Construction begins at Fukushima water release plant

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Construction of facilities needed for a planned discharge of treated radioactive wastewater into the sea from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant next year began Thursday despite opposition from the local fishing community.

Factory workers have begun construction of a pipeline to transport the wastewater from storage tanks on hills to a coastal facility before it is released next year, according to the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings.

The digging of a submarine tunnel would also start later Thursday.

Construction of the Fukushima Daiichi plant follows the formal approval by the Nuclear Regulation Authority last month of a detailed wastewater discharge plan submitted by TEPCO in December.

The government last year announced a decision to release the wastewater as a necessary step for the ongoing decommissioning of the plant.

A massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011 destroyed the cooling systems of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, causing triple meltdowns and the release of large amounts of radiation. Water used to cool the three damaged and highly radioactive reactor cores has since leaked into the basements of the reactor buildings, but was collected and stored in tanks.

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TEPCO and government officials say the water will continue to be treated to levels well below the standards to be released and the environmental and health impacts will be negligible. Of the more than 60 isotopes selected for treatment, only one — sodium — tritium — will be reduced to meet safety standards, they say.

Local fishing communities and neighboring countries have expressed concern about potential health risks from the radioactive wastewater and reputational damage to local products, and oppose the release.

Scientists say the impact of long-term, low-dose exposure to not only tritium but also other isotopes on the environment and humans is still unknown and a release is premature.

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The contaminated water is stored in about 1,000 tanks that take up a lot of space in the plant complex. Officials say they should be removed so facilities can be built for decommissioning. The tanks are expected to reach their capacity of 1.37 million tons by the fall of 2023.

TEPCO said it plans to transfer treated and release water through a pipeline from the tanks to a coastal pool, where it will be diluted with seawater and then sent through an undersea tunnel with an outlet about 1 kilometer (0. 6 miles) away to minimize impact on local fisheries and the environment.

TEPCO and the government have received approval from the heads of the plant’s host cities, Futaba and Okuma, for construction, but local residents and the fishing community are resisting and may still delay the process. The current plan calls for a gradual release of treated water to begin next spring, a process that will take decades.

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TEPCO said on Wednesday that weather and sea conditions could delay completion of the facility until the summer of 2023.

Japan has enlisted the help of the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure water releases meet international safety standards and to protect local fisheries and other communities and neighboring countries, including China and South Korea, who have opposed the plan. , to reassure.

IAEA experts who visited the plant earlier this year said Japan was taking appropriate measures for the planned discharge.

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