Translation: A Japanese insider’s horrendous story of what exactly is going on at Fukushima

The following is a crude translation of a Japanese blog post by a popular Japanese Manga creator, who recently saw the Fukushima power plant site with his own eyes. Even after reading this article several times, a part of my brain still wants to deny what he witnessed. Don’t know what to say. Please just read on and judge for yourself.

Radioactive water leakage from Fukushima nuclear powerplant

I have been absent from this blog for a while, but it is a painful and long story, therefore I just write as if nothing has happened since the last entry.

Once again, I am telling a story regarding the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

I went to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant site on April 5th. I did enter the site, but in fact I was allowed to only tour the site inside a small bus chartered by TEPCO. Getting out of the bus was not allowed. Still, it was really significant to see the nuclear power plant with my own eyes.

What struck me most was the large number of people doing their best to keep the nuclear power plant safe in order. I was deeply moved by them, who included staff members of TEPCO and other workers, who were truly devoting themselves into the task, in my perspective. No words other than my deepest appreciation exist for those who have been working at the nuclear power plant .

It is the leaders of TEPCO at their headquarters who are responsible for mismanaging this issue, which might drive Japan into total collapse. To begin with, they did not install the auxiliary power generator on a place high enough (to avoid tsunami), citing the need for cost reduction.

Stories from Mr. Yoshida (the plant manager who recently passed away from cancer caused by radiation) and anecdotes from a “top executive” on a magazine (Weekly Asahi) suggest that the leaders at TEPCO headquarter in far away Tokyo were out of touch with the reality occurring at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

The frontline is not responsible for the serious problem of polluted water leak that has been revealed recently. The water leaked because the tanks were not constructed in a robust manner. According to the contractor, they had no choice due to cost-reduction orders from TEPCO.

I saw the tank and was surprised: they just bolted steel panels and inserted packing material in between to prevent water leakage. Wait a second, how many years can such a rudimental structure last?

A nuclear power plant requires at least 30 years to complete the process of decommissioning, after enduring decades of operation (without causing any accident).

In Fukushima’s case where nobody knows the whereabout of the melt-down fuel and where the cooling system is not functioning, it is very unlikely that the plant will be fully decommissioned in a mere 30 years.

Because the water treatment system is also leaking, it has been impossible to clean the sea water that has been used to cool the nuclear reactor and send it back to the ocean. Therefore, the contaminated water is held in those tanks due to lack of options.

When I first heard of the contaminated water treatment facility (Multi-nuclide Removal Equipment, ALPS), I was expecting that it would remove all radioactive materials. In fact, even if it operated to its full potential to remove around 60 materials, a material called tritium would always remain, according to the document provided by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The treatment water at Fukushima nuclear power plant contains 38 times the amount of tritium that is legally allowed to be emitted ( March 10, 2013 , Tokyo Shimbun newspaper ). If this figure, reported in the Tokyo newspaper, is correct, even after going through ALPS, the water cannot be sent back to the ocean because of the remaining tritium.

When I learned this, I went weak in my knees. Then, what exactly was the point of them emphasizing “decontamination equipment”? No matter what we do, the water cannot be circulated back into the ocean; it needs to be stored in the tank for good. Isn’t that the truth?

That means we cannot send the contaminated back into the ocean for several decades. The half-life of tritium is 12.32 years. How many years will it take for the radiation level of tritium to go below the legal limit? You may calculate, if you want.

Due to the fragile structure of the tank, the water cannot be contained for such a long time. The company in charge of manufacturing says “the tank was constructed in a short period of time without using much cost. It cannot withstand a long period of time.”

What is the point of having such structure, after all? I wonder what the leaders of TEPCO was thinking on making such fragile tanks. Are they considering to ignore tritium and release the contaminated water that is polluted 38 times the legal standard back into the ocean?

What surprised me when I entered the site on April 5th was the sheer number of the tanks. The scene was radically different from what I had seen on newspapers and TV footages. Countless number of tanks were installed, close together in the site. Well, if they cannot release contaminated water, they surely must relentlessly construct additional tanks to store the water, but nevertheless I was stunned when I saw the tremendous amount of tanks.

It is said that the tanks that caused water leaks were originally used on a sinking ground site. TEPCO admitted that those tanks were deconstructed and then was reused on a new site (where they caused leakage), and there was a possibility that the steel frames were bended due to the sink, causing leak from the joints.

