Officials at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant suspended an operation to clean contaminated water hours after it had begun because of a rapid rise in radiation.
Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), which operates the tsunami-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, is investigating the cause and could not say when the clean-up will resume, company spokesman Junichi Matsumoto said.
Fresh water is being pumped in to cool damaged reactor cores, and is becoming contaminated in the process. Around 105,000 tonnes of highly radioactive water have pooled across the plant, and could overflow within a couple of weeks if action is not taken.
In earlier tests, the water treatment system reduced caesium levels in the water to about one ten-thousandth of their original levels. The system began full operations on Friday after a series of problems involving leaks and valve flaws.
The system was suspended in early Saturday when workers detected a sharp radiation increase in the system’s caesium-absorbing component, Matsumoto said. Radioactivity in one of 24 cartridges, which was expected to last for a few weeks, had already reached its limit within five hours, he said.
Japan’s 11 March earthquake and tsunami knocked out power to the nuclear plant, incapacitating its crucial cooling systems and causing three reactor cores to melt. Tepco aims to bring the reactors to a stable cold shutdown state by January next year.
The water treatment system is to be eventually connected to a cooling system so the treated water can be reused. But treating the water will create an additional headache – tons of highly radioactive sludge will require a separate long-term storage space.
In the meantime, I did talk to someone from the Seattle mayor’s office, who told me they’re monitoring the fallout situation closely and so far, it’s not a problem. He said they were doing their own independent evaluation in case the state monitoring information wasn’t accurate, they’re not seeing anything credible that confirms the reports of highly radioactive particles.
Oh, and Japan has another reactor in bad shape, one that’s much more dangerous than Fukushima.