Just weeks after TEPCO finally acknowledged that radioactive water is leaking from its Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, the head of Japan's Nuclear Regulatory Authority has called the situation an "emergency." Shinji Kinjo tells Reuters that TEPCO's "sense of crisis is weak" and the country can't rely on the power company alone to fix the problem. "Right now, we have an emergency," he says. The company built an underground shoreline barrier to keep the contaminated water from reaching the ocean, but Kinjo says it isn't working—it's just forcing the water over and under the barrier.
"If you build a wall, of course the water is going to accumulate there. And there is no other way for the water to go but up or sideways and eventually lead to the ocean," says a former nuclear engineer. "So now, the question is how long do we have?" The Asahi Shimbun newspaper reports that the contaminated water could reach the ground's surface within three weeks. Once that happens, says Shinjo, "it would flow extremely fast."