TOKYO - Japan's ruling party could set up a British-style agency to shut down the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant, taking control of a project now managed by the station's embattled operator, a senior party policymaker said on Thursday.
A huge earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 triggered three meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station, the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986, and exposed a lack of preparation by Tokyo Electric Power Co, or Tepco.
The company has floundered for much of the last 2-1/2 years in dealing with several problems at the site, including a series of leaks of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean.
Tepco has proceeded with initial decommissioning steps, including the tricky removal of spent fuel rod assemblies from a badly damaged reactor building. Dismantling the plant and decontaminating the nearby area is likely to take decades and cost ten of billions of dollars.
"It is likely that the government will eventually have to take responsibility" for the decommissioning, Tadamori Oshima, head of the Liberal Democratic Party's task force on disaster reconstruction, told Reuters.
While immediate decommissioning steps should be taken by Tepco, a government oversight body should direct the utility, Oshima added, but gave no further details.
In Britain, the National Decommissioning Authority, a public body, is charged with managing the dismantling of the country's atomic power and research stations.
Oshima had pushed for a government agency to shut down the plant, but the LDP did not include this aggressive proposal in a November report on Fukushima.
Tepco, de facto nationalised after 2011, is still responsible for the ambitious decommissioning of the plant as well as for paying compensation to evacuees and cleaning up affected areas.