Update September 4, 2013: Japanese Government Will Spend $470 Million On Underground Ice Wall by March 2015, to Stop Radioactive Leaks.
TEPCO's Leaking Storage Tanks Still Out of Control.
See mp3 audio interview below.
The Japanese government in Tokyo announced on Tuesday, September 3, 2013, that it will spend $470 million on an underground "ice wall" to try to stop the chronically leaking, highly radioactive waste water in its thousand containment tanks shown at the center of the Google image at left.
The four damaged nuclear reactors are at the top of the aerial image and the proposed ice
wall is the orange rectangle around the reactors close to the Pacific Ocean. Illustration by TEPCO.
The ice wall containment method has never been used on such a scale before. The ice wall would freeze the ground to a depth of some 90 feet (27 meters) through a system of pipes designed to carry a coolant between minus 20 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The U. S. Department of Energy's former site at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee used an ice wall to contain plutonium waste, but only for six years. Building a nearly mile long ice wall around four nuclear reactor buildings is unprecedented.
The Japanese government says it will spend $320 million to build the ice wall, projected to be in place by the end of March 2015. The balance of $150 million will be spent to upgrade Fukushima's water treatment unit to remove all radioactive elements except water-soluble tritium. But TEPCO is responsible for maintaining - and probably increasing - the storage tanks of highly radioactive water that will be leaking over the next two years while the Japanese government builds the underground ice wall.
— “The accident in Fukushima cannot be left entirely to
Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO). There is a need for the Japanese government
to play a role with a sense of urgency, including taking measures to deal
with the radioactive waste water.”
- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, August 28, 2013
— “It is leaking out from the basements,
it is leaking out from the cracks all over the place.”
- Mycle Schneider, Independent Nuclear Consultant, August 23, 2013
Updated September 3 with mp3 Audio Interview / original August 29, 2013 Fukushima, Japan - On August 21st, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, also known as TEPCO, dismayed the world with its announcement that one of its thousand Fukushima containers had been leaking at least 80,000 gallons of highly radioactive water for a month and no one knew - not TEPCO and not the overseeing regulator, Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority known as the NRA. Those 80,000 gallons — or 300 tons — of leaking water contain Strontium -90, a bone-seeking isotope that stays in the body, has a half-life of 30 years and will be radioactive for about 300 years. Its presence in bones can cause bone cancer, cancer of nearby tissues, and leukemia.
TEPCO's admission of losing so much highly radioactive water to the ground water and nearby Pacific Ocean raised the 2-and-a-half-year-old evolving Fukushima crisis to a Level-3 on the United Nation's 7-point International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale.
That sudden crisis level increase provoked the world's nuclear watchdog known as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to ask Japan to explain why the sudden new alarm after two and a half years of chronic radioactive leaking emergencies.
TEPCO also admitted this year that every day 300 to 400 tons of filtered, lower-level radioactive groundwater have been leaking into the nearby Pacific Ocean from the four severely damaged nuclear power plants since the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. That's when Fukushima was rated at a Level-7 — matching Russia's Chernobyl nuclear meltdown catastrophe of 1986.
Two days after TEPCO's admissions, on August 23rd, Mycle Schneider, an independent nuclear consultant for France and Germany, reported to the BBC from his Japan sources that the thousand storage tanks at Fukushima are 85% full, and that the water used to cool the damaged nuclear cores is producing radioactive water waste at the rate of tens of thousands of gallons every day. He said, “It is much worse than we have been led to believe, much worse. The quantities of water they are dealing with are absolutely gigantic. What is worse is the water leakage is everywhere — not just from the tanks. It is leaking out from the basements, it is leaking out from the cracks all over the place. Nobody can measure that.”
Recently I talked about the Fukushima crisis with Dave Lochbaum, Director of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists from his Chattanooga, Tennessee, office. Dave worked in the nuclear industry for seventeen years as an engineer and consultant mostly at boiling water reactors like those at Fukushima. He joined the Union of Concerned Scientists in 1996, and also briefly worked for the American Nuclear Regulatory Commission as a technology instructor. I asked Dave Lockbaum what his reaction was to the August 21st TEPCO admission about all the leaking radioactive water.
Play MP3 interview.
Dave Lochbaum, 54, Director of the Nuclear Safety Project, Union of Concerned Scientists, Chattanooga, Tennessee: “More than 80,000 gallons of water had leaked from a tank for as long as 30 days or more before being detected. That was surprising.
HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE IT COULD HAVE BEEN LEAKING FOR 30 DAYS, BUT TEPCO AND THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT WOULD NOT HAVE DETECTED THAT?
