May 27 (Bloomberg) — As a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency visits Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s crippled nuclear plant today, academics warn the company has failed to disclose the scale of radiation leaks and faces a “massive problem” with contaminated water.
The utility known as Tepco has been pumping cooling water into the three reactors that melted down after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. By May 18, almost 100,000 tons of radioactive water had leaked into basements and other areas of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, according to Tepco’s estimates. The radiated water may double by the end of December.
“Contaminated water is increasing and this is a massive problem,” Tetsuo Iguchi, a specialist in isotope analysis and radiation detection at Nagoya University, said by phone. “They need to find a place to store the contaminated water and they need to guarantee it won’t go into the soil.”
The 18-member IAEA team, led by the U.K.’s head nuclear safety inspector, Mike Weightman, is visiting the Fukushima reactors to investigate the accident and the response. Tepco and Japan’s nuclear regulators haven’t updated the total radiation leakage from the plant in northern Japan since April 12.
Japan’s nuclear safety agency estimated in April the radiation released from Dai-Ichi to be around 10 percent of that from the accident at Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union in 1986, while a Tepco official said at the time the amount may eventually exceed it.
“Tepco knows more than they’ve said about the amount of radiation leaking from the plant,” Jan van de Putte, a specialist in radiation safety trained at the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands, said yesterday in Tokyo. “What we need is a full disclosure, a full inventory of radiation released including the exact isotopes.”
The government plans to release details on the radiation released at the “appropriate time,” said Goshi Hosono, an adviser to Prime Minister Naoto Kan who is overseeing the crisis response and appears at daily briefings at Tepco’s headquarters.
Radiation leakage from Fukushima was raised at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee this week. U.S. regulations may need to be changed after the Fukushima meltdown, William Ostendorff, a member of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said.
The Japanese utility is trying to put the reactors into a cold shutdown, where core temperatures fall below 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit), within six to nine months. Ostendorff rated the chance of Tepco achieving that goal at six or seven out of 10.
Tepco took more than two months to confirm the meltdowns in three reactors and this week reported the breaches in the containment chambers. The delay in releasing information has led to criticism of Prime Minister Naoto Kan for not doing more to ensure Tepco is keeping the public informed.
“What I told the public was fundamentally incorrect,” Kan said in parliament on May 20, referring to assessments from the government and Tokyo that reactors were stable and the situation was contained not long after March 11. “The government failed to respond to Tepco’s mistaken assumptions and I am deeply sorry.”
Public disagreements emerged this week between Tepco and the government over whether orders were given to halt seawater injection into reactors to cool them the day after the tsunami.
Tepco is considering whether to sanction the manager of the Fukushima plant, Masao Yoshida, after he ignored an order to stop pumping seawater, Junichi Matsumoto, a general manager at the company, said yesterday.
He was commenting after Kyodo News cited Tepco Vice- President Sakae Muto saying Yoshida will be removed for disobeying the order. Hosono said Yoshida is needed at the plant to contain the crisis.