Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sept. 19 urged Tokyo Electric Power Co. to decommission the two surviving reactors at the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant and set a time frame to resolve the radioactive water problem.
Abe requested Naomi Hirose, the TEPCO president, to secure a sufficient budget for safety measures and to deal with the tons of contaminated water accumulating and leaking at the plant.
“In order for them to concentrate on this, I have asked them to decommission the No. 5 and No. 6 reactors that are now halted,” Abe told reporters.
TEPCO plans to decommission the two reactors and convert the buildings into research and development facilities for the tougher task of decommissioning the four other reactors destroyed by meltdowns and hydrogen explosions after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake rocked the Tohoku region and a tsunami slammed into the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
The No. 5 and No. 6 reactors were not operating at the time and escaped serious damage.
Abe quoted Hirose as saying that TEPCO “will secure another 1 trillion yen ($10.1 billion) in addition to 1 trillion yen already obtained.” The TEPCO chief also promised that the purification of contaminated water will be completed by the end of fiscal 2014.
Scrapping the two reactors could complicate a turnaround plan the plant’s operator has presented to creditors.
TEPCO, which has posted more than $27 billion in net losses since the 2011 disaster, is negotiating with a syndicate of Japanese banks for a refinancing of 80 billion yen due next month.
As of April, the company listed 745.5 billion yen in nuclear power generation assets. Those included the No. 5 and No. 6 reactors as well as the utility’s Fukushima No. 2 nuclear plant and Kashiwazaki-Kariwa--the world’s largest nuclear plant--in Niigata Prefecture.
The Fukushima No. 2 and Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plants are now halted, and it is uncertain whether they can be restarted in the face of local opposition.
TEPCO will likely report a loss of 200 billion yen by decommissioning the No. 5 and No. 6 reactors. The company will have to bear additional costs of 100 billion yen annually from fiscal 2013 to 2022 to decommission the destroyed reactors, which may lead to higher electricity charges.
TEPCO has come under heavy criticism for a series of mishaps and delays in releasing information about the situation at the Fukushima No. 1 plant. The water leakage problem even threatened to derail Tokyo’s bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics.
After the government decided to take a more central role in the cleanup at the plant, Abe assured International Olympic Committee members on Sept. 7 that the situation at the Fukushima plant “was under control.”
However, Kazuhiko Yamashita, a technology adviser to TEPCO, later said at a meeting with opposition lawmakers, “We regard the current situation as not being under control.”
Still, Abe stood by his words on Sept. 19.
“I will work hard to counter rumors questioning the safety of the Fukushima plant,” he said.
The visit to the stricken plant was Abe’s first since his trip last December shortly after taking office. The prime minister was shown the Alps multi-nuclide removal equipment, which can eliminate 63 radioactive substances from contaminated water but has not been used since corrosion holes were found in one of its storage tanks.
The accident at the nuclear plant, 240 kilometers north of Tokyo, triggered the evacuation of 160,000 people and led to the radioactive contamination of air, sea and food.
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