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Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Is Fukushima at risk for another nuclear disaster?

Nearly three years after the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, there remains concern about whether another disaster is right around the corner.
Nearly three years after the nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, there remains concern about whether another disaster is right around the corner.
 America Tonight
Tune into the third part of America Tonight’s four-part investigative series about Fukushima's continuing fallout, tonight at 9 p.m. ET.
At the Fukushima Daiichi plant, the Tokyo Electric Power Co., or TEPCO, is struggling to contain the ongoing nuclear disaster. Since the catastrophe almost three years ago, there has been disagreement about whether the plant is safe.
The official line from the Japanese government is that the situation is under control.
“The government is moving to the forefront and we will completely resolve the matter,” said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in September, just before Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Summer Olympics.
But others, such as then–Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose, have said the situation is “not necessarily under control.”
“The government must acknowledge this as a national problem so that we can head toward a real solution,” said Inose, in response to Abe’s comments.
“America Tonight” traveled to Fukushima to find out whether the world still needs to be worried.

'An ongoing crisis'

Journalist David McNeill, who has been covering Japan since 2000, said that another major earthquake could trigger another radioactive disaster.
Journalist David McNeill has been covering Japan since 2000.
America Tonight
“I think this is an ongoing crisis,” said David McNeill, a journalist who has lived in Japan since 2000 and has been covering the Fukushima disaster from the beginning. “What you’ve had is a series of ad hoc strategies designed to deal with the crisis that’s right in front of you.”
The events at Fukushima unfolded in a cascade of disasters, each one more frightening than the last: the massive earthquake and tsunami, the nuclear meltdowns, the explosions, the desperate attempts to keep fuel rods from overheating and, finally, the leaks of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean.
Now, nearly three years later, the most pressing worry is the spent nuclear fuel rods, which are still precariously stored in a pool above the damaged and unstable Reactor 4. McNeill said there are thousands of nuclear fuel rods in Reactor 4, which must be extracted one by one. Last month TEPCO began the delicate, and dangerous, yearlong task of transferring those fuel rods — more than 1,300 in all, amounting to some 400 tons of uranium — to a safer location. Some experts have pointed out the serious risks of this process, McNeill said.
“For example, if there was another earthquake, another major earthquake, it could trigger another radioactive disaster,” he said.
But the real headache comes from the hundreds of tons of melted radioactive fuel in Reactors 1, 2 and 3. McNeill said that TEPCO only has “the vaguest idea” of where the molten fuel sits, and a constant flow of water is necessary to keep the molten uranium from heating up. TEPCO has built thousands of tanks to store the daily flood of contaminated water, but it is running out of space.
“The tanks have mushroomed all over the power plant,” McNeill said. “Because if they don’t keep it cool, it heats up, radiation escapes and then we’re back to square one.”
If there was ... another major earthquake, it could trigger another radioactive disaster.
David McNeill
Journalist
If the melted radioactive fuel weren’t enough, there’s also the issue of the groundwater. After years of denial, TEPCO admitted in the fall that contaminated groundwater is flowing into the Pacific at the volume of an Olympic-size swimming pool every week. It’s this deluge of radioactive water that worries many Americans.
In March 2012, about a year after the incident, the groundwater reached the international date line, according to Michio Aoyama, a scientist at the Meteorological Institute of Japan, who has spent his career studying the spread of radiation from nuclear tests and has now turned his attention to Fukushima.
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Pacific wasteland

Even with plans to build a massive ice wall to help reduce the source of contaminated water, there's still doubt as to whether TEPCO will be forced to dump some of the contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean.
Even with plans to build a massive ice wall to help reduce the source of contaminated water, there's still doubt as to whether TEPCO will be forced to dump some of the contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean.
 America Tonight
About 700 tons of contaminated water are generated on a daily basis at Fukushima Daiichi, and America Tonight visited TEPCO to find out what it plans to do. Masayuki Ono, a TEPCO spokesman, said that one of the aims is to reduce the source of the contaminated water. To do so, TEPCO plans to build a massive $470 million ice wall around the plant and install a new system to deal with the contaminated water.
There’s still uncertainty, though, about whether some of this tainted water will end up in the Pacific.
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Tune in tomorrow, Jan. 9, for the conclusion of our Return to Fukushima series: “Japan’s nuclear crossroads — Back to nuclear or transition to renewables?”

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