An ice wall being built at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant won’t completely prevent groundwater from flowing inside the facility and leaking out into the earth as radioactive water, according to a chief architect of the project.
Chief architect Yuichi Okamura told AP that gaps in the wall and rainfall will still allow for water to creep into the facility and reach the damaged nuclear reactors, which will in turn create as much as 50 tons of contaminated water each day.
“It’s not zero,” Okamura, a general manager at Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said. “It’s a vicious cycle, like a cat-and-mouse game… we have come up against many unexpected problems.”
The wall, which will be 1.5km (1 mile) long, will consist of an underground pipe network stretching 30 meters (100 feet) below the surface, around the reactor and turbine buildings. The pipes are designed to transport refrigerant cooled to -30° Celsius (-22°F) to chill the nearby soil until it freezes.
The barrier is being turned on in sections for tests, and the entire freezing process will take eight months since it was first switched on in late March. The process requires an amount of electricity that would power 13,000 Japanese households.
Despite its current efforts, TEPCO – the operator of the Fukushima plant – has been fiercely criticized by those who say the groundwater issue should have been forecast and dealt with sooner.
Shigeaki Tsunoyama, an honorary professor and former president of University of Aizu in Fukushima, said that building a concrete wall built into the hill near the plant after the disaster would have minimized the contaminated water issue.
Okamura acknowledged that the option of building a barrier at a higher elevation near the plant was considered in the days following the disaster, but defended the actions of TEPCO, stressing that the priority is on preventing contaminated water from escaping into the Pacific Ocean.
Others have criticized the US$312 million wall, which is being built by construction company Kajima Corp., as a waste of taxpayer money.
TEPCO has repeatedly faced criticism for its handling of the Fukushima crisis, which occurred after a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami led to a meltdown of reactors at the facility in March 2011. The disaster was the worst nuclear accident to take place since Chernobyl in 1986.
The company has admitted that it did not act properly during the disaster, confessing in February that it announced the nuclear meltdowns far too late. It also stated in a 2012 report that it downplayed safety risks caused by the incident, out of fear that additional measures would lead to a shutdown of the plant and further fuel public anxiety and anti-nuclear campaigns.
Despite the ongoing problems encountered following the meltdowns, TEPCO has set 2020 as the goal for ending the plant’s water problem – an aim which critics say is far too optimistic.
However, the water problem is just part of the monumental challenges faced at the facility. Controlling and dismantling the plant is expected to take 40 years. Robots have been tasked with taking photos of the debris, as the radiation levels are too high for humans to complete the job.
Fukushima police have finally reacted to a criminal complaint filed against TEPCO and 32 of its top officials two years ago over the contamination caused by the 2011 nuclear disaster. They have referred the case to prosecutors.
The Fukushima District Prosecutors’ Office will now determine whether to pursue criminal charges against the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and its top management over the leaks of highly radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea.
The criminal complaint alleges that the company and its executives failed to manage storage tanks of contaminated water or build underground walls to block the flow of radioactive material into the sea at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Notable people on the list include TEPCO’s President Naomi Hirose, former Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and former President Masataka Shimizu.
Police have reviewed claims filed by local residents after 300 tons of highly radioactive water had leaked from TEPCO tanks.
Investigators say that since the complaint was launched in 2013, they have conducted interviews with TEPCO officials and analyzed other relevant information on suspicion of environmental pollution offense law violations. The police will document their observations and present the case to the Prosecutors’ Office.
TEPCO has not made any public comments on the matter, but has said that company officials were in contact with investigators, according to NHK.
The 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster is considered to be the world’s worst environmental catastrophe since Chernobyl. As of March, about 600,000 tons of contaminated water are still contained within TEPCO tanks. According to preliminary estimates, site cleanup may take up to 40 years.
Many issues of national importance to Japan, probably including the state of the Fukushima power plant, may be designated state secrets under a new draft law. Once signed, it could see whistleblowers jailed for up to 10 years.
Japan has relatively lenient penalties for exposing state secrets compared to many other nations, but that may change with the introduction of the new law. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has agreed on draft legislation on the issue on Friday and expects the parliament to vote on it during the current session, which ends on December 6.
With a comfortable majority in both chambers, the ruling coalition bloc would see no problems overcoming the opposition. Critics say the new law would give the executive too much power to conceal information from the public and compromise the freedom of the press.
Currently only issues of defense can be designated state secrets in Japan, and non-military leakers face a jail term of up to one year. Defense officials may be sentenced to five years for exposing secrets, or 10 years, if the classified information they leaked came from the US military.
The new law would enact harsher punishment to leakers, but more importantly, it would allow government branches other than defense ministry to designate information as state secrets. The bill names four categories of ‘special secrets’, which would be covered by protection – defense, diplomacy, counter-terrorism and counter-espionage.
Under the new legislation a ministry may classify information for a five-year term with a possibility of prolongation to up to 30 years. After that a cabinet ruling would be needed for the secret to be treated as such, but there is no limit for how long information may be kept under a lid.
“Basically, this bill raises the possibility that the kind of information about which the public should be informed is kept secret eternally,” Tadaaki Muto, a lawyer and member of a task force on the bill at the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, told Reuters.
“Under the bill, the administrative branch can set the range of information that is kept secret at its own discretion.”
Media watchdogs in Japan fear the bill would allow the government to cover up serious blunders, like the collusion between regulators and utilities, which was a significant factor in the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. The quake- and tsunami-hit nuclear power plant went into meltdown and continues to leak contaminated water as its operator TEPCO failed to contain it.
TEPCO has long been accused of obscuring the crisis and Fukushima. Many details on its development were first published in the media before going to governmental or corporate reports.
Critics of the state secrets bill say it would undermine media’s ability to act as the public’s eye on the actions of the government and whoever it would choose to shield.
“It seems very clear that the law would have a chilling effect on journalism in Japan,” said Lawrence Repeta, a law professor at Meiji University.
In a bid to address those concerns the cabinet added a provision to the draft which gives “utmost considerations” to citizens’ right to know and freedom of the press. The addition came at the request of the New Komeito party, the coalition partner of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party. The added provisions also state that news reporting is legitimate if its purpose is to serve the public good and the information is not obtained in unlawful or extremely unjust ways.
