Radioactive water the main challenge at Japan's Fukushima plant

Okuma, Japan, Jun 12 (EFE).- The operator of the tsunami-battered Fukushima Daichii nuclear plant, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, opened its doors Wednesday to show the progress made in dismantling the facility and solving its main challenge: the handling of accumulated radioactive water.

During a visit to the plant by international journalists, Takeshi Takahashi, the plant's manager since December 2011, expressed moderate optimism.

"Safety is the priority above all," Takahashi, whose fatigue was visible in his face, said.

More than two years after the plant suffered major damage in a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11, 2011, the roughly 3,500 employees - who must wear protective masks and suits due to high radiation - are working on multiple fronts throughout the vast complex.

After successfully bringing the nuclear power station to a state of "cold shutdown" more than a year ago, work is currently focused on decontaminating the towns surrounding the facility and conducting routine tests to spot defects and leaks of radioactive water.

Located just a few meters from the sea and hidden Wednesday amid thick fog, the four reactors that were battered by tsunami waves up to 15 meters high (nearly 50 feet high) face a small hill covered in dense vegetation.

Groundwater flows down the slope and seeps into the reactor buildings, which stand in its way of the sea, resulting in an increase in the amount of contaminated liquid accumulated in their basements.

Technicians have responded to this new complication by pumping the groundwater and collecting it in nearly 1,000 tanks.

"The plant currently has the capacity to store 300,000 tons of water," Nakayama Tabashi, Fukushima Daiichi's head of public relations, said.

He added that the solution is to continue building more large tanks over the next two years until the plant has the capacity to hold 700,000 tons of contaminated water, and in the meantime to find a way to reduce the levels of contamination to a minimum and thus obviate the need to store the water.

The arduous task of dismantling the plant could take as long as 40 years.