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Another Fukushima mishap leaks highly radioactive water into Pacific

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TEPCO comes under fire from Japanese authorities after second breach in less than two months

Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant (Credit: Tokyo Electric Power)
Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant (Credit: Tokyo Electric Power)

Radioactive water leaked out of Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant late Wednesday and has likely spilled into the Pacific Ocean, authorities announced today. As Reuters reports, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) discovered that contaminated water was overflowing from a storage tank yesterday, and officials estimate that more than 100 gallons may have leaked into the surrounding harbor.

Today's announcement marks the second leak in less than two months at Fukushima, leading government officials to question whether TEPCO is capable of handling what has proven to be an extremely complex cleanup. The head of Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) lashed out at TEPCO after a leak was discovered in August, saying, "This is why you can't just leave it up to TEPCO alone." A massive tsunami and earthquake devastated the facility in 2011, unleashing the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl accident in 1986.

"we cannot deny the possibility of it having reached the ocean."

Speaking to reporters Thursday, TEPCO official Masayuki Ono said the radioactive water "went into the drain and we cannot deny the possibility of it having reached the ocean." Ono acknowledged that TEPCO doesn't have the capacity to contain the excess water used to cool nuclear reactors that were damaged during the 2011 disaster, which is why storage tanks are overflowing. The water likely spread into a trench that leads to the Pacific Ocean, but TEPCO says the contamination is largely restricted to the harbor near Fukushima, and won't pose a threat to other nations.

TEPCO says the water leaked Wednesday contained 200,000 becquerels of strontium 90 and other radioactive isotopes per liter. The exact composition of the water remains unclear, though the legal limit for strontium 90 is 30 becquerels per liter.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that he considers the situation to be under control, while saying the incident proves that TEPCO's efforts to contain the Fukushima fallout have fallen short. Suga said the government will intervene to secure the site, though it's not clear what steps it will take.

"Let me assure you the situation is under control."

The controversy comes nearly a month after Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. At the time, Japanese Prime Minister Shinto Abe sought to assure the International Olympic Committee that the Fukushima disaster is under control.

"Some may have concerns about Fukushima," Abe said. "Let me assure you the situation is under control. It has never done and will never do any damage to Tokyo."