Radioactive Water Leak
Japan's 2011 earthquake caused great destruction on the country-tsunamis, deaths, and damaged reactors at the power plants. In addition to this damage, tons of radioactive water were discovered three months after the disaster on June 28, 2011. According to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, an estimated 15 metric tons of radioactive water leaked from a storage tank at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in northeast Japan.
The plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co or Tepco, investigated the cause of the leak and quickly repaired it. Tepco was using contaminated water with different levels of radiation to cool reactors whose cooling systems were damaged by the earthquake and tsunami. This radioactive water has been stored in tanks at the Fukushima plant. Tepco was in the process of trying to decontaminate the water so that it can be used to cool the reactors, but the attempt has been largely unsuccessful.
The system had only been running for an hour and a half when the leak was discovered and the project therefore called off. Officials had admitted to technical glitches in the decontamination system, which they said could cause water to spill into the Pacific Ocean if the system was not configured properly. Tepco acted immediately though, fixing the problem and restarting the system later that afternoon. They claimed that no water actually reached the ocean. The contaminated water was found in a ditch outside of the building.
The contaminated water was found to contain more than 1,000 millisieverts per hour of radioactivity. For comparison, the lowest level of radiation where cancer risks are apparent is at 100 millisievert per hour. Tepco attributed the leak to a temporary meltdown in the core of the nuclear reactor. The chief government spokesman Yukio Edano explained, "The radiation seems to have come from the fuel rods that were partially melted down and came into contact with the water used to cool the reactor."
Overall, conflicting reports and miscalculations like in this instance have led to much fear and unrest in Japan over the nuclear danger. Citizens in Tokyo were still buying the entire stock of bottled water in supermarkets months after the disaster, despite reports that tap water was safe to drink. Unrest over the nuclear situation continues due to disagreements over the safety and progress in the cleanup effort. Tests in June suggested that radiation may in fact be leaking into the Pacific Ocean after seawater surrounding the area was found to be contaminated 1,850 above the legal limit. Further testing showed that the number had dropped, but this did not convince experts that all contamination had stopped. Regardless, nuclear experts have claimed that even if contaminated water had leaked into the ocean, then there would be few consequences to marine life since it would quickly be diluted and dissipate.
Regardless of the final instigator of the gas leak, there were a number of faults in the plant leading up to the event. The plant had been storing methyl isocyanate in large tanks and filling them beyond recommended levels. UCC also used a dangerous method of pesticide manufacturing and relied on manual operations. Poor maintenance in general led to the failure of the safety systems in place. In particular, the methyl isocyanate tank refrigeration system had been switched off in order to save money, which would have drastically lessened the extent of the gas leak if it had been used properly. Other safety devices had been intentionally deactivated in order to save money.
The immediate death toll of the disaster was estimated at 2,259, but other reports allege 3,000 died within weeks and an additional 8,000 died from gas-related injuries since then. In 2006, a further report claimed the leak caused a total of 558,125 injuries. The deaths were so monumental because the surrounding area of the plant had undergone a mushrooming effect of slums and dense housing. There were no catastrophe plans in place for the city, so recovery was also stalled and added to the number of deaths.