Two and a half years after an earthquake and tsunami damaged the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, their government revealed today that massive amounts of radioactive water have been leaking into the Pacific Ocean over the last few years.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced today the government would step in for the first time to aide the Tokyo Electric Power Company's clean up efforts surrounding the leaks that are still coming from the Fukushima plant. According to Reuters, Abe ordered Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry officials to help try to contain the estimated 300 tons of water leaking into the ocean each day. It was only recently that TEPCO revealed they were having trouble containing the water at all, amid criticism they haven't been honest and upfront about their failing cleanup efforts.
"The contaminated water problem is one that the Japanese people have a high level of interest in and is an urgent issue to deal with," Abe told reporters. "Rather than relying on Tokyo Electric, the government will take measures," he said.
This admission and government action is another huge blow for TEPCO, who have faced criticism for their handling of the fallout after the tsunami and earthquake. The recovery was already estimated to take 40 years and cost $11 billion, most of which was supplied by a government bailout.
Earlier this summer, TEPCO revealed some 32,000 gallons of water had leaked out of the plant's reactor area, but they said at the time it was unlikely the water had reached the ocean. They also revealed troubles with water seeping into the plant.
The Wall Street Journal has an excellent info-graphic explaining the measures TEPCO has set up in the two and a half years since the tsunami to limit the spread of radioactive water into the ocean. But, despite their best efforts, it seems water is leaking around or over some underground barriers TEPCO installed. The Japanese company froze the ground with chemicals in order to block the seepage. The water that is leaking into the ocean is apparently dangerous, but not too dangerous, according to TEPCO:
While the extent of sea contamination remains unknown, TEPCO has estimated that up to 40 trillion becquerels of radioactive tritium, a water soluble element that can affect DNA but is believed to be less dangerous than cesium or strontium, might have leaked into the sea over the past two years. The company says the amount is within legal limits, but is much higher than is released under normal operations.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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