The Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) plan to manage radioactive water at its wrecked Fukushima plant may include a controlled discharge into the ocean once its toxicity is brought within legal limits, Japan's nuclear regulator said.
Nuclear Regulatory Authority chairman Shunichi Tanaka said yesterday that the ocean dump could be necessary as the country's government prepares to present its plan for handling tainted water at the site that is increasing by 400 tonnes a day.
The announcement comes as the Japanese government prepared to offer more funding and oversight to contain the crisis.
The government could present a package of measures as soon as today to a task force dealing with the contaminated water problem. The steps will include using existing budgetary funds to help with the clean-up.
Managing the water used to cool melted fuel at the Fukushima plant's reactors has become a fundamental challenge for Tepco, which has recently struggled to contain a series of leaks that included the loss of about 300 tons of contaminated water.
"It is important for us to understand the need to make difficult judgments in order to avoid larger problems in the future," Tanaka said of the possible ocean discharge during a speech to reporters in Tokyo.
Contaminant levels must be brought below accepted limits through treatment before the water is dumped, he said.
Japan's Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters could present its comprehensive response to the water management crisis today, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told lawmakers.
The government wants to present a "complete package" of steps to tackle the problem of contaminated water, Suga said.
Japanese authorities were seeking to address criticism that Tepco has bungled the response to the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.
"Tokyo Electric has been playing a game of whack-a-mole with problems at the site," said Trade and Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to "step forward and implement all necessary policies" to deal with the flood of radioactive waste building up at Fukushima.
Tepco's challenge was further illustrated on Sunday when the plant operator said it had found a new radioactive leak, capping its worst month since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused a reactor meltdown.
The company said it had halted the contaminated water leak from a pipe near an area of high radiation levels discovered on August 31. Of the hot spots found over the weekend, one recorded radiation of 1,800 millisieverts per hour. That was 18 times the level reported at the same spot on August 22, Tepco said.
With more than 338,000 metric tons of water with varying levels of toxicity stored in pits, basements and hundreds of tanks at the Fukushima plant, Tepco has been overwhelmed in trying to contain leaks.
Abe last month said Tepco was not able to handle the disaster recovery after the company acknowledged that contaminated groundwater at the plant was seeping into the ocean.
In early August, officials said large amounts of contaminated water was flowing into the Pacific Ocean.