August 21, 2013

Japan's nuclear agency dramatically raises status after saying a day earlier that radioactive water leak was only an 'anomaly.' The operator of Japan's tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant confirms that 300 tonnes of highly radioactive water have leaked from one of the storage tanks, and is still leaking. Tepco's spokesman, Masayuki Ono, said the water had seeped into the ground after breaching a concrete and sandbag barrier around the tank. Officials say it is possible that the nuclear plant has been leaking radioactive matter -- including caesium and strontium -- ever since it suffered a triple meltdown in March 2011.


"Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga called the situation "deplorable", and the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) said it feared the disaster - the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl a quarter of a century earlier - was "in some respects" beyond the plant operator's ability to cope.

The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co, or Tepco, has been criticized for its failure to prepare for the disaster and has since been accused of covering up the extent of the problems at the plant. After months of denial, Tepco recently admitted the plant was leaking contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean from trenches between the reactor buildings and the shoreline.

It said on Tuesday that contaminated water with dangerously high levels of radiation was leaking from a storage tank - the most serious problem in a series of recent mishaps, including power outages, contaminated workers and other leaks.

The NRA said it was worried about leakage from other similar tanks that were built hastily to store water washed over melted reactors at the station to keep them cool. Water in the latest leak is so contaminated that a person standing close to it for an hour would receive five times the annual recommended limit for nuclear workers."

The Guardian further reports:

"Those spillages involve groundwater that is leaking into the nearby Pacific ocean. Tepco said there was no evidence that water from the storage tank had found its way into the sea. The utility said radioactive matter, including caesium and strontium, had seeped into soil, which may have to be dug up and removed.

Puddles near the faulty tank are so contaminated that a person standing 50 centimetres away would in one hour receive five times the annual dose limit for Japanese nuclear workers. Initial readings showed that radiation levels in one puddle were 100 millisieverts an hour.

The leak underlined the risks being taken by workers at the site; after 10 hours anyone in proximity to the contaminated water would develop radiation sickness, with symptoms including nausea and a drop in white blood cells.

The new warning is the most serious since the plant was struck by a powerful tsunami on 11 March 2011. The wave, triggered by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake off Japan's north-east coast, wrecked the plant's back-up power supply and sent three of its six reactors into meltdown.

Tepco is using huge quantities of water to cool melted fuel rods lying deep inside the wrecked reactors, but has failed to prevent contaminated water leaking into the ground and the sea. Contaminated water is stored in about 1,000 tanks that have been built about 500 yards from the shoreline."

The leak is the single most dangerous failure at the plant since the 2011 meltdown, which warranted the maximum level of seven on the severity scale, putting it on a par with the Chernobyl disaster 25 years earlier.

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