Japan PM to call for stronger response to Fukushima water crisis: Nikkei

TOKYO Tue Aug 6, 2013 6:33pm EDT

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gestures during a news conference at a hotel in Makati city, metro Manila July 27, 2013. REUTERS/Al Falcon

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gestures during a news conference at a hotel in Makati city, metro Manila July 27, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Al Falcon

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to call on Wednesday for a stronger response to try to stop highly radioactive water leaking into the ocean from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, the Nikkei newspaper reported.

It also said the government would commit taxpayer money to halt the buildup of radioactive water at the plant.

On Monday, an official from Japan's nuclear watchdog told Reuters the leakage had become an "emergency", adding that the operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), was struggling to contain the problem.

Tepco has been widely castigated for its failure to prepare for the massive 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated its Fukushima plant and lambasted for its inept response to the meltdown of three reactors at the facility, 200 km (125 miles) northeast of Tokyo.

The utility pumps out some 400 metric tons (440.92 tons) a day of groundwater flowing from the hills above the Fukushima Daiichi plant into the basements of the destroyed buildings, which mixes with highly irradiated water that is used to cool the reactors.

Tepco has said it is taking various measures to prevent the contaminated water from leaking into a bay near the plant. It also wants to stem the flow of groundwater before it reaches the reactors by channeling it around the plant and into the sea through a "bypass".

The Nikkei newspaper said the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry would seek funding in next fiscal year's budget for one proposed solution: freezing the soil to prevent groundwater from leaking into the reactor buildings.

The ministry would start assessing the cost of the effort this month and is expected to have a budget request ready by the end of the year, the Nikkei said.

It was not immediately clear how much of a threat the contaminated groundwater could pose. In the early weeks of the disaster, the Japanese government allowed Tepco to dump tens of thousands of tons of contaminated water into the Pacific in an emergency move.

In a bid to prevent more leaks, plant workers created an underground barrier by injecting chemicals to harden the ground along the shoreline of the No. 1 reactor building. But that barrier is only effective in solidifying the ground at least 1.8 meters below the surface.

(Writing by Dean Yates; Editing by Jim Loney)

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