Government to spend ¥47 billion to tackle water problem at Fukushima plant

September 03, 2013

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

The Abe administration announced Sept. 3 that the central government will spend at least 47 billion yen ($473 million) to deal with radiation-contaminated water flowing out of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and into the sea.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hopes to show the world ahead of the Sept. 7 vote in Buenos Aires to select the host city for the 2020 Summer Olympics that Japan is tackling the growing environmental disaster. Tokyo is considered by many to be the front-runner over Istanbul and Madrid to host the Games.

Abe plans to attend the International Olympic Committee meeting to make a pitch for Tokyo and show that the central government has put together a package of measures to deal with the leakage of contaminated water.

A key element will be the central government's plan to spend 32 billion yen for the construction of a wall of frozen soil to prevent groundwater from flowing into the Fukushima plant site. Groundwater that has flowed into the plant site has become contaminated with radiation-laced water that is used to cool the reactors, subsequently flowing into the Pacific Ocean.

However, as there have been no cases in which such walls have been used for an extended period for a site as large as the Fukushima plant, doubts have been raised about the effectiveness of the measure.

The central government will also provide 15 billion yen to improve the "Alps" multi-nuclide removal equipment, which can eliminate 62 radioactive substances from contaminated water.

A total of 21 billion yen will be used from the current fiscal year's reserve fund so work can begin on those two projects.

The policy package was determined at a Sept. 3 meeting of the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters.

The plans call for the central government to finish construction of the frozen soil wall before the end of fiscal 2014, and also complete repairs on wells from around the reactor buildings to facilitate the pumping of groundwater by September 2014.

The Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters meeting also decided to establish within the headquarters a council of relevant ministers to deal with the contaminated water problem. An on-site office will also be set up near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant where officials from the relevant ministries will be stationed full time to strengthen the organizational structure for dealing with the problem.

At the Sept. 3 meeting, Abe emphasized that his administration would implement the necessary fiscal spending measures and strengthen the lines of communications over the project's progress to audiences home and abroad.

"Rather than the haphazard way of dealing with problems after they arose that has been used in the past, we have compiled a basic policy for dealing with the contaminated water problem so that we can move toward a fundamental resolution of the issue," Abe said Sept. 3.

The announcement of the measures to deal with the leaking contaminated water comes just one day before the prime minister is scheduled to leave for St. Petersburg to attend the summit meeting of Group of 20 nations. He will fly from there to Buenos Aires for the IOC meeting.

The problems at the Fukushima plant extend beyond simply stopping the leaks from tanks on the site, but also involve doing something about groundwater that is a major factor behind the increased volume of contaminated water.

About 400 tons of groundwater flow daily into the basements of the reactor and turbine buildings and becomes contaminated after mixing with the water used to cool the reactors.

The wall of frozen soil will be constructed to shut out the groundwater. The Alps device is also intended to remove radioactive elements from the contaminated water.

"The central government is moving into this area because groundwater continues to flow into the plant site," a high-ranking government official said.

However, one problem is the difficulty in predicting what other issues may arise related to the contaminated water.

It also has not yet been made clear to what extent Tokyo Electric Power Co., the Fukushima plant operator, should bear the burden for dealing with the nuclear accident through higher electricity rates. That, in turn, means the central government's responsibility for dealing with the accident has also not been clearly set, leaving open the possibility that more public funds may be required in the future to deal with problems that may arise.

Such questions have been left unanswered because of a need to deal with the leaking contaminated water as quickly as possible.

Criticism has also emerged from within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party about the manner in which the central government has gone about dealing with the contaminated water problem.

On Sept. 4, the first meeting will be held of a project team set up by the LDP and junior coalition partner New Komeito to deal with the contaminated water problem. The project team will receive an explanation of the government's policy package and is expected to point out the shortcomings in those measures.

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at a meeting of the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters at the prime minister's office on Sept. 3. (Shogo Koshida)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at a meeting of the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters at the prime minister's office on Sept. 3. (Shogo Koshida)

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  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at a meeting of the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters at the prime minister's office on Sept. 3. (Shogo Koshida)

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