Japan’s government was ramping up pressure on electric utility Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) after a huge leak of radioactive water at the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, with a ministerial visit to the wrecked nuclear site yesterday.
The trip by Japanese Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry Toshimitsu Motegi, whose ministry supervises the atomic energy industry, comes amid growing calls for the government to take a greater role in the clean-up at the plant.
Critics accuse TEPCO of being incapable of dealing with the vast — and growing — volumes of radioactive water at the site.
Motegi arrived at the plant yesterday afternoon for an on-site inspection, a TEPCO spokesman said.
His second visit to the plant — the first was in January — comes after TEPCO revealed that about 300 tonnes of highly radioactive water escaped from one of the hundreds of tanks storing liquid used to cool the broken reactors.
The episode was dubbed the most serious since the plant went into meltdown in 2011 after being hit by a quake and tsunami.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe earlier this month described as “urgent” the battle to stop contaminated water escaping into the ocean.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in Tokyo that Abe had ordered the industry minister to take “every possible measure,” including the use of reserve funds from the national budget.
“The leak of contaminated water from the tank was extremely regrettable,” Suga told a news conference.
“Failing to manage tanks properly is a big problem,” Suga said. “As a government, we will do whatever we can do to resolve the problem.”
Inspectors from Japan’s nuclear watchdog who toured the plant on Friday last week said that water storage at the site was “sloppy.”
TEPCO said on Saturday that the tank that sprang a leak was one of three to have been relocated from its original spot because of subsidence.
The utility has not yet pinpointed the reason for the problem with the first tank, but over the weekend it began emptying the other tanks that were moved with it in 2011.
On Sunday, Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Fumio Kishida visited Chernobyl, Ukraine, the site of a 1986 nuclear disaster, and was due to hold talks with his Ukrainian counterpart yesterday.
Kishida went on his fact-finding mission to Chernobyl with the aim of sharing experience in overcoming the consequences of nuclear disasters, a spokesperson said.
More than two years after the disaster at Fukushima, TEPCO continues to struggle with the clean-up, a project expected to take about four decades.
A catalogue of mishaps, often accompanied by a perceived unwillingness to publicly reveal the extent of problems, is leading to a growing chorus warning of the need for outside experts to step in and take control of the operation.
While no one is officially recorded as having died as a direct result of the radiation released by the meltdowns, large areas around the plant had to be evacuated.
Tens of thousands of people are still unable to return to their homes, with scientists warning that some areas may have to be abandoned.