Fukushima radwater filter system sounds unlikely
Tokyo Electric, the private outfit that owns the melted-down nuclear reactors at Fukushima, has been preventing even greater catastrophe by pouring water over the trashed facilities, and in the process creating astounding amounts of highly radioactive water. Much of it has wound up in the basements of the reactor and turbine buildings, and some of it is in trenches and tanks around the plant. But a lot of it -- no one knows how much, really -- has spilled into the ocean. And the facilities on land can't hold much more.
Water will have to continue to be dumped on the reactors for many months before a Chernobyl-style entombment can even commence.
The utility's been talking for weeks now about setting up a system on site that would filter the radioactivity out of the collected water, and make it suitable for reuse as coolant. But the more one reads about that plan, the less likely it seems to be successful. For one thing, the filters and the sludge they create would be so radioactive that no one could get near them to dispose of them. The materials would constitute high-level radioactive waste in and of themselves. And where would they dispose of them?
TEPCO estimates that about 2,000 cubic meters of sludge will be generated through the treatment of radioactive water at the plant by the end of this year, and intends to keep the toxic substance in the plant's intensive radioactive waste disposal facility.It's a long way from a done deal, to be sure. The ocean seems likely to continue taking a major hit.
However, the facility can only hold 1,200 cubic meters of the sludge because radioactive waste generated in the plant's ordinary operations is already kept there, forcing the utility to build a new facility to keep the sludge on the plant premises.
However, because it is so highly radioactive, the sludge is extremely difficult to manage. Areva acknowledges that it has never handled sludge generated through the treatment of water emitting more than 1,000 millisieverts of radiation per hour.
While radioactive waste generated in the plant's ordinary operations is regularly transferred to a reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, the final disposal site for the sludge and other waste generated as a result of the Fukushima nuclear disaster has not been determined.
In other Fukushima news, the U.S. government continues to warn its citizens to stay 50 miles away from the Fukushima reactors. The official evacuation zone established by the Japanese government is only about 12 miles, however, and there are an estimated two million people still living within that 50-mile radius. Pity the kids and the pregnant.
The Japanese tea industry seems likely to take a major hit from the nuclear disaster. The latest news is that there's radioactive cesium above government safety levels in tea produced more than 180 miles from the meltdown site. Some of it has been recalled, but the world is likely to look at all Japanese tea with a wary eye for the indefinite future.
Perhaps the most telling story to come out of Japan this week is this one: People are so upset with Tokyo Electric that there are going to be 150 police, including a riot squad, at the company's annual meeting in a few weeks. Many of that country's institutions will be sorely tested before the nuclear crisis subsides.