The clause is based on the 1970s scandal in Japan, in which a reporter was charged and found guilty of unlawfully obtaining secret information about the government. The reporter, Takichi Nishiyama, revealed a secret US-Japanese pact under which Tokyo paid some $4 million of the cost of transferring Okinawa Island from the US back to Japanese rule in 1972.
Nishiyama’s report, which was revealed to have been truthful in 2000, was based on documents he received from a married Foreign Ministry clerk with whom he had an affair. The scandal ultimately ruined his career and dealt a serious blow to the newspaper he worked for.
Japanese law has no clear definition of what kind of new gathering could be deemed ‘grossly inappropriate’. The bill introduces a jail sentence of up to five years for non-officials, including media professionals, using such methods to obtain information. But it does not clearly state that if a journalist reporting on a state secret is found to have obtained the information legitimately, he or she would not be punished. This has led critics to dismiss the ‘freedom of press’ provisions as political window dressing.
Despite criticisms, the Japanese cabinet insists that the law be adopted promptly. It is needed for the planned establishment of a national security council, which would involve members from different ministries and agencies. The law would protect information exchanged through the new body from being leaked, the government says.
Abe’s party has sought unsuccessfully to enact a harsher law on state secrets in the past. The effort had been given a boost after a leaking of a video in 2010, which showed a collision between a Chinese fishing boat and a Japanese patrol vessel near disputed isles in the East China Sea. The government led by the now-opposition Democratic Party wanted to keep the video under wraps, fearing that its publication would harm the already tense relations with Beijing.
Japan had harsh state secret legislation before and during World War II, so in the post-war period government secrecy has been viewed with suspicion, along with militaristic traditions and other things associated with the Imperial past. Abe’s LDP is among the political circles in Japan, which seek change to some of those policies.
- Cabinet to OK state secrets bill (japantimes.co.jp)
- State secrets act feared to have ‘chilling effect on journalism’ in Japan (japandailypress.com)
Even the tiniest mistake during an operation to extract over 1,300 fuel rods at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan could lead to a series of cascading failures with an apocalyptic outcome, fallout researcher Christina Consolo told RT.
Fukushima operator TEPCO wants to extract 400 tons worth of spent fuel rods stored in a pool at the plant’s damaged Reactor No. 4. The removal would have to be done manually from the top story of the damaged building in the radiation-contaminated environment.
In the worst-case scenario, a mishandled rod may go critical, resulting in an above-ground meltdown releasing radioactive fallout with no way to stop it, said Consolo, who is the founder and host of Nuked Radio. But leaving things as they are is not an option, because statistical risk of a similarly bad outcome increases every day, she said.
RT: How serious is the fuel rod situation compared to the danger of contaminated water build-up which we already know about?
Christina Consolo: Although fuel rod removal happens on a daily basis at the 430+ nuclear sites around the world, it is a very delicate procedure even under the best of circumstances. What makes fuel removal at Fukushima so dangerous and complex is that it will be attempted on a fuel pool whose integrity has been severely compromised. However, it must be attempted as Reactor 4 has the most significant problems structurally, and this pool is on the top floor of the building.
There are numerous other reasons that this will be a dangerous undertaking.
– The racks inside the pool that contain this fuel were damaged by the explosion in the early days of the accident.
– Zirconium cladding which encased the rods burned when water levels dropped, but to what extent the rods have been damaged is not known, and probably won’t be until removal is attempted.
– Saltwater cooling has caused corrosion of the pool walls, and probably the fuel rods and racks.
– The building is sinking.
– The cranes that normally lift the fuel were destroyed.
– Computer-guided removal will not be possible; everything will have to be done manually.
– TEPCO cannot attempt this process without humans, which will manage this enormous task while being bombarded with radiation during the extraction and casking.
– The process of removing each rod will have to be repeated over 1,300 times without incident.
– Moving damaged nuclear fuel under such complex conditions could result in a criticality if the rods come into close proximity to one another, which would then set off a chain reaction that cannot be stopped.
What could potentially happen is the contents of the pool could burn and/or explode, and the entire structure sustain further damage or collapse. This chain reaction process could be self-sustaining and go on for a long time. This is the apocalyptic scenario in a nutshell.
The water build-up is an extraordinarily difficult problem in and of itself, and as anyone with a leaky basement knows, water always ‘finds a way.’
‘Trivial in light of other problems at Fukushima, water situation could culminate in the chain reaction scenario’
At Fukushima, they are dealing with massive amounts of groundwater that flow through the property, and the endless pouring that must be kept up 24/7/365 to keep things from getting worse. Recently there appears to be subsidence issues and liquefaction under the plant.
TEPCO has decided to pump the water out of these buildings. However, pumping water out of the buildings is only going to increase the flow rate and create more of these ground issues around the reactors. An enormous undertaking – but one that needs to be considered for long-term preservation of the integrity of the site – is channelling the water away, like a drain tile installed around the perimeter of a house with a leaky basement, but on an epic scale.
Without this effort, the soils will further deteriorate, structural shift will occur, and subsequently the contents of the pools will shift too.
Any water that flows into those buildings also becomes highly radioactive, as it is likely coming into contact with melted fuel.
Without knowing the extent of the current liquefaction and its location, the location of the melted fuel, how long TEPCO has been pumping out water, or when the next earthquake will hit, it is impossible to predict how soon this could occur from the water problem/subsidence issue alone. But undoubtedly, pumping water out of the buildings is just encouraging the flow, and this water problem needs to be remedied and redirected as soon as possible.
RT: Given all the complications that could arise with extracting the fuel rods, which are the most serious, in your opinion?
CC: The most serious complication would be anything that leads to a nuclear chain reaction. And as outlined above, there are many different ways this could occur. In a fuel pool containing damaged rods and racks, it could potentially start up on its own at anytime. TEPCO has been incredibly lucky that this hasn’t happened so far.
