Japan’s decision on Fukushima water release angers neighbours, locals

Demonstrators hold slogans during a protest against the Japanese government’s plan to release more than a million tonnes of treated water from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean, outside the prime minister’s office in Tokyo on April 13, 2021. - AFP

TOKYO, April 13 (dpa): Japan has decided it will start releasing radioactive water accumulated at the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea after treatment, infuriating fishermen and local residents and worrying neighbouring countries.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s cabinet made the decision on Tuesday morning, which comes a decade after the nation’s worst-ever atomic disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

Tokyo Electric Power is expected to start discharging the water into the sea in two years after it has been treated, the operator and the government said.

The operator has stored over 1.2 million tons of water in more than 1,000 huge tanks at the site. The operator said the space for tanks will be running out in 2022, though local officials and some experts say otherwise.

The plant suffered meltdowns at three of its six reactors after it was hit by a powerful earthquake and ensuing tsunami in March 2011.

Since then, the operator has continued to inject water into the three reactors to keep cooling melted atomic fuel there.

Radiation-contaminated water at the site has been treated through an advanced liquid processing system, but tritium - a radioactive isotope of hydrogen - cannot be removed from the water.

The government and the operator say tritium is not harmful to human health in low concentration.

However, Tokyo-based Citizens’ Commission on Nuclear Energy said in a statement that the government "should strictly avoid releasing tritium into the environment as tritium is still radioactive material."

The group, which includes a number of experts, rejected the government’s plan to release radioactive water into the ocean and instead proposed mortar solidification technology and a land-based storage system, using large tanks.

The group submitted the proposals to the Industry Ministry and held news conferences repeatedly. However, the ministry and Japanese media downplayed and ignored them, it said.

The government’s plan invited criticism and strong opposition at home and abroad.

Hiroshi Kishi, head of the Japan Fisheries Cooperatives, said the release is "totally unacceptable. We lodge a strong protest [with the government]."

Kishi held talks with Suga last week ahead of the decision, telling the premier the group was "absolutely against" the move.

Citizens' groups and some experts slammed the Japanese government for lacking explanation of the plan and consensus-building efforts.

Greenpeace Japan said the group "strongly condemns" the government’s decision as it "completely disregards the human rights and interests of the people in Fukushima, wider Japan and the Asia-Pacific region."

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry called in Japanese Ambassador to South Korea Koichi Aiboshi and lodged a protest over Tokyo’s decision, Japan’s Kyodo News reported.

Koo Yun Cheol, South Korea’s minister for government policy coordination, said Seoul "firmly opposes” the move, according to Kyodo.

China expressed concerns on Monday in anticipation of the decision.

"China has expressed grave concern to the Japanese side through the diplomatic channel, urging Japan to handle the issue of wastewater disposal from the Fukushima nuclear power plant in a prudent and responsible manner," Beijing's Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.

The US State Department, however, issued a statement saying Japan "has been transparent about its decision, and appears to have adopted an approach in accordance with globally accepted nuclear safety standards." - dpa
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