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

  • U.S. approves 3 types of genetically engineered potatoes

    Tech & Science CTV News
    BOISE, Idaho -- U.S. officials say three types of potatoes genetically engineered to resist the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine are safe for the environment and safe to eat. The approval by the U.S. Source
  • Hell on wheels? Video reveals hybrid 'roller-skate' robot

    Tech & Science CTV News
    When the machines rise up and kill us all, they won't be marching across the face of the Earth – they'll be rolling. That's the conclusion alarmists might draw when they see Handle, a headless, two metre-tall robot with roller-skate feet that can leap over obstacles, cross uneven terrain and lift up to 100 pounds with its nightmarish-looking arms. Source
  • Polynesian canoe crew finds way to remote Easter Island

    Tech & Science CTV News
    HONOLULU - The Polynesian voyaging canoe sailing around the world without modern navigation equipment has found its way to Easter Island. The crew of the Hokulea arrived on Monday. A team of four apprentice navigators spotted the tiny remote island also known as Rapa Nui at sunset Sunday. Source
  • Authorities investigate killing of hippo at El Salvador zoo

    Tech & Science CTV News
    SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador -- El Salvador's widespread violence reached an unexpected corner with the brutal and fatal beating of the national zoo's beloved hippopotamus Gustavito. Even among a population numbed by a staggering human death toll due to gang violence in recent years, the animal's death late Sunday stirred outrage. Source
  • Hippo beaten to death with metal bars, knives and rocks at zoo

    Tech & Science CTV News
    SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador -- El Salvador's widespread violence reached an unexpected corner with the brutal and fatal beating of the national zoo's beloved hippopotamus Gustavito. Even among a population numbed by a staggering human death toll due to gang violence in recent years, the animal's death late Sunday stirred outrage. Source
  • Feds explore 'blockchain,' billed as next-gen Internet technology

    Tech & Science CTV News
    OTTAWA -- An emerging technology has caught the eye of the innovation-obsessed federal government -- a platform so packed with potential, many experts believe it could comprise the foundation for the next generation of the Internet. Source
  • Bill Gates talks big mysteries, 'SNL' and disguises in Reddit AMA

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Microsoft founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates joined Reddit users for an "Ask Me Anything" session on Monday, in which he spoke about social isolation, philanthropy, "Saturday Night Live" and the scientific question that puzzles him the most. Source
  • Fly me to the moon: SpaceX taking 2 'private citizens' into lunar orbit

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Money can take you far in this world, and, apparently, even farther off it. Two private citizens will join a crew of SpaceX astronauts on the first-ever mission to orbit the moon in decades, the space flight company announced Monday. Source
  • Study finds odd link between warm climate, slow snowmelt

    Tech & Science CTV News
    DENVER - Researchers say global warming could melt mountain snow more slowly, a peculiar finding that might be bad news for the American West. Scientists have long known snow is starting to melt sooner as the climate warms. Source
  • SpaceX to fly 2 people around the moon by next year

    Tech & Science CBC News
    SpaceX says it will fly two people to orbit the moon next year. The surprising announcement was made by company chief Elon Musk on Monday. Two people who know one another approached the company about sending them on a weeklong flight around the moon — though no landing would be made. Source