Business, Economics and Jobs

Japanese plug radioactive leak, as Tepco offers payments (UPDATES) (VIDEO)


A shop clerk (C) helps a shopper (L) with some produce for sale, grown in Ibaraki, Chiba, Tochigi and Gunma prefectures north of the Japanese capital, an area affected by the nuclear crisis to the Fukushima nuclear power plant, at Tokyo's Daimaru department store on April 6, 2011. The store was offering the produce to customers to support Japanese farmers hurting from dropped sales due to rumors of the spread of radiation.


Yoshikazu Tsuno

Japan has stopped radiation-contaminated water from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant from leaking into the sea, although a new report suggested that the damaged plant was far from stable.

Meanwhile, Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) offered its first compensation to nearby communities affected by radiation.

Tepco, operator of the Fukushima plant, said its engineers plugged the leak early Wednesday using liquid glass to solidify soil near an 8-inch crack in a concrete pit at the reactor, although still needs to pump out contaminated water because of a lack of storage space at the facility.

"The leaks were slowed yesterday after we injected a mixture of liquid glass and a hardening agent and it has now stopped," a TEPCO spokesman said, according to the Daily Mail. Previous efforts to stop the leaking of water using sawdust, concrete and newspapers had failed.

An assessment by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, however, obtained by the New York Times, suggests that the damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant is far from stable.

Fragments of incredibly dangerous nuclear fuel were blown out of the reactors "up to one mile from the units," and then simply bulldozed over to protect workers on site, according to the NRC report.

The Times writes:

Among the new threats that were cited in the assessment, dated March 26, are the mounting stresses placed on the containment structures as they fill with radioactive cooling water, making them more vulnerable to rupture in one of the aftershocks rattling the site after the earthquake and tsunami of March 11.

The document also cites the possibility of explosions inside the containment structures due to the release of hydrogen and oxygen from seawater pumped into the reactors, and offers new details on how semimolten fuel rods and salt buildup are impeding the flow of fresh water meant to cool the nuclear cores.

Meanwhile, engineers still faced the problem of storing 60,000 tons of contaminated seawater that was used to cool over-heated fuel rods and are still pumping 11,500 tons of low-level radioactive water back into the Pacific Ocean, the Daily Mail reported.

Fishing has been banned near the plant since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami caused four of the six nuclear reactors at Fukushima to overheat. The Japanese government has imposed new radiation level standards for seafood, and all fishing of sand lace has been suspended, raising fears the price of seafood will increase.

A Tepco official said, meanwhile, that the utility had made a "token" offer of money to residents in 10 affected communities near the plant — which is not meant as compensation for losses sustained as a result of the nuclear accident at Fukushima. Further payments will be made after damage from the accident — including the spread radioactive contamination — has been fully assessed, according to CNN.

One town, Namie, has reportedly rejected Tepco's offer, calling it too little.

"Our people are suffering, and unfortunately, everything we've built is gone," Mayor Tamotsu Baba told CNN. "Where is our direct apology? Because the cash certainly doesn't amount to much."

According to the Financial Times, the disbursements — Y20 million ($237,000) each to 10 municipalities — amount to only fraction of its expected liabilities.

Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations said Tuesday it wanted Tepco to directly compensate fishermen, as the dumping casts doubt over the future of fishing in the region.

Officials said Tuesday they had detected high levels of radioactive iodine and cesium in sand lace fish caught in the Pacific Ocean near the stricken plant, and the authorities in Ibaraki urged people to stop eating fish.

— Freya Petersen