Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Shunichi Tanaka told a news conference on Wednesday that highly radioactive water is leaking from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, the fifth such leak, and the worst since last year.
The watchdog agency is proposing raising the rating of the seriousness of the leak to a level 3, a "serious incident," from level 1, "an anomaly," based on an International Nuclear and Radiological event scale of 8.
Tanaka had strong words for Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), urging them to set up monitoring for leaks and be prepared to take precautionary measures. It was discovered that about 80,000 gallons of contaminated water had leaked from one of several hundred storage tanks.
TEPCO built the steel storage tanks to contain the huge amounts of radioactive water from the three melted reactors, as well as any underground water running into the damaged turbine and reactor basements.
What concerns the watchdog agency is the storage tanks. They are of the same design as the ones used at the wrecked Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, where all the previous leaks have taken place. Because of the high probability of future leakage, Tanaka said, "We are in a situation where there is no time to waste."
Harsh words were leveled at plant workers when it was revealed that in many cases, twice daily inspections of the storage tanks were inadequate, with the inspection tour being nothing more than "a walk through."
Company officials said earlier that contaminated water has probably soaked into the ground, after escaping from the barriers surrounding the storage tanks, and did not pose a danger to the sea because of the distance, 1,165 feet from the coast.
The company reversed itself on Wednesday when they acknowledged there may be a possible leak to the sea, after it was discovered that high levels of radioactivity were detected inside a gutter that extends to the ocean.