Ever since an earthquake and tsunami caused the Japanese nuclear power plant Fukushima Dai-Ichi to meltdown, the world has watched and wondered just how much radiation leaked into the surrounding water and soil. Now, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) is saying that, two years after the initial meltdown, thousands of gallons of highly radioactive water has leaked from an underground pool at the plant, potentially seeping into the already contaminated soil.
According to TEPCO’s best estimates, about 120 tons (32,280 gallons) of radioactive water escaped from an underground holding pool; company spokesman Daisuke Hirose was, however, unsure just how much of that contaminated water soaked into the soil. Hirose said TEPCO plans to pump the water that stayed put into other underground pools by April 9; they do have fears that “a small quantity” of radioactive water may be leaking from another tank as well.
The leak is just the latest misstep in the efforts to stabilize the plant that began after the March 2011 natural disaster triggered the worst nuclear crisis in 25 years. In its ongoing efforts, Tepco continually injects water into damaged reactors to cool them, then storing that water in underground collection pools; the water from these efforts, some of which has leaked, contains about 710 billion becquerels of radiation. That makes this leak the worst release of radiation since the facility achieved stability through cold shutdown in December 2011, according to Hirose.
Hirose also said that the leakage is unlikely to have reached the ocean since the defective underground pool is about 800 meters (0.5 mile) away from the tank. Even so, Hirose said that Tepco is investigating the cause of the leak.
Other incidents have hampered the stabilizing process at the contaminated plant; on April 5, a cooling system for one of the spent fuel pools temporarily stopped, and the plant lost power on March 18 after a rat caused an electrical short-circuit.
According to the most recently collected data, about 276,000 tons of highly radioactive water is stored in tanks at the Fukushima plant. With that amount of deadly fluid on site, any future incidents have the potential to cause yet another deadly disaster.