Fukushima continues to devastate surrounding environment

Luiz Brasil- The Brock Press

FukushimaAfter over two years of cleanup, the Fukushima plant two hundred kilometres north of Tokyo has reached record high levels of radiation as contaminated water continues to spill into the surrounding environment.

Readings as high as 2, 200 millisieverts have been recorded in certain radioactive hotspots around the plant, enough to kill a human in a few hours, according to the Nuclear Regulation Assembly. Tepco, the Japanese power giant whom owns the Fukushima Daiichi plant and been responsible for the cleanup efforts since the incident, maintains that the radioactive hotspots are highly concentrated and easily contained. Nonetheless over 160, 000 people have been evacuated from the area due to concerns about radiation contaminating the air and water.

 The Fukushima plant suffered a fuel-rod meltdown at three of its six reactors in the wake of the 9.0 earthquake, and following tsunami, that hit Japan on March 11, 2011. There are over 310 tanks filled with over 330, 000 metric tons of contaminated water being housed on site; but Hiroaki Koide, an Assistant Professor at Kyoto University’s research reactor institute believes that these tanks are failing, “There is a strong possibility these tanks also leaked, or had previously leaked… We have to worry about the impact on nearby groundwater… These tanks are not sturdy and have been a problem since they were constructed two years ago” .Tepco has stated that newer, sturdier tanks have been built, and that they are in the process of moving the contaminated water. These spills, coupled with the 300 tons of newly contaminated water Tepco is using per day to cool the still active reaction in the core, and the 400 tons of groundwater that seep into contaminated zone daily, have created an environmental disaster.

On Tuesday the government of Japan has responded to concerns by pledging to contribute $500 million USD towards helping clean up the Fukushima plant. But Koide believes that the government is not getting involved enough, and that this help is too late in coming.

Tepco’s future plans for the plant involve creating a large 1.4 kilometre ‘ice-wall’ around the entirety of the contaminated area. This wall uses a system of thin pipes that will carry coolant up to 30 metres below the surface at a temperature of -40° Celsius. The wall will allegedly stop any of the contaminated water from leaving the facility, but more importantly, will stop any new groundwater from entering.  The wall is planned to be completed in March of 2015. Skeptics of this plan, such as Atsunao Marui, an underground water expert at the National Institution of Advance Industrial Science and Tech, says that the ice wall will be a short term solution only, as the costs of running it are huge. Nonetheless, Tepco continues to promote this plan as  long   term solution to a cleanup project that is expected to take as long as 40 years.

The Japanese power giant has recently admitted that radioactive water has been leaking into the Pacific Ocean, after repeatedly denying it for months. This water is expected to hit the west coast of the US and Canada in the coming years, but will apparently be diluted enough to meet safety standards.

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