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At Fukushima plant, a million-tonne headache: Radioactive water via Straits Times

FUKUSHIMA (AFP) – In the grounds of the ravaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant sits a million-tonne headache for the plant’s operators and Japan’s government: tank after tank of water contaminated with radioactive elements.

What to do with the enormous amount of water, which grows by around 150 tonnes a day, is a thorny question, with controversy surrounding a longstanding proposal to discharge it into the sea, after extensive decontamination.


A thousand, towering tanks have now replaced many of the cherry trees that once dotted the plant’s ground.
Each can hold 1,200 tonnes, 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 Mr Junichi Matsumoto, an official with the unit of plant operator Tepco in charge of dismantling the site.



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 be burnt 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.


Environmentalists are also resolutely opposed to any discharge into the sea, and Greenpeace argues that Tepco cannot trusted to properly decontaminate the water.

The solution, said Greenpeace senior nuclear specialist Shaun Burnie, “ultimately can only be long-term storage and processing”.

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