Japan PM pledges Fukushima cleanup before Tokyo 2020

Tokyo, Sep 19 (IANS) Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Thursday ordered the decommissioning of two more reactors at the tsunami-ravaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility.

During a visit to the plant, his second since assuming office, Abe pledged to take responsibility for the massive cleanup operations and toxic leaks, as revelations emerged that the leaks were preventable, Xinhua reported citing local media.

The prime minister said he would stand by promises made to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to ensure a safe Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 2020.

According to the reports, Abe also said he wanted to allay mounting global concerns about contaminated water leaking from the plant into the adjacent Pacific Ocean and had instructed the plant's embattled operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) to adhere to a new timeframe to deal with the radioactive leaks.

He told TEPCO officials that for them to prioritise the fixing of potentially multiple leaking tanks storing contaminated water, which is accumulating at a rate of around 400 tons per day, the plant would have to decommission the No. 5 and No. 6 reactors that are currently shuttered.

On March 11, 2011, the Daiichi facility in Japan's northeast was battered by a massive earthquake-triggered tsunami that caused multiple meltdown in four of the plant's reactors.

Radioactive material spread into air, ground and sea in the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

The No. 5 and No. 6 reactors were damaged by the tsunami, but didn't suffer full-blown meltdowns, but have remained offline since the crisis nevertheless.

Abe said that TEPCO chief Naomi Hirose pledged to review the decommissioning of the two reactors by the end of the year.

However, sources familiar with the matter said Thursday that the cash-strapped utility may push to keep the reactors on the site to boost their balance sheet.

The sources said that following TEPCO's losses of $27 billion since the initial disaster, the utility is in talks with banks about refinancing terms to the tune of around $816 million.

Abe, during his tour of the plant Thursday, also inspected the utility's efforts to contain leaks of radioactive water from temporary storage tanks.

There are around 1,000 steel storage tanks on the site, but the massive daily influx of water needed to cool the stricken reactors' nuclear fuel rods, has meant the tanks are at near capacity.

The Japanese government has pledged around $470 million in emergency funding to TEPCO, with some of the funds earmarked for the construction of frozen walls under the reactors to prevent contaminated substances escaping through groundwater and into the ocean.

Abe promised Thursday that the treating of contaminated water being stored at the plant would be completed by March 2015.

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