With one measure after another failing to stop the seepage of hundreds of tons of contaminated water from the crippled Fukushima plant, the government of Japan has stepped in. But critics say it is too little, too late.
Author Julian Ryall, Tokyo
The Japanese government announced that it will spend Y47 billion (US$ 473 million) to plug the leaks and cleanse water that has become radioactive after being used to cool four reactors damaged in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. At the same time, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe admitted that efforts to date by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) have not been comprehensive.
Efforts to date fail
In the most recent problem to emerge, radiation readings at the facility have soared 20 percent to their highest level yet, the Nuclear Regulation Authority announced Monday. Readings close to water tanks that have been leaking tons of contaminated water have spiked to 2,200 millisieverts - a level that would prove fatal
Failure to act
In light on this development, nuclear experts argue the government should have stepped in much earlier. "This happened 30 months ago and TEPCO told the government that they could handle it - perhaps they were overly optimistic or they did not understand the scope of the problem," Tom Snitch, a professor at the University of Maryland, told DW. "Unfortunately, the government believed them," he added.
The international nuclear community has come up with a number of proposals that could help at Fukushima, Snitch said, but it has so far been largely excluded from implementing the plans.
"There are solutions to the issues at Fukushima, but they are technical," he said. "The problem is that Tokyo cannot make the political decisions to put these solutions in place."
According to the scientist, the Japanese say that US firms do not have the correct technology to decommission Fukushima, claiming that they have worked on US plants that were used to make weapons.
But Snitch disagrees with this argument saying this is a false pretense that Japan is using to keep US and British firms out of the cleanup: "Nuclear physics is the same regardless of the end use."
The nuclear expert believes that Tokyo has no choice but to take some tough decisions and inform the Japanese public and the rest of the world of what it has to do. Snitch says the government needs to tell the fisherman that contaminated water will be dispersed into the ocean. They also need to tell the residents of some of the towns within the 20 km zone that they are never going back to their homes, he added. "These people have been given unrealistic hopes for 30 months that things can go back to what they were on March 10, 2011. This is simply not true and will not happen."
Furthermore, experts emphasize that decisions have to be made on where to store the 1,533 spent fuel rods and warehouses full of thousands of protection suits, gloves, respirators and other equipment that has become contaminated with radiation, he said.
Snitch is of the opinion that if the Japanese had taken effective steps on from the start and dealt with the water issue, they would not have used Areva filters which did not work, would not have purchased the ALPS [Multi-nuclide Removal Equipment], which broke, and they would not have hundreds of leaky metal tanks, bolted together on uneven ground and leaking.
"In life, when facing a crisis, people must first admit that they have a problem," he added.
"Only then can they ask for help."