Fukushima Leak goes Unplugged

SUBHEAD: So on Sunday they went farther up the system and injected sawdust, three garbage bags of shredded newspaper and a polymer.  

By Hiroko Tabuchi & Ken Belson on 3 April 2011 for New York Times - 

Image above: Tepco worker at Reactor #2 points to pit and crack where 7 tons an hour of highly radioactive water are leaking into pacific Ocean. From (http://i.huffpost.com/gen/262928/thumbs/r-JAPAN-NUCLEAR-CRISIS-huge.jpg).

Workers’ desperate struggle to plug a gush of highly contaminated water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, using sawdust, shredded newspaper and an absorbent powder, appeared to be failing early Monday as the radiation threat from the crippled plant continued to spread.

Water with high amounts of radioactive iodine has been spewing directly into the Pacific Ocean from a large crack discovered Saturday in a six-foot-deep pit at the coastal plant north of Tokyo. The pit is next to the seawater intake pipes at the No. 2 reactor.

After an unsuccessful attempt to flood the pit with concrete to stop the leak, workers on Sunday turned to trying to plug the apparent source of the water — an underground shaft thought to lead to the damaged reactor building — with more than 120 pounds of sawdust, three garbage bags full of shredded newspaper and about nine pounds of a polymeric powder that officials said absorbed 50 times its volume of water.

[IB Editor's note: We've read in another article that the "polymeric powder" i question is a sister ingredient to the one used in baby diapers to absorb bodily fluids. You know, the blue glowing goop they stain the hygiene products with on TV. Yay! Pampers saves the Pacific!]
Although the stopgap measure did not appear to be succeeding, workers would keep trying to stem the leak, said Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director general of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

Early Monday, workers injected a dye into a separate tunnel where contaminated water had been discovered, to determine whether that was the source of the water in the pit, said Tokyo Electric Power Company, the plant’s operator. Workers are also expected to continue efforts Monday to stop the leakage from the pit into the ocean.

Experts estimate that about seven tons an hour of radioactive water is escaping the pit. Safety officials have said that the water, which appears to be coming from the damaged No. 2 reactor, contains one million becquerels per liter of iodine 131, or about 10,000 times the levels normally found in water at a nuclear plant.

“There is still a steady stream of water from the pit,” Mr. Nishiyama said, but workers would continue to “observe and evaluate” the situation overnight.

The leak underscores the dangerous side effects of the strategy to cool the plant’s reactors and spent fuel storage pools by pumping them with hundreds of tons of water. While much of that water evaporates, a significant portion also turns into dangerous runoff that has been discovered in various parts of the plant, endangering workers at the plant and hindering repair efforts. On March 24, three workers were injured when they stepped into a pool of radioactive water in one of the plant’s turbine buildings.

In recent days, workers have tried to clear the contaminated pools, but have struggled to find places to store the water. Meanwhile, higher-than-normal levels of radiation have been detected in waters near the plant, raising fears of damage to sea life.

Tokyo Electric has said it has little choice but to pump more water into the reactors at the moment, since the normal cooling systems at the plant are inoperable and more radioactive material would be released if the reactors were allowed to melt down fully or if the rods caught fire.

Still, some experts expressed bewilderment at what they called an 11th-hour bid to plug the leak.
“I’ve never heard of anything like it at a nuclear power plant,” said Itsuro Kimura, emeritus professor at Kyoto University and director of the Japan-based Institute of Nuclear Technology.

What is really needed, he said, is for the cooling systems to come back online at the plant’s six reactors. Those cooling systems work by circulating water around the nuclear fuel, producing little runoff.
“That is the best way to stop the leakage of radioactive water,” Mr. Kimura said. “But for now, they have to stop the water leaking the best they can.”

Tokyo Electric has come under growing scrutiny for its handling of the nuclear crisis set off by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan. In recent days, reports surfaced that the company would be taken over by the government. Tokyo Electric reported that a protesters’ sound truck, presumably sent to heckle the company, was blocked from entering the Fukushima Daiichi plant on Thursday.

There are also frequent protests at the company’s headquarters in the Uchisaiwai-cho neighborhood of central Tokyo. On Sunday, several hundred antinuclear protesters assembled in front of Tokyo Electric’s offices, then marched to Kasumigaseki to protest in front of the offices of Japan’s nuclear regulators.

The protesters shouted such slogans as, “Tokyo Electric, get out of nuclear energy” and “Compensate the victims.” Others called for the company and government to apologize. Some carried placards that read, “Even if we don’t have nuclear power, we’ll still have electricity.”

“The Japanese people don’t protest usually, but this time, we have to show that we can call for change,” said Masanobu Takeshi, 40, with his wife and son.

Makoto Yanagida, 70, who has been protesting since March 12, said that on the first day, only about 10 people showed up. Sunday’s protest, the 10th, drew more than 300 people, he said. Mr. Yanagida said that he would continue protesting until nuclear plants were shut down.

Nuclear officials warned, however, that it could take months to bring the Fukushima Daiichi plant under control.

