New criticism of operator of Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant after latest leak

Reuters

By Mari Saito

TOKYO, Oct 4 (Reuters) - Japan's nuclear regulator on Fridayordered the operator of the crippled Fukushima power plant todraft in additional workers if needed to plug leaks ofradioactive water from its tanks and report within a week onsteps taken to fight the crisis.

The warning was the second in as many months issued to TokyoElectric Power Co, or Tepco, after the company found asecond escape of contaminated liquids that probably entered thePacific Ocean.

Recent mishaps have called into question Tepco's ability tooversee a cleanup at the Fukushimi Daiichi site 220 km (130miles) north of Tokyo, hit by three reactor meltdowns after amajor earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

"The latest leak was caused by an elementary lack of checks,which questions the ability of management," Katsuhiko Ikeda,secretary general of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA),told Tepco President Naomi Hirose in front of reporters.

Ikeda told Hirose to bring in extra workers from othernuclear plants to tackle the crisis if necessary and said hewanted the utility to report back within a week on steps to betaken to improve its water management.

"We will bring in as many people as possible to help dealwith the problems," Hirose said in reply. "This is not ashort-term issue."

After months of denials, Tepco acknowledged in July thatcontaminated water was flowing into the Pacific Ocean from thewrecked reactor buildings.

In the latest incident, 430 litres (113 gallons) of waterspilled over up to 12 hours after a worker misjudged thecapacity of a tank, Tepco said on Thursday.

Tepco has been relying on hundreds of steel tanks to holdexcess cooling water flushed over damaged reactors.

BID TO RESTART LARGE NUCLEAR PLANT

The mis-steps are also undermining Tepco's efforts torestart reactors at its only remaining viable plant -Kashiwazaki Kariwa, the world's largest nuclear power station -to cut high fossil fuel costs and restore its finances.

Tepco got some relief this week when banks agreed to extend$5.9 billion of new and refinance loans, a source told Reuters.

But the NRA also this week questioned Tepco's credentials tooperate a nuclear plant given its mismanagement of the cleanup.

Japan's government stepped in last month and said it wouldspend half a billion dollars to improve contaminated watermanagement at the plant.

"This is a project unprecedented in the world, but we willtake measures so that the impact from contaminated water willnot reach the outside environment," Prime Minister Shinzo Abetold his ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Friday.

"We must continue to protect people's health."

In his successful final pitch to the International OlympicCommittee last month to choose Tokyo to stage the 2020 Olympics,Abe said radiation was confined to a small harbour. He declaredthe plant stable.

But outside observers have repeatedly questioned thegovernment's assertion that the plant is under control.

In a separate incident, Tepco said on Friday a watertreatment system that removes radioactive elements fromcontaminated water had stopped after an alarm went off.

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