In a revelation that, for some, will dredge up memories of TEPCO’s stunning admission back in 2013 that nearly 300 tonnes of radioactive material had leaked from the ruins of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power plant into the water outside, contaminating virtually the entire Pacific Ocean, officials at the Japanese power company told the Associated Press that contaminated water may have leaked into the soil surrounding the plant after human error caused safety mechanisms to fail.
TEPCO officials said the settings on six of the dozens of wells surrounding the plant’s ruined reactors were accidentally set 70 centimeters below the required levels, briefly causing groundwater at one well to sink below the contaminated water inside in May, possibly allowing radioactive water to leak into the soil.
Fortunately, groundwater samples have shown no abnormal increase in radioactivity and leaks to the outside are unlikely, according to TEPCO spokesman Shinichi Nakakuki.
The problem with the wells – most of which were drilled in April to help pump groundwater, reducing the possibility that it would be exposed to contamination – was discovered earlier this week while the company was preparing to drill another well. While Tepco maintained several wells around the plant before the disaster, many more have been drilled since to try and stanch the flow of radioactive materials from the plant.
It has been six-and-a-half years since a massive earthquake and tsunami critically damaged the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear-power plant, located about 200 miles away from Tokyo, triggering the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl – and the Japanese people are still uncovering new evidence of TEPCO’s dishonesty and incompetence demonstrated during the aftermath of the disaster.
Of course, while the coverup was happening, few in the media dared to entertain suspicions that the company might be acting in bad faith – after all, what serious organization would so brazenly defy the public’s trust, not to mention local laws?
But five years later, those conspiracy theories were transformed into conspiracy facts when TEPCO’s then-President Naomi Hirose admitted last year on NHK that his company intentionally concealed the reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima plant immediately after the storm. The power company didn’t officially admit the meltdowns until more than 2 months after the accident.
“I would say it was a cover-up,” Hirose said during a news conference. “It’s extremely regrettable.”
Earlier this year, TEPCO ignited a public controversy after sharing its plans to start pumping radioactive water contaminated with tritium into the Pacific Ocean – a tactic that has met with vociferous opposition from Japan’s fishing industry.
Tepco has claimed that the radioactive water, pumped from inside the three reactors that melted down following the tsunami, would quickly disperse and not pose a threat to marine life. With the cleanup effort expected to take decades (although we imagine that President Shino Abe would like to accomplish as much as possible before the 2020 Olympics, which will be held in Tokyo), TEPCO has this year dispatched robots into the reactors to try and find the damaged nuclear core material, to mixed results.
Back in February, TEPCO revealed that it had discovered a hole at least one square meter in size beneath the pressure vessel in the plant’s damaged No. 2 reactor, potentially exposing the surrounding area to record-high radiation. Back in 2011, radiation levels of 530 Sieverts per hour had been detected inside the reactor (8 Sieverts is enough to kill a human).
These reports should be particularly dismaying for the thousands of Japanese who’ve begun returning to their homes inside the exclusion zone after the Japanese government ended its subsidy payments to disaster victims earlier this year, effectively forcing many of them to choose between financial hardship or living in a home they believe to be unsafe.
Meanwhile, photos taken earlier this year by journalists who traveled inside the Fukushima exclusion zone – a 20 kilometer perimeter around the plant – depicted a “nuclear nightmare” consisting of eerie ghost villages populated by radioactive wild boars…
…not exactly the kind of place we’d want to raise our kids.