Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), operator of the disaster-stricken Fukushima nuclear plant revealed that it had found another leak of contaminated water on Wednesday from its storage tanks, putting more pressure on the embattled utility company to stop the numerous issues that have plagued the decommissioning process of the molten nuclear reactor cores. TEPCO officials said that a worker patrolling the storage area spotted the leak just after noon, with droplets of contaminated water leaking out between the tank’s circular steel structure. The Fukushima Nuclear Power plant was hit hard by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami more than two years ago, triggering nuclear reactor meltdowns and mass evacuation because of the radiation.
Shunichi Tanaka, chief of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), said in a press conference that the NRA is urging TEPCO to deal with the problem immediately. Tanaka however downplayed the gravity of the situation, saying that the NRA did not regard the matter as a serious one. This latest leak was revealed after TEPCO had acknowledged earlier this week that radioactive caesium has been detected in groundwater flowing into the plant – contrary to an early finding that said the contamination was negligible. This will make it more difficult for the utility company to get permission to dump radioactive waste water outside of its plant – the decommissioning process produces around 400 tons of radioactive waste water every day, and TEPCO’s storage solutions – plagued by numerous leaks – are obviously not enough. This new incident represents another setback for the company as it tries to reassure the Japanese public and the government that it can manage the waste water problem.
Even as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tries to sell Japanese nuclear technology abroad in the name of economic growth, Fukushima will continually be a reminder that TEPCO’s poor management and lack of up-to-date crisis processes have in fact resulted in the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986. Moreover, the discovery that groundwater is contaminated complicates TEPCO’s efforts to get permission from local authorities and fishermen to dump groundwater into the ocean – given their earlier claims that the groundwater was safe enough.