Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced that Japan has decided to begin its gradual release of treated nuclear wastewater into the ocean on Thursday. Photo courtesy IAEA
Aug. 22 (UPI) -- Japan announced Tuesday that it will begin its gradual release of treated radioactive wastewater collected from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean on Thursday, as it seeks to continue decommissioning the site amid opposition to the plan.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made the announcement following a cabinet meeting, and said during a press conference that the planned release is conditioned on weather and the ocean.
"Even if it expands over the next few decades, until the discharge is complete, the government will take responsibly in addressing this issue," Kishida said.
Since the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station was destroyed by a earthquake-generated tsunami on March 11, 2011, groundwater has been contaminated by coming into contact with the site. Japan's Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings has stored more than 1.3 million metric tons on the location in more than 1,000 large tanks.
Japan has for years warned that capacity of the existing tanks was about to be reached as water accumulates daily, and that the tanks themselves pose a risk to the environment due to deterioration and natural disaster, while hindering efforts to complete decommissioning of the site.
In 2021, Japan announced it had decided on a plan to treat the wastewater through a processing system known as ALPS that removes all nuclides except for tritium, a naturally occurring hydrogen atom that is a relatively weak source of beta radiation.
After being treated, the wastewater would be diluted with sea water to ensure its tritium level is below regulatory standards, and the water would then be released into the ocean.
Following a two-year study review, the United Nation's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, approved Japan's plan early last month, with its head, Rafael Grossi, stating the gradual discharge "would have a negligible radiological impact on people and the environment."
Days later, South Korea signed off on the plan amid a detente in relations with Japan, despite protests at home and the Yoon Suk-yeoll government maintaining its 2013 import ban on seafood from the Fukushima region.
China, on the other hand, has criticized the plan, as hasty, accusing Japan of being "headstrong" in its push to discharge the water into the ocean that could "leave the entire world at risk of nuclear contamination," a Chinese ministry spokesperson said in a statement issued on Aug. 9.
Some experts have voiced opposition to the pushback against the plan, with Tony Irwin, honorary associate professor at Australian national University and technical director of SMR Nuclear Technology, describing it in a statement as "ultra-conservative."
"The Fukushima water discharge is not an event without precedent," he said in a late June release from the Science Media Center.
"Nuclear power plants worldwide have routinely discharged water containing tritium for over 60 years without harm to people or the environment, most at higher levels than the 22 TBq per year that is planned at Fukushima."
Greenpeace on Tuesday condemned Japan's announcement as being counter to science and a violation of human rights.
"We are deeply disappointed and outraged by the Japanese Government's announcement to release water containing radioactive substances into the ocean. Despite concerns raised by fishermen, citizens, Fukushima residents and the international community, especially in the Pacific region and neighboring countries, this decision has been made," Hisayo Takada, project manager at Greenpeace Japan, said in a statement.
The announcement by Kishida came a day after he visited Masanobu Sakamoto, the head of the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperatives Associations, to receive his support.
During remarks, Kishida reiterated that the release of the water is essential for decommissioning as there are still 1,000 used nuclear fuel rods in the pool of the damaged site that most be removed, and that a decision on the plan would be announced on Tuesday.
TEPCO in a statement Tuesday apologizing for the "great concern and burden" the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant has caused on society, and that it will move forward with plans to begin the discharge of wastewater with "the utmost vigilance."
The company said that it will devote all its resources to ensuring transparency through IAEA review while implementing repetitional damage countermeasures and providing compensation if such damages due occur.