The Japanese government has decided to release treated radioactive water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into the sea, the Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun reported, citing a source familiar with the matter.
The released water will contain the radioactive material tritium, which the government has said poses little risk to human health when diluted. But fishermen have opposed the government’s plan, citing reputational damage that this discharge could cause on fishing products from Fukushima Prefecture.
At least 15 regions, including neighboring China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, still impose strict restrictions on imported food from Fukushima, according to prefectural authorities.
Hiroshi Kishi, the president of the National Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations, has expressed these concerns to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. But Suga said there are few options left as the wastewater storage tanks approach their capacity.
“The disposal of advanced liquid processing system (ALPS) treated water is unavoidable and experts have recommended that the release into the sea is the most realistic method that can be implemented. Based on these inputs, I would like to decide the government’s policy,” Kishi quoted the prime minister as saying during a meeting, the Japan Times reported.
The processing system removes most of the accumulated water’s contaminants and will dilute tritium, a radioactive byproduct of the nuclear reactors, to well under the country’s limit of less than 60,000 becquerels per liter of water.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant suffered meltdowns after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. This was the worst nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl accident in 1986, forcing over 100,000 people to evacuate the area. Some parts of Fukushima remain inhabitable to this date; 40,000 people can’t return to their homes.
In an attempt to cool down the plant’s melted fuel debris, plant workers have pumped about 1.2 million tons of water through the reactors. But the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, said the capacity to store the treated liquid will run out by the fall of 2022. The wastewater will be discharged into the ocean over the span of 30 years, the Japan Times has reported. It’s unclear when the process will begin.
The government has considered various disposable methods, including boiling the wastewater. But it decided on releasing it into the ocean, which the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has said is a common practice for nuclear plants globally.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has supported the Japanese government’s chosen method. In April 2020, the “IAEA team said water management, including the treated water disposal, was critical to the sustainability of the Fukushima Daiichi decommissioning activities,” it said in a statement.
The Japanese government aims to completely decommission the plant between 2041 and 2051. Formal decisions on what to do with the waste water are expected as early as Tuesday.