Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant reported yet another leak this week. The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) stated that water from heavy rain over the weekend was to blame for the overflow.
Rainwater became contaminated when it collected behind barriers that are supposed to prevent radiation leaks. The rainwater then overflowed the barriers in several locations, allowing some of the water to possibly leak into the Pacific Ocean, reports The New York Times.
Cleanup at Fukushima has been dogged by leaks ever since the plant’s nuclear reactors went into meltdown after a massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Most recently, officials announced that cleanup in surrounding towns will be delayed until 2017.
The delay likely comes as a result of the continued problems at the facility itself, where everything from storage tanks to underwater reservoirs are leaking radiation into the Pacific.
The Washington Post notes that Japan’s crippled nuclear plant now stores 90 million gallons of radioactive water in temporary tanks, enough to fill Yankee Stadium and then some. An additional 400 tones of toxic water leaks into the Pacific Ocean per day, and TEPCO acknowledges a new leak every week.
To put it simply, the aftermath of Fukushima’s meltdown is turning into an even bigger disaster. This weekend’s leak is another sign that TEPCO continues to underestimate the plant’s vulnerabilities. While the company knew to expect some rainwater from the weekend storm, they didn’t anticipate the amount that came down.
While the foot-high barriers are meant to contain spills around clusters of temporary storage tanks, they instead acted like dams — and 11 of them collected too much water. After the rain was done, TEPCO tested water in the ponds that overflowed and found that half of them were contaminated with strontium-90. The levels were above the limit of 12 becquerels per liter set by regulators.
The company added that the most contaminated site’s level was 71 times the limit. The company didn’t say where the strontium came from, but the most likely contributor was radioactive particles scattered on the ground, likely by the explosions that followed the initial triple meltdown.
TEPCO has pumps installed to collect and test the rainwater before it is released into the sea. However, the pumps weren’t able to cope with the amount of rain dumped by a typhoon last week. The pools were up to nine inches deep when the rain struck on Sunday. It isn’t known how much water spilled from the Fukushima nuclear plant in the latest mishap.
[Image via Wikimedia Commons]