TOKYO (AP) -- Temporary containers holding radioactive water pumped from Japan's crippled nuclear reactors are almost full, a plant operator said Monday, raising concerns that it could overflow and leak into the sea again.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. said that the storage tanks will be full in four days, and a system to reprocess the water -- now measuring more than 80,000 tons -- for reuse in the reactors is not yet finished.
The highly radioactive water has been leaking from reactors whose cooling systems were destroyed in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that also killed more than 25,000 people.
Fully ridding the plant of the contaminated water -- which is pooling in reactor and turbine buildings, trenches and pits -- could take through the end of December, TEPCO spokesman Junichi Matsumoto has said. The amount of the contaminated water could eventually swell to about 200,000 tons, as TEPCO continues to pump water into the reactors and their spent fuel storage pools to help control temperatures and radiation.
Matsumoto had initially said the storage area could last until the system is ready in mid-June. If the storage containers reach full capacity, the water would have to stay inside the turbine basement areas, where it is pooling.
"We believe it would not pose a risk of leak," he said.
He said officials believe the basements can manage to hold the water for two weeks, brushing off concerns about leaks as Japan heads into a rainy season.
A leak into sea of highly radioactive water from Unit 2 in April triggered sharp criticism in and outside of Japan, sparking concerns about the safety of fish in the premier source for high-end sushi and other fish.
TEPCO has been working with French nuclear engineering giant Areva on a system to reprocess the water, reducing radioactivity and removing salt, so it can then be pumped back into the reactors for cooling.
The operator has also been scrambling to get hold of additional containers for water that is less radioactive. A mega-float giant storage tank that can hold about 10,000 tons of water arrived at the shores of the plant over the weekend.