Tokyo Electric Power, or Tepco, has been fighting a daily battle
against contaminated water since the Fukushima nuclear station was
wrecked by a massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
The controversial release, which was agreed by local fishermen after
extended talks, coincides with a breakdown of a water treatment
system for the highly contaminated water held in makeshift tanks.
It also comes amid revelations this week in the Asahi Shimbun
newspaper that the majority of workers at the plant fled during the
height of the meltdowns after the quake and tsunami knocked out
cooling and backup power.
Groundwater flows down from nearby hills and 400 metric tonnes (440
tons) enters basements of the wrecked reactor buildings on a daily
basis, according to Tepco's estimates, mixing with highly
radioactive water used to cool reactors.
Workers then pump out the contaminated water, treat it and store it
in more than 1,000 makeshift tanks that cover the facility grounds.
The tanks that hold the most contaminated liquids are nearly full
and workers are rushing to build more capacity.
Tepco said 560 tonnes of groundwater captured and stored before it
entered the basements is to be released on Wednesday, using a bypass
system that funnels it toward the sea after checking for radiation
Using the bypass, Tepco hopes to divert on average 100 tonnes of
untainted groundwater a day into the ocean.
A water treatment facility known as the Advanced Liquid Processing
System, designed to remove the most dangerous nuclides, was
completely shut down again this week. The system has not been fully
operational since it was installed nearly two years ago.
The manager of the plant has admitted the repeated leaks and
equipment malfunctions are "embarrassing."
About 90 percent of Tepco workers defied orders and left the
Fukushima Daiichi plant on March 15, 2011, after an explosion rocked
the site, the Asahi reported on Tuesday, citing unreleased
transcripts of interviews with the manager at the time, Masao
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Yoshida, widely viewed as a national hero for taking decisive action
in the critical days and weeks of the disaster that prevented a more
serious crisis, died of cancer last year.
Fukushima fishermen opposed plans to release groundwater for more
than two years, fearing it would case even more damage to the
reputation of produce from the region.
In March, local fisheries unions approved the plan, calling it a
"painful decision," but necessary to stem the tide of radioactive
water piling up at Fukushima. Many of them have been out of work
after a voluntary ban on fishing in the area.
Tepco, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency and independent groups found
that radioactive elements in the released water have less than 1
becquerels per liter of Cesium-134 and Cesium-137. All other
radioactive elements checked are also far below standards for
The legal limit for releasing Cesium-134 into the ocean is 60
becquerels per liter.
(Reporting by Mari Saito; Editing by Aaron Sheldrick and Simon
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