Tepco begins dumping Fukushima No. 1 groundwater into Pacific Ocean

Reuters, Kyodo

Tokyo Electric Power Co. began dumping groundwater from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant into the Pacific on Wednesday, in a bid to manage the huge amounts of radioactive water that have built up at the complex.

The utility, which says the water discharged is within legal radiation safety limits, has been fighting a daily battle against contaminated water since Fukushima No. 1 was decimated by the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011.

Tepco said 560 tons of groundwater captured and stored before it entered reactor building basements was to be released Wednesday, using a bypass system that funnels it toward the ocean after checking for radiation levels.

Using the bypass, Tepco hopes to divert an average of 100 tons of untainted groundwater a day into the ocean.

The controversial release, which was agreed to by local fishermen after extended talks, came after the latest breakdown earlier in the week of a water treatment system for the highly contaminated water held in makeshift tanks. It also came amid revelations this week in the Asahi Shimbun that the majority of workers at the plant fled during the height of the meltdowns after the quake and tsunami knocked out cooling and backup power.

The next discharge into the Pacific is expected to involve about 790 tons of groundwater stored since last year, although a Tepco official stopped short Tuesday of saying when that may take place.

Tepco plans to step up the rate at which it pumps groundwater from the wells and feeds into tanks. If Wednesday’s procedure becomes a routine cycle, the official said there could be a discharge of waterroughly every week.

The safety limits for the water released, which Tepco says are tighter than World Health Organization guidelines for drinking water, state that released groundwater should contain less than 1 becquerel per liter of cesium-134 and cesium-137, 5 becquerels of beta ray-emitting radioactive material such as strontium-90, and 1,500 becquerels of tritium.

The water discharged on Wednesday was pumped last month from wells uphill of the reactors and stored in tanks, in a cycle that aims to reduce the amount seeping into heavily contaminated ground and into the building basements. Tepco pumped a total of 560 tons of groundwater from wells above the plant between April 9 and 14 and tested it ahead of the release.

At the Fukushima No. 1 complex, groundwater flows down from nearby hills and 400 tons enters the basements of the wrecked reactor buildings on a daily basis, according to Tepco’s estimates, mixing with highly radioactive water used to cool reactors.

Workers then pump out the contaminated water, treat it and store it in more than 1,000 makeshift tanks that cover the facility grounds. The tanks that hold the most contaminated liquids are nearly full and workers are rushing to build more capacity.

But Tepco also wants to prevent a major increase in the total amount of water it needs to store. A Tepco official said if the so-called groundwater bypass is found to work, it is projected to reduce the water reaching the reactor buildings by up to 80 tons per day.

Meanwhile, the facility being used to treat the water, the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS), which is designed to remove the most dangerous nuclides, was completely shut down again this week. The system has not been fully operational since it was installed nearly two years ago.

The manager of the plant has admitted the repeated leaks and equipment malfunctions are “embarrassing.”

According to the Asahi Shimbun report Tuesday, which cited unreleased transcripts of interviews with the crippled plant’s manager at the time, Masao Yoshida, about 90 percent of Tepco workers defied orders and left the Fukushima No. 1 plant on March 15, 2011, after an explosion rocked the site. Yoshida, widely viewed as a national hero for taking decisive action in the critical days and weeks of the disaster that prevented a more serious crisis, died of cancer last year.

Fukushima fishermen had opposed plans to release groundwater for more than two years, fearing it would cause even more damage to the reputation of produce from the region.

In March, local fisheries unions approved the plan, calling it a “painful decision,” but necessary to stem the tide of radioactive water piling up at Fukushima. Many of them have been out of work after a voluntary ban on fishing in the area.

  • TAG

    At least I enjoyed fresh caught Pacific and Alaskan salmon back in the day.

    • Starviking

      You still can – there will be no significant levels of Fukushima derived radionuclides in those fish. In fact, Japanese fish is safe to eat too.

      • crash2parties

        Please, go right ahead and eat it. Each of us must make what we feel is the best choice for us and our families. Ours will be avoiding seafood for some time…

      • Enkidu

        You’re absolutely right in that each of us must make our own determinations, but I also think it’s incumbent upon each of us to base these determinations on the best information available. In that vein, what food monitoring results have you seen that have caused you to avoid seafood?

      • Starviking

        I live in Tohoku, I eat the fish. Plenty of people eat the fish. No reports of mass-outbreaks of disease or poisoning. The amount of contamination crossing the Pacific is tiny compared to that nearer Japan. North American fish is safe.

  • I assume the levels of radioactive materials found in fish that are considered acceptable have been raised….

    • Starviking

      I don’t think so – after the accident JGov decreased the acceptable amount of radionuclides in foodstuffs drastically. They’re now the most stringent in the world.

      • What about in the states?

      • jim dorey

        have food standards in the states stopped going down for anything else yet? to protect business, you’ll get glowing fish and like it, or else.

      • Starviking

        I think you have pretty standard limits for acceptable contamination. That said, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute is monitoring the situation. If there are any drastic changes in contamination levels, which I doubt will happen, they’ll publicise it.

  • Zyxomma

    As the signs in my neighborhood said after the tsunami: Love Save Japan