The operator of Japan’s crippled nuclear plant said today that it is moving tonnes of highly radioactive water from a temporary storage tank to another after detecting signs of leakage.

Tokyo Electric Power Co said an estimated 120 tonnes of water are believed to have breached the tank’s inner linings, although little is thought to have leaked into the soil. TEPCO is moving the water to a nearby tank, a process that could take several days.

TEPCO had detected the leak earlier this week, when radiation levels spiked in water samples collected in between the inner linings of the tank. Radiation levels in water samples taken outside the tank also have increased, an indication of the water leak, TEPCO spokesman Masayuki Ono said.

The leak is not only an immediate environmental concern, but threatens TEPCO’s tightrope water management situation, he said.

The tank contains 13,000 tonnes of the water, which is part of the water that was used to cool melted fuel at the Fukushima Dai-ichi reactors damaged in the March 2011 disaster. So much water has been used that TEPCO is struggling to find storage space.

More than 270,000 tonnes of highly radioactive water is already stored in hundreds of gigantic tanks and another underground tank. They are visible even at the plant’s entrance and built around the compound, taking up more than 80 per cent of its storage capacity.

TEPCO expects the amount to double over three years and plans to build hundred more tanks by mid-2015 to meet the demand.

Because of that, TEPCO is anxious to launch a new water treatment system that can purify the contaminated water. The machine, called ALPS, recently started a final test run after six months of delays due to safety requirements by government regulators.

TEPCO officials have indicated hopes to release the water into the ocean. Ono said TEPCO has no immediate plans to do so without public acceptance.

(This article was published on April 6, 2013)
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