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EMF Studies

23 March 2017

Struggling With Japan’s Nuclear Waste, Six Years After Disaster

Tanks for contaminated water, with Reactors 1 and 2 in
the background.  
Credit: Ko Sasaki for The New
York Times
- -400 tons of contaminated water per day
- 3,519 containers of radioactive sludge
- 64,700 cubic meters of discarded protective clothing
- 200,400 cubic meters of radioactive rubble
- 3.5 billion gallons of soil
- 1,573 nuclear fuel rods...

Struggling With Japan’s Nuclear Waste, Six Years After Disaster
by Motoko Rich, The New York Times, 
11 March 2017

FUKUSHIMA DAIICHI NUCLEAR POWER STATION — Six years after the largest nuclear disaster in a quarter-century, Japanese officials have still not solved a basic problem: what to do with an ever-growing pile of radioactive waste. Each form of waste at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, where three reactors melted down after an earthquake and a tsunami on March 11, 2011, presents its own challenges.

400 Tons of Contaminated Water Per Day

The Tokyo Electric Power Company is pumping water nonstop through the three reactors to cool melted fuel that remains too hot and radioactive to remove. About 400 tons of water passes through the reactors every day, including groundwater that seeps in. The water picks up radiation in the reactors and then is diverted into a decontamination facility.

But the decontamination filters cannot remove all the radioactive material. So for now, all this water is being stored in 1,000 gray, blue and white tanks on the grounds. The tanks already hold 962,000 tons of contaminated water, and Tokyo Electric is installing more tanks. It is also trying to slow the flow of groundwater through the reactors by building an underground ice wall.

Within a few years, though, and no one is sure exactly when, the plant may run out of room to store the contaminated water. “We cannot continue to build tanks forever,” said Shigenori Hata, an official at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

The authorities are debating whether it might be acceptable, given the relatively low radioactive levels in the water, to dilute the contaminated water and then dump it into the ocean. But local fishermen are vehemently opposed. Many people still do not trust Tokyo Electric because of its bungled response to the disaster, the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

3,519 Containers of Radioactive Sludge

The process of decontaminating the water leaves radioactive sludge trapped in filters, which are being held in thousands of containers of different sizes.

Tokyo Electric says it cannot quantify the amount of radioactive sludge being generated. But it says it is experimenting with what to do with it, including mixing it with cement or iron. Then it will have to decide how to store it.

64,700 Cubic Meters of Discarded Protective Clothing

The estimated 6,000 cleanup workers at the site put on new protective gear every day. These hazmat suits, face masks, rubber gloves and shoe coverings are thrown out at the end of each shift. The clothing is compressed and stored in 1,000 steel boxes stacked around the site.

To date, more than 64,700 cubic meters of gear has been discarded, the equivalent of 17 million one-gallon containers. Tokyo Electric says it will eventually incinerate all this contaminated clothing to reduce the space needed to store it.

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