A laboratory technician uses a Geiger counter to measure radiation in fish, which was caught close to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, at Fukushima Agricultural Technology Center in Koriyama, Fukushima prefecture, May 28, 2013. Reuters/Issei Kato.
On July 22, one day after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pro-nuclear Liberal Democratic Party won control of Japan’s upper house of Parliament, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) revealed that contaminated groundwater from its Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant was leaking into the Pacific Ocean. The head of the Soma-Futaba Fisheries Cooperative, Hiroyuki Sato, complained to the local paper, Fukushima Minpo, “TEPCO is saying that the pollution will stay inside the harbor, but the harbor is connected to the ocean, and the tide flows in and out. You can’t say there won’t be any impact. We want them to take action immediately.” The National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations called the handling of the disclosure “a betrayal of the fishing industry and of the citizens of Japan.”
More than two years after the cataclysmic earthquake and tsunami, the Fukushima plant is still in crisis. TEPCO still has no sufficient explanation for when the leaks began or why it waited until after the election to reveal them. Its assurances that the contamination is staying within the seawalls of the harbor are less convincing after weeks of assurances that there was no leak at all. The government has estimated that at least 300 tons of contaminated water are being released per day. TEPCO officials would not confirm the estimate.
This disclosure is only the latest in a series of well-documented problems at the Fukushima Daiichi plant: a power outage, the release of radioactive steam and the limited space to store the contaminated water (320,000 tons to date, with plans to build more tanks to hold up to 700,000 tons of radioactive water by 2015). The cycle is now familiar: first denials and delays, then admissions and apologies from TEPCO officials. In retrospect, the December 2011 declaration of the stable cold shutdown of the reactors has the ring of George W. Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech in the early stages of the Iraq War.
Dale Klein, a former head of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission invited to serve on TEPCO’s outside advisory committee, reacted to the latest revelation by excoriating the company’s executives: “These actions indicate that you don’t know what you are doing, and that you do not have a plan, and that you are not doing all you can to protect the environment and the people.” The editorial board of the major daily Asahi Shimbun declared it had “zero faith” in the “incompetent” utility, adding that “allowing the company to handle nuclear energy is simply out of the question.”