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Saturday, 4 May 2013

Mark Willacy Radio Report from Two days ago.....

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<Audio Snip>

TONY EASTLEY: More than two years after the meltdowns at Fukushima, the plant's operator is dealing with a new crisis - millions of litres of contaminated water inside the complex.

TEPCO has confirmed to AM that groundwater is flooding into the plant's reactor buildings at the astonishing rate of 285 litres a minute.

Once inside, the water quickly becomes highly contaminated and has to be stored in tanks which cover 17 hectares of the plant's grounds.

But with those tanks close to capacity now, TEPCO has started to clear an adjoining forest to make more space to store the contaminated run-off. 

North Asia correspondent Mark Willacy reports from Tokyo.

MARK WILLACY: It's TEPCO's curse - water.

First a wall of it in the form of a tsunami smashed into the Fukushima nuclear plant. Then a lack of it inside three reactors triggered core meltdowns. Now the company is drowning in it.

(Sound of Masayuki Ono speaking)

"There's 250,000 tonnes of contaminated water stored at the site," says TEPCO spokesman Masayuki Ono. "Every day we accumulate another 400 tonnes or so," he says.

TEPCO needs water to cool the nuclear fuel inside the damaged reactors but the company says that's just part of the problem.

(Sound of Masayuki Ono speaking)

"Underground water is flowing into the basements of the reactor buildings and that water passes through contaminated water," explains TEPCO's Masayuki Ono. "If we don't manage this storage of contaminated water, which is increasing every day, it will hinder the decommissioning of the plant," he says.

Already TEPCO has storage tanks lined up over 17 hectares of the plant's grounds - much of it contaminated with strontium, a radioactive element with a half life of 29 years that can cause bone cancer.

To critics this is yet another sign that TEPCO is out of its depth when it comes to stabilising the Fukushima plant.

(Sound of Hideyuki Ban speaking)

"I have two concerns," says Hideyuki Ban from the Citizens' Nuclear Information Centre. "The biggest is that the contaminated water will leak into the Pacific. The other is: why are there still leaks at the site? It's clear there's not enough space to store it all," he says. 

To make more space for hundreds of new water storage tanks TEPCO has started to fell a small forest adjoining the Fukushima plant.

It's an urgent task because several underground tanks constructed to handle the huge amounts of run-off have recently sprung leaks.

(Sound of Masayuki Ono speaking)

"At this stage we can build additional tanks to store another 700,000 tonnes of contaminated water," says TEPCO's Masayuki Ono. "That should last us until mid-2015. So we have secured the necessary space for that," he says. 

By that stage TEPCO will be storing nearly a million tonnes of contaminated water - a curse it seems unable to break. 

This is Mark Willacy in Tokyo for AM.

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