TOKYO - Japan's efforts to clean up its nuclear disaster face intense global scrutiny ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, observers say, but despite government promises that Fukushima is "under control" the crisis will not be over by 2020.
Speaking to Olympic chiefs in Buenos Aires just ahead of their weekend decision to award the Games to Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said there was nothing to worry about at the plant.
"Let me assure you, the situation is under control," he said in a speech lauded by Japanese media as key to Tokyo's success.
"It has never done and will never do any damage to Tokyo."
"Contaminated water has been contained in a 0.3 square-kilometre area of the harbour," he added in a question-and-answer session.
"There have been no health problems and nor will there be. I will be taking responsibility for all the programmes with regard to the plant and the leaks."
Critics at home and abroad say Abe's gloss on the disaster at Fukushima, where a tsunami swamped cooling systems and sent reactors into meltdown, is bordering on the dishonest.
"I was flabbergasted by Abe's speech," said Hiroaki Koide, an associate professor at Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute.
"The problem of contaminated water is far from being solved. This problem has been going on all the time since the reactors were destroyed. Contaminated water has been leaking into the ocean ever since."
Late Monday, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power reported spiking levels of radiation in groundwater and said it was "likely" leaks from tanks storing highly polluted water had made their way into subterranean water, further complicating efforts to stem pollution.
Groundwater flows out to sea, taking along anything it has picked up and dumping it in the ocean.
Tomoo Watanabe, director of the Research Center for Fisheries Oceanography and Marine Ecosystems, said his understanding of the situation at Fukushima is not that it is "contained" in the way Abe explained it.
But he said he agreed with the prime minister that it is necessary to look behind the alarming headlines to see the the truth.
"You may have a definite impression that the ocean is much more contaminated after TEPCO admitted to the water leak, but we have not seen any signs of that pollution spreading to fish," he told AFP.