After putting off spending taxpayer money as long as it could, the Abe administration announced Tuesday it will earmark at least ¥47 billion to stop contaminated water from leaking at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
The government will finish setting up coolant equipment to create a barrier of frozen soil around the plant by the end of March 2015, not by the end of September 2015 as envisioned in an earlier plan, officials said.
Of the earmarked funds, ¥32 billion will be used to create the facilities to freeze the soil, and another ¥15 billion to develop more powerful filtering equipment to remove radioactive materials from the contaminated water.
Hoping to move quickly, ¥21 billion will be immediately allocated from this year’s budget reserve.
“The government will work on the front line to cope with the contaminated water problem, not relying solely on Tokyo Electric Power Co.,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told his Cabinet Tuesday. “We have compiled a set of basic policies to fundamentally solve the problem, not ad hoc measures.”
The government’s Fukushima crisis headquarters will meanwhile keep conducting maritime monitoring and publicizing weekly data on radioactive materials found in seawater and marine life.
The data and relevant information, after being examined by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, will be translated into English, the headquarters said.
Currently about 300 tons of groundwater is believed getting newly contaminated every day.
The government, however, believes most of the toxic materials are being contained by the plant’s breakwater, Tatsuya Shinkawa, a senior industry ministry official at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, said Tuesday.
According to the NRA, the densities of nuclear materials found in water samples from outside the bay have not shown any significant differences with levels before the 2011 meltdown catastrophe.
“We are deeply sorry for causing an international stir over this contaminated water problem,” Shinkawa said.
Tepco, while facing huge compensation payments to Fukushima residents, is still a listed company and the government had long hesitated to use public money to help the private entity.
The previous administration led by the Democratic Party of Japan decided to let Tepco cope with the crisis primarily on its own.
The Abe Cabinet finally decided to step in after it recently become clear that hundreds of tons of contaminated groundwater has been flowing into the sea, drawing strong attention and criticism both at home and abroad.
Still, at least for the time being, Tepco will have to handle the water problem on its own, as the government will spend money only for projects that involve “great technological challenges.”
The government, while closely monitoring the situation, will not directly help Tepco replace the temporary water tanks with more robust versions.
Meanwhile, work to dismantle the severely damaged reactors will take decades, and Tepco will need to keep mobilizing a massive number of workers to reduce their radiation exposure over the years.