Japan’s fledgling Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has declared a new “emergency” in the worsening Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe with the disclosure of the ongoing uncontrolled release of radioactivity into groundwater that is flowing into the Pacific Ocean. The announcement comes with the admission by a Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) spokesman, now more than two years after the multiple nuclear meltdowns, that “We understand that this water discharge is beyond our control and we do not think that the current situation is good.” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has only recently pledged the government’s support in a new hope to gain control of the radioactive contamination of the sea. In fact, Fukushima’s radioactive water crisis as now finally disclosed has only just begun.
An estimated 400 tons of groundwater highly contaminated by radioactivity each day flows in an aquifer that runs beneath the Fukushima Daiichi reactor wreckage. In an effort to control the flow of radioactive contamination from the reactor site into the Pacific Ocean, TEPCO injected a makeshift underground dam-like chemical barrier that has now been breached by radioactive water welling up to the surface and threatening to flow over the top of the barrier structure on its way down to the sea.
TEPCO has estimated that a “cumulative 20 trillion to 40 trillion Becquerels of radioactive tritium had probably leaked into the sea” since the accident began on March 11, 2011. But these figures are unreliable as the bankrupt electric utility also admits it has no idea how much radioactive water has already leaked or passed through the wrecked atomic site. Tritium, radioactive hydrogen that cannot be economically filtered out, is the most mobile of all the isotopes and likely only the leading edge of a slower moving but growing and more highly contaminated radioactive plume. A sample taken from a Fukushima Daiichi Unit 2 onsite test well that is approximately 150 feet from the ocean confirmed that the level of radioactive cesium-137 has increased in moving groundwater by more than 47 times in the first days of August 2013. TEPCO, like an atomic age “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, is desperately pumping radioactive water into now more than one thousand temporary onsite storage tanks slated for future decontamination treatment. But that collection and decontamination effort now appears to be completely overwhelmed and admitted by TEPCO to have failed.
Of additional concern, there is also the periodic release of radioactive steam to the atmosphere from the exploded reactor wreckage at Unit 3. Technical experts have not been able to confidently explain what is causing the on-again off-again releases of steam to the atmosphere. Beyond Nuclear remains concerned that melted reactor core(s) material, or “corium”, has already burned through the concrete foundation of the reactor site and bored into the earth underneath the site where it is coming in contact with water, generating steam and creating highly radioactive plumes in the aquifer. Recovery and containment of corium material from the earth would prove extremely difficult and if unsuccessful will result in a constant uncontrolled high-level radioactive release into the biosphere far, far into the future.
The worsening situation and growing uncertainty adds more evidence and justification for a full-scale international and technical intervention into the catastrophe to stem the radioactive contamination of the world’s oceans. Japan’s soverignity rights must be weighed against the clear and present danger from global marine enviroment contamination and degradation.
The new date for the proposed first attempt at removing the fuel inside the reactors has been hurried up. It has been brought forward to 2021.
While the fuel remains hot (in both sense), while parts within the buildings and reactors remain off limits, there will be need to continue to create the emission emergency by pouring water into the reactors which then in part leaks through the broken reactors to contaminate the ground water.
The situation will not be solved until the fuel in the reactors, and whatever portion of the fuel has escaped the base of the base of the reactors, is removed.
And carted off somewhere else.