Japan Nuclear Regulator Announces New Probe of Fukushima Disaster
Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority is opening a new investigation into the triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in March, 2011 that forced 160,000 people to evacuate, many never return, and is now expected to take “decades and decades” to clean up.
In a paper released this week, the regulator said it would “look into the leaks in the reactor vessels and at cooling systems set up to keep the melted fuel in the reactors from overheating,” Reuters reports. “Authorities have said they are planning a series of investigations as radiation levels gradually fall enough in reactor buildings to allow closer examination.”
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In 2012, a commission appointed by the Japanese parliament declared the meltdown “a profoundly manmade disaster—that could and should have been foreseen and prevented, (while) its effects could have been mitigated by a more effective human response.”
The meltdown at the facility north of Tokyo “was the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986,” the news agency recalls. “It led to the eventual shutdown of all Japan’s reactors, which before the disaster had supplied about 30% of the country’s electricity.”
Eight years later, the plant’s owner is pledging to assist with the new probe. “If requested in the future, we would like to proactively cooperate in the investigation, such as providing necessary data,” a Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) spokesperson said.
Three years ago, the government said the process of dismantling the plant, decontaminating affected areas, and compensating survivors would cost ¥21.5 trillion yen (US$199 billion), about one-fifth of Japan’s annual budget, Reuters says. That was a significant increase from the original cost estimate, the South China Morning Post reported in 2016.
Earlier in the week, Japan Environment Minister Yoshiaki Harada said TEPCO was running out of space to store more than a million tonnes of radioactive wastewater that have accumulated on the Fukushima site, and would have to begin dumping the water into the Pacific Ocean in 2022. The utility “has struggled to deal with the buildup of groundwater, which becomes contaminated when it mixes with water used to prevent the three damaged reactor cores from melting,” The Guardian explains.
TEPCO “has attempted to remove most radionuclides from the excess water, but the technology does not exist to rid the water of tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen,” the paper adds. “Coastal nuclear plants commonly dump water that contains tritium into the ocean. It occurs in minute amounts in nature.”
Last year, The Guardian says, TEPCO admitted the water still contained contaminants in addition to tritium.