Fukushima: From Bad to Worse

09/05/20130 Comments

by James Corbett
September 4, 2013

Bad news emerged from the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan's northeast this week as TEPCO—-the Tokyo Electric Power Company that owns and operates the plant—-admitted discovering four areas of high radiation near the storage tanks where radioactive water is being held. Although two of the hotspots had already been known, the latest results found that the radiation readings were 18 times higher than previously measured. Headlines in numerous mainstream publications have asserted this is an 1800% jump in radiation at the site, but in fact it may be much worse. The equipment that was used to test the hotspots previously was only capable of measuring up to 100 mSv/hour of radiation, and consequently registered the radioactive areas as being 100 mSv/hr. When equipment was brought in capable of reading up to 10,000 mSv/hour, it was discovered that the areas were actually emitting 1800 mSv/hour of radiation, a dose large enough to kill an exposed human in four hours. It has since risen to a record 2200 mSv/hour. Japanese law limits radiation exposure for nuclear workers to 50 mSv/year.

This is only the latest setback for the plant. Since May, levels of radioactive tritium in the seawater surrounding Fukushima have been steadily rising, reaching their highest readings yet in mid-August. Then late last month TEPCO admitted that a storage tank had leaked 300 tons of water that was emitting an unprecedented 80 million Becquerels of radiation per litre, compared to the norm of 150 Bq. Although the Japanese Nuclear Regulatory Authority originally classified the leak a “Level One” or “anomalous” event on the International Nuclear Event Scale, they were forced to immediately raise that to “Level Three” or “serious radiation incident” when the scale of the leak became apparent.

Now the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Authority, Shunichi Tanaka, is adding fuel to the fire. Commenting on the enormous amounts of radioactive water that continue to be generated at the plant on a daily basis, Tanaka admitted earlier this week that “I’m afraid that it is unavoidable to dump or release the water into the sea,” adding that the water currently being stored on site will be discharged into the ocean once it has been purified to levels that are recognized as “safe” under international standards. Now the Japanese government is planning to commit $473 million to the clean-up efforts, including building an underground “ice wall” to attempt to stop contaminated water from the melted reactors mixing with the groundwater around the plant.

Meanwhile, a ban on fishing off the coast of Fukushima has been reinstated after being lifted last year. This comes on the back of more worrying reports that 6 more children in Fukushima Prefecture were diagnosed with thyroid cancer since May, bringing the total to 18 since the crisis began.

Now, in one of the latest signs of how thoroughly the situation has been mishandled, a group of Fukushima residents are suing the Japanese government for failing to provide medical and housing assistance that had been promised by law last year. The aid was supposed to be delivered to those living in zones of high radiation that were not designated as evacuation zones, but the 19 plaintiffs are alleging that the government has not even drawn up the guidelines necessary to deliver the assistance.

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