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10 Aug, 2013 14:48

Fukushima leak emergency: LIVE UPDATES

Fukushima leak emergency: LIVE UPDATES

As 300 tons of contaminated water flow daily into the Pacific from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, Japan’s government is working in crisis mode to make sure the leak, which the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has failed to contain, is sealed.

September 6

01:33 GMT: South Korean regulators have banned the import of 50 fishery products from eight Japanese prefectures because of lingering concerns of radiation contamination from the crippled Fukushima power plant. The announcement also called for tighter inspection of imports from elsewhere in Japan. The ban, which will begin Monday and will be instituted indefinitely, is an attempt to address “sharply increased concern in the public about the flow of hundreds of tons of contaminated water into the ocean” stemming from the Fukushima site, a spokesman for the South Korean Prime Minister’s office said. 

September 5

11:45 GMT: Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) has admitted that highly radioactive water leaking from a storage tank at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant may have seeped into groundwater flowing toward the Pacific Ocean. TEPCO said in press release that workers detected radiation of 650 becquerels per liter in samples taken from a monitoring well dug near the damaged tank. “There is the possibility that the contaminated water [from the tank], diluted by rainwater...has seeped into soil and reached groundwater,” the company said. TEPCO earlier stated that it discovered the leak after it happened, but was uncertain where most of the water went.

September 2

13:56 GMT: A patrol of workers at Fukushima found a new area of high radiation near tanks used to store contaminated water, the nuclear plant’s operator, TEPCO, said in a statement. According to the company, there was no sign of a water leak around the newly discovered area, which has radiation readings of over 100 millisieverts per hour. The latest hot spot is in a different area than a storage tank that was found to have leaked 300 tons of radioactive water in August.

10:03 GMT: The Japanese government will initiate prompt, comprehensive steps to clean up the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant amid lingering doubts over the ability of plant owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), to handle the crisis, country’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, said.

September 1

21:10 GMT:Several new hotspots with potentially lethal doses of radiation have been detected near the tanks storing the radioactive water, forcing the operator to admit there might be even more leaks at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant. Traces of water leak measuring 230 millisieverts per hour were found below a water pipe, Kyodo news agency reported. According to Jiji News, a reading of 1,800 millisieverts per hour was near one of the tanks, while another water storage facility reported readings measured between 70 and 230 millisieverts.

August 31

22:00 GMT: Several new hotspots reading potentially lethal doses of radiation have been detected near the tanks storing the radioactive water, forcing the operator to admit there might be even more leaks at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant. 

August 29

11:57 GMT: A new study published in the latest edition of the journal Deep-Sea Research 1 predicts that a radioactive plume of water in the Pacific Ocean from Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant will likely reach US coastal waters in early 2014. Radioactivity in the ocean is likely to reach its peak by 2016. The study, by an international group of oceanographers working with Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, predicts that the concentration of radioactive material will become harmless once it leaves Japanese waters.

August 28

05:03 GMT: Japan has upgraded the severity of the latest radioactive water leak to Level 3 on the INES scale.

August 26

15:47 GMT: Japan is considering dipping into its $3.5 billion in emergency reserve funds from this year’s budget to help TEPCO, the operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, deal with deepening radioactive water problems at the site.

Visiting the disabled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on Monday, trade and industry minister, Toshimitsu Motegi, said he would send a taskforce to manage the clean-up and send officials to oversee the operations, Reuters reports.

Motegi ordered TEPCO to replace those tanks which run the risk of leaking radioactive water, saying the firm should have more frequent patrols around the tanks and better documentation of inspections. He also said the temporary tanks, which are collapsible and held together by rubber seals, should be replaced with more durable ones with welded seams.

August 25

16:20 GMT: TEPCO has said that the deterioration of rubber seams holding together one of its tanks was likely responsible for Wednesday's toxic leak, after the seams failed to keep its integrity once it began contorting under the weight of the water inside. The company has previously been urged to adopt the more sturdy welded seam tank construction as soon as is practical.

