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EDITORIAL | Don’t Let Rumor Mongering Delay Release of Treated Water from Fukushima Daiichi

Baseless rumors holding up release of the safe, treated water are only obstructing the far more important job of decommissioning the damaged nuclear reactor itself.

Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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At long last the possibility of breaking the impasse is coming into sight.

We are referring to the release of the treated wastewater that continues to be stored in tanks within the grounds of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant run by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO).

Following a meeting on April 7 between Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Hiroshi Kishi, president of the Japan National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations (JF Zengyoren), a meeting of Cabinet ministers dealing with the issue was slated for April 13. It now seems likely that the decision will be made at that time to release wastewater containing tritium (hydrogen-3) directly into the ocean.

Tritium is a form of the element hydrogen that contains a single radioactive isotope. However, the level of radioactivity potentially harmful to living creatures that it gives off is negligible.

Tritium is a normal byproduct from nuclear power plant operations, and nuclear power facilities around the world routinely treat it through ocean discharge and other means.

However, this is tritiated water stored at Fukushima Daiichi after treatment for the radioactivity contamination that resulted from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Even though the danger has been eliminated, having been influenced by unfounded rumors, fishermen in the area have been adamantly opposed to discharge of the wastewater into the ocean. 

As a result, TEPCO has had to build over 1,000 storage tanks within the nuclear power plant site to store the wastewater containing tritium. Projections, however, are that capacity within the complex will be exhausted by the fall of 2022. In addition, a specially cordoned off area will be needed for the nuclear reactor decommissioning operations. Therefore, the tanks will need to be removed to make space for that to take place.

Tanks of tritiated water at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility
PM Yoshihide Suga meeting with engineers and other officials at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility in March 2021

These two factors make the release of the tritium-infused water into the ocean inevitable. After taking over as prime minister, Suga considered making a decision to do so in October and then again in December 2020. But, in the end, he deferred making the commitment. As he considers the question for a third time, we urge the prime minister to give the go signal to pave the way for the discharge.

This month fishery cooperatives in Fukushima are finally resuming regular catches after a period of test catches. A decision authorizing discharge of the water into the ocean at this time might seem daunting to the fisherman. But continued opposition only means that the volume of treated water will continue to grow. 

Damage from rumors is the common enemy of the fishermen and the government. We cannot let ourselves be defeated by baseless lies. We earnestly hope that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will cooperate in preventing rumors from spreading both within and outside Japan.

Even should the Cabinet ministers decide in their meeting to authorize the release of the wastewater containing tritium, it will still require more than a year to make necessary preparations, such as installing equipment to further dilute the wastewater with seawater.

The government and people connected to the fisheries industry should use that time to work out detailed measures for preventing damage from rumor mongering.

It is also important to consider carefully the timespan for the discharge of all the wastewater, which already has reached some 1.35 million tons. If it is done over a 10-year period, for example, rumors will inevitably remain rife. The option of releasing the water over a short period of time should also be considered. 

(Read The Sankei Shimbun editorial in Japanese at this link.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun