(AP) U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said he expects deepening cooperation with Japan over the high-stakes cleaning up and decommissioning of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.
The Fukushima plant has had a series of mishaps in recent months, including radioactive water leaks from storage tanks. The incidents have added to concerns about the ability of operator Tokyo Electric Power Co., or TEPCO, to safely close down the plant, which suffered meltdowns after being swamped by the March 2011 tsunami on Japan's northeastern coast.
"We expect the relationship in the area of decommissioning between TEPCO and our national laboratories to expand and deepen in the coming years," Moniz said in a lecture Thursday in Tokyo.
"Just as the tragic event had global consequences, the success of the cleanup also has global significance. So we all have a direct interest in seeing that the next steps are taken well and efficiently and safely," he said.
Japanese regulators on Wednesday approved removal of fuel rods from an uncontained cooling pool at a damaged reactor building considered the highest risk at the plant following its multiple meltdowns.
Moniz was meeting with top Japanese officials during his visit, including industry minister Toshimitsu Motegi, who is overseeing the government's role in the plant cleanup.
"Our decommissioning and decontamination industries stand ready to aid should Japan need their help," Moniz said. "The U.S. is ready to assist our partners with this daunting task."
He is due to visit the Fukushima plant on Friday.
Removing the fuel rods from the Unit 4 cooling pool is the first major step in a decommissioning process that is expected to last decades at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.
Japan's nuclear regulatory chairman Shunichi Tanaka has warned that removing the fuel rods is a painstaking, high risk process. He says he is more worried about that than the massive amounts of radiation-contaminated water that TEPCO is struggling to manage.