Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Broadcast: 19/09/2013
Reporter: Mark Willacy

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has visited the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.

His visit came amid rising concerns over the leaking of contaminated water into the sea after an adviser to TEPCO, the plant’s operator, admitted the problem was not under control.

To make matters worse, there’s been a serious leak of highly radioactive water from one of the hundreds of storage tanks now filling the site.

It all raises questions about the competence of TEPCO and the Japanese Government in handling this crisis.

The ABC’s Tokyo correspondent Mark Willacy reports.

MARK WILLACY, REPORTER: It’s 2.30 in the morning and Fumio Suzuki is preparing to cast off in his boat, The Eversu. In Japanese folklore, Eversu is the god of fishermen, but in this post-Fukushima world, Suzuki’s protector has seemingly forsaken him, replaced by the demon of TEPCO.

FUMIO SUZUKI, FUKUSHIMA FISHERMAN (voiceover translation): I think TEPCO has been telling lies from the start, since the nuclear plant exploded. TEPCO tell us there are no problems, but then there are problems. We cannot trust them or the Government.

MARK WILLACY: With at least 300 tonnes of contaminated groundwater flowing from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea every day, fishing in these waters has once again been banned.

The Eversu is just one of two boats allowed out to fish today and whatever they catch will be sent off for radioactive contamination testing.

Well we’ve been motoring out to sea for a couple of hours now and as you can see dawn is just breaking and it’s quite a beautiful sight, although just 30 kilometres up the coast is the leaking remains of the Fukushima nuclear plant. Now for generations of fishermen who’ve been coming out to these fishing grounds, it means that their livelihoods are now over because they just cannot go out to sea to catch anything worth selling anymore.

With the nets set and the sun rising over a glassy Pacific, all Fumio Suzuki can do now is wait and wonder.

The problem for these fishermen is that TEPCO is seemingly powerless to stop the contamination reaching the sea and that’s not the only crisis. On site are about 1,000 hastily-built tanks, some containing highly radioactive water that’s being used to cool the melted reactors. Already, one has sprung a serious leak, causing the most severe accidents since the meltdowns two and a half years ago.

KAZUNARI YOSHIMURA, WATER STORAGE SPECIALIST (voiceover translation): There are 340,000 tonnes of contaminated water inside the tanks. TEPCO rushed to build the tanks out of steel, but with the salt and all the radiation, they corrode quite quickly. The rubber seals are also vulnerable to radiation and they decay fast.

MARK WILLACY: At the time of the leak, only two inspectors were checking 900 tanks at any one time, so this highly radioactive leak went unnoticed for a month.

In this video, an inspector from Japan’s nuclear watchdog asks a TEPCO official if the company has been keeping records of tank inspections and radiation readings. “No,” replies the TEPCO official.

KAZUNARI YOSHIMURA (voiceover translation): It’s a matter of course that you install water gauges on tanks like this, so it’s a mystery why TEPCO didn’t install gauges so that they could easily tell how much water was inside and if there had been a leak. It’s absurd.

MARK WILLACY: Atsunao Marui is one of Japan’s top groundwater scientists and a member of a panel set up by TEPCO and the Government to try to find ways of managing Fukushima’s growing reservoir of radioactive water. He says putting the nuclear plant on this stretch of coast in the first place was inviting disaster.

ATSUNAO MARUI, GROUNDWATER SCIENTIST (voiceover translation): A river used to flow right where the turbine and reactor buildings are now standing, so the groundwater is flowing very fast through there and it’s spreading the contamination. The company should have known this could happen.

MARK WILLACY: But there are warnings the worst is yet to come because it’s believed that deep beneath the nuclear plant is a massive underground pool of contaminated water which is slowly making its way towards the sea.

And now there are warnings from the head of Japan’s nuclear watchdog that because room is fast running out, treated water may have to be dumped into the Pacific.

Back out to sea, off the Fukushima nuclear plant, Fumio Suzuki is hauling in his nets. These waters are where two currents mix and they’re rich in marine life.

Soon the haul of sea brim, squid, sardines and flatfish on the deck. Suzuki and his father begin sorting it, making it easier for the scientists back on land to analyse the contamination by species.

Well once, a haul like this would have earned Suzuki San about $600, but of course these fish are not going to market. We’re heading straight back into port where they’ll be sorted and put on a truck and taken directly to a laboratory whereof course they’ll be tested for radioactive contamination from the Fukushima nuclear plant.

It’s been two and a half years since the disaster at Fukushima, but for Fumio Suzuki, there’s no end in sight. And the situation could get worse if TEPCO gets its wish to dump some of its growing volume of radioactive water into the Pacific.

FUMIO SUZUKI (voiceover translation): I totally oppose any dumping. If they release more radioactive water into the ocean, the sea off Fukushima is finished.

LEIGH SALES: Mark Willacy reporting.

See also : http://nuclearhistory.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/video-of-the-construction-of-fukushima-diiachi-npp/ Constructing Fukushima.