Untested method would block contaminated water from escaping
The Japanese government announced Tuesday it is funding a costly, untested subterranean ice wall in a desperate step to stop leaks of radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant after repeated failures by the plant’s operator.
Public funding is part of several measures the government adopted Tuesday. Most had already been announced but they are widely seen as a safety appeal before the International Olympic Committee votes on which city will host the 2020 Olympics. Tokyo is a front-runner.
“Instead of leaving this up to TEPCO [Tokyo Electric Power Company], the government will step forward and take charge,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said after adopting the outline. “The world is watching if we can properly handle the contaminated water but also the entire decommissioning of the plant.”
The government plans to spend an estimated $470 million US through the end of 2014 on two projects — the ice wall and upgraded water treatment units that is supposed to remove all radioactive elements but tritium — according to energy agency official Tatsuya Shinkawa.
The government is not paying for urgently needed water tanks and other equipment that TEPCO is using to stop leaks.
The investigation into the tanks has revealed sloppy record keeping and tank management by TEPCO. The company has acknowledged that it used to assign only two workers to visually inspect all 1,000 tanks in about two hours until the leak, and none of the tanks had water gauges. TEPCO has increased the patrol staff to nearly 60 and is adding other early detection measures.
TEPCO also said it overlooked several signs of leaks — increases of radioactivity near the tanks and higher exposure levels for workers — for more than a month.
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