That was the hard part to understand. Over the past year or so, they (TEPCO) have been putting in more and more tanks to deal with all the contaminated water that's collected, the history of tanks is that they leak - it's not if, it's when. In addition, they are putting those tanks at Fukushima, which is known to have a lot of earthquake activity. So for either of those reasons, you would want to have a pretty good leak-monitoring system in place to detect leakage as soon as possible so you can stop it before too much gets out.
Twice a day workers were checking every tank for leaks and they had built a barrier wall around the tanks to collect water that might leak out in spite of all that attention, but they left a valve open through a penetration in the barrier wall and some how in spite of checking twice a day for the last 30 days, they didn't notice that 80,000 gallons of water had gotten out. That's baffling as to how that was allowed to happen.
The company obviously did not do a good job, but where is the regulator (Japan Nuclear Regulatory Agency)? Why wasn't the regulator there to catch that problem sooner?
How Radioactive Is Leaking Fukushima Water?
WHAT IS THE RADIOACTIVITY THAT HAS BEEN MEASURED SO FAR?
Well, they took some readings that showed if you were standing two feet away from the water, you would get the equivalent of five years worth of radiation in just one hour!
WE'RE TALKING ABOUT STRONTIUM-90, CESIUM 134 AND CESIUM 137?
The water that leaked had been treated once through the filter system, so some of the strontium and cesium had been removed, so I guess it could have been worse, but it should have been better.
THE HALF-LIFES ON STRONTIUM-90 AND CESIUM-137 ARE WHAT?
Approximately 30 years. It's going to be around for ten half-lives or 300 years before it decays away to background. [ See Facts About Radiation Exposure at the end of this report.]
Is Fukushima Containable?
THEY ARE PIPING ALL THIS RADIOACTIVE WASTE WATER GOING INTO THESE CONTAINERS THAT THEY HAVE KEPT BUILDING AND THAT ARE NOW LEAKING. WHAT IS THE POTENTIAL RIGHT NOW GOING FORWARD IN 2013 OF JAPAN AND TEPCO EVER GETTING CONTROL OF WHAT SEEMS LIKE AN ENDLESS EMERGENCY CRISIS?
You don't check a tank level twice a day and not notice that it's empty! You know, something is wrong with their monitoring system.
To be fair to the TEPCO, the Fukushima site is unprecedented in the magnitude: Three nuclear reactor cores have melted down. Four spent fuel pools are in jeopardy. Three buildings that exploded. So they have a lot of problems. It's difficult for them to fix these things overnight.
A LOT OF THIS HAS BEEN BECAUSE TEPCO AND THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT SEEM TO HAVE TAKEN A POLICY OF DENIAL RIGHT FROM THE VERY BEGINNING OF MARCH 11, 2011, ABOUT HOW SERIOUS THIS ALL IS.
Yeah, they did downplay or dismiss and outright deny right from the beginning, but that's pretty much a tradition.
ARE YOU ABLE TO SPEAK FRANKLY ABOUT THE FACT THAT IT'S 2.5 YEARS LATER AND COUNTING AND JAPAN AND TEPCO HAVE NOT TOLD THE TRUTH ABOUT MOST ALL DEVELOPMENTS INCLUDING THE FACT THAT THEY HAVE BEEN HAVING HIGH RADIATION READINGS NOW FOR QUITE AWHILE. SUDDENLY SOMETHING HAS HAPPENED THAT HAS FORCED THEIR HAND AND GO AND REACH TO THE WORLD AND PUBLIC ABOUT THIS LATESTLEAK OF 80,000 GALLONS OF HIGHLY RADIOACTIVE WATER.
Yes, they should have been on the lead explaining this to people, explaining what happened, why it happened and what they are going to do about it. Instead, they always are playing the Watergate game! That has not worked. You're not supposed to be doing that.
What If Another Earthquake
Tears Open Fukushima Again?
IT WAS A VERY LARGE SEISMIC EVENT WITH THE TSUNAMI THAT CAUSED THE CRISIS IN THE FIRST PLACE ON MARCH 11, 2011. JAPAN IS IN ONE OF THE MOST EARTHQUAKE-PRONE FAULTLINES IN THE WORLD. WHAT HAPPENS IF THERE IS ANOTHER LARGE EARTHQUAKE THAT CRACKS OPEN UNITS 1, 2, 3 AND 4 AND EXPOSES ALL THIS HIGHLY RADIOACTIVE WATER FURTHER TO THE GROUND, OCEAN AND AIR?
