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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Fukushima Daiichi August 6, 2013 update

All of Atomic Power Review's readers are aware that after the declaration that the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi had "reached cold shutdown," which really is a benchmark in the recovery road map and not deliberately an accurate application of the term itself as normally used in nuclear power, this site for most purposes halted having daily or even weekly updates on the situation. 

We find ourselves, now, at a period wherein this author believes that some sort of breaking point may be in the near future -- a point at which outside intervention of some sort, either in a small way such as active, ongoing, daily onsite assistance from other utilities / nuclear operating companies / trade organizations / international regulators may be required, or else on the other end a complete takeover by such entities of the site operations from TEPCO.  Let me be clear - there is no approaching nuclear crisis of any sort.  This chain of events has to do with two things, and two things only:  Contaminated water, and TEPCO's management. 

Readers are sure to know from many sources that contaminated water, at higher levels of activity now than prior, has been found in various locations on site, including in sampling wells, cable / pipe trenches, turbine buildings and even in the inner harbor.  I would recommend that readers click on the link following if they're not up to speed on these developments; the link is an article I wrote for the American Nuclear Society's blog.

TEPCO Faces New Setbacks - July 25, 2013 ANS Nuclear Cafe

(A good TEPCO reference generally describing the event sequence can be found here.  This timeline only runs through July 22, it should be noted - the date of its publication.  Also, the widely circulated reports about high thyroid dose have been addressed by TEPCO at this link.)

There have been a number of other developments since I wrote the ANS article almost two weeks ago. 

TEPCO has released figures on how much contamination may have been released, and these are getting a fairly wide amount of play in the news.  Analysis of these figures depends widely on the news source producing the report, of course, and the quality of who the news source contacts for analysis.  Some are brief, like the following Kyodo News blurb (the blurb is just what is outside the paywall.)

Fukushima Plant May Have Leaked Huge Amount of Tritium

Other news coming from the area reflects the increasing frustration of the nuclear regulator, the NRA, and the local population and officials.

Fukushima Prefecture official monitors inspect nuclear plant site

TEPCO Struggling to Contain Contaminated Water

Fukushima asks Government to take steps to stop leaks

The important fact to note about the flow of the events in the three links above is that Fukushima prefecture inspected the site, and later that day asked the Japanese government to either take a stronger hand or else take over completely at the site.

At an early time, months after the accident, it became clear that buildup of contaminated water on the site would become a major issue.  In June 2011 NISA (now NRA) ordered frequent reporting on the status of water storage, contamination and cleanup on the site.  Here is the latest report of the series.

This is all quite an elaborate and complicated scenario, so I'd like to make a few simple observations.

•The Fukushima Daiichi plant site actually sank several feet after the earthquake.  What this has done is effectively raise the level of normal ground water relative to the level of the nuclear plants.  Remember - the plant site dropped, but the water level of the ocean didn't.

•Water being pumped into the three reactors to keep them cool and safe is leaking out of the reactor plants, into the reactor buildings and then into the turbine buildings.  TEPCO would like to keep the level of this water low in these buildings, because if it's high it tends to leak out and contaminate the ground water.  (This requires pumping out and decontaminating the water.)  On the other hand, if the water level is too low, then ground water seems to leak IN to the buildings.  This increases the total volume of contaminated water on the site.  There is thus a balance -- and remember, the ground water level changes with tide and with rainfall.

•Barriers to outflow of contaminated ground water into the harbor and ocean seem to also be holding water inside the barriers at unanticipated high levels, making the level of groundwater (unnaturally) higher than it would normally be.

•TEPCO did announce in the last several months that it thought that it might have to discharge a fairly large volume of low-level contaminated water deliberately to the sea in order to free up room in storage on the site for much worse water.  That move was denied in all quarters.  It would seem now as if that move would have been the better choice, given the outcome of the last two weeks.

TEPCO's decision to "sit" on the news about contaminated water releases has received a violent backlash in all quarters.  Reaction by news media, local citizens and the NRA has been very stiff - to put it mildly.  This has further damaged the company's reputation, leading some to wonder if it is capable of finishing the job of decommissioning the site.

This has led to the prefecture's request to the Japanese government that intervention occur -- and at this point, that seems to this writer as if it would be a necessary and probably welcome step.

I'll be keeping a close eye on these developments and report findings here; also watch my twitter account @atomicnews for further updates.

2:25 PM Eastern 8/6/2013

Breaking update:  Just as I was about to publish this article at 2:25 PM, Reuters carried a breaking news alert saying that the Japanese government will in fact commit funds to the containment of contaminated water at Fukushima Daiichi.  Watch Twitter @atomicnews for more.


