The government will lead “emergency measures” to combat the radioactive water leaks at the wrecked Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, wresting control of the disaster recovery from the besieged Tokyo Electric Power Co.
“We’ve allowed Tepco to deal with the contaminated water situation on its own and they’ve essentially turned it into a game of ‘whack-a-mole,’ ” Industry minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters Monday night in Fukushima. “From now on, the government will move to the forefront.”
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which is led by Motegi, “is working to draw up, sometime in September, both emergency measures and more fundamental steps to eliminate the roots of the contaminated water problem, as well as measures to be carried out going forward,” the prime minister’s office said in a response to written questions.
More than two years after the March 2011 nuclear disaster started, Tepco’s recovery effort has taken a turn for the worse. The Nuclear Regulation Authority last week questioned the utility’s ability to deal with the crisis, echoing comments earlier in the month by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Motegi’s visit to the plant comes a week after a storage tank leaked 300 tons of highly radioactive water, which the NRA labeled a “serious incident” in its worst assessment of the problems at Fukushima since the earthquake and tsunami of 2011 caused three reactor meltdowns.
It’s now up to the government to manage the radioactive water building up in tanks at the plant at a rate of 400 tons a day, and leaking from underground tunnels into the ocean, Motegi said.
He told Tepco to monitor its storage tanks more frequently and replace the type that leaked.
“Mr. Motegi said that this leak was caused by human error,” Tepco President Naomi Hirose said in a separate news conference Monday night in Fukushima. “We are very grateful that we are getting government support.”
In its response to questions, the prime minister’s office said METI will pump more “liquid glass” or sodium silicate into the ground as one measure to block radioactive groundwater from spreading and reaching the sea.
In addition to the leaky tank, Tepco has admitted that radioactive groundwater is flowing into the Pacific. The government estimates the flow at 300 tons a day.