Last week, operators of the crippled Japanese Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant detected a spike in the levels of radioactive substances in nearby groundwater. While the operators say they’re not sure where the leak is coming from, the fact that there is a leak comes as no surprise to Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, who have long suspected the plant to be leaking radioactive water into the ocean nearby.
However, the Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) claims that the increase in radioactive cesium in recent water samples could have been caused by contamination of the samples. The company is running more tests before making a definitive statement.
Levels of cesium-134 taken last week spiked by more than 90 times the amount detected the week before, and levels of cesium-137 were 86 times higher. The amounts detected far exceeded the level permitted by government guidelines, but TEPCO claims that even if the nearby groundwater is contaminated, there has been no visible impact on the ocean life in the area.
Whether or not the water is currently leaking into the ocean, TEPCO has cause for concern. For the past two years, the company has been keeping the three damaged reactors on the site cool by flushing them with water…resulting in enough contaminated water to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool each week. Unsurprisingly, TEPCO is running out of space to store the water. But their proposed solution isn’t going to win them any fans — they’ve asked for approval to flush some of the water with low levels of radiation into the sea. Local fisherman are up in arms over the idea.
Despite the bad publicity and ongoing problems with the Fukushima plant, operators are pushing to allow reactors in other sites to reopen following new, tighter regulations. Given the current situation, it seems like it will probably be an uphill battle to convince the Japanese people that nuclear power is safe again.
In the midst of the tragedy, there is cause for hope — the Japanese government is using the lessons learned from the disaster to promote renewable energy in the form of floating wind farms off the coast of Fukushima. The new turbines are set to start generating power as soon as October.
Photo credit: Greg Dunlap