Japan to dump nuke water in sea
TOKYO: Japan has approved a plan to release more than one million tonnes of treated water from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean, sparking concern in neighbouring countries and fierce opposition from local fishing communities and antinuclear activists.
The release, which is not likely to begin for several years and could take decades to complete, follows years of debate.
China called the decision “extremely irresponsible”, while South Korea’s foreign ministry said it was “a risk to the maritime environment”.
Japan’s government argues that the release will be safe because the water is processed to remove almost all radioactive elements and will be diluted.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told a ministerial meeting on Tuesday that disposing of the water was an “inevitable task” in the decades-long process of decommissioning the nuclear plant.
He said the release would happen only “after ensuring the safety levels of the water” and alongside measures to “prevent reputational damage”.
About 1.25 million tonnes of water has accumulated in tanks at the nuclear plant, which was crippled after going into meltdown following a tsunami in 2011. It includes water used to cool the plant, as well as rain and groundwater that seeps in daily.
An extensive pumping and filtration system known extracts tonnes of newly contaminated water each day and filters out most radioactive elements.
The decision to release the water has support from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which says the release is similar to processes for disposing of waste water from nuclear plants elsewhere in the world.
But local fishing communities fear the release will undermine years of work to restore confidence in seafood from the region.
“The message from the government that the water is safe is not reaching the public, that’s the huge problem,” an official with the association of Fukushima fishermen unions said.
He said trading partners had warned they would stop selling their products and consumers had said they would stop eating Fukushima seafood if the water was released.
“Our efforts in the past decade to restore the fish industry will be for nothing.”
Japan’s decision also prompted regional opposition even before it was official, with South Korea’s
Foreign Minister expressing “serious regret” on Monday.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian urged Japan to “act in a responsible manner”. “To safeguard international public interests and Chinese people’s health and safety, China has expressed grave concern to the Japanese side through the diplomatic channel,” Mr Zhao said.
About 140 cubic metres of radioactive water was generated by the site every day last year and storage space will run out by the middle of next year.
Debate over how to handle the water has dragged on for years.
A government panel earlier endorsed either diluting the treated water and releasing it into the ocean or releasing it as vapour, and the IAEA says either option is acceptable.
“Releasing into the ocean is done elsewhere. It’s not something new. There is no scandal here,” IAEA director general Rafael Mariano Grossi said last year.
Either method would be “in line with well-established practices all around the world”.
Greenpeace slammed Japan’s government for having “once again failed the people of Fukushima”. “The cabinet’s decision failed to protect the environment and neglected the large-scale opposition and concerns of the local Fukushima residents, as well as the neighbouring citizens around Japan,” said climate and energy campaigner Kazue Suzuki.
The filtration process removes most radioactive elements from the water, but some remain, including tritium. Experts say the element is only harmful to humans in large doses, and with dilution the treated water poses no scientifically detectable risk.
Environmental groups allege accumulated doses over time could damage DNA, and want to see the water stored until technology is developed to improve filtration.