UK | Radiation Fears Halt Japan’s Nuclear Clean-Up

Posted on June 18, 2011

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A massive clean-up operation of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant that went into meltdown following the earthquake and tsunami disaster has been suspended just five hours after it started. 
A camera on a remote controlled helicopter took this photo of damage to the Number 4 reactor building at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The damaged reactors at the Fukushima nuclear plant
The plant’s operator had hoped to start cleaning around 110,000 tonnes of highly radioactive water – enough to fill 40 Olympic-size swimming pools.

But after five hours, higher-than-expected radiation levels forced the operation to stop.

Part of the system that absorbs radioactive caesium had reached its processing capacity and needed to be replaced far earlier than expected, officials said.

Operator Tokyo Electric Power Co, also known as Tepco, speculated that highly radioactive mud may have entered the treatment system or that waste water was more radioactive than previously measured.

Junichi Matsumoto, Tepco’s official in charge of nuclear operations, said: “We are studying the cause of this… We do not have a firm timing as to when we can resume the operation of the water treatment facility.”

Tepco has struggled to cool overheating reactors at the plant, hit by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and deadly tsunami on March 11.

Water swamps plantThe tsunami’s waves swamped the nuclear plant

The wave knocked out reactor cooling systems and backup generators, sparking meltdowns, explosions and radiation leaks.

The world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986 has caused radioactive material to spew into the air, ground and sea and forced the evacuation of 80,000 people in a 12-mile (20km) radius.

Workers have pumped water into reactor cores and fuel rod pools, leaving the contaminated water in basements, drains and ditches, some of which has leaked into the ocean.

The water must be decontaminated before it can be stored or recycled back through the reactors to cool them.

Pumping out the highly radioactive water should then allow workers to start longer-term repair work to the cooling systems.

Officials said earlier this week that the massive, growing pools of radioactive water were in danger of overflowing unless action was taken soon.

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Posted in: UK