The discovery last week that about 300 tons of highly radioactive water leaked from a tank at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has reminded both people in Japan and around the world that the nation’s nuclear crisis is far from over and that radioactive substances are continuing to be released into the environment.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority proposed raising the severity level of the leak from the earlier level 1 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) of 8 to level 3. The nuclear catastrophe at the plant, as a whole, is rated as level 7.
The massive water leak is only the latest in a serious of accidents that have plagued the plant since the disaster started on March 11, 2011. It highlights the inability of Tepco to manage the crisis — which in large part was caused by Tepco’s inept management of the nuclear plant.
It is suspected that up to 300 tons of the water leaked into the ocean. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other government leaders must realize that the ongoing leakage, which is polluting the Pacific Ocean — a shared resource — is undermining Japan’s trustworthiness in the international community.
The government must acknowledge that Tepco cannot manage the crisis by itself and take a commanding role to ensure that it is handled in the most competent manner possible.
The latest leak occurred in a tank that is a temporary structure. It is made of steel sheets bolted together with their seams sealed with rubber packing. Some 1,000 tanks are being used at the plant site to store radioactive water that had been used to cool the three reactors that suffered core meltdowns. Of those tanks, about 350 are of the temporary type and the remaining are more reliable welded tanks. The service life of the temporary tanks is said to be five years.
It should have been clear to Tepco from the beginning that storing radioactive water in such tanks is inappropriate. It is likely that more leaks will occur. Tepco estimates that 10 tons of contaminated water leaked daily from the tank in question for the past month. One wonders why the leak was not detected sooner.
Tepco also estimates that water containing as much as 10 trillion becquerels of radioactive strontium and 20 trillion becquerels of radioactive cesium-137 from the Fukushima No. 1 power plant has flowed into the Pacific Ocean since May 2011. It must be pointed out that the crippled nuclear plant has only a makeshift system to contain radioactive water.
The sloppiness of Tepco and other parties is clear. For example, Tepco had to abandon tests of equipment, scheduled to start early this month, for removing 62 kinds of radioactive nuclides from contaminated water when leaks from the equipment were detected.
The government must end its “hands off” attitude regarding the management of the nuclear crisis and take on an active role drawing on all available resources. Its first step should be to mobilize the NRA, Tepco, corporations and nuclear experts to stop the outflow of toxic water into the Pacific Ocean.