Japan said on Tuesday that it had decided to gradually release tons of treated wastewater from the ruined Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to the ocean, describing it as the best choice for disposal despite fierce opposition from fishing crews at home and concern from authorities abroad.
The plan to begin releasing the water in two years was approved during a cabinet meeting of ministers early Tuesday.
Disposal of the wastewater has been postponed by public opposition and by security concerns. However, the space used to store the water is expected to run out next year, and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga stated during the cabinet meeting on Tuesday that disposing of the wastewater from the plant was “ an issue which can’t be avoided. ”
The government will take every measure to absolutely guarantee the security of the treated water and address misinformation,” he said, noting that the cabinet would meet again within a week to decide on the details for carrying out the strategy.
Some activists refused the government’s assurances. Greenpeace Japan denounced the decision, saying in a statement that it “ dismisses human rights and global maritime law. ” Kazue Suzuki, a climate and energy campaigner for the organization, said that the Japanese government had “ discounted the radiation dangers. ”
As opposed to utilizing the best available technology to minimize radiation hazards by storing and processing the water over the long term, the announcement added, they have opted for the cheapest option, dumping the water into the Pacific Ocean. ”
The Fukushima crisis was set off in March 2011 with a huge earthquake and tsunami that ripped through northeastern Japan and killed more than 19,000 people. The subsequent meltdown of three of the plant’s six reactors was the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Tens of thousands of people fled the region around the plant or were evacuated, in most cases never to return.
Ten years later , the cleanup is far from finished in the tainted plant, which is run by the Tokyo Electric Power Company. To maintain the three ruined reactor cores from melting, cooling water is pumped through them continuously. The water is then sent via a powerful filtration system that’s able to remove all the radioactive material except for tritium, an isotope of hydrogen that experts say isn’t harmful to human health in smallish doses.
There are now about 1.25 million tons of wastewater stored in more than 1,000 tanks at the plant site. The water continues to accumulate at a rate of about 170 tons each day, and releasing all of it’s expected to take decades.
In 2019, the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry proposed to dispose of the wastewater either by gradually releasing it in the ocean or by allowing it to evaporate. The International Atomic Energy Agency said last year that both options were “technically viable. ” Nuclear power plants around the world routinely release treated wastewater containing tritium to the sea.
But the Japanese government’s plan faces strong resistance from local officials and fishing crews, who say that it would add to consumer fears about the safety of Fukushima seafood. Catch levels in the area are already a small portion of what they were before the disaster.
After meeting with Mr. Suga a week, Hiroshi Kishi, head of the National Federation of Fisheries, told reporters that his group was still opposed to the ocean release. Neighboring countries including China and South Korea have also expressed concerns .
Responding to Japan’s decision, the U.S. State Department said in a statement, “In this unique and challenging situation, Japan has weighed the options and consequences, has been transparent about its conclusion, and seems to have adopted an approach according to globally accepted nuclear safety standards. ”
The International Atomic Energy Agency welcomed Japan’s announcement and said it would provide technical support. It called the plan to release the water to the sea in line with international practice.
Todays decision by the government of Japan is a landmark that will help pave the way for continued progress in the decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the agency said in a statement. The decommissioning process is expected to take decades.