Fukushima Nuclear Meltdown ‘Worse Than Expected’

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Robotic probes sent into Japan’s wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant say the damage is worse than expected and could pose problems for the ongoing cleanup.

These probes found higher-than-expected radiation levels inside the Fukushima’s Unit 2 reactor’s containment chamber. The robots were sent into the former reactors to locate melted fuel and assess structural damage. The higher than expected radiation levels and damage may delay attempts to remove the fuel until 2021.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which owned the Fukushima reactor announced earlier this month that it had detected very high radiation measurements inside the site, triggering a media meltdown.

“Radiation levels are soaring,” claimed Gizmodo, while The Guardian claimed radiation levels are “at their highest since the plant suffered a triple meltdown almost six years ago.” The Japan Times called it a “blazing radiation reading.”

TEPCO’s announcement doesn’t mean that radiation levels at Fukushima on the whole are rising, as media reports suggest. In fact, the levels are going down and no radiation is escaping from the Fukushima reactors into the surrounding area.

TEPCO measured radiation levels at Fukushima’s reactor 2 at 530 sieverts per hour, which is higher than the 73 sieverts measured shortly after the disaster. For context, exposure of 4 sieverts per hour is often enough to kill a person. Those readings could be the result of some melted fuel found from the reactor — which is part of the decommissioning process.

In 2011, the Fukushima nuclear plant was hit by an earthquake and then a tsunami, causing a meltdown and radiation leaks. No deaths or cases of radiation sickness were reported, but 100,000 citizens were evacuated from the area, according to the World Nuclear Association.

Prior to the disaster, the Japanese government planned to build enough reactors to provide 50 percent of the country’s electricity. Officials promised to replace nuclear power with wind or solar, but this caused the price of electricity to rise by 20 percent.

Japan aims to restart at least 32 of the 54 reactors it shut down following the Fukushima disaster. Officials want nuclear power to account for 20 percent of Japan’s total electricity generation by 2030.

Nuclear power provided 29 percent of Japan’s total electricity before 2011, but will decline to 13.6 percent by 2023 and 1.2 percent by 2040, according to reports. Japan got 24 percent of its electricity from coal in 2010 and the country plans to get more than a third of its power from coal by 2040.

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