Tepco testing tainted earth at No. 1 plant

Utility begins digging ground to assess extent of contamination


Tokyo Electric Power Co. on Friday started digging up soil tainted with highly radioactive water discharged from a storage tank at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant to test its radiation levels.

The utility will dig areas measuring 12 sq. meters in total to a depth of 40 to 50 cm where pools of leaked radioactive water formed, and then measure levels to determine how far the contamination has spread and how much soil needs to be removed.

Some 300 tons of highly radioactive water recently spewed into the Pacific from one of 26 tanks built in an area just 500 meters from the plant’s seawall. The tanks are surrounded by dikes, but some 120 liters of the water leaked outside of them, making it necessary to collect soil to prevent the contamination from spreading.

Meanwhile, a 15-member team from the Nuclear Regulation Authority visited the Fukushima No. 1 complex Friday to check the storage tank from which the 300 tons of water is thought to have escaped.

The tank may not be the only source of leaked water, as Tepco said Thursday that it had detected high radiation levels around the bottom of two more tanks of the same design, an indicator that water may have leaked from those containers as well.

The nuclear watchdog’s team began the inspection Friday morning, an NRA official said.

Tepco has said puddles of water near the leaking tank were so toxic that anyone exposed to them would receive the same amount of radiation in an hour that a nuclear plant worker in Japan is allowed to receive in five years — 100 millisieverts.

Groundwater that mixed with the tainted water has already flowed to the ocean, and Tepco said Friday it has launched an operation to pump it out of 28 wells.

Meanwhile, a memorial service for Masao Yoshida, who headed the complex when the crisis started in 2011, was held in Tokyo the same day. Yoshida, who stepped down as plant chief in December 2011, died of esophageal cancer July 9.

The memorial service was organized by Tepco, and its president, Naomi Hirose, praised Yoshida for “devoting his full strength” to the kind of emergency no one had ever previously experienced in Japan. Naoto Kan, prime minister when the crisis started, said after the event that “it is because of Yoshida that the situation did not further deteriorate.”

Tepco said Yoshida’s radiation dose after the accident was 70 millisieverts, less than the 100-millisievert five-year limit for nuclear workers, and that it believes there was little causal relationship between his radiation exposure and the cancer.

  • Simon

    The Japanese government need to get real about fixing this problem once and for all. Not only will this plant soon be causing havoc with the oceans around the world if drastic measures are not taken, but the tanks which are holding a third of a million tons of radioactive water, are on a hill, not earthquake proof and sit in a highly seismic area as we all know to well.

    The government needs to dismantle 100% of this plant, encase everything in glass, and put it in a location which is secure from natural and possible terrorist elements for the next half millennia. This would be the biggest and most costly cleanup ever by far, but if done right, then the technology can be used in the future on projects like Chernobyl, Hanford and other places in dire need of cleanup.

  • Michael Radcliffe

    I’m a bit confused by this story to tell the truth. 300 tons of radioactive water is said to have ‘spewed into the Pacific’ out of a tank, yet the tank is 500 meters from the water. And of the 300 tons, ‘some 120 tons’ cleared the dikes, and then apparently seeped into the soil. How much if any reached the water?