Water problems continue to plague the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. According to the Japanese broadcaster NHK, the water level in a trench near the Unit 2 reactor is back to where it was on 13 April. This news comes despite days of work to move 660 tons of water from the trench into part of the reactor’s defunct cooling system. The plant’s owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), estimates there are 50,000 tons of highly radioactive water already on site, and fresh water is being pumped into the reactors at the rate of around 6-7 cubic meters per hour (6-7 tons/hr), according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Sooner rather than later, a solution will need to be found.
Kyodo news reports on short-term efforts to contain radioactive water with zeolite sandbags, which TEPCO plans to throw “into the sea near the plant”. Zeolite is the same mineral that was used to sop up radioactive water from Three Mile Island, but in that case it was part of a carefully planned demineralizing system (more on that in our story on clean-up). Jack DeVine, a Three Mile Island veteran, has his doubts about the sandbag strategy: “This strikes me as a ‘can’t hurt’ action (like chicken soup) – but not likely to help,” he says. The Pacific is a big place and contaminated water is unlikely to come into contact with the bags.
TEPCO is looking for better solutions. NHK reports that there are plans afoot to use waste tanks on land, or possibly a mega-float which is slowly making its way to the site. In the even longer term (as a reader appropriately named “zeolite” pointed out yesterday), it would be better if they could find some sort of impromptu recirculation system to recycle water going into the reactors.
Japanese scientists have suggested it will take a minimum 2-3 months to stabilize the reactors. The assessment comes (via Kyodo News) from the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, which was made public today (although I can’t find it on their website). The report essentially corroborates the opinions of many others: the unit 1, 2 and 3 reactors at the plant suffered a partial meltdown. The analysis shows that that the uranium fuel pellets inside the reactor may have deformed, but remain essentially intact. Nevertheless, the panel says it will be months before the reactors have cooled enough to be stable.
Finally, TEPCO has said it will pay a million yen (US$12,000) each to about 50,000 households forced to evacuate because of the crisis. That will get you about ten months at the Sunroute Plaza Hotel in Fukushima City (if they had any rooms available, which they don’t).