July 4 ーThe International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has endorsed a plan to release treated water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean.
A comprehensive report issued by the agency on July 4th makes it clear that the discharge of the water is consistent with all relevant international safety standards.
Furthermore, the IAEA notes that releasing the water in a controlled and gradual way "would have a negligible radiological impact on people and the environment."
Mr Grossi spoke to reporters at a news conference in Tokyo. He told them that he recognizes concerns relating to Fukushima which have been expressed among neighboring countries. He intends to travel around the region to discuss his organization's report, focussing on the science behind it.
Some politicians in South Korea and China have also challenged Japan's scheme to deal with the water. Mr Grossi said he believes the new study provides fulsome answers to all the relevant technical questions in relation to safety.
He added that it is "not his job" to persuade other countries to validate Japan's plan. In addition, the IAEA has uploaded a video explaining its conclusions which is available to view here.
The Japanese government turned to the IAEA for guidance after publishing a plan to deal with the Fukushima water in 2021. Since then, the agency's skilled scientists have conducted many site visits and inspections.
In 2011, a tsunami flooded the three reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The disaster occurred during the Great East Japan Earthquake, which was the most powerful quake ever recorded in Japan.
Decommissioning the plant is an arduous process that could take decades. Around 100 cubic meters of wastewater are produced daily. Tanks on site can hold 1.3 million cubic meters and are reaching capacity.
Most radioactive elements have been filtered from the water, except for radioactive forms of hydrogen and carbon. These are called tritium and carbon 14, respectively. These two isotopes are difficult to separate from water.
Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, is responsible for the clean-up process. TEPCO has long maintained that the tritium and carbon 14 levels in the water are not dangerous. That is a position now endorsed by the IAEA.
As explained elsewhere on the JAPAN Forward website, tritium is an element related to hydrogen which exists naturally in nature. The radioactivity of tritium is extremely weak. Moreover, the global practice of releasing it into the ocean is accepted worldwide.
Countries like China and South Korea release a significant amount of tritium into the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan.
Rafael Mariano Grossi describes his report as a "milestone" but it is unlikely to silence Japan's critics. That is because the Fukushima water issue is often used to smear Japan for political reasons, with scant attention to the scientific or environmental aspects.
China, for example, has frequently cast aspirations on the IAEA's independence and integrity.
As the agency's report makes clear, though, the team involved in carrying out the safety checks on Fukushima is made up of internationally recognized independent experts. Moerover, each one has extensive experience in a wide range of technical specialties.
The scientific team includes experts from both South Korea and China. There are experts as well from Argentina, Australia, Canada, France, the Marshall Islands, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Vietnam.
"These independent experts provide advice and serve on the task force in their individual professional capacity to help ensure the IAEA's review is comprehensive, benefits from the best international expertise and includes a diverse range of technical viewpoints," Mr Grossi wrote in the introduction to the study.
Scare stories about the impact of the water's release on the environment may still appear in some sections of the press. But it is in nobody's interest to stir up more regional tension over the issue.
A level-headed approach would help further the rapprochement between Japan and South Korea. The leaders of the two countries have met several times this year (2023). And both will attend a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania on July 11 and 12. Neither Japan nor South Korea are NATO members but they have been granted observer status. That is because their positions on Ukraine and North Korea align closely with those of NATO countries.
It is likely that President Joe Biden ー who is also due to attend the NATO summit in Vilnius ー will encourage the two East Asian countries to continue to cooperate in meeting mutual challenges.
The opposition party in South Korea has been consistently critical of President Yoon Suk-Yeol's friendly approach toward Japan.
Last week, there was a vote in the national parliament in Seoul to urge the Japanese government to withdraw its plan to release the Fukushima water into the Pacific. The vote was boycotted by the ruling party, led by President Yoon.
Mr Grossi from the IAEA is due to meet the head of South Korea's Nuclear Safety and Security Commission in Seoul on Friday, July 7.
He will also meet with Foreign Minister Park Jin.
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Author: Duncan Bartlett, Diplomatic Correspondent