TOKYO: Source Of Radiation Leak At Nuclear Plant Still Unclear: UPDATED

4 Apr

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By MARI YAMAGUCHI and YURI KAGEYAMA, Associated Press Mari Yamaguchi And Yuri Kageyama, Associated Press :

TOKYO – Workers used a milky white dye Monday as they frantically tried to trace the path of highly radioactive water gushing near Japan’s tsunami-damaged nuclear plant and seeping into the ocean.

A crack in a maintenance pit found over the weekend was the latest confirmation that radioactivity continues to spill into the environment. The leak is a symptom of the primary difficulty at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex: Radioactive water is pooling around the plant and preventing workers from powering up cooling systems needed to stabilize dangerously vulnerable fuel rods.

Engineers have turned to a host of improvised and sometimes bizarre methods to tame the nuclear plant after it was crippled in Japan’s magnitude 9.0 quake and tsunami on March 11. Efforts over the weekend to clog the leak with a special polymer, sawdust and even shredded newspapers failed to halt the flow at a cracked concrete maintenance pit near the shoreline.

Suspecting they might be targeting the wrong channel to the pit, workers tried to see if they could trace the leak’s pathway by dumping into the system several pounds (kilograms) of salts used to give bathwater a milky hue, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Monday.

“There could be other possible passages that the water may be traveling. We must watch carefully and contain it as quickly as possible,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for the Nuclear Safety and Industrial Agency.

Radioactive water has pooled up throughout the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant because the operator has been forced to rely on makeshift ways of pumping water into plant — and allowing it to gush out wherever it can — to bring down temperatures and pressure in the reactor cores.

Government officials conceded Sunday that it will likely be several months before the cooling systems are completely restored. And 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.

The makeshift system makes it difficult to contain the radiation leaks, but it is aimed a preventing fuel rods from going into a full meltdown that would release even more radiactivity into the environment.

“We must keep putting water into the reactors to cool to prevent further fuel damage, even though we know that there is a side effect, which is the leakage,” Nishiyama said. “We want to get rid of the stagnant water and decontaminate the place so that we can return to our primary task to restore the sustainable cooling capacity as quickly as possible.”

The crisis has unfolded as Japan deals with the aftermath of twin natural disasters that decimated large swaths of its northeastern coast. Up to 25,000 people are believed to have died in the disaster, and tens of thousands lost their homes. Thousands more were forced to flee a 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius around the plant because of the radiation.

Over the weekend, an 8-inch-long (20-centimeter-long) crack was discovered in a maintenance pit, sending a stream of water into the sea. The area is normally blocked off by a seawall, but a crack was also discovered in that outer barrier Monday.

While radioactivity is quickly diluted in the ocean, a government spokesman said Monday that the sheer volume of contamination is becoming a concern. It is not clear how much water has leaked from the pit so far.

“Even if they say the contamination will be diluted in the ocean, the longer this continues, the more radioactive particles will be released and the greater the impact on the ocean,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano. “We are strongly urging TEPCO that they have to take immediate action to deal with this.”

The operator said Monday it is ordering fencing that is typically used to contain oil spills. The screens are not designed to trap radioactivity but might curtail the flow of water and thus reduce the spread of contamination, said TEPCO manager Teruaki Kobayashi. It was not clear when they would arrive.

Before restoring the cooling system, workers must rid the plant of the pools of radioactive water that have collected under each of the three troubled reactors’ turbine buildings and have spilled into various trenches around the complex. TEPCO has proposed pumping it into tankers, barges and is now considering sending it to a storage facility on site.

Work on those problems continue to make progress, even as workers try to stop the latest leak, Nishiyama said.

“We have to apply stopgap measures to day-to-day problems, like the pit water leakage, but we are continuing on our effort to achieve the goal,” he said.

Some of the reactors are made by General Electric, and the company’s CEO met Sunday with TEPCO’s chairman. Jeffrey Immelt told reporters Monday that more than 1,000 engineers from GE and its partner Hitachi are helping to analyze the problems at the plant.

Immelt also offered assistance in dealing with the electricity shortage brought on by damage to Dai-ichi and other power plants. Japan is expecting a shortfall of at least 10 million kilowatts come summer.

Gas turbines are on their way from the U.S. with both long- and short-term capabilities, Immelt said.

___

Associated Press writers Ryan Nakashima in Tokyo contributed to this report.

NEWS UPDATE:

The Japanese government says 11,500 tons of radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant is to be dumped at sea as a “safety measure”.

Nuclear Plant Water To Be Dumped At Sea Enlarge photo

The action is being taken to free up storage space at the complex for more highly contaminated water, according to the company that operates the plant.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company says the water to be discharged into the sea is only weakly radioactive.

It had earlier been told by the Japanese government to move quickly to trace and seal a leak from one reactor that is seeping radiation into the ocean.

Attempts to stop the leak have so far failed and the Japanese government has expressed concern that the accumulation of radiation would have a “huge impact on the ocean”.

One government official has said it would take months before the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima plant is brought under control.

It was severely damaged by the mega earthquake and resultant tsunami that hit Japan on March 11.

Over the weekend an eight-inch (20cm) long crack was discovered in a maintenance pit at reactor number two where radioactive water had been flowing into the sea.

