Tepco starts pumping groundwater

But long-term solution will take two years at best

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

More than two years after the 2011 meltdown disaster started, the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is facing another crisis as an estimated 300 tons of highly radioactive water reach the Pacific Ocean every day.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. on Friday finally began a full-fledged effort to slow the massive flow by pumping highly toxic groundwater out of one location. But it won’t get to two other areas for several months and estimates that it will take some two years at best to completely solve the problem.

Government officials now say the radioactive water began entering the sea at least since June, given spikes in radioactive materials in samples from a monitoring well near the coast within the plant compound.

Since the catastrophe struck, fishermen have voluntarily stopped operations off Fukushima except for sampling, as the possible impact on fish and human health remains uncertain. But the water crisis is likely to raise further concerns about local seafood and could severely harm Japan’s credibility if both Tepco and the government fail to contain the problem.

“It has now become clear that contaminated water is flowing into the sea. The current situation is extremely severe,” industry minister Toshimitsu Motegi reportedly told an expert meeting on the water crisis Thursday.

On Friday, Tepco started pumping contaminated water from a pit dug near the coast between the reactor 1 and 2 buildings. When the operation reaches its full capacity it will hopefully stop the 100 tons a day from flowing through that area. But it will take at least several months for Tepco to start pumping 200 tons per day of tainted water from two other contaminated areas near the coast.

It will also take nearly two years to set up equipment to freeze soil around the reactor buildings to create a 1.4-km-long barrier to isolate them from groundwater, government officials said.

According to Tepco, about 1,000 tons of groundwater flow from the mountainside into the compound each day.

Of that amount, 400 tons end up inside the damaged reactor buildings and 300 tons flow to the sea after being contaminated with radioactive materials from the damaged plant, mainly strontium and tritium.

The remaining 300 tons supposedly reach the Pacific uncontaminated.

The pit dug near the No. 1 monitoring well, where Tepco began pumping out water Friday, is in an area believed to be getting about 100 tons of groundwater every day.

It is believed the groundwater reaching there is becoming contaminated by water from a damaged underground cable trench nearby that is connected to a reactor turbine building.

Tepco plans to isolate the area by injecting liquid glass into the soil and building waterproof walls around the area by early October.

It plans to finish building similar waterproof walls around the other two contaminated areas along the coast by the end of November.

But a road map submitted Thursday to the government didn’t show when Tepco will start pumping water from the two areas to prevent it from going into the sea. Like the spot where pumping started Friday, about 100 tons of groundwater is believed to be flowing under each of these areas every day.

In any event, pumping out the groundwater and building waterproof shielding walls won’t prevent all contaminated water from reaching the sea, though it will considerably reduce the total amount, government officials said.

Thus, the government and Tepco now plan to use taxpayer money to create a barrier of frozen soil around reactors 1 through 4 by sinking a vast network of coolant pipes.

The method is sometimes used during construction of underground tunnels, but this project will be the largest of its kind anywhere in the world and “some new technologies” will have to be developed, according to government officials.

A setup with so much cooling equipment will also require a steady supply of electricity in vast amounts. In an extended power failure the soil would thaw.

Despite these risks, government officials say the untested freezing method is the best way for Tepco to isolate the damaged buildings.

The Natural Resources and Energy Agency will soon launch “a feasibility study” on the project, and no other methods are currently being considered, agency officials said.

Meanwhile, Tepco’s failure to report on the water problem has managed to make the overall situation worse by making it harder to dump relatively clean water into the ocean.

Tepco announced in June that it had found highly contaminated water in the monitoring well on the coast between the reactor 1 and 2 buildings. But it didn’t admit that the water is reaching the sea until July 22, one day after the pro-nuclear Liberal Democratic Party won its landslide victory in the Upper House election.

Tepco President Naomi Hirose apologized for the delay while claiming the timing had nothing to do with the election.

Tepco has been struggling with water contamination since the start of the crisis and the critical operation to keep the broken reactors cool generates 400 tons of newly contaminated water every day.

The local fishermen, the safe image of their produce ruined, are now furious and refusing to accept any Tepco plan to dump relatively safe water into the sea from tanks that are badly needed for highly contaminated water.

Tepco has long hoped to dump the coolant water into the sea after removing the radioactive materials and diluting it with clean water to meet government safety standards.

Tepco also plans to pump clean groundwater from the mountainside near the plant before it flows into the reactor buildings.

Now the government is unable to secure the politically necessary consent of the local fishermen to carry out these plans.

“Until we first stop the flow (of contaminated water) into the sea, we would not be able to ask for consent of fishermen,” a senior official at the Natural Resources and Energy Agency said Thursday.

  • anita railing

    Very good article. Well done by the writer.

