(EnviroNews World News) Fukushima Prefecture, Japan — From the air, it’s been said that the areas directly surrounding the crippled Fukushima Daiichi power plant resemble a multi-colored “giant integrated circuit board.” That’s because more than 1,100 various and sundry tanks, housing radioactive water from the ongoing nuclear crisis, have piled up on location with no place to go.
Last month, Japanese media reported that Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operator in charge of the cleanup, was contemplating another radioactive water dump to the Pacific. That reporting sparked outrage from both environmentalists and local fishing communities.
Takahiro Kimoto, General Manager of TEPCO’s nuclear division, said in a taped interview that the company has not made a final decision, and called concerns over the dangers of radioactive tritium to people and the environment “harmful rumors.”
In an interview with The Voice of America (VOA), Kimoto explained the dilemma this way:
One option is to release the tritium-contaminated water into the ocean. However, there are other options such as vaporizing it, but we have not decided yet which option to take to dispose of the water. Since there may be an influence on the environment, and because there have been harmful rumors about what effects it may have on people and the environment, we are still consulting with various stakeholders before finally deciding on the solution.
Experts now estimate there is approximately 750,000 metric tons of radioactive water stacked up around the site, and to put it bluntly, TEPCO doesn’t know what to do with it.
The primary isotope causing the quandary is radioactive tritium. Tritium has been a thorn-in-the-side to cleanup efforts because unlike many other radioactive elements, it is extremely difficult and expensive to remove from water.
In its own defense, TEPCO argues that all nuclear power plants release tritium into the environment, and also espouses the viewpoint that tritium is a “less dangerous radioactive isotope” — to quote the words of Ken Buesseler of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts.
The figure estimated to clean up the demolished plant was amended last year and has now soared to nearly $200 billion. While the Japanese Government has claimed the mess can be remediated in 30-40 years — a statement repeated countless times in the media — nuclear experts like Arnie Gundersen say this is a virtual impossibility due to the intense beta-decay emanating from the exorbitant amounts of cesium in the reactors. An EnviroNews World News report from earlier this year explained:
The brunt of the radioactive rays making the situation so lethal inside the reactors emanate from intense beta-decay occurring in the isotope cesium as it transforms into barium. Cesium 137 has a half-life of 30 years, meaning in 90 years, it’s radioactivity will be reduced to one-eighth of what it is now. Many other isotopes are present as well, like plutonium 239 which has a 24,100-year half-life, but since plutonium is primarily an alpha-emitter, it is usually only lethal if ingested or inhaled. For this reason, Gundersen and his non-profit educational organization Fairewinds, say the reactors should be pumped full of concrete and shelved until the radioactivity falls to more manageable levels.
Gundersen, and Fairewinds, have repeatedly reiterated this strategy since the onset, and have recommended that all three melted reactors be entombed in sarcophaguses, similar to what was done in the 1986 meltdown at Chernobyl in Ukraine, for at least 100 years. This, Gundersen says, would allow the now monumental radioactive intensity to decay substantially, so that humans and robots could work in closer proximity to it.
So far, TEPCO hasn’t even been able to get a robot close to the melted fuel cores. The company admits the technology necessary to clean up the disaster hasn’t even been invented yet. Still, TEPCO and the government are standing by their 40-year cleanup story.
“The reason TEPCO wants to dismantle Fukushima has nothing to do with science and everything to do with politics,” Gundersen told EnviroNews in an interview earlier this year. “By claiming Fukushima can be dismantled in 30 years, TEPCO can convince the Japanese people that other nukes in Japan are safe to restart. If the Japanese knew that 100 years were necessary, they would not approve restarting the remaining nukes. Follow the money!”
It’s important to note that TEPCO has already dumped radioactive water to the Pacific on several occasions, including a large release of 850 tons of toxic water in September of 2015. That water contained 330 to 600 becquerels per liter of tritium according to TECPCO and a third party tester.
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