TEPCO in more hot water.
2 weeks ago at the height of the crisis.
So they say
Is the root of all evil today
The leak spewing highly radioactive water from reactor unit 2 at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has finally been stoppered.
Engineers had been struggling for days to identify and plug the leak, exposing the owner of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), to a barrage of criticism for its poor handling of the crisis and lack of openness.
This morning, the company, whose share price is at an all-time low, hasn’t done its image any favours: it has announced that two weeks ago, when the nuclear crisis was at its height, it officially applied to build two new reactor units at Fukushima.
But closing the leak will be a relief. This morning, at 5.38 am Japanese time, the leak from a pit close to the reactor unit stopped gushing water into the Pacific Ocean, where levels of radioactive iodine-131 had recently peaked at 7.5 million times the legal limit.
Engineers finally stemmed the leak by pouring a fast-hardening glassy liquid containing sodium silicate into a cabling tunnel that was draining highly radioactive water from within the reactor unit to the ocean via the pit.
Two earlier attempts to plug the leak, first with concrete then with an absorbent polymer, had failed. The water from is so radioactive because unit 2 the only reactor of the six at the plant to have sustained damage to its radioactive core.
A plan to pump out and safely dispose of the 60,000 tonnes of water in the unit is under way. To free up space at the facility for storing the highly radioactive water, TEPCO has begun a controversial operation, begun yesterday, to dump 11,500 tonnes of more mildly contaminated water directly into the ocean.
Yesterday, the government of Japan apologised to its neighbours, including South Korea, for having to take such a drastic step. It says that it hopes the radiation will quickly be dispersed, rapidly restoring levels to normal.
Despite the assurances, fishing in the region has been suspended, and the government has agreed to compensate all the fishermen affected by the moratorium.
Although radioactive iodine-131 will rapidly decay away without contaminating seafood, caesium-137 could pose more of a long-term problem because it takes 30 years for half of any portion of it to decay away. Radioactive caesium-134, which has a corresponding half-life of two years, has also been detected.
Meanwhile, TEPCO announced a plan yesterday to avert a possible hydrogen explosion in reactor unit 1 by pumping inert nitrogen gas into what remains of the containment building. The hope is that this will avoid any further releases of radioactive material into the atmosphere, as happened days after the quake and tsunami on 11 March. Some plumes from Fukushima dumped so much radiation in nearby villages, particularly Iatate, that villagers have been advised not to eat locally grown vegetables, schoolchildren are being monitored for radiation and children and pregnant women have been advised to leave the area.
Now the leak has been plugged, the hope is that there will be no further releases of radiation either to the atmosphere or to the ocean. But levels of radiation in the four worst-affected units remain high – so high that, according to one recent report, they’re “off the scale”.