Yuka Obayashi and Kaori Kaneko
TOKYO (Reuters) – Nearly a decade after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Japanese government has decided to release more than a million tons of contaminated water into the sea, media reported on Friday, with an official announcement later this month.
The decision is expected to lead to clashes with neighboring countries, such as South Korea, which has already stepped up radiation testing of food from Japan, and further devastate the Fukushima fishing industry, which has struggled for years.
Disposal of contaminated water at the Fukushima Daiichi plant has been a long-standing problem for Japan as it continues a decades-long decommissioning project. At present, huge tanks store almost 1.2 million tons of contaminated water.
The plant is operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. <9501.T>, suffered numerous nuclear accidents after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
On Friday, Japanese Industry Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama said no decision had yet been made on water disposal, but the government was keen to make that decision quickly.
“To prevent delays in the decommissioning process, we need to make a quick decision,” he told a news conference.
He did not provide any details, including the time frame.
Asahi reported that it would take about two years to prepare any such release, as the irradiated water on site would first have to be filtered before it could be further diluted with seawater and finally released into the ocean.
In 2018, Tokyo Electric apologized, admitting that its filtration systems did not remove from the water all the hazardous material collected from the cooling pipes used to prevent the fuel cores from melting when the plant was crippled.
He said he planned to remove all radioactive particles from the water, except for tritium, a hydrogen isotope that is difficult to separate and is considered relatively harmless.
It is common practice for nuclear power plants around the world to release tritium-containing water into the ocean.
In April, a team sent by the International Atomic Energy Agency to address the problem of contaminated water in Fukushima said that the options for water disposal outlined by the advisory committee in Japan – steam emissions and discharges into the sea – were technically feasible. The IAEA stated that both options were used by existing nuclear power plants.
Last week, Japan’s fishing industry urged the government to prevent the release of contaminated water from the Fukushima plant into the sea, saying it would end years of work to restore their reputation.
South Korea has maintained a ban on seafood imports from the Fukushima region, which was imposed after the nuclear disaster, and called a senior Japanese embassy last year to explain how Tokyo planned to address the Fukushima water problem.
During Tokyo’s bid to host the 2013 Olympics, then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told members of the International Olympic Committee that the facility in Fukushima was under control.
The Games have been postponed until 2021 due to a pandemic, and some activities are to take place 60 km (35 miles) from the plant accident.
(Report by Kaori Kaneko, Yuki Obayashi and Marie Saito; edited by Muralikumar Anantaraman and Raju Gopalakrishnan)