March 29th, 2011
08:26 PM ET

Workers scramble to contain radioactive water at nuclear plant

CNN Wire Staff

Tokyo (CNN) - Workers at Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant faced a difficult balancing act Tuesday as they struggled to keep reactors cool and prevent radioactive water from leaking into the ocean.

Water has been a key weapon in the battle to stave off a meltdown at the facility since a March 11 earthquake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems. But tons of water have been pumped and sprayed to keep the plant's radioactive fuel from overheating, and the plant is running out of room to store the now-contaminated liquid.

"Now the focus is how to ... remove the water and contain it safely," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, the government's point man for the crisis, told reporters Tuesday.

The discovery of contaminated water in a maintenance tunnel that leads to the No. 2 reactor's turbine plant has sparked fresh concerns about the possibility of additional radiation leaking from the plant. Japan's nuclear safety agency said workers were using sandbags and concrete panels to keep the water inside the tunnel, which is located about 55 meters (180 feet) from the Pacific shore.

Workers are also trying to pump water out of the turbine houses of the No. 1 and No. 3 reactors, according to the Tokyo Electric Power Company, the plant's owner. Lights were restored in the main control room of the No. 4 reactor, the utility said.

The company also reported that freshwater was being injected into the No. 3 reactor. Seawater was previously used.

"TEPCO is in an awful dilemma right now," said Jim Walsh, an international security expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "One the one hand, they want to cool the reactor and keep the reactor cool, so they have to pour water in. If there is a leak in one of the containment vessels, that water keeps leaking out. So they have a problem where the more they try to cool it down, the greater the radiation hazard as that water leaks out from the plant."

Japanese officials and international experts have said they believe there's been a partial meltdown at three of the plant's six reactors, and Edano reported Monday that the No. 2 reactor's containment vessel may be leaking.

"The high radiation levels on site seem to support that idea. There is no visual proof yet, but it's increasingly likely there was partial fuel melting," said Gary Was, a nuclear engineering expert at the University of Michigan.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • 360º Follow
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Peggy Lenahan

    We keep hearing about the workers in Japan struggling to contain the radiation and cool the reactors..... why isn't the rest of the world offering to help? We watch and monitor their progress, yet it seems more could be done by the world at large. Why aren't more countries involved in helping contain this? Anderson? we are all one. This is "our" world.

    March 30, 2011 at 12:03 am |
  2. Charlene

    Those doomed heroes deserve the best in care – food, comfortable place to sleep. I hope their families will be well taken care of as well. Their children should know their parents are national heroes.

    March 29, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
  3. william Bowen

    I just heard the reporter make a terrible mistake about Alpha particle. I was a Nuclear Mechanic on submarines in the late 80s. The reported stated that nothing could stop alpha particles. Alpha is a positively charge helium ion.this is a large partlice that is stopped by a thin layer of dead skin or thin clothing. It is highly charged and is very dangerous if breathed or swallowed but thin clothing stops the particle. I believe he meant gama partlice which is more like a photon.

    March 29, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
  4. Laurie Belvin--Florida

    Japan is an island nation. However, it is far from isolated. What happens there affects the world. The world should focus on offering any equipment and experts to help; we will all benefit. The outcome seems to depend partly on luck and partly on what measures can be done to avert catastrophy. They are still in hot water–pardon the pun. They need help now because the window of opportunity to help may close with a disaster, still. The Japanese government has not given out the best possible information, but they cannot go to the plant to see for themseleves, and they will avoid blame that is unnecessary. However, they have asked for help, and that is enough to let the world know the situation is not under their control, and they worry for the future. We should be worried, too.

    March 29, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
  5. Annie Kate

    Anything the Japanese could put the radioactive water into could eventually leak – for instance, metallic drums to store the water in could corrode over time and the water could leak out. I'm puzzled as to where the water can be put where it won't be a danger to any living creature. And what will the long term effect be of the radioactive water that has already leaked into the ocean?

    March 29, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
  6. John Moore - PA

    It certainly seems as though TEPCO were slow to react in the early stages of the emergency, they appear to have been in denial. Recent accidents with workers being exposed indicate that there is still a lack of leadership on site. Whether better handling of the event would have lessened the threat even the experts may not know, but I suspect some people have been harmed that should not have been.

    March 29, 2011 at 8:55 pm |