    Formalities over with. 2 year plans. In 2 years Deathco will have the problem sorted out. In 2 years there won’t be hundreds of tons of toxic groundwater and seawater produced daily. In 2 years the government will get its act together. In 2 years we will hear new lies about the food we eat and the water we drink. 2 years. That is the cycle, everything will be fine in 2 years.

  • Estim8z

    Contaminating the ocean will have its effects and i believe they will be proportional to the amount and duration of the introduction of isotopes. A unprecedented amount of damage has been done and we need to begin to begin to evaluate and tackle that, right away. But we also need to make them stop the flow of contaminated water and air from the site. They must be forced to keep it there and not spread it through out the world intentionally and passively (allowing to leak out). Also, those buildings need to be redundantly reinforced and shored, if they fall over due to another super earthquake (very likely), the effects will be immediate, undeniable and world wide. US mortality rates due to cardiac arrest and a spectrum of cancers and blood disorders, will sky rocket. And the children will suffer the most, the genetic damage of those that live will ripple through every generation thereafter. Have a plan if the fuel pools fall over, think Africa or south america, maybe Australia. That will likely buy you another decade of life.

    • Starviking

      Do you have any references for your claims?

  • thedudeabidez

    “Thus, the government and Tepco now plan to use taxpayer money to create a barrier of frozen soil around reactors 1 through 4 .”

    So once again, profits are privatized yet risk and accident liability is socialized.

  • Sunny

    It is too late. The deed has been done. Millions of people now have
    already been irradiated and their thyroid or other cancer will kill them
    and their children much later when the association with the Fukushima
    disaster cannot be proved.
    Hundreds of children at Fukushima have already developed thyroid cancer.

    Millions of people will produce children with mutant genetic pool,
    researchers and doctors and hospitals will earn a lot of money with
    useless cures, the health insurance companies will be brought down by
    middle age generation being constantly sick and searching medical
    treatments.

    Many mutant insects from Fukushima has already discovered, they are developing into a new race and will cause serious ecological problems. Birds will eat them and get contaminated and will develop into new genetic mutation.

    The food chain has already been contaminated and the TEPCO execs are
    only holding out their hands for more money to deal with the emergency that
    Good knows where will go to.

    The ocean is becomig sewage water; the government will ban most of the see
    products that will be reprocessed and sold in unidentifiable form or
    served in cheap low quality restaurants who buy them cheap straight from the garbage recirculating plants.

    How log will it be going on? Perhaps until the sly death from plutonium
    reaches the government and the TEPCO execs and sweeps out this useless
    generation of talentless, impotent, irresponsible business oriented leaders and
    big mouth bosses. Then new people with new conception and more sense of
    responsibility and moral might come and do something useful.

    I hope they will come.

    • Starviking

      Gosh, that’s a lot of death! Do you have any solid references for that?

      • Eagle

        There are many references even in The Japan Times about children who already suffer thyroid cancer; however, when talking about death we normally mean human death. The destruction to the living fauna of the ocean, and straying animals, birds and all insects that are the integral parts of our ecosystem cannot even be estimated.

      • Sam Gilman

        But these articles are clear (or should be) that the researchers do not believe these cancers are connected to Fukushima: they have appeared too early. Why did you miss that bit?

      • Eagle

        I just tried to answer @Starviking, otherwise this is not the matter for researchers or TEPCO, it is for lawyers. Can they prove it or not? Posibly not, as I referred to this problem earlier. I know they tried.

      • Sam Gilman

        For lawyers? What are you talking about? It’s a matter for medical researchers. They are the ones doing the monitoring, they are the ones who know about the research on radiation and thyroid cancer. They are the ones saying that cancers found so far in monitoring are almost certainly not due to Fukushima for the very simple reason it’s too early.

        All the mainstream (ie the best) scientific opinion on Fukushima is that the impact on human health from the radiation is going to be pretty minimal. The same goes for releases into the ocean. It’s a highly localised mess: the pacific ocean is simply too big to have its ecosystem affected.

        What is it that makes you want to ignore these expert opinions in favour of something very calamitous? TEPCO may have been astonishingly negligent, but neither their negligence, nor your anger about it can changes the laws of nature. It’s almost as if you want people to die so that everyone can see how bad TEPCO have been. The two things are not related.

      • Eagle

        ” What is it that makes you want to ignore these expert opinions in favour of something very calamitous? ”
        ——————————

        About how many scandals do we read in the news that doctors are paid off by drugmakers to prescribe their products, how many times do we need to see that researchers who need a lot of money are influenced and paid off by so called “sponsor”?

        Now, I a new year starts and the black tea or the cocoa yield is fine, sales are poor and yet they don’t want to lower the prices… and – look, suddenly I find new studies from reputed or just anonym researchers about the health benefits and anticancer effect of black tea and cocoa. I don’t even know if they are researchers at all or business circles in action.

