Tag Archives: radioactive water

A Huge Headache: the Radioactive Water at Fukushima

What to do with the enormous amount of radioactive  water, which grows by around 150 tons a day at Fukushima, is a thorny question, with controversy surrounding a long-standing proposal to discharge it into the sea, after extensive decontamination.  The water comes from several different sources: Some is used for cooling at the plant, which suffered a meltdown after it was hit by a tsunami triggered by a massive earthquake in March 2011.  Groundwater that seeps into the plant daily, along with rainwater, add to the problem.

A thousand, towering tanks have now replaced many of the cherry trees that once dotted the plant’s ground. Each can hold 1,200 tons, and most of them are already full.  “We will build more on the site until the end of 2020, and we think all the tanks will be full by around the summer of 2022,” said Junichi Matsumoto, an official with the unit of plant operator TEPCO in charge of dismantling the site.

TEPCO has been struggling with the problem for years, taking various measures to limit the amount of groundwater entering the site.  There is also an extensive pumping and filtration system, that each day brings up tons of newly contaminated water and filters out as many of the radioactive elements as possible.

The hangar where the decontamination system runs is designated “Zone Y” — a danger zone requiring special protections.  All those entering must wear elaborate protection: a full body suit, three layers of socks, three layers of gloves, a double cap topped by a helmet, a vest with a pocket carrying a dosimeter, a full-face respirator mask and special shoes.  Most of the outfit has to burned after use.

“The machinery filters contain radionuclides, so you have to be very protected here, just like with the buildings where the reactors are,” explained TEPCO risk communicator Katsutoshi Oyama.  TEPCO has been filtering newly contaminated water for years, but much of it needs to go through the process again because early versions of the filtration process did not fully remove some dangerous radioactive elements, including strontium 90.

The current process is more effective, removing or reducing around 60 radionuclides to levels accepted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for water being discharged.  But there is one that remains, which cannot be removed with the current technology: tritium.

Tritium is naturally present in the environment, and has also been discharged in its artificial form into the environment by the nuclear industry around the world.  There is little evidence that it causes harm to humans except in very high concentrations and the IAEA argues that properly filtered Fukushima water could be diluted with seawater and then safely released into the ocean without causing environmental problems.

But those assurances are of little comfort to many in the region, particularly Fukushima’s fishing industry which, like local farmers, has suffered from the outside perception that food from the region is unsafe.

Karyn Nishimura, At Fukushima plant, a million-ton headache: radioactive water, Japan Times, Oct. 7, 2019
 

Anti-Nuclear Protests in India

Agitations against the Kudankulam nuclear plant broke out in June 2019.  Villages around the contentious reactors moved a resolution to put a stop to the government’s plans to construct an Away From Reactor (AFR) facility on the premises of the nuclear power plant.  The AFR is a storage unit meant to store spent fuel generated at the two nuclear plants in Kudankulam… While resolutions passed at four villages –  Kavalkinar, Vadakankulam, Perumanal  and Kudankulam  were recorded by district authorities, a similar move in the village of Vijayapathi was stopped. The decision led to protests in the village and was forcefully dispersed by the police. …

A public hearing regarding the AFR scheduled for July 10, 2019 was recently postponed indefinitely. A look at the circular shows that only two villages were invited – Kudankulam and Vijayapathi. Activists allege that this was an intentional attempt to shut down dissent against the proposed facility. 

The resolutions included – opposition to collection of nuclear waste in Kudankulam, demand to stop construction of an AFR facility and demand to permanently shut down the plant. Opposition parties and activists had urged the Centre to come out with a detailed plan for setting up a permanent deep geological repository and drop the plan of a proposed Away From Reactor facility.   “This entire exercise is meant to create storage for spent fuel and an AFR is only a temporary solution till the government finds land to build a deep geological repository,” explains Sundarrajan. “But across the country, no state is ready to risk giving land for permanent disposal of nuclear waste. So, residents fear that this will used as an excuse by the government to make the AFR a permanent storage space.”

Excerpts from Priyanka Thirumurthy , Protests break out in TN village over proposed facility in Kudankulam nuclear plant, the newsminute.com, June 29, 2019

Radioactive Water: Fukushima Leaks to Pacific

Sensors at the Fukushima nuclear plant have detected a fresh leak of highly radioactive water to the sea, the plant’s operator announced on Feb. 22, 2015, highlighting difficulties in decommissioning the plant.  Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) said the sensors, which were rigged to a gutter that pours rain and ground water at the Fukushima Daiichi plant to a nearby bay, detected contamination levels up to 70 times greater than the already-high radioactive status seen at the plant campus.  Tepco said its inspections of tanks storing nuclear waste water did not find any additional abnormalities, but it shut the gutter to prevent radioactive water from going into the Pacific Ocean.

