ASIA NEWS NETWORK
WE KNOW ASIA BETTER
New crisis at Fukushima
Publication Date : 06-09-2013
To Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, hosting the 2020 Olympics must be more important than facing up to the worsening toxic water crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant.
On Wednesday, just a few days ahead of the September 7 announcement of the 2020 host city, Abe assured that “there will be absolutely no problem” by the time the Games were held seven years later.
Abe’s assurance was based on a US$500 million package his administration announced Tuesday to contain the leakage of radioactive water from storage tanks at the plant.
Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant’s operator, has set up some 1,000 large tanks to store highly radioactive water that has been used to cool the crippled reactors. Last month, Tepco shocked the world by admitting that some 300 tonnes of radioactive water had leaked from the tanks.
The leak contaminates groundwater that flows into the site before pouring into the Pacific Ocean. According to Tepco, about 400 tonnes of contaminated groundwater is gushing into the Pacific each day.
Abe’s plan proposes to use 32 billion yen ($320 million) to build a massive underground wall of frozen earth around the crippled reactors to prevent groundwater from flowing into the plant site.
The problem is that it is unclear whether this frozen earth scheme will work or not. According to reports, freezing earth to block groundwater flow is a method used in digging subway tunnels.
But the technology has never been used on a scale as large as that in Fukushima. Given that there is no guarantee that it will work as planned, Abe’s assurance needs to be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Another problem with the scheme is that it consumes a huge amount of electricity. Japanese reports estimate the annual cost of keeping the wall frozen at 4 billion yen ($40 million).
Abe’s package also calls for spending 15 billion yen ($150 million) on a water treatment system to reduce radiation levels in the contaminated water.
This plan was also met with skepticism because the proposed decontamination technology is not fully reliable.
The toxic water crisis is worsening as the amount of contaminated water keeps increasing while the capacity to store it is limited. It seems to be only a matter of time before the plant operator is forced to discharge the stored water into the Pacific.
The proposed decontamination plan is thus seen as a step to prepare for the discharge. Yet it cannot be a fundamental solution to the problem. Abe should face reality and explore real solutions to contain the crisis.