The Japanese authorities have sounded the alarm after the cooling-water level in two wrecked reactors at the Fukushima nuclear plant began falling following a powerful earthquake in the area last week.
The water level has fallen by as much as 70cm (27in) in the plant’s Unit 1 and 30cm (11in) in Unit 3. The suspected impact on the containment chambers in their reactors was caused by Saturday’s quake, in which some 180 people sustained mostly minor injuries, and there was disruption to power and water supplies, and damage to high-speed rail networks and numerous homes.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) spokesman Keisuke Matsuo warned of possible additional damage at the plant that could further frustrate its decades-long decommissioning process.
The earthquake struck the area mere weeks before the 10th anniversary of the Tohoku quake and tsunami disaster, which claimed the lives of 15,899 people and injured an additional 6,157. That event triggered a nuclear meltdown and caused an estimated $360 billion-worth of damage.
Since Saturday, the additional cooling water pumped into the site to lower the melted nuclear fuel left behind has been leaking out at a higher rate than before. TEPCO said it would continue to closely monitor both the water and temperatures at the plant in the coming days and weeks.
To make matters worse, Fukushima’s 1.37-million-ton contaminated-water storage facility will be full by next summer. The decision on whether to dump its contents into the sea – widely viewed as a highly controversial proposal – is still pending.
On Friday, the Tokyo High Court held both TEPCO and the government accountable for the 2011 disaster, ordering a payout of 280 million yen ($2.6 million) to some 40 plaintiffs displaced by the incident – a reversal of a previous decision that absolved the government of responsibility.
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