Fresh leak detected at Fukushima N-plant, Agency France, Presse, Feb. 23, 2015

Fukushima Mess – Radioactive Water

The [Japanese] government picked three overseas companies to participate in a subsidized project to determine the best available technology for separating radioactive tritium from the toxic water building up at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.  Tokyo Electric Power Co. is currently test-running a system it says is capable of removing 62 types of radioactive substances from the contaminated water, but not tritium.  Thus tritium-laced water is expected to accumulate at the plant in the absence of any method to remove the isotope.

The three firms chosen from 29 applicants are U.S. firm Kurion Inc., which offers technologies to treat nuclear and hazardous waste; GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy Canada Inc., a joint venture of Hitachi Ltd. and U.S. firm General Electric Co.; and Federal State Unitary Enterprise RosRAO, a Russian radioactive waste management firm.

The government will provide up to ¥1 billion for each examination of the technologies and running costs, and consider whether any of them can be applied to treat the water at Fukushima No. 1, the industry ministry said.  The three companies are to conclude their experiments by the end of March 2016, a ministry official said.  The official cautioned there is no guarantee that any of the technologies will be put to practical use.

Three firms picked to help tackle toxic water at Fukushima No. 1, Japan Times, Aug. 26, 2014

In January 2014 it was made public that a total of 875 terabecquerels (2.45 g) of tritium are on the site of Fukushima Daiichi,and the amount of tritium contained in the contaminated water is increasing by approximately 230 terabecquerel (0.64 g) per year. According to a report by Tepco “Tritium could be separated theoretically, but there is no practical separation technology on an industrial scale.”  See Wikipedia

Leaking Radioactive Water into the Pacific Ocean: Fukushima

The operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant on Monday admitted for the first time that radioactive groundwater has leaked out to sea, fuelling fears of ocean contamination…Earlier this month Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) said groundwater samples taken at the battered plant showed levels of possibly cancer-causing caesium-134 had shot up more than 110 times in a few days.

TEPCO did not know the exact reasons for the increased readings but had maintained the toxic groundwater was likely contained at the current location, largely by concrete foundations and steel sheets.  “But now we believe that contaminated water has flown out to the sea,” a TEPCO spokesman said Monday (July 22, 2013).  However, the spokesman insisted that the impact of the radioactive water on the ocean would be limited.  “Seawater data have shown no abnormal rise in the levels of radioactivity.”

Radioactive substances released by the meltdowns of reactors at the plant in the aftermath of the huge tsunami of March 2011 have made their way into underground water, which usually flows out to sea.  Environment experts warn that such leakage may affect marine life and ultimately impacting humans who eat sea creatures.

Excerpt, TEPCO admits radioactive water leaked into sea at Fukushima, AFP, July 22, 2013

 

The Nuclear Village in Japan

After an earthquake and tsunami created a creeping nuclear catastrophe two years ago the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) said it would get the country out of nuclear energy by 2040. Although it quickly backtracked, almost all of Japan’s 50 commercial reactors are still lying idle.

In February this year (2013), Shinzo Abe, leader of the then incoming Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), said the new government would restart reactors after they passed a forthcoming set of new safety tests. The country’s “nuclear village”, a cosy bunch from industry and government, cheered. But now the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi plant is starting to alarm the public once more. On April 15th, 2013 the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a UN body, flew in to investigate a series of dangerous incidents.

A power outage in March (2013) left four underground pools that store thousands of the plant’s nuclear fuel rods without fresh cooling water for several hours. A rat, it later emerged, had gnawed through a cable. Workmen laying down rat-proof netting caused another outage. Then this month regulators discovered that thousands of gallons of radioactive water had seeped into the ground; the plant’s operator had installed a jerry-rigged system of plastic sheeting, which sprang leaks. The quantity of contaminated water has become a crisis in its own right, the manager has admitted. And now the pipes used to transfer water to safer storage containers are leaking too.

