Highly radioactive water seeping into the ocean from Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant is creating an "emergency" that the operator is struggling to contain, an official from the country's nuclear watchdog said on Monday.
This contaminated groundwater has breached an underground barrier, is rising toward the surface and is exceeding legal limits of radioactive discharge, Shinji Kinjo, head of a Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) task force, told Reuters.
Countermeasures planned by Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) are only a temporary solution, he said.
Tepco's "sense of crisis is weak," Kinjo said. "This is why you can't just leave it up to Tepco alone to grapple with the ongoing disaster. Right now, we have an emergency," he said.
Tepco has been widely castigated for its failure to prepare for the massive 2011 tsunami and earthquake that devastated its Fukushima plant and lambasted for its inept response to the reactor meltdowns. It has also been accused of covering up shortcomings.
It was not immediately clear how much of a threat the contaminated groundwater could pose. In the early weeks of the disaster, the Japanese government allowed Tepco to dump tens of thousands of tonnes of contaminated water into the Pacific in an emergency move.
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The toxic water release was however heavily criticized by neighboring countries as well as local fishermen and the utility has since promised it would not dump irradiated water without the consent of local townships.