Japan: Radioactive water leaks from Fukushima nuclear plant

12/05/2011 19:48

WireUpdate:  TOKYO (BNO NEWS) -- A large quantity of highly radioactive water leaked from the crippled Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s (Tepco) Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on Sunday, officials confirmed on Monday.

According to Tepco spokesman Hiroki Kawamata, around 45 tons of contaminated water, believed to have contained high concentrations of strontium, leaked from desalination equipment used to decontaminate radioactive water. However, the system principally cleans out cesium from the contaminated water, leaving its strontium contents practically intact.

In addition, Kawamata explained that around 300 liters (79 U.S. gallons) escaped from a concrete machine building through a crack, and while workers quickly used sandbags to contain the water, it is uncertain whether the contaminated water reached the sea, the Japan Times reported. The building is used to contain decontamination equipment.

Beta ray radiation, which is usually emitted by strontium, was detected in the air over a gutter outside the cracked building. Tepco said the radiation measured 110 millisieverts per hour while gamma ray radiation of 1.8 millisieverts per hour was also detected.

Strontium is a highly chemically reactive alkaline earth metal that can cause bone cancer if ingested. The human body absorbs it as if it were calcium. It has a half-life of 28.9 years. However, beta rays are easily stopped by thin material such as clothing and do not travel far, although gamma rays are much more powerful.

The decontamination system that leaked had been utilized at the beginning of the nuclear crisis, but it was later shut down. Its operations resumed on Saturday at around 2:30 p.m. local time, and less than 24 hours later, the leak was discovered.

Japan has been facing an ongoing nuclear crisis since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was severely damaged on March 11 when a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and a subsequent tsunami devastated the country. The disaster disabled the cooling systems of the plant and radioactive elements leaked into the sea and were later found in water, air and food products in some parts of Japan.

At least 15,839 people were killed as a result of the earthquake and tsunami while 3,642 others remain missing. There are still more than 88,000 people who are staying in shelters in 21 prefectures across Japan.

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