Fear grows near another nuclear plant in Japan  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The Globe and Mail has an interesting article on the Japanese reactor complex damaged in their last major earthquake - Fear grows near another nuclear plant in Japan.

When residents of this quiet rice-farming area on Japan’s west coast watch news of the unfolding nuclear disaster in Fukushima, they do so with an added level of fear that comes from living in the shadow of an even bigger nuclear plant, one that sits directly on a fault line.

The images of smoke rising from a nuclear reactor are chillingly familiar to the tens of thousands of people who live a short drive from the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, the world’s largest in terms of output. A fire broke out in an electricity transformer following a 2007 earthquake here, sending black smoke billowing into the sky and sowing panic among residents who had to wait hours to hear any kind of explanation of what was going on.

Tokyo Electric Power Company, better known as TEPCO, operates both Kashiwazaki-Kariwa and the Fukushima Daiichi facilities damaged in the earthquake and tsunami on March 11. The company’s already battered reputation took another hit Sunday when it announced it had detected radiation levels 10 million times normal in the water inside Reactor No. 2 at Fukushima, only to sheepishly declare later in the day that the reading was “not credible” and that another measurement was required.

In the interim, the workers battling to bring Fukushima’s four damaged reactors under control were evacuated. It was not clear when they might be able to resume their daunting assignment.

Many of Kariwa’s 5,000 residents worry the fate that has befallen those who live around Fukushima – living in evacuation centres as radiation pollutes the region’s water and food – could easily be theirs. “We feel lucky that this reactor happened to cool down in 2007. Looking at Fukushima, we’re seeing what would have happened to us if it didn’t,” said Eiko Tamura, a 68-year-old retired high-school teacher who lives just 2.5 kilometres from Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, well within the 20-kilometre radius that has been evacuated around Fukushima.

All seven reactors at the plant were shut down following the 2007 quake and only four have since been allowed to resume operation. The quake caused a small amount of radioactive material from the spent-fuel storage pools in one of the reactors to leak into the sea.

Relief that the worst didn’t happen is heavily outweighed by fear of what might occur next time. In the aftermath of the 2007 quake, the Japan Meteorological Agency determined that Kashiwazaki-Kariwa sits directly on the fault that caused the quake.

TEPCO’s explanation for what is happening at Fukushima is the same one it offered four years ago: the earthquake was much larger than could have been anticipated. The tremor in July, 2007, that struck nine kilometres offshore in the Sea of Japan was a magnitude 6.8 (compared to the 9.0 quake that hit the northeast coast on March 11) and there was no subsequent tsunami. Kashiwazaki-Kariwa was built to safely withstand a quake of up to 6.5 magnitude, though its safety measures have since been upgraded.

“We would like to express our sincere apology to those who live near Fukushima plant [and] all the people who are concerned about radiation,” TEPCO spokesman Kiyoto Ishikawa wrote in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail. “We will try our best to provide the necessary information as quickly as possible working closely with the government, so that the citizens will be able to live with sense of security.”

The Fukushima disaster has raised the volume of a decades-old debate over whether Japan, a country crisscrossed and surrounded by some 2,000 major and minor fault lines, should have 55 nuclear plants on its soil. Some 300 Japanese demonstrators – some of them wearing gas masks – marched past TEPCO’s Tokyo headquarters on Sunday chanting “We don’t need nuclear plants!”

The Wall Street Journal reports things continue to get worse at the tsunami damaged plant - At Plant, Toxic Pools Threaten to Spill.
Workers at Japan's damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant battled Monday to keep radioactive water that has flooded one reactor building from spilling over into the ocean, while the operator said plutonium was detected in samples of soil taken from the compound.

The plutonium discovery, along with readings of the contaminated pool, offered the strongest signs yet that the reactor's core may have partially melted. The new reports "back up the view that there was a partial melting of the fuel rods,'' chief government spokesman Yukio Edano said at a press conference on Tuesday morning.

Operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said the plutonium was found at low levels that pose no risk to human health and are unlikely to affect the repair work. But the discovery is expected to add to the urgency of the task to bring the reactors under control.

Monday's events brought a new turn to the complex battle to stem disaster at the nuclear complex. Since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems at the plant, the prime battle has been to bring overheating reactors down to safe temperatures. Last week, after crews doused reactors with salt- and freshwater, temperatures stopped rising.

Plant officials are now facing standing water in four of the complex's six reactor buildings, at least one of which is a pool of highly radioactive water. That poses dangers to personnel on the site and threatens to bedevil further work.

It also sets a new agenda for the company and government—finding and stopping the radiation's source, keeping the pools that carry the contamination from spilling into the nearby ocean, and grappling with how to dispose of what is still an unclear quantity of radioactive water. At the plant's reactor No. 2, standing water has reached a depth of about three feet, according to Tepco. Water in a trench that houses pipes in the reactor had a radioactivity level of 1,000 millisieverts per hour, officials said, four times the cumulative annual limit emergency workers at the facility are allowed to receive.

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