EDITORIAL: Abe should confront the reality of Fukushima radiation leaks

September 21, 2013

In the wee hours of Sept. 20, a strong earthquake measuring a 5-plus on the Japanese seismic scale struck Fukushima Prefecture. Its epicenter was in the Hamadori area in the eastern part of the prefecture, where the wrecked Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is located.

Even though it caused no damage to the some 1,000 storage tanks within the plant that are filled with radioactive water, the quake must have given many people a chill.

On the previous day, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the crippled plant and reiterated his view about the effects of contaminated water, saying they had been “completely blocked” within a certain range.

But he is overoptimistic if he really believes what he said about the problem.

He needs to appreciate the seriousness of the situation and make an all-out effort to prevent unforeseen disasters like massive leaks of contaminated water.

Symbolical of Abe’s unwarranted optimism about what is going on at the plant is his claim that the situation is “under control.”

He made the remark earlier this month in his presentation at a session of the International Olympics Committee, which helped Tokyo to be chosen as the host city for the 2020 Summer Games. After his statement was reported around the world, however, a senior executive of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the Fukushima plant, rebutted his argument, saying the situation was not under control.

During the International Atomic Energy Agency’s annual general conference meeting held on Sept. 16-20 in Vienna, representatives of many countries raised questions about Abe’s statement. China, for instance, voiced strong concerns about how things stand at the Fukushima complex.

Mindful of the international perceptions, Ichita Yamamoto, minister of science and technology policy, didn’t use the phrase “under control” in his official speech at the IAEA meeting.

We are not demanding that the prime minister describe the situation with complete accuracy.

We are concerned that he may be confusing the goal with the reality. Efforts are certainly under way to put the radiation crisis “under control” and “completely block” the effects of polluted water. But that doesn’t mean the situation is actually “under control” or that the effects are “completely blocked.”

At the moment, how much radioactive water is flowing into the sea and what underground route it is taking to reach the sea can only be guessed. That means the situation is far from being “under control.”

The prime minister’s words carry great weight. If he voices an overoptimistic view about the current situation concerning leaks of contaminated water, the efforts to deal with the problem could be prematurely relaxed.

One big mistake concerning the problem was made by the previous administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. In December 2011, the Noda administration declared that the Fukushima nuclear crisis had been resolved.

But, in fact, only a stopgap system to pour water continuously onto melted reactor cores had been established.

As a result, the problem of polluted water accumulating at the plant dropped from the list of important topics of political debate and lost the attention of the general public.

News media should also do soul-searching over their failure to communicate the seriousness of the problem sufficiently to the public.

At the IAEA meeting, one inevitable question was raised. The problem of radioactive water accumulating at the Fukushima plant has been recognized from the beginning. Why is it that no serious effort has been made to find a solution for as long as two years?

British science magazine Nature takes a dim view of how the Japanese government, which has announced a plan to take over the cleanup, will cope with the crisis. “Given the government’s past actions and information policies, one might doubt whether it would be any more competent than TEPCO at managing the situation and communicating it to the public,” it commented in a recent issue.

The current situation of the crisis warrants no optimism. The Abe administration needs to honestly acknowledge the enormity of the challenge, and communicate its view and related information to audiences both at home and abroad. Then it should start taking steps to gain necessary knowledge and support from all over the world to tackle the challenge effectively.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 21

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in red helmet, listens to an explanation about the storage tanks for contaminated water at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on Sept. 19. (Pool)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in red helmet, listens to an explanation about the storage tanks for contaminated water at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on Sept. 19. (Pool)

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  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in red helmet, listens to an explanation about the storage tanks for contaminated water at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on Sept. 19. (Pool)

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