– Gov’t says Fukushima plant leaking 300 tons of toxic water into sea daily (Japan Times, Aug 7, 2013):
TOKYO — A Japanese government official on Wednesday said an estimated 300 tons of contaminated water is leaking into the ocean per day from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged on Wednesday to step up government efforts to stem radioactive water leakage.
The ministry official also said the utility would begin pumping out groundwater to reduce leakage and had aimed to be removing 300 tons per day by December, but would end up 60 tons short of that goal. Removing 300 tons of groundwater, however, would not necessarily halt leakage into the sea, he said.
“Stabilizing the Fukushima plant is our challenge,” Abe said at a meeting of the government’s disaster task force. “In particular, the contaminated water is an urgent issue which has generated a great deal of public attention.”
Meanwhile, Abe ordered the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry to urgently deal with the water situation and ensure the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), takes appropriate action to deal with the cleanup, which is expected to take more than 40 years and cost $11 billion.
Abe said the clean-up would no longer be left to TEPCO alone, as he called for “swift and steady measures” on the toxic water issue. Tokyo would now help foot the bill, Abe said, the first time that it has committed extra funds to deal with the growing tainted water problem.
The Nikkei newspaper said the funds would be used to freeze the soil to prevent groundwater from leaking into the reactor buildings – a project with an estimated cost of up to 40 billion yen.
“The government must take a step forward and get involved in achieving this (coping with the contaminated water),” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a regular news conference.
The government moves appear to be in response to warnings by industry experts that TEPCO’s failure to address the problem questioned its ability to safely decommission the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
The utility has been widely castigated for its failure to prepare for the massive 2011 tsunami and earthquake. It has also been criticized for its inept response to the disaster and covering up shortcomings.
TEPCO’s handling of the clean-up has also complicated Japan’s efforts to restart its 50 nuclear power plants, almost all of which have been shut since the disaster because of safety concerns.
That has made Japan dependent on expensive imported fuels for virtually all its energy.
An official from the country’s nuclear watchdog told Reuters that the highly radioactive water seeping into the ocean from the Fukushima plant was creating an “emergency” that TEPCO was not successfully containing on its own.
The utility pumps out some 400 tons a day of groundwater flowing from the hills above the nuclear plant into the basements of the destroyed buildings, which mixes with highly irradiated water that is used to cool the reactors.
TEPCO is trying to prevent groundwater from reaching the plant by building a “bypass”, but recent spikes of radioactive elements in sea water has prompted the utility to reverse months of denials and finally admit that tainted water is reaching the sea.
One more measure both TEPCO and METI are have been working on since May is freezing the soil to prevent groundwater from leaking into the reactor buildings. Similar technology is used in preventing groundwater flooding in subway construction.
The technology was originally proposed by construction company Kajima Corp that is already heavily involved in the clean-up.
Experts say, however, that maintaining the ground temperatures for months, if not years, would be costly.
“Right now there are no details (of the project yet). There’s no blueprint, no nothing yet, so there’s no way we can scrutinize it,” said Shinji Kinjo, head of a Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) task force set up to deal with the Fukushima water issue.
METI has requested a budget allocation to help address the water problem, an official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
“It is incredibly difficult to completely block the groundwater like this. It would be better if they could pump clean water before it reaches the plant,” said Kotaro Ohga, research fellow at Hokkaido University and groundwater expert.