Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority announced Wednesday that it will raise the threat level at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power plant following revelations that radioactive water has leaked out of storage facilities nearby. The event marks the first time the nuclear regulator has declared a radiological release at the site since an earthquake and a tsunami caused three of the plant’s nuclear reactors to melt down in 2011.
For the past two years, Tokyo Electric Power Company, the plant’s operator, has been working to stop the spread of nuclear contamination. Each day, plant workers inject mass quantities of water into the failed reactors to prevent them from overheating. This has, however, created a new set of hazards.
Water used to cool the reactors becomes contaminated with radioactive material as soon as it passes through their cores. So what has Tepco been doing with the water? It’s storing it in close to 1,000 tanks built on the grounds of the power plant. For a long time, this was assumed to be safe. But now, one of the tanks is leaking.
Tepco confirmed Tuesday that 300 tons of radioactive water have seeped out of one of the storage tanks. According to Reuters the water “is so contaminated that a person standing close to it for an hour would receive five times the annual recommended limit for nuclear workers.” In other words, the situation is critical. Plant workers responded by piling sandbags around the leaking container. But most of the water had already seeped into the ground by the time the effort got underway.
The country’s nuclear regulator was quick to react — though so far only with words. The NRA initially described the event as a “Level 1” on the International Nuclear Event Scale. A Level 1 signifies a minor release of radioactive material. But on Wednesday, the body reconsidered, saying it plans to upgrade the site to a Level 3. (For the sake of comparison, the triple meltdown at Fukushima was a Level 7). The scale is logarithmic, which means that each additional level represents a tenfold increase, and the NRA’s decision to up the level points to evidence of a nuclear emergency.
Part of the reason for the increased threat level is that NRA officials believe other storage tanks may be compromised. The tanks, now dangerously full of radioactive material, were hastily constructed following the 2011 disaster and have not proven as sturdy as Tepco authorities had hoped. A spokesman for the company told The New York Times that small amounts of contaminated water have spilled out of storage tankers on at least four other occasions.
The event comes on the heels of a series of misfortunes at the plant and botched attempts by Tepco officials to save face. In July, the company conceded that additional underground stores of contaminated water were leaking into the Pacific Ocean — after first denying that anything was amiss. It also follows a string of reports that radioactive particles have been detected on plant workers leaving the site.
As the situation turns from bad to worse, nuclear regulators say they are concerned that Tepco may not be able to contain the damage. According to Reuters, the NRA Chairman described the situation as something of a nightmare. “I don’t know if describing it this way is appropriate, but it’s like a haunted house and, as I’ve said, mishaps keep happening one after the other,” he commented.
What We're Following See More »
A Navy destroyer sailed within 12 miles of an artificial island built by China in the South China Sea, one of several such islands at the center of territorial disputes with other nearby nations. The U.S. called it a "freedom of navigation exercise." Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang "said China had lodged stern representations to the U.S over the patrol and that such moves were not conducive to peace and stability in the South China Sea."
"American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers." The conversations centered around Paul Manafort, who was campaign chairman at the time, and Michael Flynn, former national security adviser and then a close campaign surrogate. Both men have been tied heavily with Russia and Flynn is currently at the center of the FBI investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Greg Gianforte, the Montana Republican candidate for the state's lone House seat, was cited for misdemeanor assault Wednesday night after he allegedly body-slammed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. Jacobs entered a room in which Gianforte was preparing to give an interview to Fox News, and asked Gianforte about the recently released CBO score on health care legislation, at which point, according to an account from Fox News's Alicia Acuna, Gianforte put both hands around Jacobs's neck and slammed him to the ground. The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office put out a statement saying there was probable cause for the citation but not the injuries required for it to be considered a felony. Gianforte's aide put out an erroneous statement saying Jacobs grabbed Gianforte by the wrist after aggressively putting a recorder in Gianforte's face.