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FILE PHOTO : Tokyo Electric Power Co Holdings new chairman Takashi Kawamura speaks at a news conference in Tokyo, Japan April 3, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo(reuters_tickers)
By Osamu Tsukimori and Kentaro Hamada
TOKYO (Reuters) - The owner of the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant will push to resolve debate over the release of contaminated water from the site that has dragged on for years since the devastating 2011 quake, its new chairman said on Thursday.
Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) would also speed up a final decision on the future of a nearby plant, Fukushima Daini, that suffered only minor damage, Chairman Takashi Kawamura, 77, said in an interview with foreign media.
"I'm very sorry that Tepco has been prolonging making a decision," Kawamura, a former chairman of conglomerate Hitachi Ltd, said. "Just like tritium, we will aim for an earliest possible conclusion.
Kawamura, who previously sat on a government panel looking into the Fukushima cleanup, said he believed Japan needed to keep operating nuclear power plants for future generations and as part of national security.
The nationalisation of nuclear power plants was a matter that could be discussed in the future as national policies had a role in the operations of nuclear power, he added, but did not elaborate.
Tepco wants to release the tritium-laced water currently stored in hundreds of tanks at Fukushima into the ocean - common practice at normally operating nuclear plants - but the company is struggling to win approval from local fisherman.
Missteps and leaks have dogged the efforts to contain water, slowing down the decades-long decommissioning process and causing public alarm, while experts have raised concerns that tank failures could lead to an accidental release.
"We could have decided much earlier, and that is Tepco's responsibility," said Kawamura, adding that he would push a government task force overseeing the cleanup to give a clear timetable on when a decision could be made on tritium.
Tepco is also under pressure from the central and local governments to decommission all four reactors at Fukushima Daini, 10 kms (6 miles) to the south of the wrecked plant.
"One of the sticking points is that it's taking time for an economic check of all plants," Kawamura said, referring to studies on whether the plants would be economic once the cost of beefing up safety was taken into account.
Daini is expected to close given widespread public opposition to nuclear power in the area, but Tepco is aiming to restart the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in the country's west.
Kawamura said he would cooperate with a review of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant's safety by the local prefecture, which could delay any restart until at least 2020.
(Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori; Editing by Richard Pullin)