Fukushima’s radioactive water leak raises government concerns

By Danielle Wiener-Bronner
August 7, 2013

Japan’s Abe calls Fukushima leak an “urgent issue,” fire cripples Kenya’s main airport, and Tunisia’s anti-government protests gather force. Today is Wednesday, August 7, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.

Members of a Fukushima prefecture panel, which monitors the safe decommissioning of the nuclear plant, inspect the construction site of the shore barrier, which is meant to stop radioactive water from leaking into the sea, near the No.1 and No.2 reactor building of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima in this photo released by Kyodo, August 6, 2013. REUTERS/Kyodo

Worse than we thought. Japanese officials said highly radioactive water is seeping from the Fukushima nuclear plant at a rate of 300 metric tons a day, reaching the ocean and prompting the government to finally step in:

The leak from the plant 220 km northeast of Tokyo is enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool in a week. The water is spilling into the Pacific Ocean, but it was not immediately clear how much of a threat it poses. As early as January this year, (Tokyo Electric Power Co) found fish contaminated with high levels of radiation inside a port at the plant. Local fishermen and independent researchers had already suspected a leak of radioactive water, but Tepco denied the claims. Tetsu Nozaki, the chairman of the Fukushima fisheries federation said he had only heard of the latest estimates of the magnitude of the seepage from media reports. Environmental group Greenpeace said Tepco had “anxiously hid the leaks” and urged Japan to seek international expertise.

The Japanese government authorized Tepco to dump tens of thousands of tons of contaminated water into the Pacific in an emergency response soon after the plant was compromised. According to a director in Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry’s Nuclear Accident Response Office, the government believes water has been leaking from the plant for two years at unknown rates and levels of contamination. Tepco has worked alongside the industry ministry since May on a proposal to prevent leakage by freezing soil, but experts say such an operation could be expensive. Abe said that the “government will take measures,” to deal with the issue, but did not offer specifics. Since shuttering nuclear plants, Japan has relied on expensive imported fuel for energy. On Tuesday, a government affiliated institute said some plants could be reopened as soon as July 2014.

Firefighters inspect damages from a fire at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, August 7, 2013. REUTERS/Noor Khamis. Click here for more images

Kenyatta airport burned. Kenya’s main airport was engulfed in flame, halting international passenger flights indefinitely, stranding thousands of would-be passengers, and causing transport delays throughout the region. Firefighters fought the blaze for five hours before conquering the fire, the worst on record at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport:

The country’s anti-terror police boss said he did not believe that there was a terror link to the fire even though it coincided with the 15th anniversary of a twin attack by Islamist militants on the United States embassy in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, the commercial capital of neighboring Tanzania…There were no immediate reports of casualties from the fire, which started in the arrivals and immigration area.

Authorities plan to prepare the airport’s domestic terminal for international flights on Thursday. Domestic flights had resumed by Wednesday evening and outward bound cargo flights were expected to resume hours later.

Anti-government protesters wave flags and shout slogans during a demonstration in Tunis, August 6, 2013. REUTERS/Anis Mili

Momentum in Tunis. Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters gathered in downtown Tunis in the largest opposition rally since protests began two weeks ago:

Tunisia is facing the worst political turmoil since autocratic ruler Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was toppled. The crisis has been compounded by growing instability as Islamist militants step up their attacks. “The people want the fall of the regime,” shouted crowds crammed into Bardo Square, using the same slogan they popularized when Tunisians ousted Ben Ali in 2011 and sparked a wave of uprisings across the Arab world. Tuesday’s opposition protests mark the six-month anniversary of the assassination of leftist politician Chokri Belaid, one of the two opposition figures shot dead in recent months.

On Monday the head of Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly suspended the body until Tunisia’s Islamist government and secular opposition start a dialogue, possibly signalling rifts within Tunisia’s ruling Ennahda party. Anti-government sentiment has not extended to many of Tunisia’s poor, who say the protests are propelled by the country’s upper and middle class.

Nota Bene: Obama cancels meeting with Putin over Snowden asylum.

Standouts:

Toy gun control - Pakistan hopes to stem a culture of violence by cracking down on toy guns. (The Atlantic)

Poo package - Spanish dog owners who neglect their duties can expect a special delivery. (The New York Times)

‘Bongo Bongo Land’ - The UK Independent Party bans representatives from using an “outdated” phrase. (BBC)

Runway for sale - Spain’s airport at Ciudad Real in La Mancha is on the market. (The Guardian)

Fighting words - An EU Parliamentarian is under fire for encouraging Palestinians to start a third intifada. (Al Jazeera)

From the File:

  • Saudi Arabia offers Russia economic deal if it scales back support for Assad.
  • Syrian army kills 62 rebels.
  • North Korea plans to reopen the Kaesong joint industrial zone.
  • Egypt’s presidency says diplomacy failed to end the country’s political crisis.
  • Yemen claims responsibility for foiling al Qaeda plot.
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