| TOKYO, June 3
TOKYO, June 3 The operator of the stricken
Japanese nuclear power plant said on Friday that more
radioactive water could begin spilling into the sea later this
month if there is a glitch in setting up a new decontamination
Tokyo Electric Power Co also said that two workers
may have been exposed to radiation at more than twice the limit
set by the government, the most serious case so far of exposure
among hundreds of workers at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Nearly 110,000 tonnes of highly radioactive water -- enough
to fill about 40 Olympic-size swimming pools -- are stored at
the plant, the utility said in a report to Japan's nuclear
regulator presented on Friday.
Tokyo Electric, known as Tepco, has pumped massive amounts
of water to cool three reactors where meltdowns occurred after
the March 11 earthquake and tsunami disabled cooling systems.
Managing the growing pools of radioactive water is a major
challenge with the start of Japan's monthlong rainy season, and
the plant, on the Pacific coast 240 km (150 miles) north of
Tokyo, is running out of storage space.
"By sealing relevant areas ... we plan to prevent
contaminated water from leaking into the sea," Tepco said in its
report handed to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.
Engineers have begun installing equipment supplied by French
reactor maker Areva to decontaminate the radioactive
water and Tepco wants to start operating it by June 15.
But if the treatment system does not work, one of the
reactors could run out of space to store contaminated water as
early as June 20, and it could then spill into the sea. The same
could happen to a second reactor a day later, Tepco said.
Environmental activists have accused the government and
Tepco of downplaying the risk of water leaks. [ID:nL3E7GQ1FN]
"This is a scenario that Tepco could have anticipated ... It
is a serious problem that the firm has yet to take measures
against this," said Junichi Sato, executive director of
Greenpeace Japan. "If a big amount leaks continuously, then
maritime contamination will spread even more."
In early April the utility dumped about 10,000 tonnes of
water with low-level radioactivity into the ocean, prompting
criticism from neighbours China and South Korea.
Tepco, criticised for its poor communication about radiation
doses sustained by workers, also confirmed that two workers
suspected of having exceeded the government's radiation exposure
limit of 250 millisieverts had indeed surpassed that figure.
The unidentified workers were exposed to up to 580
millisieverts during cleanup efforts at the plant, Tepco
official Junichi Matsumoto told a news conference. Exposure to
250 millisieverts is equivalent to more than 400 stomach X-rays.
Health checks of the two have not shown any abnormalities,
but experts say higher levels of exposure correspond to higher
cancer risks. Officials said it was possible that other workers
had also exceeded the legal limit.
"We did not have a system in place to manage radiation risks
as part of the early response," said Goshi Hosono, an adviser to
Prime Minister Naoto Kan.
The earthquake and tsunami left 24,000 dead or missing and
triggered the radiation crisis at Fukushima, resulting in some
80,000 residents around the plant being evacuated.
Kan, criticised for his handling of the disaster and already
unpopular before the earthquake struck, survived a no-confidence
vote in parliament on Thursday with an offer to resign after the
worst of the nuclear crisis is past and the devastated northeast
coastal region begins to recover.
But the fractious ruling party resumed its bickering on
Friday after Kan hinted he wanted to keep his job into the new
year, with hopes that a stable shutdown of the damaged reactors
can be achieved by then.
(Additional reporting by Kevin Krolicki; Editing by Michael