Here’s the latest of our news bulletins from the ongoing crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

State of the Fukushima Reactors

After spending just 15 minutes on the fourth floor of reactor #1, Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) inspectors said they determined yesterday that a massive magnitude 9.0 earthquake in March 2011 did not damage isolation condensers there (critical for emergency cooling), despite a Diet-sponsored investigative report that raised concerns about earthquake damage. Workers had reported that they saw water leaking from the condensers before a subsequent tsunami struck the plant, but inspectors now insist that the water simply splashed out of the reactor’s spent fuel pool following the earthquake.

The #1 reactor experienced one of three nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima facility in March 2011, and more than two years later, the utility still has not been able to locate the melted fuel. As a result, astronomically high radiation levels there prevent humans from spending more than 10 or 15 minutes within the reactor building.

In what seems like an unending series of mishaps in its efforts to manage a fast-growing water storage crisis, TEPCO admitted this week that its so-called Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS), designed to remove a wide variety of radioactive contaminants from water used to cool reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, has sprung a leak. Workers discovered that radioactivity near a welded portion of the system’s water tank, which holds 25 tons of water, measured approximately .2 millisieverts per hour, greater than that of surrounding areas. They are still investigating the cause of the leak, but suspect that areas near the welds may be malfunctioning. In the meantime, they have shut down the system. Officials say that the leaked water mixed with condensation but was captured in a tray sitting below the tank.

TEPCO has placed great hope in the ALPS system, amidst numerous leaks and other breakdowns at the plant. Currently, the utility is storing more than 300,000 tons of highly radioactive water in tanks located on the plant’s compound. Each day, approximately 400 tons of groundwater seep into cracks located in the basements of reactor buildings and mix with highly radioactive water used to cool melted fuel in the reactor cores. The groundwater subsequently becomes radioactive and requires storage.

The ALPS system does not remove radioactive tritium, leading some municipal leaders and local fisheries cooperatives to protest the possibility of releasing water treated with ALPS into the sea, out of concern for further contamination of fish and other marine life. Tritium has a half-life of more than 12 years and can cause cancer.

TEPCO

In a surprise move, TEPCO announced this week that it is considering a delay in applying for the restart of reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture, as a result of widespread local opposition to the plan. Kashiwazaki-Kariwa is the world’s largest nuclear power plant, with seven reactors, although all are currently idle in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. Japan’s NRA will start accepting applications for nuclear reactor restarts beginning on July 18, and has estimated that each evaluation will take up to six months. Despite the possible delay, TEPCO is currently working to install filtered vents at reactors #1 and #7.

But that work may be for naught unless Prime Minister Shinzo Abe overrides the wishes of local governments. Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida has flatly refused to grant approval to bring any of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa reactors online again unless the root causes of the Fukushima meltdowns are confirmed. “Verifications of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster should come first,” he said. In addition, Izumida expressed doubts about the safety of filtered vents. “Even though filtered vents are intended to reduce radioactive material emissions, there are inherently designed to emit such materials outside. There’s no way that the utility can win our trust without explaining how it is going to operate them,” he said.

Meanwhile, TEPCO’s own assessments of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant show that fault lines running beneath several of the reactors are likely active, raising the chances that the NRA will deny restarts there even if the utility submits applications. The effect could be devastating for TEPCO, which has long banked on restarting those reactors in an effort once again reach financial solvency.

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