The government now plans to take a proactive role in dealing with radioactive water at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co.
Calling it "a pressing issue," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently said, "The government will take measures instead of leaving the task to TEPCO."
We believe this is an appropriate decision, as the utility has been frustrated in its attempts to solve the issue while the contaminated water continues increasing and leaking into the ocean.
The government must take the initiative to solve this problem.
Initially, the government stood back from direct involvement in the tainted water issue on the grounds that TEPCO was the entity responsible for handling the nuclear crisis at the plant.
However, the water problem at the ruined plant has become increasingly serious as time has gone by.
As groundwater is seeping into reactor buildings, the amount of radioactive water has grown by 400 tons a day. TEPCO has installed tanks on the premises of the buildings to store the contaminated water. But the company is likely to run out of such storage space in the near future.
A major problem in implmenting countermeasures is that TEPCO has been unable to pinpoint how the groundwater is flowing into the buildings' premises and becoming contaminated with radiation. It is an urgent task for the government to take the lead in tracing the source and route of the contamination.
The amount of tainted water flowing into the ocean every day is estimated at 100 tons to 300 tons. At the moment, radioactive substances are said to have been kept within the plant's harbour, but the leakage must be stopped as soon as possible.
Contaminated water that has accumulated in ditches near a levee at the plant is believed to have leaked into the sea. As one preventive measure, TEPCO has begun work to pump up the tainted water and store it. Also, a project to chemically solidify underground soil along the levee is almost finished.
The utility also plans to build a water barrier in the harbour beyond the levee. We hope such steps will help halt the spread of contamination.
Multiple measures needed
Along with ending the leakage, a key to resolving the issue is reducing the amount of underground water coming into the reactor buildings in the first place. The government and TEPCO plan to pump up uncontaminated groundwater before it reaches the buildings and then release it into the ocean.
Given the rapid increase in the amount of contaminated water at the plant, there will be no choice but to discharge uncontaminated groundwater once its safety is confirmed. Both the government and TEPCO should make every effort to convince those in the fisheries industry who currently oppose the release of the water.
Meanwhile, a plan to freeze the soil around the reactor buildings also has been proposed to block the flow of groundwater. The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry intends to include funding to study the plan in its budget request for next fiscal year.
We want to see if such measures prove effective.
One more fundamental task is to stop radioactive water from leaking from the reactors. But this is difficult because of high levels of radiation inside. To locate the source of the leakage and shut it down, steady progress must be made on research and development in areas such as remote-control operations.
Moreover, we must not forget that something has to be done with the contaminated water already being stored. The government is looking into a plan to discharge the tainted water into the ocean after it is purified to a level well within government-set safety standards. TEPCO therefore should accelerate efforts to install a water purification system.