Leak Is Prompting Fresh Scrutiny of Handling of Nuclear Site
Japan is scrambling to contain its worst spill of contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear plant since its 2011 meltdown, drawing fresh scrutiny to its handling of the site.
TOKYO—Japan is scrambling to contain its worst spill of contaminated water from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant since its meltdown more than two years ago, drawing fresh scrutiny to what experts say remains its shortsighted handling of the site.
On Wednesday, Japan’s nuclear watchdog declared that the plant had suffered a “serious incident”—level “3″ on an international scale—after operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said that some 300 metric tons, or 79,000 gallons, of highly radioactive water had leaked from a hastily built storage tank and warned that roughly 300 more of the potentially leaky tanks existed. It was the first declaration of a nuclear incident in Japan since regulators classed the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant a level “7″—the highest—in 2011.
“This is what we have been fearing,” said Shunichi Tanaka, chair of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, answering questions about the leak at a news conference. “We cannot waste even a minute” to take action.
Behind the leak is a more serious problem: During the past few months it has become clear that Tepco has lost control over the flow of water at the plant and that the problem is escalating, nuclear experts say.
That lack of control is a big liability, said Kathryn Higley, a specialist in the spread of radiation and head of the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics at Oregon State University, who spent a week in Fukushima earlier this year.
“You have to find ways to control water coming through the site,” Ms. Higley said. “With any sort of accident, you want to control the timing of what’s released and when it gets released.”
So far, the levels of radioactivity that have escaped to the outside remain relatively low, but some experts warn they may not stay that way—particularly as equipment ages and the heavy-duty work of dismantling the damaged buildings and removing the melted fuel rods proceeds. The radioactivity of the water in the most recent leak was so high that workers couldn’t get close enough to search for the cause until the remaining fluid in the tank was removed.
- Radiation crisis at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant deepens as threat level raised to ‘serious’ via The Independent (Atomic Age)