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Japan official pledges government action to stop leaks of radioactive water from nuclear plant

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TOKYO - Japan's industry minister visited the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant and promised Monday that the government would take urgent action to curb leaks of radiation-contaminated water.

Trade Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters that lax maintenance by the plant's operator was largely to blame for leaks of water from storage tanks surrounding the plant, which suffered triple meltdowns after the massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

"The urgency of the situation is very high," Motegi said. "From here on the government will take charge."

A priority is monitoring of tanks set up to hold contaminated water used to cool reactor cores at the plant. A 300-ton leak last week was the fifth and worst from a tank at the plant. Most of the water is thought to have seeped into the ground, but some may have escaped into the sea through a rainwater gutter, according to Tokyo Electric Power Co.

About 1,000 steel tanks built across the plant complex contain nearly 300,000 tons (300 million litres, 80 million gallons) of partially treated contaminated water.

Motegi said patrols of the tanks would be doubled to four times a day. "The water control is a very important issue. We have to prevent contaminated water from reaching the sea," he said.

But as the crisis drags on, costs are mounting.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the nuclear plant, saw its stock price plunge nearly 6.9 per cent on Monday as investors dumped shares following the release over the weekend of further details on the crisis.

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