Rate of radioactive flow to Pacific alarming

Fukushima No. 1 leaks estimated at 30 trillion becquerels since May 2011

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

Water releasing as much as 10 trillion becquerels of radioactive strontium and 20 trillion becquerels of cesium-137 from the Fukushima No. 1 power plant has flowed into the Pacific Ocean since May 2011, Tokyo Electric Power Co. estimates.

The combined figure of 30 trillion becquerels, announced late Wednesday, implies that highly radioactive water is entering the trenches under the damaged reactors’ turbine buildings.

The three reactors that had core meltdowns are being flooded by emergency cooling water needed to keep the leaky units stable, but the water is leaking from the reactors into the basements, where it is mixing with groundwater penetrating the walls of the 40-year-old plant.

Since the 30 trillion becquerels can’t be accounted for just by groundwater alone, it is likely the toxic water from the trenches is entering the mix as well, the beleaguered utility said after conducting various simulations.

The Fukushima complex was built on a maze of trenches that guide cables and pipes needed to transport electricity and water. The pipes lead to the sea because the power plant, like all the others in Japan, needs seawater for cooling purposes.

The 30 trillion figure is about 100 times more than what Tepco had been allowing to enter the sea each year before the crisis.

Containment fences set up in the plant’s man-made harbor are failing to keep the flow from reaching the greater Pacific.

Tepco belatedly acknowledged last month that about 300 tons of groundwater from the mountains behind the crippled plant flows daily to the sea after mixing with radioactive water leaking from the reactor buildings’ cracked foundations.

This week, however, it discovered that about 300 tons of filtered water from one of its hundreds of temporary storage tanks had escaped. The water had been cleansed of most of the cesium but still contains other harmful materials, including tritium. The incident has been rated level 3 on the International Nuclear Event Scale. The meltdowns were rated level 7, a status that remains unchanged.

Tepco first claimed the tank water had not reached the sea, only to reverse itself Wednesday after detecting a relatively high reading of 6 millisieverts per hour in a drainage channel running from the tanks to the sea. The channel, made to prevent rainwater from flooding the tank premises, is not covered.

Tepco said Thursday that two more tanks are leaking.

On Monday, when Tepco announced the first tank leak, it confirmed seeing traces of water running from the tank to the drainage channel, and detected 96 millisieverts per hour of radiation in the air near it.

Tepco has been unable to locate the leak but said it finished transferring the water to other tanks nearby Wednesday night. It plans to check for more tank leaks.

While some of the water might have gone into the sea, it is hard to determine where it all went. Tepco projects that it’s been losing about 10 tons a day for the past 30 days from the tank, which is considered a temporary model as it is made of steel sheets bolted together with their seams sealed, instead of the more reliable welded tanks.

The leak was discovered after workers noticed water puddles near the tank Monday. Nuclear Regulation Authority officials and outside experts said Wednesday that if 10 tons of tainted water flowed out over 30 days, it is hard to imagine no one would notice it before Monday.

At an NRA meeting Wednesday evening on the tainted water issue, the panelists pointed out a long-held suspicion: that the water may be going into the ground through cracks in the concrete base.

“It is more natural to think the water went underground,” said Masaya Yasuhara, a researcher at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology. Tepco rejects that scenario because concrete isn’t that permeable.

  • FredPierre

    Worst nuclear disaster ever? I wonder how it will affect the environment long-term…

    • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

      In the immediate vicinity of the plant? Pretty bad. Long term? I found this analysis elsewhere:

      “How much water is 300 tons? 300,000 liters. Still sounds like a lot. Let’s continue.The typical Olympic-sized swimming pool contains 2,500,000 liters of water. Thus, the daily leakage is equivalent to one-eighth that of an Olympic-sized swimming pool. That’s not too bad.

      If we assume the rate of flow has been constant, then the total of amount of water which has flown into the Pacific Ocean amounts to 0.000000000492% of the total volume of the Ocean. If the rate of flow continues unabated, it would take 5 trillion years to fill the Pacific Ocean with radioactive water. That is more than 338 times the presently known age of the entire universe. Okay, that’s a ridiculously small amount.

      To make matters even more awesome, Cs-134 has a half-life of 2 years, Cs-137 has a half-life of 30 years and Sr-90 has a half-life of 29 years. It’ll all long dissipate before it can fill the Pacific Ocean.

      OMG! We’re all going to live!”

      • Spudator

        I found this analysis elsewhere. . . .

        Could you give me the source of that analysis and the credentials of the writer?

        Thanks.

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        “the credentials of the writer?”

        Someone with a basic understanding of maths and a healthy amount of common sense. Sadly, he may be one of the last of us possessing the latter.

      • Spudator

        So the source of that analysis is—

        Someone with a basic understanding of maths and a healthy amount of common sense.

        I see. Well, as you seem reluctant to give me the actual source, I’ll have to Google it. And here we are: it’s a Disqus comment by someone with the handle greenhamsters on koreaBANG, a website that describes itself as being “your first port of call for English translations of all the latest trending topics, political rows, viral videos, social network storms, and dare we say, the occasional wardrobe malfunction.” I can see now why you’re a bit embarrassed about revealing your source. Of course, for all we know, greenhamsters has Ph.Ds in oceanography and nuclear physics, and earns a living developing ocean circulation models for supercomputers. So he might really know what he’s talking about. Or he might not.

