In the safe, sanitized world of nuclear industry brochures, this was surely not supposed to happen: As it struggles to keep four reactors from melting down and thousands of spent fuel assemblies from blowing up, Tepco announced today that it has been forced to dump 11,000 tons of low-level radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean.
This, now, is what constitutes the best option in the Fukushima crisis.
The water has a (relatively) low-level of radioactivity of about 100 times the regulatory limit. Though the dumping would normally be illegal under the 1972 "Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter," the Japanese government issued Tepco an exemption so that it could clear space to drain and store more highly radioactive water that has been seeping into the turbine buildings—water so hot with radioactivity it sent three workers to hospital two weeks ago with radiation burns.
But the dumping heightens concern about the marine environment near the plant; by last Saturday, a radioactive leak of water from reactor No. 2, combined with radioactive gas vented from the plant that settled in the sea, brought the radioactivity of water near the plant to 7.5 million times the legal limit, though officials say that level is falling fast.
“There was no choice but to take this step to prevent (other) highly radioactive water from spreading into the sea,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said of the decision to intentionally discard radioactive water. “The fact that radioactive water is being deliberately dumped into the sea is very regrettable and one we are very sorry about.”
Fukushima has been awash with radioactive water since crews began dumping and spraying seawater in a desperate effort to keep reactors and spent fuel assemblies cool. But given the urgent threat of meltdown of the reactors, or ignition of the spent fuel assemblies, there seems to have been no plan about how to safely clean up the water.
This is a long term crisis that will be affecting the country for many years.Amid public health concerns about the contamination of the sea, the government announced on Tuesday it was setting radiation safety standards for fish. This followed news that a fish was caught last Friday off the coast of Ibaraki Prefecture, halfway between Fukushima and Tokyo, that contained high levels of radioactive iodine 131. The fish contained 4,080 becquerels per kilogram — about 2 pounds — of iodine 131. The new standard allows up to 2,000 becquerels per kilogram of iodine 131, the same standard used for vegetables in Japan, according to the New York Times.