Tepco ditched soil-freezing solution in ’11 - ( J44P44NN )

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tokyo Electric Power Co. initially put off a plan to create frozen-soil groundwater shields at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant after being cowed by the cost, a former senior government official revealed Wednesday.

Earlier this month, the government vowed to spend ¥32 billion on building underground walls by freezing soil around the reactor buildings to prevent groundwater from seeping into the basement levels.

Tepco was initially scheduled to announce the water shielding plan on June 14, 2011, about three months after the nuclear crisis started, Sumio Mabuchi, a senior member of the Democratic Party of Japan, said at a party meeting.

As an aide to Naoto Kan, prime minister during the early stages of the unprecedented emergency, Mabuchi was put in charge of the water shielding plan at the time.

Tepco asked then industry minister Banri Kaieda, currently leader of the DPJ, to postpone the announcement as the utility was concerned about how the stocks market would react to the ¥100 billion or so in funds it would require, Mabuchi said.

The government agreed to put off the announcement to avoid disrupting the market, Mabuchi explained.

Mabuchi said he obtained then-Tepco Executive Vice President Sakae Muto’s confirmation that the utility would proceed with the water shielding plan without delay.

At the DPJ meeting Wednesday, however, Junichi Matsumoto, a senior Tepco official, denied there was confirmation by Muto.

At the end of May, a government panel adopted the project as the best way to reduce radioactive groundwater at the plant. Industry minister Toshimitsu Motegi told Tepco to go ahead with the project, which involves building a 1.4-km barrier of frozen soil by sinking cooling pipes around reactor buildings 1 to 4.

It will be the first state funds injection aimed at helping Tepco prevent the groundwater from mixing with radioactive water leaking from the reactor buildings.