More than two years down the line after the disastrous Japanese tsunami, things would appear to be getting worse at the Fukushima nuclear power plant again.
Japan’s nuclear agency has raised the severity level of a leak at the plant from one to three on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES), the BBC reports.
For a little sense of what that means, check out this chart:
While the level of radiation has gone from an “anomaly” to a “serious incident,” that’s still a long way off from a “major accident” — only the original Fukushima disaster and the Chernobyl meltdown have reached that height.
Even so, it’s still a hundred-fold increase in severity. That’s certainly noteworthy, and it’s the worst level at Fukushima since the tsunami.
So far the rating change is only a proposal — Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority have to get the AEA, the UN’s nuclear agency, to confirm it — but people are recognising its importance: Immediately after the news came out, a recent Nikkei rally came to a sudden halt.
The issue is centered around contaminated water currently leaking from the plant that was discovered on Monday. The water is being used to cool the reactors, but over 300 tons of radioactive water have leaked into the soil. In the picture below, taken on August 20, you can see plant workers trying to stop the leak:
Masayuki Ono, an official at Tepco’s plant siting department, told reporters that radiation levels as high as 100 millisieverts per hour were detected near the tank, according to Bloomberg. To put that in perspective, under government regulations plant workers should only be exposed to 100 millisieverts over the course of five years. The water had beta radiation of 80 million becquerels per liter — 8 million times the limit for drinking water.
It gets worse: Not only has this water been leaking into the soil, it may have been leaking into the sea for weeks.
Perhaps the biggest issue is that the situation seems to confirm many people’s suspicion that Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), the group that operates the plant, is unable to cope with the scale of the problem and needs help.
If there’s one positive, it may be that Tepco now seem to admit that.
“We will revamp contaminated-water management to tackle the issue at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant and seek expertise from within and outside of the country,” Zengo Aizawa, a vice president at Tepco, said last night. “There is much experience in decommissioning reactors outside of Japan. We need that knowledge and support.”
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