Politician apologises for Fukushima gaffe

2013-06-19 11:02
A worker cleans the surface during a decontamination operation at Naraha town in Fukushima prefecture. (Toshifumi Kitamura, AFP)

A worker cleans the surface during a decontamination operation at Naraha town in Fukushima prefecture. (Toshifumi Kitamura, AFP)

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Tokyo - The policy chief of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling party apologised on Wednesday and withdrew remarks that appeared to make light of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, adding it was up to the premier whether she would keep her job.

With a month to go before an election for parliament's upper house that Abe's Liberal Democratic Party needs to win decisively to end a parliamentary deadlock and cement his grip on power, Abe and his aides are keen to avoid any PR fiascos.

In a speech on Monday, LDP policy chief Sanae Takaichi called for the restart of off-line nuclear reactors, noting that no one had died from the March 2011 Fukushima disaster.

In the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, a massive earthquake and tsunami caused reactor meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co's (Tepco) Fukushima plant, spewing radiation and forcing 160 000 people to flee their homes, many never to return.

There have been no known radiation deaths so far, but more than 1 000 people died from related causes such as suicide and delayed medical care as a result of evacuations.

Toxic groundwater

In the latest developments Tepco on Wednesday discovered cancer-causing radioactive substances in groundwater at the crippled plant.

The operator said tests showed the highly toxic strontium, a chemical that can cause bone cancer if ingested, was present at levels 30 times the permitted rate.

The test also detected tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen used in glow-in-the-dark watches, at around eight times the allowed level.

"From groundwater samples we collected, we detected 500 000 becquerels per litre of tritium, that is very high," a Tepco official told a press conference.

The substances, which were released by the meltdowns of reactors at the plant in the aftermath of the huge tsunami of March 2011, were not absorbed by soil and have made their way into underground water.

Subsoil water usually flows out to sea, meaning these two substances could normally make their way into the ocean, possibly affecting marine life and ultimately impacting humans who eat sea creatures.

However, a Tepco official said seawater data showed no abnormal rise in the levels of either substance.

Physical barrier

He added the company believed the groundwater was largely contained by concrete foundations and steel sheets, and any gaps were being plugged with a material known as "liquid glass" that would solidify, forming a physical barrier.

The revelations are the latest in a growing catalogue of mishaps at the crippled plant, more than two years after the worst nuclear disaster the world has seen in a generation.

Workers used tonnes of water to cool the melted cores of the reactors and Tepco is having to store this radioactive water onsite. However, reports continue to emerge of leaks in storage pools, tanks and pipes.

Critics say improvised fixes put in place at Fukushima since the disaster leave it vulnerable to mishaps and at the mercy of nature, with no immediate end in sight.

Although the natural disaster that sparked the meltdowns claimed more than 18 000 lives, no one is officially recorded as having died as a direct result of the nuclear catastrophe.

However, tens of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes and businesses in the area around the site. Many remain displaced, with scientists warning some places may have to be abandoned forever.

Read more on:    tepco  |  shinzo abe  |  japan  |  nuclear

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