The operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, as well as local fishermen barred from going to sea since the accident, questioned Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s assurance to the International Olympic Committee that the problem of radioactive water is “under control.”
In a speech before the IOC picked Tokyo as host of the 2020 Games, Abe said the situation is under control, referring to the contaminated water issue, and that Japan will never allow it to cause damage to Tokyo.
In response to a question, Abe also told the IOC general meeting in Buenos Aires on Sept. 7 that radioactive water has been “completely blocked” within a 0.3-square-kilometer area in the harbor of the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
Abe’s remarks are credited with helping dispel concerns about radioactive water at the plant and securing the Games for Tokyo. Denis Oswald, an IOC member from Switzerland, said Abe’s speech on Fukushima was convincing.
However, sources at plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. acknowledged that it has not been able to keep radioactive materials from flowing into the ocean completely.
No radioactive cesium has been detected in many places outside the harbor, but the government estimates that 300 tons of radioactive water are flowing into the harbor daily.
Radioactive materials have been contained by silt fences, or curtain-like undersea partitions, set up near seawater intakes for nuclear reactors and within the harbor.
However, 68 becquerels of tritium were detected per liter of seawater sampled at the entrance of the harbor on Aug. 19, suggesting that radioactive materials may have been spreading outside the harbor.
An estimated 300 tons of highly radioactive water that escaped a storage tank may also have directly flowed into the ocean through a ditch.
Meanwhile, a survey of fish samples taken in waters within a 20-kilometer radius of the plant has shown that amounts of radioactive cesium in marine products have fallen.
However, amounts exceeding safety standards for consumption were detected from slime flounder and other samples taken in July.
The Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant was crippled by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. Water containing extremely high concentrations of radioactivity leaked into the ocean the following April and May, prompting TEPCO to install silt fences.
The concentrations are believed to have been diluted as the contaminated water spread, but radioactive materials have accumulated at the bottom of the sea.
Radioactive cesium detected in fish samples apparently derive from such accumulations.
Toshimitsu Konno, a fisherman in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, is angry at Abe’s remarks at the IOC general meeting.
“He must be kidding,” the 54-year-old said. “We have been tormented by radioactive water precisely because the nuclear plant has not been brought under control.”
The Soma-Futaba fishing cooperative association, to which he belongs, decided to postpone the resumption of test fishing operations scheduled this month following a series of leaks of contaminated water.
“He (Abe) can say, ‘(Radioactive water has been) completely blocked,’ because he does not know what is going on at the site,” Konno said.
“He said it is safe when he was abroad, but he will not tell us the same thing. Can Abe take responsibility for his own words? If he can, I urge him to act on what he said.”
Chinese and South Korean media also called Abe’s sweeping statements into question.
A China Central Television program said, “Although Japan emphasized that the situation is under control, people’s concerns have not been completely dispelled.”
South Korea’s Munhwa Ilbo newspaper took issue with Abe's remark that there is no problem about the radioactive water issue, citing the view of a Japanese expert that the vow is groundless.
Abe told the IOC gathering, “I will take responsibility for deciding on a program to resolve the (radioactive water) issue once and for all.”
Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato said the prime minister must make good on his words.
“Abe made an international promise that the government will be responsible for ensuring safety,” Sato said Sept. 9. “I want him to stand by that promise.”
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