Japan’s Version of the “Junk Shot”

For all the incredible technology, brainpower, manpower and money that are poured into extracting natural resources from the earth—multi-billion dollar oil rigs, nuclear plants, coal mines, natural gas wells—when those efforts go wrong, we resort to basic, primitive tools to try and make things right.

Remember Transocean and BP’s so-called junk shot that failed to cap the spewing well in the Gulf? The rupture was billowing tens of thousands of gallons of oil a day into the ocean. The best effort Transocean and BP could come up with was to cram the well full of old tires and golf balls, a process the corporate spokespersons equated to “clogging up a toilet.”

Now, in Japan, slightly different tactics are being employed by the Tokyo Electric Power Company to try and stanch the damaged Fukushima Dai-Chi nuclear complex as it spreads radiation across the country and into the seas.

Before pumping 3 million gallons of contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean over the weekend, workers vainly tried their own “junk shots” to clog up the radiation escaping from the plant:

1. After the plant was damaged and power lost due to the 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami, the very first effort to cool the spent fuel rods was to flood the complex with seawater. That created millions of gallons of radiated saltwater with no place to go but back into the sea;

2. Next, Tokyo Electric tried dumping sea water from helicopters— a failure;

3. This past weekend, cracks were discovered in the facility, forming open channels into the ocean for the radiated seawater. Tokyo Electric attempted to fill the cracks with cement. No luck. Plant managers admitted that the saltwater surging back into the sea was 500 times the legal limit for radiation, but assured reporters that they were not concerned about impacts on local seafood and that any harmful water would be quickly dispersed.

4. When the cement didn’t work, plant managers tried a “special blend” of plastic mixed with sawdust and shredded newspaper to sop up the mess. Failed.

5. Next up? Screens of polyester fabric to somehow keep the contamination separate.

6. Finally on Monday, as a way to identify and track the radiated water, Tokyo Electric dumped milky white bath salts on the border of the leak … which failed to show the path.

TEPCO argued that it’s better to disperse the highly contaminated water into the wild ocean than to let it roil and boil in containment tanks, which would increase its radioactivity. Better to release the poison, and let Mother Nature soak up of the problem.

Once again, man rationalizes that the ocean is big and wild and can absorb the abuse. But time may tell another story, one of dumping millions of gallons of radiated water impacting marine life and people living along coastlines from Japan to California.

Posted in Japan, Nuclear Spill

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