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Japan to start clean-up of radioactive water

Unless the clean-up begins, large and growing pools of radioactive water could spill into the sea.

News18test sharma |

Updated:June 17, 2011, 5:50 PM IST
Japan to start clean-up of radioactive water
Unless the clean-up begins, large and growing pools of radioactive water could spill into the sea.

Tokyo: The operator of Japan's crisis-hit nuclear power plant said it would start an operation to clean up radioactive water later on Friday, after several glitches that delayed the plan.

Unless the clean-up begins, large and growing pools of radioactive water could spill into the sea within a week, officials said.

Tokyo Electric Power Co, known as Tepco, has pumped massive amounts of water to cool three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant that went into meltdown after a March 11 earthquake and tsunami disabled cooling systems.

But managing the radioactive water has become a major headache as the plant runs out of places to keep it. Around 110,000 tonnes of highly radioactive water - enough to fill 40 Olympic-size swimming pools - is stored at the plant.

Tepco, with help from French nuclear group Areva, US firm Kurion and other companies, has been test-running a system in which radioactive water is decontaminated and re-used to cool the reactors.

In a setback, however, it said water had leaked from a facility used to absorb cesium on Thursday, although it hoped to replace equipment and start the decontamination process by the end of Friday as planned.

Tepco official Junichi Matsumoto told reporters that it performed a test run earlier in the day and was aiming to have the full system running later on Friday.

If the treatment system does not work, the complex could run out of space to store contaminated water as early as June 20, and it could then spill into the sea, Tepco has said.

The start of Japan's month-long rainy season has also added to the risk of water build-up.

In early April, the utility dumped about 10,000 tonnes of water with low-level radioactivity into the ocean, prompting criticism from neighbours China and South Korea.

Even if the water treatment is successful, Tepco would next face the problem of dealing with highly radioactive sludge that will be left over from the decontamination process. It is unclear where the sludge will be stored in the long-term.

Despite the mounting challenges, Tepco aims to complete initial steps to limit the release of further radiation from the plant 240 km (150 miles) northeast of Tokyo and to shut down its three unstable reactors by January 2012.

Tepco announced on Friday, as expected, that it had not made significant changes to its timeline.

The operator said that storing high radiation sludge likely to result from the treatment of contaminated water and improving the conditions for their workers during the approaching summer were extra areas it was looking into.

Measures for the workers include access to more doctors and body counters that measure exposure to radiation and new resting areas away from the summer heat, Tepco said.

The ultimate goal is to bring the reactors to a state of "cold shutdown", where the uranium at the core is no longer capable of boiling off the water used as a coolant.

That would allow officials to move on to cleaning up the site and eventually removing the fuel, a process that could take more than a decade.

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