Conditions Worsen at Fukushima Nuclear Site

This is not good. From the Washington Post:

Leaked water sampled from one unit Sunday was 100,000 times more radioactive than normal background levels — though the Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the plant, first calculated an even higher, erroneous, figure that it didn’t correct for several hours.

Tepco apologized Sunday night when it realized the mistake; it had initially reported radiation levels in the leaked water from the unit 2 reactor as being 10 million times higher than normal, which prompted an evacuation of the building.

After the levels were correctly measured, airborne radioactivity in the unit 2 turbine building still remained so high that a worker there would reach his yearly occupational exposure limit in 15 minutes….

Japanese authorities say efforts to control Fukushima’s overheated reactors will take months and during that time radiation will continue to leak into the environment, extending a nuclear emergency that already ranks as the most serious in a quarter-century. Several hundred workers now shoulder the responsibility for limiting the crisis, amid potentially lethal radiation levels, and Saturday the chief of Japan’s nuclear agency called on Tepco to improve its worker safety…..

One subcontracted worker who laid cables for new electrical lines March 19 described chaotic conditions and lax supervision that made him nervous. Masataka Hishida said neither he nor the workers around him were given a dosimeter, a device used to measure one’s exposure to radiation. He was surprised that workers were not given special shoes; rather, they were told to put plastic bags over their street shoes. When he was trying on the gas mask for the first time, he said the supervisor told him and other subcontractors, “Listen carefully, I’m only going to say this one time” while explaining how to use it.

This operation is dependent on a limited pool of workers, and both the deterioration of the plant and the haphazard safety measures are troubling. As Richard Kline noted two days ago:

And the more you read the more daffily heinous it gets. So three contractors from the power company get sent into a flooded turbine room to plug in a power cord. At Daiichi 3, the most damaged reactor with the most dangerous mix in its presumably partially melted fuel rods. Only the workmen hop out with radiation burns on their legs. How did they get burned? The water was not only far, far, more radioactive then thought, but so deep it flowed in over their boots. . . . Read that back: the guys weren’t even in full-body coverage. No one did a read on the radioactivity level of the water, or likely anything else in the turbine room. The coolant turbines are presumed to be damaged, and no one even knows whether they’ll work, but every effort is being made to restart them—rather than bring in a functional external pumping system, or at least be working on that 24/7 as a fall back plan.

The level of functional incompetence in this effort just seems to get worse by the hour, let alone the day. I know, I know, they had a tsumani X days ago, and have a problem even feeding let alone planning for several hundred thousand people in the surrounding area. I’d like to think that someone in government over there was capable of making some crisis decisions about manpower, timeframe, and hey! objectives, rather than begging the compromised corporation to make everybody look good faster.

Tom Englehardt gives more cheery news:

Somewhere, someone should write about the official euphemisms that accompany disasters. The roiling set of problems at the Fukushima nuclear complex seems only to grow as one unprecedented situation after another arises, including a possible massive build-up of salt — 99,000 pounds are estimated to have accumulated in reactors 2 and 3 — from sea water pumped into the damaged reactors to cool them. Salt can encrust uranium fuel rods and heat them up dangerously. In the meantime, the “mox” fuel (which contains highly toxic plutonium with a half-life of 24,000 years) in reactor 3 now seems to be leaking and venting. The release of mox fuel into the environment represents a situation with which the nuclear industry has little experience. Fears are rising that there could be “a crack or a hole in the reactor core’s stainless steel chamber or in the spent fuel pool that’s contained by a massive concrete container,” which could prove devastating. And that’s just to begin to lay out the problems at the complex itself, which are predicted to go on for “weeks, if not months.” ….

And as for those euphemisms, on Friday the Japanese government widened the evacuation area around the plants from a mandatory 12 miles to a “voluntary” 19 miles. (Previously, residents in the 12 to 19 mile zone were simply encouraged to stay indoors.) According to the Guardian, “The government’s chief spokesman, Yukio Edano, said 130,000 residents in the area had been encouraged to leave to improve their quality of life, not because their health was at risk.”

In fairness, the Japanese hate being direct, it’s considered rude (sort of a cross between liking the sound of one’s voice too much and being pushy about it too), so it’s possible something was lost in the translation…..

Originally published at naked capitalism and reproduced here with permission.