4 years on, problems accumulate at TEPCO's Fukushima plant

FUKUSHIMA - March will mark the fourth year since the crisis began at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant, where decommissioning work continues.

About 6,000 to 7,000 workers are working every day to try to bring the situation under control at the buildings and facilities still scarred by the accident. On Monday, we entered the nuclear plant.

We headed first for the No. 3 reactor building, which was damaged by a hydrogen explosion, wearing white protective gear, masks with filters and trilayered gloves.

TEPCO plans to remove spent nuclear fuel from the pool at the No. 3 reactor building, starting in the next fiscal year.

Although an unmanned remote-controlled crane has been working to remove debris on the top floor, the floor below remains just as it was right after the accident occurred.

As we stared at the No. 3 reactor building from elevated ground in front of the No. 1 reactor, a TEPCO official holding a dosimeter urged us to leave, saying, "Three-hundred microsieverts per hour. We can't stay here any longer."

Exposure at this level for only a little more than three hours would equal the maximum amount of radiation exposure considered acceptable over the course of a year in daily life.

In an area where storage tanks are located, workers were constructing additional large tanks with capacities between 1,200 tons and 2,900 tons, welding and hoisting parts with heavy machinery.

As contaminated water treated by a system dubbed ALPS (Advanced Liquid Processing System) is stored in tanks at the nuclear power plant, the number of tanks is increasing by one each day.

The number of concrete containers for radioactive waste - such as absorbent materials used by water purification equipment - has been increasing, indicating the ongoing difficulties and the prolonged nature of the decommissioning process.

Outside the No. 4 reactor building, thin silver-coloured pipes were stuck into the ground at one-meter intervals.

This is the construction site for the underground so-called frozen soil walls intended to block the flow of groundwater to prevent it from becoming contaminated. Currently about 300 tons of groundwater flows into the building every day.

TEPCO estimates that the amount will decrease to 30 tons when the frozen soil walls are put in place.

On Sunday, the plant's drainage ditches reportedly discharged water containing radioactive substances at a density that exceeded normal levels by a factor of more than 70, and some of the water flowed into the plant's port.

As the ditches have covers, rainwater containing radioactive substances is said to be prevented from running into the ditches.

The TEPCO official repeatedly stated, "We can't figure out the reason [for the contaminated-water discharge]," his comment shedding light on the current situation in which the issue of contaminated water has yet to be solved even four years after the accident.