August 23

12:00 GMT: Fears over the inability to contain the enormous quantities of radioactive water have intensified since the discovery of Wednesday's leak.

"We've suspected (leaks into the ocean) from the beginning ... TEPCO is making it very difficult for us to trust them," Masakazu Yabuki, a veteran fisherman in Iwaki, just south of the plant, told AP on Friday.

03:00 GMT: TEPCO admitted that it needs overseas help in order to contain the radioactive fallout from the disaster after a full 18 months attempting to control it by themselves.

"Many other countries outside of Japan have experienced decommissioning reactors, so we hope we can consult them more and utilize their experience,” TEPCO’s vice president, Zengo Aizawa, said at a news conference on Wednesday night. 

An aerial view shows workers wearing protective suits and masks working atop contaminated water storage tanks at Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)'s tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima, in this photo taken by Kyodo August 20, 2013. (Reuters/Kyodo)

August 22

23:30 GMT: Excessive radiation levels were found next to the storage tanks which have been containing highly-contaminated water used to cool reactors, according to TEPCO. One tank already leaked earlier this week. 

TEPCO started checking its 300 storage tanks after 300 tons of contaminated water escaped from one of them on Wednesday.

Recent shocking reports confirmed by government officials have revealed that for two years since the March 2011 earthquake that triggered the Fukushima disaster, hundreds of tons of groundwater running under the damaged power plant are being mixed with toxic water used to cool its reactors and then leak into the Pacific Ocean. 

Officials and the public have lashed out at the Fukushima operator TEPCO for failing to cope with and report on the situation, which the country’s nuclear watchdog NRA has described as an “emergency.”  

This hand out picture taken by Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) on August 19, 2013 shows contaminated water which leaked from a water tank at TEPCO's Fukushima dai-ichi nuclear power plant at Okuma town in Fukushima prefecture. (AFP/TEPCO)

August 21

02:59 GMT: Eighteen children from the Fukushima Prefecture have been found to have thyroid cancer, while 25 others are suspected of having the illness, Japan’s NHK website reported. Medical examinations are being conducted on all 360,000 children from the area who were aged 18 and younger at the time of the 2011 accident. The findings were reported by a prefectural panel, which is looking into the impact of radiation on those living in the affected area.

02:55 GMT: Japan will raise the gravity of the latest Fukushima leak to Level Three, which is considered a “serious radiation incident” on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) for radiological releases, Reuters reported. "Judging from the amount and the density of the radiation in the contaminated water that leaked ... a level 3 assessment is appropriate," according to the document used during Wednesday’s weekly meeting of Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) commissioners.

August 20

07:58 GMT: Another tank with highly radioactive water at the devastated Fukushima nuclear power plant has leaked, reported operator TEPCO. The contaminated water contains an unprecedented 80 million Becquerels of radiation per liter. The norm is a mere 150 Bq.

August 19

18:43 GMT: Readings of tritium in seawater taken from the bay near the Fukushima Daiichi plant have shown 4700 becquerels per liter, which marks the highest radiation level in the measurement history of the seawater near the crippled nuclear plant, according to the company’s operator TEPCO, Nikkei newspaper reports.

13:00 GMT: Two workers at the crippled plant were found to be exposed to the radioactive particles just days after ten workers were sprayed with radioactive water at the beginning of last week.

Two dust monitor alarms sounded the main operations center in the stricken plant, where radiation levels are normally low enough not to need to wear full face masks, TEPCO said in an emailed statement.

Workers wearing protective suits and masks operate a soil improvement work site of the shore barrier to stop radioactive water from leaking into the sea, near the No.1 and No.2 reactor buildings of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (Reuters / Kyodo)

August 17

13:15 GMT: One of the most serious and potentially catastrophic situations facing the engineers directing the clean-up operation at Fukushima is the removing from the reactors of some 1,300 fuel rods, Christina Consolo, a nuclear fallout researcher told RT.