Update - 12:30 AM Eastern 8/7/2013

My prediction from earlier today didn't take very long to come true.

Chief Cabinet Secretary says Prime Minister will order increased government involvement, expenditure of funds later today.

A slightly earlier report with less detail can be found here, for the record.

I would expect press releases at the least regarding this development from the Japanese Government  and probably from NRA, and perhaps (but not guaranteed) from TEPCO.  If and when those appear I will link or reproduce them on this post.

Update - 7:30 AM Eastern 8/7/2013

News of Prime Minster Abe's announcement has come out widely.

Japanese Government Joins Clean-Up

Govt. to help TEPCO handle water leak (with video)

Japanese Government will take on more responsibility at Fukushima

The website of the Office of the Prime Minister has yet to update with any statements about the situation.  The Chief Cabinet Secretary's August 7 AM Press Conference video is posted on the government website, with the discussion of the Fukushima situation beginning at 02:30 in the video.  The conference was before Prime Minister Abe made his statements and orders to assist, but is worth watching.  Discussion of the topic runs through about 06:00.

Plans are afoot to actually freeze soil in a massive area around the nuclear plant.  As the Chief Cabinet Secretary said, "such plans are unprecedented."  This would be the largest attempted project of its type anywhere in the world.  I myself don't imagine that this plan will be the sole, final solution to the problem.  While the concept is intended to fix the problem in one blow, as it were, the execution at first take seems an engineering nightmare.  It would be extremely desirable for Japan to immediately request assistance from major architect-engineer firms, in my opinion, for input on how to deal with the site.  That aside, they're definitely moving in the right direction and must be commended for their having taken action. 

12:20 PM Eastern 8/7/2013  Further Fukushima Daiichi Update

(The basis of the following information comes from TEPCO, and was broadcast by NHK World News.)

We now have a bit better handle on the basic water flow path from off site to on site and into the ocean at Fukushima Daiichi.  These figures are quite rough and probably change significantly at periods of heavy rainfall. 

• 1000 tons of water flows into the plant site daily by natural occurrence - i.e. runoff from the hillsides surrounding the plant

• 300 tons of this flows to the sea without being contaminated

• 300 tons of this gets into contaminated ground water areas of the plant, and then flows to the harbor area / inlet area now contaminated to yet fairly undetermined levels

• 400 tons of this gets into the reactor buildings and turbine buildings, and mixes with contaminated water already there.  TEPCO is pumping water out of these buildings, cleaning it up, and then injecting some of this into the reactors to keep them cool and storing the rest. 

The NHK report that revealed this water flow balance is found here.

More details as they're made available.  I'm specifically waiting for information to show up at the MEXT or the Prime Minister's sites.


  1. Good report.

    I think the lay public here and in Japan would be well served if nuclear orgs explained just what is meant by contaminated water; Is the water itself -- distilled or not -- been made radioactive or trace elements in it? Can it be filtered enough to be dumped into a ocean or river? How long does it take for water's radioactivity to wane to a legally safe level? How diluted would it be percolating into ground water and match in toxicity to other runoff reaching groundwater like from gutters, storm drains, gas stations, junk yards, landfills, etc.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  2. The water has radioactive elements in it. There are reports being made on the TEPCO site about attempts to filter out everything, I think, except for tritium which is really hard to get rid of.

    As I noted in the post, the Japanese government probably should have let TEPCO discharge the cleaned up water that it wanted to put into the ocean when it first requested to do so. Now, it's probably too late for that to make the impact it could and should have.

  3. Tokyo is missing a good bet to get rid of this tritium-laced water.

    1.  Add additional salt to make concentrated brine.
    2.  Load onto tankers, sail into deep water.
    3.  Fill large plastic sacks with brine, and seal.
    4.  Drop sacks to the bottom of the ocean (preferably in a trench).

    Given tritium's 12.3 year half-life, a sack which lasts a couple of centuries would see nearly all of it decay, and the brine would then have to be diluted until its specific gravity allowed the rest to rise in the water column again.

  4. In the radiation alarm press a "huge amount" of tritium equals the level allowed under safety regulations. In the reality based world, it's a good bet the level allowed under safety regulations is, uh... reasonably safe.

  5. E-P,

    Perhaps your idea could travel over to Japan similarly to the way our buddy Cal Abel's idea to use concrete pumper trucks made its way across the Pacific.

    This issue with the request being denied to release the less contaminated water seems a bit analogous to the question of when do you vent the RPV? Venting some slightly radioactive RCS water, but preventing fuel damage can be much preferable to allowing fuel damage, hydrogen generation from water-zircalloy interactions, etc.

    Just a few thoughts,