No. 1 chief pleased with Olympics bid; tritium reading doubles

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

The head of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant said Wednesday night that it was a relief to see Tokyo win the bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics as yet another leap in groundwater radiation was disclosed at the site.

“Honestly, I felt relieved,” said Akira Ono, current chief of the crippled power plant run by Tokyo Electric Power Co. “I never imagined that the contaminated water issue would actually affect the bid,” he said at the news conference in Fukushima.

Officials from Tepco, as the company is known, said tritium in a groundwater sample from a monitoring well near the suspect tank that lost 300 tons of tainted water last month in a level 3 incident was exhibiting 64,000 becquerels per liter of radioactivity.

The energy of the tritium in Tuesday’s sample is more than double Monday’s sample, which was giving off 29,000 becquerels per liter, and dwarfs the 4,200-becquerel sample from Sunday.

The disclosure is yet another signal backing suspicions that the tons of water that vanished from the tank has sunk into the ground and may be spreading, turning the storage area into a radioactive swamp.

The legal limit for dumping tritium into the sea is 60,000 becquerels per liter. Tepco, again, said it was “investigating.”

The tainted water problem heated up over the summer after Tepco belatedly admitted — the day after the Liberal Democratic Party won the Upper House election and after months of denials — that radioactive water from the plant was pouring into the Pacific.

Attention grew last month when the highly radioactive 300-ton water leak prompted the Nuclear Regulation Authority to classify it as level 3, or “serious incident,” on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale, which tops out at 7.

And several more leaks preceded that one.

Ahead of the International Olympic Committee’s announcement early Sunday, foreign media outlets repeatedly asked the Tokyo 2020 Bid Committee whether the Fukushima plant was really safe. The question was artfully dodged with empty guarantees and statistics on where some of the radioactive material in the ocean had settled, rather than what kind of sea life may have consumed it before migrating along the coast.

“There was no doubt we were under pressure,” said Ono, adding that the first thing many plant workers said Monday was that they were glad Tokyo’s bid prevailed.