‘One of the worst, but most important jobs anyone has ever had to do’
My second biggest concern would be the physical and mental fitness of the workers that will be in such close proximity to exposed fuel during this extraction process. They will be the ones guiding this operation, and will need to be in the highest state of alertness to have any chance at all of executing this plan manually and successfully. Many of their senses, most importantly eyesight, will be hindered by the apparatus that will need to be worn during their exposure, to prevent immediate death from lifting compromised fuel rods out of the pool and placing them in casks, or in the common spent fuel pool located a short distance away.
Think for a moment what that might be like through the eyes of one of these workers; it will be hot, uncomfortable, your senses shielded, and you would be filled with anxiety. You are standing on a building that is close to collapse. Even with the strongest protection possible, workers will have to be removed and replaced often. So you don’t have the benefit of doing such a critical task and knowing and trusting your comrades, as they will frequently have to be replaced when their radiation dose limits are reached. If they exhibit physical or mental signs of radiation exposure, they will have be replaced more often.
It will be one of the worst, but most important jobs anyone has ever had to do. And even if executed flawlessly, there are still many things that could go wrong.
RT: How do the potential consequences of failure to ensure safe extraction compare to other disasters of the sort – like Chernobyl, or the 2011 Fukushima meltdown?
CC: There really is no comparison. This will be an incredibly risky operation, in the presence of an enormous amount of nuclear material in close proximity. And as we have seen in the past, one seemingly innocuous failure at the site often translates into a series of cascading failures.
‘The site has been propped up with duct tape and a kick-stand for over two years’
Many of their ‘fixes’ are only temporary, as there are so many issues to address, and cost always seems to be an enormous factor in what gets implemented and what doesn’t.
As a comparison: Chernobyl was one reactor, in a rural area, a quarter of the size of one of the reactors at Fukushima. There was no ‘spent fuel pool’ to worry about. Chernobyl was treated in-situ… meaning everything was pretty much left where it was while the effort to contain it was made (and very expeditiously I might add) not only above ground, but below ground.
At Fukushima, we have six top-floor pools all loaded with fuel that eventually will have to be removed, the most important being Reactor 4, although Reactor 3 is in pretty bad shape too. Spent fuel pools were never intended for long-term storage, they were only to assist short-term movement of fuel. Using them as a long-term storage pool is a huge mistake that has become an ‘acceptable’ practice and repeated at every reactor site worldwide.
We have three 100-ton melted fuel blobs underground, but where exactly they are located, no one knows. Whatever ‘barriers’ TEPCO has put in place so far have failed. Efforts to decontaminate radioactive water have failed. Robots have failed. Camera equipment and temperature gauges… failed. Decontamination of surrounding cities has failed.
‘If and when the corium reaches the Tokyo aquifer, serious and expedient discussions will have to take place about evacuating 40 million people’
We have endless releases into the Pacific Ocean that will be ongoing for not only our lifetimes, but our children’s’ lifetimes. We have 40 million people living in the Tokyo area nearby. We have continued releases from the underground corium that reminds us it is there occasionally with steam events and huge increases in radiation levels. Across the Pacific, we have at least two peer-reviewed scientific studies so far that have already provided evidence of increased mortality in North America, and thyroid problems in infants on the west coast states from our initial exposures.
We have increasing contamination of the food chain, through bioaccumulation and biomagnification. And a newly stated concern is the proximity of melted fuel in relation to the Tokyo aquifer that extends under the plant. If and when the corium reaches the Tokyo aquifer, serious and expedient discussions will have to take place about evacuating 40 million people from the greater metropolitan area. As impossible as this sounds, you cannot live in an area which does not have access to safe water.
The operation to begin removing fuel from such a severely damaged pool has never been attempted before. The rods are unwieldy and very heavy, each one weighing two-thirds of a ton. But it has to be done, unless there is some way to encase the entire building in concrete with the pool as it is. I don’t know of anyone discussing that option, but it would seem much ‘safer’ than what they are about to attempt… but not without its own set of risks.
And all this collateral damage will continue for decades, if not centuries, even if things stay exactly the way they are now. But that is unlikely, as bad things happen like natural disasters and deterioration with time… earthquakes, subsidence, and corrosion, to name a few. Every day that goes by, the statistical risk increases for this apocalyptic scenario. No one can say or know how this will play out, except that millions of people will probably die even if things stay exactly as they are, and billions could die if things get any worse.
RT: Are the fuel rods in danger of falling victim to other factors, while the extraction process is ongoing? After all, it’s expected to take years before all 1,300+ rods are pulled out.
CC: Unfortunately yes, the fuel rods are in danger every day they remain in the pool. The more variables you add to this equation, and the more time that passes, the more risk you are exposed to. Each reactor and spent fuel pool has its own set of problems, and critical failure with any of them could ultimately have the end result of an above-ground, self-sustaining nuclear reaction. It will not be known if extraction of all the fuel will even be possible, as some of it may be severely damaged, until the attempt is made to remove it.
RT: Finally, what is the worst case scenario? What level of contamination are we looking at and how dire would the consequences be for the long-term health of the region?
CC: Extremely dire. This is a terrible answer to have to give, but the worst case scenario could play out in death to billions of people. A true apocalypse. Since we have been discussing Reactor 4, I’ll stick to that problem in particular, but also understand that a weather event, power outage, earthquake, tsunami, cooling system failure, or explosion and fire in any way, shape, or form, at any location on the Fukushima site, could cascade into an event of that magnitude as well.
‘Once the integrity of the pool is compromised that will lead to more criticalities’
At any time, following any of these possible events, or even all by itself, nuclear fuel in reactor 4’s pool could become critical, mostly because it will heat up the pool to a point where water will burn off and the zirconium cladding will catch fire when it is exposed to air. This already happened at least once in this pool that we are aware of. It almost happened again recently after a rodent took out an electrical line and cooling was stopped for days.
Once the integrity of the pool is compromised that will likely lead to more criticalities, which then can spread to other fuel. The heat from this reaction would weaken the structure further, which could then collapse and the contents of the pool end up in a pile of rubble on the ground. This would release an enormous amount of radioactivity, which Arnie Gundersen has referred to as a “Gamma Shine Event” without precedence, and Dr. Christopher Busby has deemed an “Open-air super reactor spectacular.”
