7 Août 2013
August 7, 2013
The Japanese government will take a significantly bigger role in the massive clean-up at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant and may spend taxpayer money to contain the build-up of radioactive water, officials said on Aug. 7.
The move comes as operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. struggles to contain toxic water flowing into the ocean from the plant.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the buildup of the radioactive water was a very serious issue and that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would order the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which regulates power utilities, to step in.
The ministry is considering requesting public funds for the cleanup, Suga told reporters.
"The government must take a step forward and get involved in achieving this (coping with the contaminated water)," Suga told a regular news conference.
"I understand that METI is considering the budget. The prime minister will instruct the METI minister to quickly take measures," Suga said.
The government moves appear to be in response to warnings by industry experts that TEPCO's failure to address the problem questioned its ability to safely decommission the Fukushima No. 1 plant, 220 km northeast of Tokyo.
The utility has been widely castigated for its failure to prepare for the massive 2011 tsunami and earthquake that devastated the plant and led to the worst nuclear disaster in the world since Chernobyl.
It has also been criticized for its inept response to the disaster and covering up shortcomings.
TEPCO's handling of the clean-up has also complicated Japan's efforts to restart its 50 nuclear power plants, almost all of which have been shut since the disaster because of safety concerns.
That has made Japan dependent on expensive imported fuels for virtually all its energy.
An official from the country's nuclear watchdog told Reuters on Aug. 5 that the highly radioactive water seeping into the ocean from the Fukushima plant was creating an "emergency" that TEPCO was not successfully containing on its own.
The utility pumps out some 400 tons a day of groundwater flowing from the hills above the nuclear plant into the basements of the destroyed buildings, which mixes with highly irradiated water that is used to cool the reactors.
TEPCO is trying to prevent groundwater from reaching the plant by building a "bypass," but recent spikes of radioactive elements in sea water has prompted the utility to reverse months of denials and finally admit that tainted water is reaching the sea.
One more measure both TEPCO and METI have been working on since May is freezing the soil to prevent groundwater from leaking into the reactor buildings. Similar technology is used in preventing groundwater flooding in subway construction.
The technology was originally proposed by one of Japan's largest construction companies, Kajima Corp. that is already heavily involved in the clean-up.
Experts say, however, that maintaining the ground temperatures for months, if not years, would be costly.
"Right now there are no details (of the project yet). There's no blueprint, no nothing yet, so there's no way we can scrutinize it," said Shinji Kinjo, head of a Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) task force set up to deal with the Fukushima water issue.
METI has requested a budget allocation to help address the water problem, an official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
"It is incredibly difficult to completely block the groundwater like this. It would be better if they could pump clean water before it reaches the plant," said Kotaro Ohga, research fellow at Hokkaido University and groundwater expert.
TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The government must step in to financially assist Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s efforts to prevent further accumulation of radioactive water at its crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant by freezing the soil around the reactor buildings, the top government spokesman said Wednesday.
"There is no precedent in the world to create a water-shielding wall with frozen soil on such a large scale (as planned now at the Fukushima complex). To build that, I think the state has to move a step further to support its realization," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference.
The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry is considering including the costs in the fiscal 2014 budget request. If the request is approved, it will be the first government funding to help the plant operator tackle the problem of groundwater seeping to mix with contaminated water in the reactor buildings.
The government has so far allocated taxpayer money for research and development related to reactor decommissioning at the Fukushima plant, which suffered meltdowns in the aftermath of the massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
To create frozen soil, pipes to run coolant will be inserted around the Nos. 1 to 4 reactor buildings, three of which house meltdown reactors. The wall is expected to be 1.4 kilometers long, possibly costing tens of billions of yen.
About 400 tons of groundwater seep into the reactor buildings every day and get mixed with toxic water that has been used to cool the crippled reactors. This means that the total volume of contaminated water is increasing by the same amount daily.
Dealing with the massive accumulation of radioactive water at the plant has remained a concern for TEPCO since the nuclear crisis.
Most recently, the utility admitted that toxic water is escaping into the adjacent Pacific Ocean from the plant's site and it is trying to prevent the spread of contamination.