The situation is particularly serious in reactor 4, where the fuel pool’s structural integrity has been significantly compromised. It is also not known how much the Zirconium cladding, which encases the rods, has been damaged or to what extent the walls of the pool have been corroded due to salt water cooling. All the fuel rods must be removed manually and the tinniest mistake could mean a mishandled rod goes critical and with over 1,300 rods the result could be a huge apocalyptic nuclear explosion.

Another serious problem facing the plant is the huge amount of ground water that is flowing through it every day, meaning that there are already substance issues and liquefaction under the buildings of the crippled power station.

13:30 GMT: TEPCO said it sent its engineers to US company Hanford Engineer Works – which formerly worked on the Manhattan Project to produce plutonium for the atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki in World War II – to get expert help with containing radioactive waste. Engineers at Hanford’s have for decades been working to decommission nine US nuclear reactors in operation from 1944 to 1987, as well as overseeing a 586-square mile nuclear waste facility – experience that may assist the Japanese in the decommissioning process at Fukushima.

“We identified seven areas of US expertise that can be tapped. That includes decommissioning, nuclear waste disposal, removal of melted fuel, and restoration of surrounding areas,” Masumi Ishikawa, general manager of TEPCO’s radioactive waste management, told The Japanese Daily Press. He added that there is “a lot to learn” from the US management of water and soil contamination.

01:30 GMT: Tokyo Electric Power Co. will begin talks with local fishermen’s groups in an attempt to persuade them to agree to a plan that would route water away from the Fukushima atomic station. Water currently runs down hillsides around Fukushima, where it is then contaminated by radiation leaks. Tepco has promised fishermen the rerouted water is pure mountain water. Meetings will be held from Aug. 20 to Aug. 28.

Members of the media and TEPCO employees walk alongside a wall lined with thousands of paper cranes during a media tour at Tokyo Electric Power Company's (TEPCO) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (Reuters / Noboru Hashimoto / Pool)

August 15

The levels of radioactive cesium in underground water at the Fukushima nuclear power plant are nearly 8 times higher than after the March 2011 disaster, plant operator TEPCO reported. The recent water samples analyzed by the company showed 11,600 Becquerels of cancer-causing cesium per liter, while shortly after the 2011 accident it recorded cesium levels at 1,490 Becquerels per liter. The soaring levels were detected in several underground tunnels near the No. 2 and No. 3 reactor buildings, TEPCO said, attributing the increase to contaminated rainwater leaking into the tunnels. The report showed lower cesium levels in the No. 1 reactor building, as it had been flooded by sea water from tsunami.

TEPCO also said it began vacuum pumping contaminated water from the damaged facility by inserting steel pipes underground in the revetment near the No. 1 and No. 2 reactor buildings.

August 12

16:58 GMT: Ten workers at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant were exposed to radiation from contaminated mist, according to TEPCO. Exposure levels detected by radiation monitors worn by workers were found to be as high as ten becquerels per square centimetre – which, according to the plant’s operator, is 2.5 times higher than is considered safe.

The affected reportedly came into contact with contaminated mist water from devices used to cool temperatures around the Main Anti-earthquake building. The individuals are to receive full body scans, which can detect radiation exposure to internal organs.

August 10

14:40 GMT: The level of the contaminated radioactive groundwater under the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant has risen 60cm above the protective barrier, according to the plant’s operator TEPCO.

This is the main reason why the water is freely leaking into the Pacific Ocean, the operator said.

TEPCO and the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan are to decide on the urgent strengthening of the protective barrier. 

Blair Thornton, associate professor at the University of Tokyo's Institute of Industrial Science Underwater Technology Research Center, points at a video of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant (F1NPP) operated by the Tokyo Electric Plant during a research trip, in Tokyo August 8, 2013. (Reuters/Toru Hanai)

August 9

TEPCO announces it started pumping out contaminated groundwater from under the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The company managed to pump out 13 tons of water between 2pm and 8pm local time on Friday. TEPCO said it plans to boost the pumped-out amount to some 100 tons a day with the help of a special system, which will be completed by Mid-August.

