The radiation within reactor No. 2 at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station has reached “unimaginable” levels, according to a recent report from the Independent.
Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), the company that runs the Fukushima nuclear power plant, has reported that the radiation levels within the containment vessel of Reactor No. 2 have reached 530 sieverts an hour. That is more than seven times greater than the previous record of 73 sieverts an hour recorded back in 2012, several months after the Tōhoku earthquake of 2011 created a tsunami that struck the Fukushima reactor and caused a meltdown.
To provide some context for just how high these radiation levels are, the Independent‘s Justin McCurry explains that “a single dose of one sievert is enough to cause radiation sickness and nausea, 5 sieverts would kill half those exposed to it within a month, and a single dose of 10 sieverts would prove fatal within weeks.”
Radiation levels in one Fukushima reactor high enough to kill a human in two minutes https://t.co/bko6jKEe5l
— The Independent (@Independent) February 19, 2017
TEPCO made a point of noting that, as of now, the radiation is limited within the containment vessels and is no longer leaking into the Pacific Ocean.
That is good news. After the initial leak contaminated large parts of the Pacific Ocean in 2011 and 2012, clean up efforts dramatically slowed the amount of radiation leaking from the reactor. However, PBS reported that as late as 2016, small amounts of radiation were still seeping into the Pacific from Fukushima.
Despite the massive leak from the initial meltdown, and any minor leakage that may have followed, it seems that radiation levels in the Pacific were more or less back to normal in 2016, according to Phys.org.
That doesn’t mean that TEPCO does not still have a huge problem on its hands when it comes to cleaning up the nuclear fuel that remains stuck within reactor No. 2.
— Engadget (@engadget) February 19, 2017
According to Engadget‘s Mariella Moon, TEPCO has sent two small robots into reactor No. 2 in an effort to determine the exact location of the melted uranium fuel in it and how to best go about removing it.
Both robots have failed. At least one of them broke down because of the extreme radiation.
“The second robot Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) sent into Fukushima’s unit 2 reactor also failed to finish its mission,” Moon writes. “Earlier this month, the cameras of the first ‘scorpion’ robot that ventured into the reactor malfunctioned after two hours due to extremely high radiation levels. Now, it’s the machine’s left crawler belt that stopped working altogether, forcing TEPCO to cut off its tether and to leave it inside.”
The “scorpion” robots were designed by TEPCO specifically to enter reactor No. 2 to send back data researchers and safety experts could use to determine the best means of removing the uranium fuel from the reactor. They’re described as “scorpion” robots because “with their camera-equipped tails above their bodies, they look quite like the arachnid,” Moon adds.
TEPCO is not certain if it was high radiation levels that also immobilized the second robot or if its tread was damaged by debris that remained after the first scorpion robot entered the reactor.
The second robot was able to send back some data before it went offline inside of the reactor.
Despite the setbacks with the scorpion robots and the extraordinarily high levels of radiation present within reactor No. 2, TEPCO still intends to move forward with its scheduled to remove the melted uranium fuel from reactor No. 2 at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. The company aims to develop comprehensive plans for the massive removal and clean-up project this summer, and will then implement those plans in 2021, according to Engadget.
In the meantime, TEPCO will be sending at least one scorpion robot into reactor No. 1, which was also damaged by the tsunami, to assess radiation levels there.
[Featured image by Matt Cardy/Getty Images]