Japan's nuclear reactor: radioactive leaks

As work continues to bring the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant back under control, Reactors 2 and 3, are the most likely sources for the main leaks of radioactivity.

Infographic showing the six reactors at fukushima, with reactors 3&4 leaking and the risk levels of the other reactors

Reactor 2: On 6 April, Tepco announced a leak of radioactive water had been stopped. They said engineers had injected chemical agents to solidify soil near a leaking crack, 20cm long.

Earlier attempts to plug the leak had failed. This leak was believed to have been the source of high levels of radiation found in seawater near the plant.

It was thought that radioactive steam had been flowing from the core into the reactor housing and through cracks in the water-filled suppression chamber beneath the reactor.

Radioactive water in a tunnel underneath the reactor and the turbine building (see diagram below) had prevented workers from gaining access. This tunnel emerges at the front of the building as a trench - just 55 metres from the sea.

Damaged reactors close-up and diagram showing location of contaminated water

Reactor 3: Uses more plutonium in its fuel rod mix than the other damaged reactors. Small amounts of plutonium have been found in soil at the plant indicating this reactor may have suffered a partial meltdown. Highly radioactive water has been detected here; engineers are planning to remove it for storage in waste buildings.

Decommissioning the plant

This involves removing the fuel rods, storing them and then reprocessing them at another plant. Then all non-core buildings will be demolished. Core buildings (which house the reactors) have to remain in tact for at least 40 years because dismantling them would release more radioactive material. Some Japanese nuclear experts are considering whether to cover those core buildings with a special material to stop the spread of radioactive substances.

Reactors 5 and 6 would re-open at some point after consultation with local residents.

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