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Fukushima leak emergency: LIVE UPDATES

Published time: August 10, 2013 14:48
Edited time: September 07, 2013 18:04
Local government officials and nuclear experts inspect a facility to prevent seeping of contamination water into the sea at Tokyo Electric Power's (TEPCO) Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture. (AFP Photo)

Local government officials and nuclear experts inspect a facility to prevent seeping of contamination water into the sea at Tokyo Electric Power's (TEPCO) Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture. (AFP Photo)

As 300 tons of contaminated water flow daily into the Pacific from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, Japan’s government is working in crisis mode to make sure the leak, which the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has failed to contain, is sealed.

September 6

01:33 GMT: South Korean regulators have banned the import of 50 fishery products from eight Japanese prefectures because of lingering concerns of radiation contamination from the crippled Fukushima power plant. The announcement also called for tighter inspection of imports from elsewhere in Japan. The ban, which will begin Monday and will be instituted indefinitely, is an attempt to address “sharply increased concern in the public about the flow of hundreds of tons of contaminated water into the ocean” stemming from the Fukushima site, a spokesman for the South Korean Prime Minister’s office said. 

September 5

11:45 GMT: Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) has admitted that highly radioactive water leaking from a storage tank at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant may have seeped into groundwater flowing toward the Pacific Ocean. TEPCO said in press release that workers detected radiation of 650 becquerels per liter in samples taken from a monitoring well dug near the damaged tank. “There is the possibility that the contaminated water [from the tank], diluted by rainwater...has seeped into soil and reached groundwater,” the company said. TEPCO earlier stated that it discovered the leak after it happened, but was uncertain where most of the water went.

September 2

13:56 GMT: A patrol of workers at Fukushima found a new area of high radiation near tanks used to store contaminated water, the nuclear plant’s operator, TEPCO, said in a statement. According to the company, there was no sign of a water leak around the newly discovered area, which has radiation readings of over 100 millisieverts per hour. The latest hot spot is in a different area than a storage tank that was found to have leaked 300 tons of radioactive water in August.

10:03 GMT: The Japanese government will initiate prompt, comprehensive steps to clean up the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant amid lingering doubts over the ability of plant owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), to handle the crisis, country’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, said.

September 1

21:10 GMT: Several new hotspots with potentially lethal doses of radiation have been detected near the tanks storing the radioactive water, forcing the operator to admit there might be even more leaks at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant. Traces of water leak measuring 230 millisieverts per hour were found below a water pipe, Kyodo news agency reported. According to Jiji News, a reading of 1,800 millisieverts per hour was near one of the tanks, while another water storage facility reported readings measured between 70 and 230 millisieverts.

August 31

22:00 GMT: Several new hotspots reading potentially lethal doses of radiation have been detected near the tanks storing the radioactive water, forcing the operator to admit there might be even more leaks at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant. 

August 29

11:57 GMT: A new study published in the latest edition of the journal Deep-Sea Research 1 predicts that a radioactive plume of water in the Pacific Ocean from Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant will likely reach US coastal waters in early 2014. Radioactivity in the ocean is likely to reach its peak by 2016. The study, by an international group of oceanographers working with Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, predicts that the concentration of radioactive material will become harmless once it leaves Japanese waters.

August 28

05:03 GMT: Japan has upgraded the severity of the latest radioactive water leak to Level 3 on the INES scale.

August 26

15:47 GMT: Japan is considering dipping into its $3.5 billion in emergency reserve funds from this year’s budget to help TEPCO, the operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, deal with deepening radioactive water problems at the site.

Visiting the disabled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on Monday, trade and industry minister, Toshimitsu Motegi, said he would send a taskforce to manage the clean-up and send officials to oversee the operations, Reuters reports.

Motegi ordered TEPCO to replace those tanks which run the risk of leaking radioactive water, saying the firm should have more frequent patrols around the tanks and better documentation of inspections. He also said the temporary tanks, which are collapsible and held together by rubber seals, should be replaced with more durable ones with welded seams.

August 25

16:20 GMT: TEPCO has said that the deterioration of rubber seams holding together one of its tanks was likely responsible for Wednesday's toxic leak, after the seams failed to keep its integrity once it began contorting under the weight of the water inside. The company has previously been urged to adopt the more sturdy welded seam tank construction as soon as is practical.

August 23

12:00 GMT: Fears over the inability to contain the enormous quantities of radioactive water have intensified since the discovery of Wednesday's leak.

