September 3, 2013 - 10:02 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Japan pledged nearly $500 million to contain leaks and decontaminate radioactive water from the tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, Reuters reported.
"The world is watching to see if we can carry out the decommissioning of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, including addressing the contaminated water issues," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told cabinet ministers, who met to approve the plan.
The action plan includes a scheme to freeze soil around reactor buildings to stop groundwater from entering. Water from nearby hillsides has been flowing under the plant and mixing with polluted water that has already seeped into the ground, resulting in mildly radioactive water reaching the sea.
Scientists want to circulate a special refrigerant through pipes in the soil to create a "frozen wall" that will stem the inflow of groundwater, according to AFP.
The government will also finance a project to upgrade nuclear decontamination systems at Fukushima.
"This is a matter of public safety, so the country has to take the lead on this issue and respond as quickly as possible. Figuring out who to bill for the costs can come later," Economics Minister Akira Amari said.
The announcement comes just days before the International Olympic Committee decides whether Tokyo - 230 km (140 miles) from the wrecked plant - will host the 2020 Olympic Games and the government is keen to show the crisis is under control. Madrid and Istanbul are the rival candidates.
Critics said the government was mainly trying to cool down international media coverage ahead of the Olympics decision.
"At a moment when international public opinion is worrying about the long-term consequences of repeated leaks at the site, Tokyo seems to obeying the short-term logic of waiting until the Olympics decision is over," Reuters quoted Mycle Schneider, an independent nuclear energy analyst based in Paris who frequently visits Japan, as saying.
The peak release of radiation in the sea around Fukushima came about a month after the earthquake and tsunami. Ocean currents have since dispersed the plume and sent the diluted radiation in a slow drift towards the West Coast of the United States, studies have shown. The amount of radiation expected to reach Canadian and U.S. coastal waters in the years ahead is projected to be well within safety limits for drinking water as it will have been greatly diluted.
The closest towns to the stricken plant remain deserted and off-limits to the public. But some former residents have started to return to their homes, some of which are less than 20 km away, as decontamination work progresses.
While the natural disaster that sparked the nuclear emergency at Fukushima claimed more than 18,000 lives, no one is officially recorded as having died as a direct result of the radiation leaks.