No one is sure how to safely dispose of millions of gallons of highly radioactive water at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. ‘There is nothing like this, on this scale, that we have ever attempted to do before,’ a U.S. expert says.
Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant’s No.1, No.2, No.3 and No.4 reactors, from right to left, in this photo taken March 31 and released by Japan’s Defense Ministry on April 1.
Reporting from Tokyo and Los Angeles—For nearly four weeks, Japanese emergency crews have been spraying water on the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors, a desperate attempt to avert the calamity of a full meltdown.
Now, that improvised solution to one nuclear nightmare is spawning another: what to do with the millions of gallons of water that has become highly radioactive as it washes through the plant.
The water being used to try to cool the reactors and the dangerous spent fuel rods is leaking through fissures inside the plant, seeping down through tunnels and passageways to the lowest levels, where it is accumulating into a sea of lethal waste.
No one is sure how to get rid of it safely.
“There is nothing like this, on this scale, that we have ever attempted to do before,” says Robert Alvarez, a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Energy Department.
Japanese officials estimate that they already have accumulated about 15 million gallons of highly radioactive water. Hundreds of thousands of gallons are being added every day as the plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Co., continues to feed coolant into the leaky structures.
Ultimately, the high-level radioactive substances in the water will have to be safely stored, processed and solidified, a job that experts say will almost certainly have to be handled on a specially designed industrial complex. The process of cleaning up the water could take many years, even decades, to complete. The cost could run into the tens of billions of dollars.