water barrels contained at fukushima power plant

Contaminated water from Fukushima nuclear plant to be released into the ocean

Image credit: reuters

Japan has made the decision to release more than one million tonnes of radioactive water from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean.

The decision has faced strong opposition from local fishermen and residents, but Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), the plant’s operator, said that its storage space for contaminated water will be at full capacity late next year.

The accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant occurred in 2011 after a massive earthquake resulted in a tsunami that damaged the Fukushima site's reactors.

By 2018, an average of 141 metric tonnes of groundwater per day was still seeping into the reactor and turbine areas, becoming radioactive in the process.

Refrigeration structures resembling giant ice lollies were built underground to act as a frozen ice barrier in an attempt to limit the amount of radioactive water created by the incident.

Unfortunately, they were of limited effectiveness and groundwater seepage actually increased in the years after their construction.

water barrels contained at fukushima power plant

Barrels of radioactive water are piling up at the site

Image credit: reuters

The structures cost around 34.5 billion yen (£229m) in public funds and consist of approximately 1,500 tubes filled with brine, cooled to minus 30°C, then buried 30 metres underground.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the ocean release was the “most realistic” option and that disposing the water is “unavoidable” for the decommissioning of the Fukushima plant, which is expected to take decades.

Tepco and government officials say tritium, which is not harmful in small amounts, cannot be removed from the water, but all other selected radionuclides can be reduced to levels allowed for release.

Scientists are less convinced, saying that the long-term impact on marine life from low-dose exposure to such large volumes of water is unknown.

Tepco has said it would “like to sincerely apologise for the great inconvenience and burden that we have caused on the people of Fukushima, and society as a whole, as a result of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station Accident.”

Tepco shall, of course, strictly comply with all laws and regulations, such as nuclear safety regulations which are in line with international standards, while also thoroughly implementing measures to minimise the adverse impacts on reputation.”

It added that it maintains a high degree of transparency over the impact that the discharge of treated water would have on the environment.

Japan’s neighbours expressed dissatisfaction with the move, with both China and South Korea calling for more consultation on the plan.

“This action is extremely irresponsible and will seriously damage international public health and safety and the vital interests of people in neighbouring countries,” China’s foreign ministry said, in a statement posted on its website.

South Korea’s government summoned Japan’s ambassador to Seoul to protest at the move.

“The decision can never be accepted and would not only cause danger to the safety and maritime environment of neighbouring countries,” a senior official told a briefing, after vice-ministers had held an emergency meeting to discuss the issue.

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