Tokyo Electric Power Co. on July 22 finally admitted that radioactive water is leaking from its stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean. The admission came more than 50 days after the company detected a high concentration of tritium on May 31 in a ground water sample taken 25 meters from the sea. Tepco had long refused to admit such a leak although experts stressed the possibility.
Tepco’s belated admission shows that it lacks the ability to prevent the leakage of radioactive substances into the environment and does not have a proper sense of its responsibility to protect the environment from radioactive contamination.
On June 19 a high concentration of radioactive strontium was detected again in the same groundwater. Although Tepco made its findings public, it said it did not think that the contaminated groundwater was flowing into the sea. On June 24, Tepco said a high concentration of tritium was found in seawater near the plant. On June 29, a high concentration of radioactive substances was detected in a well about four meters from the sea.
On July 10, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) officially announced that radioactively contaminated water was seeping into the ground and flowing into the sea. But Tepco said that it “could not make a definitive answer” because it lacked relevant data.
It wasn’t until July 17/18 that Tepco said that it discovered that data did exist in the company that showed a correlation between the groundwater level and the sea tide level. Tepco then finally admitted that the radioactive groundwater was leaking into the sea.It is deplorable that various Tepco departments failed to share critical data with one another.
Tepco has been postponing taking drastic measures to prevent the leakage of radioactive groundwater into the sea, and because it controls all information, it is very difficult for outside groups to know what is going on and to ensure the crisis is being managed correctly. Tepco’s monopoly of data and its unilateral decisions on what to do with it must come to an end.
Every day about 400 tons of groundwater flowing into the plant buildings becomes radioactive as it mixes with water that has been used to cool the reactor cores. But Tepco has not worked out a way to prevent this. On July 27, Tepco announced that it had detected 2.35 billion becquerels of radioactive cesium and 750 million becquerels of other, unnamed radioactive substances per liter in water from a cable trench as close as 50 meters to the sea.
If outside experts had been able to examine Tepco’s data and worked with the company to prevent the leakage of contaminated groundwater, the current situation could have been avoided. A system for the NRA and other experts, both Japanese and foreign, as well as the government to not only oversee Tepco’s handling of the nuclear crisis but actively participate in the process, must be established. The latest development underlines the need to thoroughly discuss whether Tepco has the ability to properly operate nuclear power plants.