Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has inspected the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to reassure the public over leaks of contaminated water. Critics have lashed out at Abe for saying the situation is under control but the prime minister has stood by his words.
Abe defended his controversial comments about radioactive water leaks while touring Japan's damaged nuclear power plant.
Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) in July, after months of denials, admitted hundreds of tons of contaminated water is leaking into the ocean.
But Prime Minister Abe has said the situation remains “under control,” and leaking tanks of contaminated water, used to cool nuclear rods, posed no threat to public health or the Pacific.
Wearing a protective white suit, face mask, and orange helmet, Mr. Abe backed up his statement Thursday while inspecting efforts to contain the outflow. He said TEPCO officials have assured him the contaminated water is staying within the harbor near the plant.
He says to deal with the disaster and the contaminated water, the government will come to the forefront, and he will firmly deal with the issue as the person in charge.
The prime minister was escorted by TEPCO executives who told him that some 90 workers patrol the plant's 1,000 water holding tanks four times a day. TEPCO says they are also planning to install gauges on the tanks to keep better tabs on water volumes and, by the end of the year, replace rubber-joints with stronger, welded ones.
Abe told operators to decide soon on decommissioning two of the plant's nuclear reactors.
The plant, in northeastern Fukushima prefecture, failed to withstand the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami resulting in nuclear reactor meltdowns.
TEPCO was criticized for the slow release of information on the disaster and spending too much time defending itself.
Critics of the way authorities' have handled the disaster are not convinced about public safety.
Speaking via Skype, Hisayo Takada, a climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace in Japan, says frequent new findings and leaks at Fukushima demonstrate the situation is not under control.
“From our own research, or continuous research on seafood or the marine water or marine environment, found that even the far away fish sold in the supermarket, in far away from Fukushima in Japan, found some cesium contamination,” she said.
South Korea earlier this month, as a precaution, banned all fisheries imports from Fukushumi and seven nearby areas.
But experts investigating radiation around the nuclear plant say levels of contamination drop off sharply further from the area and pose no threat.
Professor Jota Kanda, who is with the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, speaking via Skype, says despite the continuous flow of radioactive water from the harbor the level further out is very low.
“Fish radioactivity we found that is exceeding the level of Japanese guidelines up until now is largely derived from the radioactive material released into the ocean immediately after the accident not [from] the continuous radioactivity released from the harbor,” said Kanda.
Japan's government in August announced it would take a more direct role in the clean-up after TEPCO's clumsy handling of the crisis.
On Sunday it shut down Japan's last functioning nuclear reactor for maintenance and standard upgrades.
Japan's Kyodo News Agency says the Nuclear Regulation Authority will measure contamination of the sea floor off Fukushima over an area of about 1,000 square kilometers (386 square miles).
Nonetheless, the extent of public worry was clearly on Mr. Abe's mind Thursday as he inspected holding tanks, water-treatment, and a chemical dam that are hoped to stop the leaks.
He told workers at the Fukushima plant's command center the future of Japan was on their shoulders.