TEPCO says not to worry over deadly radioactive water leak at Fukushima

Radioactive water leaks at TEPCO’s Fukushima nuclear power plant are not as bad as the press is reporting, said TEPCO on Sunday. Over the weekend TEPCO discovered a leak of radioactive water, at a lethal radiation level, from a storage tank, over which TEPCO says news reports blew the danger out of proportion. But the full problem at the damaged Fukushima power plant is enormous, and amid growing concerns about TEPCO’s ability to deal with the problem there are calls for the Japanese government to simply take over.

The leak was discovered near a tank holding radioactive water that had been used in cooling the reactor cores. TEPCO’s measurements showed radioactivity at the 1,800 milli-sieverts/hour level. A lot of news reports described this as enough radiation to kill someone in four hours. It was a slow leak, approximately one drip every 90 seconds, from a pipe connecting two water storage tanks. TEPCO since patched the leak with absorbent material and tape.

On Sunday, TEPCO issued a clarification meant to calm fears. Most of the radiation measured was “beta radiation” rather than gamma radiation, and because beta radiation doesn’t travel far the radiation risk was confined to an area within a few inches of the leak. The 1,800 milli-sieverts/hour measurement was 5cm from the leak, and at a 50cm distance they measured 15 milli-sieverts/hour.

In other words, TEPCO wants us to think the problem isn’t serious. But the context within which this leak occurred is a complex situation that’s rife with possibilities of mistakes or future leaks.

In order to keep the damaged nuclear reactor cores cool, TEPCO is pumping massive quantities of water into the reactor chambers daily. That water then becomes radioactive, meaning that TEPCO must store that water somewhere, because it can’t just be released into the environment. To store the water, TEPCO is building more and more water storage tanks on-site.

Resolving the danger at the Fukushima site will take years or decades. Which makes one wonder just where will TEPCO get enough water storage tanks for the water required for cooling over that long a time period? And how many of those water tanks will also spring leaks?

A Reuters report describes the extreme cost that TEPCO is bearing, and the huge government support already granted to TEPCO to help deal with the crisis. Last year TEPCO was given a 1 trillion yen infusion from the government, in exchange for a controlling stake in the company, but the management was left in place.

“I want the government to have a responsible framework – not just for checking what Tokyo Electric is doing to deal with Fukushima – but for the government to commit to dealing with the Fukushima problem itself and conduct this as a joint operation, including the water problem and decommissioning,” said Tadamori Oshima, who heads the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s taskforce on post-disaster reconstruction.

“I want the government to have a responsible framework – not just for checking what Tokyo Electric is doing to deal with Fukushima – but for the government to commit to dealing with the Fukushima problem itself and conduct this as a joint operation, including the water problem and decommissioning,” said Tadamori Oshima, who heads the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s taskforce on post-disaster reconstruction.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.
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About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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