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TEPCO detects record levels of radioactive cesium near Pacific, more errors add to NRA's wrath

TOKYO, Feb. 13 (Xinhua) -- Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, said Thursday that samples of water tested contained radioactive cesium at levels never seen before by the embattled utility.

TEPCO, while admitting there may be a new leak at the site of a well located just 50 meters from the adjacent Pacific Ocean, confirmed that the levels of cesium found in its groundwater samples were as high as 54,000 becquerels per liter of cesium 137 and 22,000 becquerels per liter of cesium 134.

The levels of cesium detected in the latest readings, according to TEPCO, are 600 times higher than the government regulation for contaminated wastewater allowed to be released into the ocean, with the samples testing 30,000 times higher for cesium 137, compared to samples taken just a week earlier.

A spokesperson for TEPCO said that radioactive water is probably leaking from underground trenches that link the stricken reactor buildings to the sea.

The utility has failed to locate the source of the leak, in another major failing of TEPCO to contain the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.

The Japanese government, on Jan. 15, green-lit a revival and restructuring plan for TEPCO, injecting 4 trillion yen (38.3 billion U.S. dollars) in additional state backing to help the ailing utility deal with a string of mishaps at its facilities as it works towards decommissioning its stricken, yet volatile reactors.

Despite the injection of fresh capital, TEPCO is still eyeing dumping toxic water into the Pacific Ocean as it fails to contain in makeshift storage tanks -- the source of a number of previous leaks -- a massive daily influx of water needed to cool the battered reactors, while nuclear experts believe that other methods need to be traversed before contaminating the ocean.

Dumping radioactive water into the ocean is of grave concern to local fisheries cooperatives as the potential for radioactive materials to spread to marine life remains a distinct possibility, despite TEPCO's assurances the levels of radioactivity will be kept well below the government's and regulator's limits.

TEPCO, in spite of extra financing to bring the crisis in Fukushima under control, has also been slammed by Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) Chairman Shunichi Tanaka for incorrectly measuring levels of radioactive materials in groundwater at its Daiichi facility.

Tanaka said that even though three years has passed since the reactor meltdowns at the plant, TEPCO is still utterly inept when it comes to taking accurate readings of radioactivity at and around its facilities and "lacks a basic understanding of measuring and handling radiation."

The overall decommissioning of the plant is expected to take around 40 years, with the removal of all nuclear fuel from the Number 4 reactor building being completed by the end of this year, however TEPCO said it had only successfully removed around 9 percent of more than 1,500 unused and spent fuel assemblies in the reactor building's storage pool.

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