Japan has revised the timing of a planned discharge to the sea of treated but still radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear power plant to “around spring or summer,” indicating a delay from this spring’s original target, after taking into account having taken into account the progress of a release tunnel and the need to gain public support.
The government and the operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, announced in April 2021 a plan to begin discharging the treated wastewater into the sea from spring 2023. They say more than 1 million tons of water stored in about 1,000 tanks at the plant impede decommissioning and risk leaking in the event of a major earthquake or tsunami.
Under the current plan, TEPCO will pipeline the treated water from the tanks to a coastal facility, where it will be diluted with seawater and sent through an undersea tunnel, currently under construction, to an offshore outlet. The company has acknowledged the possibility of harsh winter weather and sea conditions slowing progress on the tunnel.
Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters on Friday that the government has adopted a revised action plan, which includes increased efforts to ensure safety and measures to financially support the local fishing industry and a new release target of “around spring or summer this year.”
TEPCO president Tomoaki Kobayakawa said that despite the government’s new timing for wastewater discharge, his company is still aiming to have the facility ready by spring. He also acknowledged a lack of local understanding about the release and pledged to continue efforts to address the security concerns.
A massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011 destroyed the cooling systems at the Fukushima plant, melting three reactors and releasing large amounts of radiation. Water used to cool the damaged reactor cores, which remain highly radioactive, has since leaked into the basements of the reactor buildings and has been collected, treated and stored in tanks.
The release plan was met with fierce opposition from fishermen, local residents and countries neighboring Japan, including China and South Korea. Fukushima residents are concerned that the reputation of their agricultural and fisheries products will be further damaged.
Most of the radioactivity is removed from the water during treatment, but tritium cannot be removed and low levels of some other radionuclides also remain. The government and TEPCO say the environmental and health impacts will be negligible as the water will be released slowly after further treatment and dilution by large amounts of seawater.
Some scientists say the impact of long-term, low-dose exposure to tritium and other radionuclides on the environment and humans is still unknown and the release plan should be delayed. They say tritium affects people more when consumed in fish.
Japan is working with the International Atomic Energy Agency to increase safety, transparency and understanding of the water discharge plan. An IAEA team that visited Japan a number of times last year for talks and plant inspections will visit again in January to meet with nuclear regulators and will issue a final report before the scheduled release begins.
Photo: On this Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, file photo, No. 5, center left, and No. 6 nuclear reactors overlook tanks of water that has been treated but is still radioactive at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Okuma City, Fukushima Prefecture , northeastern Japan. (TBEN Photo/Hiro Komae, file)
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