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Radioactive water release from Fukushima may be inevitable

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Officials in Japan are beginning to suggest the unthinkable at the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant: releasing stored radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean. On Tuesday, the China Post reported that a Japanese government panel studying the problem of radioactive water at Fukushima have agreed to postpone the problem of purifying the radioactive water before releasing it into the ocean. This seems to increase the likelihood that TEPCO will be forced to release untreated radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean.

While the China Post report is unclear whether the panel is planning to release untreated radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean, it comes after several other reports talking of such plans. On Nov. 20, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. said the chairman of the Fukushima Monitoring Committee, Dale Klein, is admitting that, eventually, radioactive water will have to be dumped in the ocean. Then on Dec. 4, the Xinhua News Agency said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) mission in Japan said that discharging contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean might be an option for the plant's operator.

Cleanup operations at the Fukushima nuclear reactor site are, well, challenging. Large parts of the site are too damaged to enter, TEPCO is pouring hundreds of tonnes of water a day on the reactor cores to cool them, and it's thought there are hundreds of tonnes more groundwater per day becoming contaminated by the reactor cores, and that some of that water is already flowing into the Pacific Ocean. To store contaminated water, TEPCO has built about 1,000 water storage tanks. But the tanks were shoddily constructed, are already leaking, and are thought to be in danger of failure if (or when) a major earthquake occurs in the area. The storage capacity is expected to be exhausted by 2016 or so, but it will take much longer than that to cool the damaged reactor cores.

Earlier this month there was another failure in system TEPCO hopes will decontaminate the radioactive water, delaying the hope of decontamination.

Which brings us back to the suggestion to postpone work on decontaminating the water. Clearly TEPCO has a huge problem on its hands with managing the contaminated water flowing through the Fukushima site. The water storage needs are enormous, with a huge negative impact for any release of radioactive water into the ocean. Another earthquake, or typhoon, could damage the storage tanks releasing the stored radioactive water.

The decontamination system is a hope for alleviating the need to store water at the Fukushima site. But the system has failed several times raising doubts of whether it will work as hoped.

Some are raising an alarm, because the Pacific Ocean is the source of food for hundreds of millions of people. Each release of radiation from Fukushima increases the risk to that food supply.

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