TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Tuesday that his government has decided to discharge contaminated radioactive wastewater in Fukushima Prefecture into the sea amid domestic and international opposition.
Suga made the announcement after convening a meeting of relevant ministers to formalize plans to release the radioactive water accumulated at the plant into the Pacific Ocean.
Struck by a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami that hit Japan’s northeast on March 11, 2011, the No. 1-3 reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant suffered core meltdowns.
The plant has been generating massive amount of radiation-tainted water since the accident happened as it needs water to cool the reactors. The plant’s operator Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. (TEPCO) said it will take around two years for the release to start.
The water has been treated using an advanced liquid processing system, or ALPS, to remove most contaminants. However, things like tritium, a radioactive byproduct of nuclear reactors, are hard to filter out.
According to some marine experts, traces of ruthenium, cobalt, strontium, and plutonium isotopes in the wastewater also raise concerns.
The plant has been struggling to store the contaminated water in tanks at its facility where more than 1.25 million tons of contaminated water are currently stored in huge tanks, and the space is expected to reach capacity next year.
TEPCO claimed that the whole decommissioning process will be hampered if it needs to keep building storage tanks within the plant’s premises.
Japan had considered evaporating or storing underground the tritium-laced water from the plant as an alternative. However, from the perspective of cost and technical feasibility, the Japanese government decided to dilute the contaminated water and discharge it into the sea.
The plan has been facing strong opposition from the Japanese fish industry and the public, with fishery industry representatives saying it would undo years of work to restore their reputation.
“We are dead against a release of contaminated water to the ocean as it could have a catastrophic impact on the future of Japan’s fishing industry,” Hiroshi Kishi, head of the national federation of fisheries cooperatives known as JF Zengyoren, told a meeting with government officials last October.
According to Kishi, the release of radioactive water could trigger other countries to tighten restrictions on imports of Japanese fishery products, reversing a recent trend toward loosening.
Currently, a number of countries and regions continue to impose restrictions on Japanese agricultural and fishery products as a result of the Fukushima crisis amid continued concerns about the safety of the produce.
During a meeting with Suga last week, Kishi reiterated his organization’s ardent opposition to the idea of dumping the radioactive water into the sea.
“It is inevitable that there would be reputational damage regardless of how the water will be disposed of, whether into the sea or into the air,” he said. “I want the government to clarify how it intends to respond to such reputational damage.”
Japanese Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama said last Friday that while working on the concerns of the fisheries industry, the government hopes to seek cooperation of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other global organizations, while maintaining transparency over the matter.
The Japanese government had initially hoped to make a decision on the release of the water last October. However, it delayed the decision due to fierce opposition from local fishermen.
According to a survey conducted by public broadcaster NHK late last year, 51 percent of respondents said they are “against” or “quite against” the idea of discharge the wastewater into the sea, while only 18 percent said they are in favor of the plan.
Another poll conducted by Asahi Shimbun newspaper in January showed that 55 percent of respondents are against the government’s plan to discharge contaminated radioactive wastewater in Fukushima into the sea, while 32 percent said they support it.
Yukio Edano, the leader of Japan’s main opposition party the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) strongly condemned the plan on Saturday, saying the government’s decision is unacceptable and a complete disregard for the voices of the people of Fukushima.
Some environmental groups including Friends of the Earth Japan and the Citizens’ Commission on Nuclear Energy said on Monday that they have collected more than 64,000 signatures from 88 countries and regions in a petition to the government against the decision to dump Fukushima wastewater into the sea.
The environmental groups called the government’s decision a “crude way of deciding” without adequate discussion and called for it to be withdrawn.
The plan also raised concerns from neighboring countries about possible negative impact on people’s health and fishery businesses resulting from the discharge.
China on Tuesday once again expressed serious concerns about Japan’s decision to discharge contaminated water from Fukushima nuclear station by releasing it into the Pacific Ocean.
On Monday, China expressed its grave concerns through diplomatic channels, with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian saying that China urged the Japanese side to take a responsible attitude and treat the issue of nuclear waste disposal with caution.
Zhao stressed that proper disposal of nuclear waste is related to international public interests and the vital interests of neighboring countries. It should be handled carefully and properly to avoid further damaging the marine environment, food safety and human health.
Meanwhile, South Korea on Monday also voiced “grave concerns”, with foreign ministry spokesman Choi Young-sam saying “It will be difficult to accept if the Japanese side decides to release the contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant without sufficient consultations.”
“Our government expresses grave concerns as the decision can have direct and indirect impact on the safety of our people and the surrounding environment,” he added.