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Tepco Urged to Manage Water Weeks Before Recent Leak

Tepco Urged to Manage Radioactive Water Weeks Before Recent Leak
Workers stand on storage tanks at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture on Aug. 20, 2013. Source: Kyodo News/AP Photo

An advisory panel to Tokyo Electric Power Co. urged the utility to tighten water-management procedures at its crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant weeks before 300 metric tons of radioactive water seeped out, the panel’s chairman said.

The advisory group in late July held a “less than friendly” meeting with Tepco officials including the company’s chairman and chief executive officer to inform of the need to establish a plan to deal with radioactive water at the facility, according to Dale Klein, the panel’s chairman and a former head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“We were disappointed that they weren’t more forthcoming in communication” about an earlier leak of contaminated water from a tunnel at the site, Klein said yesterday in a phone interview. “They really do need to stop going from crisis to crisis and have a systematic approach to water management.”

Tepco officials said yesterday that the company is losing its battle to contain leaks of radioactive water from the plant, where an earthquake and tsunami triggered a triple meltdown in March 2011. Storage tanks at the plant are now holding enough radioactive water to cover an area equal to 37 football fields.

Leaks from the plant have probably run into the Pacific Ocean, the company said yesterday, citing high radiation readings in a drainage ditch.

The company didn’t immediately reply to a request for reaction to Klein’s comments. However, company executives said earlier yesterday at a news conference in Tokyo that they are seeking outside help with the spills.

Seeking Help

“We will revamp contaminated-water management to tackle the issue at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant and seek expertise from within and outside of the country,” said Zengo Aizawa, a Tepco vice president. “There is much experience in decommissioning reactors outside of Japan. We need that knowledge and support.”

In Vienna, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it’s prepared to help. Besides radiated water, the site north of Tokyo has more than 73,000 cubic meters of contaminated concrete, 58,000 cubic meters of irradiated trees and undergrowth, and 157,710 gallons of toxic sludge, according to the utility.

The NRC so far hasn’t received any requests to aid with water containment at the Fukushima plant, according to agency spokesman Scott Burnell.

“If our counterparts request information or assistance, we’ll provide it,” he said in an e-mail.

Written Recommendation

The advisory group appointed by the company made a written recommendation that the company establish a plan for water storage, filtering methods and disposal, Klein said. He’s now associate vice chancellor for research for the University of Texas System.

Tepco took a long time to disclose that radioactive water was escaping through a tunnel at the plant, Klein said. “They need to work hard at being open and transparent to regain public trust.”

While Klein said he didn’t think Tepco was deliberately negligent, he said that poor communication “gives the appearance of a cover up.”

“They are working hard to come up with a water-management plan” by the panel’s next meeting in early December, according to Klein. He said the Fukushima site should be taken over by a separate company that deals with decontamination so that Tepco can focus on electric-power delivery.

“We have now had two recent leaks and there are likely to be others because water management is likely to be a big deal for them,” he said.

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