This would preclude anyone from not only being at Reactor 4, but at Reactors 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, the associated pools for each, and the common spent fuel pool. Humans could no longer monitor and continue cooling operations at any of the reactors and pools, thus putting the entire site at risk for a massive radioactive release.
‘At least the northern half of Japan would be uninhabitable, and some researchers have argued that it already is’
Mathematically, it is almost impossible to quantify in terms of resulting contamination, and a separate math problem would need to be performed for every nuclear element contained within the fuel, and whether or not that fuel exploded, burned, fissioned, melted, or was doused with water to try to cool it off and poured into the ocean afterward.
Some researchers have even ventured to say that other nuke plants on the east coast of Honshu may need to be evacuated if levels get too high, which will lead to subsequent failures/fires and explosions at these plants as well. Just how profound the effect will be on down-winders in North America, or the entire northern hemisphere for that matter, will literally depend on where the wind blows and where the rain falls, the duration and extent of a nuclear fire or chain-reaction event, and whether or not that reaction becomes self-sustaining. At least the northern half of Japan would be uninhabitable, and some researchers have argued that it already is.
This is already happening to the nuclear fuel in the ground under the plant, but now it would be happening above ground as well. There is no example historically to draw from on a scale of this magnitude. Everything is theory. But anyone who says this can’t happen is not being truthful, because nobody really knows how bad things could get.
The most disturbing part of all of this is that Fukushima has been this dangerous, and precarious, since the second week of March 2011. The ante will definitely be upped once the fuel removal starts.
‘The mainstream media, world governments, nuclear agencies, health organizations, weather reporters, and the health care industry has completely ignored three ongoing triple meltdowns that have never been contained’
An obvious attempt to downplay this disaster and its consequences have been repeated over and over again from ‘experts’ in the nuclear industry that also have a vested interest in their industry remaining intact. And, there has been a lot of misleading information released by TEPCO, which an hour or two of reading by a diligent reporter would have uncovered, in particular the definition of ‘cold shutdown.’
Over 300 mainstream news outlets worldwide ran the erroneous ‘cold shutdown’ story repeatedly, which couldn’t be further from the truth… [it was] yet another lie that was spun by TEPCO to placate the public, and perpetuated endlessly by the media and nuclear lobby.
Unfortunately, TEPCO waited until a severe emergency arose to finally report how bad things really are with this latest groundwater issue… if we are even being told the truth. Historically, everything TEPCO says always turns out to be much worse than they initially admit.
‘Unfortunately there is no one better qualified to deal with this than the Russians, despite their own shortcomings’
I think the best chance of success is… that experts around the world drop everything they are doing to work on this problem, and have Russia either lead the containment effort or consult with them closely. They have the most experience, they have decades of data. They took their accident seriously and made a Herculean effort to contain it.
Of course we also know the Chernobyl accident was wrought with deception and lies as well, and some of that continues to this day, especially in terms of the ongoing health effects of children in the region, and monstrous birth defects. Unfortunately there is no one better qualified to deal with this than the Russians, despite their own shortcomings. Gorbachev tried to make up for his part in the cover-up of Chernobyl by opening orphanages throughout the region to deal with the affected children.
But as far as Fukushima goes, the only thing that matters now is if world leaders and experts join forces to help fix this situation. Regardless of what agendas they are trying to protect or hide, how much it will cost, the effect on Japan or the world’s economy, or what political chains this will yank.
The nuclear industry needs to come clean. If this leads to every reactor in the world being shut down, so be it. If the world governments truly care about their people and this planet, this is what needs to be done.
Renowned theoretical physicist Michio Kaku stated in an interview a few weeks after the initial accident that “TEPCO is literally hanging on by their fingernails.” They still are, and always have been. The Japanese have proven time and time again they are not capable of handling this disaster. Now we are entrusting them to execute the most dangerous fuel removal in history.
We are extremely lucky that this apocalyptic scenario hasn’t happened yet, considering the state of Reactor 4. But for many, it is already too late. The initial explosions and spent fuel pool fires may have already sealed the fate of millions of people. Time will tell. Anyone who tells you otherwise is not being honest, because there is just no way to know.
- Pump and pray: Tepco might have to pour water on Fukushima wreckage forever (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Cleanup Attempt At Japan’s Fukushima Plant Could Release 14,000 Times As Much Radiation As Atomic Bomb (businessinsider.com)
Contaminated groundwater accumulating under the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant has risen 60cm above the protective barrier, and is now freely leaking into the Pacific Ocean, the plant’s operator TEPCO has admitted.
The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which is responsible for decommissioning the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, on Saturday said the protective barriers that were installed to prevent the flow of toxic water into the ocean are no longer coping with the groundwater levels, Itar-Tass reports.
The contaminated groundwater, which mixes with radioactive leaks seeping out of the plant, has already risen to 60cm above the barriers – the fact which TEPCO calls a major cause of the massive daily leak of toxic substances.
Earlier on Friday, the company announced it started pumping out contaminated groundwater from under Fukushima, and managed to pump out 13 tons of water in six hours on Friday. TEPCO also said it plans to boost the pumped-out amount to some 100 tons a day with the help of a special system, which will be completed by mid-August. This will be enough to seal off most of the ongoing ocean contamination, according to TEPCO’s estimates.
However, Japan’s Ministry of Industry has recently estimated that some 300 tons of contaminated groundwater have been flowing into the ocean daily ever since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that triggered the disaster.
TEPCO also promised it will urgently reinforce the protective shields to keep radioactive leaks at bay. The company has repeatedly complained it is running out of space and has had to resort to pumping water into hastily-built tanks of questionable reliability, as more than 20,000 tons of water with high levels of radioactive substances has accumulated in the plant’s drainage system.
Water samples recently taken at an underground passage below the Fukushima nuclear plant showed extreme levels of radiation comparable to those taken immediately after the March 2011 catastrophe. The tested water, which had been mixing with ground water and flowing into the ocean, contained 2.35 billion Becquerels of cesium per liter – some 16 million times above the limit.
