Tokyo Electric Power Co. succeeded in stopping highly radioactive water from leaking into the Pacific Ocean from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant early Wednesday, while saying it is considering injecting nitrogen to prevent a possible hydrogen explosion from occurring at the No. 1 reactor.
The highly toxic water, confirmed to have been flowing from around a seaside pit located near the No. 2 reactor water intake on Saturday, stopped at 5:38 a.m. after the plant operator injected some 6,000 liters of chemical agents, including what is called water glass.
The government’s nuclear agency said it ordered the utility known as TEPCO to keep monitoring the pit to check whether the water leakage has completely stopped, and noted there is the possibility that the water, which has lost an outlet, may show up from other areas inside the plant’s premises.
The highly radioactive water is believed to have come from the No. 2 reactor core, where fuel rods have partially melted, and ended up in the pit. The pit is connected to the No. 2 reactor turbine building and an underground trench connected to the building, both of which were found to be filled with high levels of contaminated water.
To make room to store the highly radioactive water that is hampering the plant’s restoration work, TEPCO continued the work to dump massive amounts of low-level contaminated water from inside a nuclear waste disposal facility at the site, as well as that found from around the No. 5-6 unit buildings.
TEPCO aims to dispose a total of 11,500 tons of the low-level tainted water into the sea by this weekend from the plant on the coast, a move which has sparked concerns from neighboring countries.
Opening up the nuclear waste disposal facility may end as early as Wednesday, the nuclear agency said. The move would be followed by some repair work to make sure the facility can keep highly radioactive water safely without fear of the stored liquid leaking outside.
Meanwhile, TEPCO said it may inject nitrogen into the No. 1 reactor’s containment vessel possibly later Wednesday.
Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, said the move is considered with the aim to stop a possible hydrogen explosion ”in advance” and that it does not mean there is an ”immediate danger.”
The nitrogen injection process is expected to take several days, and may lead to the release of radioactive substances in the air.
Due to the magnitude-9.0 quake and ensuing tsunami, the plant’s power grid and most of the emergency diesel generators were knocked out, resulting in the loss of many of the reactors’ key cooling functions, partial melting of reactors cores and hydrogen explosions.
The utility has been pouring massive amounts of water into the reactors and their spent nuclear fuel pools as a stopgap measure to cool them down. But the measure is apparently connected to the massive amount of contaminated water found in various places at its premises, which TEPCO is now struggling to remove.
A seawater sample taken near the No. 2 reactor water intake Saturday showed a radioactive iodine-131 concentration of 7.5 million times the maximum level permitted under law, or about 300,000 becquerels per cubic centimeter.
As the first case of contamination levels in seafood have exceeded the limit, radioactive cesium over the limit was detected in young launce in the sea near the northern part of Ibaraki Prefecture.
Daily computer simulations are suggesting that, so far, the hazardous radioactive materials being released into the sea by the Fukushima nuclear plants are still largely restricted to areas near the coast. In the model being run by French researchers, the powerful Kuroshiro current – the Pacific’s version of the Gulf Stream – tends to block contaminated seawater from flowing southward toward Tokyo Bay while picking up little contamination itself.
Figuring out where Fukushima radioactivity is going involves all the complexities and uncertainties that plagued early efforts to model the meanderings of oil last summer in the Gulf of Mexico, and then some, says ocean modeler Claude Estournel. She is a member of the SIROCCO group at the University of Toulouse in France running the SYMPHONIE-NH ocean model under the auspices of the French national research agency CNRS.
The International Atomic Energy Agency requested that the group run its model centered on the Fukushima plant on the coast northeast of Tokyo. The resulting daily simulations posted on the Web are rife with uncertainties, Estournel cautions, so that the group is presenting only “scenarios of dispersion” that provide an “orders of magnitude” idea of the actual amounts of radionuclides in the sea.
Caveats aside, the modeling is strongly confirming oceanographers’ intuition. The highest concentrations in the model are still within 5 kilometers or so of shore but have been carried up to 50 kilometers north and south by wind-driven currents. That contamination was released directly into the sea.
Radionuclides first released into the atmosphere only to fall into the sea are 20 to 100 times less concentrated but spread more widely, spanning 600 kilometers along the shore and reaching 150 kilometers offshore. In the model, concentrations are 1000 times lower than near Fukushima in the Kuroshiro as it shears off the southern extent of contamination and heads east into the Pacific. The modeling will guide Japanese authorities as they scramble to sample the expanse of ocean liable to contamination.
The Japanese government plans to draw up a supplementary budget of more than 3 trillion yen (35 billion dollars) in about 10 days to finance measures to help rebuild areas ravaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, news reports said on Wednesday.
The money is to go to clearing rubble, building temporary housing, and restoring public facilities and infrastructure, the Kyodo News agency reported, citing a blueprint for the budget. The draft said the government would not depend on issuing bonds to fund the supplementary spending in the country with the world’s largest public debt. Its debt is nearly twice the size of its approximately 5-trillion-yen economy.
Instead of bonds, about 2.5 trillion yen for the first extra budget for this financial year, which began Friday, is to come from funds originally earmarked to maintain the government’s contributions to basic pensions at 50 per cent, Kyodo said. The rest is to be generated by scrapping some of the Democratic Party of Japan – led government’s key policies, such as increasing monthly child allowances and introducing more toll – free highways, Kyodo reported. But some party lawmakers were opposed to shelving some of their major policies.
Last month’s magnitude-9 quake, the largest every recorded in Japan, and the tsunami it unleashed on the east coast killed a confirmed 12,468 people, but as of Wednesday, another 15,091 people were listed as missing, Japan’s National Police Agency said.
A spokesperson for the Toyota Motor Corporation has announced a temporary shut down of all of its North American factories. This shut down is due to the shortage of car parts following the Japan quake and tsunami, which damaged auto parts plants in Northeastern Japan.
This news will certainly be devastating for the 25,000 Toyota workers, who will be sent home until parts production can restart in Japan. These employees will be forced to use their vacation pay or take time off without pay, which will most definitely be difficult for those with families depending on their income.
According to a CBS News report, a spokesperson for Toyota, Mike Goss, said, “We’re going to get to a point this month where that gap in the pipeline starts to show up. So we’ll have to suspend production for a while.” While Toyota only gets about 15 percent of their parts from Japan, “you have to have them all to build the vehicles!”
Many American companies, who have outsourced parts of their manufacturing to Japan, are feeling the ripple effect following the quake. Unfortunately, it could take years for Japan to recover from the devastation that ravished the area.