Efforts to seal it with a mixture of sawdust, newspapers, polymers and cement failed.

Workers have now used several kilograms of milky white bath salts to see if they can identify the path of the leak.

Finding and sealing the leak is now the primary target in the effort to control the crisis.

Once that is achieved work to restore the cooling system can start.

Radioactive water has collected under three of the six reactor buildings and some has spilled into various trenches around the Fukushima complex.

Most of the water is coming from the continuing operation to pump water into the reactors to keep them cool.

Hedehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for Japan’s Nuclear Safety and Industrial Agency has acknowledged the dilemma faced by those dealing with the crisis.

“We must keep putting water into the reactors to cool to prevent further fuel damage even though we know there is a side effect, which is the leakage” he said.

“We want to get rid of the stagnant water and decontaminate the place so that we can return to our primary task to restore the sustainable cooling capacity as quickly as possible.” he added.

NEWS UPDATE:

By Raju Gopalakrishnan Raju Gopalakrishnan :

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Six times, Sergei Belyakov says, he has been through the doorway to hell and back.

The Ukrainian-American was a volunteer “jumper” who helped clean up after the nuclear disaster in the town of Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union in April, 1986.

These are people who jump into a radioactive area to clear debris or mend pipes and run to safety before radiation reaches lethal levels.

Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) is trying to get jumpers — reportedly for $5,000 a day — to bring its damaged nuclear power plant in northern Japan under control after it was severely damaged by last month’s earthquake and tsunami, the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.

Six times during his 40-day tenure at Chernobyl, Belyakov was one of the hundreds crouching in the covered stairway leading to the roof of nuclear reactors 3 and 4. Outside, radioactivity was so high that it could kill within minutes.

“It was the doorway to hell,” he told Reuters, recalling events of 25 years ago. “Right at the door there was an elaborate and professionally done drawing on the wall, like a fresco, which showed you the roof in 3-D.

“The guy (at the door) tells you, you go here, you do this, you go around this, this ladder is not good so don’t go there because you may fall with it. You mentally imprint what you need to do, you follow that. Then you run.”

He would hack away at highly toxic asphalt on the roof and toss it down to be buried, but for a very limited time. The longest he spent on the roof was two minutes, the shortest between 30-40 seconds.

“The guy yells (to) you or you have your own judgment (to come back). Once you are done, you go down. There were 700-900 people collected on that staircase. It was a moving, never-ending chain of people.”

Now 55 and a U.S. citizen, Belyakov is a scientist working in Singapore for research group Albany Molecular Research Inc. But he says those days in 1986 are seared in his mind.

The first time on the roof, he said, was the worst. “The goggles were sweaty and I perhaps lost 10 pounds just in these few moments because it was completely a shocking experience.”

Belyakov was an associate professor at a Ukrainian university in 1986. He first sensed something was wrong at Chernobyl while he was on a fishing holiday and noticed that water levels in the Dnipro River were plummeting, a sign that dams upstream had been closed.

It was weeks before Soviet authorities acknowledged the gravity of the crisis. Belyakov, also an army reservist who had been trained in chemical warfare defense, volunteered to help despite his wife’s objections.

“She wasn’t happy obviously, but I put my foot down. I did not expect the scale of what I am going to experience. If I knew that in advance, I perhaps would think twice.

He was called up in July, and sent to Chernobyl. He would spend 23 shifts at the plant itself, protected only by lead sheets below waist level at the front and the back. Other gear include heavy gloves and respirators, but these could not protect against radioactivity.

Workers had to leave when they were exposed to 2 Roentgen of radiation per day, about 240 millisieverts. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says a dose of 500 millisieverts would cause nausea and 1,000 would cause hemorrhage.

After sustaining 25 Roentgen of radiation, the Chernobyl workers were sent home. Many have since died prematurely. Belyakov says he knows of at least five other men who worked there who died within 10 years.

But as many of them reach their mid-50s, it is hard to isolate the Chernobyl radiation as a cause of death, he said.

“I was blessed perhaps,” Belyakov says. He was ill for several months, but shows no visible signs now and is a keen basketball player.

“The action of radiation on a living organism is extremely different — there are people who can sustain that very well, unfortunately there are people who get just a pinch of what a normal human being would get and it would be lethal.”

Belyakov shrugged off comments about personal bravery.

“You do it step by step,” he said.

“You break down your task — I have to make 100 steps to the ladder, then I have to climb through the ladder, then I have to make 70 steps right side, then I have to make three or four cuts of that asphalt, then I have to grab a shovel, collect the pieces and toss it out.

“You kind of break your task into small details. And each small task doesn’t look that scary.”

Belyakov did not get much for his heroics.

“There was enough for us to buy an 18 day long travel trip to India,” he said. “It was our first trip abroad. It was fascinating, I still cherish it.

Asked if he had any advice for those considering similar work at the Fukushima plant in Japan, he said: “Being brave doesn’t mean that it comes from your nature.

“It comes from your logic, it comes from your good mind and ability to analyze your situation and make sound decisions. As long as you are capable of sustaining the pressure and sustaining the fear, you can do pretty much whatever you want.

“I can eat pressure for breakfast.”

(Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)

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