Japan set to stop dumping of toxic water into the sea
TOKYO—Japan hopes to stop pumping radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean on Sunday, which should help ease international concerns over the spread of radiation from the worst nuclear crisis in 25 years.
But problems in restoring cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, which was crippled by a tsunami last month, mean more contaminated water may eventually be pumped into the sea if the complex again runs out of storage capacity.
Apart from facing a major humanitarian and economic crisis, Japan is struggling to regain control of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant after a massive earthquake and tsunami devastated its northeast region on March 11.
“There are still numerous aftershocks and there is no room for complacency regarding the situation (at Fukushima Daiichi),” said Japan’s Deputy Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama.
The plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), said it was continuing to inject nitrogen into reactors to prevent another hydrogen explosion that would spread highly radioactive material into the air.
No clear progress
About 60,000 tons of radioactive water is hindering efforts by emergency crews to regain control of six reactors hit by the 15-meter-high tsunami, which caused partial meltdowns to some reactor cores after their fuel rods overheated.
Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said efforts to restore cooling systems were not making clear progress.
“We may be able to use (electric) systems that are currently functioning for cooling, and that may speed up the cooling restoration. But there is no concrete and clear option,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama, a deputy director general at the agency.
“It is one step forward, one step backward,” Nishiyama added.
An unmanned drone helicopter is scheduled to fly over four reactors to video damage and gauge radiation in areas where workers are unable to safely enter.
Remote-controlled trucks also will be used to remove some of the radioactive rubble.
Japanese voting in local elections on Sunday are expected to vent their anger over Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s handling of the nuclear crisis, further weakening him and bolstering opponents who will try to force his resignation once the crisis ends.
The unpopular Kan was already under pressure to step down before the worst disaster to hit Japan since World War II, but analysts say he is unlikely to be dumped during the nuclear crisis, which is set to drag on for months.
In Tokyo, around 5,000 people took to the streets in two separate antinuclear protests on Sunday.
Some protesters carried placards reading “No More Fukushima” and “No Nukes.” Others danced and played musical instruments. One group of demonstrators marched to Tepco’s offices.
On Saturday, Tepco expressed apologies for the crisis.
“I would like to apologize from my heart over the worries and troubles we are causing for society due to the release of radiological materials into the atmosphere and seawater,” Sakae Muto, a Tepco vice president, told a news conference.
Radiation from the Fukushima plant has spread around the entire northern hemisphere in the first two weeks of the nuclear crisis, according to the Vienna-based Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization.
China and South Korea have also criticized Japan’s handling of the nuclear crisis. Seoul has called Tokyo incompetent, a sentiment reflecting growing international unease over the disaster and the spread of radiation.
Japan’s economy, the world’s third largest, is reeling from the triple disaster and several countries have banned or restricted food imports after detecting radiation.
More critically, the nuclear crisis and power shortages have disrupted Japan’s manufacturing and electronics global supply chains, hitting computer and auto makers in particular.
Power blackouts and restrictions, factory shutdowns, and a sharp drop in tourists have hit the world’s most indebted nation, which is facing a damages bill as high as $300 billion—the world’s biggest for any natural disaster.
The government had called for restraint from the public to help the recovery effort.
But families and friends were out in force at cherry blossom viewing parties, traditional events that herald spring, although some were toning down the usual alcohol-induced revelry in deference to the disaster victims.
“It’s quieter than usual. There are lots of people but they’re a bit subdued,” said one middle-aged woman, who was strolling beneath the delicate pink blossoms.
“The blossoms are in full bloom for us and we should appreciate them,” she said. Reuters
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