Japan PM Shinzo Abe pledges greater government role at Fukushima
Japanese prime minister pledges government will do more to plug leaks of radioactive water at nuclear plant crippled by 2011 tsunami
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has promised the world his government will play a greater role in stopping leaks of highly radioactive water at Fukushima.
Wrapping up a tour of Africa and the Middle East, Abe said in Qatar on Wednesday that the issue at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant cannot be dealt with by operator Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) alone.
"The accident in Fukushima cannot be left entirely to Tokyo Electric Power. There is a need for the government to play a role with a sense of urgency, including taking measures to deal with the waste water," Abe told a news conference.
His industry minister, Toshimitsu Motegi, and Japan's nuclear regulator had been tasked with finding the cause of the leaks and drafting steps to counter the problem, Abe said.
"The government will make responsible efforts to address the matter, and clearly and promptly inform the domestic and international communities," he added.
On Monday, Motegi had mocked Tepco's attempts to deal with the leaks, likening them to a game of "whack-a-mole".
Abe's pledge came as the world's nuclear watchdog urged Japan to explain more clearly what is happening at Fukushima and avoid sending "confusing messages" about the disaster.
The International Atomic Energy Agency questioned why the leak last week of 300 tonnes of highly radioactive water merited a rating on its International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), when no other incident since the March 2011 meltdowns had. The IAEA cautioned against the frequent use of INES evaluations in the future, saying this risked clouding the issue in the public mind.
Local regulators on Wednesday rubber-stamped their earlier assessment of the huge spill, in which one of around 1,000 tanks at the site was found to be holed, as being INES Level 3. That made it the single most serious incident since three reactors went into meltdown after being swamped by the earthquake-sparked tsunami.
Tepco has long struggled to deal with the growing volume of now-contaminated water it has used to cool the broken reactors. It said last week that some of the 300 tonnes that leaked from the tank could have made its way through drainage systems into the Pacific Ocean.
"We've allowed Tokyo Electric to deal with the contaminated water situation on its own and they've essentially turned it into a game of 'Whack-a-Mole,'" Motegi said on Monday in Fukushima. "From now on, the government will move to the forefront," he said, preempting Abe's announcement.
Tepco president Naomi Hirose yesterday offered his apologies to fishermen who fear their livelihoods are being put at risk by contamination of the ocean, and pledged every possible measure to avoid an impact on their catch. But Hiroshi Kishi, head of JF Zengyoren, a federation of more than 1,000 fisheries co-operatives, said his members had no faith in Tepco's ability to fix the mess its plant had created.
"We think your company's management of contaminated water has collapsed," he said.
"We are extremely worried as it's creating an immeasurable impact on our country's fishing industry and will continue to do so in the future," he said.
Nuclear Regulatory Authority chairman Shunichi Tanaka told reporters his watchdog would begin to coordinate the fragmented information on marine pollution.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg