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Damaged Fukushima Reactors Leaking Coolant After Last Weekend's 7.3 Earthquake

Published: February 21, 2021
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Two reactors at the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan have begun leaking cooling water following last weekend's 7.3 magnitude earthquake, indicating that the existing damage to TEPCO's Unit 1 and 3 reactors has worsened, according to AP, citing spokesman Keisuke Matsuo.

Matsuo said the cooling water level fell as much as 70 centimeters (27 inches) in the primary containment chamber of the Unit 1 reactor and about 30 centimeters (11 inches) in Unit 3. TEPCO wasn’t able to determine any decline in Unit 2 because indicators have been taken out to prepare for the removal of melted debris, it said.

Increased leakage could require more cooling water to be pumped into the reactors, which would result in more contaminated water that is treated and stored in huge tanks at the plant. TEPCO says its storage capacity of 1.37 million tons will be full next summer. A government panel’s recommendation that it be gradually released into the sea has faced fierce opposition from local residents and a decision is still pending. -AP

The leaking water is believed to have remained inside the reactor complex, as there is 'no sign of any outside impact,' according to Matsuo. 

A powerful 9.1 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Fukushima in 2011, causing a tsunami which destroyed the plant's exterior generators, causing three reactor cores to melt - dropping nuclear fuel to the bottom of their primary containment vessels and causing a massive explosion which spewed radioactive material as far as Idaho, where drinking water samples showed trace amounts of nuclear isotopes following the disaster.

Since the incident, cooling water has been constantly leaking from the damaged primary containment vessels into the basements of the reactor buildings, requiring additional water to be pumped into the reactors to cool the melted fuel which remains inside of them. The recent drop, however, indicates that more water is leaking following the most recent earthquake, according to TEPCO, which initially reported no abnormalities.

Fukushima nuclear plant (source: AP)

On Friday, the Tokyo High Court held that the government as well as TEPCO are responsible for the 2011 nuclear disaster, ordering that both pay 280 million yen ($2.6 million) in compensation to over 40 plaintiffs who were forced to evacuate Chiba, an outskirt of Tokyo. The decision reverses a previous ruling by the Chiba district court which exempted governments from liability.

Judge Yukio Shirai, however, said that the government should have prepared for such a disaster following a long-term assessment of seismic activities conducted in 2002.

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