TEPCO has admitted a new problem with the water management and steel sea wall at Fukushima Daiichi. Salt levels in groundwater being pumped up from around the reactor buildings and sea front were found to now have more than the expected amount of salt. This appears to indicate some amount of sea water is infiltrating back into the plant grounds near the reactors.
The solution so far has been to dump the salty water into the reactor building basements. This itself is problematic as excess salt levels will increase the corrosion of structures in the lower levels of the buildings. It has also created a problem for treating the contaminated water. The decontamination systems are not meant to handle water with significant salt levels. Early salt contamination of water involved in cooling the reactors back in 2011 had to eventually have the salt removed. This reduced the corrosion in the systems and allowed the water to then be processed through various decontamination systems. Anywhere this salty water is included will likely need to be run through a desalination system at the plant first. This may cause a serious bottleneck in water processing at the site.
This of course raises a larger question of where the water is coming from. TEPCO has been slightly lowering water levels inside the reactor buildings as they had lowered some groundwater levels nearby. This may have created a situation where the force of the more dense salt water pushed back into the plant grounds. This could happen through openings in the damaged steel sea wall, through water interfaces deeper underground or another route were fresh and sea water can co-mingle. Seawater intrusion is a well known phenomenon where actions such as pumping up too much freshwater for drinking water can allow seawater to infiltrate those locations.
image credit | Thompson Education
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