Experts who examined the causes of the 2011 catastrophe reckon the LDP has paid too little attention to what went wrong. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, the chairman of a parliamentary investigation, says the country may be moving “too hastily back towards nuclear power, without fully regaining the trust of the Japanese public and the international community”. Yoichi Funabashi, a former editor of Asahi Shimbun newspaper who headed a private-sector investigation, says it is unfortunate that the 2012 election, which brought the LDP back to office, did not include a proper debate about the future of nuclear energy.

Now the set of policies known as “Abenomics” is making a return to nuclear power ever more pressing. The LDP is expected to push hard to restart plants if it wins a crucial election for the upper house of parliament this summer. Mr Abe’s focus on the economy has given greater say to the voice of business, including the big utilities whose plants are idle. Smaller firms clamour for cheaper power too.

Japan’s broader economic future may be at stake… [the deterioration of  overall current-account balance]  could affect Japan’s ability to keep funding its huge public debt domestically. A big cause is the cost of energy imported to fill the gap left by nuclear power. A weaker yen, the result of the central bank’s radical loosening of monetary policy, is further pushing up the price of imported oil and gas…[T]he public is still afraid of nuclear power. A nationwide poll  in February 2013 found that around 70% of respondents wanted either to phase out all the plants, or to shut them down immediately. Opposition is likely to be strongest at the local level, as regions move to switch their reactors back on. This week an Osaka court ruled on a suit brought by local residents to have Japan’s only two operating reactors, at the Oi plant in Fukui prefecture, shut down. They lost, but their suit looks like only the first of many battles

Japan’s nuclear future: Don’t look now, Economist, Apr. 20, 2013, at 44.

Japan and the Polluted Radioactive Water

Japan’s crippled nuclear power plant is struggling to find space to store tens of thousands of tonnes of highly contaminated water used to cool the broken reactors, the manager of the water treatment team has said.About 200,000 tonnes of radioactive water, enough to fill more than 50 Olympic-sized swimming pools, are being stored in hundreds of gigantic tanks built around the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has already chopped down trees to make room for more tanks and predicts the volume of water will be more than tripled within three years.  “It’s a time-pressing issue because the storage of contaminated water has its limits, there is only limited storage space,” the water-treatment manager, Yuichi Okamura, told the AP news agency in an exclusive interview this week.  The Yotukura fishing village was one of the areas devastated by the Mar. 11, 2011 tsunami that caused the nuclear plant meltdown.

Dumping massive amounts of water into the melting reactors was the only way to avoid an even bigger catastrophe after the meltdown at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power reactor, caused by the Mar. 11, 2011 tsunami.  Okamura remembers frantically trying to find a way to get water to spent fuel pools located on the highest floor of the 50m high reactor buildings.  Without water, the spent fuel likely would have overheated and melted, sending radioactive smoke for miles and affecting possibly millions of people.

But the measures to keep the plant under control created another huge headache for the utility: What to do with all the radioactive water that leaked out of the damaged reactors and collected in the basements of reactor buildings and nearby facilities.  “At that time, we never expected high-level contaminated water to turn up in the turbine building,” Okamura said.  He was tasked with setting up a treatment system that would make the water clean enough for reuse as a coolant, and was also aimed at reducing health risks for workers and at curbing environmental damage.  At first, the utility shunted the tainted water into existing storage tanks near the reactors.

Meanwhile, Okamura’s 55-member team scrambled to get a treatment unit up and running within three months of the accident, a project that would normally take about two years, he said.  Using that equipment, TEPCO was able to circulate reprocessed water back into the reactor cores.  But even though the reactors now are being cooled exclusively with recycled water, the volume of contaminated water is still increasing, mostly because groundwater is seeping through cracks into the reactor and turbine basements….

Masashi Goto, a nuclear engineer and university lecturer, said the contaminated water build-up posed a major long-term threat to health and the environment.  He said he was worried that the radioactive water in the basements may already be getting into the underground water system, where it could reach far beyond the plant via underground water channels, possibly reaching the ocean or public water supplies.  “There are pools of some 10,000 or 20,000 tonnes of contaminated water in each plant, and there are many of these, and to bring all of these to one place would mean you would have to treat hundreds of thousands of tonnes of contaminated water which is mind-blowing in itself,” Goto said.  “It’s an outrageous amount, truly outrageous,” Goto added.

The plant will have to deal with contaminated water until all the melted fuel and other debris is removed from the reactor, a process that will easily take more than a decade.

Japan Struggling to Store Nuclear Water, Inter Press Service, Oct. 25, 2012