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Japanese Government to Help Tepco With Fukushima Leak

TOKYO, Japan

The Japanese government announced this week that it would step in to help Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) get control of the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, after losing confidence in the utility’s ability to handle containment of radioactive water leaks.

Last week, the government’s nuclear agency raised the plant’s assessed level from a one to a three on the international nuclear accident scale of zero to seven, indicating that the new leak of 300 metric tons of highly contaminated water discovered earlier this month was a “serious incident.” The level had not been this high since the earthquake and tsunami caused destruction to the plant back in 2011.

“We’ve allowed Tokyo Electric to deal with the contaminated water situation on its own and they’ve essentially turned it into a game of ‘Whack-a-Mole.’ From now on, the government will move to the forefront,” Bloomberg quoted Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi as saying after he visited the crippled plant.

He said poor maintenance by Tepco was largely to blame for the radioactive water leaks from storage tanks, adding that “the urgency of the situation is very high.”

Motegi said the government will take an active role in both “reinforcing staff and covering costs,” but he did not specify how much the government would spend on the effort, deferring to the Ministry of Finance.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry “is working to draw up, by some time in September, both emergency measures and more fundamental steps to eliminate the root of the contaminated water problem, as well as measures to be carried out going forward,” according to the Prime Minister’s office.

One priority is proper monitoring of storage tanks, which number close to 1,000 and hold approximately 300,000 tons of contaminated water. Patrols of the tanks will be doubled to four times a day, according to Motegi.

Tepco has also been asked to replace the type of tanks that were known to be leaking. They have two types -- those with rubber seams that have leaked and those with welded seams that have not leaked.

The Trade Ministry will also pump more “liquid glass” or sodium silicate into the ground in an attempt to prevent leaking water from reaching the ocean.

Another solution involves creating “ice walls,” where coolant pipes are sunk as deep as 40 meters below ground to turn soil into permafrost. One wall will stop groundwater from flowing off of nearby hillsides into the plant and the other will stop contaminated water from flowing out of the plant into the ocean. However, this will take one to two years to construct.

Tepco has welcomed the government’s decision.

“We are very grateful for the government’s decision to take an active role,” a Tepco spokesman told the Wall Street Journal.