“It would take a few months until we finally get things under control and have a better idea about the future,” said Mr. Nishiyama of the nuclear safety agency. “We’ll face a crucial turning point within the next few months, but that is not the end.”

Earlier Sunday, Tokyo Electric said that two workers at the Fukushima Daiichi plant who were missing since the day of the earthquake and tsunami had been confirmed dead — the first of the company’s employees to be listed among the dead since the crisis began. Five employees of subsidiary companies also died at other Tokyo Electric facilities.

Tokyo Electric said the two workers at Fukushima Daiichi were found in the basement of the turbine building connected to the No. 4 reactor. The company found the bodies on Wednesday but did not release the details until the families had been notified.

The company said that the workers, Kazuhiro Kokubo, 24, and Yoshiki Terashima, 21, died on March 11, around 4 p.m., after the tsunami hit the plant.

“It pains me that these two young workers were trying to protect the power plant,” Tokyo Electric’s chairman, Tsunehisa Katsumata, said in a statement.

Of the other five deaths connected to the earthquake and tsunami, one man died when he was struck by a crane that had toppled at the Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant. Four other workers died at Tokyo Electric’s Hitachinaka coal-fired power plant when they fell from the chimneys they were working on.

Engineers pin hopes on Polymer  

By Ryan Nakashima & Mari Yamaguchi on 3 April 2011 for the AP -  

Image above: Pit where leak occurs partially filled with concrete that failed to block radioactive water escaping to ocean. From (http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/8666676-catastrophe-in-japan-21-workers-suffer-genetic-damage-from-radiation).
Engineers at Fukushima Dai Ichi Nuclear Plant pinned their hopes on chemicals, sawdust and shredded newspaper to stop highly radioactive water pouring into the ocean from Japan's tsunami-ravaged reactors Sunday as officials said it will take several months to bring the crisis under control, the first time they have provided a timetable.

Concrete already failed to stop the tainted water spewing from a crack in a maintenance pit, and the new mixture did not appear to be working either, but engineers said they were not abandoning it.
The Fukushima Da-ichi plant has been leaking radioactivity since the March 11 tsunami carved a path of destruction along Japan's northeastern coast, killing as many as 25,000 people and knocking out key cooling systems that kept it from overheating. People living within 12 miles (20 kilometers) of the plant have been forced to abandon their homes.

The government said Sunday it will be several months before the radiation stops and permanent cooling systems are restored. Even after that happens, there will be years of work ahead to clean up the area around the complex and figure out what to do with it.

"It would take a few months until we finally get things under control and have a better idea about the future," said Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama. "We'll face a crucial turning point within the next few months, but that is not the end."

His agency said the timetable is based on the first step, pumping radioactive water into tanks, being completed quickly and the second, restoring cooling systems, being done within a matter of weeks or months.

Every day brings some new problem at the plant, where workers have often been forced to retreat from repair efforts because of high radiation levels. On Sunday, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. announced it had found the bodies of two workers missing since the tsunami.

Radiation, debris and explosions kept workers from finding them until Wednesday, and then the announcement was delayed several days out of respect for their families.

TEPCO officials said they believed the workers ran down to a basement to check equipment after the magnitude-9.0 earthquake that preceded the tsunami. They were there when the massive wave swept over the plant.

"It pains us to have lost these two young workers who were trying to protect the power plant amid the earthquake and tsunami," TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata said in a statement.

On Saturday, workers discovered an 8-inch (20-centimeter) crack in a maintenance pit at the plant and said they believe water from it may be the source of some of the high levels of radioactive iodine that have been found in the ocean for more than a week.

This is the first time they have found radioactive water leaking directly into the sea. A picture released by TEPCO shows water shooting some distance away from a wall and splashing into the ocean, though the amount is not clear. No other cracks have been found.

The radioactive water dissipates quickly in the ocean but could be dangerous to workers at the plant.
Engineers tried to seal the crack with concrete Saturday, but that effort failed.

So on Sunday they went farther up the system and injected sawdust, three garbage bags of shredded newspaper and a polymer - similar to one used to absorb liquid in diapers - that can expand to 50 times its normal size when combined with water.

The polymer mix in the passageway leading to the pit had not stopped the leak by Sunday night, but it also had not leaked out of the crack along with the water, so engineers were stirring it in an attempt to get it to expand. They expected to know by Monday morning if it would work.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people are still living in shelters, 200,000 households do not have water, and 170,000 do not have electricity.

Running water was just restored in the port city of Kesennuma on Saturday, and residents lined up Sunday to see a dentist who had flown in from the country's far north to offer his services. Many were elderly and complaining of problems with their dentures.

Overhead and throughout the coastal region, helicopters and planes roared by as U.S. and Japanese forces finished their all-out search for bodies.

The effort, which ended Sunday, is probably the final hope for retrieving the dead, though limited operations may continue. It has turned up nearly 50 bodies in the past two days.

In all, more than 12,000 deaths have been confirmed, and another 15,500 people are missing.


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