The Japanese government is joining efforts to contain a buildup of radioactive water at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, as operator Tokyo Electric Power Co struggles to contain the problem, government officials said on Wednesday.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the buildup of radioactive water at the plant was a very serious issue and that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would order the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which regulates Tepco and other power utilities, to significantly step up its role.
The ministry is considering requesting public funds for the cleanup, Suga told reporters. The Nikkei newspaper said the funds could be used to freeze the soil to prevent groundwater from leaking into the reactor buildings - a project with an estimated cost of up to 40 billion yen ($410 million).
An official from the country's nuclear watchdog told Reuters on Monday that the highly radioactive water seeping into the ocean from the plant was creating an "emergency" that Tepco was not successfully containing on its own.
Tepco has been widely castigated for its failure to protect the Fukushima Daiichi plant, 220 km (130 miles) northeast of Tokyo, from the massive 2011 tsunami and earthquake that led to the worst nuclear disaster in the world since Chernobyl.
The utility has also been lambasted for its inept response to the reactor meltdowns and accused of covering up shortcomings.
"It is necessary for the country to step forward and offer support (to Tepco)," Suga told a regular news conference.
Abe, at a meeting of a government task force on the nuclear disaster, will instruct Trade and Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi to "take prompt measures" on the problem, Suga said.