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Radiation at Fukushima Soars to Highest Level Yet

As officials tout 'ice wall' experiment, more lethal levels of radioactivity detected

Andrea Germanos

Record high radiation levels were detected at the disaster-stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, Japan's nuclear regulator and plant operator TEPCO said on Wednesday, raising more concerns that the spiraling catastrophe has no end in sight.

Officials said they had detected radiation of levels of 2,200 millisieverts per hour on Tuesday near contaminated water storage tanks. That's a rise of 20% from the previous high, the Guardian reports

The announcement comes just days after officials said they had detected lethal radiation levels 18 times higher than previously documented because the testing equipment they were using could only read measurements of up to a maximum of 100 millisieverts per hour.

Reuters notes that "both [the 2,200 and 1,800] levels would be enough to kill an unprotected person within hours."

Also festering at the plant is the buildup of contaminated water, which has proven an unsustainable crisis. There has also been as a series of leaks from storage tanks and pipes.

Mycle Schneider, lead author for the World Nuclear Industry status reports, told BBC News last month that the problem of water leaks "is much worse than we have been led to believe, much worse." There are leaks "not just from the tanks. It is leaking out from the basements, it is leaking out from the cracks all over the place," he said.  Further, the head of Japan's nuclear regulatory body warned on Monday that there may be no other option than to dump radioactive waste water into the Pacific.

In a desperate attempt to stop the leaks, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Tuesday the government plans to invest nearly $500 million in a giant "ice wall" surrounding the plant.

Nuclear engineer Arjun Makhijani of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research called the wall of ice plan a "risky experiment." Speaking on PBS Newshour, Makhijani explained:

I don't know that an ice wall like this has been tried before.

It's like building a dam underground, but with ice, by freezing all the poor water in the soil, all soil has -- so there's water coming in from uphill, through the side and going into the ocean, all underground. It's an aquifer. Some of that water contacts the molten fuel and is becoming contaminated.

And they hope to build -- to freeze the soil, basically, with a giant freezing machine, just like your freezer at home, put cooling coils in the soil, lots and lots of them. It takes an enormous amount of electricity and they would freeze it. Of course, it contains the water behind it like a dam, but eventually it's going to overtop the dam, as it did before. [...]

It is an experiment. And I think it's a risky experiment, because if the power fails, you know, just like if your -- when the power goes out with your refrigerator, everything will de-freeze in -- defrost in the freezer.

So, if this ice melts suddenly and it's blocking an enormous amount of contaminated water behind it, then you have got a problem. At the same time, you know, the tanks are themselves something of a threat, if there's another earthquake and this highly contaminated water gets into the ocean. And so they have a got a very -- couple of very, very serious problems of containing the water.

Last month, Makhijani warned, "This is an accident that’s shockingly not stopping."

Amidst the fight to contain the nuclear disaster, Japan is brushing aside concerns of radioactivity as it makes its bid to be the host of the 2020 Olympics.

“The radiation level in Tokyo is the same as London, New York and Paris,” said Tsunekazu Takeda, an IOC member and president of the Japanese Olympic committee. “It’s absolutely safe, 35 million people living there in very normal conditions. We have no worries.”

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