These days, water is the big problem standing in the way of clean up operations at Fukushima. Japanese broadcaster NHK reports 110,000 tons of radioactive water are stagnating in reactor basements and turbine halls. At Unit 2, temperatures inside the reactor building and turbine hall are around 30 degrees C and humidity levels around 99.9%, effectively making it Japan’s most radioactive sauna.
If serious cleanup operations are to get underway, then something needs to be done with all this water. Earlier in the month, we wrote about the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) plans to decontaminate the water now inside the reactor buildings. Breifly, the idea is to suck radioactive water out, use zeolite filters and radiation-absorbing resins to decontaminate it, and then pump it back into the reactors.
The recirculation plant is being built by the French nuclear firm Areva, and an American company, Kurion, headquartered in Irvine, California. It was originally scheduled to be running by now, but leaks in the reprocessing equipment have slowed the schedule. It’s not surprising, given the complexity of the operation, and the speed with which it must be set up, but it is nevertheless another setback for the Fukushima cleanup.
As an aside, after writing our previous story on water, several people have asked why anyone would bother to decontaminate water that is just going back into the radioactive reactor core? In a perfect world, the reactors would be cooled by a closed-loop circulation system that could indeed reuse contaminated water. But at Fukushima, damage to pipes and the reactors themselves means that whatever goes in comes out on the floor. Recirculating radioactive water will cause it to become more and more contaminated, creating an impossible work environment for people going into the plant (and it’s already pretty tough, as the latest video from unit 3 shows).
Kyodo News is reporting that TEPCO now hopes to have the system up and running by Saturday. Meanwhile, they’re planning on opening the doors at unit 2 to let some of that humidity out.
If you’re looking to get caught up on where we are with Fukushima, this video we did in late April is still more-or-less accurate (though workers have been entering the reactors more recently):
And there’s plenty more coverage on our Japan quake page.