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Fukushima Daiichi: An Ongoing Water Contamination Problem


Contaminated Water at Fukushima Daiichi

The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant impacted by the Tōhoku tsunami in 2011 has a water contamination problem. Groundwater is running into cooling water in the basements of reactors, and nearly 150 tons a day is getting contaminated.

Two Part System Helps Prevent Some Contamination

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) devised a two-part well system. to stem the flow of groundwater into these basements and prevent additional contamination. 

In the two-part system, TEPCO attempts to divert groundwater away from the basements through wells that have been dug -- either between the hills and the reactors or around the perimeter of the reactors -- and then pumps it up, tests it, then releases it into the ocean.

Growing Number of Storage Tanks

These efforts may not be enough, as pictures are a stark reminder of the growing number of tanks that are needed to contain the radioactive water -- about one additional tank per week.  

Each tank holds approximately 1,102 tons or 296,452 gallons of water, and many of them are leaking.  The water, partly decontaminated before being placed in the tanks, still contains strontium, and tritium (radioactive hydrogen), the latter of which may cause cancer when ingested and is extremely difficult to remove.

Storage is Currently the Only Option

Still, leaking tanks caused spikes in strontium levels in the surrounding ocean, so in response, TEPCO is now attempting to remove everything but the tritium before storing the contaminated water.

Storing is the only option at this time, as current tritium levels significantly exceed the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended amounts for drinking water.  Clean-up is expected to continue beyond the initially projected 30 years, and some say the disaster will impact many future generations.

TEPCO is hoping to have the water contamination issue under control soon by utilizing a combination of systems, and are hopeful for a full resolution by 2020.

Kimberly Arsenault Kimberly Arsenault serves as an intern at the Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency where she works on plan revisions and special projects. Previously, Kimberly spent 15 years in commercial and business aviation. Her positions included station manager at the former Midwest Express Airlines, as well as corporate flight attendant, inflight manager, and charter flight coordinator. Kimberly currently holds a master's degree in emergency and disaster management from American Public University.