Tokyo Electric Power Co. on Friday resumed testing of the ALPS water processing system and add a new ALPS machine next September, raising hopes that radiation in the water churned out by the Fukushima No. 1 plant can be reduced to safer levels.

Because ALPS (short for advanced liquid processing system) can remove all radioactive materials except tritium, it can sharply reduce the seriousness of any environmental pollution being caused by water leaks at the plant.

The purpose of ALPS is to “clean up the increasing amounts of tainted water as much as possible to reduce the risk. In that sense, it may sound strange to say that (reactivating it) is a matter of national importance in various ways, but it has that aspect,” Shunichi Tanaka, head of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, told reporters Wednesday.

Tepco halted test runs of the high-tech water processor in June after corrosion holes were found in the equipment.

ALPS consists of three individual processing systems, labeled A, B and C. Each has the same level of decontamination ability. Tepco conducted a test run on system C on Friday, with system A to be tested late next month and B in November.

If all three are cleared for full operation, ALPS will be able to decontaminate 750 tons of toxic water a day, according to Tepco. More than 300,000 tons of tainted water is currently stored at Fukushima No. 1.

To make matters worse, the tainted water is increasing by about 400 tons a day because 400 tons of groundwater is seeping into the flooded basements of the four reactor buildings and mixing with tainted water there.

Last week, Tepco vowed to filter all of the tainted water through ALPS by the end of March 2015, after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked the utility to set a deadline. If the radiation gets to safe levels, the government plans to dump it all in the ocean.

Tepco plans to bolster the capacity of ALPS by adding three more systems, and the government plans to chip in for a second ALPS machine expected to come online in about a year.

Once the three extra systems and second ALPS machine are installed, Tepco’s processing capacity will climb to 2,000 tons of water a day, it said, adding that it plans to run the machines at 85 percent of capacity for now.

In the meantime, the beleaguered utility plans to intercept the groundwater flowing down from the hills before it enters the reactor buildings to lower the amount of water being tainted.

By using ALPS and diverting the groundwater, Tepco says it will be able to clean all of its tainted water by the end of March 2015.

What to do with the tritium-tainted water, however, is still up in the air. Tepco hopes to discharge it into the sea after diluting it to the legal limit, which will draw more protests from the local fishermen.

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