August 8

18:30 GMT: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says it closely follows the leak of radioactive water from Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea and is ready to provide help if necessary.

"Japanese authorities have explained their planned countermeasures against current leakage and further leakages," IAEA’s director of public information, Serge Gas, said in a statement.

He noted that the IAEA had already provided recommendations to Japanese authorities on how to manage liquid waste, and that a report from a mission in April had encouraged TEPCO to review its strategy for handling water that had accumulated at the site.

Members of the the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Division of Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Waste Technology inspect the unit 4 reactor building of the crippled TEPCO's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture (AFP Photo)

18:05 GMT: Japanese prosecutors are unlikely to press charges against former prime minister Naoto Kan and utility executives over their handling of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster after complaints filed by affected citizens, Japan’s Asahi newspaper reported.

The prosecutors questioned Kan, who was prime minister at the time of the disaster, and former TEPCO president Masataka Shimizu. The lawyers concluded that it was difficult to prove that they could have predicted such a big earthquake and tsunami or establish a causal relationship between the nuclear disaster and deaths and injuries among evacuees.

A formal decision by the prosecutors is likely to be announced as early as this month, the paper added.

August 7

The Fukushima plant is leaking contaminated water at a rate of 300 tons per day, the Japanese government reported. Tokyo estimates that the cleanup of the disaster would take more than 40 years and cost some $11 billion.

TEPCO confirmed the leak but refused to confirm the quantity being emitted from the plant. 

"We are not currently able to say clearly how much groundwater is actually flowing into the ocean," Tokyo Electric Power spokesman Noriyuki Imaizumi said.

August 6

TEPCO estimated that there are more than 20,000 tons of highly-contaminated water in the drainage system of the Fukushima plant. This water seeping through the crack in the drainage tunnels is responsible for the hike in levels of radioactive isotopes in ground and ocean water near the crippled plant. 

An aerial view shows the No.3 reactor building at Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)'s tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture, in this photo taken by Kyodo July 18, 2013. (Reuters/Kyodo)

August 5

Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) says it can no longer leave to TEPCO’s the task of containing radiation-contaminated water at Fukushima plant. 

"Right now, we have an emergency,"admitted Shinji Kinjo, the head of the organization.

August 4

A strong undersea earthquake has hit off the coast of Miyagi prefecture. The epicenter was 50km below the seabed. The quake struck at approximately the same location where the 9.0 magnitude quake hit in March 2011, devastating the Fukushima nuclear plant. The damaged reactors were not impacted by the tremors on Sunday, TEPCO reported.

August 3

A TEPCO official quoted by a Japanese media says the contaminated groundwater could reach the surface and freely flow into ocean within three weeks. To prevent a massive leakage into the Pacific it would require 100 tons of water to be pumped out daily – something TEPCO cannot achieve until the delivery of equipment at end of August. Meanwhile, it is not clear where the contaminated water would be stored as more than 85 percent of Fukushima’s 380,000 tonne storage capacity is already full.

Masayuki Ono, acting head of Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) nuclear power and facilities section, displays an image showing steam rising from the unit 3 reactor building of TEPCO's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant at a news conference at the company's headquarters in Tokyo on July 18, 2013. (AFP Photo/Yoshikazu Tsuno)

July 27

Water samples taken at an underground passage below the Fukushima nuclear power plant showed extreme levels of radiation comparable to those taken immediately after the March 2011 catastrophe, TEPCO reveals in a statement. The tested water, which had been mixing with ground water and flowing into the ocean, contained 2.35 billion Becquerels of cesium per liter – some 16 million times above the limit.

July 22

The operator of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, TEPCO, admits that crippled plant’s reactors continue to leak highly contaminated radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean. Earlier TEPCO had claimed that while it was struggling to find enough storage space for contaminated water and detected soaring levels of radioactive cancer-causing cesium in ground waters under the plant, seawater data had shown “no abnormal rise in the levels of radioactivity.”