Radiation Levels Rising Oceanside at Fukushima

Fukushima Update # 83: July 14, 2013

by Nelle Maxey

Headlines around the world this week declared huge increases in levels of radioactive Cesium and Strontium found in test wells on the ocean side of Units 1 and 2 at Fukushima. These were the highest cesium levels found since the March 2011 disaster. This water is leaking into the ocean.

Here is a compendium of headlines from ENE news two days ago. You can read the various articles by clicking on the links.

NYTimes: Japanese Nuclear Plant May Have Been Leaking for Two Years […] The stricken nuclear power plant at Fukushima has probably been leaking contaminated water into the ocean for two years, ever since an earthquake and tsunami badly damaged the plant, Japan’s chief nuclear regulator said on Wednesday. […] In unusually candid comments, Shunichi Tanaka, the head of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, also said that neither his staff nor the plant’s operator knew exactly where the leaks were coming from, or how to stop them. […] Until recently [Tepco] flatly denied that any of that water was leaking into the ocean […] Mr. Tanaka said that the evidence was overwhelming. […] Mr. Tanaka said it was doubtful whether [Tepco’s] measures would be effective. […]

Fox News: The watchdog’s findings underscore TEPCO’s delayed response in dealing with a problem that experts have long said existed. On Wednesday, the company continued to raise doubts about whether a leak exists. […] Marine biologists have warned that the radioactive water may be leaking continuously into the sea from underground, citing high radioactivity in fish samples taken near the plant. […]

Japan Times: Toxic groundwater reaching sea: NRA […] The Nuclear Regulation Authority said Wednesday it strongly suspects highly radioactive water at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is seeping into the ground and contaminating the Pacific Ocean. […] “We must find the cause of the contamination . . . and put the highest priority on implementing countermeasures,” NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka told a meeting of the body’s commissioners […]

Wall St. Journal: Highly radioactive groundwater […] is likely spreading at the site and leaking into adjoining ocean waters, Japan’s nuclear regulator said, raising more worries about the plant operator’s efforts […] Experts said the findings raise concerns of widening environmental damage but that the increased levels pose no immediate threat to public health […] The irradiated water is believed to be leaking from the heavily damaged cores at the three reactors […]
Reuters: Japan’s nuclear regulator expressed growing alarm on Wednesday at increased contamination beside the seafront of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station and urged the plant’s operators to take protective measures. Fukushima’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., has acknowledged problems are mounting at the plant […]

NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka: “Considering the state of the plant, it’s difficult to find a solution today or tomorrow… That’s probably not satisfactory to many of you. But that’s the reality we face after an accident like this… We don’t truly know whether that will work… Of course, we’d hope to eliminate all leaks, but in this situation, all we can hope for is to minimize the impact on the environment. If you have any better ideas, we’d like to know.”

The question of contamination leaking into the ocean at higher rates is compounded by this report from NHK (Japan’s government news agency) 2 days ago as well.

High levels of cesium found in fish off Ibaraki 

“Researchers have found high levels of radioactive cesium in fish caught early this month off Hitachi in Ibaraki Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo. Prefectural officials said 1,037 becquerels of cesium were discovered per kilogram of Japanese sea bass. That’s more than 10 times the government safety limit….The officials said the sea-bass shipment will not hit the market as it does not meet government restrictions. They admitted they don’t know why such a high dose was detected more than 2 years after the accident. But they said they are working hard to keep the food supply safe.”

Radioactive contaminated water moving from the basements of the reactors into the soil and then the ocean has been an ongoing problem for 2 years now at Fukushima. The buildings themselves are so contaminated that investigation of the condition of the reactor apparatus, the buildings themselves and significantly the condition and location of the melted cores has proven impossible. The only solution has been to pour and spray cooling water inside the reactors to keep them from overheating and exploding.  It is proving to be a game of blind man’s bluff.

 Here is a brief review the situation:

The water cooling the fuel rods (or what is left of them) pours daily through the damaged reactors and then into the basements of the turbine buildings. From there it is pumped to the treatment systems which continues to struggle to treat the volumes of water, reducing contamination from higher to lower levels. Tritium cannot be removed. Some of the treated water mixed with fresh water is then recirculate as cooling water for the reactors. The radioactive sludge from the treatment center is being stored in concrete casks and the water that is waiting to be treated is stored in above ground storage tanks. These tanks leak regularly as welds and rubber gaskets deteriorate. However, this could work as a management strategy in a closed system. The volumes of water to treat would remain relatively constant.

But it is not a closed system. There is a daily inflow of groundwater into the turbine basements. This water is already slightly contaminated from rainfall runoff when it reaches the basements, but is further contaminated as it mixes with the highly radioactive post-cooling water. This groundwater inflow increases the volumes of water to be treated and stored. The water storage tanks have filled the grounds of the site and are moving up the hills.

The management plan for groundwater infiltration has failed. A plan was developed to pump groundwater above the reactors so it never reached the basements and store this relatively uncontaminated water in huge covered pits on the site. But the pits were constructed improperly to handle radioactive water. When leakage was discovered in May, more above ground tanks had to be hastily assembled or commandeered so the pits could be pumped out and abandoned. Now TEPCO has applied to pipe the groundwater around the plant and into the sea. Local fishermen have opposed the proposal and the government decision on this plan has not been forthcoming.

Against this background, another problem has developed from which the recent headlines stem.

A few weeks ago a leak was discovered on the oceanside of Units 1 and 2 at Fukushima. Test holes were drilled and testing has been ongoing. Last week there was a sudden large uptick in contamination recorded, 90-fold in 3 days, in the measured contamination of the water in the test holes.

No one knows why or exactly where the leak is coming from or what other similar scenarios will be playing out along the shoreline in the future.

As usual Ex-SKF carries the best coverage of this development. Reproduced below is the linked article from this week on the recorded increases in radioactive contamination in the water.

Equally valuable is some history behind this story which we may have forgotten. Yellow highlight emphasis is mine.

Radioactive Cesium in Groundwater Sample from Observation Hole No.1-2 Jumps 90-fold in 3 Days

“From the sample taken on July 5 from the hole (No.1-2), 99 Bq/liter of cesium-134 and 210 Bq/liter of cesium-137 were detected, along with 900,000 Bq/liter all beta and 380,000 Bq/liter tritium.

“Now, TEPCO announced the measurement of the sample taken on July 8, and the results are:

cesium-134: 9,000 Bq/liter
cesium-137: 18,000 Bq/liter
all beta: 890,000 Bq/liter

tritium: (being measured)

“According to Kyodo News, the observation hole No.1-2 is close to the hole where extremely highly contaminated water was found gushing from a crack in the wall into the ocean in early April in 2011. ….”

Ex-SKF has now posted a link with all the stories on groundwater contamination with updates. You can read the articles or bookmark the link to keep up on developments.

And finally, here is a compendium video posted on ENE today: Two interviews with Kevin Kamp of Beyond Nuclear on two stations and other news clips.

(Some unnecessary short inserts in the video, but just laugh and hang in there for the interviews.)

Also note in the first interview the difference between Japan’s radioactive food safety limit of 100 Bq/kg and the USA limit of 1,200 Bq/kg.

Here is a link to Canadian CFIA action levels for radioactive contamination of foods. Scroll down to the chart.

Note that the levels for food contamination by both Strontium 90 and Cesium  is 1000 Bq/kg, for water is 100 Bq/kg and for milk is 300 Bq/kg.

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