Meltdown at Fukushima's No. 3 reactor was worse than previously believed

Environment -

The news that one of the reactors that melted down in March 2011 was worse than previously thought comes as the plant's operator is proposing to dump previously contaminated water into the Pacific.

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Copyright 2014 Reuters
Copyright 2014 Reuters

TEPCO said Aug. 6 that the plant's No. 3 reactor had fully melted down in March 2011, instead of the 63% of the core previously thought to have melted. TEPCO says that new analysis shows that a cooling system thought to have functioned properly actually shut down six hours early.

On Aug. 7, TEPCO proposed to dump previously contaminated groundwater into the ocean starting this fall after treating the water to remove radiation. The plant says it will only proceed on the approval of authorities and that it had briefed local fisherman on the plan in late July.

TEPCO said on May 20 that it had started rerouting uncontaminated groundwater -- which it first stores and tests for radioactivity -- into the Pacific Ocean. The system is designed to bring down incoming groundwater to the plants grounds by 25%, or 100 tons a day.

Calif.-based Kurion said on June 9 it signed a contract with TEPCO to remove the radioactive element strontium from hundreds of thousands of tons of water stored at the plant. Kurion says it plans to start processing 300 tons of water per day this summer, pending approval by Japan's nuclear regulator.

400,000 tons of radioactive water are stored at the site. TEPCO stores about 400 tons of contaminated water daily. About 300 tons of contaminated groundwater seeps daily into the Pacific Ocean via leaks at the plant. Copyright 2014 Reuters

400,000 tons of radioactive water are stored at the site. TEPCO stores about 400 tons of contaminated water daily. About 300 tons of contaminated groundwater seeps daily into the Pacific Ocean via leaks at the plant.

The entire Fukushima cleanup operation is estimated to take 30-40 years and cost $100 billion, in addition to compensation payouts to those affected by the disaster. TEPCO has so far requested $38 billion from the Japanese government to assist with legal claims.

"TEPCO employees are very well trained and have excellent knowledge of how the Japanese energy sector works, making them very attractive [to potential employers]." Sean Travers, Japan president at UK recruiting firm EarthStream

Over 2,500 employees have left TEPCO since 2011 including at least a 1,000 that were offered early retirement in 2014. Many of the employees have taken jobs at other companies in the energy sector, including with solar power companies. Less than 150 left in 2010.

"Wait on the grounds of the [Fukushima] Daiichi plant in order to immediately return to your stations." Masao Yoshida, manager of the Fukushima plant in 2011, now deceased

On May 20, Japan's Asahi Shimbun revealed a 400-page transcript of 29 hours of testimony by Yoshida in 2011 to Japanese investigators. In the testimony, which the government had previously kept secret, Yoshida says that over 650 of the plant's workers and managers fled the meltdown, even though Yoshida had ordered them to stay.

Over 350 residents of a small district in the Fukushima city of Tamura were allowed to return to their homes April 1 after being evacuated in 2011 due to proximity to the crippled plant. However, as of May 11, only 78 residents had returned. Copyright 2014 Reuters

Over 350 residents of a small district in the Fukushima city of Tamura were allowed to return to their homes April 1 after being evacuated in 2011 due to proximity to the crippled plant. However, as of May 11, only 78 residents had returned.

A study published in Journal of Heredity found that barn swallows near Fukushima showed signs of "aberrant white feathers" starting in 2012, and with increased frequency in 2013 and 2014. The same abnormalities were found in barn swallows after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.

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