Workers in Japan at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was damaged in the March 11th earthquake and ensuing tsunami, recently discovered an eight inch crack in a maintenance pit that is estimated to be leaking radioactive water into the ocean at the rate of seven tons an hour. The water was tested and was found to contain one million Becquerels per liter of iodine 131 — which is about 10,000 times more radioactive than water normally found at a nuclear power plant. In an effort to stop the flow of water workers tried to block the leak with concrete on Saturday. When that effort failed they turned to a mix of sawdust, shredded newspaper and chemicals. After they had the mixture in place, workers realized they were targeting the wrong area of the pit and are currently searching the plant for the source of the water.
The announcement that workers were using a mixture of sawdust, newspaper and chemicals to stop a radioactive leak brought us flying back in time to the announcement that BP was going to shoot a bunch of trash into their faulty well in the Gulf of Mexico to try to plug it. Engineers in Japan are currently trying to trace the source of the leak after figuring out this morning that they were focusing on the wrong channel. With all of this confusion, we are left a little perplexed — why has no one thought of ways to correct such simple problems at nuclear power plants such as cracks in a maintenance pit? The tragic events in Japan and ensuing damage at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have been a sullen reminder for the world that we just don’t have nuclear power containment figured out yet.
Amidst the new problems at the plant, the government of Japan finally gave a realistic time table for repairs over the weekend saying that the effort to repair and contain the nuclear plant would likely take a few months at the least. “It would take a few months until we finally get things under control and have a better idea about the future,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama, Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency spokesman. “We’ll face a crucial turning point within the next few months, but that is not the end.” Though officials did comment on a timetable for stabilization of the entire plant, they didn’t mention how long it will take to stop the radioactive leak.