from outside experts, background)

By Antoni Slodkowski and Mari Saito

TOKYO, Aug 5 (Reuters) - Highly radioactive water seeping into the ocean from Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant is creating an "emergency" that the operator is struggling to contain, an official from the country's nuclear watchdog said on Monday.

This contaminated groundwater has breached an underground barrier, is rising toward the surface and is exceeding legal limits of radioactive discharge, Shinji Kinjo, head of a Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) task force, told Reuters.

Countermeasures planned by Tokyo Electric Power Co are only a temporary solution, he said.

Tepco's "sense of crisis is weak," Kinjo said. "This is why you can't just leave it up to Tepco alone" to grapple with the ongoing disaster.

"Right now, we have an emergency," he said.

Tepco has been widely castigated for its failure to prepare for the massive 2011 tsunami and earthquake that devastated its Fukushima plant and lambasted for its inept response to the reactor meltdowns. It has also been accused of covering up shortcomings.

It was not immediately clear how much of a threat the contaminated groundwater could pose. In the early weeks of the disaster, the Japanese government allowed Tepco to dump tens of thousands of tonnes of contaminated water into the Pacific in an emergency move.

The toxic water release was however heavily criticised by neighbouring countries as well as local fishermen and the utility has since promised it would not dump irradiated water without the consent of local townships.

"Until we know the exact density and volume of the water that's flowing out, I honestly can't speculate on the impact on the sea," said Mitsuo Uematsu from the Center for International Collaboration, Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute at the University of Tokyo.

"We also should check what the levels are like in the sea water. If it's only inside the port and it's not flowing out into the sea, it may not spread as widely as some fear."


Tepco said it is taking various measures to prevent contaminated water from leaking into the bay near the plant. In an e-mailed statement to Reuters, a company spokesman said Tepco deeply apologised to residents in Fukushima prefecture, the surrounding region and the larger public for causing inconveniences, worries and trouble.

The utility pumps out some 400 tonnes a day of groundwater flowing from the hills above the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into the basements of the destroyed buildings, which mixes with highly irradiated water that is used to cool the reactors in a stable state below 100 degrees Celsius.

Tepco is trying to prevent groundwater from reaching the plant by building a "bypass" but recent spikes of radioactive elements in sea water has prompted the utility to reverse months of denials and finally admit that tainted water is reaching the sea.

In a bid to prevent more leaks into the bay of the Pacific Ocean, plant workers created the underground barrier by injecting chemicals to harden the ground along the shoreline of the No. 1 reactor building. But that barrier is only effective in solidifying the ground at least 1.8 meters below the surface.

By breaching the barrier, the water can seep through the shallow areas of earth into the nearby sea. More seriously, it is rising toward the surface - a break of which would accelerate the outflow.

"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," said Masashi Goto, a retired Toshiba Corp nuclear engineer who worked on several Tepco plants. "So now, the question is how long do we have?"

Contaminated water could rise to the ground's surface within three weeks, the Asahi Shimbun said on Saturday. Kinjo said the three-week timeline was not based on NRA's calculations but acknowledged that if the water reaches the surface, "it would flow extremely fast."

A Tepco official said on Monday the company plans to start pumping out a further 100 tonnes of groundwater a day around the end of the week.

The regulatory task force overseeing accident measures of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, which met Friday, "concluded that new measures are needed to stop the water from flowing into the sea that way," Kinjo said.

Tepco said on Friday that a cumulative 20 trillion to 40 trillion becquerels of radioactive tritium had probably leaked into the sea since the disaster. The company said this was within legal limits.

Tritium is far less harmful than cesium and strontium, which have also been released from the plant. Tepco is scheduled to test strontium levels next.

The admission on the long-term tritium leaks, as well as renewed criticism from the regulator, show the precarious state of the $11 billion cleanup and Tepco's challenge to fix a fundamental problem: How to prevent water, tainted with radioactive elements like cesium, from flowing into the ocean. (Additional reporting by Kentaro Hamada; Editing by Edmund Klamann and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Asahi's article: http://digital.asahi.com/articles/TKY201308030013.html?ref=comkiji_txt_end_kjid_TKY201308030013

It looks like "three weeks" is Asahi's own calculation.

I hope TEPCO has at least stopped the injection of waterglass into the artificial soil, but hope is a dirty four-letter word.


Anonymous said...

What makes no sense is why tritium and strontium, along with cesium are not tested together. Don't they all go through the spectrometer?

Anonymous said...

Just a quick question, is the Aquifer in Fukushima linked to Gunma ? what are the chances of radioactive groundwater in gunma?

Anonymous said...

