Tokyo: Japan`s prime minister on Wednesday said Tokyo would get more involved in cleaning up the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, as he described as "urgent" a battle to stop radioactive water from leaking into the ocean.
The government`s more prominent role comes as critics slam plant operator Tokyo Electric Power and its handling of the more than two-year-old atomic crisis, the worst nuclear accident in a generation.
The embattled utility -- kept afloat by a government bail out -- last month admitted for the first time that radioactive groundwater had been leaking outside the plant, confirming long-held suspicions of ocean contamination from its shattered reactors.
It has since said tainted water has been escaping into the Pacific for more than two years.
Today, an official at Japan`s industry ministry said Tokyo estimates a whopping 300 tonnes of contaminated water from a newly discovered leak site may be seeping into the ocean.
"But we`re not certain if the water is highly contaminated," he added.
The damage from toxic water leaks at Fukushima remains a key question mark.
However, they have triggered fresh worries over the plant`s precarious state and TEPCO`s ability to deal with a growing list of problems after its reactors were swamped by a tsunami in March 2011, sending them into meltdown.
The company has also faced widespread criticism over its lack of transparency in making critical information public since the disaster.
Today, premier Shinzo Abe said his government would beef up efforts to help with the expected decades-long clean up, which has largely been left to TEPCO to handle.
"Stabilising the Fukushima plant is our challenge," Abe said at a meeting of the government`s disaster task force.
"In particular, the contaminated water is an urgent issue which has generated a great deal of public attention."
Abe -- whose Liberal Democratic Party wants to restart the country`s switched-off reactors if their safety can be assured -- said the clean-up would no longer be left to TEPCO alone. He also called for "swift and steady measures" on the toxic water issue.
Tokyo would now help foot the bill, Abe said, the first time that it has committed extra funds to deal with the growing problem.
The vast utility is already facing billions of dollars in clean-up and compensation costs over the accident.
TEPCO had previously reported rising levels of cancer-causing materials in groundwater samples at Fukushima. But until last month, the company had insisted it had halted toxic water from leaking beyond its borders.
In May, Tokyo ordered the company to build new barriers to contain the massive amounts of water which are used to keep the reactors cool, a measure that could cost up to 40 billion yen (USD 410 million).
There are growing fears that existing safeguards would soon be overwhelmed, as TEPCO scrambles to find ways to store the water.
"The worsening leaks of contaminated water at the Fukushima nuclear plant prove TEPCO is incapable of dealing with the disaster," Greenpeace said in a statement yesterday.
"Japan`s authorities must now step in and ensure action is finally taken to stop the leaks," it added.