The fundamental problem here is that they originally constructed the tanks on a sinking ground site. Looking at the photographs provided by TEPCO, I could see cracks on the ground at the base portion of the installed tanks. The tanks were only placed “upon” the ground directly, instead of being installed on a solid foundational platform.

What a shoddy work. If the land sinks that easily, what will happen where there is an earthquake? Imagine fragile tanks built on top of fragile ground. The number of tanks are increasingly on a daily basis, and they should have reached 1,000 at the end of August. If the water flows out of the tanks and into the site, it will mark the end of everything.

The amount of leaked contaminated water so far is said to be 300 tons. This contaminated water contains radioactive material of 80 million becquerels per one liter. 1 ton is 1000 liters. Let’s calculate.

300 × 1000 × 80 million = 24 trillion becquerels. This is a horrendous situation.

According to Professor Hiroaki Koide of Kyoto University, “The amount of radiation released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb is 24 trillion becquerels.”

One tank has the capacity of 1000 tons. Just one-third of the contaminated water in a single tank includes radioactive material equivalent to that of Hiroshima atomic bomb. As of the end of August, TEPCO says the total amount of contaminated water stored in the tanks is 430,000 tons. If an earthquake hits the region and water leaks out of several among those 1,000 tanks, nobody can do anything.

People cannot enter a site overflown by highly concentrated contaminated water. If people cannot enter the site, then they cannot continue the cooling effort for the reactor. What happens if they stop cooling the reactor? The already-meltdown fuel remains a concern. What will happen to the used fuel inside Unit 4?

Mr. Kukita, Deputy of Nuclear Safety Commission (at March 2011) says “The used fuel will melt, which will be followed by fire hazards, and then the fuel rods will fall through the bottom of the pool. That is the worst-case scenario.”

It not only makes entering the site more difficult, but also spreads radioactive substance as far as the Tokyo metropolitan area. Tokyo will become unliveable. Kanagawa Prefecture (located next to Tokyo), where my house resides, will also become a no-no zone.

Accidents attract each other. And then…

If I continue talking in this way I might start dealing with an unimaginable situation, therefore I stop here. To tell you the truth, right now anything can happen anytime. I am just talking rationally: when we consider possible outcomes, we will eventually reach those conclusions.

Currently in Japan, people are getting over-emotional. When we point out the risks rationally, they will react strongly asking us to stop agitating others.

Well, the same group of people reacted strongly against the risks associated with nuclear power plants in the same manner, even before the nuclear accident. People who cannot admit truths, or even worse, people who want to conceal truths, kept belittling those who dared telling the truth, out of greed.

Let’s get back to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. My impression after touring the site was that everything was temporary treatment. I believe what had been done was emergency treatment that did not stand the chance of more than 30 years to fully decommission the plant.

One evidence of “temporary treatment” was the increasing number of tanks. Another evidence was the piping system for transporting contaminated water. I already discussed about these pipes in my old article, dated September 19th, 2011 and titled “The reality of the contaminated water treatment facility in Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.”

I saw the photo posed on Asahi Weekly, showing a number of pipes carrying contaminated water running in tangled manner, and considered the situation extremely dangerous.

This time, after seeing those pipes myself, my sense of crisis has deepened. Those pipes were no different from normal vinyl pipes. They weren’t created using materials that are resistant to radiation. I saw a pile of yet-to-be used pipes. They were thin and the material wasn’t strong enough. They were, really, normal vinyl pipes.

I have heard of accidents where weeds cut through those pipes, causing leakage accidents. What were TEPCO thinking in using this type of pipe for transporting contaminated water? The tank for storing contaminated water and the pipe for carrying contaminated water are both fragile. Unbelievably, they use incredibly weak materials for the most crucial parts. What exactly is TEPCO thinking?

Judging from the recent leakage accident, I think TEPCO has lost both the will and capability to solve issues on their own. Right after my visit, they found out that seven underground pools for storing contaminated water were leaking, and moved the water into tanks.

You may wonder what those pools were like. They dug a hole in the ground, covered it with vinyl sheets, and stored water into it. Those sheets were of ordinary use and had no protection whatsoever against radiation. In addition, water was leaking from the seams between sheets.

When I heard that news, I was convinced that TEPCO was of no use. I always carried a sense of impending crisis against the ever-increasing contaminated water. It just became real.

Where do Fukushima, or Japan, go from here?