Japan’s PM vows to plug Fukushima leak

Shinzo Abe pledges almost €360m in scheme to staunch radioactive discharge

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo yesterday. Photograph: Shizuo Kambayashi/Reuters

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo yesterday. Photograph: Shizuo Kambayashi/Reuters

Wed, Sep 4, 2013, 01:00


Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has promised his government will stand on the front lines of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, saying it can no longer be left to embattled utility Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco).

The government’s fresh intervention in the disaster includes a pledge of $470 million ($357 million) to plug leaks of highly contaminated water from the ruined Daiichi power plant.

Mr Abe said yesterday he was aware the “world is watching” Japan’s handling of the crisis, just days before the International Olympics Committee announces whether Tokyo will host the 2020 games.

The government fears that growing problems at the plant, 230km northeast of the capital, could torpedo Tokyo’s bid to host the games and hand them to rivals Madrid or Istanbul.

“Instead of the ad hoc approaches that have been taken in the past, we put together a basic policy today that will offer a fundamental solution to the problem of contaminated water,” said Mr Abe.


Rearguard action
“The government needs to resolve the problem by standing at the forefront,” he added.

Tepco reversed months of denials last month when it said the Daiichi plant is leaking radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean. It was later forced to admit that a containment tank had slowly leaked 300 tons of highly radioactive water. Many more tanks are considered vulnerable to leaks.

Tepco is scrambling to recruit workers who can monitor some 1,100 huge tanks, installed over the 30 months, since a powerful earthquake and tsunami knocked out the plant’s cooling system.

Engineers have to build a new tank roughly every three days to hold the radioactive water poured on to the melted uranium in the plant’s three most damaged reactors. Critics have called the Daiichi plant a machine for generating toxic water.

Tepco is reportedly paying workers roughly the minimum wage, topped up by a government subsidy – about 16,000 yen (€120) a day in total, to check for leaks. “It’s very difficult to find qualified people who can work for that sort of money,” said one worker who requested anonymity.


Dumping into Pacific
The head of Japan’s nuclear watchdog warned for the first time this week that Tepco would have to dump some of the radioactive water into the Pacific. “The Fukushima No 1 plant is filling up with water,” said Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority. “Inevitably the contaminated water will have to be discharged into the sea after Tepco processes it properly and lowers [its radioactivity levels] below acceptable international standards.”

Top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said most of the new money pledged this week would be used to build an artificial permafrost wall around the damaged reactors to stop radioactive groundwater leaking.

Japanese media reports said the project would take two years and cost €243 million. The rest of the money will be used to fund an advanced water treatment system that will remove radioactive substances.