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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday urged Tokyo Electric Power Co. to scrap two reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that avoided meltdowns during the 2011 accident, saying that the utility should focus more on the plant's cleanup efforts.
Of the plant's six reactors, the utility is moving ahead to decommission the Nos. 1 to 4 units that suffered meltdowns or hydrogen explosions in the early days of the crisis. But it has not made clear what it will do with the Nos. 5 and 6 reactors that achieved a stable condition called a cold shutdown.
According to Abe who visited the plant on Thursday, TEPCO President Naomi Hirose said he will decide on the fate of the two reactors by the end of this year, while also vowing to drastically lower by March 2015 the level of radioactivity in contaminated water accumulating at the complex.
Abe inspected the plant in northeastern Japan to demonstrate the government's commitment to addressing the buildup of toxic water, after he assured the international community earlier this month, while in Buenos Aires to push Tokyo's bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, that the situation "is under control."
After touring the site for the second time since taking office in December, Abe told reporters, "I requested...that a decision should be reached on the scrapping of the Nos. 5 and 6 reactors so that TEPCO focuses on accident response matters."
But it is uncertain whether such a decision will help TEPCO resolve the water contamination problem.
TEPCO said in a press release that it plans to secure another 1 trillion yen for decommissioning work over 10 years from the current fiscal year, in addition to 1 trillion yen already set aside for the purpose.
Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters in Tokyo that TEPCO should make efforts to finance the costs, denying the need for the government to provide further financial support to the cash-strapped utility.
"If a request is submitted on an electricity rate (hike to the government), we will strictly check whether the company is doing its utmost in streamlining efforts," he said.
Hit by a magnitude 9.0-earthquake and ensuing tsunami on March 11, 2011, the Fukushima nuclear complex lost nearly all its power sources and consequently the ability to cool the reactors and spent fuel pools at the Nos. 1 to 4 units.
The Nos. 1 to 3 reactors suffered meltdowns and the building housing the No. 4 reactor, which did not have fuel inside the core because it was under maintenance, was damaged by a hydrogen explosion.
But the Nos. 5 and 6 reactors, which were also under maintenance at the time of the earthquake, achieved cold shutdowns, helped by an emergency diesel generator that escaped being flooded.
The conditions of the reactors are believed to be kept relatively stable, but contaminated water has been increasing daily as a result of continuing water injections into them.
TEPCO has worked to manage the massive accumulation of toxic liquid. But the plant has been plagued with radioactive water leaks, leading the government to decide to increase its involvement in addressing the matter.
The Fukushima prefectural government has been calling on TEPCO to scrap all six reactors at the plant.
Reflecting the heightened attention in and outside the country at conditions inside the plant, Abe allowed foreign media to accompany his visit.
Abe, clad in protective gear, viewed the area where tanks to store radioactive water have been set up and observed a facility that can remove various radioactive substances from the contaminated water, with the exception of tritium.
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