Fukushima leaks prompt scramble to build storage

11 April 2013
By Edd Gent
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Workers at the Fukushima Daiichi plant have filled up more than 80 per cent of the 325,000 tonnes of available storage

Workers at the Fukushima Daiichi plant have filled up more than 80 per cent of the 325,000 tonnes of available storage

Radioactive water leaks from makeshift pits at the Fukushima nuclear plant have spurred Tepco (Tokyo Electric Power) to build more storage tanks.

Workers at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which was crippled two years ago by an earthquake and tsunami,  have so far filled up more than 80 per cent of the 325,000 tonnes of available storage with groundwater contaminated by the damaged nuclear reactors.

Leaks in the current water transfer and storage system have added to the urgency to expand this capacity – on Thursday, the utility said pipes used to transfer radioactive water from a leaking pit burst in what is the fourth leak in less than a week.

"We've been told it's an emergency situation and we have to speed up the construction of the water tanks any way we can," said a worker at the plant who declined to be named as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

"There are a lot of makeshift fixes. They are walking a tightrope from one jerry-rigged fix to another," he said at the site, now a cluster of ramshackle buildings and exposed steel girders on Japan's northeastern coast.

On Wednesday, Tepco president Naomi Hirose said the utility would transfer all the contaminated water currently stored in the makeshift pits to reinforced tanks by early June.

A Tepco spokeswoman today  confirmed the utility was planning to build new tanks, but declined to be more specific.

The utility currently has 933 reinforced steel tanks with a maximum capacity of 1,100 tonnes, while 5 out of 7 massive pits lined with plastic sheeting still hold toxic water.

Tepco has struggled with the clean-up of Fukushima, site of the world's worst nuclear disaster in 25 years, since a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami knocked out power and cooling to the station, causing meltdowns in three reactors.

Recent mishaps, including two power outages, have heightened concerns about Fukushima's stability and called into question Tepco's ability to decommission the plant.

"The issues are just snowballing. Tepco cannot do this alone, but the government, the regulator, they all refuse to take responsibility," said Masashi Goto, a retired nuclear engineer and industry expert.

Tepco's Hirose, however, has rebuffed suggestions that the utility needs outside help.

The Asahi Shimbun, one of the biggest newspapers in Japan, called the Fukushima plant "a toxic waterproduction facility" in an editorial this week and it also urged the government to take a more active role in the plant's decommissioning.

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