Blaming equipment problems, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Friday it will fail to meet its commitment to processing all of the highly radioactive water stored at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant by the end of March.
When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the plant in September 2013, Tepco President Naomi Hirose pledged that the utility would filter all of the water kept in tanks by this March 31, but the process has been delayed by problems getting it water-filtering apparatus to work.
Around 280,000 tons of the toxic water is sitting in hundreds of leaky tanks at the wrecked plant, with another 350 tons being added every day from the makeshift cooling apparatus set up for the three reactors tipped into meltdowns by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Hirose on Friday met with Takayuki Ueda, commissioner of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, and said the utility now expects to finish treating the water by no later than the end of May, but that it will try to complete the work as soon as possible.
“We took the promise to the prime minister very seriously, but we can’t fulfill our commitment. The problem of toxic water is the biggest source of concern for local residents and we are extremely sorry to be unable to keep our word,” Hirose said at the meeting.
The water treatment system, called the Advanced Liquid Processing System, or ALPS, is touted as being capable of removing 62 types of radioactive materials except tritium. Tepco has installed three ALPS units, including one with enhanced performance, but all remain stuck in testing mode.
The buildup of toxic water has been a major challenge to decommissioning the plant and sparked deep-seated fears that contamination could spread further via leaks, accidents or from the cracked basements of the reactors, where it pools.
In August 2013, Tepco said that around 300 tons of toxic water had leaked from the tanks, followed another 100 tons in February 2014. Much of it presumably entered the sea, where the radiation has been tracked to the West Coast of the United States.
Meanwhile, all decommissioning work at the Fukushima No. 1 complex was halted Wednesday after two workers died Tuesday in separate accidents there and at the nearby No. 2 plant.
The company said Thursday the work will remain suspended until it completes safety checks involving the accidents.
“The most important thing is to thoroughly conduct safety checks,” spokesman Shinichi Kawamura said.
Kanae Yamamoto, state minister of health, labor and welfare, summoned Hirose to the ministry Friday.
Besides directing Tepco to reinforce safety measures, Yamamoto handed him a written guidance on how the company can better prepare to provide immediate medical care and told Tepco to come back with a response by Feb. 16.
On Monday, a 55-year-old subcontractor hired to work at the Fukushima No. 1 plant fell into an empty 10-meter-deep water tank during an inspection. He was taken to a hospital but died the following day. Although the man was wearing a safety belt, he did not appear to be using it at the time.
On Tuesday, a subcontractor in his 40s died at the nearby Fukushima No. 2 plant after his head was crushed by an object during a concentrator inspection. The object was supposed to be held in place by a crane.
Kawamura said Tepco wants to pinpoint potentially unsafe places at the site, improve employee safety habits and ensure the procedures they are performing are safe.