Fukushima is a nightmare disaster area, and no one has the slightest idea what to do. The game is to prevent the crippled nuclear plant from turning into an “open-air super reactor spectacular” which would result in a hazardous, melted catastrophe.
On April 25, 2011 – one month after the explosions at the Fukushima nuclear plant and the anniversary of Chernobyl – I was interviewed by RT and asked to compare Chernobyl and Fukushima. The clip, which you can find on YouTube, was entitled, “Can’t seal Fukushima like Chernobyl – it all goes into the sea.” Since then, huge amounts of radioactivity have flowed from the wrecked reactors directly into the Pacific Ocean. Attempts to stop the flow of contaminated water from Fukushima into the sea were always unlikely to succeed. It is like trying to push water uphill. Now they all seem to have woken up to the issue and have begun to panic.
The problem is this: the fission process in a reactor creates huge amounts of heat. Of course, that is the whole point of the machine – the heat makes steam which runs turbines. Water is pumped through channels between the fuel rods and this cools them and heats the water. If there is no water, or the channels are blocked, the heat actually melts the fuel into a big blob which falls to the bottom of the steel vessel in which all this occurs – the pressure vessel – and then melts its way through the steel, into the ground, and down in the direction of China. Well, not China in this case, but actually Buenos Aires, Argentina (I figured out).
I have been keeping an eye on developments, and it is quite clear that the reactors are no longer containing the molten fuel – some proportion of which is now in the ground underneath them. Both this material and the remaining material in what was the containment are very hot and are fissioning. Tepco is quite aware – and so is everyone else in the know – that the only hope of preventing what could become an open-air super reactor spectacular is to cool the fuel, the lumps of fuel distributed throughout the system, mainly in the holed pressure vessels, and also in the spent fuel tanks and in the ground under the reactors. That all this is fissioning away merrily (though at a low level) is clear from the occasional reports of short half life nuclides like the radioXenons. The game is to prevent it all turning into the open air super reactor located somewhere under the ground. To do this, they have to pump vast amounts of water into the reactors, the fuel pond and generally all over the area where they think the stuff is or might be. This means seawater since luckily they are near the sea. But they are also unluckily near the sea – since you cannot pump the sea onto the land without it wanting to flow back into the sea.
Now a good proportion of the radioactive elements, the radionuclides, are soluble in water. The Caesiums 137 and 134, Strontiums 89 and 90, Barium 140, Radium 226, Lead 210, Rutheniums and Rhodiums, Silvers and Mercuries, Carbons and Tritiums, Iodines and noble gases Kryptons and Xenons merrily dissolve in the hot seawater. There is also a likelihood that the normally insoluble Uraniums, Plutoniums and Neptuniums will dissolve in seawater to some extent, because of the chloride ions. And if they don’t, the micron and nano-particles of these materials will disperse in the water as colloidal suspensions. So a lot of this stuff gets into the sea. Of course, most of the fuss is being made by the Americans who are on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. How unfair that the USA should suffer from the Japanese affair, they think. And also feel a level of fear, underneath all this. As perhaps they should since it is their crappy reactors that blew up.
We hear that 400 tons of highly radioactive water is now escaping the barriers that Tepco erected and is reaching the sea. Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, said on August 7 that “stabilizing Fukushima is our challenge.” Tepco said, “This is extremely serious — we are unable to control radioactive water seeping out of the Fukushima plant.” CNN quoted “industry experts” saying that “Tepco has failed to address the problem…[the experts] question Tepco’s ability to safely decommission the plant.”
There are some things I want to say about all this. First is the inevitable discourse manipulation – something that we have seen in the media ever since this disaster occurred. “Decommission the plant” suggests some calm and ordered scientific process akin to shutting down and defueling an old reactor which has reached the end of its design life. It sparks images of a wise nuclear engineer in a lab coat consulting a document, discussing some issue with a worker in brilliant white overalls with a Tepco logo, wearing a white hard-hat. The reality is that this is a nightmare disaster area where no one has the slightest idea what to do and which has always been out of control. All that they can do is continue to pump in the seawater to hope that the various lumps of molten fuel will not increase their rate of fissioning. And pray. The water will then pick up the radionuclides and flow downhill back to the sea. Of course, they can put up a barrier; surround the plant with a wall. But eventually the water will fill up the pond and flow over the wall. All that water will create a soggy marsh and destabilize the foundations of the reactor buildings which will then collapse and prevent further cooling. Then the Spectacular. All this is predictable enough.
Let us look at some numbers. Four hundred tons of seawater a day are flowing into the sea. That is 400 cubic meters. In one year, that is 146,000 cubic meters. That is a pond 10 meters deep and 120 meters square. This will have to go on forever, a new pond every year, unless they can get the radioactive material out. But here is the other problem. They can’t get close enough because the radiation levels are too high. The water itself is lethally radioactive. Gamma radiation levels tens of meters from the water are enormously high. No one can approach without being fried.
‘Anyone living within 1km of the coast near Fukushima should get out’
But I want to make two other points. The first is that the Pacific Ocean is big enough for this level of release not to represent the global catastrophe that some are predicting. Let’s get some scoping perspective on this. The volume of the North Pacific is 300 million cubic kilometers. The total inventory of the four Fukushima Daiichi reactors, including their spent fuel pools, is 732 tons of Uranium and Plutonium fuel which is largely insoluble in sea water. The inventory in terms of the medium half-life nuclides of radiological significance Cs-137, Cs-134 and Strontium-90, is 3 x 1018 becquerels (Bq) each. Adding these up gives about 1019 Bq. If we dissolve that entire amount into the Pacific, we get a mean concentration of 33 Bq per cubic meter – not great, but not lethal. Of course this is ridiculous since the catastrophe released less than 1017 Bq of these combined nuclides and even if all of this ends up in the sea (which it may do), the overall dilution will result in a concentration of 1 Bq per cubic meter. So the people in California can relax. In fact, the contamination of California and indeed the rest of the planet from the global weapons test fallout of 1959-1962 was far worse, and resulted in the cancer epidemic which began in 1980. The atmospheric megaton explosions drove the radioactivity into the stratosphere and the rain brought it back to earth to get into the milk, the food, the air, and our children’s bones. Kennedy and Kruschev called a halt in 1963, saving millions.
