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Radioactive groundwater at Fukushima: Will Japan dump at sea?

Radioactive groundwater: Why are steel tanks at Fukushima leaking radioactive water after only two years? There's too much radioactive water to store, some will have to be dumped in the sea, say officials.

By Mari Saito and Antoni SlodkowskiReuters / August 24, 2013


Tokyo

In the weeks after the Fukushima nuclear plant was destroyed by a triple meltdown in March 2011, the plant's owner turned to three of Japan's largest construction companies for a quick fix to store radiated water that was pooling in the disaster zone.

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The result was a rush order for steel tanks supplied by Taisei Corp, Shimizu Corp and Hazama Ando that were relatively cheap and could be put together quickly, according to the utility and three people involved in the project.

The tanks, which stand as tall as a three-story building, were shipped in pieces and bolted together as makeshift repository for the cascade of water being pumped through the reactors of Fukushima every day to keep fuel in the melted cores from overheating.

The bolted tanks were sealed with resin and designed to last until about 2016 - long enough to buy time for Tokyo Electric Power, or Tepco, to work out a more permanent solution. But at least one of the tanks has already failed, leaking 300 tonnes of highly radioactive water that may have seeped into a drainage ditch and into the Pacific Ocean.

The discovery of the leak - which Tepco said on Friday was the fifth from the same type of tank - prompted Japan's first declaration of a nuclear incident since a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami triggered reactor meltdowns and hydrogen explosions that spewed radiation around Fukushima in 2011.

It has also focused attention on the uncomfortable end-game for the radioactive water collecting at Fukushima.

Some 330,000 tonnes of contaminated radioactive water - enough to fill more than 130 Olympic swimming pools - has been pumped into storage pits and above-ground tanks at the crippled facility.

The sheer scale of the build-up has prompted some experts and officials to warn that in order to focus on containing the most toxic waste, less contaminated water will have to be dumped into the sea.

"Think about it in simple terms. If you don't release the water, there's nowhere to store it. So we also think it may have to be released," said Shinichi Nakayama, deputy director of the Nuclear Safety Research Center at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency and a member of a regulatory panel on Fukushima's problems.

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