Abe joins Greenpeace in signal Tepco not up to cleanup

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made an unlikely companion with environment protection campaigner Greenpeace as both indicated Tokyo Electric Power Co isn’t up to the task of containing the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Greenpeace’s comments were blunt, Abe’s less so, though they both agreed on the seriousness of revelations that radioactive groundwater is gushing into the Pacific Ocean from the crippled coastal atomic station north of Tokyo.

At least 300 tons of water laced with strontium and other radioactive particles is getting into the ocean each day, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry at a briefing in Tokyo yesterday. The leaks may have been happening for two years, though not at the same rate, said Tatsuya Shinkawa, who heads a division at the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy helping handle the accident.

“The worsening leaks of contaminated water at the Fukushima nuclear plant prove Tepco is incapable of dealing with the disaster,” Greenpeace International said in a statement, referring toTokyo Electric. “Japan’s authorities must now step in and ensure action is finally taken to stop the leaks.”

Abe did just that yesterday, telling a ministerial meeting the government will draw up a strategy to tackle the problem.

“It is an urgent problem,” Abe said. “We will not leave this to Tepco.”

Back Burner?

Activist groups in Japan will be pressing a similar case today in a meeting with the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

The groups include citizen activists from Fukushima, where as many as 160,000 people had to evacuate to escape airborne radiation when buildings exploded and reactors melted down at the atomic station in March, 2011.

The activist groups argue the NRA is dedicating its already slim resources to checking that applications by utilities to restart reactors closed for inspections after Fukushima comply with new safety standards, Kyoto-based organizer Green Action said in a release.

“The bulk of the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s human resources is being used to examine electric utility nuclear power plant restart applications,” Green Action director Aileen Mioko Smith said in the release. Dealing with the Fukushima accident is on the “back-burner at the NRA.”

Not fast

All but two of Japan’s 50 reactors are idled for safety checks after Fukushima. The NRA, which was set up after the disaster to independently review the nuclear industry, has accepted applications from three utilities for safety inspections at four separate plants.

The regulator has also indicated growing alarm about the water leaks.

Radioactive water leaks are getting out of control and “creating a state of emergency,” said Shinji Kinjo, citing comments made by NRA Chairman Shinichi Tanaka in a meeting last week. Kinjo leads a Fukushima disaster task force for the regulator.

More funds will be made available to help stem the flow of contaminated water, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference in Tokyo yesterday.

“I believe Tepco is doing all it can,” Suga said. “But from the point of view of those in the disaster zone and the people of Japan, it does not seem to be progressing very fast.”

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