TOKYO (Reuters) – Contaminated water with dangerously high levels of radiation is leaking from a storage tank at Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, the most serious setback to the clean up of the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.
The storage tank breach of about 300 tons of water is separate from contaminated water leaks reported in recent weeks, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co said on Tuesday.
The latest leak, which is continuing, is so contaminated that a person standing 50 centimeters (1.6 feet) away would, within an hour, receive a radiation dose five times the average annual global limit for nuclear workers.
After 10 hours, a worker in that proximity to the leak would develop radiation sickness with symptoms including nausea and a drop in white blood cells.
“That is a huge amount of radiation. The situation is getting worse,” said Michiaki Furukawa, who is professor emeritus at Nagoya University and a nuclear chemist.
Massive amounts of radioactive fluids are accumulating at the Fukushima plant as Tepco floods reactor cores via a jerry-rigged system to keep melted uranium fuel rods cool and stable.
The water in the improvised cooling system then flows into basements and trenches that have been leaking since the disaster.
Highly contaminated excess water is pumped out and stored in steel tanks on elevated ground away from the reactors, which lie adjacent to the coast. About 400 tons of radioactive water per day has been pooling and kept in storage at Fukushima.
A South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed on Tuesday media reports that Seoul had asked Japanese officials to publicly explain what they were doing to stop contaminated water reaching the Pacific Ocean and valuable fishing grounds.
“Tepco and the government must come up with ways to stop the leaks as well as to monitor and analyze how much and what sort of radiation is entering the ocean, as well as the affect it is having on fish and sea plants,” Furukawa said.
“They also need to make the information available to the public, all over the world, given this is the first case in history where contaminated water from a nuclear plant is flowing into the ocean at this magnitude,” he said.