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Low-level radioactive waste stored at research facility may leak

This undated photo shows containers of low-level radioactive waste kept by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency. (Photo courtesy of the agency) (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The Japan Atomic Energy Agency said Wednesday that part of the low-level radioactive waste stored underground at a facility near Tokyo may leak from its containers due to inadequate disposal procedures.

The government-backed agency keeps 53,000 drums of low-level radioactive waste or about 10,600 kiloliters in a concrete pit in the basement of a building of the Nuclear Research and Science Institute in the village of Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture.

Some of the waste did not undergo the proper process to remove water when placed in the pit, and leakage and corroded containers in the pit were found during inspections between 1987 and 1991, according to the agency.

The largest nuclear research body planned to inspect the drums over the next 50 years to check for leakage.

But the Nuclear Regulation Authority said at a meeting Wednesday that the agency needs to check them more quickly, saying the plan means "nearly no inspections."

The agency should inspect all the drums within five years, Shinsuke Yamanaka, a NRA commissioner, said at the meeting.

The agency currently inspects the drums visually once a year but will change to lifting and checking each of them.

According to the agency and NRA, the low-level radioactive waste is placed at the facility built sometime from around 1964 to 1976 for near-surface disposal.

The agency said it did not properly conduct the process of removing water and other materials in some cases during the 1960s.

The drums containing radioactive waste transported from facilities of the research body and nearby universities have been stacked sideways.

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