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Nuclear emergencyfears over radioactive water leak

Japan has raised the classification of a leak of hundreds of tonnes of radioactive water at the Fukushima nuclear plant to a "serious incident", the most severe crisis since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The Nuclear Regulation Agency (NRA) said it was upgrading the problem to a Level Three from Level One on its seven-point scale and suggested the issue was "in some respects" too serious for the operator of the facility, Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), to handle.

"The situation is at the point where more surveillance will not be enough to keep the accidents from happening," said Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the NRA.

"Our job now is to reduce the risk of these accidents becoming fatal."

Evidence that Tepco has again failed to adequately deal with a problem at the crippled plant was met with anger in Tokyo and neighbouring countries. Yoshihide Suga, Japan's chief cabinet secretary, said: "Any way you look at it, this is deplorable."

A spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry expressed "shock" that highly radioactive water was continuing to leak at the facility.

"We hope that the Japanese side can earnestly take effective steps to put an end to the negative impact of the after effects of the Fukushima nuclear accident," it said.

In Seoul, the South Korean foreign ministry said Japanese officials had been asked to explain the measures being taken to stop the contaminated water affecting fish stocks.

The severity of the problems at Fukushima will be constantly monitored, an official of the NRA said, and the alert level will be altered if the situation deteriorates further or if additional information about the scale of the problem is received.

The NRA raised the warning level after 300 tonnes of highly contaminated coolant water seeped from storage tanks and left pools of radioactive water.

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Yesterday evening, a Tepco spokesman raised the possibility that contaminated water had got into the drainage channel, potentially leaking into the ocean.

CRIPPLED

It is the first time an incident at the plant had met the International Nuclear Event Scale threshold since the plant was crippled by the magnitude-nine earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

The initial disaster was rated a maximum Level Seven, ranking it alongside Chernobyl in 1986.

A spokesman for Tepco said water contaminated after being used to cool the four damaged reactors had leaked from a stainless steel storage tank.

Tepco reported that work was under way to pump the remaining water from the damaged tank and mop up the water that had escaped into the environment.

More than 350,000 tonnes of highly radioactive water are stored in tanks close to the reactors. In July, the company confirmed that as much as 300 tonnes had escaped into the Pacific every day since the disaster 29 months ago. (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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