What we have here in Fukushima is more local, but still very deadly and certainly worse than Chernobyl since the populations are so large. And this brings me to my second point, and a warning to the Japanese people. The contamination of the sea results in adsorption of the radionuclides by the sand and silt on the coast and river estuaries. The east coast of Japan, the sediment and sand on the shores, will now be horribly radioactive. This material is re-suspended into the air through a process called sea-to-land transfer. The coastal air they inhale is laden with radioactive particles. I know about this since I was asked in 1998 by the Irish State to carry out a two-year study of the cancer effects of releases into the Irish Sea by the nuclear reprocessing plant at Sellafield. We looked at small area data leaked to us by the Welsh Cancer Registry covering the period of 1974-1989, when Sellafield was releasing significant amounts of radio-Caesium, radio-Strontium, and Plutonium. Results showed a remarkable and sharp 30 per cent increase in cancer rates in those living within 1km of the coast. The effect was very local and dropped away sharply at 2km. In trying to discover the cause, we came across measurements made by the UK Atomic Energy Research Establishment. Using special cloth filters, they had measured Plutonium in the air by distance from the contaminated coast. The trend was the same as the cancer trend, increasing sharply in the 1km strip near the coast. We later examined cancer rates in a higher resolution questionnaire study in Carlingford, Ireland. This clearly showed the effect increasing inside the 1km radius in the same way. The results were never published in scientific literature but were presented to the UK CERRIE committee and eventually made it into a book which I wrote in 2007 entitled, “Wolves of Water.” Make no mistake, this is a deadly effect. By 2003, we had found 20-fold excess risk of leukemia and brain tumours in the population of children on the north Wales coast. The children were denied of course by the Welsh Cancer Intelligence Unit that supplanted the old Welsh Cancer Registry – which had been shut down immediately after the data was released to us. We did publish this in scientific literature.
Nevertheless, the sea-to-land effect is real. And anyone living within 1km of the coast to at least 200km north or south of Fukushima should get out. They should evacuate inland. It is not eating the fish and shellfish that gets you – it’s breathing.
And what about the future? The future is bleak. I see no way of resolving the catastrophe. They will either have to pour water on the wreckage forever, and thus continue to contaminate the local sea, or find some more drastic immediate solution. I was told that US experts had the idea at the beginning of bombing the reactors into the harbour. Not so stupid in my opinion. That at least may enable them to get sufficiently close to the pieces to pick them up, and should also solve the cooling problem. Apparently (my contact said) the French argued them out of it because of the negative effect on nuclear energy (and Uranium shares).
Professor Christopher Busby from the European Committee on Radiation Risks for RT.
The rate at which contaminated water has been pouring into the Pacific Ocean from the disabled Fukushima nuclear plant is worse than thought before, an Industry Ministry official said as PM Shinzo Abe pledged to step up efforts to halt the crisis.
“We think that the volume of water is about 300 tons a day,” said Yushi Yoneyama, an official with the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, which regulates Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO).
Abe put the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry in charge of the situation, while demanding that the plant’s operator, TEPCO take the necessary steps to deal with the cleanup, which is anticipated to take more than 40 years at a cost of US$11 billion.
On Wednesday TEPCO confirmed the leak but refused to confirm the quantity being emitted from the plant.
“We are not currently able to say clearly how much groundwater is actually flowing into the ocean,” Tokyo Electric Power spokesman Noriyuki Imaizumi told Reuters when asked for an estimate.
Japanese authorities are working in crisis mode, attempting to assure the public both at home and abroad that the situation will not further deteriorate into a widespread environmental catastrophe.
Yoneyama said the government plans to reduce the leakage amount to 60 tons per day by as early as December, but given the Japanese government’s progress in the cleanup to date that goal may be difficult to achieve. Removing 300 tonnes of groundwater, however, would not necessarily halt leakage into the sea, he said.
The nuclear plant was severely damaged in an earthquake and subsequent tsunami in March 2011. About 90,000 people within a 20km radius of the plant were forced to evacuate their homes due to the possibility of a full-scale nuclear meltdown.
Nearing boiling point?
Earlier, TEPCO said it detected 2.35 billion becquerels of cesium per liter in water that is now leaking into the groundwater through cracks in the plant’s drainage system. This radiation level is roughly the same as that measured in April 2011.
The normal level is 150 becquerels of cesium per liter of water.
For the past two years, TEPCO has claimed that it managed to siphon off the excess water into specially-constructed storage tanks. However, the company was forced to admit late last month that radioactive water was still escaping into the Pacific Ocean. These consistent failures are testing the patience of Japanese authorities.
“You can’t just leave it [disposing of radioactive waste at the plant] up to TEPCO,” Shinji Kinjo, head of a Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) told Reuters. “Right now, we have an emergency.”
Earlier this month, TEPCO was forced to go on the defensive after a scathing first-page article appeared in The Asahi Shimbun daily criticizing the company’s cleanup efforts.
“TEPCO did nothing for more than two years despite having pledged to seal a leaking hole between a turbine building [the leakage source] and an underground pit [a trench] in April 2011 when water contaminated with radioactive materials…was found to have leaked into the ocean; and the company only began preparing for shielding tests this summer after contaminated water was found to be leaking into the sea this time,” the newspaper stated on August 1, 2013.
TEPCO fired back with its own version of events, saying that despite “technical difficulties and a severe work environment” the company has been working to implement a plan “in order to further reduce the risk of having outflow of contaminated water beyond the trench.”
Although TEPCO engineers have constructed a barrier between the destroyed facility and the ocean, it only extends 1.8 meters below the ground, thus water continues to accumulate inside the plant vaults.
“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,” Masashi Goto, a nuclear engineer who has worked at several TEPCO plants, told Reuters. “So now, the question is how long do we have?”
TEPCO has pledged to begin pumping enough radioactive seepage to stop the water level from rising. But the company faces limitations, as its storage tanks are 85 percent full.
“New measures are needed to stop the water from flowing into the sea,” emphasized Kinjo, who accused TEPCO of failing to implement long-term solutions for a crisis that has been continuing for more than two years.
