The cleanup after the catastrophic nuclear accident two years ago at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan is not going well. Radioactive cooling water is leaking into the ground from at least three vast storage tanks, and the vulnerability of the plant to further accidents was revealed when a rat chewed through an electric cable, cutting off vital cooling.
Those setbacks came as a 12-man team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna toured the stricken plants to assess the country’s efforts to make safe, clean up and eventually dismantle the crippled reactors.
Within Japan there is alarm at the situation and criticism of the Tokyo Electric Power Company, Tepco. Even government safety officials say the company is not demonstrating that it is competent in dealing with a problem that will probably take decades to solve, judging by other serious nuclear accidents.
Spent nuclear fuel melted into lumps of unknown size will remain dangerous for hundreds of years, and so far no one has devised a method of retrieving it.
Tepco admits only that the leaks are a “crisis” but says has it has kept the stricken reactors stable by injecting water continuously. Without the water the spent fuel inside the reactors could overheat, causing another potential radioactive release.
But it is the massive amount of radioactive water that is becoming part of the problem, because it cannot be discharged into the sea without breaching international law and risking contamination of fish stocks.