TOKYO (AP) - A Japanese utility said Monday its crippled Fukushima nuclear
plant is likely leaking contaminated water into sea, acknowledging for the
first time a problem long suspected by experts.
Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, also
came under fire Monday for not disclosing earlier that the number of plant
workers with thyroid radiation exposures exceeding threshold levels for
increased cancer risks was 10 times what it said released earlier.
The delayed announcements underscored the criticisms the company has faced
over the Fukushima crisis. TEPCO has been repeatedly blamed for overlooking
early signs, and covering up or delaying the disclosure of problems and
Company spokesman Masayuki Ono told a regular news conference that plant
officials have come to believe that radioactive water that leaked from the
wrecked reactors is likely to have seeped into the underground water system
and escaped into sea.
Nuclear officials and experts have suspected a leak from the Fukushima Dai-ichi
since early in the crisis. Japan’s nuclear watchdog said two weeks ago a
leak was highly suspected and ordered TEPCO to examine the problem.
TEPCO had persistently denied contaminated water reached the sea, despite
spikes in radiation levels in underground and sea water samples taken at the
plant. The utility first acknowledged an abnormal increase in radioactive
cesium levels in an observation well near the coast in May and has since
monitored water samples.
Ono said plant officials believe a leak is possible because the underground
water levels in suspected areas fluctuate in accordance with tide movements
“We are very sorry for causing concerns. We have made efforts not to cause
any leak to the outside, but we might have failed to do so,” he said.
Ono said the radioactive elements detected in water samples are believed to
largely come from initial leaks that have remained since earlier in the
crisis. He said the leak has stayed near the plant inside the bay, and
officials believe very little has spread further into the Pacific Ocean.
Marine biologists have warned that the radioactive water may be leaking
continuously into the sea from the underground, citing high radioactivity in
fish samples taken near the plant.
Most fish and seafood from along the Fukushima coast are barred from
domestic markets and exports.
Ono said that an estimated 1,972 plant workers, or 10 percent of those
checked, had thyroid exposure doses exceeding 100 millisieverts - a
threshold for increased risk of developing cancer - instead of the 178 based
on checks of 522 workers reported to the World Health Organization last