Containing Fukushima's radioactive water may be 9-year fight

TOKYO -- After battling radioactive water leaks for five years at Japan's crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, the utility that ran it says it will need another four to finish the job.

See Full Article

"We will bring an end to the problem by 2020," says Yuichi Okamura, who led the Tokyo Electric Power Co. team dealing with water at Fukushima from the early days to last summer.

The contaminated water, now exceeding 760,000 tons and still growing, has been a major challenge that has distracted workers from decommissioning the plant. It is stored in more than 1,000 industrial tanks, covering much of the vast plant grounds.

Okamura says TEPCO expects that by 2020, it will have collected and treated all contaminated water pooled around the reactors, and will need to continue processing only the water necessary to cool the reactors.

TEPCO has managed to reduce the flow of contaminated water and hopes to get regulators' approval within a month to activate an underground "ice wall" that would block out more water. The final step, though, remains contentious: Getting permission to release the water into the sea, after it has been treated to remove most radioactive elements.

Okamura, now a general manager in TEPCO's on-site nuclear power division, pledged to keep the water securely stored until a decision is made. The volume, he said, is beyond imagination.

"Contaminated water floating around and posing a constant risk of leaks disturbs the steady progress toward decommissioning," he told The Associated Press in an interview this week.

The most daunting element of the decommissioning process is still years from even beginning. The government and TEPCO hope to start removing nuclear debris from the reactors in 2021, a task expected to take decades.

The March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami knocked out power to the plant's cooling systems, sending three of its reactors into meltdown.

The three damaged reactors still need to be cooled with water to keep their melted cores from overheating. The water picks up radiation and leaks out through cracks and other damage from the disaster. The water flows to the basements, where it mixes with groundwater, swelling the volume of contaminated water.

TEPCO has cut groundwater infiltration to 150 tons per day, nearly one-third of the amount two years ago, mainly by pumping out groundwater upstream and directing it to the ocean. The utility hopes the underground ice barrier will eliminate all groundwater inflow.

Radioactive water continues to leak into the ocean, but at a far lesser rate than it did early in the disaster. Ocean radiation levels are about a thousandth of what they were soon after the accident, according to Ken Buesseler, a radiochemist with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) who has monitored the area. Because of concerns about the health of marine life, commercial fishing is still banned in waters just off the plant.

Worries about ocean health make disposing of even treated water a contentious subject. Treating contaminated water removes all radioactive isotopes except tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen. Nuclear plants elsewhere release water containing allowable amounts of tritium, nuclear officials said.

The government is evaluating experimental technology to separate tritium, but experts at the International Atomic Energy Agency and Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority say that is impossible. Those experts have urged the government to gain public acceptance for a controlled release of the water into the ocean. Fishermen and other local residents have been opposed and could discourage the government from going ahead.

Okamura was tasked with setting up the first water treatment system and its upgraded editions. His tenure was plagued with accidental leaks and other problems, but the project reached a milestone last year when all the stored water had been filtered.

"Nobody else in the world has treated so much highly radioactive water," he said.



Advertisements

Latest Tech & Science News

  • The race to space: Experts say 2018 will be the year space tourism takes off

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Space. The final frontier, and quite possibly your family's next March Break vacation. Experts say 2018 will be the year space tourism takes off. But while great leaps are being made at what seems like warp speed, it's a venture that's still fraught with issues that go far beyond its out-of-this-world price tag. Source
  • Genetic analysis reveals origins of dog breeds

    Tech & Science CBC News
    In the pages of human history, the paw prints of man's best friend are tracked all over. As companions, guardians, hunters and herders, dogs come in all shapes and sizes, evidenced by the enormous variety of breeds. Source
  • Giant, stinky flower blooms in Edmonton

    Tech & Science CTV News
    EDMONTON -- The sweet smell of NHL playoff success isn't the only aroma that's exciting people in Edmonton. While fans of the Edmonton Oilers celebrated their team taking a 2-0 lead in their second-round series against the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night, a corpse flower known as "Putrella" bloomed at the city's Muttart Conservatory. Source
  • Waterton, Glacier parks get dark-sky designation

    Tech & Science CTV News
    WATERTON, Alta. -- A pair of sister parks straddling the border between Alberta and Montana have received a special designation. The Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, as the Canadian and U.S. parks are known, have received an International Dark Sky Park designation. Source
  • Robots boldly go where no one has gone before: Bob McDonald

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The robotic Cassini spacecraft that has been orbiting Saturn for the past 13 years began its final and most daring observation of the ringed planet by diving down through a small gap between the rings and the planet itself, a dangerous move never attempted by a spacecraft before. Source
  • Trump administration wins victory in effort to roll back Obama climate change efforts

    Tech & Science CBC News
    At the Trump administration's request, a federal appeals court agreed Friday to postpone a ruling on lawsuits challenging Obama-era restrictions on carbon emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency had asked the court to put a hold on the case shortly after President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing officials to roll back the Clean Power Plan. Source
  • Facebook isn't doing enough to control violent posts, says expert

    Tech & Science CBC News
    more stories from this episodeMeet the godfather of Canada's outlaw biker club, Satan's ChoiceWhat's life worth? Ken Feinberg on victim compensationFacebook isn't doing enough to control violent posts, says expertFull Episode Serena McKay was just 19 when she was killed in Sagkeeng First Nation in northern Manitoba. Source
  • Facebook preparing to fight political propaganda

    Tech & Science CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Facebook is acknowledging that governments or other malicious non-state actors are using its social network to influence political sentiment in ways that could affect national elections. It's a long way from CEO Mark Zuckerberg's assertion back in November that it was "pretty crazy" to think that false news on Facebook influenced the U.S. Source
  • A robot that picks apples? Replacing humans worries some

    Tech & Science CTV News
    SPOKANE, Wash. -- Harvesting Washington state's vast fruit orchards each year requires thousands of farmworkers, and many of them work illegally in the United States. That system eventually could change dramatically as at least two companies are rushing to get robotic fruit-picking machines to market. Source
  • Humpback whale babies 'whisper' to their moms to avoid detection by predators

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Newborn humpback whales "whisper" to their mothers to avoid being detected by predators such as killer whales, new research suggests. Never captured before, the baby whale call recordings were collected using tags placed temporarily on the whales by a team of ecologists in Denmark, Australia and Scotland. Source