Fukushima Leaks Won’t Seep Beyond Plant for Decades, IAEA Says

Radioactive water leaks at the Fukushima atomic station won’t seep beyond the plant for decades, the International Atomic Energy Agency said, citing data provided by operator Tokyo Electric Power Co.

The estimate is based on the properties of the soil and other factors, Juan Carlos Lentijo, who directs the IAEA’s nuclear fuel cycle and waste-technology division, said at a press conference in Tokyo. He didn’t give details, nor did he say if the IAEA had ran its own seepage tests at the wrecked plant.

“This water will only reach the boundary of the site after several tens of years,” Lentijo said. Tepco, as the plant’s operator is known, must in the meantime monitor the water and prevent public exposure, he said.

Leaks were found this month in three of seven pits dug to store radioactive water pumped from basements of reactor buildings at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi atomic station. The water came into contact with melted reactors in the months after the earthquake and tsunami disabled the plant two years ago, when disaster teams used hose pipes and pumps to try to cool the reactors.

Since then, underground water has breached basements in the reactor buildings and is leaking in at a rate of about 400 tons a day and becoming contaminated, according to Tepco’s estimate this month. Because the water levels were rising in the basements, Tepco had to build the storage pits, which are now also leaking.

The pit seepages raised concerns Tepco will have to dump radioactive water in the Pacific Ocean.

Tepco President Naomi Hirose on April 12 said the company won’t “easily” release radiated water into the ocean, indicating the company hasn’t ruled out the possibility if it runs out of storage.

Currently, about 280,000 tons of highly radioactive water is stored at the Fukushima plant, according to Tepco’s latest data. That’s enough to fill about 112 Olympic-sized swimming pools, according to Bloomberg News calculations.

Lentijo spoke during a visit to Japan as the leader of an IAEA team reviewing efforts to decommission the Fukushima plant, located 220 kilometers (137 miles) northeast of Tokyo. The IAEA’s final report to the Japanese government will be released in about a month, he said.