Not only is TEPCO running up against technical problems associated with the cleanup efforts, it must also deal with the unpredictable force of nature, specifically in the form of earthquakes.
On Sunday, a 6.0 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Miyagi prefecture, the same northeastern region of the island country that was devastated by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami, which resulted in 15,000 people killed and more than 3,200 missing.
No damage or injuries were reported in the latest earthquake, but some roads and railways were temporarily closed for safety inspections.
Embattled Fukushima operator Tepco has been accused of a “weak sense of crisis”, as its failing battle to prevent radioactive water from seeping into the seawater near the plant has become an “emergency”, according to the country’s nuclear watchdog.
“You can’t just leave it [disposing of radioactive waste at the plant] up to Tepco,” Shinji Kinjo, head of a Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) told Reuters. “Right now, we have an emergency.”
Daily, 400 tons of groundwater percolates into the basements of the plant, which was decimated by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. The seepage mixes with water used to cool down the damaged reactors, before accumulating, and escaping out into the Pacific Ocean.
For the past two years, Tepco claimed that it managed to siphon off the excess water into specially built storage tanks, but late last month admitted that toxic water was not contained.
The energy company, which is under financial pressure after being handed an $11 billion clean-up bill for Fukushima, has simultaneously hardened the earth around the plant with a special chemical, creating an impenetrable barrier on the side of the plant adjacent to the ocean.
But the shell is not complete: the technique only works 1.8 meters below the ground and further down.
So, water continues to build up inside the plant vaults, and will eventually reach the unprotected subsoil and topsoil, as more water goes in each day than is pumped out.
“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,” Masashi Goto, a nuclear engineer who has worked at several Tepco plants, told Reuters. “So now, the question is how long do we have?”
Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported that the toxic water could begin spilling over within three weeks.
Kinjo refused to speculate about the exact timing, but said that any radioactive water that escapes that way “will flow extremely fast”.
Tepco is constructing a bypass that should decrease the groundwater inflows into the plant.
It has also promised to begin pumping enough radioactive seepage by the end of the week to stop the water level from rising. But the company faces limitations, as its radioactive liquid storage tanks are 85 percent full, and it has no clear plans to construct more, or to turn the current makeshift facilities into permanent ones.
“New measures are needed to stop the water from flowing into the sea,” emphasized Kinjo, who accused the energy giant of failing to implement long-term solutions for a crisis that has been going on for more than two years.
The impact of the radioactive water that has and will be released into the Pacific is hard to estimate, as Tepco has been slow to conduct studies and reluctant to release results to the public.
Last week, the company announced that it tested the release of radioactive isotope tritium, and said that it was within the legal limit. It now plans to test the sea water for cesium and strontium, which are considered much more dangerous for humans and the environment.
Another leak has been discovered at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, only a few days after two similar incidents and a major power failure at the facility, Reuters reported.
The new leak was detected in pool No.1 while water from the leaking pool No.2 was being transported, according to the Nuclear Regulation Authority. The water transfer has been halted.
The plant’s operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) indicated they were “losing faith” in temporary storage pits for the radioactive water, but did not have anywhere else to put it.
“We can’t move all the contaminated water to above ground [tanks] if we opt not to use the underground reservoirs. There isn’t enough capacity and we need to use what is available,” Tepco general manager Masayuki Ono explained at a news conference.
Meanwhile, the nuclear watchdog IAEA has announced its experts are set to come to Fukushima to inspect the situation at the nuclear plant.
A day earlier, the operator admitted that they are running out of space to store radioactive water from the facility.
The company is still dealing with the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, as it attempts to keep reactors and spent fuel pools in a safe state known as ‘cold shutdown.’
On Saturday, as much as 120 tons of contaminated water seeped from an underground tank; a new leak was spotted on Sunday. The cooling system for the plant has also failed twice over the past three weeks.
- Tepco finds second pit leaking in Fukushima (japantimes.co.jp)
- Fukushima: at Least Three of Seven Underground Chambers Leaking Radioactive Water (cryptogon.com)
A fish containing over 2,500 times Japan’s legal limit for radiation in seafood has been caught in the vicinity of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, the facility’s operator reported.
A ‘murasoi’ fish, similar to a rockfish, was caught at a port inside the plant, according to AFP. Plant owner Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) indicated that the amount of cesium measured 254,000 becquerels per kilogram – 2,540 times Japan’s legal limit for radiation in seafood.
In October, TEPCO admitted that radiation leaks at the plant had not fully stopped.
In 2011, after a March earthquake and tsunami devastated the region, Japan barred beef, vegetables, milk, seafood and mushrooms grown near the affected area from both domestic markets and exports over safety concerns.
Science magazine published an article revealing that the levels of cesium in seafood around the disaster-battered area had not decreased since 2011. In October 2012, around 40 percent of bottom-dwelling marine species demonstrated elevated radiation levels, with cesium-134 and 137 levels above Japan’s legal limit. August samples collected by author Ken Buesseler had cesium levels 250 times what Japanese authorities consider safe.
Seafood from the area near Fukushima has turned out to be a health hazard abroad, as well as within the country.
In July, Russia expressed concern over fish caught off its coast near Japan. In May, a contaminated tuna was found near the California coastline. Japan stressed that they understood the numbers of contaminated seafood are “extremely high,” but also pointed out that radiation was detected only in the kinds of fish found closest to the plant.
In October 2012, the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, announced that it would relax regulations on imports of Japanese food starting on November 1. The restrictions were introduced after the quake and tsunami hit Japan on March 11, 2011, with many countries such as the US, Australia, Canada, Germany, France and the UK either halting food imports or starting additional inspections of Japanese imports.
- National › Record high radiation level found in fish caught near Fukushima plant (japantoday.com)
- Fukushima deception confirmed by UN (alethonews.wordpress.com)
When the Fukushima-1 reactor complex in Japan went into radioactive apoplexy on March 11, 2011, the Japanese government and the Tokyo Electric Power Co. — like the Russians at Chernobyl before them — began minimizing the risks of radiation and the known and potential effects of radiological disasters.
