Workers are pumping more than 13.6M litres of contaminated water from Japan’s tsunami-ravaged nuclear power complex into the Pacific Ocean, freeing storage space for even more highly radioactive water that has hampered efforts to stabilise the plant’s reactors.
The government has also asked Russia for a ship that is used to dispose of liquid nuclear waste as it tries to decontaminate the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex, whose cooling systems were knocked out by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami on March 11.
The plant also plans to bring in a floating storage facility.
But these other storage options have been slow to materialise, so the pumping began late yesterday.
It was expected to take about two days to get most of the less-radioactive water out.
“It was inevitable,” chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano told a news conference today. “The measure was to prevent highly radioactive water from spreading. But we are dumping radioactive water, and we feel very sorry about this.”
Radioactivity is quickly diluted in the ocean, and government officials said the dump should not affect the safety of seafood in the area.
But the stress of announcing more bad news appears to wearing on officials with the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Co. One official became tearful and his voice began shaking as he gave details at a news conference near the plant.
The crisis has unfolded as Japan deals with the aftermath of twin natural disasters that devastated much of its north eastern coast. Up to 25,000 people are believed to have died and tens of thousands lost their homes.
Since the disaster, water with different levels of radioactivity has been pooling throughout the plant.
People who live within 19.3km have been evacuated and have not been allowed to return.
The pooling water has damaged systems and the radiation hazard has prevented workers from getting close enough to power up cooling systems needed to stabilise dangerously vulnerable fuel rods.
On Saturday, they discovered a leak where radioactive water was pouring into the ocean.
Radiation exceeding the legal limit has been measured in seawater over the past few weeks, though calculating the exact contamination has vexed Tepco.
Japan’s nuclear safety agency ordered the utility last week to reanalyse samples; new results released yesterday showed unchanged or lower levels of radiation than previously reported.
The less-radioactive water that officials are purposely dumping into the sea is up to 500 times the legal limit for radiation.
“We think releasing water with low levels of radiation is preferable to allowing water with high levels of radiation to be released into the environment,” said Junichi Matsumoto, a Tepco official.