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Flow of Tainted Water Is Latest Crisis at FUKUSHIMA

Since posting this story the water has continued to flow into the Pacific after all attempts to hold it back with retaining walls failed. For some reason, the ground water rose faster than anticipated and the barriers were not high enough. So while the rest of he story deals with the enormous amount of radioactive water that is contained in huge tank farms, the more (or equally) urgent problem is detailed Here.

TOKYO -- Things only continue to get worse at TEPCO's nuclear reactor site in Fukushima. With the earthquake already two years in the past, the recovery has been slow and painful. Now, as cleanup has been underway, a new problem brings more immediacy to the Japanese engineers.

It seems that the disabled reactors are being cooled by make-do pumps that circulate water to cool the broken containment vessels and the spent fuel pools. That seems to holding at present. But each reactor installation apparently leaks a considerable amount of groundwater that, if not pumped out, would flood the pumps and put the fuel rods in jeopardy.

The total amount of groundwater leaking through the concrete foundations is about 75 gallons a minute. Thats 108,000 gallons a day! And, get this, because it is highly contaminated by the time it is pumped out of the foundations it has to be stored as a hazardous waste.

The solution has been to build huge storage tanks -- each able to hold the equivalent of 112 Olympic-size swimming pools. They will have to keep building and adding more to the sprawling collection of grey tanks hat no cover 42 acres of former parking lots, lawns and access ways.

Since there is no foreseeable end to this process, the stronium laced water will continue to be stored on the Fukushima site. TEPCO has just announced that it will begin cutting down a nearby forest to make room for future radioactive tank farms.

"The water keeps increasing every minute, no matter whether we eat, sleep or work. It feels like we are constantly being chased, but we are doing our best to stay a step in front."
--Masayuki Ono, a General Manager with Tepco.
Earthquake could spell disaster

Very recently, TEPCO had a 29-hour power failure affecting their cooling systems and this has reminded many of the vulnerability that plagues the nuclear plant. With so many toxic water tanks on the site, many fear that an earthquake might be capable of causing leaks and contaminating even more of the Fukushima area.

According to the NY Times:

The jury-rigged cooling loop that pours water over the damaged reactor cores is a mazelike collection of pumps, filters and pipes that snake two and a half miles along the ground through the plant. And a pool for storing used nuclear fuel remains perched on the fifth floor of a damaged reactor building as Tepco struggles to move the rods to a safer location. The situation is worrisome enough that Shunichi Tanaka, a longtime nuclear power proponent who is the chairman of the newly created watchdog Nuclear Regulation Authority, told reporters after the announcement of the leaking pits that "there is concern that we cannot prevent another accident."
It seems that even scientists who acknowledge the complexity of cleaning up the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl fear that this new water crisis is the latest sign that Tepco is lurching from one problem to the next without a coherent strategy.

"Tepco is clearly just hanging on day by day, with no time to think about tomorrow, much less next year."
--Tadashi Inoue, an expert in nuclear power who served on a committee that drew up the road map for cleaning up the plant.

When Tepco and the government devised the current plans for decommissioning and cleaning up the plant in 2011, the leaking groundwater had already been identified as a problem. The plant lies in the path of water flowing from nearby mountains to the sea. But decision makers placed a low priority on the problem, assuming all the water could be stored until it could somehow be disposed of. Tepco clearly did not think through the amount of water that they would have to contain. Their first attempt at a solution was to build underground plastic and clay lined water storage pits. But they eventually developed leaks and the storage tanks were used.

Apparently TEPCO assume that they would eventually be able to dump the contaminated water into the ocean once a powerful new filtering system was put in place that could remove 62 types of radioactive particles, including stronium. But even with that theoretical filtering method there would still be traces of tritium, a less radioactive element, in the filtered water.

Tritium, which can be harmful only if ingested, is regularly released into the environment by normally functioning nuclear plants, but even Tepco acknowledges that the water at Fukushima contains about 100 times the amount of tritium released in an average year by a healthy plant.

"We were so focused on the fuel rods and melted reactor cores that we underestimated the water problem. Someone from outside the industry might have foreseen the water problem."
--Tatsujiro Suzuki, vice chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission

Meanwhile, the amount of water stored at the plant just keeps growing.

"How could Tepco not realize that it had to get public approval before dumping this into the sea?. This all just goes to show that TEPCO is in way over its head.
--Muneo Morokuzu, an expert on public policy at the University of Tokyo

Stored water increases radiation level

On 5/7/2013, Tepco announced the atmospheric dose in Fukushima nuclear plant area is significantly raised by the retained contaminated water.

The highest increasing dose is estimated to be 6.4mSv/y. However, this is the reading on the border of the plant area. It would be higher inside of the plant area.

This is due to be direct radiation from the contaminated water storage facility. Tepco analyzes the main factor would be Bremsstrahlung X ray from Sr-90 (Y-90) in the contaminated water.

This new danger explains why TEPCO initially wanted to bury the contaminated water under the ground. That way, the radiation would be contained. But leaking containers forced the current "Plan B" which will only continue to get worse as there is no immediate or even long term solution to decontaminate and release the water. In short: It's a catastrophe already happening.

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