Well, there is an awful lot of radioactive material that's semi-controlled right now. If an earthquake allows more of the water to leak out or some more of the radioactive material in the damaged fuel in various places to get out, then the bad situation will only get worse.
A lot of radiation did get out during and following the accident, but there's even more radiation still within that (TEPCO) site.
EVERYBODY IS HAVING A HARD TIME BELIEVING ANYTHING THAT IS COMING OFFICIALLY FROM THE GOVERNMENT AND TEPCO ABOUT WHAT IS REALLY HAPPENING.
Yeah, the problem they are into now is that they had this problem occur so many times that it's like Peter and the Wolf. At what point do you stop being trusted?
How Vulnerable Is U. S. to Fukushima Fallout
and Its Own Nuclear Disaster?
“Based on our source function of 22 Bq/m3, which sits at the upper range of the published estimates, waters with Cs-137 concentrations >10 Bq/m3 are projected
to reach the northwestern American coast and the Hawaiian archipelago by early 2014.”
- October 2013 publication: “Multi-decadal projections of surface and interior pathways
of the Fukushima Cesium-137 radioactive plume,” Pages 37-46, Deep Sea Research
Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers, ScienceDirect.com.
Spread estimate of cesium-137 radioactive particles reaching the west coast of
North America over an approximate 3-hear timescale. Graphic source: Washingtonblogs.com.
WHAT IS THE REALISTIC PROJECTION NOW GOING FORWARD FOR MARINE LIFE IN THESE VERY RADIOACTIVE CONTAMINATED WATERS NEAR FUKUSHIMA, AND WHAT MORE CAN HAPPEN THAT IS REACHING THE COAST OF THE UNITED STATES?
The more radioactivity gets out, the greater the impact. The more kelp and aquatic wildlife will absorb it and it will get into the food chain. I guess one of the benefits or outcomes of Fukushima is that because of this awareness (of radioactive food), there is more sampling - particularly foodstuffs, whether they are on land or pulled out of the ocean.
SO, IF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT AND TEPCO HAVE HAD POLICIES OF DENIAL IN THAT COUNTRY, THIS COUNTRY IN THE UNITED STATES HAS ALSO BEEN UNCOMFORTABLE IN REPORTING THE TRUTH ABOUT THE IMPLICATIONS OF WHAT'S HAPPENING IN FUKUSHIMA BECAUSE THEY DON'T WANT AMERICANS TO REALIZE THE SAME THING COULD HAPPEN HERE.
Oh, exactly! On March 15, 2012, the NRC (U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission) Commissioners went before a Senate Oversight Committee and one of the senators asked, 'Could Fukushima happen here?' And all of the NRC commissioners said, 'No, absolutely not.'
But at the time of that, the NRC Commissioners knew there was a 3-reactor plant in South Carolina called Oconee (Nuclear Station) that is 23 miles downstream from a dam that could fail.
The NRC's own estimates show that if that dam fails, there is a 100% chance that all three reactors would melt down, duplicating what happened at Fukushima. Yet, the NRC told the Senate that can't happen. And that problem is not fixed yet two years later! So you can't handle the truth? The powers-that-be in the United States feel the American public can't handle the truth, so we don't get it.
HOW MANY PEOPLE WOULD POTENTIALLY DIE IF THE THREE NUCLEAR REACTORS FAILED WITH THE DAM AND ALL THAT RADIOACTIVE WATER WENT DOWN THE RIVER?
The NRC's calculations are tens of thousands (of exposed Americans would die).
FUKUSHIMA, THE REALITY IS — WITHOUT ANY SUGAR COATING — THAT IN THE NEXT 18 TO 19 YEARS, THERE WILL BE A DEATH TOLL FROM RADIATION EXPOSURE IN JAPAN THAT WILL BE LARGE.
Yes, that is unfortunately the truth. The TEPCO plant operated for 40 years and will remain a hazard to people living around it for decades longer. Politicians and society will have to determine whether the benefits derived from that 40 years offset the damage that will be done over the next century.
WHAT WOULD YOU PERSONALLY LIKE TO SEE HAPPEN IN JAPAN AND THE UNITED STATES?
Japan - they really need to figure out how to manage that water. Having 80,000 gallons of water mysteriously disappear over a period of 30 days is unacceptable because that is one of the keys to their cleanup.
Here in the United States, there are known safety problems that we are tolerating, but are not fixing. The government would be in a hard place if there ever was a disaster caused by one of these known problems. To say we did everything we could to protect the Americans, but it happened anyway.
- Half of the nuclear reactors in the United States don't meet fire protection regulations.
- A fourth of the reactors are known to have earthquake hazards greater than they are protected against.
