Japan water concept

Japan to release water from Fukushima plant into the ocean

Image credit: Canva

Japan has approved plans to start releasing 1.5 million tonnes of treated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean this year, a top government spokesman has said.

The Japanese government has said it will start releasing contaminated water from the nuclear power plant devastated by a tsunami in 2011, into the Pacific Ocean sometime “around this spring or summer”.

The plan has been endorsed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but the government said it would wait for "a comprehensive report" by the UN watchdog before the release. 

In March 2011, a large undersea quake off the coast of Japan triggered a massive tsunami. At the time, three of the six nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant were in operation. When the huge waves flooded the backup generators, the cooling systems failed, causing the reactors to go into meltdown.  

Every day, the plant produces 100m³ of contaminated water, which is a mixture of groundwater, seawater and water used to keep the reactors cool since the meltdown.

The water is then filtered to remove various radionuclides and moved to storage tanks. However, with more than 1.3 million cibic metres stored on site, space is running out. 

"Releasing the treated water into the sea is a realistic solution," Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said at a Cabinet meeting. "We will do our utmost to keep the water far above safety standards."

The water would be filtered once again and diluted before being released, to ensure that the levels of the most radioactive particles meet the national standard. It would then be released into the Pacific Ocean via a one-kilometre-long (0.6-mile) underwater pipe.

In addition, a Japanese government official clarified that gradual trial releases could start in two years and might take as many as 40 years to complete.

However, the plan has faced the opposition of neighbouring countries, Pacific nations and local fishing communities who fear it will affect their livelihoods. Marine scientists have also expressed concerns about the possible impact of the discharge on marine life and on fisheries.

"Pacific peoples are coastal peoples, and the ocean continues to be an integral part of their subsistence living," Henry Puna, Secretary General of the Pacific Island Forum has told the news website Stuff. 

"It was agreed that we would have access to all independent scientific and verifiable scientific evidence before this discharge takes place. Unfortunately, Japan has not been cooperating."

The IAEA has said the release meets international standards and "will not cause any harm to the environment".

The Fukushima meltdown was considered the worst nuclear disaster since that at Chernobyl, Ukraine, in April 1986 and prompted the declaration of a 30km evacuation zone around the Japanese plant. Seven years after the disaster, a Greenpeace report found that radiation levels in the area continued to be up to 100 times higher than normal.

The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) is currently engaged in a decades-long effort to decommission the plant, and four of its executives have recently been court-ordered to pay a fine of around 13 trillion yen (£80bn) in damages for ignoring tsunami warnings

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