Japan to release wastewater from Fukushima nuclear plant into Pacific Ocean

PM Fumio Kishida insisted that the water release “is absolutely not something we can put off if we want to decommission the Fukushima nuclear plant and revive the area."

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Image Credit: The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

Despite vocal opposition from neighboring countries China and Korea, Japan will begin releasing wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant this week. The plan to release at a maximum rate 500,000 liters a day was approved by UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Fumio Kishida, the prime minister of Japan, said on Tuesday that he asked the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), “to swiftly prepare for the water discharge” as an essential part of the process to decommission the plant.

While the IAEA said the radiological impact on people and the environment would be “negligible,” the plan is being questioned because “the water contains tritium, a radioactive substance that can’t be removed by the facility’s water filtration technology,” The Guardian reported.

Shaun Burnie, senior nuclear specialist at Greenpeace East Asia and an opponent of the plan said Japan “has opted for a false solution—decades of deliberate radioactive pollution of the marine environment—during a time when the world’s oceans are already facing immense stress and pressures.”

“This is an outrage that violates the human rights of the people and communities of Fukushima, and other neighboring prefectures and the wider Asia-Pacific region,” Burnie said.

Nuclear experts said that Japan’s plan to release wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi is in line with other nuclear plants around the world, who use a similar process to “dispose of wastewater containing low-level concentrations of tritium and other radionuclides,” The Guardian reported.

“Tritium has been released [by nuclear power plants] for decades with no evidential detrimental environmental or health effects,” Tony Hooker, a nuclear expert from the University of Adelaide, said.

But the plan also faces opposition from local fishers, who fear reputational damage from the plan. While Kishida understood those concerns, he insisted that the water release “is absolutely not something we can put off if we want to decommission the Fukushima nuclear plant and revive the area” and set up funds to address any financial impact or reputational damage to their business.

“I promise that we will take on the entire responsibility of ensuring the fishing industry can continue to make their living, even if that will take decades,” Kishida said.

IAEA said that it will continue to review the site for the next several decades as Japan goes ahead with the release of the wastewater.

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