TEPCO eyes facilitating plant decommissioning with new in-house firm

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Friday it will seek to coordinate the protracted, difficult decommissioning process for the accident-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant through a newly launched internal body.

The body, called the Fukushima Daiichi Decontamination & Decommissioning Engineering Company, was established Tuesday, with three representatives from Japanese nuclear plant manufacturers, such as Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy Ltd. and Toshiba Corp., to serve as its vice presidents.

"The three people came because we need the expertise all across Japan to overcome the challenges we face in decommissioning the plant and addressing the radioactive water buildup, which no other country in the world has experienced," Naohiro Masuda, who leads the new company, told a press conference.

Masuda, given the title of chief decommissioning officer, also said he expects the TEPCO decision-making process on related issues will become "quite swift" because the organization will be "in close contact" with on-site operations and will know what would be the most effective measure that should be taken.

Masuda, 56, was the head of the Fukushima Daini plant when Fukushima Daiichi, located about 12 kilometers away, was hit by a huge earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, triggering one of the world's worst nuclear crises.

The Fukushima Daini complex was also affected by the earthquake and tsunami, but suffered far less damage than Fukushima Daiichi. Fukushima Daini workers achieved a cold shutdown of its reactors in several days.

Masuda said the Fukushima Daiichi and Daini are "plants like brothers" and that he was mentored by the late Masao Yoshida, who was chief of the Fukushima Daiichi when the nuclear accident began.

"Mr. Yoshida was like a brother to me," Masuda said. "He tried hard to contain the nuclear crisis so I want to do my best to stabilize the condition of the Fukushima Daiichi plant and restore the area so that former residents can return."

About 1,200 to 1,300 employees will focus on the decommissioning operations, which are expected to last for up to around 40 years.

On Friday, TEPCO officially secured the approval of a local fishermen's organization on a plan to dump groundwater passing through the plant's premises into the Pacific Ocean on condition that the water is clean enough for release.

The measure is expected to slow the pace of increase in toxic water at the plant, as groundwater is pumped up and directed to the sea without getting mixed with highly radioactive water accumulating in the basement of reactor buildings.

The latest development came as TEPCO promised to strictly abide by safety standards for water release.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said in a statement that radiation measurement operation carried out by TEPCO will be checked by a third-party organization and that government staff will observe the water release when necessary.