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article imageFukushima — A litany of failures costing hundreds of millions

By Karen Graham     Mar 28, 2015 in Environment
Four years after the earthquake and resulting tsunami that killed 18,000 people and destroyed the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plan in Japan, the tragedy is far from being over. Despite the litany of failures in cleaning up the mess, Japan carries on.
The daunting task of cleanup at the Fukushima nuclear power plant site, where three of six reactors melted down, and one other is badly damaged, has been an ongoing chore that seems to have no end. And to add insult to injury, Japanese government auditors revealed this past week that over one-third of the $2.0 billion of taxpayer money earmarked for the cleanup has been wasted.
But believe it or not, tourists are beginning to return to the area as radiation fears have faded, perhaps due to positive information being issued to the public by government officials, and there are plans to host events in the Fukushima area for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But overshadowing all this good news is a pervasive and depressing litany of failures and screw-ups.
Radioactive rainwater
Radioactivity around the plant still remains above acceptable levels because no one has been able to bring it under control. This is because of the daily flood of 300 tons of rainwater that flows through the site. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) officials know all that rainwater becomes contaminated, and they have been attempting to put a stop to the flow.
TEPCO spent 2.1 billion Yen, US$22 million on seven huge underground pools to contain the water, but within a few weeks, they started leaking. So TEPCO spent another 16 billion Yen on above-ground storage tanks, filling them with 500,000 tons of radioactive water. The tanks were made using rubber seals, and made by unskilled laborers. They turned out to be shoddy, at best. They started leaking, sending the contaminated water into the ground and the ocean. According to Gizmodo, it took TEPCO almost a year to even report those leaking tanks.
The bad ideas brigade was not discouraged
I suppose having bad ideas is far better than having no ideas at all, and when 18.1 billion Yen was poured down the drain with the underground pools and leaky storage tanks, a 100 million Yen project was started that would supposedly contain the contaminated water in a maintenance tunnel by freezing the water. Sadly, even after throwing chunks of ice into the slush, the water never did completely freeze. So after pouring cement into the corridor, back they went to the drawing board.
The bad idea brigade finally came up with the ultimate brain blow-out. They would build a 1.5 kilometer (1640 yards)-long sunken “ice wall” of frozen soil all around the reactors. While the idea had never been attempted before in human history, it sparked people's imagination. But that didn't last for long because last week, TEPCO announced the plan had been postponed indefinitely.
Technical errors following the meltdown lead to damage control
Most of us remember that seawater was used to cool the reactor cores after the initial crisis in March 2011, when the normal cooling systems failed. A tremendous amount of money was spent on machines from companies, including Hitachi GE Nuclear Energy, Toshiba Corp. and Areva, to remove the salt from the contaminated water. One machine lasted five days before breaking down and another actually lasted for six weeks.
James Corbett from Fukushima Update told last October, “The cores are still there and highly radioactive. The technology to approach the cores does not exist yet. Just last week (October 2014) they had a typhoon and in the wake of that they found 10 times the radioactivity in the groundwater than in the week before.”
Corbett added, "There really isn’t the technology to even begin approaching the core of these reactors yet,’’ he said. “[They’re] the fundamental cause of the problem. That is going to go on for potentially years, potentially decades. At this stage, it’s more damage control and trying to take care of things like the radioactive water.”
With an expected 20 million visitors, the Japanese government is also doing a great deal of damage control, leading up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. With cheap prices for food and lodging near the exclusion zone, tourism has started rising. But plant workers would like to tell a different story, of poor wages and dangerous work conditions, but open discussion of the disaster is now frowned upon, with authorities focused on displaying a harmonious public face.
Fukushima food products being sold all over Japan
On Wednesday, officials seized over 283 food products imported from the Fukushima region and found to have been relabeled as having come from other areas of the country. This was just the latest in an ongoing attempt to sell products from those areas still under export restrictions because of the Fukushima disaster. Further investigation by the health department found that a number of well-known Japanese supermarkets had imported and were selling the restricted products.
Japan's Food and Drug Administration chief Chiang Yu-mei pointed out there has been a rise in reports of products from the five areas that were affected by the Fukushima crisis. From March 19 to 21, over 3,000 products were found to be mislabeled with the point of origin, most coming from the five prefectures exposed to radiation.
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