        Who believes them? I wouldn’t be surprise if TEPCO founded its own research center under different name to scientifically prove that plutonium is actually healthy to inhale in small quantity, or a franchise for selling the polluted ground that keeps the insects away, or other business circles started selling polluted ground water from Fukushima as radium enriched natural crystal mineral water that helps fighting off rheumatism. Grotesque?? Just wait to see.

        Everything is business. Wouldn’t be if people could see it through.
        ” Where have all the flowers gone……….
        Oh when will they ever learn
        Oh when will they ever learn? “

      • Starviking

        And children suffered from thyroid cancers before the accident. Makes it hard to link the cases found after the accident to Fukushima.

  • mikethurgood

    The third comment is extraordinarily pessimistic. It rather looks as though the author looked up all the worst possibilities, and decided that it would be nice to attribute them as future consequences of the Fukushima disaster, and try and frighten people with his scenario.

    It doesn’t work that way, as has been proved from the subsequent consequences of the Chernobyl disaster.

    Yes, people die from the harm caused by exposure to intense ionizing radiations, as was indeed the case in a small number of rescue individuals after the Chernobyl disaster.

    A fact of life and evolution is that living beings are far more resistant to harmful effects of moderate exposure to ionizing radiations than is largely believed. This is simply because all life forms have evolved in an ionizing radiation environment, although not very intense, of course. This radiation comes from various radionuclides which exist naturally on the earth – uranium, thorium, potassium-40 – and those produced from cosmic ray interactions with atoms in the atmosphere, particularly C-14.

    However, I don’t pretend to know what effect a rare intense radiation burst from outer space would have on living organisms. I don’t even know when the last such burst occurred. Such bursts of ionizing radiations arise from supernovas.

    My comments must in no way be misinterpreted that the radioactivity released from the Fukushima nuclear plants is acceptable: it most definitely is not. But my intention is to indicate that the harmful effects on humans, and other lifeforms, in the long term are going to be far, far less dramatic than the pessimists would like people to believe.

    My work background was well over 30 years dealing with radiological safety issues and ionizing radiations in industry in Britain and South Africa.

    • Eagle

      You are right in your explanation, however pessimism does not stem from the fact of the disaster, rather from TEPCO’s poor, unprofessional and negligent, and business minded handling of the disaster .

  • mikethurgood

    It shows how a little knowledge is not just dangerous, it is disastrous – for the individual who wishes to peddle false information. Oh dear me no, millions of people will not have been affected by any radiation or released radionuclides from Fukushima.

    I like the idea of mutant insects. Although I don’t have any reference to hand, past research on radiation doses which could cause mutants in insects are in hundreds of Sieverts – Sv, not a few tens.

    I couldn’t imagine anyone has tried to grow food on the contaminated land. So what sources of food have become contaminated by what was within a short time fixed radionuclides on the contaminated land?

    The radionuclide which could cause cancer of the thyroid is iodine-131. It has approximately an 8 day half life. So whatever amount was released – mainly into the atmosphere – will have decayed to zero activity in about ten half lives – say ~80 days. And that would refer to what was in the reactors at the time of the flooding. As they were no longer critical after the accident, no more I-131 could have been formed. There was none remaining after, as I have said, about 80 days. Where could any children have possibly been at the time of the incident who could have breathed in an intake of I-131 from the atmosphere, other than the tiniest amount?

    To suggest that there are massive numbers of children with thyroid cancer is a gross and deliberately misleading untruth. I can guarantee that you will find no a single child who has contracted thyroid cancer from this accident. Any who have done so will already have had the cancer forming. I can guarantee that anyone inquiring of the surrounding hospitals will confirm zero additional thyroid cancer cases in children.

    To an uninitiated public, it is so easy to make grotesquely exaggerated comments, and they have no idea of the truth. But such people are around, demonstrating their own ignorance with superficially understood information that they haven’t a cat-in-hell’s chance of substantiating from authentic information sources. It is how that their psyche is satisfied as they have no influence in any other sphere of their every day humdrum lives to attract attention.

    The only part of the food chain likely to become contaminated are fish. But of the released radionuclides – I haven’t seen an inventory of them – the only ones likely to be retained would be a tiny minority which could enter into the metabolism of the fish. The rest would be excreted, not retained in the gut merely because they are radioactive.

    There are so many misunderstood facts which anyone wishing to deliberately distort the truth can achieve so very easily. And distorted and exaggerated facts on such an emotive subject as ionising radiations and radioactivity releases from nuclear reactors can so easily be distorted to deliberately frighten other people, because such perpetrators like to see others frightened.

    But once again I will make the point: it would have been far, far better if the accident had never occurred. But mankind has to live with the consequences.