October 4, 2023

Japan said Tuesday it had decided to gradually dump tons of treated wastewater from the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the ocean, calling it the best option for disposal, despite fierce opposition from domestic fishing teams and concerns Governments abroad.

The plan to release the water in two years was approved during a cabinet meeting early Tuesday.

The disposal of the wastewater has been long delayed due to public opposition and safety concerns. However, the space for storing the water is expected to become scarce over the next year, and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said during the cabinet meeting on Tuesday that the disposal of wastewater from the facility is “a problem that cannot be avoided”.

The government will “take all measures to ensure the absolute safety of the treated water and to remove any misinformation,” he said, noting that the cabinet will meet again within a week to decide on the details of implementing the plan .

Some activists declined government assurances. Greenpeace Japan condemned the decision, saying in a statement that it “ignores human rights and the international law of the sea”. Kazue Suzuki, a climate and energy campaigner for the organization, said the Japanese government had “discounted radiation risks.”

“Rather than using the best available technology to minimize radiation hazards through long-term storage and processing of the water,” the statement added, “they have chosen the cheapest option of directing the water to the Pacific.”

The Fukushima crisis was triggered in March 2011 by a major earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan, killing more than 19,000 people. The subsequent core meltdown of three of the plant’s six reactors was the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Tens of thousands of people fled the area around the facility or were evacuated, in many cases never to return.

Ten years later, the renovation of the disabled facility operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company is far from complete. To prevent the three damaged reactor cores from melting, cooling water is continuously pumped through them. The water is then passed through a powerful filtration system that can remove all radioactive material except for tritium, an isotope of hydrogen that experts say is not harmful to human health in small doses.

Around 1.25 million tons of wastewater are now stored in more than 1,000 tanks on the factory premises. The water continues to accumulate at a rate of around 170 tons per day, and it is expected to be decades before everything is released.

In 2019, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry proposed disposing of the wastewater either by gradually releasing it into the ocean or by evaporation. The International Atomic Energy Agency said last year that both options were “technically feasible”. Nuclear power plants around the world routinely discharge treated wastewater containing tritium into the ocean.

However, the Japanese government’s plan has met strong opposition from local officials and fishing teams, who say it would heighten consumer concerns about the safety of Fukushima seafood. The catches in the region are already a small fraction of what they were before the disaster.

After meeting Mr. Suga last week, Hiroshi Kishi, head of the National Fisheries Association, told reporters that his group was still against the release of the oceans. Neighboring countries like China and South Korea have also raised concerns.

The US State Department responded to Japan’s decision in a statement: “In this unique and challenging situation, Japan weighed the options and implications, was transparent about its decision and appears to have taken an approach that corresponds to the globally accepted nuclear safety standards.”