It has been nearly two and a half years since 4 of the 6 nuclear plants at TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi reservation were destroyed following the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Yesterday the New York Times reported that about 650,000 gallons a week [400 tons per day] of highly contaminated water is flowing into the Pacific Ocean from the reservation.
Regulators with Japan's version of the NRC express concern about TEPCO's inability to stop the flow, and do not know when the leak began (estimates go from December through May) or even where it's coming from. Obviously this highlights an issue Japanese officials have with TEPCO's longstanding corporate inability to tell the truth about much of anything, which led earlier this week to a request from officials of Fukushima prefecture that Japan's central government remove TEPCO from its management of the disaster due to its inability to contain the mess.
Today Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised to increase governmental efforts to mitigate the contamination escaping to the ocean, and designated the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry [METI] minister Moshimitsu Motegi to be the government official in charge.
Some of you may recall that TEPCO has been treating the water it has been pouring into the bottomless reactor vessels with a resin filtration system installed a few months after the quake designed to remove radioactive cesium isotopes, and storing it in tanks on-site. Groundwater intrusion into the basement levels of the plants that suffered meltdown/melt-through (units 1, 2 and 3) has also been recovered, filtered and stored, a situation that for all this time has meant the utility is filtering and storing far more water than it has been pumping into the systems. This current situation, however, does not appear to involve the same groundwater, as the contamination profile is different.
The Daiichi reservation sits atop a groundwater aquifer that flows from mountains to the west, under and around the plants, and into the ocean, and TEPCO maintains that this groundwater had remained relatively clean even after the disaster because it flows so deep. In May the utility reported detecting a sharp increase in tritium (and cesium, and strontium) in that water. They built an underground barrier along the shoreline in front of one of the plants by injecting chemicals into the soil to harden it. Instead of stopping the leak, the barrier instead has acted as a dam and the contaminated water has now overtopped it and is flowing unimpeded into the lagoon.
Shinji Kinjo, an official with Japan's nuclear regulatory agency, has warned that if the water keeps rising it will soon reach the surface. TEPCO has been given time to create more chemical barriers and to start pumping out at least 30,000 gallons a day of this groundwater in order to keep it from overwhelming the entire facility. Unfortunately, there's no place to put it.
Japan's top nuclear official says TEPCO will not be able to store this water effectively, and will end up dumping it into the ocean. CNN expert Michael Friedlander, taking a hint from how Three Mile Island handled their million gallons of basement reactor water, suggests the utility set up boilers to evaporate it, then reserve the concentrated contamination for storage. Tritium, an isotope of hydrogen, readily bonds with oxygen to produce tritiated water, however, and this contamination would go out with the steam into the air.
The Wall Street Journal also reports that there are serious concerns that TEPCO's attempts to dam the groundwater could 'liquify' the ground beneath the facility and cause what's left of the reactor buildings to fall - spilling their thousands of tons of spent fuel waste and making it impossible to keep them (or the corium from the three melted cores) cool. If this should happen, radiation would require the entire facility to be abandoned, along with its common spent fuel pool and its two other reactors plus their spent fuel pool loads.
Now, one might suspect that perhaps having the whole mess sink into a giant mud pit might be the best thing that could happen, but that would not prevent loose spent fuel assemblies from burning or groundwater flow and runoff from eventually reaching the sea. How then could they even dump megatons of concrete, gravel and/or asphalt enough to 'entomb' it if the crap in the pit is burning and boiling straight to atmosphere? The tremendous inventory of hard core radioactive fuel and waste gets out in the end, and nobody will then credibly pretend that Daiichi isn't "Chernobyl on Steroids" (as Arnie Gundersen described it early on).
Just reporting on the latest developments in this ongoing nuclear disaster, the worst in the history of the technology. There are some who would dearly love for the people of the world to forget about this mess entirely, or be happily reassured that everything is wine and roses, no one is ever harmed by radioactive filth known to be positively deadly for tens of thousands of years. Surely at this point no one paying any attention at all is still that naive - or stupid. This is one area of human endeavor (and mistake-making) where what you don't know can kill you. Don't let 'em sell you a sack of lies.
Hat tip to Energy News and Enformable