Japan will release over a million tonnes of water from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear station into the sea, the country’s government announced on Tuesday, reported AFP. The government argued that the release was safe as the water will be processed to remove almost all radioactive elements and will be diluted.
Around 1.25 million tonnes of water have accumulated in tanks at the nuclear plant, which was crippled after going into meltdown following a tsunami in 2011. It includes water used to cool the plant, as well as rain and groundwater that seeps in daily, according to AFP.
“Releasing the treated water is an unavoidable task to decommission the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant and reconstruct the Fukushima area,” Japan Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said, according to Reuters. He said the release would happen only after ensuring the “safety levels of the water”, alongside measures to “prevent reputational damage”.
The first tranche of release will take place in about two years and the entire process could take decades to complete. The Tokyo Electric Power, or Tepco, plans to filter the contaminated water to remove isotopes, leaving only tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen hard to separate from water. Tepco will then dilute the water until the tritium levels fall below regulatory limits, before pumping it into the ocean. However, Tritium is considered to be relatively harmless because it does not emit enough energy to penetrate human skin, according to Reuters.
The announcement has already triggered objections from neighbouring China and local fishermen groups.
“This approach is extremely irresponsible and will seriously damage international public health and safety and the vital interests of the people of neighbouring countries,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement on its website, according to AFP. Beijing added that the ocean was “common property of mankind” and so, the disposal of nuclear waste was not a “domestic issue” of Japan.
Kanji Tachiya, who heads a local fisheries cooperative in Fukushima said they fear that the release will undermine years of work to restore confidence in seafood from the region.
“They told us that they wouldn’t release the water into the sea without the support of fishermen,” Tachiya said. “We can’t back this move to break that promise and release the water into the sea unilaterally.”
However the International Atomic Energy Agency has backed the decision saying that there was “no scandal” involved in the process. “Releasing into the ocean is done elsewhere...It’s not something new,” IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi had said last year.
The United States’ state department has also said that Japan had been “transparent” about the process and the decision was taken “in accordance with globally accepted nuclear safety standards”.