The head of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), Shinji Kinjo has described the state of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant as an “emergency”. He was referring to the plant operator’s inability to contain the highly radioactive water seeping from the buildings and out into the ocean. On Monday, it was revealed that water has breached an underground barrier, and it is still not certain how much toxic liquid has reached the sea or the levels of radiation it holds.
Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) has been roundly criticized over their measures to contain the meltdown. Amidst reversals of statements claiming no radiation contamination to groundwater had occurred as well as urging 2,000 workers to seek screenings for potential problems with thyroid cancer, the company has inspired little confidence among the public. In first few weeks of the earthquake and tsunami that damaged the plant in 2011, TEPCO was allowed to release tens of thousands of metric tons of water into the sea. These actions were understandably criticized by neighboring nations as well as local fishermen. The operator promised not to dump any more contaminated water without permission into the environment, but TEPCO is running out of places to store the nearly 400 metric tons of groundwater it pumps from the site each day.
TEPCO’s latest attempt to mitigate the mess was to construct an underground wall by injecting chemicals that harden the earth. However, this reaction only reaches downward of 1.8 meters. By building a barrier, water could begin to accumulate and seep sideways out into the Pacific or towards the surface where it would flow incredibly quickly. Experts estimate that Fukushima has as little as three weeks until the contaminated water reaches the environment.
On Monday, a TEPCO spokesperson said that the company planned to pump an extra 100 metric tons of groundwater each day until the end of the week. They acknowledged that 20 trillion to 40 trillion becquerels of radioactive tritium had leaked since the meltdown, as well as cesium and strontium-90. With original estimates of four decades to contain the spill, the effects of the Fukushima Daiichi will undoubtedly continue to make a indelible mark on the country and environment.