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3 Oct, 2013 10:43

Another day, another leak: One more Fukushima cooling tank pollutes Pacific

Another cooling tank has sprung a leak at Japan’s troubled Fukushima nuclear power plant. As in previous instances, the highly radioactive water is thought to be seeping directly into the Pacific Ocean. This is the second such incident in two months.

Although the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has promised more accountability following a series of blunders in recent months, it has become clear to Japan’s government that the plant operator simply cannot deal with the problem on its own, forcing them to step in last month and start contributing funds.

The newest leak amounts to about 430 liters of radioactive water spilling in a period of 12 hours. That water contained 200,000 becquerels per liter of Strontium 90 and other harmful beta-emitting isotopes. That is tens of thousands of times more than the legal 30-becquerel limit.

While the plant operator has been pumping hundreds of tons of water a day over the damaged reactors to cool them in the aftermath of the 2011 meltdowns, it also relied on makeshift water tanks above ground to store excessive radioactive water.

But they have been leaking on and off, which led to senior government spokesman Yoshiide Suga to tell reporters on Thursday that TEPCO’s efforts at stemming the flow of contaminated water were insufficient. He added, however, that he believes the situation to be under control.

Recently it was calculated that the cleanup efforts would batter the economy and required government funding, as well as at least four decades, to implement.

It took the electrical power company until July to admit that water had been leaking into the Pacific, which led to an international outcry in addition to a national security threat warning on the part of the United States. Previously, TEPCO had repeatedly denied that this was a problem.

The incident took place because a worker misjudged the tank’s water capacity, resulting in the tank tilting to one side, as the ground underneath it is uneven, TEPCO spokesman Masayuki Ono told Reuters.

But in that worker’s defense, the company is already being forced to fill the cooling tanks to the top, as there is simply no capacity to accommodate all that water, which Ono says is probably headed down a trench into the Pacific about 300 meters from the affected tank.

Add to this the problem of accumulating rainwater which also becomes charged by the nuclear particles.

Although initially water contamination in the surrounding area was a major scare prompting security alerts as far as the United States, it has now been determined that the radiation is not an immediate environmental threat, as the ocean dilutes the radiation, officials have said.

However, heightened levels of radiation have been detected around multiple cooling tanks, which points to inherent flaws in their construction and forecasts increasing complications to be faced not only during cleanup, but simply to keep the problem of radioactivity at bay.