OKYO (Reuters) – Japan should begin preparing to release a massive tide of water from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean, once it regains public trust and can confirm the water has only low levels of radiation, a U.S. adviser to the plant’s operator said on Friday.
Lake Barrett, a former head of the Department of Energy’s Office of Civilian Nuclear Waste Management, spent nearly a decade at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and led the clean-up operations after the 1979 partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant. He has been brought in by Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) to advise it on the lengthy decommissioning process at Fukushima.
He said work should begin now to pump groundwater from the plant before it reaches wrecked reactors – a measure that has been stalled by local opposition.
“They should start pumping as soon as practical,” said Barrett, adding that groundwater would have to be released into the sea along with water that had been treated to remove most radiation – by a system designed by Toshiba Corp.
“I believe in a matter of a few months … early next year … water will be cleaned up and be ready to be discharged,” he said in an interview.
But Barrett, who has said he would feed his grandchildren fish caught off the Fukushima coast if the clean-up proceeds as planned, said Tepco has lost its credibility to reassure a jittery public. “When Tepco says: ‘trust me, this water is safe,’ that’s not enough,” he said.
Barrett said Japan’s consensus-style of decision making risked delaying a practical step that would allow Tepco to focus on more critical problems.
“My sense is that they’re hesitant to do this because it’s a burden for the Japanese people, a burden for the fishermen, so maybe we’ll just continue with more tanks,” he said. “But you’re just delaying the problem. Now is the time to deal with it.”
Barrett said he urged Hirose to make Tepco more open to expertise from overseas. Foreign contractors and consultants have been largely excluded from the clean-up.
“I recommend they integrate foreign expertise within the Japanese system,” he said. “It’s something where they know they have to do better.”
He said concerns raised by South Korea and China over the continued leaks of radiated water at Fukushima “political posturing.”
“This is healthwise a big nothing,” he said.