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The Diet will need explanations

September 30, 2013


Editorial: Abe must elaborate on Fukushima's water contamination




The House of Representatives Committee on Economy, Trade and Industry has finally begun to examine Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) and the government's response to radioactively contaminated water accumulating at the utility's tsunami-hit Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. Yet the Diet is not in session now, and the move comes too late.

The Diet has neglected to deal with the problem since the House of Councillors election in July, and the ruling and opposition parties are still battling a sterile tug-of-war over the timing of an extraordinary session of the Diet.

Lawmakers need to supply an avenue for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to provide an explanation on the issue as soon as possible.

On Sept. 27, legislators including Sumio Mabuchi of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), who dealt with the contaminated water issue as an adviser to the prime minister when the DPJ was in power, posed questions to TEPCO President Naomi Hirose.

Mabuchi explained that the DPJ-led government had planned to announce in June 2011 that it would create underground walls made of clay around the crippled reactors to prevent water from leaking outside. But he admitted that that the DPJ-led government abandoned the plan after TEPCO expressed concerns that such a measure would raise speculation in markets that the utility faced a capital deficit. Hirose officially admitted that the company had worked out the basic specifications for such walls.

Mabuchi told legislators in a panel that a DPJ probe on the construction of water-shielding underground walls was shelved after he stepped down from his post. He also provided details on the DPJ-led administration's response to the problem. The DPJ needs to go beyond grilling the government to clarify its own responsibility in dealing with the matter during its time in power.

The panel is scheduled to convene for a total of 30 days. However, the prime minister has not been given the opportunity to provide any explanations since it surfaced that problems involving radioactive water were far more serious than generally believed.

In his 2020 Olympic bid speech at a general meeting of the International Olympic Committee in Buenos Aires, Abe stressed that the situation regarding radioactive water at the Fukushima plant was "under control." However, a senior TEPCO official later said he did not think the situation was under control. On Sept. 27, Hirose told the Diet that he completely agreed with the prime minister over the matter. The prime minister must explain his understanding of the situation to the Diet and elaborate on how to deal with the problem from a long-term perspective.

Prime Minister Abe's remark that contaminated water was completely blocked from exiting a 0.3 square kilometer area in the bay near the nuclear power station has also sparked wide controversy. The government has explained it hasn't seen any increases in levels of radioactive cesium during its monitoring of seawater around the power plant, yet one cannot help but wonder what the prime minister meant by saying the effects of radioactively tainted water were "completely blocked."

Opposition parties have gathered signatures from 92 legislators to demand that the Diet be convened at an early date. The Constitution stipulates that the Cabinet must convene a Diet session if requested by at least a quarter of all of legislators in either chamber. However, the supreme law stops short of providing for the timing of convening a session, and the ruling coalition appears to have no intention of bringing forward the start of a planned extraordinary session from Oct. 15.

There is no guarantee that current measures to block radioactive water from leaking from the crippled power plant will always work properly -- as highlighted by the temporary halt of an advanced liquid processing system (ALPS) due to technical problems. The possibility that an unforeseen accident will occur cannot be ruled out. The government has drawn up additional countermeasures against contaminated water while taking potential risks into account, but no one knows whether these measures are feasible.

Since the government is now playing a leading role in countermeasures against radioactive water accumulating at the nuclear plant, the prime minister should provide a specific explanation at the Diet of how to deal with the matter.

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