Government under fire for slow response to Fukushima leak

August 30, 2013


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been forced to vow to take all-out efforts to contain the Fukushima nuclear crisis as his administration is roundly criticized for its tepid response to the recent leak of 300 tons of highly radioactive water.

“It should not be left entirely in the hands of Tokyo Electric Power Co. to deal with the accident,” Abe said in Qatar on Aug. 28, citing the plant’s operator. “The government should face up to the situation with a sense of urgency, including the problem of radioactive water.”

The government has come under fire from overseas media organizations, ruling party politicians and fishermen worried about radioactive water contaminating the ocean.

In a meeting at the ruling Liberal Democratic Party headquarters on Aug. 29, party lawmaker Yasuhisa Shiozaki lashed out at the Abe administration’s “lack of a sense of crisis,” singling out Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.

“The issue of radioactive water is increasingly seen as an international problem, and lawsuits may be filed overseas,” said Shiozaki, acting chairman of the LDP Policy Research Council and a former chief Cabinet secretary.

Shiozaki’s anger can be seen as the first explicit criticism of the government from the ruling party since the LDP returned to power in December.

Later in the day, Suga received a visit from Hiroshi Kishi, head of the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations, and Tetsu Nozaki, head of the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations, at the prime minister’s office.

“We must say that TEPCO’s system of handling radioactive water has broken down,” Kishi said. “We want the government to take the initiative in dealing with the situation immediately.”

South Koreans are also worried about the contamination of seawater.

In a statement released on Aug. 26, an environmental protection group based in Seoul called for an outright ban on seafood imports from Japan.

The Chosun Ilbo newspaper said the same day, “The South Korean government should take preventive actions based on a worst-case scenario, without relying only on information from the Japanese government and TEPCO.”

Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, said Aug. 29 Japan should provide information to foreign countries to dispel growing concerns over the leak.

In Qatar, Abe, in the midst of a four-nation swing through the Middle East and Africa, also said, “The government will deal with the situation responsibly, and will keep both domestic and overseas audiences well informed.”

When TEPCO discovered that 300 tons of radioactive water escaped a surface tank in mid-August, many administration officials did not take the leakage seriously.

“It is not a big issue,” a senior government official said at the time. “All they should do is to patrol the area carefully and stop the spill.”

Successive administrations following the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant that stemmed from the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami argued that TEPCO is responsible for bringing the crisis under control. They were reluctant to spend taxpayers’ money, fearing criticism that the government was bailing out the embattled utility.

The Abe administration has been forced to break with the traditional approach because TEPCO has failed to hold the ever-increasing radioactive water in check.

However, government officials are still lagging behind the deteriorating situation at the Fukushima plant.

An estimated 400 tons of groundwater flow into the reactor and turbine buildings daily and mix with radioactive water generated in reactor cooling operations.

TEPCO and the government plan to freeze the soil and create a wall to keep some of the groundwater from flowing into the buildings, possibly from the first half of fiscal 2015.

In early August, the industry ministry decided to include part of the costs in the fiscal 2014 budget following a leak of radioactive water into the ocean. The fiscal year starts in April.

But the ministry had to decide to tap into reserve funds under the fiscal 2013 budget and move up the schedule after the disclosure of radioactive water leaking from the storage tank.

“We know complaining will not help, but we feel as if we are playing whack-a-mole because (new problems crop up one after another as) the abnormal situation continues,” a government source said.

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Tanks holding radioactive water are lined on the compound of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. (Hiroshi Kawai)

Tanks holding radioactive water are lined on the compound of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. (Hiroshi Kawai)

  • Tanks holding radioactive water are lined on the compound of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. (Hiroshi Kawai)
  • Anti-nuclear demonstrators demand the government address the water leak problem at the Fukushima plant during their weekly Friday night protest in front of the prime minister's office on Aug. 23. (Satoru Ogawa)

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