2 December 2013, 15:39

Water decontamination system in trouble at Japan's Fukushima

Water decontamination system in trouble at Japan's Fukushima

A trouble-prone system used to decontaminate radioactive water at Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant was switched off Sunday because of a chemical leak, the plant's operator said. Hydrochloric acid, used to neutralise alkaline water being decontaminated, was found seeping from a pipe joint, Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said in a statement.

The joint was wrapped in a vinyl bag to contain the leakage, TEPCO said, adding it was investigating the cause of the trouble.

About one litre of hydrochloric acid has been contained in the bag.

The leak was found at one of three Advanced Liquid Processing System units designed to remove radioactivity from contaminated water at the plant, where a massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 sent nuclear reactors into meltdown.

The systems are expected to play a crucial role in treating huge amounts of toxic water accumulating at the plant.

The troubled system was one of two units that had been in trial operation and were scheduled to go into full operation Sunday.

In late September plastic padding clogged up a drain in the same system, causing it to shut down. In October, it was halted due to a programming mistake.

Thousands of tonnes of water, used since the meltdown to cool reactors or polluted by other radioactive material, are being stored in huge tanks at the site on Japan's northeast coast.

A series of setbacks, including radioactive water leaks into the Pacific Ocean, have eroded confidence that Asia's largest utility can tame the world's worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl.

Are Americans safe from Fukushima radiation?

As Japan’s crippled Fukushima reactor continues to leak radioactive water into the sea, Americans are beginning to worry over potential health risks when radioactive particles reach the West Coast of North America next year.

Concern has been mounting after it was reported that subcontractors at the plant had admitted to having under-reported radiation and that dozens of farms that were initially considered safe had unsafe levels of radioactive cesium.

There have been unconfirmed reports of higher cancer rates among Fukushima locals.

Some experts are brushing radiation fears away as nonsense.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been monitoring radiation in Japanese food imports, including seafood, since the Fukushima disaster in March 2011. So far, however, detectable levels of cesium far below the FDA’s safety levels have only found in ginger powder.

“We are actively watching for information that could implicate U.S. food and are always ready to take further action,” FDA spokeswoman Theresa Eisenman told reporters.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that monitors background radiation within US borders and posts its findings online has found nothing suspicious either.

Independent estimates, including by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, confirm low radiation levels at sea.

In Japan, there are dozens of radioactivity testing sites run by volunteers, so any rise would have immediately been detected.

Doug Dasher, who studies radioecology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, believes that minor effects for people on the US West Coast could still be possible – not acute effects resulting in higher mortality or damage to organs, but more subtle longer-term genetic effects.

The World Health Organization (WHO) expects thyroid cancer rates in children living near the Fukushima reactor to increase from 0.75 percent to 1.25 percent.

But “there should be no concern among Americans,” Gilbert Ross, executive director of the American Council on Science and Health, said in an interview.

“If you want to list health concerns that Americans should worry about, start with the real killers - drunk driving and smoking,” he said.

Voice of Russia, Fox News, AFP

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