July 12, 2013
This week, The Japan News criticized the Nuclear Regulatory Authority for being “blatantly biased”, while holding a “self-righteous mind-set” in its dealings with nuclear utilities. (1) The News takes the new watchdog to task for “hastily concluding that topographic strains under some facilities are active faults”, ignoring the scientific data of the affected companies. In addition, the editorial says the NRA has “often lacked fairness in making decisions” and it must “shed its self-righteous mind-set and hold constructive and repeated dialogue with the utilities” in the forthcoming review of applications for restarts. Unfortunately, it seems the newspaper’s wish for fairness and objectivity will be unfulfilled, as this week’s F. Daiichi groundwater issue demonstrates.
To place the situation in perspective, Tepco discovered elevated contamination levels in one, solitary well used to sample groundwater. There are more than 20 other such wells at F. Daiichi, and all showed no increasing contamination. At the station’s seaport, one of the four near-shore sampling points has had an increased level of but one isotope…Tritium… but not any others. The port has several barriers installed to prevent any contamination reaching the sea. The inner “quay” is about 300 meters long by roughly 75 meters wide. It is totally enclosed on the east and south sides with thick walls of heavy stone and clay. The northern side of the quay is closed by a “silt dam”. The floor of the quay is “paved” with several layers of impervious material. How good are these barriers? Samples of seawater taken outside the quay show no detectible activity. There is also an outer break-wall which runs the length of the F. Daiichi property which is roughly a kilometer in length and connects to the shore at either end. Outside the break-wall, no contamination has been detectible for nearly two years.
Getting back to the sampling well in question…the location is quite close to the cabling trench which had a considerable leak pour into it from the unit #2 turbine building basement back in April, 2011. After several failed attempts, the leak was plugged by the end of that month. Regardless, many tons of raw, contaminated water had poured into the trench. Most of it found its way directly into the sea, but a goodly amount also drenched the surrounding soil. Tepco says the source of the one well’s contamination is likely residual from the April, 2011 leak. When pressured by the Press, Tepco said they cannot say with absolute certainty that the contamination is totally due to residuals in the soil. Clearly, Tepco is embracing Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. Regardless, it all sounds reasonable, right? Case closed?
Absolutely not! The NRA says they believe the contamination is also coming from somewhere else. The NRA also “strongly suspects” the contamination is finding its way to the ocean, even though the suspect sampling point is 25-30 meters from the sea… even though none of the other groundwater sampling points show parallel increases in radioactivity. Also, the NRA fails to consider that groundwater flow is extremely slow. It has taken more than two years for the trench contamination to move a few meters, with the exception of one isotope…Tritium. A small amount of the hydrogen isotope has reached one location in the quay, shows up in none of the other quay sampling locations and has been steadily decreasing since last Friday…nearly a week. It is possible the elevated Tritium was a spurious spike.
The NRA’s believes the sea is being contaminated because Tepco because there is no absolute assurance of no other sources and the Tritium detected inside the quay. NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka told a press conference, “TEPCO’s explanation is open to question. I think the contamination of seawater is continuing to a greater or lesser extent.” The NRA’s proof is essentially rhetorical and not based of the data at hand. Further, they obviously believe that Tepco cannot be trusted. As far as the Press is concerned, the NRA guarantees that the sea is being contaminated. This is abject use of pure speculation and adds further proof to the NRA’s blatant bias.
In addition, the NRA ordered Tepco to install barriers to keep the contamination from reaching the sea. No credit was given for the quay and break-wall barriers already in place. No credit was given to Tepco’s current work; drilling holes deep in the soil every 80 centimeters along the shoreline and injecting chemicals solidifying the dirt and clay. It doesn’t matter that Tepco may have found that the reason for the high sample activity being dirt dissolved in the water. Simple filtering before analysis brings the level back to what it was a week ago. The NRA acts like the staff at F. Daiichi is doing nothing. Further, Tepco’s plan for burying steel and glass barriers along the shoreline, to be completed in 2015, isn’t good enough. The NRA has concocted the bizarre idea of freezing the ground around the reactor and turbine buildings, using a technology that does not yet exist and will not insure zero leakage even if it works! All of this shows a self-righteous mindset with the NRA. It in no way demonstrates a constructive dialogue with the utility. It’s the NRA’s way, or the highway.
The bottom line is this… the NRA thinks contamination is leaking to the sea, and they are unabashedly trumpeting their claim in the face of considerable evidence to the contrary. It’s blatant, arrogant and hasty. The NRA was created to be an independent watchdog making decisions based on science and logic. To date, the agency has failed miserably in meeting this mandate. They leave science and logic at the door and base their decisions based speculation and negativism.