Japan may dip into budget reserves to fight Fukushima toxic water

Japan may dip into budget reserves to fight Fukushima toxic water
This handout picture taken by Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) on August 22, 2013 shows a TEPCO worker checking radiation levels around a contaminated water tank at TEPCO's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

TOKYO - Japan may use emergency reserve funds from this year's budget to help Tokyo Electric Power Co , the operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, deal with escalating radioactive water problems at the site.

Tokyo Electric, or Tepco, acknowledged last week that hundreds of tonnes of highly radioactive water had leaked from a tank, one of around 350 assembled quickly after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that triggered nuclear meltdowns at the site. The tanks are used to store water pumped through the reactors to keep fuel in the melted cores from overheating.

The latest revelation is the most serious problem in a series of recent mishaps, including power outages, contaminated workers and other leaks. Tepco also said last month - after repeated denials - that the Fukushima plant was leaking contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean from trenches between the reactor buildings and the shoreline.

"It's deplorable," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference on Monday. "It is necessary for the country to step forward and offer support to solve the problem as well as prevent a recurrence."

Suga said trade and industry minister Toshimitsu Motegi had been instructed to come up with measures, including the possible use of reserve funds from the state budget for the year ending March 2014. Japan put aside a total of 350 billion yen (S$4.5 billion) in reserves for natural disasters and other emergencies in the budget.

Motegi and Tepco President Naomi Hirose will visit the Fukushima site later on Monday.

Japan is under increasing pressure to contain the toxic water problem at the plant. The new crisis comes as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pitching the country's nuclear technology abroad to countries like Turkey, promising that its nuclear reactor makers have learned vital safety lessons from the disaster.

Tepco shares fell as much as 10 per cent on Monday to their lowest in 12 weeks.

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