Despite objections from fishing communities, China, and some scientists, Japan will start releasing wastewater from the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Thursday.
The prime minister, Fumio Kishida, announced on Tuesday that he had requested Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) to prepare for the water release as per plans approved by nuclear regulators. He also stated that the release would start on Thursday, with weather and ocean conditions being of concern.
The removal of over 1m tonnes of water stored at the site was a crucial aspect of the complex and time-consuming process of decommissioning the plant, as stated by Kishida.
Tritium, a radioactive substance that cannot be eliminated by the facility’s water filtration technology, has been linked to the controversial plan.
The threat of restrictions has been raised against Hong Kong, a significant market for Japanese seafood exports. On Tuesday, John Lee, the leader, expressed his strong opposition to the water plan and demanded that the government enforce strict import controls on Japanese fish.
Following the March 2011 triple disaster near Fukushima Daiichi, South Korea and China have prohibited seafood imports from certain areas of Japan. China is strongly against this move, stating that Japan treats the ocean as a’sewer’.
The South Korean government has retracted its objections to the discharge, but many South Koreanos and opposition parties are worried about the potential impact on food safety.
The IAEA’s approval of the discharge decision followed a few weeks earlier, as it determined that the radiological effects on humans and the environment would be negligible.
A similar process is used by nuclear plants worldwide to treat wastewater containing low levels of tritium and other radionuclides, according to some experts.
Nuclear power plants have been emitting tritium for decades without any adverse effects on the environment or health, as stated by Tony Hooker, a nuclear expert at the University of Adelaide.
The filtration process has been labeled flawed by Greenpeace, who have warned that an excessive amount of radioactive substances will be released into the ocean in the near future.
The Japanese government’s decision to pursue the issue of deliberate radioactive pollution of the marine environment has been criticized by Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist at Greenpeace East Asia, particularly when the world’ oceans are already under immense stress and pressures.
This outrage goes against the human rights of the people and communities of Fukushima, other nearby prefectures, and the broader Asia-Pacific region.
Local fishermen are against the government and Tepco, arguing that pumping water into the Pacific Ocean will damage their industry.
Kishida attempted to provide assurance to fishing communities that the discharge was not harmful during a meeting with Masanobu Sakamoto, the president of the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations, on Monday.
Sakamoto stated that his group’s opposition to the plan remained unchanged before the meeting, and they recognized the water release as a scientifically safe practice, but still harbored concerns about damaging reputations.
The Asahi Shimbun newspaper conducted a poll this week that revealed the government’s inaction in preventing the expected damage to Japanese seafood, as 75% of respondents had previously expressed concerns.
Kishida recognized his concerns but maintained that the water release is not a matter to be deferred in order to prevent the decommissioning of the Fukushima nuclear plant and restore the area.
He told reporters on Monday: “I’m going to take the responsibility of making sure that fishing industry can continue to generate income for decades if I don’t”.
The Kyodo news agency reported that the government has established funds amounting to 30bn ($206m) to compensate local fishers for reputational damage, and a further c.50billion to address any financial impact on local businesses.
The wastewater, which includes both rain and groundwater, is polluted when it is used to cool nuclear fuel rods that were damaged in a 2011 tsunami that struck the plant, eliminating its backup electricity.
Over 1,000 steel tanks on the site, which contain roughly 1.3 million tonnes of treated water that can fill 500 Olympic swimming pools, have been warned by Tepco to exhaust their storage capacity.
Tepco’s liquid processing system eliminates most radioactive elements, except for tritium, a hydrogen isotope that is difficult to separate from water.
After being diluted to one 40th of the concentration permitted by Japanese safety standards, the water will be pumped into the ocean through an underwater tunnel 1km from the coast over the next 30-40 years.
Tepco’s president, Tomoaki Kobayakawa, affirmed the company’s dedication to avoiding reputational harm during the discharge period. Teponoko will devote all their resources to maintaining facility safety and quality, as well as quickly collecting monitoring data and providing accurate and easy-to-read information.
A Japanese official stated that tests on discharged seawater will be available starting next month at a maximum rate of 500,000 litres per day, and Japan will also test fish in the waters near the plant. The agriculture ministry will publish the results on its website.
Reports were provided by various organizations.