The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, had “rigged a makeshift system of pipes and hoses” to continue cooling the reactors. From the beginning, that contaminated water has been leaking. As much as possible was contained in the plant’s storage tanks, but some made its way into the sea. For the past two and a half years, a “massive underground reservoir” of contaminated water has been building up underneath the plant. Tepco is widely alleged to have not done enough to contain it.
The slow, seeping buildup of a second catastrophe came to a head this summer. On July 10, Japan’s nuclear watchdog announced it “highly suspected” that the plant was leaking contaminated water into the ocean. Tepco didn’t acknowledge what was happening until July 22; a full month after initial suspicions were raised. A month later, the watchdog again announced that the contaminated groundwater had breached a barrier meant to contain it. The Japanese government officially stepped in to help.
Since then, a new, acute disaster has complicated the situation further. Earlier this week, a new leak erupted from one of the plant’s storage tanks, releasing 300 tons of contaminated water into the soil and potentially, through storm drains, into the Pacific. For the first time since 2011, Fukushima again scored on the INES scale, although this time it was only Level 1, an anomaly. The Nuclear Regulation Authority is considering an upgrade to Level 3, a serious incident. (Seven is the highest score possible.) As an advisory panel revealed yesterday, Tepco was warned this was coming back in June.
The underground reservoir has been climbing above barriers set to contain it, and experts now fear that it’s about to reach the Pacific Ocean. Amid frustration that Tepco could have done more to prevent this from happening are fears that it’s unprepared to handle the coming fallout.If ever a public utility needed to be shut down and nationalized, and its senior managers sent to jail, Tepco is that utility.