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Water leaks indicate damage to the Fukushima nuclear plant

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TOKYO (AP) – Cooling water levels have dropped to two reactors at the destroyed Fukushima plant since a powerful earthquake struck the area last weekend, showing possible additional damage, its operator said on Friday.

The new damage could further complicate the already difficult plant deactivation process, which is expected to take decades.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. spokesman Keisuke Matsuo said the drop in water levels in reactors Units 1 and 3 indicates that existing damage to their main control rooms was exacerbated by today’s 7.3 magnitude earthquake, allowing more water to come out.

The leaking water is believed to have remained inside the reactor buildings and there is no sign of any outside influence, he said.

In 2011, a powerful 9.1 magnitude earthquake and tsunami damaged the cooling systems of the Fukushima plant, causing three reactor cores to melt and nuclear fuel to fall to the bottom of their main control vessels.

TEPCO will monitor water and temperatures at the bottom of control vessels, Matsuo said.

Since the 2011 disaster, cooling water has consistently escaped from the main damaged vessels damaged in the basements of reactor buildings. To compensate for the loss, additional cooling water is thrown into the reactors to cool the molten fuel that remains inside them. The recent drop in water levels shows more water is flowing than before, TEPCO said.

More than 180 people received mostly minor injuries from today’s quake, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency. The quake also caused landslides, damaged homes and a high-speed train line, and caused widespread power and water supply disruptions.

TEPCO initially reported that there were no anomalies in the plant from today’s earthquake.

Matsuo said the cooling water level dropped to 27 inches in the Unit 1 main reactor control room and about 11 inches in Unit 3. TEPCO was unable to detect any drop in Unit 2 because the indicators were taken to be prepared for the removal of molten waste, she said.

Increased leakage may require more cooling water to be discharged into the reactors, which will result in more polluted water being treated and stored in large tanks at the plant. TEPCO said its storage capacity of 1.37 million tonnes will be full next summer. The recommendation of a government panel to gradually release it to the sea has faced strong opposition from local residents and a decision is still pending.

Meanwhile, the Tokyo High Court on Friday held the government and TEPCO accountable for the 2011 nuclear disaster, ordering the two to pay about $ 2.6 million in compensation to more than 40 plaintiffs forced to evacuate to Chiba, near Tokyo, for their lost livelihoods and homes

Friday’s ruling overturns an earlier ruling by the Chiba district court that ousted the government from liability. Judge Yukio Shirai said the government could have foreseen the risk of a massive tsunami and taken action after a long-term assessment of seismic activity in 2002.

Lawyers representing the plaintiffs welcomed the decision and said it would affect other pending issues.

“The question is whether we should tolerate a society that prioritizes economic activities over the lives and health of people,” said Izutaro Mangi, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs.

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