Groundwater Contamination Is the Latest Bad News from Fukushima

Situation at plant continues to make life difficult for the pro-nuclear

2 min read
Groundwater Contamination Is the Latest Bad News from Fukushima

As one who believes that nuclear power has a vital role to play in guaranteeing our future energy supplies and in lowering the risk of catastrophic climate change, I am chagrined to report that Fukushima is still providing plenty of ammunition to anti-nuclear forces, two years after the worse-than-imagined cascading disasters that befell the reactor complex in the wake of a devastating earthquake and tsunami.

The New York Times reported on April 30 that groundwater is infiltrating the ravaged reactor complex at a rate of 75 gallons per minute (almost 300 liters/m), straining the operators' ability to collect the contaminated water and prevent it for escaping into the Pacific Ocean.

On top of that, there is serious concern that the accumulating water could swamp the improvised systems that cool the damaged cores, and cause another major accident.

"It feels like we are being chased, but we are doing our best to stay a step in front," a Tepco general manager and spokesperson told the Times.

Already, tanks built to accommodate the strontium-laden groundwater have the capacity of 112 Olympic-size pools (photo). And yet Tepco is planning to remove a small forest near the plant to make room for more tanks. Originally, Tepco thought it would be able to dump wastewater from the plant into the ocean, after filtering out most of the strontium and other radioactive materials. But public outcry over the amount of tritium remaining in the water has led to that idea being scotched.

Could a new generation of small, modular reactors, built underground, give new life to nuclear construction in the advanced industrial countries? Two designs are looking especially promising, as Matthew Wald of the Times reported separately last week. But, as one caustic critic told Wald, the nice thing about paper designs is that they only carry the risk of paper cuts; defects often become apparent only when designs are further along and construction begins.

Photo: Kyodo/AP Images

The Conversation (0)
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

Keep Reading ↓Show less