As early as two months after Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami hit the Fukushima nuclear power facility and causing multiple reactor meltdowns, experts from the United States have warned Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) – the plant’s operator – and Japanese government officials to take immediate steps to prevent groundwater contamination and eventual leakage, but this memo was shelved and successfully lobbied against as the cost for the steps would bring the utility operator closer to insolvency.
This fact was revealed by two officials who participated in the discussions and documents prepared by both governments and the utility, even as TEPCO now battles with a 300 ton daily amount of contaminated groundwater leaking into the Pacific Ocean. TEPCO had aggressively lobbied against the proposed barrier wall that would have prevented huge amounts of groundwater from leaking because the cost at that point was estimated near US$1 billion (nearly 100 billion yen) could have started speculation and impact an already fragile investor base. A TEPCO spokesman also said that there had been concerns about the feasibility of the proposal.
Charles Casto, representative of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission who was based in Tokyo from March 2011 to early 2012, said that the discussions about a barrier to block groundwater began as early as April 2011. “It was obvious to us that there was great deal of groundwater intrusion into the plant, and we shared that with the Japanese government,” Casto said. “At the time, they didn’t believe there was a significant amount of groundwater getting into the plant,” he added. TEPCO has said that construction of a barrier wall in the first months after the accident would have been difficult because of the radiation levels at the plant at that time. “Cost wasn’t the only reason for not moving ahead,” said Yoshikazu Nagai, a TEPCO spokesman. “The wall raised a number of technical questions that made it unclear whether it was feasible. For that reason, there was concern that it would be recognized as a liability and push the company closer to insolvency.”
This situation now falls on the Japanese government, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has promised a US$470 million (over 46 billion yen) fund for the first part of a plan developed by TEPCO to stop the groundwater leak. The onus to clean up the mess in Fukushima is great, especially with the International Olympic Committee granting Tokyo hosting privileges to the 2020 Summer Olympics. Abe was set to visit Fukushima today, seemingly bent on proving the “whack-a-mole” comparisons of the government’s approach to the nuclear disaster wrong.
[via The Telegraph]