"We've suspected (leaks into the ocean) from the beginning ... TEPCO is making it very difficult for us to trust them," Masakazu Yabuki, a veteran fisherman in Iwaki, just south of the plant, told AP on Friday.

03:00 GMT: TEPCO admitted that it needs overseas help in order to contain the radioactive fallout from the disaster after a full 18 months attempting to control it by themselves.

"Many other countries outside of Japan have experienced decommissioning reactors, so we hope we can consult them more and utilize their experience,” TEPCO’s vice president, Zengo Aizawa, said at a news conference on Wednesday night. 

An aerial view shows workers wearing protective suits and masks working atop contaminated water storage tanks at Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)'s tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima, in this photo taken by Kyodo August 20, 2013. (Reuters/Kyodo)

August 22

23:30 GMT: Excessive radiation levels were found next to the storage tanks which have been containing highly-contaminated water used to cool reactors, according to TEPCO. One tank already leaked earlier this week. 

TEPCO started checking its 300 storage tanks after 300 tons of contaminated water escaped from one of them on Wednesday.

Recent shocking reports confirmed by government officials have revealed that for two years since the March 2011 earthquake that triggered the Fukushima disaster, hundreds of tons of groundwater running under the damaged power plant are being mixed with toxic water used to cool its reactors and then leak into the Pacific Ocean. 

Officials and the public have lashed out at the Fukushima operator TEPCO for failing to cope with and report on the situation, which the country’s nuclear watchdog NRA has described as an “emergency.”  

This hand out picture taken by Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) on August 19, 2013 shows contaminated water which leaked from a water tank at TEPCO's Fukushima dai-ichi nuclear power plant at Okuma town in Fukushima prefecture. (AFP/TEPCO)

August 21

02:59 GMT: Eighteen children from the Fukushima Prefecture have been found to have thyroid cancer, while 25 others are suspected of having the illness, Japan’s NHK website reported. Medical examinations are being conducted on all 360,000 children from the area who were aged 18 and younger at the time of the 2011 accident. The findings were reported by a prefectural panel, which is looking into the impact of radiation on those living in the affected area.

02:55 GMT: Japan will raise the gravity of the latest Fukushima leak to Level Three, which is considered a “serious radiation incident” on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) for radiological releases, Reuters reported. "Judging from the amount and the density of the radiation in the contaminated water that leaked ... a level 3 assessment is appropriate," according to the document used during Wednesday’s weekly meeting of Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) commissioners.

August 20

07:58 GMT: Another tank with highly radioactive water at the devastated Fukushima nuclear power plant has leaked, reported operator TEPCO. The contaminated water contains an unprecedented 80 million Becquerels of radiation per liter. The norm is a mere 150 Bq.

August 19

18:43 GMT: Readings of tritium in seawater taken from the bay near the Fukushima Daiichi plant have shown 4700 becquerels per liter, which marks the highest radiation level in the measurement history of the seawater near the crippled nuclear plant, according to the company’s operator TEPCO, Nikkei newspaper reports.

13:00 GMT: Two workers at the crippled plant were found to be exposed to the radioactive particles just days after ten workers were sprayed with radioactive water at the beginning of last week.

Two dust monitor alarms sounded the main operations center in the stricken plant, where radiation levels are normally low enough not to need to wear full face masks, TEPCO said in an emailed statement.

Workers wearing protective suits and masks operate a soil improvement work site of the shore barrier to stop radioactive water from leaking into the sea, near the No.1 and No.2 reactor buildings of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (Reuters / Kyodo)

August 17

13:15 GMT: One of the most serious and potentially catastrophic situations facing the engineers directing the clean-up operation at Fukushima is the removing from the reactors of some 1,300 fuel rods, Christina Consolo, a nuclear fallout researcher told RT.

The situation is particularly serious in reactor 4, where the fuel pool’s structural integrity has been significantly compromised. It is also not known how much the Zirconium cladding, which encases the rods, has been damaged or to what extent the walls of the pool have been corroded due to salt water cooling. All the fuel rods must be removed manually and the tinniest mistake could mean a mishandled rod goes critical and with over 1,300 rods the result could be a huge apocalyptic nuclear explosion.

Another serious problem facing the plant is the huge amount of ground water that is flowing through it every day, meaning that there are already substance issues and liquefaction under the buildings of the crippled power station.