The principle mouthpiece for this well-rehearsed minstrel show was Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano who told the world that evening, “Let me repeat that there is no radiation leak, nor will there be a leak.”(1) Edano is now the Trade and Industry Minister and oversees federal cleanup and recovery efforts.
Independent observers like Dr. Chris Busby, scientific secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk and a founder of the Low-Level Radiation Campaign in England, warned four days into the disaster: “Reassurances about radiation exposures issued by the Japanese government cannot be believed.” Likewise, physicist Nils Bøhmer, with the Oslo-based environmental foundation Bellona, insists that throughout the crisis Japan has been withholding information about radiation dangers.
Even the New York Times reported Nov. 30 on “The gap between the initial assurances given by company and government officials, and the ultimate scale of the nuclear disaster…”
Deception confirmed by UN
Now 20 months later, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health has issued a draft report charging that Japan “has adopted overly optimistic views of radiation risks and has conducted only limited health checks” among contaminated populations, the AP and CBC reported. According to Anand Grover, the UN investigator, “Japan hasn’t done enough to protect the health of residents and workers affected.”(2)
Previous investigations found that monitoring data from the federal system that tracks plumes of radiation during disasters — called “Speedi,” for System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information — was kept secret when it was needed most. News reports in August 2011 said that the system forecast that Karino Elementary School in the town of Namie would be directly in the path of the radiation plume spewing from the smashed reactors. Yet the warning never reached decision-makers and neither the school nor the town was evacuated. Instead, they became evacuation centers where families even cooked and ate meals outdoors.
Bellona reports that documents obtained by the AP and the New York Times, its own interviews with key officials, and a review of other newly released data and parliamentary transcripts show that “… Japan’s system to forecast radiation threats was working from the moment its nuclear crisis began on March 11, after an earthquake and tsunami pummeled the Fukushima” reactor site.
The UN’s Grover severely criticized the government’s commitment to health care for exposed workers and people in contaminated areas, and complained that its ongoing health checks are “too narrow in scope because they are only intended to cover Fukushima’s two million people.” Surveys of health effects should extend to “all radiation-affected zones” Grover said, a vast area including much of the north-eastern half of Honshu, Japan’s main island.
But so far, only one-fourth of Fukushima’s population has been surveyed. Grover thinks it’s unwise to check only children for thyroid damage. Indeed, Dr. Helen Caldicott told Business Insider last summer that even when lesions are found on a child’s thyroid, they aren’t being biopsied. The lesions “should all be biopsied,” Caldicott warned.
Further minimizing the actual numbers of affected persons, thousands of reactor site workers with short-term contractors “have no access to permanent health checks,” Grover said, and Fukushima residents complain that they have not been allowed access to their own health-check results.
Last March, Human Rights Watch leveled the same charge.(3) “We are really not seeing basic health services being offered in an accessible way and we are not seeing accurate, consistent, non-contradictory information being disclosed to people on a regular basis” Jane Cohen, a researcher at the New York-based rights group, told Reuters. Of the 24,228 workers who risk radiation exposure at the reactor complex, only a mere 904 are eligible for free cancer screenings being provided by the government and Tepco, the daily Asahi Shimbun reported November 22nd. The authorities have limited the scope of the $600 checkups to workers who were exposed to over 50 millisieverts between March 11 and mid-December 2011, but thousands of workers are demanding that the time limit be abolished.
Disinformation and denials confounded by science
Official lullabies, denials and attempted cover-ups are desperate shields against the enormous economic and legal liability that would follow any acknowledgment of the depth and breadth of radiation’s likely effects. Tepco said November 6th that it may need 11 trillion yen, or $137 billion, to cover its damages. Tokyo already set aside ¥9 trillion in July as part of the federal bailout and takeover of the utility. Minister Edano hinted last May that the government may cover some of the costs of decontaminating certain limited areas. Comprehensive decontamination is not even being considered because, as the science ministry reported in November 2011, radioactive fallout from the triple meltdowns was found in every one of its 57 prefectures.(4)
The journal Science reported this fall that 40% of the fish caught off the coast of NE Japan are contaminated with radioactive cesium at levels well above what the government allows.(5) Author Ken Buesseler of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution concluded that there is either a source of cesium on the seafloor, or it is still being dumped into the ocean by Tepco.
Referring to the millions of gallons of cooling water still being poured into the three destroyed reactors and their waste fuel pools, Buesseler told Radio Australia Nov. 20, “Some of that water is getting back into the ocean, either actively being pumped out after some decontamination or through leaks in the building, so [Tepco’s] not able to contain all of the water that they use to cool.”
The government and Tepco moved quickly to deny Science. The federal fisheries ministry claimed that cesium from Fukushima’s wrecked cooling systems — about 16,000-trillion becquerels, what Science called “by far the largest discharge of radioactivity into the ocean ever seen”— is “sinking into the seabed” and no longer entering the food chain. (A becquerel is one subatomic disintegration per second) Tepco representatives just said contaminated water was not leaking from any of its wreckage.
Oceanographer Kanda at Tokyo University told the journal Nature that his analysis indicates the site itself is leaking about 300 billion becquerels into the sea every month.
(1) Evan Osnos, “The Fallout: Seven months later: Japan’s nuclear predicament,” The New Yorker, Oct. 17, 2011
(2) AP, “UN says Fukushima nuclear risks underestimated in Japan,” Nov. 26, 2012
(3) Reuters, “Japan too slow in Fukushima health checks-rights group,” Mar. 6, 2012
(4) Hiroshi Ishizuka, “Cesium from Fukushima plant fell all over Japan,” Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 26, 2011
(5) “Fishing for Answers off Fukushima,” Science, Oct. 26
- Fukushima Medical University Hospital cover up -An interview with Kazihiko Kobayashi (nuclear-news.net)
- TEPCO, Japanese government denying Fukushima radiation reaching ocean fish (japandailypress.com)
- ABC Radio: “Who’s to blame for radioactive fish? Tepco denies cesium contamination is from Fukushima” (enenews.com)
- AND NOW: ‘TEPCO Considers Net In Fukushima Nuke Plant Port To Prevent Irradiated Fish From Heading Seaward’ (infiniteunknown.net)