Takes an emergency to bring the authorities back to reality long enough to nail the lid back down again.

Anonymous said...

It's - as always - a money issue. You don't have to be a rocket sientist to be able to see that Tepco would run out of space and capacity to deal with all the radio active water. This is for Tepco( and for that matter the Japanese government ) by far the cheapest solution. For the record they tried something with a wall underground and so, but it was obvious that you can not stop 400 ton of water a day like that.
That breach is very conviently, and everybody is now very busy with that, so the real problems and the consequenses of Fukushima triple melt down and tons of spent fuel that can go up ( and probably partly went up)in the air any moment, are kept away.

The big question here is why does Tepco suddenly come up with this information? They have known this for a quit some time. Why now ? Is tepco expecting something ( bigger)? The answers to those questions will tell the real story of this horror.

Scott said...

So after 2 years Tepco finally admits they have an emergency on their hands. The sad thing is that it looks to be caused by their incompetence once again.

Will the Japanese government ever ask for outside help and foreign scientific communities to help try to stop this mess from getting any worse? The time is now to end this coverup. This is seriously f'd up.

Vyse Legendaire said...

My guess is that the damaged trenches were leaking water from groundwater--->sea even before the piles were the hammer piles were driven in to create the 'barrier' on sea side, but that the situation was made worse by their impact....

So to counter that they decided to build this 'impermeable' wall on ground side to hold back groundwater, creating the side effect of rising water and destabilizing the soil foundation...the solution is going to have to be pumping/rerouting the water and storing/treating it the same way as cooling water.

Additionally its questionable whether the impermeable wall can be finished now that the soil's properties may be compromised by the upsurge in water.

I wonder if Tepco really helped itself by trying this impossible task of 'stopping' the water before it enters the sea, or if this is going to be the straw that breaks the camel's back? Not only is the whole project a boondoggle but its going to increase the impossible deadline when water storage capacity will run out.

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

Anon at the top, the reason is that they can't be tested together. Cesium is gamma nuclide and easy to detect. Strontium and tritium are beta nuclides, it takes time to quantify.

netudiant said...

The hypocrisy here is so thick one could cut it with a knife.

The site was invaded by groundwater from day one, after the earthquake cracked the foundations.
Since then, by the combined efforts of the decontamination apparatuses and the ongoing flushing of the site via ground water flows, the prevailing radioactivity levels, apart from in isolated deeper trenches and conduits, have been reduced to about 1% of their initial levels.
Imho, the fact that the radioactivity levels have been slashed so much is the key news about Fukushima. The crisis is past, the mess endures and it will take many years and tens of billions of dollars to clean up. Perhaps the government is seeking to create a sense of success with a fake crisis that can be quickly solved, to create the impression of progress in what will be a very long cleanup.
Objectively of course, this is just silly and I am stunned the Japanese people are falling for it.

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

Netudiant, thank you for your perspective. Yes Japanese people are falling for it, and many seem to believe the extremely contaminated water in the trenches are leaking into the ocean undiluted.

Anonymous said...

arevamirpal::laprimavera your patients is commendable. netudiant ignores the fact of accumulative effects on the environment. Just because the fallout isn't wafting around the world from continuous venting, doesn't mean the local environment takes a radioactive hit day after day, it does and is.

Start adding up radioactive contaminated water and air filters TEPCO creates everyday of out thin air besides stored and uncollected radioactive free flowing radionuclides and in a hundred years the total will be more than the initial releases. Why? Because there is no containment and the melted cores are missing. Roughly 250 ton of uncontainable melted fuel is capable of creating how much fallout?

Any fizzling past, present and future will add to the possible radioactive fallout on top of what there was in the melted fuel originally.

Of course the main event is over so let us all go home now and forget about it.

Anonymous said...

Researchers measured sea floor contamination using a newly developed sweeping probe from a ship; this technique allows them to measure radioactivity along lines, rather than spots.
Several kilometres in the sea off Fuku 1 the researchers uncovered hotspots up to 40,000 bq/kg wet, whereby according to Tepco the maximum was 2700 (dry). (Asahi TV)

Some day, I do not want to be hearing a similar story about peaches ("ooops, sorry, they were 10 times more contaminated than we told you") so I keep steering clear from Tohoku produce.

Netudiant, 1% of the initial levels sounds great, it's 100 times lower, but is it low enough to be safe?


Anonymous said...

I'd like to add that cesium density is indeed around 1%, but all other long-life nuclides are just about the same as day one. Cesium might be the worse problem, but you can't just say 'radioactivity level is reduced to 1% of it's initial level'. Maybe one day if ALPS is ever successful, but clearly not today.


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