Since the beginning of his second stint as prime minister in December 2012, Abe has pushed for the resumed operation of nuclear reactors in Japan, while championing sales of Japanese nuclear reactors overseas as a component of his economic growth strategy.
However, bringing the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant under control and implementing measures against radioactive water leaks should be his top priority. Without solving the problem of contaminated water in Fukushima, any talk of the safety of Japanese nuclear technology will lack all credibility. It is the prime minister's duty to lead us to a solution as the head of the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters.
The volume of contaminated water continues to grow, because some 400 tons of groundwater flows into the plant's damaged reactor buildings every day, where it comes into contact with melted nuclear fuel. TEPCO removes cesium from this highly radioactive water, after which the water is stored in tanks on the plant grounds. Over 400,000 tons of water, including water with low levels of radiation, are now stored in these tanks. Meanwhile, part of the contaminated groundwater continues to leak into the ocean.
TEPCO plans to process the cesium-free water with ALPS, a multi-nuclide removal system that can eliminate 62 types of nuclear substances. ALPS operations have been put off, however, since water leaks were detected in a test run of the system. Meanwhile, our stopgap strategy of setting up more tanks as contaminated water continues to accumulate is near collapse.
Since the radioactive water leaks came to light, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) established a new director-level post dedicated to handling the contaminated water, and announced it would increase the number of resident staff at the Fukushima No. 1 plant. TEPCO, meanwhile, set up a contaminated water task force directly under the jurisdiction of the company president's office, to which the utility says it will invite experts from Japan and abroad. Such structural reinforcement is likely to have a certain level of impact, but they remain stopgap measures. Water contamination leaks and other crises are sure to arise again in the future.
In the coming days, the government is to announce a comprehensive strategy for the water crisis. Some of the challenges it faces include installing additional ALPS filtration systems and carrying out its underground water bypass plan, which would pump groundwater and release it into the ocean before it comes into contact with contaminated reactor buildings. The government says it will allocate supplemental budgets to the construction of an underground dam made from a wall of frozen soil around the reactor buildings to block groundwater leakage.
Experts have pointed out the necessity of an underground dam since soon after the nuclear disaster broke out. Any delays in resolving the radioactive water crisis citing lack of funds or human resources are unacceptable. The government, having effectively nationalized TEPCO, must take control of the chain of command, recognizing that merely handing down orders to TEPCO to implement countermeasures will not solve the problem. METI, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) and other related agencies must work closely to confront the crisis we now face.
We also urge the government, in lieu of TEPCO, to explain the leakage of contaminated water into the ocean, which has caused concern in both Japan and overseas. TEPCO's handling of the disaster has shown that its tendency for cover-ups has not changed; any social credibility it may have had has been lost.
Similarly, the Diet, in its passivity, has shown that it still lacks awareness that the current situation is directly linked to the nation's crisis management capabilities.Tepco's latest news release on Fukushima is here.