Tepco to push for decision on tainted water in Fukushima

 The No. 3 reactor building at Tepco’s tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in July 2013. The plant currently stores hundreds of tanks of contaminated water.
The No. 3 reactor building at Tepco’s tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in July 2013. The plant currently stores hundreds of tanks of contaminated water. PHOTO: REUTERS

Debate on release of water into ocean has dragged on for years since 2011 earthquake

TOKYO • The owner of the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan will push to resolve the debate over the release of contaminated water from the site, its new chairman said on Thursday.

The debate has dragged on for years since a devastating 2011 quake that led to a nuclear disaster.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) will also speed up a final decision on the future of a nearby plant, Fukushima Daini, which suffered only minor damage, chairman Takashi Kawamura said in an interview with foreign media.

"I'm very sorry that Tepco has been prolonging making a decision," said the 77-year-old, a former chairman of conglomerate Hitachi. "Just like (for) tritium, we will aim for an earliest possible conclusion."

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Mr Kawamura, who previously sat on a government panel looking into the Fukushima cleanup, said he believed Japan needed to keep operating nuclear power plants for future generations and as part of national security.

The nationalisation of nuclear power plants was a matter that could be discussed in the future as national policies had a role in the operations of nuclear power, he added, but did not elaborate.

Tepco wants to release the tritium-laced water currently stored in hundreds of tanks at Fukushima into the ocean - a common practice at normally operating nuclear plants - but the firm is struggling to win approval from local fisherman.

Missteps and leaks have dogged the efforts to contain water, slowing down the decades-long decommissioning process and causing public alarm, while experts have raised concerns that tank failures could lead to an accidental release.

"We could have decided much earlier, and that is Tepco's responsibility," said Mr Kawamura, adding that he would push a government task force overseeing the cleanup to give a clear timetable on when a decision could be made on the tritium-laced water.

Tepco is also under pressure from the central and local governments to decommission all four reactors at Fukushima Daini, 10km to the south of the wrecked plant.

"One of the sticking points is that it's taking time for an economic check of all plants," Mr Kawamura said, referring to studies on whether the plants would be economic once the cost of beefing up safety was taken into account.

Daini is expected to close, given widespread public opposition to nuclear power in the area, but Tepco is aiming to restart the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in the country's west.

Mr Kawamura said he would cooperate with a review of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant's safety by the local prefecture, which could delay any restart until at least 2020.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2017, with the headline 'Tepco to push for decision on tainted water in Fukushima'. Print Edition | Subscribe