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Concentrate on Fukushima

October 30, 2013


Editorial: TEPCO should focus on Fukushima crisis, not trying to reactivate idled reactors



Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) Chairman Shunichi Tanaka told Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) President Naomi Hirose in a recent meeting that the utility should "drastically reform itself from a long-term perspective," in the wake of leaks of radioactive water on the premises of its tsunami-hit nuclear plant. The NRA will consider when it should start safety inspections on the No. 6 and 7 reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Niigata Prefecture, which TEPCO is eager to reactivate, after ascertaining whether the situation at the Fukushima No. 1 plant has substantially improved.

TEPCO regards restarting the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant as the key to its efforts to rehabilitate its deficit-ridden finances. However, it should rather place priority on countermeasures against leaks of radioactively contaminated water on the premises of the Fukushima nuclear complex. Such being the case, the NRA's decision to effectively freeze its safety inspections on the Niigata Prefecture plant, a process that is a prerequisite for reactivation, is appropriate.

Earlier this month, TEPCO submitted to the NRA a report stating that the power company can take effective countermeasures against contaminated water leaks while resuming operations at the two reactors at the Kashiwazaki power plant. However, some NRA commissioners raised questions about the report, with one of them saying, "Looking at the situation at the Fukushima plant, doubts remain over whether the Kashiwazaki power station is absolutely safe." It is only natural that such questions have been raised. It is highly doubtful that the company which cannot even control contaminated water can be tasked with operating nuclear reactors. TEPCO must concentrate its human resources and funds on efforts to bring the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant under control.

Careless mistakes have occurred one after another at the Fukushima nuclear complex. A pump stopped because a worker pushed the wrong button, while several workers were exposed to radiation because a pipe was erroneously disconnected. The working environment at the plant is severe as workers are required to put on masks to avoid inhaling radioactive substances. In at least one case, an experienced worker was forced to withdraw from the site because his radiation exposure came close to the permissible level. It is easy to imagine that worker morale has declined considerably.

In his meeting with the NRA chief, TEPCO's Hirose admitted that it is now difficult to secure enough personnel to bring the Fukushima plant under control, and then promised that the company will improve the working environment at the crippled power station and add workers to the site. The power supplier should promptly carry out these promises.

Katsuhiko Ikeda, head of the secretariat of the NRA, said, "If TEPCO were to continue making such mistakes from now on, we couldn't say the crisis is under control." The authority should closely monitor TEPCO's efforts to improve its response to the crisis.

The national government should also step up its involvement in efforts to end the crisis. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly pledged that the central government will play a leading role in efforts to bring the situation under control to fulfill its responsibility for the crisis. The government has decided to spend 47 billion yen in taxpayers' money on such efforts, but the funds can only be used exclusively for the construction of underground walls to block ground water from flowing onto the premises of the Fukushima nuclear reactors, for the installation of additional devices to remove radioactive substances from contaminated water and other work that requires high levels of technology.

The government has also solicited experts to offer proposals on technologies necessary to store and treat radioactively contaminated water. The panel on the treatment of contaminated water will incorporate proposed technologies that it deems are feasible in an outline of countermeasures against contaminated water it will draw up by the end of this year. Still, the share of costs between TEPCO and the government and other key issues have not yet been determined.

The government should offer specific proposals on how to steadily treat radioactive water at the Fukushima No. 1 plant and decommission its reactors while considering ways to restructure TEPCO, and the Diet should thoroughly deliberate such proposals.


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