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20 Oct, 2013 20:02

Heavy rains overflow barriers surrounding Fukushima water tanks

Heavy rains overflow barriers surrounding Fukushima water tanks

Water has overflowed at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) is attempting to discern the quality of the water and possible radioactive substances which could have been spilled.

TEPCO announced on Monday that the water overflowed in 12 areas of the plant.

Heavy rains caused water to flow over the barriers of an artificial embankment which surrounds a dozen tanks of radioactive water at the plant. TEPCO reported that liquid containing a source of beta radiation was found beyond the levees.

The company said the incident was “due to heavy rain in the Tohoku region.” Company specialists are attempting to identify the amount of leaked water and the radiation levels present in the liquid.

Radioactivity levels in a well near a storage tank at the Fukushima nuclear power plant have risen immensely, the plant’s operator earlier reported, fueling ongoing concern about the impact of radiation on the surrounding environment.

Last Wednesday, heavy rains brought with Typhoon Wipha caused reservoirs for collecting rainwater to overflow. The natural disaster was described by weather forecasters as the strongest in a decade, leaving at least 17 people dead and 50 others missing in its wake.

Workers at the Fukushima plant had to pump rainwater out of protective containers surrounding approximately 1,000 tanks holding radioactive water. It is thought that the heavy rains lifted contaminated soil.

Shortly afterwards, radiation levels were found to have skyrocketed. TEPCO officials said Friday that they detected 400,000 becquerels per liter of beta ray-emitting radioactive substances - including strontium - at the site of a well near a storage tank. The level was 6,500 times higher than readings taken Wednesday, according to NHK World.

The news showed that radioactive substances like strontium have reached the groundwater, according to the officials. In August, the same storage tank leaked over 300 tons of contaminated water.

Earlier this month, TEPCO announced that 430 liters of polluted water had spilled from a tank as the company’s employees tried to remove rainwater dumped at the plant by recent typhoons. The contaminated water may well have flowed into the sea, TEPCO said.

However, estimates still may be unreliable. The UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) raised doubts at the beginning of the month. A preliminary report published in the Japanese press concluded that estimates of radioactive substances discharged at the plant provided by the Japanese authorities, TEPCO, and other entities may have underestimated the impact of the disaster.

The power plant was disrupted in March 2011 by a massive earthquake and tsunami which wreaked havoc at Fukushima and sparked a nuclear crisis in which meltdowns occurred in three reactors.  It was considered to be the world’s worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

In September, a senior utility expert at Fukushima, Kazuhiko Yamashita, said that the plant was “not under control.” TEPCO downplayed his comments, saying that he had only been talking about the plant’s waste water problem – not the facility as a whole.