Radioactive Rainwater Overwhelms Fukishima Nuclear Plant

Radioactive Rainwater Overwhelms Fukishima Nuclear Plant

Heavy rains have overwhelmed containment tankers at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant -   October 17, 2013
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Arjun Makhijani is a nuclear and electrical engineer, and president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. He is the author of "Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy" (2007) and he has served as a consultant on energy issues for agencies of the United Nations.


Radioactive Rainwater Overwhelms Fukishima Nuclear PlantJAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

In Japan, the operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant acknowledged that highly radioactive rainwater runoff has contaminated the surrounding areas.

Now joining us to discuss this is Arjun Makhijani, who is a nuclear engineer with 37 years of experience in energy and nuclear issues. He's the president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research.

Thank you so much for joining us.


NOOR: So can we get your reaction to this latest troubling news from the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, saying that this highly radioactive rainwater, which they weren't able to clean up and pump, has again contaminated the surrounding areas?

MAKHIJANI: Yes. So Fukushima has had a problem of contaminated water since the time of the accident in 2011, and not only the water that's needed to cool the molten fuel in the reactors, but also all of the rainwater and storm water and so on that has been getting into the reactors and contacting the fuel and so on. They've got about 1,000 tanks with contaminated water on site. Some of these tanks are leaking. And, of course, the site is contaminated from fallout and leaking water and so on.

The latest problem that you're asking me about arose when there was a typhoon last week, which is a very, very severe storm and dumped an enormous amount of rain. And what that has done is in the areas that are highly contaminated with leaking water that was contained by berms and barriers, that containment basically got overtopped, and now we have quite contaminated water that's flowing onto other parts of the site and into the ocean, contaminated water that's flowing into the ocean every day apart from these severe weather events. So this adds to the contamination.

NOOR: Has this raised further questions about the management of the cleanup and the way that TEPCO was approaching it?

MAKHIJANI: Well, I think the management of contaminated water has been deficient from the beginning. For some of us it was apparent back then, in 2011, that it was not such a good idea to accumulate millions of gallons of contaminated water on-site. I had suggested back then that they should buy a supertanker and put the water in the supertanker and have it sent elsewhere for filtration rather than storing so much contaminated water on-site, risking leaks and worker radiation, because all of this makes it very difficult for workers to work.

It's not just a question of abstract, you know, there's some soil that's contaminated. Workers actually have a lot of work to do there. They're building buildings to replace the damaged structures from the explosions. They have to put up new cranes. They have to put up equipment to be able to extract the fuel, used fuel that's in the spent fuel pools. So there are thousands of people working on the site, and when you have events like this it makes it very difficult to manage the accident, much more difficult than if you did not have the problem with contaminated water.

NOOR: On the topic of working conditions at the facility, CNN recently spoke to a worker who claims that conditions there are very unsafe for those that are working there. What's your response?

MAKHIJANI: As I understand, you know, there are thousands of subcontractors. There are not as many employees of the company itself. As the workers get worn out, tired, reach the maximum limits of radiation, they have to be replaced by other workers who are not as experienced and not as trained. Morale is a problem. I understand drinking is also a problem, depression, and so on. And you can understand. When an accident is that severe and conditions are so problematic, and on top of it the accident has been mismanaged, the situation of workers is going to be very difficult. Many of these workers have also lost their homes to the accident, you know, because they are from around the area, many of them, and they can't go back to their houses, so they are in temporary housing and so on. So conditions for workers are extremely difficult, and many of them don't appear to be even very well paid, as they should be for the kind of work they're doing.

NOOR: And finally, there's a typhoon that may make landfall this this week in Japan. Does this raise further concerns? And what does the future look like for the cleanup of this massive radioactive site?

MAKHIJANI: Well, one just hopes that the structures will hold up, because the structures that have been built to protect the reactor and the spent fuel, especially with reactor number four, are very critical to prevent the accident from becoming much worse. So there is a current severe problem, of course, with all the contaminated water and leaks and so on, but there's much more radioactivity inside the reactors in the spent fuel pools, and so what happens with all these storms, severe storms, typhoons and so on, is that--typhoon is the same thing, essentially, as a hurricane--is that there is a risk that there will be much, much more severe spread of contamination. Thankfully, that does not seem to have happened so far. But the longer it goes on, of course, the greater the risk.

NOOR: Thank you so much for joining us.

MAKHIJANI: Thank you very much for asking.

NOOR: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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