Fresh toxic leaks from the crippled power plant’s post-tsunami meltdowns prompted the country’s nuclear agency to warn that a worst-case scenario is approaching.
“This is what we have been fearing,” warned agency chairman Shunichi Tanaka. “We cannot waste even a minute,” he told The Wall Street Journal.
With the operators of the plant revealing that two workers have been found contaminated with radioactive particles, Japan now rates the disaster’s current status at level 3, or “serious incident” on an international scale for radiological releases.
The leaking contamination had previously been rated at level 1 on a scale of seven.
The Fukushima Daiichi plant was once assigned the highest rating of 7 after it was hit by explosions and meltdowns following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
“Judging from the amount and the density of the radiation in the contaminated water that leaked ... a level 3 assessment is appropriate,” Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority said in a statement.
In July, the Japanese government warned that the plant was leaking around 80,000 gallons of contaminated ground water every day into the Pacific Ocean.
The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), now says an additional 80,000 gallons of contaminated water have spewed from a metal holding tank. Hundreds of other tanks are said to also be at risk.
A scheme is being drawn up to create a large underground wall of frozen earth around the plant to seal off the groundwater leaks.
TEPCO said the workers were contaminated while waiting for a bus at the end of their shift. It assures the staff and their families that the radioactive particles were immediately washed off the crew’s protective suits once detected, and says there were no signs the workers’ bodies were contaminated.