- 35 plants out of the 100 that are operating today are known to be downstream of dams that if they break will cause meltdowns. That's just wrong!
America's NRC Needs Reform
At the time of Fukushima (March 11, 2011), Gregory Jasko was Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). He tried to get the NRC to take action to lessen our vulnerabilities to Fukushima challenges. And his reward for doing so was to get 'voted off the island.' He was forced to resign in July 2012. That's the reward for trying to protect the lives of millions of Americans. That's pitiful.
SO WHAT WOULD CHANGE THIS CORRUPT SYSTEM OF THE NRC?
A nuclear disaster in a U. S. plant, like it did in Fukushima. It took a disaster of that magnitude before the Japanese woke up and said, ‘We can do a better job at this.’
THERE WAS A QUOTE IN REUTERS THAT THE JAPAN NATIONAL REGULATORY ASSOCIATION CHAIRMAN, SHUNICHI TANAKA, COMPARED FUKUSHIMA ‘TO A HOUSE OF HORRORS AT AN AMUSEMENT PARK. I DON'T KNOW IF DESCRIBING IT THIS WAY IS APPROPRIATE, BUT IT'S LIKE A HAUNTED HOUSE. MISSHAPS KEEP HAPPENING ONE AFTER THE OTHER. WE HAVE TO LOOK INTO HOW WE CAN REDUCE THE RISKS AND HOW TO PREVENT IT FROM BECOMING A FATAL OR SERIOUS INCIDENT.’
THIS WAS AUGUST 21ST FROM THE CHAIRMAN OF THE NRA IN JAPAN.
Yes, I saw that and similar quotes from Japanese officials. I'm not doubting the sincerity of that. But I also think they need to hold a mirror up to themselves because their job is not to criticize the company (TEPCO) all the time. Their job is to make sure what the company is doing is not exposing workers in the public to undue harm.
THE NRA IS USING TEPCO AS A SCAPEGOAT WHEN IT ALSO HAS RESPONSIBILITIES?
Right. Both the company and the regulator failed in this case. It's importanat that both of them learn from this and take steps to lessen the likelihood. Otherwise, for the regulator to continue blaming TEPCO for every misstep is fun and makes good headlines, but it's not really protecting the workers and the public the way they are supposed to be doing.
WHAT DO YOU REALISTICALLY EXPECT TO HAPPEN BETWEEN NOW AND THE END OF 2013 AT FUKUSHIMA?
If they can fix the broader systemic problems that allowed this to happen, then we have some hope in the future we won't be hearing about this every three months or every six months. If not, if they only apply a band-aid to the problem and not solve its underlying cause, then we'll be hearing about this or worse next year.
THOSE SAME WORDS COULD BE APPLIED TO THE UNITED STATES?
How Safe is Japan's Fish and Farm Food?
With so much bone-seeking Strontium-90 contaminated water leaking from Fukushima into the nearby Pacific Ocean, Hiroshi Kishi, Head of JF Zengyoren, a federation of more than 1,000 Japanese fisheries cooperative, said his members had no faith in TEPCO’s ability to clean up the severely damaged nuclear power plant.
“We think your company’s management of contaminated water has collapsed. We are extremely worried as it’s creating an immeasurable impact on our country’s fishing industry and will continue to do so in the future.”
Greenpeace International also reports that in Japan, radioactive rice, beef, fruits, vegetables, milk and baby formula have been found. As recently as January 2013, fish caught off the coast of Fukushima measured 254,000 Becquerels (Bq) per kilogram of radioactive cesium, which is 2,540 times the legal limit for human consumption.
Facts About Radiation Exposure:
— One Bq is defined as the activity of a quantity of radioactive material in which one nucleus decays per second.
For further reports about Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, please see other reports below in the Earthfiles Archive.
• 04/08/2012 — Part 2: Fukushima Cesium-137 Danger Is Greater Than Chernobyl
• 03/30/2012 — Japan Is Burning Radioactive Debris Until 2014
• 09/30/2011 — Japan's 3/11 Radiation Refugees
• 06/06/2011 — Where is Plutonium-MOX Nuclear Reactor Fuel Ejected from Fukushima Unit 3?
• 03/18/2011 — Water Cannons, Fire Trucks and Tons of Helicopter-Lifted Water Have Not Stopped Heating in Fukushima Reactors
• 03/15/2011 — Japan Seismic Agency Says Strong Chance of 7.0 Aftershocks. Pattern of Quakes Headed Toward Tokyo
• 03/14/2011 — Three Japan Damaged Nuclear Reactor Fuel Rods “Melting”?