Mark Willacy reported this story on Friday, September 13, 2013 18:24:00
SCOTT BEVAN: Stung by criticism that its handling of the ongoing crisis at Fukushima has been shoddy, the nuclear plant’s operator TEPCO has brought in a US expert to advise it.
A veteran of the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster in the US, Lake Barrett has just completed his first tour of the shattered Fukushima complex.
Responding to questions in Tokyo about the seepage of contaminated groundwater into the ocean and the leaking of highly radioactive water from a storage tank at the site, Mr Barrett said he didn’t believe there’s anything of major concern at Fukushima.
The ABC’s North Asia correspondent Mark Willacy is in Tokyo, and I spoke with him a short time ago.
Mark Willacy, why does Lake Barrett, this highly regarded US nuclear expert, believe there’s nothing to worry about?
MARK WILLACY: Well Mr Barrett, Scott, has now inspected the Fukushima nuclear plant, he got kitted up in all the protective gear and he spent quite some time there. So he’s had a good look around and he does say yes there is still a lot of work to do but he believes everything is under control.
Now that is despite revelations that about 300,000 litres of contaminated groundwater is flowing into the sea every day and of course it is despite a serious leak of highly radioactive water from one of the hundreds of storage tanks at the site and that was a product of what some say was rushed and shoddy workmanship.
But let’s hear from Lake Barrett, this is what he had to say in Tokyo this afternoon.
LAKE BARRETT: This is not finished. But I don’t believe there’s anything of major concern and they do have an adequate leak control system there but it needs to be better and addressed, it needs to be explained much better than it’s been explained.
SCOTT BEVAN: That’s Lake Barrett the US nuclear expert, and joining us from our Tokyo bureau is our North Asia correspondent Mark Willacy.
Mark as you mentioned before there’s ongoing leakage of water into the sea, isn’t Mr Barrett concerned about the threat to marine life from possible contamination?
MARK WILLACY: Well obviously authorities in Fukushima are worried about that contamination because all commercial fishing has been banned once again since these leaks sprung up. The only boats going out are those conducting test catches, so anything they haul up is taken straight to the lab and is tested.
Now Lake Barrett, who we know is TEPCO’s new outside advisor, now he does acknowledge that contaminated groundwater is leaking into the ocean and it is leaking every day, but he says it isn’t a threat, this is what he had to say this afternoon here in Tokyo.
LAKE BARRETT: The levels that are “moving” are very small and very low risk and you know water flows towards the sea so where’s it going? It goes towards the sea, so but as far as any radioactivity of concern in my opinion, it is being adequately controlled.
SCOTT BEVAN: Lake Barrett once again.
Mark Willacy in Tokyo, Mr Barrett believes TEPCO – this is the operator of the nuclear facility, needs to better inform the public and explain the situation, but what about Mr Barrett himself, what’s his background?
MARK WILLACY: Well Lake Barrett is a highly respected nuclear expert and he does have a history in dealing with nuclear accidents, but more controversially has been reported this week, Lake Barrett said in an opinion piece – a recent opinion piece in a website for atomic scientists, that the radioactive water being stored at Fukushima will probably have to be dumped into the ocean at some point, that is after contamination within that water is brought back to safe levels and he went on to write that this water being stored in tanks, it just can’t be stored like that indefinitely and that spending billions of yen on building tanks to capture every last drop of water on the site is “unsustainable, wasteful and counterproductive.”
So that opinion as you’d imagine Scott hasn’t gone down too well with many Japanese, particularly fishermen who used to make their livelihoods from the waters off Fukushima.
SCOTT BEVAN: That’s our North Asia correspondent Mark Willacy.