Strong oversight of Tepco needed

The discovery last week that about 300 tons of highly radioactive water leaked from a tank at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has reminded both people in Japan and around the world that the nation’s nuclear crisis is far from over and that radioactive substances are continuing to be released into the environment.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority proposed raising the severity level of the leak from the earlier level 1 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) of 8 to level 3. The nuclear catastrophe at the plant, as a whole, is rated as level 7.

The massive water leak is only the latest in a serious of accidents that have plagued the plant since the disaster started on March 11, 2011. It highlights the inability of Tepco to manage the crisis — which in large part was caused by Tepco’s inept management of the nuclear plant.

It is suspected that up to 300 tons of the water leaked into the ocean. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other government leaders must realize that the ongoing leakage, which is polluting the Pacific Ocean — a shared resource — is undermining Japan’s trustworthiness in the international community.

The government must acknowledge that Tepco cannot manage the crisis by itself and take a commanding role to ensure that it is handled in the most competent manner possible.

The latest leak occurred in a tank that is a temporary structure. It is made of steel sheets bolted together with their seams sealed with rubber packing. Some 1,000 tanks are being used at the plant site to store radioactive water that had been used to cool the three reactors that suffered core meltdowns. Of those tanks, about 350 are of the temporary type and the remaining are more reliable welded tanks. The service life of the temporary tanks is said to be five years.

It should have been clear to Tepco from the beginning that storing radioactive water in such tanks is inappropriate. It is likely that more leaks will occur. Tepco estimates that 10 tons of contaminated water leaked daily from the tank in question for the past month. One wonders why the leak was not detected sooner.

Tepco also estimates that water containing as much as 10 trillion becquerels of radioactive strontium and 20 trillion becquerels of radioactive cesium-137 from the Fukushima No. 1 power plant has flowed into the Pacific Ocean since May 2011. It must be pointed out that the crippled nuclear plant has only a makeshift system to contain radioactive water.

The sloppiness of Tepco and other parties is clear. For example, Tepco had to abandon tests of equipment, scheduled to start early this month, for removing 62 kinds of radioactive nuclides from contaminated water when leaks from the equipment were detected.

The government must end its “hands off” attitude regarding the management of the nuclear crisis and take on an active role drawing on all available resources. Its first step should be to mobilize the NRA, Tepco, corporations and nuclear experts to stop the outflow of toxic water into the Pacific Ocean.

  • bridgebuilder78

    Japan, get those damn leaks plugged. If you can’t do it, ask for help.

  • Summiter

    First, I applaud and support The Japan Times regarding this article. Both TEPCO and the Japanese government have been too long negligent in their duties regarding the health and safety of their own people. Second, why is it only now, two years, five and a half months after 3/11, that this sort of outcry appears? I have lived in Japan before and during this period, and have followed the never-ending litany of disasters, small and large: the earthquake, the tsunami, the meltdowns, the cooling pump breakdowns, the eruptions, the inadequate initial responses by TEPCO, the heroic efforts of many low-level TEPCO employees, the seeming indifference and inattention of TEPCO’s senior executives, the lack of government oversight, the leakages of radioactive water into both the lake serving as an aquifer for much of Tokyo and the ocean and on and on and on. Now (!?) people are calling for strong oversight!? It was not only the flyjin who decided to leave Japan. I have met several Japanese in the United States who told me they are not coming back in the foreseeable future. How about the government’s taking direct control of the entire mess, bringing in qualified, veteran people in this field who actually know what they are doing, forbidding TEPCO from having anything to do with the clean-up operation other than immediately turning over all pertinent information and documentation, and possibly jailing the senior TEPCO officials – followed, of course, by fast-track law suits against TEPCO by all their victims? That is oversight I can support!

  • Starviking

    I wonder if TEPCO was retain and recruit qualified workers -instead of having to slash wages and staff to pay for compensation, would any of this happened?

    Japanese Society demands that people and groups deemed “troublemakers” to be punished, or to punish themselves: but it makes no sense to punish a group which you need to not only devote itself 100% to the problem of Fukushima Dai-ichi, but to actually grow.

    Another issue is the fact that TEPCO’s clean-up priorities are being set by the public. The unloading of Spent Fuel Pool 4 was pushed to the front of the queue by a group of anti-nuclear “experts” – despite the pool being reinforced t o deal with a 6+ earthquake, and the ever-decreasing residual heat in the pool.

    TEPCO are not beyond reproach, and do deserve scrutiny, though not one that interferes with the recovery process. Neither is Japanese Society and the Media beyond reproach – elevating certain “experts” to a position where they can interfere with the recovery efforts – but neglecting to scrutinise their expertise or their often overblown statements. There are a whole host of professors in science and engineering departments in Japan and around the world who could give some informed comment on a lot of the hype that is put out through the media. It would be great if the Japan Times would be the first to do this.