        Now, you’ve stated that greenhamsters’ model of the Pacific Ocean as a gigantic swimming pool is common sense. Well, one thing I’ve learned about common sense is that it’s not that common. In fact, one person’s common sense can be another person’s nonsense. And for me, the trouble with greenhamsters’ model is that the ocean isn’t a swimming pool; it’s far more complicated than that. Whereas a swimming pool is a simple, static physical system existing in isolation, the ocean is a highly complex, dynamic physical system and ecosystem that interacts with the atmosphere and the rest of the biosphere. Also, the immediate concern—at least, for those of us living in Japan—isn’t the swimming pool as a whole, which is what greenhamsters is looking at, but what’s happening along just part of one edge of the pool—in other words, along Japan’s Pacific coast. So I don’t see how the swimming pool model embodies a common sense “analysis” (as you flatteringly refer to it) of the problem of contaminated groundwater flowing into the Pacific or how that analysis is relevant to the real world.

        Unlike the water in a swimming pool, the water in the ocean is in constant flux as a result of ocean currents, coastal currents, upwellings and downwellings. To understand the distribution paths of the contamination entering the Pacific at Fukushima Dai-ichi, we need to take these water movements into account, particularly those in coastal waters where downwelling can drive the contamination to the seabed so that it gets deposited there, and upwelling can raise it to the surface. Depending on where in the relevant water column the contamination is concentrated, different kinds of plankton and other micro-organisms will ingest it, resulting in bioaccumulation of contamination in those organisms. Coastal and ocean currents will then distribute the contaminated organisms within the marine ecosystem so that the contamination enters the marine food chain and, ultimately, the human food chain. The question, of course, is how much of this contamination people will eventually be exposed to and what kind of danger it will pose.

        To answer this question we need a more detailed and intelligent analysis of the concentrations, distribution paths and final destinations of the contamination than greenhamsters gives in his derisive dismissal of the possible dangers presented by the groundwater issue. Quite honestly, I think greenhamsters is more concerned with ridiculing people who don’t share his point of view than making a serious attempt to address the subject. So why should we take him seriously? The guy is clearly numerate, but I very much doubt he’s a scientist. I can’t see how his simplistic swimming pool model can have much to teach us about the real-world behaviour and effects of the contaminated groundwater polluting the ocean at Fukushima Dai-ichi.

      • Sam Gilman

        Spudator,
        To be fair, there are people who think this is going to kill off the oceans and who (claim to) have stopped eating seafood from everywhere. For those people, the arithmetic is quite pertinent. Even to suggest that the leaks present a local, not a global problem may get you labelled a TEPCO shill or government agent. Be careful!

        Every scientific opinion I’ve read has suggested that these leaks do not present anything more than a highly local threat. Here’s an article from the JT which consults an oceanographer on the issue:

        http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/08/23/national/tepco-radioactive-flow-raises-alarm-over-seafood-safety/

        What’s been annoying is that journalists have not gone to oceanographers and radiological health experts for their view anything like often enough.

      • Moonraker

        Thank goodness for people like Mainwaring. Not only a legal expert and Japan expert but an engineering and science one too. I feel at ease that the Pacific will not be rendered sterile in my lifetime. My only remaining problem is that until recently Tepco seemed to be saying everything was hunky dory and even when the leak was first “discovered” it was only a teeny little one with no need to worry, before they upgraded it to major nuclear incident. I have the distinct impression that Tepco has been telling big whoppers all along so I hope the good Captain can put my mind to rest with stats and quotes that reveal in fact that they have never lied and we can all henceforth believe what they tell us. Or, failing that, that he can show us that it would be just the same porkies anywhere else thus restoring some faith that Tepco are not especially deceitful.

    • Franz Pichler

      I guess, like in Chernobyl, the environment I.e. nature will do great after some time … As soon as human activity stopped nature will “explode” – the picture for humans looks however grim, but we wanted the nuke, now we’ve to deal with this super crisis

  • Japanish

    Yes, undoubtedly, and no one really knows. .

  • Pari

    And they wanted to start fishing again around that area…lol Uhm…nope. Thank God they got some sense. Would you want to be eating seafood from around here?? http://jciv.iidj.net/map/

    • Japanish

      Based on the many food scandals in Japan, do you really think you won’t be eating unlabled fish from the area? In restaurants/Kaitenzushi etc?

      • Pari

        I’d rather not take the risk so I’ve stopped eating seafood all together. And anyway, do you always ask where the seafood you are eating is from? Because I didn’t used to, and it wasn’t written where it’s from in restaurants. And anyway it’s very possible that tuna could come and gorge around the Fukushima area and then swim far far away, and depending where they’re caught – never be tested? Unless they clearly label the fish in supermarkets with its radiation reading, I won’t be eating it.

  • paulelan

    As long as the Japanese people allow crooks to run their economy and the governing of the country on all levels they put their fate in the hands of criminals with no conscience and only a desire for personal gains. It leaves the country in ruins and exposes the Japanese as suicide-terrorists against themselves.

    It is not easy for westerners to understand e.g. suicide-terrorists, but the ignorance of Japanese in general regarding self-destruction are beyond comprehension.
    I stopped eating Japanese (sea)food which I liked very much, but the Japanese have no such choice.