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Japanese Nuclear Regulation Authority proposes raising severity level for Fukushima nuclear crisis

Posted: August 21, 2013 |   Comments

( A Japanese watchdog, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), proposed at a meeting on Wednesday to raise the ongoing Fukushima crisis to Level 3, "serious incident," up from Level 1, "anomaly" on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES). If the level is raised, it would be the highest since the plant suffered multiple meltdowns in 2011, earning a Level 7, "major accident," on the INES.

The Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the nuclear power plant's operator, said that the plant has leaked about 80,000 gallons of contaminated water. The company has stated that, although they aren't sure where the water has been leaking from, they suspect it has done so through a seam on a steel tank or a valve connected to a gutter around the tank.

The NRA plans to consult with the U.N. nuclear regulator agency over whether raising the event's level on the INES would be appropriate.

TEPCO claims that, at about 330 feet, the leak is too far from the sea to pose a contamination threat. However, NRA Deputy Secretary-General Hideka Morimoto says that water could reach the sea via a drain gutter.

Four other tanks of the same design have already had similar leaks since last year.

Much of the radioactive water leaks into the ground and contaminates ground water, then enters the Pacific Ocean at a rate of hundreds of tons per day.

One of the major problems with cleaning up the radiation is the sheer massive amount of contaminated water. Nearly 80 million gallons of water are stored across some 1,000 steel tanks across the Fukushima nuclear power plant complex. Another problem is that many of those tanks have rubber seams that are susceptible to leaks. As the volume of water grows by 105,000 gallons per day, TEPCO is struggling to find storage for all the radioactive water.

"We have no choice but keep building tanks, or there is no place to store the contaminated water," TEPCO General Manager Masayuki Ono said.

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