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Special Diet session to discuss water crisis

October 1


October 1, 2013


Responsibilities in tackling tainted water at Fukushima plant under scrutiny



A special Diet session was convened on Sept. 30 to discuss how to deal with contaminated water accumulating at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, but it remains unclear which party -- the government or Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) -- should take the lead in tackling the difficult problem.

The special session, convened while the Diet was out of session, focused on the roles to be played by the government and TEPCO in handling radioactively tainted water at the Fukushima nuclear complex, as the government earlier said it would "come to the fore" to deal with the problem. However, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, who attended the special session for the first time, reiterated the government's conventional stance, saying, among other things, that TEPCO should bear "primary responsibility" for the problem.

The level of technical difficulty serving as the basis for the government's coverage of a project to deal with the contaminated water remained unclear, obscuring where the overall responsibility for the Fukushima nuclear crisis lies.

The government decided last month to use about 47 billion yen to tackle the radioactive water, vowing to finance measures involving technical challenges such as a plan to freeze the soil around reactor buildings to stop groundwater from seeping in and becoming contaminated. Motegi commented during the special Diet session, "We want TEPCO as the key entity which built the reactors itself to fulfill the primary responsibility in executing (the project)," while adding that the government would take responsibility in the removal of radioactive substances in areas requiring high levels of technical ability.

On the various levels of technical difficulty serving as criteria for government action, Motegi said, "If we were to classify one thing or other as difficult, we could say everything is difficult. The current handling of the accident, decommissioning of reactors and taking measures against contaminated water -- these are unprecedented tasks, and TEPCO, the installer of the reactors, is carrying them out." On measures to deal with potential risks involved in the operation, Motegi only said, "We would like to sort out what should be done by TEPCO and the government."

On a plan to install an impermeable wall to prevent groundwater from seeping into the reactor buildings, Sumio Mabuchi, former assistant to the prime minister from the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, proposed to take an emergency step to install steel sheet piles. In his response, Motegi said, "We want to unwaveringly consider measures including what you proposed."

Prime Minster Shinzo Abe told an International Olympic Committee general meeting in September that the situation at the Fukushima nuclear power plant was "under control" and that the "influence of the contaminated water is completely blocked within the 0.3-square-kilometer area of the plant's bay." On Abe's remarks, Motegi said, "The prime minister commented responsibly on the current situation. It is precisely under control." However, Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Shunichi Tanaka stated, "It is difficult to scientifically define whether it is under control or not. We will do our best to prevent it from affecting the environment."

Motegi ruled out the possibility of liquidating TEPCO, saying, "If the Corporate Reorganization Act is applied, its utility bonds will be prioritized for redemption. There is a possibility that damages as well as receivables held by subcontractors operating on the spot (at the crippled nuclear power plant) will not be paid."

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