Japanese firm 'losing faith’ in leaky nuclear water pits

Tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear operator says it has no other site for contaminated water

A leakage detection unit (centre) at an underground water storage tank  at Tepco’s tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan. Photograph: Tokyo Electric Power Co/Handout/Reuters

A leakage detection unit (centre) at an underground water storage tank at Tepco’s tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan. Photograph: Tokyo Electric Power Co/Handout/Reuters

Tue, Apr 9, 2013, 09:17

The company responsible for the Japanese nuclear power plant destroyed by a tsunami two years ago said today it is losing faith in temporary storage pits for huge quantities of radioactive water - but does not have anywhere else to put it.

Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) said it had found a suspected new leak at one of the pits at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

If confirmed, it would mean three out of seven storage pits were now leaking, compounding clean-up difficulties in the wake of the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years.

"We cannot deny the fact that our faith in the underwater tanks is being lost," Tepco general manager Masayuki Ono told a hastily arranged news conference.

"We can't move all the contaminated water to above ground [tanks] if we opt not to use the underground reservoirs," Mr Ono said. "There isn't enough capacity, and we need to use what is available."

The tsunami crashed into the power plant north of Tokyo on March 11th, 2011, causing fuel-rod meltdowns at three reactors, radioactive contamination of air, sea and food and triggering the evacuation of 160,000 people.

Transfer halted

The suspected fresh leak was found in the No 1 storage pool, to which contaminated water from the leaking No 2 pit was being transferred. Tepco has halted the transfer.

Mr Ono said yesterday Tepco did not have enough tank space should it need to move the water out of the storage pits, which were dug into higher ground away from the damaged reactors and lined with waterproof material. The company has stepped up construction of sturdier tanks, he said.

Tepco said over the weekend about 120,000 litres (32,000 gallons) of contaminated water had leaked from the Nos 2 and 3 pits. The plant's cooling system has also broken down twice in recent weeks.

The government instructed Tepco to carry out a "fundamental" review of the problems at the plant, chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters yesterday.

Tepco's president, Naomi Hirose, was also summoned to the Industry Ministry to explain the leaks and got a public dressing down from the minister, Toshimitsu Motegi.

In the immediate aftermath of explosions at the plant, Tepco released some radioactive water into the sea, prompting protests from neighbouring countries. Many nations put restrictions on imports of Japanese food after the disaster.

It was the worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

Last month, a senior Tepco executive said the company was struggling to stop groundwater flooding into the damaged reactor buildings and it may take as long as four years to fix the problem.

Reuters