Japan to release 1m tonnes of contaminated Fukushima water into the sea – reports

Local media say release could begin in 2022 and would take decades to complete, but local fishermen say move will destroy their industry

Japan’s government has reportedly decided to release more than 1m tonnes of contaminated water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the sea, setting it on a collision course with local fishermen who say the move will destroy their industry.

Media reports said work to release the water, which is being stored in more than 1,000 tanks, would begin in 2022 at the earliest and would take decades to complete.

An official decision could come by the end of the month, the Kyodo news agency said, ending years of debate over what to do with the water, with other options including evaporation or the construction of more storage tanks at other sites.

The government, however, has long indicated it prefers the option of releasing it into the nearby Pacific, despite opposition from local fishermen who say it will undo years of work rebuilding their industry’s reputation since the plant was wrecked by a huge tsunami in March 2011.

In response, the government has said it will promote Fukushima produce and address concerns among fishermen that consumers will shun their seafood once the water is released.

Environmental groups also oppose the move, while neighbouring South Korea, which still bans seafood imports from the region, has repeatedly voiced concern, claiming that discharging the water represented a ”grave threat” to the marine environment.

Pressure to decide the water’s fate has been building as storage space on the nuclear plant site runs out, with the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), estimating all of the available tanks will be full by the summer of 2022.

As of last month, 1.23m tonnes of water, which becomes contaminated when it mixes with water used to prevent the three damaged reactor cores from melting, were being stored in 1,044 tanks, with the amount of waste water increasing by 170 tonnes a day.

Tepco’s Advanced Liquid Processing System removes highly radioactive substances from the water but the system is unable to filter out tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that nuclear power plants routinely dilute and dump along with water into the ocean.

A panel of experts advising the government said earlier this year that releasing the water was among the most “realistic options”.

Experts say tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, is only harmful to humans in very large doses, while the International Atomic Energy Agency says it is possible to dilute filtered waste water with seawater before it is released into the ocean.

The water at Fukushima Daiichi will be diluted inside the plant before it is released so that it is 40 times less concentrated, with the whole process taking 30 years, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper.

Hiroshi Kishi, president of a nationwide federation of fisheries cooperatives, voiced opposition to the move in a meeting with the chief cabinet secretary, Katsunobu Kato, this week.

Kato told reporters that a decision on the water “should be made quickly” to avoid further delays in decommissioning the plant – a costly, complex operation that is expected to take around 40 years.


Justin McCurry in Tokyo

The GuardianTramp

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