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Japanese Engineers Plug Hole At Fukushima

David McAlpine |
April 5, 2011 | 8:03 p.m. PDT

Executive Producer

(Photo from Flickr via daveeza)
(Photo from Flickr via daveeza)
Japanese engineers took an important step in quelling the country’s impending nuclear crisis after officials at the Fukushima Daiichi plant said they had successfully stopped radioactive water from leaking out of the facility and into the ocean.

According to a spokesperson from the Tokyo Electric Power Company, the company that owns the Fukushima nuclear plant, engineers injected a mix of different textiles including concrete and liquid glass to solidify the soil near a crack in one of the reactors.

Nuclear workers have been attempting to stem the flow of water since Saturday, when water containing 7.5 million times the safe levels of radiation in seawater was found directly off the coast.

However, engineers are not done with their job yet. Plant officials said the country has to dump 11,500 tons of low-level radioactive water into the ocean to free up space for the much more radioactive water the plant needs to contain to work on failed machinery.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Some environmentalists argue that the Japanese action contravenes international agreements, such as the United Nations Law of the Sea, which obliges member countries to make every possible effort to prevent and minimize seawater contamination.

"We are doing our best [to reduce such contamination] and are making sure that the discharge of radioactive water will not pose any health risk to people," Mr. Nishiyama said, stressing that Japan believes no infringement had taken place.

The dumping decision followed nearly two weeks of a stalemate in the repair work, as Tepco desperately searched for a place to put radioactive seawater that was flooding reactors Nos. 1-3, the most heavily damaged units. The seawater was used to tamp down heat in the reactors and spent nuclear fuel rods after the cooling systems broke down after the earthquake.

The seawater has filled vital areas of reactor buildings, making it impossible for workers to repair the cooling systems that are crucial to achieve a lasting solution to the current radiation crisis. The disaster was spawned by a massive earthquake and ensuing tsunami on March 11.

Pumps were moving 4,800 tons of less radioactive water out to sea per day. All the water may be expelled from the complex by Wednesday evening.

Japan’s increased efforts to remove water from the damaged reactors came on the heels of a report from American government engineers sent to help with the mounting nuclear scare. According to U.S. scientists, the building water in each reactor may be the plant’s biggest threat for a meltdown.

The New York Times reported:

Among the new threats that were cited in the assessment, dated March 26, are the mounting stresses placed on the containment structures as they fill with radioactive cooling water, making them more vulnerable to rupture in one of the aftershocks rattling the site after the earthquake and tsunami of March 11. The document also cites the possibility of explosions inside the containment structures due to the release of hydrogen and oxygen from seawater pumped into the reactors, and offers new details on how semimolten fuel rods and salt buildup are impeding the flow of fresh water meant to cool the nuclear cores.

In recent days, workers have grappled with several side effects of the emergency measures taken to keep nuclear fuel at the plant from overheating, including leaks of radioactive water at the site and radiation burns to workers who step into the water. The assessment, as well as interviews with officials familiar with it, points to a new panoply of complex challenges that water creates for the safety of workers and the recovery and long-term stability of the reactors.

While the assessment does not speculate on the likelihood of new explosions or damage from an aftershock, either could lead to a breach of the containment structures in one or more of the crippled reactors, the last barriers that prevent a much more serious release of radiation from the nuclear core. If the fuel continues to heat and melt because of ineffective cooling, some nuclear experts say, that could also leave a radioactive mass that could stay molten for an extended period.



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