Water leak at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant

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Japan’s Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) has discovered water leaks that could be radioactive at the tsunami-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station and faces the decision of dumping it in the Pacific Ocean, according to media reports.

Contaminated water may have leaked into the ground from one of the plant’s underground storage tanks, TEPCO was reported to have said.

The BBC said that if confirmed, the leak would be the third discovered at the plant since Saturday [6th April].

In a statement Tepco said the cause of the assumed cause of the leakage was a “decrease in flange surface pressure induced by the change in the tightening condition of the flange due to the air temperature change overtime”.

The Japanese firm said the flange has since been replaced and “contaminated gravels have been removed”.

"We understand that we have caused tremendous worry to the people of Fukushima and the wider public and we apologise for that," Tepco spokesman Masayuki Ono reportedly said.

Meanwhile Bloomberg reported that Tepco has built a makeshift sealed cooling system but that “underground water is breaching basement walls at a rate of about 400 tons a day”.

The news agency quoted Kazuhiko Kudo, a research professor of nuclear engineering at Kyushu University, who reportedly said that reducing radiation levels in the water and pouring it into the sea is one of two options for the company. The other is to keep building above ground storage tanks.

It was on March 11 2011 when a devastating 8.9 magnitude earthquake struck the east coast of Japan, bringing part of one of the world's largest economies to its knees. One of the biggest earthquakes to be recorded worldwide, the seismic force was even felt as far away as the United States.

In an earthquake prone region, Japan had become resilient to a series of smaller events throughout its history. But it was the scale of the resulting tsunami which many east coast civilians did not expect. Measuring nearly 10 metres in height, the giant wave struck the country with full force.

Although the number of fatalities increasingly grew, it was the failing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant which grabbed headlines around the world. Waves destroyed cooling systems for the reactors, leading to meltdowns of three of them.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is expected to visit Japan this month to review the country’s plan for decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station.

The review is expected to be the first of a two-mission programme to provide IAEA support for Japan's decommissioning of the damaged reactors at Fukushima Daiichi.

Tepco is actively releasing results from groundwater investigations in the region carried out weekly (see results from April 11).

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