(Mainichi Japan) June 20, 2011
Preventing radiation contamination more important than TEPCO's stock prices

Some people have suggested that I start to write about something other than nuclear power plants, but with the situation as it is, that's not going to happen.

The crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant is still not over.

Far from it, there are signs that it is getting worse.

I can't stand by and look at the political situation without focusing on this serious event.

One figure who has entered the public spotlight in the wake of the nuclear crisis is 61-year-old Hiroaki Koide, an assistant professor at the Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute and a controversialist in the anti-nuclear debate.

A specialist in nuclear power, Koide has garnered attention as a persistent researcher who has sounded the alarm over the dangers of this form of energy without seeking fame.

In a TV Asahi program on June 16, Koide made the following comment:

"As far as I can tell from the announcements made by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the nuclear fuel that has melted down inside reactors at the Fukushima nuclear plant has gone through the bottom of the containers, which are like pressure cookers, and is lying on the concrete foundations, sinking into the ground below.

We have to install a barrier deep in the soil and build a subterranean dam as soon as possible to prevent groundwater contaminated with radioactive materials from leaking into the ocean."

His comment captured public interest and when I asked a high-ranking government official about it, the official said that construction of an underground dam was indeed being prepared.

But when I probed further, I found that the project was in limbo due to opposition from TEPCO.

Sumio Mabuchi, an aide to Prime Minister Naoto Kan who is dealing with nuclear power plant issues, holds the same concerns as those expressed by Koide and has sought an announcement on construction of an underground dam, but TEPCO has resisted such a move.

The reason is funding.

It would cost about 100 billion yen to build such a dam, but there is no guarantee that the government would cover the amount.

If an announcement were made and TEPCO were seen as incurring more liabilities, then its shares would fall once again, and the company might not be able to make it through its next general shareholders' meeting.

In my possession, I have a copy of the guidelines that TEPCO presented to the government on how to handle press releases.

The title of the document, dated June 13, is "Underground boundary' -- Regarding the press."

It is split into five categories on how to handle the announcement of construction of an underground boundary.

In essence, it says, "We are considering the issue under the guidance of prime ministerial aide Mabuchi, but we don't want to be seen as having excess liabilities, so we're keeping the details confidential."

Possibly the silliest response to envisaged questions from reporters is TEPCO's suggestion for a reply to the question, "Why hasn't construction been quickly started?"

The response reads: "Underground water flows at a speed of about 5 to 10 centimeters a day, so we have more than a year before it reaches the shore."

Initially an announcement on the underground barrier was due to be made to the press on June 14, but it was put off until after TEPCO's general shareholders meeting on June 28.

In the meantime, the state of the nuclear power plant continues to deteriorate and radioactive materials are eerily spreading and contaminating the area around the plant.

Which is more important: upholding share prices or stopping pollution?

The Japanese political and business world has sunk to a level where it can't even answer such a question.

One government official recently commented, "I think I can understand now why the leaders during the war couldn't precisely and steadily accomplish their strategies."

Today, announcements from the "imperial headquarters" -- namely TEPCO's releases on its roadmap for bringing the nuclear crisis under control, which nobody believes -- are still being issued.

Some people have compared Kan to former Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, because he yells at his subordinates over the smallest details.

Tojo resigned in July 1944, after the fall of Saipan, when it had become likely that Japan would lose the war.

His successor, Kuniaki Koiso, was in office for 8 1/2 months before being replaced by Kantaro Suzuki. After this, two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan and then the war ended after a decision from the Emperor.

Why wasn't an armistice quickly implemented to put an end to further wartime damage?

It was because impossible solutions to Japan's situation in the war were flying about, common sense was lost, and the government was slow to reach a decision.

Yet the same sort of situation has arisen today.

The most important issue now is preventing contamination from radiation.

We need leaders who can focus on the core issue without being swayed by empty theory.

(By Takao Yamada, Expert Senior Writer)

毎日新聞 2011年6月20日 東京朝刊

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