The operator of Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant has admitted for the first time that the site’s reactors are leaking highly contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean.
Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, admitted the leakage to the ocean for the first time since a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami damaged the plant’s reactors in 2011.
The operator made the acknowledgement after steam was seen at one of the plant's reactors on Tuesday.
TEPCO has come under criticism for its delay in the announcement, since experts had harbored strong suspicions about a possible leak for a long time.
Previously, the company had denied reports suggesting that contaminated water was leaking into the ocean.
TEPCO spokesman Masayuki Ono said that radioactive water leaking from the wrecked reactors is likely to have run into the underground water system, before joining the ocean, and might therefore be the result of initial leaks to the underground system spotted in 2011.
Ono added that officials believe a leak is possible as underground water levels fluctuate in accordance with tide movements and rainfall.
Meanwhile, the operator said the number of plant workers with thyroid radiation exposures exceeding threshold levels for increased cancer risks was noticeably higher than earlier reports.
On March 11, 2011, a nine-magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami that inflicted heavy damage on the six-reactor Fukushima plant. The cooling systems of the plant’s reactors were knocked out, leading to meltdowns and the release of radioactive material.
Last July, a Japanese parliamentary panel found that the incident at the Fukushima nuclear plant had been a “man-made disaster” and not only a result of the tsunami. The report criticized “governments, regulatory authorities and Tokyo Electric Power” for being devoid of “a sense of responsibility to protect people’s lives and society.”