OKUMA, FUKUSHIMA PREF. – The manager of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has admitted to embarrassment that repeated efforts have failed to bring under control the problem of radioactive water, eight months after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the world the matter had been resolved.
Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant’s operator, has been fighting a daily battle against contaminated water since Fukushima No. 1 was wrecked by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Abe’s government pledged half a billion dollars last year to tackle the issue, but progress has been limited.
“It’s embarrassing to admit, but there are certain parts of the site where we don’t have full control,” Akira Ono told reporters touring the plant last week.
He was referring to the latest blunder at the plant: channeling contaminated water into the wrong building.
Ono also acknowledged that many difficulties may have been rooted in Tepco’s focus on speed since the 2011 disaster.
“It may sound odd, but this is the bill we have to pay for what we have done in the past three years,” he said.
“But we were pressed to build tanks in a rush and may have not paid enough attention to quality. We need to improve quality from here.”
The Fukushima No. 1 plant, some 220 km northeast of Tokyo, suffered three reactor core meltdowns in the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
The issue of contaminated water is at the core of the clean-up. Japan’s nuclear regulator and the International Atomic Energy Agency say a new controlled release into the sea of contaminated water may be needed to ease stretched capacity as the plant runs out of storage space.
But this is predicated on the state-of-the-art ALPS (Advanced Liquid Processing System) project, which removes the most dangerous nuclides, becoming fully operational. The system has functioned only during periodic tests.
As Ono spoke, workers in white protective suits and masks were building new giant tanks to contain the contaminated water — on land that was once covered in trees and grass.
A cluster of cherry trees is in bloom amid the bustle of trucks and tractors at work as the 1,000 tanks already in place approach capacity. Insulation-clad pipes lie on a hill pending installation for funneling water to the sea.
“We need to improve the quality of the tanks and other facilities so that they can survive for the next 30 to 40 years of our decommission period,” Ono said, a stark acknowledgement that the problem is long-term.
Last September, Abe told Olympic dignitaries in Buenos Aires in an address that helped Tokyo win the 2020 Games: “Let me assure you the situation is under control.”
Tepco had pledged to have treated all contaminated water by March 2015, but said this week that was a “tough goal.”
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ALPS unit hit by toxic water overflow
KYODO – Around 1.1 tons of highly radioactive water overflowed from a waste container at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear complex while the experimental ALPS radiation-filtering system was being cleaned, Tokyo Electric Power Co. has reported.
The overflow at the trouble-plagued water treatment system was noticed at about 12:20 p.m. Wednesday, and no one was contaminated, Tepco said. The water was retained by a barrier and inside the building where the Advanced Liquid Processing System is housed, it said.
The water was giving off around 3.8 million becquerels of beta-particle-emitting substances per liter, Tepco said.
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