On a tour of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered the plant’s operator to present a timeline for fixing persistent leaks of contaminated water, and suggested that all six reactors at the site be scrapped. Abe’s demands on Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) come just days after it was confirmed that Tokyo would host the 2020 Olympic Games, and less than two weeks after he drew ire for telling the International Olympic Committee that the situation there was “under control,” in spite of the 300 tons of contaminated groundwater that is leaking from the site every day.
The remarks came on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s second visit to Fukushima Daiichi since his election last December, and come amid some curious public interactions with TEPCO. Abe had been keen to reassure members of the IOC that the events at Fukushima—some 160 miles to the northeast of Tokyo—would not impact Japan’s abilities to host the games in 2020.
Abe’s statement that the leaks at Fukushima are “under control” backfired not only as a result of public outrage, but were also seemingly contradicted by TEPCO. The AP reports that “Senior TEPCO official Kazuhiko Yamashita told opposition Democratic Party of Japan lawmakers last week that the water situation was “not under control,” prompting members of the DPJ to demand an explanation from Abe. Yamashita later walked back his comments, but the damage was arguable already done.
And so, on September 18th, Abe returned to the plant to meet with officials, telling the AP that “[o]ne of the main purposes of this visit was to see it for myself, after I made those remarks on how the contaminated water has been handled,” and warning workers that “the future of Japan” rests on their ability to contain Fukushima’s radioactive water.
There are six reactors at the plant, four of which were damaged in the March 2011 disaster. These reactors must be kept cool in order to prevent a potential disaster, and the water used to keep the reactors cool is then stored in tanks at the facility—tanks that appear to be poorly constructed and are leaking large quantities of contaminated water into the ground, where it can then seep into the ocean. There are currently no plans as to what to do with the water that is in those tanks.
In addition to demanding a timeline for action on stopping the leaks, Abe also recommended that all six of the reactors be shut down. This shutdown however will not happen before the Olympics; the IAEA has suggested that it could take more than 40 years to fully decommission the nuclear power plant.
According to Physorg, TEPCO chief Naomi Hirose told Abe that “the utility would secure by the end of fiscal 2014 (March 2015) another one trillion yen ($10 billion) in addition to the one trillion yen that it had already earmarked for urgently needed safety measures.” TEPCO has said it will respond to Abe’s requests by the end of the year.