SLIDESHOW: Radiation From Fukushima Daiichi To Hit The Pacific N - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

SLIDESHOW: Radiation From Fukushima Daiichi To Hit The Pacific Northwest By April: A Look At The Nuclear Plant Today

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FUKUSHIMA, Japan-  Researchers say radiation from the Fukushima Nuclear Facility will hit the shores of the Pacific Northwest by April of this year.  March 11th marked the third anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima As Japan tries to rebuild, Tokyo Electric Power Company is struggling with ever-increasing amounts of contaminated water at Fukushima Daiichi.

In the building housing Reactor Unit 4, damage from a hydrogen explosion following the earthquake led to some unexpected problems. Water laced with radioactive particles has been accumulating here for the past three years.Rust from pipes and other debris give the water its unnatural, toxic hue.

A measuring device held near the surface of the water reveals radiation levels of 85 microseverts per hour. Standing here for 12 hours would expose a person to more radiation than the government's safety limit allows for civilians in one year. About 530,000 tons of this water has accumulated to date and is being stored and managed on-site.

Groundwater flowing down from mountains inland seeps into the reactor building through cracks in the walls. There it comes into contact with radioactive materials and is contaminated. Tokyo Electric Power Company's solution was to pump this water out of the buildings and store it in tanks. This solution turned out to be flawed.

April, 2013

"Underground storage tanks 1, 2 and 3 are all leaking radioactive water."

Out of seven underground storage tanks built to hold contaminated water, three were faulty. Tanks built above ground proved to be no more reliable.

August 20, 2013

"I would like to offer my apologies for the massive leakage from an above-ground storage tank."

Tepco announced that 300 tons of this stagnant, brown water visible on the ground had leaked from one of the tanks.They were hurriedly constructed to contain a problem spiraling out of control.The tanks are made of steel plates, bolted together, and the juncture points between plates are far from watertight.

A new solution being implemented:

Workers are busy welding together new tanks at top speed. These tanks have a much lower risk of leaking. Tepco expects to replace all of the old tanks within two years. Despite Tepco's best efforts to contain the problem, contaminated water is leaking beyond the plant's boundaries as well.

July, 2013

"There is a possibility that contaminated water has been leaking into the ocean since May."

This was Tepco's first admission that radioactive water was leaking into the ocean, a serious environmental hazard. Immediately after the meltdown, highly contaminated water accumulated in underground tunnels built for pipes and other infrastructure. Ground water flowing down from the mountains pushed this water out into the ocean. Tepco created a wall of chemically-hardened soil, hoping to prevent that water from reaching the ocean. The plan hit an unexpected glitch when water simply flowed over the wall, forcing them to consider new tactics in dealing with the water.

Attempts to contain the water have failed one after another. Is there a better way to deal with this issue?

A piece of machinery, dubbed Alps, is designed to remove radioactive particles from contaminated water. Now in the testing phase, the system is riddled with malfunctions. Engineers have no idea when it might actually be ready to use.  Tepco has another idea; prevent the water from being contaminated in the first place by freezing the soil around the reactor buildings. An ice wall would be created by filling pipes set intermittently in the ground with a freezing agent Water should be diverted from flowing into the reactor buildings and reach the ocean radiation free. Workers say it is completely waterproof.

Soil in the area around the reactor buildings at Fukushima Daiichi is cluttered with pipes and tunnels, leaving officials wondering just how effective this plan will be.The ultimate goal is decommissioning the damaged nuclear plant. Contaminated water is accumulating every day. With no viable solution for this urgent problem, Tepco is wasting valuable work hours fighting a losing containment battle. As this cycle continues, completion of the decommissioning process is getting further and further away.

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