On August 22, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced at a cabinet meeting that the treated water release from the Tokyo Electronic Power Company (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station will begin as early as August 24.
The prime minister highlighted the importance of supporting the fishing industry as the treated water release moves forward. Fishermen have voiced concern about economic repercussions on their industry from the decision to release treated water into the ocean.
In the cabinet meeting, Kishida expressed assurance that this decision addresses their concerns: "We have confirmed that all possible safety precautions, reputational damage mitigation, and continued financial support" from TEPCO are in place, he said.
Earlier on August 21, the prime minister met directly with representatives of the fisheries industry. Yasutoshi Nishimura, the Minister of Trade, Economy, and Industry, later commented on the meeting to reporters. He said that "The government had gained a certain amount of understanding [from the stakeholders] on the issue."
Earlier on July 7, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released their comprehensive report on the process. In a statement, IAEA said that "Japan’s plans are consistent with IAEA Safety Standards, which serve as a global reference for protecting people and the environment."
What happens on August 24?
Contaminated water will first be purified through the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS). This process removes various radioactive materials from contaminated water. However, it cannot remove tritium, which is also a substance occurring in nature.
Sea water is then added to the treated water to dilute the tritium to a fraction of the internationally recognized safety standard. Only after confirming this is it released into the ocean in a controlled manner of under 500,000 liters per day.
Interruptions or delays in the treated water release could occur, according to TEPCO. For example, the release could be halted in the case of adverse weather conditions. Or it could be delayed if measurements indicate tritium levels are higher than expected.
In the coming weeks, TEPCO plans to launch a website focused on sharing the status of the treated water release. TEPCO executives announced the specilaized website in a press conference on August 22. Through this vehicle, TEPCO will make updated tritium measurements, among other information, available to the public.
Why is the release happening?
Fukushima Daiichi's contaminated water is a byproduct of cooling the nuclear reactors damaged in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. This cooling process will continue through the decommissioning of the nuclear facility.
TEPCO has been storing this wastewater in specially constructed tanks on the site. However, there are now up to 1,000 tanks, and storage space at the site is running out.
In 2021, the then-Yoshihide Suga administration consulted with experts including the IAEA about options to deal with the contaminated water. It took the decision to use the ALPS process to purify the water and then then dilute the treated water to safe level.
Treated water will be released into the ocean only after safety reviews, including a thorough inspection and monitoring by the IAEA. The plan will take at least 30 years to complete.
Is there continuing controversy?
Concerns based on rumors and the spread of misinformation has also complicated the recovery. Therefore, as PM Kishida explained on August 22, "The government will continue to work responsibly to address the concerns and reputational damage due to the water release."
He added, "We will also keep moving forward on the treated water discharge, even if it takes several decades to complete." Treating and disposing of the stored water is a necessary step "in order to safely complete the decommissioning," he noted.
Why is the fishing industry mentioned?
On the whole, local fishermen are worried that rumors and misinformation will cause customers to withdraw. Facts aside, the reputational damage will harm their industry.
To address some of the concerns, the government has set aside ¥30 billion JPY ($206 million USD) for reputational damage of fishermen, and ¥50 billion JPY ($343 million USD) for the economic impacts on the industry.
What is the international reaction?
Despite participation in inspection tours, other information sharing, and their own practices, some international opposition has continued, particularly from China.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin expressed Beijing's continuing opposition at a press conference on August 22. He said that China will "take necessary measures to protect the marine environment, food safety, and health" in response to the Japanese government's decision. He went on to say China had "grave concerns and strong opposition" to the treated water release.
On the other hand, South Korea recently dropped its formal opposition to Japan's plan. On August 18, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said he "trusts" the judgment of the IAEA on the discharge plan. That gave his de facto seal of approval for the decision.
In a press conference on August 22, the Yoon Suk-yeol administration commented officially. It said, "We see no scientific or technical problems" with the water release.
In July, Australia's government released a statement saying it "welcomes the final report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Japan's proposed release of treated water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant."
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Author: Arielle Busetto