Fukushima Update, August 5, 2013, cost overruns US$250 billion

A recent Reuters report (h/t to my brother Tim) states that the

(Reuters) – Highly radioactive water seeping into the ocean from Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant is creating an “emergency” that the operator is struggling to contain, an official from the country’s nuclear watchdog said on Monday.

This contaminated groundwater has breached an underground barrier, is rising toward the surface and is exceeding legal limits of radioactive discharge, Shinji Kinjo, head of a Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) task force, told Reuters.  Countermeasures planned by Tokyo Electric Power Co are only a temporary solution, he said.  Tepco’s “sense of crisis is weak,” Kinjo said. “This is why you can’t just leave it up to Tepco alone” to grapple with the ongoing disaster.  “Right now, we have an emergency,” he said.

 Another Reuters report says

(Reuters) – Radioactive groundwater at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant has risen to levels above a barrier being built to contain it, highlighting the risk of an increasing amount of contaminated water reaching the sea, Japanese media reported on Saturday.

The Asahi newspaper, citing data from a Friday meeting of a task force working on the Fukushima clean-up at Japan’s nuclear regulator, estimated that the contaminated water could swell to the ground surface within three weeks.

The latest revelation underscores the hurdles facing Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) 2-1/2 years after a massive earthquake and tsunami destroyed the Fukushima plant, triggering the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

One of Tepco’s biggest challenges is trying to contain radioactive water that cools the reactors as it mixes with some 400 metric tons of fresh groundwater pouring into the plant daily…..The Asahi noted that Tepco would need to pump out about 100 metric tons of water each day to prevent leakage into the ocean but that it was not clear where the water would be stored. More than 85 percent of its 380,000 metric tons of storage capacity is already filled, and Tepco has acknowledged it could run out of space.

Water is running into the plant from the surrounding areas, mixing with the water that they are using to cool the reactor.   Most of the storage vessels are full, except for maybe slow leaks, and they are running out of storage capacity, and this poisoned water is rising, and soon to spill into the sea.

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports

But two years after the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, victims are still awaiting full compensation from an industry that enjoys government protection.

Hundreds of thousands of victims, who fled their homes to escape the release of radiation from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant still live in limbo, unable to return home or rebuild their lives elsewhere. It is heart wrenching to witness the social toll of this avoidable industrial accident, doubly when you see public compensation being subordinated to private profit.

This is the reality of the Fukushima disaster, the result of a protection system that allows nuclear operators to pay only a tiny fraction of the costs of an accident, forcing the public to pay the rest.

Governments set up this protection 60 years ago to help get the nuclear power industry off the ground. Despite the unfairness of the system, governments have done nothing to rectify it. The Fukushima disaster highlights the need for change.

In law, Fukushima plant operator Tepco should pay the full costs of the accident. But there is a loophole: Tepco can’t pay. So the government stepped in and nationalised the company, meaning Japanese taxpayers will pay for this disaster.

What’s worse, is that this protection system works even better for the companies that supply reactors and other equipment to nuclear operators: they don’t pay any of the costs of a disaster.

Big energy giants, such as General Electric, Toshiba and Hitachi, pay nothing if one of their reactors causes a disaster. At Fukushima, all three built reactors based on GE’s flawed Mark I reactor design. Concerns that the reactor containment would fail during a major accident proved correct – this is exactly what happened.

The flaw was revealed decades earlier, but the problem wasn’t fixed.

But the protection system means that GE, Hitachi and Toshiba and other big companies with enormous wealth are not held liable when their equipment contributes to a disaster.

Greenpeace is calling for the creation of a real nuclear liability system, one that makes both nuclear operators and their suppliers pay all the costs of their failures, not taxpayers.

If reactor suppliers knew they would be held liable in a disaster they would place more attention on the risks. They might even keep their flawed and unsafe products off the market.

India has a law that makes suppliers liable. And it frightens GE. John Flannery, chief executive, said on the 21st February that GE won’t pursue the reactor business in India if the law isn’t changed. “We are a private enterprise and we just can’t take that kind of risk profiles,” he said.

Last December, a senior US State Department official also said nuclear companies will “find it difficult” to take part in India’s nuclear industry when they are exposed “to the risk of significant financial penalty.”

Essentially, they are advocating for continued protection. And the costs of the Fukushima disaster make it crystal clear why nuclear operators and their reactor suppliers demand protection.

The full cost of the Fukushima disaster is estimated at US$250bn.

What a racket.   Privatize the profits, and socialize the risks.

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