Skip to main content

More leaks feared at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant

By Jethro Mullen and Yoko Wakatsuki, CNN
September 3, 2013 -- Updated 0053 GMT (0853 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Some tanks and pipes are suspected of leaking toxic water, an official says
  • The plant operator has detected a sharp spike in radiation levels at the plant
  • The problematic parts are being checked and the water is being moved to other tanks
  • One water tank leaked 300 tons of radioactive water last month

Tokyo (CNN) -- The drip, drip, drip of bad news about Japan's tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant keeps going.

Several tanks and pipes at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant are suspected of leaking toxic water, the chairman of the Japanese nuclear watchdog, Shunichi Tanaka, said Monday.

Read more: Japan fed up with 'whack-a-mole' approach to Fukushima

His comments come after the much-criticized plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, said over the weekend that it had detected a sharp spike in radiation levels in some of the pipes and huge containers that hold the vast quantities of contaminated water accumulating at the site.

Radiation levels spike at Fukushima
Nuclear expert: Tepco not in control
Nuclear crisis in Japan
Fukushima plant 'house of horrors'

That issue is the latest setback at the plant, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government has vowed to step in to deal with the toxic water crisis that has deepened concerns in Japan and abroad about the daunting scale of the problem.

Since the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit northeastern Japan in March 2011 set off meltdowns at three of the reactors at the nuclear plant, TEPCO has been storing the enormous volumes of water contaminated at the site in a steadily growing collection of containers.

Some of the water tanks were constructed hastily as temporary storage units in the aftermath of the natural and nuclear disasters. Those makeshift containers are the ones where problems have arisen recently.

Fukushima toxic water leak a Level 3 'serious incident'

Checking problem areas

TEPCO said over the weekend that only a small amount of the highly contaminated water escaped from a tank this time around. But the disclosure comes just weeks after it admitted that about 300 tons of radioactive water leaked from another tank.

The latest leak doesn't appear to be as big as that, Tanaka said Monday, and it doesn't seem to have reached beyond the barriers that surround the rows of water tanks.

Read more: Man who battled Japan's nuclear meltdown dies

"Nevertheless, we are moving the contaminated water to other tanks and checking the bolts and seams of the tanks in order to be thorough," he said.

The tanks where the high radiation levels were detected are of the same design as the one that leaked heavily last month -- a crisis that prompted the nuclear regulator to declare it a Level 3 serious incident, its gravest assessment since the meltdowns at the plant in 2011.

TEPCO said it found high radiation readings at the storage tanks and pipe Saturday. The four locations are the bottom of three tanks and a pipe connecting tanks in a separate area.

The highest reading was 1,800 millisieverts per hour at the bottom fringe of the tank. Readings of 220 and 70 millisieverts per hour were measured at the bottom of other two tanks. And TEPCO said it found a dried stain under the pipe with 230 millisieverts per hour radiation measurement.

A person in an industrialized country is naturally exposed to 3 millisieverts a year. Experts say that after a single acute exposure of 1,000 millisieverts, people tend to start feeling nauseated and vomiting. Exposure at 5,000 millisieverts over the course of a few hours can be fatal.

One drop of liquid fell when a staff member pressed on insulation material around the pipe. But TEPCO said no contaminated water leak is expected, as there were no changes in the water levels in the tanks.

'Whack-a-mole'

The company, whose efforts to deal with the toxic water crisis were recently compared to a game of whack-a-mole by a government minister, said it was trying to determine the cause of the latest problem and promised to take measures to resolve it while ensuring worker safety.

But Tanaka seemed unimpressed by the company's handling of the problems at the plant.

"TEPCO has been dealing with these accidents in a stopgap manner, so I believe there must have been many things they have missed in their overall countermeasures," he said.

In July, TEPCO admitted that radioactive groundwater was leaking into the Pacific Ocean from the site, bypassing an underground barrier built to seal in the water.

Report: Fukushima's radiation damaged more souls than bodies

About 400 tons of groundwater flow into the site each day, and TEPCO also pumps large amounts of water through the buildings to keep the crippled reactors cool.

The Japanese government has pledged to come up with emergency measures to tackle the growing toxic water problem.

"A package of comprehensive countermeasures" will be presented at a ministerial meeting headed by the prime minister on Tuesday, the local news agency Kyodo reported Monday.

Dump it in the ocean?

One approach flagged by experts to deal with the massive volume of toxic water at the plant is to dump some or all of it into the Pacific Ocean.

"We might have to consider the option of discharging tainted water that is below regulatory levels into the ocean," Tanaka said Monday.

But he stressed that he would not allow the discharge of "tainted water that is above accepted levels."

Tanaka also warned that the toxic water is not the only big challenge at the site -- there's also the decommissioning of the reactors, which is likely to take 30 to 40 years.

"We have a long road ahead of us," he said.

Fukushima tuna finds miniscule health risks

CNN's Yoko Wakatsuki reported from Tokyo and Jethro Mullen wrote from Hong Kong. CNN's Paula Hancocks, Brian Walker and Tim Schwarz contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
This looks like a ghost ship, but it's actually the site of a tense international standoff between the Philippines and China.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
The reported firing of artillery from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle, says CNN's military analyst Rick Francona.
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 0846 GMT (1646 HKT)
The young boy stops, stares, throws ammunition casings at the reporter's feet without a word.
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
A picture taken on June 28, 2014 shows a member of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) putting on protective gear at the isolation ward of the Donka Hospital in Conakry, where people infected with the Ebola virus are being treated. The World Health Organization has warned that Ebola could spread beyond hard-hit Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to neighbouring nations, but insisted that travel bans were not the answer.
The worst ebola outbreak in history spreads out of control in West Africa. CNN's Michael Holmes reports.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 0048 GMT (0848 HKT)
Sure, Fido is a brown Lab. But inside, he may also be a little green.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
ITN's Dan Rivers reports from the hospital where those injured by an attack in Gaza were being treated.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Photograph of an undisclosed location by Patrycja Makowska
Patrycja Makowska likes to give enigmatic names to the extraordinarily beautiful photographs she shoots of crumbling palaces.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 0804 GMT (1604 HKT)
When the Costa Concordia and its salvage convoy finally depart Giglio, the residents will breathe a sigh of relief -- and shed a tear.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Flight attendants are wearing black ribbons to show solidarity with fallen colleagues in "a tribute to those who never made it home."
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT