A senior official of Tokyo Electric Power Co. admitted during a meeting with opposition lawmakers on Friday that the massive radioactive water buildup at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is "not under control."
The government quickly rushed to play down the remark by Kazuhiko Yamashita, who holds TEPCO's executive-level title of fellow, as that view directly contradicts Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's statement last week to the International Olympic Committee in pushing Tokyo's bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference Friday afternoon that the impact of the contaminated water leaks from the plant "remains inside the plant's port," which is enclosed by breakwaters.
Suga also suggested that Yamashita was pressured to make the remark, as he was "grilled by" the lawmakers of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan during the meeting in the city of Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, to discuss issues related to the nuclear crisis, triggered by a huge earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
During an exchange with Teruhiko Mashiko, a House of Councillors member representing Fukushima Prefecture, Yamashita said, "I think the current situation is not under control."
TEPCO later tried to show there was no discrepancy by saying through its website that it held the same view as Abe, who told the IOC on Sept. 7 in Buenos Aires that "the situation is under control."
"It is our understanding that (the) prime minister intended his statement 'the situation is under control' to mean that the impact of radioactive materials is limited to the area within the port of the power station. ... According to this understanding, we share the same views," the utility said.
Tokyo was chosen as 2020 Summer Olympic host, despite concerns in and outside the country over the condition of the Fukushima plant, which has been plagued with radioactive water leaks.
Fishermen in Fukushima Prefecture still cannot go out fishing because of concern over sea contamination.
A massive amount of radioactive water is accumulating at the Fukushima plant as a result of continuing water injection into the three reactors that suffered meltdowns at the plant.
TEPCO is storing highly toxic water in hundreds of huge tanks set up on the plant's premises, but a recently confirmed leak involving one of the tanks has highlighted the utility's lax management of the matter.
In addition, TEPCO has acknowledged that some groundwater is becoming contaminated as it passes through the site and is flowing into the area within the breakwaters.
After concluding the issue cannot be handled by TEPCO alone, the government recently stepped up its involvement and decided to use state funds for measures to improve the situation.
A government source said that Abe plans to visit the Fukushima complex on Thursday.
And at a meeting Friday, a government panel decided on a scheme to more actively solicit technical proposals in and outside the country to address the difficulties of handling the toxic water.