Once-A-Decade Typhoon Threatens Already-Leaking Fukushima Nuclear Plant

Typhoon Wipha appeared set to make a close approach to Tokyo Wednesday morning (Tuesday evening EDT), potentially bringing a storm surge, heavy rain, and flooding to the massive metropolitan area of more than 35 million. It is also likely to impact the still-damaged Fukushima nuclear reactor 130 miles northeast of Tokyo, already leaking hundreds of tons of contaminated water into the ocean daily as of August.

Wipha is the strongest typhoon to approach eastern Japan since Tokage struck in October 2004, killing nearly 100 and forcing thousands to evacuate due to mudslides and flooding.

Fukushima’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Corporation is already cancelling all offshore work and considering halting onshore work depending on the storm’s path. While Tokyo Electric plans to pump rainwater into holding tanks, check it for radioactivity, and release it only if uncontaminated, the fact that they haven’t been able to contain leaks raises concerns over the further escape of radioactive water.

While forecasts say Wipha is more likely to take a path that wouldn’t produce a storm surge, five or more inches of rain would likely fall on Fukushima and Tokyo.

And with Fukushima under a storm surge advisory as of Tuesday morning (EDT), the plant’s problems could go beyond accumulating rainfall. Worst-case scenarios could see huge storm surges and flooding in both Fukushima and Tokyo.

Although the storm has weakened and will continue to do so, it will likely make landfall with wind gusts over 75 mph, enough to down trees and power lines, and damage buildings. Hundreds of domestic flights, some international flights, and dozens of trains have already been cancelled, and that will likely happen more and more as Wipha approaches.

While the Atlantic hurricane season has been quiet in 2013, typhoon season in the Pacific has been a different story. Typhoon Nari made landfall in Vietnam Tuesday, and cyclone Phailin caused 21 deaths in India Saturday and Sunday.

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