Nukewatch Quarterly Fall 2020
By John LaForge
At Fukushima-Daiichi in Japan, the triple disasters of earthquake, tsunami and three reactor meltdowns have caused the deaths of 15,899 people and left 2,529 unaccounted for, mostly in the three hardest-hit prefectures, according to the National Police Agency.
The ferociously radioactive melted fuels that burned into the hard foundations of the three reactors are also extremely hot thermally and must be continually cooled with water which is poured into the wreckage.
This cooling water also becomes highly radioactive after coming in contact with the molten reactor fuel and so is being collected in large, hastily built tanks on the coastal reactor site. Tokyo Electric, or Tepco, has collected nearly 1.2 million metric tonnes (2,204.6 pounds) of contaminated water in about 1,000 tanks. The collected waste water also includes rain and groundwater that runs across the melted cores after pouring through earthquake-caused cracks in reactor foundations.
Tepco says it will run out of space for more tanks in two years, and is lobbying vigorously to win permission to dump the waste water into the Pacific Ocean.
South Korea, the fishing community and other near Pacific neighbors have raised strenuous objections to any such dumping, especially after Tepco admitted it lied about its water filtration system which turns out had not removed dangerous cesium, strontium and other radionuclides from the water.
Nevertheless, Japan’s government, the International Atomic Energy Agency and industry lobbyists appear willing to reject public opinion and the concerns of allies in order to save Tepco from financial collapse. Last January 31 a panel of experts picked by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry recommended that the pollution be piped into the Pacific Ocean.
In March this year Tokyo Electric Power Co. estimated that 1.37 trillion yen ($12.9 billion) will be needed over 12 years to remove the melted reactor fuel just from units 2 and 3.
The wrecked fuel in unit 1 presents such a vexing complex of problems that the firm didn’t venture a guess at its removal cost.